I Watched ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and ‘Artemis Fowl’ on the Same Weekend: Here’s What Happened

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CREDIT: David Lee/Netflix; Walt Disney Studios/YouTube Screenshot

Da 5 Bloods

Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Victoria Ngo

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time:

Rating: R for Sometimes Shocking, Sometimes Not-So-Shocking Graphic Violence

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Netflix)

Artemis Fowl

Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG for Goofy Fantasy Action

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Disney+)

I was so worried that I was going to spend so much of my time watching Da 5 Bloods bemoaning its lack of a theatrical release. For one thing, the event status of a Spike Lee joint is unavoidably diminished by an at-home debut, and furthermore, I was concerned that even if I was really feeling it, there would be too many distractions fighting for my attention. Regarding the former, I just had to make peace with that fact. As for the latter, I can’t tell you the last time a Netflix release pulled me in with such a firm grip and refused to let go. A prologue swoops in hard and fast with real-world contextualizing footage from the Vietnam War era: Man goes to the moon! Muhammad Ali refuses to serve! Riots at the DNC! Nguyễn Ngọc Loan is executed! If you look away for even a second, you’re going to miss something essential.

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It’s Worth Spending a Couple of Stylish, Silly Hours with ‘The Gentlemen’ of Guy Richie

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CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Drug Dealing, Gunfire Blood Splatter, and a Bit of Poison

Release Date: January 24, 2020

The Gentlemen is basically the Guy Ritchie-fied version of a John le Carré story. Instead of a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed spies and other government associates double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other, we have here a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed drug dealers and dirt diggers double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other. Also as with the typical Le Carré, The Gentlemen requires a diagram to make sense of everything that happens and how everyone relates to each other. But on a scene-by-scene basis, it is clear (or at least clear enough to be entertaining) where everyone’s motivations lie and who’s trying to pull the upper hand on whom.

CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

While watching The Gentlemen, I had similar feelings that I do when watching my favorite sports teams pull off successful big play after big play, with nary an error or defensive blunder the whole time. It is not always clear who to root for in these ensemble-driven crime-business action flicks, nor it is always preferable. But in this case, knowing that Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) are the (relative) moral paragons is a big help. The fact that Mickey peddles cannabis instead of, say, heroin and does so proudly because his product doesn’t kill his customers, allows us to orient ourselves toward some clarity in a movie that is otherwise often quite cacophonous.

And Hugh Grant’s presence as a private investigator who is just dying to get the big scoop on everybody (and also not die in the process) lets us know that it’s a good idea to laugh. There’s plenty of silliness otherwise to prompt the chuckles, but Grant is the crux that assures us of the light-footed, devilishly good time we ought to be having. It’s always a delight to see him so immersed in this sort of gleefulness. Even the meta twist that he pulls off at the end somehow feels so right when in lesser hands it could have undermined the whole tone. Instead, The Gentlemen is a stylish romp that will have you going, “The good-ish guys won.”

The Gentlemen is Recommended If: You’ve always wondered what it would be like if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy merged with Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln commercials and added a dash of Hugh Grant in Paddington 2 Mode

Grade: 3 out of 5 Turtleneck Sweaters

Movie Review: ‘Dumbo’ Takes Flight on the Strength of Some Truly Captivating CGI

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CREDIT: Disney Enterprises

Starring: Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Alan Arkin

Director: Tim Burton

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG for Steampunk-Style Circus-Based Peril and Implied PTSD

Release Date: March 29, 2019

CGI has become so commonplace in modern big-budget filmmaking that it is hard to be impressed anymore, even when there is clearly hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coding and manpower up on the screen. Correspondingly, the possibility of feeling a genuine connection with a computer-generated character often feels generally impossible. I would not expect that hurdle to be cleared by Disney’s live-action remake factory or late-era Tim Burton. But incredibly, the title baby pachyderm in Dumbo is one of the best CGI creations in a while. Ever, even. It usually seems that practical effects are necessary to create a spirit-filled non-human character, but this is something unique that could really only be achieved with digital technology. And it is amazingly quite soulful.

From the moment that Dumbo emerged from a pile of hay and looked up at everyone around him with his wonder-filled baby blues, I was enthralled. The magical floppy ears are just a bonus. But oh, what a bonus they are. Every single time that Dumbo took flight rendered me immediately choked up and awestruck. But as joyous as those moments are, I would have been won over by this little guy even he couldn’t fly. I loved seeing his eyes light up at the circus amusements (it’s the same thrill I get from watching YouTube videos of dogs who think that they’re people), especially the homage to the originals “Pink Elephants on Parade” done entirely through bubble form.

As for the human characters, and there are plenty of them, they mostly fill their roles admirably, but none are as unforgettable as Dumbo. Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins are delightful as a young brother-sister pair who have the closest connection to the beast, while Colin Farrell reliably pulls off the right emotional beats as their widowed father who lost an arm in World War I. Danny DeVito is right in his wheelhouse as a small-time circus ringmaster and owner who finds his full fatherly-protector spirit once he starts drawing in crowds like he’s never seen. He matches ambitions with Michael Keaton’s rival showman who wants to exploit Dumbo for his full wealth-generating potential. The message about the dehumanizing effects of capitalism is clear and welcome, though there could have been more room to explore a more complicated take on that theme. But ultimately, you can get away with a few minor disappointments if the main attraction is undeniably flying high.

Dumbo is Recommended If You Like: The original Dumbo, Cute animal videos, Batman Returns, A cameo from Michael Buffer (the “Let’s get ready to rumble!” guy)

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Feathers

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Widows’ is the Best Cinematic Crime Saga in Quite Some Time

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Lukas Haas, Garret Dillahunt, Molly Kunz, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

Director: Steve McQueen

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Professional Criminals at Their Scariest

Release Date: November 16, 2018

Sometimes I am at a loss of what to say about a film because of how powerfully it has affected me. Widows is one of those films. Its immediate effect was similar to that of The Dark Knight, in which I sat stunned, not quite sure what had happened, but certain that I had seen something special. Steve McQueen’s massively sprawling saga about Chicago crime and politics is populated by a ridiculously sterling cast, with at least ten, or maybe fifteen, of them receiving the gift of really juicy material to bite into.

Chief among them, in all fairness, are the titular widows, who are left to clean up the very expensive mess left behind by their recently deceased criminal husbands. Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) are forced to form an uneasy alliance or run the risk of the rest of their livelihoods dissolving away. While each actress is compelling, their characters are not necessarily likable. Do they bear some guilt for benefitting from their husbands’ activity despite not knowing what they were tup to? On the other hand, they are in many ways trapped in a situation with no good options for escape. Their predicament demonstrates the limits of feminism and standing up for a yourself in a world ruled by violence.

Thus far in this review, I have barely touched upon even 10% of this film. It runs just a little over two hours, but it is so stuffed with goodness that I am amazed it is under three hours, yet it is simultaneously so sleek that it feels like it is running for just an hour and a half. There are about six (maybe more) stories running alongside each other and somehow they run seamlessly together. There’s Bryan Tyree Henry as a crime boss trying to break good by running for alderman in a gentrifying neighborhood and Daniel Kaluuya as his brother and terrifying enforcer. His opponent is Colin Farrell, who is struggling with maximal agita as he finds his place as a successor in a long line of Chicago politicians. And we cannot forget Cynthia Erivo as a babysitter/beautician/hustler who also plays a big part in all this. Plus there is plenty more to know about the shadowy machinations of ringleader Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson), Veronica’s husband. And how is there also room for Matt Walsh to show up for one key scene?! McQueen is dynamite with his clear, effective craftsmanship. If you see Widows, you will likely understand everything that happens plot-wise, and you might also just feel compelled to take part in the exhaustive analysis of every frame that is sure to follow in the years to come.

Widows is Recommended If You Like: Heat, The Town, The Dark Knight, “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” by Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Aldermen

 

This is a Movie Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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CREDIT: Jima (Atsushi Nishijima)/A24

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

Starring: Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Nicole Kidman, Bill Camp, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: R for Bluntly Presented Gore and Nudity

Release Date: October 20, 2017 (Limited)

Yorgos Lanthimos’ specialty as a writer and a director of actors is strange and disturbing dialogue delivered bluntly and clinically. Given the setting and characters in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it makes a kind of sense that this behavior is typical (due to a combination of professional desensitization and psychopathy), but it is never not unnerving. It works to provide a sense of foreboding for what initially presents itself as a slice-of-life tale that will soon give way to a domestic thriller. But really, what we are being primed for is much more sinister and much more terrifying and in fact qualifies as full-on horror.

Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a cardiac surgeon who takes under his wing Martin (Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan), the teenage son of a patient who died on his operating table. Martin seems interested in medicine himself, spending significant amounts of time shadowing Steven in the hospital. Steven invites him over to the house for dinner, where he charms his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), becomes friendly with his son Bob (Sunny Suljic), and grows romantic with his daughter Kim (Tomorrowland’s Raffey Cassidy). The Murphys seem to notice Martin’s odd behavior, but they never fully acknowledge it. For a while, it seems that this film is just taking place in a world of lunacy, where announcing statements like “our daughter just started menstruating last week” are perfectly natural to declare in public. But once Steven recoils at Martin’s mom’s (Alicia Silverstone) attempt to seduce him by aggressively licking his fingers, it becomes clear that this is terrifying for both the audience and the Murphys.

The foreboding is realized hard and unsettlingly, as Bob and then Kim become paralyzed from the waist down without any clear physical explanation. Martin reveals in great detail to Steven what is going on, apparently confirming that he is the source of this ailment. He could be poisoning them, but it is so supernatural that “hex” or “plague” would be a better word. The obvious motivation here is revenge for the death of his father, but Martin’s unflappably flat speaking voice makes it impossible to get a perfect read on him. Lanthimos may or may not be speaking in metaphors; if so, I am not sure what the message is, but if not, the film is disturbing enough that it works on its own terms.

Ultimately, though, The Killing of a Sacred Deer might end up too untethered from its starting point to be an unqualified success. Indeed, it begins to lose me around the point that Steven is firing a shotgun at his family with a bag over his head. That particular scene – and others like it – are filled with fantastic tension, but they feel like Lanthimos is just filling his thirst for demented horror set pieces instead of focusing on the premise he has already established. Maybe that dissociation is the point, but sometimes the heightening of scares can use a firm direction.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Recommended If You Like: The inexplicableness of The Happening but not the cheesiness, The Lobster, Funny Games

Grade: 3 out of 5 Bleeding Eyeballs

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Beguiled’ Proves Sofia Coppola Still Knows How to Weave a Spell

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This review was originally published on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Director: Sofia Coppola

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R for Natural, Untamed Sexuality

Release Date: June 23, 2017 (Limited)

Comparing films unfavorably to sitcoms is a useful technique in the critic’s arsenal. It is typically applied to movies set in the present day that features characters just hanging out, with few, if any, aspirations beyond that. It is rarely, if ever, applied to films that take place 100 or more years ago. Part of that is because television did not exist then, so the comparison would not make much sense. But it is also perhaps because if a period piece were to achieve a sitcom-esque vibe, it would actually be praiseworthy instead of ill-advised. Weirdly enough, this is how I found myself thinking while watching Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, which achieves that sitcom vibe in its quieter moments, which are plenty.

It is not just the characters who are beguiled, but also the audience, as the premise is not one obviously ripe for humor, at least not of the good-natured variety. Based on a novel by Thomas P. Cullinan (previously adapted into a 1971 film directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood), The Beguiled tracks the volatility of human behavior in a small corner of a world that has fallen out of its natural order. Set during the Civil War, the film finds injured Union Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) discovered by the residents of a Southern girls’ boarding school. They debate whether to give him up to passing Confederate soldiers or provide him shelter out of the kindness of their hearts. They choose to let him stay, though it is never fully clear why. The firm, but ultimately vague stance from headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) sets the tone for the tension that permeates the rest of the film.

The sitcom vibes shine strongest in the middle stretch when the ladies and McBurney have brokered a peace, forming the premise for a show that would be titled something like The Southern Belles and the Yankee Soldier or Everybody Lusts Burnie. But like so many sitcoms, there is a layer of psychopathy or some other propensity for violence lurking just beneath the charm and just rearing to burst out. On TV, it usually never comes to that, at least not to the point of no return. But The Beguiled is all about exploring the scariest implications of a national house divided against itself crossed with burgeoning and repressed sexuality. It is as combustible as it sounds. The passionate ways of nature can be tamped down only so much by human control, and each cast member has their own beguiling and beguiled way of summoning their most passionate whims to demonstrate why that is.

The Beguiled is Recommended If You Like: Cold Mountain, Interpersonal gender dynamics, Double Indemnity

Grade: 4 out of 5 Mushrooms

This Is a Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has basically three elements on offer: the beasts, the evils of wizardry, and the magician/No-Maj relations. The beasts are generally fine, not especially super-duper, but there is a fun payoff at the end. The fight against evil is thoughtful, though not fully satisfying, because it is obviously built to last into sequels.

But those relations between magical and non-magical folk are where Fantastic Beasts has the most of value to say. Wizards are boogeymen obviously meant as metaphorical stand-ins for immigrants. That has been a big theme for J.K. Rowling since the beginning of her career.

In this particular case, it is most intriguing in the example of Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler), a witchy/no-maj combo whose chemistry is off the charts, though any pairing between them is forbidden by American wizarding laws that shun such fraternization. Their story reminds me of the interracial real-life couple at the heart of Loving insofar it makes me declare, “Let love conquer all!”

I give Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 7 Pieces of Collateral out of 10 Bakeries.