Small Town Wisconsin v. The Metascore

L&D haven’t quite regained our stride yet in churning out the reviews with all the triathloning and assorted world travleing, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t kept our stride in hitting the theater. But it seems that the disconnect between what we are seeing on the screen and what the Metacritics are telling us seems to be growing more acute. So here is the &D-half of a bundle of recent films for your consideration.

Downton Abbey: A New Era **  What information does a Metactric score of 63 convey here? Not much, unfortunately. Most of the reviews emphasize how “fans of the series” might enjoy the pomp and the camp and the big clothing budget and the French countryside. Fan or not, this production in no way threatens to turn into a good movie. If you are familiar with the series, this is watchable. If not, forget it. Dominic West as the dashing Guy Dexter warrants an extra half star.

Hustle **½ A straight-to-Netflix production with Adam Sandler as a basketball scout that travels the globe looking for the uncut gems of the basketball world. You know that guy you play noon-ball with? With a little roadwork and some helpful tips from Adam Sandler, he could be playing for the Celtics! This one answers the question of how many cameos and popular-culture references can you jam into 100 minues and still call it a movie? Answer: Quite a lot. An entertaining movie, but not a terribly tight or believable script. The best part for me is that Sandler does an excellent job portraying someone who is trying to be funny but isn’t. Metascore of 68 is generous, with 10-15 of those points undoubtedly coming in garbage time, so to speak.

Eiffel *** This is a nice contrast to the Downton Abbey reviews, with a lowly 46 for its Metascore. This one also features remarkable production values and some pretty impressive feats of strength as the eponymous tower goes up. The storyline is improbable and at times problematic, and the movie had some pacing problems in its second half, but this is a solid effort that is quite a bit better than Downton Abbey goes to France. C’iest la vie.

Elvis **½ An ambitious three-hour long spectacle that tries to do ten things and does two or three of them well. Austin Butler in the lead role has some super great moments, and the first Vegas show is awesome. But what you learn here is that the film makers either don’t know too much about Elvis or they don’t want you to know because that would ruin their film. Tom Hanks as the Colonel is easily the worst thing about this movie. Whose idea was that? Overall, you will probably like this so I recommend that you go see it. If you have a thing for big-budget music vidoes, you should definitely go see it. Even so, Metascore of 64 is pushing it.

Top Gun: Maverick *** This is approximately as good as the original in my estimation, and it works as a stand-alone project. Very loud and very serviceable action. Bump it a down a half star if Tom Cruise is a distraction for you. Metascore of 78 is generous, but not egrigious.

Thor: Love and Thunder *½  On the plus side, Christian Bale is a pretty good villian and Russell Crowe has a moment or two as the Big Guy. Oh, Matt Damon, that is kind of amusing. On the negative side, pretty much everything else. I got up in the middle to do my business and Dr. B was worried that I was walking out of the movie and abandoning him. Metascore of 60 is at least 20 points too high.

Small Town Wisconsin *** In what is not exactly a love letter to his home state, director Niells Mueller characterizes working-class rural America (focusing on a twenty-mile permimeter in and around Milwaukee). The New York Times is the only source to weigh in at Metactric, concluding that the film “is not sufficiently distinctive to rise above the standard-issue cinematic contemplation of the arguably poignant state of the white male American screw-up.” Screw up isn’t a terribly sympathetic description of a main character who is a second-generation (at least) alcoholic and child-abuse victim, but there you have it. The Metascore is 60, and I think that’s probably about right.

The Investigation

The Investigation is a six-part, roughly four hour, Danish drama that has aired on HBO over the past few weeks. The subject matter, of course, is the investigation into a grisly death of a female journalist and the attempts to piece together her macabre demise. The result is a meditation on the fallibility of prioritization, the limits of human knowledge, the vastness of oceans, and the wonderment of dogs.

It is visually breathtaking in spots, and it is visually suffocating in others. It is hard to believe the capabilities of human ingenuity and modern technology, and yet there are still limits on what is knowable. What is certainly remarkable is where The Investigation runs up against this boundary.

And, finally, I do wish that these extraordinary productions didn’t focus so disproportionately on the ghastly murders of young women.

With that proviso, still recommended.

Fatale

Fatale *½ Early on in Fatale, just for a brief moment, the movie showed a flash of promise, potential greatness.

Well, maybe not greatness, but enough to sit up in your seat and say, hey now, that was something. Hillary Swank is a great actress and so there is always hope.

But it was not to be. The plot unraveled and began an extended free fall that didn’t end until the credits rolled.

I am guessing that the things I was intrigued by were probably revealed in the trailers, so if I had seen the trailers, this one would have been even worse. On the other hand, if I had seen the trailers, maybe I would have stayed out in the lobby and watched basketball instead.

Perhaps L will give us an essay on the trailer menace one of these days. Until then, avoid this one. And avoid it after, as well.

LnD Playing Catch Up

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Life has gotten in the way of writing for LnD but as a way to play catch up here are a few reactions to films we’ve recently watched. 

If you loved Zombieland, which I thought was a great movie, then you really have no reason to miss Zombieland: Double Tap. It’s a fun movie whose stars get to let their hair down from their more demanding roles and just pull the trigger (twice). If zombie killing really isn’t your cup of tea, then no amount of humor is going to help this medicine go down. Zombieland: Double Tap, essentially being a continuation of the original, made me think about original films we have seen this year. If you are looking for a fantastic performance based on a true story, look no further than The Mustang. Executive Produced by Robert Redford this film chronicles the real life prison rehab program that trains inmates on how to break wild mustangs. The horses are then, during one yearly auction, sold to police departments around the country.  It was a powerful film with a stand out performance by Matthias Schoenaerts. 

We saw several house location (if that is not already a genre it is now) based dramas involving the wealthy. One was the forgettable Ready or Not with a clunky plot that took its two dimensional characters nowhere but to absurdity.  And the other was Knives Out with a refreshing storyline and amazing performances by Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. If you are into whodunits, do yourself a favor and check out this movie.

The other standout in this invented genre is Parasite. This movie essentially blew my mind and will easily land in my top 5 films of the year. The fact that it only screened here in Appleton, WI at 4:pm for a day is just a shame. We were lucky that D is all over scheduling like a claw in a sprocket (obscure film projector terminology) and caught it. My own film Anger (shameless plug) played at the Weyauwega International Film Fest and was followed by Parasite — but those were the only screenings of this gem in this area.  If it comes down to a fight for screen space around here then I say Frozen II be damned. I’m not actually going to write about Parasite because I would hate to give anything away plot-wise. It is a home based story as I mentioned, and we noted how infrastructure is ingeniously used as metaphor in the film. I’m guessing that like Moonlight, after it wins the Academy Award the multiplex bean counters (biting the hand that feeds me) will decide it’s time to bring it back to Appleton. Parasite is a fascinating work and an instant cinema classic. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Ferrari vs Ford, or is it Ford vs Ferrari? The Cinematogtaphy in this racing film was astonishing and I was riveted by the fantastic performances of Matt Damon — who is at his best here — and Christan Bale. The cars are shiny and fast but what makes this film memorable is that it is really about the great bond of two friends hell-bent on making history and pushing the envelope of the human experience. 

Terminator: Dark Fate was entertaining. I think it got a bad rap and was underestimated for not being historically correct in terms of previous films in this series. But at some point in a series with time travel you get into a Back to the Future scenario and if you can’t suspend disbelief then you will never enjoy the film. It is a movie after all and not a documentary on artificial intelligence and the time/space continuum.  If you want an entertaining movie with lots of action and strong female leads who know how to kick- ass, this film will not let you down. 

I happened to catch The Laundromat on Netflix. I watched it without knowing what it was about and I think you should watch it that way too. There are great performances here by Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman and it’s certainly worth checking out if you are looking for some great acting and a thought provoking story. 

We are all caught up now. Our best films of the year list is coming right up.

The Hustle

downloadThe Hustle is odd.   L&D tend not to do too much pre-scouting of these movies, so we just knew it fell in the grifter-comedy genre.  But within a few minutes of sitting down it became apparent that this is a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which itself I believe was a remake)with female leads Anne Hathaway and  Rebel Wilson replacing Michael  Caine and Steve Martin (mostly respectively).  Among one of the many reasons it is odd is that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, while funny in spots, just wasn’t that strong of a story, relying on Caine and Martin’s gravitas to carry enough laughs to make it worth your while.  

And that’s my review of this one:  Wilson and Hathaway are pretty funny and we both laughed out loud here and there, but the story was quaggy and we left the theater thinking maybe we should have seen Tolkien instead.  The big downside is that attempts to remake some of the stronger scenes from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — Caine unwittingly racking up winnings at the tables and Martin’s portrayal of Ruprecht — just didn’t stack up.  Hathaway and Wilson have their moments, sure, just not enough of them.  But we did laugh.  Comedy is still hard.

Another potential plus for our readers in the tundra, the movie is set along the French Riviera, wherever that is, and it is gorgeously shot.  As we labor through the 32nd week of winter here in east central Wisconsin, even movie screen sunshine is welcome at this point.  But our guess is that you will get a much bigger payoff from Long Shot.