erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2014 posts

Friday October 17, 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)


At first I thought: “Oh, they’re doing ‘Groundhog Day.” Then I thought: “Oh, it’s like a video game.” At the end I realized: “It’s like a movie. But not because it is a movie.”

More on that later.

First, why it’s like “Groundhog Dog” but not as good as “Groundhog Day.”

“Groundhog Day,” co-written and directed by Harold Ramis, took a shallow weatherman, Phil (Bill Murray), and forced him to live the same lousy day over and over until he became a decent person. It’s about the growth of the soul. It’s funny and inventive.

“Edge of Tomorrow,” directed by Doug Liman, takes a shallow PR exec, Cage (Tom Cruise), and forces him to live the same lousy day over and over—the day he dies, actually—until he becomes such an expert soldier that he saves not only himself but all of humanity from an alien attack. It’s often funny and inventive. But it’s less about the growth of the soul than about getting good enough at soldiering (leaping and dodging and shooting) to make it to the next level.

Which is why it’s like a video game. You play until you die and then you start over again.

For some people—gamers, hipsters, folks trying to monetize the popularity of video games into the movie business—this is a plus. Not me. I got bored. Tom Cruise is the avatar, Liman and company are making him jump and dodge and shoot, and I’m just sitting there. Hey, watch out for the ...! Right. GAME OVER. Reboot.

Sci-fi Normandy
As the movie starts, we get news reports of a meteor landing in Germany. It turns out to be an alien attack. Edge of TomorrowThese aliens are like sand worms mixed with the Tasmanian Devil, and they spread out from Germany, even as the United Defense Force, under the command of Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), readies a counterattack from Britain called “Operation Downfall.” So it’s basically a sci-fi version of World War II. It’s sci-fi Normandy. Because that’s cool? Because that’s the only way we can comprehend it? Because the filmmakers are lazy?

We first see Maj. Cage on cable news, promoting the “Angel of Verdun,” Rita (Emily Blunt), a super-soldier who stopped the alien attack in northern France. “We fight,” he tells the camera with authority. “That’s what we do.”

Well, he doesn’t. Gen. Brigham wants Cage to film “Operation Downfall” but Cage wants no part of it. “I’m not a soldier, really,” he says. “I can’t stand the sight of blood.” Brigham doesn’t take no for an answer. So Cage tries to blackmail him. For that he’s arrested, tased, and wakes up on some duffel bags at Heathrow airport. “On your feet, Maggot!” a sergeant yells at him. This will be the reboot point for the rest of the movie. The START OVER point. 

It’s a nightmare point for Cage. He’s been busted to private and assigned to combat in J Squad, none of whom like him particularly. Why should they? Suddenly they’re fighting next to a guy who can’t fight. Why would the general even do that? Doesn’t he like J Squad? And why doesn’t anyone recognize him from TV?

In an inspired bit of casting, the Master Sergeant for J Squad is Bill Paxton, the original “Game Over” dude, who gets off some good lines. Asked if he’s American, he replies, “No, sir, I’m from Kentucky.” Before the mission, he tells Cage, in words that echo, “Tomorrow, you will be baptized. Born again!”

The invasion, of course, is a trap, the soldiers are slaughtered, Cage dies. Ah, but because in his panic he kills an “Alpha,” an alien that can reset time, and its blood mixes with his, he develops this ability. For a while he doesn’t know it. For a while, he’s merely experiencing a massive sense of déjà vu. But eventually, in the third or fourth incarnation, the Angel of Verdun herself tells him what’s going on. She had that ability for a while. Thus Verdun. “An enemy that knows the future can’t lose,” she says. Now Cage has that ability. So what will he do with it?

(BTW: For a race that can know the future, they do an awful job of keeping this ability out of the hands—or the blood—of the enemy, don’t they? And isn’t that a fairly easy security breach? “We’ll be fine in this war as long as no one bleeds on anyone.”)

Here’s what Cage does with the ability to reset time. He trains and trains and trains. He goes from PR flak to supersoldier. Then he has to make it off the beach and into the countryside. Then he and Rita have to leave this farmhouse and attack this mountain. Then ...

Right. Different levels.

The end game is the Omega, the aliens’ “hive mind.” But the Omega isn’t in the equivalent of Berchtesgaden, as originally thought; that was a ruse. It’s under the Louvre, man. So that becomes the fight. Except in one iteration, Cage isn’t killed but merely wounded. And he’s given a blood transfusion. And there goes his power to reset time.

A quick aside. Years ago, I tested video games for Microsoft PCs and Xbox; and one night we were testing, I believe, “Midtown Madness,” a car racing game, and we went late, 2 or 3 a.m., after which I drove home. And it was odd. I had to remind myself, “Oh, this is real.” I’d been crashing and dying and rebooting without consequence for so long that I had to consciously remind myself that life had consequences.

It would’ve been nice if Cage, after losing his reboot abilities, had had a similar epiphany.

Instead, he and Rita and J Squad simply team up to attack the Omega, and they all die in the process. Including Cage. But then—because he killed the hive mind?—he’s reborn earlier than at his reboot point, before his encounter with Gen. Brigham, who informs him that the aliens have died off on their own. He did it, Cage did it, but no one knows. Except him. And us. Hoorah.

We've seen this hero before
So here’s why this movie is like a movie. And why it’s disappointing in that regard.

In the beginning, Cruise’s character, Cage, is somewhat shallow and cowardly. He doesn’t have special abilities. He’s like us entering the darkened theater with our tub of popcorn. Then as the movie progresses he becomes the wish-fulfillment fantasy, just as we, munching our popcorn in the dark, transfer ourselves into this heroic character on screen.

The process that Cage goes through in the movie is the process we all go through watching movies.

And that’s why I was ultimately disappointed. The shallow, fearful Cruise at the beginning? He was refreshing. The hero he became? We’ve seen that guy a thousand times. 

Posted at 08:24 AM on Oct 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Tuesday October 14, 2014

Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)


Sadly, I figured out the plot twist before I even saw it. The week it premiered, I came across a headline, “Is ‘Gone Girl’ Misogynistic?” and that’s pretty much all it took. I knew the movie was about a pretty blonde, Amy (Rosamund Pike), whose husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), becomes the chief suspect, and a cable news cad, after her disappearance. So our big question going in is: Does he or doesn’t he? But if the movie can be accused of misogyny, not only does it clear Nick but it implicates Amy. Maybe she just leaves? Maybe she manufactures the whole thing to get attention—or to turn the world against her husband? Which, yes, turns out to be the case.

So be more careful with your headlines, everybody.

I don’t even agree with the implication in the headline. At some point the one doesn’t represent the whole. Amy isn’t all women any more than Norman Bates is all men. Nor Nick, for that matter. Nick is lazy, adulterous, dull, cowardly. Most of the men in this movie are playthings for the women. Gone GirlThat moment when Amy and Det. Rhonda Boney (an excellent Kim Dickens) get into a subtle staredown after Amy’s reappearance, with a scrum of concerned FBI agents between them, I flashed on Margaret Atwood’s novel “Cat’s Eye,” and thought things were about to get good. But that was it. They had Det. Boney peel off from the story. Too bad. It was a nice scene anyway. With the dopey FBI men acting solicitous toward Amy (who was a murderer), and stern toward Det. Boney (who was simply doing her job), I began to laugh out loud.

That’s something I didn’t see coming. “Gone Girl,” based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, is a David Fincher crime story so in the tradition of gritty, gruesome stuff like “Se7en” and “Zodiac” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The last thing you expect are laughs. Yet they keep coming. The movie is an absurdist take on marriage and privilege and fame and infamy. It’s high camp. It’s the funniest movie David Fincher has made.

When did I begin laughing? I think when the parents arrived in Missouri.

Amy goes missing on the afternoon of her fifth wedding anniversary. Nick comes home, she’s not there, the glass coffee table is upended and broken. So he calls the cops. He’s kind of dazed. Wooden. We find out later he’s been schtupping a writing student with the All-American name Andie Hardy (model Emily Ratajkowski, the “Blurred Lines” girl), and that morning he was ready to ask his wife for a divorce. So part of him is relieved by her disappearance. But he can’t show that. The casting of Ben Affleck—long accused of wooden acting—is itself a kind of joke. Later in the movie, for example, Nick is prepped by his top-flight attorney, Tanner Bolt (a surprisingly smooth Tyler Perry), before he goes on one of those awful Barbara Walters-like shows to confess his infidelity, and every time Nick acts wooden Bolt pelts him with a gummy bear. Directors from Michael Bay to Kevin Smith are probably going, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

So on that first day, her parents, rich, privileged New Yorkers, Rand and Marybeth Elliott (a perfectly cast David Clennon and Lisa Banes), arrive in Missouri; and in the press conference in which Nick does everything wrong—acts wooden, mumbles a few words, smiles awkwardly next to his wife’s missing photo—they do everything right. They look grim and determined. They give out the 1-888 number they’ve already set up and the URL to the website they’ve already set up. They’re whirlwinds. It shouldn’t be funny—a woman is missing, after all—but it is. And it gets funnier as Nick drives around town and sees billboards displaying his missing wife’s face. How quickly his story becomes their story becomes everybody’s story. How quickly he becomes inconsequential.

Would it be less funny if we actually liked Nick and Amy? We get flashbacks to when they first meet, trading bon mots at a New York cocktail party, and it feels less “meet cute” than “meet awful.” They’re vaguely intellectual, fairly privileged, mostly shallow. He writes for a men’s health magazine, she writes ... where again? I forget. She’s more famous for being the inspiration for a series of children’s books, “Amazing Amy,” that her mother wrote. Plus she’s played by Rosamund Pike, who often projects a decided chill onto the screen.

“The hallmark of a sociopath is a lack of empathy,” says cable-news harpy Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), implicating Nick in the disappearance of his wife, even if, ultimately, the description fits Amy more than Nick. And Ellen Abbott as much as Amy? She makes her living, and a good one, ruining lives with innuendo. Amy just accuses men of rape. Or “disappears” to get back at her dull husband and his infidelities. Or accuses them of rape, then murders them. That’s what she does with her longtime unrequited lover Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), who protects her after her escape plans go awry. But he’s got the lack-of-empathy gene, too, doesn’t he? He loves her, he says, but when she comes to him in need, still in her dowdy, thickening camouflage, he immediately wants to turn her back into the golden girl she once was. It’s funny stuff. She’s still talking about Nick, whom she watches heartfeltly professing his (fake) love for her on national TV, while Desi, also professing his (real?) love, keeps implying she needs to work out more, eat less, dye her hair back to blonde. So many cross-currents of shallow agendas on display here. So little empathy behind so many professions of love.

Who does have empathy in this movie? How wide a brush should we use? And even when characters seem to have empathy—Amy’s parents, the dingbat neighbor Noelle (SNL alum Casey Wilson)—aren’t they just looking out for themselves? Or is this simply our ungenerous view of them? Or is the film being ungenerous?

The key line of the movie is the sociopath line above, the lack-of-empathy-gene, but it leads to this question: How do you lose empathy? Well, it helps if you demonize or reduce others, and the cable-news industry, in the movie and in real life, certainly does that. It demonizes Nick (into a callow murderer) even as it reduces Amy (into a pretty victim). But doesn’t the movie do the same thing? It gives us reductive characters like the dingbat neighbor and the shallow unrequited lover. I suppose that’s why it’s campy. That’s why it’s funny. It brings us laughs at the expense of lessons. But it also answers our question about how wide the sociopathic brush is. It’s so wide, “Gone Girl” paints itself with it. Giggling.

Silly chilly
It’s also why I got bored. I lacked empathy for these reductive characters. I cared a bit about Nick, particularly when he was getting railroaded, and a little about his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), who seemed like a real person. I liked Tanner Bolt and Det. Boney, both of whom seemed smart. But anyone else?

The ending is particularly disappointing and unbelievable. The more interesting characters go away—Bolt, Boney—while Nick winds up back in his marriage, trapped there by public opinion, but now with a woman he knows is capable of murder. The outward projection is of love and perfection, the inner version is hell. It should be chilling but it’s too silly for that. What’s missing is anything human-sized.

Posted at 06:46 AM on Oct 14, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Friday October 10, 2014

Movie Review: The Drop (2014)


The obvious comparison, and it’s a doozy, is with “On the Waterfront”—and not just because Tom Hardy has taken over the Marlon Brando mantle. OK, a little because of that.

Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, just another bum from the neighborhood. He tends bar at Cousin Marv’s in Brooklyn, buys drinks for the boys toasting a dead friend, lets the old woman on the corner stool run up a tab, and deals with the irascibility of Marv (the late, great James Gandolfini), who used to own the bar before Chechen gangsters took it over about 10 years earlier. He romances—kinda—Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a troubled neighbor girl, but mostly he minds his own business.

Both “Waterfront” and “Drop” have dark moods, a weight of the world, a sense of being trapped. The Drop, with Tom HardyThe cops are no help and the church just reminds you of all the bad you’ve done. Even the actors are similar. Hardy’s hair, and his jacket, match Terry Malloy’s, and of course he exudes that Brando-ness (sans, here, raw sexuality). Rapace, the original ass-kicking Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, doesn’t seem an immediate fit with the virginal Eva Marie Saint, but they actually have a similar high-cheekboned look. And if you’re going to update Rod Steiger, who better than Gandolfini?

More to the point, the key relationship for both Bob and Terry is the older relative—brother Charlie, cousin Marv—and each relationship has a dirty history. Years earlier, favors were asked. Lives, maybe, were ruined. Maybe the asker doesn’t know it yet. Maybe he doesn’t want to know.

These are some of the similarities.

Here’s a key difference: We understand Terry sooner. He’s a bit of a bully—I think of Brando’s great sneer in the back of the church as Father Barry tries to organize the workers—but he’s redeemed by love and courage and by his conscience. But Bob? For much of the movie we can’t figure him out. He seems kinda nice, kinda dumb. But just how nice, and how dumb? Because he really seems dumb. He doesn’t know how to care for a dog? Does he even know how to read? Is he a pushover? Is there something in him? We get flashes of it, don’t we? When Detective Torres (John Ortiz) asks why he never takes communion at St. Rocco’s Church, which they both attend regularly, he responds, “That’s my business,” and something hard comes down over his eyes. At key points throughout the movie we get that: something hard coming down over the innocence and the dumb in his eyes.

Above all, he’s calm. Even when crazy Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts of “Rust and Bone”) enters Bob’s home, and stands there, smirking, dangerous, and demands his dog back—the dog Deeds had beaten and left in a garbage can, which Bob nursed back to health—there’s a calm in Bob’s manner and in his eyes.

And the question we ask ourselves, the question that propels us through the movie, is this: Is he calm because he doesn’t know any better .... or because he does?

Contenders, somebodies
The calm is welcome, by the way. This is one tense movie.

Cousin Marv’s is a drop bar for the Chechen gang, one of many, and one night two punks rob the place. “Do you know what you’re doing?” Marv says. “Do you know who’s money you’re jacking?” Soon after, the Chechens show up with a van and a guy in the back with his foot nail-gunned to the floor. “You know this guy?” they ask. Bob and Marv shake their heads, nervous. Blood drips onto the street like an oil leak. Later, based on a tip Bob was dumb enough (or smart enough?) to tell the cops about the stopped watch on one of the robbers, a plastic bag is hung on the fence in the back alley: it contains the stolen $5,000 and the watch ... still attached to the forearm. Now Marv looks even more worried. He should. He planned the robbery. Not for the $5,000—that was a test-run—but for the biggest haul of the year on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s the day we build towards.

Why is Marv doing it? We get a conversation with his sister in which he worries over expenses for his sick, bedridden father, but I don’t think that’s it. He resents his lost status in the world. Near the end of the movie, in his Archie Bunker chair and in that Tony Soprano whine, he tells Bob about the good ol’ days. “When I walked into a place, people stood up straight! They noticed. I was respected. I was feared.” He talks about the corner stool that used to be his. “That meant something!” he cries. Bob responds, as calm as ever, but a little more insistent, a little more cutting: “But it didn’t. Ever. It was just a stool.” It’s a great scene.

This is another difference with “On the Waterfront”: Terry Malloy’s resentment about where he wound up isn’t in Bob; it’s in Marv. Terry tells Charlie,  “I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody,” while it’s Marv who tells Bob, “I was a contender, I was somebody.” Which is why he does what he does.

Bob? “I just tend the bar.” What about the Chechen gang? “I’m not this. And I’m not them.”

But he doesn’t just tend bar.

The original sin in “On the Waterfront” isn’t a murder, although we see enough of those; it’s the brotherly betrayal: Charlie telling his brother to take a dive against Wilson. It’s Cain going for the price against Abel. Terry’s life was never the same after that.

The original sin in “The Drop” also took place years earlier. But to discuss that properly, we have to go back to crazy Eric Deeds.

Not clean
First, Schoenaerts is amazing here. Is there best supporting actor talk? For him or for Galdolfini? Or Hardy for best actor? There should be. For all three. There should at least be talk.

At first, we assume Deeds is part of the Chechen gang, tagging after Bob, making his life miserable. But he’s just an awful person. He likes fucking with people. There’s a palpable menace to him, and the fact that Bob doesn’t buckle under it is the first time we sense Bob’s strength—or his stupidity. But Deeds is too stupid, or too crazy, to realize that Bob didn’t buckle. He keeps at him. He wants the dog and the girl back. Yeah. He used to go out with Nadia but she broke free from him. He probably put the dog in her trash can as a final fuck you; instead it brought together Bob and Nadia.

A lot of the tension in the movie revolves around this pit bull puppy. He’s cute and helpless and we think something bad is going to happen to him, because bad things tend to happen to the helpless in gangster movies. The rumor is that Deeds killed a guy 10 years ago—“Glory Days,” whom the guys at the bar were toasting at the beginning of the movie—and if he can do that, what won’t he do? So Bob is trying to deal with all of this at the same time he’s trying to deal with Marv. Then his problems merge. The Chechens kill the stopped-watch guy, Marv kills the other (running him over brutally), so he needs someone else for the heist. He chooses Deeds. That’s who winds up at the bar on Super Bowl Sunday.

And here, beautifully, the movie shifts slightly on its axis and everything falls into place. Background information from the first act suddenly has meaning in the third.

The old woman on the corner stool? The mother of “Glory Days,” who was killed, not by Deeds (although he took the street credit), but by Bob. For Marv. That’s the original sin. That’s why Bob goes to St. Rocco’s every day and why he can’t take communion, and why he buys drinks for the boys and lets the old woman run up a tab. And that’s why he’s calm in the face of Deeds’ antics. He knows his rep is just that.

Here’s one of the things I love about this movie: The resolution to Bob’s troubles is as

we’d want it—a lone man using violence to achieve justice—but it’s not clean. In that moment of confrontation in the bar, something crazy is revealed in Bob’s eyes and in his manner, and he actually frightens Nadia away. He saves her only to lose her.  Most movies give us this moment as cleanly as possible. Most Hollywood movies anyway. Does it help that “The Drop” not only isn’t Hollywood but it isn’t really American? Sure, Galdofini, and sure, the screenwriter is Denis Lehane, who wrote “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone.” But Hardy’s British, Rapace Swedish, and Schoenaerts and director Michaël R. Roskam are Belgian. They’ve made a thoroughly American movie in the most American of locales with a European sensibility. It’s one of the best movies of the year.

At the end we get this great monologue from Bob. It’s his “contender” speech, but less self-pitying, more hopeless:

There are some sins that you can’t come back from, you know? No matter how hard you try. You just can’t, you know. It’s like the Devil is waiting for your body to give up because he knows … he knows that he already owns your soul. Then, I think maybe, you know, there is no Devil. You die, and God, he says, “Nah … Nah, you can’t come in. You have to leave now. You have to leave and go away, and you have to be alone. You have to be alone forever.”

The way Tom Hardy says “Nah” in this scene. I go to the movies for moments like that.

Did Lehane and Roskam ruin it at the end? The redemption they give Bob? His reprieve and reconciliation? I might not have done it, but it doesn’t ruin it. “The Drop” is too good to ruin.

Posted at 06:24 AM on Oct 10, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Wednesday October 08, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)


Here’s what I want to know: Which investigative reporter finally got to tell Ford Brody’s story? Seymour Hersh? George Packer? Because it’s kind of insane.

“So wait, your mom was killed by the male MUTO, or Mothra, back in ’99. Then your dad, who was obsessed with the disaster, was killed 15 years later when the thing came out of its pupae stage ... and you were there to witness it? Then you were on the train in Honolulu that it attacked, and on the train delivering the nuke to San Francisco that the female attacked? Then you skydived into Chinatown with the team that stole the nuke from the female, and you were the one who torched her eggs to save us from dozens, maybe hundreds, of these things, then faced off against her again on the boat with the nuke? And you were the one who sent the boat out to sea? Thus saving San Francisco from nuclear disaster?

Godzilla 2014“Um, I think I’m going to need some corroborating witnesses.”

Suggested title: “The Greatest American Hero.” Or “Mothra Magnet.”

Patricia and I saw “Godzilla” in Europe this summer, and I immediately dismissed it. Didn’t even plan on writing about it. But when I got back I kept hearing murmurs of praise from critics I respected. Was I wrong? Had I missed something? So I decided to watch it again.

I wasn’t wrong.

Mothra fukra
The trailer for “Godzilla” was good for a reason. Trailers are all about teasing the audience and “Godzilla” turns out to be one big long tease. It’s all delayed gratification. Maybe that’s why other critics like the movie. It recalls “Jaws”: not showing us, for a long time, the reason we came. We don’t see Godzilla until an hour in, when he finally squares off against Mothra (M) in Hawaii; and even then the movie cuts away and we only get a few grainy TV shots of a pitched battle. When Mothra (F) shows up in Vegas, same deal. Director Gareth Edwards keeps doing this. He keeps giving us stunning after-effects of monstrosity. Look how big the thing that WAS here ... is. Probably. And when he finally does give us the big battle between Godzilla and the Mothras, it’s filmed so dark you can hardly make out what’s going on.

I do love the opening credits: taking us from cave paintings of Godzilla, to medieval folio drawings of Godzilla, to early filmed footage of Godzilla’s scaled back submerging beneath the water. The credits keep getting redacted as if by the U.S. military, and all of this is followed by an atomic-bomb blast—an early attempt to kill the creature, we find out later—that turns the screen white. After which we get fallout dust, ghostly music from Alexandre Desplat, and the title: GODZILLA. Cool! It all goes by too fast, to be honest. Unlike the movie.

What’s the most annoying thing about this “Godzilla”? That Ken Watanabe is reduced to gazing, dazed, into the middle distance? That he carries around a stopped pocketwatch and tells Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) that it was his father’s, and that it stopped at 8:15 in the morning on August 6, 1945, and Stenz, after a long, long pause, nods and says “Hiroshima,” as if we wouldn’t know? Is it when we first meet Stenz on his ship and he’s giving some kind of Knute Rockne peptalk to almost no one? Or that he’s filmed from behind until the very end when we get the Big Reveal? Hey, it’s Edward R. Murrow! John Sayles’ friend! You know. The rich perv in “L.A. Confidential.”

Gareth Edwards is big on the Big Reveal. He keeps doing it with his monsters. See? No, you don’t. See? Psych!

During the Knute Rockne speech, Stenz informs his people, and us, that the creature about to attack Honolulu is called MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, adding, almost apologetically, “It is, however, no longer terrestrial; it is airborne.” That made me laugh out loud. Maybe he should’ve added, “And no longer unidentified, either.” So ... MIAO then.

How about when Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson), our hero, is riding the nuke train and his superior radios ahead: “Snake Eyes, this is Bravo to November. Is the bridge clear?” He gets static and sounds of shouts, screams, general panic. “Snake Eyes, I need to know if the bridge is secure or not. Over.” Again, shouts and screams. He tries a third time: the same question in the same tone. Another laugh-out-loud moment.

And what makes the San Francisco police stop all the cars and school buses on the Golden Gate bridge as both Godzilla and Mothra approach? Sure, the Army needs to set up shop. But doesn’t it leave all of those schoolkids, including, of course, Ford’s son, rather, um, vulnerable?

A contender for most annoying moment has to be our military strategy to fight the monsters. Even though we know they literally feed off radiation, the plan is to lure them to Alcatraz ... and nuke them. Which is a little like weakening Stone Cold Steve Austin by feeding him power bars. 

All of those are stupid, but the most unforgivable moment, at least to me, is when they kill Bryan Cranston 40 minutes in. What a waste. He only could’ve helped.

Savoir of Our City?
Ken Watanabe, who at least gives us a great rendition of “Gozira!” has a different plan than the military men. Being a man of science, he thinks, without evidence, that Godzilla is a force for good, or at least balance, and so Godzilla can solve our Mothra problem for us.

He’s right, of course. Godzilla spends the movie pursuing the Mothras as if he’s Javert. Oddly, despite being stomped to the ground by both Mothras, Godzilla waits until the 11th hour to deploy his signature move: fire breath. Even more oddly, it’s blue. Then he collapses, dead. No wait, he lives! And he fights and kills the second Mothra before collapsing dead again. No wait! He lives! And out he goes to sea, ready for the sequel.

This leads to the movie’s final, stupid moment. As Godzilla wades into San Francisco Bay, cable news trains its cameras on him, and we see the graphic: “King of the Monsters: Savoir of Our City?” Wow. That soon? No one’s still freaked by a giant lizard from the sea who breathes fire? We’re ready to embrace him already? Godzilla may be big, but I guess human beings are bigger than I thought. 

Posted at 05:42 AM on Oct 08, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Friday October 03, 2014

Movie Review: Tusk (2014)


In his last movie, “Red State,” writer-director Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) imagined three teenagers in a small Southern town searching for sex; instead they’re drugged and taken prisoner by a charismatic preacher (Michael Parks), and unspeakable things happen to them.

In his new movie, “Tusk,” Smith imagines a sensationalistic podcaster, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long sporting a Geraldo moustache), searching for a story in the backwoods of Manitoba; instead he’s drugged and taken prisoner by a charismatic storyteller (Parks again), and unspeakable things happen to him.

Failure of imagination? Yes and no. Because the things that happen to Wallace are much, much worse.

“Tusk,” based on one of Smith’s garrulous, comic podcasts, is in fact the most disgusting and pointless movie I’ve seen. Emphasis on pointless. I spent half the movie sick to my stomach.

Obviously if Smith weren’t talented, I wouldn’t feel this way. More’s the pity. He has talent and uses it for this.

Karma for the Kill Bill Kid?
It opens with laughter. It’s the laughter of Wallace’s podcast partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), who is cracking up over Wallace’s on-air riffing about the latest cultural flotsam: “Kill Bill Kid,” a hapless viral video sensation (a la “Star Wars Kid”), who lops off his leg with a samurai sword. And the video is still uploaded? And watched? And laughed about? Whatever.

Wallace, a jerk without a trace of empathy, plans on interviewing the Kid in Manitoba. TuskBad luck: he dies before the interview happens. Now what? Hey, in a men’s room Wallace finds a notice from a man promising great seafaring adventure stories! It’s only two hours away! And off he goes.

The mansion has all the trappings of a 1950s horror movie: wrought iron gate, tchotchkes, and an old man, Howard Howe (Parks), in a wheelchair. His stories are good: how he met Hemingway before Normandy; how he almost met his maker in the North Atlantic, but how he was saved by a walrus, an animal he considers “far more evolved than any man I've ever known.” Wallace listens, rapt, then with heavy eyelids; then he collapses, drugged, on the floor.

When he awakes? He’s in a wheelchair, and his left leg below the knee has been amputated. Karma for the Kill Bill Kid? No. Because that’s just the beginning of the decapitations and humiliations and mutilations.

Both Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), who are having an affair, search for him, but their efforts lead to a comic-relief Quebec detective, Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp), who is neither comic nor relief. By this point, in fact, there is no relief. We’ve already witnessed things so horrific ... 

I’ll just say it. By the time Teddy and Ally even get to Canada, Howe, who isn’t wheelchair-bound at all, has amputated Wallace’s other leg, cut out his tongue, knocked out his teeth, and stitched his arms to his sides. He’s taken Wallace’s tibia bones and fashioned tusks out of them, and inserted them through Wallace’s cheeks. Then he’s stitched him inside a pale walrus skin and chained him next to a dank basement pool. Wallace can only waddle and bark. He’s forced to subsist on raw fish. Howe pulls him into the water to force him to learn to swim. He calls him, gently, “Mr. Tusk.”

Are we supposed to laugh at the absurdity of it all? At the critics screening last month, other critics did laugh—at scenes that turned my stomach. They were like Wallace at the beginning of the movie laughing at Kill Bill Kid. But eventually the laughter stopped. Is this what Smith wanted? Stifling the laughter? What if you didn’t laugh at the beginning? What if you had a trace of empathy then?

The introduction of Guy Lapointe, with his bulbous nose, cross eyes, and long, pointless stories, is even more infuriating. It’s as if instead of Jodie Foster tracking Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs,” you had a bumbling, unfunny Inspector Clouseau. It’s as if, in the middle of an Ed Gein movie, Gallagher interrupts to do stand up.

Goo goo ga joob
The ending is the stupidest part of all. Teddy, Ally and Lapointe arrive at the mansion just in time to see Wallace kill Howe with his tusks. Then Wallace barks at them. To kill him? Probably. And Lapointe levels his rifle.

But then it’s a year later, and Ally and Teddy are visiting some sort of animal sanctuary in Manitoba. They’re somberly bringing something wrapped in newspaper. It’s a fish, of course. For Wallace, of course. Who continues to live as a walrus next to a pool, of course. Because? Because Kevin Smith couldn’t come up with a better ending? Because it mirrors stupid ‘70s endings that he’s always laughed about? Is that the point of all of this? Giggles for Smith and his thousands of fans?

After the disaster of “Red State,” Smith said he’s reached the “I don’t give a fuck” portion of his career. It shows.

-- A shorter version of this review originally appeared in The Seattle Times.

Posted at 08:06 AM on Oct 03, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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