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RESURRECTION is a well-shot workshop-level mediocrity

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 new psychological horror-thriller Resurrection burns slowly, with two elements guaranteed to hold my attention. One is Rebecca Hall, who has become one of the movies’ foremost chroniclers of a loosening grip on rationality, in large part because she projects such an unwavering intelligence. The other is the city of Albany, located 30 miles south of where I grew up, and rarely captured on film with such evocative clarity. (Usually, if it’s being captured at all, it’s to stand in for other cities.) Hall plays Margaret, a successful executive and single mother, whose Albany-based life is a feat of imposed order, reflected in the modernist/brutalist architecture of the city skyline. She’s a mentor at work at a doting, perhaps overprotective mother to her teenage daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman), who is close to leaving the nest for college. And when David (Tim Roth), a figure from her past, re-appears, she slowly begins to unravel.

David seems to know he would have this effect on her. At first, their encounters are barely that—Margaret thinks she glimpses him in the distance, or finds him on a public bench, seemingly minding his business. Is he a hallucination, even? He’s such a ghostly figure that it seems possible, though no one looks askance when the two appear in public together. Margaret may wish that she was merely talking to herself, but that’s not the case. Fearing for the safety of her child, she tightens her grip, and of course Abbie, and the rest of her world, resists this attempt at control. David won’t make a move to generate suspicion in the eyes of anyone else, but he also refuses to be denied.

I may have just described to you an eerie, unnerving horror movie of rare discipline and exactitude. If so, I apologize, because Resurrection is, for the most part, a well-shot crock of shit.

As a slow burn, it’s intriguing but ultimately low-key incompetent. Half a movie’s worth of creepy build-up gives way to a monologue from Hall that’s obviously supposed to be a bravura minimalist one-take set piece, where she unloads her character’s entire salient background as it pertains to her nightmarish relationship with David. There’s relief, at first, in the way the movie finally lays its cards on the table after so much intentional withholding—a clever reversal after creating the expectation that maybe writer-director Andrew Semans would keep everything close to the vest for the entire runtime, or at least until the final minutes. But though Hall gives this scene her best—if she can convincingly feign concern over a massive CG ape in Godzilla vs. Kong, of course she can kill it with a juicy monologue—it’s also the point where Resurrection no longer seems to trust her carefully calibrated performance. She can convey so much through her expression or her behavior, as she does in The Night House and countless other movies; giving her a baldly expositional ten-minute monologue doesn’t necessarily serve her character or performance. It serves the movie’s desire to shock and provoke.

It is provocative, I’ll give it that; this is a movie dying for its “F” CinemaScore badge of honor. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, I’ll say that Margaret reveals the details of an abusive relationship she had with David when she was a young woman, capped by an off-screen (both in terms of the movie and her own eyes) act of pure evil, made especially insidious by Margaret being forced to rely on David’s account of the incident. His telling adds a layer of fantastical impossibility, and now that he’s returned to her orbit, the psychological gravity of his bizarre claims threatens to pull her back in.

The thing is, what David tells Margaret about their old life together sounds like incoherent (and, conceptually, rather abstract) ranting, delivered with am eerie (some might say minimally acted) calm by Roth. It’s a gambit doubtless designed to make Resurrection really go there. The movie is clearly trying to say something both about the controlling, irrational nature of abuse, and, perhaps secondarily, about the psychological horrors of a parent attempting to keep their child safe. Mainly, that… they really suck and can make you do bad stuff? That central monologue does both too much and too little; it explains everything so precisely and directly that it breaks the film’s mysterious spell, while also failing to make a convincing case for Margaret believing something that is not just highly unlikely, but literally impossible. Yes, yes, this is the insidious and seductive nature of abuse, illustrating how that power may never actually go away, and so on. But if this is metaphorical, it’s also tautological: Believing stuff your abusive partner says is as irrational and unwinnable and damaging as… believing stuff your abusive partner says.

A movie canny enough to simply rip off The Vanishing might have shifted the emphasis from the impossible to the unknown: David is in the position to promise Margaret access to something she desperately wants, if only she submits to him. Isn’t that more in the realm of abuse, the promise of something that could technically happen—that the abuser will provide some semblance of what the abused desperately wants—but in reality will not? Instead, David promises Margaret something absolutely insane, and she submits to him.

This could make a case for operating on a more abstract, dreamlike level if Resurrection was more visceral, or even just entertaining. On a purely practical level, this revelation sends the movie into a slog of repetition: Margaret faces David, spits venom at him, tries to strong-arm him into leaving her alone; he reacts with an unflappable, sanguine smugness; she bends to his will in some way or another; repeat, repeat, repeat. Add in some boilerplate scenes of Margaret trying and failing to exert control over her daughter, and Semans also sours a potent metaphor about parenting into programmatic plot points (while tacitly insisting that these are no mere plot points).

All of this simmering tedium does come to a head, in a scene that is, admittedly, a wild ride—though perhaps it seems more like one because the movie has heretofore self-consciously restrained itself beyond all reason. Resurrection ultimately feels like it was reverse-engineered to reach this big confrontation between Margaret and David, and look, the sequence has its moments; there is one in particular, involving the appearance of a knife, that made me laugh in delight, a momentary heedlessness taking over all the preciously arranged writer’s conceits. Then—and again, trying to avoid spoilers on a movie I by this point despised—there’s a “crazy” turn as predictable as any writing workshop short story, chased with an equally predictable note of ambiguity in the denouement. These aren’t moments of impossible-yet-inevitable clarity that dot good literary fiction; they’re the only moves Semans can really make, because the movie’s nightmare logic is narrower than it looks. Mostly, it looks a lot like an “elevated” horror movie greenlit in the wake of Hereditary. Even the distinctive Albany Look gradually recedes from view.

At best, Resurrection is a geek show. At worst, it’s a game of three-card monte that’s all shuffling and no meaningful catharsis. It’s one thing to rig a card game; it’s quite another for the dealer attempt to convince you it’s actually been an interpretive dance.

THE BATMAN is a twelve-issue miniseries of a movie

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 Batman is dark. It takes place largely at night, features multiple scenes of its costumed hero slowly emerging from the shadows, and its new build of the always-murky Gotham City seems to be located in a rainier climate than before, somewhere near the unnamed city from Seven. And yes, The Batman is that other kind of dark, too. Batman, still a little green a year or two into his self-appointed job as protector of Gotham, spends much of the movie chasing down a serial killer who leaves clues scrawled in a creepy-kid handwriting/font-in-waiting, alongside a series of prominent corpses. This is the handiwork of the Riddler, last glimpsed wearing a series of brightly colored, question-marked bodysuits, springing his child’s-garden-of-brainteasers material with the infinite elasticity of comedy superstar Jim Carrey. Now he is a masked, muffled weirdo played by Paul Dano, watching his victims from a distance, working himself into a messy froth to subdue them, leaving taunting messages for the flummoxed authorities via complicated ciphers.

The Riddler may be the most flagrantly antisocial Gothamite we meet in this movie, but the other characters dress up in their own costumes of discontent. Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), recognizable though not referred to as Catwoman, grimaces through her degrading server work at a criminal-friendly club, as she sets up cat-burglary scores, attempts to protect her friends, and plots various forms of revenge, while Batman (Robert Pattinson) stalks the streets and irritates any cops who aren’t his tentative, already-weary ally Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). The Bat and the Cat are matching his ‘n her skulkers with voids where their families should be. Only a scarred gangster known as the Penguin (Colin Farrell) seems to be having much fun.

Of course, Batman has a heavy burden to bear—thematically, sure (you ever hear about his parents?!?), but also practically, as the only mainstream superhero who allows rich swirls of darkness and shadow in their palette. (Plenty of superhero slogs get stuck in the gray zone of bad cinematography, falling short of inky blackness.) Certain fans believe that this confers a grown-up respectability upon this Bat-material, which, of course, is largely hogwash. This reputation does, however, give filmmakers more leeway to add textures and shading into the superhero universe. It’s been that way ever since Tim Burton and the stunning production design of Anton Furst brought Gotham to nightmarish life in the 1989 Batman.

Burton’s two movies about this character, especially his masterful Batman Returns, whimsically cross-faded gothic tragedy with circus-sideshowmanship. By comparison, it’s a little difficult to discern how seriously we’re supposed to take The Batman. Based on the past work of director and co-writer Matt Reeves—the dramatic clarity of his Planet of the Apes sequels; the ultimate doominess of his monster movie Cloverfield—it seems like he’s aiming for psychological realism, not too far removed from Christopher Nolan’s beloved Dark Knight trilogy. Those movies were pulpier than some of their most ardent fans gave them credit for, and The Batman is pulpier still, whether or not the filmmakers admit it.

Reeves must at least appreciate comic books; his compositions favor close-ups and shallow focus, and he extends this preference by occasionally affixing his camera to an unusual vantage point—the back wheel of a car, or Batman himself—as action shifts in the background, keeping his foregrounded image unnaturally steady. Here, those shots look especially like panels, without the ostentatious pose-and-crib styling of Zack Snyder, or even the experimental page-flipping of Ang Lee’s Hulk. It’s a more modest and (relatively speaking) subtle way of making the on-screen action resemble the dynamic action of comics. If his Warner Bros. stablemates the Wachowskis specialize in splash panels, Reeves seems to enjoy the smaller corners of the page, the way complicated action can be broken down into single images. He places these eerie moments of clarity within action-sequence tumult, most impressively in a scene where Batman’s muscle-car Batmobile relentlessly pursues the Farrell’s sputtering, wiseass Penguin, or in his longer shots of Batman in combative motion, deflecting bullets and bulldozing various stooges.

Batman does this a lot; he also keeps tromping, workmanlike, out of the shadows, and when he attempts a more majestic, fantastic escape flight, he wipes out spectacularly. I didn’t clock the screen time, but it feels like Robert Pattinson spends more time in that durable Batsuit than some of his predecessors. On the human side of things, he recalls the Keaton/Kilmer Batmen of the ’90s cycle—aloof, remote, and downright socially awkward as a Bruce Wayne who seems to be distractedly thinking of his superheroic tithing even (or especially) when he’s forced to appear unarmored in the harsh light of day. Reeves seems to want to give Bruce/Batman a worthy, knotty case to untangle, and remake his image as a sleepless, irritable private eye. Some of the movie’s zip derives from how unsuited Batman is to reclaiming that world’s-greatest-detective mantle: He clumsily interrogates the Penguin, tries to team up with Catwoman only to watch her repeatedly go rogue, and generally fails to make the friends or surrogate family that might sustain him. (How many Jokers have we gotten on-screen, and yet Chris O’Donnell is the only one allowed to play a proper Robin?!) The ever-loyal James Gordon brings around him to crime scenes and keeps referring to him, from a slight distance, as “man” (as in, “we really gotta go, man”).

Wright makes that line sound like his own, whether it is or not. He brings some actorly personality to his short scenes, as does Farrell. Pattinson and Kravitz rely more on their looks, but not in an empty-model sort of way. They cut the right figures in their various guises, which is half the battle in such a visually driven environment. Regrettably, Pattinson is denied the opportunity to masquerade as Bruce Wayne’s undercover identity as a low-level criminal named Matches Malone. Kravitz, however, has enough DIY for the both of them, sporting a cat-eared ski mask and fingernail claws. It’s fun to watch the Bat, the Cat, and the cop warily circle each other and attempt to chase down clues.

Where the clues ultimately lead, though, feels less lucid. Not so much because the movie is indecipherable (it’s not) or overplotted (it probably is that) but because it scans so much like a comic book, and not a great one. Like most past Batman movies, it pulls from and amalgamates a number of sources. Unlike those past movies, the dominant rhythm is that of a readably unspectacular twelve-issue miniseries—though the comics-world coinage of “maxiseries” makes particular sense for this three-hour movie that’s neither endless slog nor gripping epic. The story adds up, in a nominal sort of way, and has some unexpected twists and tweaks in the final stretch, meant to challenge Bruce Wayne’s obsessions and guide him toward the lessons he’s lost in the pursuit of, as he puts it and as Selina drolly echoes back to him, “vengeance.” What the movie doesn’t do is reach a true crescendo, either of tension (as in Nolan’s films) or grotesque beauty (as in Burton’s). It hits its notes early and often, like the insistently memorable Michael Giacchino theme that accompanies it.

That leaves The Batman most resembling, of all things, the follow-ups to Burton’s work, when Joel Schumacher took the reins for Batman Forever (the one with Carrey’s Riddler) and Batman & Robin. It’s a different tone, of course. Schumacher embraced live-action cartooniness—sets that look like sets; actors that act like chattering wind-up toys—and making kids laugh. If anything, Reeves’ comic relief carries the faintest echo of Burton’s mordant humor. Yet Reeves shares with Schumacher an inability to make the characters feel like they truly exist in between the plot points and set pieces. That’s why certain characters, like Bruce’s loyal butler-guardian Alfred (Andy Serkis), depend on the presumption that they’re arriving pre-endeared to the audience at large, and therefore in little need of character development.

The Batman isn’t completely devoid of feeling. Kravitz has a heat that short-circuits some of Pattinson’s more po-faced tendencies, and it lingers in the air between them even as they’re pulled apart. (Imagine, superheroes with the desire to kiss each other before their relationship is fully and clearly defined!) There are even moments, toward the end, when the movie turns hearteningly optimistic amidst the viscerally rendered gloom, evoking the muddling-through so many of us have found ourselves performing (albeit on a less dramatic scale). Yet much of the actual story consists of lateral piece-moving, dependent on a bunch of gradually revealed and remodified backstory. If the serial-killer trailing and cipher-decoding is supposed to evoke the historical unease of Zodiac (“This is the Riddler speaking,” Dano intones at one point), it lands closer to ’90s thrillers that slickly repackaged dread as flashy excitement–aimed at adults in quote marks, perhaps equally well-suited to fourteen-year-olds. Sound familiar, comics readers? The darkness of The Batman is somehow both richly textured and flimsy–a painting done up on newsprint.

THE GREEN KNIGHT is a gnarly dorm-room poster I don’t know how to review

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.

Usually, I delight at the opportunity to write about a new movie in a simple new-release-review format, preferably at one of the outlets that care to indulge me in that regard, but sometimes on this website, where I don’t have to pitch my pre-constructed take on a particular film or filmmaker keyed to the zeitgeist, or a more specific demographic than “people who want to read a review of a new movie that they might watch at some point.” Those kinds of essays can be fun to write and turn out wonderfully; sometimes they are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Faced with the opportunity to write what I wanted about The Green Knight, however, I longed for the sense of purpose one can assign the fitting of a square peg into a round hole. For whatever reason, thinking about what to say about The Green Knight has felt like throwing a series of square pegs into the Grand Canyon.

This is not to say that The Green Knight is a film of vast, inimitable, impossible beauty (though it is beautiful). This is also not to say that I at all disliked David Lowery’s take on an Arthurian legend (maybe call it an Arthurish B-side?). For the most part, I liked it quite a lot; am I allowed to just come out and say that in a movie review? There are some parts in the first half-hour where too many characters have too many hushed conversations inside too many dim castles, and I briefly grew drowsy. But even this was weirdly effective, as so much of the rest of the movie plays like an actual dream, during which I was quite lucid, and delighted by the movie’s visual boldness and glorious unpredictability. (Perhaps now is a good time to admit that I was not familiar with this particular oft-told tale.)
Continue reading THE GREEN KNIGHT is a gnarly dorm-room poster I don’t know how to review

Tribeca 2021: The COVID Fest

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 was no way we were getting out of Tribeca 2021 without COVID movies. No possibility. Tribeca tends to skew more indie and experimental than a lot of major fests—it’s not unusual for a majority of the narrative films I watch at Tribeca to clock in under 100 minutes, as was the case for Tribeca 2021, with plenty of titles well under 90—and this year they’re the first big U.S. festival back post-pandemic, at a time when filmmakers have had 15 months to cook up some potentially ill-advised COVID projects. Though it doesn’t advertise itself as such, the festival’s midpoint-but-actually-penultimate-night “centerpiece” selection, Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move, was one such pandemic project, shot in a “bubble” last fall. (HBO Max apparently loves an auteur in the bubble; they premiered Doug Liman’s Soderberghian Locked Down in January.) Soderbergh’s movie isn’t ill-advised at all, at least in terms of how it turned out; mostly, it’s a blast. But there are COVID-heavier projects on the Tribeca bill, too, that take up an assignment seemingly no audience members have given out: How do we make a movie within and about the global pandemic we’ve all been experiencing in some form or another for over a year?
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Tribeca 2021: New York, I (Still) Love You

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.

Here’s another in our series of ongoing reports from Tribeca 2021. Some past Tribeca 2021 (and 2019 and 2018!) write-ups can be found here.

As a film festival, Tribeca has a weakness for New York movies—and why shouldn’t it? Though the New York Film Festival has been around for decades, its smaller slate and marquee attractions from the world of international cinema inevitably limits the New Yorkiness of its selections, while Tribeca has the freedom to explore the city from multiple vantage points every year. That feels particularly pronounced at Tribeca 2021, as so much of the city has been stuck inside for the better part of the last 18 months. At a time when a lot of Tribeca screenings are happening cautiously outdoors, and most people seem to be watching most of the movies from home, a 79-minute experiment like Adam Leon’s Italian Studies (Grade: B+) almost feels like thrilling escapism: Marvel at the rare spectacle of a woman (Vanessa Kirby) wandering around Manhattan, brushing past strangers, and even interacting with them beyond nodding or scowling at the presence or absence of a face mask!
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Tribeca 2021: Rock and/or Roll

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.

This is the first of a few reports from Tribeca 2021. Some past Tribeca write-ups can be found here.

The Tribeca Film Festival has rechristened itself the just plain Tribeca Festival this year, making official its recent addition of television, VR, and other media into its programming. Those newer additions include podcasts, of course, and there’s something oddly satisfying about this year’s film selections including the in-competition Poser (Grade: B), which has been described, loosely and not entirely accurately, as Single White Female with a podcast. Lennon (Sylvie Mix) does have a podcast, though it’s never clear how many listeners she has—or, thinking back over the events of the film, if she ever actually uploads any of her episodes. As the movie opens, she’s reaching out of her “comfort zone,” a stock phrase that becomes unnerving as she keeps repeating it, by interviewing local musicians in the Columbus, Ohio scene. Her operation is as low-fi as any number of genres floating around said scene (one band identifies as “junkyard bop”): She records on her phone, then re-records the results onto cassette tapes, because she likes the hiss. (The movie isn’t really clear about whether she then re-digitizes those cassettes; again, there’s a little ambiguity about whether these episodes go beyond her library. The finer points of syndication don’t really seem like Lennon’s bag.)
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Tribeca 2019, Part 1: Into the Woods

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 certain types of indie movies I’ve seen a lot in seven years or so of Tribeca Film Festival coverage: the gritty coming-of-age movie, the would-be scrappy rom-com (more on that in a future dispatch!), the slow-burn thriller. But it was still a little surprising that at Tribeca 2019, I saw no fewer than three movies in a row that featured following shots of its characters traipsing through woodsy environs. The movies had very little to do with each other. Sometimes it’s just one of those things.
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