Bombshell. (B) I had time to squeeze one last movie in before the end of 2019, so of course I opted for the one starring the flawless Nicole Kidman (Aquaman). It’s based on the sexual-harassment scandal that engulfed the Fox News organization in 2016 and ultimately took down CEO Roger Ailes (played here by John Lithgow, Confessions of a Shopaholic). I’ve never watched Fox News and paid no attention to the scandal, so it was all rather new to me. The incomparable Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, a Fox personality who first got demoted, then got fired, and then sued Ailes individually for sexual harassment. Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) plays Megyn Kelly, an even higher-profile Fox newswoman who has to decide whether to protect her very successful career or come forward to corroborate Carlson’s story with her own account of Ailes’s misconduct some ten years earlier. And then there’s Margot Robbie (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), who plays a wide-eyed up-and-comer who’s currently being victimized by Ailes. Although the movie was interesting, I think it suffers from the fact that Robbie’s character is fictional (a composite of several women, I’ve read). The main suspense of the action is whether any women who work at Fox will come forward to substantiate Carlson’s claims, and the movie sort of sets you up to expect that Robbie’s character will be the one to come forward because, unlike Kelly, she’s suffering from Ailes’s misconduct right now. But then she doesn’t, presumably because she’s not a real person and the movie wanted to stick closer to the facts. Anyway, I thought it was worth seeing, and I note that Theron and Robbie have picked up Golden Globe nominations for their performances (though not Kidman, criminally).
Also, I was again impressed by the Alamo Drafthouse’s pre-show entertainment, which included clips from Kidman’s first film, BMX Bandits, and a comic bit from Funnyordie.com in which Theron pretends to be practicing an Academy Award acceptance speech in her bathroom mirror.
That Thing You Do! (A-). Today was way too cold to venture out and do anything, so I decided to revisit this old favorite. I could hardly believe it was released in 1996! Anyway, if you like feel-good movies, you should keep this one within arm’s reach at all times. Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) wrote, directed, and starred in this rags-to-riches story about an Erie, PA garage band that hits it big circa 1964, with the help of a mostly benevolent manager (Hanks). Tom Everett Scott (Hallmark TV’s Christmas Connection) plays the band’s drummer, a good-natured jazz-lover; Steve Zahn (Sahara) is the goofy guitarist; and cute little Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) plays the girlfriend of the band’s moody leader Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech, Flight 7500). The film also features Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) in a very early role as the drummer’s girlfriend. Bryan Cranston (Argo) also pops up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role (as astronaut Gus Grissom!). The DVD also contains a short making-of featurette, two trailers, several commercials, and two music videos of songs from the movie. This movie is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, so get yourself a copy!
Atomic Blonde (D). So I was shooting the breeze with a couple of guys at work, and we were talking about movies. Expecting no contradiction, I offered the opinion that Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot is probably the most beautiful movie star working today. To my amazement, one of my colleagues demurred. “Have you seen Atomic Blonde?” he asked. Recalling that this was a poorly performing spy movie starring the admittedly gorgeous Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), I resolved to check it out.
Theron is gorgeous, but the movie is a mess. During the last few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a British super-spy-assassin (Theron) is sent to Berlin to find and recover a list of a bunch of spies from a KGB guy gone rogue. Her connection there, the local British spy chief, is a squirrelly guy played by James McAvoy (Atonement). A cute French spy played by Sophia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) engages in some inappropriate spygames with Theron. Oh, and the whole thing is told by Theron’s character in flashback, so we’re constantly getting yanked back into a boring room in London where she swaps supposedly hard-boiled dialogue with John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island) and Toby Jones (Morgan). The highlights are the exquisitely choreographed fight scenes, and I must admit they are better filmed and more entertaining than the incomprehensibly cut gibberish you see in most action movies these days. But I had problems even with the fight scenes. I could suspend disbelief long enough to accept that Charlize Theron is such a supernaturally fast and agile fighter that she can defeat thugs two or three times her size simply because they can’t land a punch on her. But I can’t accept that she can actually absorb full-on body-blows from the same thugs and still keep up the fight. She may be a ninja, but come on, a supermodel-skinny woman is not going to get up after some of the punches she takes in this movie, no matter how much of a ninja she is.
Mad Max: Fury Road (B). Does anybody else find it remarkable (or strange) that Mad Max director George Miller also wrote Babe and directed Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2? Anyhoo, I haven’t seen any of the other Mad Max films, but I was all geared up for a two-hour-long car chase through the Australian desert. The movie did not disappoint. It is visually stunning (even in the 2D incarnation I saw), and stuffed to the gills with insane flourishes that I found very entertaining. There’s not much plot. In a post-apocalyptic desert, a hideous tyrant named Immortan Joe keeps a largish population in thrall by controlling the water, the food, and an army of albino-mutant “war boys.” Max (Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises) is a lost soul who gets captured by Joe’s goons, but he gets a chance to escape when one of Joe’s top lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, Prometheus) makes a break for freedom with Joe’s five beautiful and lightly clothed “breeders” in tow. The rest of the movie is a car chase involving the most ridiculously tricked-out, armed, and armored cars and trucks you can imagine. My special favorite was the giant truck that seemed to carry nothing but giant bongo drums (and drummers) and a heavy metal guitarist whose double-necked guitar doubled as a flamethrower. For a delirious, demented ride, Fury Road is this year’s movie to beat. (But be advised, it is rated R for “intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images. It’s not for the kiddies!)
Snow White and the Huntsman (D). I never in a million years dreamed I would see this movie and look back fondly on Mirror, Mirror, but there it is. In this version of the fairy tale, a beautiful witch named Ravenna (Charlize Theron, Prometheus) grabs a kingdom by killing its king and locking his daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart, Zathura), away in a dungeon. I’m not sure why she doesn’t just have Snow White killed right then, but some years later Ravenna finds out she can use Snow White and become immortal somehow. Then Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest, and Ravenna persuades a drunken brute known only as the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods) to track her and bring her back. After that, it’s a long, boring slog through all sorts of hooey to get to the long, boring climactic battle. The dialogue is terrible, the romantic angle is virtually nonexistent (even though a superfluous second suitor for Snow is eventually thrown into the mix), and nothing makes much sense. I was also sad to see some real actors wasted playing the dwarfs, like Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) and Toby Jones (City of Ember). Stewart continues to be a not very good actress, and she’s really not the fairest of them all. Skip both this movie and Mirror, Mirror, and go see a decent fantasy movie like Brave or the recent live-action Alice in Wonderland.
P.S. Yikes! IMDB.com reports that Snow White and the Huntsman II may be in the works!
Prometheus (B+). I barely managed to see this new sci-fi/horror flick before it leaves the theaters, and I’m glad I made the effort. Director Ridley Scott returns to the universe of his 1979 classic Alien for the tale of a space expedition to a remote world that may hold the secret to the origins of life on Earth. Once the astronauts arrive, they discover huge alien structures full of dead humanoid aliens, not to mention weirder and slimier artifacts of disturbing import. I found plenty to like about the movie–the acting was good, and Scott had no trouble ratcheting up the suspense and dread. There is plenty of gruesome stuff, which will surprise no one who saw Alien or its sequel Aliens. On the down side, it seemed like an awful lot of stuff was left unexplained, and some of the characters did some things that made very little sense, or that seemed physically impossible. And I thought Charlize Theron (Young Adult) was sadly underused as the icy corporate representative on the mission. But in the end, I enjoyed the movie and left the theater hoping there will be a sequel. If you’re one of the few folks who hasn’t seen the original Alien, I do think you will enjoy Prometheus more if you take the trouble to screen a DVD of Alien first.
Young Adult(B). The writer-director team behind Juno (Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman) reteam for this dramedy starring the lovely Charlize Theron (Hancock) as Mavis Gary, a 37-year-old divorcee who lives in Minneapolis and has been making a living ghost-writing a series of novels for young adults. She drinks way too much, her books have stopped selling, and she is generally dissatisfied with her life. Then she gets an email announcing that her high-school boyfriend, Buddy Slade, and his wife Beth have had their first child. Although she apparently hasn’t seen Buddy much if at all since high school, Mavis decides that getting Buddy back would be just the cure for her blues, so she packs her Mini Cooper and returns to her small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, with the avowed goal of wrecking his marriage. Mavis is both monstrous and pathetic, but Theron invests her with enough humanity to keep me feeling a shred of sympathy for her. The reliable Patrick Wilson (Little Children) turns in a nice performance as the thoroughly unremarkable object of Mavis’s attention. Patton Oswalt (The Informant!) plays Mavis’s unlikely confidante, a classmate who was left crippled by a horrific hate crime–because some jocks mistakenly thought he was gay. Not many laughs, but the movie definitely held my attention and didn’t always go where I thought it was going. I liked it.