‘The French Dispatch’ Presents a Journalistic Panorama

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The French Dispatch (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Wally Wolodarsky, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Anjelica Huston, Jarvis Cocker, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Denis Menochet, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Alex Lawther, Mohamed Belhadjine, Nicolas Avinée, Lily Taleb, Toheeb Jimoh, Rupert Friend, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Christoph Waltz, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Winston Ait Hellal, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Hippolyte Girardot

Director: Wes Anderson

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Art Model Nudity, Surprising Sexual Partners, and Some Language Here and There

Release Date: October 22, 2021 (Theaters)

The French Dispatch is about the staff and subjects of an American magazine that covers a small but colorful fictional French town. It’s published as an insert in the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star newspaper, so it’s basically like a midwestern Parade, but with the vibe of The New Yorker. Which all begs the question: who is the intended audience of The French Dispatch*? (*The fictional newspaper, that is, not the movie of the same name. [Although by extension, you could ask the same thing about the movie, though that conversation would be a little different.]) It feels like somebody dared Wes Anderson to create an anthology film of the most esoteric stories ever and he then declared, “Challenge accepted.” As I watched I wondered what made these stories worth telling, and I believe that the answer is: they’re worth telling because they’re worth telling. So in that way, The French Dispatch is very much like Little Women.

The fictional French town in this movie is called Ennui-sur-Blasé, which literally translates as “Boredom-on-Blasé,” but there’s no way you’ll be bored while watching a film that’s as overstuffed as this one. Overwhelmed, perhaps, but not bored. (But if somehow you are bored, please let me know about your experience. It’s interesting when someone’s reaction is so different than mine!) The anthology structure is composed into five sections, two to set the context and three to dive deep. First up is an introduction of the staff, particularly editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a my-way-or-the-highway type, except when he readily makes concessions to his writers’ peculiarities. Then travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) takes us on a bicycle tour to provide color for the town. The fleshed-out stories include the journalist-subject pairings of Tilda Swinton covering incarcerated artist Benicio Del Toro; Frances McDormand covering student revolutionaries led by Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri; and Jeffrey Wright as a food journalist covering the story of a police officer’s kidnapped son that also features a very talented chef.

The French Dispatch is a love letter to a time and a place when you could throw whatever budget you felt like at whatever story you felt like covering. Based on the accounts of people who were involved in that era, that characterization actually isn’t that far off from how 20th century American journalism really was run. But it’s so different from journalism’s current state of affairs that it might as well be from another universe. Appropriately enough then, The French Dispatch felt to me like it was beaming in from an alternate dimension. I don’t know how these stories could have ever possibly been conceived, but I’m glad that I’ve now experienced them.

The French Dispatch is Recommended If You Like: The New Yorker, Symmetrical geometric arrangements, French pop music, Skinny mustaches

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bylines

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Season 47 Premiere Review: Owen Wilson/Kacey Musgraves

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SNL: Kacey Musgraves, Owen Wilson, Kenan Thompson (CREDIT: NBC/Screenshot)

Hello, readers, you are now about to read my review of Saturday Night Live‘s Season 47 premiere, which was hosted by Mr. Owen Wilson with musical guest Ms. Kacey Musgraves. I like to mix up my review style every once in a while, so for this episode, I will talk about the sketches in the reverse order in which they aired. I don’t think I’ll be doing that for every episode this season; instead, I’ll be mixing it up … we’ll see how it goes!

Also, I should mention that I’m in the midst of training for the New York City Marathon, so if it feels like my review was written after running double-digit miles, now you know why.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 2/5/21

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Malcolm & Marie (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.

Movies
Bliss (February 5 on Amazon) – Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek are living in a simulation
A Glitch in the Matrix (Theaters and On Demand) – The latest documentary from Rodney Ascher is living in a simulation.
Malcolm & Marie (Streaming on Netflix) – As played by John David and Zendaya.

TV
The Snoopy Show (February 5 on Apple TV+)
-Puppy Bowl XVII (February 7 on Animal Planet)
-Super Bowl LV (February 7 on CBS)

Music
-John Carpenter, Lost Themes III: Alive After Death
-Foo Fighters, Medicine at Midnight
-Hayley Williams, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos

The Hysterical ‘Bliss’ is Here to Warn Us That Reality Isn’t Real, and I Cannot Look Away

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Bliss (CREDIT: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Amazon Studios)

Starring: Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper, Bill Nye

Director: Mike Cahill

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Very Kooky Violence, Profanity, and Sexuality

Release Date: February 5, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

Man, how are we so lucky as to get a movie like Bliss? It stars a totally wigged-out Salma Hayek trying to convince Owen Wilson that they’re living in a simulation. And quite frankly, the evidence is immediately pretty convincing, as they seem to be the only people in the world with telekinetic powers, which manifests by them popping their hands out with authority, Bruce Almighty-style. Seriously, there’s an entire scene in which they go to a roller rink and make everyone fall on their asses just for the hell of it. And on top of all that, Bill Nye has a pretty significant part, not as himself, but as a very Bill Nye-type who keeps strong-arming Wilson with some important information. And for all you hardcore perverted philosophy geeks, Slavoj Žižek shows up just long enough for anyone who recognizes him to go, “Oh snap! Slavoj’s in this, too?!”

The only other film directed by Mike Cahill that I’ve seen besides Bliss was 2011’s similarly mindbendy-wendy Another Earth, which I found infuriatingly pretentious. Honestly, Bliss isn’t necessarily any less pretentious in its eagerness to dive into a trendy sci-fi premise in its own vaguely intellectual way. So what’s the difference? Has my cinematic tolerance level just increased significantly in the past ten years? Perhaps, but there’s also the fact that Hayek and Wilson are such inspired left-field casting choices. She is always indefatigably dynamic; give her something to rant about, and you’re not going to be able to keep your eyes off her. As for Wilson, I don’t think he ever utters his signature “Wow,” but that low-key sense of being perpetually stunned is indeed the vibe he gives off the whole time. This is a “two-very-different-tastes-that-go-great-together” situation that we never could have expected would work out as beautifully as it did.

Overall, though, I’m not sure if the ideas of Bliss really come together into anything substantial, and that’s partly because I’m not entirely sure what Cahill is trying to say.  But – and this is important – I don’t particularly care. This is an incorrigible movie, and I’m such a sucker for that sort of energy. While watching, I said to myself, “What is going on?!” a healthy number of times, and I must admit that is a feeling I enjoy experiencing. It’s too often in short supply, but it most certainly is not when Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson are questioning reality, creating their own realities, buying into fake realities, and just generally enjoying free rein to do whatever the hell they want to do.

Bliss is Recommended If You Like: The Matrix but wish it had less kung fu and more makeshift homes on the side of a highway, The “Downtime” episode of the recent Twilight Zone revival, The parts of the X-Men movies where they wave their hands around

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Blue Crystals

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Wonder’s’ Lessons in Kindness Are Obvious, But Timelessly Valuable

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CREDIT: Lionsgate Entertainment

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

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Noah Jupe, Ali Liebert, Danielle Rose Russell, Bryce Gheisar, Millie Davis, Elle McKinnon

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG for Middle School Bullying

Release Date: November 17, 2017

If you plan on seeing Wonder, please do yourself a favor and bring tissues. That is not a mark of quality in either direction, just a fair warning of what you’re in for. Of course, if you know the premise of the film, chances are you could have guessed as much. The story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a boy with a congenital facial deformity struggling to fit in at middle school, could not be anything but emotional. But the explanation for Wonder’s knack for keeping the waterworks running for two hours straight goes beyond the obvious. This is the type of movie in which rhetorically gifted actors make grand pronouncements about the importance of kindness and loyalty. Their insights are far from groundbreaking, sure, but their eloquence is a gift and the realization that people have had the courage to live up to these ideals is profoundly affecting.

Director Stephen Chbosky already demonstrated his emotional bona fides with the adaptation of his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and with Wonder he has now confirmed himself as one of the best in the business for prompting a good cathartic cry. He pulls it off this time by taking full advantage of the academic setting. School is not just a place for learning how the world works, but also how to be a good person. It helps in that regard when you have dedicated educators, and Auggie has a couple of excellent teachers played by Daveed Diggs and Ali Liebert, and a fantastic principal played by Mandy Patinkin. They are not defined by their quirks but by their love of teaching. Diggs’ Mr. Browne is the type to write inspirational sayings like “our deeds are our monuments” on his chalkboard. It helps to be in an environment that reminds you of such simple, but necessary truths. Patinkin’s bow tie-sporting Mr. Tushman (yes, he’s fine with you laughing at his name) fulfills the bulk of the speechifying. With his words, he is marvelously generous, maintaining and spreading a positive attitude.

Wonder begins with Auggie’s perspective and narration, naturally enough. But it extends that generosity to multiple characters, making this less a story about overcoming physical defects and more one about how there are so many ways we can be cruel to anybody, but it is so much better if we instead reach out with kind gestures. The gift of subjectivity and their own narrated segments is granted to Auggie’s teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie’s best friend Jack (Noah Jupe), and Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). The lesson here is clear and effective: you never know someone else’s full story if you haven’t lived through it, so it is always wise to allow them to share it with you.

Chbosky can be a little haphazard with this subjectivity. It is no big loss that Auggie’s parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) are not afforded their own segments, as we still get satisfying peeks into their interiority. But it would have been nice, for example, if we had gotten a closer look at Julian (Bryce Gheisar), Auggie’s most frequent bully. We do meet his very unreasonable parents, but for a movie that is so kind in all capacities, it stings a little that he does not have more of a chance for redemption.

When you get right down to it, Wonder is simply a force for good in this world, demonstrating as it does that kindness, courage, second chances, and cameos from Chewbacca never go out of style.

Wonder is Recommended If You Like: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dead Poets Society, Room

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Astronaut Helmets