Then Playing — Richard Jewell; Men in Black: International; Terminator: Dark Fate

richard jewell

Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood, 2019). Another entry in Clint Eastwood’s late career run of pedantic, politically confused prestige dramas, Richard Jewell follows the title security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) during the grueling stretch after his discovery of a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics, held in Atlanta, led to him becoming the prime suspect — the scapegoat, really — in the crime. Scripted by Billy Ray, the film alternates between measured considerations of the media-fueled rush to judgment and cheap embellishments obviously meant to juice the narrative. The film was rightly castigated for its depiction of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), but the most commonly cited offense (sleeping with an FBI agent, played by Jon Hamm) might actually be the least of the filmmakers’ sins in the dramatization. As played by Wilde, the journalist is such as rampaging fiend that she might as well have snakes for hair. And then her sympathies abruptly flip, solely because it’s time for the film’s third act to get underway. This chunk of the story is a major flaw that completely undermines the film’s valuable points about distortions of truth, perpetrated by law enforcement officially and parroted by an acquiescent media, to suit a clamor for instant tidiness in matters of public justice. But Eastwood’s not a filmmaker suited to the nuance of this sort of moral dilemma. He merely sets pots to boiling and moves on, thoroughly disinterested in any answers posited to the questions he raised.

 

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Men in Black: International (F. Gary Gray, 2019). It’s getting more and more difficult to remember than the original Men in Black, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and released in 1997, was a charming, engaging movie, merging comedy, buddy cop action, and science fiction playfulness in an utterly novel way. Except for one delightfully oddball Michael Stuhlbarg performance, the sequels are largely woeful, and the recent attempt to revive the whole endeavor, with a couple Ragnarok compatriots on board, is yet worse. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are astoundingly charmless as the latest mildly mismatched partners in policing otherworldly expatriates. In their defense, making any sort of positive impression in the midst of this much dim, unimaginative clamor would be a challenge that could fell the most effortlessly charismatic movie stars. F. Gary Gray directs like he’s sorry he got out of bed in the morning.

 

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Terminator: Dark Fate (Tim Miller, 2019). As if constructed to decisively prove that not every successful movie should be stretched into endless installments, Terminator: Dark Fate borrows the rhythms of its most satisfying predecessors — particularly Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which jockeys with The Abyss for the distinction of being the best film directed by James Cameron — and makes them into a fading echo. The plot involves time travelers from the future dispatched to muck around in the present, various implausible robotics, and hefty vehicles and weaponry pushed to their limits. There’s sacrifice and trite wartime melodrama, and it all feels completely hollowed out by the straining machinery of franchise preservation. There are a scattered moments of wit — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s well-worn robot expounding on learned considerations in the field of interior design comes to mind — and Mackenzie Davis remains a real star awaiting the right vehicle, but most of the film is flatly forgettable.

Playing Catch-Up — An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn; Straight Outta Compton; Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

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An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (Jim Hosking, 2018). I’m sure there’s an easier, more lucrative career path to follow than the road chosen by Aubrey Plaza since the end of Parks and Recreation, which makes her spirited commitment to the oddest projects imaginable all the more laudatory. In An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, Plaza plays Lulu Danger, a disenchanted diner waitress who flees from her life to stalk the mysterious performer Beverly Luff Linn (Craig Robinson) when he’s booked for a gig at a nearby posh hotel. Director Jim Hosking’s comic style is flatfooted absurdity, which is amusing when Jemaine Clement (as a hired thug who becomes an accomplice to Lulu) is muttering mildly startled oddities and far less so it’s time for the fart jokes and other scattershot lowbrow riffing. Some of the performances are deliberately amateurish, and then there’s Emile Hirsch as Lulu’s jilted husband, demonstrating this is trademark fuming rigidness isn’t improved by the appropriation of Jack Black’s bombast. It’s Plaza who nearly holds the whole thing together. She has a remarkable capability to lend a thread of the genuine to the most ludicrous scenarios.

 

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Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, 2015). This depiction of the rise, fall, and lasting influence of N.W.A. proves that even gangsta rappers can fit tidily into the well-used template of the pop music biopic. The first portion of the film is strongest. Director F. Gary Gray builds a winning energy as he traces the group’s formation and creative development. These scenes have an astuteness that properly conveys the impact of N.W.A. Some of the details away from the clubs and studios — including the real problem of police harassment in underprivileged communities — are rendered in a style that’s too heavy-handed, blunting the effectiveness. The grows slack as N.W.A. experiences success and splinters apart, as the dividing of the narrative plays less like admirable scope and more as an inability to determine which story is most interesting. That isn’t even a tricky dilemma. It’s clearly Eazy-E who the film should stick with most closely, if for no other reason than Jason Mitchell is outstanding in the role.

 

film stars

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Paul McGuigan, 2017). Based on the memoir by Peter Turner (portrayed by Jamie Bell in the film), Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool covers the later years of Gloria Grahame, an Academy Award winner (famed in Oscar lore for her notably brief acceptance speech when claiming her trophy), who endured indignities sadly common for older actresses. Annette Bening plays Grahame with insight and grace, adopting the actress’s whispery voice, but otherwise not lapsing into overt impersonation. She concentrates on the emotion of the piece. It’s a fine performance, though well down the list of essential Bening turns. Paul McGuigam offers a workmanlike directing job, plodding around with no evident feel for nuance, the sort of quality that could have given the film real depth of feeling beyond its human interest reportorial plainness.