Ford v Ferrari

Twentieth Century Fox

Movies have loved fast cars for as long as there have been movies. As a child, I heard my Dad talk about the car chases in The French Connection and Bullitt with such reverence, I considered them the gold standard (which they arguably are) before I ever saw them. Fast forward forty years and fast cars are still this nation’s cinematic obsession, with the Fast and the Furious franchise now in its tenth incarnation. It makes sense that car movies are so ubiquitous, since men generally are the ones who make movies and the two things men seem to universally love, other than women, are sports and cars. There have been hundreds of movies about cars and racing, and even more that somehow find a way to squeeze a car chase in for no reason. Cars and movies are intrinsically tied. You can’t have a James Bond movie without a car chase. James Dean died in a car crash. Paul Newman, Tom Cruise and Steve McQueen all were famous actors who dabbled in car racing as a hobby and all made movies about racing. So it’s no surprise that there will always be new movies about thrills on four wheels. The trick at this point is to make one that feels original.

I had high hopes for Ford v Ferrari, the new movie from director James Mangold about Ford Motor Company’s obsession with finding ways to compete with dominant Ferrari on the racetrack in the ‘60s. Mangold, who has directed critically and commercially acclaimed movies such as 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line and Logan, is someone who knows how to make movies for and about men and their passions. His specialty is flawed, obsessive and often conflicted anti-heroes. While Ford v Ferrari follows in the Mangold tradition of masculinity gone somewhat awry, it unfortunately can’t live up to some of his past movies, despite stellar performances from its leads.

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The Report

Amazon Studios

Much of the controversy surrounding the new movie Joker is based on the public’s seeming distaste for watching a movie that reminds us too much of the world we’re living in now, one that can be dark, cold and cruel. We are supposed to escape when we go to the movies, right? Well, in Joker’s case, sometimes the job of the movie is to be a commentary on modern society and the effects it can have on the individual. And then there are the kinds of movies which offer neither an escape nor a commentary, but instead are dramatic re-tellings of real events, their purpose being to tell the story of someone or something that may have changed the course of history, or, in the case of the docudrama The Report, shine a light on something that had, until then, been in the dark.

There is no escaping in The Report. Writer/director Scott Z. Burns’ analytical deep dive into the investigation of the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program by a staffer of Senator Dianne Feinstein is just as current and flavorless as it sounds. Annette Bening plays Feinstein and Adam Driver plays Daniel J. Jones, who is tasked with looking into the claims that the CIA may have been subverting the Department of Justice mandates against torture while interrogating captured suspected Al Queda fighters. While the details of the report and their findings are fascinating (and truly terrifying), the drama of The Report comes from the political infighting that occurred within our own system, where it seemingly was every agency for itself in a cover-up that ran so deep, the bottom still may never be known.

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Jojo Rabbit

Fox Searchlight

Director Todd Phillips, known for comedies such as Old School, Road Trip and The Hangover trilogy recently made headlines during the press tour for his current movie, the drama Joker, by saying he decided to stop making comedies because “woke culture is ruining comedy.” Thank goodness Taika Waititi doesn’t agree.

Unlike Phillips, writer/director/producer/star of the new subversively and decidedly risky and darkly satirical movie Jojo Rabbit, Waititi thrives on pushing the envelope and challenging—and trusting—his audience to be able to handle subject matter that is eyebrow-raising, and to be able to appreciate the joke. While some may be shying away from doing risky work that may ruffle feathers, Waititi goes all in with a movie that is one of the most daring and committed satires I’ve ever seen.

I don’t want to say too much about it, because it should be experienced as an unexpected ride, but I will paint the picture for you in broad strokes. Waititi has made a movie that is a (dark) comedy about Hitler, Nazis and World War II. I know it’s been done before, most notably by Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin, so it’s not like this is groundbreaking stuff. But Waititi’s ability to raise it above farce is what makes this film feel so different. It is a bold and irreverent satire which mocks the Nazis and Hitler, but it also tells a deep and moving story against a backdrop of war. It is equal parts goofy and tragic, outrageous and sweet, heartfelt and horrific. And the Nazis are only a part of it.

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Joker

Warner Bros

I was resisting seeing Joker for some reason. But then I gave in, all the talk of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and the fact that it will soon pass Deadpool to be the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time made me curious.

I should’ve listened to my gut.

Roger Ebert once published a compilation of his bad reviews called “I Hated Hated Hated This Movie.” I think I’ve got the first chapter of my version.

The buzz about Joker has been evenly divided between masterpiece and piece of crap. All I can say is I am at a complete loss as to how anyone could have enjoyed a single moment of this movie, let alone call it a masterpiece.

Joker is the dreariest, most mind and soul crushing movie experience I’ve had in a long time, if ever. I haven’t come this close to walking out of a movie since Requiem for a Dream. I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about this movie than I have to —as it is, I need a shower—so let me just sum it up for you: DO NOT GO. It is a relentless exploration of human misery, a painful descent into madness with no let up and no payoff.

What really pisses me off is Phoenix is a great actor and I suppose what he is doing here is great, too, but there is no modulation to his performance. He is all out maniacal from the first shot and all you can do is squirm in your seat and hope your skin stops crawling. I realize that’s what they were going for, but it’s not how a normal person wants to spend two hours.

In all fairness, I realize that Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight was insane and twisted, too. The difference between Ledger and Phoenix, though, is that Ledger was entertaining, watchable and textured. Phoenix’s Joker is just all twisted—darkness has enveloped this performance so fully, you will have to fight hard to not get sucked in. It’s just not my idea of a good time.

I had enough of it after 10 minutes and it only got worse. Please, do yourself a favor and spend your time doing almost anything else. Life is seriously too short.

Parasite

Neon

I’m not a filmmaker, but I would imagine that every director’s ultimate aspiration is to make a movie that is everything a movie can be. But is that even possible? Is it possible for any single movie to be all things at once: socially conscious, morally perplexing, layered, inventive, complicated, universal, accessible, funny, serious, scary, dramatic, weird, heartbreaking, tense, thrilling, violent, sweet, fast-paced, beautiful, well-acted, well-written and entertaining? Can you even think of a movie that covers all of that? The closest and most recent one that I can think of is Get Out, Jordan Peele’s masterpiece from 2017. Well, I’m not calling Parasite this year’s Get Out, but it’s not the worst comparison. Let me put it this way: I thought it would be a long time until I saw a movie that was as many things as Get Out was and achieved it in as such a perfect way, but here I am, just two years later and another perfect movie has arrived. And we totally should have seen it coming.

Writer/director Joon Ho Bong has been building up to this. His slate of films has slowly increased in critical attention, from Memories of Murder in 2003 to The Host in 2006 to Mother in 2009 to Snowpiercer in 2013 to Okja in 2017, Bong has been building a catalog of films that keeps getting stronger and while each film shone a brighter spotlight on the genius of Bong by cinephiles and critics, he still was far from being a household name. His latest film, Parasite, just might change all that. If there is any justice in the world at all, Parasite will finally be the film that recognizes Bong as the master filmmaker he is and officially serve notice to Mexico that Korea just may be taking over as the new home of master film auteurs.

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