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  (At times, it seems like Willem DaFoe has been replaced by someone doing a poorly conceived Willem DaFoe impersonation.)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.

Birds of Prey (dir. by Cathy Yan)


Once upon a time, there was this comic book company called DC. DC was fortunate enough to be owned by Warner Bros. back in 1968. I’ve always thought of this as a good thing, despite not being the best of fans. It meant that any tv show or movie would have the full backing of Warner Bros., and DC would never need to shop around for production and/or distribution  rights for their work. So, when Superman finally happened in 1978, it was a watershed moment in the history of Comic Book films. It would take more than a decade for the WB to finally make a film about a second DC Hero with Tim Burton’s Batman.

But over the last 30 years, we’ve had:

  • 7 Superman Films (5 Original, plus the Singer reboot, the Snyder Reboot and a sequel with Batman v. Superman)
  • 4 Batman Films (4 Original, plus the Nolan Reboot and Snyder sneak-in on Batman v. Superman
  • Green Lantern 
  • Wonder Woman
  • Aquaman
  • Suicide Squad
  • Shazam!

That’s not counting films like Steel, but generally, outside of 2011’s Green Lantern, the support for DC’s character base outside of what they needed for Justice League really wasn’t strong, in my opinion. So getting a movie that stands outside of the usual top tier is worth trying, even if it stutter steps the way Suicide Squad did.

So, Birds of Prey, fully known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it and give me a bit of hope for what comes next from DC/WB. The film focuses on Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie, reprising her role from Suicide Squad), who suffers a bad break up from The Joker. To cope, she gets herself a new place and a new pet hyena (a good throwback to the Paul Dini / Bruce Timm Batman: The Animated Series version of the character). When she runs into mobster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, Doctor Sleep), he gives her a mission to recover a precious diamond from Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Bosco), a young pickpocket. Also thrown into the hunt for the diamond is Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, True Blood), who works for Sionis. Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez, Do the Right Thing) is looking to take down Sionis and The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Death Proof), who has her own reasons.

The performances are nice, and it seems like everyone enjoyed themselves. No one really phones in their roles – both McGregor and Robbie excel with their parts, and there’s nothing really wrong with anyone’s work here. I haven’t much to say on that.

The story for Birds of Prey, written by Bumblebee‘s Christina Hodson, is a bit unsteady at first. It makes sense, given Harley’s madness, and makes for some fun exposition in the same way Suicide Squad did. Of particular note are the fight scenes, which feels a lot like what you’d find in John Wick. Birds of Prey has its own particular style.  My only real problem with the film was the change over in Cassandra Cain’s character from the comic, who is pretty dangerous. Bosco’s Cain isn’t really written that way, but her pickpocket abilities does make up for it, somewhat. It’s not a terrible thing, but if you’re expecting the Batgirl you’ve read about, it’s not happening. Additionally, Moviegoers expecting to see either Jared Leto or Ben Affleck will probably be a little disappointed. Birds of Prey works with the inclusion of the two DC majors, but I enjoyed that.

Overall, Birds of Prey is a fun popcorn flick that may not be as strong as Shazam!, but offers quite a bit in the way of humor and action. I’m happy that DC’s taking these chances, and hope they continue to do so going forward.

At least it’s not another Batman film.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films Of 2019: The Dead Don’t Die (by Jim Jarmusch)


Uh-oh, the dead are rising again.

Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many zombie films I’ve seen over the past ten years.  This last decade was the decade when zombies went mainstream and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it.  Zombies have become so overexposed that they’re no longer as scary as they once were.  I mean, there’s even PG-rated zombie movies now!  How the Hell did that happen?  Everyone’s getting in on the act.

There were a brief flurry of excitement when Jim Jarmusch announced that his next film would be a zombie film.  Myself, I was a bit skeptical and the release of a terrible trailer didn’t really help matters.  The fact that the film was full of recognizable names also made me uneasy.  Would this be an actual zombie film or would it just be a bunch of actors slumming in the genre?  The film opened the Cannes Film Festival and received mixed reviews.  By the time it opened in the United States, it seemed as if everyone had forgotten about The Dead Don’t Die.  It was widely chalked up as being one of Jim Jarmusch’s rare misfires, like The Limits of Control.

Last month, I finally watched The Dead Don’t Die and you know what?  It’s a flawed film and yes, there are times when it even becomes an annoying film.  That said, I still kind of liked it.

In The Dead Don’t Die, the Earth’s rotation has been altered, the result of polar fracking.  No one seems to be particularly concerned about it.  Instead, they’re just kind of annoyed by the fact that the sun is now staying up in the sky a bit longer than usual.  Cell phones and watches stop working.  House pets abandon and occasionally attack their owners.  In the rural town of Centerville, the dead rise from their graves and start to eat people.  Whether or not that’s connected to the Earth’s rotation is anyone’s guess.  (I like to think that the whole thing about the Earth’s rotation being altered was Jarmusch’s homage to Night of the Living Dead‘s suggestion that the zombies were the result of space radiation.)

We meet the inhabitant of Centerville.  Zelda (Tilda Swinton) is the enigmatic mortician.  Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones) is the horror movie expert.  Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) is the red-hatted farmer who hates everyone.  Zoe (Selena Gomez) is the traveler who is staying at the run-down motel with two friends.  Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) is the police chief who wants to save everyone but Farmer Miller.  Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) are police officers.  They’re all in the middle of a zombie apocalypse but very few of them seem to really be that surprised by any of it.

Throughout the film, we hear Sturgill Simpson singing a wonderful song called The Dead Don’t Die.  Cliff demands to know why the song is always one the radio.  Ronnie replies that it’s the “theme song.”  Ronnie, we discover, has an answer for almost everything.  He explains that he knows what’s going to happen because he’s the only one that “Jim” allowed to read the entire script.  Cliff isn’t happy about that.

That’s the type of film that The Dead Don’t Die is.  It’s an elaborate in-joke, a zombie movie about people who know that they’re in a zombie movie but who are too detached to actually use that information to their advantage.  The script has been written so they have no choice but to do what the script says regardless of whether it makes them happy or not.  It’s a clever conceit, though a bit of a thin one to build a 103-minute movie around.

As I said, the film can occasionally be an endurance test.  Everyone is so deadpan that you actually find yourself getting angry at them.  But, whenever you’re on the verge of giving up, there will be a clever line that will draw you back in or the theme song will start playing again.  Bill Murray and Adam Driver are fun to watch and Driver reminds us that he’s actually a good comedic actor.  (In the year of Marriage Story and Rise of Skywalker, that can be easy to forget.)

It’s a flawed film and definitely not one of Jim Jarmusch’s best.  At the same time, though, The Dead Don’t Die is not as bad as you may have heard.

Trailer – Birds of Prey


Whenever I hear the name “Birds of Prey”, I think of the old CW show with Dina Meyer, Ashley Scott and Rachel Skarsten. Thankfully, WB has seen fit to upgrade all of that. It also changes the story somewhat, as the original Birds of Prey focused on Oracle (a.k.a. Batgirl / Barbara Gordon), The Huntress, and Dinah Lance. I’ll admit that I’m a bit excited for this, as Margot Robbie really was one of the best parts of 2016’s Suicide Squad and this film features Cassandra Cain, one of the more deadly versions of Batgirl in recent DC History. It even has the hyenas from Batman: The Animated Series.

Having broken up with the Joker, Harley is ready to strike out on her own, teaming up with The Huntress and Black Canary to save a child (mostly likely Cassandra).. On board are Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Fargo) as The Huntress, Ewan McGregor (also Fargo) as Black Mask, Jurnee Smolett-Bell (True Blood) as Black CanaryAdditionally, Ella Jay Bosco, Rosie Perez, & Chris Messina are featured.

Christina Hodson wrote the script. Having previously worked on Bumblebee, that definitely should work out well.  Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) is handling the directing duties.

Birds of Prey: And the Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is set take on Gotham in February 2020.