Friday, January 18, 2019

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Year 11, Day 18 - 1/18/19 - Movie #3,118

BEFORE: What I've got on tap is nearly a full week of Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender - it's 3 films with Gleeson, then 3 with Fassbender, then 2 more with Gleeson, though they're going to overlap and be in the same film just once.  I think this started out as a Gleeson chain, but I was still too short for the month of January, so I saw a way to sandwich some Fassbender films into the middle of the chain - this will all make sense in retrospect, I promise.  I tried to do all of one actor, then all of the other, but it just didn't work, that chain didn't end in a constructive way that I could connect to the next thing.  But this 7-film chain now ends with a film that linked to just about anything, that I can definitely do something with.

But Domhnall Gleeson carries over from "Mother" where he played the analog of the biblical Cain from a famous book, and tonight he plays the writer of another book series.  I did a lot of films last years about authors, from Hemingway to J.D. Salinger, and even children's author Beatrix Potter.  I couldn't fit this one into last year's schedule, but as I stated before, that's what January is for, to get to the things that didn't fit into the previous year for one reason or another.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Miss Potter" (Movie #2,856)

THE PLOT: The relationship between writer A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, and how this became the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh.

AFTER: I'm going to call this film out for one case of unnecesary time-jumping - there's just no need for it here, except to manufacture false dramatic tension.  The film opens with Mr. Milne and his wife getting a dispatch from the British government, and we can deduce that their son is serving in World War II, and it's the kind of telegram that no parent wants to receive, if you know what I mean.  He opens the telegram and we the audience can't see the message, but from their reactions, we can deduce that the news is not good.  She goes off to cry, and he goes for a walk in the woods - and then we're thrown back to the father's service during World War I, aka "The war to end all wars, but we were being totally naive when we called it that."  I know that this has become a common convention to start at the "most exciting" or "most dramatic" moment in a story, then go back and describe how this thing came to be.  But there's no reason they couldn't have started this film with Milne senior in the trenches, in fact that could have even been more dramatic, if you think about it.

There are further flashbacks every time Milne gets a panic attack brought on by PTSD - which used to be called "shell shock" back in those days, I think.  (George Carlin once had a great routine about how this condition once had a two-syllable name, then the next generation called it "battle fatigue", which was four syllables, and we now call it "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder", a name with eight syllables, so each war seemed to give it a longer and longer name.)  But it seems to be a key part of Milne's character here, perhaps there was a whole generation of men who survived a war who then couldn't stand to be around popping champagne corks, car backfires and popping balloons.  Even a swarm of bees seems to set off an attack, perhaps because they sounded like fighter planes or bombs falling from overhead.

So since the "War to end all wars" didn't seem to accomplish that, Milne set out to write something that would.  But how do you write something to end all wars?  It seems like he set himself an impossible goal.  But while he was trying to write that, and while his wife was out partying in London, and the nanny was called away, he spent time with his young son, and their playtime and walks in the woods led to the creation of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  The young Christopher Robin, more frequently called "Billy Moon" by his parents, devised some of the names like "Tigger" (probably a mis-pronunciation of "Tiger", though that isn't really parsed out here) and his mother bought him more stuffed animals she named Piglet, Kanga and Roo.

It seems that now for every successful Disney movie from the past, there now need to be at least two remakes or follow-up films.  "Mary Poppins" had "Saving Mr. Banks" about the production of the original film, and now has the sequel "Mary Poppins Returns".  Meanwhile after the success of the non-cel-animated "Jungle Book", "Beauty and the Beast" and "Cinderella" live-action/CGI remakes, they're now doing the same thing with "Dumbo", "Aladdin" and "The Lion King", so this means that after 7 or 8 decades of strip-mining and re-branding all of Western literature, from "Tarzan" to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", the conglomerate has finally reached the end of the library shelf and is now forced to self-cannibalize their own works.  When they finally make that biopic about the people who wrote and animated "The Little Mermaid", then DisneyCo. should theoretically become a black hole of creativity and collapse in on itself.  (UPDATE: It turns out Disney had nothing to do with today's film, but they released the OTHER 2018 film about Christopher Robin Milne, which was just called "Christopher Robin".  That's on PPV right now, I'll try to get to it later this year if it becomes available.)

But anyway, back to Christopher Robin - in last night's film we saw how a cult of personality formed around a man who wrote one poem (to be fair, that person was a stand-in for God and the poem was symbolism for the Bible) and this film oddly touches on the same topic.  Here, though, it's not the author who became beloved, but the boy mentioned in the stories - when people in the U.K. and around the world found out this boy was real, and the author's son, they lost their minds and wrote him thousands of letters, and for a time he was the most famous boy in the world.  And this is the same reason that today's celebrities are so protective of their children, not letting them be photographed or allowing their names in print.  Because it's better to raise kids outside of the public eye, and also there are a lot of sickos out there.  Even out in the 100-Acre wood, Christopher Robin didn't go there by himself.

It was a different time, though, and British men were not expected to be involved with raising children, or being present during childbirth, or even expected to show any emotion at all.  Men were the breadwinners, and loving one's children was seen as something of an annoyance that could distract a man from doing his job properly, whatever it was.  Besides, their fathers weren't involved in child-rearing, so why should they?  That's what nannies were for, at least among the society couples that could afford them.  Richer parents, such as those seen here, could pick and choose which parts of their children's lives they wanted to be a part of - and in the case of Mrs. Milne, that wasn't very much, it seems.  Though she did provide the voices for the boy's stuffed animals (there's a weird tie-in with "The Beaver", from a few nights ago...).

But we do learn the genesis of the name "Winnie the Pooh", part of it came from a bear in the London Zoo that was shipped there from Winnipeg, and named "Winnie".  I'm not sure that I buy the origin of the "Pooh" part, because I'm not even sure I understand it, but it has something to do with a swan.  I read the four children's books by Milne when I was a kid, and a lot of it was over my head at the time, because I didn't understand much about British culture, like what a nanny was or why Buckingham Palace was important.

But what I think is important here is that Milne found his success through failure (failure to write that anti-war book) and then later found failure (the resentment that his son felt about being exploited) in success.  Also, a man named Stephen Schlesinger bought all the merchandising, TV and movie rights to the character for the U.S. and Canada territories for $1,000 and 66% of future income, making Winnie-the-Pooh the first licensed character, simultaneously creating the licensing industry.  And in 1961 that man's widow, along with A.A. Milne's widow, licensed the rights to Disney, because that's what you do, which led to the Disney animated films that started coming out in 1966.  And eventually that led to books like "The Tao of Pooh" and "The Te of Piglet", and also, more recently, internet memes comparing the Pooh Bear to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

If the voice of the nanny here seems familiar, it's probably because she was the voice of Merida in "Brave", and if the big house Milne lives in near the end of the film looks familiar, it's probably because his house was later owned by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

Also starring Margot Robbie (last seen in "I, Tonya"), Kelly Macdonald (last seen in "T2 Trainspotting"), Will Tilson, Alex Lawther (last seen in "The Imitation Game"), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (last heard in "Solo: A Star Wars Story"), Vicki Pepperdine, Stephen Campbell Moore (last seen in "Moonwalkers") Richard McCabe (last seen in "Cinderella"), Geraldine Somerville (last seen in "My Week with Marilyn").

RATING: 5 out of 10 games of "Poohsticks"

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Mother!

Year 11, Day 17 - 1/17/19 - Movie #3,117

BEFORE:  Jennifer Lawrence carries over again from "Red Sparrow", and so far this month I've gone from eliminating my ties to the upcoming "Avengers" movie (Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr. and Michelle Pfeiffer tonight) to eliminating my ties to the upcoming "X-Men" movie (Jennifer Lawrence, with 3 Michael Fassbender films coming up next week).  And as a bonus, today I also start eliminating links to the next "Star Wars" film, with 5 films starring Domhnall Gleeson.  I'd better act fast on finding some new ones, or I'll be up a creek in December - also, I should probably take a close look at the casts of "New Mutants" and "Spider-Man: Far From Home".


THE PLOT: A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

AFTER: WARNING - Potential Spoilers ahead, there's just no other way to discuss this movie...

Having two bosses who also watch a ton of movies is usually a great thing for me, with both of them being Academy members, it means I have access to a whole bunch of screeners, so each year I can see some films that I missed in the theater but haven't surfaced on premium cable yet.  Plus I can talk about recent movies with them, because chances are that one or both of them went to see that film for free at an Academy screening, especially during the busy months of November-January.  But sometimes it also means that one or both of them saw one of those buzz-worthy movies and wrote a blog or a Facebook post about it, and they forgot to issue a Spoiler Alert - so often I learn about the big twist in a movie before I'm supposed to.

In the case of "Mother", I heard one boss's detailed theory about what the film really means in the end, and I suspect that this has become the generally accepted theory among critics and film buffs.  I'll check this out on Wiki and IMDB when I finish writing my own review.  Her theory was that the mother in this film is a stand-in for Mother Earth, and the horrible treatment she receives from her husband and a multitude of strangers is symbolic of how humans have been treating their planet in a similarly horrible manner.  True or not, I went into this film with that theory already in mind, so with every new development in the plot, I thought back to this metaphor, and reasoned out how it did or didn't support this theory.

I'm glad that I did, because with each horrible thing depicted in the film, and there are a lot of them, I just reminded myself that everything was just a metaphor for pollution or strip-mining, or fracking, or the destruction of animal species, and that these horrible things were not meant to be taken literally.  If I didn't have this metaphor loaded and working, I probably would have been up on my feet, halfway through the film, tearing my hair out in frustration, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and the "why" of it all.  Because taken literally, the film doesn't make much sense, in fact it's mostly dreamlike in its presentation of a sequence of events that just keep spiraling out of control, and getting worse and worse.

I was reminded of "Requiem For a Dream", a film by the same director, in which three young likable people (and one older one) have plans for how they're going to succeed at life, but despite their best efforts they're brought down by their own addictions and shortcomings, so the audience is left to watch a series of events equivalent to four train wrecks, and there's nothing we can do to stop it all.  (The temptation is there to yell at the characters to do something positive and change the courses that they're on, but believe me, it doesn't help...)  And by the end their lives have become a nightmarish swirl of drug withdrawal, electro-shock therapy, working live sex shows and doing manual labor in prison.

"Mother" sort of follows the same pattern, starting out with an author (only known as "Him" in the credits) and his wife in a large 3-story house in the middle of a beautiful country scene, and though he's suffering from a bout of writer's block, they're happy, or at least busy, with the prospect of painting and decorating the house, while hopeful about the future and the prospect of having a baby.  One day there's a knock on the door and it's a man (known only as "Man" in the credits) who somehow mistakenly thought their house was a country inn or a bed & breakfast, and for some reason, the husband lets him stay the night.  He does not ask his wife's permission, and this becomes the first of many, many sleights against her.  The "Man" smokes in the house, lets himself into rooms where he is not invited to be, drinks too much, etc.

Soon after, the man's wife ("Woman") shows up, and she's worse than he is, she's catty and judgmental and also has no personal boundaries, drinks heavily and breaks stuff, and again, the husband doesn't seem to have much problem with the situation.  Days later their two adult sons show up (even though nobody in this film uses a cell phone, so how did they know where their parents were?) and they're arguing over their inheritance.  They fight, it doesn't end well, and then there are repercussions from this, as things start to get worse and worse.  "Him" writes something profound in response, and it becomes an instant worldwide sensation, but this becomes just as problematic as everything else - fans show up for an impromptu book signing in the couple's living room, the fans help themselves to dinner, and then they start grabbing personal items as souvenirs.

Incongruities and impossibilites keep compiling - how did the author's publisher find out about his new poem so quickly?  How did the author's fame rise so instantly? Where are all these people coming from? And are the events we're witnessing playing out over a period of weeks, days, or hours?  Time becomes meaningless as the events depicted make less and less sense, society devolves into chaos and a literary cult turns into a holy war of ideals that gets fought between the kitchen and the dining room.  And who added on the gulag to the pantry?

Through it all, the "Mother" has some kind of affinity with the house - she touches the walls and she feels them pulse like a living thing.  And there's a sort of sore or wound on the floor that keeps bleeding or oozing, getting worse and worse (another plot element that seemed to carry over from "Requiem for a Dream", this director really likes infected wounds or something).  So I can this could easily be mistaken for a horror film, because an alternate interpretation would be that this house is alive, and either sick or evil in some way.  Which is strange for me, because I'm only halfway through the first month of 2019, and I've now watched two films with buildings that seemed to be alive - the other one was "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium", and otherwise it couldn't be more different from "Mother!".

So I think the metaphor where the "Mother" here is "Mother Earth", because the suddenly crowded house could clearly represent over-population, the way that the strangers helped themselves to the food and went to the bathroom wherever they wanted clearly could represent how humans eat everything they want and don't have any valid solution for what to do with their own trash and bodily waste.  And naturally all their actions lead to chaos and the ultimate destruction of the house/planet.  But even though this is the metaphor that seems the most apt, it doesn't really fit 100% right, like who is "Him" then?  And are "Man" and "Woman" supposed to be Adam & Eve, and then who or what is the baby?  So now I'm wondering if other answers are possible.

(EDIT: I just checked with my boss, and supposedly "Him" is supposed to represent God, and the "Man" and "Woman" are indeed allegories for Adam & Eve.  This explains the people in the house who are fans of "Him", that's a whole statement on religion, I guess. The house is the Earth, as I suspected, and "Mother" is a stand-in for Mother Nature, not Mother Earth.  And nature tries its best to get rid of all the people in the house - we're seeing this now with all the hurricanes and wildfires and global warming. This still doesn't explain everything, like what's the yellow powder that she drinks?  And why would God create an imperfect world that so easily collapses into ruin?  But it seems to be the best theory, as it came from the director during a Q&A at an Academy screening.)

Perhaps this is a commentary on the price of sudden fame in the viral internet age.  Or maybe it's about how human society finds a way to screw everything up by forming religions and worshipping cult icons who are flawed, therefore any actions done in their name are also flawed.  You can just sort of feel that everything is part of a metaphor for something, just because of how impossible or oblique everything ends up being, but to what degree is this open to individual interpretation?

Also, then, what's up with the ending, also the very beginning?  I'm not seeing exactly how it fits in with the whole metaphor.  It just reminded me of the book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein, which was also full of metaphor, but it made a whole lot more sense.  Who knows, maybe the whole thing is just a giant stress dream about having uninvited guests in your house, or maybe it's home repair, because if there's something physically wrong with your house, like with the heating or the plumbing, it's only going to get worse and worse until you call a repairman.  God knows I've watched quite a few stress-dream movies already this year, like "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "Suburbicon".  I suppose "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" and "Annihilation" also fit that category.

Also starring Javier Bardem (last seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales"), Ed Harris (last seen in "Winter Passing"), Michelle Pfeiffer (last seen in "Ant-Man and the Wasp"), Domhnall Gleeson (last seen in "American Made"), Brian Gleeson (last seen in "Assassin's Creed"), Kristen Wiig (last seen in "Whip It"), Jovan Adepo (last seen in "Fences"), Stephen McHattie (last seen in "The Art of the Steal"), Amanda Warren (last seen in "Roman J. Israel, Esq."), Laurence Leboeuf, Emily Hampshire, Amanda Chiu, Shaun O'Hagan (last seen in "The Post").

RATING: 4 out of 10 angry protestors

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Red Sparrow

Year 11, Day 16 - 1/16/19 - Movie #3,116

BEFORE: Back on the international spy beat for one more night, then moving on to other topics.  Jennifer Lawrence carries over from "The Beaver".


THE PLOT: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to "Sparrow School", a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon.  Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

AFTER: I'm in kind of a strange spot tonight, because I can't help but notice the similarity of this film's first hour to a 1985 TV movie titled "Secret Weapons".  In that film, attractive Russian women were recruited to a secret school, where they were forced to undress in front of each other on the first day, then taught over the next few months how to overcome their hang-ups about sex to seduce foreign agents, and their first assignment was to sleep with a group of Russian soldiers on leave, which is filmed by the teachers and watched in class.  In "Red Sparrow", attractive Russian women get recruited to a secret school, where they are forced to undress in front of each other on the first day, then taught over the next few months how to overcome their hang-ups about sex to seduce foreign agents, and their first assignment was to sleep with a group of Russian soldiers on leave, which is filmed by the teachers and watched in class.  See the resemblance?

Now, I know this film because I watched it on TV back in 1985, and thanks to VCR technology, I was able to watch clips from it again and again.  The film starred Geena Davis and Linda Hamilton, and since I was 16 at the time, the scenes made an impression on me, and led to some weird fantasies during high school.  When, I wondered, was my English teacher going to make everyone in class stand up and take their clothes off?  Sure, that would be embarrassing for me, but at least I'd get to see all the girls in class naked, and things might get more interesting from there.  Note: this never happened in real life, which made me wonder why we weren't keeping up with the Soviets in the Cold War teen-sex race.  Another note - our screenwriters' secret fantasies about Russian spies have not changed very much since 1985.  (The whole film is now on YouTube, check it out if you think I've gone crazy.  Linda Hamilton performs a tribute to Irene Cara by having a "Tres Jolie, Coco!" teary-eyed moment as she gets naked in spy class.)

It's worth considering that at the height of the Cold War, this was (apparently) middle America's greatest fear - that Russian women were being trained to seduce our American men, who might be traveling to Moscow on business or on spring break (yeah, right) and once they met these beautiful, unrepressed women who were nothing like the uptight, virginal American daughters that every parent fooled themselves into thinking they had, the men wouldn't be able to control themselves, and then would either start screaming American trade secrets or military codes during sex, or they'd be taken to a Siberian gulag where those secrets would be tortured out of them.  It was 1985, Reagan was President, yeah, that all tracks.  Speaking of which, did Donald Trump ever visit Moscow during the 1980's?  Because this could explain how they first got to him. Two of his wives were models from Eastern Europe, just saying...

But before getting trained as a KGB agent, Dominika is a ballerina, so the formula here is sort of "Black Swan" plus "Black Widow" equals "Red Sparrow", or something like that.  An accident at the ballet puts her whole life in jeopardy - her apartment, her mother's health insurance, so her uncle steps up to help her out, by sending her on a mission to seduce a gangster.  Gee, thanks, Uncle, but some money would help out a lot better.

Since she's got a knack for this sort of thing, and because she's already seen too much, the only way out is further in, to enroll in spy training.  Supposedly she's a natural because she's so good at figuring out what people want, which I didn't realize was as important as cracking codes or wearing disguises or defusing a bomb.  But hey, that's Russia for you.  And one major difference between Russian spy school in the 80's and today - the seduction classes are now co-ed, and the students have to learn how to seduce their own gender, if need be.  Hey, this is what inclusion looks like in a Hollywood spy film - the Russians may have disdain for homosexuals, but they'll engage in that behavior if it gets them some useful intel, apparently.

After a clash with another student who tries to rape her, Dominika is sent to Budapest to get close to an American agent, Nate Nash.  She does this by forgoing the fake ID and phony name that the state gave her, and instead checking out the pool at the local gym under her own name, which kind of suggests that she didn't learn much in spy school.  Like, lesson number 1 is probably "Don't use your real name", right?  But once he figures out that she's a spy, he convinces himself that he can turn her, which will get him the dirt on her uncle.  But this also gets her close enough to Nash to try to learn the identity of his mole on the Russian side.

The American agent is a bit of a dope here, like he really believes he can get Dominika to defect, despite the hold that Mother Russia has on her - and her mother.  And he knows who she is, and what her training was, so he knows she's been trained to seduce men - and still he believes that he's not being suckered by her.  This is what she DOES, she makes you fall for her, and you're nothing special, you're just like all the others, a means to an end, only I guess he's too close to it to see that.

So there's about an hour of "will she or won't she" where we're not quite sure where her loyalties lie, what her endgame is.  I'll say this, that the plot did manage to stay one step ahead of me, and as twisty as it was, I really like the way it all wrapped up, except for one point regarding the mole's identity that I can't really talk about, not without blowing it.  But if you go back to the Gorky Park scene after the reveal, it doesn't really add up.

Also starring Joel Edgerton (last seen in "Bright"), Matthias Schoenaerts (last seen in "Rust and Bone"), Charlotte Rampling (last seen in "Assassin's Creed"), Ciaran Hinds (last seen in "Bleed for This"), Jeremy Irons (last seen in "Appaloosa"), Joely Richardson (last seen in "Snowden"), Bill Camp (last seen in "Gold"), Mary-Louise Parker (last seen in "The Spiderwick Chronicles"), Thekla Reuten (last seen in "In Bruges"), Douglas Hodge (last seen in "Vanity Fair"), Sakina Jaffrey (last seen in "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)"), Sergei Polunin (last seen in "Murder on the Orient Express"), Sasha Frolova, Sebastian Hülk, Kristof Konrad, Hugh Quarshie, Sergej Onopko, Louis Hoffman.

RATING: 6 out of 10 cryptic phone calls

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Beaver

Year 11, Day 15 - 1/15/19 - Movie #3,115

BEFORE: So we've got a new backyard cat, who we call Chunk, because he (or she) is hitting up most of the houses on our block, from the look of things.  There were two white & gray cats roaming around the neighborhood, begging for food, but now there's just Chunk, we're not sure what happened to the other one.  Lately I've finding Chunk in our backyard in the late mornings, laying on the barbecue grill cover or on the covered table, getting what little heat comes from the winter sun.  And it only takes me a few days with a stray cat to establish a pattern - before I come out with a bowl of kibble, I'll tap the key on the window a few times, and it soon learns that this sound means I'm coming out with food, which I'll probably put down on the porch before walking away.

But in the last couple days, I noticed that Chunk was hesitant to come up on the porch, when I thought I was doing so well in establishing a bond.  Then I remembered that my wife told me she saw a raccoon (well, she said "Trash Panda", but same thing) early one morning when she was out on the front porch having a smoke.  We've seen them before, because we live very close to a parking lot that services a pizza place, deli and a Chinese restaurant, so that means three dumpsters with food trash.  I figured there had to be a reason why Chunk was suddenly scared to come up on the porch, so I lifted one end of the cat-house we have out on the back porch, and it felt very heavy, there was definitely something in there that wouldn't come out, and after I picked up one end and dropped it a few times, a long brown snout poked out of the hole, meaning the raccoon found a warm place to hole up during the day, in between nocturnal feedings.

The cat house is a large plastic tub, insulated with styrofoam and straw, so at least one stray cat can survive the winter in our backyard.  And it's clearly marked "For Cats" and "No Other Animals Allowed", so the fact that a raccoon has moved in is a clear violation of the terms of service.  We went through this once before when a possum (yes, in New York City) moved into the 2nd cat house, and to get rid of the possum I needed to break open the 2nd cat house, which is why we don't have a 2nd cat house any more.  Now I have to decide if I'm going to try to evict the raccoon, or just let it be for the next two months.  I mean, it's one of God's creatures, but not really one that I want to have living on my back porch.  Maybe this weekend I can move the cat house down off the porch into the yard, so at least there will be some distance between this wild animal and our kitchen door.  Then maybe Chunk can feel better about coming up on the porch to eat.

But that's my problem, and anyway, today's film is not about a raccoon, it's about a beaver.  Mel Gibson carries over from "The Singing Detective".


THE PLOT: A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communication.

AFTER: I guess everything is relative, because if I had just watched this film on its own, I might have declared that it was terrible - but right after "The Singing Detective", maybe it's not so bad by comparison.  It's not "Hamlet", not even close, but maybe it has something to say, even if obliquely.  Similar territory was also explored last year in the Showtime series "Kidding", where Jim Carrey played a children's TV show host dealing with the death of a child, with a failing marriage, another son acting up, and family issues at work.  (EDIT: Jim Carrey was once attached to be in "The Beaver", but lost the role to Mel Gibson - it's possible that his interest morphed into starring in the show "Kidding".)

But it's funny the way things played out here, with three films in a row where fantasy has been blending with reality, to various degrees.  "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" really featured more of an unreliable narrator, like "Girl on the Train", because the lead character was on various painkillers and also drank alcohol during the film, so he often didn't know what was going on (I felt the same way.)  But he also saw ways that the murder mystery he was investigating resembled a detective novel.  Then the same kind of novel started bleeding into the real-world story in "The Singing Detective". And tonight a character uses a puppet, but it's the same kind of blurring, where it's hard to tell if the man is controlling the puppet, when there's also the suggestion that the puppet might be controlling the man.

Technically this could be a form of dissociative identity disorder, where a person creates another personality in order to cope with trauma - and now I wonder if any puppeteers in the real world have ever suffered from something like this.  I've got a couple of documentaries on my list about the performers behind Big Bird and Elmo, they might be worth a look-see later this year if I want to re-visit the puppetry theme later on.

But I don't think we ever learn about the initial trauma, the cause of Walter Black's initial depression. We see him moving out of his own house, presumably after a long period of depression, and then trying to commit suicide in a hotel, but initial cause of his depression remains a mystery, perhaps this is intentional.  It could trace back to the death of his father, that's a safe enough bet, or perhaps the pressures of his job as a toy company CEO, but perhaps it's just a general malaise in the end.  I suppose it doesn't matter.

But this is the movie where Mel Gibson plays a man who re-learns how to connect with his family and communicate with society by talking through a beaver puppet.  Now, this is not ventriloquism, it's clearly the guy talking, but he's got a thick Australian accent when he's talking as the puppet, and a regular American accent when he's talking for himself.  (The actor's Australian, right? So that must have been confusing, if the puppet voice was more like his natural voice...). Here, again, juxtaposition makes this film look OK, because last year I watched both "Tusk" and "The Lobster", and nobody here gets turned into a beaver, nobody gets big buck teeth and a large flat tail surgically implanted, it's just a puppet.  Because there's weird, and then there's really weird.

Meanwhile, Walter Black's older son is not only feeling disconnected from him, he's planning a long road-trip on his way to college with stops at some unusual but very specific sites.  And he's starting his very first romance with a girl, who's also his client, because he's making money in high school by writing essays and term papers for other students, and it seems he's got a talent for writing them in the client's "voices" so he won't get caught.  I guess that's a thing, because I have a talent for writing tweets and facebook posts for my two very different bosses, and I've learned to do that in their voices - but I've known both of them for over 20 years, so it's a skill that takes time to develop.  I don't know if I could have written a paper in high school as someone else.

The really disappointing character here was the wife, it feels like she was a total blank, because they didn't give her anything to do, except to react to her husband being weird.  Does she have a job?  Jeez, they gave the youngest son a hobby, woodworking, so he felt like a more complete character than the wife was.  Jodie Foster played the wife and also directed this film, so this feels like a strange omission, how could she forget that her own character is supposed to have a life beyond her marriage?  Was she so busy directing the film that she didn't realize her character wasn't really doing anything?

I'm not sure I follow the logic of the film, with regards to the use of the puppet as self-imposed therapy.  Because things seem to be going well, until they're not.  Somehow with the puppet he comes up with a great idea for a new toy, which also seems like a great idea, until it's not.  What changed, was it just the fact that he did a TV interview with the puppet?  OK, but then what changed in the relationship, what was the pivot point there?

NITPICK POINT: The class valedictorian is also a cheerleader?  Uh-uh, no way, at least not in the high school I went to.  I'm not just falling back on stereotypes here, though I obviously could, because I doubt the same type of girl who does cheerleading also would be at the top of her class.  I don't even need to go there, because I think it's a scheduling issue - if you're in a large high school, and you want to be the valedictorian, that's a lot of work, you'd have to study hard for EVERY test, and not let your grades slip, not even a little.  Maintaining that all the way to graduation would be incredibly time-consuming, and that wouldn't leave any time for extracurriculars like cheerleading.  I think the reverse is also true, because cheerleading is another time-heavy commitment, which would leave less time for academics.  So one way or another, this is unlikely, and I suspect it's just some kind of fantasy on the part of the screenwriter, or perhaps a convenience arising from lazy storytelling.

This film did not do well at the box office, I guess when you factor in the weirdness of it all, plus the fact that Gibson had gotten bad publicity for assault charges filed by his girlfriend, plus he'd gotten bad publicity a couple years before THAT for a drunk driving charge, and the racist and sexist rants that were recorded during his arrest - people stayed away from this film in droves.  But this film might be worth a look, if only because it marked the start of Gibson's comeback, which was followed later by a role in "Daddy's Home 2" and directing "Hacksaw Ridge".  And right now, there are a lot of people in Hollywood that got blacklisted by the #metoo movement, and you have to wonder if they're also going to try to come back into the movie industry after lying low for a decade and going through some kind of rehab or recovery programs.

Also starring Jodie Foster (last seen in "Carnage"), Anton Yelchin (last seen in "Alpha Dog"), Jennifer Lawrence (last seen in "Passengers"), Cherry Jones (last seen in "I Saw the Light"), Riley Thomas Stewart, Zachary Booth, Jeff Corbett, Michael Rivera, with cameos from Matt Lauer (last seen in "I, Tonya"), Jon Stewart (last seen in "Weiner"), Terry Gross.

RATING: 4 out of 10 post-it notes

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Singing Detective

Year 11, Day 14 - 1/14/19 - Movie #3,114

BEFORE: Robert Downey Jr. carries over from "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" to another film that's somewhat influenced by the old-style detective novels, like those of Raymond Chandler.  But I recall that this is a remake of a BBC mini-series, I think my Mom watched it on PBS many years ago, and I tried to follow it, but I don't really remember much about it - it sort of failed to leave an impression.  Well, I certainly don't have time to watch a full miniseries, but watching one feature film based on it seems like another one of my patented time-savers. 


THE PLOT: From his hospital bed, a writer suffering from a skin disease hallucinates musical numbers and paranoid plots.

AFTER: Oh, there's so many of the things I hate to see in a movie, all located here in one convenient package.  First there's the portrayal of a writer who can't seem to write his next book, even though he's lost in some kind of fantasy world.  (Well, then if his imagination is working fine, what's the PROBLEM, exactly?)  Then there's the blending of reality (movie-reality) and fantasy, which sometimes goes hand-in-hand with the whole writer thing, like these people have some kind of magic key to break down the barriers between this world and the next, which is just not how the creative process works.  Then there's the use of an illness (usually madness, but here's it's some kind of fever condition brought on by a bad skin disease...) to further blur the lines between that which is "real" and that which is "unreal".  No, no, no, there's just the two things, and they don't interact.

The mystery novelist here, Dan Dark, is admitted to a hospital and begins to have fantasies of the doctors and nurses singing 1950's songs like "At the Hop".  Things get better from there with a sexy fantasy about the nurses, but it's all downhill after that, when he imagines that his wife is having an affair with someone from a film company in order to make a movie screenplay out of one of his novels, and together they're planning to make a ton of money and cut him out of the deal.  Umm, I think that's what happened here, honestly this was very hard for me to follow.  Then there were flashbacks to Dark's time as a young boy, where he evidently spied his mother cheating on his father, with someone who looked very much like the man he imagined having an affair with his wife, and then after that he and his mother went on the run, and his childhood got a lot worse.

Things got even more confusing when the two gangsters from the "crime drama" storyline started showing up in the real world scenes, and then they also appeared on a bus in the flashbacks.  So did Dan Dark write about these two characters because he remembered seeing them on a bus when he was a young boy?  Because that still would not explain how they managed to become real and show up at the hospital in the present.  Or am I just supposed to accept the spillover because the writer is going insane?  There's no easy answer here.

I can get why Dark's experiences with his mother may have made him mistrust women, but what was the deal with his wife, was she really cheating on him or just genuinely delivering him a message about Hollywood's interest in his stories?  It seemed for a while like she was visiting him only to learn the location of the screenplay that he wrote years ago, but then why was he so angry at her, like all the time?  The pain that he was in because of his skin condition can't fully explain why he was acting like such an asshole - but maybe it was justified, maybe he had a reason to suspect her of infidelity, only the movie couldn't be bothered to confirm anything, because that would be too much like answering a question. 

I could put up with some of these things if everything added up to something in the end, like if it all gave me some insight into the lead character and why he is the way he is, or what the fantasies all mean, or whether his wife is really out to cheat on him and get his money, but no, it never adds up to anything.  I think this guy is just a jerk with bad skin who's mad at everyone for no reason.  And that's not really something I find entertaining.  Did I just not "get" this film, or was there nothing here to get?  This came off like a poor imitation David Lynch film, like one where Lynch lost track of his own storylines and then couldn't be bothered to connect the dots.

Also starring Robin Wright Penn (last seen in "I'm Still Here"), Jeremy Northam (last seen in "The Man Who Knew Infinity"), Katie Holmes (last seen in "Woman in Gold"), Mel Gibson (last seen in "We Were Soldiers"), Adrien Brody (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Jon Polito (last seen in "Big Eyes"), Carla Gugino (last heard in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Saul Rubinek (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Alfre Woodard (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Amy Aquino, Eddie Jones, Lily Knight, Clyde Kusatsu (last seen in "The Face of Love"), David Dorfman, Earl Poitier, David Denman (last seen in "13 Hours"), Sandahl Bergman (last seen in "Conan the Barbarian").

RATING: 2 out of 10 rubber gloves

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Year 11, Day 13 - 1/13/19 - Movie #3,113

BEFORE: Football season starts today, at least for me it does.  I don't waste my time watching the regular season Patriots games, why bother if I'm fairly sure they're going to make the post-season?  So I'll tune in for their first playoff game, and then it's just two games until the Super Bowl.  I'm always looking for a way to save a bit of time.

Moving on toward the next film on my list from 2018 - that's easy, I can get there in four steps, no problem.  Though it's going to cost me another potential link to the "Avengers" franchise, but that's OK, I've got at least a dozen others.  I'm more worried about linking to "X-Men: Dark Phoenix" because I think I'm going to use up my Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender films in January, too.  So I'm sort of pinning my hopes on James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, but hey, there's always Ato Essandoh, too.

Michelle Monaghan carries over from "Mission: Impossible - Fallout"


THE PLOT: A murder mystery brings together a private eye, a struggling actress, and a thief masquerading as an actor.

AFTER: I remember my ex-boss saw this film as part of a film-appreciation program he took as a night class, and the few things he told me about it made me not want to see it.  But hear in Year 11, there's finally time to get around to all the films I never wanted to see, in addition to seeing all the films I do want to see.  Really, I'll watch just about anything in the name of clearing it off the list, that's my saving grace, even if I watch a terrible film, I can console myself by saying, "Well, it's off the list now, I can stop wondering if that was a bad film because that's now confirmed, and I never need to worry about it again."  That's not really another time-saver, because I'll never get back the time I spent watching this confusing mess, but I take consolation where I can find it.

But I can't really explore WHY this film is bad without exposing some details, so I'm issuing a rare SPOILER ALERT - if you want to skip this review, I'll understand.  Or go and watch it now if you don't want me to blow the details about the elements of this film which don't quite add up right.

The lead character breaks the fourth wall quite a bit at the beginning of the film, to say things like, "Wait, I'm a bad storyteller, because I forgot to tell you about this bit..." or "Let's back up a bit and look at how this character found her way to L.A."  Which seems innovative at first, because this was released pre-"Deadpool" but then you may realize it's being done here just to cover up bad storytelling, because the writer didn't have another way to justify skipping around the timeline, but here's the problem - having a narrator admit that he's a bad storyteller doesn't make up for the fact that the story is being told badly.  If you're going to take the time to acknowledge the problem, why not go the extra mile and FIX the problem by finding a better way to tell the story that doesn't need all the apologizing?

It's just as lazy to call a character "gay Perry" because that's the fastest way to tell us something about him - why bother with exposition, or give the audience clues so that we figure out this little bit of information about him?  Nah, that takes too long.  But the shorthand also feels exploitative, because there's no "straight Perry" in the film, so people wouldn't need to call him or think of him as "gay Perry", would they?  Like, maybe if you had two friends named Steve and one was gay, you might THINK of him as "gay Steve" but you wouldn't make that his nickname, not in 2018, anyway.  Maybe things were different back in 2005, but I don't think so.  Look, times change, I get that - once upon a time people wouldn't even discuss someone's sexual preference in polite company, even if everyone knew about it.  Progress was obviously made in the 1970's and 1980's, but I doubt that Perry would want to be pigeon-holed and wear his preference like that, as part of his name.  Who knows, maybe he was very proud of it and liked that nickname?  It was L.A., after all.

(These days, of course, it's all different - if you're a straight white male, for example, you have to put something in your profile about how you're not transphobic or how you're cis-male but still queer-positive, or you risk being out of step with the times.  And God help you if you express a preference for one race over another, or fail to be body-positive in your ISOs.).

In an incredible coincidence, Harry, the lead character, encounters a woman at a party that he knew very well in high school - and he was always in the "friend zone" with her, while she slept with nearly everyone else.  But if she was so important to his life back then, why didn't he recognize her right away?  She can't look THAT different from how she looked in high school, and there can't be that many women named "Harmony" in the world - why did it take so long of a conversation before they recognized each other?  There are probably a dozen ways to get two characters together better than this - of course, it's too easy for them to recognize each other on sight, but this goes too far in the other direction.

And then once Harry and Harmony get together, the events keep conspiring to pull them apart.  Everything feels like someone was over-compensating for making things too simple, both on the small things and on the big picture.  Given all the pieces of the puzzle, from the missing heiress to the dead girl, the car in the lake and the planted evidence, the story that Harry and Gay Perry come up with to explain everything is the ultimate example of bending the plot over backwards and sideways to make it fit.  I'm just not buying it.

NITPICK POINT: There's no way that slamming a door on someone's hand can slice off a finger, not like that. The door would mash a finger, bruise it, maybe even flatten it beyond recognition, but it could not possibly create a clean slice, like, say, a table saw would.  And even if it could, which it can't, how did the door damage only one finger and not the other ones on his hand?  Was he pointing his ring finger at her when she slammed the door?  Because that's not a thing.  What was the point of losing the finger, only to have it re-attached?  And then what was the point of getting it re-attached only to lose it again?  What's the point of anything here?  I guess it's symbolic of how nothing in this film seemed connected to anything else?  And then his finger gets re-attached in a matter of, what, a couple hours?  Like that's just a thing they do in the E.R. on an out-patient basis?  Sorry, medical fail.

NITPICK POINT #2: The lead character is on painkillers and is passed out in the back-seat of a car.  Another character gets in the car and drives to another location, but fails to notice him in the back seat, therefore driving him as needed to the next important site in the investigation.  And the driver never sees him in the back seat?  Never checks the rear-view mirror during the drive?  Never hears him breathing or snoring while he's passed out?  Never feels his weight shift during a tight turn?  Give me a freakin' break.

NITPICK POINT #3: I can't quite follow the logic here, because somehow from the fact that a dead girl wasn't wearing underwear, they determined that she'd been in a mental hospital.  Which doesn't make any sense, because there are many other reasons why someone wouldn't be wearing underwear, right?  While I'm at it, NITPICK POINT #4 is the mental hospital itself, which is a private institution owned by a retired actor.  How is that a thing?  Can anyone name one former actor that owns a mental hospital?  That makes zero sense.

NITPICK POINT #5: The big climax of the action scene, with the casket falling out of the van, hanging off the side of the overpass, and then everything that comes after that?  It's worse than Ethan Hunt hanging off the side of a mountain, trying desperately to rappel up to the detonator on the ledge. It's like five unlikely events happening in sequence, and then five more on top of that.

The best thing I can say about this film is that it somehow led to Robert Downey Jr. being cast as Tony Stark in "Iron Man".  In the comic books, Tony Stark was often depicted in the 1970's as the smart, rich, handsome playboy but then when the writers explored his alcoholism, it was a whole new take on the character.  Suddenly he had personal problems that needed to be overcome in order to be a super-hero, and this led to new storytelling possibilities, like the fact that maybe he replaced the addiction to alcohol with an addiction to tech, plus he would always be nervous about his addiction, and afraid of slipping back into his old habits after getting clean.  Harry here is often seen drinking or on painkillers, and always seems to be trying to clear his head, plus always stressed out by one situation or another - plus of course the actor had his own personal addictions to overcome, so he ended up being the perfect choice for Tony Stark.  And the director of this film also directed "Iron Man 3", the one where Tony was on the run, and the most stressed-out and anxious due to the threat of alien invasion.

That's when I realized that "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is nothing but a giant stress dream.  Stress of being wanted by the police, the stress of pretending to be something that you're not, the stress of encountering your high-school crush, the stress of then ruining the meeting with said crush, the stress of being framed for murder, the stress of being held hostage, etc. etc.  I know that when I fell asleep right after watching it, I had a series of stress dreams - I was at a party, my family was there, for some reason I had another apartment that I didn't want anyone to know about, my ex-wife was calling me on the phone, I had to go outside and buy something only I couldn't find it, and then the Mexican army invaded.  (I think "The Alamo" was on TV when I woke up, that could have had a lot to do with how the dream ended.)

Also starring Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Avengers: Infinity War"), Val Kilmer (last seen in "Wonderland"), Stephanie Pearson, Corbin Bernsen (last seen in "The Great White Hype"), Rockmond Dunbar, Dash Mihok (last seen in "Silver Linings Playbook"), Shannyn Sossamon (last seen in "The Holiday"), Angela Lindvall, Ali Hillis (last seen in "Must Love Dogs"), Larry Miller (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Indio Falconer Downey, Ariel Winter (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Harrison Young, with cameos from Richard Grieco (last seen in "22 Jump Street") and the voice of Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Ant-Man and the Wasp").

RATING: 3 out of 10 Johnny Gossamer novels

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Year 11, Day 12 - 1/12/19 - Movie #3,112

BEFORE: I suppose I could have gone to see this film in the theater last year, I remember debating that, and if my chain had swung a little differently I probably would have, but I had my priorities, which involved getting to the film "Holes" so I could launch that chain of rock documentaries that took up more than 50 slots.  So I waited until now, when I have access to a screener, since awards season is in full bloom.  Yes, I know that only Academy members are supposed to watch those, but this film is now available on iTunes, and it most likely WILL be available on HBO in a couple months, and I promise to record it (and therefore pay for it via my cable bill) at that time.  So it's really all just about timing, I'm watching it now and paying for it later.

So far this year it's been 9 films watched on premium cable (7 of which were dubbed to DVD before viewing, and 2 were on the DVR on channels that didn't allow me to save a copy) plus 2 films on Netflix ("A Most Violent Year" and "Promised Land") and now 1 on a screener.  I'll try to update these stats at the end of each month, because there could be an indication in the future that I could drop cable and go all-streaming, but clearly I'm not there yet.

Tom Cruise carries over from "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" and I've cleared his filmography once again.  But having watched two Cruise movies last year and now another two in 2019, he'll never make the year-end countdown again at this rate.  Sure, big star, but I watched 11 movies last year with his ex-wife Nicole Kidman in them...


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (Movie #2,282)

THE PLOT: Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission goes wrong.

AFTER: The Impossible Mission Force is back to save the world, though if they do their jobs right, the world will never learn of their efforts - jeez, isn't that always the way?  And after an opening mission goes south, they manage to lose track of some silver spheres of plutonium, so they have to worry about TWO kinds of fallout, not only the nuclear kind, but the political and professional ramifications of their little boo-boo.  I suppose you could also say they're still dealing with the fallout from the previous films, too, because two characters from MI-6 (that's the British spy agency, not the 6th Mission:Impossible. film) are key players here, the rogue agent/love interest from "Ghost Protocol" and the former agent who headed up the Syndicate in "Rogue Nation".

One or two new faces, sure, but essentially it's the same old team.  I've got nothing against Luther and Benji, but I kind of miss the flavor of the old TV series, when there were 5 or 6 team IMF members to choose from and Jim Phelps had to put together the perfect team for the job each week.  OK, who am I kidding, he always picked the same people too, but at least they went through the motions of being picked, that was probably good for their self-esteem.  But if Ethan Hunt works with Luther and Benji every single time, what's their motivation to do the best possible job?  Oh, yeah, saving the world and all that.  Still, I think they could do something to mix it up a bit more.  But maybe today's audiences can't keep more than three characters straight at a time.  (Yet weren't there like 17 Avengers in their last film?).  And I maintain that if Ethan only works with Luther and Benji, then over time he's only going to pick the missions that they can accomplish with their skill-sets, instead of accepting the job and then assembling the proper team to pull it off.

Right, the new guy.  Because of their slip-ups, and the air of mystery surrounding Ethan Hunt (someone floats the possibility that he might have an alias as a secret arms dealer or something, but really, how would he have the time?) they're forced to work with CIA agent August Walker on the mission to get the plutonium back, and he's not only younger, fitter and stronger than Hunt, I think he can also change the course of mighty rivers and leap tall buildings in a single bound.  He might even be more powerful than a locomotive - but unlike that guy he played with the red cape, his character here is also a bit of a dick. The Big Mission starts with August and Ethan sky-diving into Paris - because who has time to wait in line for a TSA check, am I right? - and a mid-air accident forces Ethan to save August's life nearly at the expense of his own, and August not only doesn't thank him, he doesn't even acknowledge it happened.  Whatever, dude, we just learned all we needed to know about your character.

I'm going to maintain this is a huge NITPICK POINT, because despite everything that happens on the way down from the plane, both agents managed to land right on top of the exact building in Paris that they need to enter, without even trying.  Right.  These guys are good, but nobody is THAT good.  Plus, all that just to enter a nightclub without being on the list?  Seems to me there had to be a much easier way to accomplish that, but then again, I haven't been to a nightclub in over 30 years.

It seems this is sort of par for the course with the IMF, do they always insist on doing things the hard way?  Wasn't there a case a couple of films ago where Hunt had to access some computer databank that was stored underwater for some reason (is that even a thing?) and hold his breath underwater in that swirling tank while his team member infiltrated the compound in disguise?  You can't tell me that they just coudn't have hacked that system remotely, I'm not buying it.  Hanging from an airplane, climbing a tall skyscraper, if there's a hard way to do something, the IMF will find it, you can bet on it.  This film features some overly complicated bomb decision, combined with a helicopter-based shootout, mixed with a simultaneous hand-to-hand fight scene in another location.

But as I said yesterday, it's extremely easy for an action film to devolve into a simple chase scene, and this does happen twice here, only there's not really anything simple about either occurence. The driving-based one looked really familiar, as if I'd seen one just like it in the last "Mission: Impossible" movie, but I figured that couldn't be right.  And it's not - I was thinking of a similar chase scene set along the canals of Amsterdam instead of the streets of Paris, only it was in the film "The Hitman's Bodyguard", which I watched last September.  Motorcycles, cop cars, trying to apprehend an "asset" from Interpol custody, and ending up in a boat - the two scenes do have a lot in common, only the Amsterdam canals were replaced here with the Paris sewer system, with the end result very much the same.

Of course there are always the fake-outs, with the false faces and a little bit of sleight-of-hand thrown in.  Movie magic is what makes the false faces possible, I think they proved on "Mythbusters" a couple years ago that nobody has prosthetic face technology that's this good, in other words, in the real world you're always going to know that you're talking to a guy wearing a mask.  MAYBE you can fool a security camera here and there, but not the human brain.  And now the IMF has added this little strip of tape that they put on their throats, so the wearer can duplicate another person's voice, which, if possible, makes professional impersonators a thing of the past.  Of course this doesn't exist, as soon as the agent puts on the false face they cut away, and he's replaced by another actor.  We all know this is how the movie is made, doesn't this ruin the trick because we know that this whole "false face" thing is completely bogus?

It's been a gradual progression all week from the action films based on true events, like "13 Hours" to one that was semi-fictionalized ("Seam Team Six") and now one that's almost completely ridiculous, with barely one toenail in reality.  But damn if it isn't also the one that's the most thrilling, where even the setbacks in the stunts will have you on the edge of your seat.  For that reason, I think I'm being very lenient with my rating tonight.

Also starring Henry Cavill (last seen in "Justice League"), Ving Rhames (last seen in "Idlewild"), Simon Pegg (last seen in "Ready Player One"), Rebecca Ferguson (last seen in "Life") Sean Harris (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), Angela Bassett (last seen in "Black Panther"), Michelle Monaghan (last seen in "North Country"), Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Rules Don't Apply"), Vanessa Kirby (last seen in "Everest"), Wes Bentley (last seen in "Pete's Dragon"), Frederick Schmidt, Kristoffer Joner (last seen in "The Revenant"), Liang Yang, Alix Benezech, with a cameo from Wolf Blitzer.

RATING: 7 out of 10 broken sinks