Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jackie

JACKIE

** SPOILERS **

There is a famous photograph taken in the hours after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One. To the now-President Johnson's right is his wife Lady Bird, and to his left, shell-shocked, mouth agape, is the newly widowed former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Director Pablo Larrain's dreamy, artful Jackie casts a sublime Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. In one fatal afternoon in Dallas on November 22, 1963, the United States in a macro sense lost their President and the imagined dream-state of "Camelot" the Kennedys inhabited and cultivated. But for Jackie, what was lost was much more personal and harrowing: she lost her husband, their young children Caroline and John Jr. lost their father, and Jackie lost her home and sense of security, and indeed, for a time, her sense of self.

Given a chance to tell "her side of the story" to a reporter (Billy Crudup) days after the assassination, Jackie labors to come to terms with not just the events of that tragic day -- literally holding her dead husband's brain from falling out of his head as their limousine raced to a hospital -- but with preserving JFK's legacy against the machine of Washington inevitably marching forward. Larrain depicts Jackie's famous television special hosting a tour of the White House, giving us a glimpse of the nervous, hoping-to-please woman behind the cultured facade the First Lady presented to the nation.  The Jack Kennedy she spoke of is the one only she knew; she forgives his displeasure at her spending and especially his womanizing, focusing on what a doting father he was. Much of Jackie revolves around Mrs. Kennedy's planning of her husband's grand funeral, taking cues from the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. Jackie depicts how isolated Jackie Kennedy became; her closest advisor within the family was Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), himself mourning his brother and how little their administration was able to accomplish compared to their big dreams. And yet, even in mourning, Jackie reveals Mrs. Kennedy as cunning and calculating to the reporter, seething and lashing out with "off the record" bombs of truth that she "never said."

Though she at times struggles with Jackie's famous accent, poise, and finishing school manners,  Portman persuasively inhabits the dresses, hats, and skin of Jackie Kennedy. The most heartbreaking moments of Jackie are when Jackie stumbles alone within the empty private residence of the White House she must soon vacate. It's moving when she confesses to her priest (John Hurt - in a V For Vendetta reunion where Evie is now looking for solace from Chancellor Sutler) that though she is still a relatively young woman, she fears no man will want a widowed ex-First Lady with two children who also buried two previous children. When her closest confidant Nancy (Greta Gerwig) tries to encourage her that her children are still so lucky to have her, Jackie replies in anguish "That isn't true at all!"; the film is knowingly aware of the further tragedy that would visit her family decades later. One wishes Jackie would take the advice she is given to escape Washington, D.C., "build a fortress in Boston and never look back." Jackie indulges the wistful memory of "Camelot," going so far as to lean a bit heavily on the audio of the musical Jack Kennedy loved as a boy, yet overall, Jackie is an wondrous tribute to the 20th century's most graceful and one of its most important First Ladies.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Passengers

PASSENGERS

** SPOILERS **

Passengers reassures all mankind that in the future, white privilege is alive and well in outer space. Aboard the corporate-owned starship Avalon, basically EPCOT Center if it was squeezed into a space ship, Chris Pratt awakens from his cryo-sleep 90 years ahead of schedule. The Avalon, transporting 5,000 souls to a new colony planet millions of lightyears from Earth, is an automated ghost ship with everyone else sound asleep. Except for little Roomba robots and an android bartender played by Michael Sheen, who is as if Dr. Ford from Westworld ran out of humanoid parts and just grafted a Segueway onto Sheen's torso and called it a day. Pratt is understandably distressed to be the only one awake onboard. With 90 more years of interstellar travel to go, and cryo-sleep being a one-way street, Pratt is doomed to spend the remainder of his life alone in a space mall. He handles it the way Will Forte does in Last Man on Earth. He spends a year getting all scraggly and slovenly and making a mess of the place. He is lonely and desperate for companionship, until one day, after contemplating suicide via airlock, he runs into the knocked out, cryo-sleeping form of knockout Jennifer Lawrence

Kif, Pratt has a conundrum: should he be a good, decent, moral person and accept his fate, or does he succumb to his asshole selfishness and wake Lawrence up (and lie to her about how she woke up), thereby dooming her chances at arriving on the new planet but strongly increasing his chances of getting laid? (There appears to be no porn on the Avalon, no sex-bots, no futuristic virtual reality spank machines. Thanks, Homestead Corporation!) Pratt succumbs to his assholishness, because he must. (Must he really? According to director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Jon Spaihts he does, instead pursuing all kinds of better, less scummy story options.) And for a while, Pratt's plan worked. Lawrence indeed becomes his sexy time girlfriend. Oh, what a love story in space this is. (Pratt does "feel bad" about the whole thing, the movie is at pains to keep reminding us with regular hang dog looks and puppy dog eyes from Pratt.) Unfortunately for Pratt, he confided everything to his robot bartender, who's also programmed to be a robot snitch. Sheen drops the bomb on Lawrence just when Pratt was about to pop the question. Lawrence justifiably goes nuclear and stops just short of Hunger Gaming Pratt.

What Pratt Did is nigh impossible for Passengers to walk back from, but boy, does the movie try. When crew member Laurence Fishburne suddenly awakens and discovers What Pratt Did, Lawrence announces that What Pratt Did to her can be considered "Murder!" Fishburne agrees with her, but then actually tries to justify What Pratt Did using the ol' "but a man has needs" argument. Bros before hos. Also, it's nice to see a non-white face after over an hour of Passengers, but don't get too used to him! Fishburne is dying, see - of over 200 medical ailments no less! He's like Mr. Burns in space; he has every disease! Fishburne's dying moments are a bizarre and unexpected cosplay of Forest Whitaker's cyborg in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. All he was missing were cyborg legs and an oxygen tank. Fishburne should have wheezed, "Save the Avalon! Save the Dream!" to Pratt and Lawrence before dropping dead. Speaking of Star Wars, there happens to be one other non-Caucasian character in Passengers, the Avalon's captain inexplicably played by Andy Garcia, who appears for a few seconds right before the end credits. Garcia has no dialogue so I guess he and Mark Hamill have the same agent. 

Passengers is as empty as the space ship it depicts. There's no deeper theme, no grander commentary on the human condition. It isn't about anything beyond What Pratt Did and whether he's an okay guy anyway. The mystery of what's wrong with the malfunctioning Avalon turns out to be a simple, head scratcher of a reveal: even though the ship is meteorite-proof, it got hit by a bunch of meteorites. Thus the ship's systems are all wonky and about to kill all 5,000 souls aboard -- unless Pratt and Lawrence can combine their action movie hero prowess to save the Avalon (and save the Dream)! Pratt goes all in with an attempt at a Noble Heroic Sacrifice as Passengers does everything under the sun to literally spacewalk back from What Pratt Did and make him redeemable. As she must adhere to the demands of the screenplay and director, Lawrence goes along with this, declaring her love for him after all, and saving Pratt's life from the cold, cruel void of death in outer space after he manages to save the Avalon and all aboard (dressed in an Iron Man-like space suit and hefting a Captain America-like shield, mind you. Marvel represent!). So one must swallow disappointment and accept that these two deserve each other. Pratt and Lawrence live out their life of white privilege together, presumably shuffling off this mortal coil before the ship arrives at her final destination. The 4,997 other people aboard the Avalon awake on schedule from their cryo-sleep, unaware of What Pratt Did during their slumber. Pratt, however, did grow an entire park, complete with grass and trees, inside the Avalon, thereby doing at least one thing that would make his old boss Leslie Knope proud.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

** SPOILERS **

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story answers a question that hasn't really loomed that large since 1977: How exactly did the Rebel Alliance acquire the plans for the first Death Star that allowed Luke Skywalker to destroy it in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope? Director Gareth Edwards offers this lost tale as the first standalone Star Wars movie from Disney not centering on the Skywalker family. A grim, ruthless, death march across brand new worlds in the Star Wars Galaxy, Rogue One (the first Star Wars movie where the characters say the title of the film) heaps a plethora of new characters onto the screen as cannon fodder for the mighty Death Star. Luke Skywalker isn't here to rescue Rogue One, but the entire enterprise is ultimately redeemed by a violently gonzo third act and a welcome parade of Droids, vehicles, weapons, and familiar faces from the Original Trilogy (in the case of the late Peter Cushing, in a computer generated reprisal of his role as Grand Moff Tarkin, a ghastly, haunting familiar face). Rogue One could even be renamed: How Darth Vader Saved a Star Wars Movie from the Rebel Alliance.  

The Rebels are the problem in Rogue One. Not just for the Empire, tightening its authoritarian grip across the Galaxy with its brand new planet-killing super weapon, but for the audience. The Rebels can always be described as a "rag tag" group of freedom fighters, but Rogue One's Rebel heroes are the most rag tag of all. Following the heroes of Rogue One on their exploits, we sorely miss the charm and charisma of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. Hell, we'd even settle for Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker making goo goo eyes at each other during their "aggressive negotiations." Rogue One pleasingly diversifies the human races of Star Wars with a truly multicultural cast. It's a shame most of these new characters are relegated to being a bunch of dour sourpusses with threadbare personalities and motivations. Who are these guys, and seriously, who wants to save the Galaxy with them? Most of them are no fun at all, and a couple join the Rogue One team because they literally have nothing else to do. But we get it, desperate times, and all that...

First and foremost, we meet Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a tough, hardened criminal with the angelic voice of a British nanny. Jyn deserves to wear a Daddy's Lil Monster shirt more than Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is a genius scientist forced by the Empire to design and build the Death Star. Separated from her father as a little girl, Jyn had a tough life; she watched her mother get murdered, her father get kidnapped, and she was raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a cyborg Rebel fighter who's too extreme even for the Rebellion. Jyn spent most of her life on the run or in Imperial prison, suppressing having a winning personality along the way. And yet, she's still swayed by the promise of Hope. Whitaker, incidentally, clanks around on robot legs and wheezes into an oxygen mask in a bizarre cosplay of General Grievous from Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Upon meeting Saw Gerrera, we realize we don't really want to spend any time with this guy. Thanks to Grand Moff Tarkin and the good people on the Death Star, we don't have to.

Unbeknownst to his Imperial masters, Galen built a fatal weakness into the Death Star and sent a sweaty, hapless Imperial pilot named Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) on a mission to let the Rebels in their "secret" base on Yavin IV know about said weakness. Instead, Rook is captured by Whitaker's people on the planet Jedha, which is under Imperial occupation, because it's both the location of ancient Jedi Temples (the "Force of Others" and "the Whills" are name checked, continuing the mining of George Lucas' preliminary concepts for Star Wars that began with naming The Force Awakens' Death Star "Starkiller Base") and a repository of Kyber crystals. Kyber crystals in Star Wars lore are what power the Jedi's colorful lightsabers, but they are also the power source of the Death Star's fearsome planet-killing lasers. Jyn and a shifty Rebel fighter named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), along with K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), an Imperial Droid reprogrammed to tell jokes and provide comic relief, are sent on a mission to find (and kill) her father. They're joined by more rag tag recruits to The Cause, including Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind preacher of the Force skilled in martial arts, and his buddy Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), not sure what he does. These are not names easily remembered, and much of their adventure is easily forgotten.

Thankfully, the turgid first couple of hours of Rogue One culminates in an explosive and ruthless third act on the planet Scarif, an idyllic beach world except for the Imperial AT-ATs trudging around and the energy shield around the planet protected by a fleet of Star Destroyers. The Rebel fleet launches a full-scale assault on Scarif while the rag tag Rogue One team penetrate the Imperial base to heist the plans for the Death Star. Finally, the cut scenes from the Star Wars Battlefront video game are filmed as a movie, but this is by far the most enjoyable part of Rogue One, featuring multiple main character casualties and bravura sights like a Rebel Hammerhead starship ramming a listing Star Destroyer and forcing it to collide with another Star Destroyer. As an homage to The Empire Strikes Back (among multiple callbacks to the previous movies), there's a climactic confrontation between Jyn and Orson Krannic (Ben Mendelsohn), the sneering, white cape-wafting villain of the piece who kidnapped her father, on one of those same narrow elevated platforms where Vader revealed to Luke who his daddy is. Anyone who has seen the previous seven Star Wars and lamented that not enough people die in these movies ought to have their bloodlust (hopefully) slaked. Rogue One puts the "war" in Star Wars.

Rogue One manages to accomplish a surprising feat: making the Rebel Alliance unlikable. We had really only seen the Rebellion through the eyes of Luke, Han, Leia and friends, as a bunch of faces and soldiers surrounding the heroes we actually care about. Absent them (save for a computer generated cameo of Leia restoring Carrie Fisher to her cherub-faced youth, a Jimmy Smits appearance as Senator Bail Organa, and C-3P0 and R2-D2 dropping by), we see the Rebellion in a different light: as a bunch of frightened, bickering people who engaged in thinly-veiled terrorist acts and moral compromises in their attempt to defeat the Empire. The Rebel council argues interminably among themselves, forcing Jyn and her Rogue One buddies to act in spite of them. The Rebels aren't strictly white hats in Rogue One, and while that is probably more "realistic," is that actually better? Speaking of wearing white, the killing of Storm Troopers in Rogue One is beyond ridiculous. Dozens and dozens of Storm Troopers are so easily slaughtered, it's hilarious. A Storm Trooper is violently killed almost every few minutes; most are annihilated by explosion or cut down in blaster fire. The Storm Troopers achieve a haplessness beyond even the "roger roger" battle Droids in the prequel trilogy. As the Empire's jack booted stand-ins for Nazis, no one really mourns the Storm Troopers, but Rogue One goes above and beyond in making them look utterly incompetent and easy to kill. I killed two or three just while writing this review.

Star Wars remains the greatest toy box in movies. With Rogue One, director Edwards and his writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy are like little kids playing with action figures, haphazardly ramming them together, occasionally coming up with cool things to do with them. However, they did right by the best Star Wars toy of all: Rogue One promised the cinematic return of Darth Vader, and while he's only on screen for a few fleeting minutes - including an eyebrow-raising reintroduction to him by seeing what's left of his limbless, charred human body taking a steamy bath in a bacta tank - Vader utterly commands the screen in Rogue One every scant second he appears. Rogue One concludes right before Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope begins, but seeing Darth Vader at the height of his fearsome powers, easily decimating the Rebel soldiers in his way with his blazing red lightsaber, is exhilarating in a way nothing else in Rogue One is. One imagines Kylo Ren leaping to his feet, tears in his eyes, exploding in applause watching Darth Vader in all his glory in Rogue One. Man, that Vader is really something. Someone should make a movie about him.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

** SPOILERS **

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them apparates in movie theaters already threatening to be the first of five films. Packing the most threadbare of story and characters in Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne)'s magical suitcase, Fantastic Beasts has nothing on its mind besides slamming the helpless audience with two hours of non-stop CGI pandemonium masquerading as "magical adventure" while picking their pockets with sleight of hand. There is no whimsy or wonder in Fantastic Beasts' color-bled version of 1920's New York City, nothing resembling human emotion or interest, certainly nothing truly magical. Fantastic Beasts' idea of ending every scene is having the CGI animals destroy every set, and its idea of a happy ending is having the Wizards use their wands to magically repair the sets. Written by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling and helmed by the franchise's sitting bull director David Yates, Fantastic Beasts is the most soulless, somnambular, and egregious example of franchise masturbation in movie theaters today.

Plenty of noisy sturm und drang occurs in Fantastic Beasts. A British Wizard named Newt Scamander arrives in New York City hoisting a suitcase containing magical beasts which are contraband in the magic-ignorant United States. Some of the beasts get loose and Scamander, with the aid of former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and down-on-his-luck human Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), scuttle about Manhattan trying to recapture the ridiculously destructive creatures. There's also some hubub of a pre-Voldemort Wizard criminal escaped from England and hiding in New York, visits to the immensely pedantic Magical Congress of the United States, and Colin Farrell as an obviously evil Wizard working for the Magic Congress holding in his thrall the simpering, weirdo son (Ezra Miller) of a woman warning against the infestation of witches in America. This all culminates with all of the Wizards, good and evil, chasing after the ever-imaginative staple of lazy blockbuster films: a CGI black cloud of ash destroying the city. This after over 90 minutes of watching some of the unsightliest CGI monsters ever rendered destroying locations like the Central Park Zoo. The Harry Potter franchise has honestly always had an ugly CGI problem, but Fantastic Beasts ups the ante; Fantastic Beasts has more unpleasant and frenetic CGI than all 8 prior Harry Potter movies put together.

As the hero of Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander is an utter failure. Lacking a raison d'etre besides something about traveling to Arizona or a backstory even a fraction as interesting as Neville Longbottom's, much less Harry Potter himself, Redmayne plays Scamander as an incomprehensible cypher. Redmayne, whose dialogue desperately needed to be subtitled, affects a bizarre accent making him nigh-impossible to understand, especially when he's simply telling the audience the names of his CGI creatures. Redmayne isn't even as competent a zookeeper as Tracy Morgan's Brian Fellows from Saturday Night Live. Waterston as a "good" Auror and Farrell as an "evil" Auror, are dual sides of the same, boring coin. The only character reasonably sympathetic is Fogler, who simply wants to open a bakery and get with Waterston's floozy sister, making him by default the most relatable person in Fantastic Beasts. (Fogler cackling every time he takes a sip of Wizard booze is the only fleeting dose of humor in this dour, interminable slog.) Fan service name checks of Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts, the LeStrange family, and Farrell's Deathly Hallows logo keychain (available for purchase where ever Harry Potter merchandise is sold!) remind that Fantastic Beasts exists purely as an obnoxiously transparent attempt to extend the money-making capacity of the Harry Potter franchise. But the Wizarding World of Newt Scamander is a real snoozefest, unless you're looking for a Fantastic Nap and Where to Find It.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Arrival

ARRIVAL

** SPOILERS **

A tale of first contact with otherworldly aliens like no other, Denis Villeneuve's Arrival couldn't arrive in theaters at a more opportune time. Deliberate, dream-like, and arresting, Arrival's heady themes address xenophobia, trust, loss, memory, and international cooperation laboring against militarized fear and ignorance to achieve an understanding with creatures as different from human beings as you can imagine. When twelve 1,500 foot tall space craft (dubbed "Eggs") suddenly materialize over twelve random locations around the world, brilliant linguist Amy Adams is recruited by US military liaison Forest Whitaker make contact with the aliens in the Egg hovering over rural Montana. Adams is joined by theoretical physicist Jeremy Renner; together they are charged with the daunting task of deciphering the language of the aliens, dubbed Heptapods.

As far as human-alien negotiations go, Arrival is the polar opposite of when Adams met the handsome farm boy from Krypton in Man of Steel. The Heptapods are thoroughly inhuman. They're like enormous Dr. Zoidbergs from Futurama; octopus-like creatures without visible eyes, which communicate by making circular symbols with octopus ink, like an otherworldly Etch-a-Sketch. But why are they here? What are the Heptapods trying to tell humanity? Adams is haunted by memories of her daughter, whom she lost to cancer. But are they memories at all, or something more? Arrival carefully reveals the answers, while lobbing the intriguing notion that by learning another language, one can literally re-wire their mind to achieve a different, heightened form of perception. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the unprecedented collaboration between the other nations also communicating with the Heptapods collapses as China, gripped with fear, declares war on the alien ships, causing other governments to follow suit. It's up to Adams to find a way to literally prevent a war of the worlds, building to Arrival's astounding conclusion. Arrival is a sci-fi ray of hope, of patience and intelligence outweighing fear and ignorance, ideas and truths to ponder and positively act upon during these darkening days of our own time.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Doctor Strange

DOCTOR STRANGE

** SPOILERS **

Doctor Strange sees the Marvel Studios machine working at full-bore, essaying its magical Sorcerer Supreme into movie theaters while busily checking off a Greatest Hits list of Things That Worked Before in Other Marvel Movies. As a Marvel origin story, Doctor Strange borrows wholesale from the previous magic of Iron Man and Thor. We're introduced to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, cheerily belaboring an American accent), world famous, mega-successful neurosurgeon. Like Tony Stark and Thor, Strange is at the top of his field, which is perhaps all the more remarkable with that surname. Wealthy people felt confident putting themselves in the hands of a surgeon named "Dr. Strange?" In the Marvel Universe, apparently so. Also like Tony Stark and Thor, before assuming the mantle of a hero, Strange is an arrogant snotball who needs to be taken down a peg. Strange does this to himself when he races his Lamborghini in the rain without paying attention to the road and drives himself off a cliff. He survives, but suffers permanent nerve damage to his hands, ending his surgical career. When neither begging lesser surgeons to treat him nor emotionally abusing his colleague and ex-lover Dr. Rachel McAdams cures his hands, Strange absconds to Nepal looking for a miracle.

In the magical compound of Kamar-Taj, Strange finds his salvation in the form of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a magical Mr. Miyagi who shows Strange the secret of Marvel sorcery. Initially scoffing at the idea of magic and the multiverse, Strange nonetheless begins his mystical training at Kamar-Taj, rapidly gaining enough power to be able to stop Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen), who sports perhaps the least memorable and Kae-silliest of Marvel movie villain names. Kaecillius was the Ancient One's protege but turned to a new master, Dormammu, the nefarious lord of the Dark Dimension. Dormammu wants to swallow the entire universe and especially wants Earth because Earth rocks. Lots of great stuff on Earth, like Infinity Stones, one of which turns out to be Doctor Strange's magical amulet the Eye of Agamotto. Doctor Strange also receives a magical Cloak of Levitation, which chose him for some reason and stopped just short of sorting him into Gryffindor.

In Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios gets to do their version of Inception, with New York City bending its skyscrapers into itself in multiple dimensions as Doctor Strange and Mordo are chased by Kaecillus and his band of no-dialogue magical henchmen. Christopher Nolan now knows how the Wachowskis felt when everyone started stealing bullet-time after The Matrix. Cumberbatch is a game Doctor (don't call him Mister or Mister Doctor) Strange. He is never more interesting than when he first arrives at Kamar-Taj, a broken but still arrogant man, and the Ancient One literally yanks his astral form out of his body. Yet Doctor Strange's magical abilities come too quickly (the Ancient One even matter-of-factly points this out and then moves along) and with no cost. Doctor Strange doesn't for a moment dwell on the price one traditionally must pay for using magic. In Doctor Strange's universe, Strange just grows more and more powerful and acquires more and more stuff, like a Greenwich Village Sanctum to hang his cloak in. Together with Wong (Benedict Wong), the wry librarian of Kamar-Taj, and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the Ancient One's loyal, intractable pupil, Strange battles Kaecillius in London, New York, and Hong Kong, before facing off with Dormammu in the Dark Dimension and pulling a magic trick on him right out of Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow.

As Doctor Strange's villains, Mikkelsen doesn't break from the established Marvel movie tradition of underwhelming antagonists. Mikkelsen merely does a riff on Le Chiffre, the Bond villain he played in Casino Royale a decade ago, right down to having messed up eyes. Mikkelsen even cries a tear (but not of blood) when he explains what his beloved Dormammu is to Strange. Dormammu is quite a disappointment, just a talking face in outer space. Dormammu is sadly nothing more than a version of the reviled evil space cloud Parallax Green Lantern fought in his space dud of a movie, with just a smidge more personality. Mordo even turns evil at the end, like Sinestro arbitrarily did at the conclusion of Green Lantern. The Ancient One sends Doctor Strange on a magical journey across the multiversal dimensions, but Ant-Man went through a similar trip just two summers ago when he kept shrinking into infinity. To hammer home Doctor Strange's Marvel pedigree, a certain God of Thunder drops by in the expected end credits Easter egg to commiserate; both missed out on this year's wildly successful Captain America: Civil War and eagerly position their parts in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. More power to them. Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios casting their movie magic strictly by the book.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Inferno

INFERNO

** SPOILERS **

Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy, befuddled, feeling like he got shot in the head. Buddy, I know that feeling. I sat through Inferno. The third in the Robert Langdon series based upon the Dan Brown novels, directed by Ron Howard, and starring Tom Hanks, Inferno literally puts the fate of the world in Langdon's hands. This time, there's a pathogen on the loose, created by crazy billionaire Ben Foster. Now, Foster may have a point that the world is dangerously on the brink of global over-population, but despite his obsession with (misquoting) Dante Alighieri, Foster seems like he's read too many Marvel Comics. Foster's pathogen, the Inferno (which, mind you, comes in a plastic bag), is designed to wipe out half the world's population in a matter of days. Hey, killing half the population is Thanos' thing. Ben Foster was a middling Angel in X-Men; he's sure as hell no Thanos.

Langdon is lured into this crazy, Dante Alighieri-based mystery puzzle plot by multiple forces who all seem 1) eager to shoot him and 2) eager to ask for his help, in that order. There's the World Health Organization, repped by Westworld's Sidse Babett Knudson, who used to be Langdon's sorta girlfriend. Then there's a shadowy "security" organization run by Irrfan Khan, last seen piloting a helicopter into a bunch of pterodactyls in Jurassic World. There are also two dangerous, gun-toting agents of mysteriously foreign origin and questionable allegiances, Omar Sy and Ana Ularu. Last but not least, there's Felicity Jones, the British emergency room doctor who saved Langdon when he was kidnapped and shot in the head. Jones is conveniently a "big fan" of Langdon and of "puzzles." She claims she met Langdon when she was nine years old, and for some reason she's gung ho about finding a killer virus. Something seems fishy about that, but Langdon, wobbly and confused for half the movie from his injuries, doesn't have the wherewithal to suss this stuff out this time. Langdon suffers from a unique affliction in Inferno: Half the Movie Amnesia, which he's conveniently cured of just in time to put all the clues together and foil the end of the world.

By now, we're wise to all this Dan Brown twisty mystery plotting based on academic research into history and antiquity. Inferno is as rote and mechanical as this hokum gets. Neither Howard nor Hanks seem remotely interested in the hoops Langdon must jump through to solve the puzzles in Inferno. Hanks zips through the exposition while suppressing yawns, and who can blame him? Compared to the "secret history" of the Knights Templar, Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Grail, there's none of the inherent juiciness in the history of Dante Aligheri that gave The Da Vinci Code what little pulpy fun it had. Nor does Inferno have the benefit of a scenery-chewing Sir Ian McKellan livening these dreary proceedings. Inferno whisks Hanks, Jones, et al to smashing locales like Florence, Venice, and Istanbul, but no one in the movie has the slightest bit of fun. Hanks and Jones seem perfectly resigned to being a mystery-solving duo completely absent of chemistry. Hanks contorts his face for the entire movie into his version of Dante Aligheri's Death Mask, and Jones sports an I'm Just Here for a Paycheck/Fuck This, I'm In Star Wars Now face throughout the entire movie. Inferno is super duper serious all the time, even when the survival of half the human race depends on Hanks winning a three way fist fight in three feet of water for a plastic bag of pathogen.

Followers