FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #109 – “Baby Driver” (dir. Edgar Wright)

Poster for "Baby Driver"

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel return to the stylish world of writer/director Edgar Wright, and find it strangely exhausting this time around. Can an array of fun gangster performances overcome an oppressive soundtrack and wasted, one-dimensional female leads? We’ll struggle to find out (27:52).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 5 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is the tracks “B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas, and “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, from the film’s soundtrack.

Listen above, or download: Baby Driver (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

Advertisements

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #108 – “Keep Quiet” (dir. Joseph Martin, Sam Blair) (#SJFF2017)

Poster for "Keep Quiet"

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel jump back to their final selection from the Seattle Jewish Film Festival, Keep Quiet, a documentary about Csanád Szegedi, a former far-right, antisemitic political party leader in Hungary who discovers that he has a (still living) Jewish grandmother, which causes a sea change in his political and religious beliefs. Or…does it? If this film had been a great big pat on the back for tolerance and pluralism, we expect it would’ve been pretty tedious. But like The Imposter before it, this film’s definite strength is its ambiguity. Dive with us into an exploration of this fascinating figure and the skepticism that he (deservedly) faces from both his old community of nationalists and neo-Nazis, and his new community of Orthodox Jews. We’re joined once again by friend of the show, local author Erika Spoden (32:11).

May contain NSFW language.

Keep Quiet is available on Amazon Video, and we highly recommend checking it out. As this film deals in ambiguity, there will not be a separate spoilers section in our discussion. Please consider this both a recommendation and spoiler warning for the entire film.

FilmWonk rating: 9/10 (Glenn/Daniel), 10/10 (Erika)

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is the track “Train of Thought“, from the film’s score by Phillip Sheppard.
  • Special thanks to Erika for joining us this week – her memoir is titled Strawberries for 50 People, and it is available on Amazon Kindle.
  • Thanks as well to the Seattle Jewish Film Festival and Smarthouse Creative for helping us cover so much of the festival (for the first time) this year – we’ll definitely be back!

Listen above, or download: Keep Quiet (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

Alex Kurtzman’s “The Mummy” – A Movie About a Mummy and Some Other Stuff

Poster for "The Mummy" (2017)

Ladies and gentlemen, your Dark Universe. The Invisible Man (Johnny Depp), Frankenstein’s monster (Javier Bardem), Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), and saving the best for first, The Mummy (Sofia Boutella). Don’t be perplexed, dear reader, by the fact that every single other monster is played by an A-List dude. Don’t spend too much time pondering Dr. Jekyll, this film’s Nick Furian monster-hunting super-spy, who runs Prodigium, this film’s S.H.I.E.L.D.. Don’t gaze long at the poster, which exclusively features the name of Tom Cruise above the title, despite his role as a soldier of fortune whose only distinguishing characteristic is a punny surname that means “Deadguy”. And think not upon the trailer which literally shows him dying in an almost vertical plane crash and resurrecting in a single piece. Whatever conclusion you may be drawing about Cruise’s prospects of replacing Boutella as a Mummy-themed Avenger by the end of the film is almost certainly not worth the time it took to type it out. Because The Mummy is not just a bad, boring film, devoid of original thought or a moment of suspense. It’s a film by committee, made in front of a corkboard replete with flash cards of ideas from other, better films. The Mummy is a thief, a liar, and a cannibal.

I shouldn’t rag too hard on Crowe, because he is given the thankless job of setting up a framing device for Universal Studios’ hamfisted attempt to create a megafranchise based on their stable of mostly public-domain, but strictly trademark-controlled movie monsters. And despite his dubious motivations, wildly ambiguous plan (see if you can figure out whether being stabbed with a ruby-hilted dagger is a good or bad thing during the last act, the answer may surprise you) and dialogue composed exclusively of self-important trailer narration, Crowe’s performance certainly provided the film’s only moments of levity. His Dr. Henry Jekyll is an amusing pastiche of Willy Wonka and Albus Dumbledore (with a good deal less narrative focus or skill), and his Edward Hyde is a cockney horrorshow. Crowe at least seems to be having some fun, which is a rare thing in this film. Granted, the creature design of Mr. Hyde makes me genuinely worry that Universal’s only look and feel for these monsters will be “shambling, lightly CGI’d corpse”. If you want poorly zombified actors, this film’s got em, and the quality (for a scant $125 million) is easily put to shame by premium cable these days. Hopefully we’ll get a half-decent Wolf Man or Creature from the Black Lagoon out of this Universe before it collapses.

The Mummy herself, on the other hand, with her ashen skin punctuated with black and blue hieroglyphic tattoos, and her strange double-pupiled eyeballs (the second pupil apparently represents eeeeeevil), is at least interesting to look at, even if her plan doesn’t make much sense. Revisiting Stephen Sommers‘ 1999 version of The Mummy last night, I was struck by just how much energy was put into the design and look of Ancient Egypt. Significant modeling (or late-90s CGI) was put into crafting Ancient Thebes, and that Mummy’s evil plan at least started with a mildly sympathetic motivation – forbidden romance between High Priest Imhotep and Pharaoh’s wife, punishable by death or worse. 2017’s Mummy, Princess Ahmanet, not only lives in a staggeringly low-rent version of Egyptian antiquity, consisting almost entirely of translucent curtains, off-screen stabbings, and standing on undeveloped sand dunes looking at distant pyramids, but her plan is incredibly basic and unsympathetic. She was heiress to the throne of Egypt, but then her Pharaoh father had a baby brother who jumped to the head of the line, so she made a pact with Set, the god of death, to allow her to rule the world in exchange for murdering everyone. This plan has some serious problems. Notably, it is incredibly vague what Set adds to this plan, since Ahmanet seemed quite capable of slaughtering her family without divine intervention, and this didn’t elevate her to the throne. Subsequent to this, she was immediately caught, killed, spirited away to Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and Syria), and buried in a cursed tomb. In the end, all Set adds to her plan is a proxy – she needs a mortal to embody his spirit, and that mortal will obviously be played by Tom Cruise. But it’s unclear what her role will be after the death god’s avatar takes over.

Still from "The Mummy" (2017) with Sofia Boutella

Back in the present day, we get a depressingly forced action opener featuring soldiers Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). Of these two, I’ll simply say that I never bought them as friends or adventurers, despite some strong work by Johnson later in the film (when he’s done dropping audience-friendly gems like, Iraq is a whole different country that’s a thousand miles from Egypt). But there’s really no better way to sap all tension from an action sequence than to give your heroes the ability to call in an instant airstrike, and announce that ability several minutes before it actually happens. But no matter. The Hellfire missile drops, the unspecified insurgents flee, the cursed tomb is unearthed, and their surly superior (Courtney B. Vance) arrives to tell them that the Mayor’s going to have his ass for this, but also assure them that they will face no consequences whatsoever, and a woman named Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) shows up, seemingly by magic, to explore the tomb for a moment or two. Jenny and Nick, you see, had a one-night stand in Baghdad, he stole her map, she impugns his sexual prowess, and that’s the entire basis of what this film laughably calls a romance between these two. They lack any chemistry or even a plausible motivation to care about each other’s survival. And this is a major problem for the film, because the third act – and Nick’s dire decision of whether or not to vaguely embrace evil – entirely relies on buying these two as romantic partners. The Mummy so thoroughly botched its romance that it actually makes me look back even more fondly on Wonder Woman, which shares a number of adventure and romantic plot beats in common with this film, but executed them with a great deal more skill.

I like Tom Cruise. I like him even when he’s playing cocky or unlikable characters, which is more often than not these days. But this character is an utter failure. His “infection by evil” carries no real weight or tension, because The Mummy‘s inept storytelling telegraphs the ending repeatedly from the opening voiceover. The result is a mirthless slog that I struggled to even make it through without repeatedly checking my watch. And I really have to hand it to this film. It takes a lot of work to not only make me not care if any of the characters live or die, but to also make it objectively not matter.
This has easily outclassed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as the saddest (hopefully abortive) attempt to start a megafranchise to date.

FilmWonk rating: 2 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #107 – “Wonder Woman” (dir. Patty Jenkins), “Glory” (dir. Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov) (#SIFF2017)

Poster for

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel are back at the Seattle International Film Festival to check out a lovely Bulgarian political satire. Then Diana (Gal Gadot) shows up to wreck the place by hand and sword, and we can’t complain, because it turns out she’s pretty awesome when not saddled with a lame mystery B-plot (48:06).

May contain NSFW language.

Still from

FilmWonk rating (Glory): 8 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (Wonder Woman): 7.5/10 (Glenn), 7/10 (Daniel)

Show notes:

  • [00:24] Review: Glory
  • [17:25] Review: Wonder Woman
  • [35:49] Spoilers: Wonder Woman
  • Music for this episode is the track, “Dance for Tomorrow” by Stop the Schizo from the soundtrack to Glory, and the track, “Angel On the Wing” from the Wonder Woman score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
  • Correction: Spread the word on this one – we (and many others) have been mispronouncing Gadot’s last name. It’s not French-style, with a silent T – it’s Israeli-style, with a solid T. The actress previously made a video to address the issue (thanks to Dan A. for pointing this out).
  • Correction: Dr. Maru (“Dr. Poison”) was actually played by Spanish actress Elena Anaya. The actress from Force Majeure, Lisa Loven Kongsli, played Menalippe, one of the Amazons, and she’s actually Norwegian, not Swedish.
  • Correction: To complete the trifecta, we made a casual reference to a character played by “Kat Denning” in Thor. The actress’ name is Kat Dennings.

Listen above, or download: Wonder Woman, Glory (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)