Dune

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

Unless you’ve been under a rock the last two and a half years you surely know that Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is finally being released to both theatrical and home audiences via HBO Max on October 22nd. Like me you may have had some of your most blissful cinematic moments with Villeneuve. From his enthralling detective drama Prisoners to his otherworldly narrating fish in Maelström Denis has constantly shirked convention and brought to life a visual story that feels fresh or an improvisation on the previous tools of cinema. Which is a long way of saying that walking into a Villeneuve film feels very much like walking into a Spielberg. You have expectations, how could you not. And unfortunately those expectations were unmet.

Anyone familiar with Dune knows the moments that are cinematic and has personal moments that are cinematic to them, the ones that played like a filmbook in their heads, whether it’s the thopter rescue sequence on Arrakis, Paul reaching into the box, the hunter seeker sequence, or the siege by the Harkonnen. You will have personally had these sprawling crystal clear visions of cinematic splendor or stark pieces of affecting drama in your head. And that’s precisely where Dune begins to fall apart; nothing feels personal. Intimacy is missing between the audience and the vistas of Arrakis, the characters of Dune, and it’s storyline. From the lack of world building to the poorly framed miniatures on screen meant to erupt as yawning behemoths, even the worlds of Calladan and Arrakis are small. They lack character, their meaning to the audience is clouded and we’re nearly always briskly trotting somewhere new with Paul which keeps us from ever becoming invested in the characters around him, which are the true magic of the world.

Despite the scaling issues, the drop off from Villeneuve’s recent SciFi film collaborators is noticeable. The step down from Roger Deakins in Blade Runner 2049 with some of the best cinematography in the last decade and Bradford Young in Arrival with a intimacy and love sickness that somehow feels woven into the imagery to recent Adam McKay collaborator Greig Fraser is severe. The layered compositions are absent, instead stark cold images hang like laundry on screen, uninteresting and rigid. Obscured by nothing and harshly naked. The images aren’t zhuzhed up, they don’t seem to have been made with an effort to make them more appealing, or framed in a way to exemplify the scale we should feel we’re witnessing. Not just the cinematography but the whole film seems like more than this team was capable of taking on. But I must commend the splendor and effectiveness of Hans Zimmer’s score. Using an assortment of wind instruments to make the sands and billowing winds of Arrakis come to life aurally. With Bagpipes, wind chimes, and what seems to be the sounds of wind itself used in tandem with other musical components. Zimmer schemed out and achieved something big through small choices to conjure the atmosphere of an otherwise meaningless place.

Huge performers like Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin scarcely have a moment of solitude or development. Everything is reactionary, and what brief exposition is achieved is typically narrowly focused on Paul in ways that don’t inform the feeling of the further picture at large. Stephen McKinley Henderson’s portrayal of the Mentat Thufir Hawat is one particularly effective bit of casting that allows one of our era’s great character actors to use his miniscule moments to humanize and embolden the sentimentality of what we’re witnessing. Chalamet is restrained, perhaps those not looking for a 14 year old boy will be more moved by his performance, but with all the other poorly stacked bricks underneath him Chalamet’s Paul fell apart. Over acting in moments and seeming like stone in others. Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother Mohaim thankfully does lots of heavy lifting unquestionably in mere moments. As does Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Oscar Isaac is sturdy, believable and as you might expect from my previous words underused. In Dune’s case I think it’s safe to say the volume of talent has nothing to do with it’s issues. But rather the strategy at play to employ the available resources.

If I were an audience member inexperienced with the narrative I think I would be lost. Failing to grasp the script or grandeur of the beginning of this otherworldly tale. Unsure of it’s religious names and their meanings, unclear on the topography of Arrakis, the distance of Calladan to Arrakis, where exactly the Empire is located(not to mention what they are), what the guilds are, or how interstellar travel is achieved from the spice. In essence this is nothing more than a proof of concept standard comic book hero origin story. The fact that at the end of the film we’re unclear not only all the things I mentioned but the very reason why Paul appears to be some sort of a religious figure to this planet is presumably an enormous reason why it fails. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a novel built on meaning, stakes, loss, hope, gains, and language itself. The fact that none of those strength are transitory into this representation of the narrative by Villeneuve despite the two additional writers that worked with him raises questions not only about the draft of this film. But the drafts of part 2 and further should they be allowed the chance to make further entries. You can’t remove the heart of Dune and still succeed in telling it’s story.

Perhaps my most biting piece of criticism would be to look at the exposition of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace of Star Wars. How clearly and how effectively it sets up the entire arc of what’s going on with the empire and in comparison how entirely unclear and incidental that understanding is conveyed to the audience, especially those unfamiliar with the sprawling tales of Frank Herbert on which it’s based. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t focus some attention on the bungled enterprise that was bringing Lady Jessica to life on screen. She not only lacks character but seems to be a constantly crying and cold woman. Nearly all we see is her crying, being silent, or harshly instructing Paul. A far cry from the intimacy and confrontations she shares with Duke Leto, Thufir Hawat, and Paul in the first novel. The very moments of the plot where her intimacy and character and complexity come to life have been erased, rushed passed completely without being compensated for. Leaving one to wonder how much is on the cutting room floor and why they would favor a shot of palm trees rather than a sequence under their new citadel on Arrakis that if you’re familiar with you’ll know is one of the most transitory moments of the novel in conveying the character of this mother and son to the reader. Dune isn’t a bad film, but it’s so cold, distant, and unsplendorous that it could be easily mistaken for the next high budget Amazon project that has no staying power. The excruciating wait for Dune did no favors for what was already a middling exercise in adaptation of a storied novel. If anything, maybe now we’ll all have a renewed appreciation for the undertaking of Lynch in his adaptation to tell the whole story (roughly) and establish the Empire and its politics and factions all in one feature. Any way you slice it Dune fails to live up to its expectations, fair or unfair as they may be. We’ll see if Denis gets to make Part Two but for now I’m not counting on it.

Dune Trailer

Dune releases in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22nd.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

The Many Saints of Newark

Written by Alexander Reams

85/100

14 years ago one of the most acclaimed TV shows of all time ended. A time when all TV audiences expected catharsis for the characters they’d grown to know before the end. David Chase instead decided to fade to black not giving that final closure to Tony Soprano. Something that has haunted audiences since its air date. Chase returns to the Soprano’s world 30 years prior to it’s first season. Focusing on who was in power before Tony Soprano ever took over.

Dickie Moltisanti. Moltisanti, translates to Many Saints in English, of Newark. While also attempting to tackle the 1967 Newark race riots, and provide a backstory for Tony Soprano. Sounds like a lot to cover in a 120-minute film? That’s because it is. 

Rarely will a film fall into the issue of being too short, more often than not it’s an issue of being too long. Many Saints is too short. The film has so much it wants to cover and gives itself far too little time to cover each of these events. This could have easily been a 150-165-minute film and it likely would’ve worked even better and been decidedly more effective. Unfortunately, David Chase’s hubris wouldn’t let him make a longer film. A tragedy for sure, because once the film began I never wanted it to end. 

Chase’s new leading man is an actor that I have long loved, and have waited for him to get his big break. Something Chase and I have a shared sentiment about. The brilliant Alessandro Nivola. He has not only been good for years, he is frequently the standout in films where he is relegated to supporting roles. In The Many Saints of Newark Nivola is leading the biggest film of his career and he takes advantage of it. He embodies this mythological god that is Gentlemen Dickie Moltisanti (the father of future Tony Soprano victim Christopher Moltisanti) with such class and brutality that even Tony Soprano would be frightened. 

Filling out the rest of this world is Corey Stoll as a hilarious Uncle Junior, Vera Farmiga as the wonderful asshole Livia Soprano, Jon Bernthal as a somewhat forgettable Johnny Boy Soprano, Leslie Odom Jr. as a gleefully angered Harold McBrayer, Ray Liotta pulling double duty as Hollywood Dick Moltisanti and Salvatore Moltisanti (I was just as surprised as you when I saw this for the first time.), Michaela de Rossi as Giuseppina Moltisanti, Hollywood Dick’s wife, and Gentlemen Dickie’s “goomar” (don’t ask, it just makes it even weirder.). Billy Magnussen as a pitch-perfect Paulie Walnuts, John Magaro doing his best Steven Van Zandt impression with Silvio Dante, and Samson Moeakiokla as Big Pussy. Finally, Michael Gandolfini, son of James Gandolfini, is a younger version of his father’s iconic turn as Tony Soprano.

From the get-go, we are introduced to this world with a level of respect to the audience. Chase expects you to have seen at least part of the show, if not all of it. While it is difficult to talk about the film without spoiling some fantastic reveals, I will say that watching Nivola chew up every scene he is in is a great pleasure to watch, and his, brief bits with Gandolfini are nothing short of electric, though rushed. An issue that hangs over this film like the FBI watching Tony’s house. Calling it “the formative years of Tony Soprano” is more than a bit misleading. The film treats it as an afterthought, instead of the main plot. For which the blame falls on Chase. 

The time jumps in the film are not surprising but continue this overarching issue of being rushed. However in those time jumps we still are gifted with wonderful dialogue between everyone, something Chase can do brilliantly along with strong cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Even with all of these strengths in the film, I can’t let go of the fact that it is just too short. It needed to be longer, I think somewhere in Chase’s head he knew that, and if we get another film in this time period, he will hopefully rectify it. The final note he leaves us with is a perfect way to set up another film, while also being a great ending if he doesn’t wish to return to this world, something Christopher Moltisanti wished he could do before it was too late, but Chase will have to do it for him.

The Many Saints of Newark Trailer

The Many Saints of Newark is currently streaming on HBO Max and in wide theatrical release.

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

No Time to Die (007)

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

It’s been about a year and a half since No Time to Die was originally intended to bow into theaters. Cary Joji Fukanaga of True Detective fame, publicly picked up the fallen pieces of Boyle’s failed attempt to make Bond 25 back in 2018. Leading to what was described as rushed production. After viewing the finished product it’s hard to believe those reports were wrong. Fukanaga is mostly known for his HBO critical hit season 1 of the aforementioned True Detective, alongside later entries in his filmography with the likes of Netflix Limited Series Maniac, and a handful of films that have garnered critical acclaim. Most notable among then and also a Netflix Original Beasts of No Nation(which he also served as cinematographer for) from 2015. Fukanaga has been quietly accumulating one of the strongest and most singular voices in cinema since the late aughts. With excitement building around budding Global Starlet Ana de Armas coming off Blade Runner 2049 and the critical and audience success Knives Out alongside Craig as a heavily marketed new type of “Bond Girl”. And of course the fact that this is to serve as Craig’s last turn as Bond, James Bond. It seemed like everything was lining up for a brilliant rendition of everyone’s favorite British spy with a license to kill.

All this preamble serves not just as a historical assessment of how the film is hitting us now a year and a half after it was intended, but to frame the very real tangible expectations that it fails to live up to. No Time to Die is tasked with juggling multiple things, the end of Craig as Bond, storyline continuity (which Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been charged with 1999’s The World is Not Enough), a continuing romance, 4 writers(excluding Flemming’s “characters by” credit.), and a rushed production. Four writers as a rule of thumb is two to three too many. And on a ballooning franchise with so many interests, Nokia product placement deals and various other things to keep in order this finished product feels distinctly like multiple disjointed voices and parts Frankensteined together with so much production money that you can almost overlook perhaps the most underwhelming part of it, Rami Malek’s villain Safin.

Fukanaga’s best known for his visual cinematic prowess, which continues here, with exceptional extended sequences, meticulously crafted motion shots, effortless focus pulling… I could go on and on. But all that prowess in service of what? Some witty eyerolling jokes? Stakes that don’t ever become personal? A score of Indiana Jones references? It’s at once a self serious and self critical screenplay that fails to hone in on an actual narrative voice that lets us get a sense of what this Bond “wants”. Instead it shows what all Bond films always have, what he’s willing to die for. With more self reflexivity then we’ve seen recently, but not the interesting or good kind.

Overwrought with nonsensical symbolism, those big cinematic moments from the trailers play as well as you’d expect. The hallway and stairwell fight scenes are fun. de Armas despite her very very very brief time in the film is as charming as she is memorable. Once her sequence in Cuba ends I the rest of the runtime trying to drum up a reason in the plot for her to reappear. She doesn’t. She contrasts heavily against Seydoux’s generally eyerolling, uninteresting, and unfun Swann. I hate repeating myself within a review, but occasionally it’s necessary. The lack of emotionality to the various plot devices at work on screen is without question No Time to Die’s most glaring issue and likely what the film will be known for. Instead of a celebration Craig leaves Bond in an overlong stylized whimper.

No Time to Die Trailer

No Time to Die will be available via wide theatrical release on October 8th.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Jagged

Written by Maria Athayde

*No Rating/100

How do you review or critique a documentary that has been publicly disavowed by its main subject? This was my biggest challenge when it comes to this review. As soon as I finished watching what I thought was an okay documentary I was alerted, by my editor, Taylor Baker, to this article on the LA Times in which Alanis Morissette decries Jagged as a story she did not agree to tell. Alanis states that she “was lulled into a false sense of security and their salacious agenda became apparent immediately upon my seeing the first cut of the film”. 

As far as documentaries go this one is pretty standard. The documentary starts with an introduction from director Alison Klayman saying how making this feature was making her middle school dreams become a reality but she does not elaborate further on her connection to Alanis or her music. After this brief introduction, we are presented with a standard documentary montage that traces Alanis birth in Ottawa, Canada, her rise to fame, and explosion into stardom which coincided with the release of her third studio album Jagged Little Pill (JLP) in 1995. Sprinkled throughout we have testimony from high school friends, music producers, and band-mates reminiscing about their time together on tour and commemorating the 25th anniversary of the album’s release.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

My biggest qualm with this documentary was how certain aspects of Alanis’ life and career were glossed over. During her on camera interviews, during several occasions, Alanis mentioned how the transition from Ottawa to Los Angeles and the challenges that came along with. What we see on screen seems to suggest that this move affected her deeply. Yet simultaneously what we’re seeing on camera does not go into a lot of detail. Alanis mentioned how she was pressured to lose weight, maintain a certain image, and she even references alleged statutory rape incidents when she was around 15. All these things are presented without much context and what we see on camera does not allow Alanis to fully explain her own story or how these incidents impacted her life and career. Another issue I had was the complete lack of detail paid to the impact Alanis had and continues to have on female artists in the music industry. Aside from 45 seconds where we see Taylor Swift and Beyoncé performing some of Alanis’ songs, her impact in the industry especially for female artists is almost entirely forgotten.     

Documentaries are supposed to be personal but I have a hard time reconciling how this feature is supposed to work after being publicly disavowed by its main subject. All the statements I have read so far do not go into detail into how Alanis’ story diverges from what we see on screen. At the time this article was published no comment has been made by the film’s director or producers regarding these differences. In the end, I wish the doc had explored more than just JLP. I understand it’s supposed to be a commemoration of the 25th edition of the album but it could have been so much more nuanced and painted a fuller picture of what Alanis is all about. Most of all I support artists having a say on how their story is presented. I cautiously recommend that you watch this documentary and read supporting material to have a better understanding of the controversy surrounding the film. 

Cautiously Recommended

HBO’s Music Box Trailer

Jagged was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Cry Macho

Written by Taylor Baker

55/100

Cry Macho as much as anything else seems to be a lingering look at those sleepy border towns that Westerns like those Clint got his start in are so often framed against. The year is 1978 and shortly after Howard Poak (played dreadfully by Dwight Yoakim) fires his old ranch-hand and bronco buster Mike Milo (played by Clint Eastwood) he barges into Milo’s home. While he stands absently fondling the nonagenarian’s trophies and awards Poak begins hemming and hawing his way through a narrative spew that’s goal is to guilt trip Milo into going down to Mexico to save his son from an alcoholic mother and abusive living situation. This is all predicated on the premise that, “Milo owes him one.” Which holds as much water as a fishing net after previously watching a coffee sipping Milo get fired by Poak in the first 5 minutes of the film.

Ultimately Milo agrees to bring Rafo up from Mexico. And heads south of the border in his old manual truck. There are moments along the multiple road sequences that Ben Davis’ cinematography capture the beauty and illustrious ecology and topography of the region. As he also worked with Chloe Zhao on Marvel’s forthcoming film The Eternals, I suspect that Ben Davis’ name will bring more notoriety in November than it does right now. His exteriors which are what the film is primarily sewed together with bring an ephemeral and majestic look that doesn’t come across as forced, so much as a communication to the audience of the place our characters are in.

Ultimately Milo makes it down to where Rafo is staying and is confronted and propositioned by Rafo’s mother Fernanda Urrejola. After a quick back and forth Milo, saunters on confident he can find the boy. Which he does by capturing and threatening to wring the neck of Macho. Rafo’s fighting chicken. Which eventually leads to a fireside chat where Clint’s Milo utters the seemingly timeless line: “If a man wants to name his cock Macho that’s fine with me.”

These two like in any road movie form an unlikely friendship. One is a man in his 90’s doing a favor for his old boss who fired him, and is now being chased by gunmen. The other, a teenager dreaming of more, unsure of his place in the world, and unsure of his place within his family. Represented clearly by the delineation of a border between the two halves. Eventually the two after some roadside meals and stolen cars end up at a sleepy border town. Where Clint’s Mike helps the townspeople with various ailments to their animals, sets to fixing things that don’t work and begins to swoon for Natalia Traven’s Marta, a local mother and restaurant owner who has taken them in.

Like all road movies eventually what you’re escaping catches up with you and after a nice time with Marta and her family our central characters are back on the road with the police on their heels. Along a small dusty road their pulled over by two officers and their cars luggage is strewn on the ground. It’s seats cut into by a knife. The police officers say they have a tip that these two are running drugs and were ordered to stop them. Which conjures that image of Clint on the roadside behind his truck in The Mule to mind. Ultimately they let the two go, and like the film itself it’s all a bit understated. A bit unceremonious. 

Instead of a classic fetch quest narrative in which a renegade or run down lawman has to make one last trip south of the border to bring a person or object back to America and he along with it, Cry Macho opts instead, for Mike to show Eduardo Minett’s Rafo the North side of the border while he plants his cowboy heels firmly in Mexican soil. Cry Macho is slow road movie, about finding a new home when the old ones done in, and having the where with all to know it and return to it. I’m not ready for it to be Clint’s last film but of the last half dozen I’ve seen while he was an octogenarian it seems this first on the other side of 90 is the most contemplative and ultimately the most content.

Cry Macho Trailer

Cry Macho is currently playing in theatrical wide release and streaming on HBO Max.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Malignant

Written by Alexander Reams

73/100

I can see a young James Wan watching a Giallo film, and thinking “Oh I’m gonna make some weird shit” (kudos to James Gunn and Chris Pratt for giving us that line). Throughout his career, Wan has riffed on many genres, and now we can add Giallo to that list. The iconic Italian horror genre was made popular in the 1970s, particularly by Dario Argento. James Wan takes the iconic genre and mixes it with modern themes and messages. Maddy (Annabelle Wallis) is in an abusive marriage with Derek (Jake Abel), she begins to experience visions of a sinister force and fights to protect herself and her family. 

This is not Annabelle Wallis’ first collaboration with James Wan, she was the lead in the spinoff to The Conjuring. Given that previous history, it seemed to reason that they would work together down the line, and here they offer up a beautiful metaphor for abuse and toxic relationships. Wallis not only conveys the past of her character but also (quite literally) embodies this person who is haunted by past memories and trauma. While she does not fully elevate the script to the iconic female horror leads we know and love, she still does more than the previous female characters in Wan’s repertoire, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. 

Something Wallis and Wan both excel in is the brilliant horror sequences. Allowing for the pair, and DP Michael Burgess to present unique and original sequences which are unlike any I have seen. One in the early parts of the film mixes visual and practical effects to transform a house into another environment, and the metamorphasis is transfixing and spine-chilling. 

Wan’s relationship with Michael Burgess is a relatively new one, however, he has worked with Don Burgess, Michael’s father, many times, and with the younger Burgess just coming off another horror film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, following it up with a James Wan original just makes sense. Michael Burgess takes the potential shown in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and flies with it, demonstrating his brilliance as a DP, and a master of framing and camera movement. 

Even with all of this greatness, rarely is a film without flaws, and Wan’s latest offering is not without its faults. Akela Cooper, whose credits include Hell Fest, Luke Cage, and 2 other pictures that struggled in their writing serves as screenwriter. Cooper took a brilliant premise by the husband-wife duo of Wan and Ingrid Bisu and unfortunately wrote in watered down dialogue, which should be heartbreaking and is instead laugh-inducing at times. This half-baked screenplay doesn’t take away from what is happening in front of us. Wan doesn’t need dialogue to convey emotion, and this shines in the final act. Transforming the film into someone mind-bending, and full of heart and emotion. In this writer’s opinion, this is Wan’s most emotionally charged film. From the mother-daughter relationship to the sister relationship, all leading to the most unexpected reveal. Which ends the film on a somewhat positive note that also leaves the door open to future stories in this world, which excites this writer to no end.

Malignant Trailer

Malignant is currently playing in wide theatrical release and available to stream on HBO Max.

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

Space Jam: A New Legacy

Written by Patrick Hao

25/100

Last month AT&T announced that they were unloading Warner Media to Discovery for $43 billion after less than three years of merging with Warner Media. This also comes after a lengthy battle with the U.S. Court of Appeals for antitrust claims and a bungled roll out of HBO Max. With the merger with Warner, Discovery is looking to combine their newly released streaming efforts, Discovery+, with HBO Max. I say all this as a precursor to discuss what Space Jam: A New Legacy is. It is a cynical piece of work emblematic of the larger problem within the media industry, art being constructed as content and pre-existing IP as the only cache.

This is not to say that the original Space Jam was not a cynical piece of art when it was released. The film was constructed from a popular Nike commercial that paired Michael Jordan with Bugs Bunny. The results were an exercise in branding building for both entities – Michael as the most popular athlete on the planet and returning to basketball and the Looney Tunes with their resurgence in popularity with reruns filling up time slots on the newly created Cartoon Network.

It was a surprise then when the online reactions to the trailers of Space Jam: A New Legacy acted as if the film was an affront or a mockery of the legacy of the original. If anything, the new film is the perfect 2021 follow-up: a bloated film that prioritizes corporate synergy and brands over anything of artistic merit. Lebron James, who has been dogged by comparisons to Michael Jordan throughout his NBA career, is also the perfect successor to Jordan, not only because of his basketball prowess. Jordan was the first athlete that truly capitalized on licensing his name and image as a marketing tool. James, taking a cue from Jordan, has become a mogul of far greater magnitude. His empire includes endorsements, sport franchises, production companies, and restaurants.

There really is not much to say about Space Jam: A New Legacy. As a movie it is nothing. It is bad in what it represents and competent but uninteresting in everything else. Lebron James plays a fictionalized version of himself who hopes his son (Cedric Jones) would follow in his footsteps in basketball, despite his son’s proclivity towards video game design. Meanwhile, a sentient Warner Bros. AI named Al-G Rhythm (Get it: Algorithm), played by a game Don Cheadle, wants to use Lebron James’ fame to lure the public into his virtual reality. To do so, Al-G uses Dom’s resentment towards his father and a basketball game in order to trap Lebron. Lebron must team up with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Merry Melodies gang to beat him.

As one can imagine, the plot is really a serving dish to the antics that could be drummed up from Lebron James interacting with Bugs Bunny. The result is nothing interesting. But it is curious as to the consistent meta-narratives that these giant corporations drum up for these films. As James is being sucked into the virtual reality, he zooms past planets designated as IP worlds – DC, Harry Potter, The Matrix, and inexplicably Casablanca. It is a real testament to how Warner Bros. views the property that they own. And to have the main villain be a sentient soulless algorithm underscores a self-critique that goes unexplored.

Instead, the film tries to root itself in a hollow message about family – whether it is the Looney Tunes or Lebron and his son. The Looney Tunes themselves have never felt so rudderless. In a movie that should’ve been a celebration of them during a period when their cultural influence is at its lowest, they seem like an afterthought for more important IP’s. At one point a character is involved in a parody of The Matrix that seems out of 2001, until I remember that Matrix 4 is due to be released in Q4 of this year.

Is there a good movie to be made here? Possibly, but Warner Bros. was never going to let that happen. Originally, the film was announced to be written and directed by idiosyncratic filmmaker Terence Nance. Maybe he could have produced something interesting and self-critical. However, while he still has writing and producing credit on the film, Nance was replaced by director Malcolm D. Lee, a safe choice whose career is defined by his workmanlike mediocrity. Lee directs the movie as such. There is no personality, no soul.

Ultimately, this is not a Space Jam: A New Legacy problem. This is the corporate world of movie studios. As more studios create their individualized streaming platforms, movies become an advertisement for subscriptions. Space Jam started out as an ad for sneakers. And now A New Legacy is an ad for HBO Max. What a fitting full circle.

Space Jam: A New Legacy Trailer

Space Jam: A New Legacy is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: The Suicide Squad

Written by Alexander Reams

97/100

“We’re all gonna die”

Bloodsport

“I hope so”

Polka-Dot Man

“Oh for fucks sake”

Bloodsport

This interaction between Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) tells you all you need to know about James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. The film, and the marketing are seemingly reacting to the question “Is this a sequel or a reboot to Suicide Squad (2016)?”. The answer is simpler than you would think: yes. It is a continuation, as proved by the existing relationship between Flag, Harley, and Captain Boomerang. While also starting over, not ignoring Ayer’s film, but also paving a new path for this group of villains. The major difference in this film to Ayer’s is that everything here is turned up. The dark humor is borderline nihilistic, but never quite feels like a downer. The action is way more realistic, making you feel every grain of sand and every speck of dust that hits the screen. 

The plot is a simple one, something that James Gunn thrives in. The squad, led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Bloodsport (Idris Elba), are tasked with going to the fictional island of Corto Maltese and destroy an old Nazi research post known as “Jotunheim” (reference to Norse mythology, the planet Jotunheim was the home world of the frost giants). As you would expect the mission gets very out of hand and they get a lot more than they expected. The beauty of Gunn employing a simple plot is that he can go anywhere he wants with it (Finally Warner Brothers has seemingly decided to trust its filmmaker), and he does, quickly subverting any audience expectations within the first 10 minutes of the film. I won’t spoil what he does, because it is so exhilarating to see it without knowing anything.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 

I was excited to see this from the first casting poster, and I’m happy to report that this film not only good but fun. Such has been an issue with the DCEU thus far. They can be good, but not enjoyable (Wonder Woman), or they can be bad, but there is fun to be had (Suicide Squad, more like Good Time, if youre drunk, but my point stands). Thankfully in 2021 we have gotten 2 high quality DCEU films, this, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. If you remember I sang the praises of that film. After years of mixed to meh films, we’ve had a banner year, that brings me hope for whats to come.

The squad ends up being Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Peacemaker (A wonderfully macabre John Cena), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, my favorite nihilistic performance since Edward Norton in Fight Club), Nanaue/ King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, with in my opinion his best performance since the first Rocky), and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, the heart of the flick). This ensemble plays off of each other deftly, and Gunn gives time for each of them to shine. As well as moments for everyone to play off each other. One of the best, and one of my personal favorite moments, is when Peacemaker and Bloodsport have a kill count competition, their facial reactions and body movements elevate the scene into one of the funniest in the film with only 2 lines of dialogue.

Gunn has managed to make a multi-genre film that exists within the current DCEU and make it work. He clearly has a lot of passion for this film and these characters. With all of that behind the camera, and the borderline legendary ensemble on screen, each manages to shine throughout and leave a lasting impression on myself long after the credits rolled. From one DC fan to another, thank you James Gunn.

The Suicide Squad Trailer

The Suicide Squad was screened at Fantasia 2021 Film Festival and is currently in wide theatrical release and streaming on HBO Max.

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

P.S.: Peacemaker has his own TV show on HBO Max, and after this, I can’t imagine what Gunn has cooked up for us, but I know I want to see it.

Fantasia 2021 Curtain Raiser w/ Thomas Stoneham-Judge of ForReel

You can visit Fantasia Virtually or In-Person this year

Fantasia 2021 will run August 5 -25 with, as usual, a fascinating selection of genre films, talks, and experiences. In the video above, I got my friend and fellow movie writer/podcaster Thomas Stoneham-Judge from ForReel to discuss our thoughts about the this year’s festival and film lineup and, metaphorically speaking, raise the curtain on our experience with this year’s event.

To learn more about Fantasia 2021, purchase tickets, or see their lineup of films, visit https://fantasiafestival.com/en.

Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 84th Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

The Artist: 42/100

There are some serious holes in my Best Picture and Best Director filmographies and I was given the idea to go through and watch them. I have seen most of the post 2010 Best Picture winners but I even have holes there. The latest film in my Best Picture/ Best Director journey in order from newest to oldest is Michel Hazanavicius’s 2011 film The Artist. This film took home both awards at the 84th Academy Awards. 

When looking back on The Artist, seeing it as a best picture winner seems obvious. It’s a movie about the movies, and Hollywood loves that. However that does not mean the film itself is good. Unfortunately that is the case here. The Artist is a great showcase in how weird/ experimental movies can still thrive in modern film society. However the film has major plot issues. Any attempt at trying to appeal to the audience’s emotional state fails spectacularly and in hilarious fashion. Jean Dujardin winning Best Actor for his performance is just one of many examples where The Academy fell for the Oscar bait hook, line, and sinker. There is very little substance to his performance, and even in the more somber moments of the film, I could never take what was going on screen seriously.

The Artist, while having great cinematography and costume design, is a failure on every other aspect of filmmaking. As well as very frustrating when looking back on what was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director that year. My picks for Best Director and Best Picture that year would have been Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life for Best Director and continuing with The Tree of Life winning Best Picture.

The Artist Trailer

The Artist is currently streaming on HBO Max, Netflix, Roku Channel, and Tubi.

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