Tis the Season for Affective Disorder!
Postcards from the Edge (1990)
That looks like where I’d like to live…
The late Carrie Fisher was more than an iconic actress, she was a gifted writer who contributed behind the scenes to many films, and eventually published a well regarded novel loosely based on elements of her life.
It was called Postcards from the Edge, and it was eventually made into an equally well regarded motion picture in 1990, starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLain.
Despite the presence of such esteemed leads, this film existed squarely in my 90’s blind spot until just recently. I’m glad I corrected that, because this is a charming gem of a movie. It doesn’t leave much of a footprint behind, yet it’s a minor joy to experience.
Streep is Suzanne Vale, a B-list actress whose career has been derailed by her persistent struggles with substance abuse. After a near fatal overdose, her next job hinges on her ability to stay sober. To protect itself, the studio contractually obligates Suzanne to move in with her mother for the duration of the shoot.
Suzanne’s mother happens to be aging starlet Doris Mann (MacLain), who has her own set of crippling vices.
This provides illumination as to why Suzanne may be so troubled. Unable to accept her fading stardom, Doris is hard on Suzanne, and constantly seeks to upstage her. In return Suzanne resents her mother’s imperious nature, even as she longs for a reconciliation.
Suzanne’s career depends on her successfully finishing the film and while she does have people in her corner (Gene Hackman’s gruff charm is ideal as her sympathetic director), she’s on a short leash. The struggle is mostly played for good-natured laughs and while the stakes are significant I never felt, at any time, that Suzanne was going to succumb to her demons.
That’s my only real quibble with the movie, in fact. Had they cast, say, Sean Young in the lead the film might have had more of an edge to it, and I might have perceived more of an existential threat to Suzanne. That’s certainly not to compare the two or to criticize Streep, whose performance is predictably strong.
It’s just an itch the screenplay (by Fisher herself) never gets around to scratching. Drug abuse is a troubling topic, but this isn’t a film trying to make a statement.This is a slice of life story that plays out in a universe where the worst things in life happen off camera.
Don’t consider that a spoiler. Fisher became a victim of her own very real life issues and there’s no guarantee given about Suzanne’s future either. But the film’s congenial and, at times, moving depiction of the thorny, day by day battle that characterizes addiction is hard to resist.
If Postcards From the Edge is in your blind spot, I suggest you get it out now.
Reacher, Season 1 (2022)
Can your shoulders carry an hour-long drama? No. No, they can’t
Jack Reacher is a hulking ex-commando with a checkered past who helps the helpless, defends the defenseless and rains uncompromising vengeance upon everyone else. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of military and civilian law, firearms, unarmed combat, building construction, explosives…South American murder techniques…
I could go on.
He’s qualified and competent in ways only a literary character can be, and has no problem solemnly carving your eyes out if you get in his way. Last played on screen (and pretty well, I thought) by the diminutive Tom Cruise, the character has been re-introduced as someone more closely resembling the source material.
In the Amazon original series Reacher, the role belongs to Alan Ritchson (Smallville, Blue Mountain), who comes across like Dolph Lundgren and Clint Eastwood had a baby and then fed it nothing but raw meat and the U.S. Code of Military Conduct until it turned 17.
In Episode 1, Reacher arrives in the fictional town of Marburg, Georgia to investigate the death of his brother. He brings the clothes on his back and his own brand of justice which, while purportedly based on the law, also involves demolishing public property and casually murdering people.
This puts Reacher at odds with police Captain Oscar Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin), a Boston transplant whose adjustment to Marburg’s political (and racial) climate has been difficult, at best. Finlay’s right-hand is Deputy Conklin (Willa Fitzgerald), a bright young woman who, like everyone else in town, has her own secrets.
After first butting heads, they become uneasy allies when Reacher’s investigation uncovers a fast-spreading rot in the City’s soul that threatens the well-being of everyone in the struggling community.
Take care if you’d like to binge watch this show. Reacher is a police procedural reminiscent in scope of predecessors like Bosch or Justified. Reacher has the polish of the first, combined with the rural grit of the latter. Add to this a generous helping of brutally elegant hand to hand combat nearly each episode, and you have what could have been a relentlessly grim experience.
But what Reacher also has is more than it’s share of contrivance, in the form of one character or another spontaneously erupting into Sorkin-esque mini-monologues of bewildering legal or technical jargon.
And whenever the situation requires it, Jack Reacher himself is an expert on whatever plot element is standing in their way. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of the techno-babble on Star Trek, and sometimes it lands perilously close to Adam West’s Bat-Shark Repellent.
Then there’s the way Reacher pathologically insists on being called only “Reacher” and never “Jack” or even “Mr. Reacher”. Even his mother calls him by his last name.
It’s all a bit much so a little, perhaps, goes a long way.
There are only eight episodes in the season but they’re all the better part of an hour. If you’ll allow it, the artifice will help lighten the tone of what is, at times, an intensely dark story. Reacher is definitely well into R-rated territory, so make sure you either love or hate the person you share it with.
Even if you can accept the show’s idiosyncrasies, Reacher will occasionally have you rolling your eyes.
Hugely derivative? Yes. But Reacher is also hugely addictive. It’s buoyed by some strong acting and a cloudy but compelling narrative that kicks into high gear late in the season. And it ends with an emotionally satisfying, bone crunching, explodey conclusion.
Reacher is eight slices of pizza that you should enjoy, one at a time, then get on with your life.
Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Embrace your Crowe-ness, Russell.
I don’t want to end on a downer. But if I’d started with one, would you have wanted to keep reading?
Love and Thunder leans into the humor of Ragnarok. That, along with Chris Hemsworth’s own charisma, is what transformed Marvel’s mightiest C-list hero into a fan favorite. But I’d argue that Love and Thunder leans, and leans, and then leans further until it kind of falls on its face.
Maybe I shouldn’t say “downer”. I didn’t dislike Love and Thunder, and I wouldn’t say it’s the “worst” Thor movie. But only because that’s hyperbole, which is useless, and because the first two Thor movies I can guarantee I will never see again as long as I live.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys Marvel films, but has grown tired of the endless smirking and mugging that characterizes most of the dialog in these things, then Love and Thunder may not be for you.
Every. Line. Is. A. Wisecrack.
It’s grating before the end of the first act. I would say first scene, but that would be hyperbole.
The story revolves around Gorr (Christian Bale, impersonating Jared Leto), an alien being who loses his civilization – and daughter – to famine. When he confronts his god Rapu (Jonathan Brugh) over this inconvenience, Rapu belittles him. Because this is a Marvel movie not only can you just walk up to God and complain, in this case there happens to be a magical sword lying nearby.
One that Rapu casually mentions is capable of killing gods. Obviously, Gorr immediately uses it to kill Rapu and declares he will one day kill all gods, everywhere.
Talk about hyperbole.
Naturally, this eventually brings him into Thor’s path. Word has spread of the “God-Killer”, and this puts the already decimated population of Thor’s realm, Asgard, in danger. To face the threat, Thor is joined by old friends Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who, for reasons that end up making more sense than the rest of of this movie, has acquired Thor’s old hammer Mjolnir.
She has assumed the mantle of Mighty Thor, a female version of…well…Thor.
The film is colorful nonsense. The incomprehensible details of the plot are irrelevant. At best it’s a really long video game cut scene. Worst case, it’s a lazy retread of the previous installment, with Guns ‘n Roses replacing Led Zeppelin and a less interesting villain who becomes even less so as the story goes on.
Is it worth watching? Sure. But is it anything other than an elaborate misfire?
Not, and that’s not hyperbole.
Criticult will return…
When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Bruce?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."