‘The French Dispatch’ Presents a Journalistic Panorama

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The French Dispatch (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Wally Wolodarsky, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Anjelica Huston, Jarvis Cocker, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Denis Menochet, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Alex Lawther, Mohamed Belhadjine, Nicolas Avinée, Lily Taleb, Toheeb Jimoh, Rupert Friend, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Christoph Waltz, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Winston Ait Hellal, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Hippolyte Girardot

Director: Wes Anderson

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Art Model Nudity, Surprising Sexual Partners, and Some Language Here and There

Release Date: October 22, 2021 (Theaters)

The French Dispatch is about the staff and subjects of an American magazine that covers a small but colorful fictional French town. It’s published as an insert in the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star newspaper, so it’s basically like a midwestern Parade, but with the vibe of The New Yorker. Which all begs the question: who is the intended audience of The French Dispatch*? (*The fictional newspaper, that is, not the movie of the same name. [Although by extension, you could ask the same thing about the movie, though that conversation would be a little different.]) It feels like somebody dared Wes Anderson to create an anthology film of the most esoteric stories ever and he then declared, “Challenge accepted.” As I watched I wondered what made these stories worth telling, and I believe that the answer is: they’re worth telling because they’re worth telling. So in that way, The French Dispatch is very much like Little Women.

The fictional French town in this movie is called Ennui-sur-Blasé, which literally translates as “Boredom-on-Blasé,” but there’s no way you’ll be bored while watching a film that’s as overstuffed as this one. Overwhelmed, perhaps, but not bored. (But if somehow you are bored, please let me know about your experience. It’s interesting when someone’s reaction is so different than mine!) The anthology structure is composed into five sections, two to set the context and three to dive deep. First up is an introduction of the staff, particularly editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a my-way-or-the-highway type, except when he readily makes concessions to his writers’ peculiarities. Then travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) takes us on a bicycle tour to provide color for the town. The fleshed-out stories include the journalist-subject pairings of Tilda Swinton covering incarcerated artist Benicio Del Toro; Frances McDormand covering student revolutionaries led by Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri; and Jeffrey Wright as a food journalist covering the story of a police officer’s kidnapped son that also features a very talented chef.

The French Dispatch is a love letter to a time and a place when you could throw whatever budget you felt like at whatever story you felt like covering. Based on the accounts of people who were involved in that era, that characterization actually isn’t that far off from how 20th century American journalism really was run. But it’s so different from journalism’s current state of affairs that it might as well be from another universe. Appropriately enough then, The French Dispatch felt to me like it was beaming in from an alternate dimension. I don’t know how these stories could have ever possibly been conceived, but I’m glad that I’ve now experienced them.

The French Dispatch is Recommended If You Like: The New Yorker, Symmetrical geometric arrangements, French pop music, Skinny mustaches

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bylines

Movie Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ Might Be the Loudest Action Movie Ever Made

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jason Mantzoukas, Robin Lord Taylor

Director: Chad Stahelski

Running Time: 131 Minutes

Rating: R for Traditional and Improvised Weaponry Galore

Release Date: May 17, 2019

Either I have really sensitive ears, or other critics and action film buffs have had their hearing blown out by cinematic cacophony.

The first John Wick had some cool ideas about how a worldwide network of assassins would be managed and litigated, but it was sloppily edited and so, so overwhelmingly loud. (It’s possible that the theater I saw it in didn’t have the sound properly calibrated, but I’ve seen plenty of movies in that theater before and after in which that hasn’t been an issue.) Then Chapter 2 came along and cleaned up those execution snafus.* But now Chapter 3 is backsliding, or just leaning too hard into the danger zone. The outrageously choreographed fight sequences are still shot gracefully, but the soundtrack is now oppressive at Guinness record-shattering levels. (*-Although, looking back at my review of Chapter 2, I am reminded that this trilogy actually never quieted down.)

This edition opens with Keanu Reeves and a fellow assassin breaking every possible glass surface within reach, and the volume for that level of destruction never lets up. And look, I could forgive this movie my eardrums getting blown out if everything else were satisfying, but I just don’t really much care about the mess that Wick has gotten himself mucked up in. He’s run afoul of some sacred rules, and now he and whoever’s helped him must atone rather ritualistically, but I just want to shout to the enforcers, “Get over yourselves!”

At least the performances remain commendably committed. Reeves, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne are as righteous as you remember them. Among the newcomers, Asia Kate Dillon commands respect in the rather thankless task as the uber-rules-respecting adjudicator, while Jason Mantzoukas is a little helper fellow who is nowhere near as unhinged as his typical roles, though he does wonders with his face acting. That’s some subtlety that could have been quite useful elsewhere in this overloaded buffet of gore.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is Recommended If You: Have less sensitive hearing than I do

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Shattered Windows