Quick Reviews, End of 2017, Part 2: The Mountain Between Us, November Criminals, The Foreigner, Victoria & Abdul, The Big Sick, MarshallRead Now
The Mountain Between Us
Victoria & Abdul
The Big Sick
Overhyped, but still good
The Post (2017): A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government.
I'll be honest with you: I think this movie was overhyped. How could it not be, though? Two of the most iconic actors of the 21st century on screen together in a film directed by the man widely considered to be the most influential director in the history of Hollywood, (for better or for worse) one year after we saw, firsthand, what happens when we ignore the very institution this story is centered around? Ya, it's hard not to hype this one up to eleven. And don't get me wrong: The Post is a good, enjoyable, and important film. It takes a naturally dramatic event and portrays it as exactly that: a dramatic event. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are as charming as you would expect them to be together, and their time on screen was easily the best part of the film. As you would expect it to be. But. BUT. That does not change the fact that this film falls apart in the final 20 minutes. That does not change the fact that a crucial, CRUCIAL subplot is not resolved in any way. That does not change the fact that after such an energetic and dramatic setup, the film just, kind of.... ends. And that does not change the fact that there are other problems with this film. But more on that later.
The good of this film is obvious: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. While neither put in necessarily standout performances, it is still marvelous to see these two iconic actors on screen at the same time. It's a cataclysmic event for Hollywood that we've never seen before, and may never see again from these two. This is reminiscent of the 1951 film The African Queen, which paired Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepbrun on screen for the only time in their respective and legendary careers. The Streep/Hanks pairing alone will sell tickets, and I am very much ok with that, because this story is just as relevant in today's world as it was in the early 1970s. As a media nerd myself, I loved (almost) every second of this film. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I loved the "bedlam" (as executive editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, would say) we got to see as the newsroom, many of the most influential journalists of the 20th century included, frantically sorted through 4000 pages of government secrets in Bradlee's house as his wife (played by Sarah Paulson) served sandwiches. I loved seeing Bob Odenkirk go after his source for the Pentagon Papers in a way that would make Saul Goodman proud. This is a two-hour movie, but the middle of it flew by with tense scene after tense scene. However. This film makes a BIG mistake, and it centers around the decision-making process of its central character, the paper's publisher, Kay Graham.
Kay Graham inherited WashPo from her husband (who inherited it from her father) after he committed suicide. For decades, (and hard to believe now) WashPo was a little family paper headquartered in Washington D.C. that was, like everyone else, chasing the New York Times for the next big story. Now, this film does a brilliant job showing the paper grappling with the consequences of publishing the Pentagon Papers. There's no fault to be had there whatsoever. However, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) has the final say on whether the papers are published or not, and she comes at this decision from a very different (and reasonable) angle. While Ben Bradlee and co. are deciding whether they should publish for fear of putting US troops in harm's way, Graham is risking the newspaper itself because The Post was also doing its initial public offering (IPO) at the same time as it was publishing the Pentagon Papers. And, as this film reminds us multiple times, there is a clause in the IPO that allows the "bankers" of Wall Street to pull out of the IPO within a week of its initial offering due to a dramatic event. (Like, say, The Post publishing top secret documents and being reprimanded in federal court. Something like that.) This risk is at the crux of her decision making. Unfortunately, not only is this debate not resolved in a satisfying way, it isn't resolved.....at all. After grappling with this risk for the vast majority of the movie, we don't get even a single scene of fallout from the IPO side of the paper. No shot of its stock tumbling. (or soaring) Absolutely. Nothing. And, because they make this the central focus of Kay Graham's character arc, it kind of made her.... irrelevant to the entire story. Yes, I know I just said Meryl Streep didn't need to be in this at all, but given how the film ended..... she didn't need to be in this movie. At all. While this is the only major issue I have with The Post, having your top-billed actress be relatively inconsequential to the events of your story is something of a major problem! Her only meaningful arc is her learning to have the resolve to run the paper as a whole. Yes, this is a good side arc, and a good/relevant one for 2017, but not enough to overshadow the fact that her main arc is, you know, useless!
I only had a few other minor issues with this film. The first is (admittedly) VERY mute, but I wish the dialogue had been....smarter. Maybe it's just because I've seen The Newsroom, but I REALLY wish Aaron Sorkin had been the screenwriter for this movie. That's ok, though. He was too busy writing/directing Molly's Game, which, surprisingly enough, is a superior film. The ending overall was also very rushed, but I can hardly fault the film for having such a tense setup that it can't follow through on a conclusion to historical events. I mean, you know what's going to happen, so when you see the thing happen....how dramatic can it really be? But, IPO issues aside, many of the other "stakes" that are established in the setup here are glanced over in the film's final 20 minutes, if brought up at all. The film also kind of sequel-baits. Most of the time I don't have an issue when a movie does this, and even here I very much hope we do get a sequel, whether it be a direct or indirect one, but... after such a rushed conclusion, did we really need to do that? Did we really need that final minute? I don't know.... I guess I was already disappointed with the ending so the attempted sequel-baiting just got to me more than it would in another situation.
I've spent a lot of time hating on this film, but doesn't change the fact that it is a good movie with an engaging and dramatic story, and the top-tier level of acting you'd expect from a film that puts Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the same screen together. (And gives them a strong supporting cast to boot) Sadly, though, it suffers from being overhyped and overrated. If you're just looking for a compelling and dramatic film on media and journalism, go back and watch 2015's Spotlight. (It's available on Netflix right now) It won Best Picture that year, and for good reason. If you've already seen that film half a dozen times, (I wouldn't know anyone that could say that.......) and need your next media and journalism movie fix, look no further. Just.... temper your expectations a bit.
The Critique: While pairing Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep goes exactly how you would expect it would, The Post is sadly overhyped and overrated, with a rushed conclusion and wasted character arc at the core of its faults. It is (merely) a good film.
The Recommendation: There are a lot of reason to go see this film, (I don't feel like mentioning all of them) just be sure to give films like Call Me by Your Name and I, Tonya some love too, ya?
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
2017's Smartest Film
Molly's Game (2017): The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.
These Raw Thoughts come from you from Braxton Labs in Newport, KY, approximately 45 minutes after seeing the film.
Molly's Game is straight fire. The directorial debut for legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, this film takes the writer's trademark dialogue style and turns it up to eleven. This is done to the detriment of the film at times, but most of the time it works beautifully, especially surrounding the lead character. Molly Bloom is a total boss. The hero 2017 needed. She controls all the men around her (save one) while holding their hearts on a string, and she is played masterfully by Jessica Chastain. This is the role Chastain was born to play, and she puts in one of the sleekest and most badass roles of the year.While this performance may not net Chastain an Oscar, it is certainly one of my favorites of the year, and Sorkin's trademarked style meshes with Chastain better than PB&J.
As if that wasn't enough, Chastain’s male counterparts are fantastic, led the way by Idris Elba and Kevin Costner. These two are amazing. Heck, this may be the best role I've ever seen from the amazing Idris Elba. Freaking love this man! He is so charming and charismatic, and he gets to show that off as much as possible here. There's also a really deep (and strong) supporting cast. You know your cast is deep when someone like Joe Keery (from Stranger Things) has a total of two scenes! He does make the most of them, but the big loser from this is Michael Cera. He plays “Player X” and is clearly playing the “idea” of a character and isn't given much to do other than "be maniacal," which is unfortunate. But all in all this is a relatively minor complaint. The highlight of this film, without a doubt, is the dialogue.
The dialogue. If you've never seen a film by Aaron Sorkin, you've missed out on one of the most distinguishable storytelling styles in recent Hollywood memory. In his films, every character is the smartest person in the room, and they make sure everyone else knows it. They pull some of the deepest references out of thin air and know exactly what each other is talking about at all times. (At one point, Jessica Chastain starts talking about three poems that Idris Elba is making her daughter read. When did she have time to become fluent in poetry? Does it matter?) This film is no exception, and it is just so much fun! However, with Sorkin in the director's chair for the first time, no one was around to tell him no, which means sometimes people are….too smart. Sometimes, scenes will linger for too long because Sorkin can't help himself. It's the classic Quentin Tarantino problem. Sorkin is in love with his own dialogue, and without a director to tell him that he's written too much of it for a certain scene, they tend to be overlong as the characters will put out one reference too many. Personally, I LOVE Sorkin’s dialogue, so I have no problem with this, but if you're even slightly turned off by Sorkin's style…..you're gonna be turned off here. This is Sorkin's dialogue on steroids, so consider yourself warned. Though, to be fair, I don't know how you can hate his formula! It's sleek. It's sexy. It's intelligent. And it's FUN. I had a blast watching this! This movie is all of those things, and if you like Sorkin's dialogue then it's a STRONG directorial debut, led by the dazzling performance of Jessica Chastain.
“Player X” is a bit weak, and the film does glorify gambling a little too much, (I know, I know, gambling is romanticized in every Hollywood movie) but it's not enough to offset the greatness of here. See it for the craziness of the story, (and know it'll be nominated for an Oscar in the Adapted Screenplay department) the sleek and sexy actors, (Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain especially) and the amazing dialogue, however if you've never seen a Sorkin screenplay (somehow)....don't start here. Start with something like The Social Network. (Fun fact....that was the fifth review I ever wrote! And I still think it's one of the 5 best films of the 21st century)
My Number: 8/10
Quick Reviews, End of 2017, Part 1: Darkest Hour, It Comes at Night, Bright, Mudbound, Jumanji: Welcome to the JungleRead Now
It Comes at Night
Jumanji: Welcome to the Journal
An incoherent mess
Downsizing (2017): A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.
These raw thoughts come to you from Darkness Brewing immediately after seeing the film.
That sucked. That really sucked. I wanted to like this film. And somewhere here, there is a really good movie. But it's too long, SUPER PREACHY, and overall just a mess. This film is a mishmash of ideas, and unfortunately barely any of them stick. It's been a bad year for Matt Damon, as i think both this and Suburbicon will find themselves on my “Worst Films of the Year” list.
There isn't much good to say about this film, but the highlight is undoubtedly Hong Chao. She is sensational as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese woman forced to “downsize” while in prison. While there are some worries that her character is a racial stereotype, (I believe those complaints are overblown, but have some validity) she still dazzles in her role, providing a glimmer of hope for an otherwise joyless film. Matt Damon is…..Matt Damon in this, and outside of Christoph Waltz, who's at least somewhat charming, the entire supporting cast is pretty lifeless. Why is Kristen Wiig even in this??? Actually, she's part of a bigger problem with this film.
As I said before, this film is a mishmash of incoherent ideas. But it also feels like two films thrown into one, and that doesn't help its cause. The first half of the film features a totally unnecessary “origin story” for the downsizing process, (seriously - the first 15 minutes of this film are completely useless….we don't need to see the origins of the downsizing concept) then we get this uninteresting story of Damon and Wiig deciding whether they should go through the procedure, just to have Wiig RANDOMLY decide to not go through with the process at the LAST possible second. This 180 from her character isn't earned AT ALL, and in the second half she's all but a distant memory. So….why was she such a prominent character early on? Beats me.
Finally in the second half we see Hong Chau's character, which was a wonderful thing because by that point I was really struggling to get through this disaster. For the briefest of moments, I saw glimmer of hope: a love story between her and Damon that made me think of the movie Her: a mismatched relationship with a lot of complexity and depth and heart. But as soon as this glimmer came…..it faded away, and the film morphed into this ridiculously preachy statement on global warming. It felt like “The Day After Tomorrow meets Birdemic” with this abrupt OMG GLOBAL WARMING IS GONNA KILL US ALL TOMORROW SO LET'S ALL ENJOY ONE FINAL SUNSET TOGETHER surrounded by some terrible, TERRIBLE exposition. It was so stupid! Look. I don't mind being preached too about something that's important. But what director Alexander Payne does here is basically stop the entire film to be like LOOK, GUYS. GLOBAL WARMING, AMIRITE? Matt Damon has a decent character arc in the second half, but his “Wow! I can't believe this is happening to me!” mantra gets really old, really fast. It didn't end up mattering how good or bad his character arc was, I just wanted him to stop talking by the end of it. Also, for how good Hong Chau was, her character was not written very well. She has no arc to speak of, she just gets a few good lines. But she is the only redeeming quality in this otherwise disappointing film. See it for Chau’s (likely soon-to-be Oscar nominated) performance, just wait for it to hit Netflix so you can skip the first 75 minutes of it.
My Number: 3/10 Bad
All the Christopher Plummer in the World
All the Money in the World (2017): The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.
Happy new year everyone! So I'm going to try a new thing here on Enter the Movies. Some of my favorite posts in the past have been the ones where I write them almost immediately after seeing the film. I also do this every year immediately following the Oscars. So I'm gonna turn this into a new series that I will use occasionally. Aka whenever I feel like it. Hope you enjoy it!
These raw thoughts come to you from the bar at Braxton Labs in Newport, KY, immediately after seeing All the Money in the World.
There's a great story behind this. After allegations of sexual assault arose against Kevin Spacey, director Ridley Scott and company removed him from the film just six weeks ahead of its nationwide release, and they stumbled onto gold with his replacement, Christopher Plummer. The highlight of this film is Christopher Plummer’s performance as J. Paul Getty. Plummer was Scott's first choice before Sony asked him to “find someone more famous” for the role, and I can see why he wanted to go with Plummer initially. HOWEVEr, that does not excuse the glaring faults of this film. The film plays fast and loose with its subject matter, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me given how naturally dramatic the actual story is. After getting off to a bang with some terrific sequences with J. Paul Getty, the film doesn't know what to do with itself as it slugs through its snoozefest of a second act, losing all momentum it had initially built. It does manage to recapture some of its intensity in the final act, but it also torpedoes itself here with this completely absurd town sequence that had me practically saying, “There's no way that happened in real life” out loud. Not to mention a rather silly epilogue that's only there so we can feel like we “stuck it to the man.”
This may be Scott's best work in recent memory (though if it were me I'd probably still go with Alien: Covenant) but he just can't get out of his own way. In real life, Gail Harris (played beautifully here by Michelle Williams) wages war with her grandfather-in-law in the press. Here, the press is nothing more than a leeching paparazzi group, and we only get one scene in the film of Harris using the press to her advantage. Even in that scene the press is vilified for no real reason other than to be vilified. Ugh! The second act of this film could've been this interesting cat-and-mouse political game between Harris and Getty, but instead we got this slow moving section that doesn't know what to do with itself.
That said, the acting is excellent. Christopher Plummer leads the way with one of the best performances of the year, and when you factor in the fact that his performance was shot in nine days it becomes all the more impressive. Michelle Williams is, once again, great and Mark Wahlberg is pretty good too.... though he admittedly doesn't have much to do other than “be mysterious.” He has one exchange with Getty that was a great scene, but it was CLEARLY a Hollywood-esque scene. Absolutely no chance it really happened. (Like way too much of this film) While it is a pretty enjoyable film, and it will get some love from the Academy, (definitely more so than Downsizing and The Greatest Showman, the other big studio “for your consideration” Oscar films) there's just too many absurd moments for me to consider it a must-watch. And I SWEAR TO GOD IF RIDLEY SCOTT IS NOMINATED FOR BEST DIRECTOR AT THE OSCARS. What are you doing, Golden Globes? Yes, it's impressive that they did these reshoots in nine days, but it doesn't overshadow the other glaring problems of this film. Many of which come at the hands of Ridley Scott! (Deep breath) Anyway..... Watch it if you're a cinephile like me and want to see what a performance shot in nine days looks like, otherwise there are better things to see at the theater.
My Number: 5/10 It's FINE
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