WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT. Tina Fey possesses a charm, a screen presence that I find irresistible. She manifests an every-woman allure, despite the fact that she is smarter, more attractive and more ambitious than average by at least a couple of derivations. Her self-awareness, trending so often to self-deprecation, plays against her attributes sympathetically, without seeming inauthentic or supercilious. Her television show 30 Rock, in which she presumably played a klutzier, lonelier version of herself, was perhaps her greatest showcase as an actor. As a writer and producer, of course, Fey is a force with which to be reckoned, from Saturday Night Live to 30 Rock, to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, with some screenplays peppered in. She has generated some of her strongest work when collaborating with Robert Carlock, who gets screenplay by credit here for adapting Kim Barker's memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I expected to like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot — and I did — but it is not without shortcomings.
Fey plays Kim Baker, a news-industry veteran in a rut, relegated to writing copy for the anchors on a network show. Uninspired by her work or her healthy-enough, ultimately bland relationship, she accepts a 90-day posting to Afghanistan, circa 2003, just to shake things up a little. Not surprisingly, the transition is tricky, but Baker quickly adapts to life in wartime, and weeks stretch into months and into years. She starts getting airtime with her stories, befriends hard-charging sexpot Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), drinks too much and generally embraces her new life as a hard-bitten, devil-may-care war reporter. Meanwhile, of course, she's blowing up her previous real life in New York and, as public perception of the war in Afghanistan begins to shift, she's losing footing in her current one.
In the moment, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot feels immediate and compelling. Fey, Robbie and the rest of the cast, including Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, portray their characters with sympathy and dimension. It isn't difficult to get caught up in the narrative, just as Baker gets caught up in the rush of combat reportage. When the smoke clears, though, the movie doesn't leave as significant an impression as one might think. In its headlong charge, it pauses for brief moments of insight and contemplation that feel forced when played against the freewheeling bulk of the movie. Secondary characters pop up to deliver important messages, shocking violence intrudes — as much as these things make sense in their senselessness, placed in the context of war, they just don't quite fit into this movie as they should. This is a shame because Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does have something to add to the ongoing conversation about war correspondence, about the addictive nature of combat both for combatants and observers, and about the ever-dwindling level of public interest in honest, accurate live-fire reporting. And not to bury the lede, but we should celebrate the fact that this story is told from the point of view of a strong and capable female protagonist. Taken as a whole, though, the movie is blandly satisfying where I wish it were resonant and unsettling. That has as much to do with my predilections as it does with the actualities of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but I still think opportunities were missed. R. 111m. BROADWAY.
LONDON HAS FALLEN. Periodically, throughout modern Hollywood history, rival studios will release competing blockbusters with nearly identical subjects. This arms race has given us the dubious pleasure of foils like Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998), Volcano and Dante's Peak (1997), and more recently, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen (2013). I saw neither but would have bet good money that the one starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx would have had longer legs. I would have lost that bet, as audiences somehow seem to prefer their president in peril disaster movies to star Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart; who knew? (Although, I should have guessed that the notion of a black president wouldn't play well with the American public.)
In this sequel Butler again plays Mike Banning, the decidedly one-dimensional secret service agent at President Bejamin Asher's (Eckhart) right hand. Banning and his wife have a baby on the way, and he's laboring over a letter of resignation. Meanwhile, deep in the desert, an American drone strike decimates the family of international arms dealer Amir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) on the day of his daughter's wedding. This does not sit well with Barkawi, so he uses the London funeral of the British prime minister as an opportunity to assassinate most of the heads of state in the G8, with his intended coup de grace being the live-streaming execution of President Asher. Of course, Banning can't let that happen and so there follows a protracted shoot 'em up with very few distinguishing characteristics.
London Has Fallen seems to intentionally circumvent the current global conversation regarding terrorism, violence, religious fundamentalism, etc. This conspicuous omission makes the movie ring all the more false, especially when Banning starts spouting meaningless "don't tread on me" drivel while beating brown people to death. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. A woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) trapped in a shelter with a possibly unhinged survivalist (John Goodman) plots escape, unsure whether his tales of chemical apocalypse upstairs are true. PG13. 105m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY. Sacha Baron Cohen plays dumb against Mark Strong in a separated-siblings/spy comedy. With Rebel Wilson and Penelope Cruz. R. 83m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. Michael Moore gets his passport stamped checking out systems, policies and laws in other countries. R. 119m. BROADWAY.
YOUNG MESSIAH. Jesus' childhood years, in which he kind of looks like a kid at the farmers market. With Sean Bean. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY.
A WAR. The story of a Danish soldier in Afghanistan at a crossroads. R. 115m. BROADWAY RICHARDS' GOAT.
45 YEARS. Charlotte Rampling plays a woman whose anniversary celebration is overshadowed by the specter of her husband's long dead first love. PG. 108m. BROADWAY.
DEADPOOL. A bloody, clever, distinctly adult Marvel vehicle for Ryan Reynolds' weird charisma. A fun break from the steady flow of grim comic adaptations. R. 108m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
GODS OF EGYPT. Bronzer-dusted, inexplicably Scottish deities slum with the mortals in a swords-and-sandals-and-CG movie that's hung up on size and out of fresh ideas. With Gerard Butler. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
KUNG FU PANDA 3. Jack Black returns to voice the buoyant Dragon Master, who reunites with his bio dad and trains fellow pandas to fight a supernatural villain. An enjoyable take on the hero's journey with some genuinely pretty animation. PG. 95m. MILL CREEK.
THE LADY IN THE VAN. Maggie Smith stars as the eccentric and troubled woman who parked in playwright Alan Bennett's van for 15 years. PG13. 104m. BROADWAY.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS: ANIMATED. All the nominees plus a few more. RICHARDS' GOAT.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS: LIVE ACTION. All the nominees. RICHARDS' GOAT.
THE REVENANT. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a frontier survivor Hell-bent on revenge in a gorgeous, punishing Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film that offers little beyond beauty and suffering. R. 156m. FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
RISEN. Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton play Romans on the hunt for Jesus' body after the crucifixion, hoping to dispel resurrection theories. R. 107m. BROADWAY.
THE WITCH. Raw, relatable performances and smoldering dread propel this willfully grim Puritan horror film. The menacing aesthetic and psychological uncertainty build, but don't pay off as they should. R. 93m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ZOOTOPIA. An animated animal take on the odd-couple buddy movie with Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin and Idris Elba. PG. 108m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill