• JLo getting a retina scan. Image credit: Netflix
    movie reviews

    Movie Review: ATLAS (2024) **

    You know when you watch a movie, and they’re making a parody movie within the movie, a la Notting Hill or The Fall Guy? This is the parody movie.

    Welcome to the JLonaissance! Here, JLo is an analyst named Atlas who has dedicated her life to searching for the rogue AI who killed her mom and like three billion other people. Stuffy plotty things happen and she ends up piloting a mech suit.

    “JLo in a mech suit??” you ask excitedly, if by “you” I mean “me.” Me asked this very excitedly upon seeing the trailer. I’m delighted to inform you all that this is exactly the movie you thought when you watched the trailer. It’s JLo in a mech suit, baby! What else do you need? Narrative tension? A sense of urgency? The main character’s development feeling hard-earned? A coherent message? Get outta here.

    There are absolutely no surprises in Atlas. It’s a 2-hour-long video game cinematic starring a lot of actors you recognize, sort of like Death Stranding, except it’s shorter than most of the Death Stranding cinematics and Death Stranding has something to say.

    The entire point of the movie is JLo neurotically saying, “I don’t trust AI!!!!” until she does. She becomes besties with an AI, hot guys die, she defeats the bad AI because she unlocks a few upgrade slots, and she’s improbably rescued at the last minute. This doesn’t feel like a spoiler to me. You already knew the ending was gonna just kinda be like “shrug, she survives.” Look within your heart. The truth is there.

    But I’m gonna tell you, this movie really could have been a whole lot worse. Mark Strong’s expressions imply a subplot that wasn’t written. JLo is so committed to the material! Simu Liu is hunky and he wisely made ten thousand hunky Abraham Popoolas for me to thirst over. Sterling K Brown does a great job (like he ever does a bad job, pff). Everyone’s hot, the CGI was fine, and the script hit all the most basic Save the Cat beats. Hey, that’s not a guarantee in modern screenwriting.

    Sure, it would have been better with a lot less talking and a lot more plot, action, or cool sci-fi stuff. Atlas’s emotional growth had the psychological feeling of an on-rails shooter. It’s kinda stunning how little imagination they could employ in a science fiction setting where they got to put JLo in a mech suit. What a boring planet! What prosaic world building!

    Yet I really think the screenwriting is the worst part of this (by far), and the screenwriting is *mostly* dispassionate and mediocre.

    I kinda think I’d have enjoyed this movie when I was a kid, though it’s not intended as a kid’s movie (who the hell is this intended for? who would be happy with slow conversations between JLo and Siri?). I’d have loved watching it intercut with lengthy toy-themed commercial breaks on TBS.

    Call me a JLo simp ever since her whole “I love love” megaproject made it clear exactly how unhinged she is (~I could fix her~), but I have been more annoyed by vastly more prestigious movies. This is extremely low-grade watch-it-while-doing-something-else sci-fi-themed schlock, and gosh darnit, I love sci-fi schlock.

    Come to this movie for JLo looking adorable with frizzy hair and giant glasses; stay for the video game vibes because hey, you might as well, you’re probably folding laundry or vacuuming the floor or something anyway.

    (image credit: Netflix)

  • credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
    movie reviews

    Movie Review: FURIOSA (2024) ***

    Furiosa is another entry into the Mad Max series of movies. This one serves as prequel to Fury Road, filling in the origin details of the titular character: stolen as a girl from a woman-friendly sanctuary, raised among the War Rig’s building and operation, seeking a way to get revenge and go home.

    This is an extremely solid Mad Max entry. It lacks the symmetric narrative elegance of Fury Road, but it’s a respectable prequel that doesn’t feel inessential, either. I wasn’t sure how much they could really add that I’d care about. Of course, George Miller is the king of detail-oriented world building. He found places to elaborate.

    Thanks to the convincing performance of a young Alyla Browne, I was riveted for a full half of the movie, and I genuinely believed the Furiosa she created. I also really enjoyed Chris Hemsworth (prosthetic nose aside) as a sick and charismatic Dementus. He hit all the right notes, which I understand to be challenging while working under a director as exacting as Miller.

    Come to this movie for the vibes more than the set pieces. There is little of that tactile grandeur that made Fury Road such a blast to watch, but the process for making that feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a more standard Mad Max. I think anyone who likes the broader Mad Max world will like this anyway.

    On a more critical note, I just didn’t care for Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Her delivery in the last dialogue wasn’t especially compelling, which might have been the dialogue at large (it really dragged). But I also didn’t love watching her at any other point, either. She didn’t pull me in the way that the younger or older actresses did while playing the same character. I’m not sure what’s happening there — maybe she’s just a little too obviously Anya Taylor-Joy the whole time, maybe the difficulty of the shoot didn’t bring out her best performance… Who knows?

    The movie is a post-apocalyptic pleasure to watch, and just the experience is enough. But Furiosa as a character is better without the added context. I tend to think we got everything we need to know about her in Fury Road. Miller and Max are best with less text. His props, costumes, and overall design are packed with visuals that offer plenty subtextually for people who want to know more about what’s going on. Adding more story doesn’t necessarily improve anything. And it nukes some of the mystery that makes Fury Road such a vibe.

    Still, this movie would be entirely watchable as a double feature with Fury Road, and I think it would be pretty satisfying if you like the way George Miller does his world building. If for some reason you can only watch one, you should still watch Fury Road — it’s a truly great movie. Furiosa is a good movie.

    (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • movie reviews

    Movie Review: THE FALL GUY (2024) **

    The Fall Guy is an extremely self-aware action movie about Hannah Waddingham’s wig, and also a stunt guy who finds himself tangled in a wee bit of a murder mystery along with his director ex-girlfriend.

    I really try not to watch movies I think I’m not going to like, seeing as how I prefer to come in with enthusiastic analysis rather than criticism. I probably would have skipped this one if I’d looked up the director first, since I haven’t liked David Leitch movies in the past either. I should have suspected I simply wouldn’t like it because I’m really tired of Ryan Gosling’s Kendoll schtick.

    Anyway, obviously I didn’t love it, but I think it’s a harmless movie with its heart in the right place (highlighting the stunt teams who don’t usually get nearly enough regard). But I’m going to resist the urge to write an essay about why this isn’t really a good romance, or a plot with any tension, or dialogue-related complaints; it is HARMLESS and I don’t need to go off.

    Instead, let me tell you who I think will enjoy this movie:

    – If you like it when you don’t feel like things might actually go wrong, and you know nobody’s ever in peril, I think you’ll like it. The action scenes are so stunt-focused and well forecast as such that it’s obvious these are just exciting tricks, like you might see at a theme park. I can see folks really loving that. It’s exciting! Good stunts are always impressive. What’s not to love there?

    – Are you enjoying Ryan Gosling’s whole schtick? This movie is all of that. In fact, every actor seems to be trying to meet Ryan Gosling on that level, and they’re kind of doing his whole cadence and semi-naturalistic talking-over-each-other affable chattering.

    – You know that genre where Hollywood really loves Hollywood and just makes loving movies about itself? If you like that, you’ll loooove this.

    – How about self-referential humor? Where (an incredibly sexy) Winston Duke cites the action scenes he’s copying while engaging in those fights? Doing split-screen while debating if split screens are any good? Random cameos?

    – If you like dogs biting crotches, this movie delivers on your behalf.

    I was mostly rubbed the wrong way by this, but I really don’t see any reason it didn’t perform better at the box office. It’s extremely inoffensive and a sort of fun-oriented experience movie. I really, really thought of stunt shows at theme parks while watching it. That’s not my kind of thing. Is it yours? Then you’d probably love it. Have fun y’all.

    (image source: Universal Pictures)

  • movie reviews

    Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008) **

    In The Dark Knight, a chaotic new villain disrupts the status quo of Gotham’s corrupt underbelly, driving the entire city to the brink of madness. And he does it in a very fashionable purple suit with a green vest.

    This movie is, in my esteem, the best of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. The Bat is my favorite caped (anti)hero; I have a very long-lasting, very personal fondness for any and all Batman adaptations. For a few years when these movies came out, I would say that Nolan Bat was my favorite. Nowadays, it simply does not rank.

    Obviously The Dark Knight hasn’t changed. I’ve changed. I was twenty-years-old in 2008, and Nolan Bat hit me hard. It hit the culture hard! I was trying to explain to my young teen how the impact of the film was absolutely seismic — which had them raising an eyebrow, because they were so bored by the movie, they almost fell asleep. Sometimes they woke up because I burst out laughing, like when I saw the Batmobile again. Least penisy Batmobile? Yes. But does anyone else think it looks like the fantasy version of a Cybertruck? I bet Bale Bruce would have bought a Cybertruck.

    Nolan did a killer job hitting American culture at the right moment. At the time, the idea of all phones being surveillance devices was still kinda science fiction. We were only a few years out from 9/11, the Bush II era was sunsetting, and the discourse around terrorism was intense. Some degree of jingoism was more standard (at least, where I was back then) because of a patriotic desire to cohere against external threats, and I more readily believed in “a hero we need, but don’t deserve.” This version of the Joker is more terrorist-like in his strategies. He is chaotic evil, unpredictable, unknowable, the way that many white Americans regarded our enemies of the time.

    It’s striking how much of this feels simultaneously cynical and naive. Do you really think Gotham’s cops would be horrified at Batman brutalizing the Joker in an interrogation room? Highly doubtful.

    There’s nothing more 2008 than the limited palette and brutalism. This was an era where we sucked all the color out of movies, ashamed of the excesses of the 90s, and not yet arriving in the nostalgic neons of the later 10s. Really, the whole thing feels ashamed: despite being an *absurdly* gravelly Batman with *ridiculously* militaristic attitudes, the self-seriousness of Nolan Bat is doing the absolute most to distance itself from campy comic book *everything*. Several key characters seem fabricated just so he won’t have to deal with the burden of comic book lore.

    In retrospect, it’s laughable. Like a parody of itself. But I can’t deny it hit perfectly at the time! Every good moment in the movie remains constantly memed, even by a generation that hasn’t necessarily sat through the laborious plodding plot of the movie itself. So many quotes have become the blood in our cultural veins. Yet I have reached a point where I feel Nolan Bat is best experienced in memes, plucking out the good bits and leaving behind everything that’s so monotone visually and dynamically.

    I guess I’m tired of Nolan’s style nowadays, too. I used to say he was my favorite auteur. Now I’m so frustrated by his muddy dialogue, buried under the rest of the audio, that I can’t even appreciate the way his movies are edited to great scores like a 2.5-hour long cinematic music video. His inability to write a woman with dimension drives me nuts.

    The action scenes are still pretty sweet, though.

    One other thing that hasn’t changed is how utterly delightful Heath Ledger’s Joker feels. My kid perked up whenever Joker was Jokering around, and I did too. Against the wooden blocky backdrop of Batman, here we got a funny and deliberate and pitch-perfectly sinister Joker. He’s so colorful by comparison. His suit is colorful, his Bugs Bunny-like cross dressing is colorful, and his “yeah, I guess I’ll shoot this guy too” gestures are colorful. As a Millennial, I can’t let mention of Ledger pass without pining for the future career we never got to see from him. I’m still devastated.

    I can recognize this movie was so good in its time and also that it’s not good for me in this time. I can imagine lots of people still loving it: great score, solid performances, great action (when you get to it), a very cohesive aesthetic (surely others are still into that). But my definitive Batman these days is absolutely Batman Returns (deliciously goth as it is) and this one left me feeling extremely beige.

    (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • Adam Sandler yelling at a golf ball
    movie reviews

    Movie Review: Happy Gilmore (1996) *****

    Happy Gilmore is a classic Adam Sandler comedy about an unsuccessful hockey player who turns to golf to save his grandmother’s house. He’s a really bad temperamental match for golf. His fiery moods mean he holds a record for being the only high school hockey player who took off his skate to stab someone. Golf is not sure what to make of a low-class, swearing, punching kind of player.

    Yet he has an outstanding slap shot, and he can drive golf balls unimaginable distances. This draws the attention of a golf legend named Chubbs, who urges him to play and hopes to cultivate Happy’s career. Once Happy realizes he can earn enough money to buy his Grandma’s house, he’s not interested in the sustained career part; he just wants to go whack balls until he can get a few oversized checks about it.

    Naturally we need a snooty, upper-class heel to serve as Happy’s foil. Here we get a hysterical Shooter McGavin. He believes he “deserves” the win on the tour where Happy butts in. Shooter’s paid his dues and played for his entire life. It’s his turn! But he’s such a dick, he earns Happy’s ire in return. While Happy gets better at golf, Shooter gets worse as a human being, and eventually they meet in the middle.

    This is the perfect comedy for, say, a thirteen-year-old audience. It’s a family movie because everyone can laugh and have fun with it. But really, it’s mostly for the young teens. That’s where the titular character’s emotional development stands. Happy’s priorities are also mostly on par (lol) with thirteen-year-olds: taking care of your adorable grandma, punching people who make you angry, and proving everybody wrong.

    Don’t come here looking for sophisticated jokes; this is the kind of flick where you’re meant to laugh because it’s just so dang *silly*. I could rattle off jokes for a while. “You’re gonna die, clown!” “The price is wrong, bitch!” “You suck! Jackass!” Truly nothing that’s funny out of context. But in context, with the actors’ delivery, and the generally goofy atmosphere, it’s a complete crack-up.

    Although the movie is quite dated now (we’re approaching 30 years), Happy Gilmore is fair timeless. As an example: They textually say his show is The Price is Right, so when Bob Barker says “the price is wrong” and punches Happy, we get the reference regardless. And there is nothing funnier than watching a younger adult like Happy get his ass handed to him by an old man, even if you don’t have pleasant daytime TV associations with Bob Barker.

    With a well-structured screenplay that has a few cute surprises and a short runtime for the attention span minimalists, I think Happy Gilmore’s going to remain a classic for generations.

  • image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
    movie reviews

    Movie Review – TRON: Legacy (2010) – **

    I always want to rate Tron: Legacy better than I feel it deserves. When I’m watching it, I’m overwhelmingly bored. The conversations drag on for so long. The dialogue is too uninspired to justify this. The worldbuilding is intriguing, but shallow.

    Yet characters-inside-computers is among my favorite things ever (see also: Reboot and The Animatrix). The aesthetic is excellent—I want to live somewhere that looks like this. The costumes are so cool. Whenever I think about T:L, those are the things I think about. The lengthy slow conversation scenes simply don’t stick in my mind. So I kinda love it when I’m not watching it and melt into the floor out of boredom when I do.

    This also is one of my favorite movie scores of all time. Truly, Daft Punk did 90% of the heavy lifting here. This movie could have been vastly worse and the score would have made it watchable. It’s almost not worth remarking on the movie attached to the score. The work might be Daft Punk’s magnum opus, whereas the movie is incredibly middling work.

    I could even forgive the horrid de-aging CGI if they just did more fighting. Please! Let the stunt people cook! More light bikes!

    Part of what frustrates me about T:L is that other things are *so* good too. Michael Sheen as Zuse is an absolute gas. I want to be a queer-coded villain dancing to Daft Punk while the betrayed heroes get their arms chopped off. The action scenes are a delirious delight, and if they’d just had 50% more action and 50% less talking, it would probably be a 5* movie.

    Yet being very close to greatness still managed to land Tron: Legacy squarely into a very boring place.

    It is interesting to note that I used to think of this as a bad movie. I no longer do. Mostly because recent Disney movies have reset the bar on being bad and boring on a whole new level: cynical, nonsensical, and often feeling cheap despite bloated budgets. I mean, I hadn’t seen all the live action Renaissance Disney remakes yet. But this feels genuinely heartfelt. They were tackling a difficult project with real gusto, and it just didn’t turn out. The CGI looks aged but not cheap. (Even the bad de-aging CGI looks expensive.)

    Somehow this movie is a two-star “love.” It’s bad. I want to skip most of it. I’m obsessed with it. I could make this my entire life.

    (image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

  • Zendaya smirking in Challengers. Image credit: Amazon MGM Studios
    movie reviews

    Movie Review: Challengers (2024) ***

    Even Luca Guadagigno can’t make me want to watch a sports movie. My reaction to Challengers says a lot more about me and my personal tastes than it says about the movie itself: Just like a terrible, dreadful movie can push all my buttons so I love it (like Repo! The Genetic Opera), a great movie can push all my “ugh” buttons in a way that leaves me cold.

    I like women. I get really bored with men. The rising female tennis star is one of the three leads in this movie; unfortunately, the movie isn’t quite as interested in Tashi as it is in Tashi’s sports-related ambitions and make-two-boys-kiss ambitions.

    The boys really want to kiss, but they need an excuse. Tashi wants them to take tennis and boy-kissing more seriously and mashes them together until that happens. I know! It sounds great. Evidently, based on others’ reviews, most people think this is absolutely great.

    The sports aesthetic and sheer amount of gay male-gaze testosterone sweating off the screen just made me want it to end.

    (Aside from when Zendaya is in her underwear.)

    I got real Machiavellian asexual vibes from Tashi, which is theoretically cool, but again — all the sports and testosterone. The way she manipulates should be cool! But it’s all about men! Making men do things. I just don’t care that much. The men are very sexual. There are dongs. There’s so many rippling abdominals. So many men sweating in locker rooms and saunas while having boy drama. It’s just…nothing I’m interested in.

    But boy, can I respect it. Luca Guadagigno is still a really good director. Although I wasn’t convinced by the chemistry of Art and Patrick initially, the story made up for it. And I do enjoy the *idea* of everything that’s happening. But when something is so much about male desire, exerted in all the wrong directions (according to Tashi), I just cannot get into it.

    Something about the sweaty pulsing score by Trent Reznor et al, which sounds like it should play in a gays-only gym, made this feel soapier. I caught myself thinking about May December again. May December was more overtly soapier and trashier though, whereas Challengers is glossy enough to be a Gatorade ad (sans Gatorade).

    I totally see why so many people like it; I thought it was fine and also wanted it to stop. This one just call to me the way that Luca Guadagigno’s sapphic answer to Call Me By Your Name did. (Yes, I’m talking about Suspiria.) (In Guadagigno movies, twinks sweat for each other; sapphics gush blood. I know which I prefer more clearly than ever.)

    (image credit: Amazon MGM Studios)