The Things You Find On Netflix: The Last Thing He Wanted (dir by Dee Rees)


As I watched The Last Thing He Wanted on Netflix, it occurred to me that smoking cigarettes and slamming down phones is no substitute for a personality.

The Last Thing He Wanted stars Anne Hathaway as Elena McMahon and, over the course of the movie, she smokes a lot of cigarettes and slams down a lot of phones.  That’s because Elena is supposed to be a veteran D.C. journalist.  She works for The Atlantic Post, which is an awkward name for a newspaper.  (In the novel on which this film was based, Elena worked for The Washington Post but I assume that plot point was changed to avoid upsetting Jeff Bezos.  That’s the sort of thing that gets this film off to a bad start.)  Hathaway is never exactly believable as a hard-boiled journalist who is known for uncovering government scandals and reporting from war zones.  She is, however, believable as a talented but miscast actress who watched a lot of old journalism movies before showing up on the set of The Last Thing He Wanted.  The end result is a performance that feels like cosplay.

Anyway, the film itself is a mess.  It takes place in 1984 and starts out with Elena getting yanked off of her usual Central America beat and assigned to instead cover the presidential campaign.  This leads to a lot of scenes of Elena lighting cigarettes and slamming down phones while talking about how difficult it is to be a journalist when you’re working for a spineless organization like the Atlantic Post.

Elena is estranged from her father, a dissolute drunk named Dick.  Dick is played by Willem DaFoe, who deals with the fact that he really doesn’t have much of a character to play by chewing up every piece of scenery that he can get his hands on.  (At times, it seems like Willem DaFoe has been replaced by someone doing a poorly conceived Willem DaFoe impersonation.)  Dick is suffering from dementia and he keeps forgetting that his wife is dead.  Dick needs Elena to do something for him.  It turns out that Dick has set up a “huge deal.”  Elena assumes that it must be a drug deal but it turns out that Dick is actually a small-time arms dealer.  So now, Elena is transporting weaponry through Central America and — surprise! — it all links back to the very story that her editors at the Atlantic Post didn’t want her to cover in the first place.

Soon, Elena is flying all over the place and meeting a rogue’s gallery of anti-communist rebels and arms dealers.  In a different film, they would all be fascinating characters but, in this one, it just comes across as being more cosplay.  Ben Affleck shows up a few times, playing some sort of Washington D.C. fixer and he’s absolutely the worst actor to cast in a film like this because the film’s vaguely-defined liberalism brings out his worst instincts as a performer.  The character’s written to be an enigmatic rogue but Affleck appears to be incapable of playing him as being anything other than just a one-note Republican.  (Whenever Affleck is cast in a role like this, you can see him thinking, “How would Matt Damon play this scene?”)  Toby Jones also makes an appearance and you’re excited to see him until you realize that he’s just going to be recycling his Truman Capote imitation from Infamous to no great effect.  There’s a lot of good performers in The Last Thing He Wanted but they’re left stranded by a script that doesn’t seem to know why any of them are there.  It all leads to an absolutely terrible ending, one that proves that combining voice over narration with slow motion is not always the brilliant narrative technique that some directors believe it to be.

The Last Thing He Wanted was directed and co-written by Dee Rees and it has all of the flaws but none of the strengths of Rees’s previous Netflix film, MudboundMudbound was frequently ponderous and predictable but it was redeemed by some beautiful images and some unexpectedly nuanced performances.  The Last Thing He Wanted is ponderous without being much else.

Film Review: The King (dir by David Michod)


Imagine a version of Shakespeare’s Henry V where Prince Hal is a lot less regal but a lot more whiny.  Also imagine a version where Falstaff is never publicly rejected by Henry but instead becomes one of his leading generals.  Furthermore, imagine that Robert Pattinson shows ups and does his best imitation of the obnoxious Frenchmen from Monty Python and The Holy Grail.  Also, finally, imagine a film that’s based on three of Shakespeare’s most popular plays but which does’t include any lines from those plays.  Imagine all of that and you’ve got The King.

Yes, The King is an odd film indeed.  It’s also a very long film.  You might expect that from a film based on three Shakespearean plays but, then again, since the film actually doesn’t feature any of Shakespeare’s celebrated language, you have to kind of wonder if it can actually claim to be a Shakespearean adaptation.  For instance, if I made a film about a sullen prince named Hamlet but totally leave out “To be or not to be” or the part where he sees his father’s ghost, am I truly adapting Shakespeare or am I just making a film about a guy named Hamlet?  Interestingly enough, while The King isn’t faithful to Shakespeare, it’s also not faithful to actual historical records.  It’s not Shakespeare and, despite using the name of actual kings and nobles from the 15th Century, it’s not really historical.  It could just as easily be about King Kevin and his struggle to lead the Land of Homily to victory over Possum Kingdom.  It’s hard to really understand what the point of this film is.

Timothee Chalamet plays Prince Hal, who will eventually become King Henry V.  Considering just how acclaimed Chalamet’s previous work has been (including receiving an Oscar nomination for Call Me By Your Name and probably coming close to getting a second one for Beautiful Boy as well), it’s a bit strange just how dull Chalamet is in this film.  As played by Chalamet, the future King of England is alternatively petulant and whiny.  He’s not happy about becoming king.  He’s even less happy about having to behead those who have been accused of conspiring against him.  He hopes to avoid war, even after the King of France taunts him by giving him a ball as an coronation present.  Chalamet wanders through the film with an eternally glum expression on his face.  When he has to rally the troops, he is unpleasantly shrill in a way that will remind viewers of one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s lesser performances.

Joel Edgerton, who also co-wrote the script, is a bit more convincing in the role of Falstaff.  Instead of the cowardly (but wise) buffoon who appeared in Shakespeare’s plays, The King portrays Falstaff as being a great warrior who merely likes to drink too much.  This, of course, means that Hal doesn’t have to publicly rebuke Falstaff or any of his friends but it also makes Falstaff a bit of a pointless character.  In Shakespeare’s plays, both the rebuke of Falstaff and the subsequent hanging of Bardolph were meant to show that the once irresponsible Hal was now placing his role of king above all else.  By removing that aspect of the tale, The King also removes the entire heart of the narrative.  That said, Edgerton is at least convincing as a warrior.

As usually happens when it comes to British historical epics, the film leads up to an eventual battle between the British and the French.  Robert Pattinson plays The Dauphin and gives one of the most brilliantly strange performances of 2019.  Wearing a blonde wig and speaking in an exaggerated French accent, Pattison gets all of the dirtiest lines and he has fun with them.  (“You have zee big balls,” The Dauphin says at one point, “and zee little cock!”)  In fact, Robert Pattinson seems to be the only person in the film having any fun whatsoever.  Chalamet looks miserable.  Edgerton comes across like a professional.  But Pattinson appears to be having the time of his life and you’re happy to see him if just because he provides a (too brief) respite from the film’s otherwise dour atmosphere.

As I said, The King is a strange film.  I’m not really sure what the point of it was.  The battle scenes are effectively bloody and the sets are all convincingly 15th century.  But otherwise, this movie is too pointless and too long.  Just because it’s about the 100 Years War doesn’t mean that film has to feel like a 100 hours.

Here’s The Trailer For The Witcher!


To be honest, I had my doubt about this project but the trailer actually looks kind of good.

The Witcher, which is based the series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski, tells the story of Geralt of Rivia, who hunts monsters at a time and in a land where it can often be difficult to tell the difference between who is truly a monster and who is not.  Heny Cavill will be playing Geralt in the series and Adrzej Sapkowsi swill serve as a creative consultant.

So, let’s hope for the best when The Witcher drops on Netflix on December 20th!

Here’s the trailer.

The Things You Find On Netflix: Eli (dir by Ciaran Foy)


Eli (Charlie Shotwell) is a young boy who is allergic to everything outside.  As a result, he can’t venture out of the house unless he’s covered, head-to-toe, in protective gear.  Eli wasn’t always allergic, of course.  It’s just something that suddenly started.  Eli’s mother, Rose (Kelly Reilly) and her husband, Paul (Max Martini), are taking him to a special clinic run by Dr. Isabella Horn (Lili Taylor).  Because the clinic is sealed off from the outside, Eli can leave his plastic bubble.  Because the clinic is in a dark old building, we know that it’s either going to be haunted or run by some sort of cult.  In fact, it doesn’t take long before Eli is doubting not only Dr. Horn but his parents as well!  He keeps hearing voices that hiss, “Lie.”  And the only other patient at the clinic, a young girl named Haley (Sadie Sink), repeatedly tells him to be careful….

Eli is 98 minutes long and I lost interest after the first ten.  Basically, I was willing to give the film a chance but then a bunch of rednecks started to taunt Eli while he was walking around outside in his protective gear and I was like, “Yeah, okay.” Then they started throwing stuff at him and I was like, “Getting a little bit heavy-handed now.”  Then the suit got torn and Eli started screaming like he was about to die and the rednecks just stood there laughing and that’s when I said, “Okay, this is going to suck.”  There’s heavy-handed and then there’s just attacking your audience with a sledgehammer.  Sledgehammers give you a migraine.

Once Eli reaches the clinic, the film slows down to a glacial pace.  In theory, the slow pace should have helped to maintain an ominous atmosphere but …. eh.  To be honest, I’ve seen a lot of creepy clinics in a lot of creepy movies and there was nothing that special about this one.  It all leads to a big twist but, again, it wasn’t a particularly original twist and even the film’s attempt to blow my mind with a subversive ending just left me shrugging.  “Really?” I thought, “That’s what’s going to happen, huh?  Well, what can you do?”

Like a lot of bad movies, the script for Eli was included on the infamous Hollywood Black List.  The Black List is an annual list of the “best” unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.  A few good films have been made out of scripts on the Black List but, for whatever, the majority of Black List films always seem to turn out to be somewhat disappointing.  Broken City, for instance, was a Black List film.  So was The Beaver.  You can add Eli to the pile of mediocre Black List films.

The Things You Find On Netflix: The Laundromat (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


To say that Meryl Streep gives a bad performance in The Laundromat actually does a disservice to your average, run-of-the-mill bad performance.

Meryl Streep instead gives an absolutely terrible performance in The Laundromat, playing not one, not two, but three characters.  One of the characters is Ellen Martin, a middle-class widow from Michigan whose attempts to collect a fair settlement after the death of her husband provides a portal in the world of shady con men and corrupt financial institutions.  One of the characters is a secret, which means that Meryl wears a lot of make-up and frumpy clothes.  That said, from the minute the character appeared on screen, I went, “Oh, there’s Meryl again.”  Then, in her third role, Meryl plays herself, demanding campaign finance reform and striking a Statue of Liberty pose while holding a hairbrush instead of a torch.

Really, it’s the type of horrendous performance that could only be delivered by a truly great actress.  (If Meryl Streep is the modern Norma Shearer, this is her Romeo and Juliet.)  Watching Meryl Streep play the role of Ellen, It occurred to me that Meryl is one of those actresses who is incapable of being authentic but who can certainly act the Hell out of pretending to be authentic.  You never forget that Meryl Streep is acting and that’s one reason why her best performances are usually the ones where she’s playing theatrical characters, whether they’re politicians like Margaret Thatcher, celebrities like Julia Child, or the Witch in Into the Woods.  But when you cast Meryl as someone who is basically supposed to be a member of the “common people,” it just doesn’t work.  Laura Dern, Laurie Metcalf, Allison Janney, even Annette Bening probably could have done a decent job playing Ellen Martin but Meryl is just too Meryl.  As for her other two performances in The Laundromat, they don’t work because one is meant to be a joke on the audience and the other is just a retread of her standard “I’m just a middle class woman from New Jersey and I love the little people” awards show speech.

Of course, The Laundromat itself is a remarkably bad film.  Again, it takes a lot of talent to make a film this bad.  Watching the film, I found myself wondering why, at this point in his celebrated career, Steven Soderbergh would decide to become a second-rate Adam McKay, especially when McKay himself is just a third-rate Jean-Luc Godard?  The film is structured so that, while Ellen is obsessing on why she’s getting screwed over by the insurance companies, we’re also treated to scenes of Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas talking directly to the camera and explaining to use why the poor are always going to get screwed over by the rich.  That’s probably true but the film gets so heavy-handed in its execution that the resulting migraine is going to be due less to outrage and more due to the sledgehammer that Soderbergh takes to your head.

Along with Ellen’s story, we also get to see several other stories featuring people and their money.  Jeffrey Wright is a crooked accountant who has two families.  And then there’s an African businessman who bribes his wife and daughter with shares in a non-existent company and then we take a trip to China, where we learn about cyanide and organ harvesting. And yes, I get it.  It shows how a crime committed in China is ultimately felt by a widow living in Michigan.  But one can’t help but wish that Soderbergh had just focuses on one story, instead of trying to imitate the worst moments of The Big Short.

Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas are technically playing the film’s villains but they’re both so charming that The Laundromat at times seems like more of a recruiting film for aspiring money launderers than anything else.  (To continue the Adam McKay comparison, it’s a bit like how Vice actually left audiences feeling sympathy for Dick Cheney as opposed to writing petitions to send to The Hague.)  It desperately wants to leave us outraged but Soderbegh gets so caught up in his own cutesy storytelling techniques that it just leaves us feeling somewhat annoyed.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that the perfect directors for The Laundromat would have been the Coen Brothers, who are capable of outrage but whose detached style would have kept them from bludgeoning the audience with it.  Soderbergh is too angry to be effective.

As I said, there’s a lot of talented people involved in The Laundromat.  It’s full of people who have done great work in the past and who will do great work in the future.  As for The Laundromat, it’s a legitimate contender for the biggest disappointment of the year.

The Things You Find On Netflix: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (dir by Vince Gilligan)


As one might expect from the sequel film to Breaking Bad, the shadow of Walter White hangs over very minute of El Camino.

Physically, Bryan Cranston doesn’t have a large role in El Camino.  Like many of the characters from Breaking Bad, he appears only in a flashback.  Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) spends a good deal of this movie dwelling on the past, perhaps because the only way that he can have a future is by mentally forgiving himself for all the stuff that went on while he was cooking meth with Walter White and, later, for the Nazi bikers who kept him chained up in a cage like an animal.  So, it makes sense that we would see a lot of flashbacks, the majority featuring characters who are no longer alive.  Cranston’s Walter White only appears towards the end of the film, when Jesse remembers the conversation they had at a diner about what Jesse was going to do with the money that they were making.  It’s a bit jarring to see them, largely because Walter still looks like an earnest and frail science teacher while Jesse is still young, loud, and more than a little obnoxious.  It’s quite a contrast to what we know will eventually happen to both characters.

For obvious reasons, Walter White isn’t in much of El Camino but his ghost seems to following Jesse through the entire movie. For that matter, so does the ghost of Tod Alquist (Jesse Plemons).  It’s not just that a good deal of the movie deals with Jesse trying to figure out where Tod hid all of his money.  (Jesse is planning on using the money to hopefully escape New Mexico and start a new life in Alaska.)  It’s also that Jesse has been scarred, both physically and mentally, by the Hellish time that he spent as Tod’s …. well, Tod’s pet.  Tod treated Jesse like a dog, keeping him on a leash, punishing him for being “bad,” and then offering Jesse pizza as a reward whenever Jesse did something right.  To be honest, the flashbacks with Tod take some getting used to, largely because Plemons has obviously aged quite a bit between the finale of Breaking Bad and the shooting of El Camino.  But, still, Plemons is absolutely terrifying as the unfailingly polite but definitely sociopathic Tod.  At one point, Tod casually brings Jesse over to his apartment so that Jesse can help dispose of the body of his cleaning lady.  Tod murdered her because she came across some money that he was hiding in a hollowed-out book.  Tod shrugs as he tells the story of her murder, as if his actions are as commonplace as waking up and going to bed.

Throughout Breaking Bad, Jesse spent most of the series being manipulated by evil men.  What was ironic, of course, was that Jesse was the only one of those men who must people automatically considered to be a criminal.  Everyone thought that Walter was a tragic family man.  Tod was largely anonymous and those who did notice him usually assumed he was just an eccentric weirdo.  Jesse, on the other hand, was the guy who was continually getting hauled in by the police and harassed by the DEA.  He was the one who was viewed as being a danger to society even though he eventually proved himself to be one of the few characters with anything resembling a conscience.  In El Camino, Jesse finally gets a chance to determine his own fate.  Will he embrace the lucrative but soul-destroying greed of Walter and Tod?  Or will he escape and try to make a new life for himself?

El Camino is a visually stunning tour-de-force, anchored by Aaron Paul’s empathetic performance as Jesse.  Jesse is no longer as loud as he may have been in Breaking Bad.  He’s a man haunted by the past and, watching the film, you know, regardless of whether he makes it to Alaska, the scars will never fully heal.  He has the haunted eyes of a man who is never going to be fully okay, regardless of where he ends up.  In fact, if we’re going to be realistic, he probably doesn’t have much of a future ahead of him.  Those ghosts are always going to follow him and, as Robert Forster’s Ed sagely explains it, much of what has happened is due to Jesse’s own poor decisions.

Still, whatever mistakes he’s made in the past, you can’t help but wish the best for Jesse Pinkman.

He’s earned it.