This Is a ‘Palm Springs’ Review… This Is a ‘Palm Springs’ Review… This Is a ‘Palm Springs’ Review…

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Palm Springs (CREDIT: NEON/Hulu)

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Dale Dickey

Director: Max Barbakow

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: July 10, 2020 (Hulu and Drive-In Theaters)

Time loop movies are surprisingly robust. You might think Groundhog Day has perfected the formula, but then all these newbies arrive in its wake, and they’re all, at the very least, not half bad. Case in point: the pretty dang good Palm Springs, which finds Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti stuck at a wedding. So I have decided to review Palm Springs by comparing it to all the other Groundhog Day-style time loop movies I’ve seen:

Palm Springs isn’t as transcendent as Groundhog Day, but it has a deeper conversation with eternity.
Palm Springs doesn’t have the sinister undertones of Source Code, although there is a random appearance from a certain extinct species that makes me think that maybe you could theorize about something like that lurking beneath the surface.
Palm Springs is more rooted in theoretical science than sci-fi when compared to Edge of Tomorrow, though it doesn’t flaunt it.
Palm Springs is a whole heck of a lot more fun than Before I Fall.
Palm Springs doesn’t have as much time for death montages as Happy Death Day. But both of them have plenty of time for fun and are thus the most kindred of spirits within this subgenre. The former takes place at a wedding and the latter at a college, and college friends are often invited to weddings, after all.
Palm Springs is not a sequel, unlike Happy Death Day 2 U. Perhaps one day Palm Springs will get a sequel, though I doubt it. But if it ever does, I’ll watch it.

I give Palm Springs 4 out of 4 out of 4 out of 4 out of 4 out of 4 Dinosaurs

Best Film Performances of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

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This Is a Movie Review: The Front Runner

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Sony Pictures

The Front Runner raises a lot of valid points about the propriety, or lack thereof, of prying into politicians’ personal lives, but it is liable to leave you more confused than ever, even if you have strong opinions about all the issues it raises. As the narrative goes, the coverage of Gary Hart’s supposed indiscretions during the 1988 Democratic primary completely derailed his campaign and led to the overall coarsening of the political media landscape that we have today. That may be an accurate narrative, but is it a bad thing that we know more about the personal lives of those who govern us? The fact that it all remained secret for so long is one reason why powerful people have gotten away with terrible behavior.

But as for how it affected Gary Hart specifically, did he deserve what happened to him? The way the movie presents it, it seems like he had been unfaithful in his marriage, but not necessarily in this case. And the Miami Herald, which originally reported on the story, did not appear to do their duest diligence to verify their implications. At least I can unequivocally say it is a good thing that Donna Rice, Hart’s alleged mistress, gets to have her side of the story presented. But otherwise, The Front Runner is a bit of a mess. Although, it could be a portrait of a mess.

I give The Front Runner 2.5 (Million) Accusations out of 5 (Possible) Indiscretions.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Justice League’ is Okay, I Guess

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

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

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Connie Nielsen

Director: Zack Snyder

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Localized Explosions, Heat Vision Mishaps, and Grotesque Insectoids

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Would you rather have a true auteurist vision that is decidedly ugly and off-putting, or a plainly adequate film with little distinct personality? If you want something to endlessly discuss and theorize about, go with the former. But if you want something to actually watch, go with the latter.

Justice League is perhaps the least Zack Snyder-y film of Zack Snyder’s career. Absent completely is the washed-out color palette. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is mostly workmanlike, but he does what he can in a limited sandbox, and the result is actually pleasant to look at. Colors are not only present, they’re vibrant! There is an early scene of Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince walking along some lush greenery, and it makes me wish the whole film had just been Justice League Hanging Out in the Park. The action might still fit within Snyder’s kinetic pinball wheelhouse, but it is not as garishly stylized as usual. And because this is a post-Wonder Woman world, the hard-to-be-a-god, brooding cynicism has given way to genuine hopefulness. Really, the only Snyder signature that unequivocally remains is the best one, i.e., the rediscovered rock song scoring the opening credits (this time, it’s Norwegian singer Sigrid’s take on Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”).

The main duty of Justice League is finding a way forward after the colossal slog that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice by way assembling its titular superteam and resurrecting its most iconic member. The returning headliners, namely Affleck’s Batman and Gadot’s Wonder Woman, unquestionably know how to handle this heft. Ezra Miller’s Flash and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman convey their characters economically enough. Ray Fisher could use some more prime time as Cyborg, but it’s an okay start. Overall, it’s refreshing that everyone is eager to team up because they simply recognize how much the entire world is at stake. Isn’t that how superheroes were always meant to be?

As for Superman’s rise from the grave, it isn’t surprising, nor is it meant to be. The (theoretical) fun of it is seeing how it plays out. And on that point, it is fairly entertaining. When Supes comes to, his mind is a bit scrambled, causing him to indiscriminately attack whomever is in the path of his heat vision. Henry Cavill plays it like his body vomiting up the last remnants of Snyder’s inexplicably distasteful take on the Man of Steel. This concession to a lighter version is in fact indicative of the whole Justice League ethos. Finally, the DC Extended Universe is allowed to crack jokes! And I’m not talking glib, Marvel-style one-liners, but actual character moments, like malapropisms and other exposures of vulnerability. Ma Kent (Diane Lane), for one, informs Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that Clark said Lois was “the thirstiest young woman he ever met” (she means hungriest). It’s okay to laugh!

As for the actual story engine, the DCEU is still testing our patience. If this were a pilot episode of a Justice League TV show, it would be fine enough. A little long, but a decent setup. And if you’re in the business of silver linings, that is the best takeaway to come away with here. Future sequels are inevitable, and I can see a roadmap where they might actually be good. The best villains are being saved for later, but this time around the big bad is incredibly perfunctory. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds under a lot of CG) is some sort of gargoyle whose motivation does not go anywhere beyond “try to take over the world.” His army of insect-men is just a nuisance in every capacity. It’s fair to save the best for later, but it helps to actually get to the best at some point.

Justice League is Recommended If You Like: Incremental Improvement

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Doomsday Clocks

This Is a Movie Review: Bucking Concerns That It Would Be Derivative, ‘The Snowman’ Barely Even Qualifies as Storytelling

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CREDIT: Jack English/Universal Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rachel Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Snowman-Human Hybrid Tableaux

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The best part of The Snowman happens a few minutes when someone refers to Michael Fassbender’s lead character, “Detective Harry Hole,” by his full name. Shockingly, that is the only time we hear anybody say “Harry Hole” in its entirety. True, my enjoyment of that moment might be the most prurient form of punnery, and I probably won’t be able to convince who looks down upon crudeness and wordplay of its hilarity. But at least that name has personality, something which the rest of the film lacks entirely.

The Snowman’s poster reads, “MISTER POLICE. YOU COULD HAVE SAVED HER I GAVE YOU ALL THE CLUES.” The film itself acts upon the same instinct, essentially giving away the identity of the killer in the first scene. So clearly, the mystery is not the point of this ostensible mystery film. What then is it all about? Perhaps a deep (or at least shallow) dive into a murderer’s psychology? I imagine a fascinating dissertation could be written about a killer who carefully slices up his victims, builds a snowman after each kill, occasionally affixes parts of the victims into the snowmen, and always calls in a missing person report to alert the same detective to arrive on the scene just a little too late. But as for how it plays as narrative, well, the harsh Scandinavian winter must have made everyone too sleepy to craft any plot turns anywhere near compelling.

The Snowman is based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s novel of the same name, one of the many bestselling Scandinavian crime thrillers riding the coattails of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. One might imagine that a potential problem here would be falling into a trap of derivativeness, but The Snowman isn’t really a knockoff of anything, whether literary, cinematic, or otherwise. Instead, it is just a hodgepodge of elements that I cannot understand would be a part of any movie whatsoever. The cinematography is plain ugly, almost like specks of snow are constantly stuck to the camera lens. Then there is a whole subplot about Oslo’s bid to host the “Winter Sports World Cup,” which apparently exists because any press about the Snowman Killer cannot be allowed to distract from that bid. Maybe there is supposed to be a point here about government corruption, but it just comes off as narrative padding.

The Snowman’s greatest sin is stranding some very talented actors with absolutely nothing to do. It also calls into question the bona fides of its director, Tomas Alfredson, who had previously pulled off two solid adaptations (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Maybe this is just a hiccup, though if so, it is a big one. On the other hand, I have not read the novel, so maybe the problem is with source material that managed to be inexplicably successful. But at least we have Val Kilmer as a suicidal investigator, who is strangely compelling, with a freakish appearance that can only be described as “Haggard Vampire.” After watching The Snowman, you’ll certainly be able to relate to his fatalistic outlook.

The Snowman is Recommended If You Like: Despairing About the Pointlessness of Life

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Daddy Issues

 

This Is a Movie Review: Patriots Day

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

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan

Director: Peter Berg

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for a Graphic Recreation and the Explicit Language Reacting to It

Release Date: December 21, 2016 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide January 13, 2017

Films about real-life terrorist attacks are tough beasts. Even with the best of intentions, the results can be sensationalistic. And even if the end product is as respectful as possible, survivors and witnesses may be too traumatized to relive that day in any capacity, which begs the question: is it even worth it? It is a conundrum whose scope goes beyond any simple answer, but it is important to keep in mind.

Then on pure storytelling terms, there is the matter of where to even place the focus. Patriots Day, which retells the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent capture of its perpetrators, chooses to spread its character reach far and wide, which works surprisingly well. The implications and motivations behind a terrorist act can be too massive to capture completely, but this particular event actually lends itself well to the real-life recreations that director Peter Berg (Lone SurvivorDeepwater Horizon) has recently excelled at.

A frequently reiterated theme is that Bostonians have each others’ backs, and that is borne out through how interlinked the main characters are to each other. That connection is heightened through crisis, but the glue is already there. Even the terrorists themselves (chillingly and matter-of-factly played by Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff), classmates and neighbors to many, are part of the Boston milieu.

Following the bombing, Patriots Day turns into a chase movie, with the urgency of the best of that genre already baked in. Armed forces, intelligence agencies, and civilians join together for an inspiring display of coordinated decision-making and action. The actors playing them summon their best reserves of basic decency to pull it off. The entire cinematic effort makes for a mix of emotions, often uncomfortable, frequently awe-inspiring, never without honor, even through the cathartic bursts of laughter.

Patriots Day is Recommended If You LikeLone SurvivorWorld Trade Center, Credits Scenes with the Real-Life People Portrayed in the Movie

Grade: 4 out of 5 Acts of Bravery

This Is a Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

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Arnie-Smile-Genisys

Terminator Genisys basically ignores the third and fourth movies in the series, but it should be noted that 3 and 4 do not really grapple with their predecessors, at least not very meaningfully. T3 backtracks on the message of T2, while Salvation merely fills in the blanks in a way that mostly stands on its own. Genisys, meanwhile, crisscrosses 1 and 2, while new machinations try to prevent or delay the victory or defeat of Skynet. It does not completely stand as its own thing, but there is so much thrown together (mostly gracefully), that it works as something. It manages to be fascinating, at least in an academic sense.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese’s interactions are colored by the knowledge of destiny, as they grapple with how to or how not to fulfill the roles that have already been set for them. It is a fairly effective treatise on the nature of stories in which the characters “know” what they are “supposed” to do. Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney’s performances are not much more than serviceable, but maybe that is the point. Maybe in being locked into their roles, they cannot add too much extra color.

The most consistent draw of this series remains The Terminator himself. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been on a bit of a hot streak in finding relaxed, playful subtleties in his performances, and that continues here, as his awkward cyborg smiles are just exactly right. Also, J.K. Simmons shows up as a beat cop who gets caught up in everything, and he is completely superfluous but very much welcome.

SNL Recap January 31, 2015: J.K. Simmons/D’Angelo

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SNL: J.K. Simmons Monologue (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2015.

J.K. Simmons is the presumptive Oscar favorite this year for Best Supporting Actor.  It is appropriate that he is in the Supporting field, considering that he has spent a few decades as a character actor, elevating the quality of his projects, no matter what the size of his role.  Interestingly, though, his role in “Whiplash” is prominent enough that it could be considered a Lead.   He certainly has the talent and charisma to be a star, but this episode mostly kept him confined to the supporting roles that he is used to.  He was perfectly fine in them, but he could have done more.  And in the few moments when he was given the chance to do more, he really shone.  Meanwhile, this show continued Season 40’s heavy focus on original material, with the only recurring characters appearing on Weekend Update.  That originality was a little inconsistent, but very welcome when the proceedings got weird late in the night.

Super Bowl Shutdown – “SNL” once again proved that it has been paying attention to the major stories of the week.  Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch have been flipping the script on Super Bowl coverage, and this cold opening … acknowledged that.  Lynch’s propensity to repeat the same stock answer is amusing, but it proved difficult to build a sketch around.  The talk show format, while a tired one, was helpful here, as it masked some of the holes in the premise. B-

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