Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

Written by Taylor Baker

22/100

Entirely absent of something personal being told, as well as the feeling of something much bigger than us. The successful run that the 1990’s and early 2000’s Clancy films leaned on were the pendulum like stakes in which a possible looming threat becomes more devastating because of its personal consequences to our main character. The beginning of The Hunt for Red October when Baldwin is experiencing family difficulties carry through every scene, making the implications of a nuclear submarine have the direct consequence of the life of a small child that wants a teddy bear.

Without Remorse expends little energy on these storytelling motifs and instead gives us a dime a dozen hatchet job exposition to set loose the fury of our main character, John Clark (Michael B. Jordan). After conveniently killing every baddie in an encounter he and his compatriots go home and start living life like usual until their all assassinated besides Michael B. Jordan’s ‘John Clark’. Whose pregnant wife was gunned down. It sounds like a plot choice that should have impact, but it doesn’t linger. In no scene after the killing did I feel impacted by or sense the devastation of these numerous killing.

Jamie Bell and Guy Peirce take turns feigning the bad guy, and the big reveal occurs just where you’d expect, when Jordan’s ‘John Clark’ encounters that one baddie he didn’t kill. The cinematography is clean, but it lacks any sign of a director’s autership, looking instead like a glossy high end commercial. Jordan carries as much weight as his well muscled back can hold but in the end Without Remorse lacks ingenuity, sincerity, and meaning. Until they bring the humanity back into the Clancy films, I expect we’ll see middling fare like this get released bearing his name. Amazon should look back at what made Jack Ryan the Prime Streaming Series work and double down on that formula.

Without Remorse Trailer

Without Remorse is currently streaming on Prime Video

You can follow more of Taylor’s work on Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes.

Candyman (2021)

Written by Alexander Reams

93/100

Horror has been used frequently over the years as a metaphor for racial injustice. To even explain that much of horror is influenced by politics and a mirror on the current society should be unnecessary, but more often than not the message gets lost in translation. From the iconic Night of the Living Dead and The Craft to the more recent Get Out and The First Purge. This resurgence in showing racial injustice through horror has felt damning to society, and brought a breath of fresh air to the horror genre. In walks Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, which trades dialogue telling us why what’s happening is bad for wonderfully brutal, disturbing violence. However, before that disturbing violence, DaCosta treats us to a Shining-esque opening credits through an upside down Chicago, something that not only plays to the themes of the film, but simply looks gorgeous and increased my anticipation for the next 91 minutes to follow. 

DaCosta uses Bernard Rose’s 1992 classic eponymously titled film as a jumping off point while weaving in the injustice from our modern culture as the true villain. DaCosta’s film stands proudly on its own, introducing us to the story of Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (a brilliant Yahya Abdul- Mateen II) as he moves to the setting of Rose’s 1992 film, the Cabrini-Green housing projects, that have now been gentrified, something DaCosta never shies away from talking about and ultimately condemning. With Anthony comes his partner Brianna (Teyonah Parris, the unsung hero of Candyman), have moved into this mecca of gentrification, all while pointing out the irony of their residence. While Brianna is succeeding, Anthony seems to be falling behind everyone. Having created nothing in years until he hears a story about what used to stand where they lived. Anthony has a creative burst that Brianna initially sees as a fantastic thing for their relationship. Until the bodies start piling up. 

Well, not piling, more like a small bump. The violence and kills are not as frequent as in its 1992 predecessor, but hit harder with the way DaCosta places the camera and blocks each scene. Letting the brutality play out at times, and letting our imagination run at others. Oftentimes, at least for this writer, my imagination can think up so many worse scenarios than what plays out on screen, and when a director is smart enough to tap into that, the scenes have an even higher tension within them. Even still, bodies are starting to turn up, and all after Anthony brings attention to the ritual which can summon the candyman in his latest exhibit. With each kill, Anthony becomes more and more obsessed with Candyman, and one could understand why, myself included. The history is not only fascinating, but you want to know more just from reading it.

Nia DaCosta has crafted a modern horror masterpiece that has explicit tones of race, gentrification, and police brutality. Working through all of these themes with vicious, animalistic kills that are filmed like a work of art being created in front of us. I loved Candyman and I love Nia DaCosta even more now and cannot wait to see her next films, how she evolves and matures as a filmmaker, and how she brings these themes into each of her works.

Candyman (2021) Trailer

Candyman (2021) is currently in theatrical wide release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Zola

Written by Anna Harrison

80/100

“Y’all wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

So begins the viral Twitter thread from 2015, and so begins the movie it inspired: Janicza Bravo’s Zola. The original thread from A’Ziah “Zola” King, consisting of 148 tweets, became an internet sensation, garnering thousands of likes and retweets over the course of its posting not just due to the story of the tweets but the voice with which Zola told them, the humor and no-bullshit attitude she displayed even when facing increasingly absurd (and frightening) scenarios.

Bravo and co-writer Jeremy O. Harris (Tony nominee and likely future winner for Slave Play) manage to recapture the captivating storytelling of the original Zola and bring to life the first Twitter adaptation with thoughtfulness and style to spare (it was shot on 16mm, giving it a hazy, almost dreamlike quality). Little has changed from the Twitter thread, except some names: we start with our titular heroine, Zola (as played by Taylour Paige), working at a sports bar (as opposed to the original Hooters) and stripping on the side. One day as she’s waitressing, she meets Stefani (Riley Keough), and the two—while not recognizing each other—immediately pin each other as kindred spirits with a shared enjoyment for dancing, and so Stefani convinces Zola to join her for a weekend in Florida hitting the strip clubs to make some extra cash. Zola agrees, so after convincing her boyfriend, Sean (Ari’el Stachel, Tony winner for The Band’s Visit), to let her leave through the power of sex, Zola joins Stefani, Stefani’s boyfriend, Derrek (Nicholas Braun, aka Succession’s Cousin Greg), and a mysterious, unnamed man called “X” played by Colman Domingo, and they go down to Florida.

If you’ve read the tweets, you know what happens next. X turns out to be Stefani’s pimp, and a far more threatening figure than you might first believe, Derrek is in completely over his head and one moment away from a nervous breakdown, and Stefani has dragged her purported friend into all this without thinking of the consequences. Luckily, Zola has a good head on her shoulders; Paige plays the straight man to the wild antics of her cohorts but does it with such magnetism that it’s hard to take your eyes off of her, even when she’s not talking (and she does often stay quiet, revealing her thoughts to the audience via the occasional voiceover, complete with the sound cue for a sent tweet to cap it all off). 

Keough’s Stefani is the flashier role, with an overexaggerated and culturally appropriated accent—you feel as if a slur is on the tip of her tongue at all times—but her over-the-top approach works well. Braun’s performance might seem like a Cousin Greg ripoff at first, bumbling and making bad choices, but as the movie progresses, he imbues enough layers into Derrek to set him apart, and Domingo is alternatingly charming and frightening, X’s Nigerian accent slipping out when he goes into a rage but just as quickly covered over by an American one and a wide smile. 

What sets Zola apart, more so than the performances, or the way it looks, or the excellent score by Mica Levi, is the way it interacts with its source material. The internet gives us access to all sorts of crazy things, but it in and of itself is apathetic, presenting these things and letting us marinate on them alone with our screens; Zola shows us Confederate flags and tower-like crosses on the drive to Florida interspersed with clips of its characters gleefully singing Migos’ “Hannah Montana”; Derrek drives alone with a scene of police brutality in the background. Bravo doesn’t comment on these occurrences, instead letting us scroll past them (so to speak) silently, conversely conveying much more than any exposition-heavy dialogue could. Tweet and text chimes abound, and at one point during a montage of penises (please do not take your child to this movie, as the couple sitting in the row behind me did), an Instagram heart flashes over the largest one. It’s all a performance, it’s all for the ’Gram. “Who you gonna be tonight, Zola?” she asks herself as she prepares to go onstage. “Who you gonna be?” Derrek watches Vines of people getting injured by various mishaps, chortling to himself at their misfortune (if 2015 feels recent, it only takes the appearance of a dead app like Vine to immediately date Zola). At one point, in what amounts to a hostage situation, Zola disassociates and our vision is replaced by a Mac screensaver—writhing tentacles of light changing color as they move. You know the one. Zola doesn’t just talk about our modern technological landscape, it merges with it.

Like the internet, Bravo never lingers too long on one particular topic, but crafts a better film for it: there are no monologues on the treatment of women, or the intersection of race and gender, or the way Zola slowly starts to lose control over her own body, because monologues like that don’t happen. We don’t wax and wane about these problems, we just have to deal with them in our own way, as Zola does, and they go on existing. By refusing to adhere to binaries, Bravo makes her film richer and more thoughtful. The ending is a bit too abrupt, but then again, it echoes reality—sometimes things end, just like that—so maybe that’s a small quibble. It’s hard to mind in the face of all the positives.

Zola Trailer

Zola is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Episode 91: Raindance 2020 / He Dreams of Giants / A Dim Valley / Nafi’s Father

“Well, I really want to encourage a kind of fantasy, a kind of magic. I love the term magic realism, whoever invented it – I do actually like it because it says certain things. It’s about expanding how you see the world. I think we live in an age where we’re just hammered, hammered to think this is what the world is. Television’s saying, everything’s saying ‘That’s the world.’ And it’s not the world. The world is a million possible things.”

Terry Gilliam

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Hillbilly Elegy & Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the Raindance 2020 Titles: He Dreams of Giants, A Dim Valley, and Nafi’s Father.

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At this time there are no streaming links for titles this episode

He Dreams of Giants, A Dim Valley, and Nafi’s Father are currently seeking distribution and awaiting a formal release date announcement.

You can read Taylor’s review of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom here

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Written by Taylor Baker

66/100

Black Bottom starts with a magnetic and memorable opening scene. Viola is at once alluring and gravitational. Her character ‘Ma’ or ‘Ma Rainey’ is a powerful role. She lingers with the viewer long after the credits roll. That distinctive face and sooty make up engulf you. Boseman’s ‘Levee’ is deserving of the attention he’s received. For me though he’s a bit too big and the character a bit too sharp on the edges. I was particularly fond of the understated performance of Colman Domingo. Whose become a favorite of mine over these last couple years following his turn in If Beale Street Could Talk.

Though I’m happy to see August Wilson’s Plays are becoming available to the masses, I can’t help but brood on how much more engrossing, and how much more deeply I might be moved had I seen this live rather than at home. A particular pick I have to nit is the obvious and ultimately drab choice to have a door that leads to nowhere play so crucial to the third act. I don’t mind a foreshadow here or Chekhov’s gun there, but my God that was telegraphed a mile away. Despite my hang ups this is still near the top of the heap in the bevy of award season releases we’ve seen recently and one I’d recommend to just about any viewer.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Trailer

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is available to stream thru Netflix