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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Everything, Everything is the newest YA-novel adaptation that
thoughtlessly blends the superficial aspects of teenage romance and the
poorly understood, yet perennially showcased plot device of terminal
illness. This time around the plot is animated by the wide-eyed gaze
and natural naivety of Amandla Stenberg who plays Maddie Whittier a
precocious teen with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency or SCIDs. She
falls head-over-heels for the boy next door (Robinson) and as one might
imagine things go pretty "town of Verona" right quick.
Thirty minutes into this film it became abundantly clear that this story, its interchangeable parts and its bland dialogue are beneath the talents of the effervescent Amandla Stenberg and director Stella Meghie. Stenberg especially gives this movie a far more commanding performance than it deserves, with an easygoing charisma that flirts with melodrama without the character actually being and sounding melodramatic. It of course helps that the film is told strictly from her perspective which casts just enough light for you to think Maddie is a fully formed person - you know, with feelings and stuff.
Only adding to the movies hermetically-sealed chastity, Meghie blocks so much of the film with a purposeful book-wise gaze. When Maddie and Olly, yes his name is Olly, finally meet in person, their delicate dance around the room and each other occasionally makes up for the dialogue and total lack of chemistry. Her spacious abode, a glass castle just ten minutes away from the California coast, is agog with striking visual symbolism that only becomes more oppressive as she longs for her stringy-haired honey.
What sells it though are the film's flights of fancy, which not only fill the screen with a sort of tame absurdity but also manages to solve the dreaded cellphone problem. See, part of the issue with setting a film in modern times is everyone has a cellphone. Thus old romantic clichés that were once the bread and butter of these kinds of movies (frantic runs to the airport, momentary misunderstandings, general meddling) can be easily resolved with a simple text. Granted the movie all but bungles any opportunity to explore new dramatic ground, it's fantasy infused dialogues into the wee-hours nonetheless provides the germ of a good workaround.
If the movie had just stayed on autopilot until the end I might have given you a genuine if tacit recommendation. Yet Everything, Everything wants to bet big on a late third-act plot twist that panders to the point of insult and forces gasps to the point of unintentional hilarity. If you're not already swooning by the time this dull romance reaches its pop-song montage, then whatever goodwill you have tethering to this movie is liable to snap.
Thus we get to the point in this review where spoilers abound...
So turns out Maddie doesn't even have SCIDs. Her mother (Rose), fearing the loss of her precious daughter, raises her, in what is essentially a glass prison and makes up the illness because (huff, huff) parenting is hard! I...I just can't. This movie loses all shred of dignity the moment it unleashes this out-of-left-field plot twist which, within context is like aliens showing up at the end of Thelma and Louise (1991) and shouting "you're in the Matrix". I mean, what the literal f**k movie! At least The Fault in Our Stars (2014) had the good sense to pull the trigger and gave us a satisfying if heartbreaking resolution! This piece of crap wants to sell you on its flaccid bulls**tery and then lets you know you wasted your time. This movie doesn't just want the cake, it doesn't just want to eat it too, it wants to go carnivorous earwig on your a**, and eat what's left of your brain! This movie's unexpected and unearned plot twist not only insults the intelligence of its audience; in congress with Olly's own familial hangups, it plops a big 'ol steamer on the prospect of finding love that isn't an unhealthy form of infatuation or infantilization. F**k you movie! Seriously, f**k you! (Huff) As I said, you're liable to snap. Now is this movie really anti-parent as I so claim? Probably not, at least not purposely. The more likely explanation for its rather stupid choices, my just be a case of excessive pandering on the part of the movie and the book in which it's based on. It panders to the fantasy that all teenage girls are princesses in need of rescuing; that all mothers are secretly witches and that every complicated problem can be solved by a cute boyfriend and a strong wifi connection.
What arguably made the Alien franchise (1979-Present) such an
extraordinary success back in its day had less to do with the alien
itself and more to do with the franchises overwhelming sense of dread.
It permeated through, at the very least the three good movies (shut up,
Alien 3 (1992) is too a good movie) in everything from their dark
existential themes to their imposing and surreal external features.
There was no escape from the darkness, whether that darkness came in
the form of the alien itself, a sinister and omnipresent company or the
emptiness of space which rumor has it, no one can hear you scream.
Prometheus (2012), for better or worse, changed all that by elevating the existential dread from being a feature to a recurring theme. It's a subtle shift and one that's impossible to notice when the newest batch of expendables are running for dear life. Yet while most remember Prometheus as "the one where a professional biologist gets cozy with a hissing vagina snake," they forget that the movie often stopped cold, to wax poetically about the nature of God, the search for meaning, and man's tenuous relationship with nature.
Alien: Covenant follows the same thematic arc started by Prometheus five years ago, only I'm glad to say this time it largely sticks. The story begins when a ship of colonists intercept a signal from an Earth-like planet and decide to change course in order to investigate it. Once they arrive on the surface of the planet with thoughts of long-term colonization, the landing crew quickly discover the ruins of an ancient civilization (and a little something more).
Say what you will about Scott, He's always been a visual director Out of all the subsequent films in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant arguably comes closest to recreating the bold visuals and overall feel of the original 1979 film. This film is admirably beautiful in its framing and composition. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski imbues nearly every frame on the planet with an off-putting balance of natural splendor and glowering foreboding. When the Captain (Crudup) says "this could be home," you'd be inclined to believe him, that's if you didn't already know this was an Alien movie.
Much credit must be given to director Ridley Scott for trying to give the world of his franchise a sense of scope. One can draw a straight line from Prometheus's bronze age aesthetic to Covenant's imposing classicism to the eventual discovery of a/the Gothic derelict ship. Not satisfied with ornamentation, Scott supplements some of the film's most dire and profound moments with visual parallels to the Drowning of Ophelia by Millais, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch and The Last Days of Pompeii by Bryullov.
Yet if there's a weak link to this film - and trust me it's a doozy - it's the film's rather wanting script written partially by playwright John Logan. The introduction of Walter, played by an uncharacteristically straight-laced Michael Fassbender conjures memories of Fassbender's take on the maltheist synthetic David in Prometheus. And as such, his inclusion begs the script to reach for the same level sophistication as Scott's unforgettable visuals in both that film and this one. If only references to Percy Shelley and Wagner made it so. Unfortunately for Covenant, anything meant to be muse-worthy and bleak just comes across as silly or worse, the pretentious preening of a screenwriter who wants everyone in earshot to know he went to Northwestern.
Alien: Resurrection sucked but admit it, you remember this guy The film then uneasily balances its lofty ideas on the shoulders of some of the blandest characters in this franchise to date. If asked for a list of character names, fans of the franchise could arguably name a good five or six (not including Ripley) spread out between all the Alien films. Here however our hero Daniels (Waterston) and her erudite crew lack a lot of the hallmarks of being a memorable and sympathetic lot; even when the film spends more time than usual getting to know them, their habits and their motivations. Yet because there motivations are so tenuous, their decisions so baffling and their psychology so dependent on the need to fill time, we as the audience just can't invest all that much in them.
Yet for every delta we add to the list of what's wrong with this movie, the visuals, not to mention the arrival of the dreaded Xenomorph are enough to overtake them. The gore, the shock, the visceral moments of absolute dread, beckon to the original in just the right ways. Covenant may not be as exciting and expertly paced but it does have enough of an oomph to live on its mythological laurels.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Did we really need another King Arthur movie? The legend, its various
symbols, its thematic arcs, its outmoded characters etc. have all
existed in some permutation seemingly since the beginning of film
history. The last good adaptation, if we're being honest, was the
half-forgotten Disney film of the 1960's. That is unless of course you
include Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) as the quintessential
movie about wielding executive power based on watery tarts throwing
Yet here we are in the time of extended universes and increasingly self-serious fandom adaptations, getting director Guy Ritchie of all people to cash in on everyone's fascination with The Game of Thrones (2011-Present) series. Though for what it's worth Ritchie seems to know that he's an unexpected choice to helm this project and admirably leans into some of the flourishes that made him a household name a decade ago. Let it be known that for all its faults, you can pile on "idiosyncratic" onto the list of adjectives used to describe this movie.
You can also add on words like, busy, rushed, light on suspense and predictable even for a King Arthur movie. Which is surprising since the setup for the film strips away many of the modes of the original legend and replaces them with worldly complications and post-modern, Dark Souls-like ornamentation. It all starts with a blood feud between Uther (Bana) the rightful King of England and his brother Vortigern (Law) who's ability to conjure dark magic gives him the leverage to take on the throne. Arthur (Hunnam) as a small child is sent down a river Moses-style, finding refuge in a London-town brothel. From there he becomes a small town hooligan with a heart of gold, graduates to being a professional magic sword puller and the rest you largely know. This time instead of getting much needed guidance from Merlin (a figure spoken of, but never seen), Arthur gets his X-Men meets Lord of the Rings tutelage from a flinty mage (Berges-Frisbey) whose involvement is probably to distract that so many named women in this movie are tossed aside and/or killed.
The film works best when it focuses on the grimy and the gritty. This Arthur is less a product of posh, natural charisma and more an intelligent rascal whose intimate knowledge of the criminal underworld pumps the gas on an already fomenting revolution. The context of the small and unnamed is a small but interesting feature that should have been explored a lot more. If for no other reason than it would have given Guy Ritchie a better opportunity to indulge in his speed-up-speed-down, MTV era ingenuity and hypothetical-hyper-planned monologuing.
If only the film didn't yank us through an ugly hodge-podge of boring exposition, suspiciously convenient, magic-themed psycho-babble and erratic franchise maintenance that does little in the service of the film's characters. In this version, the sword Excalibur is not just mythical, it's downright diabolical with its ability to grant the wielder super-human strength, speed and dexterity. Arthur for what its worth already possess many of those traits but he can't hold the sword double-handed because, according to the Bedivere (Hounsou), "he's not ready for it." Convenient, now the movie can milk its nebulously constructed cudgel for the purposes of dragging out the run time.
That's ultimately what all but kills this movie - it's a drag. And not the kind of drag that made Antoine Fuqua's 2004 version such a grounded but trifling diversion. No this thing, with its liberal amounts of magic, monsters and kung fu (I kid you not, this King of England knows kung fu), wants you to take everything as seriously as a stroke. Thus we get long moments of people blathering about this or that prophecy and staring at each other with suspicion and malice. A task that someone like Jude Law is naturally suited to but Charlie Hunnam? The less he talks the better.
The film's remaining questions, combined with a naively buoyant epilogue hints that more is to come. It is rumored that The Legend of the Sword is one of a planned six movies - Six! Why would they do that? They hardly captured anyone's imagination, let alone attention with this mess. Even with the promise of Merlin and Lancelot joining the fray, this franchise feels like its only going to get worse. I kindly ask Warner Bros. not to continue on this quest for Camelot. Let's not go there - it is a silly place.
Living in a world informed nearly every millisecond by GPS can make the
life and times of Percy Fawcett a bit hard to fathom. Especially when
you consider that the last small segments of the world supposedly
unseen by modern man, were explored just as the First World War began.
The Amazon Rainforest was once described derisively as the "green
desert". A land so inhospitable that those who ventured in were never
heard from again. To Fawcett however, the rainforest was where he would
plant his flag as it were.
Why learn from the natives when we can just shoot the natives! The Lost City of Z tells the true-ish story of Fawcett's (Hunnam) exhaustive search for remnants of an ancient civilization hidden deep within the jungles of Brazil and Bolivia. At the time, his theories and archaeological finds were met with considerable ridicule - a scene even recreates a sample of that ridicule with a House of Parliament-type roasting at the Royal Geographical Society. Yet despite multiple professional and personal setbacks, Fawcett managed expedition after expedition entrancing the world with fascinating stories of rugged deep-jungle adventuring.
Fawcett was partially the inspiration for Indiana Jones and it's easy to see the resemblance. Charlie Hunnam plays him with an understated charm that belies a lifetime of hard-fought, real-world wisdom. He's a glory-seeker sure, but he's the kind you'd want around in a pinch if for no other reason than he'll share the credit.
Yet the movie often feels at odds with the character. Director James Gray has steadily built a reputation for making deliberately paced classically pure films that use old-fashioned sensibilities of style and melodrama. The Lost City of Z is certainly no exception having the same restraint as The Immigrant (2013) while never skimping on the savory, visceral bits that come with jungle exploration. At its height, you can almost feel the muck and sticky air cake around you.
Call me a cynic but when a movie's mis en scene knowingly channels Aguirre (1972) while the star channels good 'ol Indie, it becomes very hard to peg a movie like this down. Sometimes it feels like Hunnam's star-like quality is threatening to torpedo the film, while other times it feels like the movie is a pip-pip-cheerio away from going awry. It never does, but because of the movie's pacing, it's easy to get your mind worked up about something else.
The film also doesn't seem to know what to do with its third (or I would argue fourth) act. We get a satisfactory character arc complete with a heartfelt family reunion and what probably amounts to British fanfare. Then the movie kind of keeps going on for another twenty minutes. It's not to tie up loose ends mind you, but rather to setup something thematically new then leaves you with the bag.
Despite its fault however, The Lost City of Z remains a fine film whose pedigree deserves to be recognized if not loved by archeologists, cartographers and fans of Arthur Conan Doyle. To modern, casual filmgoers however, The Lost City of Z might feel a little too constrained and for reasons that don't justify the pomp and circumstance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sleight borrows heavily from two very recent and very disparaged movie
traditions: the proselytizing social drama and the cheaply made
superhero fan film. One has been the last vestige of old-fashioned
melodrama, cloaked in an inflated sense of self-importance. The other
has a robust life on Youtube sure, but you can't really say that fan
films are things of cinematic brilliance - until now.
Sleight focuses on the life of a young street magician and brilliant engineering prodigy whose mother's untimely death coerces him into a life of petty crime. Bo (Latimore) makes a decent living as a drug dealer, partially because his sleight of hand abilities keeps him out of the clink and partially because his boss Angelo (Hill) has taken him under his smooth talking, business oriented wing.
To say more would constitute spoilers so I'll only say that the movie and specifically its trailer can be blamed for a bit of a bait and switch where the plot is concerned. Those who managed to see the trailer might well be expecting a superhero origin story and not a squalid urban drama. Yet for the majority of the movie that's basically what you get. At first I felt a little, shall we say slighted. But after settling in and ingratiating myself to the characters, the movie's genre-bending plot became something truly new and different.
At the head of it all is the young Jacob Latimore, who's vulnerability and magnetic stage presence as Bo grounds the film, like his Houdini poster centers his bedroom. Every decision the character makes, good and bad (though mostly bad) feels organic and tragically real. Put in a desperate scenario, Bo finds solace in his new girlfriend (Gabriel) his sister (Reid) and his neighbor (Zamata) all of whom try to save him from falling further in a hole of debt and danger. Yet even they fall short; not because of a lack of love or hubris which usually becomes the case in movies like this - but because Bo's desire to just be runs counter to what his world expects from him. Finding no hope in the real, Bo ultimately finds some form of escape in the fantastical, the unexpected, the heroic.
The film's passion really shines through with a vivacious balance of understated drama, familial warmth and staged cleverness. There are only a limited amount of sets and scenes yet with each L.A. club and Bel-Air estate there's a new dimension to everything. It can be said that freshman director J.D. Dillard does more with a two bedroom, one bath house than most directors think to do with an entire sound set.
Of course the film's far from perfect and has some huge problems that would otherwise mar a film of this size and scope. The largest problem stems from the casting of Dule Hill who plays against type as Bo's cutthroat supplier. The script allows him to do some truly despicable things yet his wispy goatee can't hide the fact that the baby-faced actor is far too out of his wheelhouse to seem menacing. Additionally, while the ending is worth the wait overall, one can't help but notice that the emotions become smaller as the set-pieces become bigger.
Sleight is chalked full of ingredients we've seen before but never together in one movie and certainly not to this extent. It's an audacious pop experiment. One whose skeletal budget only sells its earnestness. It's the kind of movie that makes me think the future of independent film isn't as dark as it sometimes appears.
Watch it! You may love it, you may hate it, but I guarantee you will
never forget it. To say more about Colossal; to go over the themes and
characterizations in earnest - heck, even to give you a synopsis would
give you too much info. Just stop what you're doing, prime yourself for
the uniquely absurd and enjoy the show.
Okay fine, for the sake of cogency (and to fill up the margins) I will give you a little more. Colossal, spiritually is Kaiju movie a la Godzilla (1954) and King Kong (1933). Which is to say through much of the movie, there is a gigantic monster destroying Seoul, South Korea. Yet instead of focusing on the destruction and mayhem, the film concerns itself with two lonely alcoholics halfway across the globe, who are more connected to monster's sudden appearance than they both realize.
Our primary protagonist is New York party girl and out-of-work writer Gloria (Hathaway), who's alcohol dependency has left her destitute and traveling back to her hometown to lick her wounds. While there, she reacquaints with Oscar (Sudeikis) an amiable towny who inherited his small town bar from his family way back when. Both feel stuck, both feel trapped and both see the monster in Seoul as an expression of their inner demons and maybe even a release.
Now will you watch it? Now will you see this awkward mix of fantastical lunacy and indie movie sensibilities? Now will you take a few hours out of your day to check out what might be the most unique movie of the year? No? Would it help if I told you Anne Hathaway is pitch perfect as a multifaceted and deeply flawed heroine? I for one was never aboard the Hathaway Express. Don't get me wrong, she's a fine actress, but the movies and the characters she gravitated towards always felt more like a marketing decision than a genuine desire to spread her wings. Here however, Hathaway's rueful pity party is immediately beguiling. Not in a sad-funny, quirky, Lost in Translation (2003) kind of way. No this movie has a whole other kind of vibe. The kind of unique, wanton, weirdly satisfying vibe that can only be sustained by a dude named Nacho behind the camera.
The direction here can best be described as fierce and picturesque. Director Nacho Vigalondo clearly has an appreciation for a bright-light and boozy version of Midwest Americana. He has such a command of the look and feel in-fact, that when he knowingly breaks cinematic rules to further the story, every big reveal packs that much more of an emotional wallop. What we then end up with is a delicate balance of off-putting tones and surprising payoffs. Played by any other movie, one scene would be raucously funny instead of a cold snap of horror. One scene would be played off as romantic instead of goofy. The setup says "sad," but the payoff says we're in for big laughs...and on, and on.
Thus I leave you with that: a mind primed for something unique and interesting that jolts you with surprise after surreal surprise.
When Guardians of the Galaxy came out in the late summer of 2014, the
world once again fell in love with an admirably ambitious, yet
uncharacteristically shaggy space opera. It was at once a travelogue,
an adventure story and an ensemble piece that smartly borrowed from
golden-age blockbuster ephemera to give us something truly ballsy for
the time. The fact that the potential franchise was yet another loop in
the Marvel Cinematic Universe's rapidly expanding armor was but the
icing on a very fulfilling and very expensive cake.
Three years later, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is put in a very precarious situation. Due to the MCU being a nay unstoppable force at the cineplex, the exploits of Peter Quill and his band of bickering mercenaries no longer have the element of surprise. Quality special-effects, impeccable casting, expert-level character work are now not just unexpected surprises, their bare minimum pass/fail aspects of these kinds of movies. Show me a villain with world-destroying ambitions; yawn. Find me a roguish, white, male, American lead with daddy issues; next. You have a talking racoon, they have a Hulk.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up with our motley crew cashing in on their savior status while working for a civilization known as The Sovereign. After defeating an inter-dimensional monster to the crunchy tunes of Electric Light Orchestra, the plot is kicked into high gear when Rocket (Cooper) steals a handful of powerful batteries. This puts the Guardians on a collision course with The Sovereign, Yondu (Rooker) and his returning band of space pirates, the revenge seeking Nebula (Gillan) and a new character, that just might hold the key to Peter's (Pratt) lineage.
Part of the reason for the original film's success was its ability to feel fresh and new while never doing anything actually risky. Even so, the finished product managed to artfully ape irreverence and feel organic; a mix that Marvel fans ate up if only for the sake of novelty. Here however everything seems to be stapled into the same world as the rest of them, complete with perfectly mimicked story-beats and predictably playful Easter egg hunts. If one were to pick a spiritual forebear to Guardians 2 it'd be Iron Man 2 (2010) who similarly took the runaway success of its prequel and made everything more self-contained and character oriented. Some may claim that means it's more intimate, I'd claim it feels like the series is running in place until the rest of the larger universe catches up.
At least this movie isn't as sloppy and emotionally empty as Iron Man 2. We can thank that on the fact that the Guardians are a goofball ensemble and not just one goofball pining for a liquid lunch. James Gunn's script, while lacking the gusto of the original, takes a few decent cues from Empire Strikes Back (1980). It finds an opportunity to split our cast early and forces them to examine their own particular hangups to the structure of clever bookmarked editing. This guarantees that if a plot point does become sloppy or uninteresting at least the integrity of the film proper doesn't suffer for it.
Guardians 2 also benefits greatly from a unifying theme, that being an honest examination of family and what being part of a close-knit group of people truly means. Both Peter and Gamora (Saldana) go through struggles of blood and birth, Yondu opens up about his fidelity to Quill, Rocket comes to terms with knowing the very people he's pushing away aren't going to give up on him. If a short straw is to be drawn thematically it goes to Bautista's Drax whose only real task is to assimilate newcomer Mantis (Klementieff) into the fold. Yet even then his mirthful laugh and steely unironic gaze serve some of the only moments of true feeling in a movie alarmingly light on them.
At its best, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a mildly entertaining romp through a visually pleasing space-age universe complete with a likable gallery of oddball characters. At its most craven and cynical however, the film feels like nothing more than a stopgap. One who clumsily mistook the forfeiting of stakes for irreverence and thought a barrage of forced 80's references was a substitute for wit.
The Circle based on a novel by Dave Eggers, is not only the name of the
film and the name of the company in which the film is largely set in.
The Circle can also describe the hole in which this movie tries to plug
its square pegged characters, story and themes. For all its gauche,
ill-conceived judgments of cyber-life and West Coast utopianism, The
Circle seems not only doomed to be forgotten but berated and mocked by
generations of computer engineers tickled pink by its uninformed
perspective. Think the same reaction one would have of Hackers (1995)
only replace Matthew Lillard's easy-going silliness with John Boyega
awkwardly shuffling through the darkness.
If there's a silver-lining to this Phishing-scam made sentient it's all in the naive gaze of Emma Watson's character who stops just short of selling herself as "real." Watson plays Mae, a millennial graduate who through luck and gumption comes to work for a Google/Facebook/Apple analog whose workplace culture would make any normal person worry about the Kool-Aid. After a laundry list of new-kid-on-the-block clichés, the story settles on Mae's emergence into the all-encompassing world of her job, which cajoles her to be a guinea pig in a new kind of social media.
The Circle seems like it should be a pitch black satire on the dark side of Silicon Valley. Yet what it ends up being is a dull, incredulous parody of what people outside Silicon Valley think of people in Silicon Valley. No where is this more obvious than in the casting of Tom Hanks whose borrowed credibility feeds into the idea that cyberspace hides wolves in sheep's clothing. We want to trust his tech-billionaire Emon Bailey; even as he spouts the most outrageous, nonsensical phrases like he's complimenting a neighbors new car. Once we get to Ellar Coltrane's half-thought-out lectures on how things ought to be, the movie has gone so far up it's own a** that its brain is melting in stomach acid.
What pains me is most of The Circle's various elements is it could have, should have, and needed to be way better. We have become a culture so dulled by the desire for convenience that most of us don't care internet companies buy and sell our personal information for the sake of better marketing and social conditioning. So long as I get my music to play on my Amazon Echo who cares if some murderer's most painful moment is immortalized on social media? Whether on purpose or on accident, Mae talks a big game about "having a choice" but rarely makes a choice without coercion. That could have been an interesting theme. Yet because The Circle is aiming to be A Face in the Crowd (1957) for the Youtube generation, no matter what choices she ends up making there's an immediate and negative consequence. Mae along with the audience is seemingly trapped in a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. A stolen kayak gives Emon the fuel to pursue his Orwellian fantasies, a boardroom brainstorm gets Mae to further abandon her authentic self in favor of a less-real social personality. Hell even her seemingly unrehearsed answers to interview questions get her the job, that sends her on a spiral of ruination in the first place! Thus when the ending rears it's ugly, insincere, vacuous head (apparently the ending of the book is different) we all automatically assume things aren't going to resolve themselves.
In a world of nothing but accountability, is there really a need for integrity? This is a question I thought to myself while watching The Circle and sadly it's an idea that was never explored. Nor was there any followup on The Circle's apparent monopoly on practically everything on the interwebs (surely there are other virtual supervillains in Silicon Valley angling for world domination). Nope: boring characters, circular logic and techno-phobic platitudes are all you get here. All set to a soundtrack that sounds like the Blue Man Group underwater.
Watching The Promise can make one wonder why there aren't too many
films about the Armenian Genocide. To my recollection only Atom
Egoyan's Ararat (2002) and Henri Verneuil's Mayrig (1991) dealt with
the subject though in rather indirect ways. The survivors of such
cruelty would be served well to have their stories engraved in
celluloid and, without sounding too callous, the larger geo-political
climate, the filigree of the time-period and the exotic Turkish
countryside only yields the ability to tell truly beautiful films.
Perhaps this was the motivation behind director Terry George's return to form. To tell a story worth telling. The Promise however is not a true story, but a historical fiction that follows a love-triangle through the Ottoman's entrance into WWI to the Armenian resistance battle at Musa Dagh in 1915. Our participants, Armenian medical student Mikael (Isaac), ballet instructor Ana (Le Bon) and American reporter Chris (Bale) are all trying to do the right thing. Apparently doing the right thing involves being on the periphery of important events and mournfully shaking their head as things fall apart around them.
This is not to say doing historical fiction like this isn't a winning formula; I mean it's not like Jack and Rose stopped the sinking of the Titanic. Yet the issue with The Promise is it distracts from the impact of those important events and instead doubles down on the saccharine, emotionally reserved and at times just plain silly pinings of Oscar Isaac and his ferreted eye brows.
For the record Isaac, Bale and especially Le Bon are acting rather hard for this movie. If you squint and tilt your head you can almost see what they were going for, and even if you didn't it's still obvious their talents are worth a much better movie. Le Bon simply oozes sincerity while Bale coasts on his signature brood to give us his version of a hard-scrabbled, morally pugnacious journalist. A version that occasionally feels like you're watching a 1940's propaganda piece gently courting American audiences into the war effort.
As for the "time-period and the exotic Turkish countryside," director Terry George and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe appear to be in the midst of a social experiment. That experiment being how ugly can they make the Portuguese countryside (doubling for Turkey) look without the audience noticing. The interiors are even worse with everything layered in misshapen shadows and back lit like a cheaply made Fanta commercial.
I suspect somewhere in the hours of footage filmed there's a much better movie than the one we got. The story, as false footed as it is, has the potential to be satisfying while the acting can be chalked up as a modest triumph. What will no doubt win over most audiences however is their own innate humanism in the face of adversity and horror. People will no doubt project their own narratives of historical events onto the plain muslin of the screen, maybe going so far as to draw contemporary parallels. Such instincts should be encouraged and rewarded by films worthy of contemplation. The Promise's heart is definitely in the right place but a worthy film it is not.
Unforgettable nips at the heels of an inconceivable yet still
surprisingly common movie tradition. Movies like this seem to come out
like clockwork every spring and fall, selling trashy love triangles,
campy plot contrivances and flavorless counterfeit emotions
masquerading as insights into the human psyche. I'm half tempted to
keep this review as general as possible just so I can plug it in in
perpetuity every time an Obsessed (2009) or a When the Bough Breaks
(2016) or a The Perfect Guy (2015) rears its haughty, contemptuous
But no, I will play nice, on the off chance that maybe someday one of these overwhelmingly crappy movies actually manages to reach the high bar set by Fatal Attraction (1987) - my God, Fatal Attraction is the high bar! And as much as I would like to say Unforgettable inches closer than most to being a passable dunderotica thriller, the fact is this movie may just be the worst of the bunch.
Rosario Dawson plays free spirit Julia Banks whose relationship with a former Investment banker turned California Brewer is high-and-away the best thing she has going for her. She has a job as a writer/editor I think but its obvious that's just an excuse for her to take lone baths in the middle of the day when the lights better. The only kink in her new relationship with...Mike, I wanna say it's Mike (Stults) is he constantly has to interact with his ex-wife, Tessa (Heigl) on account of their prissy little daughter (Rice). As the relationship gets more serious, Tessa sets out to make Julia's new life a living hell with the partial help of Julia's tumultuous past and a hacked iPhone.
The focus of our attention switches quixotically between the two women forcing the audience to choose sympathies between one character's milk-and-water niceness and the other's eye-twitching fastidiousness. Yet because of the laughable dialogue, the forced backstory and the awkward mish-mash of leering camera angles and lazy editing; having to choose between the two is like asking whether would would like to be bitten by a poisonous asp or smothered with a pillow.
Moments of Heigl plotting with the intensity of the nitrates in her wine flirt the line between reality and parody. She is hands down the best part of this movie mostly because the meta-text of her blubbering about being loved hints to the actresses own fall from grace, which (unfairly) pitted her against the Apatow frat-pack and the whole of entertainment media.
This movie is unlikely to help her image, especially when the story forces her and Dawson to go from blandly cordial to Jerry Springer, "Hands-off-my-man-b***h," level craziness with the power of a single cut. It's all so painfully contrived too as literally every major plot-point can be undone if anyone bothered to confirm suspicions instead of letting them lie. I suppose if it helps the story, normal human interactions can be sacrificed, especially when the source of this love triangle has a penchant for excusing anyone's concerns with a hand-wave. Ex-wife gives the "how well do you really know her" speech; don't sweat it. Child gets a haircut as punishment; seems like normal behavior. girlfriend's abusive ex-lover winds up bloody on the kitchen floor; let's wait until we hear from all sides.
Unforgettable's bogus lack of thrills, astonishingly idiotic characters and clumsily threaded plot-points are as basic and unnecessary as a Unicorn Frappuccino. All hopes for a stupidly sweet retooling of familiar clichés are dashed in favor of a sour monstrosity that basically announces you wasted your money. If a lesson can be learned here, its to never make your smartphone's password your birth-date; that and to never trust a woman who won't drink your own brewed beer.
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