All posts by Jesse

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Is Halle Berry’s KIDNAP the worst movie of the summer? Or the year?

Halle Berry is a good actor. Her Academy Award for her raw, emotionally open performance in Monster’s Ball was well-deserved.

Halle Berry has movie-star charisma. It’s not just world-class beauty; at her best, she combines playfulness and gravity in a way that makes her fun to watch as an action hero (as in Die Another Day), a romantic foil (as in Bulworth), or as a nurturing type (as in X2, containing her best turn as Storm, of the X-Men).

So how is it that Halle Berry is seemingly incapable of starring in a good, genre-y thriller? Some of it, yes, must be the lack of high-quality roles afforded black women in Hollywood – even for a near-universally known Oscar-winning woman with plenty of hits to her name, including the genre-thriller The Call. But Berry seems particularly ill-fated in her late-career star vehicles, from an actual minor hit like The Call to a barely-released obscurity like Dark Tide. Before even getting to her performances, she has a bizarre knack for picking projects that were almost certainly not designed to be the D-movie equivalent of another, better thriller, but inevitably come off that way anyway: The 911-operator drama The Call is sort of a seedier, less taut variation on the 2004 thriller Cellular, while Dark Tide predates Blake Lively’s The Shallows and also provides roughly one percent of that movie’s shark-related thrills.

Kidnap, the latest Berry vehicle, indicates an abiding interest in this kind of stripped-down B-movie – the kind of thing that, like The Shallows, should serve as a tonic during the overblown summer months (or, if it’s really good, a Hitchcock throwback). Berry plays Karla Dyson, a divorced mother trying to make ends meet for her sweet six-year-old. After her shift as a diner waitress, she takes her kid to either the park, or a fair – the movie says the latter and indicates as much with poorly CGI’d overhead shots of a Ferris wheel, but the actual scenes seem to take place on a playground adjacent to a parking lot. Wherever they go, they aren’t there for long, because when Karla takes a call from her ex (threatening to take custody, natch), she leaves the boy alone for a moment and he gets abducted. Issuing the first of many howling screams of rage, Karla sprints after the car speeding away with her kid inside. When she is unable to physically drag that car to a halt, she hops in her minivan and heads into hot pursuit.

This premise is pure exploitation – or rather, it aspires to pure exploitation. Pure exploitation would be welcome in place of Kidnap, which is too vastly stupid to even exploit properly. The movie jams on the righteous-mom button so incessantly and insistently that Berry looks ready to short circuit. She’s clearly attempting to tap into a parent’s primal fear, and of course most parents would not respond coolly or calmly to witnessing the abduction of their child. But Kidnap makes Berry perform, in essence, 10 minutes of awkwardly written exposition followed by an 80-minute scream, as Karla frantically endangers the lives of as many people as possible, up to and including her son, by instigating this mad chase.

Director Luis Prieto operates under the impression that he is making a pedal-to-the-metal nailbiter, creating all of the noise and signifiers of a car going fast while actually depicting speed as infrequently as possible. There are multiple shots of Berry’s Conversed foot hitting the gas pedal, innumerable overhead shots of the cars on the move, and, most hilariously, multiple shots (or the same shot, multiple times) of a speedometer revving from about 40 miles per hour to about 60 miles per hour. Tires screech, Berry screeches, cars smash together, and the movie starts to feel like it’s getting off on its star’s goosed-up hysteria. (It’s certainly not getting off on actual speed; despite all of those cuts and a brief running time, storywise it’s mostly a putter in a circle.)

Look, the idea of a regular person fighting their way through extraordinary (and pulpy) circumstances is a juicy one – I’d love to see a mom-revenge movie directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who put regular-acting folks through the wringer in both Blue Ruin and Green Room. But Kidnap pitches deeply stupid behavior as a mother’s wrath, as in a spectacular negotiation scene wherein Karla is able to momentarily confront her sons’ captors (who seem confused and angry that she has chosen to pursue his abduction), and shrewdly throws them her entire wallet without prompting while yelling out her PIN. This follows a scene where the kidnappers indicate, by menacingly wielding a knife outside of a car window, that she must stop following them. Frightened for her son’s safety, she takes the next exit, then swerving back onto the highway and continuing to follow the car at a conspicuously close distance.

At best, this all looks incredibly cheap. At worst, Prieto and his editor Avi Youabian (who also cut The Call!) seem unsure about what they’re looking at, and convey that confusion to the audience, like in a simple scene where Berry and her son have a conversation in their minivan. Prieto shoots and cuts it to look, somehow, like Berry is literally talking to herself. This matches the subverbal tone of the screenplay, which features several scenes that show only half of a phone call, and struggle to make sense of what the person on the other end could possibly be saying. (These moments, though brief, very much play like the filmmakers concluded that if the audience can’t hear what’s being said on the other end of the phone, no one making the movie should know, either.)

It would be hard for any actor to perform well in these circumstances; yes, Kidnap is a movie where the screenplay is best described as “these circumstances.” At one point, Berry must perform a monologue to God, asking him not for the safe return of her son, but for the ability to spot the kidnappers’ car in traffic. In another scene, she briefly pauses her relentless hunt to talk to an actual cop, instead of screaming incoherently at bystanders to call 911. When the rest of the police force make the mistake of not instantaneously materializing around her and ask her to wait for a moment, Karla’s eyes frantically scan the MISSING posters adorning the station wall. All of those parents waited, she says to herself, and bolts (she decides it’s more expedient to drive around aimlessly looking for clues). I was thinking, lady, come on. How do you know those parents all waited? Maybe some of them killed the kids themselves. Maybe some of them died tragically in a minivan crash while hurtling down the highway at speeds between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Right away is not enough for Karla; later, a 911 operator gives her an ETA of 15 minutes, which she agitatedly deems too long. I guess streaming video really has spoiled a nation. I could go on, so suffice to say that most of Berry’s performance involves looking as if she just woke up in the middle of surgery, or on a rollercoaster.

Could anyone have saved this material? Maybe not; maybe Nicolas Cage, although his give-me-back-my-kid mode tends to be haunted and sullen, rather than peaking manic. Even so, it may be worth exploring why I would celebrate Cage’s hypothetical outbursts, while Berry’s feel so embarrassing. I think it’s their performing style: Berry has a natural strength and poise that these thrillers can’t resist prodding and poking and mussing into a kind of plain-folks invincibility. She’s not unhinged enough to turn a movie like Kidnap (or The Call, or Dark Tide) into performance art. Usually playing ridiculous material straight and sincere is an asset, but for a movie as craven and inept as this one, it amounts to an overemphatic endorsement of its shameless preying upon parental fears. Plenty of actors do movies that seem beneath them; Kidnap winds up grimy enough to get under its star’s fingernails. It ends with a collage of unconvincing news voiceover explaining that this mom has uncovered a multi-state childnapping ring and is, in the movie’s actual words, a real hero. The movie seems unaware that Halle Berry is a movie star, or a good actor – that she doesn’t need some dipshit thriller to clumsily spell out why we’re supposed to like her.

A Ghost Story: Has David Lowery Made a Post-Actor Movie?

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story reunites him with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who starred in his Malickian lyrical-outlaw potboiler Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It’s not surprising that Lowery would want to re-up with Mara and Affleck, who since their work for him have gone on to an Oscar nomination (Mara, for Carol) and an Oscar win (Affleck, for last year’s Manchester by the Sea). But part of what makes A Ghost Story so beguiling, and so much more interesting than Saints, is the way Lowery uses these talented actors: For long stretches, he doesn’t. In the contemporary summer movie season, where special effects and branding are often sold over movie stars, Lowery has made a movie more boldly post-actor than any recent blockbuster.

It starts out intimate, but familiar: A couple, unnamed by each other but called M (Mara) and C (Affleck) by the credits, nuzzles and sulks in a small house they’ve rented. Eventually, we realize that M wants to leave, while C, a musician, would prefer to stay. And then, after minutes on end of hushed semi-confrontation (and a few eerie noises), C dies in a car accident, right in front of their home. There are hints that Ghost Story will become a long-take study in grieving, like the way Lowery’s camera lingers on M, alone with C’s body in the morgue for a few minutes. The camera fixes on her as she fixes on the body, tucks the sheet over her husband’s lifeless head, then suddenly rushes out. The camera stays. And after a little while longer, C’s body, still sheet-covered, rises up.

It’s not literally his body. This wandering figure, with eye-holes cut in the sheet to make it resemble a hastily assembled Halloween costume, is C’s ghost, invisible to the world around him. As he walks around the hospital where his body remains, he’s presented with what looks like the opportunity to cross over into some kind of afterlife. He hesitates. And then he’s back at the house, watching his widow.
Continue reading A Ghost Story: Has David Lowery Made a Post-Actor Movie?

Will Ferrell experiments with dad comedy in The House

In Will Ferrell’s new movie The House, the comic actor plays the father of an incoming college freshman. Age-wise, this makes perfect sense; Ferrell is nearly 50, and having his daughter be a burgeoning adult probably more accurately reflects typical parent ages than, say, Adam Sandler, who is only a year older than Ferrell but has been stuck parenting mostly tweens on-screen for about a decade. Sandler is a major comparison point not just because of his age, but because of that tenure as a movie dad, which has by now amounted to around a dozen movies, many of which are explicitly about fatherhood (or Sandler’s sitcom-sentimental version of it, anyway).

This happens to most big comedy stars as they get older, especially guys – they need to pay tribute to their real-life families, reflect their real-life priorities, and nod to their aging fanbase by rejecting their youthful vigor/anger/anarchy in favor of gentler dad antics. Ben Stiller spent a whole comedy trilogy preparing himself for the rigors of family life; Sandler made a movie about dads screwing around and busting each other’s balls on vacation, and it’s his only live-action project so far to spawn a sequel; as early as 1997, just three years into his career as a superstar, Jim Carrey was playing a liar who needs to learn to be a better parent to his disappointed moppet.

Ferrell, though, has resisted this role, at least in movies. During his seven years on Saturday Night Live, he was a go-to father figure. His very first showcase sketch had him manning a barbecue, pausing every so often to scream, with increasing frustration and intensity, at unseen off-camera children to “GET OFF THE SHED.” Ferrell was a natural fit in these parts, with his height, soft belly, and slightly beady eyes – he could appear cuddly or menacing, sometimes within the same sketch. Later in his run on the show, he had a recurring bit where two parents made inane conversation over dinner, a symphony of plate-clinking silverware their backing track, until their teenage daughter would interrupt them and send Ferrell into an apoplectic but impotent rage.
Continue reading Will Ferrell experiments with dad comedy in The House

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Favorite Movies From Every Year We’ve Been Alive

This one requires some explanation.

You may have seen a meme going around Facebook, Twitter, and/or other soshmedes sometime earlier this year, where each participant would list their favorite movie from every year they have been alive (excluding, sometimes, the current, incomplete year). This got us here at SportsAlcohol.com thinking, and because we love lists and we love podcasts, Jesse, Marisa, Sara, and Nathaniel eventually decided to accept this challenge, send each other the lists in question, and then talk about it: How we made these choices, what we had in common, and where we diverged wildly (and not just because all four of us were born in different years).

So before you listen to this podcast — and you should listen, because it’s an extremely fun discussion — you might want to check out our list-inclusive grid below. Years where we all agreed on the same favorite movie are in green; years where all but one of us agreed are marked in yellow; years where no one agreed are marked in red.

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  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here.
  • You can listen in the player below. In honor of the life-spanning nature of this discussion, I’m using our default logo that includes pictures of many of us as younger people

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Wonder Woman

We weren’t sure if we were going to do a Wonder Woman podcast because we cover so many comics-related movies so often, but then Wonder Woman came out and became a phenomenon and suddenly it seemed pretty lame to have podcasts on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad and not the first of these DCU movies that everyone loves. Plus, we had a genuine superhero novice in the form of Sara, who never sees this stuff, so she and Marisa and Jesse and Nathaniel sat down to talk about our Wonder Woman experiences: How it’s different from other superhero movies, how it’s similar, and what it means to the larger audience that’s obviously connecting with it.

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Let’s Talk About Pirates of the Caribbean 5

Jesse and Nathaniel saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. We were the only people in our social circle to do so, as far as we knew. So let’s talk about it!

JESSE:
So I think it’s fair to say when a movie series makes it to part five, and it’s not something like Fast & Furious where it inexplicably gets way, way better the fifth time around, a natural question becomes: Why are we still doing this? I’m not saying the movie has to answer this, necessarily, because usually the answer is some combination of “$” and “$$$” and as the person who paid money to see Underworld: Blood Wars earlier this year, I’m not one to talk about pointless fifth installments. But I think that is a sentiment you’ll see a lot even as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales makes a ton of money (some in this country; more in other countries). I’m sure lots of people will ask, semi-rhetorically, are there really any hardcore Pirates movie fans left? Were there ever that many to begin with, or did people just really hope that the sequels would be as good as Black Pearl? Which brings me to you, Nathaniel. You are easily the biggest fan of this series that I know. You were the only person I considered bringing with me to the screening last week. So what are you, a pretty big Pirates of the Caribbean fan, looking for another sequel? And did Dead Men get the job done?

NATHANIEL:
You’re right! I’m the Pirates of the Caribbean fan that you know! I mean sure, everybody likes the ride and the first movie, and I do too. But I love those first three Gore Verbinski-directed (and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio-written) Pirates movies on a par with all the other stuff I’m always getting excited and going on about. I’ve even seen the fourth movie, On Stranger Tides, more than once! (It was definitely a disappointing comedown after the first three, but I still kinda like it.) So I was excited to see this new one, but your question about what I’m looking for in a sequel still gave me pause. Because I think there’s a conventional wisdom that, after the first movie, Disney has squandered a series that should have been easy to sequelize (with a notion of discrete Indiana Jones-style installments following Jack Sparrow on new adventures), first converting it into a dense fantasy trilogy and then producing a standalone Jack Sparrow caper that few seem to have liked. So I’d contend that (even aside from how hard it is to make a crowd-pleasing movie like this in the first place) it’s not as easy to create a satisfying sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean as one might think.
Continue reading Let’s Talk About Pirates of the Caribbean 5

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Alien Series

The Alien series has become, against some odds, one of cinema’s most enduring sagas, even as several of its best and most famous installments very much resist the temptation to tease out plans for sequels. With the eighth Alien-featuring film and second prequel to original Alien, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, just out in theaters, we gathered together a bunch of Alien fans to talk about every single movie in the franchise in one way or another, even the ones with the Predators. Join Marisa, Jesse, Nathaniel, Sara, and Jon as we discuss:

  • Our franchise faves
  • What’s up with Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien series
  • Other filmmakers who might be up to the task
  • What we thought of Alien: Covenant
  • How many Michael Fassbenders is… still not enough Fassbenders
  • The gross Frenchness of Alien: Resurrection
  • Whether going into hypersleep is always a bad idea
  • Seriously, the ones with the Predators
  • And more!
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    40 Things You Didn’t Know About Alien 3

    40 Things You Didn’t Know About Alien 3

    1. Today is the 25th anniversary of the release of Alien 3. It came out on May 22, 1992.

    2. Alien 3 was directed by David Fincher, who went on to make no fewer than three movies about serial killers: Seven, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The unstoppable killing machine of Alien 3 must have been good practice!

    3. Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of me going to see Alien 3 with my dad when I was eleven and a half.
      Continue reading 40 Things You Didn’t Know About Alien 3

    The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Riverdale!

    If you’re anything like us, it seems like everyone you know is watching Riverdale, this spring’s CW-aired reimagining of the classic Archie Comics characters. Marisa, real-life Archie doppelganger Nathaniel (seriously, you should see him in his Riverdale High t-shirt), Jesse, and YA expert Maggie all watched Season 1, including the recent season finale, then got together to discuss the show: as the teen soap du jour, as an adaptation of Archie Comics, and how it compares to the 2001 feature film Josie and the Pussycats. We talk about Archie! Jughead! Betty! Veronica! Plus even Reggie! And all the boring adults! Join us as we examine Riverdale Season 1 from all kinds of angles, from deep Archie fandom (Nathaniel) to YA fiction to thinking this version of Archie Andrews is very, very stupid (Marisa and Jesse).

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    The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Fate of the Furious, and of Movie Stars

    The Fate of the Furious, the eighth movie in the unkillable Fast and Furious franchise, is in theaters now, while reports about conflict between two of the franchise’s biggest stars, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, are appearing in gossip rags everywhere. The prominence of Johnson and Diesel in this particular mega-franchise got us thinking about the supposed death of the movie star, and whether audiences really have gotten over that star-driven model of moviegoing. So Marisa, Jesse, and Nathaniel got together to talk over both the new Fast and Furious movie and the state of the American movie star in general. It’s your best bet for quality Vin Diesel analysis, and we touch upon other stars, too, including the controversy (?) over Anne Hathaway, the comeback (?!) of Nicole Kidman, and the enduring strength of Denzel Washington. Also, Jesse makes everyone talk about Adam Sandler for a bit, obviously. Something for everyone!

    How To Listen

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