Their Finest

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Film, Mrs Cole. Real life with the boring bits cut out. Don’t confuse facts with truth, and, for Christ’s sake, don’t let either of them get in the way of the story.


Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) heading through a bombed out London street in Their Finest (2016).

Last year many people saw Dunkirk. I did not. I did not watch many films in 2017, but of the films I saw, I think this one was probably the best. This film is basically a contemporaneous behind the scenes for Dunkirk, but 1940s style. While this current one is not seen as propaganda, the Dunkirk of Their Finest is made by the Department of Propaganda. The connections between cinema and propaganda, between movie studios and governments, and between men and women fascinate me. But beyond making me think, this film made me feel. Even the abridged light on facts propaganda film they made within this film brought tears to my eyes. I never thought of myself as a fan of Gemma Arterton, but I certainly am one now. And I knew that Sam Claflin could look handsome (see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), but even with a blazer and glasses instead of shirtless with a trident he could captivate. Plus, Bill Nighy is a treat.


Wonder Woman

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Really, specs? Suddenly she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?


For me the highlight (and lowlight) of this film came when Wonder Woman attacked the Germans within a town. During that scene I felt overjoyed with having a woman be the center of this, thinking, why not a woman? Finally, a comic book movie with a female lead. I had totally disregarded Catwoman and Elektra, because, why would I not? Even as a rare fan of Daredevil, and even of Jennifer Garner therein, I did not bother to watch Elektra. But it is 2017 and why the hell did it take this long to get here? In 1997 when Batman & Robin crapped its way into theaters, why did Hollywood declare comic book films dead? I point to Blade as evidence that comic book movies never went away—just DC Comics films—but even if you say that had been started before the Bat-Nipples flop, X-Men came out in 2000, so we had two years without comic books movie. Why did Hollywood not declare male superhero movies dead? Or white superhero movies dead?

Prejudices and stereotypes are why they did not. This film, directed by Patty Jenkins, and scripted by Allen Heinberg, plays with lots of stereotypes and expectations, stemming from perceptions of villainy, to politics, to fish out of water, and on. The best two surprises of the film were David Thewlis–Professor Lupin–as a very British bureaucrat and Robin Wright–Princess Buttercup–as Niobe, the greatest Amazonian warrior ever. This is a very good film.

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.




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.

Jason Bourne

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Why would he come back now?


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.




As I live and breathe, “the Wolverine”.


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.

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