Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Pedro Pascal/Coldplay

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Brr! This episode was very Chile. (CREDIT: NBC/Screenshot)

I’ve seen Pedro Pascal on my TV more than once. And now I’m seeing him again! That exclamation point is because as of February 4, 2023, he’s an SNL host. And nobody can ever take that away from him!

Coldplay’s the musical guest, but that’s nothing new.

This is the first episode of February, so to celebrate, I’m going to review each sketch according to the format “I ❤️ (something).”

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‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ is Kinda Heavy, Man

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The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent (CREDIT: Karen Ballard/Lionsgate)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Tiffany Haddish, Sharon Horgan, Ike Barinholtz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Lily Sheen, Jacob Scipio, Neil Patrick Harris

Director: Tom Gormican

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Mainly Salty Language and a Few Shootouts

Release Date: April 22, 2022 (Theaters)

How self-aware is too self-aware? That’s a question inherent to the life of any movie star, but it’s especially salient in the case of Nicolas Cage. He’s equally beloved, mocked, or lovingly mocked for his over-the-top performances in the likes of Ghost Rider, Face/Off, The Wicker Man, and countless others. Word eventually got around to him that he was more meme than man in some corners, but instead of winking at repudiating this reputation, he’s mostly continued to follow his own particular muse in the form of his self-professed “Nouveau Shamanic” acting style. But now he’s forced to confront his career as thoroughly as possible as he plays a lightly fictionalized version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. I’m one of the biggest Nic Cage fans in the world, so my feeling coming into this flick was that it would either be my new favorite movie ever, or it would be a little too on the nose. The truth is somewhere in the middle, as Cage is of course up for whatever, but there are some Uncanny Valley-esque vibes.

The setup is basically National Treasure meets Bowfinger: in the midst of an existential crisis that has him contemplating retirement, Cage is surreptitiously hired by the CIA to aid in some geopolitical subterfuge. It all goes down in the sun-dappled vistas of Mallorca, where he’s fulfilling a million-dollar gig to attend the birthday party of Javi (Pedro Pascal), a budding screenwriter who’s also the suspected head of a cartel and supposed mastermind behind a recent kidnapping. But mostly, he’s an audience surrogate, with the obsessive collection of Nic Cage memorabilia to prove it. If you’re thinking that somebody who loves Nicolas Cage this much couldn’t possibly be that bad, then you should know that one of this movie’s core messages is to trust your instincts.

And what do my instincts tell me as I’m writing this review? Mostly, they say that I was kind of weirded out by how similar this Nic Cage is to the real thing without being exactly the same. Offscreen, he has a few ex-wives and two sons, while the Massively Talent-ed version has at least one ex (Sharon Horgan) that’s still a part of his daily life and a daughter named Addy (Lily Sheen). I don’t know what his relationships with his sons are like, but I hope that he’s not forcing them to watch The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the point that they need to hash it out in therapy. This is all to say, Unbearable Weight gets the broad-stroke details of Cage’s unique story correct, but it renders his mystique a bit too quotidian. It’s respectful, but not transcendent. It pulls off the requisite action-adventure thrills just fine, but if you really want to know what makes this man tick, just check out any of his interviews.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is Recommended If You Like: Nonstop introspection, Geeking out about German expressionism and Paddington, Emotional straight male bonding

Grade: 3 out of 5 Nouveau Shamans

‘Wonder Woman 1984’: Surprising, Confusing, Unexpected

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Wonder Woman 1984 (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

Director: Patty Jenkins

Running Time: 151 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Theaters/HBO Max)

Wonder Woman 1984 was … not exactly what I was expecting. It’s a “Monkey’s Paw”/be careful what you wish for-type story. In fact, at one point Diana Prince literally says “Monkey’s Paw.” Multiple times, if I’m remembering correctly. You see, there’s this stone that grants wishes to whomever’s touching it. Which sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? But alas of course, something important is taken from the wish-grantee in turn. Not exactly mold-breaking in terms of the history of storytelling, but quite unusual in the realm of big-budget superhero cinema. At the very least, I gotta give Patty Jenkins and company credit for very much not taking the road most travelled.

I wish I could say I was thrilled by the execution, though! Instead, I was trying to figure out what the whole deal with the execution was throughout most of the movie. And this is a long movie! Spending more than two hours trying to figure out a movie’s whole deal is not my preferred way of watching a movie. I could envision some structural changes to the script/editing that would make character motivations a bit more clear and resonant. I’m pretty sure I got what Diana’s situation was, and K-Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Mr. Pedro Pascal started with intriguing setups, but at the end, I found myself thinking, in multiple ways, “Wait, how’s that again?” Also, this movie took place in the 80s, but there were very few, if any, scenes of people doing coke or voting for Ronald Reagan.

Grade: More Lassos of Truth, Less Confusion

This Is a Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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CREDIT: Giles Keyte/Twentieth Century Fox

The Golden Circle is just as exciting as the first Kingsman, and it features a hell of a villainous turn from Julianne Moore. Its attitude is a bit arch, and it often pretends that it isn’t, but that isn’t a huge deal when the action is assembled impressively and the humor does let loose often enough. But ultimately while these flicks are fun, I find it hard to embrace them fully. There is just something weirdly insidious about their politics (or something like politics). It may not even be intentional, but intentional or not, it does unnerve me. I could have forgiven all that if Channing had danced more. Why didn’t Channing dance more?

I give Kingsman: The Golden Circle 2 Cannibal Burgers out of 3 Butterfly Effects.

This Is a Movie Review: The Great Wall

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The Great Wall

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

Starring: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, 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