TENET – NOLAN’S TIME TRAVELING SPY THRILLER DAZZLES — AS LONG AS YOU DON’T LOOK TOO CLOSELY AT THE PLOT

SHORT TAKE:

Christopher Nolan’s most recent mind bender. Bond meets Back to the Future.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Really for adults only for violence, some profanity, and a poisonous bad guy who indulges in everything from torture and pursuing world domination to domestic abuse.

LONG TAKE:

It is a cliche to say that something started off ”with a bang” but in the case of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, that’s a pretty accurate description.

Without credits or explanation you are abruptly thrown into a high risk hostage situation with all the preparation of a Shanghai sailor enlisted into an open sea battle. Guns blazing we follow the main character as he negotiates a field of terrorists and SWAT team members in a sea of innocent victims. You can’t even be sure for whom one should be rooting – except … that the guy you are following is called The Protagonist (John David Washington from The Book of Eli) and works for a super secret organization endeavoring to prevent the end of the world. But even this you do not find out for some time. To make it all the more challenging, in these opening scenes, which time is usually spent introducing you to the home team, everyone is in full helmeted armor and the only hints we get about the participants in this war zone is their actions. Some have no problem shooting at unconscious captives, others try to spare them.

Tenet is best enjoyed as a full emersion experience. I hesitate mightily to even hint at the plot as it would be as rudely revealing as blurting out the name of the killer in the middle of an Agatha Christie movie.

So I will content myself in providing as much advisory information as I can based upon the features of the film.

To begin with the special effects are pretty spectacular. Not in an Independence Day way but in the cleverness with which Nolan exposits his time travel McGuffins. I anticipate a much deserved Best Special Effects, and Best Editing awards going Tenet’s way.

The soundtrack by Ludwig Goransson (Black Panther and Mandalorian) is fitting and channels Hans Zimmer. If you did not know this was a Nolan film, you would recognize the heavy hand of deep resonant sound which underlies, creates and builds on the tension, much like the so-familiar-it-is-now-parodied brass blare from Inception.

Nolan, the masterful auteur writer and/or director of Interstellar, Inception, Dunkirk, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Memento, LOVES to play mind games with his audience. Even Washington has admitted that he is STILL not entirely sure what happened. This is NOT meant as a criticism. Far from it. I admire and appreciate the fact Nolan respects his audience enough to give them room (and rope enough) to find their way on their own, contemplate meanings, and ponder the reasons certain things happen the way they do. In other hands this could be seen as a cop-out but Nolan provides plenty of evidence, bread crumbs and titillating detail. It’s just that there are a number of ways these particulars can be interpreted.

Nolan’s films are a LOT of fun to watch.

However, while, again, I will not reveal the plot, I will warn you that the plot does not always and completely hold together. Unlike the tightly written Back to the Future trilogy or the Infinity War stories, or even Groundhog Day, explanations in Tenet are muddied and subscribe to the philosophy that if you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, baffled them with …LOTS of action. Nolan even speaks to the audience through one of the minor characters who, while trying to explain certain … events … to The Protagonist, ultimately tells him not to try to understand it but, instead, “feel” it. This, I think, is more advice for the ticket buyer than our investigating spy.

In addition, despite the Draconian Wuhan Virus related regulations causing the shut down of theaters around the country, and despite the money foregone in not simply releasing Tenet to streaming services, Nolan stuck to his guns and INSISTED on a theatrical release. He was quite open about the reason. He did not want the audience to have the opportunity to stop the movie, take a break from the 150 minute bladder burster, or be interrupted by a phone call. He wanted Tenet to be embraced in one swell foop – a single experience which, like a roller coaster will take you on a wild ride, leaving you little chance to catch your breath, figure out or, Heaven forfend, try to ANTICIPATE the next move. I suspect Nolan knew full well that some of his exposition would not completely hold water and that there are plot holes and contrivance contradictions.

The acting is really excellent. Washington is as compelling, cool, and convincing as any Bond hero.

Michael Caine has a small but delightful expositional part. Mr. Caine’s appearance was one of many highlights even though Mr. Caine was almost completely in the dark as to exactly what machine he was a cog in. Nolan kept the story so under wraps that Sir Michael was only given his part of the script to read. This, in fact, actually helps. Caine’s character would NOT have known even a fraction of what was going on within the Universe of the story. But Sir Michael is so gifted a storyteller that he could be given a grocery list to read and I’d still pay money to listen.

Robert Pattinson has come a LONG way since his Twilight phase. While I am likely one of the few grown ups who have advocated in favor of that film series due to its promotion of chastity and pro-life, I never said they were particularly skilled cinematic efforts. SEE REVIEW HERE But Pattison does himself proud as the suave but slightly slovenly, mischievous but mysterious ally to Washington’s main character.

Elizabeth Debicki is sympathetic as Kat, the damsel in distress who has a surprise or two up her sleeve. Debicki might look familiar to sci fi fans, but many will have trouble placing her without her Gold Finger paint job from Guardians of the Galaxy Part 2’s Ayesha.

But the trump card belongs to Kenneth Branagh as the malevolent criminal mastermind. I HATE when Branagh plays villains. For one thing, he is just so likeable in general it is almost painful to accept him as the one to beat. Even Branagh’s evil characters are hard not to side with — at least a little. His Iago in Othello, for instance, was often amusing and so openly willing to confide to the audience that you couldn’t help but understand his frustrations, even as you could be dismayed by his betrayals of those who trusted him.

For another, he’s just too darned GOOD at being bad. In Tenet, Branagh’s Sator (Saytr? Satan? Combo?) is a truly ruthless and malignant person. And yet – there was a compulsion in watching Branagh as he unveiled this persona. I knew it couldn’t be sympathy and then realized it was Branagh’s powerful portrayal of Sator as a man so convinced of his own rightness and entitlement to the outcome of every plan he makes that you are compelled to see through his eyes, even as you are horrified by what he does.

The language was a bit rough in spots but often during action scenes where the music and sound effects were so loud it was hard to make out.

Tenet is not a perfect movie. It does not even bear harsh scrutiny in the afterglow without revealing some major flaws and inconsistencies. In places, the plot is so threadbare you could read – a script through it.

But who cares? The acting is great, the action sequences fascinating, the special effects creative and the story moves along at such a pace that the lines blur enough to give the IMPRESSION of a tightly woven story. If you’re looking for Agatha Christie – wait for Branagh’s turn as the hero in Death on the Nile. But, if you are looking for a great Theme Park-like roller coaster of a movie this is your ride.

SPIES IN DISGUISE – FORGETTABLE AND REGRETTABLE

AUDIO OPTION OF SPIES IN DISGUISE REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Poorly thought out computer animated spy spoof with a bad theme.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults will be alternately bored or infuriated, older kids will find it too juvenile and kids young enough to enjoy the animation and silly plot shouldn’t be exposed to the inappropriately constructed pacifist theme. So despite there being no profanity and, aside from a naked bottom shown for laughs, no sex  — no one should bother.

LONG TAKE:

Spies in Disguise is the latest computer animated venture by Blue Skies Productions whose checkerboard career has included the Ice Age franchise and the well done Horton Hears a Who but also the rather pitiful Robots and pathetic Ferdinand SEE MY REVIEW Spies in Disguise, both forgettable and regrettable, is not one of their best efforts.

Forgettably derivative, it pulls from a number of other much better movies.

The premise is that a celebrity spy, Lance Sterling (the often terrific Will Smith – Men in Black, I, Robot, I Am Legend, Collaterol Beauty SEE MY REVIEW) is framed for an act of treason by Killian (Ben Mendelsohn from Rogue One and Darkest Hour SEE MY REVIEW) so must seek the help of a tech inventor Walter (Tom “the best Spiderman” Holland), who Lance just had fired (though how this spy had the authority to do that is never explained). Lance is then chased by a team lead by Marcy (Rashida Jones who did such a good job in Klaus SEE MY REVIEW) and aided by “Eyes” (Karen Gillan – fantastic as both Dr. Who‘s Amy Pond and Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy) from the agency, headed by Joyless (Reba McEntire), for whom Lance is the agency star acheiver.

The plot, by the unsuccessful collaboration of: Lucas Martell, Cindy Davis, Brad Copeland, and Lloyd Taylor is pretty dumb even for a kid demographic parody. You can’t just throw anything up on the screen and expect that, just because it’s animated, it’ll be fun. The success of enterprises like Toy Story 1 ,2 and 3, (my objections to Toy Story 4 are in the REVIEW HERE), The Incredibles or even the old Bugs Bunny cartoons was in part due to being smart and cleverly written, giving something for the adults to enjoy while still being fun and wholesome for the kids. Those first three Toy Stories, Incredibles and Bugs are the kind of entertainment that become classics, as the children who see them now, will grow up to be the adults who will come back to them with their own kids, and see something fresh and new from an adult perspective. The classics offer thoughtful entertainment to a multitude of generations.

Not so with Spies in Disguise which barely has any original thoughts or decent narrative for anybody. For one thing, the lynchpin upon which the entire plot springs, the framing of Lance, is suspension of disbelief breaking-level dumb.

It’s hard to believe that this super secret and heavily intelligence based agency would so readily dismiss their top agent, or that they would not find his claims of a bad guy able to disguise himself as Lance credible. With all the tech demonstrated at their disposal what is INcredible is that the agency DIDN’T believe Lance. So the story was off to a rocky start to begin with.

Despite Disguise featuring some of my favorite actors, I was disappointed by the largely bland performances. But then there’s not much an actor can do with a bad script. The only one who makes any impact is Mendelsohn, who manages to invest the megalo revenge villain with an emotional base that actually made him more interesting and sympathetic than the main characters.

The movie becomes a combo fish out of water, (or rather a bird out of air, as Smith’s character is turned into a pigeon), and then an Odd Couple story as the suave, now bird-ified, Lance must pair with the slight and wide-eyed nerdy inventor Walter. Spies then wanders around in a Mission Impossible miasma and lands at the end of every Bond movie ever – minus the babes in bikinis.

The story is regrettable because it pushes a pacifist agenda in a place for which it is not appropriate. We’re not covering the civil disobedience of Gandhi or the Christian martyrs. These are agents sworn to uphold the law and defend citizens from violent, armed and dangerous madmen. But Walter, who lost his police officer mother in her line of duty, is on a quest, while working for a Get Smart/Men in Black type agency (the latter, no doubt, a nod to Smith’s participation in the Men in Black franchise), to create a line of defensive weapons which theoretically distracts or, at best, hinders the bad guys but does not kill them.

Sorry guys, but the purpose of a military or secret service equivalent agency is to kill people and break things. It is an unfortunate point of fact that endorphin enhancing glitter creating cute kitten shapes won’t stop people who do not play by the same pacifist rules as our intrepid hero.

But really, you might say, it’s only a kid movie. That is true. It is aimed at young children. So when you teach impressionable youths that the good guys are not good guys if they kill the bad guys then you instill in children the idea that happy feelings and party favor prank level gizmos can stem the tide of an opposing force armed with AK47s, missile launchers and nerve gas. Funny how the bad guys never seem to follow those oh-so-touted gun laws.

I saw this kind of mentality back in the 70’s when the soldiers were returning from Vietnam. Make Peace not War. Protestors shoving flowers into the barrels of soldiers, the latter who exercised heroic self restraint.  Glorified hippies dodging the draft to smoke weed, behave promiscuously and hang out to the tunes from Yasgur’s Farm while breeding the likes of the pregnant-woman-butchering Manson Family.

Meanwhile, while the self-indulged all felt good about themselves, our soldiers were meat shields protecting the hippies’ option to layabout.

Al Quaida, the Gulf Cartel, Aryan Nation, sex traffickers, not to mention the North Korean Army, mobsters, Somali pirates, or an armed thug holding up the diner you’re in don’t follow those cute little rules.

And painting the police or military or an armed citizen who defends an innocent as anything but a hero, is an affront to those who risk their lives to protect ours.

The animation is pretty good – nothing spectacular but adequate to the needs of the story. Kind of (uninspired) Incredibles. Speaking of The Incredibles, and nothing against Reba McEntire, but her heavy Southern accented character Joyless, sounded as though she was channeling Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl, making me suspect the filmmakers knew they were dealing with a very weak movie so employed all the cheap tricks they could think of.

The pigeons were cute, especially Crazy Eyes who was cousin to the indestructable, able to eat anything Alan Tudyk-voiced HeiHei from Moana. And when the reprised version of Hei Hei and the villain are the most interesting characters in the movie, you know you have a problem.

The music by Theodore Shapiro sounded like it was pulled from a barrel of mediocre “spy movie” tropes, culled from theme rejects off of Men in Black, or just tediously loud generic hip hop.

So give this one a miss. If you’re not snoozing through the trite storyline or improvisational sounding dialogue, you’ll be aggravated by the touchy-feeley approach to deadly killers.

Go see Martell’s far more amusing and clever short from which Spies was “inspired”: Pigeon Impossible HERE or just watch The Incredibles again instead.

THE MOST RECENT FAST AND FURIOUS – MORE LIKE FARCICAL AND INFURIATING

SHORT TAKE:

Waste of time – see the Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw trailer #2 (linked here and at end of post) for all the best bits.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults only for language and extreme (though really cartoonish) levels of carnage. Not a lot of blood but you wouldn’t want the kids to try these stunts at home.

LONG TAKE:

I have nothing against brainless entertainment and I try to judge a movie only within the genre for which it was intended. So when you go see one of the Fast and Furious franchise films (try to say THAT three times quickly) you don’t expect much beyond good old escapist fun. I even applauded Fate of the Furious in a previous post as a welcome entry.

I love buddy movies and have extolled all kinds from The Great Escape to The Hitman’s Bodyguard. And I have no problem with franchises doing semi-parodies of themselves. I am on record many times for complaining that a movie takes itself TOO seriously. And I think the break from tradition Thor: Ragnarok, for example, is one of the best Avenger movies.

But you gotta give the audience SOMETHING of substance. Sadly, in the case of  director David Leitch’s Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, it’s like trying to make an entire meal out of day old cotton candy.

SPOILERS – BUT THE PLOT IS SO THREADBARE IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER

I’m afraid the writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce thought they could punch quality into a movie with just star power. But Spielberg’s 1941 or Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate or Bay’s Pearl Harbor could have warned them otherwise. I understand it is doing well at the box office and good for them. A friend of mine once taught me an expression – No one sets out to make a bad movie. But, unfortunately, despite what the film makers intended, this one is just not very good.

Not that the cast was trying very hard. Johnson and Statham spend most of the movie either posturing like WWW competitors or trading childish barbs with all the finesse of opposing players in a grade school gym locker room. Dwayne Johnson was funnier in Jumanji, Statham more invested in The Expendables, and Vanessa Kirby, a “legit” actress (amazing as Princess Margaret in The Crown and fun as the White Widow in MI: Fallout) is simply wasted. I really liked her Hattie in this, a variation of Atomic Blonde, (also a David Leitch directed movie), but then her scenes had to be spliced back into the fatiguing Hobbs-Shaw bickering man measuring show.

Ryan Reynolds appears in a cameo with dialogue that could have been made of rejected adlibs from Deadpool 2. Helen Mirren walks through her reprised role as Shaw’s mother, Queenie. At one point Queenie assures Shaw that she is happy in prison and could break out any time she wanted – that it was quiet and she could just sit in her room, and spend her time reading – that it was like retirement. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Mirren was talking about Queenie’s stint in the pen or Ms. Mirren’s actual presence on the set of this movie.

Kevin Hart pops up in a couple of random moments as Dinkley, the air marshal, to be used like duct tape on a leaky hose to solve a couple of plot holes. In return, Hart is allowed to ramble  interminably in an improvisational-style soliloquy in lieu of any proper exposition for his character.

Idris Elba as main cybernetically enhanced bad guy Brixton gives it everything he has, carrying the weight of what little gravitas the movie has. By far the most interesting character, it was a sore temptation not to root for him to win.

The premise of the story is that they are trying to prevent Idris Elba’s bad guy, Brixton, from getting ahold of an extinction-level virus for his unseen super villain boss. But it becomes obvious early on this is really just an excuse to create a string of cartoon quality violence fight scenes and car stunts. And while I do not fundamentally MIND that, the film makers have to at least TRY to hide this fact. But like a sloppy magician who yells “Look over there” before every clumsy trick, it just doesn’t work for long.

Instead of providing character and plot earned enthusiasm, the chase scenes strove to outdo all the F&F chases put together and as a result became preposterous. I’m not giving spoilers as the scene where a line of linked trucks are holding down a flying fortress helicopter is in the trailer. The chase scenes from The French Connection, Bullitt, The Great Escape, the beginning of The Rock (“Oh why NOT!”), or even the escape at the start of The Avengers from a collapsing building complex were exciting because the audience was led to believe the characters were potentially in danger.

Well, I can easily imagine Jeremy Scott from Cinema Sins doing a bonus round of “They survived this”. The F&F movies are supposed to take place (more or less) in the real world and the leads, aside from Elba, are not supposed to have unusual supernatural powers – Dwayne Johnson’s mountain-sized physique notwithstanding. But the repeated walk aways from cataclysmic-sized vehicle crashes, which would have killed Bugs Bunny, stretched and eventually broke the suspension bridge of disbelief out from under the viewers. (And, I’m sorry, but it was tough for even my loyal Marvel-fan heart to believe that Cap could hold back the small helicopter Bucky flew duringCaptain America: Civil War. Johnson is just NOT holding down a military grade bird.) It did not take long for there to be zero investment in the outcome of the rides, knowing the main characters would likely to come out the right end of a freight train to the face.

Then there is the storyline.

We’re talking Adam West’s Batman level of contrivances and clunky dialogue, where guest stars appear out of nowhere and backstories are pulled from whole cloth to justify prior franchise installment plot holes.

For example, the fact that Hattie, Shaw’s spy sister, never came up in conversation is explained away by him having been framed for treason in the master plan of a heretofore unknown and currently still unseen megalomaniac bad guy. Hobbs’ extensive Samoan family was previously non-existent because he had alienated everyone by turning in his crime lord father to the authorities.

Hobbs’ brother Jonah (Cliff Curtis), who lives on a remote island in Samoa, with only the technology of a classy chop shop at his disposal, is decided to be the ONLY person and place in the world they can go to fix cutting edge virus extracting bio equipment……? Huh? So I guess I can ask my car mechanic to do some gene splicing on the side. Easy peasy.

I did like the “importance of family” theme, which is one of the more endearing F&F tropes, including Shaw’s mom and sibling and Hobbs’ daughter, mother and brothers into the mix. And it was nice they found a way to include Johnson’s actual Samoan heritage into the story. But it was shoe-horned in, superficial and paint by numbers – Hobbs doesn’t want to go home, brother punches him on sight, mom intimidates all the big boys into cooperating. Shaw’s mother, Queenie, fondly recounts, in flash back, how the previously unknown and unseen sister and Shaw concocted scams and committed felonies as children. What a mom.

I guess it’s cute that they shoot parallel scenarios of these two men who can’t seem to stand each other doing pretty much the same things at the same time with their own styles. It might have even been funny had the repertoire between them sounded better than first day of shooting improvisation, created by two uninspired high school freshmen.

Supporting characters are dispatched or ignored with little fan fare. Professor Andreiko (Eddie Marsan from better movies like The World’s End, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) is a heroic scientist who save our intrepid heroes, but then gets left behind without a thought, killed by Brixton with no consideration for how useful he might be in the future, with no attempt by the heroes to save him, and not so much as a “I wonder what happened to that little guy who saved our butts?” This callousness does nothing to shore up the already, by this time, flaccid investment the audience has in these characters.

While there’s no overt sex, the language is unnecessarily crude and contains a good deal of profanity and blasphemy.

If you REALLY think you want to see this latest and weakest F&F you can – LITERALLY – see a Reader’s Digest version of the ENTIRE movie via abridged cuts of all the best scenes in the official Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw trailer #2. It’s free, short and eliminates all the bad language.

But – if you want to see a GOOD car chase, adventure, buddy movie, try out one of the other better ones I’ve mentioned in this post or even go see one of the previous Fast and Furious installments. Sadly, this contender didn’t make it to the finish line.

 

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME – A FUNNY TAKE OFF OF BOND MOVIES

SHORT TAKE:

Lighthearted romp from the point of view of a discarded Bond girl.

WHO SHOULD GO:

To paraphrase a Bond title: For Adult Eyes Only. Ears too. Language, violence and adult situations but surprisingly and thankfully little inappropriate sexual content.

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LONG TAKE:

You know all those girls who have been bedded and shedded by the Bonds over the last 26 years? To paraphrase a line from Lion in Winter – you could populate a fair city with the fair number of girls who have borne with Bond.

And neither we nor he ever hears from them again. Now imagine that one of them does NOT go quietly into the night.

Mila Kunis (Jupiter Rising, Oz the Great and Powerful and Black Swan) is Audrey, the heartbroken reject of Drew (Justin Theroux) who quite literally loved her and…left. Kate McKinnon (pathetic gender swap Ghostbusters) is Morgan, her more than slightly insane best friend. The two women are very ordinary people. Audrey is kind of quiet and underestimates her own abilities but, egged on by Morgan, takes it upon herself to seek revenge on Drew by burning all of his stuff. Little does she know this includes a trophy which contains something that could get them all killed. And since Audrey's angry vindictive ex-girlfriend texts, mostly written by Morgan, are being monitored by a number of different lethal interests, everyone converges on the shocked Audrey and Morgan. Through what Audrey admits is plain dumb luck they escape to begin the most unplanned of adventures.

One of the things I enjoyed about The Spy Who Dumped Me was that neither of these women had any special abilities, but simply reacted the way any one of us normal mortals might – screaming, running and trying to simply get out of the way. No planned heroics, no endurance of torture, just: "Get me the Heck away from all of this." But fortune has other ideas. Luckily for them, they have a few Guardian Angels: Sebastian (Sam Heughan) a friendly agent and Morgan's marvelously unflappable parents – Arnie, a very successful trial attorney (Paul Reiser, who has a resume which includes the unlikely duo of both Mad About You and Aliens) and Jane Curtain (SNL veteran, Coneheads and Third Rock From the Sun). When informed their daughter has killed someone, Arnie assumes blasely, "Self defense, right? We can fix that." 

If I were to use one word to describe why I liked this movie it would be  "balance." I loved the tone of the movie which balanced just the right amount of realism with comedy.

It followed the straight vertical "rules" of a Bond movie with its intrigue and mystery, guns and car chases, superhuman feats of deering do and gorgeously athletic men and women, but smoothly incorporated the odd angles of the "everyman" perspective. Audrey and Morgan want to do the right thing BUT would very much like to drop this entire mess in someone else's hands.

The characters are all a lot of fun. I thought the yin and yang of Audrey's mousey start with Morgan's literal bouncing off the wall worked really well. Morgan kick starts Audrey's odyssey and Audrey keeps Morgan from running off too many cliffs. Like a human Push Me Pull You from Dr. Doolitte, they made a great pair that kept the tone light but exciting. Kunis is beautiful, McKinnon kinetic, Reiser and Curtain are warm and funny, Heughan is just the right combination of cool and unsure of his new "partners of necessity". And Gilian Anderson (X-Files) has a small role as Wendy, their version of "M".

There's nothing deep and meaningful about The Spy Who Dumped Me, but it is a treat to watch.

I would not want to spoil the plot any more than I would want to remove the chocolate chips out of your freshly baked cookie.

BUT – let's just say: Forget Julius No, Auric Goldfinger, Jaws and Oddjob. Instead, perhaps Drew should have suggested the famous Double "O" watch out for some of the women he left behind.  Hell hath no fury like a woman who is dumped.

THE LONG KISS GOOD NIGHT – INTENSE, BRILLIANT AND LITTLE KNOWN CULT CLASSIC WHICH PAVED THE WAY FOR ATOMIC BLONDE AND BLACK WIDOW

SHORT TAKE:

A rare example of a wildly successful, female-lead, action adventure about MOTHERHOOD — for adults only.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Any adult who enjoys James Bond or one of the reboot Mission Impossibles.

LONG TAKE:

With the quality-questionable Uncle Drew being the most promising of the new movie releases this week, I thought I might do a review of one of my favorite movies you've probably never heard of: The Long Kiss Goodnight.

In 1996, far before Charlize Theron became  Atomic Blonde, and back when Scarlett Johanssen was still a child, starring in low budgets like Manny and Lo, well before she grew up to be Black Widow, a unique cinematic excursion was released called The Long Kiss Goodnight. Geena Davis, from Stuart Little, A League of Their Own, The Fly, and Beetlejuice costarred with the truly ubiquitous and eternally youngSamuel L Jackson (who looks no different now than he did 22 years ago – see my comment about this in my review of The Incredibles 2) in a movie about a woman named Samantha Caine. Samantha washes up, two months pregnant, on the shores of Honesdale, PA, a sleepy New England town, with nothing but clothes on her back she doesn't remember buying, a few fighting scars and complete "focal retrograde amnesia". She remembers nothing about herself: not her identity, where she came from, her age, who the father of her child is, nothing, except her name and even that is a guess.

Honestly, the background pictures during the opening credits reveal WAAAAY more than they should or is necessary. So – if you rent or buy this movie, on first viewing, you should START AT THE THREE MINUTE MARK. You can go back and watch the opening credit images after you have finished the movie.

Eight years later, as the movie begins, Samantha is now a teacher in the local elementary school and a devoted mother to Caitlin. While riding in her adopted home town's Christmas parade, in what seems to be a complete non-sequitor, an inmate in a nearby prison, watching the event on a caged TV, suddenly goes into a fury. About the same time, Mitch, (Samuel L Jackson) the low rent detective Samantha hired then forgot about, unexpectedly comes up with a lead, and Nathan (Brian "Stryker" Cox), an old friend from Samantha's past, sets out to find her.

With the exceptions of Ms. Theron, Ms. Johanssen, and Gal Gadot, I generally find that action adventures featuring women protagonists fall pathetically flat. The Long Kiss Goodnight is the Gold Standard of exceptions and the predecessor to all the blockbusters in which the aforementioned ladies have starred.

Clever, rough, violent, funny, startling and profane, it is one of the most unusual, fascinating and memorable films about motherhood I know. It ranks right up there with Hotel Artemis (click to check out my previous blog) and Aliens. While the language, ironically, has even Mr. Jackson's character, Mitch, complaining, there is no blasphemy, and the sexuality is very low key for this genre. If you want to check the details of profanity and sexuality out for yourself click Screenit, if you are a member, before watching.

GENTLE SPOILERS

Geena Davis' slow transition from the sweet and charming, happily domestic Samantha to the fierce and indomitable Charley is a tour de force. Ms. Davis and Mr. Jackson make superb platonic team mates in the kind of movie relationship usually reserved for bromances. The plot is part James Bond, part North by Northwest, part Mission Impossible, with a little bit of Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde thrown in for good measure.

One of the things I find most commendably endearing and notably rare about this movie in general, and Samantha in particular, is that there is not even a hint she ever considered killing her unborn child, despite the desolateness of her situation as Samantha. Even while Charley, the most unlikely of mother candidates,  lurks in her subconscious, she has and embraces her natural and powerful maternal instincts. And after re-embracing her distinctly ungentle previous life Samantha/Charley remains a profoundly dedicated mother.  The idea that motherhood would trump everything else, even for the fully re-realized Charley, is a truly inspiring thought.

MODERATE SPOILER

To the point about motherhood, one of my favorite all time movie scenes is the way Samantha/Charley protects Caitlin and handles the "One Eyed Jack" when he invades her home. That's a heck of a mom. I can picture Weaver's Ripley giving Samantha a standing "O".

So if you're in the mood for something different than your usual film fare, be sure the kids are in bed and no where near close enough to hear Mr. Jackson as he chides Charley for HER language, and cue up The Long Kiss Goodnight.

THE SHAPE OF WATER – OFFENSIVE ON SOOOO MANY LEVELS

 

SHORT TAKE:

An attempt to "update" The Little Mermaid which is buried in an agenda filled script.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Don't bother.

LONG TAKE:

Rhett Butler, in Gone With the Wind, while talking to Scarlett O’Hara after the death lists are handed out says: “I'm angry. Waste always makes me angry. And that's what all this is, sheer waste.”

And that about sums up my opinion on The Shape of Water. This movie is offensive on so many levels. There was a great idea in there but the film makers were so bent on foisting an agenda upon the audence that they lost track of it.

The premise is clever. It’s the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid turned on its head. When a “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and a mute cleaning lady named Elisa,  (Sally Hawkins from Paddington Bear), fall in love, she and her friends endeavor to set him free from the facility in which he is being held.

Sounds a bit like Splash but with the genders reversed. But that’s where the similarities end. This is a humorless, angry diatribe against the human race in general and men in particular.

To start with, the only males in the movie who have any redeeming features are Elisa’s homosexual neighbor Giles, (Richard Jenkins – Jack Reacher and White House Down) and Dimitri, (Michael Stuhlbarg – A Simple Man and Dr. Strange), a Russian spy who decides to defy his own country to help Elisa – two men who are outcasts of the society in which they live.

All the other men are evil characters. Elisa’s only other friend is her co-worker, Zelda, (Octavia Spencer). Zelda’s husband, Brewster, (Martin Roach) is a lazy, unappreciative burden, does not protect his wife and betrays her at a crucial moment. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon – 12 Strong), the scientist who captured the creature from South America is sadistic, domestically abusive, carelessly bigoted and a sexual harrasser who rots – literally – before our very eyes. Even the counterboy, not so much as given a name except for the “Pie Guy,” at the local shop is portrayed as gratuitously evil. A scene in which he gives a startled but gentle rebuff to Giles’ sudden, unexpected and unencouraged sexual advances is immediately linked to an overtly bigoted action towards a black couple who enter his diner – as though to imply if you are heterosexual you must be a bigot. Well, frankly, to my way of thinking this shows the screenwriters, Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor are both bigoted and racist – to men in general, to heterosexuals in particular and especially, but not exclusicvely, to those who are not minorities.

Minorities are not treated respectfully eiher. Zelda is a caricature of an uneducated black woman who indulges and allows herself to be taken for granted by a husband who will not even defend her when she is threatened.

Giles is also a caricature – an ineffectual, alcoholic unemployable elderly gay artist who yearns for young men and youth, pitiful and cowardly unless led by a strong woman’s presence.

The military is portrayed as heartlessly and unnecessarily cruel, disposing of people like used socks and planning to vivisect a one of a kind creature with abilities and physical attributes that can only be exploited if it is alive. This latter is especially stupid and demonstrates the knee-jerk distain and prejudiced hatred del Toro and Taylor must have for an organization which helps protect our country. I could have understood a plot which wanted to use the creature, to perhaps even put it at risk in order to duplicate its abilities – but to simply and randomly kill it to see what is inside is a juvenile finger in the face to any kind of authority figure and exposes del Toro's —isms which prevent him from writing a good script.

But of course the women are courageous movers and shakers. Zelda, for all her weakness with her husband, is a stalwart companion to Elisa. And Elisa marshalls help from her friends in a daring rescue of the sentient creature who she then hides and has an affair with in her bathtub at home. If this sounds ridiculous and somewhat grotesque – it is.

And if you take any kind of objective look it is hard to determine who is the more evil – Strickland or Elisa. Elisa is a woman who feels isolated – mute from birth, no family, abandoned by a river with gill-shaped scars on her throat, who has a — thing — for her bath water.

After making contact with the creature Elisa goes to Giles to DEMAND – not ask or entreat – his help. She explains that she wants the creature because SHE is lonely, because SHE needs him, and because the creature is alone LIKE her. She does not say she wants to rescue him because he is a sentient creature about to be needlessly killed; not because he is perhaps the last of his kind – both of which would have been far nobler arguments. And, BTW, the only one who does consider these two more valid points is Dimitri the Russian spy.

Her friends must put themselves at risk because SHE wants the creature – leaving aside the answer to the question of what she would do if she fell out of infatuation with him – bring him back to the lab or leave him on the side of the road like an unwanted puppy?

So she coerces Giles into helping him, either not considering or not caring that he could get shot (which he almost does) or put in federal penitentiary for what they are about to do. She then, during the course of this ill-conceived adventure, forces Zelda to help her too. And had Dimitri not popped up and risked his own life to help them the misadventure WOULD have ended up with them all dead or in jail. Never mind the feds would, realistically, have had enough evidence to be on their tail within days – finger prints, the random witness. Instead these same agency members are now portrayed as not only evil but bumbling and come to the conclusion the creature was snatched by 10 specially trained Russian forces instead of two cleaning ladies and a sympathetic scientist. Meanwhile, the security guard who got a good look at Giles and was injected by Dimitri is an ignored casualty. The guard's murder is shrugged off by our "heroes" and Elisa gives it no thought even though it was her fault.

Once in her apartment she puts Giles at further risk by asking him to babysit the creature, who proceeds to eat one of his cats and gash his arm. Even Elisa doesn’t object when Giles forgives the creature on the grounds it is a “wild thing” and doesn’t understand what it did. So they KNOW it is an animal – a sentient one perhaps on the intelligence level of  dolphin, but an animal. Nonetheless, Elisa continues to care for it and eventually uses it as a — tub toy, filling her entire bathroom up to the ceiling with water. This foolish action puts the movie theater above which she lives at serious threat of collapsing. Water drips into the owner’s struggling movie house and shoos away the patrons, and floods the upstairs portion of the building, likely doing serious damage to the business of the owner, a man who has been nothing but kind to her.

At the end when she and the creature escape she leaves her friends behind to explain to police and federal authorities about three dead men – the guard, Strickland, and Dimitri, as well as a conspiratorial break-in and theft of a highly valuable animal. Zelda and Giles will probably go to jail. Thanks Elisa.

Additionally there is gratuitous sexuality and nudity, plus demonstrations of sadistic violence and cruelty especially towards the captive creature. They even take a random stab at blasphemy by declaring the creature a “god” because of his healing powers.

In a horrifying lapse of judgement, for even the jaded and agenda-driven Oscar voters, this is one of the best picture nominees.

To paraphrase a joke about the assassination at Ford’s Theatre – "So, aside from the bigotry, bestiality, blasphemy, brutality, buck nakedness and… misanthrope (an almost completely alliterative list) Mrs. Lincoln, how was the movie?"

To which she could quote Rhett: "sheer waste".