Dave Chappelle: The Closer

Written by Taylor Baker

90/100

Mark Twain Award Winning humorist and self aware greatest of all time(GOAT) comedian Dave Chappelle returns to Netflix to have his patented open conversations with himself – sharing some laughs, some hurt – all while inhaling some smoke. Dave has long talked of his place in our global community of Earth, national community of America, and, especially since The Chappelle Show, how he feels in his skin, in his circumstances. And he’s never been shy about translating that feeling to the larger demographics he considers himself a part of. Whether African-American, Black, Man, Ohioan, Comedian, Artist, or Human Being. Dave has zeroed in on providing perspectives from personal angles and done so loquaciously. Albeit with occasional cultural backlash if not turmoil.

The thing about comedy, and comedians is they’re using words to debate culture, to keep a check and balance on it. They’re fighting ideas and improvising outloud to make their personal experiences mappable to you, with the structured up front goal of making you laugh. If they succeed, they did their job. If they didn’t, they failed. Simple. Men like Gilbert Gottfried have done it for years with use of his harsh tone of voice and clever black comedy lines that you couldn’t repeat to your grandmother. More recently Taylor Tomlinson has expressed moments of her personal life history to enormous effect. Kathrine Ryan has done the same with a totally different personal story. Comedy has always been about the personal, if not directly as reference material for a comedian’s act. It’s what one finds funny. 

So what’s different? Why is The Closer hitting “differently” than Chappelle’s other work? It’s because he’s talking about his emotions and viewpoint from what he might call in his previous special Sticks and Stones, his seat in the car. While the LGBTQ+ community after the release of the special sits center to the conversation about it, they’re one of many groups and individuals Dave speaks on. Naturally a political and cultural battleground is a draw for critics and commentators. Where duty and topical melt into each other, and what is a comedian if not a critic and a commentator at once, giving us a performative art that reflects the very identity of who we are right now?

Dave eschews the LGBTQ+ community at large within The Closer – as he’s done with almost every single larger community. A running theme from almost all great comedians has always been to disregard, if not disrespect, the larger groups in favor of persons and personal stories. Dave, like so many before him, focuses on what is personal and meaningful to him. Drawing a distinction between groupthink and social cohesion by focusing on the people he cares about, the people he loves. These are individuals with messy lives that don’t fit the molds of our cultural conversation. Dave knows our society’s larger groupings are ugly, and rather than turning away from one of the most vibrant and flourishing communities today, he looks directly at them, despite any dangers of an inevitable backlash or controversy. Following the proverb, “Excluding someone from a joke is worse than a joke about them.” 

I can’t say that you won’t have a negative reaction to some of Dave’s material, or that you won’t be hurt by it. What I can say is Dave’s entire body of work demonstrates an immense belief foundationally in equality. Dave’s friend Daphne Dorman committed suicide shortly after the release of his previous special Sticks and Stones. And it seems as if everything uttered before he recounts her tale in the special is exclusively in service to this final piece of the act working. Not just as “material” for laughs but for the audience, emotionally, so we take it seriously and so we take Daphne seriously. He recounts a brief personal story about her and in it delivers the climax of the special. The climax isn’t simply the story about Daphne herself, it’s what she tells Dave while he’s on stage after they’ve dialogued and he says he just can’t understand her. To which she replies, “I don’t need you to understand me. I just need you to understand that I’m having a human experience.” I don’t think there’s anything else I can say that is more important in unlocking this special or Dave as a person. This is the baby in the bathwater. If you can accept that Dave is operating in good faith and compassion, then I think you’ll have a memorable time with this piece. If you can’t, it’s easy to scroll to Netflix “New Releases”.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer Trailer

Dave Chappelle: The Closer is currently streaming on Netflix.

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

Episode 113: Best of 2021 So Far

“I believe that as much as you influence your film, the film also influences you. You think you are in control but then things happen that you didn’t anticipate. That’s cinema, and you need to be open and listen to your film.”

Dea Kulumbegashvili, Director of Beginning

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Deezer | Gaana | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio | JioSaavn | LibSyn | Player FM | RadioPublic | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their 10 favorite films of 2021 so far, as well as hand out show awards for Wounded Soldiers, Squandered Talents, Best Ensemble, Best Documentary, Best OST, Best Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Best Directorial Debut, and Best Classic Discovery.

Visit us on your preferred Social Media Platform Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Forget which film you wanted to check out while listening? Find links to both Taylor and Michael’s lists below: Michael’s Top 10 on Letterboxd | Taylor’s Top 10 on Letterboxd

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: The Guilty (2021)

Written by Taylor Baker

48/100

Before talking about Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty one has to mention the Danish film on which it’s based. Gustav Möller’s Den skyldige which translates to The Guilty, was submitted by Denmark for their Foreign Language Category at the Oscars in 2019. All that to say Fuqua isn’t remaking a poor film, one that perhaps needs it. Instead he with Netflix is retelling nearly the same story from 3 years ago absent any meaningful reason other than the original wasn’t in English.

Fuqua is coming off his worst film to date in May on Paramount+ he released Infinite. Which starred a checked out Mark Wahlberg opposite of a dialed in maniacal Chiwetel Ejiofor. Fuqua’s gone back and forth with hits and misses his whole career. Whether you measure from critical acclaim or actual dough at the box office. The Guilty is a return to form in that it’s fine. It dots i’s it crosses t’s. He puts a great actor in front of his camera and makes him work. Jake Gyllenhaal is game. Chewing on the darkness and wheezing his way through conversations to save a little girl at the other end of the phone line.

It’s all just a little thin though. I can’t quite believe the circumstances surrounding our character Joe Baylor played by Gyllenhaal. He’s supposedly a complex and ranging bad guy. I mean he is one of our “guilty” from the title, after all. But he seems heroic not just for moments but nearly the entire runtime. And when his ugly moments do come out he seems pathetic rather than responsible. There’s a tonal loss of control from the originals central character Asger Hold performed expertly by Jakob Cedergren and this rendition.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Instead of sticking to the tight, suffocating atmosphere that worked so well, Fuqua opts instead to constantly look out through the TV screens to fires raging in LA. His message, themes if you want to be courteous enough to call them that are worn on his knuckles. He’s trying to juggle a bunch of different issues that in his own words preceding the film he wants to bring attention to. Well unfortunately, bringing attention to things and doing a service to them are very different and though his heart may be in the right place his storytelling wasn’t.

The Guilty is at it’s best Gyllenhaal is bug eyed on the phone with Emily and Abby. Trying to help them be reunited safely. The brief moments Gyllenhaal’s Officer Baylor shares with Ethan Hawke’s no bullshit Sgt. Bill Miller ring as a revelation. Hawke as voice actor is superb. Venomous, witty, clever, and insightful all through his annunciation. Once casting directors see what he can do I suspect there will be a late career boom of Ethan Hawke voice acting.

Fuqua’s “one roomer” does little to build on its predecessor. But it doesn’t do it a disservice. The original is undeniably better, but I expect this rendition to be receive lots more eyes with the language shift. Undoubtedly one of the better Netflix Original films to come out this year.

The Guilty Trailer

The Guilty was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and will be available on Netflix starting October 1st, 2021.

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

Kate

Written by Nick McCann

70/100

While there have been exceptional standouts in recent memory, 2014’s John Wick keeps getting the most bows of honor from fans and artists. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s movie served as a stark reminder that mid-budget action films can still be technically well executed in a modern film landscape while making solid returns. When Stahelski kept moving forward with that series, Leitch spread the 87Eleven stunt influence elsewhere to projects like Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. His latest venture for Netflix retains all the bone-crunching hallmarks you’d expect and is uber satisfying even with standard elements.

Much like John Wick, it’s a neon-coated relentless revenge tale. That being said, the story is about what you expect. Despite a handful of interesting turning points, the progression lacks frills and there’s very little reinvention to the narrative. It has a semi-rushed first act, hurried enough to get the basic set up for late movie revelations. Even then, I still felt the weight of what was happening. So much so that I was feeling an emotional high after sticking with the plot (although that could’ve been the carnage hyping me up). Overall, the story does its job fine without taking many liberties.

It has a decent cast, Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes for a great lead. She’s tough but tender when it calls for it. You never feel she’s invulnerable or trying to make someone look bad. She earns her cool points through tried and true performance. And that’s just the talking bits. Miku Martineau off sets Winstead’s broodiness with a fiery teen attitude that makes for some fun levity. Woody Harrelson is also entertaining, giving his character more weight than you’d expect. Rounding them out is Jun Kunimura and Tadanobu Asano, who deliver a strong screen presence and conviction through actual small screen time.

It’s more a style over substance kind of film, as evidenced by a slick aesthetic throughout. The production design does a great job capturing the Tokyo nightlife and Yakuza underworld vibes, from locations to costume design. The cinematography loves to linger a lot on the cityscape and all it’s sprawl at certain points. You can bet there is definitely no shortage of neon lighting. If you’re looking for immersion, this is the kind of movie to wait until nightfall for a closed curtain viewing with no lights on.

The big draw, as you would expect, is it’s action sequences. They are hard-hitting, kinetic and up to the new standard of today! Kate’s Camerawork utilizes long shots with involved movement that work in conjunction with logical editing. There are maybe a couple iffy parts but they aren’t glaring. You get a healthy dose of fist fights and shootouts, again with the appeal of the Yakuza angle. A catchy selection of Japanese pop rock and a synth score seal the deal on the energy.

Kate is by no means a breakthrough action movie but it is fun. Solid acting and propulsive action do make up for the same old expectations of the story. It manages to have a couple elements going for it that set it apart from its contemporaries. Go into it expecting style to dominate it’s substance. And if that doesn’t work, I promise the kills are cool.

Kate Trailer

Kate is currently available to stream on Netflix.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Starling

Written by Taylor Baker

10/100

Theodore Melfi’s long awaited feature film follow up to 2016’s Hidden Figures is a an schlocky melodrama with paper thin characters and paper thin ideas. Melfi reteams with Melissa McCarthy who plays Lilly Maynard. A grieving mother whose child one day doesn’t wake up. Her husband Jack played by Chris O’Dowd checks himself into an institution after his wife wakes up to find he’s attempted suicide.

Along the way there’s a CGI bird, that begins incessantly attacking McCarthy whenever she goes outside at home, on her way to work, or just to garden. Part of the film is spent figuring out a dastardly way to deal with the pesky starling, but each plan always ends with McCarthy holding back and opting not to go forward, or regretting the decision she’d made. Over loud composition forces emotion whenever the occasion arises, which is often. The Starling serves as Matt Harris’s first attempt at a feature screenplay and while it hits familiar narrative beats it lacks personal intrigue, we’re always an arms length away from our characters rather than in lockstep. Watching their emotions rather than feeling them.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

McCarthy’s Lilly interplays with the Kevin Kline’s veterinarian/therapist Larry, who while clever in his moments reinforcements that The Starling is fanciful and entirely unreal. Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, and Skyler Gisondo round out the significant supporting roles as a Grocery Store Manager, Art Therapist, and Grocery Clerk respectively. Each of these players seems forced into the narrative to an awkward level of neither being significant nor briefly shown. Rather they’re in the familiar uncanny valley of, “We got great actors look! And please ignore that we don’t know how to use them.”

Ultimately The Starling doesn’t sing or even warble. It stumbles slumping laboriously through the genre conventions of melodrama. Loss eating up every inch of the narrative without ever really feeling sad. Leaning on a CGI bird for Melissa’s character arc, as she emerges to a more outspoken partner while O’Dowd is away. The Starling isn’t even interesting in failings, not only unoriginal, but uninspired. As too many of these recent Netflix Original Film offerings are.

The Starling Trailer

The Starling was viewed as part of 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and is currently streaming on Netflix.

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

America: The Motion Picture

Written by Alexander Reams

46/100

Movie trailers are masters at the art of deception and misleading. Constantly setting up plots and characters that pull the viewer, myself included, in. I will admit my excitement for this film was raised exponentially by the trailer. George Washington with chainsaw arms, Samuel Adams as a frat bro, Thomas Edison as a magician, and Killer Mike (½ of Run the Jewels) as a blacksmith, in this retelling of the American Revolution sounds like a great idea. The film also looked like a smart satire mixed with humor that evoked memories of Deadpool. I thought that this film could be one of the best animated films of the year, as well as one I could massively enjoy. Unfortunately I was quickly let down by this very juvenile and unfunny film. 

Before I begin tearing most of the film apart, I’d like to talk about the animation style and a few scenes that stuck out. A style that while clearly not hand-drawn, is the best imitation of hand drawn animation I have seen in a long time. There are also some very enjoyable scenes that I found throughout the film. Specifically the final battle, shown briefly in the trailer, that includes buses acting as AT-AT walkers, George Washington in a stars and stripes baseball jersey and chainsaw arms, and Killer Mike as a hilarious blacksmith. 

I found almost all of the jokes to fall flat, even the running gag about a bar called “Vietnam”. Jason Mantzoukas has finally found a role where I found him annoying, and it does not work in anyone’s favor. I constantly found his blind racism spoof to be annoying and not at all smart. Especially his rapport with Olivia Munn’s “Thomas Edison”, Killer Mike’s “Blacksmith”, and Raoul Max Trujillo’s “Geronimo” are some of the most annoying bits in the film by far. Even the celebrity cameos they were able to get for this film are not at all welcome and feel especially out of place. With a bad screenplay, ok animation, and an annoying voice cast, I found this not worth a watch and one of the biggest disappointments so far this year.

America: The Motion Picture Trailer

America: The Motion Picture is currently streaming on Netflix.

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

A Land Imagined

Written by Michael Clawson

60/100

Winner of the top prize at Locarno in 2018, Singaporean filmmaker Yeo Siew Hua’s third feature is a dreamy, fluidly shaped neo-noir about a detective investigating the whereabouts of a missing Chinese migrant worker. It’s far from a straight forward mystery – we shift between the perspective of the cop and the laborer, seem to move in and out of each of their dreams, and our sense of the timeline is slippery. 

Its effect is slightly uneven. There are mesmerizing sequences, such as when we’re taken inside the first-person-shooter computer game that the laborer plays each night at a neon-lit Internet cafe, and he speaks somnambulantly in voiceover as we drift around a digital desert compound. The mood is also often quite compelling, such as when the laborer and a woman from the cafe go swimming together late at night. The camera remains fixed on a beach as they swim out into dark water, the ominous glow of industrial sites off in the distance, and the suddenly piercing score lends the shot a pronounced sense of foreboding. 

Other moments don’t work so well, like those where the cop and laborer get swept up in reveries as they dance, which are a bit hokey. The genre elements also don’t always mix easily with the film’s inclination towards abstraction (Bi Gan pulls this off more powerfully in Long Day’s Journey Into Night). The weaknesses are worth what the movie is in total though: an enigmatic exploration of migrant loneliness, labor exploitation, and stifled protest.

A Land Imagined Trailer

A Land Imagined is currently streaming on Netflix.

He’s All That

Written by Maria Athayde

30/100 

I’m a 90s kids and some of the vivid memories I have growing up in that era are associated with watching cheesy rom-coms like Clueless (1995), Can’t Hardly Wait (1998), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Drive Me Crazy (1999) and, especially She’s All That (1999). So when I heard that a re-imagining of She’s All That, this time around, called He’s All That (2021) was coming out I wanted to give it a shot. After watching this I can say I was wayyyy too optimistic about its prospects.      

He’s All That is nothing more than a light reimagining of the 1999 version for Generation Z. The casual misogyny, fat-shaming, predatory jokes, and hetero-normativity that were in the original are gone in this version but the story remains very much the same. This movie sees a popular kid Padgett Sawyer, played by Tik-Tok star Addison Rae, accept a bet where she can transform “ugly duckling” Cameron Kweller, played by Tanner Buchanan, into prom king only to find herself and fall for him in the process. The essence of the movie is truly that simple and I am sure you can imagine how it plays out from here.

The movie adds elements that are familiar to Gen Z like making the protagonist an influencer with brand deals on the line. It also overstates that all of its characters are “social media obsessed”. Some of my primary gripes with this version were how little the supporting cast particularly Rachael Leigh Cook (the protagonist in the original) was used. Why not make her the same character as in the original?  Maybe add a bit of depth to the story? Another squandered opportunity was not having Kourtney Kardashian play herself. Having Kourtney play herself would not only have made the movie more meta but it would also have made it exponentially funnier. If you are familiar with the Kardashian’s even if it’s just a little bit you likely know just how funny Kourtney can be. 

Going into this I knew I wasn’t going to get a masterpiece, good cinematography, writing, or Oscar worthy performances. I went into this expecting some dumb fun but ended up just having a bad time. One thing is certain there is an ingenuity to Gen Z and people like Addison Rae who can turn an online career into something much bigger and bring her built in fan base to movies like this one. 

Next time, don’t get a 51 year old man, the same writer from the original, to reimagine practically the same movie 22 years later. Instead, try going for someone who is a little more in tune with the new wave of movie goers or in this case streamers. In the end, everything about He’s All That rings hollow.

He’s All That Trailer

He’s All That is currently streaming on Netflix.

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

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.