Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s enough fire, there’s a disaster picture in the making.
Deepwater Horizon ***
If it’s a choice between heroes drawn from real life and costume-clad warriors, give me the civvies life every time. Admittedly, the TV-friendly character exposition that opens <em>Deepwater Horizon</em> – Mark Wahlberg’s young daughter reveals what daddy does for a living in the form of a class paper read aloud over breakfast – gave cause for alarm. But after that, this fast-paced tale of the “well from hell” that generated the worst oil spill in U.S. history bridles both melodrama and hysteria, and in exchange detonates steady torrents of tension. The cast boasts typically strong supporting work from Kurt Russell and John Malkovich, with actor-turned-director Peter Berg (<em>Lone Survivor, Battleship</em>) handing in his most assured performance behind the camera to date. Berg’s relaxed handling of small talk among the crew members makes the set-up a delight to watch, while the ensuing disasters are convincing enough to give multiplex armrests a gripping workout.
Last week I mentioned the Reader‘s original and longtime film critic, Duncan Shepherd. I arrived at the paper back in the mid-’90s, and often as not when I told people where I worked they’d reply, “You guys have that movie critic, Duncan something. I hate that guy.”
And why not? Shepherd was resolutely erudite in a town that resolutely wasn’t, an educated disciple of an art form that many regarded as mostly recreational. He worked hard at writing well, but his devotion was to the craft and the subject, as opposed to, say, his audience. (At least, that’s the impression I got.)
I think it’s a pity that people “hated” Shepherd, but it did at least make the following fact even more wonderful: People read him anyway. That was the glory of the pre-Internet media: if you wanted to munch on free content, you were occasionally obliged to chew something prickly and esoteric. You had to engage with someone not pre-selected by algorithm to bolster your ego by validating your opinions. Or even producing what you felt to be a “proper” movie review, one that mentioned a film’s stars, commented on their performances, summed up the plot, etc.
Of course, the Internet changed all that. Head on over to Rotten Tomatoes, and you can read criticism from all over the place, almost all of it for free. If a film is getting a national release, there isn’t much that’s special about having a local writer cover it. And even if it’s a limited local run, odds are, someone in L.A. has written a competent review already.
That seems to be the mentality at San Diego’s daily paper, the Union-Tribune. The word is out that film critic Anders Wright has been relieved of that privilege/title/responsibility. The paper will pull its reviews from other publications within the troncosphere. Like, say, the LA Times. Adieu, Mr. Wright. By way of tribute, here’s a link to what Scott Marks had to say when you took the gig back in 2013. It’s been a pleasure working in the same darkened screening room with you. Movies are dead, anyway.
Still, we at the Reader are gonna keep reviewing them for as long as we can. And this was a pretty good week for it: Scott liked Deepwater Horizon better than he likes most disaster pics, and he fulfilled what must have been a decades-old dream when he got to chat with star Kurt Russell. And he liked Demon better than most Jewish possession picks. Even the gut-wrench of Ixcanul failed to bring him down.
As for me, I enjoyed Queen of Katwe. I know Disney could spend the rest of forever just doing remakes of its old material, so I’m especially glad to see them tackling something original and even a little gritty in their family-friendly fare. (They could have written the wayward sister out of the story. But they didn’t.)
I’d leave it at that, but the ugly truth remains: I also saw Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Masterminds. Tim Burton, it’s getting to the point where we wish we hardly knew ye. And Jared Hess: hey, wha happened? Ah, well. At least the wardrobes were on point.
Opening but not reviewed: La Belle et La Bete. How dare someone else make a live-action version of the beloved Disney story before Disney? What’s that? It’s not a...? Oh, hush. Next thing, you’ll be telling me that The Little Mermaid didn’t always have such a happy ending.
In other news, there’s a big old film festival with our town’s name on it happening right about now.