Hans Zimmer

Pearl Harbor (2001, Michael Bay)

Pearl Harbor is a couple things. It’s a breathtaking historical visualization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And it’s a patronizing, cynical, disinterested war melodrama. The big problem with the melodrama is Randall Wallace’s script, which is vapid at best. It also barely factors in to the attack sequence. The attack sequence is all director Bay, for better and for worse, along with some unfortunate digital blurring to keep the rating down.

The Pearl Harbor sequence comes about halfway through. The movie runs three hours, the attack is at eighty minutes. Before the attack, there are some scenes with the Japanese (led by Mako and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who are both great) planning the attack and the Americans worrying about an attack. The Americans are mostly Jon Voight as FDR, Dan Aykroyd as the Naval Intelligence guy who can’t convince anyone to be worried, and Colm Feore as the Pearl Harbor base commander. But even if Aykroyd did get boss Graham Beckel to listen, the Japanese plan was too good. The Americans are just unprepared, which actually brings in the closest thing to a political statement the film makes. It makes various implications regarding the American military brass, as opposed to guys on the ground like Feore or Alec Baldwin’s Doolittle; Voight’s FDR isn’t with the brass either. It’s… interesting.

It’s probably what happens when history fails the politics of the filmmakers.

In other words, the film does a terrible job essaying how 1941 felt to the average person. Because Wallace does a crappy job in general and Bay’s really not interested in doing anything with regular people, not when he gets to do a special effects heavy war movie. As for the melodrama… the only person more disconnected from the melodrama than Bay is leading lady Kate Beckinsale, who doesn’t even get a caricature to play. Wallace’s script is, actually, quite interesting when you realize Beckinsale doesn’t just have less character than practically every other nurse (who are all man-starved caricatures, the slutty one, the sweet one, the fat one, the nerd), but her lack of character is what obliterates the film’s potential. Not just Beckinsale’s performance, which is… fine, given the circumstances. It’s vaguely believable she’s interested in Ben Affleck, but they—Wallace and Bay—can’t figure out how to get Beckinsale interested in third love triangle leg, Josh Hartnett.

See, Affleck and Hartnett are childhood best friends from Tennessee—the accents are better than you’d think; maybe not authentic, but better than you’d think. Affleck’s the alpha, Hartnett’s the beta. Though Affleck’s still fallible, he’s got dyslexia in 1941.

So let’s talk about the melodrama.

The movie opens with a flashback showing Hartnett’s character has a bad but sympathetic dad (William Fichtner in a flashback-redeeming cameo—or at least flashback-evening cameo) and sets Affleck up as his protector. Only Affleck’s about to ship out to England to get in the war because he’s getting old and still wants to be a war hero. He lies to Hartnett about volunteering and breaks new girlfriend Beckinsale’s heart, but she’s going to wait for him. Coincidentally Navy nurse Beckinsale and Army flier Hartnett both get posted to Pearl Harbor, where they see each other to say hello but don’t hang out. Or maybe they do. Because their supporting casts hang out but the film doesn’t do anything with Harnett or Beckinsale’s character development. What you’ve got with Pearl Harbor is a film wanting a beta to alpha arc for Harnett, but resenting Hartnett for being a beta, and then accidentally coming to the conclusion the alpha and beta labels are a bad way to think about masculinity. Only it can’t recognize that possibility because… dudes. There’s nothing more painful than the scenes when Affleck and Hartnett try to bond after Affleck gets back to find Hartnett and Beckinsale together. Much like when Beckinsale’s character is so exceptionally shallow you have to wonder how she made it through the scene without just defaulting to an honest answer and then when she becomes literal background in the third arc, you eventually welcome Hartnett and Affleck just standing around looking pensive as opposed to trying to talk about their incredibly complex situation.

Even though there are a couple times they’re supposedly going to have a hard talk. And there are a couple times Beckinsale’s going to get real with someone. Only she doesn’t have enough agency to do it. And Wallace doesn’t know how to write men talking about anything not military or war expository-related except Affleck and Hartnett’s buddies trying to figure out the best way to manipulate the nurses into bed. But they don’t mean it in a bad way—come on, it’s 1941, no one knew women were people yet.

Not even women.

So, spoiler, no, Beckinsale doesn’t have some kind of empowerment arc.

In fact, even though she gets the ill-advised, poorly written, and awkwardly placed end narration… Bay cuts her out of the end of the movie because she’s not a dude.

I guess to simplify the problem with the melodrama plot—it’s about Hartnett having a man-crush on Affleck because Affleck’s a square-jawed superman only to realize he’d rather have a lady, something Affleck seemingly wanted for himself but wasn’t ever going to tell puppy dog Hartnett about, and then Beckinsale—the object of their affections—doesn’t have enough of a character to react honestly to either, but with Affleck there’s at least movie romance cuteness; with Hartnett it’s a chemistry-free, erotic-free, erotic affair. It’s wholesome. With shtupping. Is it wholesome shtupping? Eh? Bay’s really bad at directing sex scenes.

Really, really, really, really bad. You’re surprised the actors aren’t blushing red from the stupidity.

Not like the canoodling, which Bay does somewhat well. Hartnett and Beckinsale’s romance is mostly short montage sequences where they cuddle and breath heavy on each other and it looks like a perfume commercial.

But the Pearl Harbor attack sequence is awesome filmmaking. Editors Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum don’t get jack to do before it and about twice that amount after it, but the attack is breathtaking thanks to them. Their cuts are so good the digital vaselining of the frame to insure the PG-13 doesn’t matter. It doesn’t work, but it doesn’t matter. John Schwartzman’s photography is great throughout, especially on the attack. Even an uncaring bastard like Bay is able to make each death tragic. It also reveals if Cuba Gooding Jr., who’s shoehorned into the movie to give it a single Black character with a story arc, is Bay’s real hero. Gooding’s a cook who ends up shooting down Japanese planes; Bay’s a lot more interested in the ground action than the flying action. Pearl Harbor doesn’t reinvent any wheels (or even try), but it definitely gets a lot less interest when it’s “leads” Affleck and Hartnett hitting the sky to avenge.

But getting them to the planes to go into the sky? Bay’s all about their (ground) trip to it. It’s a problem. Bay’s a problem.

Other great crew contributions? Nigel Phelps’s production design is fantastic. Hans Zimmer’s score is fine. Nothing special, but nothing bad. It’s all about that editing though. All about that editing.

Now for the acting. Lots of good supporting performances. The film has a bunch of sturdy character actors giving sturdy performances in bit parts. In the bigger ones, Aykroyd’s pretty good. Voight’s no qualifiers good. He’s really able to turn FDR into an action hero. It’s something. Baldwin’s great as Doolittle. Gooding’s fine. It’s a shallower performance than it’s the part because Wallace does a crap job with it. Bay and Wallace believe in institutional racism in 1941 but not person-to-person racism. The movie’s patronizing as hell.

Of the main cast—Hartnett’s flying sidekicks and Beckinsale’s nursing sidekicks—Michael Shannon is a revelation, Tom Sizemore’s good, Ewen Bremner’s able to get over his stutter, which is only there to get sweet nurse Jaime King to fall for him. Jennifer Garner’s bad but likable as the nerdy nurse. Some of the better glorified cameos are Feore, Leland Orser, and Kim Coates.

Affleck’s a really good lead. He’s able to do it all. He’s not able to give he and Beckinsale enough chemistry to give their romance depth, but its all so disingenuous it’d be a miracle. And Pearl doesn’t have any miracles.

Hartnett’s got some really good moments and some potentially good scenes. It’s hard to wish for more because it’s so clear the film’s disinterested in him. Hartnett and Beckinsale start their flirtation just as the Pearl Harbor attack preparations subplot really gets going and, again, it’s not like Wallace and Bay are actually interested in how anyone existed in fall 1941 in Pearl Harbor and definitely not with a girl.

Beckinsale’s… never bad. She’s never… wholly unconvincing. Though she has an utter lack of chemistry with Hartnett, who she needs some with because they get so little in the script, and still not quite enough with Affleck to get over the silly romance stuff. You’d say she was miscast but she’s good with the straight nursing stuff.

In case anyone’s wondering, Pearl Harbor intentionally and utterly fails Bechdel. I suppose it’s technically exempt when they’re talking about the wounded but… the rest of it? This group of nurses moves from rural U.S.A. to paradise Hawaii and has no reaction other than “boys, boys, boys.”

When Wallace and Bay are bad at something… they’re real bad at it.

It’s shame the movie’s not better. But it’s far from a failure; Bay lacks narrative instinct and interest, he’s indifferent to his actors’ performances—which nicely doesn’t matter because most of the parts are thin and the performances grand—but he’s ambitious to the nth with the attack sequence and he’s at least willing to acknowledge it does need some kind of bookends. Unfortunately for the actors, the audience, the film, Wallace is writing those bookends. Because he’s inept. You’d expect more from an intern who watched a week of History Channel. Some of its Bay’s fault—if he’d cared about the melodrama, it’d be fine….

As is, thanks to the cast and crew’s work, Pearl Harbor is tolerable when it’s not phenomenal, which isn’t bad at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Randall Wallace; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Bay; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Ben Affleck (Rafe), Josh Hartnett (Danny), Kate Beckinsale (Evelyn), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Miller), Alec Baldwin (Doolittle), Ewen Bremner (Red), Michael Shannon (Gooz), William Lee Scott (Billy), Tom Sizemore (Earl), Jaime King (Betty), Jennifer Garner (Sandra), Catherine Kellner (Barbara), Sara Rue (Martha), Mako (Yamamoto), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Genda), Dan Aykroyd (Thurman), Kim Coates (Richards), Leland Orser (Jackson), Colm Feore (Kimmel), Raphael Sbarge (Kimmel’s Aide), and Jon Voight and the President of the United States.


Widows (2018, Steve McQueen)

Widows is very real. You know it’s very real and not Hollywood because it takes place in Chicago and it’s real Chicago and not Hollywood Chicago. Though Robert Duvall, who gives a fine performance, does make it feel a little like Hollywood Chicago. But it’s also real because Liam Neeson has nose hairs. And because even as horrific events, plot turns, plot twists, horrific revelations bombard lead (and ostensible protagonist) Viola Davis, she’s able to harness all of them and make it all seem reasonable and not contrived. Because she’s Viola Davis and she’s what makes Widows possible. Without her gravitas, director McQueen and co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn couldn’t get away with half of it.

McQueen and Flynn are adapting a six hour British series. Might explain the episodic plotting, might not. Widows has an expansive plot. Until it doesn’t. There’s a switch thrown somewhere in the middle when McQueen and Flynn stop with the expanding. Once Cynthia Erivo is on the team, everything changes. Including who gets character development. The film’s well-paced enough you don’t even realize a couple characters go on pause and Davis is in the picture less and less after her inital story arc ends. But it also means when the finale comes up short and awkwardly so… well, all of a sudden it’s time to cash in Widows’s chips and McQueen’s been bluffing.

Not to mix metaphors.

The film is about Widows Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Carrie Coon. Erivo is actually a babysitter; unfortunately the original British series is not called Four Widows and a Babysitter. The film opens with the women and their men. Then their men, career robbers, all die. Horribly. So now the widows have to figure out what to do, because none of their men left them in good shape financially.

Coon, for instance, has a newborn. She was married to Coburn Goss, who has no personality in his few scenes. Unlike some of the other dead husbands. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is a deadbeat who steals all wife Rodriguez’s money. She has a thrift store. Debicki’s husband, Jon Bernthal, is mentally and physically abusive. But mostly physically. And then there’s crew leader Liam Neeson. Charming career robber, known and hated by cops, beloved by crooks, on and on. He’s married to Davis. Her scenes imagining Neeson still with her–nose hairs and all–should be some of Widows’s best moments for McQueen. Instead, he just showcases Davis’s acting and doesn’t do anything else with it. Because Widows is too real.

As such, all mastermind thief Neeson leaves beloved widow Davis is his Moleskine. It’s got the plans to his next job. He also leaves her Garret Dillahunt, driver and boy Friday. Dillahunt’s good. In hindsight, his part should’ve forecasted McQueen and Flynn’s later problems.

Well, turns out Neeson stole from crime brothers Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya. They have an ill-defined criminal empire. Henry is trying to take the family straight, Kaluuya isn’t so sure. Henry’s plan is to get elected alderman. He just needs to beat corrupt public official and Chicago political family guy Colin Farrell. Duvall is Farell’s dad, the outgoing alderman. He had a heart attack or something. Doesn’t matter.

Henry then goes to Davis and tells her he wants the money–for his campaign, which he doesn’t mention–and she’s got a month to get it. She recruits the other widows to pull Neeson’s last job.

Through their new, sometimes dangerous experiences, Rodriguez and Debicki get character development. Well, Debicki gets it. Rodriguez gets a hint of it, then gets shut down. She becomes more functional, bringing in Erivo later on. Erivo who’s actually part of a C plot about small businesses too. McQueen and Flynn is overloaded with texture. Widows has enough material to be twice as long, because either its supporting characters need to get developed or they need to go away. The first act has a bunch of throwaway characters around just to play with expectations.

The texture–very realistic and don’t you dare acknowledge the adorable puppy–works. When Widows is expansive, it’s because of all that texture. Well-written, well-acted, well-directed texture. Narratively pointless because not even Davis can bring enough gravitas to fix a somewhat craven epilogue. McQueen–intentionally–eschews so much of the heist genre for Widows. And when he finally does employ genre narrative tropes, they’re all the bad ones. He’s also trying not to direct the thriller sequences–Kaluuya takes it upon himself to stalk and terrorize Davis in another C plot–but McQueen does a bunch of thriller sequences. And rather well. His narrative instincts are strong and he can do a lot with his cast, but the script’s the script. The twists, the turns, the disappearing characters.

Davis is great, Debicki is great. Rodriguez is good. She doesn’t get enough to do. She doesn’t even get C plots, she just gets to bring in Erivo, who does get a C plot. But Rodriguez is probably in the movie more than Erivo. She’s at least more active in the first act.

Erivo’s good. Again, thin part. Erivo acts the hell out of it.

Farrell ought to be great but his election subplot gets more time in the middle than Davis and crew planning. The whole Farrell thing–which also gets into the Chicago corruption and related institutionalized racism–takes up too much time in the film, which loses track of Davis and skips over Rodriguez. Great acting, great direction of that acting, good part, not great part.

Duvall’s a cameo pretending to be bigger. Henry’s fine. Kaluuya’s good, but the part’s too functional. And has no character development. None of the men get character development. At best they get some revelations. And it’s fine. But it’s thin.

Technically, the film’s perfect. McQueen’s composition, Sean Bobbitt’s photography, Joe Walker’s editing, Adam Stockhausen’s production design. It’s all great. The Hans Zimmer score is good but very functional.

Widows is fine work, with some near exceptional elements. And some particular problems.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve McQueen; screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen, based on the television series written by Lynda La Plante; director of photography, Sean Bobbitt; edited by Joe Walker; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Iain Canning, McQueen, Arnon Milchan, and Emile Sherman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Viola Davis (Veronica), Elizabeth Debicki (Alice), Michelle Rodriguez (Linda), Cynthia Erivo (Belle), Carrie Coon (Amanda), Colin Farrell (Jack Mulligan), Garret Dillahunt (Bash), Daniel Kaluuya (Jatemme Manning), Lukas Haas (David), Brian Tyree Henry (Jamal Manning), Liam Neeson (Harry Rawlings), Jon Bernthal (Florek), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Carlos), Coburn Goss (Jimmy Nunn), Molly Kunz (Siobhan), Jacki Weaver (Agnieska), Kevin J. O’Connor (Bobby Welsh), Jon Michael Hill (Reverend Wheeler), and Robert Duvall (Tom Mulligan).


Blade Runner 2049 (2017, Denis Villeneuve)

Whatever its faults, Blade Runner 2049 is breathtaking. Director Villeneuve’s composition, Roger Deakins’s photography, Dennis Gassner’s production design, all the CGI–the film is constantly gorgeous. It’s got nothing beautiful to show–the world of 2049 is a wasteland, all plant life is dead, the endless L.A. skyline is (while awesome) nasty, San Diego is a huge, inhabited dump. I mean, Jared Leto is a biochem industrialist who saves the world; like that world is going to be nice.

2049 spends a lot of time showcasing the achievements of that exterior setting. Interiors are sparer. Villeneuve’s direction is always good (or better), but the interior scenes lack something visually. Joe Walker’s editing can usually cover for it. Most of the interiors have lead Ryan Gosling wishing he was a real boy instead of a pretend one. He’s even got a pretend girlfriend (Ana de Armas as a holographic companion) who wishes she was a real one.

For a while, 2049 seems like it might be about Gosling and de Armas. But it’s not. Because even though Gosling is a Blade Runner, he’s not the blade runner 2049 cares about. Once Harrison Ford shows up, even when the movie’s from Gosling’s perspective, it’s not Gosling’s movie anymore. Maybe if the film had some great part for Ford, it would matter. But it doesn’t. It gives him a few minutes to get established, in a completely different context than his previous turn in the role, and then it keeps him around. Walker’s editing doesn’t cover for Ford like it does Gosling. Gosling sits around despondent in his affectless. Ford looks surprisingly genial and well-adjusted for a person who’s supposedly lived in complete isolation for the last thirty years.

Bringing me to talking about 2049 as a sequel to the original. Because there’s really nothing to it otherwise. There are a handful of sequel setups in 2049, but the way screenwriters Hampton Fancher (returning from the first film) and Michael Green find a story from the first movie? They just retcon obtusely, trusting Villeneuve to be able to pull it off. And he does. He’s able to keep 2049’s narrative detached from the screenplay’s minutiae (for most of the film); Gosling helps, until the movie stops wanting him to help. de Armas helps. Robin Wright (as Gosling’s boss, in an underwritten, underutilized role) helps. Ford’s likable, which really isn’t enough (and might be completely inappropriate, actually). Villain Sylvia Hoeks doesn’t help. She’s shockingly underdeveloped. And Villeneuve’s direction of the genetically enhanced replicant fight scenes is wanting. He can do it when it’s inconsequential, but he’s not able to make the fights dangerous for the characters.

Possibly because of Gosling’s complete detachment in the third act of the film, which is when there’s all the “first movie” revelations (but not, rather events soon following the first movie revelations) and sequel setup. Gosling starts on a hero’s quest, then finds himself just an observer of one. The prologue to one. Villeneuve and company cover as best they can–making the narrative events as unimportant an aspect to the film as possible–but they can’t. Villeneuve can’t share the movie between Ford and Gosling, neither can the script. Everyone just throws up their hands.

Probably because Ford doesn’t need to be there. But if Ford doesn’t need to be there, maybe the direct ties to the first movie don’t need to be there; take those two things away and there’s nothing to 2049 except the gorgeous dystopia. Gosling and de Armas’s subplot, which the film ends up using mostly pragmatically, is red herring.

The music, from Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, is lacking. But maybe because the film uses it so sparing. 2049 is bold where it can excel–the visuals–and cowardly where it needs to create. The villains are exceptionally thin. Gosling loses his movie. Ford gets to retread a part made different to allow for a way too careful sequel.

It’s too bad, but–deep down–no one should’ve thought a Blade Runner sequel would work. Especially not with Ford forced back into it. It’s like they got the money for a sequel but no one with a real idea for one. Villeneuve’s direction is visually stunning, his direction of actors is usually strong, but he’s got no handle on the story. 2049 is about avoidance.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to avoid a future where Jared Leto saved humanity.

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, based on a story by Fancher, and characters created by Philip K. Dick, Fancher, and David Webb Peoples; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Joe Walker; music by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Bud Yorkin, Broderick Johnson, Cynthia Sikes, and Andrew A. Kosgrove; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ryan Gosling (K), Harrison Ford (Rick Deckard), Jared Leto (Niander Wallace), Ana de Armas (Joi), Sylvia Hoeks (Luv), Robin Wright (Madame), Dave Bautista (Sapper Morton), Mackenzie Davis (Mariette), and Carla Juri (Dr. Ana Stelline).


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, Marc Webb)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bereft of good ideas. It’s also bereft of good music–Hans Zimmmer’s bland “superhero” score rattles the brain, bowdlerizing what might be better scenes and effect sequences. It’s impossible to know, because there’s never a single moment of music without ludicrous bombast. Who knows how it’d have played if the superhero action attempted emotional impact.

The film opens in flashback. Campbell Scott, playing Spider-Man’s dad, has an action sequence. It sets up lead Andrew Garfield’s arc for the movie. It’s about him trying to find out what happened to his parents. Except when it’s not. Second-billed Emma Stone has this arc about being broken up with Garfield. But, while it does make Garfield a little mopier than usual, it doesn’t really play into any of his arc.

Only it turns out there is no arc for Garfield because nothing interesting happened to his parents. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner–wow, it took three writers to produce such an awful turd of a script–anyway, they build up a big reveal and it’s nothing. They write this exaggerated scene between Garfield and aunt Sally Field where she’s hiding the truth from him and it’s going to devastate him and then it’s nothing. The screenwriters have no idea how to do narrative distance.

Neither does director Webb. Worse, Webb treats Stone like an annoyance. She already doesn’t have a part except to make out with Garfield, smile, and meet supporting cast members for a moment. And when she does have a scene, Webb ignores her performance. You spend the movie trying to remember if or why you like the character and why Garfield likes her and get nothing from the film itself. Who cares if they’re broken up? Not even the characters care.

I suppose Stone’s not bad. She just has a crap part. Garfield’s not bad either. He’s just got a crap part. But Dale DeHaan and Jamie Foxx both have crap parts and manage to be bad. With Foxx, it’s not his fault. They had no idea what to do with him, practically muting him by the end. And they’d already given him the inglorious origin of being bitten by mutant electric eels. He becomes an electric eel man. Just one who can’t be electric underwater, even though the eels got him underwater.

DeHaan’s terrible. Webb’s direction of him is terrible. The writing is terrible. For a while it seems like they’re actually going to generate rapport between Garfield and DeHaan as childhood friends reunited but no. The movie’s too busy jumping between terrible subplots. DeHaan and Foxx are tied together because of evil biomedical capitalist Colm Feore. It’s stupid how much time Feore gets. Even stupider is how much time his sidekick Louis Cancelmi gets. Anything to keep Spider-Man away from Stone.

Because nothing in Garfield’s family plot has to do with Stone. They’re completely separate. He compartmentalizes, even though he apparently follows her once a day as Spider-Man, combination protection and adoration.

Once the movie gets around to the idea of teaming up Stone and Garfield to solve problems, which seems like a good idea, it’s time for the movie to end and for everyone to fall into their parts. Except then the ending takes forever. It’s exhausting. And the music is terrible. And nothing good ever happens. Not in the story, but in the narrative decisions. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is amazing because its best is unfulfilled mediocre. Nothing’s going right with this movie.

And the composite effects–Spider-Man swinging around New York City–usually look awful, like the CG lighting on the Spider-Man model is wrong. The Spider-Man scenes, when he’s not in a weak fight scene, are grating. Bad music, bad CG composite, charmless direction. Webb manages one actual great shot in the movie and cuts away too soon. Pietro Scalia and Webb like to cut a lot. Enough there are times when it’s clear Webb didn’t have coverage.

That one good shot is of Stone, naturally. It’s this brief moment where Amazing Spider-Man 2 connects the emotion of the story with the emotion of the filmmaking. Webb, Scalia, and cinematographer Dan Mindel manage this one sincere thing. I don’t even think Zimmer’s music screws it up.

Then it’s over. And Stone gets nothing, Garfield gets busy to get nothing, DeHaan gets green, and Foxx gets blue. Oh, and Sally Field gets an arc about having to go back to work to pay for Garfield’s college, even though Garfield is apparently not going to college during the movie.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bad. Kurtzman, Orci, and Pinker’s script is the worst thing about it. Shame Webb didn’t do anything to alleviate its defects. The returning principals–Garfield, Stone, and Field–deserved better.

Oh, and Chris Cooper is awful in his uncredited cameo. Just dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Webb; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, based on a story by Kurtzman, Orci, Pinkner, and James Vanderbilt and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger, and Junkie XL; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Jamie Foxx (Electro / Max Dillon), Dane DeHaan (Green Goblin / Harry Osborn), Colm Feore (Donald Menken), Felicity Jones (Felicia), Paul Giamatti (Aleksei Sytsevich), Sally Field (Aunt May), and Campbell Scott (Richard Parker).


Hidden Figures (2016, Theodore Melfi)

In the first scene of Hidden Figures, the film makes it immediately clear there’s going to be quite a bit of self-awareness. The film is based on the true story of three black women who were instrumental to NASA’s–and the space program’s–success. They’re working at NASA in the early sixties, during segregation, doing harder jobs better than the white guys working at NASA. And there’s an awareness. Janelle Monáe, in the flashiest lead role, gets the least to do, but she does get tasked with offering commentary on the situations at hand.

Director Melfi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Allison Schroeder, depends a lot on his cast. Nothing in his direction gets any of the scenes done. For example, Melfi underplays it with Taraji P. Henson, who’s the closest thing the film’s got to a protagonist (but the film doesn’t want to have one, which gets to be a problem in the third act). While Monáe, albeit outside work, gets to have a developed relationship with Aldis Hodge (as her less than supportive husband) and second-billed Octavia Spencer gets to have this workplace unpleasantness with Kirsten Dunst, Henson’s got supportive boss Kevin Costner, who she never gets to have a moment with. She’s got wormy supervisor Jim Parsons, who she never gets to have a moment with. There are fill-in moments, but none suggesting Parsons and Costner are people and not caricatures.

It’d be fine if they were caricatures, maybe even appropriate (though Costner’s not–he gets a movie star scene in the film), but if they are caricatures, giving them their little unspoken courtesies to Henson is even more problematic.

Hidden Figures weathers those problems with some very reliable materials–the history is on the film’s side and all three lead performances are great. While Monáe gets to be showy for most of the film, only having to move aside towards the end, when it tries to become a special effects extravaganza thriller just to find a finish, and Spencer’s part is underwritten but convinces the viewer it isn’t, Henson gets the big stuff. And the script, even though she’s got a romance going on outside her saving Costner and Parsons’s butts with math, doesn’t like letting Henson do anything. Monáe does things, Spencer does things, Henson quietly does the math. And she’s exceptional doing the math. Melfi’s best direction is with Henson, simply because he’s just letting the camera watch her performance too.

Technically, the film’s solid without being exceptional. Mandy Walker’s photography is fine, but Melfi’s not ambitious. Maybe the score gets a little much at the end, when Melfi’s tackling the special effects extravaganza with absolutely no personality. Despite some gorgeous production design (courtesy Wynn Thomas), Hidden Figures is oddly absent mise-en-scène.

The ambition is instead with the film itself, presenting these three women completely aware of their exploitation, completely aware of their constraints, and excelling regardless. The sad part of Henson not getting resolution is how well Spencer and Monáe make out with it. Spencer and Dunst’s arc is an uncomfortable, angering one. But it’s a mature way of handling it. The script’s got a narrative arc for that subplot. For Henson? Well, it’s got the Friendship 7.

Not to rag on Melfi too much more, but there’s a difference between acknowledging other films’ handling of the same material without just giving up and pretending to be Apollo 13 for fifteen minutes. It’s his lack of personality. Even Costner’s got some personality, even if it’s nonsensically only for Parsons’s benefit, as they have a moment together.

Hidden Figures is a movie fully aware white guys don’t have to be the leads but it’s the white guys who get that learning moment together. And let’s not even touch on the problematic nature of superhero John Glenn (Glen Powell is fine, it’s just a bland part).

But once you get through the problems and appreciate the film’s accomplishments–and those lead performances–it’s clear Hidden Figures’s success isn’t contingent on a flawless narrative structure. It’s historical, after all, and a positive “real life” moment is hard to resist, but it does distract from its characters. Because even if what was happening in reality was important, in Hidden Figures, it’s Henson, Spencer, and Monáe who are important and deserve the time.

Melfi just doesn’t know how to build tension. Thank goodness he’s got actors who know how to essay it however.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Theodore Melfi; screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Melfi, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly; director of photography, Mandy Walker; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin Wallfisch; production designer, Wynn Thomas; produced by Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Melfi, Jenno Topping, and Williams; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Goble), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan), Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson), Kevin Costner (Al Harrison), Kirsten Dunst (Mrs. Mitchell), Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford), Mahershala Ali (Colonel Jim Johnson), Aldis Hodge (Levi Jackson), and Glen Powell (John Glenn).


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zach Snyder), the ultimate edition

The extended version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t just the extended version of Batman/Superman, it’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition. There’s a second subtitle on the thing. It’s doubling down on the idea the extended cut in the post-DVD era. It’d be desperate if anything added in the “ultimate edition” actually made the film seem more “ultimate,” but it doesn’t. In fact, all the additional scenes and moments are good. And that quality is the problem, because they draw attention to the film’s failings.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition is a worse film for better scenes.

The first part of Dawn of Justice, in this cut, runs just around 107 minutes. Quite frankly, if the remaining seventy-three minutes–which have minimal additions, compared to the rather extended first part–just had Amy Adams narrating it and the first 107 minutes cut in as flashbacks, it might have all worked out. Because that first hour and fifty minutes are about Adams, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. It’s about Adams and Cavill trying to figure out how to date as Lois Lane and Superman while Affleck’s a bit of a crazy Batman. Thank goodness Jeremy Irons (who excels far more in the ultimate edition) is around to keep Affleck sort of in check. Sort of.

But having this strong opening, with a far better paced investigation from Adams than the theatrical cut–not just because she gets a semi-sidekick in an affable Jena Malone cameo–but also because Cavill gets to be a reporter too. Dawn of Justice, the theatrical version, was already a great example of a disastrously plotted script, but the ultimate edition just shows how bad David Brenner is at editing a motion picture. Or how bad director Snyder is in instructing Brenner how to chop out a half hour. Because the first part, the fleshed out ultimate edition version of it, it works as a movie. There are some problems, sure, because Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script (or Terrio’s rendition of Goyer’s treatment) is still a mess. Affleck is still a very strange edition to the film. He doesn’t feel at all natural in the narrative. Not in the events of Dawn of Justice, but in how Brenner, Snyder, Terrio and Goyer have the character in the film itself. Snyder takes two different styles for Affleck and Cavill’s plots. The one he takes for Affleck is bad.

Only in the extended cut, it gets a bit of a pass. There’s just a better pace all around to help it out. And Irons is delightful. Affleck’s still good, he’s just not delightful. Having something delightful in Dawn of Justice is nice, because it lacks in delight. Though the ultimate edition does have a little bit more fun. And it does help. Snyder’s extremely competent–the stuff he does just for general superhero antics, like Batman beating people up or sneaking around and Superman flying, he has a great approach. I’d watch Zack Snyder’s three hour version of the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence starring Cavill and Adams in a second. I’d watch it twice in a row. Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong make beautiful superhero moments.

But Snyder wants Dawn of Justice to be more than just a superhero movie. He wants it to be serious. And Terrio and Goyer’s script wants to be serious too. It even sees how it could be serious, it just never wants to take the time. But it gets a pass; the first hour and fifty get a pass. Cavill’s great, Adams is great, Affleck’s good. Larry Fishburne making fun of Cavill is magic; it’s awkward but somehow likable. Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition makes Morpheus a dick to Superman. What’s that about? It’s personality. Dawn of Justice needs personality.

It also needs a better reason to have Batman and Superman fight. At least in the theatrical version, the film ramps up to it. There’s no real narrative to concern oneself with. In the ultimate version, even Holly Hunter gets a better role. Not perfect, no, but better. Only there’s not room in a movie with such a narratively and somewhat stylistically inert finish to have better roles. The MacGuffin to Batman v Superman should be Batman and Superman fighting, but it isn’t because Snyder and Terrio and Goyer can’t come up with a reason to make them fight.

The fight scene between Cavill and Affleck resonates better in the ultimate edition. It doesn’t work–Snyder (and the script) can’t handle passing the film off from Cavill to Affleck in this moment. It needed to be when there was a real flashback to the Batman origin, not the opening credits. How Warner Bros. didn’t bring in someone to at least fix this thing up in post is beyond me. There’s so much material and it could be cut so much better.

And Gal Gadot suffers a little in the ultimate edition. She disappears for too long and when she comes back as Wonder Woman, she’s got very little to do. She and Affleck needed another scene together, not a creepy email from a forty-something man to a much younger woman. The ultimate edition amplifies the theatrical. Everything bad, it makes worse, everything good, it makes better.

Jesse Eisenberg is good. Scoot McNairy is good. Callan Mulvey isn’t. I don’t even remember Mulvey having enough to do in the theatrical version for him to not be good. Everything bad, worse. Everything good, better.

It would be nice if that first 107 minutes were enough better to make up for the worse, but they aren’t. The big problem with Dawn of Justice is the resolution and conclusion, the two big fight scenes. They’re narrative disasters, just like they were in the theatrical version. They just weren’t as noticeably weaker in the shorter version. The ultimate edition shows real quality, real potential. Dawn of Justice could’ve weathered its pretense. But Snyder and Brenner–not to mention Terrio and Goyer–messed it up. And it’s actually too bad, because it’s not about the franchise deserving better and it sure isn’t about the audience deserving better, it’s about the actors. Adams, Cavill, Affleck, Irons, Hunter, Eisenberg. They all do some really good work in this film. Their performances deserve a better film.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Holly Hunter (Senator Finch), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Harry Lennix (Swanwick), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Jena Malone (Jenet Klyburn).


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, as a film, just as unwieldy as that title. Director Snyder, through a strange, comforting overconfidence, gets the film through its two and a half hour run time. By the end, when Snyder teases a cliffhanger, teases various comic book references, it’s a deceleration process. The viewer has made it to the finish line, here’s promise of a future reward (the setup of further movies).

Snyder brings no style to Dawn of Justice. He has a feel for the material–his dark and dreary take on Ben Affleck’s Batman, a lonely drunk surrounded by faceless women and haunted by Jeremy Irons (who might as well be a ghost, he has zero interaction with anyone else), is a big success, but it’s more. Most of Dawn of Justice is divinely fluid. David Brenner’s editing, Larry Fong’s photography, even Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score–there’s a visual flow to the film. Snyder can get to all the various stories going on (at two and a half hours, the film’s about an hour too short and an hour too long), even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay cannot.

I can’t even list all the stories. Basically, every character has a story going on with every other character (except Jeremy Irons, of course, and Holly Hunter to some degree). All of the actors are pretty darn good at it, even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay is exceptionally lazy, but these stories don’t really go anywhere. They all get resolutions, usually lame ones, but the “big story” gets introduced halfway into the film. More than halfway into the film and it gets no more weight than numerous other plot points, so it taking over is a bit of a surprise.

Unfortunately, all of these stories tend to be to tie in to the characters’ other stories. The result is nothing for most of the actors to do. Terrio, Goyer and Snyder wuss out on Cavill, robbing him of various great possible scenes. They don’t even shortchange him for Affleck, they shortchange him as Superman. He gets more to do as Clark Kent, which is fine (and comparing how Affleck approaches his role with how Cavill’s approach is interesting), but it’s not called Batman v Clark Kent.

As a result of shortchanging Cavill’s Superman antics for most of the run time (the super antics get told in summary montages), he doesn’t feel like much of a character. He still is a character because of the Clark Kent stuff–and Cavill and Adams, failed by the screenplay, are wonderful together–but he’s also not. And neither is Affleck, because–again–there’s a lot of misdirection from the script.

So is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor a large enough character? No. Eisenberg’s performance is great (for most of the film) but it all falls apart in the second half, when the film races to tie everything up and it becomes One Bad Night. In the end, Dawn of Justice’s action-packed finale has nothing to do with the film anyone had been building toward.

The script’s kind of bad, kind of mediocre. It gives Affleck and Gal Gadot (oh, yeah, she’s Wonder Woman–you’re supposed to get excited for her movie; you do) the opportunity to show off chemistry. They also get some boring moments playing on their computers to further the plot.

Snyder’s timing is good until the big finish. He hits a lot of good marks, but he’s in a rush. That overconfidence makes it seem like it’s okay to be rushed, but eventually it’s not okay anymore. Eventually, there’s a vacuum. Snyder can’t even find a tone for the film. It’s like he realized he was going to cop out of all the first act’s narrative expectations. He tries to distract the viewer from reaching the same conclusion with a lot of fanfare, a lot of nonsense. He’s got a strong cast, they get the movie through.

Dawn of Justice doesn’t succeed, it has enough trouble just surviving.

Wait, can’t forget–Holly Hunter is so good with nothing to work with. She’s real good.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Tao Okamoto (Mercy Graves), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Holly Hunter (Senator Finch).


True Romance (1993, Tony Scott), the director’s cut

The best thing about True Romance is some of the acting. The biggest problem with the film is who’s doing that great acting. It’s not leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, who the film eventually just ignores in order to further its supporting cast (which is sort of fine, as they’re better–especially than Slater–but it doesn’t do the film any favors).

Instead of it being Slater and Arquette amid this awesome supporting cast, instead it’s Slater and Arquette moving from place to place to encounter further awesome supporting cast members. Eventually, the film’s just bringing them in without the leads. At that point, however, it’s stopped being about Slater and Arquette, if it ever was about them.

The film opens with Slater, then immediately goes to a voice over from Arquette. Her narration, which suggests a far better character than she gets to play and a far better film, comes back at the end. In between, Dennis Hopper, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Tom Sizemore, and Chris Penn all get great scenes. Supposedly Gary Oldman gets one too, but not really. If there’s not material for the actor to connect with, it’s not like director Scott helps make the performance. He doesn’t do much of anything, except not know how to direct this movie. Not its action, not its cast, none of it.

All of the aforementioned actors have excellent scenes. Sometimes two, at least one. Arquette almost gets a few good scenes, but not really. After beating her up, in an exceptionally violent sequence (Scott’s got no subtext to his action, he’s painfully oblivious to questions of genre and viewer expectation), her character pretty much stops speaking. It’s weird.

The script’s oddly paced–an hour build-up, thirty minutes of play (not counting Arquette and Gandolfini’s vicious scene), thirty minutes of violent wrap-up. That front heaviness needs to define Slater and Arquette and it doesn’t. Slater, for example, can’t hold up against Hopper. The film goes off its rails, something even Scott seems to get. Of course, he just keeps going with it instead of making any adjustments, leading to a lot of humorous moments, some decent dialogue, but a really lame story.

It isn’t until the finish everything collapses under its own weight. Maybe if Michael Tronick and Christian Wagner did anything with the editing, or if Hans Zimmer’s music was any good (though he does rip off the Badlands theme to some success), but the film’s a technical yawn. Jeffrey L. Kimball’s photography is more than competent, Scott just doesn’t do anything with it.

Still, even if Scott were better, the script’s got problems with how it treats the leads. Especially Slater, who becomes less and less sympathetic as times goes on. Just like Romance itself.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; written by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Michael Tropic and Christian Wagner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Benjamín Fernández; produced by Gary Barber, Samuel Hadida, Steve Perry and Bill Unger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Slater (Clarence Worley), Patricia Arquette (Alabama Whitman), Michael Rapaport (Dick Ritchie), Bronson Pinchot (Elliot Blitzer), Saul Rubinek (Lee Donowitz), Dennis Hopper (Clifford Worley), James Gandolfini (Virgil), Gary Oldman (Drexl Spivey), Christopher Walken (Vincenzo Coccotti), Chris Penn (Nicky Dimes), Tom Sizemore (Cody Nicholson), Brad Pitt (Floyd) and Val Kilmer (Mentor).


The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick)

The Thin Red Line is about fear, beauty, solitude, loneliness. Director Malick’s approach is, frankly, staggering. Thin Red Line is an odd film to talk about because in most ways, it’s my favorite film. One of the great things about a good movie–not even an excellent or an amazing movie, but a good movie (and quite a few bad ones)–is being able to return to it as one matures, learns, comprehends and to appreciate it on additional levels. Returning to Thin Red Line for the first time in many years, I discovered it works in all those ways. Knowing more about film informs it, knowing more about history informs it, knowing more about narrative informs it, knowing more about owls informs it. Film is not static. Film ages with everything else. It grows, it contracts, it makes people laugh at the wrong moment. Malick acknowledges the film’s majesty. He does not give Nick Nolte a big part as a blowhard because he isn’t acknowledging the perfection in that casting choice. He does it because Nolte can do this part and he can make it phenomenal.

So much of the film is about the acting but not the actors. Malick doesn’t let the viewer identify with the characters by actor, rather by emotional impact. The film has frequent–often constant–narration from a variety of characters. I don’t even think the main narrator is ever identified, not for sure, because the viewer is the main narrator. He or she goes through the film as presented, through the fear, through the beauty, the solitude, the loneliness, and comes to this conclusion. To the film’s conclusion.

Or the narrator is just John Dee Smith. Though, if Smith is the narrator, Malick manages to turn the viewer into a Southern boy with an abusive stepfather and bad teeth, because there’s no difference. Malick doesn’t use characters in that manner. Even with Ben Chaplin’s officer turned private, whose entire internal life is about his wife back home, his details aren’t as important as how he reacts with them in frame. Because Thin Red Line isn’t some grand, sweeping melodrama, it’s an intensely focused, intensely personal film, emphasis on the film. Malick’s far more in the Eisenstein school of collision–basically how the presentation of shots and their editing, not necessarily their content, can be used to create emotion in the viewer–than something like David Lean or anyone else. It’s a lyrical assault.

Only Malick is using the content. He’s using the visual content of these beautiful, tropical Eden. He’s using the narrative content of a war movie. He’s using the audial content of the narrators. And he collides them, he separates them, he compares them. Thin Red Line is like going to an island of World War II reenactors and taking acid. And you’re invisible. And everyone looks like a famous person. Malick is speaking directly to the viewer and creating this setting for the viewer’s personal edification.

Malick strips the community out of The Thin Red Line. The way he structures the first act, the way he structures the first half–he’s removing the viewer’s sense of community, sense of stability. It’s far more personal. The poetic narration, separated so much from the characters or the setting, engages with the viewer. Malick is using the narrative content to echo the emotions created by the film’s visuals. Pardon my passive voice.

This sort of tempo isn’t unique to the film or to Malick. It’s the rhythm of good filmmaking. But Malick is playing different music and getting the same emotional beats. He’s got two movies playing side by side, one top of one another, completely transparent. And they’re jointly the film.

Like I said.

Staggering.

Malick gets some phenomenal performances out of his cast. Nolte, Chaplin, top-billed Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, John Cusack’s great in his small role. Woody Harrelson too. Though differently.

And then there’s Jim Caviezel. He doesn’t exactly play the film’s lead, but he does play the character who the audience spends the film trying to understand. It’s not clear if Malick thinks Caviezel’s the most interesting guy around; the film’s pretty even between Caviezel, Chaplin and then Nolte and Koteas in the stuff of epical importance. Oh, and then Mihok. He’s got a fairly large part.

But Malick posits he is showing the viewer the world through Caviezel’s character’s perspective. Not his eyes. His perspective (which allows for subplots). And Malick uses that particular perspective with the visual aspects of the film. The narrative level is far looser; Malick’s ability to naturally follow Caviezel around, especially as he inserts himself into the story, is skillful filmmaking. Malick, Caviezel, the other actors, the editors, they do a great job.

The editors are real important for Thin Red Line. Leslie Jones, Saar Klein, Billy Weber. The cuts in the film are sublime. The editors understand Malick’s narrative needs–for example, introducing the characters to the viewer–but also the need to actively force the viewer to make his or her own connections. Thin Red Line has a steep learning curve and unforgiving blind corners.

(Sorry, I needed a good mixed metaphor).

The first time I saw The Thin Red Line, I saw it again immediately following. Opening night. Returning to it over fifteen years later, I’m terrified at the prospective of an immediate rewatch. It’s too much. I like it too much. The Thin Red Line is my Nietzschean abyss. I just can’t too much.

This time watching it–I’d forgotten a lot–I really noticed the change in the weather. The clouds moving across the soldiers. That detail pulled me in. And I can see the film doing it, beckoning me, but it doesn’t matter. Creating something so focused, so controlled, yet so open, so welcoming… it’s just another amazing part of the film and Malick’s filmmaking here.

I also noticed, this time, Caviezel’s character has a Japanese alter ego.

Wonder what I’ll notice next time.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terrence Malick; screenplay by Malick, based on the novel by James Jones; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Billy Weber, Saar Klein and Leslie Jones; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Robert Michael Geisler, John Roberdeau and Grant Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sean Penn (First Sgt. Edward Welsh), John Travolta (Barr), James Caviezel (Private Witt), Adrien Brody (Corporal Fife), Elias Koteas (Capt. James Staros), Nick Nolte (Lieut. Col. Gordon Tall), Ben Chaplin (Private Bell), Dash Mihok (Private First Class Doll), Arie Verveen (Private Dale), David Harrod (Corporal Queen), John C. Reilly (Mess Sergeant Storm), John Cusack (Capt. John Gaff), Larry Romano (Private Mazzi), Tim Blake Nelson (Private Tills), Woody Harrelson (Staff Sergeant Keck), George Clooney (Capt. Charles Bosche) and John Savage (McCron).


Chappie (2015, Neill Blomkamp)

South Africa produces the most macadamia nuts in the world, as well as the most electricity. However, according to Chappie, those achievements come with quite a cost. Every single native white South African–again, according to Chappie, is an amoral, dimwitted thug. The only people in the country doing good are foreigners, like Dev Patel, who creates robots for the Johannesburg police department in the film.

He works for a weapons manufacturer, run by very American Sigourney Weaver, and has interoffice squabbles with Hugh Jackman. Jackman, sporting a mullet, lots of religion and a military background, is one of the film’s bad guys. At least he doesn’t have subtitles for when he speaks English, like Brandon Auret; that device is one of director Blomkamp’s annoying eccentricities. As opposed to his incompetent ones, which are legion.

The near future Johannesburg, with its Robocop-quote spouting robot cops, runs on command line Linux and flip phones. It’s dirty, it’s grimy, it doesn’t matter that Weaver’s company has achieved the extraordinary in robots, even before Patel gives one sentience.

With that sentience comes the titular Chappie’s new family–criminals Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. Ninja and Visser, in real life, are rock stars (performing as Die Antwoord). They have interesting videos. Blomkamp turns Chappie into a bad commercial for them; relying on Ninja for acting is a big mistake. Visser is a little better, but not much.

Chappie’s an atrocious two hours. Blomkamp’s filmmaking masterfully combines dumb ideas, incompetent execution and bad directing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Neill Blomkamp; written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Julian Clarke and Mark Goldblatt; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Jules Cook; produced by Simon Kinberg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dev Patel (Deon Wilson), Ninja (Ninja), Yo-Landi Visser (Yolandi), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Yankie), Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore), Sigourney Weaver (Michelle Bradley), Brandon Auret (Hippo) and Sharlto Copley (Chappie).


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