Fittingly, the month of November proved overstuffed with new films. Yes, that is a turkey pun.
The movies came so fast and furious that even with doing 2-3 reviews a week, some movies still ended up going uncommented upon. However, ComicsVerse and I are so dedicated to bringing the absolute best in movie criticism that we just could not let them dwell unreviewed for too long. With that in mind, please enjoy this November round up the movies that we failed to get to right away.
November Short Take: FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
It is never a good idea to have your prequel series have a more complex and complicated continuity that the series it is prequel-ing. You’d have thought STAR WARS would have taught us this lesson, but, alas, no. I guess it has been almost 20 years. That’s long enough in pop culture to forget a lesson.
CRIMES is the kind of film where good performances end up getting swept up and away by the swirling maelstrom of the plot. It is brutal vortex out of which no good can escape. Strange to see Director David Yates, who has previously been responsible for excellent HARRY POTTER films, be so undone by another movie in the same universe.
November Short Take: THE FRONT RUNNER
There is a kind of fuzziness that surrounds Hugh Jackman’s Gary Hart in THE FRONT RUNNER. Some of it is intentional and good, the way Jackman visibly drains expressions from his face to deny the people he is talking to access to his true reactions, for instance. The point with Hart, at least in this telling of the story, is that he had an almost obsession with putting space between him and the public. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want them to know the bad stuff, it was as though he didn’t want them to really know anything about him besides his policy papers.
Which leads to the unintentional bad fuzziness. The movie loves to TELL us that he’s a great leader, a great thinker. However, it never really shows us. People like J.K. Simmons as his campaign manager INSIST upon it but the closest we ever come to that is a moment where he pushes back against the idea that Reagan “won” the Cold War. The rest of the time it is all declarative statements, no evidence.
The women of the movie, honestly, fair better. In smaller parts, Vera Farmiga as Hart’s wife Lee, Molly Ephraim as campaign worker (and composite character) Irene Kelly, and Ari Graynor as Washington Post reporter Ann Devroy do so much more with less. No one tells us how good, smart, or driven they are, but their performances convey it with every line, every facial expression.
It’s a shame the script didn’t give Jackman the tools to do the same.
November Short Take: THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB
It is odd how out of date Lisbeth Salander already feels only some 13 years after her creation, nine years after she was first adapted to the screen in Sweden, and seven years since her American film debut. There is something oddly retrograde about her after she became a sort of feminist icon after the first book’s release and subsequent ubiquitousness. Like the mix is off for the time…to much concern about her appearance and fashion, not enough about what she does? I’m not entirely sure. I just felt in the theatres, how THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’s WEB seemed so much older and stodgier than Fincher’s 2011 effort or the Swedish adaptation of the entire original trilogy.
It’s a shame because Claire Foy is clearly reaching to give the character shape and layers. But the movie is more interested in an incident that characterization so every step of the way, it takes the easy road to depth or just bypasses it entirely for another shootout.
I will say I did like Lakeith Stanfield’s performance as a hacker turned cool government agent guy. I’ve seen him in three things this year and I’m just loving how he is finding distinct frequencies to vibrate at for each effort.
November Short Take: THE GRINCH
In both THE GRINCH and the Ron Howard directed Jim Carrey starring adaptation of the HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, I’ve noticed a strange drive toward humanizing the Grinch. In the first one, it did so at the expense of the Whos, rendering them the materialistic cruel community they never were in the book or original cartoon. Thus instead of the innocents who delight in the season with or without gifts, they became this insular community that created their own monster through their abuse and exclusion of the different looking Grinch. It was a terrible choice.
Here the choice is less severe, thankfully, but the desire to make him more initially likable is still there. The whole deal with the Grinch is he is supposed to be if you’ll forgive me, a seemingly irredeemable bastard. He literally lacks the capacity for any kind of love. That’s what makes his change so powerful and indicates how loving and forgiving the Whos are. If he’s just kind of a crabby neighbor, well, everything is less impressive in juxtaposition, isn’t it?
The 3-D animation is pretty, the voice work is decent enough. But if you want to adapt the Grinch, adapt the Grinch. Don’t soften him up to stack the deck.
November Short Take: OVERLORD
I do not typically like zombie stories. Especially these days. But I liked OVERLORD.
Part of it is the movie is actually more of Frankenstein tale of science run amok than a zombie yarn of brainless monsters stalking a handful of survivors. The mad scientist elements, the confrontation with one particular villain, and the general tone evoke Frankenstein and Frankenstein-like narratives far more than the Romero-style ghouls of modern zombie fiction. So, perhaps it would be better to think of it as an Americans must overcome Nazi monsters kind of movie.
Anyway, OVERLORD is a goopy, oozy delight. Beginning with it realistically chaotic and harsh nighttime airdrop, it nails the feel of “authentic” World War II movies. It may not be as arresting as anything in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, but it does embrace that kind of brutal unsympathetic view of being a soldier in WWII.
It also is not afraid to use the “a soldier from all different walks of a life” cliche. Of course, it adds the twist that our lead is a black Creole American, not just some white farm boy.
And that’s the essence of the whole movie. It is a World War II-monster mashup that embraces clichés while tweaking them just enough to make it feel fresh. Then it tosses it all with a heavy dose of fun.
November Short Take: ROBIN HOOD
In contrast to OVERLORD which sees its clichés and uses them its advantage, ROBIN HOOD seems to obsess itself with “proving” it is not cliched and thus ends up feeling all the more because it keeps trying to convince you otherwise.
Hollywood is gonna make you fall in love with this public domain hero, dammit, but this is another failing effort.
November Short Take: WIDOWS
Sometimes movies are about too little. At other times, too much.
WIDOWS leans far closer to the latter but even a week after seeing it, I’m not entirely sure if it skates the line or falls fully overboard.
Part of my confusion, I think, is the Steve McQueen directed Gillian Flynn penned caper film seems least interested in the caper part of the story. On issues of race, politics, gentrification, gender roles, and relationships, it seems to have plenty to say. More often than note, it says it smartly and without bashing you over the head with its ideas.
In one scene, for instance, a camera sits fixed on the front hood of a Town Car. We never see Colin Farrell’s fourth or fifth generation Chicago politician as he complains about the trap of legacy. Instead, we watch the neighborhoods pass by. We move from the poor predominantly project housing part of the district to the lush suburbs. That’s where Farrell lives in a multi-story fenced in mid-century colonial. All you need to know about the state of the district’s economy and gentrification unfolds in that scene without a word related to it being uttered.
The three widows plus Cynthia Erivo — late of BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE — as one of their babysitters all give excellent performances. Elizabeth Debicki, in particular, is better than I have ever seen her before. If nothing else, I predict this movie will give a big jump to her career. Daniel Kaluuya, already confirmed as completely excellent, makes a terrifying villain as well.
However, the heist, the thing that got me in the door, is underwhelming. I’m still trying to work out if that makes WIDOWS a nice complex surprise or an overly busy disappointment.