#REVIEW: Greyhound (2020)

My dad and my brother and my sister-in-law came over yesterday to celebrate the boy’s birthday– he doesn’t get a party with his friends, unfortunately, because 2020– and toward the end of the evening my brother kind of randomly noticed that Greyhound was available through the Apple TV+ subscription I got the last time I upgraded my phone. I had never heard of it and initially scoffed at the idea of watching Yet Another Tom Hanks Movie, but I either got overruled or didn’t fight the idea too hard, take your pick– and, well, the short version is that you now have another reason to have an Apple TV+ subscription beyond basking in the crazy that is See. Which, for the record, we eventually finished, and I recommend on every level except the story, which never gets less dumb. If you can buy the basic premise, you should check it out.

But this piece is about Greyhound. The premise is refreshingly simple: it is 1942, not long after the United States entered World War II, and Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Naval Commander Ernest Krause. Krause commands a destroyer that, along with another four combat-capable ships, is escorting a convoy of troop carrier, supply and merchant ships across the Atlantic to England. It is Krause’s first such command.

The problem with that trip was the period of time– about three or four days– where the convoy is out of range of Allied air cover, being too far from both North America and England for planes to be able to make a round trip. This made convoys like this, if not easy prey for German U-Boats, at least a lot easier. And the Greyhound’s convoy catches more grief than most, first sinking a single U-Boat and then encountering a Wolfpack of six of them. The convoy takes multiple losses over the course of the film’s surprisingly terse and compact 90 minutes, and Krause neither sleeps nor eats at any point during the film– in fact, the movie makes a point of repeated attempts by the mess crew to get him to eat something, all of which are interrupted.

If you’re into World War II films, you could do an awful lot worse than this movie, and honestly for my money it’s better than Saving Private Ryan in every way except for the action scenes– this movie clearly didn’t have a Spielberg-level budget. The action’s not bad by any means, but the interesting thing about a movie entirely about fighting submarines is that so much of the threat is imaginary. There’s something lurking out there, trying to kill you, and these guys are literally trying to track submarines by listening real hard and keeping track of where they are and where they think the Germans are by using grease pens on glass. I know little about naval warfare and can’t really vouch for accuracy, but it feels right, for lack of a better word.

The simple fact is, in the hands of a lesser director or a lesser actor this movie could have been a serious mess. The movie only leaves Hanks’ perspective for very brief scenes, occasionally cutting to the sonar operator or a couple of other characters, but never for more than a minute or two, and we never see a single German soldier or have a single scene shot inside a U-Boat, although we do get to hear the German commander taunting the Greyhound over the radio a couple of times. Even Hanks’ dialogue is largely incomprehensible beyond pure function— I mean, I can imagine what “Full rudder right!” means, but I don’t know, and that’s the most comprehensible of his orders. I would say easily 75% of his dialogue is either barking orders or reacting to positional data relayed to him from sonar or radar. I feel like it shouldn’t work, but it does.

This probably isn’t worth actually picking up an Apple TV+ subscription for– but if you’re one of the people who, like me, upgraded your iPhone and got a free year of the service, definitely set aside an hour and a half on a Saturday night and give it a look. It’s suspenseful, well-directed, powerfully acted, and generally a solid and well-crafted piece of filmmaking. Give it a shot.

#Review: BEASTIE BOYS STORY

Man, it’s weird when rappers get old.

I’m in the odd position of wanting to review something that I’m pretty certain very few of you will actually be able to watch: the documentary BEASTIE BOYS STORY, directed by Spike Jonze, currently exclusive to Apple TV+. Which I only have because I bought an iPhone this year and you get a free year when you do that. So far we’ve watched this documentary and season one of SEE, which was entertaining and pretty and unbelievably, heinously dumb.

And the thing is, I’ve been a Beastie Boys fan for, functionally, my entire damn life. License to Ill came out in 1986, when I was nine, and if it wasn’t the first rap tape I ever got it was the second, since I don’t remember if I bought this or the Fat Boys first. (Also, Jesus, at least two of the Fat Boys don’t even scan as fat any longer. I’m bigger than all three of them, I think.) So it’s weird to see Adrock and Mike D on stage as, basically, two old dorky white guys telling terrible jokes and reading, mostly not especially compellingly, off of a TelePrompTer.

I was thinking this was going to be a more standard talking-heads type of documentary, but what it actually is is a two-man stage show, with Spike Jonze handling audio and video on a giant screen behind them and tons and tons of white people in their 40s and 50s in the audience. And while I definitely enjoyed watching it (and, perhaps more importantly, so did my wife, who doesn’t have remotely the attachment to hiphop that I do, and virtually none at all to the Beastie Boys specifically) I have to admit that there’s a certain bittersweet element to watching it, as MCA was absolutely and undeniably the brains and the soul of this group and he passed away of cancer in 2012. It’s as if Lennon got shot and the only members of the Beatles left were Ringo and Pete Best. The Beastie Boys didn’t have a Paul McCartney, y’know? Once Adam Yauch was gone, the group was over; there was never any chance of either of the other two even trying a solo career.

Seen as the artifact it is, this is definitely worth two hours of your time, especially if you have ever been a fan of either rap music or the Beastie Boys (and I can watch music documentaries all goddamn day long even if I don’t like the artists they’re about) but I did find myself wishing we could break away from the perspective of the two surviving band members from time to time. I’d like to hear what Rick Rubin or Russell Simmons have to say about the group’s split from Def Jam, or what Run-DMC had to say about their tour together, and oh my god this is what Rick Rubin looks like now:

Holy shit. Dude.

Yeah, well, point is, some other perspectives would have been nice, from time to time, and there are a couple of weird lacunae in what we get that could have used some shoring up– early bandmate Kate Schellenbach gets enough attention that you expect there to be some sort of payoff, which never really arrives, for example. But if you go in knowing what you’re about to see– Mike D and Adrock (who damn near never calls himself that; he’s “Adam” throughout the documentary, and Adam Yauch is “Yauch,” not MCA) talking about their lives on stage, mostly from a script, and some almost insultingly corny jokes from time to time, it’s not a bad way to spend two hours. Call it a B-, I guess.


4:49 PM, Sunday May 3: 1,154,340 confirmed infections and 67,447 Americans dead. Meanwhile, a whole lot of places open back up tomorrow, and … this is not going to go well, at all, for a whole lot of people.