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Miss Sloane

What’s there to like?

Jessica Chastain, plain and simple. For my money, she just might be the best out there in terms of actresses in their prime, and she brings it here. Power, vulnerability, intelligence–she radiates it all as she plays a fancy DC lobbyist on a gun control case.

So much of Miss Sloane is complex and deserving of a mixed assessment. For me, though, the rest of this review nets out to be below the “liked” line.

What’s not to like?

As much as I loved watching Chastain, well, you know how it’s sometimes hard to separate the parts of a movie for awards, like, say, directing vs. screenplay? Did that movie live or die during casting? Or, in this case, did I love that character because of the actor or the writer? To me, Miss Sloane is a great example of a mediocre screenplay being knocked out of the park by a great performance.

Sloane was so cryptic, yet compelling. Was every flash of emotion on her face simply a ruse she was projecting? I can’t say. What’s her real deal–is she just a mercenary, up for the highest bidder, or the most passionate person on Earth about something she cares about? I’ve seen the whole movie and I still have no idea. And I have mixed feelings about the not-knowing. So the way I’m reconciling this in my mind is to attribute the good parts to Chastain, and pin the blame on writer Jonathan Perera, for the bad parts, fair or not.

There’s of course the fact that the movie takes a definite political stance on a relevant issue. Always dangerous, and I might be more sensitive than most to politics in movies–even when I agree with a position I usually hate the case laid out for it. Sure, the issue was watered down to be as benign as possible, but it will still be somewhat polarizing.

And let’s talk about the plot a bit. There were lots of twists. I mean: LOTS OF TWISTS. The details of which, of course, being the kind of thing I try to avoid mentioning in a review. But I can report that there were too many. I eventually just checked out in terms of emotional investment because it felt like nothing mattered. Anything potentially relevant would be subsumed into the master plan as a diversionary tactic, or at least nullified by the next random-seeming left-turn. And still, by the end, there was a nice, tidy bow placed on everything. It’s like, oh, this all seemed messy and crazy, but it was under control the whole time. The movie’s deception wasn’t that we couldn’t see what happen next; it was that we were chumps for worrying about anything at all.

I think it wants to think about wrestle with the old question of whether the ends justify the means. But Miss Sloane turns out to be a fairly moralistic tale: people on one team end up getting what they fight for, with ultimately little sacrifice or consequence.

The Verdict

Jessica Chastain props up, but can’t ultimately elevate, this political movie whose misdirections turn out to be too clever by half and that offers nihilism in place of balance.

Fine

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Ghostbusters

What’s there to like?

There’s been so much political back and forth about this Ghostbusters remake with women in the lead roles, I was a little gun shy to weigh in. To my relief, I found the feminist angle fairly unremarkable in terms of how much I enjoyed the movie. I hope it’s not especially controversial to say the women didn’t distract me with their womanity–nor did they necessarily bring much in the way of extra movie punch. For me, no big deal either way.

I’m also a sucker for throwback cameos. Pretty much every relevant actor from the old version showed up in a (mostly) low key way that still made me smile.

Oh, I should also mention that Kate McKinnon was rather weirdly brilliant. Or brilliantly weird. Something like that. Anyway, her performance might be the best thing here.

What’s not to like?

While Ghostbusters‘s politics ended up modest, so too did the movie. I don’t have any massive complaints, but I did find the movie’s action and humor lacking for, you know, an action comedy. There were few laughs in the theater when I saw it. Mostly it felt like we were constantly trying to stay ready to find something funny but usually missing out on the payoff.

I admit it’s probably unfair for me to mentally compare this movie to the 1980s one. I haven’t seen the original for decades, and back then it was one of those movies my brother and I would watch over and over again as kids. So I’m sure I have more nostalgic affection for the old one than it deserves cinematically. Still, the new Ghostbusters felt watered down and unremarkable. I can see people feeling differently without the biases I bring to the table, but there you go. I has hoping for a bit more, and I left slightly disappointed.

The Verdict

For all the outside hoopla surrounding Ghostbusters, ultimately it’s a rather ordinary, ho hum flick that’s not bad but not great.

Fine

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Independence Day: Resurgence

What’s there to like?

Depending on how much you liked the original (I re-watched it the day before this one, and I quite enjoyed it), Independence Day: Resurgence offers a potentially fun trip back to that universe. And I purposely call it a universe to evoke a comic-book style self-contained timeline, because even though the year is ostensibly 2016, things are quite different than how they are in our own, real life 2016. Some science fiction movies present an alternate future; Resurgence gives us an alternate present. Humanity has apparently appropriated a fair amount of alien technology and, for example, learned how to “defy gravity” and make propeller-less helicopters and fighter jets equally at home on the moon as they are on Earth. This alternate present also allows the movie to have more or less present-day clothing styles, automobiles, and even iPads. An interesting hybrid of future and present. Continue Reading

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The Nice Guys

What’s there to like?

(The first thing I should mention is that I’m somehow not very familiar with director Shane Black’s work. Which surprises me–his previous movies Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 are the kinds of movies I see, but in this case I somehow missed both. That caveat out of the way, let’s get to this.)

I’m just going to say it. Thirteen-year-old Holly is the best thing in The Nice Guys. Continue Reading