Bombshell

Bombshell is the story of the take down of Roger Ailes the head of Fox News. It is told from the perspective of the women who work at Fox News who speak up against him, but it ends up being Roger’s story. It’s an okay movie with some great performances and some worthy moments, but not much more.

The films plot is a grab bag of headlines. It begins with Megyn Kelly’s famous feud with Donald Trump during the 2016 election. It goes into detail about Kelly’s experience with Trump. Then it shifts to Gretchen Carlson’s point of view as she prepares a lawsuit against Roger Ailes after she is fired from the station. It also jumps to the perspective of Kayla, a young woman working at the station with big ambitions. Kayla’s character is the most problematic from a narrative standpoint. She is a composite of several real women, and her story feels superfluous and unfulfilled in the movie.

The women playing these parts are all excellent. Charlize Theron does a great job mimicking Megyn Kelly. She is made up to look just like her and her voice work and appearance is kind of eerie at times. Nicole Kidman is playing Gretchen Carlson and is likewise made up to look just like her real life counterpart. It’s a relief to see Margot Robbie on screen because she at least looks something like herself. Her character isn’t real, so she is allowed to wear her actual face in this movie. She is the strongest of all three. Her performance is the most emotionally resonant and deeply written.

The actresses are great, but the roles they’re playing aren’t. Aside from her duel with Trump, Kelly’s part is underwritten. We get some interesting discussion and debate about her feelings for Roger. He harassed her in the past, but gave her everything. She feels indebted to him, and doesn’t want to report his behavior. It’s an interesting subject, but it isn’t fully explored. Carlson is shown getting fired and starting her lawsuit and then she pretty much disappears from the movie. Why did she file her suit? Why didn’t she report him sooner? We don’t know. The movie asks these questions, but never bothers to answer them. Her side of things could have been fascinating, but it is never explored. Finally, there’s Kayla. She is beautiful and ambitious. She meets with Roger in order to advance her career. He harasses and assaults her. She plays along. She is traumatized by this, but then her story peters out. We never see her assault. We never see if she gets her own show the way she wants. She never speaks up against Roger. So much of the narrative hinges on the tension of whether or not women will come forward against Roger. But this tension is abandoned and mishandled. One of the main characters is never shown coming forward. Why experience her trauma if there isn’t going to be a resolution for the character?

The real main character here is Ailes. Roger Ailes is played by John Lithgow under a hundred pounds of prosthetics. He is fantastic. His performance is amazing. He is scary and repulsive at times, and then he’s charming and jovial. He is disgusting yet sympathetic. His wife is played by Connie Britton. She is by his side throughout all of it. She supports him unconditionally. Her role is the most fascinating and compelling part of the film. How does a wife support her husband in the face of a growing tidal wave of evidence against him. She generate so much empathy with the smallest moments. The problem with the movie is that it begins as a victims story and becomes the story of Ailes fall. He is the most well rounded and fully developed character in the film. The movie presents itself as a female empowerment taking down the system movie, but is all about the man’s demise. It’s just faulty and wrong story telling.

The performances are good. The movie is easy to watch (which might be a criticism considering the subject matter). The storytelling is a muddle. Is it worth watching? John Lithgow is always worth watching. Margot Robbie is heartbreaking. It’s not good filmmaking or storytelling though. You can probably skip it. It’s half a cup of tea for me. – B-

The Social Network

New to Netflix, The Social Network is a very interesting film to watch ten years later. It maintains its sweeping Shakespearean tragedy elements. It’s performances hold up beautifully. It’s cinematography remains rich, but it misogyny and attitudes toward women remain frustrating.

The film follows Mark Zuckerberg as a frustrated college student who starts a social networking site that grows into the massive institution Facebook that we use today. The film opens with Mark on a date with his girlfriend which begins with him obsessing over getting into a final club and ends with a devastating breakup. This breakup is the catalyst for Zuckerberg’s actions throughout the movie. Much has been written about the film’s historical inaccuracies, but regardless of the facts it makes for a great story.

That is the key to this whole movie. It is a great story. Zuckerberg here is a man who feels rejections so deeply that he creates an online community to replace the real world. He seeks acceptance through his own creation and in doing so he destroys the real relationship with his best friend as played by Andrew Garfield. This is rich material for a modern tragedy, and the film hits that aspect perfectly.

Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as Mark Zuckerberg. He handles Sorkin’s dialogue brilliantly. Sorkin writes in a heightened fashioned. Every line is wordy and intellectual and must be spoken at a rapid pace for the flow and music of the words to play correctly. Eisenberg also brings a simmering intensity to Zuckerberg especially as he sinks deeper and deeper into resentment. His journey through the movie is incredibly subtle work. Justin Timberlake shows up in a wonderful performance as the devil on Zuckerberg’s shoulder Sean Parker. Andrew Garfield turns in a strong performance as Zuckerberg’s one time best friend who ends up suing him. And Armie Hammer does double duty playing twin brothers who believe that Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them.

The cinematography on display here by Jeff Cronenweth is full of rich deep shadows. It makes the Harvard campus look like the most intensely dramatic place on earth. The stark yellows and oranges of the lighting scheme offsets the cold blues of the laptop screens. The movement and lighting make up for the fact that so much of the film follows people staring at computers. It’s a great looking movie that makes a potentially dull action look riveting.

David Fincher is the director. Film students across the country have shrines built to this man. He is the favorite idol of most aspiring filmmakers. He is an excellent director, but he’s a little at war with his own material here. Sorkin writes plays. He scripts are full of dialogue. The drama is not in what happens, but in what is said. Fincher is a visual director, and he seems to be trying to escape every dialogue scene. He cuts in and out of conversations at such a rapid pace that it kills a lot of dramatic momentum. The film has an uncommon framing. The film tells Zuckerberg’s story through two different depositions. Zuckerberg is sued by two different parties, and the story of the founding of Facebook is told through these two depositions. It’s would be a jumble if it were told in any manner, but Fincher’s decision to cut between both depositions and the past narrative is too much. Every time a scene in one deposition gets going, we cut to a different deposition or a different moment in the past. The most egregious and harmful moment comes at the end when Andrew Garfield’s character confronts Zuckerberg. The most emotional and impactful scene in the movie is interrupted by a quick cut to a deposition. It feels like somebody in the audience paused the best scene in order to explain something that we all knew anyway then it cuts back to the big scene except the momentum, the weight, and the power of the scene is dissipated. This happens throughout the movie and while it doesn’t ruin the whole movie is diminishes its impact. It could have been better.

The film is interesting to watch now as a time capsule. It was released in 2010, and it was about the early 2000’s. Women were treated very differently on college campuses back then. Zuckerberg is angry at the girl who broke up with him and lashes out. Guys are just desperate to hook up with women. A pair of characters who row crew talk flippantly about their girlfriends feelings. These girlfriends are never shown on screen. The movie accurately shows the feelings of computer nerds who are unable to obtain women and confused by them. As well as the arrogant frat guys who have girlfriends and don’t care about them and who pursue the hottest of women carelessly because they feel they deserve to have them. It displays this mentality and behavior but doesn’t criticize or condemn it. It’s an interesting thing to see through modern eyes.

In the end, it is a very good movie. It is a grand sweeping modern tragedy that works inspire of itself. It’s my cup of tea. – B+

I’ve always loved the trailer. I think the trailer is in some ways superior to the film itself. The trailer gets an A+…

Road to Perdition

Original Cinema Quad Poster; Movie Poster; Film Poster

Road to Perdition is new to Netflix and one of the most beautifully shot films of the last 20 years. It is a violent and stately gangster movie about revenge, violence, and fathers and sons. It is enthralling, yet somehow keeps the audience at arms length from the heart of the story.

The film tells the story of Michael Sullivan Jr. a young man in Illinois who in the winter of 1931 decides to find out what his distant and mysterious father does for a living. He stows away in his dad’s car and discovers that his dad is an enforcer for a gangster. He witnesses a murder and his life changes forever.

To begin, the cast is incredible. Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan Sr., the enforcer who is stoic and calculating, but has a deep well of emotion in his eyes. Paul Newman in his final role plays the gangster who sees Michael as the son he always wanted instead of the wretched son he has. That son is played by Daniel Craig. James Bond himself has an early role here as a weaselly son who has turned sour and vile because of a terrible relationship with his own father. Jude Law shows up as a particularly nasty hitman who likes to photograph the people he murders. Are there women in the movie? Yes, but they don’t get to talk. This is a story about fathers and sons.

Not only was this Paul Newman’s last role on camera, but this was the final film of Conrad L Hall. He was a legendary cinematographer who filmed some of the most influential films in movie history. His work here absolutely makes the movie. Every frame is a perfectly composed work of art. His use of color, light, and motion is the stuff most cinematographers dream of. It is a gorgeous film to look at. Any shot from this movie could be framed and hung on the wall in an art museum. It is gorgeous to look at. The film has an elaborate thematic use of water. Bath water, holy water, snow, and especially rain come into play to create sweeping metaphors that elevate the movie. The movie is so painterly that you could watch it without sound and still understand every moment. One shot in particular stands out in which Daniel Craig’s character is seated at a table after being shamed and chastised. Everyone at the table rises and leaves him sitting alone. The camera moves toward him slowly. He is left alone and isolated. Finally, his father and Michael walk out of the room behind him. The focus shifts to his father walking out on his son with his arm around Michael’s shoulder. The focus pulls back to Craig as he seethes. It’s good filmmaking and a great visual metaphor that perfectly encapsulates his character.

So with great performances, and award winning cinematography why does the film feel distant? Why doesn’t it play on the heart strings the way it could? Three reasons, the movie is a little too stately and artful. It is often a piece of art to be admired rather than a work that pulls the audience in. Every frame is a work of art, but that high art quality can create a distance. When a character weeps in a perfectly lit and perfectly posed manner I noticed the perfect lighting and framing before I felt the impact of the emotion. The second reason is that the film moves too quickly from its emotional beats. When someone is killed, the characters take a moment and then move on to the next thing. It’s too fast. They move on too quickly. Finally, Michael is so reserved and distant from his son. He is closed off and isolated, and his goal isn’t to connect with his son. This isn’t about a father and son building a relationship. It’s about how hard those relationships can be when the father keeps his son at arms length. If his goal was to connect with his son, they’d spend the film working through their relationship and have a big hug and a game of catch at the end. The relationship building isn’t the goal or the focus here. It doesn’t follow the emotional beats these movies usually follow, so like Michael himself the movie seems distant.

That said, this movie is absolutely worth watching. It’s has gorgeous visuals. It has fantastic performances. It has thrilling scenes. Jude Law is genuinely scary and Paul Newman is as powerful as ever. The movie won’t make you cry, but it will be worth your time. It’s definitely my cup of tea. – A-

Molly’s Game

Brand new to Netflix, is Molly’s Game. Aaron Sorkin infuses this story with his signature dialogue and fast pace. It is an involving and sometimes thrilling movie that gets bogged down in a flashy plot structure and too much extraneous detail.

The film follows Molly Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain. Molly is a real woman who has lived an extraordinary life. She was a top performing freestyle skier, destined for great things until a freak accident killed her chances of greatness. She then went to school and got a job that lead to her running a poker game for celebrities and people who wanted to play with celebrities. This lead her to starting her own multimillion dollar game that lead to drug addiction and ties to the Russian mafia. This lead to an indictment and a prosecution. This is a lot of ground to cover in one movie.

It is all fascinating, and every episode is filled with Sorkin’s crackling dialogue. Sorkin wrote and directed this film. It’s his first directorial effort. His writing is better than his direction. His dialogue flies with a momentum all its own. He writes like nobody else. He can turn a simple scene into a thrilling adventure. He comes from a theater background, and it shows. He lets his characters talk and express themselves. His scripts are full of scenes, not exposition dumps or simple moments but true scenes. This film is filled with great scenes. Molly navigates powerful people trying to assert their power, and those power dynamics are expertly crafted.

Where he falters is in his direction. It’s a lot of simple things that most people probably won’t notice. Eye lines don’t match up. His lighting is dull. He editing rhythms feel off. Occasionally he cuts to baffling close ups that don’t fit in with the rest of the scene. It’s so noticeable because the dialogue is so strong, but the direction does not match the dialogue. Clear, crisp dialogue with muddy direction.

The other problem with the movie is the sheer volume of story being told, and the fact that that story is told out of order. Sorkin loves to play with nonlinear storytelling. The problem is that here there’s too much. He tries to cram everything in, and this makes the film feel like its meandering. It doesn’t feel like a tight thriller. It feels like a leisurely stroll through the narrative. Molly’s alcohol and drug issues for instance are mentioned repeatedly, but because the film cuts around in her narrative so much the drug problem never feels serious. It feels like a minor detail getting lost in the shuffle.

Okay, negatives aside, there’s so much good in this movie. Jessica Chastain for one is impeccable as Molly. She is conveys the wit and intelligence of this woman. She is driven and strong. She is frustrated and lost. She is someone fighting desperately every second and Chastain delivers. Idris Elba is also fantastic as Molly’s lawyer. He is a good guy who is driven and a little too tough on his daughter, but still a good man. He is clever and able to match Molly. Their scenes together are superb. Elba and Chastain are a formidable pair and they make this movie soar.

Kevin Costner has a small part as Molly’s dad. The two of them have a scene late in the film in which they “go through three years of therapy in three minutes.” This scene is great. The emotions are raw and powerful as this father and daughter break through years of unspoken resentments and hurt to the core of their relationship. If you hate everything else in the movie this scene alone will make it worth your time.

It is messy and flawed, but it has moments that are so rewarding. It will pull you in despite its flaws. it’s my cup of tea and it’s on Netflix now. – B+

Ad Astra

Ad Astra is a beautifully shot film with a slow deliberate pace that asks a lot of its audience. It’s absolutely worth watching, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

The film is set in the not too distant future. Roy McBride is a technician working on a giant antenna that extends from earth into space. This type of work was once the territory of astronauts and heroes, but now looks like any other job. On an average day, a shock wave from space shorts out the antenna and sends Roy careening down toward the earth’s surface. This sequence is absolutely stunning. The special effects are seamless. The way it is shot makes the audience feel as if they are plummeting with Roy. It is beautiful and thrilling.

However this fall had little impact on Roy. His pulse never exceeded 80 bpm. This is a man totally divorced from his emotions. His near death experience never even raised his pulse. The rest of the movie seeks to dive inside this mans mind and figure out who he is and why he has erected these walls around his inner self.

The plot concerns Roy’s father Clifford, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who was the most decorated and celebrated astronaut in history. 29 years previously Clifford flew out to Neptune to seek out intelligent life in the cosmos. He disappeared. The government believes that Clifford’s project has something to do with the shock wave that nearly killed Roy. They send Roy out to try to make contact with his father. Roy’s journey to find his father is told in slow deliberate scenes that tear down Roy’s walls and expose the raw nerves that govern his behavior.

The trailers sell this movie as an action film. It looks like Interstellar with gun fights. It’s not that. It’s a personal drama told in grand sweeping visuals and deep resonant close ups. Brad Pitt is this movie. He inhabits Roy. He is utterly convincing in this role. He is contained and communicates a million nuances with his every look. This is a performance that demands close attention. This isn’t a movie that can be viewed in the background. Cell phones off and eyes on the screen or a brilliant performance will be totally lost on the viewer. As Roy’s journey takes him to the moon then to Mars, Brad Pitt shows the layers peeling away in stunning moments of small details. It’s an absolutely brilliant example of film acting.

The film is dedicated to a realistic depiction of what the future might look like. The space craft in this film look familiar enough to be believable. The film goes to great lengths to show what space travel will probably look like in the future. It is slow, but it is possible. The film genuinely feels like a glimpse into the future. Every detail feels right and real. If the future doesn’t look like this film I’ll be very surprised.

There are a quite a few detractors though. It is a slow film. The unfolds and takes its time. It doesn’t rush to the next big climax, and in a world of superheroes and fast talking tv shows, this film runs its own race. It takes its time showing Roy’s journey because there aren’t easy or quick answers for what he’s going through.

The other problem is that the film really only has one decent role. Roy is the only character that is developed and explored here. A lot of great actors drop by for a few lines or just a few words in some cases, then they disappear. This is a little bit baffling. Why hire great actors to say three words and then leave the movie? With each cameo, it distracts from the narrative. However, the lack of other characters does display Roy’s isolation. He is alone because of the emotional blocks he’s dealing with. The film is about one man’s loneliness and isolation. He doesn’t have anyone. He doesn’t have any connections. This film only has one character.

Reading about the film, it seems people have felt disappointed by the ending. The movie’s message isn’t about a big conclusion or a big Hollywood ending. It is a small emotional conclusion that befits the small intimate character at the story’s center. For me the ending was a massive release after a tightly wound emotional film. The tension of the film is wrapped up in Roy’s emotional condition, and to see this conclusion felt like a massive release.

This film really worked for me. It has great images, great set pieces, and a great performance at its center. For some it’ll be too slow and too subtle to leave an impact. If you want to pay attention to a movie that will pay you back for that attention, this is a visual feast that will not disappoint.

It is my cup of tea – A-

Terminator Dark Fate

Skip this one. It has a few moments of pure popcorn pleasure, but it’s not a good movie. It’s a pretty dismal example of why they should have stopped making Terminator movies in 1992.

If you’ve seen one Terminator movie, you’ve seen them all… literally. Every Terminator movie has had the exact same plot as the original movie. A robot is sent from the future to kill the leader of humanity before he can rise up to defeat them. The second movie adds a second robot. The third movie makes that robot a girl. The fourth is just a war movie with robots, so it doesn’t count. The fifth movie is trying so hard to be different, but it’s still just multiple robots going back in time to kill the same characters. This one is no different. This repetition is why it’s impossible to talk about one without referencing its predecessors. When a much better version of this story exists, it’s difficult not to think of it when watching this movie.

The twist this time around is that John Connor, the central character in all of these movies is killed in the first five minutes of this movie. That’s not a twist or a big reveal. It happens before the opening credits are done. This means that someone else has to get murdered in the past in order for the robots to win in the future. This time their target for termination is a girl named Dani. She is Mexican. This is a big deal in this movie. It is filled with hints at political commentary without ever having the courage to make any actual political statements. A very polite terminator is sent back in time to kill her, and a super-powered woman named Grace is sent back to protect Dani. Before anything is really established, the terminator shows up at Dani’s factory job and tries to kill her. Grace also shows up and they duke it out. They then get chased in a car then a truck. Things blow up and mayhem occurs.

The first problem with the movie is that Dani is never given any personality or identity aside from being an attractive Mexican girl. Grace’s main trait is that she’s tough? I mean she’s kind of tough, and kind of desperate, and kind of mean, but mostly she’s just kind of there. The terminator has more personality than either of them. He is very polite. He is gentle until he stabs someone in the face.

The second problem is that the action moves too quickly. It’s not too fast paced, it’s that things move unnaturally fast. Cars move at what looks like 500 miles per hour at all times. Punches are thrown and bodies fly faster than they could in real life. Occasionally the movie shifts into slow motion, and the slow motion looks like everything is moving at a more natural pace. This was done to ramp up the intensity, but it just makes it harder to enjoy. It detracts from the weight and importance of the action. Nothing looks like it could ever be real. It’s so hard to get into something that is so clearly not trying to look realistic. It doesn’t have to look real. It is essentially rock ’em sock ’em robots, but action without weight or consequence isn’t fun to watch.

After a lot of sound and fury, Linda Hamilton is introduced once again playing Sarah Connor, the badass mother of the future. She totes large guns and tough guy one liners. She is okay. Her performance is mostly one note. That one note being grizzled bitch, but she plays that note really well. She has an intensity in her eyes and a real emotion that comes out every once in a while.

The third problem with this movie is that there are no scenes. There are a lot of moments and a lot of dialogue, but no real scenes. It’s difficult to define a scene, but essentially it is two or more characters in a single location who begin at one stage and end in a different stage. Mr. A and Mr. B walk into a bedroom and after some arguing Mr. A reveals his secret. Ms. C and Ms. D get in the car and debate the best road to take. They agree and leave. This movie has a scene in which Sarah and Dani sit in the woods. Sarah begins talking about sadness, then the movie cuts away. It’s just that fast. She doesn’t reveal anything about her own sadness. She just talks for a minute then the movie cuts away. There aren’t really many scenes here. There is just dialogue that doesn’t reveal much or advance much of the plot. Some of it does, but that is just exposition, just information that needs to be shared with the audience in order for the next thing to happen.

The best part of the movie is when Arnold Schwarzenegger returns. He is a domesticated terminator. He is a robot sent back in time for one purpose. Once that one purpose was fulfilled, he had no more reason to exist. He had to find his own reason to exist. He married a woman and helped raise her son. He became a drapery salesman. Hear Arnold monotonously discuss the finer points of draperies is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. It is almost worth watching this dumb movie just for Arnold’s scenes. He is hilarious and delightful. His character could have provided a really interesting perspective and is genuinely full of interesting ideas about what life means and living beyond your stated purpose and reinventing yourself. Alas, the movie has no interest in ideas because it rushes into the next series of violent set pieces. A lot of guns are fired, a lot of people are murdered, and a lot of explosions are set off.

The movie just fails at story telling. Dani doesn’t have a story. She is a passive macguffin for most of the movie. Sarah kind of has a bit of an arc, but that’s it. There just isn’t anything else here. It’s just a bad version of the first two Terminator movies. Just watch those instead. Not my cup of tea. – D+

Dark Phoenix

If you’re looking for something to watch on HBO, do not watch this movie. It is as bad as everyone has said it is. If you’re looking for a bad movie to enjoy as a bad movie, this is also not going to fit the bill. There isn’t much of anything here for anyone.

For anyone unfamiliar with the X-Men, they are a team of super-powered individuals who attend the Xavier school to learn how to use their powers. Their first movie was released on 2000. In the past twenty years, there have been 13 movies taking place in the X-Men movie universe. These include reboots, origin stories, and tangents. The timeline and characters are a huge muddle at this point. It’s honestly hard to describe where and how this movie fits in or which versions of these characters the movie is following.

James McAvoy, usually brilliant here wasted, plays Charles Xavier. He’s been fighting for the rights of superpowered mutants his whole life. Michael Fassbender, giving more than he should for a movie this bad, plays Magneto Xavier’s one time friend then enemy, then ally, now something. Sophie Turner, from Game of Thrones doing what she can here, plays Jean Grey a powerful mutant with vaguely defined powers that threaten the world around her. The film also contains about a dozen others, but they all fade into the background. People are essentially no different from props in this movie. They get shuffled here and there and deliver wooden lines as woodenly as possible.

(Note: while writing this paragraph, I just remembered that Jessica Chastain, Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, is in this movie and is entirely forgettable. She is essential to the plot, and she is a great actress. Yet she is entirely forgettable. How is that possible? It takes a very bad movie to make a great actress invisible.)

Anyway, the X-Men go to space to rescue a space ship. Once they are there, Jean Grey is bombarded with purple special effects and then comes back to earth feeling good. She is more powerful than ever. This is one of those movies where characters talk of “power” in hushed whispers and serious tones, but they never really define power or what it means. Jean basically goes rabid and attacks everybody around her hurting a bunch of people in the process. The X-Men are divided in how to handle her. Some want to kill her, some want to save her. A bunch of other stuff happens, but it’s not really interesting enough to get into.

Only a few scenes stand out, one in which Magneto, and Xavier confront Jean. This involves a moment where Michael Fassbender acts so hard the movie almost works for a minute. He tries so hard that he nearly turns things around, but then he gets thrown out a window. This is followed by James McAvoy doing something that is supposed to be gruesome and unsettling but the way it’s shot and his performance just feels absolutely hilarious. Xavier is wheelchair bound, and Jean uses her mind powers to force him to walk up stairs. The set up is there for a really grotesque and complicated moment, but the director chooses to shoot this in a wide shot. This wide shot eliminates our ability to invest in Xavier’s experience. It just leaves us looking at James McAvoy doing a very silly walk up a stair case.

There are some cool moments in the final battle, but really the movie is just so serious about itself that it never releases its vice grip long enough to be entertaining. The director clearly misunderstood what this movie was supposed to be. It’s a comic book movie. Yes it can have weighty issues and serious themes and heavy subject matter, but it has to have something in it worth watching. Good looking actors frowning at each other in medium close ups for 2 hours isn’t enough.

This movie has a lot of fundamental story telling problems. It has too many characters. It takes itself too seriously. It forgets to tell the story of its main character and its bogged down in background details. It’s just bad story telling and worse it’s boring. Not my cup of tea. – D