It’s finally over, the Skywalker saga that began in 1977 with George Lucas’s Star Wars (or otherwise known as A New Hope), has finally ended with J. J. Abrams returning behind the camera to bring forth The Rise of Skywalker. One would already find themselves wondering where could the saga have gone following Rian Johnson’s radical approach to the series with The Last Jedi, which had divided many fans for betraying their image of the characters or the approach after having been reintroduced to them in The Force Awakens. In an attempt to hand the series back to those fans following the reception of The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker concludes this long saga on a sour note.
Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2013 novel, but the idea of adapting such a dense novel for the screen already seemed like a daunting task in and of itself. There’s a lot to admire about the effort that director John Crowley had tried to put into adapting The Goldfinch into a film but it’s also rather apparent how much of this does at all translate well onto the big screen. There’s a great story that could easily have been told from reading Donna Tartt’s novel, but even with John Crowley’s literate directorial approach, there’s so little sense to be found out of what he could churn out from bringing The Goldfinch to the screen. At its long running time, it still feels really slight yet even then you feel like you’re being overloaded with information that won’t ever be leading yourself anywhere. The more it goes on, the more it only becomes confusing, and any trace of meaning that it’s reaching for only results in more jumping around in terms of its structure, adding up to nowhere.
The world of Norwegian black metal is already twisted enough as is, not only for the image that the musicians have created for themselves but also because of the notoriety that many of the biggest figures involved have achieved for their lives outside their work. One such band that exemplifies the world of black metal is none other than Mayhem, whose members have went all around from noted arsonists, murderers, and even neo-Nazis – with one among these people being Varg Vikernes of Burzum (who reportedly had despised this film). But looking back at the formation of the band and their noted album De Mysteriis dom Sathanas, there’s already a fascinating story that can be told here given the crazy things that have happened beyond the band’s formation for the creative process will almost seem secondary to what more you would hear about how it remained one of the most influential black metal albums of all time. But Lords of Chaos is not the film that such a story deserved, and for the matter, it doesn’t really have all that much interesting to show even about how fascinating the formation of Mayhem was, you just have a bunch of bad dudes being bad dudes as they show you here.
If you already saw from the trailers that this movie passes itself as a long trigger warning, you’re expected to get what exactly you think this film is going to be. If there were a much simpler way to describe what Assassination Nation is, it’s a nearly two-hour long trigger warning that dwells upon the worst parts of American society, without ever offering much satire in order to make it last longer. But even with all the worst qualities of a film like this shining out on the screen, it’s somehow not a complete waste of time – which isn’t what I would have expected to get from a film that seems to set the bar so low for tolerance of standards among America’s own youth. It’s a film that just finds itself being so fascinating because of how out of touch it really is with the way the world works simply from the fact it’s trying to be so relevant to the way our world is moving. By the time you finish watching the film, you’re only asking yourself what was the point that the movie is trying to make especially when it seems it can’t figure that out.
Peppermint opens with a crane shot in a parking lot with a lone car in it. It’s bouncing, and we all know what that means…that somebody’s probably getting murked in there because this is a vigilante action film and that occasionally means playful visual puns. For a single clever second, as the camera closes in, we see a silhouette that looks a lot like two people copulating. But soon enough, a head gets slammed against the window and we cut inside to see Riley North (Jennifer Garner) struggling with some gangbanger before capping him in the head.
This is fine. It’s a solid opening statement, actually. We tend to watch vigilante movies to see a brutally wronged person rise up and take vengeance on the people that wronged them, and in a good, basic vigilante movie—one that doesn’t care to question that nature of vigilantism—the patterns of buildup and release at work are similar to sex, right down to the small gushes and geysers of blood that punctuate the action. Pierre Morel’s Taken is the platonic ideal of this. It’s patronizing as hell—any movie about a father wrecking house to get back his daughter from sex traffickers who kidnapped her because she didn’t listen to him is bound to be at least a little patronizing—but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying to see Liam Neeson steamroll over these bastards. Not just because he’s credible, but because his antagonists are shockingly believable, as uncomplicated and repugnant as they are.
As a film critic, there still things I feel I can be better at. One of them is following The Ebert Rule, which I hold dear in theory: “Judge the movie for what it’s trying to be, not for what you want it to be.” Peppermint isn’t trying to make any profound statements on vigilantism or do anything special; its thesis is “Hey, remember how cool it was to see Jennifer Garner beat the shit out of people? Let’s see some more of that!” It’s a strong thesis. Still, when Garner’s on-screen shredding dudes like Enron documents and all I can think about is what this might look like if Coralie Fargeat or Michelle MacLaren or even Robert Rodriguez was directing, something has gone terribly wrong.
Because let’s be clear, the problem with this movie is definitely not Garner. She’s heroic, not just in the sense of the role she occupies, but in just how appealing she is in it even as everything seems to be going wrong around her. There’s a reason people stayed loyal to Alias as it got decreasingly coherent and sane, and there’s a reason why an Elektra spinoff was tried even when most people felt like Daredevil didn’t work. Garner can go, and even after ten years cooling her heels and doing strong, consistent work in melodramas and family films, she’s still got the stuff. It’s a hoot to watch her mow people down. It’s downright wonderful to hear her growl her plan to a bad guy when he thinks he’s got her cornered: “I’m gonna blow a hole in your fucking face, and then I’ll improvise.” Maybe Morel counted on all that to carry the film. It sure plays like he did, and he was deeply mistaken.
Maybe it would’ve been better if it was simpler. Not that it wasn’t already simple: Garner’s Riley North watches her family get gunned down by a cartel after its leader, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), gets wind that her husband was pitched on robbing him. Garcia’s got cops, lawyers, and judges on his payroll, so even though Riley IDs them, the shooters still get off and Riley gets coldly written off as a crazy bitch while they laugh. So this Girl Scout den mother disappears for five years and comes back as an utter beast on the anniversary of her family’s death, ripping and tearing through Garcia’s seemingly endless crew of mooks in a whirlwind 24 hours.
Simple. Awesome. All you need. Too bad about all the extra stuff that’s thrown haphazardly into the first act. After the opening scene, we flash back five years to show Riley with her happy, but struggling family (Jeff Hephner as Chris, Cailey Fleming as Carly). Both parents are working to support themselves to live in an upper-class neighborhood that looks down on them. There’s a rival den mother in Carly’s Girl Scout troop that has it out for the Norths; she does a fairly shitty thing that draws people away from Carly’s birthday party, and on top of that, Riley’s boss forces her to work late, all of which leads to the last-minute birthday trip to the carnival that ends in Chris and Carly’s deaths. There’s ample evidence in the film, supported by the chain of events that leads to Riley going on the run, to suggest that the system of financial oppression that Riley was caught up in was just as responsible for her family’s death as Garcia’s gang. If it’s a little Palahnuik-esque in a bad way, it’s at least more interesting than “the brown people did it, kill them all.”
But nah, the brown people did it. And considering that, maybe it needed to be a little more fucking complicated after all. I’m just saying: You might have John Ortiz being his classy self as a pragmatic but well-intentioned cop, but that doesn’t mean I’m not picturing the hundreds of other Hispanic actors who had to take a deep breath and think about their families and their dreams before they walked in to audition for Cartel Goon #2 while a rallying cry of “Build the Wall” got passed around White America like joints at a DMB concert.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Riley’s taking anti-psychotic medication. Anything interesting done with that? Nope; at least not beyond giving Morel and editor Frédéric Thoraval an excuse to make a bunch of flashy Tony Scott-style cuts. Is that for the better? Probably—the world might not need another “IT’S ALL IN THEIR HEAD” narrative—but it’s still a loose thread that promises something more interesting than what we actually got. How about the loathsome defense attorney that tried to bribe her into shutting up? Killed offscreen. We watch her kill the judge who threw out the case instead; he’s an asshole to her, sure, but we’re apparently meant to take that as the sign that he’s on the take and thus deserves her vengeance. There’s also a bigger cartel leader that Garcia’s answering to; he shows up to make a threat, allude to Garcia being a small fish despite pretty much owning the city, and he’s never heard from again.
There are so many little details here that could point to a much more interesting movie, and instead of following these threads—hell, instead of using them to enrich the environment of the film—Morel charges bull-headedly past them and into two big twists. There’s a third-act heel turn that’s only there to a.) try and shock you, and b.) represent the corrupt cops the characters keep talking about. But before we get to that nonsense (because that’s what it is, utter nonsense), there’s the out-of-nowhere revelation that Garcia has a young daughter of his own. She shows up to make Riley hesitate before ganking Garcia after a successful raid on his compound, thus giving the heretofore unstoppable Riley a proper end-of-act-two setback, and then she figures prominently in the third act as she forces Riley to ponder the vicious circle of I’m just kidding, she disappears and Garcia doesn’t even mention her during the final showdown. It’s telling that the best scene in the movie (and the one that got the biggest reaction in my theater, for what it’s worth) is Riley meeting back up with her rival from her old life because that’s the one damn antagonistic relationship that was properly set up and paid off. Chad St. John (London Has Fallen) is the credited writer here; if his actual screenplay doesn’t resemble this so-called product, he should be allowed to whack Morel and every producer attached to this mess with his belt as recompense for the damage to his name.
How am I supposed to believe in any of these people? How am I supposed to be satisfied with their comeuppance when they all seem like ugly cardboard cutouts for Garner, the LeBron to this movie’s crew of useless Cavaliers, to mow down for our amusement? The movie might not be interested in being anything more than revenge porn, but by missing so many obvious openings, Morel seems to flaunt his disinterest in digging into his material. In a more entertaining film, that would be okay; admirable, even. But action, like sex, demands a satisfying payoff. Peppermint doesn’t even realize it went limp midway through.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images courtesy of STX Films.
Directed by Pierre Morel
Screenplay by Chad St. John
Produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Richard H. Wright
Starring Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, John Gallagher Jr., Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 102 minutes
Blumhouse Productions is a blessing for small-time filmmakers considering how much of a profit they manage to score for films that are made on low budgets. But because of how many films they produce within a single year, it is never easy to predict whether or not these films will be good, let alone great ones. Once in a while, you’ll get a good film let alone a great one like Get Out (which I believe to be the studio’s best outing thus far) but their large output would never guarantee consistency – and that brings us to Truth or Dare. This film, known by its own advertising as Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, is yet another dull supernatural horror film that never seems to understand the demographic that it’s aiming for nor how to play even by its own rules – but given its own label there’s so much of this that could work if only it was played like a pulpy exploitation film. Sadly, that is not the case here.
I think it’s already occurred to me, what doesn’t work about Mute is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a product of its own setting. Director Duncan Jones’s fourth feature film is a noir of many ideas, but never do they feel as fully realized as he wishes. For during the running time of Mute, all that I was wanting to say was that it kept reminding me of Blade Runner and as I sat there, it never left my mind – because I knew on the spot that I would much rather be watching said film. At least from watching Blade Runner, I get the idea that I’m watching ideas coming together, but considering the state in which Mute‘s production had lasted, it almost feels like it has no excuse to be so empty thematically. In fact, if this was Duncan Jones’s own attempt at being Blade Runner, it feels more like the complete opposite of Blade Runner.
Plays out more along the lines of a really bad Black Mirror episode than an actual feature film. But given the odd marketing methods that have allowed the Cloverfield films to stand out amidst many, it also makes a case for what’s to be expected of The Cloverfield Paradox. While it’s respectable for someone like J. J. Abrams to allow a person of colour to helm a blockbuster whose diversity will undoubtedly shine, the film itself isn’t quite the game changer we would have wanted it to be since it happens to be the exact opposite. It’s the opposite because the fact it was released on Netflix less than 24 hours after it was announced also gives away the feeling that perhaps the film was never good enough to get a theatrical release and was merely dumped onto the streaming service like a direct-to-video film. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case for The Cloverfield Paradox because it certainly feels as if it was made as such.
Although I’m a fairly big fan of The Smiths I have to admit that it was never easy for me to listen to them because of Morrissey himself. It was even to the point I thought I hated the music of The Smiths, because I could never stand Morrissey as a person. I hate the sort of personality he carried, for he’s always struck me as an uptight tool who loves himself over all else. For this reason alone I was especially skeptical of the idea of a biopic being made about his early years, even for someone who listens to their music on a regular basis. I could only have imagined a biopic that was to be made about Morrissey would be one that never went into what I had always known him as, and to say the least – it is exactly what I got from England is Mine. It’s an ugly biopic that celebrates a singer whose personality is the exact opposite of what listening to their voice singing beautiful songs was like.
I remember when I watched Atonement in a history class, and it was a rather awful experience. Beyond the often noted tracking shot taking place on the battle of Dunkirk, I also found the whole film to be indulgent and frustrating – and the romance to be contrived. I recalled that experience because watching Darkest Hour, the first thing that I was thinking about was that this movie was tailor made for that exact same history class because the teacher did not care in the slightest about his own students. Darkest Hour just felt like that movie for history class that you ended up sleeping through and it was the reason you ended up failing your assignment, because you were supposed to write an essay about what you were watching and yet you couldn’t help but doze off because you felt nothing.
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