Tag Archives: movie reviews

In ANYONE BUT YOU, Looks Aren’t Everything – But They’re Not Nothing, Either

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.
Jesse

Looks aren’t everything, this is true. But in movies, they’re not nothing, either, no matter how hard filmmakers may try to politely demur. In the new romantic comedy Anyone But You, writer-director Will Gluck makes an effort, as he probably must, to downplay the superhuman attractiveness of his stars, Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney. Ben (Powell) may have “like a ten-pack,” as Bea (Sweeney) quips at one point, but his beach sit-ups are made to look silly – uptight and overexerted – and when he goes for a swim with Bea, she’s shocked to learn he’s “hot-girl fit,” all tone and no stamina for cardio. (This doesn’t really comport with what we see anywhere else in the movie, but good effort!) As for Bea herself, the movie can’t find much fault with her own eye-popping body, so Sweeney’s whole deal gets scrutinized; at one point another character describes her as a sad-eyed girl who looks like she’s hiding a secret.

Yet despite this false modesty designed, in concert with various slapstick escapades, to keep audiences from outright resenting its characters, Anyone But You is very much about its looks – in ways that even the most unabashed romantic comedies tend to shyly avoid. Gluck’s sorta-update of Much Ado About Nothing isn’t especially raunchy; it’s rated R, but not really in the Apatow-era mode of all-talk raunch-coms situated squarely from a boy’s point of view. This is a rom-com that embraces plenty of tropes – tries to pass them off as cutely Shakespearean, even – while at the same time rejecting the tacit prudishness of the genre revival we were supposedly getting via streaming services – a cornerstone of which, the mild Set It Off, starred Powell in bland-bro mode. He’s playing a similar type here, and maybe I felt more affection toward him after watching such a sly acknowledgement of his ramrod dorkiness in Hit Man, a weirder and trickier Richard Linklater version of the rom-com. Maybe, though, I was just appreciating how he and Sweeney both play familiar characters who are simultaneously types who seemed to have been banished from the genre: Hot people who take their clothes off.

It would be easy to oversell this aspect of Anyone But You, because it’s relatively tasteful as T&A&A (imagine one of those is for “abs”; Bea’s right, there are a lot of them, maybe too many to count). Ben and Bea meet cute and wind up spending the night together in about a chaste a way as possible for two people who are obviously dying to jump each other’s bones: They cross paths in a coffee shop, do some walk and talk, hang out at Ben’s apartment, and fall asleep together, clothed, on his couch. Then a series of misunderstandings quickly separates them and leaves each party wounded and angered by the other’s presumed rejection, only to have fate knock them back together when it turns out Bea’s sister Halle (Hadley Robinson) is marrying Ben’s pal Claudia (Alexandra Shipp). Trapped together at a destination wedding in Australia, with Bea’s parents pushing her recent ex on one side and Ben’s own ex looming tantalizingly on the other, the pair agrees to put aside their bickering and pretend to be a couple for mutual advantage. But how long can you fake the blush of new lust before it turns into the real thing?

There’s no suspense, not even rom-com suspense, in the answer, because Bea and Ben’s mutual dislike is so canned. The cuteness of their initial encounter requires genuinely barbed screwball banter to sell the thin line between love and hate, and like last year’s Ticket to Paradise, the movie isn’t up to that task, failing to discern between witty dialogue and bluntly traded insults. (Worse, because these two so obviously like each other from the jump, there’s no comedy-of-remarriage ruefulness to their attacks; they’re both essentially shooting blind, which is realistic but not especially funny.)
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ASTEROID CITY: Wes Anderson, the Universe, and Everything

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.
Jesse

Wes Anderson is known for his precision, to understate matters. So it’s striking when, early in Asteroid City, Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) tells his four children that they’re going to stay with their grandfather on their recently deceased mother’s side for “an unspecified period of time that has yet to be determined.” This fumbling redundancy isn’t a one-off verbal joke, either, or confined to just this one character (though he does it again at least once more). Throughout the movie, characters add extra clauses and repetitions onto their sentences (“I wonder if I wish I should’ve”), even more noticeable than Anderson’s favorite go-to words and phrases (a nonchalant “anyway” being perhaps the most frequently used).

This inexactitude, exactingly portrayed, could be chalked up to an affectation of fictional playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton), but even this is uncertain: The framing device is not precisely a production of Earp’s play Asteroid City, but a theatrical-style live-television production of a play about Earp writing Asteroid City. So, we see black-and-white TV-square footage of a host (Bryan Cranston) introducing various scenes of Earp and his associates, and then we see most of the action of Earp’s  Asteroid City, portrayed in full widescreen color – and what color! Some of the most vivid pastels and richest yet lightest sky blues I’ve ever seen! – as a feature film unencumbered by the physical limitations of a TV set.

Though of course, all of this was still performed on an actually-elaborate film set meant to create a kind of hyperreal version of the American desert in 1955. Scarlett Johansson’s character is a movie star – which means she is an actress, playing an actress, playing an actress. And on it goes. Is Anderson, following the nested stories of The Grand Budapest Hotel and the magazine construction of The French Dispatch, performing the narrative equivalent of his newly redundant sentences? How many hats can balance on top of how many hats?

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PAST LIVES Is Secretly an Internet Movie (and a Great One)

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.
Jesse

Movies have had an uneasy relationship with the internet since at least the days of ubiquitous American Online diskettes. Whenever a movie (especially a clunkily humanist one like noted non-classic Men, Women and Children) expresses any alarm about the pitfalls of digital technology, anyone with online levels of medium or above tends to point and laughs—and not for nothing do so many members of a particular subgenre have the adjective “paranoia” inserted between “internet” and “thriller.” Really, though, who can blame the movies for their paranoia? Anyone who spends a reasonable (read: unreasonable) amount of time online will readily admit what a cesspool it is, then gaslight any movies that agree with them—and that was before the internet enabled a haphazard half-dismantling of the already-fragile big-studio movie pipeline. This makes it all the more impressive that Celine Song’s new movie Past Lives sees the internet, particularly social media, with such clarity, and depicts it with such restraint.

That’s typical of the movie of the movie in general, which is not principally about digital technology, but rather a pair of young friends with middle-school crushes on each other who are separated, then reunited decades later. If the movie is a romance, it’s one of bittersweet small gestures and longing looks—the small spaces in between major life decisions.

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is all small favors

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.
Jesse

“Worlds within worlds.” That’s the well-worn descriptor—Quotation? Catchphrase? Cliché? Really, that universal catch-all-three “from the comics”—one character uses to characterize the primary setting of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. The characters are goggling at the previously glimpsed and now heavily explored Quantum Realm, a beyond-microscopic section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe reachable only by advanced (and dangerous) shrinking technology. Ten years ago, though, this phrase might have applied to the MCU’s numerous overlapping mini-franchises, Iron Man’s world not quite the same as Captain America’s which was not quite the same as Thor’s—until they pulled a few narrative threads together and converged into The Avengers. Now, it could also apply to the way the MCU seems obligated, whether by due dates, artistic conviction, or pure high-roller self-confidence, to paste together its wonders with green-screen, dim lighting, and suspiciously empty one-shots. Whenever it’s possible to look at Quantumania and idly wonder whether anyone on screen was actually in a room together during shooting—which is often!—you may be peeking at the worlds-within-worlds built by visual effects artists and actors’ conflicting schedules. In other words: a Zoom call with (somewhat) better backgrounds.

Which is not to say Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania entirely lacks for sights. Previous looks at the Quantum Zone somewhat resembled the spongy insides of Fantastic Voyage crossed with a lava lamp; this time, we see cityscapes that look like a more gelatinous Star Wars, and creatures to populate them. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), also known as Ant-Man, is on accidental extended visit there, along with his girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), his teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and Hope’s parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). The whole family gets sent there in a sequence of admirable expediency and perhaps not a lot of sense; the stakes may be higher in this third Ant-Man movie than they were in the previous palate-cleansing adventures, but returning director Peyton Reed seems to vaguely recall the crispness of his best comedies like Bring It On and Down with Love (if not their colorfully winking wit), and attempt to bring things in around the two-hour mark. (For a contemporary superhero movie, this is the equivalent of 91 minutes.)
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80 FOR BRADY is a Fancy Grandma Adventure That Works

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.
Jesse

Plenty has been written about the enabling of the streaming-era ubiquity of geezer teasers, direct-to-video action movies that tantalize older viewers with heavily advertised appearances, often brief, from stars of yesteryear like John Travolta, Sylvester Stallone, or Bruce Willis. But for women of a certain age who aren’t particularly associated with crime thrillers or gunplay, there’s a parallel track involving more screentime, less (though not zero) nefarious marketing, and actual theatrical releases: Fancy Grandma Adventures, wherein a group of actresses (usually four) with storied careers (usually at least two Oscars) get together for a groove-reacquiring girls’ night that lasts around two hours.

The Robert De Niro of this emerging mini-genre—the workhorse who seems to really enjoy working—is Diane Keaton, whose close associations with Nancy Meyers made Book Club (also starring Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen) into a stop-gap solution for anyone craving cream sweaters, copper pots, and post-menopausal reclamations of purpose. A sequel is coming this spring. Steven Soderbergh even made a vaguely art-house version of this story with Let Them All Talk, where Bergen, Dianne Wiest, and Meryl Streep play old friends reuniting on a cruise ship.

80 for Brady is a Fancy Grandma Adventure based on a true story—
presumably in the sense that at least once, a group of older women went to the Super Bowl together. (A real-life photo is provided as the credits roll; no other details accompany it.) Keaton is inexplicably absent, but Book Club’s Fonda appears, joined by her frequent co-star Lily Tomlin, plus Oscar winners Sally Field and Rita Moreno. After becoming diehard fans of the New England Patriots later in life, the four women decide to get themselves into NRG Stadium in Houston to watch what could be Tom Brady’s final Super Bowl appearance in 2017. Being in his 40s, they reason, he is “80 in people years,” just like them.
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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.
Jesse

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.
Jesse

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.
Jesse

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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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.
Jesse

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 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.
Jesse

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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