I Saw ‘Spiral’ and ‘Wrath of Man’ on the Same Weekend, and I’m Happy with That Decision

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(CREDIT: Brooke Palmer; Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

Spiral:

Starring: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: May 14, 2021 (Theaters)

Wrath of Man:

Starring: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, DeObia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood, Niamh Algar, Babs Olusanmokun, Josh Cowdery, Andy García, Rob Delaney, Lyne Renée

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: May 7, 2021 (Theaters)

I’m tempted to say that Spiral is my favorite Saw movie, but that wouldn’t mean all that much, as it’s only the second one I’ve ever seen. And it might not even be true anyway, since I enjoyed the philosophical conundrums that Saw 2 made me ponder. But Spiral has a whole “surprisingly favorite” vibe to it in opposition to the rest of the series. It may not be entirely different from its predecessors, but it diverges enough for me to go, “I’m pleased with the new direction.” I may not have seen Saw, Saw‘s IIIIV, Saw 3D, or Jigsaw, but I’m familiar enough with them to feel like I’m emerging upon a new horizon. The torture is still too mentally and visually taxing, but the game’s rules and players have been updated.

As for Wrath of Man, I can confidently say that it is indeed my favorite Guy Ritchie movie. Although I should note that I haven’t seen his early stuff, so this might sound like faint praise. (My previous favorite by default was probably Aladdin. Or the parts of The Gentleman with Hugh Grant.) But Wrath of Man nevertheless stands tall on its own, and in opposition to the rest of its director’s filmography. Instead of being about a bunch of gangsters having a bloody good time, this is about a bunch of criminals and working stiffs being deathly, DEATHLY serious about everything. This movie is so bleak. It’s as bleak as a butt. It’s an elemental examination of Violence, Retribution, and Pure Evil. I don’t want to spend all my moviegoing hours in Wrath of Man Land, but visiting there every once in a while provides a healthy catharsis.

GRADES:
Spiral: 3 out of 5 Minghella Rocks
Wrath of Man: 4 out of 5 Statham Hartnetts

Movie Review: ‘Teen Spirit’ is a Sublime Musical Journey for Elle Fanning and for Us, the Audience

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CREDIT: LD Entertainment/Bleecker Street

Starring: Elle Fanning, Zlatko Burić, Agnieszka Grochowska, Rebecca Hall

Director: Max Minghella

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Little Bit of Drunkenness

Release Date: April 12, 2019 (Limited)

Does watching Elle Fanning sing her heart out to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” sound appealing to you? Because, let me tell you something: when I witnessed that moment happening in Teen SpiritI was absolutely spellbound. Now, this is an actress I have enjoyed for quite some time, but with this performance, she has transported me to a realm of cinematic satisfaction that I was not fully prepared for. She plays Violet Valenski, an English teenager of Polish descent who makes her way from a tiny town on the Isle of Wight into the glitz and blinding neon of the titular reality singing competition.

I don’t know if Teen Spirit is the name of an actual British reality show or not, but it doesn’t matter, as it might as well be called “Generic Singing Contest.” The plot is thin and predictable, but that’s not a big deal. First-time feature director Max Minghella (probably best known as Nick on The Handmaid’s Tale) is more concerned about capturing the emotion of the moment. That is the approach typically employed with music videos, but what works over four or five minutes can be difficult to stretch out after ninety. But Minghella has pulled it off, with his camera often focusing on emotionally intense close-ups and fluid bodily movements. One standout scene features Violet letting loose in her bedroom, inviting everyone into the transcendence that can be experienced by just plugging into the music.

Joining Violet on her journey is Vlad (Zlatko Burić), an aging opera singer enamored by her star quality who decides that he simply must be her manager. This could so easily be a character who is plotting to take advantage of our protagonist in any number of ways. But instead, he just wants to see her triumph, and he has some well-earned wisdom to offer for how she might go about succeeding. It’s always lovely when you’re watching a movie and suspecting the worst but instead you see a whole village having the main character’s back. Is global superstardom in Violet’s future? Perhaps, but what’s important now is that she has busted out enough of what she feels deep inside herself to share that joy with a grateful audience.

Teen Spirit is Recommended If You Like: Sing Street, Bye Bye Birdie, The music of Robyn, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Tegan & Sara

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Explosive Choruses