Quick Reviews: “Fahrenheit 11/9,” “House with a Clock in Its Walls,” “You Were Never There,” “Endless,” “RBG,” “Angel,” “Revenge,” “Rider,” “Resistance Banker,” “Venom”

By | November 5, 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9…Michael Moore’s confused agitprop wasn’t half the film “Fahrenheit 911” was–either critically or commercially, and it’s because Moore isn’t really making a film about Trump. Long sections of this film seem like Moore actually set out to make a documentary about the Flint Michigan water crisis (an environmental scandal that could also be considered a slow-moving genocide), but didn’t think people would go see it, so he just bookended the movie with sections about Trump as a marketing hook. What made “Fahrenheit 911” great–and it is one of the most blazing political docs I’ve ever seen–was that it’s the ultimate takedown of George W. Bush. I left “911” thinking “how could anyone possibly vote for him after seeing that?” However, “11/9” isn’t that equivalent for Trump. In fact, Moore spends almost as much time heckling the Democratic Party–long sections of the film revolve around “insurgency” candidates and the many foibles of the Clintons–as he does Trump. I’m not sure this is what liberals wanted right before the most important mid-term election in generations, which is likely why they didn’t show up. Grade: B

The House with a Clock in its Walls…Enjoyable PG-horror film that may be a bit too intense for very young children, but is the exact kind-of thing I love about Halloween. Anyone who’s spent time trying to find kid-friendly Halloween movies or specials will likely go for this, but it gets dinged some points since it features yet another horrible portrayal of black/white couples. Grade: B-

You Were Never Really There…Most critics absolutely love this film, but I found it an underwhelming experience. There are sequences that work well, but it’s been clear for sometime that Lynn Ramsey (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) doesn’t make films that are entirely believable. For example, would you hold the hand of the man that killed your beloved, elderly mother and sing to him as he died? Or would a New York Governor’s mansion have virtually no security? The best thing about it is the occasional flashes that let you know Joaquin Phoenix’s character has lived through violence his entire life (flashes of an abusive childhood bleed into Iraq War memories bleed into his current work as a vigilante) so that it’s just one long slog. In that way, his life is the war, and that must be about as accurate a picture as you can paint of Veteran’s dealing with PTSD. Grade: B-

The Endless…Fascinating and currently available on Netflix. Do former members of a cult ever have leaver’s remorse? The conflict between the two brothers who left (and the debate about what they remember) feeds perfectly into a supernatural mystery that makes you really wonder what the “right” answer is to one of life’s biggest questions: “What’s the best way to live?” Grade: A-

RBG…A sturdy documentary that does a good job of explaining why Ruth Bader Ginsburg is such a big deal (especially to millennials like myself who mostly know her as a Supreme Court Justice and aren’t as familiar with her legal work on gender discrimination long before that). However, liberals can’t help but feel a macabre sense of dread since we’re essentially seeing a 85-year-old Ginsburg who could die at any minute. If that happens before Trump leaves office, we’ll be even more screwed for a generation (at least), and the documentary waits until the last five minutes to ask the question I really wanted to know: “Do you feel like you made a mistake not stepping down in Obama’s second term?” The fact that Ginsburg’s answer is not an unequivocal “yes” may speak volumes. Grade: B-

The Angel…A spy film about an Egyptian official who covertly helps Mossad avoid a massive Egypt/Israel conflict. It’s a little boring, but a good real-life John Le Carre story that will appeal to those interested in how Egypt and Israel built a lasting peace that has kept both countries relatively stable. Grade: B-

Revenge…A critically-hailed film that is actually terrible. It’s not just so gross and violent it’s goofy (the climax in which two people chase each other around a blood soaked floor is beyond cartoonish), but ironically dehumanizing to its “empowered” heroine. We learn very little about her except that she’s attractive, raped, and left for dead. It’s a weirdly soulless experience for all involved, but this film has managed to weasle its way into relevance through building a tenuous connection to the MeToo movement. Grade: D

The Rider…While “Revenge” lacks soul, it’s the most dominant quality of “The Rider.” The film is low on plot and the pacing will be frustrating to entertainment-minded viewers, but this is a film that stayed with me for days, as we watch a wounded Rodeo star wonder what’s left for him now that his rodeo dream has ended. Scenes like Brady being recognized by a fan at a pharmacy (that he joylessly works at) are some of the most heartbreaking explorations of thwarted dreams since Mickey Rourke broke my heart in “The Wrestle.” What if the only thing you’re meant to do will kill you? Is it worth it? Shots of Brady riding a horse through a beautiful Western landscape suggest that it just might be. Grade: A- (although I didn’t love it that much until days later)

The Resistance Banker…A standard WWII film about funding the resistance. A focus on banking is interesting and relevant (hey, somebody’s got to fund the resistance, as we’ve seen in these midterms), but there’s nothing to really write home about here. Grade: C

Venom…Another annoying Tom Hardy performance drowning in tics and affects, but that people pretend is sensational. Personally, I’d rather see more of Riz Ahmed, who can be interesting in even stock villain roles–like his Elon Musk riff here. It also takes too long for Venom to actually show up, but the film’s second half is better than its first. And I’ll admit that this could be a really interesting franchise if they let Eddie Brock actually explore his dark side (the film makes many references to it, but we’re stuck with an anti-hero who seems a lot like an actual hero), and I’d be more interested in seeing that than another Spider-Man movie or anything else Marvel is working on. Grade: C

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