“Old” and “Snake Eyes” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.
Much like teenagers, some movies are late bloomers. “Joe Bell” is a case in point.
The titular character is played by Mark Wahlberg. He’s a macho, hard-nosed, sports-loving, prideful, hot-headed 45 year-old man. We first meet him on the road—literally walking along the side of it. Joe’s choice to not travel by car is a purposeful one. He decided to journey on foot from his hometown in Oregon to New York City and speak out wherever he can against bullying.
The reason for this adventure is his son, Jadin (Reid Miller), whom we also meet on the road. Jadin is gay and as revealed in flashback, was mercilessly bullied and harassed by his classmates. The flashback also reveals that while Joe Bell does love his son and would never actively bully him, he wasn’t the most supportive father either.
In present day as the two make their trek across the country, I have to call it like I see it: they’re unappealing. Joe is uptight and has a forceful, bull in a China shop approach when speaking to audiences about bullying—almost as if he wants to bully teens into not being bullies. The most joy he shows is when he discovers asparagus growing wild on the side of the road that he can roast that evening. Jadin is flamboyantly gay to an obnoxious degree, singing and dancing Lady Gaga songs in the middle of the road and acting like a limp wristed stereotype.
For the first 45 minutes of this 94 minute movie, the story comes across as superficial and the characters are shallow. Even the bully characters are prototypical jocks who corner Jadin in the locker room and there’s even a scene at a diner where Joe and Jadin walk out after hearing loudly spoken, on the nose, homophobic comments. It’s all so obvious and one-dimensional, made all the more noticeable by the fact that this is based on a true story. To say that the first half of “Joe Bell” goes for the low hanging fruit is an understatement. The fruit it goes after is already on the ground.
Then the late bloom happens. There’s an absolute bombshell introduced into the story and “Joe Bell” doesn’t just get good, it gets really, really good. It’s like all of a sudden the movie gets real depth. Characters get deeply explored, as does Joe’s relationship with the other members of his family, Lola (Connie Britton) and Joseph (Maxwell Jenkins). As “Joe Bell” moves into its third act, we’re introduced to Sheriff Westin (Gary Sinise) and in a touching scene, he is given more depth and back story in five minutes than Joe or Jadin got in 45 minutes.
Of the course the big question is why this movie starts off so weak but ends so incredibly strong. I wish I had an answer. The writing credits go to Diana Ossana &
Larry McMurtry, the same duo who won an Oscar for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain.” McMurtry I specifically admire as one of the best dramatists of human relationships of the twentieth century. His credits are mostly novels, but they include “Hud,” “The Last Picture Show,” Terms of Endearment,” and “Lonesome Dove,” all of which were turned into exceptionally high-quality visual entertainment. His hand is clearly in the second half of “Joe Bell.” If only it had a firmer grip on the first half, this could have been a great character drama close to “Hud.” However, when all is said and done, the first part of “Joe Bell” is worth wading through to experience the excellence that is on the other side. It really does get that good. Rent it.
If someone based on me was in “Old,” he could have helped out. At one point a character named Charles (Rufus Sewell) becomes madly obsessed with the name of the movie that Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando starred in together. None of the other characters can answer, but I knew immediately: It’s a pretty good Arthur Penn western from 1976 called “The Missouri Breaks,” co-starring a fresh-faced Randy Quaid. In movies like “Old,” where a group of people are thrust into a deadly situation, their hobbies or occupations often come into play. Charles is a doctor, another man named Jarin (Ken Leung) is a nurse, a woman named Prisca (Vicky Krieps) is a museum curator, and their backgrounds all have an impact on the plot. I can’t help but think that if one of the characters was a movie critic, things might have turned out differently.
Or maybe not, given the premise in which the aforementioned group is trapped on a beach that makes them age rapidly. It’s the kind of wild, high concept idea that has so many logical conceits that audiences will be divided into two camps. One will ignore all of the logical issues, go with the story, and either enjoy it or not depending on their taste. The other will get hung up on the details and not be able to enjoy “Old” because of them. If you watch this movie with one of these people, you’ll hear things like, “If hair and nails don’t grow because they are dead cells and only living cells grow and age on the beach, then why do dead bodies decompose so rapidly?” and “If Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierce) is such a famous rapper, then won’t it be a big deal if he goes missing?”
The thing is, they’re not wrong to ask these questions, which are perfectly valid and reasonable. For me personally, things like good storytelling, great performances, and brilliant visuals trump logistical plot issues. I’m able to not care about the reality of a story if it’s presented well, and “Old,” written for the screen based off a graphic novel and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is presented well. I also give it bonus points for featuring retribution against immoral sociopaths who violate the Nuremberg code—a timely plot element and something I hope to see soon in real life. Rent it.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Fans of “G.I. Joe” know going into “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” that the titular character’s biggest foe is Storm Shadow. As the title states, this is their origin story, in which a vengeful young man (Henry Golding) is taken in and trained in Japan by the clan of a man (Andrew Koji) whose life he saved from the Yakuza.
What I was not expecting was the return of one of my biggest foes: shaky cam. Oh how I loathe it! This was the scourge of action movies from the mid to late 2000s, ruining the fight scenes in otherwise fantastic blockbusters like “Batman Begins” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” I thought it was gone. The past ten years have been one of clearly filmed, well-staged fight scenes that give a sense of space and show of the choreography…until now. As if the story and special effects of “Snake Eyes” weren’t corny enough, the action scenes, particularly in the big battle in the third act, are a mess of noise and blurs. It’s a horrendous mind scramble of visual overload that manages to be incredibly underwhelming at the same time. I sincerely hope this is a one off and the shaky cam trend does not start again.
Perhaps the blah-ness of “Snake Eyes” is why Samara Weaving looks so bored playing Scarlett. I’ve seen her in enough movies to know what a fantastic, committed actress she is and what a joy she is to watch. She might have been able to elevate the material a little bit if she actually gave a damn about this movie, but she looks and acts like she’d rather be anywhere else and can’t wait to collect her paycheck and get away as soon as possible. I can’t blame her one bit. I also couldn’t wait to get away from “Snake Eyes” as soon as possible. Skip it.
“The Night House,” in which a widow begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets, starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Stacy Martin, and Vondie Curtis-Hall; “The Protégé,” a vengeful assassin movie starring Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, and Samuel L. Jackson; and “Injustice,” animated feature in which Batman must stop Superman’s tyrannical enforcement of peace at any cost, featuring the voice talent of Justin Hartley, Anson Mount, and Laura Bailey.
Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover and author of the novel “Takedown,” which is available on Amazon, iTunes, and more. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.