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"Don't Look Up" 4K Review

Note: This review was started back in late-December 2021 and completed in late-March 2022 which is why it references events after the viewing date which determines posting time.

Once upon a time Adam McKay was a Saturday Night Live writer who had transitioned to making some minor classic comedies with Will Ferrell in the Aughts including Anchorman, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Stepbrothers, and The Other Guys; highly quotable bro comedies which still entertain. Then he won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Big Short, the peppy dramatization of the housing bubble that crashed the economy in 2008 and decided his future was to make rabidly political films expressing the rage of wealthy Hollywood liberals against everything they loathe; things like Republicans and those who don't obey their fearmongering about global warming climate change. 

His first effort in this vein was 2018's Vice, his attack on former Vice President Dick Cheney which garnered eight Academy Award nominations (only winning for Best Makeup) despite flopping at the box office and polarizing even normally lefty critics who hated Cheney, but weren't going to give a pass to what McKay made, criticizing the smug, scattered, Oscar-nominated script. (I tried watching it and it didn't grab me, wasting Christian Bale's typically committed performance in favor of the usual Republican-hating, thus never finished it.) 

Now McKay is back, this time burning Netflix's money with a ham-handed parable about people not buying Teslas or Priuses to save the planet as ordered by celebs who travel in CO2-belching private jets, Don't Look Up. With a Oscar-baiting cast of Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep, as well as nominees Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, plus famous people like Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, and Tyler Perry, it's being sold as a biting satire about how people ignore bad news about the world ending, but it's just a scattershot hodgepodge of occasional laughs punctuated with screaming fits about how people aren't listening to the data. (Get it? Nudge, nudge!)

It opens with the discovery by Lawrence's Kate, a MSU astronomy PhD candidate discovering a new comet. When her professor, Randall (DiCaprio) calculates its orbit, he realizes it will directly hit Earth in six months, killing everything unless something is done. He contacts the head of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, Teddy (Rob Morgan), so he can take it to the President Orlean (Streep) who is embroiled in a bizarre sex scandal involving her Supreme Court pick. She and her chief of staff son Jason (Hill) blow off the threat because of course they do.

 Deciding to take the news public, Kate and Randall appear on a morning show hosted by Jack (Perry) and Brie (Blanchett) who also blow it off prompting Kate to erupt in outrage over how no one is taking this existential threat seriously. (GET IT??????) Focus group testing shows the sheeple don't like the screaming woman and she becomes a meme while Randall tests positively, leading to a makeover and eventually an affair with the shallow Brie. 

Plans to divert the comet are thwarted when one of Orlean's top donors, Peter Isherwell (Rylance, doing his green part by recycling his Ready Player One character), a Steve Jobs-Bill Gates-Rain Man mashup, determines there are trillions of dollars of rare earth minerals which could be mined so instead of blowing it up, how about trying to capture it?

Naturally, it all goes very sideways and Earth's doom is sealed, but the Official Narrative from the White House is that there's nothing wrong and to keep people from noticing that ever-growing comet in the sky, launch a campaign suggesting "Don't Look Up" (roll credits!) while Randall and Kate, who is now working retail and having a relationship with a teen shoplifter (Chalamet), counter with a "Just Look Up" campaign, driven by a pop song by Grande's character.

 Setting aside the fact that ManBearPig (South Park's brilliant formulation of the man-made climate change terror) is a hoax and everyone involved in the making of this movie is a hypocrite, Don't Look Up is simply a sloppy, poorly-written movie that lacks focus and fails at its central conceit; namely that the media would downplay a disaster in the making. 

For the past 20+ years we have been clobbered with neverending doomsaying about how the planet is on fire when temperatures hit the 90s in August - what used to be called "summer" in the Before Times - and all the polar bears will drown and we will never have snow in winter by 2020 which was news to me as I shoveled my drive and sidewalk a half-dozen times this winter. Western energy policy is causing gas prices to soar over $4.00/gal because of this hoax and the shrieking tantrums of a weird teenage Swedish girl. 

Add on the past two years of absolute terror fomented by the media about Hot Fad Plague - where anyone who points out face diapers are useless to stop an aerosolized respiratory virus and that hastily-produced, insufficiently-tested, ineffective and harmful gene therapeutics mislabeled "vaccines" (whose definition was rewritten to mask their failure) aren't helping will get you unpersoned from social media and labeled as "wanting to kill Grandma" and a "science denier" - for a movie to claim that the media would not go bananas at the prospect of whipping up another global panic requires viewers to have not paid a lick of attention to what the media has done for decades. 

I have been appalled at how many of my FaceSpace friends have burbled about how "great" Don't Look Up is and one even messaged me to recommend it to their sorrow. That it managed to snag FOUR freaking Academy Award nominations - for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing, and Score - just seals how absolutely bereft of credibility the Oscars are in today's insane woketarded times. That this piece of dross with a freaking 56% Rotten Tomatoes score, meaning almost half of generally liberal critics weren't willing to give a movie which they agree with the message a pass, got nominated for Best Picture while House of Gucci got skunked just shows that, same as with Licorice Pizza's nomination, they're just picking based on box-checking and political tribalism.

Now you may be thinking, "Dirk, you just don't like it because you disagree with it's stupid wrong-headed politics." If I was dinging it for that, I would say so. The problem with Don't Look Up is that it fails miserably while demanding we respect it for its intentions which is like of the server brought you a plate of crunchy pasta, cold sauce, rancid mushrooms and a slice of American cheese melted in a microwave over the top and told we needed to leave an extra big tip because the cook intended to make a tasty Italian dish. 

The warning signs were present in the trailers which hinted that the "humor" would be of the sort where people yell back and forth at each other and that's most of the movie. Between DiCaprio's sweaty nervous wreck of Randall to Hill's more-assholeish-than-usual Jason to Lawrence's dour uncharismatic performance (what happened to her? She went from America's Darling to a sour miserable box office poison in less than five years), most of the performances are broad and noisy and not particularly funny. When Chalamet shows up with his typical damp emo boy delivery, it's like his in a different, not-particularly-better movie.

 That's not to say there aren't some big laughs, except almost without exception they are throwaway gags, not main plot dialog. For example, when people are watching Grande's pop tart on TV, someone notices that their phone just bought her song without his input, an oblique reference to when Apple rammed a terrible U2 album into people's iTunes libraries. (After enough of those kinds of gags occured in the first 45 minutes, I remarked to the missus that I bet that the funniest lines would be throwaways. I was right.) 

Even when people tried to humor my distaste for this movie, they tried - again to their great regret - to claim that the movie made valid points about the uselessness of "news" media. WRONG! When you live in a timeline where Network and Wag The Dog exist, you don't get to pity f*ck a half-assed corn-flecked log of mediocrity like Don't Look Up in this dojo.

Network won the legendary Paddy Chayefsky his third screenwriting Oscar and remains prescient and brilliant about the impending rise of "infotainment", the unholy melding of news and frivolity, nearly a half-century after its 1976 debut. The phrase, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" originated there and it was nominated for FIVE acting awards, taking home three (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress) vs. a big fat zero for Don't Look Up. It's my 2nd favorite movie of all time.

1997's Wag The Dog was co-written by legendary playwright David Mamet and told the story of a President who attempts to distract from a sex scandal by launching a fake war against Albania, staged on TV by fixer Robert De Niro and movie producer Dustin Hoffman (who got a Best Actor nomination while no one in Don't Look Up got one). When Bill Clinton got caught using Monica Lewinsky as a humidor and started bombing countries populated by brown people, a much less Praetorian media than today's state propagandists bluntly asked if he was "wagging the dog." 

No one will ever ask if anything in reality is echoing Don't Look Up. Because it's not a movie with an real idea in its empty head, but a virtue-signalling wank by a cabal of extremely wealthy people to make the rubes feel that THEY are the problem with the world with their desire for a single-family home and two cars in the suburbs and not morally superior folk like DiCaprio who owns multiple houses, condos, mansions and a freaking island which he jets between in his own private jet while demanding you drive a golf cart. GFY, Leo.

Scattered like corn nuggets in a poop log are some potentially rich veins for commentary that could've been mined by an intellectually adept screenwriter. Too bad that Adam McKay isn't one. In the mid-credit scene, when the space ark carrying the few surviving people of Earth arrives and lands on their new planet, he chooses to pay off a weird gag set up earlier instead of noting that while they saved the wealthiest and most "important" people from extinction, everyone you see is OLD, as in highly unlikely to be able to have children so humanity is just a matter of time away from disappearing from the universe. (This is the same reason why the end of Snowpiercer is so bad. It doesn't matter if the world is starting to thaw; no one in the crashed train will survive to see it livable.)

Score: 4/10. Skip it.  Go watch Network (currently on Hobo Max) or Wag The Dog (on Hoopla, which your public library card may allow access to) instead.

"Count Me In" Review

Q: What do you do you call a guy who hangs around with musicians?

A: The drummer.

Q: What do you call a drummer who breaks up with his girlfriend?

A: Homeless.

Q: How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: None. They have machines that can do it without being too drunk to function.

 Try the veal! I'm here all week!

 The reason there are so many drummer jokes is because, well, drummers ain't typically the sharpest cards in the deck. (Wait, hold on...) But a non-ironic case can be made for their importance to a band's sound and vibe and that's what Count Me In does, explaining why only after the songwriting, guitar playing, singing, bass playing, keyboards, etc. etc. etc. the drumming is really important. (Yes, I'm piling on, but it's not as if any drummers are going to read this, right?)

Featuring interviews with a myriad of drummers including Stewart Copeland (The Police),  Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Steven Perkins (Jane's Addiction), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters; thankfully no Dave Grohl for a change!), Topper Headon (The Clash), Rat Scabies (The Damned, bringing the very English teeth), Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz), Emily Dolan Davies (The Darkness), Roger Taylor (Queen), Samantha Maloney (Motley Crue, who looks like Pink), Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and more, the documentary discusses the influence of seminal early drummers like Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts (who passed away this week), Keith Moon (who passed away over 40 years ago), John Bonham (ditto) as well as their own personal histories and challenges, particularly for the women dealing with cavemen who apparently never heard of Gina Schock of The Go-Go's (who isn't included, probably because the other girls featured are younger and prettier, which is kinda ironic when you think about it.

 If you're a musician or are interested in music from the perspective of those who hang out with musicians (somebody STOP ME!), Count Me In is a breezy watch worth your time.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Viewed on Netflix)

No trailer available, which is lame.

"Sweet Girl" 4K Review

 It's becoming more and more obvious that Netflix simply cannot produce good movies. Despite their growing Oscar acclaim for overrated hype art house wannabe films like Roma (which was boring), The Irishman (which was boring), and Mank (which was boring), when a Netflix Original movie pops up on a Friday with Big Name Stars in it promising a trip-to-the-movies-grade experience at home, it is almost certainly going to be a disappointing waste of time only "redeemed" by not having to put on pants, drive to a theater, and pay money to be let down. Yay for small favors, I suppose. 

And so it goes with this week's appalling waste of time, Sweet Girl - which has nothing to do with the actually pretty good Netflix series Sweet Tooth. Jason Momoa stars as a grieving widower with a teenage daughter (mostly played by Isabela Merced) whom we first meet in a flash-forward as he on the roof of Pittsburgh's PNC Stadium (where the Pirates play, though the time of year seems wrong for baseball, but whatever) with the cops closing in, prompting him to leap off, landing in the river. We then flash back to "years ago" (How many? Don't know.) to meet his family including his wife who over a long montage has her cancer returning and putting her at death's door.

But there is hope for her as a new generic miracle drug called Sparrow (have you ever heard of ANY drug with such a name? Me neither) is about to get FDA approval. Except then the maker, BioPrime, decides to indefinitely yank the drug because of Big Pharma corporate greed of course. When the company's weasel CEO (Justin Bartha, Doug from the Hangover movies) appears on CNN, Momoa calls in and is promptly put on the air where he warns him that if his wife dies from the lack of this drug, "You've signed your death warrant." Naturally, the wife dies because we need the plot to happen. 

Six months later, Momoa gets a call from a Vice reporter (Nelson Franklin, Comeau from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) wanting to meet him to discuss information about bribes and corruption that led to the drug being pulled. After taking several subway rides, with Merced tailing her dad, Momoa meets the reporter, but before the specifics of the conspiracy are explained, an assassin (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) attacks them, stabbing the reporter and Momoa and beating up Merced before escaping. 

Then it's two years later and Merced is training at the gym her father worked out in MMA skills before going home to the squalid apartment they're sharing, presumably because the medical bills took their house. Momoa has been obsessed with finding those responsible for his wife's death and has a Wall of Crazy focused on Bartha's CEO. When he's going to be appearing at a charity auction, Momoa seizes the opportunity to infiltrate the event, attacking and killing Bartha and a bodyguard. Knowing the cops are likely to figure out he did it since he did after all threaten this guy on live television, he and Merced go on the run, now being hunted by more assassins as well as the FBI. 

It's here where I need to spoil the movie. I am normally loathe to even hint that there is a twist in plots because it alerts viewers that a whammy is coming - it's particularly stupid when movie ads quote reviews like, "...and it has a twist that will blow your mind!" - but to understand what takes Sweet Girl from a tired Big Evil Corporations Killing the Poor For Money conspiracy flick to a jaw-dropping Razzie-worthy "Are you effing kidding me?!?!?" train wreck requires blowing the third act twist. 

If you don't want to know, then stop here knowing that the score below is 3/10, skip it.




Still here? OK, here we go....

When the chase finally catches up to the opening stadium rooftop scene, it is revealed that it's not Momoa on the roof, but MERCED! Whaaaaaaaaa? That's right, folks - MOMOA DIED OF HIS WOUND FROM THE SUBWAY ATTACK and everything we've seen were the actions of the daughter including the bruising hand-to-hand fights (which are one of the few decent bits of the movie). Now hold the freaking phone a second. Jason Momoa is 6' 4" tall and Isabela Merced is 5' 1" and her character is supposed to be about 14-15 years old. I know it's politically incorrect to suggest that tiny woman can't beat the crap out of burly male killers in movies like Atomic Blonde, Columbiana, and Black Widow, but this isn't jumping the shark, it's rocketing over Seaworld stupid. The montage showing what really happened with her alone makes the reveal in Fight Club, which I thought looked idiotic, seem rational in comparison.

And there was no family to take this orphan in after the subway attack? No sending her to a foster home? How about casting a larger actress and setting the plot ten years later where the daughter has grown up, joined the military, and trained in death-dealing skills and is now ready to hunt and kill those who killed her parents? Jeez, I just fixed the plot while typing that last sentence? DOES ANYONE READ THESE SCRIPTS AND SPOT HOW STUPID THEY ARE BEFORE FILMING THEM?!?!?!?!? Even the mediocre 2018 revenge flick Peppermint had grieving mother Jennifer Garner spend five years after the cartel murders of her husband and daughter disappeared and training to be a murder machine before returning for her vengeance.

There's also a certain darkly ironic humor about a movie filmed just before Hot Fad Plague 2020-21 about how Evil Corrupt Politicians and Evil Big Pharma murder to protect their power and profits arrive after 18 months of the HFP in a time where Big Government is commanding its subjects to take an unproven ineffective risky experimental gene therapy which is being dishonestly sold as a "vaccine" because we can totally trust Big Pharma. Ummmmm, whut? LOL.

Other than sympathetic performances from Momoa and Merced and the aforementioned fight scenes, the clunky, contrived, convoluted catastrophe of a "plot" and the third act reveal make Sweet Girl another misfire clogging up Netfiix's shelves. Even the title is wrong because it's meant to play off a pair of scenes where Merced quotes Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" so why isn't it called Sweet Child? Did anyone think for a moment about what they were doing here?

As for A/V grading, the Dolby Vision 2.35:1 picture looks nice and has a few moments of bright highlights, but is otherwise inconsequential. The Dolby Atmos mix has nothing going on that requires height channels, even in the scene where a helicopter is overhead. Atmos is a meaningless bullet point for a pointless movie. 

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Jolt" 4K Review

 It's been a while since Kate Beckinsale has made an action flick. Her last Underworld entry, Underworld: Blood Wars, was five years ago and I don't recall seeing it; probably skipped it after the abomination which was Underworld: Awakening in 2012. I wasn't even aware she had a new movie out until the missus mentioned Jolt, which is not about the awesome Eighties cola with twice the caffeine of puny Pepsi or Coke, the latest Amazon Prime Original title. 

She stars as Lindy, a woman who as a child was diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder - which is a real psychological condition where the person has violent outbursts, not that they actually explode like the Marvel Comics supervillain Nitro. The only thing that can keep her rages in check is an electrode vest that she uses to shock herself into a state of lesser anger.

 Encouraged by her shrink, and the designer of the vest, Dr. Munchin (Stanley Tucci), to try and form some human connections to see if perhaps some love could chill her out, she goes on a date with Justin (Jai Courtney), an accountant who doesn't seem terrified of her skittish demeanor and charms her. After they hook up after their second date, Lindy is feeling better about life and controlling her temper than she's ever been. 

So it's pretty inconvenient that Justin turns up dead the next night they were supposed to get together. The police detectives on the case (Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox) don't think she's involved, but when she steals evidence from the police station, they're hot in pursuit of her as she sets out on her rampage to avenge her lover's death, finding herself getting close to some untouchable top dogs.

 Jolt squarely falls into the Big Dumb Noisy Fun genre. While its premise has been compared to the Jason Statham Crank films, it's just your basic action revenge flick (a la John Wick) with a mix of black comedy (her fantasies of brutally beating people are Grand Guignol) and a gender twist. People who want to bark about how implausible it is for even a rage-enhanced woman to beat up as many guys as she does are MISSING ALL THE POINTS. (I want to be there when they find out Hogwarts isn't a real school they can go to.)

What's unrealistic is the Generic American (or Maybe European) City atmosphere Jolt  has like how the police department logo just says "POLICE DEPARTMENT" without a city name, the lack of any recognizable chain stores or brand logos and how most of the streets look like backlots. The skyline shots aren't familiar either. (It was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria.) But what it does have is some slick neon-drenched style and the HDR cinematography gives some good highlight pop to the image.

 But even by the loose standards for this sort of movie, in the last 10 minutes or so the plot's wheels suddenly come off as we learn What's Really Been Going On and then the coda seems to be trying to set this up as a franchise. Come on, Hollyweird - not everything needs to be a series. Except John Wick. That can keep going forever (or until it becomes a clown show like F9 was). 

Beckinsale is fun and looks great at 47 years old (She turns 48 tomorrow.) Tucci is his usual fun self and even Courtney, whom I usually dislike, fills the bill until the plot sells him out. Director Tanya Wexler (niece of legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler and half-sister to Daryl Hannah!) does a respectable job of keeping the performances and action humming along and the script by newcomer Scott Wascha manages to not be too cliched, though why the bad guys have a lone man standing in the middle of a large courtyard as a receptionist may take style a tad far.

 Clocking in at a tidy 90 minutes, Jolt may not be much more than a fizzy triffle with a flat aftertaste, but while you're imbibing its caffeinated aesthetic, it's generally satisying.

Score: 6/10.  Catch it on Amazon Prime.

"Point of No Return" Blu-ray Review

Whenever a foreign film has crossover success with American audiences, an English-language remake is general ordered up because "Muricans don't wanna read subtitles and don't like foreigners" or so Hollyweird feels. Such was the case with Luc Besson's 1990 hot babe assassin flick La Femme Nikita (or just Nikita outside America, same as how Besson's follow-up, Leon, was called The Professional here) which was rapidly remade as 1993's Point of No Return as a near carbon copy.

 Bridget Fonda ('memba when she was in everything in the Nineties?) stars as Maggie, a violent junkie who murders a policeman during a botched robbery in the opening scene. Sentenced to death, she is immediately executed by lethal injection (which is the most unrealistic thing about this movie considering even animals like the Night Stalker, who was given 19 death sentences only died after 24 years on Death Row of CANCER). But she then wakes up in a white room and is informed by Gabriel Byrne's "Bob" that her death and funeral were staged and she has been recruited to become an assassin for an unspecified organization. If she refuses to cooperate, well, she will end up occupying the empty casket she's supposed to be in.

 Being the rebellious sort, she doesn't take the training seriously, constantly acting out until Bob makes it abundantly clear that if she doesn't get her act together pronto, his superior, Kaufman (Miguel Ferrar), will more than happily put her six feet underground. This scares her straight and she begs the agency's glamorous etiquette tutor Amanda (Anne Bancroft) to help her change. Cut to six months later and the feral black-haired Maggie has transformed into a classy refined woman who looks like Nineties-era Bridget Fonda. 

To celebrate her graduation, Bob takes her to a swanky Washington D.C. restaurant and orders champagne and gives her a gift. But when she opens it, it contains a large loaded gun and spare mag and she's told this is her final test: Go to an upper level, kill a VIP, then go to a bathroom and escape via a window to where a car will pick her up. After she kills the target and his bodyguard, she discovers the bathroom window is bricked up, trapping her. She manages to escape and return to base, clearly feeling betrayed, but Bob informs her that her passing the rigged test means she's ready for the field. 

Outfitted with a new identity as Claudia, a computer sales rep from Chicago, she's dispatched to Venice, CA to await orders. She immediately falls in love with J.P. (Dermot Mulroney), her apartment manager. He's a Sensitive Artistic Type photographer and she looks like Bridget Fonda, so they immediately start shacking up. But her secret life starts to intrude as she's sent on missions, raising suspicions with J.P. Can a reformed murderer turned assassin balance career and romance?

Point of No Return was never a great movie because, to be honest, neither is La Femme Nikita and thus minus Besson's visual style - director John Badham (Blue Thunder, WarGames, Saturday Night Fever) is more workmanlike - the fundamental flaws of the original weigh down the remake. We meet Maggie/Nikita as a drugged-out killer, her Pygmalion transformation and whether she has changed or her original killer nature has merely been papered over is oddly never really explored. For all the French lessons and refinement Amanda teaches Maggie, the first time she goes grocery shopping, she acts as if she'd never seen a supermarket before or knew how much food a person eats. 

Too many of the key action sequences are almost shot-for-shot copypastas of the original movie, minus the flair, though the movie's third act of a mission that goes disastrously wrong is actually a vast improvement over the original's and it's amusing to see Harvey Keitel's "cleaner" (originally played by Jean Reno who would go on to revise the character in Leon) a year before he'd play cleaner Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction

As far as the Blu-ray goes, it's a so-so affair. The transfer is adequate, but lacking in shadow detail and contrast. It has a filmic grain structure and wasn't overly scrubbed  with DNR, but edge-enhancement is obvious in a halo at the top and bottom next to the letterbox bars. Fortunately, it doesn't manifest too often around the image area itself. It's just a catalog title that didn't merit going the extra mile. Audio is worse with a thin, unbalanced mix with little surround activity and the TV cop show-grade overwrought musical score way too loud. Dialog doesn't get buried, but it's dodgy. 

As far as extras, the only one is the theatrical trailer. As said, this isn't a beloved titles getting the works.

While Point of No Return isn't the worst remake of La Femme Nikita - that dishonor goes to the Hong Kong version, Black Cat -it's just blah because the second act's plot of mushy puppy love with intermittent calls to work is slow and J.P.'s suspicions aren't really handled well. The 2010-2013 CW series Nikita starring Maggie Q (who herself made a clearly Nikita-inspired Hong Kong movie called Naked Weapon) was a better handling of the material as it was disconnected from the structure of the source. (I never watched the 1997-2001 USA Network take because the pilot thoroughly unimpressed me and radically changed the premise.) 

If you're interested in the premise, it's worth a rainy afternoon watch, but this Blu-ray doesn't really merit purchasing for a collection.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable. 

"2 Days In The Valley" Review

 In the wake of groundbreaking independent movies like Clerks, El Mariachi, Reservoir Dogs, and especially Quentin Tarantino's follow-up, Pulp Fiction, Hollywood went on its usual trend-chasing quest to find their own next Kevin Smith, next Robert Rodriguez, and especially next Tarantino and the result was a whole lot of really bad attempts to mimic those successes, all of which failed for the same reason buying Air Jordan's don't allow most people to slam dunk: Dressing like the original isn't the same as being the original.

One of the byproducts of this copycat phase was 1996's 2 Days in the Valley, a completely banal and forgotten-because-it's-forgettable Pulp Fiction-wannabe which squanders a crazily-deep cast on a half-baked Tarantino pastiche and whose only legacy is being the first major role for a 20-year-old South African emigre named Charlize Theron who has a pretty hellacious catfight with co-star Teri Hatcher. 

To explain the plot would spoil the surprises (such as they are), but suffice to say that same as Pulp Fiction's separate stories co-exist in the same shared world where characters intersect at points, the characters of 2 Days almost all end up in the same places by the end. While it's intended to be ironic, it just feels contrived.

From the pair of hitmen (James Spader and Danny Aiello) who murder Teri Hatcher's Olympic skier's ex-husband (Peter Horton) in the opening to the jerky British art dealer (Greg Cruttwell) who berates his poor assistant (Glenne Headly) and whose sister (Marsha Mason, who doesn't have an accent for some reason) and the suicidal TV director (Paul Mazursky) she meets at a cemetery who end up Aiello's hostages to the vice cops who discover the murder (Jeff Daniels and Eric Stoltz) to Spader's girlfriend and honey trap Charlize Theron, they all intersect while Keith Carradine and Louise Fletcher have cameos along the way.

You can't really blame the cast for leaping at what probably sold by their agents as "the next Pulp Fiction" with a modern crime noir plot with twists and turns that echoed Tarantino's masterpiece, but writer-director John Herzfeld is no QT. Primarily a TV director whose previous feature film was the 1983 John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John bomb Two of a Kind (which was airbrushed from his resume when this came out), he simply isn't up to his ambitions, either wordwise or visually. 

While the general plot has potential, it all falls flat and looks like a TV movie. Perhaps if a more talented writer punched up his outline then a better director shot it, 2 Days in the Valley would've been more memorable than Theron's star-making debut. (She's genuinely

To wit, we had wanted to watch this a few weeks ago, but my DVD, which I must've had forever yet never opened, turned out to be a non-anamorphic transfer (meaning on a modern widescreen TV, it appears as a rectangle bordered on all sides by black bars) and that was a non-starter. Only Cinemax had it streaming, but we don't have it. Then YouTube TV had a free weekend and we used it to catch the movie and though we'd seen it when it originally came out, I honestly didn't remember a damn thing about it other than Theron being hot and there being a catfight with Lois & Clark-era Hatcher. I rapidly realized why I'd forgotten it.

Score: 3/10. Skip it and look up Charlize's nude scene on the Internet. 

"Bound" Review

 The Wachowskis - formerly brothers Andy and Larry, now sisters Lily and Lana - will forever be known as "the visionary creators of The Matrix" upon which they have coasted on for two decades through the overstuffed and undercooked sequels and ever-declining levels of commercial and critical success with movies that either exist as bloated spectacles (e.g. Matrix sequels, Jupiter Ascending, Speed Racer) or oddball experiments (e.g. Cloud Atlas) or genderqueer wanks (Netflix's Sense8, whose second season I skipped). 

But mostly forgotten for some reason is their directorial debut (and only second produced screenplay, after Assassins), the 1996 lesbian-Mafia crime thriller Bound. Nothing about it other than one cast member remotely resembles anything they've done since and, frankly, considering how outlandishly overblown their post-Matrix movies have been, perhaps they should get back to basics. Bound is as stripped down a noirish chamber drama can get, yet has one of the most audacious bait-and-switch moves a movie has done while in progress. (Not as drastic as From Dusk Til Dawn where the first half was a crime drama and the back end was a bonkers vampire movie, but still...) 

 It opens with ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon, following up her breakthrough in Showgirls the previous year) arriving at her new job renovating a condo in an old Chicago building. Riding the elevator are Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and her Mafia soldier boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) who live in the adjoining unit, whose thin walls allow the sounds of sex (and eventually violence) to penetrate. 

Violet comes over to introduce herself and flirt with Corky, but the latter has heard her and Caesar having sex, so is leery of what may be a tourist. Violet pursues Corky - hard - and it's not long before they're going at it in rather steamy scenes considering it was a quarter century ago. For a movie that was sold as a sexually explicit lesbian movie, it really delivers the goods right up front and doesn't bother teasing the audience.

 But after the "good stuff" in the first 20 minutes comes the rest of the movie: A tight caper story where the girls conspire to steal $2 million in literally laundered money. After beating and torturing a Mob guy suspected of skimming from the Mob in his apartment, Caesar comes home later covered in blood with a large bag filled with blood-soaked money. After retrieving the skimmed cash, the Mob boss's son, Johnny (Christopher Meloni), whacked the guy and it's up to Caesar to clean the currency in preparation of the father, Gino (Richard C. Sarafian), to fly in and pick up the case. Corky and Violet plot a way to get the cash and flee together and hijinks ensue.

While there are a few convenient plot lapses and people being a bit too dumb in order to keep the plot's wheels turning, the Wachowski's script overall is lean and mean, setting things up and paying them off smartly. Their direction is also stylish without being self-indulgent or distracting. 

With her pneumatic figure and baby doll voice, Tilly has generally been thought of as a less than serious actress despite garnering a previous Oscar nomination for Bullets Over Broadway, but she's a seductive gun moll who clearly has the boys (and girl) under her spell. Gershon is sizzling with her butch sneer who both wants to get laid, but also not be some dame's patsy. While a straight actress (not that there's anything wrong with that), she garnered a large lesbian fan base here, many of whom turned up at her promo concerts for 2003's Prey For Rock & Roll as documented in the series Rocked with Gina Gershon

Lost in the glare of their Matrix fame, Bound is almost a trivia question at this point and it shouldn't be. There was a time when compact dramas were viable before everything became $200M VFX extravaganzas - especially in the 1990s when Sundance darlings like Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Sex, Lies and Videotape were hitting - and Bound is a very good movie on its terms. Come for the cheap thrills, stay for the thriller.

There apparently isn't a very well-mastered Blu-ray of it yet (paging Criterion Collection...) and I didn't want to watch my DVD (gag), so I went with Amazon Prime's version and it looked OK, though had some bad compression artifacts in dark areas in spots, which considering the noirish cinematography by Bill Pope happened several times.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on Amazon Prime and Hulu.)

"Cruella" 4K Review

 Some background to explain where I'm coming from with this review: I don't think I've ever seen the original 1961 animated version of 101 Dalmatians; I've never seen the 1996 Glenn Close live-action remake and its 2000 sequel, 102 Dalmatians; I have diligently avoided the tsunami of creatively-bankrupt and unnecessary live-action remake cash grabs Disney has been cranking out in the past years (other than the first Malificent, which was OK); and I've been smitten with Emma Stone for pretty much her entire career all the way back to her debut in Superbad. So I had no attachment to the source material, but when Disney dropped this first look at Stone's take in August 2019...


...I was so on board for this movie. It looked bonkers and I knew Stone could kill it. 

Well, the movie's here - surprisingly undelayed by Hot Fad Plague 2020-21 (it was always slated to open this weekend) - available to see in theaters or via the total ripoff Disney+ Premiere Access (where you pay $30 on top of your D+ subscription for access to a movie which will be on sale for $10 to OWN in a few months and streaming in 4K on D+ a few months after that) - and the critical reaction has been mixed, ranging from "Why would they make an origin movie about a villainous character whose whole thing is wanting to murder puppies?" to "Why did they make a movie about a notorious puppy murderer and not have her murder puppies?" There were also the usual partisan factions projecting their agendas on the movie and using it as a punching bag for this or that failing to serve their wants. (See: The idiots who complained about 1917 and Dunkirk only having white men in the cast.)

While people with investment in the franchise or those needing biases assuaged may have been let down, I found Cruella to be a nicely done dramedy fantasia (no pun) powered by a pair of ace performances by Stone and Emma Thompson and what should be Oscar-winning costumes by Jenny Beavan. 

It opens with young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), a precocious girl with half-black half-white hair, being nicknamed Cruella by her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham), a poor laundry woman who taught her to sew. Bullied by her classmates at the posh school she must've had a scholarship to, she constantly got into trouble when retaliating, eventually being expelled. Catherine decides small town living isn't suitable for Estella and decides to move them to London, but on the way she makes a stop at Hellman Hall to see someone.

A big gala party is going on and Estella sneaks in and has her young mind blown at all the beautiful fashions and opulence. She gets discovered and chased by a trio of Dalmatians outside. While hiding,  she sees her mother speaking to someone when the dogs race past and one dropkicks Catherine off the cliff to her death. (It's not a Disney movie unless a mother gets whacked in the first five minutes!) Estella makes her escape, but loses the necklace her mother had given her. 

Arriving in London, she meets up with a pair of Artful Dodgers, Jasper (Ziggy Gardner as a child, then Joel Fry as an adult) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald and Paul Walter Hauser), who take her on as one of theri gang of grifters, taking her  to the dilapidated townhouse they're squatting in. She dyes her distinctive hair and for the next decade they run scams and grifts with Estella developing her fashion design chops making disguises for them. 

Knowing she's capable of more, Jasper contrives a job for her at Liberty, an ultra posh department store which features the best designers wares. Unfortunately, she gets stuck doing janitorial work until one night she gets blackout drunk and wakes up in the store window after radically revamping the display. While in the process of being fired and tossed from the premises, her handiwork is appreciated by superstar fashion designer the Baroness (Thompson, playing like Meryl Streep's The Devil Wears Prada character, but meaner) who immediately hires her.

While working her way up in the Baronness's confidence with her slick designs, Estella spots Baroness wearing her mother's necklace then realizes that the latter was responsible for calling the dogs to kill her mother. She then starts devising elaborate plans to steal back the necklace and dethrone Baroness as the top fashion figure by shaking up mid-1970s London with her Vivienne Westwood-esque punk-glam-trash fashions as her alter ego Cruella. With the help of a childhood friend who works the fashion beat at a tabloid, she makes big waves, but her mania begins to test her friendship with her grifter family. 

Cruella succeeds by walking a tricky tonal tightrope - it's dark, but not too dark; it can be broadly slapstick, but not cartoonish - and it does so by committing to its ethos wholeheartedly without too much obvious trimming for current identity politics tastes. What's really remarkable is that not once does the script play the Feminism card where the leads whine about how tough it is to make it in a man's world or some Evil White Male is the actual villain. This is Grrrl Powah world where most of the men are merely adjuncts, not from some misandrist "Men BAD!" agenda, but it's not about them; it's about Cruella versus the Baroness. 

Underscoring things is a wildly anachronistic soundtrack packed with 33 songs(!) ranging from inspired to audacious (the Baroness's introduced with The Doors' "Five To One") to head-scratching (ELO's "Living Thing" backing a wild slapstick sequence?) to eye-rollingly obvious, yet perfect; specifically using the hoary Rolling Stones anthem "Sympathy For The Devil" as a closer. (Because De Vil, GET IT?) The film's music budget is already a meme. 

But what holds things together are the leads. Stone has proven adept at everything from comedy to period piece drama (three Oscar and five Golden Globe nominations with one win each for La La Land) and while her usual bright-eyed charm is subsumed here, she's still marvelously nuanced portraying Estella/Cruella's ambition, genius, grievance, and thirst for vengeance. Similarly, Thompson avoids making her Baroness a cartoon despite being a one-note creation. 

Another mention must be made of Beavan's costumes. According to a promo video I saw, she had to create 47 looks for Cruella and there have to be be at least half again as many for the Baroness, treading the line between near-parody and genuinely fashionable. 

The other reviews I've noticed seem hung up on the retconning of Cruella into a not-so-dog-murdery person or a general "Did we really need this?" kevetching over Disney's continuing creative bankruptcy, but as I noted above, despite - or perhaps because of - my almost complete lack of knowledge of the source material, I really enjoyed Cruella for what it was: A funky punky fashion frivolity with ace performances and killer duds. 

Score: 8/10. Catch it on Disney+ when it's part of the regular subscription.

"Wrath of Man" 4K Review

 Jason Staham's first two movies were directed by Guy Ritchie - 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000's Snatch - and those roles established his charismatic bullethead persona which rapidly set him towards a long career as go-to badass in the Transporter and Furry Fastness series. Their last collaboration was with 2005's Revolver, a movie so forgettably bad that all I remember thinking is that Ritchie needed to be prevented from making movies. Well, that obviously didn't happen, so it was inevitable that he and Statham would cross paths and they finally have with the dull and dour Wrath of Man

It's first act starts fairly promisingly, opening with a heist of an armored car from the perspective inside the car and radio chatter informing us that someone has shot the guards and a civilian. We then meet Statham's H - the nickname given his trainer, Bullet (Holt McCallany) - as he's hiring into the Fortico armored car company, the same outfit that got robbed in the opening. Barely passing his evaluation tests - 70% is passing and he scores 70%;  we know he's got to be sandbagging because he's Jason [freaking] Statham - he's put in the field riding with Bullet and Boy Sweat (Josh Hartnett). 

The reality of H is revealed when Bullet is taken hostage by robbers (more on this later) who order H and Boy Sweat to drive to an isolated area to exchange Bullet for the truck's money. During the transfer, H swiftly kills the six robbers (including a distractingly cast Post Malone which makes viewers stop and say, "Hey, isn't that Post Malone?"). When a later attempted heist results in the attacking gang fleeing when they realize H is in the truck, it raises questions amongst his co-workers as to who the heck this new guy is?

This is the first act and half-hour of Wrath of Man, the following 90 minutes which go into a time-jumping explanation as to who H is, why he's working at Fortico, and who is behind the opening heist which obviously has something to do with H. Due to a some unique details, you can't really discuss the plot beyond the opening with spoiling the twists. 

What can be discussed is how incredibly boring it all is. You'd think a revenge flick with super badass Statham would be crackling with energy, but Wrath of Man is a damp squib mistaking somnambulistic meandering for simmering tension.  The time-jumping storytelling makes things confusing, the mechanics of the gangs are vague, and the Big Action Finale is conducted so dully that it carries no weight. 

The  movie also constantly contradicts itself. At a crucial point, H is informed his service weapon has no bullets in it, but considering we've seen several scenes of him being handed his gun by the company armorer, how did this happen without his noticing. Another time we see him snag a co-worker's security badge from his pocket at a bar, but we never see him doing anything with it and much as been made of how the employees leave the badges in a rack next to the time clock. There's even a howler of a continuity error where a point is made about the color of a getaway car only to have the car be a different color. They couldn't get the right color car or fix the dialog in post?

Statham is wasted, exhibiting almost no action chops as he handing most of the dirty work off to minions. For a guy with a serious vendetta to settle, he's remarkably calm even as his associates question is methods. Even the cruelty shown is boring as Ritchie simply doesn't imbue anything with any urgency. Perhaps Ritchie was trying for a simmering rage vibe, but eventually that should boil over in some explosive cathartic fury, but Statham remains emotionally flat-lined throughout. 

The 4K HDR presentation is unimpressive other than perhaps giving more shadow detail in the dark chiaroscuro lighting. There is little HDR highlights to justify going above SDR HD quality.

Looking at Ritchie's filmography, you realize that he's really been coasting on Lock, Stock... and Snatch for 20 years and his decline into mediocrity and irrelevance coincides with his ill-fated marriage to likely succubus Madonna with whom he made the unintentional camp classic Swept Away and a son. While he's had commercial success with his Sherlock Holmes films and that live-action Aladdin remake(!!), I still think he should've been shut down after Revolver. His last attempt at getting back to his gangster roots, The Gentlemen, was also bland and forgettable and Wrath of Man further confirms he's simply not capable of mounting exciting crime dramas anymore. 

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Those Who Wish Me Dead" Review

 While it was a shocking decision by Warner Bros. to release their entire 2021 theatrical slate simultaneously for one month on HBO Max due to questions as to whether theaters would be open due to Hot Fad Plague 2020-21 and whether terrified people would want to leave their hermetically-sealed bunker to risk certain death at the movies (Narrator: "There has never been great risk. Sheeple are brainwashed idiots.") caused outrage amongst filmmakers who weren't consulted about their films being dumped to streaming - though Christopher Nolan should really sit this one out since he hasn't made a good movie in a decade and Tenet was his worst ever - the positive aspect has been that a whole lot of money has been saved by NOT going to the movies for disappointing movies. From Wonder Woman 1984 to The Little Things to Godzilla vs. Kong, there hasn't been a movie we've watched that at the end we've said, "That would've been worth paying money to see." 

So this week's disappointment was Those Who Wish Me Dead, the second directorial effort by formerly solid screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (writer of Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River which was his directorial debut) which also marks the return of Angelina Jolie to action movies for the first time in a decade. Unfortunately, it's all for naught no thanks to a ridiculously threadbare and coincidence-dependent screenplay. 

The plot, such as it is, opens with a pair of clearly shady guys, brothers Jack (Aiden Gillen, Littlefinger from Throne Games, still unable to pull off an American accent) and Patrick (Nicolas Hoult, Beast in X-Men: First Class, and nailing the accent), presenting themselves as gas company workers to a woman in Fort Lauderdale whose husband is in the shower. They then leave, one notes the other has blood on his shirt, and as they drive off the house explodes. 

We then go to Jacksonville where Owen (Jake Weber) is preparing his son Connor (Finn Little) for school. Conveniently he's watching the news on his laptop and see the explosion reported and we learn the husband was a district attorney. Owen is a forensic accountant, so he figures someone is coming for him to, so he decides to hit the road with his son. 

When the assassins show up, they are conveniently able to determine he saw the news, withdrew $10,000 from his bank account, and thanks to convenient photo on the wall showing Owen with uniformed sheriff's deputy Ethan (Jon Bernthal) at a Montana survival school, a good idea where he's headed. With this knowledge, they are able to take a private jet to Montana and set up an ambush on apparently the only route to this school. Owen is killed, but Connor is able to escape. This displeases their boss, Arthur (Tyler Perry in a one-scene appearance), who tells them to get the boy at all costs. So they toss some road flares into the forest, sparking a massive blaze.

 Intercut with all this is our introductions to Ethan and Hannah's (Jolie) lives. He has a six-month pregnant wife (Medina Senghore) who runs the survival school with him and Hannah is his ex-girlfriend, tormented by the demons of a tragedy the previous year in which shifting winds caused the loss of some of her team and three kids who'd somehow wandered into a roaring forest fire area to conveniently die and torment her. Now she mans a fire watch tower when not getting drunk and parachuting from the back of a speeding pickup truck. (Don't ask.)

 So the orphan boy finds the broken woman while assassins and a raging forest fire moves in. Sounds like a thrilling story, right? Well, it's not. While there are some tense moments, it all feels flat and convenient like how a lightning strike just so happens to fry the radio and satellite phone in the tower, cutting them off from the outside world. (Don't they have lightning and surge protections built into these things for this possibility?)

Jolie's Hannah is so thinly written and it's been so long since we've seen her play anything remotely like this kind of character, it's disorienting, like watching Michelle Rodriguez in a Jane Austen adaptation. Frankly, any actress could've played this role, it's that anonymously vague.  And will someone PLEASE feed her - she was already getting too thin in Wanted and Salt back in the Aughts, but she's so scrawny now that even the kid references it.) It's also weird to see an Angelina Jolie movie where the most badass woman is the pregnant lady as Senghore really gets some stellar beats while Jolie mostly gets beaten and repeatedly hit by lightning. 

I lay the blame on Sheridan and his two co-writers for their flat adaptation of the source novel of the same name. This is the second weak adaptation from him in the past two weeks, cold on the heels of his plot-holey script for Without Remorse. Considering his first three original scripts were solid and acclaimed - Hell or High Water was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar - what is his problem with adaptations where the story and characters are provided being so sub-par. 

Ignoring the bad title which has no bearing on anything in the plot that I can tell, almost everything relies on coincidence or dumb behavior. If the killers don't blow up the DA's house, it doesn't make the news and they don't lose the element of surprise. Movie over. If Owen doesn't see the news report, they find and kill him. Movie over. If he doesn't leave his laptop unsecured (the problem with Unhinged) with a preposterously convenient web history revealing he suspected they were coming they wouldn't know to find the one photo with a cop and the name of the place he'd be going. Movie over. If they didn't kill an innocent passerby then leave her car and body where the cops could find it instead of pushing it over a cliff; if the lightning hadn't burned out the tower's communications; if, if, if. 

It's hard to view as threat two guys whose elite assassin rep seems to rely on dumb luck. There's also a detail where Arthur's SUV has official government plates, but it never factors again, so why have them? And if you're wondering whether it's a good idea for a pregnant woman to be riding a horse, even allowing for the noise factor precluding a motorized conveyance, you're not alone.

Everyone involved with Those Who Wish Me Dead have done much better work in the past, so it's baffling this project amounts to a middling disappointment. The forest fire VFX are mostly fairly convincing, but it's not a disaster movie or a disaster of a movie; it's just lost in the woods.

Score: 5/10. 

"The Marksman" Review

 After Liam Neeson's weird career transformation into an action star for the AARP set with 2008's Taken and its lackluster sequels in his mid-50s, he cranked out variations on his grumpy old guy forced to do extreme violence shtick to varying degrees of quality and success. So it is easy to presume The Marksman, which came and went without notice in whatever theaters were open during Hot Fad Plague 2020-21 in early-2021 was more of the same. It's not really, but its rote plot and disappointing ending don't make it unique. 

Neeson plays Jim Hanson, a failing rancher whose land runs right along the Arizona-Mexico border. He's a recent widower whose wife's cancer treatment bills put him in arrears with the bank and they're about to auction his land. Illegal aliens are constantly trespassing and he reports them to the Border Patrol where his stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick) is an officer. 

One day he encounters a frightened mother, Rosa (Teresa Ruiz), with her son Miguel (Joe Perez) just past the fence. She's on the run from cartel thugs led by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba) who have killed her brother after he warned her to flee with a bag of cash she had. Mauricio demands Jim return the pair to their side of the fence and when Jim refuses, a gunfight breaks out, killing Mauricio's brother and mortally wounding Rosa. She begs Jim to take Miguel to family in Chicago, slipping him an address.

 The Border Patrol comes and mops things up and Jim thinks it's the end of things, but learns that Miguel won't be going to a foster care center, but deported back to Mexico. Knowing that would be certain death, he sneaks the kid out of the station and hits the road toward Chicago, not knowing that Mauricio and his gang are in hot pursuit. 

While The Marksman is blessed with some gorgeous cinematography and a decent performance from Neeson, it never rises above its leisurely pace and formulaic story. The only real tension comes from guessing which stock trope each plot juncture will choose. There are also too many convenient coincidences which aid the cartel forces pursuit; always a corrupt cop to assist them; having a stash house with a hacker able to track Jim's credit card usage (which he keeps using despite having the bag of cash); leaving a trail of bodies in their wake that never factor in subsequent events. Raba lacks serious menace in his performance despite the dirty deeds he does; he's not scary enough. 

Director/co-writer Robert Lorenz has produced a bunch of Clint Eastwood's movies which explains the clip from on old Eastwood movie that's shown and the feeling that The Marksman is something Clint may've starred in 20 years ago. But by keeping the story safe and tame enough to not frighten the early dinner special audience for Clint movies, it prevents it from having any memorable qualities. 

While I was initially inclined to give the movie a middling 5/10 catch it on cable, it's ending was so egregiously dissatisfying I knocked two points off and demoted it to Skip It. Hollyweird has become insanely stuck on the idea that people go to the movies to be made sad. This was called out about the 2021 Oscar nominees and it has infected what's sold as mass market entertainment. Who wants to schlep to a theater, pay $10 per ticket, gawd knows how much for concessions, then spend two hours watching a movie to end up bummed out. 

I'm not saying every movie must end with happily ever after, would it kill Hollywood to understand that after getting burned repeatedly, the paying customers are simply not going to give them money. It's basic self-preservation and they don't want to do it. 

Score: 3/10. Skip it.  

"Without Remorse" 4K Review

 While I was a fan of Tom Clancy's earliest works - I've read The Hunt For Red October, Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and about half of Clear and Present Danger before dropping off because I simply stopped having time to read as adulting took free time away - I've had more contact with his works through various videogame series like The Division, Ghost Recon, and Rainbow Six than the books themselves. 

While I've seen all the movies based on his Jack Ryan novels, I'm totally unfamiliar with the John Kelly/Clark character upon which the new Amazon Original (they picked up the Paramount production after its theatrical release was nuked by Hot Fad Plague 2020-21) feature Without Remorse is built. Apparently, Clark is second only to Ryan in prominence in Clancy's oeuvre, but I know zero about him or the source novel. As such, while I've seen reviews mentioning the movie pretty much discards the plot of the book - a quick glance at Wikipedia confirms that as the novel is set during the Vietnam war - I can only judge the movie on its own terms, not as an adaptation.

 Opening in Allepo, Syria, we meet Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) and his squad as they are on a mission to rescue a CIA operative being held by ISIS. However, once they get their man, they realize that he was being held by Russian military, leading to a massive firefight and casualties as they escape. Kelly suspects the CIA spook in charge, Ritter (Jamie Bell), of running them into a trap. 

Things escalate a few months later when other members of the squad are assassinated in nearly simultaneously executed strikes around the country with a quartet of gunmen hitting his home and in the process killing his pregnant wife and unborn daughter. While he managed to kill most of the attackers, one was able to escape after surviving an exchange of gunfire that leaves Kelly badly wounded. 

When he recovers, he's told that while a Russian attack on US soil is provocative, his superiors don't intend to pursue the final shooter because it would cause an even greater escalation. Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Kelly as he takes matters into his own hands to avenge his losses and get to the truth. This leads to some showstopping actions that put him firmly on the wrong side of the law, though he does gets put on a mission to Russia to recapture the final shooter knowing that upon his return, he'll be back in prison. 

I've always been a fan of revenge films where a righteously aggrieved man just murders his way through a bunch of people to get to the One Responsible. Movies like Man on Fire and the first John Wick (before the series became more about Wick versus the world of assassins) are a blast and, for the most part, so is Without Remorse though the final denouement is a little anti-climatic to what comes before.

It's more of a throwback to the old school Cold War thrillers that Clancy made his bones with where the Ruskies were the bad guys, though that's the case now solely because they're the only country that's politically correct to have bad guys from these days. The film's action sequences are gritty and high stakes even when you're wondering just how the enemies managed to have all the angles covered. 

 The performances of Jordan and the cast are solid, though the "Are they traitors or now?" aspects of Taylor Sheridan (writer of Sicario, Wind River, and Hell and High Water) and Will Staples' script somewhat constrain them. Jordan is a Big Movie Star for a reason. 

On the technical side, Amazon's HDR10 presentation is very good with some stellar moments of HDR with bullet flashes and highlights looking punchy. Dark levels were also good, which is important when you have black actors in black clothes in near darkness and still want to see things, but a few instances of blobby blocky areas in near-black scenes were noted. Amazon has been bad about overcompressing video and causing banding in the past (Green Room was frequently cited by home theater aficionados as a painful example), but for the most part things are OK here. (Viewed on an LG OLED's native Prime Video app on a plenty fast connection.)

While it may not be a faithful adaptation of its source, Without Remorse does a respectable job delivering a good spy caper revenge thriller with solid action and acting. A mid-credits scene teases a Rainbow Six sequel and if it's as good as this, I'm interested.

Score: 6.5/10. Catch it on Amazon Prime.

"Songbird" Review

 It has only been 13-1/2 months since the world committed mass hysteria figurative suicide over Hot Fad Plague 2020-21 and we've already got two completely mediocre movies cranked out to capitalize on the situation. Back in January brought the lackluster HBO Max mess Locked Down which starred Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a couple stuck in quarantine as their relationship unravels, but find shared purpose in pulling a jewelry heist. 

But before that by a month on VOD was Songbird starring KJ Apa (Archie on Riverdale) which is now on Hulu and my girlfriend bullied me into watching. Not saying I'm downloading Tindr after this, but...

 Set in a near-future Los Angeles which has been laid waste to by Covid-23, Apa stars as Nico, a bike messenger whose natural immunity to the far-more-deadly mutation allows him to traverse the deserted streets delivering packages to people who have UV sterilizing airlocks that don't seem very practical if you need a larger box brought in. Unlike the current coronavirus which as a 99.8% survival rate (unless you're very old, obese, or sick), this is a nastier bug which has killed millions and forced people into Q-Zones where they either prove immune or die. 

Nico works for Lester (Craig Robinson) and some of the work involves contraband immunity bracelets being dealt by a wealthy couple, William (Bradley Whitford) and Piper (Demi Moore), which allows passage outside. (While the bands are supposed to indicate who's immune, what good do they do for those who are vulnerable beyond letting them outside? Don't know.) Nico has a sweetheart named Sara (Sofia Carson) whom he does Facetime calls with, but it's unclear whether they've actually ever met face to face.

Also in a virtual relationship is Michael (Paul Walter Hauser), who flies surveillance drones for Lester, and is a fan of a singer, May (Alexandra Daddario), who does cover requests on a YouTube substitute and also canoodles with William. (Is she the titular songbird though she is only shown singing once, poorly, and doesn't connect to Nico and Sara at all? Don't know.) How convenient is it that everyone in this small cast is interconnected and seems to represent the entire surviving population of LA?

The stakes rise when Sara's grandmother becomes ill (considering they never go out, how? Don't know, same as with our current virus. meaning the Department of Sanitation, the government outfit charged with collecting the dead and infected for transport to the Q-Zone, will be coming for them soon unless Nico can somehow procure a bracelet to rescue her. Naturally, the corrupt DoS official, Harland (Peter Stormare), is connected to everyone else, which would seem to ease the process except he's evil on top of corrupt because of course he is because movie. 

Even before looking up how it was filmed when the pandemic was raging - it was the first Hollywood production to happen after the world shut down and operated under extreme precautions - you can tell something is odd because it relies mostly on people talking over screens and there is never more than two or three people in a scene. LA is a barren as Will Smith's Manhattan in I Am Legend except for the glimpses of the Q-Zones populated by CGI people. 

You never really get to the point of caring for the characters because they are just outlines, though I must say there's slightly more meat on their bones than the stick figures in Stowaway. The production feels cheap and slapdash - the prominently touted producer Michael Bay reportedly shot the action sequences - and it's not a surprise that only a few months transpired between coming up with the idea and shooting as it very much feels like a first draft. 

Just as Hollyweird cranked out one terrible anti-war movie after another in the Aughts, we are 0-for-2 in pandemic cash-ins. Part of the problem is while rushing these movies out means zero time for getting scripts prepared beyond spell-checking, the greater dramatic challenge is that despite a very successful effort by the biased and corrupt media to terrify scientifically ignorant Karens into believing Wuhan virus is Captain Trips (the germ warfare bug that escaped in The Stand, killing 99.4% of the world's population) and thus sacrifice their entire way of life, it's actually not a threat as mentioned above. 

So trying to make a horror/sci-fi flick about a deadly bug patterned after one that is almost completely a media hype creation requires too much suspension of disbelief. Unless you're a Karen who has bought into the #Scamdemic, then Songbird will join Bird Box in your rotation of fear-reinforcing entertainment.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

2021 Oscars Best Picture Nominee Review Compiliation

 Tonight is the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony and it will be the first one in my life that I can recall that I will not be watching live.

2020 was The Year Without Movies and thus the Academy decided to just go woke and left-of-dial with small mediocre movies that were big at Sundance and no one saw. Every one of them is a downer experience, even when they imagine they have happy endings.

I am DVRing the show and will skip through it since it will likely consist of nothing but extremely wealthy people circle-jerking their socialist pretensions, declaring half of the potential audience to be deplorable rubes occupying an irredeemably racist and evil country, before handing each other trophies for movies that no one saw, including the voting members. 

Below are his reviews for the ones I saw in time - Judas and the Black Messiah will be added later - ranked in order of quality:

"Stowaway" Review

 What is with Hollywood's aversion to happy endings? As Bill Maher recently ranted about how the all the 2021 Oscar Best Picture nominees are depressing (I've seen seven of the eight contenders and, yeah, pretty much), movies nowadays seem militantly unwilling to have the audience feel good at the end of the time spent watching them, which raises the question: Why bother?

 The latest offender is Stowaway, a Netflix Original which has a provocative concept, good performances, and a remarkably accurate verisimilitude in portraying space travel, only to squander it with some of the thinnest characterization I've seen in a movie (and that includes Godzilla vs. Kong) and a bummer of an ending.

The movie opens with the launch of the Kingfisher on its way to Mars with its three-person crew: Ship commander Marina (Toni Collette), doctor Zoe (Anna Kendrick), and biologist David (Daniel Dae Kim). While setting things up to conduct research during their journey, Marina spots drops of blood on the deck. Opening an overhead panel, out tumbles an unconscious man, Michael (Shamier Anderson), who breaks her forearm as she tries to break his fall.

After being stitched up and coming to, the crew learn that he was a launch pad engineer working on the ship and he had no intention on hitching a ride to Mars for two years. Unfortunately, his fall from the panel triggered the destruction of the ship's only CO2 scrubber (more on this later) meaning the crew will not have enough breathable air to survive the trip. Perhaps three people could make it, but not four. Uh-oh.

Thus we're presented with the classic Trolley Problem, the ethical thought experiment where a trolley is bearing down on five people tied to the tracks. There is a switch mechanism that would divert it to a siding, but there's a person standing there. Do you sacrifice the one to save the five?

While the crew initially conceals the gravity of their predicament from Michael, who seems a decent enough fellow and has tried to pitch in with the work on the ship, eventually one begins to encourage him to kill himself while another believes there has to be a way to MacGyver a solution. 

It's a thorny problem, but its ultimate resolution is unsatisfying due to Hollywood's current belief that "grim = good" (and I say this as someone who's noted that "All great movies end up with everyone being either dead or miserable.") and choosing to spend almost zero time making any of the characters people. It's a testament to the actors that they were able to make it seem like they were human beings we should care about, but here is literally every detail we learn about everyone is the movie:

  • This is Marina's third and final mission to Mars.
  • Zoe only applied to the program because she thought it'd be funny to be rejected.
  • Zoe used part of her limited personal effects weight allocation to bring Yale coffee mugs to troll Harvard grad David.
  • David is married and will miss his wife for two years.
  • Michael has a younger sister he worries about and he was burned in a fire as a child.

That's it. We're supposed to worry about their fates simply because we're supposed to worry about their fates. The nearly two-hour runtime has plenty of time for minutiae, but not characterization?  And that's before we have to deal with the huge logical gaps we need to leap in order to even accept the premise beginning with how the actual heck does a worker get sealed into a panel of an interplanetary spaceship without anyone noticing when it's not even where he describes he was working?!?

The secondary challenge, the destroyed CO2 scrubber, is also a deal-breaker because there is no way in hell such a vital life support system component wouldn't have a backup and then a backup for that backup. (Even the Apollo 13 mission, which had a catastrophic explosion on its way to the Moon, was able to to find a way to keep the astronauts alive even though filters were the wrong shape, using duct tape and ingenuity.) When a desperate attempt to get oxygen is made, its result requires the audience to accept that something we saw done before suddenly wasn't.

It's a shame that Stowaway falters so badly on the story and character side because the technical aspects are spot on. The ship looks like a real spaceship, not a movie spaceship like the one in Life, and the science depicted, like the artificial gravity generated by centrifugal spinning of the ship with a booster rocket counterweight, is accurate and there are some, pardon the pun, sequences which will have you holding your breath.

Score: 5/10. Skip it. 

"The Father" Review

 The sales pitch for The Father isn't very appetizing: An old man suffers from dementia as his daughter struggles to cope. Very familiar and you can pretty much imagine how it's going to play out and that's why I shoved this down the list of Best Picture nominees. Sure, Anthony Hopkins (who is nominated for Best Actor) and Olivia Colman (Best Supporting Actress) will be excellent, but haven't we seen this story before?

Perhaps, but not like this, and that's why The Father transcends the tired tropes of its tale. 

Opening with a frustrated Anne (Colman) rushing home to deal with her father Anthony (Hopkins) after he's driven yet another caregiver away with his belligerent behavior, accusing her of stealing his watch when it was in the same place he always leaves it. (He later finds it and puts it on and when called on it not being missing after all, he says it's because he hid it so no one could find it.) 

Anne is clearly at the end of her rope and is trying to get her father to stop being mean to the aides or he'll have to go to a nursing home because she's leaving London to move to Paris with her new man. "But they don't even speak English there," Anthony protests. He is convinced that she's still with her ex-husband and wonders why his other daughter, Lucy, doesn't visit him and Anne's expression tells us why.

Things get weird when Anthony hears a sound while making tea in his kitchen. Investigating, he is surprised to find a man in his sitting room who claims he lives there. Anne comes home and her hair is different - is this a flashback or forward? After tamping that moment down, Anne finally finds a care aide, Laura (Imogen Poots), who seems able to manage the father's quirks and he remarks on how similar she looks to his daughter Lucy, who doesn't visit him anymore. 

Then there is a scene where yet another man, Paul (Rufus Sewell), is in the apartment, claiming the flat is actually his and Anne's place and Anthony has been living with them and his deteriorating condition is interfering with their lives. The kitchen which we had seen previously now has a decidedly modern decor. 

It was at this point where I began to wonder what the actual heck was going on here? Was Anne gaslighting her father? Were we getting a jumbled timeline? Then it clicked: French playwright Florian Zeller (making his directorial debut directing a script adapted from his play with Christopher Hampton, who wrote the play and film versions of Dangerous Liaisons) is putting the viewer into Anthony's crumbling mental state. We don't know what is happening or what is real because Anthony doesn't know. 

This is the secret sauce that elevates The Father. We've seen countless versions of the senile old person wandering the street in their pajamas or mistaking and forgetting people, but it's always been an external experience, watching them deteriorate and other react. By putting us into Anthony's fractured grasp on his world and memories, we can empathize with his decline because our frustration trying to figure out what's going on mirrors his. 

Hopkins is stellar here. It may seem obvious, but with some exceptions like The Two Popes it's felt at times he's been coasting on his Greatest Actor reputation for a while. But he's in magnificent form and would likely take home his second Oscar, but it's a tough year with some competition from nominees who would benefit from Hollyweird's woke virtue signalling needs. Colman, who won Best Actress for The Favourite a couple of years ago, is also excellent. 

While The Father is yet another feels bad movie in a year where every Oscar-nominated movie seems to be a downer, at least it delivers a fresh spin on a stock story powered by exceptional performances. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. 

SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING: If you've every had trouble keeping actresses Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams separated in your head, this movie isn't going to help. The detail about the hair I mentioned above? I didn't realize a switcheroo had occurred until reading a synopsis afterwards and when they both appear on screen together, I thought some Orphan Black trickery was involved.

"Minari" Review

 With the Oscars three nights away (and holding zero appeal to me for the first time in my life), it's time to get through the nominees and up next is Minari, one of the two titles I had absolutely never even heard of when the nominations were announced; that's how bad this year's nominations are. 

Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay and Score, it is the story of Korean immigrants who move to rural Arkansas in the early-1980s to start a farm. Father Jacob (Steven Yuen, best known as Glenn from The Walking Dead), mother Monica (Yeri Han), older daughter Anne (Noel Cho), and younger son David (Alan Kim) have moved from California to fulfill Jacob's dream of farming, moving into a ramshackle double-wide trailer on land. To earn a living, the parents work at a local chicken hatchery sexing chickens, which means they sort them by sex (with the males being incinerated, it is implied; so much for male privilege), not whatever weird kinky thing you were imagining.

Monica is clearly unhappy with the move, but Jacob is resolute (read: stubborn) about his dream of growing vegetables to sell to the Korean community in Dallas. He buys a used tractor from Paul (Will Patton), a very religious fellow who spends his Sundays walking the roads toting a huge crucifix on his shoulder and he offers to help on the farm. 

To help care for the children, especially David who has a hole in his heart, they bring over Monica's mother  Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn), a feisty old woman to whom David takes a disliking because she's not like grandmas are supposed to be, not making cookies or coddling the kids. But she gradually wins him over by not cocooning him because of his condition like his mother does. 

The story meanders along from one crisis to the next; the well Jacob digs himself instead of having a water diviner do it run dry, the client he had a deal to sell his crops to reneges at the last moment, and various other incidents stress his marriage to the breaking point. Just as it appears things are finally turning around, something devastating happens which should scotch the entire endeavor, but the movie abruptly ends on an odd note as if the last reel got lopped off, denying the viewer a sense of closure.

Minari is one of those Sundance hits which never would've caught much of a mass audience or acclaim in a normal year, not because it's particularly bad, but because it's simply too small. But in the Year Without Movies where the Academy was indulging its virtue signaling urges, it has been thrust forth and thus gets judged more harshly because it's supposed to be a Best Picture. 

However, it's odd that the Academy would favor it because it lacks many of the woke points that generally animate their picks. When you heard the logline - Korean family moves to Arkansas - didn't you subconsciously fill in "...and they experience racism and hatred from the toothless yokel hillbillies"? Astonishingly, nothing of the sort occurs. They are warmly welcomed by the community and the church they attend. Other than one insensitive question from a young boy to David asking why his face is so flat, their ethnicity barely factors and the kid follows up by asking David if he wants to play; the question was just a kid asking a question without manners, not with malice. 

Even the film's treatment of religion is a departure from the usual "look at those snake-handling Sky Man believers" treatment Christians usually receive. Jacob isn't as religious as Monica and he's put off by Paul's speaking in tongues and casting out of demons, but Paul isn't made the butt of jokes outside of some of the Christian kids flipping him off in an ironic moment. 

My problem with Minari is that it fills nearly two hours with lots of specific details about their lives and events, but omits some rather major backstory details which would've explained why this farm is so important to Jacob. He says he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life looking at chicken butts, but why a farm. The couple emigrated from South Korea, presumably in the late-1960s, but why come to America? There's no mention of their educations or career aspirations; it lacks the "he was a doctor in his old life, but now has to drive a cab in America" angle. We know what Jacob wants to do, but not why. This extends to Paul - he has an affinity for Korean food from serving there in the war, but his odd behavior is never really explicated.

The performances are good with the breakthrough being Yuen, who most people remember last getting his head gruesomely bashed in with a baseball bat on The Walking Dead. Jacob is a quiet man who clearly prioritizes this farm over his family, which makes the lack of understanding why it's so important a bad oversight of the nominated screenplay. (This is a common trait in most of the nominees this year.) However, I wonder if part his nomination is because his fellow actors were surprised Glenn from TWD learned to speak such fluent Korean? The problem with that would be it's because he IS Korean, born in Seoul, living there until he was five when his family moved to Canuckia then suburban Detroit and his family spoke it at home.

Youn is a pip as the salty grandmother to the children, the kind of crown-pleasing performance that usually snags Supporting nominations, though it's distracting how much older she seems than the couple. (She was around 72 when this was filmed; Yuen and Han were mid-30s.) 

Writer-director Lee Issac Chung based Minari on his own childhood and while he makes some beautiful images, it's just too small and personal to allow outsiders in. Anyone wanting an edgy Korean story like last year's Best Picture, Parasite, will be disappointed. While it's not boring, it's slow-going and may lead some to wonder when the story is going to start. At the end, they may wonder, "That's it?" 

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Zappa" Review

 I'm a fairly casual Frank Zappa fan. While I've got well more than the "Valley Girl" single in my collection, I'm far from a completionist. I've never listened to a Mothers of Invention album, his guitar stuff was too aimless noodly for my taste - when I saw him in Feb. 1988 on what would be his last tour, I thought it could've used a half-hour less guitar soloing - and his avante weird "classical" stuff was just too out there. I liked the funny songs on Apostrophe, Sheik Yerbouti, You Are What You Is, and my favorite album, Tinseltown Rebellion. (Want me to sing you all of "Brown Shoes Don't Make It"? I can do it!)

 So it was with some interest that I approached Alex Winter's (yes, Bill S. Preston Esq.) deep dive documentary, Zappa. The main selling point is that it is comprised heavily of previously unseen footage from Zappa's massive archives beginning with his odd childhood growing up in a home with gas masks due to his father's work to the oddly-late beginnings of his musical career. 

The film really leans into his early days with the Mothers of Invention and how he was a strict taskmaster to his musicians, sometimes seemingly to the point of cruelty or at least aloofness. (To be fair, his single-minded focus led to his not having many personal friends, so he wasn't just mean to the help.) Veterans of his bands interviewed include percussionist Ruth Underwood and uber guitarist Steve Vai and Mike Keneally as well as footage with his widow Gail Zappa, who passed herself in 2015.

 While Zappa is most known for his rock music and goofy songs, it's clear his true passion was classical composition taking inspiration from avante garde composer Edgard Varèse who made "ugly music." Zappa didn't care for the usual classics like Beethoven and set out to make his own difficult music. (Frankly - no pun intended - "modern classical" is an oxymoron; abrasive, unpleasant, soulless noise which sounds like it was written in Excel to make dogs howl on the other side of the planet.) In one clip he admits he just wants to get recordings of his works to take home and listen to, but the economic realities of executing such complex music in a symphonic realm generally precluded proper productions. It seems he funded his classical ambitions with the rock stuff.

With such a heavy emphasis on his early years and then his late-1980s political activities for freedom of expression and race to finish as much classical work as he can after his prostate cancer diagnosis - which ultimately claimed his life a few weeks before his 53rd birthday in December 1993 - something has to get short shrift and unfortunately that is some of his most popular works released in the late-1970s/early-1980s; the stuff I mentioned previously that I like. It only seems to touch on "Valley Girl" because of the backstory of its creation (a lonely Moon Zappa left a note on his studio door introducing herself) and that he had no idea it was a hit because it was on tour.

If you're looking for a primer on this iconoclastic musician, Zappa is ill-suited to the task. If you're a casual fan, it's a bit of a coin toss whether much of this will interest you. But if you're a Zappa superfan, then this is a must see dive into the vaults.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on Hulu.) 

"Mank" 4K Review

 The slog through the Oscar nominations continues with Mank, David Fincher's biopic about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the co-writer of Citizen Kane with Orson Welles (though that is a point of contention in the film). And quite the slog it was. 

Working from a script written in the 1990s by his late father Jack Fincher, Mank is the story of the writing of Citizen Kane intercut with flashbacks to Mank's (played with boozy charm by Gary Oldman) times in 1930s Hollywood, specifically his interactions with studio bosses Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), and publishing tycoon William Randolph (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), who were barely disguised as the Kane and Susan Alexander characters. 

Recovering from an auto accident, Mank dictates his script to his secretary, Rita (Lily Collins), and fends off the people wondering where the script is (after starting very slowly, he ultimately hammers out on time) and then trying to dissuade him from actually allowing Welles to make it since it will anger the powerful Hearst who will damage it's prospects. (The latter was prescient because while Kane would go on to top Best Movie Ever lists forever, it was skunked in 8 of 9 nominations, only winning for its screenplay.)

Up for a field-leading 10 Academy Awards nominations (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Score, Sound, Hair & Makeup, but NOT its screenplay), Mank should have been an easy layup to enjoy. I like Fincher's movies - I've seen all but Zodiac (just haven't gotten around to it) and his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake (didn't care for the original) - I like Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, I like movies about the movies and so forth, but watching Mank was a chore. It took me three different sessions over a few weeks to get through it's two-hours-and-change length and I watched Zach Snyder's Justice League, which is twice the length, in an evening, albeit with a dinner break midway. I was so unenthused about finishing, I found myself scraping YouTube for a 1997 Sleater-Kinney at CBGB's concert and watched the Racoon Whisperer's barn being torn down before forcing myself to get it over with with Mank.

 I simply could not bring myself to care about anything or anyone in this movie. It wasn't the usual case where the characters are so unlikeable that you start actively rooting for their downfall, but that the hopscotch story structure - clearly meant to ape Kane's manner of contrasting Joseph Cotten's newsman trying to divine the meaning of Rosebud with flashbacks to Kane's life - just never seemed to be heading toward a point and ultimately it never does. 

Much time is spent on the 1934 California gubernatorial race between the socialist Upton Sinclair and the Republican favored by Hearst. All well and good, but who freaking cares in 2020? There are a few lines which could be read as slaps at a recently deposed orange fellow who had a brief stint as a politician, but those could be coincidental. As I was muddling through, disliking the script, I looked up the Oscar nom list and when I saw that the one thing it wasn't nominated for was the screenplay, it showed that as much as the Academy loves to acknowledge movies about Hollywood, especially artily done productions like this, there are limits to charity. I've seen grumbles about its inaccuracy and bias against Welles, but being boring is a greater sin than being inaccurate here.

Mank is little more than a besotted quip machine making bad gambles and undercutting whatever brilliant talent he possessed with some bad people skills (and I saw this as someone prone to poor people skilling). Oldman manages to make it seem more substantive than the script provides, but even a rounded out cartoon is a cartoon. But Gary Oldman being good is a rather low bar to clear.

Seyfried comes out very well here, making Davies a self-aware gold digger/kept woman who connects with Mank on a level that initially implies some sort of relationship could occur, as if the mistress of Hearst could get away with it. Seyfried has been trying to turn the corner from her early roles as a pneumatic ingenue in movies like Mean Girls, Boogie Woogie, and Veronica Mars, attempting to bump up into Serious Actress terrain with her 2013 biopic of Linda Lovelace and its requisite nudity (as Anne Hathaway joked in her disastrous Oscar hosting stint about Love and Other Drugs, "I showed by breasts, aren't I supposed to get an Oscar nomination?"), but this will hopefuly do the job similar to how her Mean Girls co-star Rachel McAdams has in dramas like Spotlight and the woeful second season of True Detective, also shedding her rom-com phase which she, to be blunt, was aging out.

 Another problem is the nominated cinematography; it's simply wrong for the story and the period. While Zach Snyder's Justice League bizarrely chose to use the 4:3 square aspect ratio (supposedly to fill IMAX screens when 99.9999999% of people seeing it would be on widescreen TVs), Mank is 2.20:1 widescreen black & white using custom-built monochrome RED Cinema cameras (which caused headaches for the visual effects because the usual blue or green screen backgrounds wouldn't work) despite being set 14-23 years before the first widescreen film, The Robe

Fincher has shot digitally since 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and is known for his short-lighting style (where the light comes predominantly from behind the actors, making faces the darkest areas) and a flat contrast, but it results in a very dim and murky image. I have an OLED TV which shines (pardon the pun) in low light content like sci-fi/horror films like Alien or Prometheus and the Dolby Vision image was just blah. Vintage B&W has a silvery luster and Kane's look (shot by Gregory Toland) was groundbreaking, so why didn't they try to mimic that look? Also, why the heck are there "cigarette burns" in the corner of the frame (to indicate the end of the reel as explained in Fight Club) when it's shot digitally and no movies go to video with that damage? You can't try to pretend you're making an old analog movie when you're widescreen and digital.

 Despite its pedigree and subject matter, Mank was a wank; a passion project of Fincher's to film his father's script which really didn't deserve to be made as it's simply too thin and irrelevant despite the legendary movie it's trying to tell the story of making. This may be the worst movie Fincher has made and I'm including Alien 3 in that accounting because even with the infamous meddling of the studio and fraught production which has led him to entire disown the film, it at least attempted to be interesting and about something.

Score: 3/10. Skip it. 

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