Film Review: Doctor Sleep (Dir. by Mike Flanagan)


 

If I asked you about Stephen King’s The Shining, would the book or the film come to mind?

DoctorSleepPosterWhen it comes to adapting Stephen King’s stories to film, it’s not an easy feat. King himself had a problem turning his own short story “Trucks” into something good when he directed Maximum Overdrive. For every great film like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or It-Chapter One, we occasionally get a misstep like The Dark Tower or It-Chapter Two.  As King can sometimes get wordy in his books, I’ve felt the best adaptations were the ones where the director’s own vision came into play. Kubrick made a number or changes to King’s story, including the Grady twins and the hedge maze, which were never in the novel. The film is so widely recognized that most people recall events in the movie, rather than the book. That’s the effect Kubrick had. 

With Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan once again proves he’s a fantastic fit for King. The film moves at a great pace, with great performances by Rebecca Ferguson and newcomer Kyliegh Curran. In an age where audiences are typically quiet, the applause that occurred in scenes during last night’s preview screening were great to hear. The film manages to pay homage to Kubrick’s The Shining and King’s Novel of Doctor Sleep while still completely showcasing Flanagan’s vision. Of course, we already knew this from Flanagan taking on King’s own Gerald’s Game and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House.  One might even argue that for this film, we may in time recall Flanagan’s tale more clearly than King’s.

Doctor Sleep takes place after the events of The Shining, with Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) suffering from the same demons that plagued his father, Jack. Although the keeps to himself, he drinks too much, gets into brawls, and is unable to hold down decent work. Dan is also haunted by the Overlook Hotel, and the power that drew the souls to him known as The Shining. The Shining (or just the Shine) is a coveted power in King’s lore. When a group of nomads that feed on the Shine (in a way that’s reminiscent of Mick Garris’ Sleepwalkers) discover a girl with the same ability, Dan is brought out of hiding. 

Fans of the original Kubrick film will see there’s a lot of love here. You’ll be able to count some of the references to The Shining, from objects in a room to different locales. For casting, Flanagan uses a mixture of old favorites and new faces. You’ll recognize some of them right from the start, such as Bruce Greenwood and Violet McGraw. Others, like Jacob Tremblay (The Predator) are welcome additions. Rather than relying on footage from the original Shining, Flanagan recreates certain elements with new cast members, which I felt worked extremely well here. I’m not sure how others will take it.

Ewan McGregor is good in the role of Dan Torrance, which feels more like his Mark Renton character from Trainspotting than anything else to me.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it works. The film truly belongs to both Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Fallout) and Kyliegh Curran. Ferguson’s Rose the Hat is a wicked villain, and she carries the role with a sinister, yet stylish flair. Ferguson has some of the best scenes in the film, particularly when paired with Zahn McClarnon (Midnight, Texas and Westworld), who plays Crow Daddy. Kyliegh Curran chews up the scenes she’s in, easily handling screen time with McGregor and Ferguson like a pro. Rounding out the cast are Cliff Curtis (Sunshine), Carl Lumbly (Mantis) and Emily Alyn Lind (The Babysitter). 

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Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) can’t run from his past in Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep.

As for the fear factor, there is some terror in the hunt for Abra and the way that the group interact. Doctor Sleep doesn’t have much in the way of jump scares, but makes up for it with some tense moments. I didn’t feel as scared as I did with It-Chapter One, but I cared enough about the characters to worry about how the story was going to turn out. That might be a turn off for those expecting to watch the movie from between their fingers or run out of the theatre screaming. If you enjoyed Flanagan’s other works, such as Hush or Oculus, you’ll be fine.

Speaking of Hush, Doctor Sleep lacks a Kate Siegel cameo. Flanagan is Siegel’s partner in crime (and husband). Together, they’ve been in almost every film they’d done. I’ve gotten used to going “Oh, there’s Kate!”, while watching his films. It’s not an issue at all, but it would’ve been cool to see her.

The camera work for Doctor Sleep is very even, though there are a few special effects scenes that really stand out and picked up some applause (or gasps) once they were over. The one main drawback I had with the film was that it was a little difficult to keep up with all of the locations and time periods early on. Even though everything’s clearly labeled, it took me a moment to recognize just where and when things were occurring. Not a terrible thing, though.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is an easy film to recommend. It has some great performances, and manages to be a great follow up to The Shining, while showing a lot of love for the source material.

Doctor Sleep hits cinemas on Friday, November 8th, and I’ll make a return visit.

 

 

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Post (dir by Steven Spielberg)


So, I finally sat down and watched the 2017 film, The Post.

The Post is something of an odd film.  Imagine if someone made a film about the production of a movie.  And imagine if, instead of focusing on the actors or the members of the crew or even the director, the film was instead about the studio executives sitting back in Hollywood and debating whether or not they should agree to give the director another million dollars to complete the film.  Imagine dramatic scenes of the execs meeting with their accountants to determine whether they can spare an extra million dollars.  Imagine triumphant music swelling in the background as one of the execs announces that they’ll raise the budget but only in return for getting to pick the title of the director’s next film.  The Post is kind of like that.  It’s a film about journalism that’s more concerned with publishers and editors than with actual journalists.

To be honest, The Post‘s deification of the bosses shouldn’t really be that much of a shock.  This is a Steven Spielberg film and a part of Spielberg’s legend has always been that, of all the young, maverick directors who emerged in the 70s, he was always the one who was the most comfortable dealing with the studio execs.  As opposed to directors like Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, and Francis Ford Coppola, Spielberg got along with the bosses and they loved him.  While his contemporaries were talking about burning Hollywood down and transforming the culture, Spielberg was happily joining the establishment and reshaping American cinema.  No one can deny that Spielberg is a talented filmmaker.  It’s just that, if anyone was going to make a movie celebrating management, you just know it would be Steven Spielberg.

Taking place in the early 70s, The Post deals with the decision to publish The Pentagon Papers, which were thirty years worth of classified documents dealing with America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  Since the Pentagon Papers revealed that the government spent several decades lying to the American people about the situation in Vietnam, there’s naturally a lot of pushback from the government.  It all leads to one of those monumental supreme court decisions, the type that usually ends a movie like this.  And while the film does acknowledge that there were journalists involved in breaking the story, it devotes most of its attention to editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep).

Gasp as Ben and Katharine debate whether to publish the story!

Shudder as Katharine tries to figure out how to keep the Post from going bankrupt.

Watch as Ben Bradlee talks to the legal department!

Thrill as Katharine Graham learns that her family friends, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, weren’t always honest with her!

And listen, I get it.  The Post isn’t as much about Nixon and the Vietnam War as it’s about Trump and the modern-day war on the media.  And yes, we get plenty of scenes of Tom Hanks explaining why freedom of the press is important and the movie ends in typical Spielberg fashion, with triumphant music and all the rest.  But watching The Post, it’s hard not to think about other films that celebrated journalism, films like All The President’s Men and Spotlight.  Both of those films featured scenes of editors supporting their reporters.  In fact, All The President’s Men featured Jason Robards playing the same editor that Tom Hanks plays in The Post.  But Spotlight and All The President’s Men focused on the journalists and the hard work that goes into breaking an important story.  Robards and Spotlight‘s Michael Keaton played editors who were willing to stand up and defend their reporters but, at the same time, those films emphasized that it was the underpaid and underappreciated reporters who were often putting their careers (and sometimes, their lives) on the line to break a story.  Whereas Spotlight and All The President’s Men showed us why journalism is important, The Post is content to merely tell us.

The Post was a famously rushed production.  Shooting started in May of 2017 and was completed in November, all so it could be released in December and receive Oscar consideration.  Production was rushed because Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks all felt that it was important to make a statement about Trump’s treatment of the press.  While I can see their point and I don’t deny that they had noble intentions, a rushed production is still going to lead to a rushed film.  The Post is a sloppy film, full of way too much on-the-nose dialogue and scenes that just seem to be missing Spielberg’s usual visual spark.  It feels less like a feature film and more like a well-made HBO production.  Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep give performances that are all surface.  Streep’s performance is all mannered technique while Hanks occasionally puts his feet up on his desk and furrows his brow.

It gets frustrating because, watching the film, you get the feeling that there’s a great movie to be made about the Pentagon Papers and the struggle to publish them.  I’d love to know what the actual reporters went through to get their hands on the papers.  But The Post is more interested in management than the workers.

All through 2017, The Post was touted as being a sure Oscar front-runner.  When it was released, it received respectful but hardly enthusiastic reviews.  In the end, it only received two nominations — one for best picture and one for Streep.  In a year dominated by Lady Bird, Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Post turned to be a nonfactor.  For all the hype and expectations, it’s the film that you usually forget whenever you’re trying to remember everything that was nominated last year.

Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (dir by Matthew Vaughn)


Before I say too much about Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I do want to acknowledge a few good things about the movie.

First off, it doesn’t take long for the film to reveal that Harry (Colin Firth) didn’t actually die when Samuel L. Jackson shot him in the head in the first movie.  Undoubtedly, that diminishes the power of that scene but, at the same time, it also means that Colin Firth gets to come back.

Secondly, Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy.  The script really doesn’t give him too many opportunities to show what he’s capable of as an actor, largely because the character of Eggsy was fully developed by the end of the first movie.  Now that Eggsy is a fully trained and competent Kingsman, there’s not really much for him to do other than trade a few quips and take a few lives.  That said, Egerton is a likable actor and he’s fun to watch.

Third, Julianne Moore has a few fun scenes as the film’s main villain, Poppy Adams.  Poppy is the head of an international drug cartel.  She’s also obsessed with the 1950s and always amazingly cheerful.

Fourth, all of the Kingsmen still wear suits and Michael Caine-style glasses.  Colin Firth gets to use his umbrella as a shield.

Finally, Mark Strong is back as Merlin.

So, that’s five good things about Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  Unfortunately, all five of those things are somewhat obscured by the fact that the movie really, really sucks.

Admittedly, I had really high hopes for the movie.  I loved the first Kingsman film, which was a stylish satire that featured one of the greatest action set pieces of all time.  And I was excited to see that not only was Firth returning but Matthew Vaughn would also be directing the sequel.

But no.  This movie just doesn’t work.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle attempts to do everything on a larger scale than the first Kingsman.  That means more violence, more betrayals, and a longer running time.  This time, the movie not only features the Kingsmen but also the Statesmen, which is the American equivalent of the Kingsmen.  (The Statesmen all dress like cowboys and speak in exaggerated Southern drawls, which I got kind of sick of listening to after about three minutes.)  Along with the returning stars of the first film, Jeff Bridges, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum all have small roles.  Pedro Pascal (best known for playing Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones) has a much larger role as a Statesman codenamed Whiskey.

Unfortunately, bigger is not always better.  The Golden Circle never comes close to matching the lunatic heights of the first movie.  There are a lot of action scenes but none of them match the church fight from the first film.  There’s a surprise death but it’s nowhere near as shocking or effective as Firth’s “death” in the first film.  Even the required barroom brawl falls flat.  Nowhere does The Golden Circle match the audacity of the first film.  The first film ended with exploding heads.  This film ends with the promise of more sequels.

But really, I think what really doomed The Golden Circle was that extended running time.  There’s really no good reason for The Golden Circle to last for 2 hours and 21 minutes.  Quite a bit of the film, especially during the first hour, felt padded out and, as a result, it seemed like took forever for the film’s story to actually get started.  Probably 40 minutes to an hour could have been cut from The Golden Circle without anyone missing it.

Ultimately, I think the main problem is that the first Kingsman felt like it was made by people who truly did love the material.  This film feels contractually obligated.  The Golden Circle has a lot of action but it’s just not very fun.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Capote (dir by Bennett Miller)


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The first time I ever saw the 2005’s Capote, I thought it was a great film.

I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.  I love movies about writers and I love biopics and, as the title indicates, Capote was both.  I’m also fascinated by true crime and Capote told the story of how Truman Capote came to write the first true crime book, In Cold Blood.  Add to that, I was (and am) a Philip Seymour Hoffman fan and Capote provided Hoffman with not only a rare starring role but it also won him an overdue Academy Award.  Finally, to top it all off, Capote also dealt with Truman’s friendship with Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), the author of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Seriously, a film that dealt with the writing of both In Cold Blood and To Kill A Mockingbird!?  How couldn’t I love that?  While everyone else was outraged that Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, I was upset that it beat Capote.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to rewatching Capote for this review.  But when I actually did sit down and watched it, I was shocked to discover that Capote wasn’t actually the masterpiece that I remembered it being.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  It’s still a good film.  At times, it’s even a great film.  I still think it would have been a more worthy Best Picture winner than Crash.  But still, there seemed to be something missing.  Much as with director Bennett Miller’s most recent film, Foxcatcher, there’s a coldness at the heart of Capote.  One can’t deny its success on a technical level but, at the same time, it keeps the audience at a distance.  In the end, we remains detached observers, admiring the skill of the film without ever getting emotionally invested in it.

Interestingly, the film suggests that the exact opposite happened to Truman Capote while he wrote In Cold Blood.  The film suggests that Capote got so invested in one of the killers at the center of In Cold Blood that the process of writing the book nearly destroyed him.  When we first see Capote, he’s at some social event in New York and he’s amusing his rich friends with charmingly risqué anecdotes about his other rich and famous friends.  As played by Hoffman, Capote is someone who is almost always performing.  It only with his friend Harper Lee and his partner Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) that he ever lets down his guard long enough to reveal who he actually is, a gay man from the deep South who was fortunate enough to escape.

That’s one reason why Capote grows close to Perry Smith (Clifton Collin, Jr.).  The subjects of In Cold Blood, Smith and Dick Hickcock (Mark Pellegrino) killed the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas.  Capote, who followed the case from their arrest to their eventual execution, becomes obsessed with Smith precisely because he sees Smith, with his dysfunctional background and his overly sensitive nature, as being who Capote could have been if things had gone just a little bit differently in his life.  Miller further makes this point by skillfully juxtaposing scenes of Truman dropping names and telling jokes at New York parties with the grim reality of life and death in Kansas.

Truman finds himself serving as a mentor to Perry.  (Hickcock is neglected by both Capote and the film.)  Of course, Truman’s also a writer and he knows that he needs an ending for his story.  As his editor (played by Bob Balaban, who seems to be destined to play everyone’s editor at some point or another) points out, Smith and Hickcock have to be executed if the book is ever to be completed.  Truman also has to get Perry to finally talk about what happened in the Clutter family farm.  As much as Capote seems to care about Perry, he’s ruthless when it comes to getting material for his book.  The film suggests that Truman Capote got his greatest success at the cost of his soul.

It’s a rather dark movie, which might explain why I was initially so impressed with it.  (I went through a period of time where I thought any movie with a sad ending was a masterpiece.)  Rewatching it, I saw that the film’s triumph was mostly one of casting.  Miller gets some seriously brilliant performances from the cast of Capote.  Yes, Hoffman is great in Capote but so is the entire cast.  Keener and Greenwood are well-cast as the only two people who have the guts to call Truman on his bullshit.  Chris Cooper gives a very Chris Cooperish performance as Alvin Dewey, the no-nonsense lawman who views Capote with a mix of amusement and distrust.  Clifton Collins, Jr. and Mark Pellegrino are both excellent as Smith and Hickcock.  In fact, Pellegrino makes such an impression that you regret the both Capote and the film didn’t spend more time with his character.

As previously stated, Hoffman won Best Actor but Capote lost best picture to Crash.  How Crash beat not just Brokeback Mountain but Capote as well is a mystery that Oscar historians are still trying to unravel.

Insomnia File #21: Truth (dir by James Vanderbilt)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you found yourself awake at three in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2015 film, Truth.

I can’t say for sure whether or not Truth would have put you to sleep.  It kept me awake, largely because I was in a state of shock that any movie could be as bad as what I was watching.  Without running the risk of hyperbole, I can say that Truth is one of the worst fucking movies that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  It’s not just that the film is poorly scripted, inconsistently acted, and directed in the most heavy-handed way possible.  No, the problems with Truth went far beyond mere execution.  Truth is a film with an agenda, one that I kind of agree with, but it’s such a total misfire that it ends up doing more damage to its cause than good.  Truth is meant to be a defense of the much maligned mainstream media but it’s so poorly put together that it’s easy to imagine it being one of Donald Trump’s guilty pleasures.  Remember how all of us musical theater nerds used to hatewatch Smash?  I imagine that the White House staff does the same thing with Truth.

Truth is ostensibly based on a true story.  In 2004, veteran anchorman Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford) reported a story that then-President George W. Bush got preferential treatment while he was serving in the Air National Guard.  This story was considered to be especially big because 1) the Iraq War was deeply unpopular, 2) Bush was in a tight race for reelection, 3) his opponent, John F. Kerry, didn’t have much to offer beyond having served in Vietnam, and 4) questions were being raised about what Kerry actually did in Vietnam.

One of the most important pieces of evidence in Rather’s story were four memos that had been provided by a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Air National Guard, a veteran Bush-hater named Bill Burkett (played, in the film, by Stacy Keach).  Shortly after the story aired, conservative bloggers claimed that the memos were obvious forgeries.  After spending weeks defending the story and haughtily dismissing anyone who didn’t collect an eight-figure paycheck from CBS, Rather admitted on air that the authenticity of the memos could not be verified.  In the wake of the scandal, Rather’s longtime producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), was fired.  Rather retired a year earlier than expected and went on to become one of those reliably dull commentators who occasionally emerges to complain about how the world hasn’t been the same since Adlai Stevenson died.  Mapes later wrote a book, which argued that 1) the memos were authentic and 2) it didn’t actually matter whether they were authentic, even though they like so totally were.

With all the current talk about fake news and whether both the media and Hollywood exist in a bubble, Truth is a film that should be especially relevant but, as previously stated, it’s so clumsy and heavy-handed that it actually does more harm than good.  About halfway through the film, there’s a hilarious scene in which literally the entire country is shown watching 60 Minutes with awe-struck expression on their face.  Children are watching.  Customers in a bar are watching.  The cooking staff in the kitchen pauses in their work to watch the report.  Heroic music rises on the soundtrack.  This scene, with all of its self-important grandeur, pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with Truth.  It’s one thing to argue that the news media does, should, and must play an important role in American life.  It’s another thing to make your argument by constructing a fantasy world where the entire country plots their lives around watching 60 Minutes.  But that’s the way Vanderbilt directs the entire film.  He’s so high on the fumes of his good intentions that he doesn’t realize his film basically comes across like a parody of those intentions.

Especially in the second half of the film, there’s a lot of speeches about why journalism is important.  And those speeches may actually make a great point but the problem is that none of them convince us that Mary Mapes and Dan Rather didn’t get fooled by some painfully obvious forgeries.  In its laudable effort to defend journalism, Truth makes the mistake of excusing shoddy journalism. When, towards the end of the film, Mapes exclaims that the memos were only a minor part of the overall story and not necessary to prove that Bush got preferential treatment, you want someone to ask her, “If you could prove the story without them, then why did you include these unverifiable documents in the first place, especially considering that they were received from a questionable source?”  But nobody does because none of the film’s saintly characters have been written or portrayed with the nuance necessary to be able to survive a question like that.   Truth‘s problem is that it wants to have it both ways.  “It doesn’t matter that this story was based on obviously fake documents,” Truth says, “And, because Mary Mapes and Dan Rather were sent by God to tell the truth, the obviously fake documents were completely real.”

And then there’s the film’s performers.  Stacy Keach is great as Burkitt and his eccentric performance suggests the film that Truth could have been if it wasn’t so concerned with trying to portray its lead characters as saints.  But then there’s Robert Redford, whose portrayal of Dan Rather has all the nuance and personality of a wax figure.  (Redford wears suspenders.  That’s the extent of his performance.)  As Mary Mapes, Cate Blanchett is totally wasted.  She doesn’t really have a character to play, beyond her male director’s conception of what a professional woman is supposed to be like.  (She also has a traumatic back story of abuse, which the film trots out in such a klutzy manner that it’s actually incredibly insulting to real-life abuse victims.)  Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Elisabeth Moss all show up as members of Mapes’s team.  Quaid is playing a military man so he gets to salute in slow motion.  Grace is playing a hipster with a beard so he gets this embarrassing scene where he rants about how he’s being targeted not because of sloppy reporting but because of a corporate conspiracy.  (This was obviously meant to be a huge applause moment but, like a lot of the movie, it doesn’t explain how the progressive cause is helped by shoddy journalism.)  Moss doesn’t get to do anything, other than sit in the background.  To waste a cast of this quality is a crime.

So why did this mostly terrible film get respectful reviews?  Why did Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells insist that Truth was destined to be an Oscar contender?  Call it confirmation bias.  Truth plays to mainstream liberals (which includes the majority of film reviewers) in much the same way that God’s Not Dead 2 plays to Christians.  But just because you agree with a film’s ideology, that doesn’t make it an example of good filmmaking.  While artistic films are often political, it’s rare that political films are ever art.  If every anti-Bush film was an artistic masterpiece, we would be living in a cinematic golden age.

Here’s the thing.  We live in a time when the media is under attack and being used a convenient scapegoat for every bad thing in America. Donald Trump largely won in 2016 by portraying the media as being biased and that’s a charge that will undoubtedly be repeated many times over the next four years.  A heavy-handed mess like Truth doesn’t help anything.

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Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?

Back to School Part II #38: Here On Earth (dir by Mark Piznarski)


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Here on Earth is a wannabe melodrama from 2000.  When I first started watching it on Netflix, I was convinced that I had never seen it before.  Sure, the name sounded familiar but I figured that was just because Here On Earth is such a generic name that it could have been used for any number of different films.  In fact, even as I sit here typing this, there’s a part of me that keeps wanting to call the film either Back On Earth or Heaven On Earth.

But then as I watched the film, I realized to my horror that I had seen Here On Earth before.  I watched it on cable back when I was in high school and, as much as I may not want to admit it, I think I actually cried at the end of it.

I didn’t cry this time, though.  In fact, I laughed.  Here on Earth is such a stereotypically melodramatic romance that it actually feels like a parody.  It didn’t help that the film starred Chris Klein, who goes through almost the entire film with this sort of steely look in his eyes.  No matter what emotion he’s supposed to be showing, Chris Klein’s impassive face remains frozen.  In fact, it’s tempting to wonder if his character was supposed to be a robot sent from the future.  Maybe Here On Earth was originally meant to be a Terminator film.

Here On Earth takes place in one of those little towns in Massachusetts where all of the poor townies resent the rich kids who go to a nearby boarding school.  (Judging from the movies I’ve seen, it appears that every small town in Massachusetts is also home to an exclusive boarding school.  A part of me suspects that this might not actually be the case.  Fortunately, several TSL writers are from Massachusetts so, the next time I get a chance, I’ll just ask Gary, Leon, or Pantsu if any of them grew up near a boarding school.)

Chris Klein plays Kelly Morse.  He’s a student at that boarding school.  He’s rich.  He’s snobby.  But he’s also really, really smart.  In fact, he was originally meant to be the school’s valedictorian until he got in some legal trouble.  See, Kelly was having a street race with a townie named Jasper Arnold (Josh Hartnett).  The street race led to the local gas station blowing up.  I have to admit that I started laughing as soon as that gas station went up in flames because … well, let’s just say that I imagine it’s a lot more difficult to blow up a gas station than this film makes it look.  Judging from this film, the gas station down the street from the office should be blowing up right now.

Anyway, that exploding gas station also causes a local restaurant to burn down.  Both Jasper and Kelly are sentenced to help rebuild Mable’s Table.  (That’s right, the name of the restaurant was Mable’s Table.  It’s a good thing that Mable rhymes with table.  If the place had been started by someone named Gretchen, I guess they’d call it Gretchen’s Kitchen.)  The judge literally says, “They’ll be building a restaurant but building character too!”

Okay, your honor, thanks for spelling that shit out for us!  Yay abuse of the justice system!

Anyway, Jasper has a girlfriend.  Her name is Sam Cavanaugh (Leelee Sobieski) and her father (Bruce Greenwood) is the town sheriff.  And guess what?  HER FAMILY ALSO OWNED MABLE’S TABLE!  This may seem like a lot of coincidences but these things happen when there’s only a dozen or so people living in a town.

Sam’s mother always tells her, “As long as we’re all alive, it’s nothing worse than a bad day.”  Because they’re poor but honest and that’s how poor but honest people talk, don’t you know?  Her father also tells her, every morning: “Good to be your father.”  “Good to be your daughter,” Sam replies.

BECAUSE THEY’RE POOR!

But honest…

In fact, they’re so poor but honest that they help Kelly come out of his snobby shell.  Soon, he’s opening up to Sam.  He’s telling her his secrets.  He’s revealing his inner self and probably asking her, “What is this thing you humans call pleasure?”  (Because he’s a robot from the future!)  Suddenly, they’re in a love…

But guess what?  Sam only has a few months to live…

Or I should say that she only has a few months to live here on Earth.  She’s at peace with the idea because she’s a saint and she has a pretty a good idea that heaven is going to kick serious ass!  Can she make Kelly into a better man before she dies?

Watch and find out!  Or don’t.  This is one of those extremely silly and misjudged melodramas that doesn’t really work.  The adult roles are played by dependable character actors like Bruce Greenwood, Michael Rooker, and Annette O’Toole but Chris Klein and Josh Hartnett go through the entire film looking like they’d rather be anywhere but here on Earth.  Leelee Sobieski gives the film’s best performance, bringing as much credibility as she can to an idealized role.  (She’s beautiful, she’s sassy, she’s saintly, and she’s dying!)  It’s a shame that she has since retired from acting but maybe she didn’t want to spend her entire career making movies like Here on Earth.

Anyway, Here on Earth made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.  Maybe it will do the same for you!

 

Film Review: Good Kill (dir by Andrew Niccol)


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Good Kill is an angry film that is somewhat grounded by a strong lead performance from Ethan Hawke.  Hawke was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boyhood and … well, he probably won’t be nominated for anything for Good Kill.  The film’s coming out too early in the year and it’s not really a crowd-pleasing Oscar movie.  It’s too angry and polemical but still, Ethan Hawke gives an excellent performance.

Hawke plays Thomas Egan, an air force pilot who, after serving 6 tours in Afghanistan, is reassigned to pilot drones from a base in Las Vegas.  For 12 hours a day, Egan sits in a cramped room where he and three other pilots spend their time staring at video monitors and observing people going about their lives on the other side of the world.  Occasionally, a phone rings and they are given orders by a never seen CIA supervisor.  All Egan has to do is push a button and, in just ten seconds, he can blow up a stranger 7,000 miles away.

Of course, it’s not just the targets who get blown up.  Anyone unlucky enough to be standing nearby ends up getting blown up as well, which is something that Egan’s commanding officer (Bruce Greenwood) insists is a regretful but acceptable consequence of fighting the War of Terror.  Except, of course, nobody’s quite sure that they’re actually blowing up terrorists.  Instead, often times, it’s a matter of guesswork.  People are blown up because they could be terrorists, not because they definitely are.

While most of the members of Egan’s unit are unconcerned about the ethics or the legalities of drone warfare, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) is an exception.  She worries that they’re just creating more terrorists.  (And yet, interestingly enough, she still follows orders whenever she’s told to blow someone up.)  Egan is troubled by the implications of what he’s doing but, for the most part, he keeps his feelings to himself.

From the beginning, the tightly wound Egan struggles with the pressure of being a drone pilot.  After spending half of the day killing strangers who may or may not be terrorists, Egan finds it difficult to spend the rest of the day with his wife (January Jones) and his children.  Slowly but surely, cracks start to appear on Egan’s facade.  He starts drinking.  He drives recklessly.  He yells at his family.  He grows paranoid about the neighbors.  When a cop asks him how the War on Terror is going, Egan smirks and replies that it’s going as well as the War on Drugs…

Even though I agreed, for the most part, with everything that the film had to say, I still found it to be incredibly heavy-handed.  There is something to be said for subtlety and Good Kill is definitely not a subtle movie.  Rabidly anti-military audiences will enjoy having their own prejudices confirmed but, with everyone other than Egan and Vera being portrayed as being bloodthirsty and ignorant, you can be sure that this film won’t change any minds.  Politically, this a political film that’s not going to make a bit of difference.

At the same time, there is an interesting subtext running through the film.  During the 12 hours that Egan spends in that room, he essentially ceases to be a human being and becomes an extension of that drone.  Both literally and figuratively, he becomes a part of the war machine.  Just imagine if a director like David Cronenberg had handled this material.  Director Anrew Niccol briefly touches on the Cronenbergian aspects of the story but, in the end, he gets too bogged down in all of the speeches.

The problem with political films like Good Kill is that they often feel very artificial and that’s why you’re thankful for Ethan Hawke’s performance.  Hawke gives a performance of such raw power that he cuts through all of the polemical bullshit.  The film is nearly smothered under the director’s heavy hand but Hawke breathes it back to life.  Hawke’s performance brings much needed authenticity to Good Kill and, as a result, he elevates the entire film.