LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
The film "Those Who Wish Me Dead" is a lot of things at once. It's the story of a smokejumper, played by Angelina Jolie, who battles terrifying forest fires. It's the story of a young kid chased by killers. And it's the story of a pregnant woman forced to defend herself.
STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
Directed by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote 2016's "Hell or High Water," it's full of raging fires and sweeping Western landscapes and a lot of people who do, in fact, wish other people dead. It's available to stream on HBO Max, and it's also in theaters. I'm Stephen Thompson.
HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today, we're talking about "Those Who Wish Me Dead" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Here with me and Stephen from his home in Denver, Colo. is writer and film critic Walter Chaw. Welcome back, Walter.
WALTER CHAW: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
HOLMES: And joining us from his home in Washington, D.C. is Chris Klimek. He is a writer, and he co-hosts the podcast "A Degree Absolute!" with our own Glen Weldon. Hello, Chris.
CHRIS KLIMEK, BYLINE: Only you can prevent forest fires, Linda. Hello.
HOLMES: (Laughter) Well, this film is based on a novel by Michael Koryta, who wrote the screenplay with the director, Taylor Sheridan, and Charles Leavitt. The basic premise is that Angelina Jolie plays Hannah, a troubled smokejumper who heads out to an isolated fire tower to keep watch. At the same time, through a separate series of events, a 12-year-old boy named Connor, played by Finn Little, ends up on the run from a pair of assassins, played by Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen. Connected to both of these stories is the local sheriff, Ethan, played by Jon Bernthal, who's involved in the kid's story but is also Hannah's ex. His wife, Allison, played by Medina Senghore, is at their home in the woods, very pregnant. All these things will eventually intersect, of course. And there's a lot of fire, and there's a good amount of blood.
Stephen, I spoke to you before you watched this movie, and I was very curious about what you would think of it. What did you think of it?
THOMPSON: It is a muddle. It is a kind of minor muddle, kind of cobbled together from a lot of spare parts, from a lot of other movies, particularly kind of in the '80s and '90s. You've got your action hero with a death wish who is scarred by a past failure. You've got these kind of ice-cold killers who are behind this shadowy conspiracy that they spend some time on and then never really acknowledge again. You've got your shaggy-haired kid who has to be protected at all costs.
I think that this movie does, like, a decent job shedding some of the old spare parts from those movies that I didn't want to see. There's no tacked-on romantic interest. The women have a lot more agency in this movie than in a lot of movies that seem to influence it.
But it's pretty rote. It's a very kind of 2 p.m. Netflix kind of fare. The movie itself kind of ultimately sets up a bunch of pins it isn't really interested in knocking down. It just kind of develops into this fairly rote, shapeless and kind of front-heavy plotwise - which made the stakes kind of all feel off. So it's got a lot of decent component parts and a really good cast, but it didn't really amount to much.
HOLMES: Gotcha. And we should mention - you know, you said 2 p.m. Netflix - this is actually on HBO Max.
HOLMES: That is where you will find it. Walter, what did you think of this movie?
CHAW: Well, I think Stephen really encapsulated it a lot. It reminded me a lot of those John Grisham programmers that they did in the '90s, like "The Client" and stuff.
CHAW: But, like - I was really excited for this movie 'cause I love Angelina Jolie, especially as an action star. You know, I'm a huge fan. I think she can do kind of anything. I've loved her since "Hackers."
HOLMES: For sure.
CHAW: She's amazing, and I think she could really handle this. And I was really disappointed because, you know, I just don't feel like she was cast in the role of action hero. I would have much rather her - allowed Allison, you know, the wife character, to be the next up-and-comer star, but let, you know, Jolie handle the major action points, you know? To Stephen's point, he phrased it so eloquently. It's top-heavy. It's a muddle. There's too much plot. It's just so much style, and there's not a lot of substance to it.
HOLMES: Yeah, it's interesting because as you say that, I realize, out of everybody in this movie, Angelina Jolie might do the least action - like, in terms of action-action - compared to genuinely, practically everybody else in the movie. Chris, what did you think?
KLIMEK: You know, she slides down a rope.
HOLMES: That's true.
KLIMEK: She gets some, like, cable fibers in her hand that she has to deal with, which is the kind of granular detail that really makes an outsized difference for me in movies like this. To me, this movie is only a disappointment if you know that it comes from the guy who wrote "Sicario" and wrote "Hell Or High Water," two movies I absolutely loved. This is a movie I liked just fine. I sort of enjoyed the fact that, you know, 30 years ago, it would have had Stallone in it and been called "Cliffhanger" (laughter). I think it actually was.
KLIMEK: You know, or Steven Seagal or somebody.
I mean, I enjoyed the henchman, Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult. I like that these guys are just two sort of efficient, disassociated murderers who don't have any backstory or anything. I like that the sort of "Parallax View" style conspiracy behind them is just hinted at and not explained because we don't need it explained.
But again, I have - you know, this is a genre that I like digging into so much that it doesn't take that much to win me over. I'm like, oh, they remember that she hurt her hand three scenes ago. Oh, that's great. Oh, we're not going to get a monologue explaining the relationship between these two psychopathic hitmen - love it. You know, so this is a - I'm going to call this, like, a 6 p.m. Netflix movie.
KLIMEK: It worked OK for me.
HOLMES: As long as it's the early show. Yeah, I sort of enjoyed watching it, but I won't remember anything about it. That's...
KLIMEK: Oh, of course.
HOLMES: This is one of those kind of - you get a little bit of a hit on the tongue and then it just - and then you just never think about it again. The things I liked best about it - and I agree with everything that you've said. I didn't even really realize just how much plot there is in this movie until I was writing that intro, and it was like duh-da-la, duh-da-la, duh-da-la (ph), and also at the same time - so I agree with everything that you've said.
The parts of it that I liked the best were the parts that were a little bit Western-y (ph). I love the landscapes with endless trees and the fact that people are outside for almost all of this film 'cause I've seen so many movies where you see fighting and action in staircases and basements and people tied to poles and stuff like that. Well, here you're mostly outside. And I also think this is a really impressive film if you like fire.
HOLMES: I don't mean if you like fire, but I mean...
KLIMEK: Better than the fire in "Skyscraper," right? Can we all agree?
KLIMEK: The fire looks more flammable.
THOMPSON: We feel like we've crossed the uncanny valley of CGI fire a little bit.
HOLMES: I mean, there are definitely a lot of places where I'm like, look, if you were this close to a big fire, I don't think you'd just be, like, hanging out. But I do think some of the fire is visually impressive. And I - this is one where I thought, I wonder if, had I seen this in a theater - this is a thing that's kind of haunted us, I think, for the last year - would this have gotten over a little better with me if I had been looking at these gorgeous landscapes and big, roaring fires on a big screen instead of a small screen? I think I still would have found the story kind of a little on the weak side. Like, because there are so many elements, the underlying story, particularly about Hannah, the Angelina Jolie character - I was like, I mean, I get it. They sort of nod to what's caused this great sadness that she carries at all times, but it left me a little bit cold.
CHAW: Yeah, it's just exhausting, I think, to see this master plot over and over again. There's sort of a comfort, I think, in the slipping into old slippers or that, you know, beat-up, stinky robe that you love. It's comfortable. It fits your body. But it's exhausting, too, because it's like, I just feel like there's a flashback and the trauma, and now, you know, the orphaned boy gets a new mommy. The woman who's lost - an unimaginable loss of children - gets a son. Isn't that great? And I do like the Western elements. I always like that. I don't think it takes any great genius to make Montana look beautiful.
But there's moments that are not paid off where the little kid, Conner, goes into the field and mystically connects with a nice horse. You know, I expected that there was going to be a moment later in the fire where he comes bursting through a wall of flame on the nice horse. The nice horse has come.
CHAW: You know, there's the Western. And, you know, there's some stuff I'm not sure that they're really prepared to talk about in this film. Why is Tyler Perry sort of playing himself?
HOLMES: What was that about?
CHAW: I have no idea.
KLIMEK: Hang on. OK, if we're going to talk about the conspiracy, I just want to say, at the end of that scene with Tyler Perry, his sole appearance, he gets back into an SUV that has federal government plates on it. So that is telling us that this goes way up the chain, and this kid is probably still going to get killed tomorrow, after the credits roll on this movie.
CHAW: Tyler Perry's the man. Oh, my God. I do love - you know, Chris, to your point, I did like the assassins. They're great. I think they're brothers, or father-son or something.
KLIMEK: So the press notes, I think, said that they were father and son or something. But at one point, Aidan Gillen says, I'm fading, and Nicholas Hoult says, I know, partner, which doesn't sound like either of those relationships, right?
HOLMES: Oh, I thought they were brothers, too.
KLIMEK: I like the opacity on this point. I like that I get to watch this movie and wonder what their deal is. And I love that the movie doesn't tell me. I am looking for things to love (laughter), but I love that.
CHAW: No, you know, I really love it too. The less, the better. And I feel like the movie gets in trouble when it tries to tell a lot. It tries to tell everything, you know, about Hannah and her trouble, and we used to date, and I used to jump off the back of a truck or something. There's just not enough room for this. Don't do that, the "Footloose" stuff. It's fine.
THOMPSON: I think when we end up looking back on this movie - and, you know, Linda was saying, like, that, you know, I'll forget this movie in a day. I do wonder if, at some point down the line, we see this kid, Finn Little, pop up in other movies. He has the bearing of a future movie star, and I would not be surprised if, like, he popped up and was really good in something 'cause I thought he was good in this.
I also was happy to see - I've seen Nicholas Hoult in "The Great," and I've seen Nicholas Hoult in "The Favourite." And I had certainly felt that Nicholas Hoult was perfectly equipped to play, you know, fops in period pieces. And I appreciated that he got to show a little bit of steely-eyed range here, but...
KLIMEK: Well, also, speaking of child actors who have gone on to have very interesting careers as adults - Nicholas Hoult, right?
HOLMES: Uh-huh. Stephen, it's an even more impressive evolution if you've been watching him since "About A Boy." But it is true - I think, to Stephen and Walter's point, it is true that there is a lot of stuff here that recalls lots of other movies like this. And I feel like I have a level at which, when I see, like, the 15th thing that reminds me of another movie, I start to tune out. And they start off with a highly dramatic situation, and then someone waking up in bed going, (gasping)...
HOLMES: ...Which is like, OK, OK. You know, look, I did enjoy the tension of it. I think it's a perfectly fine summer stream. Would I have wanted to pay 20 bucks for a drink in a theater? I prefer this one as a streamer as opposed to as a theatrical movie. It's fine.
HOLMES: It's difficult. This is the year of things that are fine in some ways.
KLIMEK: Could we go around and each suggest an alternate title for this movie, given its sort of provenance and, like, era? I'm going to say "Heartburn."
HOLMES: I would just say "Fire, Fire, Fire."
THOMPSON: "Backdraft." Wait, that's already taken.
CHAW: You know, every time I try to remember the title, I come up with a different title of it. I'm at that age that this means nothing to me. It's like a very, like, complicated password.
CHAW: You know, my wife has asked me several times what I was watching and talking about today. And I was like, I think "Them That Talks The Talk." I have no idea.
CHAW: I have no idea what I'm watching, so I can't recommend it.
HOLMES: Yeah. Well, let us know what you think about "Them That Talks The Talk." It's in theaters, or you can find it on HBO Max. Tell us what you think about "Those Who Wish Me Dead." By the way, I have no idea why it's called "Those Who Wish Me Dead." If there's a reference to that in the novel, it doesn't make it into the movie. So find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us at @PCHH.
When we come back, it's going to be time to talk about what's making us happy this week, so come right back.
HOLMES: Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, what's making us happy this week? Chris Klimek, what is making you happy this week?
KLIMEK: Linda, what's making me happy this week is the calm and clarity of purpose that comes with having reached the wizened age of 30.
KLIMEK: OK, for me, that train has sailed long ago.
THOMPSON: (Laughter) The train has sailed.
KLIMEK: But on May 24 of this year, "Hudson Hawk" shall set upon its fourth decade. If people remember it at all, it's just, like, this giant flop, vanity project from the absolute peak of Bruce Willis thinking that we all wanted to hear him sing. And of course, he does sing very memorably in this film, but a lot of other reasons to recommend this - I mean, Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard are the villains. David Caruso is in it, but crucially, he doesn't talk. And, you know, we have the less famous little brother of a notorious gangster in this movie who is played by Frank Stallone. I think that's a brilliant casting. The old spy is James Coburn. And, you know, Andie MacDowell is here, too. Is it still raining on "Hudson Hawk"? I hadn't noticed.
I'm going to give you a clip. All you need to know, Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello are partners in cat burglary, who, instead of using a stopwatch to time their infiltrations, sing songs. Your tolerance for that will determine your tolerance for the movie. Let's hear it please.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HUDSON HAWK")
DANNY AIELLO: (As Tommy Five-Tone, singing) You could be swinging on a star. Let's take it home.
BRUCE WILLIS: (As Hudson Hawk, singing) You could be swinging on a star.
KLIMEK: One of the films of 1991 that did not inspire "Those Who Wish Me Dead," so far as I can tell, but, you know, this film deserves another look or more likely a first look.
HOLMES: Yeah, you've played a clip, Chris, that is the only thing I know about this movie.
HOLMES: All right, thank you very much, Chris Klimek. Walter Chaw, what is making you happy this week?
CHAW: Well, I have to change my answer because I also love "Hudson Hawk." No, I'm just kidding.
CHAW: No, in all seriousness, I do love "Hudson Hawk." It's directed by Michael Lehmann. It's written by Daniel Waters, the team behind "Heathers," one of the all-timers of all-timers. It's really kind of a remarkable, weird film, to Chris' point. It's hyperviolent in moments that you're not expecting, kind of like, you know, the firefighter movie we just talked about, whatever it's called.
CHAW: "Hudson Hawk" is great.
But what's really making me happy is "Invincible," the animated series streaming on Prime. I thought I was completely burned out on superhero movies, but watching "Invincible," Steven Yeun voices the main character in "Invincible," the titular superhero. He's a young guy just coming into his power. His father is sort of a Superman sort of figure, and they lean really heavily into the strangeness of an alien being a human savior, in a way, and how the sort of alien intelligence is ultimately unknowable. Of course, it's an Asian superhero in an interesting coming-of-age sense. Sandra Oh voices the mother. It's all unexpected. It draws the characters really beautifully. It's kind of a high school drama. There's romance in it. There's those things, but it's all played against this backdrop of ultimately not knowing about the next atrocity to fall. It's very much a piece for our modern age of uncertainty, if you will.
And I was very - I confess, the only reason I went to see it was because - or started streaming it - was because Steven Yeun and Sandra Oh were involved and being very Asian. I had to, you know, throw up a little power sign there and say, I'm going to watch it. I have to watch it. And I was drawn in. I was really, really pulled into the season. It is graphically violent in a way that is shocking, I think, but yeah, I love it.
HOLMES: "Invincible," streaming on Amazon Prime. All right, thank you very much, Walter. Stephen Thompson, what is making you happy this week?
THOMPSON: What is making me happy is my newfound love of the video game "Rock Band" from the late aughts. It has livened up our family game nights in ways that I never could have imagined when I was getting incredibly stressed out trying to play "Guitar Hero." The secret to my loving this game instead of being stressed out by it is our addition of a USB microphone to unlock Full Band Mode. It kind of allowed me to unlock a feature in myself, which I call embarrassing dad mode. We have sort of formed a family band on Rock Band. Ours is called Hoobastank U.K.
HOLMES: (Laughter) Of course it is.
THOMPSON: It has been really wonderful to kind of unleash the embarrassing dad within and also kind of, as an embarrassing dad who came of age in the early '90s, finding out that my kids, ages 17 and 20 - independently of each other, independently of my influence - sought out the Dinosaur Jr. song "Feel The Pain" to listen to for their enjoyment made my heart smile.
So that is Rock Band 2. I think a reboot of this franchise is coming soon because I think it's awesome.
HOLMES: That is wonderful.
KLIMEK: Stephen, the disclosure that you have been holding back the embarrassing dad within...
KLIMEK: ...Up until now is - it is revelatory.
THOMPSON: Right. Oh, stoic.
KLIMEK: Right, but I'm happy for you.
HOLMES: Thank you so much, Stephen Thompson. What is making me happy this week? Look, you know, I'm going to tell you about maybe my favorite interview that I've ever gotten to do, which is with the wonderful actress Ann Dowd, which I did for the podcast Bullseye. She is - you know her as Aunt Lydia in "Handmaid's Tale," and she was in "The Leftovers," and she's been in a million different things - one of the very high total-holders for "Law And Order" universe characters, which we talked about.
It's a very unusual interview. Her tone is just really unusual. She's an incredibly kind, thoughtful, gentle person. It's one of the only interviews where someone has ever called me both darling and man.
HOLMES: She's just a really, really cool lady, and she's so much fun to talk to.
When you hear it, let me just tell you, that's exactly what she was like, you know, off the recorded part of the interview, too. This is also what she was like before and after. A good interview is a conversation with a human being, and sometimes, they are really, really surprising and cool, and you know, like, oh, I'm just going to think back on this conversation a lot of times.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HOLMES: So you can find that interview with Ann Dowd over at Bullseye. And that's what's making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended, plus some recommendations that are exclusive to our newsletter, subscribe to that over at npr.org/popculturenewsletter.
That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @lindaholmes. Stephen is at @idislikestephen. Walter is at @mangiotto. You can find Chris at @ctklimek. Editor Jessica Reedy is at @jessica_reedy. Producer Candice Lim is at @thecandicelim. You can find our producer Mallory Yu at @mallory_yu, and you can find our producer Mike Katzif at @mikekatzif, K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band, HelloComeIn, provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Thanks to all of you for being here.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
KLIMEK: Thank you.
CHAW: Thanks for having me.
HOLMES: And thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all next week when we will be talking about Amazon's new series, "The Underground Railroad."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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