The true-life story of a Marine and her bomb-sniffing war dog.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Starring Kate Mara
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Megan Leavey is an example of the biopic that’s more interested with hitting plot points than finding the real person onscreen. If a subject had a life notable enough to get a film made about them, then those plot points should be interesting in and of themselves, as is the case in this story. There are givens in Megan Leavey, specifically that an intense bonding between a dog and its owner are going to be affecting. However in relying too much on cinematic reportage (this happened, then this happened), the characters in Megan Leavey feel like talking heads in a documentary, providing some background and a sense of stakes without ever drawing the viewer in. This is a bare-bones film, carried along by the raw power of the events behind it. Cowperthwaite gets the big moments right while skimping on any depth or nuance in the smaller ones.
Zhang Yimou’s first English-language film sparked a lot of misguided controversy about the presence of Matt Damon in a fantasy film fought along The Great Wall of China. Here’s another white savior who’ll bring technology and advanced tactics to a non-white civilization while hundreds of Chinese extras are killed just out of frame. Those that prematurely complained should have done their homework, because Yimou’s reputation is that of the Chinese equivalent of Michael Bay. While both are sometimes blisteringly critical of their respective governments, they still work hand in hand with the seats of power. Just as Bay needs Pentagon approval to include all that authentic gear in his militaristic films, Yimou needs the approval of the Chinese government to get his films released in Chinese theaters. The Politburo’s not about to sign off on a film that devalues their ancient nation’s culture and innovation. Viewed through the lens of a Bay-sian exercise in nationalism, The Great Wall isn’t as easily dismissed. If the USA can have their jingoistic action romps and export them around the world, why can’t China?
M. Night Shyamalan gets officially welcomed back into Hollywood with the massive success of Split. When a person gets the power to do anything, as Shyamalan did for several years, it’s easy to imagine how quickly things can go off the rails, like when the adaptation of a beautiful animated show is rendered unwatchable or when Mark Wahlberg is forced to ask where all the bees went. Working with tight-fisted Blumhouse Studios and their fairly brilliant economic model is a good career move for Shyamalan. They dump all these low-budget horror films on the market, and while they’re critical success is low, there’s enough of a gorehound audience to recoup the small investment. Half of the receipts from Split could fund ten to fifteen new Blumhouse films, and suddenly Shyamalan’s minting money. But is it any good? Split has equal amounts of what the director’s always been good at, as well as some new crutches that are expected from the genre, but no less ugly through his lens.
Kevin Costner’s Western Dances With Wolves is a film we’re watching because of its culture clash narrative, but it could’ve fit into a category that was raised on a recent podcast: films that need a reevaluation. The film nerd expectation on this one is tied in with its Best Picture win over the vastly-superior Goodfellas, another example of Oscar voters going for safe over daring or challenging. It’s also got a decidedly non-PC reputation as a white savior, noble savage exemplar. However, where we mentioned on the podcast a movie like 300 getting a downward reevaluation, Dances With Wolves conceivably deserves one in the opposite direction. As far as white saviors go, John Dunbar is nowhere near the most egregious example, and it’s never the winning film’s fault when a more deserving film is passed over for awards. Much of Dances With Wolves is just as moving and enthralling as it was before I knew a movie like Goodfellas existed. It’s hardly perfect, but Costner’s epic is undeserving of the turned-up nose in its direction.
Chad Hartigan’s Morris From America places an American kid in Germany, but the culture clash it depicts is both less and more specific than just a transplant of continents. Hartigan gets the strangeness that exists whenever a kid goes to a new school, language barrier or not. They like different things and have their own social rhythms, but there’s also the difficulty of getting comfortable in a new crowd and allowing yourself to take part. While that curtain’s up, it’s difficult to let anyone in, especially peacocking teenagers. There’s also the racial aspect that drills down into Morris’ unique circumstances, being a black boy in a society that only knows about African Americans through stereotypes. Morris From America provides a deeply sympathetic look at the isolation and loneliness of a new place while also giving peeks at the kind of euphoria provided by breaking those walls, no matter how fleeting it may be.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.