Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ “Cloud Atlas” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

"Cloud Atlas" Character poster for "Lloyd Hooks", 2012

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.

“While I will readily admit that Cloud Atlas is not for everyone, I look forward to defending this masterpiece for years to come.”
-Me (2012 Glennies, #1)

I KNOW. Where I normally excerpt a segment of first-person voiceover (and there is plenty to choose from in this film), I just quoted myself lauding this movie. But in the insipid words of publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), what is a critic but one who reads quickly, arrogantly, but never wisely? Just as with Birdman, I reacted to a group of creators showily condemning their haters in advance with a dutiful and masochistic, “Thank you, folks, may I have another?” And Cloud Atlas went even further, pitching its knighted critic Felix Finch (Alistair Petrie) straight off a hotel balcony, before delivering on every bit of cocksure brilliance that moment promised was still to come. After 10 years, I still greet a viewing of Cloud Atlas like a reunion with an old friend, and I have not wavered in that opinion since the moment I saw it. I’ve spent years swimming in Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil‘s wondrous, symphonic score for the film, which I’ve listened to so many times during so many activities that I need only put it on to become tangled in a semi-coherent yarn of my own interconnected memories of the past decade (it’s a thing – try it sometime if you have the memories and repetitive media consumption for it). I’m listening to that score right now, the very same Cloud Atlas Opening Title that plays as Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) approaches Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) on a 19th century beach in the Chatham Islands as we are introduced to the first of six sets of characters and parallel timelines spanning hundreds of years, covering the technological rise and fall of humanity as they struggle against their baser demons, represented initially by humans volunteering to uphold the “natural order” (this always means racism, slavery, and genocide) and eventually by a hallucinated devil figure named Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving), who cackles into the ear of post-apocalyptic Big Island goatherd Zachry (also Hanks) trying to persuade him that being racist and violent is a more important priority than evading Cannibal Hugh Grant (Hugh Grant) and the impending creep of global radioactive demise. Does this premise have your attention yet? Because that’s maybe 25% of it. We also meet Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), a “fabricant” (a cloned or manufactured human) who works as a server at a fast food restaurant called Papa Song’s, in the 22nd century megacity of Neo Seoul, the seat of a dystopian government called Unanimity, a rebellion called Union, and doomed to be “deadlanded” by the time Zachry and Cannibal Hugh Grant are picking their way through Earth’s remains.

Papa Song’s is so thoroughly automated that it’s clear the synthetic servers are not necessary, except to make the consumers feel like kings surrounded by disposable human-shaped playthings as they eat 3D-printed garbage (which looks tasty at least). We learn that the fabricants get a star on their neck for each year of service. When they reach twelve stars, that means it’s time to get recycled into chum – known as “Soap” – to feed the baby-synths. Sonmi explains to us that each 24-hour Papa Song day is the same as any other, which makes it even more disturbing when Seer Rhee (Grant) awakens another fabricant, Yoona-939 (Xun Zhou), the closest thing to a friend that Sonmi has in this place. He awakens her for sex (of the sort she tolerates, but can’t meaningfully consent to), and to get soused on Soap. After Rhee has passed out in a puddle of his own sick, Yoona takes advantage of the hours of freedom that it affords her to poke through the lost and found and see a bit more of the world outside – in this case, via a broken and absurdist movie rendition of The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, in which an actor (Tom Hanks again) plays Cavendish as a rugged hero – “equal parts Sir Laurence Olivier with a dash of Michael Caine” – telling a corrupt proprietor (whose name and context we don’t even know yet), that he “will not be subjected to criminal abuse”. As 19th century Moriori slave Autua (played, somewhat bafflingly, by Black British actor David Gyasi) recounts to Adam Ewing aboard their ship in the Pacific, a slave who has seen too much of the world is no slave at all, as Yoona learns anew 300 years later. That’s the hopeful version, anyway. It can be interpreted just as readily that humans have a particular adeptness at reciprocal violence, with aggression and enslavement being answered with the same, always pointing back to some original sin to justify whatever excesses we feel like engaging in. As Cannibal Rob Corddry (not really, but I couldn’t tell you this actor’s name) puts it while trying to murder Zachry, “You kill Chief. Now you meat,” before failing, and also getting murdered, just as Yoona gets murdered.

Still from "Cloud Atlas" featuring Doona Bae and Xun Zhou

Much like Sonmi herself, Timothy Cavendish never set out to deliver a message of liberation, and yet he becomes the Moses to Sonmi’s Jesus, espousing concepts of the innate rights of humanity that only feel obvious and automatic to us because we’ve had the privilege to grow up in a society that allows us to learn about them. This is about as hopeful as Cloud Atlas gets, suggesting that even as we destroy our planet, kill and eat most of ourselves, and ultimately have to call for rescue from the rich tech bros who peaced out to the offworld colonies, that even if humanity forgets how to be decent to each other for a while, we’ll always reinvent the concept. Just like evolution keeps inventing crabs, humanity’s evolution, at least until we destroy ourselves for good, will keep producing both suffering and compassion. Cain and Abel. Yin and yang. Romulus and Remus. And anyone seeking to make assertions about which represents the most fundamental nature of humanity will find plenty of evidence to support their position.

Does this all sound a bit silly to you as I describe it? Truly, some of the stories openly invite derision and laughter, with Hanks, Broadbent, and occasionally Weaving collectively engaging in a competition of who can be the most ridiculous villain at one time or another. The entire far-future storyline uses a nearly incomprehensible pidgin version of English (if you know one thing only about Cloud Atlas, it’s the phrase, “that’s the true-true”), which is actually quite comprehensible if you pay attention and also never stop rewatching the movie as I have. And there is, of course, all the makeup, which I openly mocked even in 2012, referring to it as “intolerably bad”, and describing the ease with which I could spot a recurring cast member – even in minor, superfluous parts – by just keeping an eye out for the camera lingering on someone with a fucked-up face. We have white and Black actors playing Koreans (including lead Jim Sturgess playing 22nd Century Union Commander Hae-joo Chang), we have black and Korean actors playing whites, and we have some truly baffling choices (like Halle Berry playing an Indian woman in a cameo in 2012). There are broadly two questions to ask about this that I can personally relate to. The first is, “Does the overall effect work for me or not?” The answer to this is yes, but about as well as seeing Star Trek actors in facial prosthetics playing aliens with minor cosmetic nose and forehead differences. It feels theatrical, much like the ensemble casting overall, but it’s playing at a vague enough theme of recurrence and reincarnation that it can keep the significance of that recurrence nice and loose, with Luisa Rey (Berry) reading old letters from Rufus Sixsmith (played in two doomed, lovelorn ages by James D’Arcy) and pondering aloud why we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And yet, I can imagine (and just watched a featurette which confirmed) that the directors and makeup crew must have pondered aloud, “Okay, we have nothing for [main actor] to do in this timeline – how can we fuck up their face and bring them into it?” Which is how we get Broadbent playing a street musician or Zhou playing a bellhop. Each of these oddball appearances (which clearly took a great deal of time and effort to produce) is a bit distracting individually, but as a whole, the entire effect feels like a drama department running around a stage, executing costume quickchanges and inviting their audience to use their imaginations and see the larger world they’re trying to create. In tonight’s show, the part of sleazy hotel clerk will be played by Tom Hanks, and it’s only his third-sleaziest character of the night, so get excited.

The second question is…is this okay? Is racebending okay? Is yellowface okay? Truthfully, I dismissed the quality of the makeup in 2012 because it was easier than engaging with this question in any serious or self-critical way. Can I recommend Breakfast at Tiffany’s as long as I caveat it by saying that Mr. Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney) is an atrocity against both Japanese people and cinema? Am I just being a typical see-no-evil white dude when I do this? I struggle with this question. And I have no definitive answer. Cloud Atlas contains an incredibly diverse cast, but all of its principal creators (including the Wachowskis, Tykwer, and book author and co-screenwriter David Mitchell) are white, as am I. When I’ve discussed this question with friends over the years, I’ve gotten no singular answer for how this aspect of the film makes them feel, and there is (of course) no singular answer to what Asian and Asian-American critics have to say about the film. It would be reductive and insulting to try to sum up the opinion of an entire multiracial cohort to how they feel being…impersonated? Caricatured? Made into a costume to serve some loose metaphysical purpose? If you’d like to see one critic’s biting take on this question, I’d recommend the inimitable Walter Chaw‘s two-star review of the film from 2012. But if you came here to hear mine, all I can do is admit my incapacity to answer this question. If I found the movie insulting or dilettantish when it came to issues of race, I wouldn’t like it as much as I do. But at the same time, I recognize that someone may be personally so bothered by actors playing characters of a different race, no matter what fantastical, theatrical framing is used for it, that they will not and cannot enjoy the film in any meaningful way. Or they may feel so accustomed to being made the butt of this particular joke in a white-dominant monoculture that the argument itself is exhausting for them (an argument I’ve personally heard as well). I can try to understand someone who feels this way. But I can’t feel what they feel.

Still from "Cloud Atlas" featuring Ben Wishaw as Robert Frobisher

Speaking of people I can’t exactly feel like, let’s talk about composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Wishaw), who begins his tenure as a disaster bi with a flight through the window from his lover Rufus Sixsmith (D’Arcy) after a romp in a hotel that’s threatening to call the police for their mere existence – a theme of presumed, systematic oppression that begins here as an artifact of a period piece taking place in an English era in which war hero and computing pioneer Alan Turing was chemically castrated for the crime of being gay, and which has become horrifically more relevant in the intervening years as the far-right has apparently made a strategic decision to brand the entire LGBTQ community as a band of pedophiles. Frobisher also announces that he’s alone and about to shoot himself with a Luger belonging to his boss Vivian Ayrs (Broadbent), and pronounces suicide an act of “tremendous courage”, which is the closest thing to a coherent message that we can wrest from the doomed love story and short, bright life of this emblem of the Bury Your Gays TVTropes page. And yet I love this story. I find it beautiful and deeply touching. I lap up every absurdist detail as Frobisher and Sixsmith smash up a china shop (in Sixsmith’s dream) as the former proclaims in voiceover that all boundaries are conventions, any of which may be transcended if one can first conceive of doing so. As this voiceover and music swells, the couple a few hundred years on in Neo Seoul just gets to have some regular hetero sex about it. As I wonder about what the Wachowskis – both trans, but one not quite as far along – could have been thinking here, the answer is once again…I can’t feel what they feel, nor can I presume they told this novel-adapted story in this way because it was something they personally found relatable. But as Frobisher skulks around the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, watching Sixsmith, a man he loves dearly but has already decided never to see again, climb those same stairs in a doomed effort to save his life after watching his final sunrise, I weep. Every time. Frobisher even told Sixsmith that he’d be there (a detail I only picked up in this viewing). All he needs to do is cry out, and he’ll get the embrace and solace that he so desperately needs. Sturgess and Bae get it, as Adam and Tilda Ewing, embracing each other desperately in the past as their souls could never manage permanently in the future. Hanks and Berry get it, finding their own better natures, and eventual friendship, duty, and even romance with each other as the dregs of humanity shamble into their next adventure. But the queer men get to be sad and stay sad and die about it. D’Arcy returns as an Archivist, and as much as I enjoyed the performance (and was taken out, as ever, by the weird-ass facial prosthetics), his mystified stare at Sonmi as she explains her ideology for the benefit of future Unanimity historians comes with a hefty dose of irony, as they’ll only have about 70 more years to discuss it before they annihilate themselves. It hardly feels like a fair ending for a character who has known nothing but pain in his lives and soul. Ditto Wishaw, whose happiest ending seems to be in a brief appearance as Georgette, managing to have a brief, offscreen affair with her brother-in-law, Timothy Cavendish, finally consummating the never-was romance between Wishaw and Broadbent’s previous characters in 1936.

Attempting to plot a coherent path for the other actors as reincarnated souls is frankly a doomed enterprise. Keith David and David Gyasi begin as slaves and become commanders of the most dominant surviving and well-meaning faction of humanity. Susan Sarandon is and ever shall be, as much herself in each of these timelines as she was in The Banger Sisters. Which is fine. There are some actors I don’t prize for their range, and Sarandon is right there in a huddle with Dwayne Johnson, trading on bare charisma alone. Weaving begins as a slavery apologist and beneficiary and becomes…the literal devil. Grant – whom I haven’t discussed much outside of his performance as Cannibal Hugh Grant (one of the first and best things I mention about Cloud Atlas to anyone who hasn’t seen it) – is simply outstanding as an irredeemable piece of shit in every era he exists in, including as oil lobbyist and would-be nuclear saboteur Lloyd Hooks above, whose pronunciation of “Mssssss. Rey” somehow becomes more insufferable with each recitation, as does his ever-evolving American accent. Grant’s characters are sublimely vile, and the actor must have had an absolute hoot playing them. Yes, a bunch of them had star marks on them, just like the fabricants in Neo Seoul. And that means…something. But fundamentally, some of the reincarnations tell a coherent story, and others do not, and aren’t trying to. Editor Alexander Berner is the unsung hero of the show, because even as this film was making multiple simultaneous filming units and impromptu bits of casting and makeup happen, Berner was the wizard who got to stitch it all together, making a chase in one era continue to another. A bullet fired in one era fly past the shoulder of another. The editing is as fundamental to this film’s narrative and thematic coherence as the musical score, and Berner deserves every accolade he has received (including Saturn, OFCS, and Lola awards).

Still from "Cloud Atlas" featuring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry

I could go on. I haven’t said much at all about the 1973 Luisa Rey mystery (a paranoid thriller whose plot bears an amusing resemblance to a 2005 Doctor Who episode), or about The Self-Serious and Self-Inflicted Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish in 2012, because if ever there were a pair of stories which do exactly what they say on the tin, it’s these two. And yet to the extent that these offer a zany tonal balance to the more serious storylines, I must also confirm these two stories – little more than goofy, pro forma genre exercises – still utterly riveted me. Broadbent plays up Cavendish’s self-dealing narcissism with such a total lack of self-awareness (I can see why he made such great casting for Horace Slughorn) that you can’t help but feel compassion for the character, even as he’s getting – and then getting away from – precisely what he deserves. As Luisa Rey’s neighbor kid Javier Gomez (Brody Nicholas Lee) – the author of a diegetic text summing up this timeline for any far-future readers – prods and then kicks through the fourth wall by telling her that she has just said exactly what a character in any decent mystery would say right before getting killed, you’ll roll your eyes. But then you’ll leave your balcony door unlocked so he doesn’t get stuck out there after jumping onto it after you asked him not to, because like any decent kid noticing a cliche for the first time, Javier fundamentally means well, and sincerely feels as if he’s invented something new. And so it goes with Sonmi herself, who spouts a stream-of-consciousness sermon worthy of a first-year philosophy student about what we owe to each other (The Good Place did this better), which nonetheless becomes humanity’s last great theology, elevating Sonmi herself to godhead status right before she gets crucified. Eternal recurrence.

One thing I have done in the last 10 years is read a lot more sci-fi. To name a few (in addition to Mitchell’s novels Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks), I’ve checked out Walter M. Miller Jr.‘s A Canticle for Liebowitz, a 1959 novel which examines cycles of future history as humanity destroys and renews itself in turns (a recommendation from FilmWonk Podcast co-host Daniel Koch, who hated Cloud Atlas then and ever since), and the only concept that feels dated in retrospect is when humanity invents a room-sized supercomputer whose sole function is translating languages. Cixin Liu‘s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy begins as a tale of distant, nebulous alien invasion, and becomes a tale about humanity taking grand steps into the stars and merging with the fate of the entire universe. Margaret Atwood‘s Oryx and Crake begins with a narrator positing that humanity’s grand experiment with civilization is always one generation away from permanent extinction (and making it clear from the jump that this generational extinction has already happened), because we’ve already mined all of the near-surface metals that exist on Earth, and the technology to mine deeper ones cannot be rebuilt from scratch once it is lost. And N.K. Jemisin‘s Broken Earth trilogy, perhaps the bleakest of all, used similar cycles of destruction and renewal to seal humanity’s fate as not at all worth saving. Sci-fi/fantasy always exists somewhere on this spectrum, both making a guess or an exploration into possible futures, and inviting the reader to ponder how likely we are to experience them. Or to deserve to. Cloud Atlas still has a place in that line of grand ideas for me. Despite all of its peril, doom, and death, its slavery and cannibalism, and its wholesale, self-induced destruction of humanity, it is fundamentally a hopeful story about the power of love and humanity’s better nature. And it’s one I expect I’ll keep coming back to, if only because I still desperately wish to believe it’s true.

Or true-true.

FilmWonk rating: Still 9 out of 10, still my #1 of 2012, and still a masterpiece.

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #200 – “Athena” (dir. Romain Gavras), “Careless Crime” (dir. Shahram Mokri), “Saloum” (dir. Jean Luc Herbulot)

Poster for "Athena"

This week, on the 🎇200th Episode🎇 of the FilmWonk Podcast, Glenn and Daniel venture out into the world to check out a trio of dramas with an accidental common theme of violent revolution. First, we visit Athena (new on Netflix from director Romain Gavras), in which a Parisian tower block is under police siege and burning for answers and justice following the murder of a 13-year-old boy by three unknown men wearing police uniforms. Then we return to the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey world of Iranian director Shahram Mokri (who directed previous FilmWonk favorite Fish & Cat) for a Mobius strip of interconnected timelines all intersecting with the Cinema Rex fire, a real-life arson and disaster which caused hundreds of deaths and led (among other events) to the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 – that film is Careless Crime, and it is newly available for rent. And finally, we head to the watery delta of Saloum for an absolutely raucous African neo-Western (called a “southern” by its Congolese director Jean Luc Herbulot), as a trio of badass, Senegalese mercenaries hide out amid a thwarted escape from a military coup, navigating the strange and violent waters of a mysterious river town (new on Shudder) (01:24:21).

May contain NSFW language.

Still from "Careless Crime"

FilmWonk rating (Athena): 7/10 (Daniel), 8/10 (Glenn)
FilmWonk rating (Careless Crime): 6 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (Saloum): 8.5 out of 10

Still from "Saloum"

Show notes:

  • [02:32] Review: Athena
  • [25:01] Spoilers: Athena
  • [36:02] Review: Careless Crime
  • [58:59] Review: Saloum
  • [01:12:24] Spoilers: Saloum
  • Netflix released an amazing featurette on YouTube about the making of Athena – well worth a watch if you want to see how its many elaborate tracking shots, stunts, and pyrotechnics came together.
  • Thank you for listening.

Listen above, or download: Athena, Careless Crime, Saloum (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

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)