OFCC Podcast: Episode 10 – TRANSFORMERS 5, CARS 3, BOOK OF HENRY, Han Solo Shakeup, & More (PODCAST)

ofcc

Episode 10: Deceptibomb, Cars Tune-Up, and Disturbances In The Force

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for late June 2017.

You can also stream Episode 10 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

NEW RELEASES
 Transformers: The Last Knight (starting at 2:20))
Cars 3 (2017) (at 15:30)
The Book of Henry (at 24:33)
Han Solo Movie Director Shakeup – Discussion (at 44:33)
Beatriz at Dinner (at 1:00:22)
Paris Can Wait (at 1:15:00)

Articles referenced:

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the June 23, 2017 episode.

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BEATRIZ AT DINNER (Movie Review)

beatrizatdinner
*** out of ****
Rated R

(for strong language and a scene of violence)
Released: June 9, 2017 limited; June 23 expands
Runtime: 83 minutes
Director: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton,
Chloë Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, David Warshofsky

A movie about people talking that will get people talking, Beatriz at Dinner comes from the patron saint screenwriter of strong female roles.

Mike White’s most popular scripts have been for the Jack Black vehicles School of Rock and Nacho Libre, but his best work has been in the empathetic character portraits of women in existential crisis: The Good Girl (Jennifer Aniston) and the HBO series Enlightened (Laura Dern). Each one, truth be told, has been a proxy for White’s own melancholic disconnect with the world. Now there’s Beatriz at Dinner, which gives Salma Hayek her richest showcase since Frida fifteen years ago.

The film itself, which also boasts strong ensemble work (from John Lithgow especially), is a mesmerizing if biased Trump era critique, using an Hispanic outsider to indict rich white capitalists and the privilege they flaunt.

Its ideas are more personal than rigorous, emerging from feelings rather than reflections, which results in a final act that doesn’t know how to resolve itself. Beatriz at Dinner exists primarily, it seems, for White to vent his sociopolitical frustrations, not stir intellectual debate. Nevertheless, it remains emotionally provocative.

Beatriz is a health therapist for soul, mind & body, whose job allows her to be in the periphery of the One Percent but never of it. A very simple, earthy woman (Hayek is dramatically glammed-down) that practices Buddhism with Catholic leftovers, Beatriz lives by herself with her goats, to which she’s deeply attached.

Beatriz’s car breaks down at the house of a wealthy client, named Cathy (Connie Britton), who adores Beatriz.  Cathy invites Beatriz (who’s troubled by a recent loss) to the dinner she’s hosting; guests include Doug Strutt (Lithgow), a brash real estate developer…and Trump archetype.

So there’s your premise: Shy New Agey Hispanic Vegan Eastern Mystic gets dropped into the middle of gregarious high society Caucasians whose preoccupations are more material than spiritual. Awkward conversation ensues, and it’s fascinating for us, as an audience, to be a bug on that wall.

They talk about a wide variety of things, from business to politics to world travel, and it’s clear that White has been an observant participant in these circles before. He knows these people. A prime example is when Strutt dissects, in shrewd detail, how he’s able to develop property even in the face of progressive protestors and likely lawsuits. He doesn’t game the legal system because he doesn’t need to; he simply knows how to play it to his advantage.

Whether it’s this, or immigration, or hunting, or any number of other topics, Beatriz is, despite being calm and centered by nature, a hippie liberal who can’t stay quiet in the face of what she finds offensive, regardless if etiquette would suggest otherwise (and it does, as Beatriz is the outlier who’s been invited in).

Watching her speak frankly adds to the intrigue, with her ire increasing as its met with dismissive contempt, delivered in a patronizing guise of geniality. The cast plays these conversations with fresh, electric interplay, and an overlapping spontaneity that’s reminiscent of Robert Altman ensembles.

A more magnanimous movie would’ve found the humanity in both sides, but White’s disdain is too raw for such generosity. Even so, the elites here are fully formed, articulate people, not simplistic parodies, and Lithgow’s Trump stand-in is much more erudite and sophisticated than our 45th President.

To the extent these people are genuinely interested in hearing Beatriz share her perspectives, it comes from a curiosity that actually exposes unconscious bigotry. The best that can be said of these people is how sincerely clueless they are to their own sense of entitlement.

Tension builds and crescendos until it’s capped by a shocking contrivance that I won’t spoil, but it’s one that liberals will see as cathartic wish fulfillment. Though it may serve as a release for pent-up progressive rage, it doesn’t do the movie or the Beatriz character any favors, particularly in our current toxic political climate. Moreover, White and Arteta end up not having the guts to play this incendiary turn to a legitimate conclusion, and finally pull the punch.

Even so, the moment is so jarring that, if the film were more widespread in the public consciousness, Beatriz at Dinner would be easy fodder for conservative pundits. Coming off the heels of a horrific shooting targeted at Republican Congressmen (as well as infamous news items such as Kathy Griffin’s decapitated Trump head photo and the Trump-as-Caesar “Shakespeare in the Park” stabbing), the anger-fueled moment of seething liberal hatred that White contrives for Beatriz (and no doubt feels himself) only serves to solidify the caricature of the unhinged Democrat.

Then, to cement the fact that White and Arteta’s goal is to merely roleplay their outrage rather than actually say something, the story abruptly ends on a cryptic cop out. At 75 minutes, Beatriz at Dinner is a movie that’s unfinished. Ideas are left on the table, unsaid or unexamined, not out of laziness but simply a lack of desire to dig deeper. White and Arteta don’t want to challenge the audience or even their own biases; they just want to unload.

What could’ve been a Thinking Person’s movie ends up simply being an angry, pissed off one, leaving us with a mostly invigorating piece of cinematic theatre that ultimately sells itself, its concerns, and us short.

MY COUSIN RACHEL (Movie Review)

mcr
**1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for some sexuality and brief strong language) 
Released: June 9, 2017
Runtime: 106 minutes
Directed by: Roger Michell

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Hilliday Grainger, Iain Glen

My review of My Cousin Rachel, for The Tulsa Voice, a period suspense thriller based on a novel by the author of Hitchcock adaptations Rebecca and The Birds.

An excerpt from my review:

My Cousin Rachel is a piping pot of well-crafted suspense, yet it succumbs to one lethal liability that contaminates the entire brew: a young actor who’s out of his depth.”

To read my full review, click here.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (Movie Review)

Transformers5
*1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13

(for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo)
Released: June 22, 2017
Runtime: 150 minutes
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner, Josh Duhamel, Jerrod Carmichael, Stanley Tucci, Santiago Cabrera

Transformers movies are the worst. Just ask anyone. Yet Michael Bay keeps making them because, despite being the most popular franchise to mock and ridicule, people keep watching them.

Loud. Bombastic. Chaotic. Indulgent. A soulless metal-on-metal orgy of violence that’s both headache inducing and mind-numbing all at the same time, not to mention utterly confusing. Read any previous scathing review aimed at the first four movies in the Transformers saga (Parts 2 through 4 especially) and the same gripes will apply here in this fifth – and allegedly final – installment, Transformers: The Last Knight.

This time around, Bay expands the ever-evolving makeshift mythos to reveal that the alien Autobots have been helping protect Planet Earth for 1600 years. Now, however, they’re deemed threats to world order, so they’re being rounded up by a military task force. Cade Yeagar (Mark Wahlberg) is also a wanted man, covertly trekking the world to help rescue Transformers from capture, and living at a secret junkyard base that also serves as an Autobot sanctuary.

How this low-tech refuge eludes the tracking capabilities of the U.S. government is a mystery (well, until the movie needs it to be found), but plot holes and logical inconsistences are all part of this franchise’s milieu. Nevertheless, when the task force makes a deal with the devils – aka Decepticons – to find the stray Autobots, the cover for Yeagar’s getaway is blown, and everything else starts to blow up with it.

There’s a whole other layer, too, about the discovery of a link between Earth and Cybertron (the Transformer planet). This new information puts Earth in peril, turns Optimus Prime to Nemesis Prime, and it all builds up toward – you guessed it – a possible apocalypse.

For excessive measure, there’s a mythology thread that I don’t even have the energy to get into but, suffice it to say, it turns Yeagar into a Chosen One and the new academic hottie Vivian (Laura Haddock, aka Star-Lord’s mom Meredith Quill) into the final link in a family tree dating back to Merlin the magician, making her the sole genetic heir who can access an ancient relic and stop the devastation that’s coming. This would also seem to imply that Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky is dead now, but really, who cares?

The worst part of Bay’s patented obnoxious moviemaking is its pace. Scenes and shots are cut so quickly, and constantly, that your ability to process what you’re watching can’t keep up. It’s a real shame, too, because the lush, meticulous images that Bay crafts are actually pretty spectacular, especially with IMAX cameras. He just can’t sit on one for more than a second or two, and it’s maddening.

For all the frenzied nonsense that this movie vomits up and onto the screen, in a style so kinetically incoherent that it’s impossible to keep everything and everyone straight, the film’s worst attribute is actually its run time. Cut an hour out of its two-and-a-half hour length, make it a tight 90-minute special effects fireworks show of things blowing up real good (ditch the belabored mythology and flat robot comedy bits especially), and you’ve got yourself a dumb-but-thrilling multiplex movie ride.

Instead, like the others before it, Transformers: The Last Knight is a pummeling assault of visual and auditory monotony that would be fun if it didn’t relentlessly wear you down, and out.

HAN SOLO Directors Fired: It Was The Right Call (ANALYSIS)

HanFrozen

A million voices crying out in terror, but hardly silenced. Padawans across the Twitterverse fear something terrible has happened. Five months into production of the (as yet untitled) Young Han Solo movie, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has fired its directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

The film’s release date of May 25, 2018 remains unchanged, for now.

Following reports by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, each sourced by unnamed insiders, opinions have erupted across professional and social media landscapes. Reactions are overwhelmingly on the side of Team Lord/Miller, the guys behind The Lego Movie, the 21 Jump Street films, and TV’s The Last Man On Earth.

Feeling like a lonely Obi-Wan in Tatooine exile, I find myself siding with Team Lucasfilm, even as I’m entirely perplexed and concerned by the move, especially in its timing. The truth is, Lord and Miller never should’ve been hired in the first place.

I say that as someone who greatly admires their talents and the very specific niche (and voice) they’ve carved out for themselves within the industry. But why on earth Kennedy and writer/Star Wars guru Lawrence Kasdan ever thought the Lord/Miller style of comedy was a right fit for a Han Solo tale (young, old, or otherwise) has always baffled me.

I’ve been skeptical from the start about this mismatch of directors and material, deferring to trust Kennedy and Kasdan based on successes thus far. That trust felt justified with the hiring of a superb cast.

But when I read this statement from a source in The Hollywood Reporter, it nutshelled my concerns from Day One:

  • “People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish.”

Exactly. And a very dry, laconic version of that personality too. Lord and Miller are great, but they are very off-brand for Han Solo.

So here we are, in the middle of a firing that, while I believe was necessary, is particularly shocking given its timing. How was this shift not made way back in 2016 during pre-production? Why did it take five months of actual filming to finally arrive at this conclusion?

I’ll grant a mulligan for trying something different with the initial hire, but the development process should’ve been more than enough for Lucasfilm to realize that Lord and Miller would not make the kind of Star Wars movie they wanted to produce. I’ve no doubt Lord/Miller could make a smart, clever send-up of the Star Wars mythos, and I’d even love to see it, but I don’t think it should be done in canon. Kennedy came to that same conclusion, too, but well-past due of what is fair to all parties involved (including, especially, the film itself).

Initial rumors of a replacement have zeroed in on Ron Howard as the front-runner, with Joe Johnston (Captain America: First Avenger, The Rocketeer) also a reported possibility. Generally speaking I have my reservations about Howard, but they revolve more around his penchant for Oscar-baiting. When it comes to big budget pop cinema, though, Howard could offer very reliable hands (if not particularly exciting ones), especially given his familiarity with Kennedy and her producer husband Frank Marshall.

(UPDATE: Ron Howard has been confirmed as the new director of the Young Han Solo movie.)

Anxieties could be tempered, too, when realizing that this situation isn’t all that different from what happened on Rogue One. In effect, writer Tony Gilroy (the Bourne movies) was brought in after initial shooting was completed and oversaw extensive rewrites, reshoots, and final edit, relegating director Gareth Edwards to a second-tier collaborator.  The only big difference between the two situations, it seems, is that Edwards was willing to submit to Lucasfilm’s creative authority and, for right or wrong, Lord & Miller were not.

Based on trailer clips that never made it into the stand-alone’s final cut, there’s a very intriguing alternative Rogue One out there that we’ll never see. Even so, it’s hard to complain about its success, both at the box office (2nd highest grossing Star Wars film ever) and overall positive reaction from fans and critics (some even hailed it as the best Star Wars movie since Empire). So as troublesome as this dramatic shift for the Young Han Solo movie is, it’s not without successful precedent.

The Variety and Hollywood Reporter pieces are definitely worth reading. Their references to on-set creative clashes between Lord/Miller and Kennedy, plus the directors’ penchant for improv conflicting with writer Kasdan’s stick-to-the-script ethic, all make for very insightful reportage.

(UPDATE: Another great scoop, from Star Wars News Net, about what led to the firing. The first person to speak up with concerns, it seems, was Han Solo himself – Alden Ehrenreich. #HanShotFirst)

As of now, I feel both worried and relieved. Relieved that a severe miscalculation within the Star Wars Canon has been averted, but worried if anything good can be salvaged at this late stage.

PTSD Drama THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE Trailer Explores Battle At Home (VIDEO)

The #1 movie at the 2014 box office was, surprisingly, American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood/Bradley Cooper war drama about one Navy SEAL’s tours in Iraq and his battle with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) back home. Now, the screenwriter of that film, Jason Hall, makes his directorial debut with Thank You For Your Service.

It covers familiar territory but then expands it beyond one soldier to several, and the demons that still haunt them as they struggle to adapt back to civilian life, particularly to be good husbands and fathers.

Once seriously considered by Steven Spielberg to direct (as was American Sniper), this stars Miles TellerHaley Bennett, Amy Schumer, Joe Cole, Beulah Koale, Scott Haze, and Keisha Castle-Hughes.

Thank You For Your Service opens this fall on October 27, 2017.