The Bruin—the Westwood cinema where Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate) goes to see herself in the Dean Martin-starring spy spoof The Wrecking Crew midway through Quentin Tarantino’s new Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood—is where I saw Ocean’s 11 (the Soderbergh-Clooney-Pitt one, not the the Dean Martin one) in 2001 and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003. I must’ve seen at least a few other movies there, but those are the two I remember.
Halfway through another summer packed with sequels and reboots and brand IP extensions, it give me no pleasure, none at all, to have to tell you that Stuber, an action comedy from an “original” screenplay and starring two very talented and appealing comic actors in Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani… is just Collateral, only not as good.
Host Linda Holmes is off promoting her already New York Times-bestselling debut novel Evvie Drake Starts Over this month, so Glen and Stephen handled the hosting chores on PCHH this episode, with Mallory Yu and me in chairs three and four to talk about Spider-Man: Far From Home. It is the eighth movie by volume with the proper noun “Spider-Man” in the title since 2002. (For more important data analysis, see my NPR review of the movie.)
Some stuff I didn’t have space to say in my NPR review of Tim Story’s not-very-good new Shaft: The distinctive feature of the Shafts is a shared contempt for crosswalks and a love for walking into traffic. And it’s a shame that after Gordon Parks’Shaft hit big in 1971, newspaperman-turned-novelist-turned screenwriter Ernest Tidyman got right to work adapting his third novel about the Black Private Dick Who’s a Sex Machine to All the Chicks, Shaft’s Big Score!, skipping right over Shaft Among the Jews.
I really liked Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, and I want to like any movie with the audacity to call itself Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but Michael Dougherty’s sequel is dreary drag, man. Good enough to catch on a double or triple-bill at Bengies on a gorgeous summer night, but no better than that. I reviewedG: KofM for NPR.
What a treat to dissect the third and gnarliest John Wick with Linda and Glen and Aisha Harris.
While recommending Brian Raftery’sBest. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, I happened to name one of my most be-loathed movies from that year, the Best Picture-winning American Beauty, while omitting the names of my most beloved: Rushmore, Three Kings, Eyes Wide Shut, and so on. Raftery did not include John McTiernan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair in his book about 1999’s most notable and groundbreaking movies, probably because a remake of a 30-year-old thriller isn’t groundbreaking, and the movie did not have a substantial cultural impact.
But it was was the last good movie McTiernan made, I’m sorry to say, and I saw it in the theater that summer along with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Notting Hill, American Pie, The Sixth Sense, Mystery Men, and all the rest, and I have revisited it on several occasions since.
One of these movies, we’re going to find out John Wickkilled that dead spouse he’s been pining away for, aren’t we? Forgive my cynicism. On the day I saw the new, double-punctuated John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, I walked past the taped-off scene of one violent crime on my way to the subway that morning, and past the taped off scene of another violent crime on my way home from the movie 12 hours later. So I’m not sure it’s correct to call this celebration of ultraviolence escapism.
I sure did enjoy it, though. You can read about my enjoyment and my hand-wringing in my NPR review.
Inspired by Avengers: Endgame, the 182-minute grand finale of the Marvel cinematic saga, I crunched some numbers and examined how blockbusters—especially ones not encumbered by Endgame’s hefty narrative obligations, with so many characters and storylines to pay off—are expanding at a much faster rate than is the human lifespan. I am solely responsible for the math in the piece, and the jokes.
It’s a shame about Hellboy (Neil Marshall, 2019). But we’ll always have Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, 2004). My NPR review of the former is here. But none of these movies are as satisfying as just reading Mike Mignola’s Hellboy stories on the page, if you ask me.
I had a nice time joining the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew this week to discuss Shazam!, a lighter, brighter DC Comics movie that is also… a nice time. Doubtless I got invited on this episode because of the profile I wrote for the Ventura County Reporter waaaaaay back in January 2003 of Shazam! star Zachary Levi, a Local Boy Made Good for whom God has opened many doors, such as co-starring with Bob Newhart and the modern rhythm-and-blues singer Sisqo (“The Thong Song,” peak position No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100). He admires men of integrity like Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson. The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Three, friends.
Shazam! is the polar opposite of The Shield, the early-aughts post-Sopranos, pre-Breaking Bad cop show I’m currently revisiting, which is what’s making me happy this week and shall be for many weeks to come, because I bought the big doorstop blu-ray set with all 88 episodes.
No critique of a long-lived artist is lazier or more boring than “I liked the early shit.” What can I say? I’m enough of a partisan of enough of the movies Tim Burton made back in the previous century that I’m always rooting for him to get his groove back. Alas, his new Dumbo shows no evidence of groove restoration. It’s fine, but any number of hacks like the ones who make DwayneJohnson vehicles might’ve directed this movie for all the personality it’s got. My NPR review is here.
Panzer Kunist is, as I’m sure I need not tell a cinephile and aesthete as refined and discerning and educated as you are, an ancient cyborg martial art that has largely died out by the mid-26th century. More importantly, Panzer Kunst has the satisfying hard consonants of words that were forbidden on 20th century television. It seems like it could work as any part of speech, which makes it especially panzer to kunst as kunst as possible. Panzer Kunst!
On the new Alita: Battle Angel. My review is here.
Serenity is a soapy, dopey thriller from Steven Knight, who’s made some very good ones. Nolanesque ambition, Shyamalanesque skill. With Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill, a fisherman/tour guide/gigolo who lives in a shipping container and dreams of tuna. Here’s my review.
I was moved by Peter Jackson’s World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which uses digital wizardry to conjure empathy, not spectacle. I didn’t have space to go into it in my NPR review, but I wondered how J.R.R. Tolkien’s experience of the war might’ve shaped Jackson’s sense of it. Jackson did spend a sizable chunk of his career adapting Tolkien’s novels, for better and for worse.
We didn’t think I’d actually get to interview everyone I had on my to-interview wish list. That never happens. Only this time it did, which is how I came to have five different voices in my four-and-a-half-minute All Things Considered piece on the animation in Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, a movie I cannot wait to see again.
All of them—producer Chris Miller, producer/co-screenwriter Phil Lord, co-screenwriter/co-director Rodney Rothman, co-director Peter Ramsey, and finally, Eisner Award-winning comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, who (with artist Sara Pichelli), created Miles Morales, the primary hero of Spider-Verse—had smart, illuminating things to say. I spoke to Bendis solo and Lord & Miller and Rothman & Ramsey in pairs, and pretty soon I had something like 75 minutes of good tape for a story that could accommodate mmmmaybe two-and-a-half minutes of that.
It was an epic job of cutting, followed by more frantic cutting, and then more surgical cutting. My editor, Nina Gregory, and news assistant Milton Guevara, showed me how radio pros get things done on deadline. Bob Mondello, who’d suggested the piece in the first place, gave me some vocal coaching in the booth.
I wish we could’ve used more of what all those smart, imaginative people had to say. I wish we could’ve made the segment 15 minutes long. But I’m very happy with what we managed to pack into about 240 seconds.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first good Spider-Man movie in, uh, 18 months! But it’s more than that: A fun, warm, visually astonishing omnibus of Spider-lore that elegantly rebukes reactionary fans whose minds are stuck in 1963. I rarely get worked up over animated films—a blind spot I can neither defend nor explain—but I loved this. Here’s my NPR review.
Creed II is either an inferior follow-up or a superior one, depending on whether it’s a sequel to Creed or to Rocky IV, respectively. (It’s both.) I sure enjoyed seeing all these characters again, but I am, as I say, disposed to view these movies forgivingly. My review of Creed II is here.
We had to do a Pop Culture Happy Hour discussion of Die Hard because it’s holiday time and because the beloved classic turned 30, uh, back in July and because we just had to. I thought I was being punk’d when I got the invitation but I’m so glad it was real. This was the awkward Christmas Eve holiday party/attempted spousal reconciliation I’ve been waiting to be invited to since I was 11 years old. Yippie kai yay, podcast lovers. (My punishingly long Die Hard Dossier is here.)