In ‘The Old Guard,’ Immortality is a Burden and a Blessing

Leave a comment

THE OLD GUARD – Charlize Theron as ÓAndy” (CREDIT: Aimee Spinks/Netflix)

Starring: Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenarts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo, Anamaria Marinca

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: July 10, 2020 (Netflix)

I’m trying something out with some of my recent movie reviews in which I ask myself, “Does this movie make me want to do what the movie is about?” So therefore I ask of you, The Old Guard, “Do you make me to be immortal?” To which I answer, “No, you do not.” But in the interest of fairness, I must acknowledge that Charlize Theron and her crew aren’t quite immortal, so really I should be asking, “Do I want to live for thousands of years and then become suddenly, unpredictably vulnerable to death?” To which I would then respond, “Not particularly.” But I don’t really suppose that The Old Guard is advocating for immortality or near-immortality. If anything, it wants us to ask ourselves, “Will I take advantage of my gifts to transcend myself and make the world a better place?” And my answer in that case is, “Of course!” It takes a while to get that point, though.

I give The Old Guard 3 Bullet Wounds out of 5 Millennia.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 7/10/20

Leave a comment

BRAVE NEW WORLD (CREDIT: Steve Schofield/Peacock)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Greyhound (Streaming on Apple TV+) – Tom Hanks joins the Navy.
The Old Guard (Streaming on Netflix) – Starring Charlize Theron and directed by Love & Basketball‘s Gina Prince-Bythewood!
Palm Springs (Streaming on Hulu) – Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti relive a wedding reception over and over again.

TV
Brave New World Series Premiere (July 15 on Peacock)
30 Rock Upfront Special (July 16 on NBC)

Music
-My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall II

 

The Fascinatingly Conflicted ‘Bombshell’ Documents the Downfall of Roger Ailes

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP

Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Rob Delaney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Liv Hewson, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell

Director: Jay Roach

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for Powerful Men Behaving Badly

Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Limited)/Expands December 20, 2019

Most of the audience who will see Bombshell are probably not regular Fox News viewers. Although I don’t want to assume anything too definitively. Maybe there are actually some people who have the mental capacity to watch both a notoriously conservative news network and a movie that is fundamentally critical about it. Bombshell makes a similar argument against rushing to judgment when being critical seems like the most obvious correct approach to take, especially in one key scene when a woman confronts Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) in a grocery store, and Carlson shoots back about the virtue of treating with respect the people you disagree with. That could easily be a shallow bromide, but when you consider what Carlson is going through, it has unexpected resonance.

What Carlson is going through is a fight against the systematic misogyny at Fox News, a workplace whose initiation for its female employees apparently includes a signature piece of harassment from founder Roger Ailes (a gluttonously made-up John Lithgow). After Carlson is let go from the network in 2016, she files a lawsuit alleging harassment against Ailes, prompting the other women at Fox News to consider if they will support her. Many of them are reflexively Team Roger, but a few of them actually have a crisis of conscience, especially Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and a fictional character named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).

The filmmaking trick here is generating empathy, which is generally pretty easy to do for people who have clearly been harassed and abused. But matters are complicated by the fact that these women so resolutely insist that they’re not feminists as they come to terms with speaking out against the misogyny they’ve endured. I certainly believe it is possible to extend humanity to someone you deeply disagree with, but the struggle is even deeper than that. Even if these women leave and renounce their employer, they can’t ever escape the mark of having once worked at Fox News, so far removed is the network from the rest of the media landscape. It’s a sort of original sin that traps them in an infinite labyrinth. For a film that could have so easily been straightforward in many ways, I appreciate the complexity at its heart.

Bombshell is Recommended If You Like: Feeling disgusted and empathetic at the same time

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lawsuits

And Now For Something Completely Funky: ‘Long Shot’ Movie Review

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Philippe Bossé

I’m not sure what Long Shot‘s sense of the political landscape is. It seems to believe that the difference between Democrats and Republicans can actually be quite nebulous, which is interesting to think about, and maybe true in some cases, but certainly not in the majority of my experience. It also has some valuable things to say about the importance of compromise, although it’s kind of shouty and generic about it. But anyway, this is mostly a love story.

At first blush, it might look like the same old tale between a beautiful blonde (Charlize Theron as a presidential candidate) and a lovable schlub (Seth Rogen as a journalist-cum-speechwriter), but it downplays any eyeroll-worthy aspect of that setup by clearly illustrating the mutual attraction here. So Long Shot works best when it investigates what ambitious people are willing to sacrifice or not sacrifice, and why, in the name of the people they care about, though it would have benefited from more specific political window-dressing.

I give Long Shot My Satisfied Endorsement.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/3/19

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Philippe Bossé

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Long Shot (Theatrically Nationwide)

Podcasts
Primetime (Premieres May 9) – Hosted by Vox Cultural Critic Todd VanDerWerff!
The Ron Burgundy Podcast – This premiered back in February, but somehow I’m only realizing just now that it’s available.

This Is a Movie Review: Does Motherhood Gradually Get Better for Everyone? I Don’t Know, But Let’s Watch ‘Tully’ in the Meantime

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in May 2018.

Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass

Director: Jason Reitman

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for PG-13-level Profanity, a Wish-Fulfilling Sex Scene, and Some Nudity (Mostly Breastfeeding-Related)

Release Date: May 4, 2018

“How could anyone possibly want to be a mother?” I find myself thinking multiple times while watching Tully. Sure, kids can be bundle of joys for folks who are parentally inclined, but the purgatory of pregnancy and postpartum malaise that Charlize Theron steeps herself in conveys unequivocally the crushing sacrifices required to assemble a happy family. Now, not every mother or mother-to-be is as susceptible to depression as Theron’s Marlo is, but creating another life inside your body pretty much guarantees a transformation of your sense of personhood. So what a blessing it would be to have someone devoted to helping with that transition, and I think we can all agree that a smiling, eager Mackenzie Davis on our doorstep fits the requirements perfectly.

Davis’ titular nanny, hired to take care of Marlo’s new baby overnight so that Mom can get some much-needed sleep, shares a lot of DNA with Manic Pixie Dream Girls, that oft-bemoaned breed of rom-com stock character designed for the express purpose of making the lead character discover the joy of loving life. But the Manic Pixie Night Nanny, or at least this particular one, avoids being similarly frustrating, because taking care of all of Marlo’s needs is kind of in her job description. She comes across as a real, layered person because some people really are that expertly enthusiastic about childcare, and she is granted a life and concerns of her own outside her employment. But as Tully proves to be the most perfect nanny ever and starts to become a friend and confidante, the questions arise: just how is it possible that she is this perfect? How long can, and should, this arrangement last?

In her third collaboration with director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody takes plenty of piercing (but loving?) digs at the sort of suburban bougie lifestyle that accompanies the concept of a night nanny. According to Marlo’s brother Craig (Mark Duplass, so often playing the embodiment of bougie entitlement), this may be the sort of indulgence only rich assholes get to have, but at least these particular rich assholes are of the unwittingly hilarious kind. The New York crowd at my screening cracked up heartily at a dog named “Prosecco” and the reveal that an elementary school kid’s talent show talent is “Pilates.” (Distressingly, though, I was the only one laughing at a sneaky reference to a certain ’90s cartoon.)

I feel that I must now get into a spoiler alert, which I want to be careful about, because the fact that there is a spoiler alert is already a bit of a spoiler, as this is not the type of movie you would expect to have secrets that need protecting. But because of the nature of what is spoilable, it feels irresponsible not to mention that it could be traumatic to mothers who have experienced pregnancy-related mental health issues. Tully ultimately reveals itself to be a different movie than it initially appears to be – not worse, but a lot heavier. It is something I cannot get out of my head, and I think that is a good thing, as it offers an approach to certain facts of life that is well worth digesting.

Tully is Recommended If You Like: Bougie Suburban Satire (like that of Beatriz at Dinner), Young Adult, The Babadook

Grade: 4 out of 5 Milk Spills

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Gringo’ Finds Humor and Redemption in a World Gone Mad

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Amazon Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Yul Vazquez, Harry Treadaway, Alan Ruck

Director: Nash Edgerton

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Corporate Profanity, Office Sex and Euphemistic Propositioning, and a Few Gunshots and Amputations

Release Date: March 9, 2018

Gringo exists mainly to stoke the ire of anyone who believes that the insurance industry is the greatest scam in the history of humanity. I am sure that there are some agents putting in decent work, and there certainly have been times when a smart policy have bailed folks out of emergencies. But why do have to put money aside (or pay folks off, in cynical parlance) to ensure all that? Why can’t we as a species just agree to have each other’s backs as part of the human contract? I suppose that the insurance industry is meant to be that agreement, but as Gringo proves, there are plenty of opportunities for abuse in its current form.

A less humanistic film than Gringo would have Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) seeking his revenge on the world for being constantly taken advantage of or falling into a pit of despair over how nice guys finish last. But instead, it is about how he realizes how he is rich in what truly counts in life through a chaotically dangerous, screwball journey. He is a mid-level businessman at the drug company Cannabix who is just a little too trusting of everyone around him. He catches wind that a lot of jobs are going to get cut very soon in unscrupulous fashion, and he is shocked that his boss Richard (Joel Edgerton) would ever do such a thing. But that bit of news should not be surprising to anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with this most weaselly of alpha males. Furthermore, Harold and his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) are tens of thousands of dollars in debt, mostly due to her highly irresponsible financial habits. Plus, she’s cheating on him (take a wild guess with who), and she’s kind of taking pity on how much he’s been letting this all happen right under his nose.

As Harold begins to learn the truth, Richard and his other boss, the more openly terrible Elaine (the scary when she’s funny Charlize Theron), bring him down to Mexico for a little business trip, making it the perfect time for Harold to win back a little of his dignity. So he fakes his own kidnapping in a scheme to make off with a ransom of $5 million. Such a kidnapping is believable, as the company has recently developed a very valuable product (medical marijuana in pill form), and they do business with a cartel. At first Richard and Elaine are willing to play ball (sort of) to get Harold home safe. But when it turns out that Cannabix’s insurance policies make it more valuable when an employee dies, things really go topsy-turvy.

Not that they ever weren’t pear-shaped in the first place. Harold may be faking his kidnapping, but he actually has been targeted for capture by the cartel, who mistake him for the boss. Adding to the fun are his run-ins with Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), a sweet and naive guitar shop employee who does not realize the extent of her boyfriend’s (Harry Treadaway) drug dealings, as well as Richard’s brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a sort of private special ops extractor who weirdly but effectively has some of the most integrity of any of the characters.

There is a lot of explosive coincidence in Gringo, but it is justified in that it is what ensures the hilarity. The humor is morally satisfying, as the worst actors are forced to reckon with what they deserve, while the lessons imparted are not overly didactic. Kindness is rewarded, as epiphanies emerge to show that life’s cruelty can be laughed upon. This is quite the loony bin of a cast, but ultimately this is The Manic High-Wire David Oyelowo Show, and he sells it with a supremely cool final shot.

Gringo is Recommended If You Like: Coen Brothers Crime Comedies, The Kind of Movie Wherein Gunfire Leads to Hilarious Screaming, Satisfying Morality

Grade: 3 out of 5 Gorilla

This Is a Movie Review: Charlize Theron is Masterfully Icy Enough to Overcome ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ Shortcomings

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Focus Features

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

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Bullets, Knives, Punches, and Kicks

Release Date: July 28, 2017

At its best, Atomic Blonde is like a cool music video. That description may sound useless in its simplicity, but when a film’s pleasures are its simplest ones, such pith is justified. I believe most people understand inherently what makes a music video cool, but to deconstruct it into its concrete components and how it relates to Atomic Blonde: it is about the combination of recognizable beats and imaginative imagery. Most action films have style, but not all of them have distinct visual wit that you won’t find anywhere else. Spray paint-strewn opening credits give way to an aesthetic dominated by icy blues. 1989 Berlin is filled with cloudy, low-lit neon clubs, and a new wave-heavy soundtrack that tends towards the robotically impersonal. Charlize Theron, the atomic blonde herself, is even introduced waking up in an ice bath.

For some godforsaken reason, Atomic Blonde also cares just as much about its plot. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to kill German spies. There is no need to remember her name – I am not sure anyone ever calls her by it – but it is useful to keep track of all the other byzantine details. Broughton teams up with a loose cannon station chief (James McAvoy) with some trepidation, eventually they have to extract a German operative (Eddie Marsan), and it all goes pear-shaped, leading to the frame device of the (consistently amusing) exit interview with her superiors (Toby Jones, John Goodman). The twists keep turning all the way to a somewhat exhausting near-two hour running time.

But do your best to trim through the fat, because we’re all here to see Charlize – as they say – “kick ass.” Director David Leitch offers hectic set pieces that are much easier to keep track of than his work on the first John Wick. Broughton is impressively skilled in all forms of combat, but she is not invincible. Just about every character suffers puncture wounds, so be prepared to wince. (2017 Trend Watch: improvised slicing weapons to the face, as one baddie gets a set of keys stuck in his cheek, just as John Wick utilized a pencil in his second chapter.)There is also a little bit of time to kick back and relax. A detour with Sofia Boutella as an undercover French agent is kind of cool partly because you do not often see queer relationships in this type of movie, but more so because a Theron-Boutella tȇte-à-tȇte is a solid attraction. The whole affair is a little more distressing and less intellectual than it probably means to be, but Atomic Blonde gets the job done.

Atomic Blonde is Recommended If You Like: John Wick: Chapter 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid: Redemption, Dark New Wave Soundtracks

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Keys to the Face

This Is a Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

Leave a comment

The last three entries in the Fast & Furious series brought me fully on board the “quarter mile at a time” lifestyle, thanks to their brazenly unrealistic stunts leaving me totally breathless. (The cornball repartee and preternaturally earnest family ethos were nice bonuses.) The Fate of the Furious certainly does not hold back on the go-for-broke extremes, but nothing really reaches any gobsmacking heights. There are too many explosions – fire gets in the way of the awe of flying through the air. At least Ludacris and Tyrese are still on point with whatever they’re nattering on about. They’re practically speaking a new dialect at this point.

I give The Fate of the Furious 6.5 Approvals From the Baby out of 10 Redirected Explosions.