’65’ Shines a Little Less Brightly Than Sixty-Five Stars

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Adam Driver stars in 65. (CREDIT: Patti Perret/Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Starring: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman, Nika King

Directors: Scott Beck and Bryan Woods

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Dino Chompers and Biting Bugs

Release Date: March 10, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: They called the movie 65, but it’s worth a lot more than that. Indeed, add several zeros after that title, as it takes place 65 million years ago. A couple of humans lead the cast, but it’s the time of the dinosaurs on Planet Earth. Time travel isn’t on the docket, but intergalactic transport instead, as a pilot named Mills (Adam Driver) is on a mission to find a cure for his sick daughter (Chloe Coleman). But it all goes kablooey when his ship crashes on unfamiliar terra, where he soon finds himself at war with a bunch of rexes and raptors, and more than a couple of hungry insects. And in his care is the only other surviving passenger, a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) who doesn’t speak the same language as Mills but is with him all the way.

What Made an Impression?: By major studio sci-fi standards, 65 is fairly low-budget, which you can definitely feel. The lighting is often dim, and we rarely see full shots of the larger dinos. That’s not necessarily a death knell if the human drama is compelling, but alas, there aren’t really any fireworks there either. Driver and Greenblatt have an easy rhythm, but that’s just the thing – it’s too easy. It’s not like there needs to be any major conflict in this sort of guardian-child relationship, but every triumph feels preordained. Mills and Koa are very much in mortal danger the whole time, but you never feel that viscerally.

So what to do with a functionally well-made movie that doesn’t really thrill or inspire? Well, I sat in the theater peacefully for an hour and a half and was grateful that I had an occasion to get out of the house. I was less happy, however, about the skittering and screeching sound effects that disrupted my physiological equilibrium. But that was more of a minor nuisance than anything particularly terrible. To reiterate, 65 didn’t make me feel very strongly in either direction. Maybe if you’re a completist when it comes to sci-fi spacefaring or dino-heavy larks, you can find something worthwhile here, but otherwise, there’s not much to get excited about here.

65 is Recommended If You Like: Genre Fare and you’re not too demanding

Grade: 2 out of 5 Laser Blasts

Can We Hear You Now, ‘White Noise’?

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Look at how White all that Noise is! (CREDIT: Netflix © 2022)

Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Don Cheadle, André Benjamin, Jodie Turner-Smith

Director: Noah Baumbach

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: November 25, 2022 (Theaters)/December 30, 2022 (Netflix)

My favorite part of White Noise is the exuberant supermarket end credits dance number, to the point that I wished the entire movie had been one long choreographed performance. But in a way, it kind of was, if you interpret the unnatural dialogue as a sort of dance. And I’m going to choose to remember it that way. I’m sure Jack and Baba would approve.

Grade: A Whole Lot of Air in That Airborne Toxic Event

Say Yes to the ‘House of Gucci’


House of Gucci (CREDIT: Fabio Lovino/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Reeve Carney, Camille Cottin

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 157 Minutes

Rating: R for Opulent Language and Sexuality, and a Little Bit of Gun Violence

Release Date: November 24, 2021 (Theaters)

How historically accurate is House of Gucci? I’m not sure, and at this moment, I don’t particularly care. The general bullet points at least are correct as far as I can tell: Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) marries her way into the legendary Gucci fashion family. She reveals her true ambitious self by pushing aside her brother-in-law Paolo (Jared Leto) and uncle-in-law Aldo (Al Pacino). But her union with her husband Maurizio (Adam Driver) eventually falls apart, so much so that after their divorce, she teams up with a psychic (Salma Hayek) to hire a hitman to murder Maurizio. The Guccis are clearing themselves right out of Gucci.

It’s a tale that’s as ripe as a tomato for building a legend around. When you’re going the mythmaking route, it helps if the real-life people being portrayed are dead, which is mostly the case here, except for Reggiani. I don’t know if she plans on watching the film, but either way, I hope she can make peace with the fact that her persona is now partly owned by the culture at large.

And what a persona it is! Gaga goes big. Perhaps the Biggest of Her Career. Now, you may be thinking, “That’s saying something, considering what she’s famous for.” But while her landscapes and scaffolding are frequently over-the-top in baroque and rococo fashions, her foundations are usually grounded in more straightforward feeling. But in this case, Patrizia cannot be contained. She’s the kind of person who wonders aloud, “Will I be successful?” And you know what she really means is, “Look out suckers, I’m not going to stop until I do everything I can to be successful.” You get the feeling that Gaga has captured some elemental force, and if she had let it get away, it would be like unleashing Pandora’s box.

The other performance I’m absolutely in love with is Leto’s take on the black sheep of the family. Paolo Gucci and I have similarly left-of-center views on fashion, so I’m already drawn toward him for that reason. Leto plays him as a sort of simpering Italian version of Rodney Dangerfield, with a voice that sounds like a certain video game plumber. Often when it comes to Leto, I’m put off by stories of his onscreen antics, and even beyond that, I’ve never quite connected with any of his performances. However, in this case, he’s making some wild decisions that perfectly embody the House of Gucci milieu. It’s breathtaking.

As for the rest of the cast, Adam Driver and Jeremy Irons (as Maurizio’s stick-up-his-ass dad Rodolfo) are much more subdued than everyone else. Pacino is subdued by his standards (which is to say, he’s in between the Gucci extremes). And we all know that Salma Hayek always brings it, and she brings it as hard here as she always does. In conclusion, I spent most of this review talking about the acting, and that’s because these are performances that are as hearty and life-sustaining as a Mediterranean diet. Dig in!

House of Gucci is Recommended If You Like: I, Tonya, Super Marios Bros., That Olive Garden commercial with the Selena Gomez song

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fabrics

I Liked It When ‘The Last Duel’ Ended (That’s a Compliment)

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The Last Duel (CREDIT: 20th Century Studios/Screenshot)

Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Nathaniel Parker, Alex Lawther

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 153 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: October 15, 2021 (Theaters)

My favorite part of the The Last Duel is The Last Part – tres appropriate! Actually, I liked two last parts, as it were. The film is split into thirds: first we get the perspective of Sir Jean de Carrouges (as played by Mr. Matt Damon), then the perspective of Jacques Le Gris (as played by Mr. Adam Driver), and finally the perspective of Sir Jean’s wife Marguerite (as played by Ms. Jodie Comer). So when I say I liked two last parts, I mean that I liked Marguerite’s section the best of the three, AND I liked the very last scene more than any other scene, as we finally got to see the titular duel between Sir Jean and Jacques and the emotional stakes were abundantly clear. The men’s sections were occasionally a bit of a chore to get through, but they provided essential context to make the resolutions work as satisfactorily as they did (h/t to NPR’s Linda Holmes for priming me towards this reaction with her discussion on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast). I hope everyone reading likes the end of this review just as much.

Grade: The End Was Good!

Baby, Baby, Baby, ‘Annette’ is Absolutely Unforgettable

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Annette (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell

Director: Leos Carax

Running Time: 139 Minutes

Rating: R for Language and Very Intimate Bedroom Scenes

Release Date: August 6, 2021 (Theaters)/August 20, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

Sometimes I come up with an idea about how I’d like to write my movie reviews, and then in the interest of frankness and openness, I decide to share that thought process with my readers. So while watching the Leos Carax-directed musical Annette, I decided that I wanted my review to feel like a conversation I’m having with my fellow movie lovers. It just felt right given the movie’s energy.

So now that I have your attention and we’re having a conversation: you know Ron and Russell Mael, the brotherly duo behind the influential long-running rock band Sparks? There’s a good chance you’ve heard about them recently, considering that there was a whole documentary about them that came out a couple months ago. Perhaps you even read my review of it. Well now they’ve gone ahead and written the screenplay for an entire musical movie, including all the original songs. Their co-screenwriter (also the director) is a French fellow who’s probably best known to American audiences for Holy Motors, a kooky flick about some guy getting up to all sorts of shenanigans in Paris. This is a teamup that has resulted in plenty of sparks.

Annette is a love story! The central couple are a stand-up comedian named Henry played by American actor Adam Driver and an opera singer named Ann played by French actress Marion Cotillard. Annette is their daughter. (I’ll have more to say about her later.) If you want to know what type of comedian Henry is, I would say that he’s an observational comic in the Seinfeldian mode but with a Zach Galifianakis-style deconstructionist sensibility, with some Marc Maron-esque misanthropy for good measure, along with the hostility of Andy Kaufman at his most dangerous. It’s also worth noting that his pre-show routine includes chain smoking and eating a banana and that he performs in little more than a green bathrobe. As for what type of opera singer Ann is, I’m not sure what to say, because I don’t know the intricacies of opera as much as I know stand-up!

So back to that daughter, who arrives about a third of the way through (after some very passionate lovemaking). She gets a lot of screentime, but you don’t need to worry about child labor laws, because for the most part she’s played by a wooden puppet (until Devyn McDowell takes over at the very end). Now, you may be thinking, “A pu-, a puppet?” There’s no way to be fully prepared for that reveal! At the beginning of the film, it feels like we’re in for a totally rockin’ good time, with an absolute banger of an opening number setting the pace. And for the most part, that is indeed what we get. But as it goes along, Annette only gets stranger and more challenging and generally harder to embrace. We learn some unsavory details about Henry’s past, we start to see him become more combative on stage and in his personal life, and then he and Ann get on a boat and head out to sea, both literally and metaphorically. And I should also mention that most of the second half of the movie is dedicated to Annette’s super successful pop music career, during which time we are continually reminded that she is a baby and that she is played by a puppet. So if you’re not sure you can handle that, I’m sure you’ll appreciate being informed ahead of time.

I’m not sure I’m into every wacky development in Annette, but I have to applaud its unwavering ambition. Although “ambition” perhaps isn’t the right word here. Something like “singularity” or “uncompromisingness” might be a better descriptor. We all have different palates; some of you will have the right cinematic taste buds to handle all this, while others, not so much. I was guaranteed to have a good time thanks to that Sparks soundtrack, even if not everything else hit the spot quite right. But overall, my palate is now richer and my life is now fuller.

Annette is Recommended If You Like: Rock operas, the dancing baby from Ally McBeal, the prop baby from American Sniper

Grade: 4 out of 5 Showbizz News

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Adam Driver/Halsey

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

It’s the first SNL of 2020. We diddddd it!

So in the spirit of moving forward, I’m going to take a moment to look back. When I first started writing up SNL episode recap/reviews, I would usually watch some of the episode as it aired live (typically until around Update) and then go to bed and watch the rest on Sunday morning. But as I got older, I realized that I tended to get tired at nighttime and preferred going to bed before the show started and thus I would watch it all on Sunday morning. But this time, I got back in my old groove and watched the first couple sketches before tucking in for the night (though slightly DVR-delayed). I didn’t feel too tired, and the Australian Open was on, so I decided to roll with how I was feeling. Just so you know. Also, I had a milkshake while watching. I really had a hankering for one!


‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is Frustrating and Deeply Satisfying – It’s So Great to Be Alive!

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CREDIT: Lucasfilm

This whole review discusses plot points in detail, so … spoiler warningggggggggggg!!!

I guess J.J. Abrams isn’t the one to cure Star Wars of its reputation for clunky and/or imaginative dialogue. So many of the lines in The Rise of Skywalker are variations of “Go! Go! Go!” or “I love my friends.” Except for C-3PO. Man, that guy is golden! Does Anthony Daniels write his own dialogue? I would like to nominate 3PO for Most Consistently Charming Character in Franchise Movie History. I mean, quips like “You didn’t say my name, sir, but I’m all right” – how can one droid bless us so much?!

I liked The Rise of Skywalker more than I didn’t. But for a movie that I like (love even!), there sure are a lot of elements that drove me  batty! And some of them could have been just fine (or brilliant even) if they had been carried out a little differently. I’ll get to the big one in a bit, but first off, why is the first hour or so of this movie a hunt for a McGuffin? When characters are on the run in Star Wars, their purpose is clear and meaningful. It’s not just a hunt for a whatever device. Maybe it wouldn’t have felt so McGuffin-y if the danger weren’t dispatched so easily…

Speaking of, I’m fine with the “death” of Chewbacca turning out to be a bait and switch, but maybe give us at least five minutes to think that he might have actually died, so that it can resonate when we discover that he’s actually fine. Similarly, I think it’s perfectly okay that C-3PO’s memory wipe isn’t permanent, but let’s draw out some more mileage of the recovery of those memories. I’m sure they can easily get a tight five out of R2-D2 catching him up to speed.

Now for the big Big BIG one: I suspect that J.J. Abrams had decided that Rey was Palpatine’s granddaughter when he made The Force Awakens. But since he didn’t convey that explicitly, that left The Last Jedi free to say that her parents were nobodies. So Skywalker combines both origins, which tracks logically enough, but changes the message. Rey rejecting her Sith parentage is resonant, though it’s not as unique a message as the idea that powerful Jedi can come from anywhere. That message isn’t refuted, but it’s not underscored as much as I suspect would have been beneficial. So if JJ was married to the Palpatine-Rey connection, what if he were to instead make it a King Herod situation, wherein Palpatine senses Rey’s remarkable power and becomes dead set on hunting her down and either recruiting her or destroying her?

Hey, here’s another question I have: what did Finn need to tell Rey? My suspicion was that it was a confession of love, since he was obviously so smitten with her when they first met, and I think they’ve always been great together. But then he had possible sparks with Rose and then he has a connection with Jannah (not to mention Poe, although any romance there was only ever speculative). Meanwhile, Rey and Kylo Ben are getting ever closer to form that dyad. So maybe I misread what Finn needed to say. But whatever it was, it was clearly important to him, and it just never came up again! Why not add 30 seconds for some unburdening?

But for all those miscues, I am massively satisfied by the ending, particularly Rey declaring herself a Skywalker and the entire trilogy-wide resolution of her arc. When all those Jedi voices reach out to her, it’s transcendent. Why not have more moments like that?! But what we got is enough to leave me happy, and The Last Jedi‘s contribution of the conviction that great Jedi can come from anywhere remains intact. And the aesthetic Star Wars qualities like droids beeping and Babu Frick tinkering are as lovely as ever.

TL;DR: increase the bleep-bloops and good kind of mystical woo-doo, decrease the bad kind of mystical woo-woo.

‘The Report’ Details the Long Slog Towards Exposing Torture


CREDIT: Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon Studios

Starring: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Ben McKenzie, Jake Silberman, Matthew Rhys, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Dominic Fumusa, Corey Stoll

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: R for Depictions of Torture

Release Date: November 15, 2019 (Limited)

There’s a moment in The Report that might be what most viewers remember it for, in which the 2012 hunt-for-Osama bin Laden thriller Zero Dark Thirty is called out and basically scoffed at for implying that torture led to valuable intel in the war on terrorism. Despite this apparent antagonism, The Report and Zero Dark Thirty work well as companion pieces, offering somewhat parallel stories in the defining geopolitical conflict of the twenty-first century. I believe that the message of Zero Dark regarding the efficacy of torture is more complicated than any binary interpretation, and I actually think that the people behind The Report would agree, at least in terms of the existence of complications in the world. When a narrative is about a real-life group of people poring over thousands of government documents for months on end, you tend to find that the answers aren’t always quite so straightforward. But two things remain clear: torture is bad, and the people deserve to know that it happened.

The primary document sifter is Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), who was working as a Senate staffer for California Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) while he investigated the CIA’s systematic use of torture in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The job is thuddingly labor-intensive, but Daniel is fully devoted to the task, and besides, the real challenge for him is getting this information out to the public over the protests of the forces who would prefer it be as redacted as possible or just completely hidden. The Report serves the entertainment value of presenting someone doing his job supremely competently, but it is also a bit of a slog. It is not exactly fun to spend so much time in windowless basements with Daniel, and his co-workers let him know that it’s not so great for him either. But for the good of mankind, this information needed to get out one way or the other. And if this story needed to be jazzed up into a big-screen adventure for people to become more aware of this miscarriage of decency, then The Report ought to be considered a succcess at least on that score.

The Report is Recommended If You Like: The truth being made public

Grade: 3000 of 5000 Documents

Movie Review: ‘The Dead Don’t Die,’ And Neither Does the Droll Energy in Jim Jarmusch’s Zombie Goof-Off

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CREDIT: Abbot Genser/Focus Features

Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Austin Butler, Eszter Balint, Luka Sabbat, Larry Fessenden

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Ironic, But Visceral Zombie Violence

Release Date: June 14, 2019 (Limited)

Sometime around 2010, it was determined that it was every filmmaker’s God-given right to make their very own zombie movie. In the case of Jim Jarmusch, he was divinely matched with The Dead Don’t Die, a droll, occasionally fourth wall-breaking portrait of ravaged-by-the-undead small town life patrolled by Police Officers Bill Murray and Adam Driver. In a post-Shaun of the Dead world, The Dead Don’t Die is far from necessary, but it is sufficiently diverting. It adds an environmental wrinkle to the zombie mythos, as fracking is implied to be the culprit behind the upending of nature. If Jarmusch is crying out for us to protect the Earth, that warning is perhaps a little too late, considering how disastrous climate change has already become. But that’s no big deal (for the movie, that is – the planet is screwed), as he seems to have more goofball ideas on his mind anyway.

The zombie blood and guts are sufficiently hardcore, with the bodily fluids as wet and unleashed as the dialogue is dry and bottled-up. But the main attraction are not the ghouls so much as the characters and their unique ways of being human and/or inhuman. That is to say, while Tilda Swinton has badass sword skills as the town’s new undertaker, it’s more amusing that she gets to lean into a hardcore Scottish persona. This is the type of movie in which Selena Gomez tells Caleb Landry Jones, “Your film knowledge is impressive,” after he mentions some pretty basic info about George Romero, and then Larry Fessenden refers to Gomez and her friends who are passing through town as “hipsters from the city” and “hipsters with their irony” (the odds seem to be that they’re from Cleveland). If that sounds hilarious to you, you know who you are, and you can expect to mostly be satisfied, though you may (or may not) have issues with the shaggy, shambling plot structure.

The Dead Don’t Die is Recommended If You Like: Remaining at an ironic remove, but not being too-cool-for-school about it

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Diner Coffee Pots

This Is a Movie Review: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

As the movie with perhaps the most tortured backstory in the history of cinema, it is unsurprising that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote incorporates plenty of elements about the difficulty of mounting a massive production. Of course, as it revolves around a man who is convinced that he is actually Cervantes’ title adventurer after starring in an adaptation of the novel, it was always going to be somewhat meta. I don’t think Terry Gilliam taps into anything especially uniquely profound in this regard, but it does feel like he is facing the plain truth right in its face. I have made a few short films myself, and I have a brother and plenty of friends who have worked in film and TV, so I understand the instinct to incorporate what’s going in your life into the films you make. Thus, in the end, this whole quixotic endeavor feels oddly comforting to me.

I give The Man Who Killed Don Quixote A Hug and a Lullaby.

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