Poison in the Well (Dark Waters, 2019)

Dark_Waters_PosterFrankly, companies do not care about you. Amazon does not care about you.  And chemical companies really do not care about you.  And Dark Waters is about the fight to not just expose this to the world, but to hold polluters accountable for the destruction they have caused.

Dark Water is a legal drama that somehow manages to pace itself like some sort of action movie. It does not spend a lot of time establishing Ruffalo’s Rob Bilot. He is a lawyer and has a family, and quickly he finds a farmer, Wilbur Tennant, in his office demanding his help. Wilbur is certain that Dupont chemicals have been destroying the earth and cattle of his farm.

Hesitant at first Bilot does a little research…it does not take long for him to suspect Tennant is on to something. His firm is unsure at first, as they normally defend companies like Dupont.  But as time passes and information comes in that seems more damning, top people in the firm start to share Bilot’s conviction.

One of the most effective aspects of this film is how they sell the paranoia and demoralizing nature that can be part of challenging the status quo. In one scene, a man Bilot believes he could trust tells him he is sending all their research.  It is so many boxes, as they pull away it feels defeating.  It is clear they were inundating Bilot with so much they hoped he would give up or never be able to process it all and therefore miss something.

Dark Waters spans over a decade, and sometimes the time jumps greatly between scenes.  This method of transition lulls the viewer a bit as you kind of expect maybe jumping a couple years here and there…and then around 2006, the screen stays dark as the title card jumps year by year.

Mark Ruffalo gives a great performance and you see the years of not getting justice take their toll, the fear that he and his family are in danger.

Dark Waters got kind of overlooked last year, but it is worth locating and watching.

 

Hot News (Bombshell, 2019)

Bombshell_PosterBombshell is the dramatic recounting of the harassment scandal surrounding Fox News top guy Roger Ailes in 2016. Focusing on a wide eyed new Fox News employee Kayla Pospisil. An ambitious Conservative Christian, she finds her reality challenged as she starts to rise through the ranks, eventually becoming a victim of Ailes.

Robbie’s Popsisil is a composite character invented for the film. Robbie manages to be sympathetic in spite of her aspirations. Theron and Kidman do a good job disappearing into their famous roles, as does Lithgow.

The real MVP of Bombshell is the make-up, which made many actors near unrecognizable.

This being your standard “inspired by a True Story” fare, there is a lot of embellishment (outside of actual Fox News personalities, the central people Kayla interacts with the most are fictional, including Kate McKinnon’s Jess Carr).

The story playing out is pretty engaging, but the film seems unsure of what it wants to be. Is it a drama that indicts a sick corporate culture? Is it a satire of a sick corporate culture? Is it just the facts?

The main story is bookended by two very different set pieces.  It opens with Megyn Kelly (Theron) giving us a tour of the Fox News offices. It closes with a Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) speech about sexual harassment in the work place.

Bombshell is largely well made, bolstered by excellent make up and good performances.  But it’s lack of focus on what type of film it is trying to be definitely is a detriment.

The Saga’s Endgame (Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker, 2019)

Star_Wars_Rise_of_Skywalker_PosterAll things must end they say. It seems like May 4th is the appropriate day for me to put out my review of the final film in the “Skywalker Saga”. While I saw the film twice in theaters, December and January passed before I started playing catch up…and then I decided to wait for the 4K release of the film so I could get one more watch. And I finally committed to a third watch.

The film opens with a quick update crawl telling us the Emperor is back. And the story picks up with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren trying to locate the Emperor so he can defeat him.  But quickly, we learn the Emperor has plans and wants Kylo to help, in exchange for an army that the Emperor and his Sith Cultists have been building for thirty years.

We then get reintroduced to Finn, Chewie and Poe, who are gathering data from someone who reveals there is a spy within the First Order.  Rey is busy training to be a Jedi under the watchful eye of General Leia Organa. Once they find out the Emperor is definitely back, they determine they must take the fight to the Emperor, but the problem is that Exogol, the home planet of the Sith, is not on any map.  They need a special Sith device that will lead them to the planet.  So Ray, Finn, Poe and Chewie go off on a series of adventures.

So, the core question, if you are reading this, I suspect is “Did I Like It?”

I…guess? I mean, I did not hate it? But I did not love it?

Some Spoilers ahead…

It was great to see the characters return. It was nice to finally see Lando back.  I like the way they used Hux in this film.  I feel like John Williams did a solid job with the soundtrack.  The action sequences were great.  I was not super bothered by the return of the Emperor, since the old Extended Universe used the idea that the Emperor had been using cloning technology to extend his life.  I also am never bothered by “new” Jedi powers being revealed in the films.  The power to move objects was introduced in Empire, as were actual Force ghosts.  And the powers exhibited in this film really build on stuff we have already seen.

Babu Frick is awesome.

At the same time?

A large chunk of the film feels like course correction. It feels like J.J. Abrams and writer Chris Terrio are trying to respect that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi Happened, but also trying too soft reboot. When Kylo Ren told Rey her parents were nobodies, he was not lying…he did not know the dark truth that her father was the clone son of Emperor Palpatine. And they were really good people trying to protect her from the Emperor. It is weird to think that Rey has had almost no interaction with Poe, but somehow they are besties in this film.

We have heard about the Knights of Ren for several years now and we meet them in this film.  Kind of.  I have no idea if they have names, but the movie shows them walking around.  We have a Storm Trooper say they are scary.  That is pretty much it. There is one fight with them towards the end and they are quickly dispatched. Otherwise we just see them walk around.

The way they tried to retro fit previously unused Carrie Fisher footage in the film never feels organic.  At no point does it feel like anyone is interacting with her. Which leads me to this frustration… Abrams and Terrio sidelined Rose Tico in the saddest way possible.  They make her a sidekick to a digital restoration of Carrie Fisher.  Why was she not part of the action on the Millenium Falcon in the early part of the film? Why was THIS guy there instead???

klaud

The film has multiple points where it raises the stakes dramatically, only to reveal that there was nothing to worry about.  Major story impacting incidents are reversed so that we lose nothing as fans. There is not anything that engages our emotions for the story. And that is where I lean towards feeling disappointed with how the Skywalker Saga comes to a close.  It is fun, but not as satisfying as I had hoped it might be. It has some good ideas, such as Storm Troopers who rebelled against the First Order. But then instead of the obvious plot point of Finn having inspired Storm Troopers to refuse their orders, it is just never something that is connected.

So… I did not hate the film. There is stuff I really enjoy and stuff that annoys me.  It kind of evens itself out.

Did Not Plan That

I was not intentionally meaning to fo the entire month of April without a single post. I apologized for that.  I am still playing catch up on films that I missed before the theaters all closed.

As someone whose job already allowed me to work from home, I still have the schedule I have always had, so the lock down has not resulted in actual additional free time to devote to my creative endeavors.

But I am going to be getting more stuff up this month, starting Monday.

Uncut Tension (Uncut Gems, 2019)

Uncut_Gems_PosterAdam Sandler plays Howard, a man with a once thriving business as a jeweler whose gambling addiction has brought his life to a stressful ruin.  When he acquires a gem worth millions, that he plans to auction off, life spirals even farther out of control as his debtors close in.

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a film that is unrelenting in its desperation. It feels almost like a constant build up that never gives any release during its run time.  It never paints Howard as anything but a tragic fool, a slave to his greed and gambling addictions.

Sandler gives what is easily his strongest and most intense performance of all time.  Did you forget that Sandler can act? The Safdie Brothers did not and Sandler’s performance is one of the best performances of last year. The man was cheated by the Oscars.

Uncut Gems is not an easy watch, but it is rewarding and is a film worth checking out.

 

Gender War (Hustlers, 2019)

Hustlers_PosterDestiny is working in a strip club trying to make money.  She is taken under the wing of the superstar of the club, Ramona, they start to hatch a plan to increase their incomes by conning their wall street clients.  They build up a side business where the women set up private parties where they use drugs, alcohol and the promise of sex to get access to their client’s credit cards and bank accounts, spending exorbitant of the client’s money…and using humiliation to keep the men silent.

Inspired by a true story, Hustlers is a dark tale. Early on, it placates you into feeling like “okay, these guys deserve it”, but as the film plays out, we find ourselves and Destiny becoming increasingly concerned with the dangers and ethics of what they are doing.  This all starts to drive a wedge between Destiny and Ramona’s relationship.

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez deliver great performances.  Director Lorene Scafaria uses a peircing neon color scheme that has the result of giving everything an incredibly surreal feel.

Hustlers is a great film that deserved a lot more recognition. Very recommended.

Woke Culture (The Hunt, 2020)

The_Hunt_PosterSo, the Hunt was meant to be released last year, but after a mass shooting and leaks about plot specific information led to people declaring this movie should not be released, including a condemnation from the impeached President of the United States. And so the movie was pulled.  Although there seemed to be talk at the time of this film just being put on a shelf somewhere…well, it was released to theaters with a modest amount of commercials and it hit a week before movie theaters closed across the nation. Universal took the proactive move to make three of their recent films (the Hunt, Emma and the Invisible Man) available for streaming rentals. Disney has followed suit with Onward.  I recommend Onward and the Invisible Man as very worth watching.  I have no opinion on Emma yet as I have not gotten to watching it yet.

So…how is the Hunt? Is it a super hateful film celebrating killing Trump supporters? Well, my short answer is as follows.

No.  Yes, this film is about a bunch of rich liberals who hunt a bunch of red staters.  But the film is not at all sympathetic to its liberal characters.  They are all played as awful people, while the film is pretty ambivalent about the Red Staters.  Most of those characters get little to no characterization, not even in the sense of being stereotypes. Most of the liberals are stereotypes, with really only Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank’s characters getting much personality.

Betty Gilpin is actually really good in this. She seems to be in a constant state of shock and on the verge of breaking down. But she also delivers some great action scenes and had a really good show down sequence.

As a genre film, this has a solid and classic hook.  This is in the vein of films like Surviving the Game (a personal favorite).  Honestly, I think it is hilarious that people assumed this would be a hateful screed against Trump when all the people who do not support Trump are evil cretins.  As a lefty, this did not bother me terribly much, Gilpin feels rather a-political and is easy for viewers to root for.

I liked it.  It is not the greatest film, but it is pretty effective as a genre thriller.