Patrick Wilson

Aquaman (2018, James Wan)

Just because you can get Patrick Wilson to say “Call me, Oceanmaster!” over and over again with a straight face doesn’t necessarily mean you should have Patrick Wilson say “Call me, Oceanmaster!” over and over again.

Unless director James Wan was just trying to get my wife to laugh uproariously. Every time. Because every time it’s so absurdly dumb the only reasonable response is to laugh. Uproariously.

Kind of like Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s B-villain. Not only is Abdul-Mateen terrible, not only is the writing of the character risible, his arc is one of a buffoon. He’s Elmer Fudd. Not even with a pseudo-tragic storyline does he get any depth. He’s just Elmer Fudd with some pseudo-tragedy.

Abdul-Mateen probably gives the worst performance. His only serious competition is Nicole Kidman, who plays Aqua-mom. She’s supposed to be the next queen of Atlantis but runs away to Maine and shacks up with Temeura Morrison, as Aqua-dad. Their abbreviated love affair–which tries to make up for the actors abject lack of chemistry with hilarious CGI de-aging on Morrison–results in Momoa. Well, not Momoa yet, but a series of bad kid actors playing Aqua-boy. Eventually it’s Momoa.

He narrates the opening. Poorly, but it’s poorly written. Wilson’s exposition about why he wants to be called “Oceanmaster” is actually better written than a lot of the film’s exposition. The only person who manages to get Aquaman’s expository dialogue out with any success is Amber Heard. She’s Momoa’s love interest and a princess of Atlantis who wants to stop Wilson from waging war on the surface world. Even though he’s probably right? Though Atlantis seems like a barbaric place. Ancient Rome with technology. Kind of. The movie doesn’t spend a lot of time there. Just enough for a CGI chase sequence involving undersea vehicles.

The CGI is impressive though. A lot of Aquaman‘s CGI is impressive. Not the de-aging stuff. Or when it’s for the action scenes involving the actors; Wan directs fight scenes like it’s a video game on fast forward. At once point he does first person shooter, at another he toggles between two characters’ simultaneous action scenes. The latter is very nearly effective, if it weren’t so poorly photographed. At some point–very early on–in Aquaman, it becomes clear cinematographer Don Burgess and Wan don’t care at all about the lighting matching when they’re shooting the actors on green screen. The composites are universally terrible. It usually doesn’t affect the action too much, except when Aquaman is in its Indiana Jones phase with Momoa and Heard globe-trotting to find an ancient super-powered trident.

Wait, I was actually complimenting the CGI, wasn’t I? Yeah, the extreme long shots with the undersea action–all CGI, obviously–looks great. Wan does those shots well. He doesn’t so establishing shots well and he doesn’t acknowledge any physicality–like, really, what does cinematographer Burgess do on this movie, he doesn’t even stop Wan from shooting through where a wall ought to be–but the undersea CGI stuff can be cool. And competent, which is a nice change from when there are the lousy composites or the crappy action scenes or the writing.

Momoa can’t really lead a movie, but it doesn’t matter because David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall’s script is so bad no one could lead Aquaman. Momoa’s fine. What are you going to do with this script. The romantic stuff between him and Heard is absurd, but who cares. It’s nowhere near as bad as, I don’t know, Abdul-Mateen or Kidman and Morrison and, well, you’re rooting for Amber Heard. She works hard in this movie, trying to carry Momoa both in character and as an actor in scenes. Heard pretends her character in Aquaman is serious, which no one else in the movie does… except maybe Willem Dafoe (only because you can never tell if he’s being tongue-in-cheek) and Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren’s Heard’s father and Wilson’s war ally. He’s not good–it’s a crap role–but he takes it seriously.

Momoa doesn’t take his part seriously, which is a good move since his whole character arc relies on something the movie doesn’t clearly inform the audience about even though they should’ve known about it from the beginning. Wilson either. They’re half-brothers fighting for the throne. They ought to have some chemistry.

They have zilch. Partially because Wan doesn’t direct them for it, partially because the script really wants to subject the audience to Abdul-Mateen.

Rupert Gregson-Williams’s music occasionally gets really loud and cartoonishly action-y. It’s at those moments Aquaman ostensibly has its most potential for outlandish action. Wan never delivers. Not even during his CGI chase scenes, which are abbreviated, or his “elaborate” fight scenes. Aquaman runs almost two and a half hours, has a present action of a few days, yet is almost entirely in summary. Sure, Johnson-McGoldrick and Beall write godawful scenes, but Wan doesn’t do anything to slow that pace.

When Gregson-Williams’s score isn’t writing checks the movie can’t cash, it’s pretty tepid and generic. Still has more personality than Burgess’s photography. Aquaman does better underwater; Bill Brzeski’s production design goes to pot whenever the action surfaces. Though, again, it’s where Burgess’s photography is worst. So it’s a lose-lose.

Could Aquaman be worse? Undoubtedly. Should Aquaman be better? Sure? There’s no reason it ought to be so bad. Or so dumb. Or predictable. Or so obvious.

Though, again, if it weren’t so obvious, could Momoa lead the picture….

But it definitely shouldn’t be so bad. It shouldn’t be so technically inept. Its actors–save Kidman–deserve a script better than what Johnson-McGoldrick and Beall contribute; you wouldn’t play with your action figures with their dialogue. It’s too plastic.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Geoff Johns, Wan, and Beall and the DC Comics character created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Kirk M. Morri; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Peter Safran and Rob Cowan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jason Momoa (Arthur), Amber Heard (Mera), Patrick Wilson (King Orm), Willem Dafoe (Vulko), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Manta), Temuera Morrison (Tom Curry), Dolph Lundgren (King Nereus), and Nicole Kidman (Atlanna).


Purple Violets (2007, Edward Burns)

I’ve been avoiding seeing Purple Violets for almost four years–I thought it was going to be one of Burns’s lesser works. So, obviously, it shouldn’t be a surprise it’s his best film (it’s also his best film as a director).

I’m having some trouble trying to figure out how to start talking about it. It’s different from his usual approach to scripting, maybe because he has a clear protagonist here and it’s Selma Blair. It’s her film–even though the other three principals, Patrick Wilson, Burns and Debra Messing, get significant scenes to themselves.

For a while, there’s this juxtaposing of story lines–Blair and Messing opposite Wilson and Burns. Then the characters start crossing over and everything comes together in a completely organic way. Halfway through the film, the plot is still unpredictable. Even the last scene is, to some degree, unpredictable. It’s all incredibly delicate.

Blair’s great, which wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was Patrick Wilson. His part is a somewhat regular guy and he turns it into this constantly surprising, deep performance (Burns’s script helps). Burns gives maybe his best performance ever here. He’s kind of making fun of himself, but also not. Messing is another surprise. She takes what could be a sitcom harpy and turns it into a lovely performance.

And Donal Logue–as a Brit–is great.

The PT Walkley score and the William Rexer photography are amazing.

From the first shot–thanks to Walkley and Rexer–it’s clear Burns probably has something phenomenal here.

Then he delivers.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Thom Zimny; music by PT Walkley; production designer, John Nyomarkay; produced by Margot Bridger, Burns, Aaron Lubin, Nicole Marra and Pamela Schein Murphy; released by iTunes.

Starring Selma Blair (Patti Petalson), Patrick Wilson (Brian Callahan), Edward Burns (Michael Murphy), Debra Messing (Kate Scott), Dennis Farina (Gilmore), Max Baker (Mark), Elizabeth Reaser (Bernie) and Donal Logue (Chazz Coleman).


Morning Glory (2010, Roger Michell)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good “Hollywood” New York comedy, even longer since I’ve seen a great one.

Morning Glory is a good one. Though, at times, it reminds of a great one—I’m not sure if David Arnold’s score, which is lovely on its own, is supposed to remind of Sabrina, but with Harrison Ford walking around Manhattan… it’s hard not to think of it.

Since he’s lost the luster of superstardom, Ford has actually become an exceptionally interesting actor. His performance in Morning Glory is easily his funniest (he plays an egotistical news anchor) and it’s unlikely anyone but Ford could have made the role work.

But for Ford to work, Rachel McAdams has to work too, because all of Ford’s scenes are with her. McAdams does a fine job here—it helps the film is incredibly well-cast. From John Pankow as her sidekick (the two are fantastic together… McAdams works well with other actors), Diane Keaton (it’s a shock how little she has to do here, but she’s great), Jeff Goldblum (similar to Keaton, but he’s not third-billed), and Patrick Wilson (who’s excellent as the love interest).

Reading over that paragraph, it seems like I’m not giving McAdams enough credit—she really is good. The film couldn’t work without her.

Michell shoots Morning Glory in Panavision; he and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler know how to use it. It looks fantastic.

The only problem is the soundtrack—modern pop songs are weak.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Michell; written by Aline Brosh McKenna; director of photography, Alwin H. Kuchler; edited by Daniel Farrell, Nick Moore and Steven Weisberg; music by David Arnold; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Becky Fuller), Harrison Ford (Mike Pomeroy), Diane Keaton (Colleen Peck), Patrick Wilson (Adam Bennett), John Pankow (Lenny Bergman), Jeff Goldblum (Jerry Barnes) and Ty Burrell (Paul McVee).


The Switch (2010, Josh Gordon and Will Speck)

I suppose if someone wanted to think really hard about it, there’s something to be said about adapting short stories for Hollywood. Jeffrey Eugenides’s source short story was in The New Yorker. Is it ripe for mainstream Hollywood adaptation? Given the adaptation, The Switch, failed at the box office, one might say no. But then if people don’t see good movies (or read good fiction), maybe a New Yorker short story is a good starting place for a mainstream movie.

The Switch is a completely predictable family comedy. It’s not really a romantic comedy because the romance between Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman is tertiary to Bateman forming a relationship with the son he never knew he had, played by Thomas Robinson.

The opening third is set seven years before (odd how Aniston and Bateman didn’t age a day) and has a different tone. It’s a lot funnier. The film opens on a hilarious urban sequence. Then the supporting cast–Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson–get introduced and they’re a lot funnier than they get to be when there’s a kid around.

Gordon and Speck earn a bunch of good will and basically spend the last hour of the film using it and it works. It doesn’t hurt the film’s got one of the single best romantic comeback lines since, I don’t know, Empire Strikes Back.

Bateman’s really good here. All of the casting is good, but Bateman’s performance suggests he’s capable of great things.

It’s totally fine.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck; screenplay by Allan Loeb, based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by John Axelrad; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jason Bateman (Wally), Jennifer Aniston (Kassie), Patrick Wilson (Roland), Jeff Goldblum (Leonard), Juliette Lewis (Debbie) and Thomas Robinson (Sebastian).


Watchmen (2009, Zack Snyder), the director’s cut

This response will be double length. Well, double length minus ten words. Wait, twelve. No, fifteen. Well, you get the idea.

Watchmen doesn’t get a double post because it’s good. It gets a double post because it is, as far as I can tell, the first utterly pretentious film from a filmmaker–Zack Snyder–who seems to think an episode of “Gobots” is better than an episode of “Hill Street Blues.” I’m not sure even the premiere purveyor of crap–Stephen Sommers–would go so far. (This “Gobots” reference is made up, but it seems about right).

But Watchmen isn’t terrible in some ways. A friend of mine said it was a good case in point for the potential of superhero movies. Except, in this new wave of superhero movies, it doesn’t have a place. The comic book was a comment on the comic book industry–not to mention certain comic book creators’ political views (it’s not like Snyder’s commenting on Jon Favreau apparently being a rabidly anti-French dimwit)–and the film can’t possibly comment on any of the current wave of comic book films, because it’s an adaptation of the comic book. I read Snyder claim the film was his response, as the comic had been to comic books, to superhero movies. But it’s the stupidest thing I think I’ve heard since Walter Hill said he was going to improve on Kurosawa.

Watchmen has some good acting. Patrick Wilson is good, Jackie Earle Haley is good, Billy Crudup’s voice acting is decent, Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t terrible. With Haley and Wilson the ostensible leads, it works out all right. And the whole thing is such a spectacle, even the awful acting doesn’t ruin it. Matthew Goode is lousy. Carla Gugino’s performance as a sixty-seven year-old woman is hilariously awful and I probably would have been ejected from the theater for laughing at her hysterically. Malin Akerman gives one of the worst performances I can think of in a major studio film in the last twenty years. I have no evidence and I’m just guessing, but I think she got cast because she was willing to take her clothes off. Because it sure wasn’t because she had any acting ability. Her scenes with Wilson are awful.

The special effects aren’t terrible but the digital sets are lousy. The Vietnam scenes are without horizon lines, sort of pre-Renaissance. The soundtrack is atrocious. It might be the worst thing about Watchmen, besides Snyder’s slow motion effects and Ackerman’s non-acting. Snyder cheapens his scenes. It isn’t about how he adapted the comic book, it’s about how he turned it into an episode of the “Wonder Years” or something.

Worst might be how Snyder keeps showing the World Trade Center. It isn’t part of the 1985 New York cityscape, it’s an object he repeatedly focuses attention on. It’s pornographic. Especially in a story supposedly about a large number of people senselessly dying.

And it doesn’t feel like three hours.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by William Hoy; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder; released by Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures.

Starring Malin Akerman (Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Jon Osterman / Dr. Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach / Walter Kovacs), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Edward Blake / The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre), Matt Frewer (Edgar Jacobi / Moloch), Stephen McHattie (Hollis Mason / Old Nite Owl), Laura Mennell (Janey Slater) and Rob LaBelle (Wally Weaver).


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