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Webslinger

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About Webslinger

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  1. Damn. I was just thinking about Hank Aaron in connection with the upcoming results of the Hall of Fame vote and Barry Bonds's place in it. RIP.
  2. A Da 5 Bloods Hamilton Soul A- Mank Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Never Rarely Sometimes Always One Night in Miami Palm Springs Promising Young Woman Sound of Metal The Trial of the Chicago 7 B+ Bill and Ted Face the Music Birds of Prey Emma. Enola Holmes Freaky The Half of It Happiest Season I'm Thinking of Ending Things The Invisible Man The King of Staten Island News of the World The Old Guard Run Tenet Yes, God, Yes B Borat Subsequent Moviefilm The Gentlemen The Hunt Mulan Onward The Photograph Wonder Woman 1984 B- Bad Boys for Life The Lovebirds The Way Back C+ An American Pickle C The Midnight Sky The New Mutants The Prom Spenser Confidential C- The Witches D+ Artemis Fowl D Hillbilly Elegy
  3. From its first scene to its last, Promising Young Woman is a blistering and captivating viewing experience that takes many huge swings and connects on just about all of them. As an examination of trauma and rape culture filtered through a deceptively candy-coated lens, it succeeds in sinking its claws into viewers and venturing into daring territory with gusto. Writer-director Emerald Fennell maintains a strong handle over her film’s many tonal shifts and does a terrific job of pulling audiences into its troubled protagonist’s headspace; under Fennell’s direction, protagonist Cassie’s drive to exact humiliation and punishment against “nice guys” feels real and understandable, though she also leaves plenty of room for viewers to consider how Cassie’s actions reflect her brokenness and lack of healthy ways to confront her past trauma. The aesthetic decisions succeed in luring viewers in and making a lurid, exploitative concept feel more conventionally palatable – a solid match for how Cassie’s artificial self-presentation allows her to ensnare her targets. As good as the first half of the film is, it really picks up steam as it shifts gears into a more revenge-driven focus, and the last half-hour – while bound to be divisive – is tense and unnerving enough that some viewers (like this one) will undoubtedly watch parts of it from between their fingers, and it makes the most of a few gutsy surprises. In the lead role, Carey Mulligan delivers a new career best performance. As much as I love her prior work in An Education and Shame, Mulligan is even more dynamic and arresting in this film. The ways in which she portrays the shift between Cassie’s faux drunkenness and terrifying lucidity are striking, and she expertly contrasts this excitement and precision of purpose with the flatness and lack of direction in the rest of Cassie’s life. Mulligan’s work is incredibly committed in every single scene, and she commands the viewer’s attention in even the most uncomfortable moments of the film. The cast around Mulligan is also in fine form, with the standout supporting performance coming from a charming Bo Burnham, who takes what could easily have just been a writer’s device – an *actual* nice guy whose genuine affection for Cassie puts her in an unfamiliar situation – and makes the character and his relationship with Mulligan’s Cassie feel well-realized. As alluded to before, the ending is likely to divide viewers, but I found it to be a fitting and worthy conclusion that fits nicely with the themes the film develops and still succeeds in hitting the different tones the film takes on over the course of its running time. With its tremendous lead performance, terrific construction and direction, and success in jamming the knife in its viewers and twisting it around, Promising Young Woman is one of the most singular and memorable releases of the past year. A-
  4. As an intimate, unhurried character study set against a western frontier backdrop, News of the World is a solid, impressive change of pace for director Paul Greengrass. Best known for taking a documentary-esque approach to the action and thriller genres, Greengrass succeeds in crafting a western drama that works as well in its quieter, character-driven moments as it does in its more strictly plot-driven set pieces. And despite some noticeable handheld camerawork, Greengrass largely films the proceedings like a traditional western, allowing viewers – like the characters – to take in the beauty of the landscapes and appreciate the ways in which the lead characters’ emotional journey connects with the visual journey. The relationship between news reader Captain Kidd and orphaned child Johanna forms the emotional core of the film, and it’s a moving relationship thanks to stellar work from its actors. As Kidd, Tom Hanks once again takes a warm yet authoritative role and performs it so gracefully and expertly that he makes it look effortless. It’s not on the same level as Hanks’s previous collaboration with Greengrass in Captain Phillips, but it’s a case of an actor capitalizing on perfect casting and using his skill set to satisfying effect. As the young Johanna – who does not understand English – Helena Zengel does impressive work that communicates a wide range of emotion in the absence of dialogue for much of her screentime. The father/daughter-like bond between Hanks and Zengel is believable, and it consistently keeps the stakes of the proceedings high. The plot is a little episodic by design, but the ensemble delivers a collection of small but stirring performances, and Greengrass’s attention to the bond between Kidd and Johanna is in clear focus throughout. While it’s not as impressive as some of Greengrass’s past efforts, News of the World is solid western drama whose emotional notes hit. B+
  5. Headlined by an excellent leading performance from Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal is a powerful slice-of-life drama that succeeds in moving viewers and raising awareness of hearing disabilities in uniquely cinematic fashion. Director Darius Marder succeeds in creating a film that is both deliberately rough around the edges and disarmingly warm and intimate at just the right moments. Parts of the film work for their commitment to dark and challenging emotions and developments, while other parts work for the ways in which they tap into the characters’ humanity and score well-earned inspirational moments. The most heralded element of the film has been Riz Ahmed’s performance, and the acclaim is merited. I’ve been waiting for Ahmed to get a really big cinematic breakthrough ever since seeing his brilliant work on the 2016 limited series The Night Of, and he gets it with a very impressively committed performance here. As newly deaf drummer Ruben, Ahmed channels a wide range of emotions to convincing and compelling effect, delivering a lived-in performance all too easy to connect with in even the narrative’s toughest moments. Paul Raci is quietly powerful – and ultimately heartbreaking – as the operator of a group home that helps Ruben; their last scene together serves as a particularly haunting duet. Despite being missing from a large chunk of the running time, Olivia Cooke also does deeply affecting work as Ruben’s bandmate and lover. The sound design is also an essential and remarkably well-executed element of the film, as it successfully brings viewers into Ruben’s auditory experience on some occasions and contrasts this experience with a typical one for dramatic effect. Overall, it is a remarkably unique and moving viewing experience, and hopefully the relatively limited slate of new cinematic offerings will help it to gain traction with a wider range of viewers. A-
  6. As is customary of Charlie Kaufman’s screenwriting and directing works, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a trippy, fascinating experience that defies easy categorization and left me with plenty to ponder afterward. With a narrative flow most clearly comparable to a bizarre dream that mutates in ways that suggest vague connections between a jumble of subconscious ideas, it is a heady, loopy film that successfully goes to weird places and pulls the rug out from under the audience just before we can ever get *too* comfortable with how it is approaching its story. It is such a purposely strange experience that it will not be for everyone (though I would argue that it’s not as distant nor as dense as Synecdoche, New York), but for viewers who are on Kaufman’s wavelength, it is fascinating to watch and attempt to piece together, even if it runs a bit too long and sometimes retreats a little too far into its fantastical headspace. Like Kaufman’s past efforts, it makes terrific use of striking visual imagery and compelling dialogue, both of which keep the proceedings engaging and meaningful even in the moments where the significance of what is happening onscreen might be fuzzy. The cinematography in particular – framed in a cramped 1.37:1 aspect ratio, presumably to give viewers the same sense of discomfort the female lead feels in her ever-changing environment – is beautiful, as it captures all the film’s surreal visual elements in captivating fashion. As is just about always the case with Kaufman, the script is also clever and succeeds in using surreal plot developments in service of deep and compelling insights; in this particular film’s case, those insights include identity, doubts about partnership, the fear of being alone, and the crushing weight of routine. It admittedly feels a little obtuse for the sake of obtuseness at times (most notably in the fact that it is not as direct or concrete about its true nature as the novel upon which it is based), but it unfolds in such a compelling manner that I was onboard with seeing where it went all the way up to the end. As the young woman at the center of the action, Jessie Buckley does very strong work; her voiceovers are elegant, and she is expressive in speech and gestures alike. From the very beginning, she is convincing as a woman questioning the necessity of a boyfriend she increasingly sees as dead weight, and her reactions to the confusing sights around her feel authentic enough that they allow viewers to connect with her experience. Jesse Plemons is solidly reliable as said dead weight boyfriend, as he does a good job of walking the line between the boring guy the young woman seems to see him as being and a more interesting guy (or at least shades of one) that she might have been drawn to earlier in their relationship. Toni Collette and David Thewlis are both clearly having a great time as Plemons’s character’s eccentric parents, and they make the most of opportunities to flex their comedic and dramatic muscles. Much of this review may sound vague, but I feel that to speak more directly about this film would be to give away its loopier surprises and rob it of the power it derives from its many odd touches. For viewers who can connect with what Kaufman is doing, it’s one of the most singularly intriguing films of the year. B+
  7. A Da 5 Bloods Hamilton Soul A- Mank Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Never Rarely Sometimes Always Palm Springs Sound of Metal The Trial of the Chicago 7 B+ Bill and Ted Face the Music Birds of Prey Emma. Enola Holmes Freaky The Half of It Happiest Season I'm Thinking of Ending Things The Invisible Man The King of Staten Island The Old Guard Run Tenet Yes, God, Yes B Borat Subsequent Moviefilm The Gentlemen The Hunt Mulan Onward The Photograph Wonder Woman 1984 B- Bad Boys for Life The Lovebirds The Way Back C+ An American Pickle C The New Mutants The Prom Spenser Confidential C- The Witches D+ Artemis Fowl D Hillbilly Elegy
  8. Despite the clear ambition and confidence of all parties involved, I am a bit disappointed to report that Wonder Woman 1984 is just a diverting albeit messy sequel whose solid qualities more than outweigh the areas in which it falls short. I suppose that for me, it occupies similar territory as Spider-Man 3: a hugely anticipated and highly ambitious superhero sequel that has noticeable drawbacks that will simply be too large of a turnoff for many viewers, but also does so many things well and has so much effort thrown behind it that I still find myself enjoying it far more than I don’t – warts and all. I suppose that the biggest difference between this film and its predecessor is that where that film felt like a carefully calculated and calibrated effort to ensure that it would work near-flawlessly as proof of concept for a female-led superhero film (because patriarchy, sexism, double-standards, and the like), this film feels like a much looser endeavor whose story and themes are not quite as sharp nor as focused because it doesn’t *have* to be in order to make big money – or at least it didn’t have to be prior to the pandemic throwing traditional box office metrics out the window. Like the aforementioned Spider-Man sequel, it’s a film with a whole lot of elements that work, and it takes some big swings with how it addresses superhero film tropes that its predecessor played straighter; and like that aforementioned film, it’s also an overstuffed affair that tries to be several different films at once and suffers to some degree as a consequence. However, despite the messiness of the story, it moves at a quick clip (like the first film, it feels significantly shorter than its running time would suggest), has several excellently staged setpieces, resonates in key moments, and gets plenty of mileage from its casting and performances. I heard some podcast – Blank Check, I think? – say that Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman isn’t necessarily a traditionally great performance, but rather one of those cases like John Wayne in his cowboy roles where the performer is just perfectly suited to their character, and that idea remains true here. Gadot still inhabits the title role with grace and confidence, and she brings enough humanity to the role to make it feel believable even when the script makes her motivations seem a little questionable. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is still solid, and Pine brings his A-game in a gender-flipped take on a love interest sidekick role. Kristen Wiig proves adept in a casting decision that originally had me skeptical; the issues with her character arise more from the script than from her performance, in which she actively and effectively works to subvert viewer expectations as a demure character turned confident and cruel through extraordinary circumstances. Pedro Pascal is also clearly having a great time as antagonist Maxwell Lord; he’s over-the-top, sure, but he throws himself into the role with reckless abandon. Though I certainly hoped for something more along the lines of its predecessor, and though I couldn’t help but compare the messiness of this film against the tightness of the earlier one, Wonder Woman 1984 is ultimately “just” a pretty solid popcorn flick I liked more than I didn’t - an ambitious film with admirable qualities and noticeable shortcomings that falls short of capturing the zeitgeist as effectively as its predecessor, but succeeds in delivering an entertaining viewing experience. B
  9. In a cinematic year defined largely by delays and disappointments, Pixar’s Soul – a film that skipped theatrical release entirely thanks to the ongoing effects of the pandemic and distributor Disney’s ability to simply release the film to its own streaming platform – is an absolutely joyous and delightful experience whose message takes on even greater significance in the cultural context in which it arrives. On paper, it is the most thematically complex and ambitious effort Pixar has tackled since co-writer/director Pete Docter’s previous film, Inside Out; in execution, it is also their best film since that point, and a film that belongs alongside their top-shelf work. Like Docter’s previous film, Soul succeeds in translating a heady concept beautifully and imbuing it with deeply felt humanity, effective humor, genuinely surprising and engaging plot points, and a remarkable emotional throughline that connects more clearly and poignantly than any other film of its year. The presence of a “spark” that completes a soul’s personality is a vital part of this film’s universe, and that creative spark is evident in just about every facet of this film’s production; it’s clearly a labor of love from Docter and all other players involved, and that passion resonates in moments large and small alike. Much like Docter’s other Pixar films, it works just as beautifully in its manic setpieces as it does in its smaller, more emotionally driven moments. As is customary of Pixar, the animation is beautiful, and the film’s conceptions of the various settings its characters inhabit are uniformly gorgeous; though I was happy to see the film in any form, I did find myself thinking at multiple points that I wished I could have seen it theatrically rather than on a TV screen. As is true of the best of Pixar’s work, it also features terrific work from its voice cast, where Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey are perfect fits in the lead roles. Foxx gives an impressively lived-in performance as Joe, a protagonist whose journey calls on him to see the value in a seemingly mundane existence; in this capacity, Foxx works as both a relatable, likable everyman and a talented, passionate artist whose appreciation for his life runs deeper than he originally realizes. Fey’s wry comedic skills are utilized to excellent effect as the reluctant soul whom Foxx’s soul ends up mentoring, and she sells the character’s cynicism and wonderment to equally convincing effect. There is also a plethora of well-cast and well-performed supporting voices, though the highlight for me – and likely for other viewers who have seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople – is Rachel House as a supernatural being obsessed with an accurate count of souls. In an ordinary year with a wider array of offerings – or at least a wider array of offerings available to ordinary plebes like this reviewer – Soul might “just” be among the handful of best films of the year. But in a weird year where blockbusters and prestige pics alike have jumped ship with hopes that 2021 will be different (or delayed their release patterns in accordance with the Academy’s eligibility extension) and where life itself has become so strange that many of us need a reminder of how great the seemingly little things of our pre-pandemic lives were, Soul stands out as one of the most uniquely memorable and affirming cinematic experiences of a very strange time. A
  10. I caught both of the big new streaming releases yesterday and I’m hoping to get reviews up here and at Letterboxd at some point today). I adored Soul, and though I had issues with Wonder Woman 1984, I ultimately liked it more than I didn’t.
  11. 2014 was such a weird but somehow exciting box office year. It was kinda comical watching big movie after big movie crack $90 million over opening weekend but miss 100 in the spring and summer (save for one of the most obvious fudge jobs in history with Age of Extinction), but it kinda made sense since none of them really seemed like sure bets for nine-figure openings for a variety of reasons. Looking back now, it’s pretty wild that there wasn’t one gigantic movie that was thought to be way out in front of the others for the summer crown, and then the winner ended up being a weird-looking MCU flick that seemed like a bit of a gamble before it came out. In reading back over the write up (great job!), I remembered that I saw just about every single one of these movies by running about 4 miles from the house I was living in to the mall; I was in a community-based grad school program at the time and didn’t have a car, so I’d typically get up early on Saturdays, go for a run with enough time to cool down and browse the mall before heading up to the cinema on the top floor. I felt like I’d damn well earned sitting for a couple hours to catch a movie (or occasionally two)... before running the same 4-ish miles back.
  12. A Da 5 Bloods Hamilton Soul A- Mank Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Never Rarely Sometimes Always Palm Springs The Trial of the Chicago 7 B+ Bill and Ted Face the Music Birds of Prey Emma. Enola Holmes Freaky The Half of It Happiest Season The Invisible Man The King of Staten Island The Old Guard Run Tenet Yes, God, Yes B Borat Subsequent Moviefilm The Gentlemen The Hunt Mulan Onward The Photograph Wonder Woman 1984 B- Bad Boys for Life The Lovebirds The Way Back C+ An American Pickle C The New Mutants The Prom Spenser Confidential C- The Witches D+ Artemis Fowl D Hillbilly Elegy
  13. A Da 5 Bloods Hamilton A- Mank Never Rarely Sometimes Always Palm Springs The Trial of the Chicago 7 B+ Bill and Ted Face the Music Birds of Prey Emma. Enola Holmes Freaky The Half of It Happiest Season The Invisible Man The King of Staten Island The Old Guard Run Tenet Yes, God, Yes B Borat Subsequent Moviefilm The Gentlemen The Hunt Mulan Onward The Photograph B- Bad Boys for Life The Lovebirds The Way Back C+ An American Pickle C The New Mutants The Prom Spenser Confidential C- The Witches D+ Artemis Fowl D Hillbilly Elegy
  14. Despite a premise with potential and an immensely talented cast, The Prom is a hot mess. Ryan Murphy has always been wildly hit-and-miss in his television career – sometimes within the very same episode of the very same show – and he manages to do both in this cinematic adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. The biggest problem that plagues this film is one that probably also plagued its source material: the real heart of the story is the high school student just trying to go to prom, and the material concerning the intervention of Broadway narcissists is not nearly as interesting nor as effective. I read a tweet somewhere that critiqued this film as a gay movie made for straight people, and that critique is sadly accurate; all too often, it feels like a film that uses its gay characters as either props for its self-congratulatory story about tolerance or overly broad comedic tools (looking right at you, James Corden). The film is easily at its most compelling when it focuses on young lesbian Emma’s struggle to gain acceptance and a sense of normalcy as seemingly the only out person in her town; this effectiveness is thanks in no small part to a solid performance from cinematic newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman, whose liveliness and vulnerability make her character feel real and worthy of viewers’ sympathy. Her story is actually affecting, even if it’s underdeveloped. The biggest problem is that much of the film’s plot drifts away from her and toward the quartet of down on their luck Broadway actors who are on hand to learn a lesson to not be so narcissistic and to actually do something for other people. They grind the film’s momentum to a halt more often than not, and I never once cared about any of them. To the actors’ credit, they all bring their A-game and really try to make their characters work, but these characters just aren’t interesting nor particularly entertaining. Nicole Kidman fares the best thanks to a solid musical number in “Zazz,” Meryl Streep gets a few good numbers and is clearly having fun chewing scenery, and Andrew Rannells brings some energy to his part. James Corden, however, is horribly miscast as the film’s resident effeminate gay man. I’m not one to demand that only gay actors play gay characters (I know it might sound a touch hypocritical given that I believe 100% of the way that trans actors should play trans characters, but that’s a conversation for another day), but there’s something… *off* about a straight actor playing a broad stereotype of an effeminate gay man in this day and age, and Corden – while not as bad as other reviewers have made him out to be – does nothing here to shake that initial feeling that the optics behind this casting choice aren’t great. The musical numbers are admittedly pretty fun, but the narrative holding them together is so messy that the film ultimately doesn’t work despite clear effort and commitment from everyone involved. I don’t usually like to ding a film (or, in this case, a musical inspiring a film) for what it isn’t rather than what it is, but it just can’t overcome its source material’s evident cardinal sin of burying a way more interesting story beneath a much less interesting one. C
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