Honestly, I wondered if the COVID-19 pandemic ended my days of getting paid to write movie reviews. Not only are movie theaters closed, but Asheville’s Mountain Xpress, where most of my reviews run, had to pare down due to a lack of ad revenue.
But indie theaters have been showing movies virtually, with part of the rental fees going to those venues, providing publications with films to review. And thankfully, the budget to pay for those reviews is opening up again.
So I was eager to review Lucky Grandma when given the opportunity:
Director Sasie Sealy (who co-wrote the script with Angela Cheng) builds her feature debut around a memorable grouch, Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin), whose fortune changes when a huge amount of money literally falls into her lap.
Lucky Grandma is a clever spin on the crime caper genre, thanks to Chin’s wonderfully cranky performance and Sealy trusting her warped morality tale to play out to its natural end.
As I was sitting in the theater before Bloodshot began (preceded by about 25 minutes of trailers, of course), I realized that this could be the last movie I’d see in public for a while. Even before chain and independent theaters implemented social distancing measures, then closed entirely, major releases had been pushed back for months (at least), so we wouldn’t have been getting new movies for a while.
So if Bloodshot was the last new movie I’d see in theaters until maybe — maybe — the summer, did Vin Diesel send us into self-imposed isolation on a high note? Well, sort of.
Releasing a basketball movie in March, when so much real drama and joy is on TV with college hoops, seemed kind of risky. But The Way Back isn’t entirely a basketball movie, which may surprise some viewers.
Sports movies — portraying sports in pop culture and media — fit solidly into Awful Announcing’s beat. So I reviewed the movie for the site. Here’s an excerpt:
Some viewers might prefer a more predictable, more conventional sports movie with an uplifting message. But director Gavin O’Connor and Ben Affleck know life isn’t that simple and a tidy resolution doesn’t often make for a good story. What feels more gratifying is that viewers can determine how this story ends. Maybe it goes exactly as you would’ve predicted. But maybe not. Being trusted as an audience to deal with the many possibilities at hand makes it worth seeing. This isn’t the movie you think it is.
Though it’s definitely part of the cultural conversation right now, I don’t know if I would’ve watched The Irishman over the Thanksgiving holiday if I hadn’t been asked to review it for Mountain Xpress. And would I have seen it at a local theater knowing that I could watch it at home on Netflix?
Considering how long the movie is, I’m grateful that Edwin Arnaudin gave the OK for a longer review in Mountain Xpress. Here’s an excerpt:
“[…] the true achievement is De Niro’s performance, the best work he’s done in many years. Sheeran is torn between friends (and family) and those who provide him a life he never could have imagined, and De Niro makes that emotional pain palpable.
“But perhaps the greatest acting surprise is Pesci, more reserved and quietly powerful than he’s ever been. (Pacino gets all the histrionics, portraying Hoffa’s outsized, bombastic personality.) Russell doesn’t bend people to his will by yelling, punching people or smashing things. He simply wields the fear of what happens to those who cross him or don’t show respect.”
But I also wrote up a review of the film for Asheville’s Mountain Xpress this week. And given the space restraints of print, it’s often a challenge (one I enjoy) to shorten and distill my thoughts.
“[…] the Joker is very much a comic book character. Though Phillips wants to deny that fact, clothing Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in 1980s grime and despair and the visual language of early Martin Scorsese films, he can’t avoid the fact that the Joker is best known as Batman’s archnemesis. Allusions are even made to the future existence of the Caped Crusader. Can one exist without the other?
Perhaps the tie-in is fan service intended to placate die-hard comic book fans. But it’s also a concession that this story wouldn’t be distinct without a familiar villain who paints his face with clown makeup and favors purple suits with yellow accessories. Phillips tries to have it both ways.”
For the past 20 years, figuring out what makes villains evil has become an entire creative industry. I don’t know if it started with the Star Wars prequels, but that seems to be where it was popularized. How did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader? OK, that question was inherent with the character because we knew that he was Luke Skywalker’s father and a Jedi Knight alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Yet was that story really begging to be told? I think we all — whether “we” means Star Wars fans or general pop culture — thought we wanted to see that story. But would it have been better if Darth Vader stayed ruthless and villainous? Isn’t it enough that we knew he had a change of heart by the end and chose to save his son over his devotion to the Empire and the Sith?
The mystery of what made Anakin turn into Vader added appeal to the entire Star Wars mythology because it invited people to imagine what might have happened, rather than having that story told to them.
Judy does what most good biopics do, focusing on a particular period of the subject’s life, rather than try to fit an entire life and career into a two-hour story.
There are flashbacks that show what Judy Garland endured as a young girl, trying to please those who wanted to make her a star at the cost of any sort of normal childhood. Those sequences presume that you know about Garland and her career, which doesn’t seem particularly unreasonable if you’re seeing this movie. If you know Judy Garland was in The Wizard of Oz, that’s probably all you need to get by here.