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  (At times, it seems like Willem DaFoe has been replaced by someone doing a poorly conceived Willem DaFoe impersonation.)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


So, I finally watched the 2018 thriller, The Snowman, and my main reaction to the film is that it featured a lot of snow.

That’s understandable, of course.  The film takes place in Norway and it’s called The Snowman so, naturally, I wasn’t expecting a lot of sunshine.  Still, after a while, the constant shots of the snow-covered landscape start to feel like almost some sort of an inside joke.  It’s almost as if the film is daring you to try to find one blade of grass in Norway.  Of course, the snow is important because the film’s about a serial killer who builds snowmen at the sites of his crimes.  They’re usually pretty big snowmen as well.  It’s hard not to be a little impressed by the fact that he could apparently make such impressive snowmen without anyone noticing.

Along with the snow, the other thing that I noticed about this movie is that apparently no one knows how to flip a light switch in Norway.  This is one of those films where every scene seems to take place in a dark room.  I found myself worrying about everyone’s eyesight and I was surprised the everyone in the film wasn’t wearing glasses.  I can only imagine how much strain that puts on the eyes when you’re constantly trying to read and look for clues in the dark.

Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a Norwegian police inspector who may be troubled but still gets results!  He’s upset because his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has a new boyfriend (Jonas Karlsson).  He’s also upset because his son (Michael Yates) doesn’t know that Harry is actually his father.  Or, at least, I think that Harry’s upset.  It’s hard to tell because Fassbender gives a performance that’s almost as cold as the snow covering the Norwegian ground.  Of course, he’s always watchable because he’s Fassbender.  But, overall, he doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in either the role or the film.

Harry and his new partner (Rebecca Ferguson) are investigating a missing person’s case, which quickly turns into a multiple murder mystery.  It turns out that the crimes are linked to a bunch of old murders, all of which were investigated by a detective named Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer).  Gert was troubled but he still got results!  Or, at least, Harry thinks that he may have gotten results.  Nine years ago, Rafto died under mysterious circumstances…

Now, I have to admit that when, 30 minutes into the film, the words “9 years earlier” flashed on the screen, I groaned a bit.  I mean, it seemed to me that the movie was already slow enough without tossing in a bunch of flashbacks.  However, I quickly came to look forward to those brief flashbacks, mostly because they featured Val Kilmer in total IDGAF mode.  Kilmer stumbles through the flashbacks, complete with messy hair and a look of genuine snarky bemusement on his face.  Kilmer gives such a weird and self-amused performance that his brief scenes are the highlight of the film.

Before it was released, The Snowman was hyped as a potential Oscar contender.  After the movie came out and got roasted by the critics, director Tomas Alfredson replied that the studio forced him to rush through the production and that 10 to 15% of the script went unfilmed.  Considering Alfredson’s superior work on Let The Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The film’s disjointed style would certainly seem to back up Alfredson’s claim that there was originally meant to be more to the film than actually ended up on the screen.

The Snowman is one of those films that doesn’t seem to be sure what it wants to be.  At times, it aspires to David Lynch-style surrealism while, at other times, it seems to be borrowing from the morally ambiguous crime films of Taylor Sheridan.  Ultimately, it’s a confused film that doesn’t seem to have much reason for existing.  At the same time, I’ve also been told that the Jo Nesbø novel upon which the movie is based is excellent.  The same author also wrote the novel that served as the basis for 2011’s Headhunters, which was pretty damn good.  So, read the book and ignore the film.

Review of Berberian Sound Studio, ALT Title: Huh? I mean, Huh?


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I was considering posting this review later in the month because I didn’t want to do two negative reviews in a row. I’m starting to feel like an old curmudgeon with a sciatica issue, but here we are.  I didn’t write, direct, or produce this steaming pile of shit, but again… here we are.  I’m not writing that every film should have three distinct acts that are easily defined and understood, but this film sure could have used some structure or a beginning, a middle, or (if they really felt wild) an ending.

We open with Gilderoy (Tobey Jones) starting a job as a foley artist for a Giallo film.  He is immediately shocked at the graphic nature of the film that he will be looping.  This is where the movie grinds to a halt – minute 7.  Either through a lack of budget or imagination, the film takes place in the sound studio, his apartment, and a hallway – that’s it.  You’d think that this would establish tension…nope; no more than sitting in the DMV for 90 minutes establishes tension.  There are no subtitles and everyone’s speaking Italian and screaming a lot to loop the spooky film that you never see.  Again, you’d think that perhaps this would create tension or alienation because we don’t know what’s being said in 85% of the film….nope; no more than watching Raiuno (Italian Basic Cable).   Keep in mind, I’m very proud of my very sexy Italian roots, but not everything we make is a winner- even our towers lean over sometimes.

Gilderoy proceeds to obsess over getting reimbursed for his travel and when he doesn’t get reimbursed, he mopes … a lot and smashes fruit to mimic bludgeoning sounds. At one point he does get upset about it, but then goes back to doing what he does best – moping and fruit smashing.  There are two producers Francesco and Santini who spend the majority of the film bullying Gilderoy around and just when you think he’ll snap, he doesn’t because his moping around and fruit smashing won’t get done by itself.

Gilderoy slowly makes a quasi-friendship with Elena a voiceover artist who hints at something sinister being afoot, but it never materializes. Snore.  Later in the film, Santini sexually assaults her off-screen and she wrecks the studio this is also off-screen.  Since all of the action takes place off-camera, it really makes you wonder if they ever wanted to film a movie.  Elena’s departure necessitates the need to hire new voiceover actress to replace her.

This is where the film takes an absurdist left turn – Gilderoy starts speaking Italian.  As someone who has taken some formal Italian language instruction- it’s a challenging language, but not for Gilderoy because he just starts spouting it – damn it!  Then, Elena’s replacement tries to kill Gilderoy, but he manages to kill her.  He then wanders into the sound studio and for some reason he sees the self-defense killing on the screen.  This causes the need for yet another voiceover actress to be hired and he uses mild sound torture to get a better performance out of her – it’s both weird and stupid because she could just take the headphones off, but she doesn’t.  She does quit and we don’t have to see them go to Central Casting again.  Maybe they get a stamp on a card for every voiceover actress they hire?  If so, they are all due a free sammich!!!  The movie ends.  Yep, that’s it.

This film proved that there are two big losers in Giallo pictures: voiceover actresses and fruit!  Enjoy the horror month!  My next review will be one of my favorite movies of ALL TIME: Ginger Snaps!  Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie that is an allegory for a girl’s menarche! Tagline: They don’t call it the curse for nothing!  It’s awesome!

 

 

For Your Consideration #8: Captain America: The Winter Solider (dir by Joe and Anthony Russo)


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I would estimate that, when it comes to the movies, Ryan the Trash Film Guru and I agree with each other perhaps 95% of the time.  What’s interesting is that the 5% of the time that we have disagreed, it’s always been the result of an entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As Ryan has documented many times on this site, he’s not a fan of the MCU.  (The title of his review of the second Thor film is probably one of the best that’s ever appeared on this site.)  As for me, I’m the exact opposite.  In fact, I am such a fan of the MCU that I am about to suggest that Captain America: The Winter Soldier — along with being one of the best action films of the year — deserves serious Oscar consideration.

(Ryan’s opposite take on the film can be read here.)

Now, unlike some of the films that I’ve suggested deserve your consideration, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, along with receiving critical acclaim, was also a major commercial success.  What made The Winter Soldier unique was that it deserved both the acclaim and the money.  There was a lot that I liked about The Winter Soldier.  In the role of Captain America, Chris Evans was both likable and, most importantly, believable as a hero out of time.  And while I would have never guessed that her character was supposed to be Russian, Scarlett Johansson continued her streak of kicking serious ass in the role of the Black Widow.  Samuel L. Jackson brought his customary style to the role of Nick Fury and Sebastian Stan was properly intimidating as the Winter Soldier.  The action scenes were exciting, the dialogue was sharp and witty, and the film worked both as a stand alone film and as a part of the overall Marvel universe.

But, for me, what truly elevated Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the film’s subtext.  (In that way, I would compare it to another surprisingly intelligent genre film, The Purge: Anarchy.)  For those who may have forgotten, the villains of the Winter Soldier are all members and pawns of Hydra, a secret organization that has so infiltrated the American establishment that it has literally become something of a shadow government.  Hydra has also infiltrated SHIELD and plans to use their intelligence capabilities to not only preemptively identify possible threats but to eliminate them as well.  In fact, by taking control of the SHIELD helicarriers, Hydra can anonymously deliver death and destruction from above.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

What truly makes this subtext come alive is that fact that the main villain — Hydra’s double agent in SHIELD — is played by none other than Robert Redford.  Any student of American film knows what Robert Redford represents.  Early in his career, Redford was the idealistic, ambitious, and frequently laconic protagonist, the perfect symbol of American exceptionalism.  In the 1970s, Redford was the audience surrogate in classic paranoia films like Three Days of the Condor and All The President’s Men.  Lately, as the man behind the Sundance Film Festival and a frequent director, Robert Redford has been the epitome of bourgeois, establishment liberalism.

Hence, when we hear Redford say, “Hail Hydra,” it’s more than just a catch phrase.  It’s also the film’s way of saying that we’re all fucked.  If even Robert Redford can be a villain, the film seems to be saying, then how foolish do we have to be to fully trust anyone or anything?  If Robert Redford can order people killed and then justify it by claiming that he was acting for a greater good then why are we so shocked when governments do the exact same thing?

We live in paranoid times.  In the future, historians will recognize that few films captured that paranoia as perfectly as Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4 Minute Extended Clip & Trailer)


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It’s just less than a month away from one of 2014’s most-anticipated films. It’s the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger and Marvel Studios has been kind enough to treat it’s fans to a 4-minute clip/trailer of the film.

This clip from Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes early in the film and helps in setting the tone of the film. This is not the gung-ho and patriotic first film. This follow-up shows the after-effects of the events from The Avengers and how it’s created a sense of paranoia and conspiracy surrounding the very group Captain America has now become a part of.

Where the first film had the nostalgic feel similar to Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer, this sequel looks to tap the 70’s conspiracy and 80’s technothriller genres. It’s anyone’s guess whether the Russo Brothers succeeded, but just going by this extended scene and the previous teasers and trailers they may have just done that.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrives in North America on April 4, 2014.

Super Bowl Trailer: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


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It’s becoming a sort of yearly occurrence to have a Marvel Studios film premiere a special trailer during the live-broadcast of the NFL’s latest Super Bowl event. Last year, it was a special Super Bowl trailer of Iron Man 3 (an extended version soon coming out after). This year it will be Captain America: The Winter Soldier that will get the special Super Bowl treatment.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been gaining some major buzz since the release of its first teaser trailer from a couple months back. Where Thor: Dark World used fantasy as an overall theme for its look and story, with the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger the filmmakers have taken on the look and feel of a techno/conspiracy-thriller. The Winter Soldier looks to be like something that wouldn’t seem out of place if made during the cynical and distrustful era of the 1970’s when conspiracies and distrust of those in power dominated the headlines.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is set for an April 4, 2014 release date.

Also, we have the UK and Ireland version of the trailer which show a brief glimpse of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who is the descendant of Peggy Carter from the first film.

Trailer: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Exclusive Teaser)


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The next installment in The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, looks to return later this year with a new director taking over the reins. Gary Ross began the series as director of the first film and the film enjoyed massive success and very positive reception from the critics-at-large. So, it was surprising news that Ross wouldn’t be returning to continue the series and instead Lionsgate replacing him with Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend).

This sequel brings back everyone who survived the first film and adds some new faces in the cast such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is set for a November 22, 2013 release date.