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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)
30 Rock meets Zero Dark Thirty
This movie was entertaining throughout and enjoyable, but not a blockbuster. As my subject line says, it's like a mashup of 30-Rock and Zero Dark Thirty.
This is not a "Tina Fey comedy" as the trailers seem to say. But it has a lot of great laughs nonetheless, but mixed in with some serious drama.
There are a few very realistic and gory combat scenes, mixed in with the work-a-day world of Tina Fey's character. Based on a true story, the real Kim Baker described herself as a Tina Fey type character. She had a humdrum job, boyfriend issues, workplace politics. She then gets asked if she'd like to (read: told) to go on assignment in Afghanistan. She accepts because her life in New York was getting boring for her.
In "the Kabubble"--as the press and contractors refer to their fenced in life in Kabul--she finds that she still has workplace politics, boyfriend issues, etc. but at least she'll have fun stories to tell to her friends and maybe children. Another big plus for her--in New York she's a "6, maybe 6 1/2", but in Afghanistan she's "like a 9, maybe 9 1/2" as her colleague (Margot Robbie, who appears to be channeling CBS news' Lara Logan) tells her. "What are you then, a 15?" asks Tina's character.
So the story arc ends up being mostly around a Scottish photographer who "fancies" her, though Tina's character will have none of it, for a while anyway. Various things happen, a backstabbing (figurative) by a work friend, and a kidnapping of a close friend--the latter for which she ends up trying to use her Kabul political connections (which her "9" status has helped her achieve) to try and get information about the kidnappers' identity. This would be a double-whammy for her--getting a friend free and also getting a huge story.
So without getting into spoilers, that is pretty much the plot-- nothing earth shattering but it was enough to keep me involved, laughing, and entertained throughout.
A few funny moments, but too clearly a personal catharsis
As I started watching this movie, it became very obvious that this was a very personal, cathartic movie. I have no problem with that, it's done all the time--but what's important, interesting, funny, and meaningful to the writer/director, doesn't always translate into something meaningful to the viewer unless there is far more skill in the storytelling. And that is what I think this movie lacked.
The plot simply covers the story of a a kid named Carter (and his younger brother Trey) who's father was a philanderer as a husband, as well as fairly cold and distant as a father. The father and mother haven't spoken for 20 years and the father has gone through several other step moms over those years.
I'm sure the "seminal" moment of Carter's 9th birthday was a huge deal to writer, but it was thrust at us so quickly at the beginning of the movie that we didn't have time for any background/setup to even know or care what was going on. To me, that scene which was apparently so pivotal ended up a throwaway scene because the writer seemed so eager to tell it that he told it too soon without any context whatsoever.
So we fast forward to Carter's now-successful (at least career-wise) life. There are a lot of funny moments here, but nothing we couldn't see in a half-hour sitcom. But the road the movie takes us down is a bit meandering and it seems very clear that we're going to have some sort of too-neatly wrapped up happy ending designed to close every loose end with a perfect situation and end all the pain of all the children who've gone through this situation.
To me, it just smacked too much of someone dumping his messed-up life on us and his wish of what could have been. It didn't make for an entertaining movie. Maybe a half-hour episode of Trophy Wife or something would have been a better venue for this story. Jimo
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Nice film-work, but unbalanced, a bit tedious to watch. Should have been a Short.
This movie would have made a good short-film, possibly a good extended nightly-news piece (and I imagine there were many of those--but not done with this level of careful treatment).
It tells the story of yet another case of police/security overreacting to a situation with very tragic results. I probably don't need to go too much into the plot--it's very simple (Possible spoiler--but again, the plot is probably well publicized): Young man gets thrust into a situation that gets out of control; cops/security descend upon the resulting chaos, during which a shot is fired (accidentally or on purpose) and tragedy results.
However, as a movie, it as simply too unevenly paced--the first 1:15 or so is very slow setup of Oscar's life and relationships. In my opinion, it was just too much setup (not minimizing the importance of this especially to his loved ones, just looking at this from a film-goer's standpoint) for the relatively chaotic and rushed 10 or so minutes of the final act.
The cinematography is well done, it has a quasi-documentary feel to it, some hand-held shots, etc. and it's clear there was a lot of care and thought put into the scenes depicting Oscar's life. The story is worthy of being told, yet stepping back and trying to take an objective look at this as a commercial film, I think it simply would have been better as a short with the first hour or so trimmed a fair amount. Jimo
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Please Scorsese--hire an editor..
First, the good: DiCaprio does a very good job of portraying a sleazy sociopath. It was truly a great performance.
However, the main problem of this movie was lack of editing. There were way too many scenes in which a point was being made or a mood created-- and this took place in about 20 seconds--a nod to good film making...
...However, these same scenes then droned on and on for, in some cases, over 5 minutes! We get it--he's making a pep-talk speech to his staff-- we got that in the first 15 seconds. But why continue the same rah-rah pep-talk for a full 5 minutes without adding *anything* new??
This was just one example of many scenes that got so stale and I kept thinking--where was the editor? Why didn't he shave a few minutes off these scenes and keep the pace going?
So all in all--I felt what could have been a decent movie was just a long, boring slog.
This Is 40 (2012)
No plot--but very funny consistently: "humor porn"
First off--this is well worth seeing, it is consistently funny--and at times keel-over funny. However if you're looking for a meaningful plot that gets neatly wrapped up, that's not gonna happen. Like porn, the plot was just there as an excuse for the many 'money shots'--the consistently funny gags about typical 40ish couple's lives.
Rudd's character is suffering a struggling business (and also maybe a little of 'struggling business'--if you know what I mean). Mann's character has a business also, that is suffering. Their kids are dealing with various modern-kid issues--Facebook bullies, trying to devour entire seasons of "Lost" in a matter of days, etc. The parents fight, the kids fight, Rudd & Mann each have issues with their own parents--one with abandonment issues, the other with what might be the polar opposite of abandonment.
And the gags and issues that arise, I can tell you, are all based in reality--it's a good composite of the issues that this demographic actually faces--only depicted with the cinematic equivalent of the "Photoshop saturation slider" cranked to 11.
A special mention for Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow's kids--they actually can act, and they were excellent in this film. They belonged in the film--not 'becuase their daddy is the producer'--but because they added big-time in both the many comedy scenes they were in, but also in the movie's scattered drama moments. Very adorable kids, who blended into this movie effortlessly and definitely added to its charm.
So that's the plot, and in the end, it leaves you with hope that things will get better, but never really pounds that point down and gift-wraps a sappy, happy ending, but it doesn't need to--the plot is just a vehicle to tow all of the gags with.
And the gags, mini-skits, etc, are very funny, and very consistent--me, my wife, and most of the theater were laughing through the bulk of the film (Stay for the ending credits--the blooper reel with Melissa McCarthy may be one of the funniest of the entire movie).
So that's it--I give it a 8--well worth seeing in the theater, and when it comes out on DVD, I'll definitely rent it and see it again.
Stupid. Just stupid.
This movie was so over-the-top stupid that it went beyond "hey, it's over- the-top but let's just go with it and have fun". No. Let's not. It was just stupid. Boring, stupid, senseless.
OK, I'm obliged to give a general description of the movie, so here it is: Stupid.
Don't waste your time. Let me take the bullet for you--don't see this. My wife wanted to see it and I suffered through it trying to be the good husband. At the end she had admitted it was stupid too. I really can't say anything more about it. Just stupid.
I want my 2 hours back.
Another cartoon. How about a "real" movie?
This movie is just OK--but my general dissatisfaction has little to do with the plot or characters--but more on that in the last paragraph.
The plot is about two babies from a planet that develops creatures with strength and powers beyond that of humans. Two of these creatures are jettisoned from the planet, and by pure random chance of where their spacecrafts land on earth, the Pitt character (Metro-Man) ends up in the home of a loving family, and the Ferrell character (Megamind) ends up in a prison for the mentally insane. This charts their future course in predictable ways--Metro Man becomes the hero of Metro City, while Megamind, after release from prison--the terms of the release and his upbringing at the "S Chool" (as humorously pronounced by Ferrell)--are never fully explained.
Anyway, so it's made clear early on that Megamind isn't truly evil but is in it for the sport of it, while Metroman is a bit more full of himself as the hero than than, say, mild-mannered Clark Kent. As part of the plot a third character joins the mix as another super-human hero after a major battle between Megamind and Metroman. This adds a bit of complexity to a story that really has no business being complex--cartoon or not. It also adds dead time to the movie, as this new character isn't really very interesting. Anyway, in the romantic mix for all these characters is Tina Fey, who is the funniest part of the movie--she is a plus for any movie but as explained below--this movie's mediocrity has little to do with the talent.
So without spoiling anything, we have an ending meant to satisfy us and bring closure to the characters. But this movie, and increasingly *every* animated movie lately, does not satisfy me--and it's not the plot or characters that fall short. It's that I'm tired of CGI animation. I don't care how "good" the quality is, how "realistic" it is--it's not real and frankly it's creepy. If I'm going to see a cartoon I'd prefer a real, hand-drawn cartoon. This CGI, in my opinion, is just wrong. It's too 'real' to be a cartoon but so completely unreal that I never get a true feeling for the characters--no matter how well-voiced or well-written they are. In the early days "Toy Story" was popular but I think the popularity had more to do with the novelty of the Pixar animation--the 'wow' factor. It's ho-hum now--even though the resolution, shading, texture, etc has improved. Ironically the more all of that technology improves the creepier these movies get. I could go on and on about how the newer Star Wars "movies" with Jar-Jar, et al., were soul-less bores, but I'll close here--and hope that those who agree will let their feelings be known to Hollywood. I'll take a real, filmed movie any time over this animation.
Burn After Reading (2008)
A confusing, unresolved mess.
At one point in this movie, an CIA agent calls the situation 'a cluster****'. Perhaps not ironic at all is the fact that he's describing the plot to this movie--and he's correct!
The movie is set in DC, and nearly all characters work for some government department with the exception of Brad Pitt and Francis McDormand's DC gym employees. Pitt's character finds a CD at the gym with what appears to be sensitive CIA info, and he and his co-worker at the gym (McDormand) try to blackmail the owner of the CD, and when that does not go well they head for the Russian embassy to see if there's interest there. Shades of Sean Penn in Falcon and the Snowman there.
However, Pitt's character is the most glaring 'fish out of water' in this movie--but not because he's not with the government. It's because his character is a character that has never existed in human reality.
He's overplaying a character that's an amalgam of gay, stupid, jockish, quasi-gutsy, and 'dude'. In this film he's not funny, not cute, he's like the zipper in the dryer that keeps making noise while you're watching TV and you wish it would stop.
The best and most affecting performance is by Richard Jenkins who plays the lovestruck gym manager. Malkovich's and Swanton's performances are good as well, and so is David Rasche (anyone remember Sledge Hammer?).
And the music score--very heavy 'suspense' music--does not work as suspense music or as 'comedy ironic suspense' music. And speaking of what isn't a fit--Clooney's basement contraption had no place in this movie at all, it was a giant WTF. It would've been funny in a movie of a different flavor but I just rolled my eyes.
Anyway, the plot more revolves around who's cheating on whom, and that gets very confusing. Clooney's character is sort of the thread that ties all of the different plot lines together, but it's too confusing and sloppy that it doesn't work. Nor does it ever tie up the numerous loose ends, which is a disappointment of Soprano's proportions.
I give it 4, for Rashke, Jenkins, Malkovich, and Swanton's performances, but the messy, un resolved plot prevents it from any higher.
First let me state that I'm all for the "implausible-but-fun" movie genre. Transporter 1 & 2 are good examples of films of this genre that work. They were fun to watch, and they didn't try to hard to "sell" the completely implausible plots and physically impossible action sequences. Who cares--they're fun to watch!
Not so with Wanted. First of all, the implausibility level rises past "implausible" and crashes right through "ridiculous" and into "time-wastingly bizarre" territory. What's worse, stupid dialog and over-obvious camera shots try too hard at every turn to sell what can't be sold. Doesn't the director get it?? We don't *want* to be sold--we'll go with your plot if you just deliver the action.
It starts in a promising way with some "Office Space" references. Wesley, a hapless office drone is henpecked by his annoying overweight female boss, who looks quite like the "Looks like you've got a case of the Mondays" lady. His cube-mate is taking a lot of time off for 'dentist appointments' to screw Wesely's girlfriend. Then one day he's saved by Angelina Jolie from what she says is an assassination attempt on him. OK, we can go with that...
...until she further explains that the attempt was by a rogue member of an assassination fraternity, of which his estranged father was the top member. This fraternity apparently exists only to do battle with another assassination fraternity. How they get paid is unknown, but they seem to have unlimited funds. They also carry out assassinations to "preserve order", but it looks a lot more like these two fraternities just run around killing each other.
The orders for whom to kill are delivered by a bizarre encryption method consisting of slight imperfections embedded into weaving patterns made by an ancient loom in their front-business--a textile mill near what looks like Goose Island in Chicago. They could have just said a secret "Mr. X" tells them who to kill but I digress. I would've bought the weaving-code thing if they hadn't spent so much time trying to explain it. Again--with movies like this they should just let it go and get on with the action--don't bore us with trying to explain how "if the vertical thread misses the weave and goes *over* the cross thread, it's a zero, and if the horizontal thread goes *under* the cross thread, it's a 1" or some such nonsense. I would've bought the stupid plot-point but it was oversold. Just get on with the action.
I could go on and on with the bizarre "initiation" process, where he's beaten up daily by "The Repairman", then covered in Krispy-Kreme glaze to 'accelerate the healing'. He learns how to curve a bullet so he can shoot around obstacles. That's where I almost fell asleep. Too much time spent on selling us on how he has to go through all of this to prepare himself to do this ultra-high-priority kill. And of course there are ***SPOILER ALERT*** ridiculous twists upon twists, where everyone he thought was bad was actually good, and vice versa. Or were they? Oh, who cares. It was a waste of time.
If the movie had just spent a bit more time with some better action sequences then it might've risen to the level of entertainment, but I felt it was extremely overwrought and and downright boring at times.
The Good Shepherd (2006)
This movie oversteps the 'dramatic license' allowance
Coupla things (no pun on Francis-Ford intended) about this movie. (spoilersbelow)
First, some minor details that bugged me--things that really violated what I consider to be reasonable dramatic license in plot lines or scenes, (not in order of seriousness): 1. The photos of Wilson in the cab during his brief affair with the deaf woman. That fling was a completely spontaneous thing, and his meetings with the Ulysses guy (after which that fling followed) would have been scheduled in utter secrecy. So how would someone have been following him to get these photos? Even if it were the Russians--who would have known of the meeting through Ulysses--they would have gained little or nothing from trying to meddle in his personal dealings with his wife. They're not after that kind of dirt on him, and risking blowing their cover by giving her the photos would be like the FBI blowing their cover on a years-long sting operation by giving their quarry a traffic ticket. It made no sense. And Angelina Jolie's character wouldn't have had him followed--first, I don't think she really cared that much, and besides--he's the top spy--he wouldn't have been found out by some second-rate private-eye.
2. Her (Angelina Jolie's) reaction to his affair was way, way out of line with her character. She'd already admitted she had an affair, and he was basically an absentee husband and father, they both knew the marriage was utterly baseless. So why would she be so upset? She said she was 'humiliated'. How? Nobody else knew about the photos but her. Why make a scene like she did--that's the only thing that humiliated her.
3. The thing with the son and that girl was so far out of sync with any reality that it really ruined the whole movie for me. First, I'd guessed it at the moment his son asked to join the CIA. And that was really the central part of the movie--from beginning to end they were trying to figure out the tape and the sounds and all that. Back then, a transatlantic love-affair in the Congo would have been exceedingly difficult to both conduct and especially hide--even from an absentee father. There were several other things that were out of bounds but once a movie oversteps that 'dramatic license' boundary once or twice, the rest don't matter--the movie is ruined.
Also, this movie broke rule #1 (in my opinion): For a movie to be really likable, you need to have a central character that you either like, understand, or can at least relate to in some way or another. Wilson was like a piece of cardboard. Like the one line said "There can't be two of you".
Finally, for this to be interesting I think you'd have to have some prior knowledge on the subject, ie, have read at least a book or two on it to catch and/or follow some of the highly enigmatic dialog. I've read several non-fiction works on this, as well as some 'based on fact' fiction books, and fortunately *some* of the subject matter was familiar and semi-interesting. But this movie couldn't make up it's mind as to whether it wanted to be a 'based on fact' fictional movie, or a pure fantasy fiction piece. It mixed them and therefore sold itself short on each one.