Movie Reviews postsMonday August 24, 2015
'Erik Lundegaard's Reviews ONLY count...'
I'm not sure when Rotten Tomatoes added the following disclosure, but I noticed it for the first time yesterday:
So please keep this in mind as you're skimming the reviews here. Most of these are not Tomatometer-approved. The Tomatometer does not recognize them. The Tomatometer barely recognizes their reviewer. Understandable, given the author photo.
Back in the Times: 'American Ultra' Review
I have a review of “American Ultra” in the Seattle Times today. Excerpt:
It's “Bourne Identity” meets “Pineapple Express.” Small-town stoner is in reality, and unbeknown to himself, a top CIA assassin. ...
Mike Lowell (Jesse Eisenberg) is the last remnant of a CIA program that turned three-time offenders into assassins, but which is now part of an internecine struggle between its creator, Victoria (Connie Britton), and middle-management douchebag Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), who has his own program, code-named “Tough Guy,” that turns psychopaths into assassins.
When threatened, Mike's pupils dilate and his inner assassin takes over; then he reverts back to vulnerable slacker. He kills two people with a spoon, for example, then needs a hug from his girlfriend. “I have a lot of anxiety about this,” he says, surveying the damage.
That's the sweet spot of the movie, and you do feel for Eisenberg, who's the best thing here. Kristen Stewart is also good. Most everyone else overacts, particularly Topher Grace and John Leguizamo, and not to comedic effect.
It made me think of what worked with the original 1978 “Superman” starring Christopher Reeve. Reeve played it straight, everyone else was a little over-the-top. The difference is that in “Supes” everyone else (Hackman, Perrine, Beatty) was funny and Reeve wasn't (he was heroic). Here, it's still Eisenberg who makes us laugh. The others don't.
Ultimately a missed opportunity.
Quote: 'The Young, Bikini-Clad or Topless Women of Entourage: Who Are They?'
“The young, bikini-clad or topless women partying aboard the yacht where the movie's first scene occurs—who are they? What do they do for a living? What are their aspirations? Who invited them to the party? And why did they go? Is that what it takes for a young woman to succeed in Hollywood? To attend parties run by men with money and power in the hope of appealing to one of them enough to get cast in a role or hired for a job? The men at the center of the movie have repellent attitudes, but there's nothing to suggest that they're violent or coercive. What do they say or do to induce young women to have sex with them?—or, rather, what's in it for the women? What motivates them to have one-night or one-morning or one-afternoon stands with the likes of E.? Why does Emily Ratajkowski (the character) want to be with Vince? For the business? For perceived advantage? To satisfy her own desires? It's the subject of the film—and the movie's director, Doug Ellin (who's also the creator of the TV series on which it's based), doesn't get anywhere near it. ...
”How do the kinds of people seen in 'Entourage' manage to make movies that, by and large, make money—i.e., how do they make movies that large numbers of 'civilians' pay to see? It's a mystery, but it's a mystery that gets to the very essence of life at large and the demonic forces that lurk within most people's hearts. ... In a sense, to damn the fictional world of 'Entourage' is to damn the real world, and to review a popular movie is to review its viewers.
Demonic forces? Just a girl trying to get ahead? Both?
A.O. Scott Doesn't Hug It Out with 'Entourage'
“There really isn't much more to say. By the time it reached the end of its HBO run in 2011, 'Entourage' had grown staler than last night's Axe body spray. The passing of a few more years has not improved the aroma. Watching the movie is like finding an ancient issue of a second-tier lad mag — not even Maxim, but Loaded or Nuts — in a friend's guest bathroom. You wonder how it got there. You wonder how you got there.”
-- A.O. Scott in his review of the “Entourage” movie. On Twitter he wrote: “No. Not gonna hug it out.” Here's my similar thoughts on the last episode of “Entourage” back in 2011. This thing is so over.
Well, At Least One Person Agrees with Me about 'Meh Max'
From longtime reader Daniel, whose criticism of “Mad Max” gets closer to the problem than my review did:
Thank you for the critical review of Mad Max! I saw it Thursday, and I already knew of its acclaim which might have primed me for a letdown; but if I had to pick one word to describe this movie, that word would be “dull.”
I agree with your praise of the movie, and would add that the visuals of it are impressive and both Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy have terrific charisma and are mesmerizing to watch even when they are looking out a window. That said, I don’t think I found it dull just because I don’t like chase movies. I think it’s dull because we are given no reason to care about any of the characters.
Honestly, do you feel as though you have a sense of a full human being with any of them? Our eponymous character is closest, but how would you describe him? He’s tough and taciturn and plagued by nightmarish images of his past. That’s the best I can do. That’s the starting point for a character not its end point. By the way, the loved ones he didn’t save – did he make a choice of some kind to save himself rather than them? Or, were their deaths inevitable given the dire situations in which they found themselves? It’s ambiguous, but nothing is done with that ambiguity.
Furiosa? She is tough and taciturn. She wants redemption. But, wait, redemption usually means righting a past wrong. Is that what it means for her? Did she do something particularly wrong for which she feels guilty? Or, does she just want to do away with the maniacal patriarchy? It’s ambiguous, but nothing is done with that ambiguity either. What was her goal anyway? If she managed to bring the breeders to the green place, why wouldn’t that just lead to numerous raiding parties from Immortan Joe to that green place probably destroying it if it had not been destroyed already. Is Immortan Joe unaware of the (formerly) green place a day’s ride away? That seems unlikely, doesn’t it? I’m confused.
What about Nicholas Hoult’s character? He is maniacally loyal to Immortan Joe and full of competitive machismo – until he isn’t because … um … he’s convinced that Immortan Joe would never forgive me for letting his favorite die. Why does he think that exactly? He’s an underling. Why wouldn’t he immediately think that Joe would want revenge and would reward him for killing those who killed his favorite? Isn’t Immortan Joe the angry vengeful sort?
As for that favorite, what can we say about her? She’s attractive. She starts acting heroically before she dies. But we aren’t given a sense that any of the others think of her as special outside of the fact that she is described as Joe’s favorite, a description that isn’t prefigured in any way. And once she’s dead, she won’t be mentioned again.
Zoe Kravitz’s character? She’s feistier than the others. Actually, she’s legitimately feisty. That’s a character trait, so good for her.
The brunette? She despairs at one point. But that despair isn’t prefigured in any way and once the one minute scene is over, it won’t be mentioned again either. And despairing at one point is not a character trait. All of these moments that aren’t pre-figured in any way and have no broader connection to the “story” are what I like to call “Bad Writing 101.”
The red-head? She is affectionate around Nicholas Hoult’s character and seems attracted to him. That isn’t a character trait. She seems vaguely more motherly than the others, but three of the others (the favorite, the brunette and the blond) are such non-entities that being a bit more motherly than they are isn’t saying much.
The blond? She mentions that she’s pregnant. It’s a comment that isn’t prefigured and will not be brought up again at any point. Obviously, being pregnant isn’t a character trait, but what else can you say about her?
As for the bad guys, Immortan Joe and his brothers are so grotesque as to be cartoonish. In fact, it has to be said that Ultron is less cartoonish than they are. He has actual goals. Their goals – wait, what are their goals? Does he just want his models, I mean, breeders back? Does he just want to demonstrate that no one can escape his authority? I guess that makes sense, but his society doesn’t seem susceptible to those kinds of worries – although it’s shown to be fragile at the end of the movie – which wasn’t prefigured in any way, sigh. I think he is just supposed to be angry and maniacal and patriarchal, and he’s giving chase with an army because: angry, maniacal, patriarchal. These aren’t actually goals in any real sense of the word. Outside of Nicholas Hoult, the big guy and the guy with the flaming guitar, the chalky underlings are less distinguishable than Despicable Me’s minions. They die randomly, and it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone at all. I realize that it isn’t supposed to matter, but with no real characters at all, it would help if the “villains” were interesting – well interesting other than visually.
I also have to say, I like that so little was done with CGI, but the stunts gave scenes visual heft but not emotional heft. Emotional heft is what matters, it is what gives a chase scene (or a chase movie) tension and drama. This movie is loud and frenetic, but it isn’t dramatic – which is why I found it so dull. Sometimes I will say about a movie that it’s very good but has some noticeable flaws. This movie is the inverse; it’s terrible, but it has some noticeable good points.
I did not intend to write this much. I think I’ve felt more exasperated by this movie than most because I do not understand the critical acclaim for it. Fairly often, if a movie is broadly critically acclaimed, and I did not enjoy it, I seriously wonder what I might have missed as you seem to have done by asking about your “major malfunction.” I haven’t felt that way with this movie. This movie strikes me as objectively awful, and, yes, I believe there is such a thing. Your criticism of it gave me something to which I could respond, and I hope you don’t mind my sending what I’ve written your way. Thank you for continuing to think and write. I appreciate it.