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Killing Them Softly

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What’s he gonna do, fold under questioning? If he does, they’ll kill him. If he doesn’t, they’ll figure he’s lying like last time and they’ll kill him. Either way, Markie’s dead. So why put the poor bastard through a beating? It’s a waste of time – not to mention a really unpleasant experience for Markie. Just put him out of his misery, poor bastard.

Ten years ago this is the kind of movie I would have adored. It has a great look to it. The actors in it are fantastic and each play distinctive people from the underworld. The story shows a bleak outlook for those types and includes a super cool assassin. Make Wong Kar Wei the director and this is an easy ****.

So this has Richard Jenkins as a guest star. My family’s movie club just discussed his classic The Visitor. Other than him there is vulgar screw up assassin James Gandolfini who is hunting the two screw up leads, the amazing Ben Mendelsohn—Director Krennic, Rogue One—and Scoot McNairy—always delightfully pathetic in Best Picture winners like Argo and 12 Years a Slave.

But Brad Pitt gets first billing because of course he does. With Andrew Dominik as the writer/director he strove for the amazing lyricism of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He did not completely get it. Still, sometimes it is better to go for something different and not totally pull it off, than to make the same old crap. ****

John Wick

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***

That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”

This movie is DARK, but tries to be a DARK comedy…or at least whatever the action version of a dramedy is. With that as its goal, it absolutely succeeds in making a bleak movie that has elements of those three genres. It also boasts a phenomenal cast.

For me the highlight was none of that though, it was just nice to hear some Russian again. That said, even with my Russian skills having atrophied for years, I disagreed with some translations. The first one is a literal translation issue. Right before John Wick–Keanu “The Matrix” Reeves”–succeeds in killing the target of his revenge, said target says the repeated line “It was just a fuck’n— [dog]”. Or so you Amerkantsi are led to believe. In fact he said one of the most rude phrases in Russian, иди на хуй. It is one of two ways in Russian to say “F You”. For those linguistically interested, it is phonetically idi na khuey. Literally translated that is “go to (the) cock”. The difference is huge. This was a final middle finger to one’s murderer, not emphatically shaking your hands/fists to express exasperation. The second translation harkens to my official quotation for the film. Baba Yaga (Баба-яга) gets called “the boogeyman”. Call me old-fashioned, but where I grew up and then learned about Slavic cultures Baba Yaga was an ultra witch with iron teeth who lived in a house that had three chicken legs, not the boogeyman. And the Russian Wikipedia article on the boogeyman is for Buka, not Baba Yaga.

That portion of the review may not be particularly relevant to one’s viewing choices, but it is what went through my head. On the other hand, a film’s message is often crucial to whether or not someone should watch a film. And the message here is an interesting one, whatever it is. Is it about relative morality? About codes of conduct? About group culpability? Even perhaps about the disadvantages of working for the Russian mob? Truthfully, I do not know what the directors–Chad Stahelski & David Leitch–or the writer–Derek Kolstad–wanted the message to be, but even for a dark movie this was troubling.

Please examine the facts, and keep in mind my 4 possible messages. John Wick gets rudely accosted by a young Russian, whom I referred to above as “target of revenge.” John Wick is depressed, since his wife, whom he loved deeply, just died. Target is offended by Wick’s lack of fear, and breaks and enters, beating the crap out of Wick and killing Wick’s new dog in front of him, before stealing his nice car and breaking the SUV. Target in movie logic, is now due a receipt for the bill he has rung up. We want to see him pay for being an awful human being. Now it turns out Target’s father was Wick’s Russian Mob boss Viggo. Viggo learns of this and tells Target that he is doomed because Wick is going to kill him no matter what. Viggo sends lots of guys to Wick’s house to kill him because Wick will not listen to him (about not revenge killing his son). Then there is about 90 minutes of Wick killing members of the Russian mob. Like dozens of people. Eventually Wick gets caught by Viggo and gets beaten up again, but is freed by Willem Dafoe, aka, Wick’s buddy who gets killed by Viggo later. After killing a dozen more people Wick gets the FU from Target, kills Target. Then he finds Willem Dafoe dead and goes to kill Viggo, who only killed Dafoe because Dafoe betrayed him and freed Wick. Wick then eventually kills more people, including Viggo. Wick finds new dog. The End.

WHAT

THE

HELL!??!

Recap: Antagonists – kill one dog and one person. Protagonist – kills the population of Montana, almost entirely comprised of Russian mobsters, most of whom we do not know the names of. Also, he kills Target and Target’s Dad Viggo.

  1. Relative Morality – If all killings were equally reprehensible, then Wick is 50x the villain that Target is, so we must be flexible and judge the value of those slain, over the number of them. This is a very dangerous, non-utilitarian viewpoint.
  2. Code of Conduct – The Russian Mob, like super abusive samurai, have a code, that when violated ought to elicit an appropriate response. The neutral acts, like killing underlings, are permissible because those people stood in the way of justice via the ethics of that agreed upon code.
  3. Group Culpability – This one is also a dangerous message. This is the “we will kill their families” school of thought. This is thee rationale behind casting Nazis as villains in films because screw it, they are Nazis and they get no sympathy because the group they have chosen, is Evil. This could explain how Wick can be the protagonist and murder like a hundred Russian mobsters. Still, Wick was a member of the mob and a self-admitted horrible person with many deaths on his hands before his retirement.
  4. The Disadvantages of Working for the Russian Mob – This is my favorite of the possibilities. Viewing this through the prism of a cautionary tale, this film loudly and repeatedly states, DO NOT WORK FOR THE RUSSIAN MOB. No matter your power—great or small, or how out of the life you think you are, your life is forfeit and you will end up pathetic, unhappy, and dead. The best case scenario is to be a bouncer who chooses to “take the night off”, i.e. betray the mob, and move on to live another day without the haunting memories of dead pets. That guy also had just lost 60 pounds. Do the math.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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***

Hunt is uniquely trained and highly motivated – a specialist without equal – immune to any countermeasures. There is no secret he cannot extract, no security he cannot breach, no person he cannot become. He has most likely anticipated this very conversation and is waiting to strike in whatever direction we move. Sir, Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny – and he has made you his mission.

This movie was astonishingly favorably reviewed, and I just do not see it. It takes the plot of Mission: Impossible (1) and does it again. Which was also the plot of Spectre, for what it is worth. We get boringly competent Tom Cruise again, with his abs and snappy lines. We get Rebecca Ferguson who just has one of those faces/performances that makes you feel like you have seen her before, and I think that is a good thing. The returns of Pegg, Renner and Rhames were fine as well, but failed to take advantage of their true skills. I am especially glad Rhames got this paycheck.

So that is an average movie, but there are pros and cons. Alec Baldwin seems only slightly more interested in his role than One Take Tommy in Jason Bourne. At least the action, set in as dumb of places as planes and underwater computers, is good. And the resolution is smugly satisfying.

Independence Day

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**½

Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

Is there any other quotation I could possibly have gone with? Everything else was dependent on the actor’s accent or style. Try to imagine someone besides Jeff Goldblum Bill Pullman delivering those lines. NOTE I confused the poor lines that Goldblum had to deliver, and the spine tingling speech above! But dammit, Jeff Goldblum did the best he could. His performance was especially impressive considering what he was tasked with in the 90s.  For instance, how are you supposed to deliver a snappy comeback to elicit laughter following lots of deaths? Roland Emmerich will tell you how — like Jeff F’n Goldblum.

About Roland Emmerich…I do not know if he has a misanthropy problem, or if he just loves overcoming impossible odds through gibberish science problem. Here is what we know about Roland:

1. He loves blowing stuff up;
2. He loves landmarks;
3. He loves blowing up landmarks; and
4. He uses flash wipes, which are only ever appropriate when the Men in Black take away your memory.

You can imagine what scenes took place in this movie. Also, what is with those flash wipes? And why did he give Randy Quaid a “hero” theme in the score? If Randy merits his own theme, which he does not, then it should have been one with the hint of redemption, not a spoiler alerting hero one.

Here are the rest of my disjointed thoughts, presented chronologically:

Why does SETI not pick up the aliens until the ship is at the moon?
Great effect for the first appearance of the ships, awesome.
Good shocks, but cutesy.
Laughter after hundreds of thousands and maybe millions are dead. Why? Because this is supposed to be a fun massive death movie. Also, Roland Emmerich is an misanthrope who just wants to watch the world burn. I made this point above, but he likes to repeat stuff so I can do it too.
Why are the pilots so, for lack of a better term, d-bag-y?
Harry Connick, Jr. could not die fast enough.
How is Will Smith’s jet out of gas?!?
YES! Tank top plus flannel unbuttoned and untucked! In jeans without a belt! The single most 90’s look ever.
Judd Hirsch gets in the “nobody’s perfect” line as an homage to Some Like It Hot.
And lastly, returning to Randy Quaid — Flying while going through withdrawal is probably worse than flying drunk.

One last big footnote. Emmerich directed a movie called Stonewall in 2015. While it was not favorably received, there were no monsters (other than human ones) in the time that lead up to the Stonewall Riots in New York City, so why did he make this? I have no clue.

Jason Bourne

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**½

Why would he come back now?

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And why did I come back to watch this? From the trailer and the cast/crew list there were a lot of checked boxes that I look for in movies.

  1. Is it directed or written by Paul Greengrass? Yes and yes, so that is +2 (and besides Green Zone has he put out a non-excellent movie before?)
  2. Is this part of the Bourne Trilogy? Kind of. Same world, but it is a number greater than three…
  3. Does this sequel have the original cast still? Matt Damon and Julia Stiles, seems like enough to me. +1.

And what did I learn from this fifth installment? Well, it seems like the CIA is still full of a-holes. Even with so many prior elements returning in microwavable form, it just did not feel the same, like a reheated slice of pizza. And just like microwaved pizza being consumed alone in sweatpants, it was a bit depressing. To be candid I did watch this on a plane so the audio was only so-so, but I do not think the issue was the audio. I never thought I would say this, but Vincent Cassel disappointed me with his performance as another “asset”. I adore Vincent Cassel, so this was even more disappointing than his role in Oceans 13. Lastly One Take Tommy (Lee Jones) dour faced his way through this one, resulting in unlikable, but uncompelling villains (when you include Cassel).

I will say that there was one particular shot that was really cool. One of the most memorable shots in the original, The Bourne Identity, was when Bourne is walking away from the camera and a minibus cuts off our view of him and he disappears. In this one a bus or tram blocks our view of him and when it has moved he is still visible and the CIA agents spot him. Returning to my pizza analogy, even reheated pizza is pizza, and everyone likes pizza.

Considering all of the above, does this mean that it is time for a reboot? I just do not know. If Greengrass was attached, or even better, if some other writer/director whom I respected had a new take on the subject, then I would be right back in there. For 14 years Jason Bourne has been as much James Bond as James Bond has been, and we already have a George Lazenby (Jeremy Renner). The question is, who will be the Roger Moore?1

1 With his recent passing I expect to write something about the late Roger Moore.

Logan

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***½

As I live and breathe, “the Wolverine”.

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Finding a quotation without lots of profanity was difficult. I am not sure why it is so pervasive here, but it certainly is. Maybe just to show this was not the same world, not at all the same world as the other X films. At least it is not thematically the same world. Instead of being meta and satisfying, as many reviewers have proposed, I just found it a bit confusing. It is still a good movie and a fitting swan song for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

The only other thought I have is that this was not an adaptation of “Old Man Logan” as you may have read. The upcoming Thor movie with Thor facing the Hulk seems to have as much in common with that story as this did—at least that has villain Hulk fighting. Tying things up with the Hulk was a fitting idea since Wolverine’s first appearance was in Incredible Hulk #181. Last thought, it is funny to go online and read crybaby rightwingers who think this movie filmed before the 2016 election was an indictment of Trump and Republicans because future US is a corporate garbage state where people have fewer rights than corporations.

Sisters

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***

What fresh fuckery is this?

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Kate Ellis (Tina Fey) & Pazuzu (John Cena), in Sisters, 2015.

I know, I know, it bothers some people when I use, or quote, profanity. But that quote is amazing because it parallels something Boromir says—in Fellowship of the Ring, obviously—”What is this new devilry?” But I never quote it correctly! I always say, “What new devilry is this?” I like to think that screenwriter Paula Pell thought that too.

So this movie was better than I expected. Certainly it was unrealistic but it was consistent in this level of unrealism. Best part of the movie — doot doodoo dooo, John Cena! His tattooed drug dealing TSA Agent was wonderful.  Also, I was impressed that Tina Fey showed a hitherto unseen acting range.

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