Category Archives: Movie Reviews

HACKSAW RIDGE, starring Andrew Garfield

I don’t usually write about movies I can’t sit all the way through, but I have nothing else to do, and I want to save you the two hours and $10 you would otherwise spend. Wait for the streaming version if you must watch it at all. My guess is, you don’t need me to tell you this. With Doctor Strange already out and Fantastic Beasts coming out this week, no one is going to see Hacksaw Ridge anyway.

(Parenthetically, the trailers. What is up with Matt Damon starring in a movie about the Great Wall of China? Oh wait, it’s 2016. That’s why. End parenthetical rant.)

Since it was marketed as the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan, I had high hopes for this movie. Figured I would cry and have all the America feels.

Didn’t.

It isn’t enough to make a movie about a real war hero who saved lots of lives while himself in dire peril. That’s enough to earn the Medal of Honor, as our hero Mr. Doss did, but it’s not enough to make a great movie.

A great movie needs not to wallow for over an hour in hokeyness and cheesey grins. Needs to not have a hero who stands there gaping and whispering as if there is something more wrong with him than pacifism or never having met a girl before. Played by Andrew Garfield, Private Doss is a cartoon of a hero, and not well-drawn. Nearly everyone else is also a cartoon. Flat characters playing parts with predictable lines. Soldiers who don’t drink, smoke, or swear. What’s an R-rated war movie without the language, I ask you? Disagree if you like, but I’ve known some soldiers in my time, and it’s unrealistic to scrub them this clean. It felt like Opie Goes to Boot Camp and Sees a Naked Man and is Startled. I realize they got the R for peril and war scenes, but we left before any of that happened, so maybe there was also some language later.

We gave up after an hour of wanting something to happen and being nearly drowned in the predictability and sappiness: “Oh, she gave him a Bible. Betcha it saves him in the end,” and “Oh, right, just at the exact moment he’s going to be Court Martialed, an important man walks in with a letter that saves the day.” I mean, seriously, the gavel is on the way down when Important Man with Important Letter muscles his way into the courtroom. Puh-leez.

There’s a naked man being predictable, put there of course so that there’s a naked man–neither he nor his nakedness advances the plot. There are also some rough soldiers doing rough soldiery things. Because Private Doss, who is a conscientious objector and a Seventh Day Adventist, won’t touch a rifle, and they really want him to so that they don’t all get punished. Which made me wonder if Drill Instructors are really like badly-trained third grade teachers: “One of you acted out, so all of you miss your recess,” which is supposed to be a lesson in class loyalty or unity, but really just makes people angry.

Weirdly, we don’t hear that Private Doss is a Seventh Day Adventist until he is all the way at boot camp. I’m not sure, but I think his family sits down to a meal that includes meat. Maybe it’s the Loma Linda meat substitute that comes in cans and you can buy it at your local grocery store above the tuna and canned salmon. Or maybe their kind of Adventism is different from the vegetarian kind I know about. They never talk about being Adventists. They don’t pray or attend church. There is no Bible reading or Ellen G. White reading. The Adventism is just something he brings up far too late to be believable. And in fact, his Adventism, if any, actually is not the reason he is averse to weapons, a fact that comes out in a jail-induced nightmare/flashback. Maybe the religious angle was put in there to make the movie one of those “Take your youth group!” films people make when they wonder if the movie itself is too sappy to make any money, and if that is the case, it should have been PG-13, since even youth pastors can’t haul groups of teenagers to R-rated movies without having so many chaperones the kids would refuse to go.

This movie could have been great. It needed more grit. Less sap. More realism. Less, “Oh goody, I met a girl, I’m in love, let’s get married.” There was a great true story. I wish they had told it better. From the beginning.

Fascinatingly, Mr. Doss, who is presented as the most Christian of everyone in the movie, believes antithetically to nearly all the Evangelical Christians I personally know. He’s a pacifist, won’t touch a rifle, has no use for the right to bear arms. That being said, I don’t know to whom this movie is marketed or how it will get any “likes” (we call those kinds of likes “dollars”). Christians who “stand their ground” are all about their guns and–I know this because I see it daily on Facebook–would call this young man a coward and disgrace, while hippies and other pacifists will think this hero is too shallow and unthinking.

It’s a Nicholas Sparks movie with guns. Or not guns. At least for the first hour and some. Our movie started at 6:40. We left at 8 and nothing had happened yet of any interest whatever. They had arrived at Okinawa, and were looking around wondering what was going to happen. I knew what was going to happen–he was going to save a bunch of people and then be saved by the Bible or with the Bible, and everyone was going to be proud.

Maybe the last half hour makes up for the rest. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that it doesn’t compare to Saving Private Ryan. In any way. At all. Nor does it come close to Fury. Or Monuments Men. Or Inglourious Basterds. Or even Pearl Harbor–not even close, and that had a lot of hokey and sappy.

Another thing I know is that I should leave before the people in front of us get all mad and turn around to give me stink eye because I’m whispering, “How stupid is this?” and Brian is saying, “Is this movie ever going to get going?” one too many times.

DOCTOR STRANGE, starring Benedict Cumberbatch

doctor-strange

I needed escape today. I needed gravity-bending. I needed my mind taken off the horrible. In short, I needed Doctor Strange, the latest from Marvel Studios.

I also needed to know whether Benedict Cumberbatch could carry a movie using an American accent. I wasn’t sure he could, the whole British-accents-make-everything-better thing, you know. The accent is irrelevant. It’s the characters that are intriguing. In fact, character is the main deal here–all the special effects and Inception-on-steroids building-folding is way cool, but the central theme of the film is the evolution of Stephen Strange, M.D.’s character. He moves from brilliant neurosurgeon to super hero in one little movie, and that’s saying something.

Here’s the story: Brilliant neurosurgeon gets hurt, can’t doctor anymore, wants to get healed, finds a possible path to that, meets some remarkable people, achieves a measure of control over his life, decides to follow his bliss. Or his fate. Or his doom. You pick.

Some of this you’ve seen before. The building-folding mentioned above, in Inception, the time loop, reminiscent of one particular scene in Edge of Tomorrow, the whole bit about how the wand picks the wizard from Sorcerer’s Stone, (except here it isn’t a wand, but something quite like the Whomping Willow), but much of it is new and fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the references to American and Marvel culture throughout.

And the music. I usually don’t notice the music in films, or if I do, I sort of forget about it. Not so with this music. Much of it was haunting and emotionally charged.

Some of my readers may be put off by the Eastern mysticism/New Agey stuff, but really, we need to understand that this is a movie about magic and super heroes and by now you (if not your children) should be able to watch a movie without hiding behind your popcorn. You should, by now, be able to watch a movie for the joy of it and be able to untangle what is joyous and inspirational and good for you from that which is chaff-y and discardable. Indeed, I would contend that much is said in this movie that a Christian could take to heart. Especially today: Don’t give up. Keep working. There is much good to be done.

Benedict Cumberbatch is as handsome as ever, as is Chiwetel Ejiofor. Tilda Swinton is as White Witchy as ever, perhaps even more so. I love her bald head far more than I should.

As with all Marvel movies, you need to stay to the very end of all the credits.

MONEY MONSTER, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts

money monster

Money Monster is directed by the great Jodie Foster with the exact amount of finesse necessary to let you know that everything is totally screwed up, but no one really cares, and we can all get back to our ordinary lives, you know, the ones in which you have this supposed money in your supposed accounts, but it’s all just zeroes and ones in a program somewhere that someone could take and fritter away at a moment and not have to explain why.

Yeah, it’s that movie. A public service announcement for Bernie Sanders and against fiscal corruption in the corner offices where it’s all about their CEO’s zillions and no one cares about the poor slob who is investing his pathetic little fifty-grand inheritance in some loser scheme. The poor slob loses his money. Nothing happens to the corrupt CEO, and all is back to America As We Knew It.

The beautiful people are all beautiful here. Jodie Foster, as mentioned above, balances the emotions and drama and underlying tension perfectly, leaving you with this empty, frightened, “oh no, everything we’ve worked for is going to be flushed in one glitchy second by someone who won’t have to pay for it” thought. And then, as you walk to the car afterwards, you sort of giggle and chuckle and fling about full-denial statements about how it couldn’t happen again, and there are safeguards in place now, and yada yada yada.

I was all in from the get-go. It’s very well done, and you should see it.

Thoughts tangentially related to LONDON HAS FALLEN

london

Here is a movie where everything goes all explody and bad guys are rushing out of hidey holes like mice before an earthquake and everyone is shooting everyone, and you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, so you just open fire on everyone.

Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes it seems as though everything is on fire. Your world has exploded and continues to explode and you can’t trust anyone, and the people you think you can trust turn on you. When this happens, if you are a Secret Service Agent, you do your one job, and that is to protect the President. If you are you, you identify your one job and you do it.

You feed your child without regard to how you get the food. You walk away from your abusive marriage and worry about where you’ll lay your head later. You jump out of a window and pray there is somewhere to land that won’t cost you more than a broken leg. You do the One Thing you need to do and you do it right now and damn the consequences, because not to do those things is worse than doing them.

That was one of the thoughts I had while seeing this movie. The other was this:

Set up–a character mentions “in a thousand years” and follows with a description of how great America will still be.

Thought–America is that longlasting. Not in a Thousand Year Reich sense, but in the sense that Liberty thrives and grows. Liberty as we have it today–vast and expansive–would not have been understood by most of the world when we started working on it 240 years ago. When people say, “Your liberties are under attack,” they actually mean, “Your liberty to tell people to live as you live is under attack.” Liberty itself has metastasized. Globally.

When I was a child–as I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, so forgive me if you’re bored of hearing Cold War references–we were endlessly taught that the Russians were coming and that even if they didn’t, the USA was on the exact precipice of moral catastrophe, teetering toward the outward edge. The cliffs of our moral high ground were eroding at such a rate that national collapse was inevitable and imminent. Rome, we were constantly told, was destroyed from within, because of moral decay. Never mind the Visigoths. Two hundred years was foretold as the outside limit of how long a free people could exist without having ridden the slippery slope to destruction.

But no. People see Liberty and they want some of that. Marginalized people the world over see America, and if they can’t get here, they want to build it where they are. Within their culture and with what they have on hand. This love of Liberty and desire to get some is our greatest gift to the world. America has been the cultural equivalent of taking a kid to a candy store and saying, “Look there. If you work hard, you can earn up and have some.” The candies, of course, are the zillions of freedoms we enjoy daily. Blessings on all who are working toward having some of that, wherever they are and whoever they may be.

And oh yes, the move also had a plot:

There has been a death at 10 Downing Street, so all the important people have to go pay their respects. Someone wants all these important people to die, so there’s a lot of guns and bombs and grenades and exciting car chases and things blowing up. Our Secret Service Agent knows he has one job to do, as mentioned above, and his doing of that job is what the story is about. Protect POTUS, never mind anything else, or die trying.

So I leave you with this thought. If all around you is exploding and imploding and fireballing and catastrophizing and you have no idea who is your friend or whether there is anyone you can trust, feed your baby. Protect your children. Safeguard yourself. Do the job you were given to do. That is all.

If you can do your job in a nice, neat, corners-tucked-in manner, that is better. But if not, not. Sometimes life is messy. Sometimes you have to look around at the end of the day and say, “This day sucked, but my child is fed and safely in bed.” And then you do it again tomorrow. Because you have a job to do. And when people tell you, “You should have done it in this neater, nicer way that doesn’t offend me so much,” well, you know what to say.

And also, use your liberty. Because if you don’t, what is the use of having it?

PAWN SACRIFICE

pawn

Ah, the Cold War. That frightening time in our history when we practiced Drop Drills (the Russians were coming), were terrified by youth group leaders into memorizing even more Scripture (the Russians were coming), and went to bed in fear that we might wake up to a world in which we would have to Learn Russian (I should have. Half the associates at my local Wal-Mart speak nothing else, at least while they’re working.). Once I mentioned aloud that I wanted a “Mao Jacket” and was roundly castigated for “going soft” on Communism. I was 17. I liked the frog closure at the top. No, Mao was not Russian, but he was Close Enough. (He was also dead, but this did not matter.)

Also, apparently it was part of our National Pride to be the country of origin for our guy (who was Good) who could play chess better than their guy (who was Bad). Because, if an American champion can beat a Russian–excuse me, SOVIET (as if “soviet” is a nationality)–champion, then we can put up another tally mark in our column on the Who’s Ahead Board. Never mind the American champion is going stark raving berserk from the pressure. “Mr. Fischer, you don’t mind carrying the weight of our Entire National Honor on your shoulders, do you?” What do we care–dogs into space (at the cost of the dogs) or win a few board games in Reykjavik (at the cost of our guy’s sanity)–so long as We Win. (Were we traitors for cheering for Olga Korbut? Or that huge guy who used to lift weights in like fifteen Olympiads? Remember him?)

This reminds me of that ongoing thing about “If you do such-and-such, then the Terrorists have won.” Aren’t you sick of that? “If you put off traveling to Place X, the Terrorists have won.” Or, “If you have compassion for prisoners in Gitmo, then the Terrorists have won.” Newsflash: the Terrorists have not won. Granted, we (“we” as in the-civilized-world-but-paid-for-by-the-USA) need to Do Something about ISIS/ISIL, the current freaks-du-jour who are giving away girls to teen boys who kill for the cause, but The Terrorists As A Concept (that is, FundyIslam that wants to destroy America) have not won.

Back to Pawn Sacrifice.

So, this is a movie about Bobby Fischer, an American chess prodigy who got so good at moving his pieces around a board that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger got all fired up about it. Which reminds me of another Cold War memory from Junior High. We didn’t have Facebook, so we did things like sit around and play ADD UP THE LETTERS IN YOUR NAME TO SEE IF YOU GET 666, and apparently, you could add up the value of the letters or vowels in Henry Kissinger’s name and figure out that He Was The Anti-Christ. Because that’s super scriptural. (Maybe there’s an app for this now. “What supposed anti-Christ figure are you?”)

Figuring out who was the Anti-Christ figured large in the Cold War Christian Kid’s manual of how to be afraid of the Russians. Because they were coming, probably soon, and definitely you were going to have to inform on your parents, but no one would inform on you because you weren’t holy enough: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” was one of those Christian-school chapel messages thrown at kids sitting in alphabetical order to make them feel the need to Come Forward. (Bonus, if you come forward, you miss half the next class and maybe you can get out of the pop quiz because you were busy rededicating your life.) Rapture Fiction was already going strong in the 1970s (the time about which I am most familiar in the Cold War paranoia, because after that I was grown up and worried about other things like lesson plans and taxes and scaring kids about the Coming Russian Invasion–it was way easier being on the Scaring End of that than on the Scared End, and I apologize to the 5th Graders of 1981 and 1982 a whole whole lot, and not just for this.), and a lot of it was based on the idea that The Tribulation prophesied in Revelation and setting us all into a frenzy of fear was Exactly Equal to what Russian Christians were already suffering at that moment and had been since 1917 and even before that, because life under the Tsars was no picnic, amirite? Anyway, don’t get me started on what American Christians think equals “persecution” (being laughed at for doing something stupid comes to mind). Plus that general fear that gripped you when you got home and no one was there and you knew for doggone sure you had been (cue scary Larry Norman music) Left Behind.

Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) goes to Reykjavik (spelled it right the first time, woot!) to challenge World Champion Boris Spassky, who is played almost entirely mutely by the great Liev Schreiber. I’m game for watching Liev Schreiber play all sorts of characters without speaking, now that I’ve seen him do so with such expertise here. Henry Kissinger has more words in his movie than Liev Schreiber.

Hey, did you know that Dr. Kissinger is still alive? Dude is 92 years old, has been married to his wife since 1974 (that is, since I was terrified that the Russians were about to Take Away the BIBLE, so we’d better have most of it memorized, hurry up very very quickly; does anyone know any passages from Obadiah?), has a bronze star and a Nobel Peace Prize and runs Kissinger Associates? Nice work for a sometime anti-Christ, if you can get it.

Fischer doesn’t want to play Kill The King unless conditions are just right. That gets worked out. Lots of suspenseful chess ensues, including shocking moves that stun the audience. I love the level of intellect that realizes, “OH NO! He moved his rook! In 14 moves, it’ll all be over!” Mostly, because when I play chess, I can see roughly one move ahead, possibly two, if I’ve had a lot of caffeine and am not worried about imminent Russian advances or terrifying secretaries of state who Weren’t Born In The United States (I’m not kidding, Dr. Kissinger had us shaking in our clogs and striped bell-bottoms with rope-and-bead belts. Because United States citizens who have risen to Cabinet posts AND ARE JEWS are always wannabe beasts or false prophets.).

We win. Duh, it’s the Cold War. We were always going to win. Because Dollars. And they were Starving to Death and trying to recover from Stalin at the same time, while trying to cosmonaut it up at our Neil-and-Buzz level, Good Luck with that one, Russkies! Which is not to say we shouldn’t have been afraid. At any moment some shoe-banging Soviet Dictator could have decided not to turn his missile-carrying boats around. Or any number of other disasters could have overtaken us. But it’s easy, now that we’re on the other side of that, to make snide comments. Unless you want to start talking about How Scary China Is. Which I don’t want to do. Because no.

The movie is definitely worth seeing. You understand the title refers to Mr. Fischer, right? Never mind his mental clarity or need for psychiatric care–we’ve got to Get Ahead of The Bad Guys. What nonsense are we doing like this now in whatever quest we’re currently on? Let the kid play chess. There’s no need to make a federal (or international) case out of it. Of course there’s some footage of Real Bobby Cracking Up In Public at the end. I’m not sure that was called for, but whatever. I’ve cracked up in public myself. Happily, before cell phones. Once, memorably, at a bowling alley, but that is a story for another time.

THE INTERN, starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway

the intern

The Intern is a happy little date-night or girls-night-out movie that will make you say, “Awww, that was sweet.” Anne Hathaway is adorable in her look-at-me-I’m-a-kinder-gentler-version-of-Anna-Wintour take on being the Woman In Charge who wears sunglasses and amazing coats and gets picked up by car service every day. If you’re a Devil Wears Prada fan (and you know you are), you’ll find yourself saying, “No, no! Don’t go in the house!” when the employee throws caution to the wind and enters the house. (Totes going to watch DWP tonight, though I don’t like the ending at all. The clothes. The thigh-high boots. The Tucci. I can’t resist.)

Robert De Niro stars as Ben, a nice 70-year-old retiree/widower who finds it emotionally exhausting to try to fill up his day with random golf games and other old-man-gatherings, and hops on the chance to become a Senior Intern at an internet start-up. His success and enthusiasm certainly caused me to want to become a senior intern. I mean, why not? I got a senior discount into this movie, after all.

Let’s talk about that, shall we? Apparently, I am not aging as gracefully as I think I am if I, at 54, pass for 62. Then again, I’m down with saving money, however that may happen. We can blame it on the teenager behind the counter–seriously, when I was her age, I could not tell the difference between forty and seventy, and even today, at a support group I attend, I accused a self-respecting 40-year-old woman of being only 25. She looked young to me, I have no other excuse.

Back to the movie: it’s sweet. It’s predictable. It has enough questions to hold you in your seat until the end so you can find out the answers. I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the ending, though I understood the reason behind it–a sort of zen moment, if you will–and there were some plot elements that could have been expanded on.

If you’re looking for a nice, happy way to spend an evening, this will do. Or wait for it to come streaming into your device. That’s also okay.