New in Theaters Archives - Page 2 of 80 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Mute (2018)

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Leo silently wanders around Berlin, working his bartender position and stealing moments with his girlfriend.  After she disappears, Leo begins an investigation that will lead him into a conspiracy so complicated the participants barely understand their roles.  Duncan Jones wrote the screenplay for and directs Mute, and stars Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux.

Upfront - Mute is terrible.  Duncan Jones' return to science-fiction is arguably legendary in how bad it is.  There are so many threads of interest muddled because of poor acting, borderline incomprehensible dialogue, or pacing so glacial I could watch it to cool down in the summer.  That's before the homoerotic maybe murderers, maybe not, played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux manage to strike two entirely different nervy tones that are at odds with each other and the plodding pace of the rest of Mute.

...and yet.  It's not often a science-fiction film comes along that makes me think of John Cassavetes' infamously difficult 1976 film The Killing of a Chinese BookieMute shares that film's daring approach, practically betting that I wouldn't stay awake for the entirety of its length or stay engaged in this futuristic Amish noir-tinged science-fiction investigation.  Jones misfired with Mute but the extent of that misfire and what bits remain fascinating up until the end will fuel conversation for months to come.


Darkest Hour (2017)

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The beaches are in peril.  Nazi Germany is on the march, beginning Hitler's conquest of Europe, and Parliament sits divided on how to respond.  The only way forward is compromise, setting the stage for Winston Churchill to fly or falter under the pressure of his appointment to Prime Minister.  Joe Wright directs Darkest Hour, with the screenplay written by Anthony McCarten, and stars Gary Oldman and Kirstin Scott Thomas.

Darkest Hour plays like a riff on one of England's oldest traditions, pulling out a production of Shakespeare's Henry V when the country is facing hard times.  Only in Darkest Hour, the mighty leader is a compromise slob who can barely string coherent sentences together in his barely restrained bloodlust who is appointed by the shadowy upper-crust needing a potential fall guy.  Rare is the motion picture that combines disdain for the upper class, astonishment that governments survive long enough to do any kind of good, and still manage to be a fully rousing experience.

I have some hesitation in giving it a full recommendation because Darkest Hour repeats some arguments that enrage me.  Chief among them is the idea that leaders come to us via divine providence and their flaws are what give them strength.  Director Joe Wright anticipates this somewhat, making the bulk of these arguments come from the exquisite Kirstin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill.  When she intones that Winston's lack of grace builds him up, it's hard not to hear echoes of those who defend Donald Trump's similar (to put it charitably) awful viewpoints.  Yet, Thomas says these lines with a hint of humored reservation, and Gary Oldman's near-slobbering take on Winston does little to make the line ring true.


The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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Humanity is on the brink of global war over dwindling energy supplies.  Ava Hamilton reluctantly joins the crew of the Cloverfield space station hoping to find a conduit to infinite energy through dangerous quantum experiments.  Julius Onah directs The Cloverfield Paradox, with the screenplay written by Oren Uziel, and stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, and Chris O'Dowd.

Be it post-credits sequences setting up later stories, or labyrinthine marketing schemes where lore-heavy diaries are distributed to hardcore fans, it's feeling increasingly like anticipation for the product is the product.  The Cloverfield films aren't patient zero for this phenomenon but producer J.J. Abrams has it clear he will not let an opportunity for marketing go to waste.  The Cloverfield Paradox was kept as tight a secret as possible and went live on Netflix after a trailer aired during last week's Superbowl.  That's a long ways from the time he created several websites to pose many questions about LOST's DHARMA  Initiative that wouldn't be answered, but considering the way internet hounds sniff out the first sentences of upcoming films it was nice to have the product immediately without months of speculation.

Which is a shame for director Julius Onah and screenwriter Oren Uziel.  It's unlikely I would have watched The Cloverfield Paradox without Abrams' marketing, yet its ties to the Cloverfield films are the weakest moments of an otherwise fun film.  Studios are so reluctant to take chances on original properties that any better-than-average science-fiction film has a better chance of being made as part of a franchise than being made at all. Best to cut the losses where I can, appreciate The Cloverfield Paradox for what it is, and celebrate that it exists at all.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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The police of Ebbing, Missouri drag their feet on the investigation into the rape and murder of Mildred's daughter.  Tired of waiting on them to give her any information, she rents three billboards guaranteed to draw attention just where the police don't want it.  Martin McDonagh wrote the screenplay for and directs Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell.

The McDonagh brothers are agonizing and brilliant, sometimes flipping between these modes from one scene to the next.  John Michael McDonagh annoyed me with The Guard, then created a powerful testament to faith in CalvaryMartin McDonagh, who wrote the screenplay for and directed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (shortening to Three Billboards moving on), crafted a gorgeous ode to Bruges with In Bruges then plastered Seven Psychopaths with just enough meta-awareness to be infuriating.  "Too clever by half" doesn't cut it with the McDonaghs as they've got the skill to back up their writing, but it's not far from the sometimes exhausting experience watching their work.

Three Billboards is often too clever.  There's one moment Penelope (Samara Weaving) walks in on a domestic violence situation and starts rambling about how she needs to use the bathroom but the moment looks, "inconvenient," only to talk more about how she's looking after the, "disabled's horses" since she lost her job.  This highlights two big concerns about Three Billboards.  The first is that Martin's often funny dialogue cuts against the emotional core of some scenes in a way that distracts from their power.  The second is how Martin's cavalier approach to disability and race as he stretches too far to make clever use of still-damaging slurs (heavy shades of brother John's The Guard here.)


The Post (2018)

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The United States government has kept its people in the dark about the long-term disaster of the Vietnam War.  Because of one conscientious citizen, The Washington Post is in a unique position to expose the years of deception if the paper's leaders can work through the road blocks of government officials and financiers alike.  Steven Spielberg directs The Post, with the screenplay written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and stars Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Bob Odenkirk.

One peril of historical dramas is how the storytellers choose to ignore, or incorporate, perspective on the events portrayed.  Our relationship with media - newspapers in particular - has shifted dramatically since the events of The Post took place.  The power of one story no longer (if it ever did) has the effect of making or breaking someone's career.  We need only go back to the 2016 election to see our confirmation bias in action, or look at the current "Me Too" wave of women bringing down men who were able to keep their victims silent for too long.

I am suspicious bordering on hostile toward the rosy, arguably old-fashioned, approach to media Steven Spielberg takes with The Post.  His direction is completely sincere, which is part of the problem.  There's no winking at or hinting toward how the moneyed interests that prove to be stumbling blocks in The Washington Post's plan to publish the Pentagon Papers are the same forces that helped Donald Trump limp over the electoral finish line.  Instead, Spielberg presents the power behind the money as an annoyance, with the true enemy the boorish man in the White House who will go on to win a second term in a historic landslide.