THE HERO

THE HERO AND THE MUMMY

Published On June 9, 2017 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

For the weekend of June 9-11, 2017, moviegoers face a wildly diverse pair of films that, in their differences in quality, intelligence, insight and general atmosphere—director Brett Haley’s excellent drama “The Hero,” starring Sam Elliott in a standout performance, and, sigh, yet another version of “The Mummy” that is only slightly good, is a matinee-price movie only, and which, really, is a big-budget special effects movie that didn’t really need to be made—recall a similar set of films that opened on the same weekend several weeks ago, the awful, mess of a film “The Fate of the Furious,” which didn’t need to be made, and the excellent, intelligent, class World War II drama “Their Finest” that, at mid-year, stands as the best film so far of 2017. For both weekends, filmgoers should be seeing the better films, but, alas, most people unfortunately the car crashes of “Furious,” and ignored “Their Finest,” to their detriment, and for this June weekend, most likely the masses will subject themselves to this latest mummy movie and ignore “The Hero,” again, to their detriment. However, moviegoers are hereby notified: This weekend, go see “The Hero.”

 

THE HERO

Starring Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, Katharine Ross
Directed by Brett Haley
Written by Marc Basch, Brett Haley
Produced by Houston King, Sam Bisbee, Erik Rommesmo
Cinematography by Rob Givens
Music by Keegan DeWitt
Edited by Brett Haley

The real movie to see this weekend, the weekend of June 9-11, 2017, is “The Hero,” a wonderfully perceptive, smart, beautifully-directed, written and acted drama in which Sam Elliott’s character, a 72-year-old veteran Western and cowboy movie actor named Lee Hayden, faces a cancer fight, difficulties with his family, loneliness, a lack of good roles, and a surprisingly, sudden wonderful relationship with a beautiful young woman—wonderfully portrayed by a very strong Laura Prepon, in one of her best roles so far in her career—and who generally has to deal with the variety of occurrences and incidences and bumps in the trail that everyone must face later in life. The film is a wonderful meditation on how life can change later in life, for everyone, no matter how rich, famous or handsome or beautiful one is—and how, no matter how old anyone is, and no matter what health condition one faces in life—there’s always a chance for retribution, for smoothing out past rough edges, for fixing past broken relationships, and for generally just accepting and settling in for what life throws at you, good or bad.

That’s some serious material, but the wise, strong and confident director, co-writer and editor Brett Haley knows precisely what he is doing, what he wants, and the messages that he wishes to send, along with co-write Marc Basch. And Haley and Basch handle these various messages, several of which are mentioned in the previous paragraph, with loving, delicate, caring and—in a great welcoming approach, compared to many other similar film dramas in recent years—a very positive, uplifting and encouraging manner. In a welcome change of pace, Haley and Basch present a drama without intense negativity, yelling, screaming, sarcasm, cynicism, hatred and people just simply crying, whining, whimpering and moaning to the point where everything dissolves into unwatchable darkness, despair and depression. Again, all of this dour, depressing suffering does not happen in “The Hero.” The film is smart enough to note that people can be caring, positive, encouraging, optimistic and there can be room for positivity and kindness and caring in life—even if you’re facing a cancer fight, even if you’re getting older and the acting roles are not quite pouring in like they used to be, even if you’re facing difficulties with your family, and even amid a romantic relationship with a big age gap!! What “The Hero” attempts to say is that there are ways to approach these challenges with the support of people in your life, with intelligence, with patience, and with basic, good life elements such as good communication (instead of screaming and yelling), good relationships, and good friendships.

Fortunately for Elliott’s character, Lee Hayden, Hayden does have these elements in his life, and part of the film’s exploration and story, plot and character development is watching the slightly-depressed and contemplative Hayden, 71 turning 72 in the movie, come to realize that, hey, life may not actually be so bad, and–hey, I suddenly have a relationship with a beautiful young woman (Prepon, looking not only startlingly, sensually beautiful, but also acting smart, peppy, energetic and just full of life, vim and vigor, providing a perfect balance to Hayden’s sullenness and quiet brooding); I have a great friend who looks after me and actually cares about me (Nick Offerman, also acting strongly in one of his best roles in his career, quietly lowering his natural comedic instincts and playing, basically, the role of a strong, good friend); I have an agent trying to look after me; and I’ve got this great, smart, beautiful daughter (a strong Krysten Ritter in a difficult role of an estranged daughter who harbors resentment and anger toward her dad for not being the best father, in her eyes) and an ex-wife who is still around and still cares (a wonderful and welcome Katharine Ross!).

Sometimes, in real life and in film, when a person takes a step back and analyzes life and looks for the positive, one has to realize that the positives must outweigh the negatives, that life needs to focus on those positives, and one has to take what positives there are and run with them—even during a cancer fight, even during a career lull. “The Hero” tends to remind people that things in fact may not always be as bad as they seem, that there is room for betterment and brighter days, and that people have to take a breath, step back, re-analyze, and then breath some more, take steps forward and live to fight another day. Hayden knows all of this, but it takes this combination of life elements to jolt him out of his rut. He knows he’s lucky to have connected with this beautiful woman, he knows he’s had a great life and people still enjoy his past work (Hayden’s acted in more than forty films, but is generally recognized for a stand-out, early performance in a film also called “The Hero,” but he also knows that he has to re-connect with his daughter and his wife. And, even amid his rut and lulls in life—there are still organizations who want to present him with awards! How many people actually even get career-recognition awards late in life? Hayden has to come to terms with where he is in life, and this exploration of these ups, downs and bumps are just continually, superbly portrayed by Elliott.

Elliott brings a slow-burn, quiet, dignified presence to his portrayal of Lee Hayden, wisely knowing to balance the despair of an actor late in life with the realities that his character has also lived a life of glamour, movies, riches and recognition that most people only literally dream about and never get a chance to experience. Hayden knows deep down that he’s fortunate, but he’s still a human being, and he still faces loneliness, despair, and a feeling that life’s passing him by. He wants to work, he wants a relationship, and he desperately wants to re-connect with his daughter and ex-wife. Yes, it takes a cancer diagnosis to wake up Hayden, but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. But Prepon’s smart character, Charlotte, is also smart enough to poke, prod and enliven Hayden enough to encourage him to take back his life, to take charge of his cancer fight, and, yes, to buy a few more years in life, as Hayden puts it. Why not buy a few more years, if it takes a cancer fight? Charlotte doesn’t quite say it in the same words, but her message to Hayden is clear: We are only here on this earth once, and there is no second chance. If you can buy a few more years, then, damn it, but a few more years.

That encouragement, positivity and forward-looking personality embodied by Charlotte is so positively, sharply and wonderfully conveyed by Prepon in her performance. Charlotte isn’t after money or riches—she really likes Hayden, despite his brooding and his situation. Charlotte instantly understands, connects with, and genuinely likes, Hayden. And watching these two actors traverse and step around the early difficulties, uncertainties and questions of any relationship, and deal with the added psychological aspects of a relationship with a bit of a gap in age—which really shouldn’t matter at all, for any adult—is always intelligent, insightful, perceptive and smart. Credit Haley and Basch with a script that is all of that and more—it’s a script full of basic human understanding, full of emotion, and full of sharp analyzing and discussions of basic human frailities, fractures, fallibity and concurrent quirks, idiosyncracies, hopes, desires and needs. Thus, the characters in “The Hero” simply end up being some of the more real and down-to-earth—and still entertaining and watchable—characters in recent films. They are the people you see everyday, even Hayden, because beneath the still-good-looks, fame, glory, life of an actor and, yes, that identifying deep, basso, classic voice, Hayden is, just like everyone else, a human being. His wants, needs and desires are the same as those of everyone else.

Together, Hayden, Charlotte, Offerman’s Jeremy, Ritter’s Lucy and Ross’s Valarie, a photographer, rally together around Hayden and come to understand this somewhat complex, somewhat simple, somewhat approachable, somewhat difficult man—who, in turns out, is just like everyone else with these varied emotions. It’s a beautiful, smart, hard-working cast working with a confident director, two smart scriptwriters and producers who provide enough support to enhance the movie with detailed, strong, beautiful production values. Scenes are authentically filmed in various Los Angeles locales—beautiful mountain homes, the beach, downtown comedy clubs, movie studio audition rooms, voice-over studio rooms, reception halls, even street-side food trucks—to provide a more reality-based, down-to-earth portrayal of the real, actual Los Angeles, not some fantasy-land, glossy, unreal take on the city that too many movies and television shows falsely display. This is reality, the movie says, but it’s also a reality that doesn’t have to be dark, gritty, depressing, cynical or negative—it’s a more positive, caring, kind-hearted—but still realistic—portrayal of the city and its people.

In the end, Elliott and Prepon have delivered stand-out performances—and have ably displayed one of the more endearing, lovable relationships on film in months, along with the relationships in “Their Finest”—and they end up anchoring a film that people should see, a film that touches on life’s very basic elements with dignity and class, and a film that teachers quite a few lessons about how to approach what life throws at you, how to fight despair with dignity, and how to find those positives, and how to live and fight another day. The excellent “The Hero” stands firmly and proudly as one of the best films so far in 2017, along with “Their Finest.”

 

THE MUMMY

Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe, Marwan Kenzari
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Story by Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtman, Jenny Lumet
Produced by Alex Kurtzman, Chris Morgan, Sean Daniel, Sarah Bradshaw
Cinematography by Ben Seresin
Music by Brian Tyler

Alas, the 2017 version of “The Mummy” is indeed surprisingly good—but it needs to be noted that it’s just slightly good, in a matinee-movie type of way. The movie is certainly not great, it’s not awful, but it just gets by being average to the extent that the production value, special effects and fast pacing prevent the film from wallowing in being bad or average. “The Mummy” is good in the sense that it’s a generally mindless, fast-paced, entertaining summer rainy day matinee popcorn movie with thrills and chills that can indeed result in a fun rainy afternoon at the movies. But days later, filmgoers could soon forget that they even saw the movie. Again, it’s just a fun popcorn movie.

One major problem is that any “mummy” movie released since 1999 will have to go up against Stephen Sommer’s excellent, instant-classic “The Mummy” from that year—and that film is simply the best mummy movie ever made. And, it should be noted, Sommers’ “The Mummy” is classic, above-average, intelligent, well-written, well-cast, visually breathtaking and always highly-memorable—qualities, alas, that cannot be said at quite the same level about this 2017 version.

One problem with the 2017 version is that the movie suffers from the same problem as dozens, if not hundreds, of modern-day big-budget, special-effects-laden spectacles—there’s just simply too much reliance on special effects, fast pacing, fast editing and constant, non-stop action, stunts, crashes, fights and explosions. Yes, all of that is fine, but, with any film, action and special effects always need to be carefully balanced with other elements, such as drama, tragedy, comedy, and, in the case of mummy movies, actual fights, suspense, chills and real horror. Sommers and his excellent cast and crew were all smart enough to include all of this, and much more, in their 1999 version. Somehow, the 2017 version seems to lack bits and pieces of these other elements—even though there are attempts to include all of this—and the 2017 movie simply needed to include more of this balance—the movie simply needs to actually slow down and catch its breath every now and then, and some additional depth at the dialogue, script and story end of things would have helped, too.

Thus, the 2017 version barrels along in an entertaining manner—again, it’s not bad and it’s fun—but there’s that pesky over-reliance on action, effects and spectacle that just tends to become cumbersome after a while. Additionally, the 2017 version tends to rely on that modern-day tendency of some action directors to make sure that their action is so in-your-face, at times it’s almost unwatchable. When blows and fists and punches and falls and fight choreography is choreographed to the point that nearly every punch and fall land like a nuclear explosion, when fights are edited so tightly and fast that any suggestion of grace and subtlety are erased, well, it all ends up being a blur of movement.

In fact, subtlety is what the 2017 version of “The Mummy” need more of—in pacing, timing, story and character development and construction, and, again, in the action and special effects sequences. Again, Sommers brought a quite dignified, patient, classy, elegant and subtle approach to the action and special effects sequences of this 1999 original (and to a lesser, but still present, extent in the sequel “The Mummy Returns,” which is also better than the 2017 version!) that is sorely missing and lacking in the 2017 version.

Cruise plays a somewhat unbelievable modern-day military renegade rebel fortune hunter rogue whose main purpose in life is, it appears, to illegally steal artifacts and sell them on the black market—despite orders from military officials to move on. In an incredibly unbelievable sequence early in the film, Cruise and his partner call in a military strike—an actual, modern-day military strike—simply because they screwed up a plan to steal ancient artifacts. And the strike actually occurs. And a military leader actually doesn’t punish Cruise and his accomplice—also horrendously unbelievable, even with a straining suspension of disbelief for a movie. Cruise escapes punishment because the military strike uncovers an ancient tomb that uncovers a huge historical archeological find, which leads, of course, to unearthing a most angered and unpleasant mummy. The mummy invokes a curse on Cruise—perhaps in exchange for his character escaping punishment from the military—and from then on, it’s a chase between stopping and killing the mummy, escaping the mummy, trying to kill the mummy’s army of the dead, and trying to escape the curse inflicted on Cruise’s character, Nick Morton.

This sounds like it could be awful, like moviegoers could be cursed, but Kurtzman and the scriptwriters somehow manage to make it all entertaining—again, on just a slightly-good level. The action, fight and stunt sequences are entertaining, and Sofia Boutella as the mummy, actually an ancient princess named Ahmanet, who is loosely based on Egyptian goddess Amunet, is stunning in her beauty and presence. She makes the mummy somehow sexual, sensual, alluring—and equally scary, frightening and creepy, allowing for a supernatural villain that is captivating on several conflicting, entertaining levels. And the writers did include an interesting backstory to fill out the modern-day chase, action and fight sequences.

Another additional positive aspect of the movie is the presence of Annabelle Wallis as Jennifer, a tough, independent, smart—and beautiful—archeologist who has an additional backstory story with Morton and who has to be the smart scientist against Morton’s rogue rebel thief. Wallis ably balances her stunning beauty and sensuality—she is beautiful—with her smarts, insight and scientific mind as an archeologist to also present some conflicting emotions in her character. Wallis’ character, yes, could remind moviegoers of Rachel Weisz’s wonderful archeologist and scientist character in Sommers’ mummy movies. However, Cruise and Morton, alas, will not remind or suggest to anyone Brendan Fraser or Fraser’s wonderfully classic Rick O’Connell, a great, likeable, fun, funny and appropriately understated macho adventurer character. Cruise simply just does not have the presence, charisma, physical dexterity or even acting abilities of Fraser, who owned the role of Rick O’Connell much like Harrison Ford owned Indiana Jones.

Again, even in characterizations, characters and acting, the 2017 version cannot come anywhere near the levels achieved in all of these areas in the 1999 film. Boutella and Wallis provide some much-needed presence in “The Mummy,” and the action sequences and special effects are all state-of-the-art, but the film still remains a diverting, forgettable rainy day popcorn movie. Do not pay full price, do not pay for the rip-off 3D, and do not pay for Imax for this 2017 mummy movie. Wait for a rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and head out to see this movie at a matinee.

For some reason, Tom Cruise, director Alex Kurtzman and writers David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman thought that a new version of “The Mummy” would be a good film for the summer of 2017. It’s not—filmgoers simply don’t need another mummy movie, and there are so many hundreds of better horror, supernatural, fantasy, science fiction and suspense films that could be made. The 2017 mummy movie joins a long list of tired, cliched, unneeded horror re-makes in recent years and decades that have brought absolutely nothing new to the horror and supernatural genres. There have been absolutely zero needs—none—for the awful, generally terrible remakes of “The Omen,” “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Wax Museum,” “Carrie” and many other horror, supernatural and horror classics, including scores of awful, unneeded vampire, zombie, wolfman, invisible man and Frankenstein films. Studios, producers, directors and writers simply need to move on from these titles and franchises and let them all rest in peace, or whatever level of restless un-peace that they reside in, and move on to new, original, fresh sources, stories and movies.

And, for everyone’s sake, for the foreseeable future, once and for all, please just let these poor cinematic mummies rest in peace for several more centuries.

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