Movie Reviews - 2013 postsFriday February 28, 2014
Movie Review: Enough Said (2013)
She should have told them sooner. Not for them; for us.
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a middle-aged masseuse in southern California, who, as the movie opens, has to endure, silently and in light-comedic fashion, her clients’ foibles: one woman gabs nonstop, an elderly man has bad breath, a young, fit man lives at the top of a long set of stairs but never bothers to offer a hand with her heavy massage table. She says nothing about any of this. Instead, she gives us the Elaine Benes tics and mannerisms: some combination of endurance for their foibles followed by “am I bad person?” regret for what she’s thinking of their foibles. It’s not bad but it did remind me of “Seinfeld.” As did the masseuse thing. As did ... More later.
Early on, Eva attends a party with her friends Sarah and Will (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone), a couple forever squabbling about petty things, and there she meets both a new customer, Marianne (Catherine Keener), who apparently makes a living as a poet (the question that nobody asked that I’d ask? “How?”); and Albert (James Gandolfini), a sweet guy, who, like Eva, has an upfront-but-through-the-back-door kind of sense of humor. They connect in this manner. That’s the interesting thing about Eva: She tends to—as Elaine Benes would’ve said— blah all the time; yet it’s not talking, not being upfront, that gets her into trouble.
Despite not being attracted to Albert—he’s fat (stocky) and bald (bald-ing)—she goes out with him. And they hit it off. He’s funny, she’s funny. They talk like old friends. They talk, to be honest, a bit like George and Jerry on “Seinfeld”: about nothing and everything. At one point, Albert, who works at a museum of television history, bitches about one of those “Real Housewives” shows, and Eva agrees:
Eva: No brains, and the fake cheekbones, and the fake boobs. [Pause] Do you like fake boobs?
Albert: [surprised] No. No, I like real boobs.
Eva: Yeah. [Pause] I got real boobs.
Albert: That’s workin’ out for us then.
I liked them together. I liked him. He’s got a twinkle in his eyes and a gentleness in his spirit. He’s also the grown-up in the room. He’s got an acceptance of the foibles of the world, including, maybe especially, his own.
Marianne? The poet? Who is now Eva’s friend? Unaccepting. Her ex, for example, was also overweight, and he did awful things that drove her nuts. He liked guacamole, for example, but didn’t like the onions in the guacamole; so he used to put his chip in and swirl the guac until the onions were safely off to the side. Drove her nuts.
Guess what? Albert does the same thing! Guess what? Albert is Marianne’s ex.
Up to this point I liked the movie. It was trying to be an interesting story about people like us: people whose bathroom mirrors have dried toothpaste spittle on them. Even at this moment, during this reveal, I thought, “Well, that’s an interesting coincidence. Let’s see what happens when she tells them.”
Except she never does. And that’s what the movie becomes: not telling them. Either one of them. She takes Marianne’s intolerance of her ex into her relationship with Albert and tries to change him. She brings up his lack of bedside tables, his many brands of mouthwash, his ... stockiness. She says she’s going to buy him a calorie book. “Why’d I get the feeling I just spent the evening with my ex-wife?” he says at one point.
Eva realizes the Albert/Marianne connection halfway through the movie but we’re near the end before she’s forced, by circumstances, to own up to it. But by this point, she’s already blown it with Albert. Not to mention us.
“I don’t like any of these people,” Patricia said near the end.
I liked Albert. I also liked Peter, Eva’s ex, played by Toby Huss, who looked immediately familiar to me. He should, he’s been in everything from “Jerry Maguire” to “42,” but I recognized him as Jack, Elaine’s twinkly-eyed boyfriend who turns out to be the B-actor playing “the Wiz” in the schlocky east-coast commercial “Nobody beats the Wiz!” on “Seinfeld.” Peter is another adult in the room.
Isn’t it interesting how the men are the adults? I’ve noticed this more and more in stories created by women, “Girls” particularly, where Adam and Ray are relatively stable dudes, while the girls of the title go off on tangents and on each other. “Enough Said” was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give,” “Friends with Money,” “Lovely & Amazing”), but the women in it are fairly awful. Marianne is carping and bland; she seems like she’s floating in an ether of nothing. Her daughter, Tess (Eve Hewson), is spoiled and rude. Eva is just small. Only Eva’s daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), is worth a damn.
Lessons are learned, I suppose, but they’re lessons we know. Eva learns she should speak her mind more. She asks the young massage client at the top of the stairs to help her with her table, and he does, apologizing profusely all the way. So that works. She tries to reconnect with Albert. The ending of the movie is the picture on the poster: the two of them sitting on his back steps, maybe together, maybe not. It’s an ambivalent ending for a movie that still feels all tied up in a neat bow.
Movie Review: The Past (2013)
In Asghar Farhadi’s “Le passé” (“The Past”), we often see the thing before knowing what the thing means.
So a pretty woman, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), greets a man, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), arriving at the airport, with a smile and a wave, but he’s not her lover; he’s her estranged husband returning to sign the divorce papers. So her lover, Samir (Tahar Rahim of “Un Prophete”), lies in bed while she administers eyedrops to him. The next day, in by-the-way fashion, we discover he’s allergic to all the paint scattered around the house. So the oldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), is distant and uncommunicative with her mother. The story behind that, with its many twists and turns, takes most of the movie to tell.
We first see the thing, in other words, then we find out its past.
This is a beautiful movie, by the way. There are small, exquisite scenes. It all seems so simple. I kept wondering, “Why can’t other filmmakers make scenes that feel this real, this straightforward, this interesting?”
I’m thinking of an early scene. Ahmad arrives and expects to get a hotel room, but Marie is putting him up at her place. Is he thinking they’ll sleep together? One last time? But he finds out she’s living with a guy. Samir. He’s dropped into a situation. As are we.
There are two kids playing in her small yard: a boy and a girl. You expect them to squeal with delight when they see Ahmad but it takes a moment before the girl, Léa (Jeanne Justin), even realizes who he is; and even then the boy, Fouad (Elyes Aguis), just squints, frowns, doesn’t get it. But he doesn’t like it. This new man helps blowdry his mother’s hair? That seems ... wrong. (To us, too.) He has to move bedrooms to accommodate him? Fouad does so petulantly, dragging his blankets and pillows around, saying “What a pain.” Ahmad is gentle with him, though. He talks to him. By now we know Ahmad is not the boy’s father but it’s not until Fouad drags his pillow and blankets back downstairs and knocks over the paintcan in the hallway, and Marie blows up, chasing him around, that we find out she’s not his mother, either. “You’re not my mother!” he shouts. Then she leaves for work at a pharmacy and Ahmad is left to clean up both messes: the physical and the metaphoric. He does so with calm and grace. He gives the boy the one thing he doesn’t have: power and control. “Is it because I’m here?” he asks, about the acting out. “Do you want me to leave?” he asks. There’s a pause. Then Fouad quietly shakes his head.
That the small, exquisite scene I was thinking of.
The movie keeps doing this. There’s a moment, halfway through, with Samir and Marie in their car. Tensions have risen in the home, and between them, because, you know, her ex is staying with them. They kind of look alike, too, Samir and Ahmad. At least Lucie points this out to Ahmad. Does Samir wonder about it? In the car, stuck in traffic, they’re silent. Samir is driving, manual, then finds Marie’s hand on his on the stick. A conciliatory gesture? He looks at their hands together, then over at Marie, but she has her eyes closed as if in reverie. Is she thinking of Samir ... or Ahmad? Or is she just tired? But he shakes her hand off, which startles her awake. Now she wonders: Is he angry?
It’s a small, everyday scene, but so much is suggested by it.
Revelations keep coming. What happened to Fouad’s mother? Turns out she’s in a coma. For much of the movie, Ahmad is like a gentle detective of the heart, trying to figure out why Lucie, who is not his child, (none of them are), is estranged from Marie. It’s like peeling an onion. One answer just leads to another, deeper answer.
First Lucie says she doesn’t like “that jerk,” Samir. Then she admits it’s more about her mother: Men stay for a few years, then leave, and Lucie is tired of it. Ahmad is implicated here, too. Then Lucie admits it’s the affair: her mother had an affair with Samir, and afterwards Samir’s wife tried to kill herself, and that’s why she’s in a coma. They caused it. With their affair. Awful stuff. Or did they? Samir doesn’t think so. He runs a dry cleaner, and five days before the suicide attempt his wife had a meltdown with a customer. The attempted suicide had nothing to do with him and Marie. His wife didn’t even know about it.
Except she did. Because Lucie told her. That’s the awful secret Lucie’s been carrying. That’s why she’s been distant. She can’t bear her own culpability.
In this way we keep getting deeper into the past until it threatens the stability of the present. Or is it merely clearing the way for the present? Or both?
The last third of the movie belongs to Samir, who begins his own detective work of the heart. Lucie called his wife at the dry cleaner’s the day before her suicide? But his wife wasn’t at the dry cleaner’s the day before her suicide. So is Lucie lying? Or is there another explanation?
Near the end, we get talk about letting go of the past, living in the present, yadda yadda. A lesser movie would’ve gone in this direction. It would’ve given us this wish-fulfillment fantasy, this correct way of being, this problem solved. Not here. Here, Samir visits his comatose wife, bringing along her perfumes and his cologne in a last-ditch effort to revive her. He’s heard the olfactory memory is our longest-lasting—Proust was right about that—and he wants to test it. But nothing happens. And we see him walking away from the room, and down the hallway, and away from the past.
A lesser movie would’ve ended there.
But Samir stops, turns, pauses. A better movie might’ve ended there: man forever caught between past and present, like Antoine Doinel at the shore.
Instead, Farhadi (“A Separation”) has Samir walk back into the room. He tries once more with the cologne. “If you can hear me,” he tells his wife, “squeeze my hand.” Then the camera pans to his hand in her open hand. We’re watching, waiting, for any movement. But there isn’t any. That’s it.
And that’s the best ending of all for “The Past.” A man being held, and not, by something that’s dead, and isn’t.
Movie Review: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Here we go again.
I wasn’t a fan of the first “Kick-Ass,” which began as an ironic look at superheroes but quickly became, with the introduction of Big Daddy and Hit Girl (Nic Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz), another wish-fulfillment fantasy about superheroes—just with more kill shots and swear words.
“Kick-Ass 2” still pretends to be living in a world without superpowered beings but that doesn’t mean its characters can’t do superpowered things. Big Daddy’s gone, without even a picture to remember him by (Cage, one assumes, would get paid for that), but Hit Girl can still take out 20 people by herself. “Robin wishes he were me,” she says.
More, in the wake of Kick-Ass’s exploits, ordinary citizens have come forward to act as superheroes: Col. Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). The Colonel is an old mob enforcer who has turned to the light side, and he, too, can take out 10 bad guys simultaneously in the manner of Batman-y, Matrix-y, Hollywood-via-Hong-Kong slow-mo martial arts madness. Hell, even Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) can do this now. He’s not a skinny kid anymore. He’s completely cut. He’s got a ridiculously sculptured body. Apparently all it takes is a good montage sequence. Fucking Rocky.
It’s a few years after the original movie, and Dave has hung up his Kick-Ass tights even as he hungers for more action. Meanwhile, Hit Girl, Mindy Macready, now raised by her father’s friend, Det. Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), enters high school: freshman to Dave’s senior.
But they’re on different paths. She makes a promise to Marcus not to be a superhero anymore, which leaves her to walk the more perilous path of schoolgirl popularity contests, while he wants to do nothing but fight crime. He does this by joining a team, Justice Forever, led by Col. Stars and Stripes. Their first big case? Breaking up a sex-slave ring run by Chinese triad members. They do it without breaking much of a sweat. Then they high-five each other and whoop it up. Then Kick Ass and Night Bitch have sex in a toilet stall.
Unbeknownst to all, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the former Red Mist, whose father, Frank (Mark Strong), a ruthless mob boss, was killed by Kick-Ass at the end of the last movie, is plotting revenge in his whiny, pathetic fashion. First he accidentally kills his mom by kicking her tanning booth. Then he hires MMA guys to train him in the ways of fighting. But he lacks discipline. Since he doesn’t lack for money, he simply hires his team of supervillains, including Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), a butchier Brigitte Nielsen, who, in one sequence, kills 10 cops, two by two, in a quiet suburban neighborhood. She also kills Col. Stars and Stripes.
Of course the cops react poorly to the death of 10 cops and crack down on all costumed wannabes, villains and heroes. When they show up at Dave’s house, Dave’s father, Mr. Lizewski (Garrett M. Brown), with whom Dave has been fighting, takes the rap, then dies in prison at the hands of Chris D’Amico’s goons, who take a cellphone picture and send it to Dave.
All this time, by the way, we’ve been getting bits of Mindy’s costumeless life. The popular, bitchy girls, led by Brooke (Claudia Lee), befriend her but don’t really. When Mindy wins some cheerleader tryouts, with her martial arts madness routine, even over Brooke’s sexyback number, she has to pay. What happens? A cute boy, whom she asks out, takes her into the woods, where the other girls say mean things and leave. That’s it. But she’s hurt. So she teachers them a lesson. How? By using a sonic device that causes people to vomit and shit at the same time.
The worst of times, the worst of times
Eventually, of course, she’s pulled back in, and there’s a big showdown at the supervillains’ lair. Kick Ass and Hit Girl walk in alone and D’Amico, now The Motherfucker, laughs and says, in essence, the two of you against all of us? At which point doors open and all the rest of the superheroes waltz in and stand and pose. It’s a superhero moment. Awful, unironic version.
I really do hate these movies. It’s partly the crudity, partly the stupidity, but mostly the lie: the lie that we’re too hip to want the wish-fulfillment fantasy. Feeling nothing via irony is, I suppose, just a short step from wishing to feel nothing through invulnerability, but they’re still both childish wishes. It’s the worst of both worlds.
Movie Review: Lone Survivor (2013)
“Lone Survivor,” the movie, starring Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell, is based upon Luttrell’s book, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.” It’s a good title for a book but a bad one for a movie.
If you’ve seen the trailer you know four Navy SEALS come across three goat herders in the enemy mountains of Afghanistan and let them go (crossing their fingers) rather than kill them. Then they’re pursued by the Taliban up and down those mountains. Mostly down. It’s the anti-My Lai story. Our men do the right thing and die as a result.
But with that background, and that title, what don’t we know going in? Which one survives? One assumes it’s Wahlberg, even without knowing he plays Luttrell, since he’s the star. So what don’t we know?
We don’t know this: the deus ex machina. For a moment, three-quarters through the movie, it looks like it’s going to be the traditional one: the U.S. military; the cavalry.
Nope. The deus ex machina is the most intriguing thing about “Lone Survivor.” It’s also the most glossed-over. It’s as if the movie doesn’t realize the story it has.
I thought it was brutal during the opening credits, when we got real-life footage of Navy SEALS during their insane training—e.g.: chained and dropped in pools so they learn to suffocate without panicking—but that’s merely to show us who these men are, and why they’ll cope with the brutality to come. They’ve been trained for it. They’ve been trained to keep going.
It begins, as so many of our stories do these days, at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, where we meet our four young men. They wake up. They give each other shit. Two of them race around the airbase in shorts and tennis shoes but the skinny one, Danny (Emile Hirsch), loses in the end to the buffer one, Mike (Taylor Kitsch), who is something of a legend. They eat breakfast and give shit to the new guy, Shane (Alexander Ludwig), who is buff and beardless and wants to fit in. They talk about their wives or girls back home. One girl wants an Arabian horse but the dude keeps calling it an Arabic horse. Marcus is from Texas. Mike is respected.
Could we have learned more about these guys early on? Surely there was more to know. Instead, this shorthand. They’re guys in a beer commercial now.
Then off they go on a mission. Something about beers: Corona, Miller, Heineken. Something about Rick James. Something about Spartan Zero One.
Eventually we realize, “Oh, they’re Spartan Zero One, the beers are location points on the way to the target, who is Rick James, a.k.a. “Superfreak,” a.k.a. Shah (Yousef Azami), the dark-eyed Taliban leader who’s been assassinating U.S. Marines. They’re supposed to get in, kill him, get out.
They spot him, too. High up on the hill above their target, they have him in their sites. But they move to higher ground. Then the goat herders come: an old man, a boy, an angry teen.
Matt (Ben Foster, steely-eyed) counsels killing them. He nods to his brothers. “I care about you, I care about you, I care about you,” he says. “I don’t care about them.” Marcus is against it. It’s against the rules of engagement, he says. If it winds up on CNN they’re fucked, he says. Mike, the leader, follows Marcus’ logic and lets the goatherders go. But as the men climb to higher ground, the mission compromised, they lose communication with Bagram. Meanwhile, the angry teen bounds down the mountain like he’s a parkour expert. Our men are barely situated up top before they’re surrounded; before the firefight begins.
We know we lose three, right? So how many do they lose? That’s how I kept interested during all the fighting. I counted the kill shots. I got up to 23. Still the Taliban keep coming. There’s no end to them. And our guys keep getting hit, too, and wounded, and escaping by basically falling down the mountain, out of control, and smashing into trees and rocks. It is, as I’ve said, brutal. But they keep going. Until they can’t go on anymore. One by one, bloodied beyond recognition, they stop moving.
Until there’s one left.
So how is Marcus saved?
For a moment it looks like other SEALS at Bagram will save him. They show up in a Chinook helicopter. But the Taliban has an RPG and down goes the helicopter in a burst of flame. So much for my 23-3 tally. And Marcus is on his own again.
He crawls to a safe spot and rests; then he collapses into a pool of water. When he looks up, three Afghanis are standing there. They help him but he doesn’t trust them. They drag him to their village and feed him. Still he doesn’t trust them. But they go out of their way to save him. This is particularly true of Mohammad Gulab (Ali Suliman), the village leader. The Taliban come into their village and are told to leave. The Taliban return, and there’s a firefight, and the right-hand man of the Shah is killed in hand-to-hand combat by Gulab. It all feels like bullshit but most of it isn’t. “Why are you doing this for me?” Marcus keeps asking. Right. Exactly. That’s what we want to know.
We find out in an afterword. Gulab was simply following a code of honor called Pashtunwali. Its first principle is melmastia: “showing hospitality and profound respect to all visitors, regardless of race, religion, national affiliation or economic status.” Its second principle is nanawatai: “...protection given to a person against his or her enemies.” The third is justice, the fourth bravery. That’s why.
The movie ends with Luttrell’s rescue but the story continued for Gulab. From MensJournal.com:
Shortly after Luttrell was airlifted to safety by Green Berets in 2005, Gulab and his family became top Taliban targets. “They have a bounty on his head,” Luttrell says. “He’s been shot, his car’s been blown up, and his house has been burned down.” Gulab soon reached out to Luttrell, who arranged for the Afghan to visit him on his ranch northwest of Houston. ... Luttrell and Berg knew the film would bring renewed Taliban scrutiny upon Gulab and are currently working on obtaining U.S. visas for the Afghan and his family. “I knew we needed to get him and his family out of Afghanistan and offer asylum if he wants it,” Berg says. “But Gulab is a proud fighter. His attitude is, ‘I sleep with two AKs; if they want to come, they know where I am.’”
You know what the above sounds like to me? A movie. A better movie than this one. Unfortunately it’s about someone who doesn’t even speak English. Hollywood doesn’t tell those tales often.
At the end of “Lone Survivor,” in voiceover, we hear the following from Luttrell:
I died up on that mountain. There is no question a part of me will forever be up on that mountain, dead as my brothers died. But there is a part of me that lived. Because of my brothers, because of them, I am still alive ...
Well, one other guy helped.
Movie Review: Red 2 (2013)
How did we get to this point? Where this is entertainment? Movie-star relics pretending to be Cold War relics zipping around the globe for a game of hide and seek the weapon of mass destruction?
Let’s take it from the top.
In 1979, a British scientist named Bailey created something, codenamed “Nightshade,” that could alter the balance of power. In Britain’s favor? That’s never raised. For some reason he was ... in Moscow? Am I getting that wrong? He was being guarded by CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and maybe Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), rather than MI-6, when he was killed, and that was that, until suddenly some top-secret “Nightshade” document pops up on Wikipedia and everyone’s trying to kill everyone. The U.S. government wants both Frank and Marvin dead. Just cuz? Or do they think they’re the leakers? Whichever, they put a hit out on Frank. They hire the world’s top assassin, Han Cho Bai (Lee Byung-hun), and maybe old pal Victoria, too (Helen Mirren). But Victoria proves a pal, teaming up with Frank rather than killing him, while Han plays Kato to Frank’s Inspector Clouseau: popping up throughout the movie and failing to off him. Hi-ya! Later he teams up with everyone to save the world. Or at least London and Washington, D.C. Assassins of the world, unite!
All the old Cold War powers keep bumping into each other and people keeping dying. The U.S., in the form of Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), is particularly interested in keeping Nightshade hush-hush. We watch as Jack kills a five-star general in his Pentagon office when he suggests going public. The U.S.S.R., in the shapelier form of Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), tries to seduce Frank, as in days of old, which leads to the subplot of Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), Frank’s girl, wringing her hands over these matters and getting involved in the spy game. Which she totally wanted to do anyway.
I’ll be like the movie and cut to the chase: Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) is alive. He’s been kept in an MI-6 prison for the criminally insane for 32 years. Not because he was behind “Nightshade,” which was really something called “Red Mercury”—which was, and is, a WMD that’s completely undetectable (for now)—but because back then he wanted to use it on the Soviets. Bad form. Drawring outside the lines, as it were.
But why do they have to go to France to talk to “The Frog” (David Thewlis) anyway? Because he has a security deposit key that contains info on ... Bailey? How do they know this? Was it on the Wikipedia page? And why couldn’t they get a French actor for “The Frog”?
No, they go to Paris, because Paris is part of the bang-zoom, ping-pong, zip-a-dee-doo-dah of the movie. They begin at a Costco in Somewhere, America, which leads to incarceration and shootout in New York City, then same in Paris, then same in London, then same in Moscow, then back to London and the Iranian embassy there. By this point, Bailey, that sly dog, has conned Frank and Victoria (into setting him free), Jack Horton (into thinking he’d teamed up with him), and the Iranians (into thinking he’d sell them Red Mercury). But the last con belongs to Frank, who slips the ticking Red Mercury bomb onto Bailey’s plane, which used to be Frank’s, which used to be Han’s, and it blows up mid-air, setting off beautiful colors. And radiation? Are there after-effects we don’t know about? Please.
Overall, Mary-Louise Parker’s shtick gets old, Malkovich’s isn’t bad, and Willis doesn’t really have any. He seems ready for retirement. The Han subplot, meanwhile, is vaguely insulting, while the overall shtick (glib conversations about or while killing people) is vaguely nauseating when you think about it.
I liked Hopkins. He has a great line-reading, almost mumbled: “They really do throw us away after giving them the best years of our lives. Bit of a shame, really.” There’s something in the way he says it. It’s not just glib dialogue. It has ... what’s the word? ... meaning.