Odd Thomas

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Currently streaming on Netflix

NR (I would say it’s about PG-13 for minor gore)

Spoilers: None

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

I’m not sure what the history of this movie is—I heard rumors of lawsuits between production companies and financial problems in the middle of the shoot. I’m not sure if it had any sort of theatrical release or not (the NR would seem to indicate it didn’t?) but it sounds like it was MEANT to have a theatrical release. With a very serviceable cast of Anton Yelchin as Odd Thomas, Addison Timlin as Odd’s girlfriend Stormy Llewellyn and Willem Dafoe as Police Chief Wyatt Porter, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this adaptation of Dean Koontz’s well-reviewed thriller. (Publisher’s Weekly said about Koontz’s first Odd book, “This is Koontz working at his pinnacle, providing terrific entertainment that deals seriously with some of the deepest themes of human existence: the nature of evil, the grip of fate and the power of love.”)

I read Odd Thomas in 2004 (I think?). I got it at the library and read it quickly over a weekend. I think I might have read one of its sequels, but then I got buried again in my never-ending reading list. So when my friend said on Facebook that she had liked the movie and it was currently streaming on Netflix, I took an hour-and-a-half this weekend to watch it. I don’t remember the ins and outs of the novel, having never re-read it, but the movie definitely has the same tone—Odd was likable, funny and you know…odd.

Odd Thomas sees dead people. He doesn’t want to be locked up for being crazy, so he tries to keep his talent hidden. Because Odd often needs the police, Chief Porter does know of Odd’s ability, and tries to find ways to explain how Odd knows a suspect has killed someone, etc.

The true conflict of the movie starts when Odd sees more bodachs than he has ever seen before surrounding a guy (dubbed “Fungus Man” by Odd and Stormy) at the restaurant at which Odd works as a short-order cook. Bodachs are creepy, transparent, alien-looking creatures who feed off of suffering and death. Odd has seen them previously, each time before a tragedy has struck, but never, ever such a large number of them. Odd has to pretend he can’t see the bodachs because everyone who has ever admitted to seeing a bodach has turned up dead. Odd knows something really, really bad is going to happen in his small hometown, and so he begins to follow Fungus Man (and FM’s posse of bodachs) to try to stop whatever it is that is about to occur.

This was exactly my kind of thriller movie. I can’t stand a lot of unnecessary gore anymore I spend one-third of each episode of Game of Thrones with my hands covering my eyes. I had to turn off Zombieland because I felt queasy. I had nightmares when my niece told me the plot of Saw. (Thanks, Hannah.) But this is more action with a side order of blood and bodach.

The dialogue is witty and there is excellent use of character narration (which is sometimes used in book adaptations when the writers can’t fit in necessary exposition any other way… I’m looking at you, Lord of the Rings) but Odd’s narration actually helps add to his character development as the viewer gets even more of a sense of his “voice” which gives the movie much of its charm. Also, excellent soundtracking, which gives the film a funky, small-town feel.

Olympus Has Fallen

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Currently Streaming on Netflix

Rated R for frequent use of F-bomb and lots of blood, brains, stabbings, shootings, splatterings & explosions

Review contains mild spoilers

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

This movie is for lovers of big 80s-style action movies—Die Hard, Terminator, True Lies, etc. Lots of big names in this cast—Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler, Angela Bassett, Ashley Judd, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune and Melissa Leo (who gives a wonderful performance as Secretary of Defense). Directed by Antoine Fuqua, one of Hollywood’s few African-American film directors (his most well-known film is Training Day starring Denzel Washington), this movie is far superior to the tepid White House Down which came out, strangely enough, at about the same time. White House Down didn’t know what it was—was it an action movie? Was it a comedy? It had no clue; so it got muddled in a no-man’s land of story-telling. Olympus Has Fallen knows exactly what it is—a story-driven action movie.

Secret-service agent Mike Banning (Butler) is President Benjamin Asher’s (Eckhart) best friend and the head of his Secret Service detail. An accident happens, and Asher blames Banning for it. Banning is banished to the U.S. Treasury Department for 18 months, where he intermittently pleads to his boss Lynn Jacobs (Bassett) for his old job back. Banning glumly sits at his desk until one day he looks out his window and there are North Korean terrorists (unsanctioned by their government) attacking the White House.

This is the part where youtube and IMDB commenters whine, “This is just so unrealistic. This could never happen.” Well, I think we get into trouble when we compare movies we watch for our entertainment with real life but I would also respond to the “this could never happen” whiners that I don’t think we foresaw anyone flying planes into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, either.

President Asher ends up in the White House bunker with the terrorists and a turncoat Secret Service agent (McDermott). The terrorists begin to coerce Cerberus codes out of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense while Banning, the lone remaining Secret Service agent in the White House, struggles to rescue the hostages.

The beating of Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan is one of the plot points that makes this movie rise above typical popcorn action movie fare. Similar to G.I. Jane (a movie which was critically panned when it came out but I have always very much enjoyed), this scene shows the squicky feelings we have as a nation when women are beaten in service to their country. We seem, as a nation, to have no problem when a woman is beaten by her romantic partner. Because that happens every 12 seconds in this country and we have yet to find any solutions for that abuse. But for a woman to receive a beating in service to her country, well, that just brings up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings. After McMillan’s ribs are broken, President Asher orders to her to give the terrorist (Yune) her Cerberus code telling McMillan, “He will never get mine.” So stand down with the tough, little lady. We like to keep our beatings domestic, thank you very much. (See what I did there?)

Some other fun things in this movie include Gerard Butler’s American accent. I don’t know exactly where Banning is from, but I want to visit there. I think it might be BrooklynBronxNew Jersey. And I adore the scene in which Acting President House Speaker Trumbull (Freeman) tells the old white general (Robert Forster) who exactly is in charge. There is also a great scene when Banning and Asher are in a deep bromance moment and it looks like they might kiss. I think they might have sold more movie tickets with a little slash. Butler and Eckhart are both very attractive men. But no one asks me these things.

And while this movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, it does have many named women in positions of power who do get screen time. Not perfect but so much better than many action movies.

Despite its high body count and arguable implausibility, Olympus Has Fallen offers some great acting (I would watch Freeman, Eckhart and Butler in almost anything), awesome special effects and most importantly, a story to go along with blowing shit up.

The Joneses

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Currently streaming on Netflix

Rated R for brief nudity, occasional use of the f-bomb, and mild violence

Review contains mild spoilers

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

The Joneses is a fabulous little movie that I didn’t even hear about until a couple of years ago when it streamed on Netflix for the first time. It stars David Duchovny and Demi Moore, and costars Lauren Hutton. Released in 2009, The Joneses is the perfect blend of comedy, tragedy, romance and satire. Steve (Duchovny) and Kate (Moore) and their two teenage children (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth), move into an affluent, gated community Somewhere in America That Isn’t California. The Joneses appear to be the perfect All-American family when their neighbors Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headley) walk over to meet them. Summer carries a large basket of Robustion skincare and cosmetics line for which she is a “consultant.” (She says affirmations like “I am a powerful saleswoman.” Think of every time you’ve been invited to/attended a Mary Kay, Arbonne or similar party. Summer’s belief that she can affirm her way to success is one of the smaller underlying tragedies of the movie.)

Larry and Summer are amazed by the perfection of Steve and Kate’s house. No moving boxes, no piles of paper, no dirty dishes here. The house is immaculate and spacious with top-of-the-line furniture and the state-of-the-art electronics. Summer says to Larry when they get back to their house, “I would KILL for that dining room set.”

But of course nothing is at it seems and within the first 20 minutes of the movie we realize that the Joneses are in fact, not a family at all. They work for a large international “person-to-person” marketing firm and have sale goals for certain products in certain demographics—Kate takes care of women’s fashions, hair products, upscale convenience foods and jewelry. The teens are person-to-person marketing video games, cell phones, fashions, skateboards and even cars. And Steve (a rookie, this is his first “family” placement) works on golf, beer, cars, sportswear, cigars, and other “man toys.” The heart of this firm’s success is that people are suspicious of advertising messages, except when the message comes from their friends. This Anywhere in America Suburb sees Steve and Kate and their allegedly hot and sexy marriage and their two beautiful teenage children, and wants to be just like them, therefore they want everything the Joneses have. As Steve and Kate’s boss KC (Hutton) says, “If they want you, they will want what you have.”

What I loved about this movie was its utter skewering of consumption-driven capitalism. I am a married 46-year-old woman with two teenage children and I cannot tell you the number of times people in our same income group have tried to engage me in competition about something related to consumption. At the Catholic school my kids attended for many years the moms would list their spring break and winter break trip destinations, talk about how stressful it was to build a new home (or a second home), or about the Yankees game they had “swung by” on the weekend. Underneath this frothing patina, this gross display of wealth, is more often than not, extreme debt, extreme fear, and loneliness. One of the many interesting mirrors in The Joneses is that Larry thinks Steve is having lots of sex because of the gifts he showers on Kate, and Summer and Larry should be having sex because they are married. It isn’t quite clear why Summer consistently spurns Larry—she’s angry but movie viewers don’t know exactly why. Unfulfilled? She feels she bet on the wrong horse (even though they are living in a huge McMansion and Larry seems to still be in love with her)? Sex and power and money are closely entwined in this movie—just like they are in real life. And the irony present in a good majority of the movie is despite appearance, no one is having sex.

Several story arcs culminate in a variety of tragedies, one which is tragi-comic and involves Steve saying to Kate, “This family is fucked up. Where did we go wrong?” And another tragic scene with beautiful cinematography, soundtracked to Nick Urata’s haunting “In My Hands.” This tragedy results in Steve having an attack of conscience about his deceit, which leads to (some) of the characters in the movie realizing, to varying degrees, that all of the stuff in the world doesn’t equal a single good and loving relationship.