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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.

Is SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME self-improvement or giving up?

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.

Let’s start with what we’re allowed to say about Spider-Man: No Way Home without spoiling anything, because it’s something you already know or could have guessed (or maybe even watched online already): It begins immediately after the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, with J. Jonah Jameson, recast as an Alex Jones-like renegade buffoon but, crucially, still played by the inimitable J.K. Simmons, exposing Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world. So No Way Home starts in a tizzy, and only gets tizzier from there: Peter (Tom Holland) is accosted by the public, pursued by the press, and mortified that his nearest and dearest—the select few who already knew his secret, including his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)—are getting swept into his Spider-Drama. (He claims to also feel for the plight of Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, but who really believes him?)

These opening scenes represent a welcome pivot to the beleaguered Spider-Man who hasn’t always felt central to the Marvel Cinematic Universe incarnation, guided here, as in the previous two installments, by Jon Watts. Sure, Peter Parker has faced plenty of tough choices, but they’ve often felt a little softened: by a lifestyle that has appeared more middle-class than just-scraping-by, a mentor-benefactor in the form of Tony Stark, and by the support network of Ned, MJ, and May that’s gradually formed around him. The tradeoff has been that the Watts Spider-Man movies, especially Homecoming, have an appealing lightness of tone, where the patented MCU comedy beats mostly feel natural and in-character, with a sense of teen-comedy community around Parker’s misadventures (at least when he’s not blasting off into space for other people’s epics). Having the world learn his secret is a setback that Mr. Stark can’t buy out. Dr. Strange, however…
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LAST NIGHT IN SOHO and ANTLERS on the horror elevator

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.

Edgar Wright seems like he was born to make horror movie. In a sense, he already has, depending on your analysis of the horror-to-comedy-to-squishy-drama ratios in Shaun of the Dead (or your tolerance for the millennial antics of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; it’s my favorite Wright movie so far, but seems to be one of his more divisive works). Even in his non-zombie pictures, there are dark corners: The elaborate gore of Hot Fuzz, protruding into a spoof of a genre that doesn’t generally go that far (think of Timothy Dalton, spired through the jaw), or the ominous alien invasion (and existential dread) of The World’s End. Wright’s comedies are uncommonly perceptive about the psychology at the contemporary, and often very male, intersection between repression, dorkiness, and despair—without skimping on the geek-show flourishes that genre fans tend to love.

Last Night in Soho is not about men—at least not in its most literal sense. It’s the first Wright movie to assume a female point-of-view, then doubles and blurs that POV with dream logic. At first it’s about Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a withdrawn young woman who speaks in a slurry whisper, attending fashion college in London while daydreaming of the ‘60s culture and fashions she worships from decades later. With her obsessively rose-colored vision of past cultural peaks, she could fit right in on the couches of Wright’s nerd-layabout TV series Spaced, though she’d be the best-dressed character by a mile. Irritated by her snarky roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), Eloise vacates the dorms in favor of a flat upstairs from owner Ms. Collins (the late Diana Rigg). Living on her own for the first time, she plays her retro records loud and soaks in the flashing neon outside her window. But at night, she goes further, dreaming herself all the way back to the 1960s. In her realer-than-real dreams, she’s not exactly jumping into the body of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer who apparently once lived in Eloise’s flat; she’s more like a shadow, sometimes watching Sandie from a mirror-close vantage point, her empathy (or is it envy?) so intense that she sometimes feels as if she’s sharing Sandie’s experiences.
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NYFF59 Part 1: The Worst People

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 trying and failing to wrap my head around Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Grade: C) and the enthusiastic reaction it’s received at New York Film Festival press screening sand elsewhere, wondering if I might have been more receptive had the content warnings before the movie not characterized it as a comedy. I admire its bizarre juxtapositions: It opens with graphic and unsimulated sex, in order to depict a leaked sex tape with maximum verisimilitude; it then follows Emi (Katia Pascariu), one of the tape’s participants, on a harried bunch of errands as she prepares for a hearing at the school where she teaches, the camera drifting through the COVID-affected spaces around her, eavesdropping on various phone calls; next, there’s an extended break for a wry illustrated glossary of various social and political terms; finally, an extended set piece in the form of the hearing itself, where a group of largely ridiculous parents air their grievances over Emi’s accidentally exposed private life.
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DEAR EVAN HANSEN has broken all contracts

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 stage-to-film musical Dear Evan Hansen tosses out established, unspoken contracts left, right, and center. It nixes the contract between stage production and audience, dictating that the energy of live theater overrides desire for literal realism in casting, sets, and developing relationships. It violates the contract between film musical and audience, where we accept the artifice of characters breaking into song and/or dance, so long as those songs or performances sweep us out of the dull constraints of the real world with emotion or spectacle. Perhaps most famously, it breaks, breaks, and re-breaks our collective agreement that it is permissible for actors well into their twenties to pretend to be teenagers on screen, so that we may enjoy the fruits of cruel 16-hour-a-day shooting schedules and more finely honed acting instincts.

On this point, I wondered—as I think others have—whether in a way, Dear Evan Hansen might be extraordinarily effective. Most teenage-misfit stories produced by major Hollywood studios feature misfits who have, at best, slightly obscured their supernatural-yet-conventional attractiveness with costuming, or “overcome” any perceived deficiencies in catalog-model attractiveness with boundless charisma. I haven’t seen the stage version of Evan Hansen played by Ben Platt, but his cinematic incarnation is genuinely, thoroughly, irretrievably off-putting, and also played by Ben Platt.

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Acting, My Dear Boy: THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE and BLUE BAYOU

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.

In The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a new sort-of biopic about the spouse of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, Jessica Chastain gives us the visible-acting works. She does stuff to her voice, taking on a pinched midwestern sing-song, and does stuff to her face, using both her expressiveness and a ton of makeup—the latter used first to emulate the ritual face-slathering undertaken by her subject, and then to replicate the shifting contours of her actual face. It’s an approach that I’ve sensed may be going out of style—at least among some viewers, who are more attuned than ever to the shifty politics of “transforming” actors into shapes, sizes, and bodies (plus, in the not-especially-distant past, races and genders!) that don’t much resemble their own. It’s called acting, sure, but questions nag at these monuments to dedication and, yes, actorly ego: Must the same small pool of beautiful people be tasked with portraying the full range of humanity?
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REMINISCENCE shows why Hugh Jackman can’t go back to Wolverine again

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.

Ryan Reynolds is at it again: A new round of press for his new movie Free Guy has meant another parallel round of Reynolds goofing on his former co-star of X-Men Origins: Wolverine—not least because Jackman does quick vocal cameo in the mostly video-game-set comedy. As it happens, Jackman also has a new movie out this month, so his press rounds for Reminiscence have included him discussing how much Reynolds wants to do a Deadpool/Wolverine team-up, and how Jackman doesn’t think that’s in the cards.

Reynolds and Jackman did, of course, team up briefly during that Wolverine prequel that introduced the wisecracking mercenary Wade Wilson, played by Reynolds (as well as the mutated and muted version that re-appears at that film’s misbegotten climax). Since then, Reynolds has resurrected Deadpool as an extremely popular and self-referential R-rated superhero, while Jackman has gone on to make two Wolverine movies that were actually good-to-great. Seems like everything worked out for both of them, but in the spirit of nothing being left alone, it makes sense enough that Reynolds would like a reunion that hitches Deadpool’s insouciant wisecrackery to Wolverine’s gruff irritability. It would probably be a fun and funny variation on the X-Men series that fans would enjoy.

It would also place the sensibilities of two major stars directly at odds. And not necessarily in the usual, familiar buddy-comedy way.
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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.)
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THE SUICIDE SQUAD is a gory, beautiful reboot of the same old thing

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 one sign among many of how the world of movie franchising has expanded over the past 20 years. It’s not as if there weren’t 20th century sequels—hundreds of ‘em!—but there was a time where the idea of a follow-up to a movie called Suicide Squad, especially one that inspired such mixed reactions, would be a cheap premise for a joke about Hollywood’s bankruptcy. Whaddaya call it, Suicide Squad 2: Still Not Dead? Suicide Squad: This Time We Mean It? Now the central idea behind Suicide Squad, wherein bad guys are forced onto impossible missions with low probability of survival, feels ready-made for sequels. If an actor gets too fussy, kill ‘em off. If the whole thing goes sideways, start over with a new squad. And if people love it, well, no one in comic book movies really stays dead, anyway.

People did not love 2016’s Suicide Squad. It was a mess, taped together by a great concept, the star power of Will Smith, and the allure of the popular DC Comics character Harley Quinn, making her live-action debut. It was then slathered in gluey, trailer-ready pop songs—only this time, the trailer figured out the playlist first and the movie was forced to follow suit. It still made a tonna dough, as Harley Quinn might say, and a sequel was being developed around the same time that James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies over at DC’s rivals Marvel, found himself with some free time. Parent company Disney had recently been tricked into firing him for some untoward old tweets and DC, apparently being the place for reformed villains, scooped him up quickly enough to get the Squad rolling again. (Gunn was since rehired by Disney and Guardians 3 is in the works again.)
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M. Night Shyamalan gets OLD but everyone stays the same age

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 was very aware of my heartbeat during Old, a new movie from M. Night Shyamalan, adapted from a graphic novel. A little of this awareness could be attributed to the movie’s free-floating tension, which is not so much punctuated by Shyamalan’s particularly dad-like strain of humor as it is inextricably woven together with it. Most of it could be attributed to the arrythmia that flares up once in a while, usually when I’m seated in a certain position. Our bodies are capable of so much resilience, not least in the field of disguising their essential fragility. Old understands this. It’s about a group of people trapped on a beach where, they eventually realize, their aging is rapidly accelerated. A lifespan of eightysomething years gets compressed into a day and a half, maybe two. This creates an unnerving paradox: The passage of time rapidly heals surface wounds, even substantial ones, into scars. The bodies simply don’t have time to bleed out. Time presses onward. And then, hours later, the bodies fail anyway.

Old is a horror movie, but not always how you’d expect. This is par for the course for Shyamalan, who has worked consistently in genre films since The Sixth Sense became an unexpected smash 22 years ago. That movie cast such a melancholy, spooky, affecting spell that it took a little time for some to catch on to Shyamalan’s deceptively weird rhythms, especially in his characters’ manner of speaking: Stilted phrasings, shoehorned exposition, dad jokes—like a George Lucas character somehow filtered through a hushed therapy session. In Shyamalan’s wilderness years, these clunky qualities proceeded to the foreground of Lady in the Water or The Last Airbender. In his more recent films, they haven’t receded, but Old may be a case of steering into the skid and coming out intact. As it turns out, his peculiar writing style fits near-perfectly for preteen kids, still finding their way with words. The younger characters approach strangers and ask for their names and occupations, at once a wholly believable quirk and a sneaky way of slipping in some of Shyamalan’s beloved expositional directness. As with The Visit, the kids feel like they’re speaking his language, fluently.

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