This Is a Movie Review: The Old Man & the Gun

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Some people cannot help themselves, incorrigibly escaping from prison and robbing banks forevermore. Well, at least one person was like that. Actually, there have been plenty of career criminals in human history. But “incorrigible” usually isn’t the right word to describe most of them. It is, however, a perfect fit for Forrest Tucker, who was known for charming the heck out of bank tellers as he flashed his gun at them.

There are the singular characters like Tucker, and then there are the weavers of tales like David Lowery, who writes and directs Tucker’s story in The Old Man & the Gun. He wisely casts Robert Redford as the ultimate Robert Redford-type and commissions Daniel Hart to craft a breezy, jazzy score, and it all makes for a perfectly fine way to transport yourself for an afternoon.

I give The Old Man & the Gun 20 Diner Dates out of 25 Prison Escapes.

This Is a Movie Review: A Ghost Story

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

Director: David Lowery

Running Time: 87 Minutes

Rating: R for the Cause of Death (Though Most of the Content is Quite Mild)

Release Date: July 7, 2017 (Limited)

If you have heard of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story in passing, chances are you know one of two things about it: 1) the titular ghost is rendered by someone wearing a bedsheet with cutout eyeholes, and 2) Rooney Mara eats an entire pie for about 10 minutes straight. The former sounds dumb but is actually kind of charming, while the latter sounds like an admirable bit of anti-cinema but is actually representative of everything wrong with this movie.

The setup is notably (perhaps fascinatingly) bare-bones: a young couple, presumably married, listed in the credits as “M” (Rooney Mara) and “C” (Casey Affleck), move into an idyllic suburban house. C dies in a car accident and then awakens in the morgue as the sheet-ghost. He returns home and meets another sheet-ghost next door. He keeps an eye on M and occasionally throws some books off the shelf. She eventually moves out, presumably due to grief or maybe because of the supernatural goings-on (hardly anything is concretely explained). He sticks around and meets the new residents, haunting them a bit but mostly just observing them. Ultimately Lowery makes it clear that his conception of ghosts is not bound by the normal rules of time, as a temporal loop allows C to experience anew his and M’s entire relationship, with a few detours along the way.

A Ghost Story has an interesting metaphysical perspective, with its version of the afterlife steeped in feeling as much as ideas. It offers some rewards if you meditate over it, but actually watching it is a slog. The dialogue is sparse, and the action leads nowhere, which is not necessarily a problem if the aim is to be sensuously experiential. And in fairness, Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography is pretty to look at, but not so extraordinary that it can justify a movie that mostly just stands still. A film’s purpose does not need to be obvious, but it is preferable if it feels like something more significant than “we just felt like it.”

A Ghost Story is Recommended If You Like: Endlessly Ruminating

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Pies

SNL Review December 17, 2016: Casey Affleck/Chance the Rapper

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SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Casey Affleck" Episode 1714 -- Pictured: Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton during the "Hillary Actually" sketch on December 17, 2016 -- (Photo by: Becky Vu/NBC)

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

News Cult Entertainment Editor Jeffrey Malone watches every new episode of Saturday Night Live and then organizes the sketches into the following categories: “Love It” (potentially Best of the Season-worthy), “Keep It” (perfectly adequate), or “Leave It” (in need of a rewrite, to say the least). Then he concludes with assessments of the host and musical guest.

Love It

Hillary Actually – I generally cut SNL slack for not having the sharpest political satire around, but I do encourage more adventurous ideas, and this is exactly what I am talking about. Using a movie parody to make sense of the current twist in the election is what SNL is uniquely equipped to do. Hillary wooing an elector in the style of Love Actually’s cue cards scene may be over-the-top, but it rings through and through with essential truth.

I love the hacky comedy in the nativity play covered by New York Now and wish it had lasted even longer and gotten even more ridiculous…At Frankie’s Ale House, it is not just the guys looking to score who are deploying faux shyness: it’s also the bouncer, the guy calling 911, the EMT, and even God.

Keep It

Santa Encounter – The first appearance of Kate McKinnon’s unlucky-in-abduction Ms. Rafferty was a blast of otherworldly goodness. The second edition perfected the formula. This third go-round shows the limits of the premise. An encounter with Santa does not have quite the same type of legendary appeal as capture by aliens. Also, the shock value has worn off, and with everyone more practiced, the chances for breaking are less likely. Still, I am not going to complain when Kate describes how this is not the worst time she has had on all fours.

In our weekly check-in at Trump Tower, we discover how much of a dead ringer Beck Bennett is for Vladimir Putin…Combative Dunkin’ Donuts Superfan Casey Affleck shows us what happens when all the loyal customers show up for the commercial…The inexplicably gay robots at the Microsoft Tech Expo examine overly sensitive minefields, but the whole sketch is a little too timid…Jingle Barack, a sort of “Christmas in Hollis” redux, is a festive and wistful goodbye to the first black POTUS…Michael and Colin get their biggest laughs from the all-potato diet and “phubbing”…With Fred Armisen stopping by, he and Vanessa Bayer don the stereotypical Russian garb as Putin’s Two Best Friends From Growing Up – the gossipy premise is firmly established by now, but the details (e.g., Putin collects “fun, vintage sodas”) are endless…The naughty elves are back in Mrs. Claus and the Christmas Feast, and somehow I have warmed up to their charms a bit.

Leave It

Monologue – It’s the end of the year, it’s the third episode in three weeks, everybody forgot to write a monologue. I understand, but that doesn’t make it okay. Saying “I’m not going to sing about it” is all well and good – we’re not clamoring for the umpteenth musical monologue, after all – but if you’re not going to sing, you’ve gotta do something. A rookie host passing his monologue off on vets like Alec Baldwin and John Goodman may be cheap, but if that’s what you’re gonna do, just do that. Instead, we just get some teeth-gritting that feels like teeth-pulling to fill 3 minutes of air time.

Casey Affleck

When Casey Affleck was first announced as host, I was more than a little wary, given his lack of comedic experience. Sure, plenty of primarily dramatic actors have found success on the show, but the quiet, introspective style he is known for is not the sort of dramatic acting style that generally lends itself well to comedy. Ultimately, Affleck acquits himself perfectly adequately. He seems to enjoy doing silly voices, particularly a post-ironic Borat impression.

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper gets a lot of critical praise, but with the album release landscape being what it is in 2016 (i.e., riven with exclusives and secrecy), he is one of those artists you can easily miss out on if you’re not specifically looking for him. His two tracks tonight (“Finish Line/Drown” and “Same Drugs”) have a fun multi-genre influence and his verbal acuity is undeniable, but I am most struck by his decision to wear overalls. I assume he is going for a festive vibe, but he comes off more like Rappin’ Super Mario.

I’ll be back on January 14 to let you know what I’m loving, keeping, and leaving from host Felicity Jones and musical guest Sturgill Simpson!


This Is a Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

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This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Running Time: 137 Minutes

Rating: R for Adult Themes Discussed and Left Undiscussed

Release Date: November 18, 2016 (Limited)

In Manchester by the Sea, Boston handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) must return home to his Massachusetts fishing village hometown after the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). He is then shocked to discover that Joe has entrusted him as the sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). As he struggles to settle back into life in Manchester-by-the-Sea, he must deal with returning to a place where his existence is practically an urban legend and crossing paths with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) after their marriage ended in tragedy.

That sounds like a formula for a bummer, and indeed the emotions are often heavy. But if you come in stealing yourself for non-stop depression, like I did, then you will be pleasantly surprised by how much humor there is. At times it plays like an odd couple buddy comedy between Affleck and Hedges, even when long-simmering familial tensions are at their most contentious. The two even act as impromptu wingmen for each other. The film’s sexual politics involving adolescents and how much parents are privy to them are both progressive and screwball.

But Manchester by the Sea undoubtedly belongs to Affleck. I had heard his is one of the best performances of the year. So I was on the lookout for any clear techniques that would show off his emotional prowess, which are not obvious. Do not be fooled though. I have been won over, even though I cannot pinpoint any one at which I would say, “There it is!” Perhaps you will feel the same way.

The question of why Lee’s life has ended up the way it has is pressing at every turn. He has been the victim of multiple tragedies, but that can hardly be the entire source of blame, as his hotheadedness is constantly betraying him. For anyone who has ever had loved ones drag themselves and everyone else down, take a breath, and then take several more, as you stick with the duration of this film. It will reward you for your patience.

Manchester by the Sea is Recommended If You Like: Hanging out with the family, Bah-ston accents, A Surprise Cameo from a Cinematic Icon

Grade: 4 out of 5 Sucker Punches from Casey Affleck