Mule, The (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
“The Mule” attempts to deliver a moving family drama and a suspenseful dance between a ninety-year-old drug courier (Clint Eastwood who also directs the picture) and a hotshot Drug Enforcement Agency agent (Bradley Cooper), but it succeeds at neither. The reason is because the material lacks the necessary subtlety so that lessons about family and personal responsibilities seep through both strands in a way that surprises us. As a result, although the film offers strong performances, especially by Eastwood and Dianne Wiest, the latter portraying the former’s ex-wife who has had it with decades of the man’s absence as a husband, a father, and a grandfather, the work offers neither excitement nor freshness.
Nearly every point about Earl Stone, a Korean War veteran, is handled with a hammer, from the way he treats his family—and the manner in which they treat him—to the rapport he builds with various members of the cartel. Initially, it is entertaining because the man lacks a filter. For instance, he makes pointed racial jokes so often that we wonder whether eventually a person might take it the wrong way and decide to put a gun on his face. But there are jokes about him, too. His age is a source of humor but so is his obstinacy. Pardon the pun but the usual tricks grow old eventually.
Halfway through, one cannot help but realize that the screenplay by Nick Schenk has gone on autopilot. While I enjoyed that the film actually takes the time to establish the subject’s usual patterns of drug transport, it grows repetitive by the fourth or fifth run. It gets interesting only when wrinkles are introduced such as Earl getting handler (Ignacio Serrichio) because the boss (Andy Garcia) is so impressed that the old man is able to deliver over a hundred kilos of cocaine every run without arousing suspicion. (The man has never gotten a speeding ticket—impressive especially given the fact he has driven across forty-one states.) The relationship between Earl and the handler is interesting at times, but it never gets a chance to take off since the plot is too busy juggling Earl’s family problems and the DEA closing in.
Regarding the investigation, there is not much of it—lukewarm at best. Cooper’s character is shown taking pictures from afar, putting pressure on a metrosexual informant, and keeping his cool when mistakes or misinformation lead to relatively small arrests. But we never see the man pushed to his absolute limit. I was not convinced of his formidability as a person without the badge. So when Agent Bates and Earl finally meet, there is only minimal tension. Performance-wise, Eastwood steamrolls over Cooper not because the latter is incapable of holding his own but because he does not have much to play with. As Earl must remain interesting whether he is on the job or with his family, the man hunting him must be equally absorbing as well.
We all know the importance of family and so when a mature drama comes along, especially one based on an incredible true story, it is expected that the lesson be explored in meaningful ways rather than simply resting on platitudes. While not short on personality, “The Mule” lacks specific details that help to turn the work into something memorable and special.
Lost Boys, The (1987)
★★ / ★★★★
A mother (Dianne Wiest) moves from Arizona to California with her two sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), in tow. Santa Carla, located right next to the beach, is fun and summery on the outside but upon closer inspection, its bulletin boards are full of flyers which advertise missing persons. While watching a band’s performance, Michael’s eyes become transfixed on Star (Jami Gertz), a girl involved with a biker gang led by David (Kiefer Sutherland). Later, Michael is suspiciously invited by the bikers to hang out in a chamber down by the beach. The gang turns out to be a group of vampires and David wishes to turn Michael into one of them.
“The Lost Boys,” based on the screenplay by Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, and Jeffrey Boam, offers somewhat engaging sequences when vampires feel the need to terrorize the living, but a plethora of questions, most being obvious, are ignored for the majority of its running time or left unanswered altogether. The picture has elements of fantasy and so it is all the more important that certain aspects of the story remain rooted in reality.
The vampires tend to pluck their victims from above, like pterodactyls, the camera serving as the creature of the night’s point of view. Each attack is unsettling despite not having a drop of blood being spilled. The audience are not even allowed to see what happens to the bodies after they have been taken. A lot is left to our imagination. Eventually, though, the picture must focus on the new family that has moved to Santa Carla.
What makes them special enough to kill the vampires that have been making the small town miserable for years? Further, while Sam and Michael have one or two convincing and funny brotherly scenes, there is no depth in their relationship. They are supposed to be kids who are products of divorce. How does the separation change or affect them other than being concerned that Grandpa (Barnard Hughes) does not have a TV?
Soon enough, Sam meets the Frog brothers, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), at a comic book store. They seem to know an awful lot about vampires. Why had they not attempted to get rid of the town’s evil before? Are they simply waiting for a third member because the number three feels right?
Eventually, someone close to Sam is sired. While certain rules are established involving being a so-called half-vampire versus a “full” vampire, what are the adverse effects of half-vampires not feeding? And why is being a “full” vampire so important? From my observations, it is better to remain a half-vampire. For example, while both seem to be equally powerful, being a full vampire means not being able to walk in the sun. Seemingly simple details as such need to be sorted out in order to really get us to buy into its universe. Rules are equally important as exceptions. There are instances when exceptions tend to present far more interesting scenarios.
The final showdown is frustrating, convenient, predictable, and at times nonsensical. A character knowing when exactly to drive a vehicle into the house when he had been outside hours before the confrontation takes discerning viewers out of the picture. Moreover, when a vampire is killed, blood comes out of sinks and toilets for no reason. What does that have to do with anything? It is overkill. Is it not enough for us to see vampires dissolve into primordial goop? When the special effects run rampant, something that is supposed to be scary just comes across as silly (though not necessarily funny).
Directed by Joel Schumacher, “The Lost Boys” has a lot of ideas but it does not mean fitting them all in one film is right. If it had been more selective of ideas that worked, it may have turned out to be more than a product of ‘80s nostalgia.
★ / ★★★★
Ren (Kevin Bacon) and his mother move to a small town to start their life anew. It is far from a promising reboot, however, when Ren finds out that rock n’ roll and dancing are banned because of a car wreck that killed high school kids five years ago. The main proponent of this ban is Reverend Moore (John Lithgow), whose only son has died in the crash. He believes that by shutting out “devil music,” it will be unable to “confuse people’s minds and bodies.” With the help of his friends and classmates, Ren hopes to overturn the ordinance in a small but respected town meeting.
It is easy and reasonable to laugh at the dopiness of the premise of “Footloose,” but I chose to buy into it right away, no questions asked, to be able to assess what it is it hopes to aim toward. It wishes to be an entertaining, crowd-pleasing picture that feature songs we can tap our toes to and well-choreographed dance scenes, but even on that level it fails to deliver.
While the songs selected are catchy, they do little to serve coherence to the plot involving the young people’s struggle to get their parents to listen, put their differences aside, and consider the practical over the emotional. While quite upbeat and fun to listen to, the title song by Kenny Loggins often pops up during the most inappropriate moments when a question requires our attention so that we can get that much more into examining the perceived moral decay of the town. Also, it is unfortunate that many of the songs are cut short in order to make room for badly written dialogue. I know it is supposed to be ironic that the high school students are the ones with an open mind while the adults with life experiences have a narrow point of view, but must the teens provide the answers to the questions they have just asked? I suppose I can take comfort that John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” is almost played all the way.
Ren’s romantic interest, Ariel (Lori Singer), who happens to be the reverend’s daughter, is very unlikable, a harpy, toward the beginning. Instead of being nice to the new kid in town, she asserts her place in the high school social strata by acting cold toward him. So when she later asks Ren, “Why don’t you like me?” I wished to interrupt the scene and, to put it lightly, tell her why she has to ask a stupid question. The screenplay by Dean Pitchford does not give the character a proper transition from a queen B to a gal who we want to get to know and be friends with. If the writer feels lazy at the time and does not feel like giving the main girl a deserved arc, why not simply make her popular and nice right from the beginning?
The best scenes that hold good drama are not between the young couple. Surprisingly, the conversations between Reverend Moore and his wife, Vi (Dianne Wiest), are most magnetic. I loved the scene when she summons the courage to tell him that, essentially, he is wrong to have imposed his spiritual beliefs on the town especially when the citizens should have been given the opportunity to grieve in their own way. I liked that Wiest plays her character almost mousy, her words spoken so softly that I am forced to almost lean in and read her lips. Not one scene between Ren and Ariel is able to match this important conversation between husband and wife. Instead, when the young couple are alone, sappy music can be heard which reflects the material’s lack of confidence in the writing as well as the chemistry between the performers.
Directed by Herbert Ross, “Footloose” has some pockets of charm mainly due to its supporting actors. Sarah Jessica Parker, as Ariel’s perky friend, lights up the screen each time she is in front of the camera. Chris Penn, as Ren’s towering but lovable friend who does not know how to dance, deserves to have more screen time. Though it certainly has potential to be a light entertainment with good intentions, most of the elements do not align properly so it consistently trips over itself.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★
Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters Lee (Barbara Hershley) and Holly (Dianne Wiest) often met and discussed their lives over lunch or dinner in Manhattan. They talked about all sorts of happenings from their career prospects to pecuniary matters, but the main driving force of the film were the topics that they would rather keep a secret from each other. For instance, Hannah’s husband (Michael Caine) had told Lee that he had fallen in love with her (should Lee tell Hannah about it?), while Hannah’s hypochondriac ex-husband (Woody Allen) dated Holly (Was it appropriate for Holly to discuss it with Hannah?). What I loved about “Hannah and Her Sisters,” a quality almost always present in Allen’s more renowned pictures, was not a scene was wasted. It was all about character development as each character was given the chance to narrate a scene and share his or her thoughts about someone else or his increasingly complicated and desperate predicament. The first scene stood out to me because Caine’s character essentially had made the confession that he wanted to leave his wife for his wife’s sister. Allen immediately placed us in the husband’s shoes. When he moved toward the woman he was interested in, the camera moved with a sense of urgency, and we had no choice but to move with the husband and anticipate a potential train wreck. With marriage dramas, the tone could quickly become too depressing and suffocating. Allen was aware of this so he injected comedic scenes of the hypochondriac Jewish TV producer discovering that he might have had a tumor in his brain. Obviously, the situation he was in was quite grim but his reactions to certain revelations spearheaded the comedy. The person dealing with the situation was funny, not the situation itself. However, one major weakness I found in the film was the fact that I still did not know who Hannah was. She was overshadowed by her sisters, her philandering husband, and neurotic ex-husband. She was there when they needed help or someone to talk to, but in terms of her relationship with the audiences, I felt as though there was a disconnect. Toward the end, everyone admitted that she was the strong one and that she never needed help from anybody, but it was not the idea of Hannah I had in my mind. To be succinct and completely honest, I thought she was a bit boring–she was a nice woman but she was unexciting. Despite its flaws, “Hannah and Her Sisters” had a deep sophistication in its characterization of people constantly wrestling with their desires and needs. Best of all, I enjoyed its honesty in terms of people sometimes being unrelentingly awful, sometimes being beyond wonderful.
Rabbit Hole (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, “Rabbit Hole” was about a couple named Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) whose son had passed away eight months ago. The two had vastly different ways of coping which caused tension between them. Becca tried to get rid of their son’s belongings while Howie desperately tried to hang onto his son’s memory by watching a video on his cell phone. Further, Becca found comfort in reconnecting with the teenager (Miles Teller) who ran over their son and Howie found common ground with another woman (Sandra Oh) who lost her son eight years ago. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, “Rabbit Hole” was a gut-wrenching look at a couple about to pass a critical point in their grief which could go one of two ways. They could dissolve their marriage from a lack of communication or go through the notions together and find some closure. Many elements were thrown at them and we had a chance to observe their reactions. One of the key conflicts was Becca’s sister being pregnant. On the outside, Becca was seemingly supportive like when she brought over some clothes that used to belong to her son. However, there were times when her bitterness would show and snide remarks about how her sister’s future husband, a musician, might not be fit in being a father due to financial stability. Becca didn’t want to hurt others but she did small ways because she didn’t know how to deal with her anger and guilt. Mitchell took some risks that paid off. The general tone was depressing but there were some scenes that I thought were laugh-out-loud funny, particularly when Becca’s mother (Dianne Wiest) talked about kicking someone out of her house. The sense of humor did not feel out of place or inappropriate because these characters deserved some happiness in their lives. More importantly, the rapid changes in tone felt right because when someone is dealing with a great loss, various emotions, empty they may be, are amplified, sometimes reaching certain extremes. The plot may be familiar but it still managed to surprise me with its insight. I loved the scene when Becca’s mother explained to her daughter that moving on from grief was like carrying a brick in one’s pocket. When a person finally moves on, she forgets that it’s there but there comes a time when she will reach into her pocket for whatever reason and she’s reminded that it’s there. Wiest did not have very many scenes but she made the best of what she was given. Even though her character remained on the sideline, I felt like she, too, had an important story to tell. “Rabbit Hole” was emotionally exhausting but a strong picture nonetheless. It showcased why Kidman is an actor who should not be forgotten. There’s a lot of shallow talk about her face and what she did to it. I don’t care about such sensationalisms as long as she continues to make moving films like this one. The rabbit hole could be interpreted as a metaphor for depression but let’s not forget that Alice woke up from her nightmare and moved on.