Tag Archives: SeeIt

Indignation

[3 stars]

Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters) is not the first actor I would have considered for the lead role as a Jewish intellectual outcast in the wilds of Ohio 1951, but he surprised me. While his sense of inner turmoil and contradiction is less obvious than I might have preferred, his delivery and control helped sell the complicated young man. With Sarah Gadon (The 9th Life of Louis Drax) beside him much of the way, the two cut a tumultuous rug overhung by desire and dread. In short, a Philip Roth novel.

Around the young lovers are the adults that help define the story and results, though not a one of them would ever accept that responsibility. Which is, to my mind, part of the point. Tracy Letts (The Post), in particular, is a quiet powerhouse of a character. Letts embodies a personality that was common then and, sadly, still too far common now. And, as his parents, Danny Burstein (The Family Fang) and Linda Emond (Song to Song) are heartbreakingly real in their love and selfishness that influence Lerman’s life.

Writer/director James Schamus (Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet, Lust, Caution) is no stranger to delicate and fraught relationships.  His adaptation of Roth’s tale captures the intellectual and lyrical nature of the author nicely. For as simple as Roth’s stories are, the underlying intent and the social and personal commentary are not. His characters are constantly challenged and often fail. They question their purpose and their morality. They often don’t fit into the world around them at all; outsiders in a crowd. Sometimes outsiders in their own bodies. And they are passionate to the point of their own demise.

Indignation is loaded with history and layers. It is a quiet film that will pull you along to its final moments. It nicely hits on a personal level while leaving you with plenty to consider, and consider changing. And it captures its era beautifully…only reminding us how little has changed in human nature and politics.

Indignation

The Meg

[3.5 stars]

You can’t do a shark movie without invoking Jaws. It’s just not possible. When you understand that and can embrace it, as The Meg does, it becomes a non-issue, even when they copy shots. The Meg is both homage and riff, satire and step-brother of the 1975 classic that cleared a 1000 beaches. Though, to be fair, this is a bit more Piranha than Jaws in its sensibility, and that’s OK too. Delivered with conviction by the cast, and guided by Turteltaub’s (Last Vegas) direction, it manages to thrill, scare, and entertain in just the right measures for a late summer entertainment.

Jason Statham (The Mechanic: Retribution) and Li Bingbing (Resident Evil: Resurrection) are not the most natural couple on screen, but they each deliver performances that work well for the story. And the young Sophia Cai does an admirable job of getting between them. Rain Wilson (Backstrom) is probably the most perfectly cast of the group, riding the line of bastard and benevolent Billionaire to fund and push the story along. And it is always fun to see Ruby Rose (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) and her smart-ass ways. The only bit of writing that made my skin crawl was for Page Kennedy (Backstrom), who was turned into a very uncomfortably-close-to-racist stereotype. It isn’t throughout, but it definitely was ill-considered and it was clear they had no idea of why Kennedy’s character was even in the mix.

The movie is a bit less humorous than the early trailers would have led you to believe, but not by much. It injects just enough humor to keep the absurdities from being too apparent. And, of course, it is full of action and visual candy. In other words, this is a great piece of escapist silliness with just enough edge to sell the suspense and action.

The Meg

Ideal Home

[3 stars]

Yes, you’ve seen the base aspect of this story before: young child comes into the lives of adults without children who are already struggling with their own relationship. And, yes, this latest entry into this odd sub-genre is generally sweet and fluffy, but with a wonderful main difference and edge.

The unexpected parents are Steve Coogan (The Dinner) and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man and the Wasp) who play bickering lovers, a la Vicious. There is plenty expected, but one thing that isn’t… the story here is about family and how we love, not about the genitals of who loves whom. The relationship between Coogan and Rudd is utterly, wonderfully superfluous other than, at times, as a foil for some delightfully evil dialogue. At times, the choice borders on a cheap trick, but since the entire film dances on the surface of the subject, it is easy to roll with. At no time do Coogan or Rudd make fun of their characters or situation; they’re just a bit brash.

The final pieces of the puzzle are the errant parent, Jake McDorman (Limitless, Lady Bird) and his son, Jack Gore (Billions). McDorman has one of the hardest roles, having to play the stark realities against the brighter backdrop, but he does so well. Gore isn’t bad, but he isn’t brilliant. What is nice is that Gore isn’t playing for cute, he’s much more clearly a kid from a challenged home and life.

Writer/director Andrew Fleming (Hamlet 2, Younger) is unafraid of odd material and he knows how to control it well. He likes to challenge expectations and have fun with genres. Fleming is also somewhat obsessed with growing up…most typically about adults finally growing up when forced to by circumstance. While he tends to control the comedy of his work well, he also is often unwilling to dive too deep into the emotional truths, though he dips into it enough to make it work. Basically, he creates fun and unexpected entertainments that are a big edgy and a lot funny, and with just a touch of message. This movie is no exception and will leave you with a smile.

Ideal Home

Lear (2018)

[3.5 stars]

In the world of Shakespeare on film, there are many citizens, but only a few really stand out. Akira Kursawa’s Throne of Blood (nee Macbeth) and Ian MacKellen’s Richard III for their fascinating interpretations and performances come immediately to mind. And then there are Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Hamlet for their classic and down-to-earth depictions (not to mention full-text presentations). There are filmed stage performances as well, but those are a different discussion and, arguably, a different genre.

As Hamlet is a requirement for younger actors, Lear, like Prospero (or Prospera), is a right of passage for venerable actors. In fact, Glenda Jackson is joining that list soon as well. It would have been a great disappointment not to see Anthony Hopkins (Thor: Ragnarok) tackle Lear before he folded up his career…not that that seems to be coming any time soon. And Richard Eyre’s (The Dresser) adaptation and direction makes this an interesting Lear indeed.

One of the challenges of Lear is that it starts far into the story of this tragic family. We can intuit a lot, but it often starts with such a level of animosity from the children that it feels like a cheat. Eyre’s choices help us really see the fear and hatred build in Regan and Goneril, played by Emily Watson (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Emma Thompson (Bridget Jones’s Baby) . We also see Lear change and deteriorate wonderfully through the piece. And though not quite as topically impactful as Ian McKellen’s Richard III, the modern setting also works nicely allowing it to resonate with the growing concerns of eldercare.

There are some wonderful side performances in the various houses as well from Christopher Eccleston (Unfinished Song), Tobias Menzies (The Night Manager), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), and Jim Broadbent (The Lady in the Van). However, you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the two integral roles of Cordelia and The Fool, respectively played by Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) and Karl Johnson. Both are serviceable in their roles, but neither really left an impact for me, which has something to do with the actors, but also with some burden on the directing choices in which Eyre’s approach has some intriguing shifts in focus beyond setting.

It is the Edmund/Edgar machinations which are made the center of the story for most of the movie. These mirrored relationships were always important, but wrenching the center of the play off the titular character was interesting. The bastard, played by John Macmillan, and the son, by Andrew Scott (Sherlock), are both powerful performers. However, despite the interesting effect on plot structure, their screen relationship is forced and never really gels…even at the end. Another interesting change is that the Fool is disposed of with scant comment (and probably without much import for most of the audience). It is done in set-up for the final scenes, which are always discussed dramaturgically as the substitution of Cordelia for the Fool (and after Lear and Mad Tom have each taken some ownership), but it has an incomplete impact and import the because it is executed so dismissively.

For all the solutions this production finds in bringing the motivations to life, the film exacerbates the problem of compressed time by virtue of its length. Despite good visual bridges, the plot is forced along far too quickly (115 minutes). Honestly, this tale could probably sustain a mini-series in length and thereby get places more believably. Shakespeare’s wonderful prose aside, the credibility of the choices has always been a challenge in this play. Huge leaps based on long-festering slights are necessary, but hard to digest for the audience given the scope of Lear’s travels and the evolution and impact of his story on an entire country.

I could keep dissecting this production, which is actually a good sign. There is much to chew on. Often you only get one or two interesting aspects to chew on…but Eyre and Hopkins provide a full meal, if not all the courses. If you enjoy Shakespeare, you must see this production. If you come to the Bard only on occasion, you may find this a bit different than what you expect, intriguing, and certainly shorter than your typical play. It is the magic of Shakespeare that his work continues to make sense and have impact in various conceptualizations, settings, and times, even when some of the specifics may be confusing as society changes.

Spinning Man

[3 stars}

Mysteries are wonderful things and difficult to do right. This particular mystery is playing in some very high-brow territory; it is an academic’s nightmare, a philosopher’s quagmire, and an intellectual’s mind game. Simon Kaijser (Life in Squares, Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves) directs us through a mutable landscape without ever once clarifying, but never cheating us either. And worth noting is one of the most beautiful mirror shots (at  little over an hour in) I’ve ever noticed; it is totally self-conscious and totally appropriate. Matthew Aldrich’s (Coco) script is also equal to the task, keeping the dialogue decidedly collegiate but understandable and not condescending.

The cast is solid, but unexpected. Many of them are not American, despite the very midwest, Minnesota setting and present an odd assortment of characters. In the main roles, Guy Pearce (Genius), Minnie Driver (Hunky Dory), and Pierce Brosnan (The Foreigner, Mama Mia!) bring the full force of their charisma and screen power. They all also struggle with their accents at one time or another, Brosnan more than most. In the supporting roles, Alexandra Shipp (Tragedy Girls) and Odeya Rush (Lady Bird) lend a disturbing frisson to it all. And, while not a ground-breaking role for him, the appearance of Clark Gregg (Labor Day) was a fun treat.

Yes, this is a cerebral movie, and not for the feint of heart if you don’t want to think. So you have to ask yourself if you’re interested in something a bit more interactive than your typical movie before you sit down with this one. It is worth your time, despite any weaknesses. It is full of subtleties and, if you’ve ever hung out with the academic set, some very recognizable characters, interactions, and moments.

Spinning Man

American Assassin

[3 stars]

There is a lot that this movie gets right. A lot that it gets close. And a few things it just gets very wrong. But, overall, it is a very surprising and intense spy thriller.

From the beginning of the movie, you know you are in for something a bit more raw than what the genre usually delivers. This isn’t the slick of Mission Impossible or Bond, this is a brutal attempt to put you in the position of experiencing terrorism first-hand. And Dylan O’Brien (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) really comes into his own and out of his teen years with this part. Helping the young O’Brien cross-over into an adult role is where director, Michael Cuesta (Homeland), did some of his best work with his actors.

Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming) also delivers some nice moments and, generally, a good performance. But there aren’t a lot of women in good roles here. Sanaa Lathan (Now You See Me 2) is strong, but never really feels in control. Her effect on the action is minimal since no one is really listening to her orders a good part of the time. And when they do, you don’t often get the feeling it was because she held control so much as they were going to do it anyway.

On the other hand, some of the men are equally underwhelming. Taylor Kitsch (Battleship) is a bit forced in his psychosis. The script didn’t help Cuesta or Kitsch on that point. And a small bit by David Suchet (Agatha Christie: Poirot) is simply a throw-away and waste of his talent.

Cuesta, in an attempt to keep things visually clear, also makes his covert ops folks some of the worst and obvious surveillors in history. They all stick out in a crowd like pustules on an infant rather than blending in, which rather weakens the credibility of their capability. And then there is the finale, which is both brave and impressive, but also with a couple things quite wrong. I won’t spoil it here, nor ruin your enjoyment of it should it not be obvious, but it did bug the heck out of me even while I was enjoying it.

This is a good ride of a movie. More violent than many American spy films, but within reasonable boundaries. I’m not sure what I expected going in, but it gave me a layered story and enough surprising moments to keep it flowing along. As O’Brien’s transition film, he really was the big winner here.

American Assassin

Extinction

[3 stars]

Extinction was originally intended to land on the big screen this August…and then Netflix bought the rights from Universal and dropped it into their library. As it turns out, that was probably a rather shrewd move on both sides.

The movie is far from straight forward and is intriguing, though it takes time building steam. The script also isn’t nearly as complex or intriguing as Eric Heisserer’s other sci-fi epic, Arrival, but it isn’t your typical science fiction fare either. What starts as a rather standard plot evolves over the course of the story. To be fair, Heisserer came in late and rewrote other people’s work. Also not helping is that the final delivery by director Young is a bit over-compressed and under-paced for the big screen. Even with these issues, it manages to maintain your interest.

But the result is that Extinction ends up feeling more like a great pilot, a la Babylon 5: The Gathering, than a major motion picture; offering up a rich world with solid potential for a series. And this is why both sides of the purchase won. Universal avoided another box office embarrassment and Netflix got their hands on a solid property to further exploit.

It was also great to see Michael Peña (Ant-Man and the Wasp) in a role that was bit more sedate and natural than the broad characters he’s better known for. It isn’t his strongest performance, but it shows a side of him that was unexpected. Lizzy Caplan (Disaster Artist) plays well opposite him too. They make an unlikely pair, but it works.

There aren’t many others notable in the cast from a story point of view. Israel Broussard (Happy Death Day) stands out with an integral performance. And Mike Colter (Luke Cage) plays the hand he’s dealt well, but he wasn’t given all that much. The focus is really on Peña and Caplan and their family.

If you like good science fiction, or something a little more involved than standard alien invasion stories, make time for Extinction. Much like Netflix’s previous big screen purchase Bright, the execution is still imperfect, but they’re starting to do better on that front. With luck, they’ll get their feet under them and continue the story.

Extinction

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

[4 stars]

The MI series is known for huge stunts, dry humor, and cheap emotion. This sixth installment is no exception on that front, though writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation) does something a little special this time around. Fallout is brings back in Ian Hunt’s past and nods to several previous MI movies. It also manages to give a little more story time and weight to the rest of Hunt’s team, taking some of the pressure off of Tom Cruise (The Mummy) and enriching the series.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried as the movie started. Some of the choices and moments were less than nuanced and the “secrets” were bloody obvious. But it (mostly) gets past all of that by the end. Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is suitably odd in his role, though I struggled with him at time. Ving Rhames (MI:5) actually got to out screen Simon Pegg (Ready Player One) this round in many ways. And the return of Sean Harris (Macbeth) was a nice touch to keep the world alive. Finally, though in a small role, Wes Bentley (Pete’s Dragon) does subtle and nice work that is almost all throw-away, but great to watch.

While this is still a heavily male dominated series, there were several strong female characters, each with their own stories as well. Rebecca Ferguson (Greatest Showman) gets to reprise her role and continue her and Hunt’s odd dance, as does Angela Bassett (Black Panther). Frustratingly, Bassett is the least credible of the characters thanks to the writing. The return of Michelle Monaghan (Sleepless) was an interesting choice by McQuarrie to flesh out Cruise’s life as Hunt. The addition, and far too little screen time, of Vanessa Kirby (The Dresser) was a nice treat too. I imagine we’ll be seeing much more of Kirby in the the next installment…and that installment is inevitable given the praises and dollars this movie has already garnered.

If you like the MI series, this fast-paced 2.5 hour adventure is a worthy addition to the collection. In many ways it is the best movie of the bunch, if not always the best MI story. Much like Equalizer 2, Cruise and McQuarrie are revitalizing the series by making it more personal while still holding onto most of the bare bones of its origins. Things still go wrong, spectacularly in some cases. The stakes are ridiculously high. The tech is important, but not always the answer. The world is mostly unaware of the craziness going on around them and shaping their lives. But deep underneath it all are a group of increasingly more human agents trying to do the right thing for the right reasons despite the politicos and evil-doers around them.

As escapist adventure with a bit of heart, this is probably the best popcorn film of the summer. And that’s what summer movie going is often for: escapism. So go, gasp, and escape for a couple hours.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Ordeal by Innocence

[3.5 stars]

The latest evolution of Agatha Christie continues. Unlike the better known story Murder on the Orient Express, however, this particular stand-alone mystery is less familiar, though it was turned into a Marple mystery and a separate movie. I’ve seen both of these versions, but frankly don’t remember them that well. This incarnation, however, is a gripping three-part drama that keeps you guessing till the very end.

Sarah Phelps, who also wrote the recent and wonderful Witness for the Prosecution, adapted and constructed this mystery to provide a number of believable suspects. Director Sandra Goldbacher (Me Without You) controls the mystery and motives to keep you rethinking your options. The field of possible murderers doesn’t even start to diminish until the last 30 minutes of the three episode series, as the truth fully comes out.

Casting certainly was in their favor as well. With Bill Nighy (The Limehouse Golem) leading the family along with Anna Chancellor (Shetland), there is a great dynamic that sets the tension. The family of adopted children each bring their own sensibility and motivations. Anthony Boyle has the most complex role of the sibs, but he is well supported by Christian Cooke (Witches of East End), Crystal Clarke (Assassin’s Creed), Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children), and Eleanor Tomlinson (Death Comes to Pemberly). A couple of outsiders bring in the final ingredients: Luke Treadaway (Fortitude) and Matthew Goode (Self/less).

To be honest, it isn’t an entirely fair mystery; some information is held back till the final episode. Some of the blind spots are obvious (we see the murder multiple times from different time frames and angles) but some are about hidden relationships. However, even though the “who” is strung out, the clues and other aspects of the construction are beautiful. It all adds up to a much more believable story than we usually get to see, and one that is delightfully dark and satisfying through to the final frame.

Truth or Dare?

[3 stars]

I do love me a silly horror film, especially when it is done well. Happy Death Day comes to mind as a recent one, though that was more purposefully funny. The game of truth or dare is, by definition, a consensual, personal moral dilemma enforced only by peer pressure. Make that enforcement absolute, by adding a demon to the mix, and you have the makings of an interesting problem.

Generally, the story here is your typical teen slasher film. It isn’t as self-aware as the plot in Scream, but it isn’t as numbly foolish as some of the original Halloween or Friday the 13th gangs either. There are reasonable motivations for stupid actions in most cases and director Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) managed to drive the story forward nicely.

Ultimately, however, I never really cared about the characters. Not even Hayden Szeto (Edge of Seventeen), who is one of the few standouts in the cast of your basic gang of college age teens; but he stood out by virtue of being rather separate from them. Normally that emotional distance wouldn’t really matter as much in a movie like this, but in this case it was necessary, taking some steam out of the finale. In order to really buy into the final choices, you have understand the relationships and I can’t say I bought all of them. In particular was the core Lucy Hale (Life Sentence) and Violette Beane (The Flash) friendship. While there was good work setting up their strained interaction, I never saw the deep devotion they had for one another, only a sort of High School coasting based on proximity and habit.

If you’re looking for inventive deaths and some reasonably fun ideas and writing, you could do worse. It isn’t the best horror to come out, but it certainly wasn’t the worst and did fill its intended need while still managing a few good surprises.

Blumhouse