‘Velvet Buzzsaw’: Something Killer This Way Arts

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CREDIT: Claudette Barius/Netflix

Not too long before I watched Velvet Buzzsaw, I discovered that its director, Dan Gilroy, has been married to one of its stars, Rene Russo, for nearly 30 years. I migh have previously known that fact, but I don’t think I knew about it as far back as Gilroy’s last film, 2014’s Nightcrawler, which also featured Russo acting quite excellently. Besides making movies together, they also have a daughter who’s already all grown up. I mention all this because I enjoy thinking about the familial background that can go into making a movie. And also, I find it more satisfying to think about the Gilroy-Russo family than I do to think about Velvet Buzzsaw. That’s not to say that Velvet Buzzsaw is bad, but rather, it’s just to say that I’m the type of person who generally finds it heartening to see even just a snapshot of any family life.

Anyway, it’s particularly interesting to think about this marriage in light of Russo’s death scene in Buzzsaw, which her husband wrote AND directed! Honestly, I think it’s the sign of a good relationship when you can orchestrate your spouse’s death onscreen but not do so in real life. It’s a pretty gnarly moment and probably the best realization of the movie’s concept of “killer art.” I got a real Wes Craven’s New Nightmare “art imitating life” vibe during Velvet Buzzsaw‘s first deadly set piece. It takes us a little while to get to all the moments of the paintings and pieces tearing up human flesh, but when they do happen, they’re impressively, lavishly staged. But I think I would have recommended getting to the gore a little more quickly, because before we get there, we don’t have much to latch on to, other than Jake Gyllenhaal (who, you may recall, was also previously directed by Gilroy in Nightcrawler) as a fellow named “Morf” lounging around naked with only a laptop to cover his naughty bits.

I give Velvet Buzzsaw 3 Thick Black Eyeglass Frames out of 5 Wax Families.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 1/10/20

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CREDIT: Netflix

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

TV
Medical Police Season 1 (January 10 on Netflix) – From the team behind Childrens Hospital!
-25th Annual Critics Choice Awards (January 12 on The CW)
The New Pope Series Premiere (January 13 on HBO) – John Malkovich joins Jude Law in this sequel to The Young Pope.
grown-ish Season 3 Premiere (January 16 on Freeform)

Music
-Selena Gomez, Rare

My 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Adventure

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Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Another spring, another Tribeca Film Festival. As is my custom, I took in a few films at the Lower Manhattan fest, and now I am here to report back to you what I thought of the offerings. Read on to discover what was in store in my 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Adventure!

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This Is a Movie Review: With ‘Mile 22,’ Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg Have Teamed Up for Their Most

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CREDIT: STXfilms

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

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan, Ronda Rousey, John Malkovich

Director: Peter Berg

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R for A Litany of F-Bombs and Actual Bombs

Release Date: August 17, 2018

Mile 22 is the fourth collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, and by far their worst. Their previous team-ups (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day) covered real-life tragedies and disasters with unflinching intensity. They were at times be difficult to watch, but Berg managed to remain respectful by keeping his focus fixed. Mile 22 has a similar shaky-cam, right-next-to-the-action approach. It isn’t based on a true story, but the verite style seems to suggest that it could be true. That forces Berg to construct a fictional portrait of chaos, which, devoid of any necessary real-life moments to honor, ends up just a mess.

Wahlberg is the ostensible protagonist as James Silva, the ground leader of an elite and secretive paramilitary unit within the CIA. His team is the sort that the government turns to when they have exhausted all other options and do not want the public to know what they are up to. They are tasked with transporting intelligence asset Li Noor (Iko Uwais) 22 miles to an extraction point, where he has promised he will reveal information that will prevent a bomb detonation. Uwais is best known as the star of The Raid and its sequel, and Mile 22 ends up as an excuse for him to show off his action skills in the midst of a convoluted narrative. Berg proves adept at capturing Iwais’ brand of fight choreography, but everything else is exhausting, which is shocking considering that Berg’s action filmmaking is usually reliable. But here he is so undisciplined, with numbing footage of endless gunfire and an editing style that presents way too much information for a human brain to possibly process.

The whole thing is barely an hour and a half, but it feels like forever, but then it leads to a climax that makes it feel 20 minutes too short. There is a major reveal that is far from adequately resolved, which is to say, it is not resolved at all. It is the sort of twist that makes you want to say to the screenwriter, “Don’t the characters want to take care of that?” And the apparent response is, “Oh well, they ran out of time.” Just about the entire film is that careless, but I will grant that it at least features Iwais saying to Wahlberg, “Say hello to your mother for me.”

Mile 22 is Recommended If You Like: Iko Uwais Combat, Incessant Gunfire, Hyperactive Editing, Frequent Explosions

Grade: 2 out of 5 Wristbands

‘I Love You, Daddy’ Was Already Creepy Before the Louis C.K. Allegations Broke. Now It’s Totally Inexplicable

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot

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

After multiple women came forward with stories of sexual misconduct perpetrated against them by Louis C.K., The Orchard pulled his film I Love You, Daddy (written, directed by, and starring C.K.) from its release schedule, just a week before it was set to come out. Considering the nature of the accusations, C.K. confessing to their truth, and the subject matter of the film, there was really no other choice for The Orchard to make, despite having paid $5 million for the distribution rights. Whenever entertainers get caught up in scandal, the viability of their projects is called into question, both financially and ethically. In this case, that is especially true, as I Love You, Daddy is astoundingly reflective of C.K.’s own experiences.

I Love You, Daddy will likely never see the light of a full theatrical release, but it was screening for press up until just a few days before it was pulled from the schedule. It offers plenty that is worth discussing, but I cannot imagine it is something that any potential viewer could ever unabashedly enjoy, even if C.K. had never masturbated in front of women without their consent. The premise reads like the worst possible idea that can be conceived in light of this story coming out. C.K. plays Glen Topher, a TV writer/producer (he’s pretty much basically playing himself) who tries to prevent his 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace-Moretz) from dating 68-year-old filmmaker Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who is infamous for his predilection for younger women and has been dogged for years by rumors of sexual abuse.

Did C.K. mean for I Love You, Daddy to be some sort of elaborate confession/apology? (At one point, Glen literally says, “I’m sorry, women.”) Or is he just baiting us, as The Huffington Post’s Matthew Jacobs suggests, into thinking it is something more substantial than it actually is? I can only speculate at his motivation. Perhaps he will speak to that publicly at some point. I often make a point when discussing controversial films to emphasize that portrayal does not equal endorsement, but in this case, that maxim falls short. I can describe for you the specific events that happen in I Love You, Daddy (like one character aggressively miming masturbation in front of others), but I am struggling to figure out what message, if any, it is portraying or endorsing. But considering the subject matter and the real-life context, that ambiguity cannot be defended.

Even if C.K. were not guilty of sexual misconduct, I Love You, Daddy would still be a dicey proposition. Leslie is clearly a stand-in for Woody Allen, who started his relationship with his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, when she was still a teenager and he was in his fifties and who has been accused of sexual abuse by his own children. The film is also a clear homage to Allen’s Manhattan, in which he plays a 42-year-old dating a 17-year-old. Let’s suppose a hypothetical in which Allen and C.K. are both free of controversy, rendering Glen and Leslie both wholly fictional creations. Even in that case, I Love You, Daddy is still creepy and misguided. In its best possible version, it could have seriously grappled with whether or not human beings’ most socially unacceptable urges can ever be morally defended. But that would require a delicate touch that this film simply does not have.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Unlocked’ is Only for the Least Discerning Action Buffs

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

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Michael Douglas, Orlando Bloom

Director: Michael Apted

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Double Crosses

Release Date: September 1, 2017 (Limited and On-Demand)

Unlocked is just like any other global criss-crossing spy intrigue action thrillers that the likes of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme knocked out in their sleep in their heydays and probably still are cranking out (oh, the mysterious wonders of the home entertainment market). But instead of a hyper-masculine slab of meat singlehandedly saving the world from terrorism, this time it’s a tiny Swedish woman. So… progress?

While it is heartening to see a woman act competently in a traditionally male domain without anyone questioning her credentials, it is not as if Unlocked is otherwise compelling enough for those involved to be especially proud of. As cinema’s original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace is right in her comfort zone, so she does manage to acquit herself admirably. But this is cookie-cutter spycraft, with every beat of flashbacks to haywire past missions and predictable double crosses crossed off in the most vanilla manner.

Rapace is supported by a cast of co-stars that are incongruously big and classy. Not one, not two, but THREE Oscar-nominated actors pop up in pivotal roles. Toni Collette, John Malkovich, and Michael Douglas manage to maintain their dignity, but the movie gives them few opportunities to be interesting. Even the director is a fairly notable name. Michael Apted (perhaps best known for the Up documentary series) has action experience in his filmography, including 1999’s The World is Not Enough, but none of the style inherent to the Bond series appears to have rubbed off on him.

In Unlocked’s final act, it manages to stick in some thematic muscle that it probably meant to explore all along. It turns out that the terrorist plot at the center of it all may be the doing of government machinations. There is potential fuel here to fan the flames of 9/11 truther-style conspiracy theorists. But Unlocked lacks the conviction to be either legitimately controversial or hysterically entertaining.

Unlocked is Recommended If You Like: Steven Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme/Chuck Norris completism, but with a distaff twist

Grade: 1 out of 5 Global Viruses