Tag Archives: movie reviews

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

Jesse

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

Tribeca 2019, Part 1: Into the Woods

Jesse

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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PET SEMATARY wants to punish Jason Clarke, and everyone else, for being such a fuck-up

Jesse

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.

With Pet Sematary, Jason Clarke has truly arrived. Not as a Hollywood leading man; he’s already played John Connor (in a Terminator if not The Terminator), the main guy in a Planet of the Apes sequel, and a bunch of prominent roles in prestige-y pictures like Mudbound, The Great Gatsby, and Chappaquiddick. In 2019, Clarke has arguably already blown past the traditional leading-man phase of his career, and gone into Patrick Wilson territory, which I would define as operating in a perpetual state of former leading man.

This is not the same as a perpetual Baxter/Ralph Bellamy type, like Bill Pullman in 1993, or James Marsden in the early 2000s, playing the nice, handsome, normal guy who often loses the girl to someone cooler, handsomer, and less normal. Those characters are hardly ever actually leading roles, their reduced screen presence tipping the audience off about who the real star is. But Jason Clarke is the main character in Pet Sematary, just as sure as Patrick Wilson is the male lead of Insidious, Little Children, Watchmen, and Young Adult among others. He’s not playing the same guy in all of these movies, but there’s definitely a vibe (reinforced by his work on the indelible Girls episode “One Man’s Trash”): the handsome guy who’s in some supposed position of power, authority, or contentment, but operating with some kind of faded glory, lack of gumption, or dark secret. He is, whether pleasantly (Young Adult) or destructively (Insidious), the golden boy gone slightly to seed. He’s often a husband and/or a father, and he’s usually trying, if not necessarily his best. Often, he’s just a little too passive or outmatched by someone. He gets in over his head. It’s not his fault, except it kind of is.
Continue reading PET SEMATARY wants to punish Jason Clarke, and everyone else, for being such a fuck-up

Shazam! is another superhero movie that’s not like all the other superhero movies that aren’t like other superhero movies

Jesse

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.

Shazam!, based on the DC Comics hero originally called Captain Marvel and originally not published by DC Comics, stars Zachary Levi, who once appeared in a Thor movie for Marvel Studios. Levi plays the hero; the bad guy is played by Mark Strong, who also played a supporting role (and unrealized future bad guy) in Green Lantern, based on the DC Comics hero, but unconnected to the current DC Comics movies. Shazam! also co-stars Djimon Hounsou, who also has a supporting role in Captain Marvel, currently in theaters, a separate character from Shazam, the former Captain Marvel, and based in part on the Marvel Comics hero originally called Ms. Marvel.

Shazam! is about a teenager learning to wield his superpowers responsibly, like Marvel’s Spider-Man; it’s also concerns the effects of those superpowers on family dynamics—sort of like The Incredibles, a Disney film which is not based on a comic book, but owes a lot to the Fantastic Four, whose movie rights were recently welcomed back into the Disney fold when Disney completed its purchase of 20th Century Fox’s film division. The end credits of Shazam! feature charmingly scrawled drawings of the main character’s superheroic antics, followed by a post-credits scene goofing on another superhero, both elements that recall Deadpool, an offshoot of the X-Men series, which was also recently absorbed back into Disney via Fox. Disney, of course, owns Marvel, and Captain Marvel, but not Shazam!, which belongs to Warner Bros., which owns DC, which bought the character from Fawcett, the company that originally published stories about Shazam, back when he was called Captain Marvel.
Continue reading Shazam! is another superhero movie that’s not like all the other superhero movies that aren’t like other superhero movies

Widows cooks like a heist picture and sprawls like an epic drama

Jesse

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 Saturday Night Live-based comedy MacGruber, Will Forte’s would-be action her assembles a kickass team of he-men during a stirring montage, packs them into a truck for a mission, and accidentally blows them all to hell. That’s not exactly what happens at the opening of Steve McQueen’s Widows, and probably drawing the comparison is a little bit insulting. But hear me out: McQueen dispatches an entire B-movie’s worth of tough guys with similar (if non-comic) efficiency, and precision-cut style. He toggles between a man and wife nuzzling in bed together and a brutal robbery turned car chase turned armed showdown. Back and forth it goes, quiet and loud, until the crew (including Liam Neeson and Jon Bernthal) is consumed in an explosion and, in the final pre-title image, the pillow next to Veronica (Viola Davis) lingers, empty. Her husband Harry (Neeson) isn’t coming back.
Continue reading Widows cooks like a heist picture and sprawls like an epic drama

Labor Day Surprise: Destination Wedding and The Little Stranger do their genres proud

Jesse

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.

It’s received wisdom that people don’t go to the movies en masse over Labor Day weekend, especially not the way they flock to theaters over Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. Maybe it’s true that back-to-school concerns eclipse interest in going out to movie theaters (although looming classroom time doesn’t seem like it has much effect on any other weekend), but it’s more true that studios and distributors lean right in to the notion that no one wants to see anything but last month’s leftovers, sometimes opting not to properly release movies even when they have movies to release. This year sees the release of two modest but satisfying genre-based pleasures that their respective studios aren’t just keeping audiences from seeing (through limited releases); they’re also keeping them from hearing much about them through press embargos that don’t lift until the movies are practically in theaters.
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Unsane: Claire Foy is the latest of Steven Soderbergh’s Difficult Women

Jesse

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.

Now that Steven Soderbergh is back to making movies at his usual peerless clip after a short-yet-too-long four-year break, he’s picking up very much where he left off. Last summer’s Logan Lucky was like a sweeter Ocean’s 11 led by his pre-retirement muse Channing Tatum, and now his brand-new, iPhone-shot feature Unsane is very much a companion piece to Side Effects (which also featured Tatum, alongside Rooney Mara, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones). Soderbergh is once again rooting a psychological thriller in a modern fears about medicine and mental health, following Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) as she seeks help for residual fears after a stalking incident, and finds herself committed against her will to a mental hospital – where she starts to seeing a face she swears belongs to her old stalker (Joshua Leonard).

A major difference between Unsane and some of Soderbergh’s other female-centric genre experiments is that Foy is a professional actress. That’s not a knock against The Girlfriend Experience’s Sasha Gray or Haywire’s Gina Carano; Soderbergh knew what he was doing, casting an adult film performer and martial artist, respectively, at the center of two movies. Though neither woman was experienced in traditional film performing, they both seemed to match Soderbergh’s preferred later-period female character: Calculating but lacking affect, professional but somewhat opaque, and uninterested in charming the audience like the lead of a romantic comedy (something so many movies, rom-com or not, expect from its female leads).
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Still Raidin’ After All These Years: Tomb Raider Movies in 2001 and 2018

Jesse

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.

A new Tomb Raider movie is opening this weekend. It won’t be the last, and not because it’s destined to produce sequel after sequel; it won’t be the last because if this version of Tomb Raider doesn’t work, wait five or ten or fifteen years, and someone will try again. That there is a 2018 Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander feels, in some ways, like an act of almost religious faith in brand names; the original movie series, based on the popular video game series, starred Angelina Jolie not long after she won an Oscar, started off with one of the biggest domestic grosses ever for a videogame-based movie, and still couldn’t make it past an ill-regarded, poorly performing second installment. For a big hit movie featuring a star who remains globally famous playing a character who remains popular, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is amazingly forgettable and amazingly mostly forgotten. It’s also entirely emblematic of its early-aughts time period in a way that, too, has been forgotten.

I don’t think it’s entirely the tarnishing of teenage ideals that makes me think of the summer of 2001 as the first Bad Summer. Granted, there were plenty of bad summer movies before 2001, and on the other side, three of the year’s best movies – A.I., Moulin Rouge!, and Ghost World – came out that summer, two from major studios. But compared with, say, the varied offerings of summer 1998 (which included, yes, two asteroid-peril movies, but also Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show, Out of Sight, The Mask of Zorro, and There’s Something About Mary) or 1999 (which included, yes, hotly anticipated Star Wars and Austin Powers installments, but also The Sixth Sense, Bowfinger, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut, American Pie, and several hit rom-coms), or even the more typical crop in 2000 (Mission: Impossible II, Gladiator, A Perfect Storm, What Lies Beneath, Gone in 60 Seconds, X-Men), 2001 leaned heavily on sequels and adaptations of well-known properties. Many of them were hits, but the collective goodwill of Rush Hour 2, The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, American Pie 2, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, and, yes, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider does not appear to add up to much today (and that’s not even getting into how that year’s equivalent of Saving Private Ryan or Titanic was supposed to be Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor).

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McDormand and Rockwell face off in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Jesse

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 actor-on-actor match-ups and team-ups and face-offs that gain a kind of mythic grandeur from the sheer fact of the performers not having intersected earlier. I’m thinking of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro facing off, if only for a few minutes, in Heat; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie supposedly smoldering in Mr. and Mrs. Smith; Eddie Murphy riffing opposite Steve Martin in Bowfinger; John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in, well, you know. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell don’t immediately come to mind as a similarly titanic pair. They’re both terrific actors, their filmographies packed with memorable performances, but Rockwell works so often, and McDormand with such relative choosiness, that at first their pairing primarily elicits a vague familiarity – wait, was Rockwell ever in a Coens movie with McDormand? Was McDormand ever in a Marvel movie with Rockwell? Is Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri really their first one together?
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David Gordon Green quietly made another very good movie: STRONGER

Jesse

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.

A Jake Gyllenhaal movie about the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing is coming out this weekend, and it’s currently within a few percentage points of a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s both wrenching and uplifting as it grapples with the idea of heroism and the expectations that come along with it. It debuted on the prestigious fall festival circuit. And hardly anyone seems to be talking about it. Welcome to the serial underestimation of director David Gordon Green, where even an accessible and critically acclaimed drama can fly under the radar.

Part of Stronger’s high marks is just that old Tomatometer math where if enough critics give a movie a pass, it has a “higher” score than something more divisive. Hardly any critics I’ve read on Stronger seem to prefer it to, say, the less universally beloved mother! Indeed, I don’t prefer it to mother! either. But given my lack of excitement when I heard that Green was prepping a movie about the Boston bombing – concurrently with Mark Wahlberg booster Peter Berg, no less, whose Patriots Day came out last Christmas – and the lack of buzz around the finished product, I was taken aback when I saw Stronger by just how damn good it is. It tells the story of Jeff Bauman, a genial Beantown fuckup who attended the marathon in an uncharacteristic show of dedication to his on-and-off girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslaney), hoping to cheer her on. The bomb went off next to him, and he lost both his legs, attaining an unsettling kind of celebrity in the process.
Continue reading David Gordon Green quietly made another very good movie: STRONGER