Baby Driver

Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

Baby Driver: Once Upon a Pair of Wheels

Written Review by David Carter

It’s a bright and sunny day. Three people sit stone-faced in a car outside of a bank clad in trench coats and sunglasses while one, the drive, sits similarly stoic, sporting earbuds. He drops a twist into the scene: he throws on some music. Jon Spencer’s Blue Explosions “Bellbottoms” to be exact. The song thumps as the other three get out of the car and go to work. When they’re inside the bank taking care of business something else happens.

The driver starts singing and dancing to the song.

And not just some minimal movin’ and groovin’ but full on beltin’ and steering wheel drummin’. This isn’t your effortlessly cool James Dean-light type, he’s a dorky kid behind those shades. But let’s not get it twisted, when it’s time to put pedal to floor and make high risks deals on wheels, our kid is Mozart in a go-kart. The heist finishes and we segue into a chase with “Bellbottoms” still keepin’ the pace while johnny law tries to make our hero’s heart race. He’s smooth like butter though and leaves 5-0 slipped up so the gang can switch cars and make a clean getaway.

Within that five-minute opening scene, I knew this was going to be the film of the year, but I was biased to begin with. Edgar Wright is without a doubt my favorite working director today. So much has been written about his incredibly kinetic and precise visual style or his penchant for layers upon layers of foreshadowing and meticulous set-up and payoff within his scripts, but rarely do people focus on how relatable his characters and their stories are. The Cornetto Trilogy, for all its winking, are pretty sincere movies about being at various stages in your life. The struggle to take responsibility and charge of your life in your 20’s in Shaun of the Dead. Hot Fuzz spells out the hardships of connecting with new people and new places as you move into your 30’s, and The World’s End is an ode to “where it all went wrong” and reckoning with your past and present self as you marinade in your 40’s. Even Scott Pilgrim fits into this cannon work by treading similar ground as Shaun of the Dead but from a distinctly millennial POV. Wrights characters up to this point have been flawed (mostly) ordinary people in relatable but extraordinary situations. Baby Driver has him exploring similar territory (the foreshadowing and set-up play a sneaky part in this movie as well) but Wright’s matured and he puts his passion on his sleeve to tell a Walter Hill-esque high octane pop and rock and roll morality fable. He leaves winking at the door and instead wants to whisk us breathlessly into a world that’s slightly more heightened than our own through the eyes and ears of a kid who doesn’t know that he’s going to have to make tough decisions at some point.

Once upon a time, there was a kid. The people around him called him Baby (the surprisingly magnetic Ansel Elgort). Baby is Bob Fosse in a Buick, but he had a quirk and weakness: he had a hum in the drum (tinnitus) that he got from a car accident as a child that makes him pump music into his ears around the clock. Baby had his own soundtrack 24/7 which helped him pull off daring escapes from the fuzz on his tail. Baby worked for a coolly menacing man named Doc (Kevin Spacey in his best film role since 2009’s Moon). Baby owed Doc a great debt and did these jobs until he was all square, but you could tell while Baby never wanted to dirty his hand with very dirty deeds a part of him enjoyed doing what he did best: Driving and listening to tunes to escape from his reality. It also has the added benefit of helping him take care of his aging foster father Joe (CJ Jones) in the process. But one day, Baby meets a beautiful kindred spirit in a diner waitress named Debora (a performance from Lily James whose as giddy as Sissy Spacek from Badlands). She want’s what Baby wants; to drive west in a car they can’t afford, with a plan they don’t have, listening to tunes the whole way there. He’s in love. However, happy endings don’t come easy and once he crosses paths with the sinfully psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx, who really should be in more villain roles) and the dangerously in love Darling (relative newcomer Eiza Gonzalez) and Buddy (the always relentlessly handsome Jon Hamm) Baby has to start figuring how far down in the mud he’s going to have to dig to get free.

If the story sounds familiar that’s because it is. If you’ve seen a crime movie with any sort of morality at the center of it, you know that no one can stay squeaky clean forever. That’s the story Edgar wants to play with. The movie is made up of archetypes that you could see in any half-decent crime movie. The Psycho, The Planner, The Love Birds, The Surrogate fathers, The beautiful spirit who’s gonna help save them from the poisonous path our hero’s traveling. Baby himself feel like an amalgam of so many great protagonists. He’s a little bit Henry Hill, part Driver (from Walter Hill’s cult classic The Driver), and a dash of Freddy Heflin from Copland. Hell, Baby’s arc plays like a prequel to James Caan’s ace safecracker character in Michael Mann’s Thief. Wright wants to take all of these to their logical extremes.  Can ignorance and child-like innocence be enough to absolve you of the things you’ve done? Baby avoids tackling this question by staying removed from the world around him. He’s aloof and quiet, he puts himself at a distance from the other crooks and the music in his ears isn’t just there to drown out the ringing but put him in another world.

For as much as the movie is about slick chases and bone crunching crashes, the movie is a love letter to music. The way music can put your mind at ease when you’re spiraling, or how it can make you feel like the most untouchable person on the planet, or how it can vocalize and viscerally capture how you feel about another person in that very moment. Cinema is like watching dreams unfold in real time but music is like putting a little piece of magic in your ear. The movie alludes to how addicted to narcotics and the thrill of a job the other criminals are, but Baby gets high on harmony, mellow on melody, and ripped on rhythm. Like all addictions, it can turn from enhancer to a crutch in 0 to 60. Baby sometimes has to stop what he’s doing if the song isn’t swingin’ or the pace is in the wrong place. To him, he’s a hero and the tunes have got to reflect that in the right way, otherwise he’d have to face the music and realize he might be a common criminal with not so common driving skills.

Baby Driver is a ballet of showing off those skills, and not just in cars. Sure, the opening scene is a showstopper and the final scene is a pulse pumping and anxiety inducing face off between a human being and an uncaged  animal who smells blood, but the whole movie is so expertly choreographed, (not just synced and edited as Edgar Wright revealed that the cast and crew had to practice their cues and action scene timing to the songs on the soundtrack) that at times it becomes invisible the same way a good beat just blends together and becomes a pulse. There’s a foot chase sequence set to Focus’ “Hocus Pocus” that feels like a whole movie in itself with the way it up’s the stakes and weaves from one set piece to the next the way a bicyclist in heavy traffic does between cars. There’s a gunfight set to a stellar cover of “Tequila” by the Button Down Brass the feels like Michael Mann and Tito Puente doing the music video collaboration I didn’t know I wanted.

There’s so much more that can be said about Baby Driver, like how young adult Ansel Elgort is perfectly cast as a dreamy kid in over his head and how that’s a perfect allusion and simultaneous subversion to the casting of heartthrobs Ryan O’Neal and Ryan Gosling who play similar but more straight ahead roles in The Driver and Drive. We could talk about how Wright uses Atlanta, its vibe and its structure, the same way Bullit does for the hills of San Francisco or The Blue Brothers does for Chicago. In fact, we could even talk about how the movie is the most original pop musical SINCE The Blue Brothers, but that’s all window dressing to a movie that is gentle to its core while populating it with the crooks and carnage you’d expect from a movie like this. It’s as romantic as all those songs with the words that tell us over and over again how much we care about our baby even when everything around us just ain’t as groovy and unambiguous as what’s playin’ on the radio.

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Rough Night

Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

Rough Night: Very Bad Friends

Written Review by David Carter

Big broad R-rated comedies aren’t usually what I rush to the theater to see. Not that I don’t enjoy them. Good dick and fart jokes found in late 00’s Judd Apatow or 90’s Kevin Smith movies are just what the doctor ordered sometimes. There are so many of these types of raunchy comedies pumped into theaters that it’s hard to know which ones will be more Superbad and Neighbors and less The Hangover (any of them). That’s what makes movies like Bridesmaids or Trainwreck so exciting when you hear about them because there’s the chance that with a different (namely female) perspective, something unique can be mined from all the debauchery and pratfalls. Rough Night on paper seems like a seems like a knockout. Two of the creative minds behind Broad City (Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs) bringing you a riff on The Big Chill and Very Bad Things, starring three of the funniest people working today (Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon) and two of our best working actresses and action stars (Zoe Kravitz and Scarlett Johansson). Unfortunately even with all the star power and talent behind the scenes the movie never really clicks into anything worth mentioning. There are ideas that sound great on paper but the movie never takes the time to flesh them out.

Rough Night is about struggling politician Jess (Scarlett Johansson sporting a Hillary Clinton haircut) gearing up for a bachelorette party in Miami with her three college friends. Her clingy but good-hearted bestie and maid of honor Alice (Jillian Bell) and old college flames Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer). There’s also Jess’s new Australian friend and wild card Pipa (the ever scene-stealing Kate McKinnon) thrown into the mix. After pressuring Jess to indulge a little in some heavier drinking and drugs (she’s a female politician after all. A night like this could end her career if even a photo of her just doing shots ends up on Facebook) a stripper is summoned to turn the night up to 11. Things go horribly wrong when an overeager Alice (there’s a running joke about how absurdly horny she is) jumps on the stripper cracking his head wide open. Due to various reasons (the mountains of drugs lying around, Jess’s political career, Frankie’s two strikes, Blair’s child custody troubles) instead of just calling the police the girls are forced to dispose of the body. All the while Jess’s fiance Peter (Paul W. Downs who gives Kate McKinnon a run for her money as MVP) freaks out and makes a beeline for Miami due to reading Jess’s panicked phone call as her breaking off of the wedding. It’s a dark farcical race for all parties to figure how to salvage a night that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better.

I mentioned Very Bad Things and The Big Chill up top because the movie is pretty much a mash-up of those films filtered through a millennial lens. While it’s easy to focus on dark nihilistic sex comedy stuff, the parts of the movie where it’s these longtime friends reconnecting at this weird part of their lives are where we as an audience should latch on to these people but the movie only really makes gestures at development and character arcs. Sure we see Blair and Frankie slowy rekindle that spark they had between them in college but it’s mostly just told to us by the other characters. Yeah, there’s tension between Pipa and Alice because Alice feels threatened by Pipa’s presence as Jess’s new BFF, but it barely comes into play outside of some slight verbal jabs. The movie never uses this idea for anything but filler, which would be fine if the movie really nailed the comedy aspect. Unfortunately, most of the jokes don’t land very well. Sometimes screwball stuff is interrupted with “woke” platitudes that you’re never really sure if you should laugh at or nod your head in agreement. I’d say the best parts of the movie involve gender role flipped ideas of the bachelor party being a low-key wine tasting between sensitive and understanding millennial men that spirals into an odyssey of odd dangerous decisions. However, this bit never really rises above “haha isn’t that weird that those 20 something dudes are acting like 50 year old women at a book and wine club” which is a shame because that dynamic is something that could have been a ton of fun to explore and riff on.

But the films biggest flaw is that for how funny and incredible the performers are, the movie’s script never gives them great opportunities to bounce off of each other or really stretch. Kate McKinnon gets some business, but Jillian Bell never get anything outside of some lackluster physical humor and Ilana Glazer barely gets any of the one-liners or acrobatic physical humor she’s known for on Broad City. Zoe Kravitz and her character feel like an afterthought, she’s essentially the straight woman in a movie that already has one. She also gets a bit involving a swinger couple (played by Demi Moore and Ty Burrell) that feels like it should be pay off for Jillian Bell’s characters horniness but was swapped last minute to give Zoe something to do. This might have been one of those rare times where some heavier improv would have been welcome.

It’s sad to say that Rough Night doesn’t really work on any of the levels it strives for which is a shame as more good female-centered comedies are needed and welcome. I hope all parties involved lick their wounds and bring us something better next time.

It Comes at Night

Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

It Comes at Night: The Constant Cataclysm

Written Review by David Carter

The apocalypse feels so imminent now. I don’t mean that it IS imminent, just that the general vibe of people’s demeanors is apocalyptic. Things are bad and it feels like it’s going to be a while before they get better. It’s no surprise that artists and audiences would start gravitating towards that dread. It can be cathartic. But even during hopeless times people still have their “small” personal tragedies that feel like their own doomsdays unto themselves. A relationship ends. Unexpected and crippling debt. A loved one passes on. All of these can make a person feel as the ground beneath them is caving in, especially if they’re young and not fully capable of processing it. When we’re young, the idea mortality is so foreign to us that when we are confronted with its very real existence, it can manifest itself in our psyche in some truly grisly ways. This idea of micro-tragedy and grief set in inside a macrocosm of fragile mortality, dread, and paranoia is exactly what writer and director Trey Edward Shults wants to explore in his sophomore film, It Comes at Night.

It Comes at Night takes place in the woods. This is important because we never see the outside world. We hear about it sometimes. Some bubonic-like plague has cut humanity down to size. In these woods lives a small family. Paul (stern and sometimes dead-eyed, Joel Edgerton) is the paterfamilias and leader of the family. He is a survivalist and treats every situation with the weight the apocalypse deserves. Next to him is his equally capable wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) who not only has to deal with the dire day to day of this somewhat new (we never get a clear idea of how long this has been happening) existence, she also has to come to terms with the loss of her father. He was taken by the sickness which all of them fear. A sickness which leaves it victims gasping for breath and spotted with pitch black boils. This image of his grandfather haunts the final member of the family, Travis. Travis (played incredibly by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a normal teenage boy, all things considered. He’s curious, he spends time with his pet dog, and he sometimes questions his parents’ decisions. He’s adjusted to this life but something about losing his grandfather weighs on him and infects his dreams turning them into putrid and unsettling scenes of his own mortality.

Things become more complicated when a man forces his way into their home, through an ominous and alluring red door. The man is tied up and questioned by Paul and we find out the man’s name is Will (Christopher Abbott) and he was scouting for fresh water and food for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and child Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Paul begrudgingly believes Will and decides to bring them back to their homestead. Paul welcomes them into their the home but lays down the ground rules, the most important of which include that the red door is to remain locked unless it’s to go outside for the day and that no one goes out at night. Things are fine until strange occurrences start happening around them. As a result, everyone’s trust levels plummet and the anxiety has Travis’ dreams becoming more and more macabre each night.

I mention Travis so much because he is so focal to the film. We see almost everything through his eyes and what we see is so much beyond his control. He does his best to cope with the passing of his grandfather and the unfolding weirdness around him but the grief has left a scar on his brain. Even though death surrounds him he’s going through biological changes that make the idea of passing on such a foreign concept. Combine that with his attraction to Kim (the first woman he’s seen in a long time that isn’t his mother) and you have a ripe recipe for sexual awakening and the realization of one’s own mortality. Travis has only known the world around him and those in it. It’s hard but enjoyable for him to process a new group of people who are so different from him.

That tribalism and group mentality is what keeps the tension in the film so taught. We don’t know how much truth this family tells us but it’s clear that we don’t know everything. The distrust on both sides keeps these people in this house from ever truly coming together. It’s a direct microcosm of where we are as a society right now. We can never trust those who could help us in the worst of times because we’re afraid of a hidden agenda. The film looks at this as a path to ruin. One that could be avoided with words and understanding.

Trey Edward Shults is assured in his ability to cultivate these atmospheres of distrust, psychological unrest, and looming horror around every corner. This is his follow-up to 2016’s manic and poetic family drama Krisha. Both films were born out of the difficult relationship he had with his father. While Krisha decided to focus the struggle to forgive past sins, It Comes at Night is Shults wrestling with giving peace to his father’s passing and the scars that left on him emotionally with the added element of his relationship with a survivalist stepfather.

It Comes at Night sounds and looks great. Cinematographer Drew Daniels has an interestingly fluid camera that glides over super intimate scenes like a specter. The film is shot with a lot of mids and close-ups which makes the claustrophobia of the cabin that much tighter. Brian McOmber’s score settles into atmospheric and dissonant but occasionally pops out into these distinctly gothic sounding themes. It fits the movie so well it’s almost invisible.

It Comes at Night is an incredible take on the post-apocalyptic genre. It focuses its sights on not just the element of people’s behavior and the element of trust in tense situations, but their interiority. It’s easy for a film like this to get lost in the idea of a “hero” doing the “right thing” for the greater good, but the movie eschews all that by focusing that fear into a pinpoint. The world may be over but these people’s lives are not. They have to live with small apocalypses every day.

Wonder Woman

Guest Comic Review Written and Drawn by Emily Timm. View more of Emily Timm’s work here: http://emily-timm.tumblr.com/

She’ll Be That Girl Too: Wonder Woman Satisfies With A Little Something For Everyone:

Guest Written Review by Rivkah Cooke

What does it mean to be a physically and mentally superior female warrior in a world where a woman’s abilities are secondary to her appearance? Allan Heinberg (screenwriter) and Patty Jenkins (director) explore that question while taking us along on a visually captivating, action-packed journey in “Wonder Wonder”, the latest DC cinematic offering. It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway—I am one person who saw a movie and these are some of my early thoughts on the film. I’m influenced by my biases, experiences, moods, etc. and I am not a film reviewer so I don’t intend to tell you what this movie is, but rather what it was to me.

I’ll start with the basics. “Wonder Woman” is an origin story that starts with Diana (Gal Godot) growing up as the only child on Themyscira, the shrouded island that is home to the Amazons. There she trains as a warrior and is instructed in the Amazons’ calling to end wars with the help of the God Killer, a sword that has been destined to defeat Ares, the god of war. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the waters of Themyscira, Diana sees an opportunity to fulfill the destiny of her race. After the Amazons defeat the Germans chasing Steve and learn of his work as an American spy assigned to support the British during World War I, Diana sees an opportunity to fulfill the destiny of her race. She returns with Steve to our world, where British generals are preparing for the armistice while Germans are preparing a weapon that will bring about enough destruction to secure a victory for themselves. Diana makes her way to the front lines intent on killing Ares and bringing peace to the world.

Wonder Woman is everything. I don’t mean the movie— which is a highly entertaining and easily recommendable action film with heart, compelling characters, and an adequately epic final battle. Diana herself, the Princess of Themyscira, manages to be everything to this film. She is a fish-out-of-water providing comic relief when she attempts a high kick in a pencil skirt; an intelligent, brash woman who will not shrink back in a room full of high-ranking military officials; and a fierce warrior, living up to her Amazonian origins when she walks into machine gun fire armed with only her sword and shield (the ultimate game of bullets and bracelets). Even in her dealings with men she occupies a dual role. She is unfamiliar with the concept of marriage and can’t fathom why a man might think it untoward to sleep next to her and yet she is fully versed in Cleo’s twelve-volume treatise on pleasure and knows enough about the male ego to tease Steve Trevor by repeating the treatise’s conclusion that men are essential for procreation but not for pleasure. Later, when she gives Steve a chance to prove Cleo wrong, Diana wordlessly invitees him to stay the night with a seemingly practiced ease. Are we to assume that Cleo was comprehensive or that Diana has played the cat-and-mouse game on Paradise Island?

The embodiment of these roles in one person doesn’t seem forced, which I credit to the film’s willingness to linger on her early days on Themyscira. We understand something of the culture there and learn why these passionate warriors are champions of peace. We see how her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) sheltered Diana and presented her with a simplified view of the world, even on the night when she sets out into the world of men.

The Themyscira that we visit in this film is a magical place that earns its Paradise Island moniker. Their filming location in Italy evokes ancient Greece and the saturated colors of the landscape combined with a touch of fantasy (were the glowing, musical bathing pools ever in the comics?) support a sense of enchantment. The women themselves are right at home in the setting; the Amazons all speak and move with a purposeful intensity that speaks to the discipline and responsibility of a solider. The costume design speaks as well—their clothes appear to be purposeful, suitable to their active pursuits and yet beautiful. On a personal note, I was impressed with the hair styling for the black characters. Their hair was practical and I was never distracted with thoughts of how their hairdos could survive the sweat of a training session, much less a battle.

Wonder Woman’s dedication to her morals and single-minded focus on her goals are admirable but throughout the film I found myself questioning whether her character was relatable and aspirational. Her extreme naiveté about the source of evil and her cultural distance from modern, or even early 20th century, society were roadblocks for me—I struggled to see myself in her. I would argue that Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is the hero to which we can relate. His personality and worldview feel very modern and his flaws are recognizable and more or less sympathetic to American audiences. While Wonder Woman fights ferociously in a final battle replete with dazzling special effects, I contend that it is Steve Trevor’s relatively unassuming act of heroism that wrenches our hearts. He directly and immediately saves thousands of lives while the impact of Diana’s acts of heroism are real and significant, but intangible. Moreover, the film makes it unmistakably clear that Steve Trevor inspires Diana to finish her final battle and also to embrace a new mission based on a mature worldview. If the sword Diana wields is a god-killer then Steve Trevor is a hero-maker.

I may not have left the feeling inspired by Wonder Woman’s journey but there was no lack of compelling female characters that left me wanting more. Etta Candy, Steve Trevor’s secretary, is portrayed by Lucy Davis as equal parts spunk and smiles. I was impressed with Etta’s ability to be cheerfully defiant because unlike Wonder Woman, Etta is product of Edwardian society and so it is a bigger leap for her to point a sword at an attacker or nudge a male superior away from the telephone. Is it too much to hope for a sequel in which Etta has assembled The Holliday Girls, the group of college students who, in the early comics, are always on call to get Wonder Woman out of a pickle? On the topic of pickles, I must commend this movie for avoiding altogether the pun of her Etta Candy’s name. I can’t think of one scene in which she ate or even mentioned bonbons. Another exciting female character is Robin Wright’s Antiope, the Amazon general. I find it difficult to maintain interest during battles scenes but there is moment during a fight when Antiope leaps into the air and simultaneously fires three arrows that took my breath away. Anything I want to say about Robin Wright has been said more enthusiastically in a Hunter Harris’ piece for The Vulture, down to the suggestion that she succeed Daniel Craig as James Bond.

While I’m talking about female representation and some of the things that this film means to me as a woman, I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t ask why it is so important to have a woman’s perspective for this superhero movie as opposed to any other. I think that emphasizing female voices when there are movies with female leads strengthens the notion that women’s stories are for women, while a man’s story is naturally for everyone. It also suggests that movies without female leads aren’t responsible for portraying fully-realized female characters. I believe that the more we can look at films through the lens of people with different backgrounds, the more the representation of people with different backgrounds will improve in quantity and in depth.

I’d like to end with a request that you seek out some alternative perspectives on “Wonder Woman”. I recommend ‘Wonder Woman’ Trolls Its Male Killjoys With Poise And Wit (Matthew Jacobs on huffingtonpost.com) and ‘Wonder Woman’ is a beautiful reminder of what feminism has to offer women — and men (Alyssa Rosenberg on washingtonpost.com). Both authors see the film as effectively championing the feminist cause. For contrast, try Wonder Woman review – glass ceiling still intact as Gal Gadot reduced to weaponised Smurfette (Steve Rose for theguardian.com), which criticizes gender imbalances in the film.

War Machine


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

War Machine: A Failure to Communicate

Written Review by David Carter

Whether we like it or not, the “dream” of having a quality film screened in your home the same day as it’s released is fully realized. What seemed like a pipe dream is now quickly becoming the norm only 6 years after theater chains threatened to boycott the movie (or rather generation defining comedy classic) Tower Heist for having an on demand release the same day as theatrical. Netflix has been gobbling up and bankrolling low budget independent features for the past few years, many of which have been very good, Adam Sandler vehicles notwithstanding. While I take issue with Netflix’s complete disdain for allowing distribution and theatrical screenings or their practice of dumping these films and not giving them proper advertisement once they end up on their servers (If you ask me Amazons model has been handling this with aplomb), it’s nice to know that they have taste.

2017 marks the year where Netflix aims to start throwing their hat into the “prestige” category of films. Mid to big budget movies with casts so stacked you can practically see the star power bursting out at the seams. Scorsese inked a 100 million dollar deal to have his long-gestating The Irishman become a reality. Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja made waves at this year’s Cannes despite Netflix’s refusal to give into the traditionally mandated French theatrical release. Those films, however, aren’t dished up for public consumption quite yet. Netflix has decided to lead with the “based on true events” military satire, War Machine. A movie, that while sporting an amazing cast of characters and delightful (and movie carrying) performance from Brad Pitt, can’t seem to quite clear the hump in its transition from comedy to drama.

War Machine is based on writer and journalist Michael Hastings’ nonfiction book The Operators, about former General Stanley McChrystal, and his failed tenure as the man who would bring the conflict in Afghanistan to an end. Here, McChrystal is changed to McMahon and played with the comedic broadness of a slab of honey baked ham by Brad Pitt (who sounds and looks like he’s doing a George Clooney impression a la the Coen Brothers). McMahon is a machine. He runs 7 miles a day, eats one meal a day and only sleeps 4 hours a night. He has degrees and honors from Yale and Westpoint and most of all the men under his command would follow him to the ends of the earth. Who better to pull us out of one of the many pointless conflicts we were involved in back in 2009? He is in fact called in to cool the situation in Afghanistan with his crew of the ill-equipped but enthusiastic. After taking a tour of the country and being consulted by US officials,  McMahon decides that there’s nothing difficult about the situation, they just haven’t had the right man for the job until now. Couple this inflated sense of self with his men’s penchant for premature partying and a dash of journalism from Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy, who also narrates the entire film) and you have a powder keg ready to go off.

Unfortunately for War Machine, the script can’t seem to grasp how to structure its more serious and gut-punchy parts so that they feel like they’re a part of a whole piece. The movie clearly takes influence from The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short (whom War Machine shares producers with), Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket. However, for as good as the comedy is (I could honestly watch Brad Pitt make funny faces for 2 straight hours) War Machine fails to understand what makes the more serious commentary in those movies work in conjunction with satire. Dr. Strangelove understands that only showing the bloated powers at be is better than dwelling on the effects of nuclear fallout. Full Metal Jacket had a very dark undercurrent running through even the “funny” boot camp scenes. You’re set up for how the system grinds people into meat and the futility of war well before we go to Vietnam. Hell, The Big Short has the sense to have the characters realize and vocalize how messed up America’s financial infrastruce is well before the bottom falls out. It eases the audience into the sobering final act and postscript of that film. Instead, War Machine just jumps from the gleeful arrogance of these men straight to how their bad decisions only exasperate the problem. Sure it could be argued that this stark turn in tone is the point, but then you’re just doing a disservice to the serious subject matter of traumatized soldiers’ relationship with the blurred lines of non-hostile locals and hostile insurgents.  I think there’s a better way to weave this through-line throughout the whole feature.

What does work, however, is the comedy of that first hour or so. Actors getting to mug and play big is always a treat. While I pointed out the Brad Pitt carries the film, it should be noted that the supporting cast brings it the best they can as well, with special mention to Anthony Michael Hall playing the David Petraeus stand in Bob White. Meg Tilly works well with what she’s given as McMahon’s wife, struggling with Glen’s frequent absence from their marriage. Ben Kingsley (who’s always had great comedic chops) shows up as President Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan and plays the character with sharp disinterest in the crumbling world around him. Even Tilda Swinton shows up for what is essentially an extended cameo.

War Machine is Netflix’s foray into the world of mid to big budget movies, the film definitely stumbles but doesn’t fall flat on its face. It signals that they’re gonna swing for the fences and bring in talent just as well as the more established studios. Let’s hope that next time they take a few more passes at a script before they greenlight a project of this caliber.

Alien: Covenant


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

We Need to Talk about David: The Complex Character of Alien: Covenant

Written Review by David Carter

Very mild first act spoilers for Alien Covenant

You can’t always get what you want. An age-old proverb passed down to us on rolling stones. It’s a great lesson to take to heart in all aspects of life. We have desires and comforts we hunger to soothe our everyday unpleasantries. Usually, these wants are familiar. The familiar is so good and appealing to us because it’s easy. We already know why we like it so why not just have more of that? The problem with the familiar is that even if we think we want more of the same, we’ll ultimately be let down (usually) by how stale and used up the concept is that pulled us in the first place. That’s why the Alien Franchise stands as a testament to what you can do with a concept if you put truly unique visionaries behind each film. Each Alien film (I’m excluding the Alien vs Predator movies because I value your intelligence) is helmed by someone with a unique point of view on the Lovecraftian creature’s utility and what it means to the characters who square off against it. Ridley Scott’s nihilistic dread and distrust of faceless authority in Alien. James Cameron’s Vietnam War allegory in Alien$. The religious rebellion of the damned and unwanted (sometimes viewed as an AIDS allegory) against the devil and corporations in David Fincher’s Alien³. The distinctively French tone of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection and its focus on um incestual…motherhood? Alien Resurrection is a big mess. Either way, each film has gone out of its way to keep the formula fresh and recontextualize the Xenomorph as a symbol for its setting.

This is what makes Ridley Scott’s return to the franchise he helped rear so fascinating. When Prometheus came to theaters, people expected a pretty straightforward prequel that would give us the answer as to who or what the “Space Jockey” was with some classic Alien scares. What we got instead was an “At the Mountains of Madness” riff that explores faith, morality, purpose, and the “Ancient Astronauts” theory. The movie was, in the end, an interesting mess. Stunning visuals, set pieces, and creature design hindered by a half-baked script with minimally fleshed out ideas, clunky exposition and clunkier characters. However, one character managed to break out and become the true heart and mind of the film. The android David (Michael Fassbender, who to my knowledge has yet to give a bad performance in a movie) practically steals whatever scene he’s in and gets what I consider the most fleshed out character arc in the entire film. He’s a third generation creation in a movie about finding our creators. He’s curious, he’s cultured, he’s creative and he looks for beauty in things that would otherwise be considered unwanted. The humans aboard The Prometheus can’t feel that when they treat him like an appliance (contrary to what they believe) it hurts him. At the end of Prometheus, he is ripped apart by an Engineer (the giant humanoids who created humans) because it looks upon David as if he is an abomination, perhaps one to be feared.

Wisely this end point for David is where Ridley Scott and screenwriter John Logan (creator of the T.V. show Penny Dreadful. Another work that has the audience identify with misunderstood monsters) decide to use as their jumping off point for Alien: Covenant. A bleak movie about a Frankenstein’s monster not only becoming Victor Frankenstein himself but his rebellion against the flawed empathetically bankrupt species that made him by creating something they couldn’t even achieve with his own creation: Perfection.

Alien: Covenant is about colonists (all of which are couples) on their way to another planet to settle down. The Covenant holds 2000 passengers, 1000 embryos and 15 crew members including the android Walter (a nasally Michael Fassbender returning) who oversees day-to-day operations on the ship while everyone slumbers in hypersleep. After the ship is hit by a solar anomaly the crew is awakened. Well most of them anyway. The ship’s captain, Branson (a surprise cameo) is incinerated during the chaos, leaving the faith-driven Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge and the captain’s wife Daniels (Katherine Waterston) a widow. During the repair of their craft, Tennessee (a surprisingly great Danny McBride) picks up a ghostly transmission of someone humming “Country Roads”. When the crew traces the transmission, it turns out that it comes from a planet that is habitable beyond their wildest dreams. On top of that, it’s only a few weeks away. Much more ideal than the 7 years it would take get to their previous land of milk and honey. Against Daniels urging to stay on course, Oram and the rest of the crew decide to venture to parts unknown. When they get to the planet, things are immediately off. No animals or insects are heard or seen, cultivated crops are found, and the transmission they’ve hunted down comes from a giant alien ship with no one on it. Things go south quickly. Two crew members are infected with sinister spores that have hell beasts bursting from their backs and mouths. The creatures start making small work of the crew and their ship is blown up in the cacophony. It is only by the grace of a cloaked figure and their flare gun that the settlers are taken to safety in a “dire necropolis.” When the hood is lifted we see that it’s David. His hair is long and the roots are showing but his delight in having this crew here with him is slightly more obscured.

Once David is introduced the movie goes from cynical Alien rehash to an equally contemptuous meditation on the uselessness of faith, eugenics and human worth quicker than the alien’s vaguely defined gestation cycle. David has lost all faith and respect for the flesh that created him and looks at his doppelganger Walter with affection but subtle disappointment. Walter doesn’t have the same programming as David. He lacks the idiosyncrasies and the ability to create that makes David so “human” but he contains the compassion for humans that David has now given over to his new progeny. The interactions between these two characters are some of the most fascinating and strange put in a 100 million dollar movie in a long time. They’re as familial as they are erotically charged. This will maybe turn off some people but I think it’s important to David’s character. He’s a narcissist. Interacting with even a “lesser” version of himself causes him to be further infatuated with his own brilliance. What more could we expect from a being that names himself after one of the most famous works of art in existence and plays a selection from “Das Rheingold” (an opera notable as the soundtrack to eugenics) as his first song?

The movie feels as if Ridley Scott identifies with David. Not in his narcissism but in his distaste for the idea of being beholden to the thing that created him. Alien (and the knockout punch of Blade Runner) has been the defining film in the catalogue of a man who’s given us so many great ones. It feels like with Alien: Covenant he’s responding to the people who took umbrage with his drastically different take on the mythology in Prometheus. So he’s made a movie where he misanthropically slops Alien mythology on your tray like a disgruntled lunch lady. The pitch black consequences to every action in the movie echoes his criminally underrated film about consequences, The Counselor. Unfortunately, for all the praise I can heap on the film, there are problems that keep it squarely in the same ballpark as Prometheus.

For as great as all the David stuff is in the movie, Scott’s approach to cut off the nose to spite the face doesn’t work. While the bleak tone of Alien and Alien³ works to the movie’s advantage, the slasher tropes feel forced and detract from the grand ideas the movie wants to lay at our feet. Having your lead human characters be uninteresting to fulfill tropes isn’t a great way to have your audience root for what you want them to. Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston, and Danny McBride’s characters are fine but they don’t feel like they add much to David’s story. They feel like they’re mostly in another movie in fact. A movie where ten other bland dummies are there simply to be ground up into meat. A movie that has two final acts and both of them dull and overblown. A movie where the creators don’t quite understand that you can’t have a reveal play out somewhere between “a twist” and “high tension” because splitting the difference makes for an underwhelming and obvious result.

Alien: Covenant is a small but important step up from Prometheus. A step that fleshes out the most interesting and complex character in the series since Ripley, and expands on the ideas put out in Prometheus. It’s no longer about “why does humanity exist” but “should we even exist”.  I love Ridley Scott’s direction on these Alien prequels and hope the next (and final?) one puts its thrusters all into David’s story and drops the Alien indebtment and uses the creature how the prior five films and parts of Alien: Covenant did: As a tool to tell a larger more interesting story.

David Lynch: The Art Life


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

The Art Life: Unsculpted Clay

Written Review by David Carter

There are figures within art that are as enigmatic and mythical as the work they create. We hear fantastic stories of their exploits or watch them charm us in front of the camera. Some of these people can successfully make themselves a part of the art they create. Dan Harmon and Werner Herzog come to mind as people whose work and persona are not easily separated. There are those whose personalities and philosophies are intriguing and certainly influence the things they make but they themselves are not the focal point of these stories. Auteurs and personalities like Alfred Hitchcock and Alejandro Jodorowsky may occasionally have roles in front of the camera but the work isn’t really about them. David Lynch is a man who more readily fits into this latter category. A man with a distinctive speech pattern, unique philosophies and handful of apocryphal stories to add to his mythos. The work he makes is so recognizable and oft-copied that he even gets his own description in the term Lynchian, which can even extend all the way to certain shades of certain colors. His haircut is as recognizable as Hitchcock’s silhouette or Herzog’s speech affectations. It’s no wonder that people are so interested in the man behind the obscure yet oddly commercial artwork that litters our landscape.

David Lynch: The Art Life looks to dig into the man who sprung forth often imitated but never duplicated works like Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and Mulholland Drive. However, the movie decides to focus its gaze. Instead of being a film by film account like last year’s De Palma, it’s more of an intimate look at David Lynch from his childhood up until the point he starts shooting the seminal Eraserhead. It also focuses on his life and works as a visual artist (i.e. paintings, sculpture, photography) using it as frame and point of context for the work that would come later. David Lynch: The Art Life aims to strip Lynch from a being made of idiosyncrasies to someone who grew up with as “normal” of a childhood as anyone could hope for by having David Lynch (and only David Lynch ) speak to the audience directly. Unfortunately, the film feels beholden to a decidedly Lynchian atmosphere that feels at odds with the film’s wants of stripping down David Lynch and exploring his art outside of film.

David Lynch: The Art Life is a pretty straightforward doc. We follow David Lynch in his studio and workshop as he crafts pieces of art and occasionally his young daughter Lula will stumble into frame. He regales us with tales of his formative years while photographs and pieces of his art occasionally flash across screen as David Lynch’s music and its twangy low-key dread is layered underneath it all. The stories range from mundane, like ones about his childhood friends to surreal and sad like one involving David taking his disapproving father down to a dark dank basement to see his bizarre art experiments. It all feels as if it’s supposed to serve as a companion piece to help understand the more dense and obfuscated aspects of Lynch’s art, but unfortunately, it plays out like a half-baked tribute to his work.

The half-baked aspect comes from how little context we’re given for so much of what we are being shown. Dates are never given to the pieces as they breeze past us, so we have no idea at what point of his development these are from. We never see finished versions of the pieces he works on throughout the movie, and even if what he’s making is for himself or intended for exhibition. These may seem like nitpicks on a movie that wants to ruminate on the nature of “The Art Life” (a phrase David came up with as a teenager to describe the lifestyle of a full-time artist) and Lynch’s psyche, but not including them robs the viewer of so much texture and background that would have strengthened the films seemingly central goal of giving a throughline to the point he shifts to filmmaking.

It’s understandable that the filmmakers Jon Nguyen, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, and Rick Barnes wanted to make this movie a candid memoir that lets Lynch have the final word on his life, but as filmmakers, they failed to sculpt the clay they were given into something that reveals a larger truth about their subject. Maybe that’s the point and they want to keep a slight air of mystery and not offer that connective tissue to us, but if that’s the case, then we’re better served by just watching and examining the art the man has made and draw our own conclusions.