Movie Review ~ The Devil Has a Name

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A psychotic oil matriarch leaves the whole industry exposed when she attempts to outfight a bullish farmer whose water has been poisoned.

Stars: David Strathairn, Kate Bosworth, Pablo Schreiber, Katie Aselton, Haley Joel Osment, Alfred Molina, Edward James Olmos, Martin Sheen

Director: Edward James Olmos

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: When Netflix first came out, the hardest part was waiting for those discs to come in the mail.  It was especially difficult when you got a movie that you hated and didn’t watch all the way through because you essentially just wasted up to a week of your monthly subscription waiting for another film to arrive.  That’s why the streaming service was such a fantastic upgrade because whenever you wanted to tap out of a movie or show that wasn’t grabbing you, there wasn’t as much guilt as before.  That’s both a good thing and a bad thing.  Good because of the reasons I just mentioned but bad because we’ve all talked to someone that stopped watching Schitt’s Creek after the first few episodes of Season 1 saying they “just didn’t get it” though we all know that show took several episodes to find its stride.  People just aren’t willing to stick with something if they aren’t into it…there’s too much out there to waste time.

I have a confession to make.  Sometimes I feel that way about screeners as well.  Look, when I say I’ll review something, I’ll review it and I’m going to give it my all.  Take the new drama The Devil Has a Name (not The Devil All the Time…which is, coincidentally, a Netflix film) from actor-director Edward James Olmos.  This was one of those examples where the movie started and I had that sinking feeling in my stomach that I had gotten myself into something that was going to be trouble to review.  It starts off very badly and stays that way for at least the first twenty or so minutes.  I wanted to chuck it and give up but forced myself to stick with it…and I’m glad I did because while it got only marginally better it did have some redeeming qualities that I wouldn’t have caught if I gave up at the outset.  On the other hand, the more I watched, the more problems I had with the turgid script, oversized performances, and sloppy filmmaking.

Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth, Homefront) is in big trouble with the head honchos at her family’s Houston-based business, Shore Oil.  For what, we aren’t sure of yet but, like many a film, she’s going to down a swig from a flask and tell them (and us) just what brought about her bad behavior.  Flashing back, we’re introduced to Fred Stern (David Strathairn, Lincoln) a widowed almond-farmer whose land has been unknowingly polluted by a nearby oil-rig owned by Gigi’s family.  They’ve found this out before him and, wanting to avoid a costly lawsuit, attempt to buy his land for a paltry fee via negotiations by local yokel Alex ( Haley Joel Osment, Tusk).  Sensing something isn’t right and eventually uncovering the truth with the help of his longtime foreman Santiago (Olmos), Stern turns the offer down and hires legal counsel (Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone) to sue the company.  A legal battle ensues which brings out a whole host of nasty actions and a brutal fixer (Pablo Schreiber, Skyscraper) into town to make sure nothing gets in the way of a win for the oil company.

Viewers are going to have to hunker down and commit to the film from the start, there’s no easing into Robert McEveety’s screenplay and the direction from Olmos (Wolfen) doesn’t help much either.  I found the first twenty minutes to be disorienting as character introductions were slack or nonexistent and when they are onscreen they’re so oversized that it feels as if Olmos used a fifth take where he told them to “be as big as possible, just for fun.”  The degree of seriousness afforded to some rote dialogue is pretty funny after awhile.  Things pick up once the legal proceedings begin (because who doesn’t love a good courtroom drama?) but even that starts to get wacky after a bit, with the kind of grandstanding and unbelievable turn of events even the soapiest of legal dramas would raise an eyebrow at.

Speaking of performances, I wonder if Strathairn watches the film and wonders what movie everyone else is in.  He’s essentially playing the same low-key role he’s played before and that works well for the high strung movie but everyone else can’t decide exactly what volume they want to pitch their performances.  Schreiber is having a field day with his professional slimeball, aiming for dark and lethal but landing on gentlemen’s club bouncer.  The only thing he’s missing is a well chewed toothpick in his mouth. Come to think of it, he may have had one of those, too.  It’s always great to see Olmos in front of the camera, but wearing two hats seems to have clouded his ability as an actor to question some of the crappy dialogue he has to wade through.  I don’t quite know where to start with Osment, what worked for him as a child actor has not carried over to adulthood.  He’s just completely unappealing (which is the point of the character) but as an actor he’s also unquestionably terrible. Aside from Straithairn, Bosworth probably comes off the best because she at least puts some dynamics into the role so she has some place to go.  There’s a regrettable scene where she goes mental on a piece of carpet but anytime she’s cool, calm, and collected is when she’s at her most dangerous…and most interesting to an audience member.

Clearly, this is a film with a targeted message at the protection of the environment but the message gets lost in the large performances (can I say again how awful Osment is?) and the messy storytelling.  Olmos has directed films before that have had more solid footing but for some reason, either the directing or maybe even it’s the editing, The Devil Has a Name gets off on the wrong foot and never finds its way back in time with the music.  There should be a better way of getting the point across than relying on the unreliable resources gathered for this project.

Movie Review ~ First Man


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke

Director: Damien Chazelle

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: There’s nothing I love more than a movie about space.  I like seeing monsters in space, I cheer for Muppets in Space, I love space adventures, and I really enjoy movies about the space program and how we made it into orbit.  So you can imagine that First Man, focused on the life of Neil Armstrong, seemed like a slam dunk winner to me when it was first announced.  Adding to that confidence was Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049) so my interest was definitely piqued.  Then something really strange happened…I saw the movie.

Little doubt remains that Chazelle is an accomplished filmmaker and that Gosling is one of the best actors working today but their reunion after La La Land is a chilly film that I just could not connect with.  I know many supporters of the film have said that Armstrong himself was a hard nut to crack, legendary in his aloofness, and Gosling was just paying service to the man he was playing but the disconnect goes beyond that.  I found it hard to find anything warm in the movie, not even Claire Foy (The Girl in the Spider’s Web) overselling her much ballyhooed role as Armstrong’s wife.  This is the third Foy film I’ve seen in 2018 where she’s struggled with maintaining an American accent throughout and I’m wondering if anyone is listening to her in post production.

Where the film finds some modicum of success is chronicling the dangerous space program that Armstrong and his compatriots participated in in the race to beat the Russians to the moon.  These men put their faith in new technology and materials that were unproven and were pioneers in our exploration of areas outside our atmosphere.  With people dying in the process you do have to ask yourself if it was worth it and by the time Armstrong lands on the moon there is a sense of accomplishment you feel just as much as they do.  Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer needed to find more of these moments to give their film a little more life.

Movie Review ~ Skyscraper


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A father goes to great lengths to save his family from a burning skyscraper.

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Noah Taylor, Roland Moller, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: In 1974 when The Towering Inferno was released, there were 3,164 drive-in movie theaters across the United States. By Die Hard’s release in 1988, that number had plummeted to 961. In 2018, if you want to see Skyscraper at a drive-in as part of a multi-feature summer night, data shows there are but 320 drive-ins for you to choose from. I mention these key dates and numbers because the silly but sturdy new film starring Dwayne Johnson is a big, if familiar, movie…big enough to warrant a mega presentation in a communal atmosphere. Watching the film unfold on a modest size screen in a perfectly decent theater I couldn’t help but wonder if it could have been more fun if viewed on a larger scale when the sheer size of it wouldn’t feel quite so overwhelming.

After an accident leaves FBI Agent Will Sawyer (Johnson, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) missing the lower part of his left leg, he starts a family and moves to the private sector to become a security specialist. Called to Hong Kong by an old army buddy (Pablo Schreiber), Sawyer brings his wife and twins to The Pearl, a 240 story building of the future designed by architect Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) that needs Sawyer’s sign-off to open up a residential section. Several double-crosses later, Sawyer is trying to find a way back into The Pearl to save his wife (Neve Campbell) and children trapped 100 stories up when a disgruntled mercenary (Roland Møller, Land of MineAtomic Blonde) tries to burn the place down.

Writer/director Rawson Marshal Thurber (We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence) knows he’s wading neck deep into familiar genre territory with obvious nods to The Towering Inferno, Die Hard, and Cliffhanger. The result is a mid-summer hunk of mild cheddar cheese that demands little of audiences and offers two hours of mindless adventure. It’s not bound to gather the same ire Johnson’s earlier 2018 feature Rampage did and it’s far from a simple paycheck film for the appealing A-lister.  Still, it doesn’t advance the actor into any deeper leading man territory for his efforts. It’s clear Johnson works hard at what he does but if he keeps playing the same kind of roles he’s bound to move into unintentional parody of himself after a while.

I was surprised the film had less of the lightness Johnson is known to bring to his features. Aiming for a more dramatic/serious tone, Johnson’s Sawyer is a man haunted by his past while recognizing that without the incident that took his leg he wouldn’t have the family he does today (wife Sarah was his surgeon). Any deeper dive into PTSD is abandoned by Thurber in favor of Sawyer’s increasingly superhuman measures to save his family from the burning building. Witness him climbing a crane nearly 100 stories and leaping into the building during one of the film’s more hair-raising moments. I’m not normally afraid of heights but there were some sequences in Skyscraper that had my stomach doing backflips.

What I liked about the movie was it’s commitment to not making Sawyer a one-man savior, judiciously giving screen time to Campbell who is far from a helpless wife waiting to be rescued. Though previews have given away many (too many) of the film’s key action scenes, the few that aren’t spoiled in the trailer belong to Campbell’s plucky butt-kicking and ingenuity. She’s arguably the best performance in the movie but warms to Johnson nicely – if sequels are planned let’s hope Campbell doesn’t get Bonnie Bedelia-ed and written out after the first one.

Though fraught with too much CGI fire and containing numerous foes dispatched without much ceremony, I found Skyscraper to be a larger than normal blip on the summer movie season that hasn’t turned the dial much on excitement. Audiences seemed to like the movie at my screening and I definitely watched a bit of it through splayed fingers, but it fades from memory pretty quickly if I’m being honest. My advice…get on the interwebs and find a drive-in close to you showing this with a few other features and make it a double or triple header night.

The Silver Bullet ~ 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 hours

Synopsis: An American Ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.

Release Date:  January 15, 2015

Thoughts: It’s no secret that director Michael Bay has become a bit of a joke in Hollywood.  A profitable joke, but a joke nonetheless.  Honing his skills in a number of empty headed blockbusters (though The Island is his best work to date) over the years, he was resoundingly ripped a new one in 2014 with the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction.  While some heralded its release as if it were the end of the free world, I didn’t mind it half as much as my knife sharpening peers and think it was actually an improvement over the previous installment.

So it’s interesting to see Bay’s name attached to this war drama that tells the true story of a team of soldiers that defy protocol to save a group under attack in war-torn Libya.  The filming style is unmistakably Bay and the bro-tosterone practically overwhelms the viewer…but it could be a nice change of pace for the hotshot (and, reportedly hot headed) director.

The Silver Bullet ~ Fort Bliss

fort_bliss

Synopsis: After returning home from an extended tour in Afghanistan, a decorated U.S. Army medic and single mother struggles to rebuild her relationship with her young son.

Release Date: TBA 2014

Thoughts: With so many movies being made about the war experience from the male perspective, it’s refreshing to see a different angle being positioned for Fort Bliss. Single mother Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) returns from her tour in Afghanistan to find that reconnecting with her son and adjusting back into society is just as tough as she imagined it to be. I’ve always been on the fence about Monaghan, that is until I saw her stellar work in HBO’s True Detective this past year where she went toe-to-toe with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey and held her own quite well. She seems like a good fit for this role and she’s backed by a nice array of familiar character actors. Who knows if this will go anywhere but seems to me like it’s a film that may hold some interest.