Borg vs. McEnroe [Review by CLGJr]

Before Agassi-Sampras or Federer-Nadal/Djokovic, there was Borg-McEnroe. The men’s professional tennis circuit enjoyed a short-lived but paradigm-setting rivalry between these two court celebrities at the dawn of the 1980s. The story was pre-packaged: unparalleled style versus gritty substance, European rigor versus American iconoclasm. Its silver screen treatment “Borg vs. McEnroe” manages to infuse the titans’ first clash at Wimbledon with surprising mystique and palpable electricity. It’s a masterclass in sports moviemaking.

(Hyphens also seem to be my cardio.)

Gorgeous aerial views of the grass surface are director Janus Metz‘ brief, early glimpse of the historic Grand Slam final. He then cuts to Borg (Sverrir Gudnason, excellent) at his posh Monaco digs. This sinewy Adonis, seemingly carved from Swedish glaciers, stands on the balcony overlooking the sea. He is poised to cement his legend by winning an unprecedented fifth straight Wimbledon. But Borg makes look exhausting. He cares little for the besotted girls screaming or the awestruck boys begging for autographs. He is a rock star who wields a different stringed instrument. So why the long face?

Metz swiftly presses rewind to Borg’s Stockholm childhood for answers. Björn’s IRL son, Leo, plays the young prodigy with a combination of outsized ambition and discomfiting aloofness. The adults know he’s talented, but they worry that he may be “wrong in the head.” Young Borg volleys with a garage door, dreaming that he has More >

Blockers [Review by Haus]

Blockers sets out to update the classic prom night sex-pact teen comedy for a post-Weinstein Hollywood. While it largely succeeds in that perhaps noble goal — and includes perhaps the best climactic kiss of the year — with its B-grade jokes and excessive focus on the parents, it falls short just about everywhere else.

John Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz play the respective parents of three friends on prom night — Geraldine Viswanathan, Kathryn Newton, and Gideon Adlon. Instead of teen boys pledging to lose their virginities, you see, it’s girls — hip, woke, tolerant, empowered young women. That itself could have made for a funny premise, if the girls weren’t largely back-benched to make way for unending omg-we-are-so-not-with-it nosy-parent antics.

Hyphens are my cardio.

Setting aside the fundamental un-woke-ness of the core premise — namely, that the aforementioned young women are utterly unable to make sexual decisions for themselves, so their chastity must be sternly enforced by beefy dads and nutter moms in some wild anachronistic fever-dream — Blockers tries to strike an uneasy balance between dick jokes and butt humor on the one hand, and gee-whiz sentiment on the other. This is a balance that can be struck — see, e.g., pretty much any successful teen comedy — but nonetheless hovers frustratingly beyond the clutches of first-time director Kay Cannon. The raunch isn’t that raunchy, progressive triggers rain down at random like an off-target aid drop, and despite More >

SF Film Festival 2018 [Roundup by Marco Cerritos]


The Parsing Haus is pleased to present this HausGuest guest post by Marco Cerritos, fellow member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Here, Marco gives us his rundown and recommendations from the SF Film Festival, on now through April 17. Enjoy! 

By Marco Cerritos

The San Francisco International Film Festival continues its yearly run this weekend, saving some of its best programs for last. Not to suggest that the first half of the festival has been subpar. Quite the opposite. With many special events and celebrity speakers, the festival has put on an amazing show — but somehow they have also managed to top themselves with the surprises in store for its final days. Beginning on April 4th and running through the 17th, San Francisco’s yearly party for film lovers has attracted loads of A-list talent. Charlize Theron and Jason Reitman talked up their new maternal comedy “Tully” to Neil Gaiman and John Cameron Mitchell promoting their sci-fi adventure “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.” That’s not even including other exclusive events that attracted celebrated artists such as Paul Schrader, Alex Garland, Henry Winkler, Jason Sudeikis, Boots Riley, Guy Maddin, Wayne Wang and comedian Bo Burnham, just to name a few.

And the celebration isn’t over yet. For the festival’s final half there are more films in store, including the Bay Area premieres of the Joan Jett documentary “Bad Reputation” (she will be in attendance) and the closing night selection of director Gus van Sant’s More >

Rampage [Review by Haus]


Let us please, at the outset, be clear: Rampage is based on an 1986 arcade game in which colossal mutant animals tear up cities while little army men try to stop them. The film adaptation of this (but, but…) is a full-octane spectacle; it is at once crushingly stupid and supremely entertaining.

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rampage is so vapid, so senseless, so go-for-broke extreme, so legitimately and purposefully funny, so surprisingly well paced, and so utterly dedicated to its strange craft that I have laid down my weapons and deemed it, actually, beyond my reproach.

Rampage is a treasure. A very foolish treasure. You will hate it, at times, yes. But you must love it in the end.

I shall now review this movie. The Rock is good here. Product placement, including the allegedly-forthcoming Ford Bronco, is thick here. Supporting actors (including Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman) are good here. The CGI is, I must confess, good here. Beyond the foregoing endorsements I steadfastly refuse to engage in traditional criticism on what is essentially either a lunatic smearing feces on his padded wall OR a blinding ray of pure inspiration.

Okay, some more dispatches from the trenches: The gorilla, George, is surprisingly sympathetic and at times legitimately funny. The plot is something this same gorilla would concoct if lobotomized and left to fiddle with fridge magnets. Joe Manganiello is in this movie. That prototype Bronco has a mighty throaty exhaust More >

Beirut [Review by Haus]


Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike are downright serviceable in Beirut, an old-fashioned, workaday little spy picture set in the war-torn Lebanese capital in the early eighties. It checks the boxes and keeps things moving, but it lacks sufficient depth, historical context, gee-whiz tricks, or flat-out thrills to really move the needle.

Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a onetime academic, agency initiate, and Beirut station chief. But when a 1972 shoot-em-up upends his life and drives him to drink, he washes up in a drizzly, glum American northeast seasoned with land yachts, smoldering cigarettes, and carpeted bars. He’s yanked from this limbo in ’82 by a mysterious request summoning him back to Beirut. Gone is the pretty city he knew — in its place, a dusty, bombed-out husk. An American has been kidnapped, you see, and our flawed antihero has been asked for by name. (Even though he’s not exactly a spy, and seems to have few actionable skills aside from drinking while sweaty.)

Pike plays Sandy Crowder (ahem – reusing your names, Tony Gilroy? Remember Karen Crowder?), an agency “skirt” assigned to keep Hamm on the straight and narrow. Together (or at least somewhat together), they navigate their contacts in the various warring factions, trying to broker a deal to get the purloined American back home.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this setup, and it plays well, if a little old-fashioned. And that’s the issue: Beirut just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Beirut feels a lot More >

Beast [Review by SpecialK]


All at once, Beast is a thrilling whodunit, a delightful romantic comedy, a woman’s journey into self-discovery, and a dark exploration of humanity’s true nature. It’s hilarious, deeply terrifying, and unexpected. It’s for all you lovers of true crime who have asked yourselves why such awful things fascinate you, demanding that you drum up some stupid, logical, safe reasons to share at a cocktail party to stifle your peers’ confused expressions.  This film throws shame out the window and insists that sometimes, just maybe, bad things are simply and truly amazing—and that’s okay. It’s for everyone who has wanted to give a big middle finger to convention, banality, and routine.  It’s mesmerizing, haunting, and ultimately, deeply satisfying. And it’s just become one of my favorite horror films of all time.

Written and directed by Michael Pearce, Beast is set against the rich, earthy farmlands, foggy hills, and jagged, stark cliffs of the island of Jersey—the largest of the islands between England and France, and a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom. The film is also loosely set against Pearce’s memories growing up on the island in the 1960s, when a serial rapist terrorized the little community for over a decade. The Beast of Jersey would enter people’s homes at night dressed in a rubber mask, pull the victims out by a rope around their neck, and sexually assault them.  He wasn’t caught until 1971.

But Beast kicks off with an unexpectedly innocent approach as we More >

A Quiet Place [Review by SpecialK]


A bronze-faced and abundantly pregnant mother pulls her gray cable-knit cardigan tightly around her flowered dress as she casually leans back on a barrel of hay in a rustic barn. She tucks her bare feet beneath her, adjusting the fresh linens resting atop the hay, the afternoon light framing her face. Her fair hair is pulled back in a soft braid, but a few soft wisps escape as she bends down to offer gentle guidance to her son. He is contemplating his math homework. His dark, curly hair spills over his furrowed brow as he concentrates, and his pressed blue and red plaid collared shirt peeks ever-so-slightly above his bright red sweater as he turns to gaze up and smile at his mother in their makeshift classroom.

Did I lift this almost laughingly bucolic scene from the pages of L.L. Bean’s most recent fall catalog, you ask? Or perhaps straight from a handbook titled Idyllic Homeschooling? Surprisingly enough, no—it’s actually a glimpse into the unexpectedly hypnotizing scary movie, A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s impressively effective horror debut.

The film opens as mom and dad (real life refreshingly adorable couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt) are struggling to raise a family of three in the near future (2020!), when an unexplained alien invasion has left the world marred in its post-apocalyptic wake. We quickly learn that silence is the key to evading the creatures from outer space, but unfortunately, this lesson isn’t grasped soon enough by the family’s youngest boy, who is More >

Chappaquiddick [Review by CLGJr]

By the summer of 1969, Edward Moore Kennedy was the sole heir to the political dynasty that patriarch Joseph, Sr. had built. He occupied the U.S. Senate seat once held by the 35th President and probably thought his remaining brother would become the 37th. Following Robert’s assassination the year before, young Teddy emerged as the last hope for a clan that had suffered unimaginable tragedy. But, as if on cue, the Kennedy curse descended upon a small island off Martha’s Vineyard, claiming the life of Mary Jo Kopechne and nearly ending Ted’s career. We all know the location, and we all know the story. Although “Chappaquiddick” would have us believe we don’t, the film gives that fateful night and its aftermath the Lifetime treatment. It is a pedestrian, miscast, and ultimately tedious melodrama.

With the helpful pretext of an annual regatta, Ted (Jason Clarke, mostly looking the part) joins consigliere cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), U.S. Attorney Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), and a gaggle of former RFK campaign aides known as the “Boiler Room Girls” for a weekend getaway. (No wives allowed!) The assorted guests aren’t playing board games or discussing the upcoming moon landing. Curls of cigarette smoke and crushed beer cans suggest a less family-friendly affair. On Friday evening, Ted tries to coax Robert’s former secretary Mary Jo (Kate Mara) into joining his own nascent campaign. He has none of the preternatural charm or confidence of his older brothers, and it shows. The More >

Isle of Dogs [Review by CLGJr]

Wes Anderson’s consistency is at once his calling card and the reason for, in some circles, agitated backlash. He will construct worlds out of Futura-fonted title cards and fastidiously chosen color schemes. Orchestras will compete with hipster staples for soundtrack dominance. An omniscient narrator will provide clinical commentary. And, yes, there will be Bill. Nothing about this formula has changed for his ninth studio release, “Isle of Dogs,” and yet something has. Wes Anderson got woke.

The film opens with an ancient myth of canine woe in Megasaki, Japan. Dogs once roamed freely but were brought to heel (good boy) by their human masters. Cats became the preferred domestic companion, replacing their mortal enemies on everything from tapestries to government logos. In an indeterminate but dystopian future era, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has taken the draconian step of banishing all dogs to Trash Island, an archipelago with landscaping that needs no additional explanation. The ostensible causes for the mass exodus are snout fever and dog flu, yet Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) is probably one experiment away from developing a cure. Kobayashi, undeterred, sacrifices his household’s own Spots (Liev Schreiber) as the first deportee.

Months pass, and the mayor’s ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) commandeers a small plane to Trash Island in search of his beloved companion. A crash landing catches the attention of an alpha pack whose owners must have worn only Ed Hardy t-shirts and More >

Ready Player One [Review by Haus]


Ernest Cline’s 2011 debut novel Ready Player One was terrific, both an obsessed fanboy love letter to early 80s pop culture, and a futuristic, VR-based, be-anyone-you-want-to-be techno-thriller. A bidding war broke out for the movie rights before the novel even hit the press, and now — the better part of a decade later — comes Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited film adaptation.

It’s a curious beast. Sure, it’s predictably solid, upbeat, and an entertaining ride, but fans of Cline’s novel will scratch our heads as Spielberg strips away many of the book’s most memorable moments.

Looking only at the 2 hour 20 minute runtime, I initially wondered if Spielberg tried to capture and cram in every twist of the book’s plot. I needn’t have worried: In actuality, Zak Penn’s adaptation is anchored only sparingly to the original arc, elsewhere flapping and billowing into parts unwritten (and sometimes unneeded, though not altogether unpleasant).

This much is the same: Ready Player One takes place in 2045 (though the novel’s Oklahoma City has mysteriously been swapped for Columbus), in a glum world of depleted resources, pollution, and stacked mobile homes. Reality bites here, so citizens spend most waking moments inside the OASIS, a colossal VR universe. (Aside: Cline’s novel stressed that kids go to school in the OASIS, business is transacted, and so on; but in the film it feels more like Second Life — a game-slash-chat room, catnip for binge-watchers but an ultimately trivial diversion. I More >

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