Ford v Ferrari = Friendship!

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I’m not sure what the message of Ford v Ferrari is, and I’m not sure if that’s a mostly good or mostly bad thing. (We could be doing a lot worse in this world!) Is it about how you can’t ever stop American individualism from being as individual as possible? Or is it about how the United States won’t ever stay an underdog for long, even in pursuits usually dominated by the Europeans? If it’s either of those, then why is the main character an Englishman? Maybe it’s about how teammates stick with each other no matter what, and the whole American-ness of it all just be how it be. Certainly what stuck with me the most is the friendship between Christian Bale’s vroom-vroom-goer Ken Miles and Matt Damon’s vroom-vroom-guider Carroll Shelby. It’s an oft-contentious relationship, which only makes sense when you’re gearing up for a race that lasts a full day. Such competition, such support, such politics behind the whole affair – I saw it all!

I give Ford v Ferrari 240 out of 360 Laps.

SNL Review December 15, 2018: Matt Damon/Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Love It

Michael and Colin Swap Jokes – Anchorpersons Che and Jost started out this Update at their standard level, maybe a little better than usual, but they make their way to the top spot thanks to their wondrous finale, in which they recite jokes written by the other that they have not seen until this very moment. They brilliantly play off the personas that they have constructed to rag on each other: Che the Total Freak and Jost the Bland White Bread Racist. If “Uppity Bus Passenger Day” did not already exist to be reclaimed, then Michael Che needed to create it to force Colin Jost to say it.

You know something? The world could use more people who care as much as Matt Damon and Leslie Jones’ characters in the neighbor Christmas dinner sketch care about Weezer.

Keep It

It’s a Wonderful Trump – I thought today was finally going to be the day that I put my foot down and said “Enough’s enough” to a Trump-y cold open. But then there comes an inversion of It’s a Wonderful Life, and I have to admit that it is actually a good premise. The show’s insight into Trump is still not particularly insightful, but there is some amusement to be had here, and Robert De Niro’s cameo isn’t his normal complete disaster. While political SNL is in many ways a lost cause in this era, a few decent ideas do peek through here and there occasionally.

Matt Damon’s Monologue is a sweet paean to letting your kids stay up late enough to watch SNL live for the first time…The Westminster Daddy Show looks like it is a fan of daddies, but then it oddly mostly throws shade at them. Luckily it ends with the triumphant Broadcast Daddy joyously taking Best in Show…The Christmas Ornaments sketch presents a memorable microcosmic dystopia of personal and cultural detritus…The Jingle Bells performance at the Carnegie Lounge is a fair enough offbeat showcase for Cecily Strong…The Where’s Wes? gag would probably hit harder if it had a more interminable setup…Matt Damon’s appearance as Angel‘s boxer boyfriend is all well and good, but I’m mostly here for her Madea impression…The Cop Christmas at Frankie’s Ale House has plenty of welcome bonhomie amidst the ribbing and dark backstories…Happy Christmas, Britain! is a delightfully spot-on seasonal treat about how the current prime minister is being gifted with feces, but then due to bad time management, it gets cut off halfway through.

Leave It

Oscar Host AuditionsSNL has an addiction to behind-the-scenes impression showcase sketches, and understandably so, because the granddaddy of them all, the Star Wars 20th Anniversary auditions, are a stone cold classic. But since then, they have fallen into a trap of diminishing returns. This edition mixes things up a bit by transferring the setup from BTS of a movie to the search for a new awards show emcee. Alas, it does not breathe much fresh air the proceedings. The impressions are all decent, but none are transcendent, and the whole affair does not offer much insight into the Oscars. Although Aidy’s take on Hannah Gadsby does demonstrate that the actual Gadsby would be an ingenious actual choice.

Best Christmas Ever is both too tame and too over-the-top with its peaceful/hectic juxtaposition.

Matt Damon

On a scale of Christmastime hosts, Matt Damon sure is willing and able to jump right into the holiday spirit. And he absolutely had to be, as it appeared like a greater number of sketches than usual for the Christmas episode were seasonally themed. It’s a little hard to believe that it’s taken 16 years for Damon to have his second hosting stint. He really feels like he’s part of the extended SNL family.

Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus

On a scale of SNL musical team-ups, I’m afraid that Mark and Miley are somewhere in the middle. “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” is perfectly agreeable, and their version of “(Happy Xmas) War Is Over” hits the spot about as well as it can, but I don’t feel any of it sticking with me. On the other hand, Miley’s unzipped jacket is certainly striking and I do appreciate the lyrics flashing on the back screen. Anyway, I guess that is to say, this combo is only disappointing if you’re holding them to a very high standard.

Letter Grades:

It’s a Wonderful Trump – B-

Matt Damon’s Monologue – B

Westminster Daddy Show – B

Best Christmas Ever – C-

Christmas Ornaments – B

Oscar Host Auditions – C

Jingle Bells – B-

Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus perform “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+
Where’s Wes? – C+
Angel – B

Weezer Argument – B+

Cop Christmas – B

Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus and Sean Lennon perform “(Happy XMas) War Is Over)” – B-

Happy Christmas, Britain – B

This Is a Movie Review: Downsizing

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

I give Downsizing 3.5 out of 5 Utopias:

This Is a Movie Review: Suburbicon

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures/Black Bear Pictures

I give Suburbicon 2.5 out of 5 Explosions:

This Is a Movie Review: The Great Wall

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The Great Wall

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

Starring: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pescal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Lu Han

Director: Zhang Yimou

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Cutting Away Right Before the Blood and Guts Spill Out

Release Date: February 17, 2017

Matt Damon’s prominence in The Great Wall’s ad campaign has caused a bit of a fuss. Is this yet another example of the White Savior complex, come to save the helpless foreigners? In the actual film, Damon is not the leader of the Chinese army that the promos seem to make him out to be. But he does save the day. Although he kind of does so accidentally. Except by the end when he knows exactly what he’s doing. So… you could aim your social justice call-to-arms against The Great Wall, but it would be an awfully silly flick to focus on.

Damon’s presence is essentially an afterthought, despite him being one of the main characters. He may have been part of the story from conception, but this smacks of a business rather than artistic decision, regardless of intention. The Great Wall is already a hit in China, and it would be nice if it could add some bank in the U.S. (and Latin America, thus Damon’s partner is played Chilean-born Pedro Pascal of Game of Thrones and Narcos).

If the white faces are there to add star power, it does not quite work out that way, perhaps because director Zhang Yimou (HeroRaise the Red LanternHouse of Flying Daggers) does not have much experience outside of Chinese martial arts flicks. So the action is rousingly shot (Damon’s archery skills are thrillingly put on display throughout), but the English speakers find their charisma diminished. Luckily, Jing Tian, as the Commander of the Chinese Army, carries a lot of the heavy lifting of dialogue and plot progression, and she knows exactly what she is doing.

To get to the actual meat of this story, this film is concerned very little about cultural imperialism but a great deal about B-movie monsters. It posits that the Great Wall of China was built to keep out not invading Mongol hordes, but rather mythical lizard creatures that indiscriminately eat everything in their path. The character design and relentless ferociousness are fun in a schlocky, Midnight Movie Madness sort of way. (Thank you, Cinematic Gods, that they are not the umpteenth version of giant bug aliens.)

The sci-fi B-movies of the fifties and sixties represented the cultural fears of that era (particularly, nuclear holocaust and the insidious creep of communism). If we apply that same rubric to The Great Wall, then what does China fear in 2017? As it becomes a bigger and bigger player in the world economy, is there concern that the Chinese identity will be eaten up by Western hegemony? Or perhaps these monsters are the Chinese id, and this is a warning to everyone else of the Red Dragon’s Rise. Alas, they prove to have one key vulnerability that ensures their demise, just as this film ends up being a little too disposable to pay it much heed.

The Great Wall is Recommended If You LikeGodzilla, the archery scenes from Lord of the Rings, the Brood from X-Men

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Grenades