Where the Crawdads Sing

Is that the Metascore?

Where the Crawdads Sing ** I am guessng this is a pretty good book. I saw it on a list of great books for novice mystery readers, possibly because this isn’t a conventional mystery, so I thought I would round up the gang and see it. The biggest mystery of the night turns out not to be the who done it, but rather was that really only two hours and five minutes? Ugh.

I like this movie a little more upon reflection than I liked it watching it. The acting is pretty stellar, I think, and the movie is beautiful. That said, it was painful to sit through. If you are looking for insight above what you might get on the Hallmark channel, you will have to look elsewhere. So with all this had potentially going for it, I am going to lay the blame on the script and the director for not tightening this up. Metascore 47 and should sink from there.

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.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Another awesome guest review from artist & friend of the L&D Report, the ever-esteemed, Joanna K. Dane.

What a delight to see at the theater, a movie as odd and daring as Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

First, there’s Evelyn, played by Michelle Yeoh, a woman caught in a mid-life rut of hard work, high expectations, and daily proof that her husband is silly and useless; her daughter, endlessly difficult.  How did she turn out to be such an ordinary woman, washing other people’s clothes, after so many big dreams?  A failure, just like her father says.

Here she is at the dining room table, worrying over stacks of receipts. Not only is their struggling laundromat being audited by the IRS, but Evelyn’s father is visiting from China, and her daughter has just arrived home from college with her new girlfriend. 

Evelyn needs to focus, but she has a spitting headache and keeps getting distracted by very odd visions.

Haha!  It’s Jamie Lee Curtis playing the evil tax auditor who wears orange polyester suits that highlight her belly fat.    

Evelyn’s husband, Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan is mousy and silly and sweet.  In this universe.  But in another, the universe where they didn’t get married, but went their separate ways, he is suave and rich and charming.  

But Evelyn’s journey is so much more than a marriage story.  There’s the universe where she is a chef with a chef who wears a raccoon under his hat.  There’s a universe where she is a kung fu master.  A universe where she is traffic cop.  A universe where she is a maid for a sleaze bag who’s into S&M, a universe where people have giant hotdogs for fingers and Evelyn and the tax auditor are lovers.  And her favorite universe, where she is a world famous singer.

It’s a mother/daughter story and a father/daughter story, and a story that blurs the line between dream and reality, between failure and success.  It is a kung fu story and a story about the nature of our minds.  It’s a movie that breathes and dances and pulses with life.  A dazzling feat of editing and sound.

And there’s the realization that Nothing Matters.  And the black hole that’s shaped like an everything bagel.  And the fanny pack kung fu scene in the IRS office.  And the dazzling costumes worn by Stephanie Hsu playing Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter Joy, who, it turns out, is also the villain of the multiverse. 

And the line, “I would have loved to have spent a life with you doing laundry and taxes.”

And there’s the long silent scene where mother and daughter are rocks in a lifeless universe.  

A scene so long, you start to wonder, is it going to end like this?

The Northman

As a survey of both sub-genres in Nordic Death Metal, “OOHHHHHH!!!!!!” and “AAHHHHHH!!!!!!” this film is a cultural tour de force. Otherwise, it’s just a load of macho bullshit. 

Maybe you don’t like hearing that? Maybe you lose sleep thinking about free will and fate, nature versus nurture, Big Mac versus Whopper. If so, and you don’t mind or maybe even love the idea of sitting through 5 beheadings — albeit two are horses — then this movie is right up your alley. 

Maybe it’s your idea of a good time to check out Willem Dafoe wielding a strap-on? Okay. No judgement here. Or you love Björk’s acting (for 10 minutes). Or maybe you haven’t had enough dudity in your life recently. Though there is a thing called the internet that would save you the two hours and seventeen minutes of sitting through this, for that. 

Apparently a few so-called critics are saying the movie is great because it makes Shakespearean connections. …Shakespearean connections. That’s about as profound as saying you noticed that cars have wheels. Every piece of Western literature, including the menu at Norm’s Diner, owes its life to Shakespeare.

Alas, the boneless pork chop / the weak, weak coffee.

It’s all there. 

Now this film, The Northman, is essentially a cross between Midsommar and Conan the Barbarian. However, it’s not as psychologically mind-fucking as the former or as compelling as the latter. It’s certainly not original. Even hallucinogenic mushrooms were more creatively deployed during the Phantom Thread.  The weird thing is that I actually enjoyed ACT I and thought Ethan Hawke played a believable King. Then everything unravelled, like a roller coaster that descends as slowly as it peaked.  

I picked up a book called Italian Folktales recently. It is edited by a writer I love, Italo Calvino. I couldn’t get past the first story. It was simply too absurd. It could be me or as I said, it could just be a bunch of macho bullshit. AAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! OOHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

The Batman

What the hell was that?

The question constitutes the quick take from our L&D special guest, who joined us for the world premier of The Batman Thursday evening.

My answer? That was a limited Netflix-type series condensed down into three hours and change. There are clearly four or five separate episodes here, replete with the cuts between ‘episodes.’ Indeed, at one point I thought the movie might be over, it had that natural break feel about it. But, after lingering a beat or two, we moved on.

I am endorsing this one because there was so much I enjoyed about it and I will enjoy discussing it with other Bat-fans. For example, I liked how the entire musical score is built around Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” (which serves to tell you pretty much all you need to know about the mood of this one). I loved Robert Pattinson in the leading role; he put the goth in Gotham, for sure. Now there’s a Dark and gloomy Knight for you! There was good action throughout, including the sequence where muzzle flash provided the only light. And a great car chase!

But the verdict is that this is a case of trying to do too much and, as a result, not doing enough things well, and leaving too many things undone. Case in point, there is a great To Live and Die in LA chase sequence, but why were they even chasing him? What was the payoff? (Those familiar with the White Knight story arc should certainly see my point here). The purpose was that they needed to introduce the Batmobile (I doubt that constitutes a spoiler). Yes, following the chase there was a pretty fun back and forth with Gordon and The Batman here during the grilling, but ultimately this defied credulity even moreso than usual.

But my biggest gripe is certainly that the writers grossly overestimated the payoff from their “big” plot reveals. I am not sure exactly how we were supposed to respond when that news came out, but my response was: Yawn! I saw that movie already! So pretty disappointing on that front, pretty good story, not a great story.

Plenty of starpower, including Peter Sarsgsaard, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, and Colin Farrell. That’s a lot of characters to introduce, develop, and complete a story arc on. The Batman doesn’t, and couldn’t, without another few hours of exposition. I listed the actors in descending order of how I thought of whether the character worked, from Sarsgaard as the DA to Farrell as a pretty forgetable Penguin. What a waste of makeup and acting talent (though I am definitely the minority view on this assessment). Kravitz as Catwoman is certainly remarkable in the true sense of that term. Another something to chat about on the ride home. I thought Dano was good in spots as the Riddler, but, meh.

So, there you have it, a dark, brooding eight hours of entertainment mushed down to three. If you go to these types of movies, you will almost certainly find something to like. But this feels more like The Dark Knight Rises than The Dark Knight in terms of the overall quality and payoff. It’s going to be in theaters for a while, so you’ll have plenty of time if you want to see this one.

Jackass, Forever

He is no hero who never met the dragon… Only one who has risked the fight with the dragon and is not overcome by it wins the hoard, the “treasure is hard to attain.”

That’s Carl Jung, of course, but it may as well have been said by Johnny Knoxville, the long-time ringleader and curator of the improbable but unmistakable Jackass serial.

Knoxville and his dragon-facing gang are all back, older, no wiser, and seemingly more willing than ever to put their testicles on the line for the cause. The entry fee to be part of this team is to take some gratuitous punishment — preferably to the greater genital region — and then writhe in pain whilst your brethren bust a gut laughing at you &/or adding further insult to your injury.

And often more injury to your injury, as well.

Knoxville, of course, is the mastermind who dupes, defiles, and degrades his merry gang of ostenstibly trained stuntpersons (what sort of training do you suppose one receives for bellyflopping into a cactus garden?), making him seem rather demented and sadistic. But it is Knoxville himself who stands tall in the path of a raging bull, unflinchngly taking its best shot.

And then he does it again because he didn’t quite get the right angle on the first take.

Remarkably, the series doesn’t seem to be running out of ideas — or perhaps it is not so remarkable, opportunities to be a jackass are pretty bountiful! But they do it so, so well! Something as simple as donning marching band attire and dutifully stepping on a high-speed conveyer belt is a recipe that continues to deliver low-brow, low-tech, high-impact laughs.

Not from me, of course, but these antics do seem to tickle L’s funnybone.

Jackass, Forever also adds some new faces here, too, faces willing to take a scorpion stinger or a couple of snake bites for a laugh. That’s the price of admission to be part of this group.

As per always, some of the most hilarious segments involve misdirection: the guy steeling himself to take a hockey puck to the crotchal area, but instead the first shot goes to the face. That’s pretty high comedy. The subsequent cupshot is almost beside the point.

But we’ll take it anyway.

That is, he’ll take it anyway.

The French Dispatch

There’s a certain late night cafe in Los Angeles, in Los Feliz, on Vermont. I was there when Benicio Del Toro appeared suddenly, shadowed by the arch of the door like a cowboy avenger in a Spaghetti Western, busting in on a tavern full of bandits. I don’t think he was after me however. I’m pretty sure he was there for the fries. Then as now, he is a larger than life figure. Intimidating as well as intriguing. Wes Anderson casts him perfectly in the masterpiece, French Dispatch. 

Wes Anderson’s cinematic world is a theatrical one, including light gags, absurd stunts and impossible cross-sectioned sets. His oeuvre is really a celebration of Art Direction. And though the fourth wall is sacred in terms of performance, it is anything but in terms of the actual walls. They are unapologetically shoved around, pushed through and across. If you are wondering where the real wall is, one scene in particular features a prop that is, to great effect, resoundingly smashed right into the camera lens.

Anderson’s films cast a spotlight on our at times absurd behaviors and activities.  In his study of minutiae within the particular style of screwball writing and delivery and cinematographic controlled chaos, he is able to reveal what actually moves people.

House of Gucci

House of Gucci is an operatic yarn that spins from farce to tragedy on a dime. The tragicomedy is handed off flawlessly like a relay baton from Lady Gaga (who showed her acting chops in A Star is Born and does so again) to Jeremy Irons (Flaw. Less.), Al Pacino lights it up, Adam Driver is completely believable…but it’s Jared Leto as the fumbling, bumbling yet simpatico Paolo Gucci who shines brightest and steals this film as his character is stolen from. Paolo Gucci has some seriously funny zingers related to everything from chocolate to Lycra and he doesn’t disappoint. How does he do it? To quote our friend G., “It’s called acting.” 

Maybe some of the accents are off. Maybe sometimes they say grazie and sometimes they say thank you. Maybe there is too much espresso (strike that, there can never be too much espresso). But the point is, Director Ridley Scott knows nuance, timing, how to pull a heart string, how to intercut for drama, how to set up tension and relieve it with passion or comedy. 

For some, this won’t be an interesting movie. The high crimes and misdemeanors of the jet set. Couture. Meh. And I get that. But I enjoyed the performances overall and that was more than enough for me to say, Bravo Gucci! Bravo!

The French Dispatch

Image
Panama Al Brown, Paris, 1935

The new Wes Andersen film, The French Dispatch, finally made its way to the greater “north”east Wisconsin area, and D and Dr. B were able to catch it in some of its glory. If you are a Wes Andersen fan, it is highly likely that you have already seen the movie and you are busy gushing about it to someone.

If you haven’t seen it, perhaps you should. The movie is incredible. The level of detail and all of those Andersen touches in set after set is almost incomprehensible. And the star power of the cast is almost hard to believe — there are not too many new faces in this one because evidently there are lots and lots of old faces who are crawling over one another to work with Andersen, including Appleton’s own Willem Defoe! And The Fonz! And, off the top of my head, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Scwartzman, Griffin Dunne, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, that guy from Dune, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, and, of course, Bill Murray.

Oh, right, and Ed Norton. Ed Norton! He gets roughly 45 seconds of screen time, sure, but it’s Ed Norton!

The great sets and great acting and solid storytelling notwithstanding, the movie still did not quite sit well with me. So I swapped notes with an L&D regular who found the movie “oddly boring.” That is exactly how I felt. I liked the first story well enough(Benicio del Toro dominates!), but by the end of the second story I was kind of not looking forward to the third story. And by minute 90 I was impatiently awaiting the credits to get an accounting of all the star power herein.

The credits came, and I will say my experience with the credits is probably an apt summation of my feelings about the movie. For each of the stories the cast flashed on the screen alongside a putative cover of The French Dispatch, but there wasn’t enough time to examine the characters and to digest the cover. And if you pick just one, you still don’t have enough time to take in what’s going on. There is 110 minutes of that.

This is all by design, of course. As French Dispatch editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr., (Bill Murray) continually reminds his writers, in what I take to be the thesis of the movie: “Just Try To Make It Sound Like You Wrote It That Way On Purpose.”

And those writers, of course, are proxies for writers for The New Yorker magazine, which the movie is an extended homage to. Not coincidentally, the credits slow down as Andersen lists the dozen or so New Yorker greats from back in the day that he dedicates the movie to.

One of those writers, A.J. Liebling, is an iconic boxing writing, and his prose is instrcutive. Liebling opens his classic, The Sweet Science, with this advice on attending a fight:

If you go to a fight with a friend, you can keep up unilateral conversations on two vocal levels — one at the top of your voice, directed at your fighter, and the otehr a running expertise nominally aimed at your companion but loud enough to reach a modest fifteen feet in each direction.

Let me ask you this, is that the guy you sitting in your section?

Liebeling gives us an example of how a (self-proclaimed) expert might go about this:

“Reminds me of Panama Al Brown,” you may say as a new fighter enters the ring. “He was five feet eleven and weighted a hundred and eighteen pounds. This fellow may be about forty pounds heavier and a couple of inches shorter, but he’s got the same kind of neck. I saw Brown box a fellow name Mascart in Paris in 1927. Guy stood up in the top gallery and threw an apple and hit Brown right on the top of the head. The whole house started yelling “Finish him, Mascart! He’s groggy!'” Then, as the bout begins, “Boxes like Al, too, except this fellow’s a southpaw.” If he wins you say, “I told you he reminded me of Al Brown,” and if he loses, “Well, well, I guess he’s no Al Brown. They don’t make fighters like Al any more.”

There is a lot of amusing stuff in there, yes. But to what end?

This identifies you as a man who (a) has been in Paris, (b) has been going to fights for a long time, and (c) therefore enjoys what the fellows who write for quarterlies call a frame of reference.

A frame of reference, indeed, but perhaps not the most humble one. The medium is the message. In The French Dispatch Andersen doesn’t just approve of this, he venerates it. Indeed, he adopts it. The movie is the cinematic equivalent of 110 minutes of Panama Al Brown references. Just because the loudmouth at the game knows what he’s talking about, it doesn’t mean he’s not annoying.

Still, this is an exceptional piece of work that is well above the $5 bar and is certainly one of the better movies you will see this year — the production values, the attention to detail in the set pieces, the stories, the acting, it’s all there. So when it’s all said and done you can pick up the BluRay and start dissecting it with the extended Andersen fanbase. Or you can, as my friend reports, go home and watch The Budapest Hotel.

“Now that’s a great movie!”

Lamb

Lamb A24 movie

Man versus Man. Man versus Nature. Shepherds and sheep. Live-action deliveries. Isaac and Abraham. 80s pop. At least four of the Ten Commandments, especially the tenth. Wrath of God. Wrath of Lamb. This film has it all.

Noomi Raplace (of Girl with the... fame) and Hilmir Snær Guðnason (I had to look up the spelling) carry heavy loads as the leads in a film where sheep outnumber humans by a pretty wide margin. As for Raplace and Guðnason, they play a staid married couple at what is certain to be a pivotal point in their marriage and their lives. In an early scene the couple has a breakfast conversation about time travel that gives you the sense that they are in no hurry to go forward, and they definitely don’t want to go back — perhaps they should just stay at the table.

The movie was shot in Iceland (and possibly Poland), and the film makers were not afraid to pull out the wide-angle lens. The continous canvassing of the landscape and the setting reveal many things that are otherwise otherwise left unsaid (the film has subtitles, but human dialog is pretty sparce). One thing we learn, for example, is that the own a fair swath of property that is pretty far afield from the bus stop that gets you to Reykjavík. And, of course, the lead couple tend to crops and have more than just a few sheep.

The pace is deliberate, to say the least, and there is not a lot of on-screen action. Indeed, pretty much everything that does happen would constitute a spoiler in one way or another, so describing the plot is out. Let’s just say the film opens with some live births in a manger on Christmas Day, and the religious imagery only gets thicker from there. I have a feeling if I had paid closer attention in Sunday school back in the day, I would have more to work with on this review.

L was no help on that front — still smarting from Midsommar, he left Dr. B and me in the proverbial Icelandic desert on this one. And, as such, we shared a fair bit of headscratching as we made our way to the parking lot. So I will close this up with a bit of the New Testament that I do remember, my favorite of the Lamb of God responses: Have mercy on us.