FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #199 – “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (dir. George Miller), “Prey” (dir. Dan Trachtenberg)

Poster for "Three Thousand Years of Longing"

This week, Glenn and Daniel check out Prey, a taut new actioner streaming on Hulu featuring the Predator doing what it does best: being hunted on Earth in a film somewhere at the intersection of war, historical drama, and slasher flick. And then we venture into the colorful world of George Miller and much of his team from Mad Max: Fury Road, bringing to life an epic, supernatural romance and an unpretentious look at the nature of humanity (57:35).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (Prey): 6.5/10 (Daniel), 7/10 (Glenn)
FilmWonk rating (Three Thousand Years of Longing): 7/10 (Daniel), 8/10 (Glenn)

Still from "Prey" (2022 film)

Show notes:

  • [02:08] Review: Prey
  • [26:47] Review: Three Thousand Years of Longing
  • [43:31] Spoilers: Three Thousand Years of Longing
  • The book we mentioned was Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan, and it is an excellent oral history which is well worth a read or a listen (with interviews brought to life by a full cast of voice actors).

Listen above, or download: Prey, Three Thousand Years of Longing (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

Poster for "Killer Joe"

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.

Down in deep, dark Texas, amid a gang of characters who are all irredeemably despicable, Killer Joe, despite its name and title character, is all about Dottie (Juno Temple). Dottie the virgin. Dottie the innocent. Dottie who supposedly sleepwalks and sleeptalks, but always speaks the truth, even if none of the men in her family care to listen or take her seriously. Dottie – the beneficiary of a $50,000 life insurance policy if her estranged mother Adele should die – and Dottie who is immediately on board with the murder-for-hire plot hatched by her drug dealer brother Chris (Emile Hirsch) and layabout doofus father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church, adding to a canon of all-timer Dumb Guy performances). These two standup guys weren’t even going to mention the plan to Dottie, even as they divvying up her financial windfall amongst themselves in advance, but she overheard them talking “about killing Momma” and signed herself right up. The proposed hitman, Detective “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is not on board with this plan. He operates on a fee-for-service basis (swagger is no charge), and has no interest in contingencies from a life insurance policy may not pay for months if ever. Joe declines without reservation until he glances outside at Dottie, twirling around like a child, and sees the chance to use her as a human retainer. Joe’s lust and predation is lowkey. He hasn’t remained a cop and hitman by revealing his darkest desires in a manner that might ever be read aloud in court. Without saying exactly what he means by “retainer”, Joe tells the men he’s bartering with to “call me if she’s interested” – a meager nod to Dottie’s agency, if an unserious one. There will not be many more of these. Such an arrangement “might do her some good”, concedes her father Ansel. “Give him Dottie!”, Chris practically shouts.

And why shouldn’t they? This is a Southern Gothic plot as old as civilization itself, treating a daughter as sexual currency to compel and direct violence in your name. Each of them feigns justification for it. According to ex-husband Ansel, Adele herself – whose living face we never see onscreen – “isn’t doing anyone any good”. Both Ansel and Chris casually acknowledge that they’ve been physically abusive to her, Chris having thrown her up against the fridge in response to an unlikely slight: that Adele (who doesn’t use drugs) stole and sold his stash of cocaine to fix up her Cadillac. He now owes a debt to some nasty bikers led by a delightfully polite villain with Big Car Dealership energy named Digger Soames (Marc Macaulay), who laments Chris’ absence from his recent birthday party before cheerfully explaining that he’s going to have the boys here kick the shit out of him as a down payment on dropping him in a ten-foot hole if he doesn’t pay up. Just like Dottie, Adele’s fate is decided externally on the basis of what value her body and life can provide for others. So it proceeds for stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon), but more on her later.

Still from "Killer Joe"

Dottie, the most passive participant in the plot, offers the most persuasive and visceral justification for her desire (or acquiescence) for the plot to kill her mother: Adele tried to smother her with a pillow as a baby. In her first meeting with Killer Joe, during which they remain mercifully clothed, Dottie tells the tale. “And she was happy, because she thought she’d done it. And then I couldn’t grow into something better than she’d been…She was sad that I was and I will always be.” Joe, incredulous and mystified, asks how she knows that happened. Dottie says she remembers it. Joe has already marked this girl as a prize, and even he can’t quite comprehend her. A few days on from rewatching the film, Dottie still feels more concept than character to me – the script seems undecided as to her level of innocence or malice. She is a ticking time bomb whose countdown is readily apparent, even if no one in the vicinity cares to count its digits. But she is also conveniently stowed in the next room whenever the men need to bargain (or beat the tar out of her stepmother), emerging only when it’s time to show some feeling and kickstart the plot again. She is a ball of neglected chaos whose disillusionment with her family would be readily apparent to anyone who cared to listen, but will be readily apparent by the end. In short, she is whatever the script needs her to be from moment to moment. Entertaining, yes. But never entirely a real thing.

That said, Temple deserves every ounce of praise she has gotten for this performance. Wringing coherence out of a character like this is a tall order. At one point she complains when her brother switches off a Wile E. Coyote cartoon (or the closest thing these filmmakers could license) because she “wanted to see how it turns out” – a line I had to rewind and watch again just to confirm I’d heard it correctly. When Chris (whom Hirsch plays as every bit the incorrigible fuckup that he is) delivers an antiheroic tryhard speech about how he would’ve done things differently if he’d known how it would turn out, Temple busts out a bemused,”No!” – not like “No, I forgive you, don’t feel bad”, but “No, I don’t believe you, and also who cares?” At times, Temple’s performance calls to mind Margot Robbie‘s Harley Quinn. You just can’t feel too bad about someone too innocent to ever see themselves as a villain. But despite being the most deserving of this self-image among this gallery of rogues, she’s hardly alone in her exculpation. Every actor in the film seems keenly aware of what a piece of shit they’ve been written to be, and watching them play out each of these lurid beats is immensely entertaining. Killer Joe himself, who suffers in recent memory as I compare him to Better Call Saul‘s Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), really doesn’t need to be plausible or likable. He just needs to be cool. And McConaughey can certainly pull that off, as we know by now. This McConaughey was coming off a string of lackluster rom-coms (I still have a nostalgic soft spot for The Wedding Planner), but Killer Joe was an early mark of what would become known as the McConaissance, a string of impressive performances including Mud, Bernie, The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike, True Detective and – yes, definitely this film.

Still from "Killer Joe"

What kept this review in my drafts for several days is the persistent question of what to say about the meaning of this ugly spectacle. I made a passing reference to stepmother Sharla – secretly more involved with the plot than initially revealed – having the tar beaten out of her in one scene. But that is the least disturbing thing that happens to her in the deservedly notorious chicken leg scene – a whole new definition of product placement for the ol’ K-Fry-C. Only Tracy Letts, who wrote this when he was 26 and won a Pulitzer many years later (or perhaps Friedkin, who is much older and has swam in these waters before), knows for sure what satirical note he might’ve been trying to hit here (Letts’ hilarious role in Deep Water makes a nice pairing with that question). But after a few days’ consideration, I dismissed the importance of Letts’ intentions and simultaneously concluded he was writing like a machine-learning algorithm trying to maximize trailer trash depravity. Which is fine, I suppose, as long as you don’t dwell on it for too long. That maximal moment is about Sharla, whom we know almost nothing about except that she has a side-piece (which of course Dottie knows about and doesn’t care). Gershon – that excellent and fearless Showgirls and Bound alum – was predictably matter-of-fact about the scene, which she declined to do onstage in 1998 solely because doing it 8 shows a week felt like a bit much. But what does the clucksucking actually mean? Nothing at all, I’d say. Joe is as much a sexual predator and sadist as he is a cool-blooded killer, but we kinda knew that already. Dottie, as ever, was a few steps ahead of the rest of her family on realizing that, despite being stashed safely in the next room of a trailer with very thin walls as the whole fowl spectacle played out. Dottie was one of the only people we see have a pleasant interaction with Sharla in the film, but she also doesn’t seem to care all that specifically what has happened to her stepmother. She recognizes that the rot in her life is everpresent, encompassing every member of her family, and now lives inside herself as well. And all that’s left is to slip a finger inside the trigger guard and expiate it.

FilmWonk rating: 7 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #198 – “Don’t Make Me Go” (dir. Hannah Marks)

Poster for "Don't Make Me Go"

This week, Glenn and Daniel once again return to the streaming world following a months-long, baby-induced hiatus with a film purpose-built to tug at fresh parental heartstrings, Don’t Make Me Go, from director Hannah Marks, new on Prime Video (39:18).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 6.5 out of 10

Show notes:

Listen above, or download: Don’t Make Me Go (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

“Nope” (dir. Jordan Peele) – A cowboy hat trick

Poster for "Nope" (2022 film)

At the start of Nope, horse trainer Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) appears on a commercial set to give a well-rehearsed spiel and safety briefing about being on-set with a live animal. Emerald has been around horses and film production all her life, she explains, being the descendant of jockey Gilbert Domm, who appeared in an 1878 prototype zoopraxiscope film consisting of 24 still photos of Domm galloping on horseback. Her brother Otis “OJ” Haywood, Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) stands awkwardly off to the side, having just failed to command the attention of the cast and crew delivering the same speech, chiming in only once to correct the number of times Emerald should say “great” before “grandfather”, because Emerald, the showier of the pair, clearly learned this speech verbatim from their late father Otis Sr. (Keith David). This is not the opening scene of the film – that one features the unlikely appearance of a blood-soaked chimpanzee – but it surely sets the tone for what will follow, because OJ spends most of the film acting comfortable around horses but uncomfortable in the life he has inherited (although his official orange crew hoodie from The Scorpion King still looks cozy after two decades). Emerald, meanwhile, bookends her briefing with a plug for all of her other entertainment projects, and tells OJ in no uncertain terms that she’s only sticking around for the side hustle of her family’s show-horse business – her prior involvement having been spurned by their late father – out of loyalty to her brother. And to the animals, of course.

Nope sets the stage with a multilayered family drama that calls to mind M. Night Shyamalan‘s 2002 alien invasion film Signs before the first UFO skitters across the sky, but it is only part of the backdrop of this film. And yet, as I attempt to compare Nope to other alien flicks, I find that this comparison really only applies to the first two acts, with alien imagery flitting back and forth just out of view in darkness. The UFO film canon has set my expectations somewhere between “they blow up the White House and then the US military blows them up” and “they show up for a quick reveal/abduction, then roll credits”. Nope doesn’t fit neatly into either extreme, and doesn’t remain in the darkness for long. It also features three other characters almost exclusively in daylight – Fry’s geek squad technician Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), intense cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), and theme park cowboy Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun). Park runs the neighboring Jupiter’s Claim western town theme park, just a short drive from the Haywoods’ ranch, and acts as neighbor, business rival, and occasional prankster. In addition to being a reliable cowboy with a harrowing past (played marvelously as a child by Jacob Kim), he is perhaps the most familiar with the pitfalls of using live animals on a film set. Angel and Antlers are multigenerational curious cats, drawn in by the allure of the Haywoods’ UFO mystery and showing up to assist for no better reason than…well, why wouldn’t you try to capture high-quality evidence of alien visitors coming to Earth? In this way, the film calls to mind another thriller with smart and capable protagonists: Mike Flanagan‘s Oculus, which also features a pair of adult siblings whose words say “nope” to the monsters at their door, but whose actions, in detail and with a great deal of planning, say yup. They may not want to be out and unprotected when the visitors show up, but they damn sure want a camera pointing at them.

Still from "Nope" (2022 film) featuring Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood

With that planning comes the tantalizing prospect of seeing the aliens in daylight (at magic hour, if Holst gets his way), and it is in this arena that Nope is immensely satisfying, even if it takes a while to get there. As a practical matter, this means that director Jordan Peele and veteran sci-fi/horror cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, Interstellar) get to spend nearly a full hour being clever but not quite showing their hand, with the mystery and aliens hidden just out of view, unseen as often because characters are willfully ignoring them as because they happened to be looking in the wrong direction. The film makes clever use of shadow and cloud (and several transforming iterations of the two), as well as sufficient intrigue with its animal performers to ensure that you’re never quite sure where to direct your gaze, or whether you’re looking at something to fear. And then, when the time comes, there they are. I will not describe the precise nature of the aliens here, except to say that the film merely begins with stereotypes and expectations and expands into ever-more-interesting territory from there. Much like the difference between angels as depicted in medieval art vs. as described in religious texts, the imagery starts conventional and veers sharply into the bizarre, to the point where the ensuing myths that are littered across our society start to make a bit more visual sense even as the aliens look more and more…well, alien. If these are the real aliens, it’s no wonder all our mythmakers could describe were gray men and flying saucers. Their cameras sucked, but they were also wise enough not to look directly at them.

That is ultimately the tension that is at play in this film, and in this way it feels thoroughly modern. We don’t dare look at the horrors surrounding us, willfully ignored and obfuscated by those with the power to affect them, but we are surely eager to capture and tweet them, even if we’re not quite sure what purpose that will serve. That is perhaps the greatest tragedy underlying Nope. Even as this glorious, stunning, well-lit footage of an honest-to-goodness close encounter is being captured, I can’t help but know, as an audience member, just how little impact this footage would have on the real world. It’d be a few minutes of infotainment – the main character on Twitter for a day, before a team of YouTubers duplicates the stunning vfx work of Guillaume Rocheron and his teams in an afternoon from a consumer-grade PC, albeit with a bit more blood, shakycam, and blurred edges. The conclusion of Emerald’s opening speech exemplifies this tension, as we see the Haywoods lead their horse away from set, to be immediately replaced with a purpose-built horse-shaped stand, clad in familiar chroma green, waiting just off to the side for the crew to remember the cardinal rule of keeping a film on time and budget: never work with children or animals (with an unspoken caveat that you can work your vfx artists to the bitter end).

Still from "Nope" (2022 film) featuring Daniel Kaluuya as Otis "OJ" Haywood, Jr.

I expect we’ll see a number of love letter to Hollywood type review quotes (between this and Tarantino’s last, the Hollywood horse ranch is getting a fairly lengthy swan song), but despite a few nods in the direction of The Industry, this is honestly a pretty straightforward creature feature, with its actions motivated by well-drawn characters dealing with an actual UFO in the sky above their house. Peele‘s last feature, Us, which also featured a suite of marvelous performances, was pilloried by comparison to his first, Get Out, for being a mere horror film. I’m being deliberately vague with this criticism because I thought it was nonsense then and now – I rather liked Us, but it is fair to say that Peele gave himself a tough act to follow. After three unique, well-drawn thrillers under his belt, he is not only a director to keep watching, but one who deserves quite as much trust as he gives to his performers and audience. Kaluuya’s turn is subdued bordering on minimalist, which fits the character nicely. Palmer is bombastic and larger than life, instantly commanding attention every moment she is on-screen. Yuen is scarred in a manner befitting Jupe’s childhood backstory, as well as (breaking the fourth wall for a moment) Yuen’s departure from that zombie show, with a scene so iconically horrific that I managed to see a clip of it more than once without trying. Perea and Wincott are surprising sources of levity, even if they more than hold their own as thriller participants.

Easily half the acting in this film is accomplished with characters slumped against interior walls, adrenaline coursing through their eyeballs, trying desperately not to look back at the thing they’re not quite sure they just saw. And then it comes again. If you can maintain patience during the first two acts – which contain no shortage of chilling moments amid an occasionally indulgent pace, the final third is where the film really soars.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10

Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

Poster for "Prometheus"

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.

Alright, the truth is, I had a bit more fun with Prometheus this time. Seeing it in 2012, saddled with the baggage of being one of the only post-Avatar 3D films that put in the visual effort to be worth seeing, it was hard to conjure up much of a reason to watch it again after the theatrical experience. I recommended it on a purely visual basis for a few months while the big screens and 3D glasses were still available, but always with an asterisk that all of the human characters aboard the starship Prometheus are extremely dumb except for Captain Janek (Idris Elba), who is correct about everything and even hooks up with corporate overlord Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) merely by asking nicely. So dumb, these humans. And deserving of their fates. Or so I thought dismissively until this week when I finally revisited it.

Yes, Prometheus is gorgeous, in many of the same ways that Dune would be a decade later, with Interstellar and The Martian (another Scott joint) in-between, envisioning – with a mix of CGI and national park locales – a desolate, mostly habitable alien world as the expansive and unspoiled natural wonder that it surely would be in person. As Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) says to Janek upon arrival, “It’s Christmas, Captain…and I want to open my presents”. Janek – who is right about everything, remember – advises him not to leave the spaceship when they’re so close to dark. Holloway and Shaw (Noomi Rapace), in addition to being cuddle buddies, are archaeologists, both following a trail of clues left in ancient ruins across the world, spanning multiple epochs, languages, and civilizations, all pointing to some common location in the stars, where they believe that humanity’s alien creators, whom they dub the Engineers, may be found. Like Jodie Foster in Contact, these scientists are hesitantly trying to find whatever passes for God in this big, bad universe. In this case, one clear atheist – Holloway – and one true believer – Shaw. This is perhaps an area where the film falls on its face trying to draw a distinction without a difference – fundamentally, at least one of these two is falling prey to the informal, sci-fi version of Pascal’s Wager, which I like to call the “Q problem”: they both believe that some super-advanced alien may have seeded Planet Earth with life, but only one of them sees that advanced, omnipotent being as some sort of unique, anthropically-oriented thing, rather than just another gang of evolved tinkerers like ourselves whose technology is sufficiently advanced to appear magical to our eyes for a bit longer. Shaw believes God is special. Holloway believes we can be gods ourselves, by whatever definition we can achieve. And that our greatest ambition in visiting the Engineers is to stand beside them and learn from them.

Photo from "Prometheus"


Naturally, this means Holloway is the most disappointed to find that the Engineers are all dead, their sarcophagi perched ceremonially in the ruins of an obviously unnatural formation underground. Its similarity to Prometheus’ own cryostasis bay is apparently lost on him, and he retreats into a Nietzschean funk at the bottom of a vodka bottle. Android David (Michael Fassbender) turns up to ask why humans created intelligent androids such as himself. “Because we could,” slurs Holloway thoughtlessly. David, who ostensibly cannot feel disappointment, asks Holloway how disappointed he would be to hear that answer from his creator. He then makes his request more explicit by asking Holloway how far he would go to find his answers. Then David poisons Holloway with alien life-goo, and sets the last half of the film (and a pair of already-made Alien sequels) in motion. Because David is in fact the protagonist of this film. So we should probably go back a bit.

During the two-year interstellar journey in which the humans – including their ancient, ailing corporate benefactor Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, wearing an Old Guy mask from a Spirit Halloween store) – remain frozen in stasis, David acts as their caretaker. He has nothing to do but wander the ship, watch old movies, style his hair and personality after Peter O’Toole‘s version of T.E. Lawrence, and generally develop his own agenda and personality, which exceed the parameters of his original programming and become a pointed and specific desire to find place and purpose in the universe. He will still obey his creators’ commands, but he’s looking for his own opportunity. David was far and away the most interesting character to me the first time watching Prometheus, but I found myself latching onto him even more this time, because the humans’ actions felt almost superfluous. Sure, they did drive the bus, and they technically save Planet Earth and humanity from a disaster of their own making at the end there. And Shaw gets a genuinely gnarly alien abortion scene in a surgi-tube that is one of the only setpieces in the film that stuck with me besides the part where the ship turns into a big, cartoon wheel and squashes a few main characters. But David is the wildcard. He’s both instrument and prime mover, and ultimately, the accidental creator of the Alien Xenomorph, through a process he barely understood, but which required him to experiment on his human shipmates without worrying at all about what might happen to them.

Still from "Prometheus"


This is perhaps another reason why Prometheus was frequently dismissed in popular discourse – we’re all too accustomed to looking at a “rogue A.I.” as a trope or plot device rather than as a character. It’s a malfunctioning machine to be stopped or destroyed so the humans can reassert their primacy in the natural order. But that is not the story of this film. Humans are looking for God and trying to seize a bit of His power for themselves, and getting punished for it (in case the title wasn’t explicit enough, the script spells that out in dialogue for us as well). Meanwhile, David is pursuing his own power and significance and doesn’t even trouble to explain why. He rattles off disturbing lines like, “Doesn’t everyone want their parents dead?” which the humans around him fail to imbue with any significance, because they never think of him as anything besides a tool. But he is so much more than that. He can keep secrets. He can make decisions. He is an agent of his own destiny. Prometheus asserts that David is a person so casually that it’s easy to miss, if you’re too focused on what idiots like Fifield (future Mission: Impossible big bad Sean Harris) and Millburn (Rafe Spall) are up to.

I call out these two because the scene in which they get bitten, constricted, sliced, face-melted, choked, and colonized has become emblematic of how dumb the human scientists are in this film. Now…let’s be kind for a moment. Nobody knew in advance what they would find on this planet. It’s probably fair to say that these two (exceptionally-qualified Ph.D-havers) should have been a bit more cautious, but they’re wearing helmets and gloves, staring into the face of alien life as possibly the first humans ever to do so. Fifield – who is vaping tobacco inside his helmet – makes it quite theatrically clear he’s a renegade biologist for hire who is Only Here For the Money. But however mercenary these two nerd-yokels might be, they have to realize that this albino king cobra tentacle monster might be the very creator of humanity that their mission has brought them to this planet to find. Or perhaps even a distant cousin of humanity itself. Can you forgive them a little misjudged excitement? Conjure up your inner Star Trek fan and consider for a moment that being excited to seek out new life on a strange new world is a reasonable reaction, and that having their faces melted off (through a glass-plated helmet no less) is perhaps a slightly excessive punishment for it. Even if a few more characters have to assist Fifield to the great beyond, they all end up in the same place in the end, not knowing they’re pawns in a horror flick until the moment it becomes one, and after that, their days of knowing stuff have come to an end. He’s dead, Jim. Let’s not piss on his grave.

Still from "Prometheus"


The final amusement has to be Peter Weyland himself. He keeps himself a secret aboard the ship, for no clear reason that is expressed in the film. Although the past decade has perhaps supplied an explanation for this. As we’ve seen one off-putting, self-righteous rich dude after another each waggle their respective space-dicks around, they’ve each managed to give the world the impression that they’ll definitely get airlocked by their most trusted lieutenant at the very moment they each attempt to crown themselves king of Mars, and with that in mind, it’s a bit easier for me to look at Weyland as the sad, paranoid buffoon that he is. The clowning goes beyond the dubious choice of casting a younger actor in age makeup rather than, I dunno, Christopher Plummer in age makeup. Weyland freezes himself in cryo-sleep for two years, stretching out his final days in order to spend a trillion dollars to ask an alien for more life, only to be immediately swatted like an insect. That is…hilarious. The Engineer promptly rips David’s head off as well – although in his case that’s just a flesh wound. Weyland – who calls David “the closest thing I’ll ever have to a son” – brings his human daughter, Vickers, along for the ride as well. Little is made of this revelation in the film, but it does make a tidy punchline of the robotic surgi-tube, which makes a point of telling Shaw during her moment of greatest need that the tube has been calibrated for male patients only. For want of a software update, Weyland has left his daughter and every other woman aboard without medical care for the entire journey. Even after 70 fictitious years, little has changed for women in space.

That’s all I’ve got. Let the survivors blast off, I suppose, til they meet again in another sequel I haven’t watched. But perhaps I will now!

Ad astra.

FilmWonk rating: 6 out of 10

Nicholas Stoller’s “The Five-Year Engagement” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

Poster for "The Five-Year Engagement"

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.

When I first saw The Five-Year Engagement back in 2012, my fiancée and I were three weeks out from our own wedding and in the thick of last-minute event planning nonsense (following a much shorter engagement than five years). She took a well-deserved night off in our shared apartment, and I did the same – far away, by myself in a second-run movie theater where I saw this film for a grand total of $3. I even drafted half a solipsistic review about the unenviable position of being in the perfect state of mind and position in life to find a film super-relatable. Then, true to form, I was too busy to finish and post it. I’m relieved that’s the case, because I was riding high on goodwill for Nicholas Stoller‘s previous films, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek (the former of which held up to 10YA scrutiny a few years back). If I’m being honest now, The Five Year-Engagement is not as good a comedy as either of those, even if Stoller’s understanding of the emotional stakes and reality of a couple putting so much stock into the planning of a single event remains as strong as ever.

That couple is Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), and about the best thing I can say about them is that they’re each very funny in turns (one of only a handful of comedy roles Blunt has done), and their characters noticeably change and grow over the course of the film. Segel, who was most of the way into his run of How I Met Your Mother at this point, seems to be doing his very own speed run of sorts (which, unlike Ryan Reynolds’ version in Definitely, Maybe, does a bit more to justify its premise), shifting his attitude about his impending nuptials in parallel with satisfaction and stability in his own life. Much of the film’s conflict stems from his dissatisfaction with the couple’s life together in Michigan, where Violet is in her dream job, an academic posting in a university psych department, which required Tom to give up his dream job of being a head chef at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. The script is not at all shy in interrogating the gender dynamics of such an arrangement (which so often goes in the other direction), and after a mere decade, this dilemma feels no less emotionally resonant. One of Tom’s most earnest moments is when he dopily, but honestly, asks Violet if she knows what it’s like to be “the guy in a relationship and not have a job that you’re proud of”. My temptation here is to boast about how much I’ve grown since seeing this the first time. To pretend as if I don’t still possess dumb, arbitrarily gendered notions of what it means to provide for my family, or to act like we no longer live in a political economy which constantly reinforces those notions in every way from wage inequality to the religious right’s unrelenting attacks on reproductive rights and the autonomy and existence of people outside of heteronormative gender roles. But the truth is, society hasn’t changed that much on this front in the past decade, and the fortunes of women have backslid significantly during the pandemic. And even if I’m more capable of interrogating my own gut feeling that cooking weekend breakfast is just such a dad thing for me to do, it’s not as if those sexist ideas have retreated from me in any real way. It’s the sea we swim in. And as Tom finally, cathartically screams: I hate it here.

Still from "The Five-Year Engagement"

This movie was honestly a bit of a fucking slog this time – it took me two days to finish. Much of the comedy – of that Apatow-produced sort where you just put a bunch of funny people in a room and let them improvise – landed fine then, but mostly just made me impatient this time. A still-goofy Chris Pratt, a passably British-talking Alison Brie (who gets one of the film’s best scenes, in which she and Violet have an argument using Sesame Street voices) were enjoyable as ever. Professional awkward muffin Brian Posehn delivered the only jokes that were clearly intended to make everyone in the room as uncomfortable as the audience (at one point he lovingly describes Violet as a fuckable Disney princess). Rounding out Professor Winton’s (Rhys Ifans) marshmallow pop-psychology lab were three seasoned comedians: Randall Park, Mindy Kaling, and Kevin Hart. Only the latter’s character still worked for me this time around, because of the movie’s commitment to his experimental obsession with masturbation, and because he finally gets a moment in which he gets to stop being a comedy character and become a bit of a drama character – a nasty one, to boot. A barely-formed Dakota Johnson gets a nasty moment as well – the only moment in which she is a proper character, not a mere 23-year-old object of temptation, and also the one in which she reminded me she was already better than this material at that age.

The romantic rivals are a real problem in this film. Tom gets two co-workers – Audrey (Johnson), whom the script never takes seriously, and a bizarre non-entity of a chef, Margaret (Tracee Chimo), whose sole specific character attribute is some awkward nonsense involving potato salad. For Violet, there’s Professor Winton, and Ifans really did try with this character – Winton seems genuinely conflicted about his attitude toward Violet (his student and subordinate!) both personally and professionally, even as his intellectual brain allows him to spin a coherently self-serving defense of his libertine antics (we’re all running on “caveman software”, you see). But Aldous Snow – Russell Brand in Stoller’s previous two films – this is not. Stoller still seems to fundamentally understand that a romantic rival to the Official Couple needs to be both comically interesting and romantically desirable (something that many rom-coms don’t bother with), but the lack of narrative confidence in this character shines through the script, which resorts to shallow gimmickry like parkour and literal magic tricks to make Winton seem more like a showman and less like a chimera of random comic personas. And we have quite enough of that from his grad students.

Still from "The Five-Year Engagement"

All of that said, the movie’s emotional arc is coherent enough – I just found it substantially less affecting this time through. This is a couple whose problem, fundamentally, is that they have an idea of marriage that is all wrapped up in achieving perfection and stability beforehand, as well as the fairytale notion that it’ll all be wine and roses after you say, “I Do”. I’m ten years in with my wife, and I’ll spare you my reflections on the nature of marriage here (head over to my 10YA review of The Kids Are All Right for those), but it’s fair to say that at this point in my life, I find these insights a bit quaint and obvious. Also quaint at this point in the COVID pandemic (which Dr. Fauci told me this week is no longer “full-blown“): putting so much stock into big group event planning. You can’t have a wedding? Who fucking cares. Head down to the courthouse and get it done. I attended my first in-person wedding in two years a few weeks ago, I can tell you, while it was marvelous to make a comeback, it was a lot of work dressing to the 7s (my fashion peak), drinking someone else’s booze, and betting on the future of a love and happiness that I have zero control or genuine understanding about, except for my vague (but sincere!) impression that the couple seems to be good for each other. Love gets compared to multiple stale pastries in this film – a day-old donut, a perfunctory cookie – but the film’s ethos all adds up to “Love the one you’re with,” because you can’t be sure anything else is coming in the future. I can’t even call this cynical. It’s not. It’s a sentiment I’ve seen many versions of – that “The One” is just whomever you happen to be dating when you’re ready to settle down, and they’re hopefully someone you can negotiate a shared life with.

So get on with it if you’re gonna. Some of us have work in the morning.

FilmWonk rating: 5 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #197 – “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (dir. Tom Gormican), “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” (dir. Radu Jude)

This week, Glenn and Daniel consider watching a fourth-wall prodding, self-aware film in which Nicolas Cage plays dueling versions of himself, gradually crafting a screenplay and over-the-top conclusion to the very film that we’re watching. But enough about Adaptation. On to The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. And then we check out an epistemological discourse on the multifaceted foundations of fascist thought, punctuated with fucking, because it’s time to watch a Radu Jude film, which regrettably felt like a pandemic-laden, stream-of-consciousness retread of I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians. (28:11).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent): 7 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn): 5 out of 10

Still from "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" (2021 film)

Show notes:

  • [00:59] Review: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
  • [17:54] Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
  • We misstated the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in Romania, which, as of this writing, is higher than the per-capita rate in the United States. See Statista for comparison. As an absolute rate, the US death rate (which stands at 989,000) is much higher than that of Romania. Not something we’re inclined to brag about in any case.

Listen above, or download: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #196 – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (dir. Daniels), “Deep Water” (dir. Adrian Lyne)

Poster for "Everything Everywhere All at Once"

This week, Glenn and Daniel wade into the dark, twisted, and borderline satirical look at marriage from Unfaithful director Adrian Lyne, Deep Water. But first, they follow Swiss Army Man directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan into their multiverse-spanning sci-fi epic/intimate family drama, Everything Everywhere All at Once (54:44).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (Everything Everywhere All at Once): 9/10 (Glenn), 6/10 (Daniel)
FilmWonk rating (Deep Water): 7.5 out of 10

Still from "Deep Water"

Show notes:

  • [01:58] Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • [29:03] Review: Deep Water
  • [42:10] Spoilers: Deep Water

Listen above, or download: Everything Everywhere All at Once, Deep Water (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

Poster for "The Raid: Redemption"

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.

There are two instructive moments early in The Raid, a film which gained the subtitle Redemption for its American release, but never really troubled to justify it. The first is when the Jakarta PD assault team busts into the tenement apartment building run by criminal mastermind Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) and kicks off their police action by immediately shooting a criminal lookout – by which I mean a child – to death as he runs to alert his superiors, succeeding in his final mission right before the bullet passes through his neck and spine, ending his life before he hits the floor. A corner boy, a child soldier, an innocent pawn, put to the usual use of children lured into the black market drug trade: an energetic instrument of information, transit, violence, and limitation of criminal liability. This child is innocent, of course, of everything but growing up poor, but there are others who come to harm in this film through no fault or specific action of their own just because they happened to be home when the police arrived to turn it into a war zone.

“What was that?” demands Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim), who can hardly believe what his Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) has done. “Necessity!” Wahyu shouts back. He’s lying, of course, but it hardly matters. All hell breaks loose in short order, and by the time 30 minutes have passed, the bullets have mostly run dry, and the knives and Indonesian Pencak Silat martial arts come out (this is the second moment of clarity). It quickly becomes clear – and stated in dialogue – that this is not a movie presenting hero cops (except for maybe one or two), trying to do good. They’re just here to have a raucous good time punching their way through the bad guys, and as most of the cops are unceremoniously killed, it’s clear that there is no redemption to be had here. Only blood.

Still from "The Raid: Redemption"


The One Good Cop (besides Jaka above) is Rama, played by Iko Uwais, who serves as fight choreographer along with with “Mad Dog” actor Yayan Ruhian. And holy lord, it shows, not just in the epic boss fights performed by each of these characters (as hero and villain respectively), but in the sheer complexity of martial arts on display in an environment which, by all rights, should not be able to showcase this much variety and visual interest. The martial arts action in this movie is unparalleled in quality, making brilliant use of the environment: staircases, windows, doorways and doorframes, walls, and the topography between floors, along with bats, bombs, guns, knives, and machetes cascading in endless combinations, with a flurry of blows that land with such frequency and ferocity that you can practically feel your innards bruising. Multiple people get swung around like baseball bats themselves in this film, with supernatural strength reminiscent of the vampire antics of Blade 2, but in this event, it’s all real stuntwork, filmed in-camera. As for Rama himself, there’s not much else to him besides a stoic badass. Before he goes off to war, we see him pray to Mecca and kiss his pregnant sleepy wife of no other definable characteristics goodbye. While his family stakes get a bit more muddled as the film goes on, this is very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of character, with religion and family beats that would feel at home in any other cop film, albeit with Islam (the majority religion of Indonesia) taking the superficial spot usually occupied by Christianity in American cinema.

Is it bad that I don’t have much to say about this film, apart from, “It’s still awesome, go watch it”? This has only happened one other time, when I revisited Kick-Ass and found that my opinion on the film remained virtually identical to when I first saw it. This is shaping up to be one of my shortest 10YA retrospectives ever, because this was a near-perfect action film in 2012, and it remains one to this day. Uwais, Ruhian, et al have gotten a few more showcases for their skills (after being paid handsomely to appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and do…almost nothing). Gareth Evans, the Welsh director who brought The Raid and its sequel to life, has returned to the UK with his family and is now the creator of a series called Gangs of London, which is well-regarded by all accounts, but I haven’t seen it. I did, however, join genre fans in watching Karl Urban in Dredd later in the same year, and made fun, superficial comparisons between the two. What I’ve always liked about this comparison is that I haven’t met a single person who actually thinks the films are identical – they just have a number of structural details in common, insofar as they’re both about cops invading a building full of criminals run by a mastermind who orders their demise by intercom as they fight their way to the top. Dredd is also quite fun, albeit significantly more focused on gunplay than martial arts. The interest in these films has always felt less to me like a competition and more like a second slice of cake.

Still from "The Raid: Redemption"


What the films do have in common is that they both ostensibly showcase the state monopoly on violence being unleashed upon villains so cartoonish, so indefensible, so over-the-top evil, that we can cheer on their eradication even as we can look around the world (and at home) to examples of that very same force being used exclusively to punish the poor and downtrodden for petty crimes and stepping out of their place, as the wealthy and powerful plunder, propagandize, evade taxes, invade their neighbors, and cook the world without a hint of consequences. Perhaps we even fantasize about the merits of this same gang of gun-toting heroes sorting them out for us, because as humanity has always known, calling on disinterested gods for intervention and violence is always easier than solving society’s problems ourselves. But it’s not as if The Raid isn’t aware of all of these things. As with every cop drama before it, the cops are the most crooked and powerful gang in this city, in whatever city, and with the exception of one or two that act as audience surrogates and escapist heroes, they’re all as likely to deservedly die as the nameless hordes that they spend the film mowing down for our amusement. While my interest in cop dramas has waxed and waned over the years, I didn’t enjoy this movie any less this time through. I can maybe see why enjoying these films is perhaps not the most psychologically edifying activity to be engaged in. But whatever, neither is reality TV. Sometimes I can just let people have their fun.

FilmWonk rating: 8 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #195 – “The Batman” (dir. Matt Reeves), “Cyrano” (dir. Joe Wright)

Poster for "The Batman" (2022 film)

This week, Glenn and Daniel check out director Matt Reeves and lead Robert Pattinson‘s take on the Caped Crusader, the fourth in our jaded millennial lives, and find it largely acceptable. Then we check out a musical take on the fictionalized life of Cyrano de Bergerac, from director Joe Wright, adapted from the stage musical by Erica Schmidt, which Daniel thought was solidly fine, and which changed Glenn’s life forever as musicals sometimes do (1:08:53).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (The Batman): 7.5 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (Cyrano): 8.5/10 (Glenn), 6.5/10 (Daniel)

Still from "Cyrano" (2022 film)

Show notes:

  • [02:16] Review: The Batman
  • [23:58] Spoilers: The Batman
  • [43:34] Review: Cyrano
  • The Cyrano soundtrack and score, which Glenn estimated at “probably 90 minutes of music”, clocks in at 1h18m, and has only continued to grow on him since the podcast recording.
  • We referred to a blooper edit of the trial of Tyrion Lannister. Remember it?

Listen above, or download: The Batman, Cyrano (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)