I’ve seen quite a few lately, along with some decent miniseries productions. But here are the highlights of the movies that most caught my attention.
The Old Man And The Gun (2018)
Director: David Lowery
Eighty-three-year-old Robert Redford turns in his usual charming performance as Forrest Tucker, a gentleman bank robber who just can’t stay away from the excitement of a bank score. He and his “gang” of old crooks bounce around the midwest, holding up small credit unions and banks, and joke about the great old days. Danny Glover–who I’m glad is still out there–even has a cameo. During his escapades, he attracts the attention of a cop (Casey Affleck) and a romantic interest (Sissy Spacek) who can’t decide if she should like him or be wary of him.
I know this is all supposed to be charming and delightful, and has been hailed as Redford’s (possibly) final role. But the problem is that career violent criminals (and yes, bank robbery is a violent crime) are never witty, charming rascals. They’re anything but this, and the only way you can get away with sentimentalizing them is when you’re doing a comedy, like Out of Sight back in the mid-1990s. Here, it just looks tired and forced. And there is something depressing in watching a man in his 80s, who sure as hell should know better, act like federal felonies and prison are not big deals.
Not a bad movie, but a mediocre one.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
I don’t know how I missed this one a couple years ago, but I finally had a chance to see it as a DVD rental. The plot: a totally insane man with 23 “distinct personalities” (including a woman and a child) abducts three young girls. His apparent intention is to watch them witness and experience the “arrival” of a sinister, superhuman 24th personality that will supersede all the others.
I’ve always liked Shyamalan’s films, and appreciate the care with which he puts them together. You will not find him indulging in the “shaky camera” technique that became such a cliche during the early 2000s, and his plots always build to an intended focal point. No one can deny a real sense of imagination, and a willingness to incorporate supernatural and spiritual themes into his films. You may not like his stories, but he at least makes the effort to convey a message. The lead role here–very, very well-played by James McAvoy–must have taken a great deal of effort to script and direct, and it all comes together with scalpel-like precision. Anya Taylor-Joy is the damsel in distress, but the real star here is McAvoy, who we will be seeing again in Shyamalan’s next movie.
American Made (2017)
Director: Doug Liman
Even Tom Cruise can’t rescue every story. This hackneyed piece of comedy-drama, loosely based on the life of corrupt pilot Barry Seal (an American pilot who worked as both a CIA front and as a drug smuggler for the Escobar cartel), fails to deliver the goods. It really isn’t Cruise’s fault. By now, the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s has so far receded from the public memory that most viewers are going to have a hard time caring much about what is happening on-screen. The public has become so numb to scandals and lies that the 1980s almost seems like the good ‘ol days in comparison with what we’re seeing now. But the real problem here is that director Liman never gives us any reason to like Cruise’s character. We don’t care what he says, and we don’t care what he’s doing.
Audiences love a rogue, but the rogue’s tale has to be told a certain way. And this never happens here. Watching this movie, I couldn’t help thinking that Barry Seal was a complete scumbag, who got mixed up in the rackets, and ultimately deserved what he finally received. That may be true, but it doesn’t make for a sympathetic audience.
Director: Matt Reeves
I love this movie. I saw it in theaters when it first came out ten years ago, and so hadn’t seen it in a while. Watching it again recently, I got to savor all those little nuances that you miss in an initial screening. The plot (do you really even need to be told?): A huge monster attacks New York City, and a group of terrified millenials tries to avoid getting crushed or eaten.
I suppose a movie like this is an acquired taste. I grew up watching those old rubber-suited monster movies of the 1950s and 1960s, and so have a soft spot for this sort of thing. But I don’t give all monster flicks a pass, either. They have to earn their keep. Cloverfield more than does this: it is a masterful piece of filmmaking, allowing its audience to share in the terror, but never overwhelming us with tiresome gore or idiotic plotlines. This is one of those “found-footage,” shaky-camera movies, but that’s what gives the film its effectiveness. The monster is unlike anything that has been seen on camera before, and this also helps the overall effect. All the actors are relatively unknown; this was a wise decision by director Reeves. He allows the story and the action to take center screen, not the ego of some Hollywood A-lister. Great job.
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