The Things You Find On Netflix: Tread (dir by Paul Solet)


On June 4th, 2004, the small town of Granby, Colorado was briefly the center of the nation’s attention.

On that day, an armor-plated bulldozer rumbled down the streets of Granby.  The driver of the bulldozer was a local business owner named Marvin Heemeyer.  Heemeyer, who had previously been at the center of a zoning controversy, spent two hours driving the bulldozer through various buildings in Granby.  He destroyed the muffler shop that he had once owned.  He destroyed a nearby concrete plant.  He drove through the Granby City Hall.  He smashed the bulldozer through the offices of the local newspaper.  He demolished the home of a family who he felt had conspired against him.  He took out a hardware store.  For two hours, the police chased him, firing their weapons at the bulldozer and discovering that nothing could slow him down.  In fact, it wasn’t until one of the bulldozers’ treads dropped into the hardware store’s basement that the rampage stopped,  Unable to free the tread, Marvin Heemeyer committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Before he went on his rampage, Heemeyer recorded himself talking about why he was going to do what he did.  He mailed those tapes to his brother in South Dakota a few hours before getting in the bulldozer.  His brother later turned those tapes over to the FBI.  In the tapes, Heemeyer discussed what he felt was years of harassment by the Granby town council and the zoning board.  He described himself as being an “American patriot” and he even went so far as to say that he felt his rampage was predestined.  He also went on to express amazement that he was able to spend two years openly modifying the bulldozer and turning it into a tank without anyone asking him what was going on.  He also made clear that when he entered the bulldozer for the last time, he knew that he was never going to leave it.  He truly was going on a suicide mission.

Those tapes are at the center of Tread, a documentary about Marvin Heemeyer and his 2004 rampage.  The film alternates between people discussing their memories of Marvin and that day and the taped voice of Marvin himself attempting to explain his motivations.  Almost everyone who is interviewed talks about what a friendly and genuinely nice person Marvin seemed to be.  Even though Marvin spent two years planning his rampage, no one — not even his girlfriend — appeared to suspect a thing.  Even in the weeks directly before his rampage, Marvin was making plans for the summer.  One friend of Marvin’s does speculate that Marvin spent “too much time alone.”

As many people interviewed point out, Marvin was, by most measures, a successful businessman.  He had a reputation for being the best welder in the county and he opened up a muffler shop in a building that he bought for $44,000.  He later sold that building for $400,000.  However, as the tapes reveal, Marvin didn’t view selling his shop for a profit as being a success.  Instead, he viewed as something that he was forced to do by the town council and their refusal to side with him in a zoning dispute that he had with the manufacturers of a concrete plant.  Marvin felt that the town was ruled by one family and that family was conspiring against him and singling him out for harassment.

I’m about as anti-government as they come so my natural instinct, when Tread began, was to be sympathetic to Marvin’s anger, if not his solution.  And, having now watched the documentary, I still have no doubt that Marvin probably was, to an extent, targeted by the zoning board and the town council.  The fact of the matter is that it’s rare that people don’t let the least amount of power go to their head.  That’s especially true when it comes to small towns.  There seems to be a natural pettiness that comes along with having power.  That’s true regardless of whether you’re the mayor of a small town in Colorado or the governor of a state like …. oh, I don’t know, let’s just say Michigan and New Jersey.  At the same time, when you listen to Marvin’s voice on tapes, it’s obvious that there was more going on in Marvin’s head than just anger over the zoning dispute.  When Marvin talks about how God obviously wanted him to modify the bulldozer and use it to destroy the town, you realize that, if it hadn’t been the zoning dispute, it probably would have been something else.  Marvin comes across as time bomb while the town leaders come across as being the people who unknowingly lit the fuse.

I have to admit that, until I watched this documentary, I had never heard of him but a simple Google search revealed that, in the years following his death, Marvin Heemeyer has gone on to become a hero to certain anti-government activists.  Though it’s been 16 years since he unleashed his bulldozer on the town of Granby, his story still feels relevant today.  There’s still a lot of angry people out there and, if anything, the people in power have gotten even more heavy-handed and arbitrary in their behavior today than they were in 2004.  That said, if you’re looking for a film that either vilifies or blindly celebrates Marvin Heemeyer, Tread is not that film.  Overall, Tread portrays Marvin Heemeyer as being a complicated man who, in the town of Granby, found the perfect reason (or, depending on how much sympathy you may or may not have for him, excuse) to strike out.

It’s currently available on Netflix.

TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 3.3 “Chapter Twenty-Three: Heavy Is The Crown” (dir by Alex Pillai)


What’s this?, you ask.  Just now, you’re finally getting around to reviewing Chapter 23 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina?

Admittedly, it has taken me a while.  The third season or third part or whatever the Hell you want to call it of this show was released on Netflix all the way back in January.  That’s a long time ago even by normal standards.  In May of 2020 (this is May, right?), January seems as if it might as well have been a decade ago.  You remember what the world was like in January — Iowa caucuses, open movie theaters, strong economy, and no social distancing — and it feels like some sort of lost age.  Case reviewed the first two episodes of Sabrina‘s third season back in February.  I was supposed to review episodes three and four as soon as I got back from my vacation in March.  Of course, as soon as I got back, the entire world went into lockdown and it was easy to get distracted from the latest Greendale drama.

Plus, I have to be honest.  So far, for the most part, I just haven’t enjoyed Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  There have been a few tolerable episodes and Kiernan Shipka deserves to be a bigger star but the show itself often feels like a dead end.  The pace is often maddeningly slow and, other than Sabrina, almost all of the characters are rather flat and dull.  With the exception of Sabrina, everyone gets one defining trait and the show tends to beat viewers over the head with that trait.  As such, Aunt Zelda is always going to be arch and dismissive.  Hilda is always going to be naive and neurotic.  Ambrose is always going to decadent in the most boring ways possible.  Harvey is always going to be a dullard.  Roz is always going to be boring.  Beyond the one-dimensional characters, the whole look of the show bugs me.  Why does no one in Greendale ever turn on a light?  Why do I always have to strain my eyes trying to see what’s happening?  It gets frustrating.  Working up any enthusiasm to sit through another one of Sabrina’s adventures can be a struggle.

And yet, I will continue to watch the show because I do think that it has potential.  Now, to be honest, some of that is because the show is often so bad that it has nowhere to go but up.  But occasionally, there will be an interesting twist or a line of dialogue that doesn’t crash to the ground with a thud.  It doesn’t happen often but it does happen enough that I keep hoping Chilling Adventures will get things together.  My main hope is that, someday, the show will actually be worthy of Kiernan Shipka’s consistently excellent lead performance.

Just take the third episode of Part Three for example.  On the plus side, this episode features a trip to a wonderfully creepy carnival.  And even though the carnival itself is pretty obviously borrowed from Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, it’s still a lot of fun and effectively surreal and ominous.  However, to get to the carnival, we have to suffer through a lot of underlit drama featuring one-note characters.  We have to sit through Roz and Harvey having the least interesting relationship ever to appear in a Netflix drama.  We have to deal with Nick and his PSTD.  We have to deal with Miranda Otto delivering all of her lines in the same monotonous style.  We also have to sit through yet another quest.  In this case, Sabrina has to find three artifacts to hold onto the title of the ruler of Hell.  She manages to find Herod’s Crown but she still loses it to her rival for the throne, Prince Caliban.  So, I guess Sabrina is going to have to find the other two artifacts over the course of the season. I’d probably care more if Hell, as presented on this show, wasn’t so damn boring.  Presenting witchcraft as being tedious might make for an effective short film but making an entire series out of it is another thing all together.

And yet, Kiernan Shipka gives such a good performance in the lead role that you can almost overlook how annoying the show itself tends to be.  Shipka brings so much sincerity to her role that you want Sabrina to succeed.  I just wish the show was more often worthy of the talents of its star.

Oh well.  Fear not!  I actually liked the episode that came after this one.  I’ll be rewatching and reviewing it soon!

 

 

Short Film Review: What Did Jack Do? (dir by David Lynch)


In a dark, black-and-white station, the train has been delayed.  Though we never actually see them, a waitress (Emily Stofle) says that there are cops swarming the station.  At a small table, a Capuchin monkey named Jack (voiced, according to the credits, by Jack Cruz) waits for his order.  A white-haired Detective (played by director David Lynch) takes a seat across from the monkey.  Both the Detective and the monkey are wearing dark suits.

The Detective and Jack have a conversation.  At first, it seems like they’re just tossing out random comments.  The Detective mentions farm animals and says that he knows why the chicken cross the road.  Jack says that he works as a pipe cleaner.  The Detective asks Jack if he’s ever been a card-carrying member of the communist party.  Jack avoids the question.

As the interrogation continues, we start to pick up on small patterns and a story emerges.  Jack is in love with a hen named Toototaban.  The Detective thinks that Jack murdered a musician named Max Clegg.  Jack says that it was probably the janitor.  The Detective is firm in his belief that Jack is guilty.  Jack is only interested in talking about how much he loved Tootataban.  He even sings a song about her and it’s about as touching as a song sung by a monkey in love with a chicken can be.

What does it all amount too, this 17-minute noir film from David Lynch?  Who knows?  With an artist like Lynch, it’s always tempting to read too much into what you’re seeing.  I’m personally of the theory that many of Lynch’s most debated films and celebrated images were constructed with no particular logic beyond the fact that it would be an interesting film or a striking image.  Lynch is an artist who creates cinematic dreams and most dreams are simply a collection of random feelings and concerns.  It’s not until we start trying to piece it all together that we find any deeper meaning and that meaning is usually dependent on our own individual thoughts and obsessions.

What is What Did Jack Do about?  Personally, I think it’s about exactly what it says it’s about.  It’s about a detective interrogating a monkey in a train station.  Why is he interrogating a monkey?  Why not?  Why is the monkey in love with a hen?  Even Jack admits that part is weird but I guess it could happen.  Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much about the why of it all.

Instead, just enjoy it for what it is, an intriguingly weird 17-minute film.  David Lynch has developed into a pretty good actor and he does a great job playing the law-and-order detective.  He delivers his dialogue in a rapid-fire, staccato manner.  Meanwhile, Jack is as crude as you would expect a monkey to be.  The film is both funny and also somewhat ominous.  That dark train station is full of shadows and, as you listen to the Detective and Jack try to outwit each other, it’s hard not to think about what might be lurking in the those shadows.

What Did Jack Do? has actually been around for a while.  Apparently, it was first screened in France way back in 2017.  (The copyright notice at the end of the film lists 2016.)  That said, it didn’t premiere in the United States until it showed up on Netflix back in January.  So, as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best films of 2020 so far.  Be sure to watch it if you haven’t already.  Can you figure out what Jack did?

The Things You Find On Netflix: Sergio (dir by Greg Barker)


Sergio, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, is a biopic of the Brazilian diplomat, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.  Sergio spent 34 years as a diplomat with the United Nations, going to some of the most dangerous places in the world and trying to negotiate with people who were determined to kill one another.  Sergio was so respected within the UN that he was seen as a likely candidate for Secretary-General.  Instead, in 2003, Sergio was killed in a terrorist attack while he was in Baghdad, observing the American occupation of Iraq.

Starring Wagner Moura in the title role, Sergio opens with Sergio arriving in Baghdad.  For the majority of the film, he’s buried in the rubble of his blown-up office, thinking about his past life while an American soldier (played, with quiet authority, by Garret Dillahunt) tries to dig him and his assistant, Gil (Brian F. O’Byrne) out.  Through the use of flashbacks, we watch as Sergio negotiates peace in East Timor and argues against the occupation of the Iraq.  We also watch as he meets and falls in love with Carolina (Ana de Armas), pursuing a passionate affair with her despite being married.

Sergio is a rather staid biopic.  If you’re expecting to see an Adam McKay-style screed about international diplomacy and American war crimes, that is not what this film is and we should be happy for that because, seriously, have you tried to watch The Big Short or Vice lately?  Instead, Sergio is more like a Jay Roach film without the attempts at humor.  It’s a blandly liberal biopic that is conventionally structured and a bit too convinced that the audience is going to automatically agree with its points.  Indeed, one of the film’s most glaring flaws is that it assumes that we’re all as enamored with the UN as it is.  Instead of making a case for why the UN should be taken seriously, Sergio just assumes that it is.

The other big problem with the film is that it’s just boring.  There’s nothing interesting about the film’s structure and, as portrayed in the rather bland script, both Sergio and Carolina come across as being ciphers.  We’re constantly told that Sergio is charismatic and controversial but we really don’t see much evidence of it.  The film itself doesn’t seem to know what made Sergio tick but what’s even worse is that it doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in finding out.  There’s not much interest in digging into Sergio’s mind or his motives,  The film forgets that you can portray someone as a hero and celebrate their accomplishments without necessarily idealizing them.  With the exception of one or two scenes (and there is an effective moment where one of Sergio’s assistants does call him out for putting everyone’s life in danger by refusing to accept protection from the U.S. army), Sergio is portrayed in such an idealized that he comes across as being a bit dull.  Wagner Moura is an appealing actor but there’s no depth to his performance.  Meanwhile, Ana de Armas is reduced to playing the stock girlfriend with a social conscience role.

All that said, I almost feel guilty about not liking Sergio.  The film was made with good intentions but good intentions don’t necessarily translate to compelling storytelling.

 

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.