Tag Archives: film review

Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE: A Big Slice of Hero Cake

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.

I thought about structuring my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the much-anticipated four-hour reclamation-through-supersizing of a misbegotten DCEU non-blockbuster, like a normal piece of film criticism. This would mean crafting a catchy lead, smooth transitions, drilling down into some finer details, and summing it all up to make a broader point about the film, the filmmaker, the genre, whatever. But this version of Justice League stubbornly resists traditional structure; it’s literally one of the longest feature films I’ve ever seen, and not even in service of telling a radically different story from the bastardized version that came out in 2017. Instead, it tells that story again, and at vastly greater length, and with no particular rhythm, discernible construction, or traditional momentum. It’s divided into six parts and an epilogue, and apart from the epilogue (which takes place some days or weeks after the events of the climax), there doesn’t seem to be a particular organizing principle. It’s not sorted by timeline, character, or any thematic unity I could detect (and detecting subtleties are rarely among the challenges this filmmaker poses). The parts are titled seemingly at random, perhaps so Zack Snyder, the architect of this monument to his half-baked ideas, can decide what they mean later. It turns out that Snyder’s ideal movie is an assembly cut with finished special effects.
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COMING 2 AMERICA Sells Itself Short

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.

Sometimes, usually around the Super Bowl, an enterprising corporation will entice a famous actor to reprise a famous role for 30 or 60 seconds at a time. Whether it’s Jeff Bridges briefly returning to The Dude or Mike Myers and Dana Carvey doing one more Wayne’s World sketch, these reanimations can light up our nostalgia receptors with warm hit of recognition. They’re also commonplace enough to diminish with every passing year. The ads themselves may technically vary in cleverness, but most of them amount to a momentary spark, quickly dampened–whether by lame jokes, depressing shilling, or simply the cruel visibility of time’s passage. Coming 2 America, a 33-years-later sequel to one of Eddie Murphy’s better comedies, is like watching that type of Super Bowl ad for 105 minutes, give or take. Imagine how much dampening that involves.

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In THE LITTLE THINGS, Denzel Washington sticks around for more afternoon-cable pulp

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.

There are times when it’s easy to lose patience with Denzel Washington for his steadfast dedication to being a movie star. Here is one of the best actors of his generation, a popular two-time Oscar winner with fine taste in theater classics and a willingness to complicate his megawatt charisma, who nonetheless frequently makes movies designed to play on some Turner-owned cable station or another in weekend-afternoon perpetuity.

Yet Washington, who has always appeared in pulp but has done so more often after 50, has stuck around in crime thrillers, vigilante thrillers, and serial-killer-chasing thrillers for so long that his junky one-for-them studio pictures can, under the right lighting, look like comfort. The Little Things, his new Warner Bros. movie premiering in theaters and HBO Max simultaneously, has the right lighting. Specifically, it’s lit in Diet David Fincher greens and streetlamps at night, a more richly moody look than anything I’ve seen before from writer-director John Lee Hancock. Hancock is taking a break from his usual Americana; rather than observing the men who caught Bonnie and Clyde or the unctuous franchising of McDonald’s or the white-knuckle production of Mary Poppins, he’s simply on the trail of Denzel Washington, on the trail of a serial killer, throwing back only so far as 1990. Canny, setting a cops-versus-killer narrative at the dawn of that narrative’s big-studio heyday.

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Women of Action: MONSTER HUNTER and SHADOW IN THE CLOUD

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.

The recent movie Shadow in the Cloud sounds like it could be one of those occasional January miracles: an efficient, unpretentious genre mish-mash executed with no-fuss brawn and style. It’s about Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz), a WWII flight officer who hitches a last-minute ride on a bomber, where she is beset by sexism, then Japanese fighter planes, then gremlins. Shadow is so theoretically January-tastic that it dropped on the very first of the year, a rare release date made more feasible by the global pandemic, which has sent the film to first-run VOD as well as a few theaters simultaneously.

The hybrid release model is unusually appropriate for this movie; for its entire 83 minutes (or rather, for the 75 minutes it actually runs minus credits), it straddles the line between unusually ambitious, well-made trash and the chintzy direct-to-video garbage of old. The movie even provides its own convenient delineation: there’s the sizable chunk of the story confined to Maude’s cramped stay in the plane’s ball turret, communicating with her mostly-offscreen co-stars via radio, versus the mayhem-heavier sequences where she exits the ball turret to fight off those human-sized beasties. The filmmakers seem torn over whether its low-budget ridiculousness should be elegantly elided, or powered through with smash-and-grab energy.
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Liam Neeson Cosplays Late-Late-Period Clint Eastwood in THE MARKSMAN

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.

There is no shortage of Clint Eastwood. He may not star in movies as regularly anymore, but his late-late-period career has featured so many roles that seemed like de facto retirement ceremonies that Gran Torino, Trouble with the Curve, and The Mule feel closer together than they are, spread out over the course of a decade. He has at least one more starring role to go; his movie Cry Macho is due out by the end of 2021. By then, he will be 91. The Mule, his last not-quite-last movie made $100 million in the United States. He is easily the most popular eighty-and-ninetysomething actor and director in Hollywood history.

Yet at some point, very likely in the next five to ten years, Clint Eastwood will no longer make movies. (This is not a prediction of his death, mind. If it’s easy to picture any movie star making it to 110, it’s Clint.) He will leave behind the perception that a certain segment of the moviegoing public really enjoys seeing middle-to-advanced-aged men put younger bad guys in their place. 2009’s Taken, starring Liam Neeson, is generally considered to have kicked off the modern strain of old-man-vengeance thrillers, but Eastwood was there a few weeks earlier with 2008’s Grand Torino, just as big a hit with an even older protagonist. (Neeson was a spry 57 when Taken came out, compared with Eastwood’s 79 at the same time.)
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Modern Men: HONEST THIEF and SHITHOUSE

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.

I have to get this out of the way: I have no idea why Shithouse is titled Shithouse. I mean, technically I know: The title refers to some kind of frat or residence house on or near a Los Angeles college campus where the movie’s two main characters don’t quite meet. It’s the kind of place where, when Alex (Cooper Raiff) asks about where to find a party on a Friday night, and his asshole roommate Sam (Logan Miller) tells him the big one is at Shithouse, Alex asks if there are any other parties available. There are not. 

Alex is not the kind of guy who particularly wants to go to a place called Shithouse and he’s not the type of guy who would name a movie Shithouse. (This apparently sets him apart from the actor playing him, who wrote and directed the film and likely had at least some input on the title.) Maybe that’s the point, in a movie about Alex trying to get out of both his comfort zone and his freshman-year loneliness (turns out, they may be the same thing). But it’s still a strange gesture for the movie to make, if only because it portends a different, more aggressive and maybe dirtbaggy brand of campus comedy, and Shithouse is one of the most sensitive renderings of college insecurity I’ve ever seen.
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ANTEBELLUM raises the question: Is Janelle Monáe a great actor, or just a musical genius?

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.

Antebellum was supposed to be another big breakthrough for Janelle Monáe. That might seem like an absurd concept for an entertainer who has already put out multiple records, starred in multiple Best Picture nominees, and received of her own nominations for a multitude of awards in various fields. Surely, someone will offer decent odds on her EGOTing sometime in the next four decades. But right now, her film career is still relatively young, and Antebellum represents her first unambiguous starring role. It’s the kind of next step that can only be taken after massive previous successes; last spring, starring in a new socially-conscious horror movie from producers who worked on Get Out and Us seemed like another level up for a rare talent.

As with so many plans, a worldwide pandemic waylaid Monáe’s first leading-lady film. (She previously starred in the second season of Homecoming on TV.) Originally set to debut in April, Antebellum was bumped into August, then scheduled for a VOD-only release in September. Though trailers piqued a lot of curiosity, early reviews have not been kind; some critics have designated it one of the year’s worst, and they’re not wrong. A seemingly provocative dual narrative—one featuring Monáe as Veronica, a successful author in contemporary America, the other where she endures grotesque cruelty as Eden, a slave in the South—turns out to be a pretty facile, even exploitative gimmick story that employs real-life horrors for no greater purpose than to point out that they are, in fact, horrifying. Aiming to blow minds a second time, the movie further points out that racism still exists today. Turns out those Get Out comparisons were extremely unwise.

Notably, there aren’t many reviews that blame Monáe for the film’s shortcomings as a thriller, which makes sense; Antebellum fails on the writing and directing levels before any of its cast has a real chance to salvage it. Live by a hooky concept, die by a hooky concept. At the same time, it’s hard to walk away from this mess thinking that Monáe is a major movie star in waiting. If she’s giving it her best shot, it hasn’t resulted in a compelling performance that powers through bad material. She goes down with the ship. As Eden, she spends a lot of screen time reacting: to the horrors around her, to the unwinnable situation she’s found herself in, and to horrible violence perpetuated against other Black people. That’s the case for her work as Veronica, too. She reacts to microaggressions from white folks, vaguely unsettling hints that something is about to go wrong, and to the more outspoken demeanor of her friend Dawn (Gabourey Sidibe)—giving us scenes where Monáe is reacting to other reactions.
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NYFF58 at Home Dispatch #1: Lovers Rock, Fauna, and The Calming

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.

I’ve been attending the New York Film Festival for nearly a decade and, because of various scheduling factors and assignments, I’ve known it largely as a venue for splashy, high-end premieres of one sort or another. Even though many of the NYFF selections typically hit Cannes, Toronto, and/or Venice first, they’ll still, say, be the first place anywhere that shows Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, or Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, or Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, under optimal conditions and maximum excitement. The Irishman is a perfect case in point, not just for the massive hype of a major fall movie shown for the first time, but for a more recent phenomenon: Last year especially, New York Film Fest became a go-to destination for catching movies that otherwise might not play on a big screen near you.

Of course, The Irishman and Marriage Story and the previous year’s Ballad of Buster Scruggs all did get theatrical engagements before their Netflix bows. But they were always tied up in uncertainty over which theaters would agree to Netflix’s shortened-window terms, and whether those theaters would give those movies anything better than token shoebox-auditorium engagements (Netflix seems semi-committed to theatrical releases for its prestige projects, but also reneges on promised splashiness like the thousands of screens that were supposed to show The Irishman). NYFF was a way for nervous cinephiles to make damn well sure they saw these movies on a big screen.

Now those concerns seem downright laughable. Wondering about whether a movie might play on big enough screens so that it might be experienced with a giant crowd of strangers? Ha, that’s pre-pandemic thinking, the concerns of a more innocent age! The New York Film Festival, like all but a very select few and foolhardy film concerns of the past six months, has moved online. The types of marquee features that might typically populate the opening, centerpiece, and closing slots have largely vacated the release calendar entirely, making a smaller, more streaming-friendly festival. Last year boasted the mid-fest world premiere of The Irishman. This year’s opening night? Part of a TV show Steve McQueen did for Amazon.
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THE GENTLEMEN: Don’t call it a comeback; Guy Ritchie will be here for years

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.

How much would my bro-na fides go up if I admitted that one of my great thrills ever experienced in a movie theater happened during the Guy Ritchie movie Snatch, which I saw at least twice, possibly three times in the winter of 2001? I went along with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels as yet another post-Pulp Fiction, post-Trainspotting attempt to make guns and/or fliply executed violence and/or UK accents seem extra-cool. Sure, fine, a fun movie, though in the back of my head I admitted to myself that it wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped. But when Brad Pitt’s Irish-gypsy-boxer entered the ring in the final stretch of Snatch, accompanied by a blast of the then-recent Oasis instrumental track “Fuckin’ in the Bushes,” I was nearly out of my seat. It’s the kind of moment that the internet might well spoil and pre-digest today. In January 2001, I had no idea that Ritchie had one of my favorite Oasis tunes up his sleeve, using it with the exact same badass swagger as the movie a 20-year-old Oasis fan was already playing in his heart.

This is all to say that I have a soft spot for Guy Ritchie, mildly bad boy of the UK film scene and eventual blockbuster director for hire. Though the disastrousness of Revolver and Swept Away (the latter as yet unseen by me, so maybe it’s merely a financial disaster) indicated a downward trajectory swifter than the likes of Robert Rodriguez or Kevin Smith, Ritchie pulled out of his talespin with two hit Sherlock Holmes movies, enjoyably forgettable and forgettably enjoyable; made a genuinely zippy wannabe-blockbuster out of The Man from UNCLE, made a compellingly misguided wannabe-blockbuster out of King Arthur, and a similarly misguided but actual blockbuster out of Aladdin. Aladdin was his biggest global hit by like a billion dollars, but now Guy Ritchie is back, baby, with The Gentlemen: a bit of the old ultraviolence, chaps, in that it is mostly about mostly-English hoodlums punching each other, shooting each other, threatening to punch each other, or threatening to, well, you get the idea.

The thing is, Ritchie has been back before; RockNRolla was his supposed return to form in 2008, a gangster tale with the humor and cheek sapped out. The Gentlemen isn’t quite so dour–there are laugh lines aplenty, capably delivered–but there’s a certain hardness at its center. Not hard-boiled, mind, but something calcified, with some of the dead-stiff philosophizing that turned his Revolver into a barely-walking corpse. Weirdly, that sourness is owned and operated by one Matthew McConaughey, whose presence is typically both more pleased and more pleasing. Here he plays Mickey Pearson, an American expat living in England, making his living as an ambitious and successful weed impresario. But Mickey is ready to exit the business and spend more time with his beloved wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery)—though she seems plenty occupied by her car-customization business. (Telling, that she commands a fleet of all-lady mechanics… who have about a minute of combined screentime, almost as if Ritchie is admitting that he understands how women could easily be a bigger part of his world and wants to make the conscious choice to keep it to one per picture.)

Mickey is getting ready to sell his various secret growth and distribution centers to Matthew (Jeremy Strong), but he’s also fielding some interest from Dry Eye (Henry Golding), at the behest of Dry Eye’s older boss. But the negotiations are framed by Fletcher (Hugh Grant) a sort of freelance bottom-feeder who approaches Mickey’s right-hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) with information that requires Fletcher to spin a long, tangled narrative for context (which he has also conveniently provided in screenplay format). A lot of this stuff revels in the fun and needless complications of Ritchie’s earliest films, guided along by Fletcher’s rococo insinuations and occasional rhapsodizing about the magic of shooting on film rather than digital. (OK, Guy.) Though there is some violence, a lot of the movie is talk, and it’s a fun one to listen to, even if Ritchie’s insistence on putting racial slurs in the mouths of his characters (who are racist, to be sure, though not in especially interesting or important ways) is suddenly the most authentically Tarantino-esque thing about him. It’s all just more shit-talk for Ritchie, and a lot of it is disreputably entertaining; Henry Golding is a lot more fun as conniving gangster than a himbo, which is to say the Colin Farrell principle applies here. Twice, actually, because Farrell himself makes an appearance as the requisite Irish boxer, trying to keep a pack of teenage hooligans on the relatively straight and relatively narrow. When he fails, they make YouTube music videos of themselves performing a grime number whilst robbing one of Mickey’s illicit dispensaries.

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Watching this amusingly wacked-out sequence, it struck me that 20 years ago, the gang of YouTube hooligans (or their pre-YouTube equivalents) would be more prominent characters in a Ritchie movie. Here, they’re colorful support, wrangled by Farrell, but far less important to the narrative than characters with vastly better-appointed homes and gardens. Hunnam—not even the kingpin, but his main henchman—begrudgingly entertains the sleazy Fletcher with a smoke-free backyard barbecue, grilling fancy steaks. Instead of scrappy strivers and lowlifes, Ritchie sympathizes with the richer criminals—especially McConaughey’s Mickey, who whinges on about how the lion must (get this) “be the lion” in order to, uh, be the lion. The metaphorical lion, in the metaphorical jungle. Just a slight calibration and this guy would be the pompous jackass

McConaughey lends him some baseline rooting interest, and that’s his job as an actor. But what’s Ritchie’s excuse? Why is he making a cheeky gangster caper that amounts to an enormously wealthy, white, not-even-English dude who makes time for grotesque revenge on a tabloid editor? (Eddie Marsan is in this, too; guess who he plays?) Obviously English tabloids can go fuck themselves, but I’m not sure McConaughey’s character has any high ground that the movie doesn’t hastily and arbitrarily pile up for him. (He deals exclusively in weed! He’s not like a regular drug dealer, he’s a cool drug dealer.)

That’s an awful lot of morality parsing, I know, for a Guy Ritchie movie that aims for a form of cheerful amorality, and truth be told, I was able to roll with much of The Gentlemen. Grant is a delight! Farrell is a delight! Dockery, despite being someone who was on Downtown Abbey, is a delight! Hunnam, so often ill-used in bigger movies, has a commanding scene where he marches into a drug den full of posh miscreants and firmly retrieves one of them on behalf of their family. Half the cast is stylishly bespectacled for some reason. Moral correctness is not especially the point of The Gentlemen, and the movie’s ending even regains some its playfulness by suggesting just how much of this is storytelling for its own sake, more tangled-up screenplay fodder for Fletcher or Ritchie himself. But the cheeky thrill of self-reference (hey, is that a Man from UNCLE poster?) can’t match the Oasis-scored mischief of Snatch, which was self-conscious, sure, but a bit less self-regarding. And maybe it’s just wishful thinking, the fleeting idea that Ritchie might be self-effacing enough to see himself as desperately for-sale Fletcher—instead of the preening, bloviating Mickey. Sometimes, The Gentlemen gives the impression that Ritchie doesn’t consider this a return to form so much as an insistence that no number of flops would dare issue him a comeuppance.