A few guys get a job to camp out menacingly in a family man’s house until he retrieves some documents from his workplace, but the documents aren’t so easily retrieved, and somebody dies, and who’s really working for who? It’s that sort of movie, and I could do a whole plot rundown but it’s twisty and fun so I’d rather just forget the particulars and watch it again in a few years. I’ll say that everyone’s sleeping around, all the women are dangerous, the documents are about the auto industry wanting to avoid pollution regulation, and Soderbergh shoots the action with a widescreen lens that perversely distorts everything on the sides.
Besides the superstars, we’ve got family man David Harbour (star of the Hellboy remake which I accidentally bought on blu-ray for a few bucks thinking it was the original, dammit)… his wife, hostage Amy Seimetz (director of last year’s finest film)… and Ray Liotta’s wife is Julia Fox (Uncut Gems).
Not how you want to meet Don Cheadle:
You do not impress Bill Duke:
You don’t want Brendan Fraser pointing his napkin at you:
Stupid Matt Damon has money problems (you can tell because he stays up late at a cluttered desk frowning at an adding machine) so he decides to get small. His wife Kristen Wiig decides against the idea at the last minute, then he loses his palacial house in the divorce, moves into an apartment below hard-partying Christoph Waltz whose housecleaner is Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau of Treme, Inherent Vice). These three hitch a ride with Udo Kier to the original small colony led by Dr. Rolf Lassgård (A Man Called Ove), which is retreating into a mountain to wait out the impending human-caused global catastrophes. Stupid Matt Damon decides to go with them, then decides not to, then convinces Ngoc Lan he’s in love with her.
Katy says it’s like they asked each actor what they’d like to play (“a sea captain!” “a hard-partying smuggler” “a one-legged humanitarian”) then wrote a script around it. It tries to be a bunch of things at once, not so successfully, and there are awkward and obvious bits, but I appreciate the ambition, and Christoph Waltz looks like he’s having the best time. Second movie we watched theatrically in a row to feature Laura Dern.
Every year a new Jessica Chastain movie where Matt Damon’s left all alone on a planet. A Ridley Scott movie with screenplay by Drew Goddard, I was expecting the light tone, the relentless science (this movie loves science), the upbeat ending, the highly convincing Martian landscapes, but I wish the visuals were half as impressive as those in Prometheus. Maybe I needed to watch the 3D version.
Wounded Damon is left on planet by Chastain and Michael Peña and crew, NASA head Jeff Daniels argues with project head Chiwetel Ejiofor and something head Sean Bean on what to do, with further ground help from Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover and Eddy Ko.
I completely enjoyed this at the time, so not sure if it’s the movie’s fault or some other reason that I turned on it a few days later, deciding it was formulaic entertainment and that all movies look the same and I need to start watching new kinds of things before I start boring myself. I’m looking at showtimes for Crimson Peak and Bridge of Spies and Coming Home and Truth and Sicario and Beasts of No Nation and thinking “ugh, how awful” and pondering going on an avant-garde spree (or at least a Nagisa Oshima spree) instead. It’s probably just a phase. In the meantime, The Martian is my Birdman of the year: convincing in a theater, troubling immediately afterward.
Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz, not Michael Fassbender – I think of each as “the guy from Inglorious Basterds,” so get them confused) is a socially inept worker bee who doesn’t hate his video-game-reminiscent job, just hates having to come into work, so he gets permission to work from home on a special project from management (Matt Damon): proving “the zero theorem”. He’s aided/annoyed by Waltz’s direct supervisor David Thewlis, party-girl-for-hire Melanie Thierry (The Princess of Montpensier) and whiz-kid Bob (Lucas Hedges), who calls everyone else Bob so he doesn’t have to remember names. As Leth’s video therapist: Tilda Swinton – between this, Trainwreck, Snowpiercer and Moonrise Kingdom, she has really gotten into comedy lately.
Kinda about a search for the meaning of life (or a disproof of its meaning), with sort of a Dark City ending. Shot on the cheap in Romania.
Thierry at Leth’s glorious, delapidated-church home:
Sadly (so sadly) Mike D’Angelo might have put it best: “Like a relic from an alternate universe in which Brazil was made by an idiot.” Written by a creative writing teacher from Florida, it’s got its moments, but the story and characters and entire movie seem to add up to nothing (maybe the film proves its own theorem).
Leth and Bob at the park:
Probably my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. I have no urge to revisit Memento anytime soon, so I guess The Prestige would be my second favorite – I think that makes me a weird Nolan fan, since most are bonkers for Inception and the Batman movies. Anyway this was a very personal but still very epic time/space/dimension-travelling movie about keeping families together and saving all of humanity, a way-too-ambitious premise that was actually pulled off.
Pilot-turned-farmer Matthew McConaughey leaves his kids with Grandpa Lithgow since Matt’s the only maverick who can pilot NASA’s secret spaceship (hey you can’t make a movie this ambitious without leaning on a few time-saving cliches) through a wormhole to find a habitable planet, alongside Anne Hathaway (daughter of NASA head Michael Caine), David Gyasi (Cloud Atlas), Wes Bentley and two awesome robots. First landing is on the giant-waves planet, where Bentley dies, then on to the frozen-wasteland planet where crazy Matt Damon kills Gyasi, then into a black hole where McConaughey sends interdimensional coded messages to his daughter (who grew up to be Jessica Chastain, dating former scientist Topher Grace and fighting with stubborn older brother Casey Affleck), then is picked up, still the same age as when he left, by the human-exodus spaceship containing his dying, elderly daughter (now Ellen Burstyn).
I would’ve liked to see the 70mm super-imax version, but settled for at least going to the dumb local theater and not waiting for blu-ray.
Matt Damon is Scott, who gets introduced to Liberace (Lee to his friends) by laid-back mustache dude Scott Bakula in the late 1970’s, beginning an affair/family/employee situation that lasts until Lee (Michael Douglas) finally kicks out Scott in favor of a new, younger, less-drug-addicted, less-contentious boy. It comes full circle from when Scott replaced gloomy pretty-boy Cheyenne Jackson (Danny, the new cast member on 30 Rock) at Lee’s house. Liberace dies of AIDS, but Scott is cut out of the will, Lee’s verbal promises not carrying any legal weight, so Scott writes a tell-all memoir.
Performances are great, storytelling is effective, costumes and period details are spot-on, but it can’t break out of the “bio-pic based on tell-all memoir” genre. A squinty Rob Lowe is the highlight as a plastic surgeon who makes Douglas look younger and Damon look weirder with shiny cheeks. Dan Aykroyd plays Lee’s manager and Debbie Reynolds (Tammy and the Bachelor, Susan Slept Here) his mother. Adapted from Scott’s book by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King).
A. Cook: “I don’t know if any other American filmmaker is more inventive right now with choosing where to place the camera, how to frame the image, how to use focus, etc.” I get what he’s saying – in this and Haywire and Contagion I notice unusual editing and shot choices – but the movies’ standard Hollywood storytelling and starpower get in the way. If I was dedicated enough, I might rewatch Haywire paying attention only to its framing and technical qualities, but maybe instead Soderbergh needs more interesting scripts to go with his artistic filmmaking intentions – The Informant being a good example.
A typically crap Crowe movie with big obvious pop music cues (in Crowe’s hammy hands, I understand why they’re called cues) and a big fat score by Jonsi. Adapted from the real zoo-buyer’s memoir by Crowe and Aline “Morning Glory/27 Dresses” McKenna.
Adventure-craving newsman Matt Damon is sad because his wife Gwyneth Paltrow died from plague, so he buys a zoo from realtor JB Smoove, warms up somewhat to head zookeeper Scarlet Johansson (taking time out from her new career of having cameos in other people’s superhero movies), and tries to assure his brother (Tommy Sandman Church) and moody kids that it’ll be a great adventure. Spoiler alert: it is! I might’ve spotted a big La Jetee reference in the family-photos montage, but I looked away for a while, so maybe not.
On the surface this was terrific, an expertly plotted thriller, more tensely captivating than any of the Ocean’s movies, with terrific music and excellent editing. But after giving it some thought and pitting it against Super 8, Contagion is starting to feel like slimy propaganda. The bad guy in the movie is Jude Law’s blogger, supposedly a whistleblowing, truth-seeking outsider but actually a treasonous scam-artist, eager to sell out. Government agents working for the CDC (headed by Laurence Fishburne) and some local labs (headed by Elliott Gould) are the good guys – not just good but angelic. They sacrifice themselves, working extremely hard and always putting others ahead – Fishburne gives his own dose of the long-awaited vaccine to the child of poor CDC janitor John Hawkes (because in Atlanta all our janitors are white guys), Jennier Ehle uses herself as a vaccine test subject to speed the process, and Kate Winslet dies trying to discover the virus’s source. So most of the way through the movie when some anti-government protesters appear outside the CDC, the viewer has automatic hatred for them. What sort of mindless malcontents would protest against these selfless public servants?
Heroes behind the scenes, Ehle and Martin:
Hero Fishburne with regular non-hero Hawkes:
The emotional Minnesota civilian center of the movie is Matt Damon, whose dead cheatin’ wife Gwynyth Paltrow was patient zero (as amusingly illustrated at the end of the movie). Marion Cotillard is a CDC researcher gently kidnapped in China by Chin Han, held for (fake) vaccine ransom. Bryan “Malcolm’s Dad” Cranston works for FBI I think. Demetri Martin, strangely, is Jennifer Ehle’s coworker. Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns (The Informant, Bourne Ultimatum) should’ve been hired for those 9/11 movies, or some kind of corporate response film to the Occupy movement (if anyone in power felt that Occupy required a response).
Jude Law in puffy suit:
The least Coeny of the Coens’ string of remakes and adaptations. It’s got their perfectly-timed dialogue, comic tone with brief bursts of violence, cinematography by the gifted Roger Deakins, and Dude Lebowski in a major role, but it doesn’t have their mark all over it. This isn’t a complaint – it’s an excellent Western, exciting and well-acted. Plus Matt Damon. He is kinda weird in it. The little girl who had to carry the whole movie, Hailee Steinfeld, got nominated for an oscar for her troubles. Her character is dedicated – shooting unrepentant daddy-killer Josh Brolin once when she first meets him, then again (to his death) at the end. Part of the film was set in my former family home of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. The place hasn’t changed.