Taylor Swift’s Biggest Songs Ranked by Their Bridges

taylor swift

I was thinking about Taylor Swift today for no particular reason. Just kidding, I think about her all the time. I even wrote a whole play about her. And before you say anything: Yes, I do agree that Ms. Swift’s public persona is as problematic as it is controversial, but let’s all be honest, the woman can write a fucking song. She might be off hiding in suitcases trying to lay low, but you know that her return single once this suspiciously timed period of hibernation is over is going to be a banger.

Now, everyone who knows anything about Taylor Swift knows that the two most delightful elements of her songwriting are her signature T-Drop (TM), and her bridges. For those who don’t know what a bridge is, Wikipedia defines it as a “contrasting section that prepares for the return of the material section”. It’s basically that part near the end of the song in which instead of singing a third (or fourth) verse, the artist chooses to sing something melodically different, before going into the final chorus. At least that’s how Taylor uses it.

So, I was thinking about Taylor Swift’s bridges, and because I’m a silly person I started debating with myself about which were the most iconic bridges in her career. Pitting all of the bridges she’s ever written (that we know of) against each other was a task too herculean for this blog, so I decided to look up the top ten Taylor Swift songs according to the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and rank them based on their bridges. The criteria I used were: thematic value, musical inventiveness, how essential they are to making the song a good choice for karaoke, and what does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge.

So, here we go…

10. Shake It Off

My ex man brought his new girlfriend
She’s like, “oh my God”- I’m just gonna shake
And to the fella over there with the hella good hair
Won’t you come on over baby, we can shake, shake shake… 

Is “Shake It Off” a good song? It’s one of those questions humanity will probably never answer. One minute you go “this is actually a pretty fun song”, and then you’re like “hell no.” There’s a lot of good stuff in the song if you ask me, but the bridge is not one of them. The only thing that keeps Taylor’s attempt at rapping from being a complete disaster is that it is so dorky you are willing to let her believe she’s in on the joke (she’s probably not).
What does Taylor scream at the end of the verse? She doesn’t say anything, she just vocalizes something like “woo-oooh-ooh-aah”
Bonus points: 
The “rapping” is bad, but the vocalizing that closes the bridge is one of the best moments in the song. I once heard a cover of the song that didn’t do the vocalizing and I got so angry I’m still not over it.

9. We Are Never Getting Back Together

I used to think that we were forever ever
And I used to say, “Never say never…”
Uggg… so he calls me up and he’s like, “I still love you, “
And I’m like… “I just… I mean this is exhausting, you know, like,
We are never getting back together. Like, ever”

This is the rare Taylor Swift song that I don’t like at all, and so it pains me to not be able to rank it last. It doesn’t really have to do with anything the song does particularly well, but rather with how horrendous the rap section of “Shake It Off” is. As far this bridge goes, the whole bit where Taylor stops singing to tell us about how her ex called her is the biggest offender.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? 
Nooo!
Bonus Points: The part of the bridge that is actually sung is more melodically pleasing than any of the verses or the chorus, so there’s that. And I guess the “no!” at the end is a nice touch.

8. Today Was a Fairytale

Time slows down whenever you’re around
I can feel my heart
It’s beating in my chest
Did you feel it?
I can’t put this down

I was surprised to learn this song was as successful as it was. This bridge is pretty basic, it’s quite long, and doesn’t live up to the usual Taylor standard (especially since she wrote some of her best bridges in the early stages of her career). At least there’s no rapping or speaking parts, or fake phone calls or none of that nonsense.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? This was before she decided to end all her bridges with screams. She sings the last “down” very softly, but it’s long and it serves basically the same purpose as her later screams.
Bonus points: The little girl in the video is pretty cute, though I’m not sold on the boy.

7. Mine

And I remember that fight, two-thirty a.m.
‘Cause everything was slipping right out of our hands
I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street

I like this song quite a bit, but this feels like a little bit of a half-assed bridge, and especially if you consider some of the gems in that album (like totally amazing bridge in “The Story of Us”). The bridge is very short and uneventful, and it relegates all the heavy lifting to the pre-chorus that follows.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? She doesn’t, all the screaming is reserved for the pre-chorus!
Bonus Points: I think I already overestimated this bridge based on how much I like the song around it.

6. Bad Blood (featuring Kendrick Lamar)

Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes
You say sorry just for show
You live like that, you live with ghosts
…If you love like that… Blood runs cold!

I will never not think that it’s super weird that Kendrick Lamar collaborated on a Taylor Swift song. They seem like two completely different kinds of artists. Kendrick is obviously not putting all of his talent into these verses, so I’ve always preferred the album version. All of that doesn’t really matter because the bridge is the same in both. It’s a pretty solid, if not particularly exciting bridge… until that last part. That last “blood runs cold” sung at the top of her lungs is the kind of thing you can’t help but sing along with.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? “blood runs cold”, duh. 
Bonus Points: 
In the music video, the bridge coincides with the appearance of Mariska Hargitay, and I always find it funny that Taylor decided to put her in the video.

5. I Knew Your Were Trouble

And the saddest fear comes creeping in
That you never loved me or her, or anyone, or anything… 

Taylor’s experiment with dubstep is surprisingly successful given how half-assed her attempts at hip-hop have been. This bridge is by no means the most memorable part of the song (I always struggle to remember it), and it’s very brief, but it has a very different tone to the rest of the song. Everything is suddenly dark and sad for a moment. If we’re going by the Wikipedia definition of trying to do a “contrasting section”, then this one doe sits job.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? Yeeaaaah
Bonus Points: I find the way in which the scream at the end is incorporated into the incoming chorus to be a really nice touch.

4. Wildest Dreams

You see me in hindsight
Tangled up with you all night
Burn it down
Some day when you leave me
I bet these memories hunt you around

Wow, I did not expect this song to rank this high. I suppose Taylor’s better bridges are in the songs that didn’t become huge hits. In any case… this bridge isn’t necessarily masterful, but it is quite essential to its song, and I have to give it credit for that. “Wildest Dreams” is such a slow and dreamy song that the little jolt of energy that comes with this bridge is very much appreciated and keeps the song from becoming too calming.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? The scream is replaced by an echo-y voice that says “follow you around”, which is appropriate given the dreaminess of the song.
Bonus Points: Out of all the songs in 1989, I did not expect this one to become one of the biggest hits in the album.

3. You Belong with Me

Oh, I remember you drivin’ to my house in the middle of the night
I’m the one who makes you laugh
When you know you’re about to cry
And I know your favorite songs
And you tell me about your dreams
I think I know where you belong
I think I know it’s with me

If we’re going by Karaoke rules, you can’t do much better than this bridge. It’s simply the most emotionally satisfying part to sing. It’s particularly appreciated because by the time you get to it you’re probably losing some of your crowd, and you can absolutely get them back by being super dramatic.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? Her “meee” is more of a lament than a scream, but very nice nonetheless.
Bonus points: There’s a change of rhythm, in which the song really kicks down on the ones and the threes (I think?) that really benefits the structure of the song. It makes the softness with which the last chorus starts feel more significant.

2. Blank Space

Boys only want love if it’s torture
Don’t say I didn’t say I didn’t warn you

It’s a simple line repeated a bunch of times, but it’s weirdly effective. It’s something she wrote, but doesn’t it feel kind of like something you’ve heard your whole life? Like a saying, or an ancestral piece of wisdom? It’s also the most iconic part of the song. Ok, “baby I’m a nightmare dressed like a day-dream” is probably the most iconic part of the song, but this bridge is definitely the most fun. This was a very serious contender for the number one spot.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? Don’t say I didn’t say I didn’t WARN YAAAAAA
Bonus Points: 
If you thought the scream from bridge into chorus in “Bad Blood” was gonna make you sing, well, this one’s even more effective.

1. Love Story

I got tired of waiting
Wondering if you were ever coming around
My faith in you was fading
When I met you on the outskirts of town

And I said

“Romeo save me, I’ve been feeling so alone
I keep waiting for you but you never come
Is this in my head? I don’t know what to think”

He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said

The absolute pinnacle of Taylor Swift’s bridges and there’s simply no question about it. Not only does it precede the most memorable T-Drop (TM) of all time, the emotional punch of the whole song revolves around it. The whole concept of the song hinges on our familiarity with the Romeo and Juliet story and its tragic end. The bridge here is the most melancholy part of the song, dropping the upbeat drums and relying musically on lone guitar strums. It sets us up for the young lovers’ ultimate tragedy, or so we think… It actually sets the stage for the song to build up to the apotheosis of the final chorus.
What does Taylor scream at the end of the bridge? There’s no time for singing, this girl can’t lose her momentum, she’s gotta run right into the next section of the song.
Bonus Points: I absolutely love the way she sings “my faith in you was FAE-ding”.

A Day at the Races: A Review of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Logan Lucky’

logan lucky

We all knew Steven Soderbergh’s supposed retirement from filmmaking wouldn’t last forever. Since he announced he was done directing movies in 2013, Soderbergh directed two whole seasons of prestige medical drama The Knick, and after only four years, he’s back directing a theatrical feature. Logan Lucky follows a group of working class West Virginians who hatch a plot to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the day of the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 (a.k.a. the biggest race of the year). It’s a heist movie set in the Appalachian heartland, or as the movie winkingly puts it, “Ocean’s 7/11.” What is so special about this story that made Soderbergh decide to end his retirement. It’s hard to tell. But perhaps Soderbergh’s return has less to do with the movie itself then the way it was made.

In an interview with GQSoderbergh talks about how this movie could open the doors toward a revitalized system designed to produce and distribute mid-budget quality movies. You know, the kind that used to get made by Hollywood studios before they decided to cater to thirteen year old boys and abandoned the idea of producing any movies that didn’t have to do with superheroes or a galaxy far far away. Had it been made in the seventies, eighties, or nineties, Logan Lucky would have been released by a studio. Case in point, Soderbergh released the high-class forefather of his latest movie, Ocean’s Eleven, in 2001. And that movie was financed and released by Warner Bros., a studio that recently announced it was uninterested in producing any non-franchise movies unless they were directed by Clint Eastwood or Christopher Nolan.

Unlike Eastwood and Nolan, most directors are not the exception to the studios’ new rule. Not even Soderbergh, whose retirement was (at least partially) sparked by Hollywood’s resistance toward financing mid-budget movies and fostering directorial talent. He financed Logan Lucky independently, by selling foreign distribution, home video, and streaming rights for the movie in advance and used that money to actually shoot the movie. Now he’s releasing it to 3,000 theaters, and having spent half of what a studio would have spent on a movie of this size, he’s hoping to make a profit. Not only that, but if Logan Lucky is successful, then it might signal the way forward for more movies of its kind to get made. Logan Lucky might well become the brave pioneer that signals the way forward toward a new way of making movies in the United States, but is it any good?

The answer is “yeah, sure”. The thing is, Soderbergh is the kind of filmmaker who can take something mediocre and turn it into something good. Not that the screenplay for Logan Lucky is bad per se, but it didn’t strike me as particularly inspired. Soderbergh’s filmmaking, however, is. He is the kind of director who would thrive under the studio system of classic Hollywood. This is kind of ironic, given the stance he’s taken against contemporary Hollywood studios, but while Soderbergh might be opposed to the idea of directing a bland superhero romp, he would have a blast taking a schlocky script and turning it into an idiosyncratic programmer, elevating scripts the same way classic directors like Nicholas Ray and Howard Hawks did when they were working for the big studios.

Soderbergh is a stylish director, but he is also something more. Many directors have style, what Soderbergh has is a deep understanding of the way in which the formal elements of a movie are an essential part of the filmmaking process. Style isn’t superfluous. A movie is its style. This shows in practically all of Soderbergh’s movies. In the way he lights his scenes (playing with color and shadows) or the way he edits (with a particular rhythm that is both relaxed and propulsive). Consider, for example, the way he frames his characters. This might seem obvious, but a movie screen is a frame that works pretty much in the same way as a picture frame. What is and isn’t in the frame is important, because it’s what we can and cannot see.

Many times throughout Logan Lucky, and throughout his career in general, Soderbergh places the camera so that we can see more than one person in the frame. Sometimes, he goes as far as to place the camera so that we can see people’s entire bodies in the frame. This used to be very common back in the day, but is almost unheard of now. It’s hard to see a full body in the frame even in musicals and action sequences. Most movies today just shoot a scene from a bunch of different angles, then put the scene together cutting from one angle to another. This kind of filmmaking usually results in over-edited scenes in which framing and cutting between one shot and the next becomes superfluous. It doesn’t signify anything.

That’s not what Soderbergh does. He is deliberate. Every shot is carefully composed, every cut to a different angle or a different scene signifies something. And just to be clear, it’s not that every cut needs to reveal a deep existential truth, that would be overwhelming, it’s that editing, framing, blocking, and lighting are all essential filmmaking tools that can be used to express things, and so many filmmakers don’t even think of using them. This begs the question: do studio movies have nothing to say because they’re poorly made, or are studio movies poorly made because they have nothing to say? But that’s a whole different conversation.

In fact, we seem to have taken a detour into a conversation that has little to do with the movie at hand. This whole rant about the tools of filmmaking was meant to illustrate the ways in which Logan Lucky feels like the kind of movie that could be made by a studio, and is so much better than what they churn out. It’s not a particularly deep movie. Like I said, I don’t think the screenplay is particularly great, but it’s a very, very well made movie. It is designed to entertain, but that doesn’t mean the filmmaking is put to the side and not taken seriously. This movie doesn’t want to be “serious” or “important”, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t strive to be good.

So let’s talk abut the less good parts of the movie. The screenplay, written by Rebecca Blunt is probably better than I’ve made it seem so far. It’s not reinventing the wheel or anything, but it’s not trying to. It’s a solid heist plot not unlike the many solid heist plots that we’ve seen in the past. The twist, of course, is the setting, and that’s where the best and worst parts of the script come into prominence. On the one hand, Appalachia hasn’t been a particularly popular setting for movies in recent years, and when it does appear, Appalachian characters are usually gross criminals or dim-witted hillbillies. And that’s the tricky part, even well-intentioned portrayals of the area can end up reinforcing stereotypes, feeling like Hollywood is looking down at “simpler folk.”

The good news on this front is that Logan Lucky‘s portrayal of working class life is complex. The two main characters in the film, the Logan brothers (played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver), talk with thick southern accents, but are actually quite smart (at least smart enough to pull off a very complicated heist). There are also other characters in the movie with thick southern accents, who are very dumb. This is West Virginia, so everybody has an accent. What the movie is trying to say is that groups of people aren’t monolithic, that differences and complexities exist everywhere. And that’s always a good place to start.

But talking about accents, it’s not really how the characters speak, but what they say that put me off. The script is very much in love with the idea of having all these people speak with thick accents. For most of the time, it feels like Blunt is trying to recreate the kind of ornate dialogue that you would find in a Coen Brothers movie, but that sense of humor is hard to replicate (even the Coens fail at it on occasion), and thus the dialogue feels mostly overwritten. I have spent virtually no time in that area of the country, but the way people talked in this movie felt more like the platonic idea of how people in Appalachia talk rather than how people in Appalachia actually talk.

Like all tools of filmmaking, stylized dialogue can enhance a movie in the right hands. It just doesn’t seem to be working here. Part of it is the casting. Tatum and Driver are both terrific actors, but it’s hard to buy these two Hollywood big-shots as down-on-their-luck West Virginians. The colorful dialogue doesn’t help. They sound like sketch comedians trying to put on a Southern accent. Not to mention Daniel Craig, who tries his best to disappear into the role, but can’t shake off his stardom. He’s freaking James Bond. You can’t go much further away from Appalachia than James Bond. Then there’s Seth McFarland who plays a completely extraneous British character for some reason, but the less said about him the better.

Seeing big movie stars pull off a heist worked perfectly in Ocean’s Eleven because those characters fancied themselves cool movie stars (Julia Roberts even attempts plays herself in the sequel), and given the circumstances, I think an attempt at a little bit more authenticity would have worked better for Logan Lucky. Case in point, the best performances in the movie belong to Riley Keough, who is wonderful as the quiet but fierce Logan sister, and Dwight Yoakam, who is very funny as a foolish prison warden. Keough is the granddaughter of Elvis (who is pretty much the most famous hillbilly that ever lived), Yoakam is a country musician. They feel right at home.

Yet even when the performances don’t feel quite as natural as one would want, there is a lot of good stuff and care in the way these big actors play their characters. Driver, for example; while he struggles to pull off the comedic dialogue, he invests his character with a stoic melancholy that place him right in the sweet-spot between heartfelt and cartoonish. That sort of balance extends to the rest of the movie, which is trying to subvert stereotypes about poor white people by being as matter-of-fact in its depictions as possible. The movie features characters who play horseshoes using toilet seats, and a main character takes part in a child’s beauty pageant. These things are just part of life.

Steven Soderbergh seems to have entered a fascinating, if complicated, phase of his career as far as the politics of his movies are concerned. He seems to be interested in positive and empathic visions of America. He didn’t direct, but he did shoot, edit, and produce Magic Mike XXLwhich is both one of the best movies of this decade and one of the most beautifully utopic films ever made. In Logan Lucky he seems to attempt something similar. He presents characters who have fallen in hard times (Tatum’s character loses his job due to a “pre-existing condition”), he is honest about their struggles, but he feels infinite warmth and empathy toward them.

Channing Tatum seems to be fit right at the center of this quest, playing characters who embody true kindness and selflessness. It’s hard to say this about a movie in which the heroes are trying to pull off a massive robbery, but the motives of the characters aren’t strictly selfish. And the way Tatum’s character behaves after they pull off the job (and that’s not a spoiler because of course they pull it off) is quite generous. It’s still contradictory, but weirdly humane. Soderbergh seems to be at a very humanistic place in his career. Even if the utopic visions of this movie aren’t quite as clear and focused as we’d wish them to be, it might be worth taking a peek into Soderbergh’s mind. We are living in dark and scary times, any suggestion of how to achieve kindness and humanity in America might help.

A Privileged Man: A Review of the Safdie Brothers’ ‘Good Time’

Abacus-16

Good Time is such a propulsive, lean, and tense movie it’s easy to imagine some dismissing it as an example of style over substance filmmaking. The plot unfolds over night, and Robert Pattinson stars a lowlife who makes a series of questionable decisions while trying to help his mentally challenged brother. The movie is a thrill ride. Hand-held cameras keep us close to the characters’ faces, rapid fire editing keeps the plot moving forward, and through upbeat electronic music, the soundtrack does the same. But pay attention to the details, and you’ll find this is a much more thoughtful movie than it initially appears. Pattinson’s character isn’t just a guy who’s trying to get out of trouble. He is imbued with a kind of white male privilege that motivates even a lower class hoodlum from Queens to stomp over and ruin the lives of whoever crosses his path in order to get what he wants. It’s this undercurrent of thematic heft, the thoughtful observation of who this character is, and the attention to detail that elevate the shiny surface and make this one of the best movies of the year.

Not that the shiny surface needed much elevation per se. It’s a testament to the filmmaking talent of directors Josh and Benny Safdie that a thematically hollow but similarly propulsive version of this movie could still be considered a triumph. But then again, the Safdies are not that kind of filmmakers. They seem to be committed to making every moment of run time count. The movie is incredibly lean and heavily detailed at the same time. Part of how this is achieved is by getting rid of any aspect of the story that could be expendable, and focusing on the immediacy of the main character’s journey. In an interview at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the brothers (and co-writer Ronald Bronstein) revealed that they had crafted a very extensive backstory, sketching what had happened to the characters from the time they were children up to moment before the movie begins. None of that backstory is in the movie.

This is a good thing. Once you hear the filmmakers give background on the relationship between Connie Nikas (Pattinson’s character) and his brother Nick (played by director Benny Safdie), you understand certain details of how exactly Connie comes to the point where he is willing to do all the desperate things he does throughout the movie. But we don’t need it. Knowing that backstory supplies superficial information, what we see on screen is a visceral and truthful relationship. A scene in which Connie sits down and opens up about why he’s doing what he’s doing would be beside the point. We don’t need to hear about his commitment and desperation, we see it all on screen. In the way the Safdies stick to his merciless point of view, and in Pattinson, who delivers a career-best performance in the role.

It is only appropriate, then, to describe Good Time as a well observed movie. We tend to refer to slow character studies and mood pieces as “well observed”, one of the achievements of this movie is how it opens up glimpses into its characters and their world while keeping the plot moving forward at full speed. This is a movie that knows what it’s talking about. The Safdies are native New Yorkers, and nobody would be fooled in believing otherwise after watching this movie. This is the kind of New York movie we get very seldom. It is not set in Manhattan high-rises or Brooklyn brownstones. This story sticks close to the ground, running through the streets of the outer boroughs (mostly Queens). It’s trafficking in the kind of realism you can’t just stumble upon. It’s such a New York movie, a Cellino and Barnes commercial makes an appearance.

This extends to the characters. A lot of them just come in and out of the movie, but the Safdies make sure we know these people have real lives outside the plot. This isn’t achieved through exposition, but through action. How a character says a line, how they move, even details about where they live speak volumes. And at the center of the movie, of course, exists the one character who pierces right through all these characters’ lives. Connie’s increasingly poor decisions start with a bank robbery. To pull this robbery off, he puts on a rubber mask that makes him look like a distorted black man. A telling disguise that reveals volumes about how the character relates to his own identity.

Connie Nikas is an able-bodied straight white man. This means that despite belonging at the bottom of the economic barrel and looking like a sleazebag, he can still access a certain amount of privilege that has trickled down from the top just because of who he is. Most of the characters he encounters can’t access this privilege. Some of them are black, some of them are old, some are women. His brother, as said before, is mentally challenged. The most honest thing about the movie’s treatment of Connie’s situation, however, is that Connie is entirely willing to use whatever ounce of privilege he has left in order to get what he wants. Even if it means destroying other people’s lives.

It is unclear how aware Connie is of the privilege that allows him to repeatedly avoid his own downfall. There is no denying, however, that his actions are often horrifyingly selfish. At one point he impersonates a security guard, and despite presenting himself as the only witness of a particularly fishy situation, he gets away with it. The cops take his word as face value. Do they believe him because he’s white? There is a slight level of ambiguity, but it’s telling that the only characters who are detained during that scene are black. In more than one occasion he hustles his way into black people’s homes, eating their food, drinking their alcohol, and making use of whatever item he needs in the moment. It’s a particularly masculine kind of privilege. He doesn’t seem to have any empathy or respect for the people around him. He’s come to believe he can get whatever he wants, he just needs to find a way to get it.

It wouldn’t be difficult to make a meta-filmic read of the film in which Connie fancies himself the protagonist of his own movie. His initial plan to rob a bank is, after all, the kind of solution that is far more prevalent in movies than in real life. He also has his brother as a moral justification. He’s not doing this all for himself. Just like Pacino robbed the bank for his lover in Dog Day Afternoon, so he seems to be doing it all for his brothers. Connie’s idea of what is good for his brother is obviously warped. He might be smart enough to selfishly get out of trouble, but he isn’t thoughtful. He is the kind of character that in the past has been portrayed in either too sympathetic or too villainous fashion. Rarely does the portrayal fall in such a perfectly amoral place.

Whether Connie finds redemption, or whether he deserves it, is one of the questions that linger after the movie is over. After all, a working class bum such as him can only push his luck so far. The movie ends on a weirdly tender note, that shows a kind of sentimentality that was absent for most of the movie. It seemed out of place initially, but on further reflection, opens up a series of questions about these brothers, their actions, and their humanity. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling the movie, but it’s telling that we never get to see Connie’s ultimate sacrifice, leaving his actions ambiguous. It’s also telling to think of where we last see his brother, what he’s doing, and who surrounds him. That conversation might have to wait for a later time. For now, I don’t have much else to say, other than that Good Time is one hell of a movie.

Nightmare Beach: Dunkirk is a turning point for Christopher Nolan, flaws and all

dunkirk

Christopher Nolan, thanks to the massive success of movies like The Dark Knight and Inception, has become one of the few Hollywood directors with enough cache to do whatever they want. There is a small army of Nolan fanatics out there who will attack any film critic who gives their favorite director a bad review, but there is no doubt that the appeal of his movies extends beyond these obsessives. Regular people pay good money to see the new Christopher Nolan movies. He’s become a brand; his movies, an event. The brand is recognizable to anyone who’s seen his work: complicated narratives (usually science fiction) in which a man (always a man) tries to solve a puzzle in order to find deliverance. With his latest movie, Dunkirk, Nolan seems to be stepping into a decisively different direction from his previous work. It’s not a huge departure, but Dunkirk is different enough from the template he set for himself to suggest this might be the beginning of a new phase in Nolan’s career. A phase that promises some very exciting filmmaking, finding a way to work around some of the director’s weaknesses, while others persist. For there is no director more seemingly meticulous, and yet so effectively sloppy as Christopher Nolan.

Unlike most of Nolan’s previous work, Dunkirk is a historical drama. It’s World War II and the Germans are expanding. The French and British troops have been cornered in the northern coast of France. With nowhere to go, the troops wait in the shores of Dunkirk to be taken across the channel, and back to the (relative) safety of England. “[The Germans] can pick us up like fish in a barrel” says one British officer, and he’s right to be pessimistic. Anyone who looks at the circumstances would agree these guys were fucked. That’s why it’s so impressive that the British Military managed to get more than 300 thousand soldiers off the continent. Some people called it the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” which doesn’t mean it wasn’t a harrowing experience for those involved. That’s when Christopher Nolan comes in.

The very first shot of Dunkirk is jaw-dropping. Describing it won’t make it sound like a particularly shocking shot -it features a group of soldiers walking through an empty street, papers flying in the wind- but it’s the size and clarity of the image that takes your breath away. I saw this movie in 70mm IMAX film, which a lot of people insist is the “only right way” to see this movie. Usually, I would call these people pedantic, and while I don’t agree this is the “only way”, I do think it’s well worth spending the money to see the movie in IMAX if you have the chance. The sheer size and resolution of the image is overwhelming, but Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema put it to especially good use in this movie. The quiet scene that opens the movie quickly transforms into an escape. The soldiers are being attacked by the enemy, they must escape to the beach. And that’s just the beginning of their problems.

One of our soldiers manages to get to the beach, where he finds a wounded body. Now he and another guy try to get the body on the ship that’s about to depart to England, and so they’re running through the beach and then over a broken pier and what’s that oh no the German planes are coming and are starting to bomb the beach hoping to decimate the troops as they wait for their escape. It’s overwhelming, exhausting, incredibly tense. It’s also incredibly effective filmmaking. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. There is very little dialogue in this opening sequence. It’s all images, movement, and very loud sound. It’s straight-forward and lean in a way that practically no Christopher Nolan movie has ever been. It’s not lost in a bunch of big ideas and science fiction nonsense. It’s simple. It’s raw. It’s survival. It’s the best part of the movie.

Dunkirk doesn’t stray completely from Nolan’s predilection for non-linear storytelling. He doesn’t do anything too crazy this time around. He settles for presenting the story in three different timelines. The first timeline follows the soldiers waiting on the beach, which starts out one week before the evacuation. The second, follows the British civilians who answered the call of the British government for extra vessels and took their boats to Dunkirk in order to help bring the boys home. This timeline starts out one day before the evacuation and focuses mainly on one boat piloted by Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance. The third timeline focuses on the air force pilots in charge of protecting the beach from German bombers. This one starts out one hour before the evacuation.

So, after the initial sequence I described, the movie starts to cut back and forth between the three timelines. Each of them comes with their own strengths and weaknesses, which is fine. The real problem comes from the fact that, when the timelines come together for the grand finale, the payoff isn’t quite as spectacular as the movie wants it to be. The filmmaking remains visceral and propulsive, but everything that was focused about the opening sequence becomes confusing. There are aspects that don’t pay off and plot-points that aren’t clear to the degree that I wonder if Nolan just didn’t realize there were things in his movie that don’t quite make sense. It could be a conscious formal decision to represent the chaos of warfare, which would make the finale even more disappointing, because how many times has that been done already?

That is the recurring issue with Christopher Nolan. He crafts these complicated puzzle structures, and then leaves glaring holes all over them. His public persona presents him as a precise obsessive in the style of Stanley Kubrick, but he’s always struck me as much more of a James Cameron. His strengths don’t lie in complicated ideas and cold headiness, but in visceral thrill-rides and blockbuster energy. With a few exceptions (mostly The Prestige), a Christopher Nolan movie will always entertain at first, then show its questionable choices and evident weaknesses. Dunkirk avoids most of Nolan’s weaknesses: Clocking at less than two hours, it’s his shortest movie, and the first one in at least a decade to not feel bloated. And by focusing on action instead of dialogue, it highlights Nolan the director, who has always been a better filmmaker than Nolan the writer. But it can’t avoid all.

There are a number of head-scratching choices in the movie. Like, why did Nolan choose when to use and not use IMAX cameras. The aspect ratio (and image quality) change is noticeable, and it doesn’t really serve a narrative or thematic purpose. It happens practically at random, and if 75% of the movie was shot using IMAX cameras, then why not the rest? And why not make an aesthetic choice about it, especially if your brand is “meticulous”. Also, Hans Zimmer’s effectively tense score heavily features a ticking clock sound, which is weird since this isn’t really a ticking clock movie. It’s not like we’re counting down to one specific event, but rather that the soldiers are waiting for rescue. The way the ticking is used feels like time is running out, not like we’re buying time, so what gives?

These are only some of the elements that seem to stand in clear opposition to the movie’s goals. The biggest one of course is the question of why tell the story using three different timelines in the first place. There doesn’t seem to be a particularly good reason other than the fact that Nolan gets to introduce the characters played by Rylance and Tom Hardy (who plays one of the pilots) from the beginning of the film. And honestly, it’s questionable if we needed those two story-lines at all. The movie could have been as effective (if not more) if it focused solely on the troops stranded at the beach. The Hardy story-line bring up some extraordinary aerial photography and visual effects, but it didn’t need the non-linear structure to be part of the movie.

The Mark Rylance storyline, on the other hand, is clearly the weakest link. Rylance is a great actor who brings a lot of pathos to the material he is given, but this is the most dialogue-heavy part of the film, in which a boy that’s too young to help sneaks into Rylance’s boat, and then they find a shell-shocked survivor (played by Nolan favorite Cillian Murphy). Rylance feels like a representation of the unbreakable British spirit, keeping calm and carrying on no matter what. Needless to say this part of the movie plays into the sort of story-telling stereotypes and wartime sentimentality that are absent from the rest. It also features the least impressive filmmaking. It’s surely meant to be the emotional heart of the film, but the movie didn’t need it. It is so tense and visceral it’s already an exposed nerve.

The structural choice also means that the climax arrives unannounced. It’s kind of shocking when the movie starts wrapping up and you realized the “final battle” has already past. Maybe the brain was too focused on trying to keep track, wondering if the timelines had aligned yet or not, but Dunkirk felt like a big crescendo that didn’t really payed off the way it was setting up to do. The score does a lot of the heavy lifting, to let you know the end is coming, by turning sentimental. The movie itself turns sentimental, really, with an inspirational speech that felt weirdly out of place in its patriotism. It is undoubtedly inspirational that these men managed to survive, but the movie started out as such a raw portrayal of the unbearable intensity of war I didn’t expect it to end in such a sentimental place. Or maybe it’s just a weird time for patriotism. There are, of course, already a dozen think-pieces asking what Dunkirk says about Brexit.

I Hate Every Ape I See (From Chimpan-A to Chimpanzee)

caesar-6448x3627-war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-2017-4346

An interesting experiment would be to try and make a movie in which everything that happens is ridiculous to the point of comedy (like, say, a chimpanzee riding a horse with a shotgun strapped to its back), but is all presented in the most straight-forward, earnest, self-serious fashion. The result would be a sort of avant-garde experimental film, I suppose. It would also most definitely be a satire. There was some satire in the original Planet of the Apes movie, released almost fifty years ago. There is no satire in War for the Planet of the Apes. This is a serious movie. There is barely a laugh to be had, or a warm feeling to be felt. It is the most joyless summer blockbuster I have ever seen. It wants to be relevant and important. It is the movie equivalent of someone telling you to “eat your vegetables”, only it has never occurred to them that vegetables could taste good. In War for the Planet of the Apes, the more disgusting the vegetables are, the better they will be for you. This is a movie made by people who have wrongly equated seriousness with competence, and dullness with importance. By the time one of the apes gets brutally whipped in what is basically a concentration camp, the movie’s attempts at relevance have turned from tedious to grotesque. Not since Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland have I hated a movie this much. This is the polar opposite of good cinema. This movie is trash.

How did we come to this? How did we get to the point where a movie that is basically Schindler’s List starring a bunch of apes is a summer blockbuster with overwhelmingly positive reviews? Just before going to the movie, I watched the original Planet of the Apes for the first time since I was a kid. It feels like a movie from a complete different galaxy. The original movie plays like a longer Twilight Zone episode, in which an astronaut (played by Charlton Heston) crash-lands in a planet where apes rule and humans are treated like animals (in fact, the script was co-written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling). It’s a rather dubious allegory for exploring what it’s like to be an oppressed minority, but also a sincere and emotionally effective attack on rigid, unthinking societies. All these years later, one can still feel the immense frustration of Heston’s character trying to be treated equally and thoughtfully by a council of stuck-up apes. It’s a pretty effective movie, and one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s the kind of movie in which an ape says something like: “well, you know what they say: human see, human do…”

That original movie was followed by a number of increasingly ridiculous and more overtly political sequels, including Escape from the Planet of the Apes, in which a couple ape characters from the original movie travel to the 1970s in an overt satire about race relations. Watching some of those low-budget sequels you will get a sense for the reputation the Apes movies had when I first encountered them as a child. They were goofy. Coming into the new millennium, a time in which movie studios will attempt to build franchises out of every once-successful property, the Apes franchise was remodeled into something that would more closely resemble a modern blockbuster. Except that the first film in this new franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apeswas anything but a typical blockbuster. It flashed back to the origins of the series, and focused on a chimp named Caesar (played through performance capture technology by Andy Serkis), who is experimented on and becomes the first intelligent ape. He realizes the horrible way in which apes are treated by humanity and organizes a small rebellion. It feels more like a mix of a “magic animal” and a “prison escape” movie than a blockbuster. It’s like a mix of Pete’s Dragon and The Great EscapeIt’s a good movie.

One of the cool things about Rise of the Planet of the Apes was how neatly and effectively it inverted the situation of the first movie. Caesar’s quest mirrors Charlton Heston’s quest in the original movie quite a bit. The zoo-like facilities in which they are held even look similar. One smart human in a world of apes was flipped into one smart ape in a world of humans. And it worked. The metaphor, regardless of whether you think it’s an appropriate one, still tracks. What’s more, the movie feels like its own unique beast. The second movie in this new franchise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, feels very much like a regular blockbuster. And a pretty boring one at that. It has a few cool ideas about what it’d be like for a bunch of intelligent apes to start a new society, but abandons them in favor of big action and cheap villains. And so, we come to War for the Planet of the Apes, which doesn’t quite feel like a regular blockbuster, but only because this level of bleakness is usually reserved for the most masochistic of European auteurs. The movie’s main interest is not on big action and cheap villains, it wants to be something more. It wants to be important.

What is the metaphor in War for the Planet of the Apes? What is the movie about? It focuses, again, on Caesar as he tries to protect the small ape civilization that’s developed in the last few years from an evil human Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who is intent on wiping those disgusting apes off the map once and for all. The Colonel attacks the ape village, and then a bunch of convoluted things happen, and the apes end up being captured. They are taken to the aforementioned concentration camp for apes, where they are treated horribly and forced to build a -you guessed it- wall. The movie is tightly focused on the point of view of the apes, but the clearest attempt at a metaphor seems to come from the human characters. I guess the movie is trying to portray an old and tired order trying to grasp at whatever faint power they have left, as a new generation marches forward. This would continue on the metaphor of apes as oppressed minorities while incorporating contemporary politics. A critique of white nationalism, I suppose. This is in and on itself not a bad idea for a movie. Genre film, after all, is one of the most fertile places for exploring big ideas and societal grievances. The problem is with the way in which the movie goes about its message.

Here’s a quick run-down of the kind of gruesome shit that happens in War for the Planet of the Apes (spoilers, I suppose): Caesar’s wife and family are brutally murdered by humans, Cesar has to mercy-kill a sick human, Caesar is haunted by the ghost of an ape he killed in the last movie, apes are crucified, there is a ape concentration camp where apes are horribly whipped, Caesar is taken to the concentration camp, whipped, and then crucified because he is -you guessed it- a Chris figure. And all of this happens with an unrelentingly somber and bleak tone. Are people supposed to enjoy watching this movie? Because if they are, then the people who made it are dark and twisted in their core. And if they are not supposed to enjoy it, then why make it in the first place? This movie is a relentless parade of misery, and what’s worse, all of its misery is predictable. Would you be surprised to learn there is a little mute girl who is rescued by our main apes, tags alone, and then cries when one of the apes is killed in battle. Will you believe that in the middle of this grimfest, there is a comedic relief chimp who talks funny in a Gollum-meets-Jar-Jar-Binks sort of way? I bet you can imagine how jarring it is when we cut from apes being tortured to this funny monkey saying a funny line.

That’s the thing about War for the Planet of the Apes. It’s so relentless in its seriousness that it becomes disrespectful. Let’s not kid ourselves. This is a blockbuster, designed to appeal to a massive audience and make a lot of money. Is this what constitutes entertainment? A movie with torture prison camps that evoke the Holocaust, Christ’s Passion, and the horrors of slavery? What about that, but with a bunch of computer generated apes at the center? This is movie is disrespectful. This movie is gross. I felt sick after watching it, wondering how can this movie exist. After some deep thinking, I’m convinced this is the perfect (if you can call it that) marriage between the idea that darkness equals importance with our current fascination with the aesthetics of realism. This movie is obsessed with realism. It is obsessed with having its apes look as close to real apes as possible. It is obsessed with having its gruesome battles be as close to real war as possible. But what’s the point?

The crude realism of War for the Planet of the Apes doesn’t make the movie feel any more emotionally real. The fact that its characters are boring and its plot full of cliches doesn’t help, but even then, realism doesn’t make a good movie. Movies are stories, and stories are fantasies. I don’t mean dragons and wizards. I mean the kind of mythic, essentially human storytelling that addresses the most crucial elements of life through a fictitious prism. The kind of storytelling narrative cinema is perfectly designed to tell. This movie is so obsessed with being realistic it leaves no room for fantasy, for imagination, for magic, for dreams. It forgets to be a movie. Whatever this is, it’s the opposite of cinema.

The Best Movies of 2017 (So Far)

1200

We’re halfway through the year, and look at us, we’re still kicking. The old cliche is that Hollywood saves all of its best movies for the Fall, thinking that it will better the movies’ chances to get Oscar nominations. I don’t know how much of that statement is true, but I do know that 2017 is as good a contender as any to dispute the fact that great movies come only the second half of the year. This year has already given us a very nice mix of quality Hollywood entertainment, strong work by independent auteurs, and quite a few foreign imports. In the spirit of celebration, I’ve listed my ten favorite movies of the year (so far). Hopefully, you’ll take a chance of them if you haven’t seen them yet. They’re all worth your while.

The Ten Best Movies of 2017 So Far (in Alphabetical Order)

The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola has gotten some flack for the representation of race relations (or lack thereof) in her latest movie, which pits a conniving Union Soldier (Colin Farrell) against a group of repressed Confederate women (Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and the great Nicole Kidman). I find these complaints both accurate and more complicated that some of the critics are willing to admit. In any case, why don’t you be the judge? Whether or not you find it “problematic”, you will at least start an interesting conversation. And you will experience some top-notch film-making as Coppola applies her delicate touch to what is essentially a steamy and pulpy B-movie. (In theaters now)

The Big Sick
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon wrote a screenplay detailing the story of how they got together in the form of a romantic comedy. A rom-com in which Emily (played by Zoe Kazan, Kumail plays himself) falls sick unexpectedly and must go into a medically induced coma. Believe me, it’s way funnier than it sounds. And don’t worry, it’s as emotionally satisfying as the best movies in the genre. What’s more, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are both fantastic as Emily’s parents. (In theaters now)

Frantz
If you’re in the mood for more World War I-related stories after watching Wonder Womanmay I recommend this period drama from that melodramatic Frenchman Francois Ozon? In the years after The Great War, a grieving German woman notices a mysterious Frenchman who keeps visiting and leaving flowers on her deceased fiancé’s grave. Based on an old movie by Ernst Lubitsch, Frantz is a truly emotional drama shot in beautiful black and white. (available to rent on V.O.D.)

Get Out
Who would have expected a low-budget horror movie from the guy from Key & Peele would become the movie event of the year? A treasure like Get Out only comes once in a blue moon. This is the kind of movie that defines a moment in culture. Not only did this movie -about a black man trapped in a nefarious white community- exorcise the right demons at the right time, it’s a wonderfully made movie in its own right. Carefully scripted, and precisely directed by Jordan Peele, who I’m sure will have a long and successful career. (available to rent on V.O.D.)

Hermia & Helena
A delightful comedy inspired by the work of William Shakespeare, in which an Argentinian woman comes to New York on an artist’s fellowship, only to find the connections between her lives in the two countries to be more complicated than they seemed. As in any good Shakespeare comedy, everyone is falling in and our of love at all times. Director Matias Pineiro knows it’s hard to decipher what the heart wants, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun to try. (making its way across the U.S. in limited release)

Kedi
This is a documentary about cats. The city of Istanbul, in Turkey, is known for its quite large population of roaming street cats. This movie follows some of these cats in order to understand their place in the city. It’s a movie that tries to tell us something about humanity and empathy, but it’s also a movie about a bunch of cats doing cat stuff. In other words, it’s freaking adorable. (available on YoutubeRed and in limited release)

The Lost City of Z
Director James Grey set out to make the kind of adventure that is not made anymore, and more importantly, try to make it in a way that would be acceptable to contemporary politics. This is the real life-inspired story of explorer Percy Fawcett and his multiple journeys into the Amazon searching for an ancient civilization. The real Fawcett disappeared into the jungle and never came back. We don’t know if he found anything, but Grey’s interpretation of his quest turns an old-fashioned adventure epic into a spiritual experience.(available to rent on V.O.D.)

Okja
This is one of the two Netflix movies controversially included in the Cannes Film Festival, and now that I’ve seen it, it’s clear that Okja deserved a spot at the biggest cinema celebration in the world. Korean director Bong Joon-ho has made the kind of movie that I wish more big studios were making (and putting in theaters), an exciting and idiosyncratic adventure about a young girl and her genetically modified super-pig. This is a great, fun, funny, dark, moving movie with a point of view. (available on Netflix and a couple theaters across the U.S.)

Personal Shopper
People said Kristen Stewart was a horrible actress. Now people say she’s the ebst of her generation. I’ve always somewhere in the middle, but if any movie was going to put me in the “she’s great” camp, it’d be this paranormal drama by French auteur Olivier Assayas. Stewart plays a medium trying to communicate with her dead brother, and the fascinating thing is I couldn’t call her performance good or bad, it’s a whole other thing in and on itself. Will she change acting forever? Who knows, probably not, but it’s fascinating to wonder. (available to rent on V.O.D.)

Raw
French veterinary school looks rough. Following on the trend of horror movies that are less scary than they are disturbing, the debut feature by director Julia Ducournau was a bit of a sensation when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last year, boosting its profile thanks to reports that people were passing out during screenings. This is the story of a young woman, a vegetarian, who goes off to veterinary school where she inadvertently develops a taste for live flesh. An obvious metaphor for female repression and sexual awakenings, perhaps, but a wonderfully made one. (available to rent on V.O.D.)

Portrait of a Psycho Killer: A Review of The Book of Henry

The Book of Henry

This is the story of a precocious boy who helps his longtime neighbor escape an abusive family situation. No, wait, this is actually the story of a woman who must overcome personal tragedy in order to step into the motherly role she’s been avoiding. Actually, now that I think about it, this is actually a movie about a little kid teaching his mom how to murder someone. These sentences are all accurate descriptions of The Book of Henry, but none of them successfully describes the bizarre result that comes out of those three plots being part of the same movie. Focus Features’ decision to advertise The Book of Henry as a quirky inspirational drama isn’t entirely honest, but I don’t blame them. The only accurate way to advertise this movie would be with two words: fucked up.

Henry is the protagonist. He’s a precocious eleven year-old who is much smarter than every other kid in his grade. He is also super kind, which is why everybody loves him. He is played with saintly blandness by Jaeden Lieberher, which his appropriate because he is a seemingly flawless character. He is written to be the purest, most exceptional child that ever was. In practice, he comes off as unbearably obnoxious. Henry is better than everyone else at everything. He is better at making money than his adult mom. He is also better at taking care of his little brother than his mom. He is even better at giving out cancer diagnosis than a professional neurosurgeon. Most importantly, though, he is better than everyone else at noticing that the girl living next door is being abused by her stepdad.

There is no point beating around the bush, The Book of Henry is a terrible, terrible movie. I would hate it if anyone anywhere in this big wide earth were to pay any money to see something this incompetent. Now, I want to go a little bit deeper into why exactly this movie manages to be as bad as it is, and to do so I will to give away what happens in it (I was going to write spoil, but there is nothing to “spoil” in such a rotten movie). God help your soul if you want to watch this movie and not know what happens. For the sane ones amongst you, here it goes: Henry wants to do something to help his neighbor, but nobody believes his accusations because the girl’s stepdad is the town’s well-respected chief of police. Then out of nowhere, Henry starts having seizures and is diagnosed with terminal cancer (yup, Henry diagnoses himself). Because he doesn’t want to leave this mortal coil without helping the girl next door, he comes up with a brilliant plan to do so from beyond the grave. The plan: to get his mom to shoot the stepdad in the face.

I am not exaggerating of being facetious. Henry leaves behind a series of tapes for his mom in which he gives her instructions on how to buy an assault rifle in the black market and murder the chief of police without getting caught. Of course what this guy is doing to his stepdaughter is horrible but… what? You would think an eleven year old would have a mighty hard time convincing his mom to commit murder, but you’ve forgotten that Henry is better than everyone else at everything. He is so smart, he is able to anticipate every single thing his mom will think and say while hearing his tapes, and in an insufferable bit of quirk, recorded them accordingly. Because nothing says heartwarming comedy like a dead child teaching his mom how to kill. Here’s a brief approximation of how these scenes work:

Henry (from beyond the grave): Mom, you have to kill the chief of police.
Mom: Surely, there must be another way to help.
Henry (still from beyond the grave): I know what you’re thinking and there is no other way and here’s why…

These are by far the stupidest, most unwatchable scenes in the movie, culminating in an unintentionally hilarious exchange in which dead Henry’s recording tells his mom that in order to pull off this murder she needs to be as quiet as a ghost, to which she replies: “…like you”. It’s worth mentioning that the mom is played by Naomi Watts, an immensely talented actress who simply does not deserve to be straddled with such a uniquely horrible role. The plot takes such bizarre turns that we must conclude the character is simply insane, but even before we can come to that conclusion, Henry’s mother is presented as an offensively incompetent woman. She can’t take care of her children, she can’t bring food to the table, she spends most of her life sitting in front of the t.v. playing violent video games, and she defers to her eleven year-old son to make any important decision in her life.

The mom character is the worst offender in a script that is rooted in casual misogyny and a rather twisted understanding of human morality. Henry represents the essence of narcissistic masculinity. He reads to me as the result of a very masculine fantasy of wanting to be the best at everything, and wanting to be the most noble and righteous person in the world. Even more disturbingly, the women in Henry’s life wouldn’t be anywhere without him. His mom is completely adrift and lost without his presence, either while he was alive, or through the many notes and instructions he leaves once he’s dead. And the neighbor girl, similarly needs to be saved by Henry’s selfless actions and ghostly machinations. There is even a suggestion at the end of the movie that a handsome doctor (played by the always handsome Lee Pace) might fill in the void Henry is leaving by becoming the sturdy man who will keep this girl save and this daffy woman grounded. And I haven’t even mentioned the ridiculously creepy scene in which Sarah Silverman kisses Henry on the lips.

At this point we’re probably asking ourselves the same thing: why does this movie exist? The screenplay for The Book of Henry was written decades ago by a guy named Gregg Hurwitz. It failed to be produced for years, and would probably have remained that way if it weren’t for director Colin Trevorrow. He is one of the young directors (mostly white and male) who go from directing a modest hit at Sundance to being given the reins of a major Hollywood franchise. In his case, the prize was Jurassic Worlda bad movie that nevertheless made billions of dollars at the international box office. Trevorroow’s reward for making a lot of money is he got to make a small movie that he was passionate about… and he chose this.

What Trevorrow found so inspiring in such mawkish and cloying material is beyond me. This is the kind of movie that shamelessly reaches for the cheap tears, depicting the death of an eleven year-old in the most exploitative, tear-jerky kind of way, then features an even more shameless scene in which his younger brother cries “it should have been me!” It features both a scene of a kid building a whimsical cupcake-making machine and a scene of Naomi Watts running through the streets with a giant assault rifle. This is the kind of screenplay that could only be written by someone who has never seen a movie in their entire life, or a lunatic with a deep misunderstanding of what it means to be a human being and have emotions. It stopped rating movies on a scale from 1 to 10 a couple months ago because I find it a rather reductive way of approaching cinema. But if I were still grading movies on a number scale, The Book of Henry might have been a zero.