War Machine (2017)


War is an all-American pastime!

(2017) Dramedy (Netflix) Brad Pitt, Ben Kingsley, Tilda Swinton, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Scoot McNairy, Lakeith Stanfield, Alan Ruck, Will Poulter, Nicholas Jones, Meg Tilly, Josh Stewart, Tim Downey, Richard Glover, Griffin Dunne, Andrew Byron, Daniel Betts, John Magaro, RJ Cyler, Emory Cohen, Rufus Wright, Sean Power, Sian Thomas, Paul Hickey, Georgina Rylance. Directed by David Michôd

 

Netflix has been producing original movies for several years but their Adam Sandler comedies aside, their first serious attempt at a blockbuster of their own was this fictionalized Brad Pitt film based on a non-fiction book about the War in Afghanistan. It is not a promising start, although they have several films that have been released since then that are far better and far bigger.

The movie is meant to be a black comedic commentary on the nature of 21st century war as practiced by the United States. It moves at a kind of snail’s pace (at roughly two hours long, it is about a half hour too much) through a bloated script full of unfunny bits. The fault here isn’t Pitt’s although this is perhaps his most deranged work yet; his General Glen McMahon is a walking tic machine, exhorting troops that “We WILL prevail” at the same time expressing frustration with the bureaucracy he has to deal with. His square-jawed expression is the epitome of every Hollywood American military commander yet his odd gait looks like he has some sort of wound in his genitals.

Despite having a cast of some of the best actors and character actors working today, there are simply too many roles and you forget who is who after about five minutes, leading to further confusion that the screenplay hasn’t already caused itself. This has all the earmarks of moviemaking by committee.

I liked the concept and thought that given the pedigree of Michôd (Animal Kingdom) that this project had promise but it pretty much falls apart of its own weightiness. I get the sense that the filmmakers were told to make a comedy, then told to make a commentary on war, then told to make a drama by the powers that be. What they ended up making was a mish-mash that is neither one nor the other but is a tedious waste of two hours. I expected much better

REASONS TO GO: Even at his most subdued, Pitt still exudes star power.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is bloated and dreadfully unfunny.
FAMILY VALUES: There is war violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film references actual events that took place during the command of Stanley A. McChrystal between 2009 and 2010.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/28/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wag the Dog
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Suburbicon

The Collector (2009)


The Collector

Masked people with big red boxes are not to be trusted.

(2009) Horror (Freestyle Releasing) Josh Stewart, Karley Scott Collins, Andrea Roth, Juan Fernandez, Daniella Roberson, Jabari Thomas, Colvin Roberson, Michael Reilly Burke, Haley Alexis Pullo, Madeline Zima, Alex Feldman. Directed by Marcus Dunstan

It takes a thief to catch a thief. But when a thief encounters a fiendishly sadistic and clever serial killer, is it a fair fight?

Arkin (Stewart) is a handyman who is working at the home of Michael Chase (Burke), a decent man with a sweet daughter named Hannah (Collins), a spoiled teenage daughter named Jill (Zima) and a spoiled wife named Victoria (Roth). Arkin is working for an exterminator (Fernandez) but what he’s really doing is casing the residence. Arkin is a paroled thief and he knows that Michael has a large gemstone in his safe.

When he discovers his girlfriend Lisa (Roberson) is in deep to a loan shark and needs money that evening or she’ll face excruciating injury or even death, Arkin moves up the timetable and decides to do the job that very night.

When he gets to the Chase home he discovers a big red box in the center of the bedroom where the safe is in. Inside the big box is a man who informs Arkin that the man who put him there is a Collector, who traps families, keeps whoever survives his traps but murders everyone else. He also finds out that the Chase family has been taken hostage and the house riddled with booby traps, ranging from a sticky but heavily corrosive acid on the floor to razors dropping from the ceiling. Arkin feels guilty about leaving the daughter who reminds him of his own daughter (Pullo) and means to get her out, but it means going head to head with a sadistic, homicidal maniac.

I have to admit that Stewart makes a fairly solid lead. He is certainly an anti-hero – his character is motivated purely by self-interest for the most part. Still, Stewart gives the character enough depth that we end up pulling for him. Roth also makes an excellent victim.

The traps are really clever in some places but for the most part you can only see so many sharp thingies penetrate so much flesh. I like how the set up is very brief and we get into the meat of the movie quickly. That’s clearly what horror fans want and they get what they want, in spades, here.

Director Marcus Dunstan is better known as a writer for horror flicks, including entries in the Saw series and the upcoming sequel to Piranha. This might be some of his best writing yet – certainly it feels more clever than some of his Saw movies.

Still, you’ll get a feeling that you’ve seen this all before. Torture porn is, after all, fairly rote once you get past the initial shock and gore. It doesn’t take long to get desensitized to it. What you are left with then is the characters, and the ability to identify with them. You get that here more than in other examples of the genre, but not enough to really overcome the sameness of the gore.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the traps are fiendishly clever. Stewart makes a solid anti-hero. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While better than the Saw series of late, it seems to be pretty much the same old torture porn.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence is fairly sadistic and brutal; there’s some sexuality and nudity as well and as you might expect, the language is pretty rough.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original script was written to be a prequel to the Saw movies.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video by Nico as well as a preview of the soundtrack album.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.3M on an unreported production budget; the film made money, almost for certain.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: She’s Out of My League