erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2017 posts

Sunday May 07, 2017

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

This was the beginning of my review of “Guardians of the Galaxy” three years ago:

We know how the roller coaster goes. Our heroes, misfits all, fight more with each other than with the bad guys, but eventually, through a series of adventures and misadventures, they abandon the more pungent aspects of their personalities for the greater good and come together for the final, big battle, with swirling dervishes going pew-pew-pew, and, somehow, against impossible odds ... win!

That’s pretty much the description for the sequel, too.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reviewWith the original I asked the follow-up, “Do they make the roller-coaster ride fun?” I answered yes.

The sequel? Eh.

Sure, there are good bits. I particularly like the scene with the empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff)—who looks like a manga character as insect, all big eyes and probing antennae—who innocently reveals that our hero, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), has feelings for the sexy green alien, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), causing Drax (Dave Bautista), his muscle-bound compatriot, to totally crack up. He points at him and shouts: “She just told everyone you deepest, darkest secret! You must be so embarrassed!” Even more brilliantly, he tells Mantis, bouncing up and down in his seat, “Do me! Do me!” I’ll never forget seeing that in the “Guardians” trailer before “Star Wars: Rogue One” last December, and how much my nephew, Ryan, laughed. It brought him such joy. Which brought me such joy. 

There’s a lot of that kind of humor in the movie: our heroes as kids/pets (Baby Groot), or innocent adolescents (Drax), or rough/tough adolescents (Rocket Raccoon). The adult in the room is Gamora. The one woman. The rest are boys. 

Have the Guardians reverted? Obviously Groot has—he’s Baby Groot now—but so did Drax. In the first movie, his main bit was an inability to comprehend metaphor. Even when Rocket explained that everything went over his head, he responded, somewhat affronted, “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast.” Here, metaphor isn’t mentioned. Instead, he simply blurts out inappropriate comments. But at least they're funny. It's why he’s my favorite character in the movie. 

You know who isn’t my favorite character? Star Lord. “Vol. 2” is a star-driven vehicle, and the main plot centers around that star (Peter’s reunion with his father, a Celestial named Ego, played with brio by Kurt Russell), but Peter/Pratt is surprisingly passive and unfunny throughout. He lets everyone else get the good lines. I don’t know if it’s because Pratt is super magnanimous or if he’s already bored with it.

I was often bored with it. How many blaster fights do we need? Worse, they’re battles without consequence, since we know none of our favorite characters will die. Until they telegraph the great sacrifice of the one who will: Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter’s asshole surrogate father, who is here redeemed. He gives up himself to save his only son. You know the quote from “Wizard of Oz”: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard”? Writer-director James Gunn seems to strive for that feeling with Star-Lord. He’s always looking for his biological father (Ego), while his real dad (Yondu) was always in his own back yard. But it's forced. It's not good. Plus “Oz” gave us great songs.

So does “Vol. 2,” I suppose. The movie doubles down on a conceit of the first film: traversing the galaxy in the future, our heroes rely on low-tech entertainment (a Walkman) and forgotten Top 40 hits of the ’70s. That second cassette includes ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” Looking Glass’ “Brandy,” Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” and “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans. We also get more '80s-era pop-culture references: David Hasselhoff, “Moonlighting,” Heather Locklear. I found these more annoying than the songs. 

I did like the Zune joke. Before the final battle, Ego crushes Peter’s Walkman, so in the denouement, Yondu’s loyal lieutenant, Kraglin (Sean Gunn, James’ brother), hands him a replacement, the Zune, which he says everyone listens to on Earth. Big laughs from the Seattle crowd. It was nice to see Sylvester Stallone, too, but he shows up to no purpose. And what’s with that credits sequence with Ving Rhames and Michelle Yeoh? Are they a team? They’re not talking spin-off, are they? Please, no.

Again, “Vol. 2” is kind of fun, has some laughs, but there's too much pew-pew. There are too many battles without consequence. One wonders if there will ever be consequences for all of our battles without consequence.

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Posted at 07:54 AM on May 07, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Friday April 21, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I enjoyed it. The songs were catchy, the characters fun, and if you’re going to spend two hours watching something it helps to have Emma Watson in it. She’s just a pleasure to look at—even if, by the movie’s absurd light, she’s the village outcast. What an odd village! Everyone is obsessed with Belle (Watson) and Gaston (Luke Evans), but love him (the loudmouthed jerk) and hate her (the polite, studious one). It’s like the 2016 election all over again.

I like the feminist aspect of it. Belle is smart, courageous, proactive, isn’t looking to be rescued, and in the end upends the fairy tale trope: her kiss awakens the prince.

But I don’t quite get why the father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), keeps the mother’s death from her as if there was something shameful in it. It’s the plague; just tell her. And why is LeFou (Josh Gad) considered a positive character? He doesn’t help at all. He’s Smithers to Gaston’s Mr. Burns but without the true loyalty of Smithers. He’s willing to smear Maurice and Belle for the love of Gaston, but once Gaston dies it’s off to dance with the movie’s one other gay character. “Progress.”

And does anyone else have questions about fairy-tale versions of crime and punishment?

It began with hypertrychosis
Beauty and the Beast reviewThe movie is based, of course, on the hugely successful 1991 Disney animated movie, which was based on the 18th-century fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, which was adapted from the original French fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. She, supposedly, was inspired by the real-life story of Petrus Gonsalvus, a 16th-century courtier who suffered from hypertrychosis, or abnormal hair growth of the face and body, but managed to marry and have kids anyway.

So what is the Prince’s crime that he becomes a beast? It changes over time. Sometimes, it’s not even a crime:

  • Villeneuve: He resists the seductions of an evil fairy.
  • Beaumont: He refuses to let a fairy in from the rain.
  • 1946 Jean Cocteau film: His parents didn’t believe in spirits.
  • 1991 Disney film: He refuses a rose from a beggar/enchantress in exchange for shelter.

Here, it’s the rose again. Also excessive taxation of the villagers to fund his lavish, lipsticked lifestyle. That should really be the bigger crime. And is it? Did the beggar/enchantress pick him because of the taxes? After all, why would she need shelter? She’s an enchantress. How hard is it to conjure up an umbrella?

If she picked on him for a reason, if it wasn’t simply happenstance, that leads to another plothole: How does Gaston get away with what he does? It’s more than bugging Belle with the marriage proposals; he actually leaves Maurice in the woods to be eaten by wolves. And when Maurice is saved (by the beggar/enchantress) and tells his tale, Gaston convinces the villagers that the old man, with his tales of “magic castles” and “a beast,” is crazy, and arranges for him to be sent to an insane asylum. Moments later, Belle shows up with proof of the Beast, which would make you think the crowd would turn on Gaston—since he was obviously lying before. Nope. He gets the villagers to turn on her, then leads a charge on the castle to kill the Beast.

Yet no spell for him? Or the villagers, who are so easily swayed toward injustice? Just the prince for the thing with the rose? And why are the prince’s courtiers also punished? According to the film, it’s because they were complicit in the Prince’s assholedom. But ... Chip, the boy? Really? And the little dog, too? They’re at fault? And all the adults totally bought into the bullshit and weren’t just trying to survive in undemocratic times? Hell, the courtiers actually got it worse than the Prince did. I mean, what would you rather be—a magnificent beast or a clock?

Moving, and movement
The story is full of such oddities. If the Beast knows that he has to get a girl to fall in love with him, he’s doing a poor, grumpy job of it at the beginning. And though the living household items seem sweet, and in love with love, they have skin in the game. They have to get these two idiots to fall in love—or die. They should be on their game, and condemning every act of incompetence by Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) or Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). BTW: Since this whole thing originated with the French, couldn’t we have hired someone French to play Lumiere (Ewan McGregor)? Was Jean Dujardin busy or something? Could Romain Duris not sing?

I did like how Belle’s loyalty softens his heart, and Beast’s vulnerability softens hers. I like their mutual love of literature. That said, the most moving moment for me wasn’t in the love story but when the last rose petal fell and the clocks and candelabras disappeared into their form without a trace. Yet even here, even as my heart was cracking a bit, my head was saying: Yeah, but really the spell should’ve already been broken. They already love each other. It shouldn’t be a requirement that she say it aloud.

As for the big dance at the end? With the villagers? Those assholes who follow whatever idiotic scheme Gaston has and would probably vote for Trump if given the chance? Release the hounds.

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Posted at 07:22 AM on Apr 21, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Saturday March 11, 2017

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

From the trailer, not to mention early reviews, it looked fast, furious and entertaining—and it was. It’s a roller-coaster movie and I wasn’t bored. That doesn’t happen often. I’d take this movie 100 times over any of the “Fast & Furious” or “Transformers” crapfests.

How did they make it work? First, they didn’t call it “King Kong.” That removes some of the weight of cinematic history. Allows you to be light and loose and less ponderous. Allows you to let John C. Reilly improvise.

Kong: Skull IslandMore importantly, the filmmakers got rid of some of the baggage of the traditional King Kong narrative, which hasn’t aged well over the years, particularly:

  • The capture of the white girl by the black natives, then offering her up to Kong as sacrifice.
  • Kong’s sexual infatuation with the girl. No playing with boobies here.  
  • Bringing Kong back to NYC. Seriously, c’mon.
  • “Twas beauty killed the beast.”

This beast lives. Sequels, yo. More than that. As Marvel has its Marvel-verse, so Warner Bros. will have its Monster-verse: Godzilla, Kong, et al. It’s leading up to the big 2020 confrontation “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Directed by Zack Snyder, since he did so well with “Batman v. Superman.”

Kidding. About Snyder. But the monster-verse, yes, that’s happening.

The Kongs of Summer
Are passports required when indie film people wind up in big-budget Hollywood tentpole films? If so, a lot of passports must have been issued for this one.

  • Its director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who looks like reclusive Joaquin Phoenix, has only one feature film under his belt: the coming-of-age flick “The Kings of Summer,” which grossed a total of $1.3 million in the summer of 2013. Probably cost a fraction of that. This one was budgeted for $185 million. Talk about zero to 60.
  • Remember Brie Larson, the troubled counselor in “Short Term 12”? Now she’s in Kong Kong’s palm. She’ll be Captain Marvel next year.
  • The “me” in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015), Thomas Mann, is one of Sam Jackson’s soldiers. He gets off some good lines. He’s the one who keeps reminding everyone that what’s happening is crazy. 
  • Easy E and Dr. Dre from “Straight Outta Compton” have strong supporting roles.

The mistake of the recent “Godzilla” was to hide Godzilla for most of the movie, as if it were the thing we feared, like the shark in “Jaws,” rather than the hero. “Kong” doesn’t make that mistake. “Kong” knows we want immensity and gives it to us right away.

We start in 1944. Two planes are shot down, one American and one Japanese, and the soldiers square off, ineptly; then the Japanese guy chases the American guy with a hari-kari sword through the jungle. They’re wrestling near a cliff when Kong emerges and stuns our soldiers—as well as us. He’s about four times the size we’re used to. 100 feet tall? More? Oddly, I flashed onto “Lord of the Flies” during this scene. Just as the battle of the kids on the island isn’t the real battle (they’re eventually picked up by soldiers), so our soldiers think they’re enemies but Skull Island swiftly disabuses them of the notion.

During the opening credits we get years of news reports until we land, surprisingly, in 1973. It’s surprising because nobody looks like they live in 1973: hair, fashions, all wrong, at least for the non-military personnel. As for the military, well, they’re kind of listening to “Vietnam war movie” songs: “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. Both are from 1967. That’s old shit by ’73. Why not “Brand New Key” by Melanie or “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” by Wayne Newton? It was a relief when “Ziggy Stardust” made an appearance.

John Goodman plays Bill Randa, who works for an organization called Monarch that’s trying to prove monsters exists. But it’s only when Randa’s assistant (Corey Hawkins), argues that this shrouded island in the South Pacific may be scientifically useful during the Cold War that the mission is funded.

Others have other motivations for the journey. The tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), former MIG, is paid well. The photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), senses a story. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is adrift with the Vietnam war ending. He wants another war, and he gets one, becoming Ahab to Kong’s white whale.

John C. Reilly steals all of his scenes as Hank Marlow, that American pilot still living/surviving on the island 28 years later, but some of the small roles stand out, too. Chopper pilot Toby Kebbell has a good line reading when they first spot Kong (“Is that a monkey?”) and I like the calm in his voice after he’s swatted from the sky and he’s radioing his position. Shea Whigham, Nucky’s screw-up brother in “Boardwalk Empire,” has a great misreading of the Androcles myth (he thinks Androcles killed the lion with the thorn), and the actor still has that great defeatist heaviness about him. He knows shit is fucked. Even his great sacrifice goes for naught.

And the Oscar goes to...
But the best actor in the movie is probably Kong. The computer graphics are amazing, and the movie never lets us forget his immensity. He also makes the most of his close-up. When Brie Larson strokes his face, you see, in his eyes, how lonely he is. He’s king, but the last of his kind. He rules, but he has no one. It’s a touching scene. I don’t know how they did the eyes so well.

Kong is also our hero, forever acting as Kong ex machina to save the puny humans from “Skull crawlers,” which live beneath ground, and which are huge lizardy things with bare heads. They’re the least interesting part of the movie. If the filmmakers really wanted to freak us out, a nest of giant ants would’ve sufficed.

We get echoes of/homages to “Apocalypse Now” (in the poster no less) but mostly “Kong” is just a ride. I don’t know if it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but it has it all over giant fucking robots.

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Posted at 11:41 AM on Mar 11, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Tuesday March 07, 2017

Movie Review: Logan (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Logan” is the best there is at what it does. But what it does isn’t very nice.

It gives us the superhero movie as grim, dystopian fable. Our hero is bruised, dissipated, scarred, drinking heavily. He’s a dying Johnny Cash song—as in the trailer—and doesn’t save people so much as get them killed. It’s an “end of the superhero” superhero film, as the western had its “end of the west” western, and it’s certainly the end of the Wolverine character. Well, in this timeline/incarnation anyway. Reboots sold separately.

This isn’t my kind of thing, by the way—the sad, gritty romance of all of the above—but writer-director James Mangold, and screenwriters Scott Frank and Michael Green, handle it well. Mostly. “Logan” is what “The Dark Knight Returns” wanted to be but wasn’t. It also ends with a grace note that’s really quite lovely.

That said...

The plotseeker
Logan, starring Hugh Jackman, reviewWatching the end of things, I couldn’t help but flash to the beginning of them, Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” from 2000, which jumpstarted not only this series (nine “X-Men” movies and counting), but the modern superhero genre.

Before “X-Men,” meaningful superhero movies had been the province of “Superman” (1978) and its diminishing-returns sequels,  “Batman” (1990) and its diminishing-returns sequels, and that was it. “X-Men” introduced us to the Marvel universe, computer graphics, Hugh Jackman. Back then, in both voiceover prelude and Jean Grey’s speech before Congress, mutants were seen as “the beginning of another stage of human evolution.” Great concept, but the series spent years squashing it. In last year’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” we find out that the most powerful mutant of all was actually born millennia ago in ancient Egypt, so our X-Men were hardly “the beginning.” They were hardly a “next stage,” either, since here we discover that, a la “Children of Men,” no new mutants have been born for nearly 20 years, and the rest have been wiped out. It’s the year 2029 and we’re down to three: Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who is slowly being poisoned from within by his adamantine skeleton; Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is suffering various stages of dementia, and who has killed off most of his students with a mental attack/seizure a year earlier; and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), whose mutant power is to sense other mutants—a useless power in this now mutant-less world.

Logan spends most of the movie fighting its plot. His initial plan is to make enough money as a limo driver in Texas to buy a boat, “the Sunseeker,” and sail away with Prof. X forever. We’re never sure why this is the plan. So he can leave the dust of Tex/Mex? So he can get the addled, dangerous Xavier away from as many people as possible? Because it sounds cool?

Either way, when the linchpin to the story, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), approaches him at a funeral (he’s under a tree, drinking, in the rain), he angrily dismisses her, and only agrees to drive her and her 11-year-old daughter to “Eden,” North Dakota when he’s offered $50k. Then she shows up dead in her motel room and the daughter can’t be found; but even then Logan doesn’t get involved. He’s only pulled into the plot because the daughter stows away in his limo, and a corporate, proto-military security force, led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook of “Narcos”), follows him back to Mexico.

I’ll cut to the chase: The girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), isn’t Gabriela’s daughter but Logan’s. She was bred in a lab with his DNA, as others were with other mutant DNA. She’s angry, fierce, deadly, snkt. You’d think it would be love at first sight, but Logan spends most of the movie complaining. He’s always been a reluctant hero but his obstinance here is annoying. He resists when he shouldn’t (going to “Eden,” when there’s no good alternative), and acquiesces when he shouldn’t. On a freeway in Oklahoma, for example, a family’s horses get loose, and Prof. X convinces Logan to help out. Sure, why not? Then he convinces Logan to accept dinner and lodging with the family. Um, you do realize people want to kill us? These people could get hurt. Guess what? They do. Father, mother and son are all killed—because of our heroes. Prof. X also buys it (his last lines are about the “Sunseeker”), while Caliban, tortured into tracking Logan/Laura, blows himself up. Then it’s off to Eden.

Should I bring up “Shane” here? The 1953 western makes several appearances in the film: Prof. X and Laura watch the movie in an Oklahoma City hotel room, and Laura recites its dialogue over Logan’s grave at the end. We get it. It’s Logan as modern (or futuristic) western hero. But here’s the contrast: Shane actually saved the Starrett family; he wasn't the instrument for their deaths. Worse, no one comments upon their deaths; there's no mea culpa. Once they're out of the picture, well, they're out of the picture.  

Logan, come back
“Logan” has other problems, too. For one, the whole “recreating/controlling mutants in a lab” thing. Here's a list of ways humans have dealt with “the mutant problem” over the years:  

The scheme of Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) in “Logan” is most like Stryker the Younger, but more idiotic. Apparently Rice thinks that by using dictatorial powers and corporal punishment, he can raise super-powered children in small, fluorescent-lit rooms and they’ll do whatever he says. Maybe he should’ve checked first with, I don’t know, every parent who’s ever existed.

As for the final battle along the Canadian border: Pierce’s paramilitary force, known as “The Reavers,” is pursuing the mutant kids, little versions of Ice Man and Storm and Magneto, through the forest. But aren’t these kids like 100 times more powerful than their pursuers? So why don’t they just turn around and fight? Which they do, eventually. It just takes time. Meanwhile, everyone in the audience is thinking what I thought. 

What works? The acting is top-notch, particularly Stewart. Merchant makes a sympathetic Caliban, Holbrook a good nasty-piece-of-work, and newcomer Keen is a startling good 11-year-old Wolverine. Not a fan of Logan’s full beard (too latter-day Mel Gibson), but the dialogue is sharp throughout. It's got a soul amid all the skewerings. I also like the use of the “X-Men” comic books as 21st-century versions of the pulp novels of 19th-century western heroes: real people, exaggerated exploits. You could say that when legend becomes fact, Marvel printed the legend and Mangold filmed the fact.

Most dystopian stories, too, rely on a central government that’s either omnipresent (the totalitarianism of “1984”), or non-existent (the anarchy of the “Mad Max” movies), while  this one seems based on economic inequality. Poverty is everywhere but fratboys and bachelorettes can still hire limos to whoop it. The police don’t seem to be around but corporations can hire well-armed, cybernetically enhanced security forces. The center hasn’t held. 

Wolverine, of course, eventually comes around and goes out in a blaze of glory. The grace note for me is at his gravesite, where, with the other mutant kids heading north to Canada (and future movies?), Laura remains momentarily behind; then she lifts out their handmade cross, two thick twigs tied together, and places it back at an angle: less cross now than “X.” A fitting end for a beloved character. 

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Posted at 08:14 AM on Mar 07, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Friday March 03, 2017

Movie Review: The Great Wall (2017)

The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon

 Damon, Jing. Whither Asbaek?

WARNING: SPOILERS

OK, if you're going to try to correct historic wrongs, such as white actors playing Asian parts in Hollywood films, which now goes by the hashtag-ready term #whitewashing, you need to pick your battles. I suppose that’s true of anything—picking your battles—but I think it’s particularly true if you’re relying on other people’s good will and sense of right to win the day. In those types of cases, you can’t afford a misstep. Humanity's good will isn't exactly inexhaustible. 

Accusing Matt Damon in “The Great Wall” of white-washing is a misstep. He’s not white-washing anything. He’s green-washing. He’s money laundering.

“The Great Wall” is a joint American-Chinese production, filmed in China, and directed by legendary director Zhang Yimou (“Ju Dou,” “Raise the Red Lantern,” “To Live,” “Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”—need I go on?). Apparently that’s partly why Damon wanted to do the movie—to work with Zhang. It also allowed him and his family the opportunity to live in China for six months. I’m sure he also got paid a buttload.

As for why China wanted him? Money. Prestige. He’s a big international star. He’s Jason Bourne. International box office is currently owned by Hollywood and no one else is even close. There are 134 Hollywood films on the worldwide box office list before the top Chinese film, “Mei ren yu (The Mermaid),” makes an appearance. And most of its money was made in China. It didn’t travel. China wants its movies to travel; they figure having Jason Bourne on board could help.

Indeed, watching the film, I flashed back on all the hack Caucasian actors that used to appear in ’80s Hong Kong flicks and marveled at how far China had come. This far: Americans, such as Constance Wu, now get to call them “anti-Chinese.”

Beijing Olympics all over again
Damon plays William, an—I’m guessing—11th-century mercenary (“I fought for Harald against the Danes,” he says at one point), who travels to China with other mercenaries, including Tovar (“Game of Thrones”’ Pedro Pascal), to bring gunpowder back to Europe. Pursued by Chinese bandits, they come upon the Great Wall of China and surrender to the forces there. It’s better than the bandits.

Good thing. The Great Wall was built in the first place, it’s implied, to keep out the Tao Tie, a species of super-fierce, super-smart, dragon-y lizard-y things, who want to wreak havoc and eat people. They last attacked 65 years ago, and ever since the Chinese, led by Gen. Shao (Zhang Hanyu), Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), and Commander Lin (Jing Tian), have been preparing for their return. Now they’re here. This allows Damon and Pascal to be goggle-eyed witnesses to insane, drumbeat, synchronized archers and spear throwers. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” William asks Tovar. I have. We all have. At the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Which, by the way, was also directed by Zhang.

There are red soldiers (archers, male) and blue soldiers (spear-throwers and bungee-jumpers, female), and, with the help of William and Tovar, the Chinese beat back the Tao Tie once, then twice. All the while, subplots: Damon and Commander Lin make eyes at each other; Tovar wants to get out as soon as possible, and does so with the help of Ballard (Willem Dafoe), another westerner who’s been trapped there for 25 years; and William bucks up a young Chinese recruit, played by Chinese pop star Lu Han.

Overall thoughts:

  • Pascal is the best thing in the movie. The only time I laughed out loud were because of his line readings.
  • William and Tovar are supposed to have a kind of Butch and Sundance vibe, and they almost manage to pull it off. Pascal works but Damon isn’t quite lighthearted enough.
  • I’ve never seen Damon act this badly in a movie.  

In a way, and not the Constance Wu way, Damon is all wrong for the role. In most of his movies, Damon exudes working-class America—blunt-faced and two-fisted and ham-handed; generally good-hearted but with a bit of a smirk—yet “The Great Wall” takes place before any of that existed. So where is William from? Britain, I guess. From time to time, Damon adopts a slight accent: now vaguely Irish, now vaguely ... Spanish? He has trouble getting his mouth around some of the pompous, classical lines he’s supposed to say. In quiet moments, inside the fortress, he’s not bad; Matt Damon again.

All-Star cast
We get an international All-Star cast: Damon and Dafoe (U.S.), Pascal (Spain), and, briefly, Pilou Asbaek (Denmark) and Numan Acar (Turkey). Plus all of the Chinese stars. Really, if anyone should protest, it’s Denmark. Their biggest star this side of Mads Mikkelsen and he gets a walk-on. Tak.

But China ain’t fooling around. They want this. That was Zhang’s point when he defended the movie against the Constance Wus of the world:

In many ways “The Great Wall” is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tentpole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.

But it wasn’t, and, for whatever reason, the movie is dying in the U.S. It did better in China, but only about half of what “Mei ren yu” pulled in. It’s not a great film so it’s not a great loss. But I admire the attempt of it.

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Posted at 08:04 AM on Mar 03, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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