Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Bridget Jones's Baby, Snowden, Operation Avalanche, Fatima, Silicon Cowboys

Bridget Jones's Baby

Operation Avalanche

Silicon Cowboys

Notes from another middling week of movies:

Let's begin - so that everything else looks better - with one of the most insufferable movies of this or any year, the box office bomb "Bridget Jones's Baby." I hate everything about this movie. I loathe the superfluous "s" after the apostrophe. I abhor the over-two-hour runtime. I detest the triteness and vulgarity of the script. Not one situation, not one line of dialogue bears the faintest resemblance to human reality. It is a sitcom so stale and rancid you'd turn off if it were the only thing playing on your hospital TV after chemo. Not an original sitcom, a remake - with actors you used to like ten or twenty years ago who haven't gotten the memo that their careers are over. Renée Zellweger: not cute. Patrick Dempsey: not cute. Colin Firth: not only not cute, a total downer. Actively dislikable. The writing operates on such a Bullshit Movieland level it almost doesn't matter that the performances are pitched so broadly. You can find Jim Broadbent, for example, grinning like an idiot at such an inapposite point he had to be thinking about the paycheck. The corners of my mouth moved precisely one millimeter in the direction of a smile once, at something Emma Thompson said. Men in particular must be warned about this train wreck. Do not allow your wife to cajole you into seeing it, no matter how many brownie points she offers. "Bridget Jones's Lousy, Stupid, Stillborn Baby" is so estrogenic you will not be able to conceive after seeing it. Whatever testosterone you bring into the theater will evaporate and you will leave this cinematic castration a broken, sterile shell of a man.

Quick capsules on the rest: Uniformly strong performances take Oliver Stone's "Snowden" over the finish line to a mild recommendation, despite a draggy middle third and a story more compellingly told from the inside in Laura Poitras' Oscar-winning documentary "Citizenfour." Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to impress both as a physical specimen and an actor, capturing Snowden's social ineptitude and moral certitude. At age 24, Shailene Woodley seems just a year or two away from becoming an important actress, here giving Lindsay Mills a more multifaceted role than that of mere girlfriend. Personal favorite Rhys Ifans has a memorable scene on an enormous videoconference screen as Snowden's handler, Corbin O'Brian, triggering connections to the O'Brien and telescreens of "1984." Perhaps the most exciting scene takes place in Snowden's hotel room in Hong Kong and involves a perfectly subdued Melissa Leo as Poitras, dependable Tom Wilkinson as Ewen MacAskill, an especially commanding Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald, and Joely Richardson as beleaguered Guardian editor Janine Gibson. Never has a laptop's slamming shut carried such exquisite tension… I have technical appreciation for the look of Matt Johnson's revisionist faux documentary "Operation Avalanche," in which he and Owen Williams play rookie CIA agents who in 1967 learn that man cannot get to the moon by the end of the decade and get Agency go-ahead to create a film faking the landing under NASA's noses. The movie is best when it gets nerdy about the cinematic techniques involved in such a hoax, but it's rarely as much fun as it sounds, and a late subplot in which the two must be "disappeared" after Apollo 11 launches successfully ends it on a sour note… Thumbs up for Philippe Faucon's slight and occasionally on-the-nose but observant and ultimately worthwhile "Fatima," surprise winner of the Best Film César this February (over the more vibrant "Mustang"). This depiction of the experiences of a North African immigrant to France who works as a cleaning woman and raises her two daughters - one a hard-on-herself med student, the other a disaffected dropout - is based on the experiences of poet Fatima Elayoubi… Finally, a fond commendation for Jason Z. Cohen's glibly breezy documentary "Silicon Cowboys," a history of the upstart Compaq Computer Corporation as seen through the eyes of the men and women who grew it from scratch to become the fastest company ever to hit $1 billion in sales. In the company of these cowboys taking on the city slickers of IBM, you'll be smiling for all 78 minutes.

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