"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Absolutely no reason to ever see this derivative and dull snooze of a movie.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, is the the story of Jean Grey as she comes to grips with her mutant powers and murky past. The film stars Sophie Turner as Grey, with the usual X-Men suspects James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult along for the ride, as well as a supporting turn from Jessica Chastain. Dark Phoenix is the sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and is the seventh and final installment of the current main X-Men saga.

After I see a film I usually either sit in the theatre or go out to the lobby and write down my brief thoughts. After X-Men: Dark Phoenix I sat trying to think of something to write and was stumped. It wasn’t that I had no opinion about the movie, it is that I only had the most distant, passing and fading memory of what had just transpired on screen. Dark Phoenix is such a derivative, dull and middling movie that it proves to be instantly, and almost entirely, forgettable.

X-Men movies over the last 19 years have, in general, been aggressively mediocre, visually banal and dramatically mundane (the notable exception being 2017’s Logan). While some of the X-Men movies have been mildly entertaining and thematically intriguing, for the most part they have failed to live up to their extremely rich source material.

20th Century Fox came into the superhero market with a great deal of fanfare by handing the creative keys of the franchise to at-the-time esteemed filmmaker Bryan Singer, who directed the first film, X-Men in 2000, and four of the seven main X-Men films in total. But nearly twenty years after the X-Men’s cinematic debut, Fox leaves the superhero arena with barely an audible whimper. Dark Phoenix is a continuation of the downward trajectory of X-Men movies that was undeniable with 2016’s abysmal Apocalypse. It seems as though Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix were in a race to the bottom of the X-Men filmography…Dark Phoenix wins that race by a surprisingly strong margin, and is only notable for the fact that it is indeed the very dregs of X-Men movies.

For Fox to end their X-Men run with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix is a humiliation almost equal to everyone’s least favorite pederast Bryan Singer’s fall from grace. One can only hope that Disney, which purchased Fox and with it the X-Men, can reboot this wayward franchise with some fresh creative blood that can resurrect this moribund series.

As for the particulars of Dark Phoenix…where to begin? The movie is stultifyingly dull, thematically trite, lazily acted, dismally written, impotently directed and is as visually stale and flat as possible. Besides that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? No doubt better than Dark Phoenix.

What is striking is that Dark Phoenix boasts a cavalcade of really top notch actors but is riddled with insipid performances. Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and one of my favorites, but in her turn as Raven she so lifelessly mouths her lines it feels as if she is working the graveyard shift at the 24-hour Arby’s in Podunk, Kentucky. She seems genuinely embarrassed to be in the movie and entirely disinterested in being there.

Jessica Chastain is another quality actress who sleepwalks through Dark Phoenix. You can almost see the money signs in Chastain’s eyes as she vacantly goes through the motions.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as Magneto and try as he might he simply cannot muster any mettle/metal in his performance…pun intended.

James McAvoy suffers even worse humiliations than the rest of the cast as in one scene, that is so ridiculous it made me laugh out loud, his Professor X is forced to “walk” on his crippled legs, to hysterical affect. This scene was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, although that is something out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

Sophie Turner, last seen as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, is the film’s lead and she does not prove herself up to the task of carrying a feature film. Turner is a beautiful women but, sadly, as my life proves, beauty can only get you so far. Turner simply does not have the skill, charisma and magnetism to command audience’s attention for a feature length film. That doesn’t mean she will never be able to do that, it just means she cannot do it now.

The overwhelming feeling I had about the cast while watching this movie was that they were simply playing out the string and cashing in while they could. This is the last X-Men movie of this cycle, and these actors will most likely never play these roles again…so they need to get while the getting is good…and these performances felt more like a heist and a getaway than commitment to acting artistry. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, the mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself after all, but it definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouth of fans as the movie’s stars grab the money and hustle to get out of Dodge as fast as they can.

Simon Kinberg wrote and directed Dark Phoenix, proving that he is not even remotely good at writing or directing. Kinberg’s script is abominable and his miserable direction is a major reason why such a stellar cast turned in such horrendous performances.

Kinberg’s script is so shallow and empty that the biggest feeling I had at the end of the movie is…what is the point of it? Obviously the point is to make money, which it might, but on a more philosophical level the question truly is…what is the purpose and meaning behind this movie? What is the animating philosophical/psychological/spiritual principle of this movie? Yes, the film does have some of the usual Girl Power posing and preening, which has become de rigueur lately, sprinkled throughout. Lines like “since women are always saving the men around here you should change the name to X-Women"!” and “your mind has been poisoned by men with small minds” and “you’re not a little girl anymore” and my favorite exchange where the villain (a female) says to Jean Grey, “you’re emotions make you weak” and Jean replies, “no, my emotions make me strong!” give the impression of a philosophical foundation but are nothing more than vapid and vacuous bullshit meant to appease and patronize the neo-feminists in Hollywood and no one else. In reality the film has no philosophical, logical, dramatic or narrative foundation upon which to build itself, instead it is a soulless, paint by numbers exercise in vacant big budget franchise movie making and nothing else.

In conclusion, Dark Phoenix is a flaccid, unimaginative cinematic venture that is truly unsatisfying in every single way. Even if you are a super hero fanatic, there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in the theatres or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, this Phoenix was engulfed in the flames of its awfulness and avarice but was never able to rise from the ashes of its own failings and should be condemned to remain forever alone in the Dark…where it truly belongs.

©2019

Cold War: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 our of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A fantastic foreign film that is both personal, political and philosophical that boasts tremendous performances from both of its leads.

Cold War, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, is a Polish drama set during the Cold War that tells the story of the love between a young singer Zula, and the musical director who discovers her, Wiktor. The film stars Joanna Kulig as Zula and Tomasz Kot as Wiktor.

Just when I thought 2018 was to be officially designated as cinematically irredeemable, a bunch of foreign films have appeared late in the year that have been a lifeline to artistic redemption. Four of the best movies this year are foreign films I’ve seen in the last month, Shoplifters (Japan), Roma (Mexico), Happy as Lazzaro (Italy) and now Cold War (Poland).

Of course, context is everything and a less gracious interpretation of my adoration of these four foreign films could be that their artistic success is a result of their being in such stark and glaring contrast to the cinematically vapid garbage vomited upon the movie-going public by Hollywood this year. Regardless of why foreign films are so good this year and Hollywood films so bad…the fact remains that it is decidedly so and I will simply enjoy quality cinema without compromise where I can find it.

Which brings us to Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War. Cold War is a beautiful and brilliant film that is both personal and political, poignant and prophetic. Shot in a stunning black and white that highlights a bleak but bold aesthetic, Cold War is both visually striking and dramatically potent.

Pawlikowski, who also directed the Academy Award Best Foreign Picture winner Ida (2014), deftly crafts a lean film that is able to thoroughly tell the story of Zula and Wiktor amidst the wider Cold War that comes in under 90 minutes. Pawlikowski trims all the fat from the narrative and we are left with a strikingly effective and deeply insightful film that flows seamlessly through decades of personal and political history without skipping a beat.

Cinematographer Lukasz Zal masterfully uses the stark black and white to enhance the sub-text and narrative by deftly painting with shadow and light. Zal’s framing is impeccable, as evidenced by his very subtle but extremely effective and polished use of mirrors throughout the film to highlight the difficulty in discerning what is real and what is illusion. There is a shot of an after-concert party with a mirror for a wall that is so ingenious, precise and finely detailed I nearly fell out of my seat.

Pawlikowski and Zal never hit you over the head with their artistic virtuosity, as it is so understated as to be sublime, and creates an exquisite cinematic experience that is not only gorgeous to behold but extremely useful in propelling the narrative.

Joanna Kulig gives a transcendent and mesmerizing performance as the singer Zula. Kulig is a luminous talent and she is blessed with a vivacious, vibrant and voluminous magnetism that is unrelentingly irresistable. Ms. Kulig’s Zula is a wild animal from the hinterlands of Poland and she is as palpably dangerous, untamable and uncontainable as she is volcanically compelling, charismatic and complicated. Zula is a singer of traditional Polish folk songs and jazz, but she has a rock and roll soul as evidenced by her ecstatic and deliriously contagious reaction upon hearing Bill Haley and the Comets in one electric scene.

Ms. Kulig is like a Polish Jennifer Lawrence, stunningly beautiful with a relatable groundedness and charming fearlessness. Simply said, viewers, much like the character Wiktor, are unable to take their eyes off of Zula whenever she is on screen.

Tomasz Kot is equally effective as Wiktor but in much less dynamic ways than Ms. Kulig. Mr. Kot’s Wiktor is much more intellectual than the visceral Zula, but once she awakens the primal nature within him there is no putting it back to sleep. Wiktor is at first a rational man who is securely contained in a distant coolness, but as the film progresses and he gets ever closer to the inferno that is Zula, the ice melts and with it goes Wiktor’s rationalism.

What is fascinating in Cold War, is that the love story of Zula and Wiktor is such fertile ground for very profound political, social and philosophical symbolism. Zula is not just a firebrand from the back woods of Poland, she IS the Polish anima. While she may be swayed from one camp to another, be it the lure of western decadence or the security of Soviet protection, she is ultimately true only to the “folk” of Poland. In this way, Cold War is a meditation on the nationalism that is currently spreading across the globe in general and Europe in particular. Throughout history, Poland may fall under the rule of the Soviets or the West or some other power, but it will never fall under their spell. As Zula and Wiktor show us, Poland is for the Poles, and only Poles can truly understand it…which is true no matter what nation you plug into that statement.

Both Wiktor and Zula find “freedom”, at least as freedom is defined by western capitalism, but they don’t experience it as freedom at all but rather as decadence that is corrosive to their hearts and souls. The “easy living” of the west is a fool’s gold and Zula and Wiktor would rather be prisoners to political oppression in the east than slaves to their own desires in the “free” west. Zula and Wiktor learn that the “lie” of Soviet communism is dreadful, but the even bigger lie of the capitalist west is even more destructive to them.

Zula struggles to survive no matter where they go in Europe because at heart, she is the Polish countryside, and it is only there where she can find transformation and transcedence, and only with Wiktor. Early in the film Wiktor stumbles upon the ruins of a church and discovers giant female eyes painted on the wall that look right through him and watch him wherever he goes. Wiktor then looks up and sees a large round opening where the church roof used to be that reveals the sky. This circle, a symbol of wholeness, is the key to the film, as it reveals that both Wiktor and Zula, must go on their grueling journey of heart and soul in order to complete that circle and be transformed. The circle is atop a Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is the container for the spirit of the Polish people and the Polish anima - Zula. The Catholic archetypes are the ones that resonate in Poland, and Wiktor and Zula need to transcend the limitations of not only the Cold War powers that govern them, but also the religion trying to contain them. Their love is a love of wholeness that is as boundless as the heavens that dance above that whole in the church’s circular roof, but they can only attain it by going through the archetypes of the church.

In conclusion, Cold War is a stunning film about love, loss, identity and artistry that is dramatically powerful and politically poignant. Visually stunning and propelled by glorious performances from its two leads Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot, Cold War is a must see for any cinephile. More conventionally inclined viewers may struggle with the film as, like most foreign films, it is rather existential in nature and is less rudimentary in its storytelling. That said, if you love movies or have a cinematically adventurous heart and open mind, then you should definitely see Cold War.

©2019

Leave No Trace: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An understated but well acted and directed film that speaks quietly but says volumes.

Leave No Trace, written and directed by Debra Granik (based on the book My Abandonment by Peter Rock), is the story of a father with PTSD and his teenage daughter who live off of the grid in the woods of Oregon. The film stars Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie as the father Will and the daughter Tom.

Leave No Trace is not a spectacular film riddled with dazzling camera work or explosive dramatic gems, instead it is a deliciously understated and subtle movie exquisitely acted and masterfully directed.

Director Granik's last film was 2010's Winter's Bone which was Jennifer Lawrence's coming out party as a major talent and movie star. Lawrence was nineteen when she shot Winter's Bone, and her performance was so transcendent it garnered her an Oscar nomination and catapulted her to the A-list.

Leave No Trace's teen star is Thomasin McKenzie, and while she won't be on the express train to the A-list just yet, she certainly proves she will have a very bright future with her genuine work in the movie. McKenzie is a much more reserved actress than Jennifer Lawrence (and at 17, younger than Lawrence when she worked with Granik), but she shares the same vibrant inner life and grounded humanity that JLaw possesses.

What is so endearing about McKenzie's work in Leave No Trace is that, like a fawn taking its first steps, she carries the awkwardness of a teen girl with both a compelling mix of insecurity and bravado that is a joy to behold. When a scene arises where a typical actress would be trying to cry, McKenzie takes the wise and inspired choice to try and NOT cry. Watching her contain her emotions and only allow them to sneak through in the most understated of ways, like a quivering chin, made my acting coach heart burst with joy.

Teaming McKenzie with Ben Foster, one of my favorite actors and also one of the most underappreciated actors working today, makes for a dynamic pairing. Foster is blessed with both a gravitas and air of combustibility that makes him a magnetic and uneasy screen presence. Foster is, like McKenzie, understated in his performance in Leave No Trace, but the less he does the more mesmerizing he becomes in the role. Foster's layered and subdued work, sans his usual fireworks, is a testament to his skill and mastery of craft.

Speaking of mastery of craft, director Debra Granik takes the same subtle route as her actors. Leave No Trace is a straight forward film, and Granik shows her craftsmanship with her impeccable pacing, letting the narrative take its sweet time. Never in a rush, never showy, never over the top or even nearing it, Granik's proficient direction is proof that being able to tell a story without dramatic pyrotechnics and camera acrobatics is a dying art form.

Granik's Winter's Bone was a similarly directed film and proves that Ms. Granik is a throwback type of director from a fading cinematic era, the 1970's, when story and characters were the most important part of the film making process. I hope Granik becomes more prolific as a director in the coming years as her style and approach to the art form are a breath of fresh air in a sewer of over-the-top, look-at-me conformity.

While Granik's film is deeply poignant for many reasons, as a coming of age story, as a story of a wounded parent, I found it most poignant of all as an unwitting epitaph for the American male. Our society and culture has been emasculated and is feminized beyond recognition. All we are left with is a distorted masculinity (think of Trump or hip-hop culture) that no longer nourishes the society that contains it, but rather is a cancer that is toxic to all that come into contact with it. Real men...defined as self-sufficient, independent, individualistic, rugged, rough, straight-forward and trustworthy, are reduced to being either outlaws (echoes of writer/director Taylor Sheridan) or phantoms left to wander the wilderness but never be seen...like the mythical Sasquatch. As father to a young son, this is the reality that disturbs me to my core. In modern day America men like me and the man I am raising my son to be, are dinosaurs post-comet, a dying breed playing out the string while waiting for our extinction to become official.

As evidenced by the work of Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, Hell of High Water, Sicario), women cannot survive in the world of men, but as Granik shows in Leave No Trace, men cannot survive in the world of women either. Containing the unruly beast of man is no easy task, as evidenced by Tom, who enjoys being able to control her toy horses and who learns to lose her fear of bees and enjoy handling them even though they could kill her (but would die in the process), but she realizes that man (her father) is a hell of a lot more difficult and dangerous to control than honey bees.

The film also highlights the broken promise of America, especially to men. Leave No Trace peels back the band-aid that covers the bullet wound of America's forgotten. The dark underbelly of America, populated by men sold a bill of goods and exploited for their misplaced sense of duty and patriotism, is a striking indictment of the vacuousness of American culture and political rhetoric.

As the film shows us, America is dying because the American male is dying and with him the American dream. An entire generation of American men are being corporatized and neutered, thus left without any sense purpose or meaning in their lives. This America of eunuchs is a nation that simply will not survive for very long as it will collapse under its own pretensions.

In conclusion, I really loved Leave No Trace. I found the acting and directing to be top notch and the storytelling and sub-text to be truly fascinating and insightful. I recommend you go see Leave No Trace in the theatre, not because it is the type of film that demands the big screen, but rather to send a message to Hollywood that smart, well-crafted, understated and character-driven stories can garner an audience and make them some money.

Whether you are a man or woman, I believe that Leave No Trace will move you, as it reveals that the painful wound currently afflicting America is ultimately fatal...and that there is no turning back and walking away. Go see it now.

©2018

 

 

Red Sparrow: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this movie. If you are mildly intrigued by the premise or by the opportunity to see Jennifer Lawrence in her birthday suit, then watch it on Netflix or cable, but arm yourself with very low expectations.

Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Justin Haythe (based on the book of the same name by Justin Matthews), is the story of Dominika Egorova, a former ballerina turned Russian intelligence officer who uses her seductive charms to try and uncover the identity of a mole. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika, with supporting turns from Joel Edgerton, Mary Louise Parker, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons and Matthias Shoenaerts. 

When I first saw the trailer for Red Sparrow I was intrigued because I am a fan of Jennifer Lawrence and respect her work as an actress. In addition, I enjoy a good spy story (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of my sneaky favorite movies of the last bunch of years) and am a bit of a Russophile as well. My Russophilia mostly manifests itself in my choice of literature as I am a sucker for Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Chekhov and the rest but I can also appreciate a good Russian narrative in film as well. 

Days before I went to see Red Sparrow, a friend of mine, the venerable Spyder Le Frenchy, who is an incorrigible pervert, alerted me that he saw Jennifer Lawrence on 60 Minutes say that she appears naked in Red Sparrow. Spyder hasn't been to a movie in a decade, but with Ms. Lawrence's revealing revelation Red Sparrow became a must see movie event for him. I went to see the movie for reasons other than Ms. Lawrence's exposed flesh, but that being said, her nakedness was not something that would deter me from seeing the movie. 

Perversion aside, as a cinephile I found Red Sparrow to be mind-numbingly banal and completely underwhelming. In terms of perversion, I texted Spyder Le Frenchy after the movie and told him that if he is aroused by tedious, boring and incoherent things, then Red Sparrow is definitely the movie for him. 

I understood what Red Sparrow was trying to do, it was trying to be a sexy star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence. Wrapped in a cloak of Hollywood celebrity (Ms. Lawrence) and allegedly timely drama, the film is also surreptitiously a piece of propaganda meant to reinforce the Russophobia of our age. The truth is, the pieces are all in place for Red Sparrow to be a smash hit, it has the highest paid actress in the world, a stellar cast, and a relevant and potentially compelling story based on a successful book, but in execution, Red Sparrow is a lifeless and stale mess of a movie. 

Jennifer Lawrence is a terrific actress, dynamic screen presence and a luminous beauty, but she is so burdened by the guttural Russian accent she uses in Red Sparrow that her magnetism seems to evaporate right before your eyes. Ms. Lawrence's accent also occasionally goes in and out seemingly at random, so much so that there were moments where I wondered if her character were doing it intentionally for some secret spy reason…rest assured, she wasn't. 

Ms. Lawrence's performance is ultimately shallow, hollow and rings flat throughout. It felt to me like she was a movie star mailing it in the majority of the time. Ms. Lawrence is certainly a beautiful woman and the camera loves her, but for an actress playing a professional seductress, she struck me as the opposite of smoldering, in fact she came across as remarkably frigid and unsexy. All of the supposedly steamy romance in the film is suffocatingly dull, tedious and entirely devoid of allure, passion or eroticism. 

The cast of Red Sparrow is a group of acting heavy hitters, but every single one of them gives sub-par, entirely forgettable performances. Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Mary Louise Parker and Charlotte Rampling are, like Jenifer Lawrence, good actors who do bad work in this ice-cold clunker. 

Besides the cast's flaccid work, Red Sparrow's script is also a disaster area. Incoherent is the most pleasant way to describe the numerous twists and turns that all go nowhere at a monotonous snails pace. All of the characters are written as flat, one-dimensional stereotypes, and the narrative is a dull maze of standard spy movie tropes. 

The film is also a pretty heavy-handed piece of anti-Russian propaganda. Russia is presented as a bitter, monolithic, Orwellian tundra populated by equally cold, conniving and vicious human beings. Every single Russian man in the film is an irredeemable degenerate. Some are rapists, or pedophiles, or killers, and some are all three, but all are reprehensible. Russian women don't fare much better in Red Sparrow. According to the movie, Russian women are uniformly lying, manipulative, cold-hearted vengeful whores devoid of genuine human emotion who are proficient only at sex, violence…and occasionally ballet.

The Russia of Red Sparrow is decidedly Cold War era even though the film is set in the present day. Vladimir Putin is never mentioned by name, although a "Russian President" looms over the film's proceedings like a chemical weapons cloud. Red Sparrow's "Russian President" is portrayed in conversation as a cross between Stalin, Sauron and Scrooge…sans the charm. 

Interestingly enough, actor Matthias Shoenaerts plays a pivotal role in the film, and he is a dead ringer for Putin. Casting a Putin look-a-like in the film's most nefarious role did not happen by coincidence, that I can assure you. Shoenaerts is intentionally meant to represent Putin and his character's actions are meant to embarrass and humiliate him. 

The propaganda of Red Sparrow is what I would deem Reinforcement Propaganda, which means that it is not meant to instigate negative feelings toward Russia, but to reinforce and solidify previously planted negative feelings already in the collective. The most recent round of  Instigative Propaganda (not to be confused with Provocation Propaganda) against Russia started in the U.S. media in earnest in 2014 and has been relentless ever since.

Red Sparrow takes the foundation developed by this round of Instigative Propaganda (2014) and makes it manifest by simply dramatizing what the viewer has been taught to assume is true. That is the beauty of Reinforcement Propaganda, it builds upon Foundational and Instigative Propaganda and solidifies preconceived assumptions among the indoctrinated. In this case, the current coordinated propaganda war against Russia was built upon the much earlier Foundational Propaganda of the Cold War and anti-communist movements, which was heightened with the newest round of Instigation Propaganda started in 2014 (media coverage of the Sochi Olympics and Ukrainian Coup being notable examples). Now Red Sparrow is part of the Reinforcement Wave, that buttresses layers of disinformation that preceded it, and normalizes it through entertainment. 

All of that said, just because a film is propaganda doesn't mean it is automatically bad. Some propaganda, the most effective kind, is encased in a superior film. To be clear, Red Sparrow is not a bad film because it is propaganda, it is a bad film because it is a bad film. 

As for the specifics of why Red Sparrow is a bad film, I think it is because director Francis Lawrence lacks any vision whatsoever and…is not good at directing. A strong directorial hand may have been able to reign in this unruly film, but the clueless Mr. Lawrence is ill-equipped for such duty. A quality filmmaker of skill would've been able to, through mastery of craft, at least build tension and suspense with this story, but the cinematically impotent Mr. Lawrence is entirely incapable of such a task. Besides poor direction, the film also has no distinctive look to it and the cinematography of Jo Willems is so common as to be listless.  

In conclusion, Red Sparrow is little more than a poorly crafted, middle of the road, bland piece of Hollywood studio junk. Jennifer Lawrence may be a big movie star and the highest paid actress in the world, but even her star power is unable to keep this film's head artistically or financially above water. Red Sparrow could have been at least a halfway entertaining, if not a downright good movie, but due to weak direction and a horrendous script the film is ultimately a wasted opportunity, and a complete waste of your precious time. If you really want to see some creative and imaginative espionage drama involving Russians, my advice is to tune in to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC ( or any cable news talking empty-head) any night of the week, she'll have enough speculative, evidence-free, cloak and dagger Russo-phobic red meat to satiate all of your deepest xenophobic desires.

©2018

 

 

Mother! : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SKIP IT. Even the most edgy of art house inhabitants will find this film tough to swallow.

Most people don't know this about me, but due to a serious health condition (just like Christian Slater in Untamed Heart, I have a baboon's heart), I am one of those weird people who does not drink caffeine at all, no coffee, no tea, no Coca-Cola, and I almost never drink non-caffienated soda either. This is a shocking revelation, but I promise you it is true. Of the rare times I do indulge in a non-caffienated soda, it is always in the form of root beer and always when I go to the movies. One of the very few pleasures I have in my miserable life is to sit in the dark, watching a movie, drinking a gloriously oversized root beer and eating popcorn. Hell, sometimes I go to the movies just for the a taste of that bubbly brown nectar of the gods that we mortals know as the beer of root.

When I trekked to the theatre to see Mother!, my usual pre-root beer sense of anticipation was heightened because the film is directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Darren Aronofsky. An Aronofsky film and an ice cold root beer…what could possibly go wrong? Well, two things happened that would portend that Mother! would not be the stellar movie going experience for which I was hoping. The first was that when I bought my ticket I saw that the price had gone up nearly four dollars from what I usually pay. In Los Angeles, movie tickets aren't cheap to begin with, and then to realize that even though I went to the first showing of the day, because that day was not a Monday or Tuesday, I would no longer get the matinee price. So, after being forced to take out a second mortgage in order to cover the costs, I reluctantly shelled out my $16.50 for my movie ticket and then bought my overpriced root beer and popcorn. At this point I was now deeply in debt and the movie hadn't even started yet. I then entered the darkened theatre and began my movie going ritual of shutting off my phone and my mind, and settling in for a film I was excited to see. 

Then, just as the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled, I took the inaugural sip of my root beer and….God help me…it was FLAT. Now there may be nothing worse in the entire universe than flat root beer…not famine, not pestilence, not war. Nothing!

Now, my conundrum was this, do I get up and make the mile and half death march to the concession stand to make my displeasure known, which will no doubt be followed by a lackadaisical response to my complaint by the ill tempered staff, which will then trigger a disinterested plea on a walkie-talkie to the theatre bureaucracy to change out the floppy bag from which my gallon of flat root beer was birthed. I surmised that breaking through the malaise of employee indifference to solve my flat root beer problem could take at least 15 minutes, and by that time, the entire opening of the movie would be long gone, and God knows they sure as hell weren't going to rewind the reel and let me start my cinema experience over front the beginning. 

My other option was to, Christ-like, be a root beer martyr and just sit there and suffer the brutal indignity of taking tiny sips of the flaccid, syrupy concoction I was served. Being the good Irish-Catholic boy that I am, I made the difficult decision to endure my tonic torture and root beer brutality, and I stayed to watch the film with my gargantuan, de-bubbled companion. I should have known, all the signs were there, but my flat vat of root beer was a very bad omen indeed for Mother!, which turned out to be just as unpleasant to ingest as my 40 oz cup of flat, teeth dissolving and gut-rotting root beer. 

The basics of Mother! are this, it is written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and the story is a sort of supernatural, psychological thriller-dramedy about a couple living in an isolated farmhouse. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence with Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michele Pfeiffer in supporting roles.

I am a great admirer of director Darren Aronofsky, I believe him to be a true visionary and auteur, and one of the great filmmakers of his generation, second only to Paul Thomas Anderson. Aronofsky's breakthrough film, Requiem for a Dream, is a masterpiece, and his movies The Wrestler and Black Swan are truly outstanding pieces of work . Even The Fountain, one of his least critically successful films, is a fascinating and mesmerizing movie that I genuinely adore.

Aronofsky's last film though, was the utterly abysmal Noah, which was so atrocious as to be staggering. As I said though, I am ever the optimist, so I had very high hopes that with Mother!, Aronofsky would shake off the big budget blues that plagued Noah and return to his signature intimate character study approach to filmmaking that he does so well. Sadly, with Mother!, it seems Aronofsky is still grappling with the same thematic and cinematic demons which devoured him on Noah.

Mother! is a difficult film to categorize, some call it a psychological thriller, others a supernatural comedy and some still a religious horror film. I think it is mostly none of the above. If I am putting Mother! in its best light, I would say it is an ambitious, experimental, art house, horror-esque film. It is at times, very remotely reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby and maybe even The Shining, but then again it is absolutely nothing like those film at all. There really is no straight up comparison between Mother! and any other film I can think of, which I suppose can be taken as a compliment towards the movie. 

The trouble with Mother!, is that the first two thirds of the film are so suffocatingly monotonous, repetitious and dull that they swallow up any redeeming qualities the film may conjure in its final act. The final third of the film definitely intrigued me the most as it is Aronofsky at his most experimental and interesting. That said, even though the last act is unique, incredibly ambitious and its apocalyptic vision is certainly relevant in regards to what is resonating in our cultural consciousness at the moment, that doesn't mean it is good. While I admire Aronofsky for his bold approach in that final act, I also recognize that he failed at what he was trying to accomplish. I believe that third act is a noble failure, but it is a failure nonetheless. Unfortunately, the first two thirds of the film are so stultifying as to be cinematically fatal. I understand that the first two acts are supposed to be a sort of slow burn that builds to the chaotic, frenetic and Boschian final act, but because the first two acts are so tedious the film never generates enough interest or artistic momentum to make the final act worthwhile or artistically satisfying. 

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, who is as captivating and compelling an actress as we have working today, but even with her charisma and luminous beauty, she is unable to save the banal script from itself. As I watched Mother! I marveled at how it is impossible to imagine any other current actress being able to undertake the mammoth role and responsibility Jennifer Lawrence does in this movie. She is on screen the entire film and is in close up relentlessly, and while the camera dances dizzily around her head she never fails to be magnetic. While Mother! is not a good film, and reflects poorly on its director, it is still a monument to the colossal talent and skill of its leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence.

Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michele Pfeiffer all struggle with underwritten and rather incongruous roles that are little more than an annoyance to behold. These characters are so irrational, illogical and unbelievable that it is impossible for the viewer to be anything but repulsed by their presence and annoyed they must be endured. All three characters feel like they have wandered in from a very poorly written off-off-off Broadway play.

In terms of theme, Mother! is a film that uses a plethora of religious allegories and metaphors to tell a greater story than just that of a young couple living in a remodeled farmhouse. While the film is set entirely in a rather claustrophobic old house, to call the movie biblical in its ambition, if not its scale, would be entirely accurate. Aronofsky uses this house to play out the struggle of God from Genesis in the Old Testament to Christ's birth and crucifixion in the New Testament and even all the way up to our modern times and beyond. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the thematic exploration of the divine Feminine and its relationship to the divine Masculine. The Anima - Animus relationship is one well worthy of cinematic investigating, and watching the Patriarchal God usurp the Goddess is fascinating in theory, but not in execution. I was deeply enthralled by all of the philosophy, theology and themes on display in the film, but viscerally repelled by the lackluster consummation of those topics. 

Despite the intriguing third act and Jennifer Lawrence's noteworthy performance, I simply cannot, in good conscience, recommend Mother! to anyone. Watching the film felt more like an exercise in cinematic endurance or surviving creative torture than entertainment or artistic experience. I would maybe…just maybe...tell my more adventurous cinephile friends, and those who are ardent fans of Darren Aronofsky, to roll the dice and go see the film just to see if they agree with my assessment of it. But for regular folks, and even those who enjoy the art house, I say skip Mother! in the theatre and everywhere else. 

In conclusion, Mother! is similar to root beer, that delightful beverage that is infused with bubbles and a delicious pile of sugar as large as Scarface's desktop cocaine stash. Like root beer, Mother! has all the right ingredients, a uniquely gifted, visionary director in Darren Aronofsky, and a talented and alluring lead actress in Jennifer Lawrence, but just like my lifeless and insipid root beer at the theatre, Mother! never properly mixes its many desirable ingredients or infuses them with carbonated energy, and thus leaves viewers with a bitter and sour taste in their mouth once they've taken an unfortunate taste. Yuck.

©2017

 

Has the Fear of Putin Seized Hollywood?

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 04 seconds

Is Hollywood cowering from their most frightening bogeyman Vladimir Putin, or is the business of anti-Russian propaganda stronger than ever?

 Los Angeles is a very strange place to live. The weather is almost always sunny, comfortable and clear, leaving the city in a state of perpetual summer. On the rare occasion it does rain, the local media cover it as though the apocalypse were underway. This glorious weather may sound heavenly to those who suffer with brutally humid summers or bitterly cold winters, or both, but it has a downside to it, namely it can be terribly disorienting.

The longer you live here the more disorienting it becomes as you are rendered incapable of remembering if something in your past occurred on the Fourth of July or Christmas Eve, as those days, and nearly every other day, look exactly the same. 

This disorientation is heightened by the constant influx of beautiful young people who come to the land of milk and honey to find their fame and fortune. This yearly harvest of fresh blood combined with the interminable glorious weather leads many Angelenos to live in a state of surreality, where their imagination and the real world morph into one. 

An example of this bewildering condition where fantasy and reality blur, occurred this past Wednesday, July 19, when The Hollywood Reporter published an article provocatively titled “Vladimir Putin Cut From Two Upcoming Hollywood Movies”. Upon reading the headline I wondered if the Russian President was moonlighting as an actor and had felt the bitter sting of being left on the cutting room floor. Sadly, as entertaining as that premise may be, upon reading the article it was revealed that was not the case.

What the article did claim was that Hollywood studios are so petrified of retaliatory hacking by Vladimir Putin, they will not even mention his name in two upcoming Russian-themed films, The Red Sparrow and Kursk, for fear of angering him.

Apparently, Putin has become a kind of Creature from the Black Lagoon, or in this case the Black Sea, who if provoked, will rise from the depths to terrorize the innocent folk of Tinsel town. And like the citizens of Tokyo in a Godzilla movie, the studio big wigs are doing all they can not to agitate the great beast Putin in order to save their hides.

Studio executives are not exactly known for their profiles in courage, but the level of Putin-phobia described in this article is bizarre to say the least. That said, it would be understandable for Hollywood to cower in fear of Putin considering the steady diet of anti-Russian hysteria that they are continually fed by the mainstream media. The establishment press has turned Putin into a combination of Darth Vader, Sauron, Lord Voldemort and Hannibal Lecter, an omnipotent purveyor of evil who not only controls Trump, but aches for global domination and eats America’s elections with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

A case in point of the media’s voracious appetite for anti-Russian stories is that the aforementioned Hollywood Reporter article with its Putin headline, which was printed in an industry periodical and geared toward entertainment professionals, quickly spread and was reported on by standard news outlets across the globe, with similarly misleading headlines.

If Hollywood is afraid of hacking, it is not entirely unfounded, as Sony was the victim of a devastating hack. That hack occurred in 2014 and was blamed on North Korea who was allegedly trying to stop the release of The Interview, a comedy about trying to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un.

One illuminating piece of information to come out of the 2014 Sony hack was that a senior U.S. State Department official, Richard Stengel, was actively trying to get Hollywood studios to create anti-Russian propaganda. This is an intriguing piece of information to keep in mind when digging through The Hollywood Reporter- Putin story in question.

The Hollywood Reporter article says that, despite their apparent fear of hacking reprisals, “the film industry is finding the Russia theme too irresistible to ignore” right now. The article mentions no fewer than 8 Russia-themed films that are either in production or in the pipeline. The list of films includes the previously mentioned Jennifer Lawrence vehicle Red Sparrow and the true story of a Russian submarine disaster, Kursk, along with a Wonder Woman sequel where Wonder Woman goes back in time to fight the Soviets, a Rocky spin-off with a Russian villain, a potential Mikhail Gorbachev bio-pic, and films with titles such as The Tracking of a Russian Spy, How to Catch a Russian Spy and The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

 Combined with Russian portrayals in recent feature films such as the dreadful Child 44 and the abysmal Bitter Harvest, and in television shows like House of Cards, which featured a Pussy Riot cameo and a recurring evil Russian leader meant to be Putin, and it seems as though the State Department were successful in their quest for assistance from Hollywood in the propaganda department.

No doubt the greatest propaganda comes from the news media though, and I have to include The Hollywood Reporter in that category.  Upon closer inspection it becomes very clear that this ‘fear of Putin hacking’ story is little more than “fake news”.

The only person quoted in the article who makes any mention of Putin and hacking concerns is Ajay Arora, who does not work in the film business, but rather runs a computer security firm. Mr. Arora being the only source for the Putin claim is absurd, since his company stands to gain mightily by stoking the fears of studio executives over hacking.

The article also states that, “Insiders describe the moves (to excise Putin) as ‘creative choices’, but by avoiding Putin, Fox is also steering clear of any Russian hackers who might protest.” This is quite a remarkable sentence, as the writer quotes people who are speaking anonymously and are therefore free to speak their mind, but who say it is a “creative choice” to remove Putin, and yet she sticks to her premise, despite a lack of any evidence that hacking is the real reason for Putin being removed from the pictures.

The writer makes the rather illogical case that Russia-themed stories are blossoming everywhere in Hollywood, but the film industry is so scared of Vladimir Putin hacking them they won’t even mention his name in a movie. I guess Putin is so narcissistically evil that he will only retaliate against those that speak ill of him but not his nation, and Hollywood executives know this and are confident in this knowledge. This is obviously, absolutely and completely preposterous.

The Hollywood Reporter article ends by claiming, “But while Hollywood is willing to feed the public's hunger for all things Russia, studios will likely continue to play it safe when it comes to depicting the current leadership. After all, even Oliver Stone, who directed the pro-Russia documentary series The Putin Interviews, left the president out of last year's Snowden.”

Yes, even that America-hating, pro-Russian shill Oliver Stone cut any mention of Putin from his film Snowden! In fact, Oliver Stone was so afraid of Putin he went to Russia and interviewed him for a four-hour documentary.  Wait…what? The article’s final paragraph is a perfect synopsis of the incoherence of the entire story.

The writer of this Hollywood Reporter article is guilty of not writing an article around the provable facts of the story, but rather manufacturing a story to suit her preconceived narrative. No doubt she had to search far and wide to scrounge up the agreeable quote from Mr. Arora that quenched the thirst of her hypothesis.

Does that approach to journalism sound familiar? A great number of mainstream journalists have done the same thing over the last three years in regards to most any Russian story. Open the New York Times or the Washington Post and you will read lots and lots of assumptions, innuendo and self-serving opinions regarding Russia, but very few facts.

This sort of rancid propaganda and lazy journalism serves no purpose but to feed the fever of Russian hysteria, and foster a Dr. Strangelovian paranoia over fear of Putin contaminating our precious bodily fluids, namely our “sacred” elections.

When powerful institutions that shape our culture, like Hollywood and the media, set out to incite hatred against Russia and its people, it can only end badly. The spate of shamelessly one-sided news reporting and the villainous portrayals of Russians in entertainment have ignited an anti-Russian frenzy and panic that borders on delirium. The dehumanization of Russians is now at a fever pitch and will grow into madness, and from that madness will come war.

The Hollywood Reporter fantasy of Putin hacking movie studios is but a symptom of a wider disease that will inevitability lead to catastrophe. Cue Slim Pickens and his nuclear bronco ride to our oblivion. 

 

This article was previously published on Sunday, July 23, 2017 at RT.

©2017

 

Casting the Comey Affair

Estimated Reading Time : 6 minutes 38 seconds

Due to a very, very serious, dare I say, life-threatening illness (a chest cold!), I have not been able to keep my not-so-adoring public up to date on my feelings regarding the goings on in Washington, Hollywood and the world these past few weeks. I was unable to cover the Comey hearing, the British election and now missed the Sessions hearing. Due to a truly heroic effort on my part, I was able to read a bit about all of those proceedings in my weakened state, and even saw some clips on the television. Of course, any insights I may have been able to provide are long past their used by date, once again proving I am a day late and many dollars short. 

That said, I am not completely without some relevant thoughts. For instance, the thing that instantly occurred to me as I watched the coverage of Comey's testimony was, "who is going to play him in the movie?". I promise you there are some Hollywood suits who are plotting a film or miniseries about all of these made-for-tv political events. So I put on my sleazy producer hat and started thinking right along with them. I came up with multiple casts for the film I have titled "The Comey Affair". 

Some are Oscar bait, some are box office beasts, some are desperate wannabes and some are quick money grabs, but all of them are being contemplated by some fat cat in an office here in Hollywood…I promise you that. So sit back, relax, and enjoy inhabiting the mind of a Hollywood power broker!!

Here are the films.

STAR EDITION : THE A-LIST

Directed by Steven Spielberg, and typical of his films, his "The Comey Affair" will have lots of flag waving and swelling music. The establishment media will lap it up and heap praise upon it no end, but in reality the movie will be as awful as Bridge of Spies or Lincoln…which is really, really, really awful. 

James Comey - Tom Hanks : Of course Tom Hanks plays Comey. Hanks is incapable of playing any other character but a condescendingly noble and morally and ethically impeccable man with a heart of gold, and so it is with his rendition of James Comey. Think Sully, Captain Philips and Bridge of Spies guy crossed with his Saving Private Ryan character. 

Donald Trump - Jack Nicholson : This is both Nicholson's comeback and swan song. A surefire nomination for Best Supporting Actor will follow Jack's peculiar and erratic performance. Nicholson's work as Trump will be sub-par, like much of his work over the last thirty years, but he'll be rewarded anyway because Hollywood likes their icons to go out on top. Jack's Trump will be a combination of his Whitey Bulger-esque character in The Departed and Nicholson himself.

Mike Pence - George Clooney : Clooney will co-produce along with Hanks and Spielberg, so he'll play Pence in order to boost box office. He will do his usual lackluster, smirky work but will be taken seriously for some mysterious reason. The media will fawn all over George as he recounts one of the myriad of impotent pranks he pulls on his adoring co-stars. Oh, George, you cad.

Jeff Sessions - Kevin Spacey : Spacey will do little more than reprise his House of Cards character Frank Underwood as Sessions with some Keyser Soze mixed in. Spacey will no doubt try and talk Spielberg into letting Sessions have a scene where he sings, hopefully he will be thwarted. Bottom line is that Spacey will chew scenery and try and upstage his esteemed colleagues…hell…maybe it'll work. 

Melania Trump - Julia Roberts : Roberts, like Nicholson, is using this role as a comeback of sorts. She wants to get back into the Oscar discussion, so she tarts herself up and turns Erin Brockovich into an aging Eastern European model. Her accent will be atrocious, but her push up bra will earn a Best Supporting nomination. Robert's work with Clooney on the media tour blitz will be vital in attracting the insufferably vacuous Clinton Cult Feminist audience. GIRL POWER!!

Ivanka Trump - Margot Robbie : Margot Robbie will struggle with the accent as well, namely losing her Austrailian one, but, as usual, she will no doubt do stellar, and under appreciated work as Ivanka. Robbie is a solid actress, and she will tell a story with her Ivanka that will be both appealing and unsettling. 

Jared Kushner - Leo DiCaprio : Leo will make Jared into a quiet, reserved, nearly mute young man in public, but a crazed and maniacal wild man in private. Think of Leo's Jared as a cross between his Jordan Belfort character in Wolf of Wall Street, his Howard Hughes from The Aviator and Frank Abignale from Catch Me If You Can.

 

OSCAR EDITION

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson brings an artists eye to the proceedings, making his "The Comey Affair" a mix of There Will Be Blood, The Master and Magnolia. A taut and tense story brought to life by a stellar and sublime cast.

James Comey - Daniel Day Lewis : Lewis, a master, is tall, which is needed to play Comey, who is a towering 6-8. He also brings the skill and versatility to give the goody two shoes Comey some much needed inner life and turmoil. Lewis' Comey will be a cross between his Bill The Butcher in Gangs of New York, his Abraham Lincoln in the aptly titled Lincoln, and his Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and will be much more interesting than Comey himself.

Donald Trump - Brendan Gleeson : Gleeson is an often over-looked great actor. His subtle work and physical pseudo resemblance to Trump will make his performance as the President Oscar worthy. Gleeson's artistic furnace burns hot, and when put into the container of Donald Trump, will be down right combustible. 

Mike Pence - Gary Oldman : Oldman, like Gleeson, is an under-appreciated genius, and his Pence will have the exterior of his George Smiley from Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, and the toxic inner life of Oldman's electric Sid Vicious. Oldman's Pence will be a ferocious wolf in delicate sheep's clothing.

Jeff Sessions - Chris Cooper : Cooper never fails to flesh out his character in the most insightful of ways, and his Sessions will no doubt be reminiscent of his closeted American Beauty character. Defiance and vindictiveness wrapped in the sing-song charm of the Old South.

Melania Trump - Cate Blanchett :  Blanchett's Melania is the beauty and the brains behind The Donald. Always at least three steps ahead of everyone else, Blanchett's Melania is playing chess, while Donald plays checkers. She let's everyone think she is a prop, but the reality is that she is the only one who knows how to manage the man-child that is her husband. 

Ivanka Trump - Jennifer Lawrence : Lawrence dazzles as Trump's darling daughter, bringing her to life with a mixture of her Rosalyn Rosenfeld from American Hustle and Joy Mangano from the accurately titled Joy. The dynamics between Ivanka and Melania in this film are both toxic and combustible. 

Jared Kushner - Ryan Gosling : Gosling's Kushner is an amalgam of his Dan Dunne from Half Nelson, Dean from Blue Valentine and Jared Vennet from The Big Short, and gives Jared a depth that he undoubtedly lacks. Struggling to keep up with Ivanka, Gosling's Jared bites off more than he can chew, and gets in way over his head with the Russians.

 

STANDARD STUDIO VERSION

 

Directed by Some Studio Hack, this film will get lots and lots of hype, but will be terribly uneven because it is little more than a reenactment of events rather than an artistic pursuit. It will make a ton of money though, and God knows that is all that matters. It will run almost continuously on HBO once it is out of the theaters.

James Comey - Ben Affleck : Affleck has dark hair…so he's perfect as Comey! Or so the thinking goes with the Einsteins running Hollywood. Affleck's Comey is, not surprisingly, a bit wooden, a bit dull and a bit one dimensional….not unlike the actor himself! I'm kidding, I like Ben Affleck, but his work as Comey is less like his Batman, which I enjoy, and more like his Nick Dunne from Gone Girl, which I do not enjoy. 

 

 

Donald Trump - Matthew McConnaghey : McConnaghey sinks his teeth into The Donald and conjures up an over-the-top, make-up ridden performance that he thinks is wonderful, yet rings as hollow as his work in those atrocious Buick commercials. McConnaghey's real value will be in drumming up business for the film on the media tour, something at which he is very good. Alright, alright, alright!

Mike Pence - Liev Schrieber : Schrieber's Pence is just as quiet as the real man, but considerably more menacing. I would enjoy an entire film devoted to Schrieber's portrayal of Pence, but sadly, he is a bit player in this Hollywood monstrosity. 

Jeff Sessions - Scott Glenn : Glenn gives Sessions a complicated humanity, which is a sign of his great skill as an actor, but completely at odds with reality. Underused in the film, Glenn's talents are squandered in favor of more generic characterizations.

Melania Trump - Nicole Kidman : Kidman goes all in and gives an Oscar worthy performance as Trump's conflicted trophy wife. Sadly, Kidman's great work is overshadowed by a shallow script and her co-star McConnaghey's Trumpian histrionics. Much like her marriage to Tom Cruise, Kidman deserves a much better fate.

Ivanka Trump - Brie Larson : Larson is out of place as Ivanka, and struggles to find any sense and rhythm with her performance, sort of like her work in Kong : Skull Island. But thankfully Larson is still able to let Casey Affleck know she disapproved of his winning an Oscar…a show of true courage…so there's that.

Jared Kushner - Emile Hirsch : Hirsch is an inconsistent actor, but he conjures up his best work as Kushner, combining his Christopher McCandless from Into The Wild and Johnny Truelove from Alpha Dog to create a luminous portrait of the enigmatic son-in-law.

 

BAD IDEA/STAR VERSION THAT MOST DEFINITELY MIGHT GET MADE

Directed by some low level guy desperate for a shot at the big time, but he…and it is always a HE…is hired for the sole purpose of being Tom Cruise's lackey. The film spends more than 100 times its budget on marketing…and the film reflects that. 

James Comey - Tom Cruise : Cruise is more than a foot shorter than Comey, but even when the sign says you must be this tall to ride, Cruise never lets that stop him (Jack Reacher). Cruise turns Comey into someone who runs a lot, he is either being chased, or chases after things a great deal, for no apparent reason, but Cruise likes to run in his movies so he demands it happen. More Border Collie than FBI director, Cruise's Comey is a cross between Brian Flanagan from Cocktail and Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men. As short as Cruise is, he seems even smaller playing Comey.

Donald Trump - Nic Cage : Cage envisions his Trump as his chance for a big comeback and goes all in. Covered in make-up, he gives a distractingly horrible performance, sort of a cross between…well…actually just like everything else he's ever done. Over-the-top and bombastic, with all the subtlety of an Elvis impersonator, Cage does the nearly impossible when he sinks even lower in the eyes of critics.

Mike Pence - Emilio Estevez : Estevez gives a nuanced, thoughtful and remarkably poignant performance as Mike Pence, and absolutely no one notices because he's Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise and Nic Cage are on set. 

Jeff Sessions - Nathan Lane : Lane plays Sessions as almost identical to his character in The Birdcage, which delights liberals everywhere, and infuriates Trump and Sessions.  

Melania Trump - Emily Ratajkowski : Radakoski is much too young to play Melania, but no one cares because she does numerous nude scenes and everyone forgets about how awful this film is for a few, brief, glorious moments. 

Ivanka Trump - Emma Watson : Watson's Ivanka is Hermione without the wand...which is a pretty accurate portrayal of Trump's most favored off-spring.

Jared Kushner - Taylor Lautner : Lautner's Kushner takes his shirt off in nearly every scene, even the ones in the Oval Office. There is usually no rhyme or reason why he does it, he just does it, and it seems completely appropriate. Lautner, just like Kushner himself, is not allowed to speak in the film, only take his shirt off and do pull-ups. 

 

 

WILD CARDS

And now…some out of the box choices that could be very interesting if they were given the chance. Along with some interesting directors like Steve McQueen, Gus Van Sant, David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky, these make for some intriguing combinations. 
 

 

James Comey - Colin Firth : Firth doesn't look like Comey, but he is a master craftsmen as an actor, and he could flesh out the lanky G-man's  more conflicted and complex inner life as well as any actor out there.

Donald Trump - Sean Penn : Penn would have to wear a lot of make-up, but he could be phenomenal in the role. Penn's commitment and volatile energy would be mesmerizing to see as Trump. Especially opposite Daniel Day Lewis' Comey.

Donald Trump - Al Pacino : Pacino could capture the essence of Trump perfectly, the braggadocio, the bluster, the hollowness. Pacino at his best could even make Trump a sympathetic character, which would be a Herculean task, but a fascinating one to watch.

Melania Trump - Angelina Jolie : Angelina would be a brilliant choice, a powerful, beautiful and wise woman stuck being a trophy wife to a buffoon who is the most powerful man in the world. This role could spark Jolie's artistic renaissance.

Melania Trump - Amy Adams : Adams is able to portray an existential sadness and melancholy that is so captivating it mesmerizes, and Melania may be one of the saddest and most melancholy women walking the planet. A daring casting choice, but one that I think would pay off "Big League".

Mike Pence - Kenneth Branagh : Branagh could play Pence's false humility and stifled arrogance to perfection. Pence isn't so much King Henry V, but someone who thinks of themselves as Henry V.

Jeff Sessions - Mark Rylance : Rylance has a soft energy to him, but it conceals the fire breathing lion in his belly, which is just like Sessions, the southern gentlemen, who would eat his own young in order to gain power.

Ivanka Trump - Saoirse Ronan : Ronan is as good as it gets as an actress, and her Ivanka would no doubt be an intriguing and layered performance that would reveal more about Trump's iconic daughter than even Ivanka is aware.

Jared Kushner - Joaquin Phoenix : Phoenix would instantly make Jared a very complicated, troubled and captivating character to behold. Phoenix would make the Prince of Trumpdom one part Freddie Quell from The Master, and two parts Commodus from Gladiator. A daring, and original piece of casting that would elevate any film bold enough to undertake it.

DISASTERS IN WAITING

Here are some really bad ideas for casting this film, that are most certainly being considered by the morons running Hollywood. 

James Comey - Colin Farrell : The studio wants a star and no one else will sign on, so they go with Farrell because, just like Comey he has dark hair!! I like Colin Farrell, but this is a catastrophe waiting to happen. 

James Comey - Brad Garrett : Garrett is very tall, maybe even taller than Comey himself, so you know some studio dope thinks he is the "right fit" to play the part. Of course, Garrett is also the opposite of Comey in every single way and completely ill-prepared for the acting challenge portraying him would bring. That said, it would be wonderfully unintentionally funny.

Donald Trump - John Travolta : Travolta would think this is his ticket back to the big time so he would ham it up to the extreme, just like he did on the People v. OJ Simpson as Robert Shapiro. This would be just another opportunity for Travolta to embarrass himself…and I am sure he would take it.

Donald Trump - John Goodman : Goodman is adored by Hollywood for some weird reason, so he'll get a shot to audition for the role. And even if he's terrible, which he will be, they still might give him the gig because, hey…he's John Goodman!

Jeff Sessions - James Spader : Spader would bring his usual smugness to the role and little else, but damn, he is really good at smugness!!

Melania Trump - Sofia Vergara : Vergara has an accent and wears skimpy clothes, so she'd be perfect as Melania, or so the thinking goes. But the fact that she has a Latina accent and looks as Eastern European as Oprah Winfrey will not stop Hollywood from casting her.

Ivanka Trump - Juliana Hough : Finally, a role that will propel Hough to the stardom that Hollywood has been trying to create for her for years. The only problem is that Hough can't act and certainly couldn't bring Ivanka to life with any believability. 

Jared Kushner - Toby Maguire : Maguire's doe-eyed Kushner would be so underwhelming it might actually make the real Jared Kushner look vibrant and virile. 

BAD MADE-FOR-TV

And in conclusion…the cast of the made-for-TV version of The Comey Affair. This would most likely end up collecting dust on the Hallmark Channel.

James Comey - Josh Duhamel : Duhamel is tall…JUST LIKE COMEY!!! So he gets the part regardless of the fact that he is one of the most insipid actors walking the planet. 

Donald Trump - John Heard : Heard's work as Trump would make his dreadful performances in the Home Alone series look like Sir Laurence Olivier at his peak. To his credit, he has the physique for it. 

Mike Pence - William Peterson : Peterson has gray hair, so does Mike Pence! I actually am not sure if Peterson acts anymore as he is probably relaxing in his solid gold house and driving his rocket car…but if he wants the Pence part, it's his!

 

Jeff Sessions - Jim J. Bullock : Bullock has a southern accent…YOU'RE HIRED!!!

Melania Trump - Marg Helgenberger : Along with Peterson, this would be a nice reunion of the CSI gang, which might attract the older audience this tv version desires. 

Ivanka Trump - Kaley Cuoco : She stars on the number one sitcom in America!! Sign her up!!

Jared Kushner - Jim Parsons : Parson's Jared would actually be interesting to watch…of course it would be terribly written and shot so any worthwhile work he could muster would be drowned in a tidal wave of poop. 

Thus concludes my casting session for The Comey Affairbest case scenario...coming to a theatre near you Christmas Day 2017!!!! Or, worst case scenario, airing on the Hallmark channel Thanksgiving night!! 

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars America!! We'll see you at the movies!!

©2017

X-Men : Apocalypse - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THERE ARE ZERO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!****

RATING: 1.42 STARS OUT OF 5 STARS

RECOMMENDATION : SKIP IT. THERE IS REALLY NO REASON TO SEE THIS FILM UNLESS YOU ARE AN ABSOLUTE COMIC BOOK AND X-MEN FANATIC WITH A LOT OF TIME TO KILL.

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 5 MINUTES 4 SECONDS

I did it, I went and saw ANOTHER super hero movie. Last summer I was unable to go to the movies during blockbuster season, so I am making up for lost time by giving as much money as possible to those fine people at the movie studios for all of the selflessly great work that they do (God Bless Them!!!). I feel, deep down, that if I didn't make multiple pilgrimages to the theatre this summer and missed a second straight blockbuster season, I would be a bad American…and frankly…the terrorists just might win, and I simply cannot let that happen.

Before I begin my review in earnest I must make a Full Disclosure: during my teen years I attended and graduated from Charles Francis Xavier's (Professor X) "School for Gifted Youngsters" in upstate New York. I have struggled for years to say this but...I am officially a mutant. My mutation gives me two super powers, a Level 5 Contrarianism and the ability to smell bullshit from over a mile away. Granted these powers aren't exactly invisibility and flight but you take what you can get and do the best you can with what you've got..at least that's what they taught me at "XSGY" (Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters) or "X School" as we alumni call it. I cherished my time at X School, where I excelled on the J.V. quidditch team and was voted "least likely to succeed" in the yearbook.

With all of that off my chest, let's get to the film X-Men: Apocalypse. The film is the ninth installment in the X-Men franchise and is the fourth X-Men film directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse). The film stars a cavalcade of top notch young actors, including Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, James McAvoy, and Oscar Isaac, to name but a few. 

The X-Men comic book mythology is nothing short of brilliant. Mutants are a fantastic metaphor for various modern issues, civil rights and gay rights to name but two, and are symbolic of archetypes both new and old. The X-Men source material is genius, the problem though is that the X-Men movies have never failed to be anything other than pedestrian even at their zenith. I have never left an X-Men film without feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. It is too bad because it would be a glorious thing to have a truly great director, like a Christopher Nolan for example, take the complex and nuanced X-Men foundational material and do something really great with it, like he did with the Dark Knight trilogy. But instead we are stuck with Bryan Singer, a hack personified, driving these films into a ditch for over a decade now. And so it is with the latest installment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

The main problem with the film is that it lacks any dramatic cohesion and tension and is therefore rendered remarkably dull. That lack of dramatic cohesion and tension falls squarely on Mr. Singer, as does the films uninspired and flat visual style. The film feels shallow and rushed and frankly, devoid of any purpose. I should clarify that comment, the film is devoid of any artistic and creative purpose, but it has plenty of corporate purpose, not the least of which is Fox's contractual obligation to make X-Men films in a timely manner or lose the rights to the characters. Oh…and there is always the desire to fleece idiots like myself who will give our hard earned dollars to go see anything with super men and women in tights kicking bad guy ass. 

There is nothing original or even remotely interesting in X-Men: Apocalypse, only the same old tired tropes and cliches, which is not shocking considering it is the ninth cinematic go around for the X gang. I mean, the Fox cinematic X-Men horse has not only been beaten to death, but drawn and quartered and then beaten further into dust. 

From the very beginning the X-Men films have boasted very serious and quality actors, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and Halle Berry, who did the best they can with the little they were given, and so it is with the actors in this latest film. Michael Fassbender's Magneto is such a rich and fascinating character that he could easily carry a film about himself alone, but I would want that film to be directed by someone with a command of the craft of filmmaking…in other words, not Bryan Singer. Fassbender salvages what he can from the scraps of a script he is given, as does the always luminous Jennifer Lawrence and the solid and steady James McAvoy. Other actors don't fare quite as well. Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse, and is given nothing of substance to work with at all. His costume and make-up are atrocious and undermine any sort of sense of power and menace the character might have been able to generate, and Isaac is left looking embarrassingly ridiculous. Olivia Munn, who has proven herself to be a very capable actress in other projects (HBO's The Newsroom for example), looks completely lost and terribly uncomfortable her entire time on screen. Her discomfort is palpable and distracting, and while Ms. Munn isn't entirely blameless for her poor performance, a good portion of the blame for her struggles falls once again on the ineptitude of Bryan Singer.

I enjoyed the last two X-Men films, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, they weren't great films or even very good films but they were at least clever and interesting. In both of those films the storyline jumped back in time and the films became period pieces. First Class was set from World War II up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Days of Future Past was set in the early seventies. Adding the element of time period to the films gave them a bit of a boost in terms of interesting material, costume and the intrigue of history. X-Men: Apocalypse tries to do the same thing by setting the time period in the eighties and it simply doesn't work. The third time around is not the charm in regards to time period, as this time it feels stale, forced and creatively bankrupt.

The time period element is a symptom of the greater disease afflicting the X-Men franchise, that disease is artistic insolvency. The creative team behind the X-Men franchise are simply destitute in regards to good ideas, and due to sub-par directing from the likes of Mr. Singer, they were never even able to make the most of the pittance of good ideas they had in the first place. This franchise is in dire need of new artistic blood. They brought in new acting blood, McAvoy for Stewart, Fassbender for McKellen etc, in the X-Men: First Class film and have rode that horse as far as it will take them. The new blood needed is not in front of the camera, but behind it. A new director, a whole new creative team, from writers on down through to cinematography, costume and set design are desperately needed to salvage the X-Men franchise and give the X-Men mythology the cinematic glory it so richly deserves. I doubt that will happen though, as Fox has made it clear that in regards to the X-Men franchise, quantity will always top quality.

In conclusion, X-Men: Apocalypse is another in a long line of missed opportunities in the X-Men film series. If you are a huge comic book and X-Men fan, you will have probably already seen and already been disappointed by the film. But if you are even a slightly below a fanatical level consumer of comic book films and the X-Men, then skip this film. You will never have any need to see it in the theatre or on cable/Netflix. Now I think I can take a little rest from the theatre as my cinematic comic book calendar appears to be free until Suicide Squad comes out in August. I'll spend this long, hot summer honing my Level 5 Contrarianism and bullshit smelling powers for the fall, when I'll really need them, as it will be election time!!

©2016