Netflix Original Movie: The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

Oh where do I begin with this one… frankly, I’m still a bit discombobulated by what I just watched last night. When I saw the trailer over a week ago, The Last Thing He Wanted looks like an intriguing political thriller, and the fact that acclaimed writer/director Dee Rees is at the helm made me even more intrigued to see it. After I watched the film, I found out it’s based on Joan Didion‘s Orange Prize-winning novel, the UK’s ‘s most prestigious literary prizes. Well, despite SO much going for it, plus a star-studded cast, this movie still doesn’t amount to much.

The film actually started off to a pretty riveting start. We see Anne Hathaway‘s Elena McMahon, a veteran DC-based reporter who’s covering El Salvador’s political crisis in the early 1980s with her colleague Alma (Rosie Perez). They barely escape with their lives as paramilitary troops storm the press office and started shooting. But as soon as she’s back in DC, her editor ends up sending her to cover Reagan’s re-election campaign. She took it begrudgingly, only after Alma encouraged her to take the assignment as a way for her to interrogate top ranking politicians. One of them is George Shultz (Julian Gamble), a then Secretary of State of the Reagan administration, whom she suspects is involved in weapons smuggling in Nicaragua.

During the campaign trail, she gets a call from her absentee father Dick (Willem Dafoe) who turns out to be ailing in the hospital. It’s when Dick asks her daughter to be his sub to complete a ‘deal of a lifetime,’ which involves flying to a mysterious location with a huge amount of mysterious cargo, that things start to really go awry. The place she lands turns out to be Nicaragua and finds out her Dementia-suffering father is actually an arms broker. Soon things spiral out of control and it’s clear Elena is out of her depth.

I have to say the plot is actually not that convoluted on paper, but somehow the muddled script and haphazard direction makes it feel that way. About a half hour in, I was already pretty frustrated with the movie… and growing even more irritated by Hathaway’s melodramatic acting. Initially, I sympathized with Elena and rather enjoyed seeing a plain-looking Hathaway in a role I don’t normally see her do. But her narration and [over]acting style here quickly becomes more and more aggravating. It also doesn’t help that the camera work with its random focus-shifting style makes me a bit dizzy. I don’t know if the DP is trying to add tension in the many scenes of people having conversations, but it’s quite distracting.

Then there’s Ben Affleck (who reportedly replaced Nic Cage) in a role of a mysterious ambassador. As a comic-book fan, obviously I get a slight kick out of seeing former Batman and Catwoman on screen, but soon I also get irritated by Afflecks’ lethargic acting style though his screen time is pretty minimal. Then suddenly there’s a scene that comes out of nowhere that takes me out of the movie entirely. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): What’s with the half-boob nudity?? Is Dee Rees trying to brazenly show a nude woman who’s a breast cancer survivor?? I think we got that point across from her expository dialog with her dad earlier on.  By that point, my hubby and I just looked at each other, completely aghast by this befuddled, incoherent mess that’s unfolding before us on screen. I have to say Affleck’s expression is basically the same throughout the movie, whether in bed with a naked woman or eating pie with his colleague.

Now, I’m not familiar with Didion’s work but I’m willing to bet the novel is far better than its screen adaptation. In fact, I still think it’s an intriguing story that when done properly, would be a potent international thriller. But the way it’s adapted here, screenplay written by Rees and Marco Villalobos, feels disjointed with an uneven pacing from start to finish. The central character Elena is nearly impossible to relate to as a human being, and her motives are incomprehensible. Her relationship with her father is an odd one that doesn’t ring true. Even the way the film tries to paint her as a caring mother who’s constantly on the phone with her young, unhappy daughter in a boarding school barely registers.

The supporting cast is pretty much wasted here, though not because of the actors’ performances. The one character I find intriguing is Perez’s Alma and Edi Gathegi‘s Jones, but both characters are so underwritten. There’s also Toby Jones appearing towards the end as an expat who runs the hotel Elena is staying at. Now, I like Toby Jones, he’s a great character actor, but their scene here feels so disconnected from the rest of the movie and goes on way too long. Speaking of the ending… well, as if the rest of the movie weren’t enough of a head-scratcher, the finale is one big WTF moment. To add insult to injury, the finale also feels like a ‘Minnesota goodbye’ where it just went on and on, complete with all kinds of slo-mo and over-drawn narration.

Now, I’ve described this film in the worst possible way and it pains me to do so. This is the third* feature by Dee Rees, and I know just how tough it is for a female director of color to get a job in Hollywood. I suppose every director should be allowed to have a misstep or two, heck, most male directors continue to get job after job even after making multiple misfires. In any case, I wouldn’t use this one as a film that define Rees’ work, but it’s truly unfortunate that this movie is as bad as it is given all the elements–story, setting, cast–seemingly in place.

* I incorrectly said this was Rees’ first feature in my original post, but she had done two features prior to this, Pariah and Mudbound.


Have you seen The Last Thing He Wanted? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – BIRDS OF PREY (2020)

After Margot Robbie pitched the idea of a Harley Quinn film featuring the Birds of Prey team to Warner Bros. Studios in 2015, she spent three years developing the project under her production company. Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, the Harley Quinn film would end up being called Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and co-produced by Robbie, who would reprise her role as Harley Quinn after the 2016 DC Extended Universe film Suicide Squad. Speaking of Suicide Squad – which ended up being the tenth highest-grossing film of 2016 – it received mixed to negative reviews (including this blog’s founder) from critics. What was generally praised from Suicide Squad was Robbie’s performance and her makeup as Harley Quinn. So, in Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn is the one who takes center stage and everyone hates after her break up with Joker, whom she affectionately calls “Mr. J.”

In Birds of Prey, Harley is still a mess after her breakup, but gets her own apartment, and goes out clubbing where she spends the night at a club owned by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Sionis likes to masquerades as a bubbly nightclub owner, while he is actually a sadistic gangster with cruel tendencies and the movie’s main antagonist – Black Mask. While at the club, Harley meets Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a burlesque singer who works for Sionis. She ends up saving Harley’s life after some of Sionis’ thugs drag Harley outside and beat her up as a consequence of her drunken and disorderly behavior. Sionis sees Dinah’s skills as a fighter and appoints her as his new driver, after Harley broke the previous driver’s legs, back inside the club.

We spend some more time with Harley as she goes to adopt a hyena from an exotic pet shop and names Bruce (after Bruce Wayne/Batman). Harley also destroys Ace Chemicals, the place where she had pledged herself to Joker before truly becoming Harley Quinn. The movie turns to Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who is investigating the aftermath of the Ace Chemicals explosion and is after Harley Quinn for previous criminal acts. Meanwhile, we are back with Dinah and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), a henchman of Sionis and deranged serial killer who carves a tally mark on his skin for each victim he claims. Sionis sends them to pick up a diamond which has very important information to him, but while they’re on their way back to the car, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young orphan and pickpocket steals the diamond from Zsasz and ends up swallowing it to keep it safe, before being arrested by the GCPD.

Harley is captured by Sionis’ men and brought to his club, while Zsasz and Dinah tell him about Cassandra’s status in prison. Sionis forces Harley to get Cassandra and the diamond so Harley disguises herself and breaks into the GCPD to retrieve the diamond thief. Sionis, not trusting Harley to bring Cassandra back puts out a large bounty for her head, and this bounty also attracts Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a vigilante known as the “crossbow killer” who calls herself Huntress. After Harley decides that she actually wants to save Cassandra, she finds out about the bounty Sionis put on her head. She plots revenge and calls him and agrees to turn the girl over in exchange for protection from the bounty. Cut to the chase, Sionis sends his henchmen after Harley Quinn and Cassandra, who are also joined by Dinah Lance, Renee Montoya and Huntress. The climactic finale involves a major fight scene and car chase by Harley Quinn and Sionis, only to end up at a nearby Gotham City a pier.

Spoiler Alert (highlight to read): Once Harley catches up with them, Cassandra puts a grenade in Roman’s suit, killing him. In the aftermath of destroying Roman’s empire, Montoya, Dinah and Helena start the Birds of Prey with the money from the accounts of the diamond while Harley and Cassandra pawn it and start their own business together. We end with Harley and Cassandra driving in a car and enjoying a previously mentioned breakfast sandwich, while Bruce, Harley’s hyena, rides in the back seat.

I think that the cast of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is stellar with Margot Robbie successfully helming this eighth film in the DC Extended Universe. Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco are all wonderful as part of the Birds of Prey squad. It’s a refreshing change from those forgettable characters in Suicide Squad (minus Harley Quinn and The Joker). Where the movie does run amuck is when it tries to over-tell the story of Harley Quinn. Robbie is seen breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience in several scenes, just as Deadpool does in the Marvel Comics Universe movies. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t for Harley Quinn. Perhaps the biggest misstep of the film is that it doesn’t really answer the question whether Harley is truly and really emancipated from Joker.

Overall, the film is quite the ride as Birds of Prey goes at 100+ miles per hour, with Robbie as Harley Quinn at the helm of a swerving/speeding car. The movie moves from scene to scene with little explanation, albeit some narration by Harley, and sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. The new characters add a great deal to the movie and do wonders for the DC Extended Universe, focusing on women’s right and female empowerment. There is so much color in this film that I often felt like I was inside a glitter bomb explosion. However, I did enjoy Harley’s humor, and fashion sense and abilities to beat up the bad guys while holding her own. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed McGregor’s character – the antagonist Black Mask – and think that it was one of best decisions made for the film. The success of Birds of Prey will ultimately propel Margot Robbie and the rest of the cast to a possible sequel, but how that factors into the DC Extended Universe remains to be seen.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen BIRDS OF PREY? Well, what did you think?