Tag Archives: film review

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.
Continue reading Modern Men: HONEST THIEF and SHITHOUSE

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.
Continue reading ANTEBELLUM raises the question: Is Janelle Monáe a great actor, or just a musical genius?

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.
Continue reading NYFF58 at Home Dispatch #1: Lovers Rock, Fauna, and The Calming

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.

Will UNDERWATER be the last shlocky/awesome Fox genre flick?

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.

Technically speaking, Underwater, the new waterlogged creature feature starring Kristen Stewart, is a Walt Disney Company release. Disney inherited it when they bought 20th Century Fox, which had been keeping Underwater safely concealed on a shelf for a while now (it completed principal photography back in 2017). The last year has seen several Fox releases that might not have been greenlit post-Disney, but Underwater represents a particularly Fox-like type of movie that will almost certainly cease now that Disney controls their soon-to-shrink pipeline. As Underwater disappears from theaters, so goes the sometimes great, sometimes shlocky tradition of the Fox sci-fi/horror thriller.

Most of the big studios have some kind of sci-fi history, especially now that astronaut movies are all the rage. But beyond Fox’s initial forays into the genre (how are The Day the Earth Stood Still and Fantastic Voyage not on Disney Plus?), beyond even their distribution of the first six Star Wars movies, many of their longest-running movie franchises are sci-fi: Planet of the Apes, Alien, Predator. Sci-fi had such a strong foothold at Fox that even its more recent flagship franchise, the comics-based X-Men series (which has one more offshoot, New Mutants, coming out in April after its own stay on the shelf), often feels as much like a Fox series as a Marvel one—sometimes to the chagrin of Marvel fans, who have come to expect a certain level of consistency and quality control in their superhero movies. X-Men’s mix of genre highlights and major disappointments very much fits in with the Apes, Alien, and Predator sagas.
Continue reading Will UNDERWATER be the last shlocky/awesome Fox genre flick?

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Black Christmas Through the 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.

The SportsAlcohol.com podcast isn’t always a vehicle for up-to-the-minute new-release movie reviews, but about once a year, around the holidays, apparently that changes. Last year, Ben and Jesse talked about Second Act; this year, ’tis the season for Black Christmas. A new 2019 version of the 1974 proto-slasher classic is hitting theaters this weekend, so Jesse and special guest slash podcast expert Becca took this opportunity to go through the Black Christmases that preceded it. In this holiday rundown, we look at the very different 1974, 2006, and 2019 incarnations of Black Christmas and try to sort through our reactions. Who will survive this holiday splatterfest?! (Becca thinks it might be her; listen in for her explanation of why she’s safe from horror-movie fears, at least for now.)

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Forget Widescreen: THE REPORT, WAVES, and this fall’s aspect ratio status symbols

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 Report, a new film written and directed by Scott Z. Burns and produced by Steven Soderbergh, has been shot in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. A few years ago, this would have seen more or less standard. Of course, some movies are composed in anamorphic widescreen while others opt for the less expansive 1.85:1, but just as 1.85 became the common wider-than-TV frame in the 1950s, 2.35 or 2.39 have become quite common in the era of flatscreen TVs (which are closer to the 1.85 ratio), a default “cinematic” look now that so much TV has widened out. This fall, I’ve noticed that many of the season’s most interesting and ambitious movies aren’t bothering with super-wide compositions at all. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is in 1.85 (like some of his older movies); the Shining sequel Doctor Sleep is, too (like the original’s theatrical release), and so are Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, and Ang Lee’s Gemini Man. Some recent releases go further: Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is in 1.66, the New York Film Festival debut First Cow uses 1.33, and The Lightouse is in the super-old-timey 1.19. Meanwhile, the movies that stay wider for their entire running times are the chintzier likes of Zombieland 2, Last Christmas, and, yes, Jexi. There are plenty of reasons a director might not want to automatically use 2.35, but it’s still a fascinating switch, even if it’s a coincidental one. Is this a reaction to the easy availability of Widescreen Content? Does anamorphic widescreen now somehow signify a movie going through the motions of visual interest while remaining mostly indifferent?
Continue reading Forget Widescreen: THE REPORT, WAVES, and this fall’s aspect ratio status symbols

NYFF57: The crime stories of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN and OH MERCY!

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.

Though it was far from the most acclaimed film of this year’s main slate, it made sense for the 57th New York Film Festival to close with Motherless Brooklyn. The NYFF is the a major festival-season gathering that still feels a little bit local, and as such, has an unofficial but clear obligation to its hometown. That was evident in the opening night selection (Scorsese!), the centerpiece selection (Baumbach!), the quasi-secret screening (Safdies!), and a reoriented version of Motherless Brooklyn that takes place in the 1950s instead of the Jonatham Lethem novel’s then-contemporary 1990s.

Brooklyn had a particular weight on it this year because Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, while set in a familiar Classic Scorsese milieu, is not actually a New York crime picture—it’s more of a tri-state area affair. Uncut Gems (as yet unseen by me) is legit NYC, but it wasn’t an officially announced main-slate attraction. So that leaves Edward Norton’s passion project as the crime movie representing New York City, playing alongside The Irishman (skulking around Philadelphia and New Jersey) and Arnaud Desplechin’s Oh Mercy! (set in the French city of Roubaix).
Continue reading NYFF57: The crime stories of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN and OH MERCY!

NYFF57: The Past Lives in FIRST COW and PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

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.

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, both of which just played the 57th New York Film Festival, are not exactly set contemporaneously, but they’re not too far apart, at least from our contemporary vantage. Portrait unfolds over a few days toward the end of the 18th century, while First Cow is relatively early in the 19th, around 1820. They’re also set thousands of miles apart, First Cow remote (the Oregon territory) and Portrait, in some ways, remoter (the coast of France, in and around a well-appointed but seemingly isolated house). And superficially, they don’t have much in common beyond that remoteness, and an accompanying ender segregation. First Cow features only a few women, while Portrait of a Lady on Fire has almost no men.

A man, mostly unseen, nonetheless looms over the story of Portrait, told as a flashback from Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a painter and art teacher, prompted by a student’s question. Years earlier, Marianne is sent to paint Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), so that the resulting picture may be sent to a potential husband, to seal the deal on an official marriage proposal (the painting will convey mostly Héloïse’s physical presence, and she is a terribly attractive woman). It feels like a formality, but it’s one that Héloïse will not sit for; upon her arrival, Marianne learns that she’s accepted a stealth assignment. She will pose as a companion for Héloïse, observe her, and paint her portrait in secret. The movie gets right into Marianne’s point of view, and her painter’s eye for detail; you can see her observing Héloïse’s hands, her earlobes, the back of her neck. Eventually also her face; Adèle Haenel is given a “you were expecting someone else?” face-reveal introduction.
Continue reading NYFF57: The Past Lives in FIRST COW and PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE