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 >
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 >
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 >
Hannah Arendt long ago suggested that humanity’s most immoral acts might not be so special after all. If the Third Reich’s reign of genocide gave us the “banality of evil,” can any harm we inflict on each other ever truly be horrific? I’ll leave that question to the political philosophers. In the meantime, “The Death of Stalin” submits that history’s worst figures should wither under our mocking gaze rather than control us with fear. It’s an unsettling experience, but a rowdy, peculiar romp of historical fiction.
Armando Iannucci, our preeminent film and television provocateur, pulls back the Politburo curtain in May 1953. The titular event leaves a monumental gap in Soviet leadership. A writer known for lacing his acerbic humor with jaw-droppingly creative profanity reduces some of the period’s most fabled monsters into shambling nincompoops. (Seriously, partake sometime in a Selina Meyer turn of phrase on “Veep” if that’s not a part of your pop culture diet.) Stalin infamously hosted late-night drinking and John Ford soirées for his inner circle. He forced them to really lean into that whole comrade thing. Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi, droll as ever) even keeps a running list of which dinner jokes met with the General Secretary’s approval. A stray remark could land anyone’s name on the secret police list administered by the bulldog-bear hybrid Lavrentiy Beria (a magnificent Simon Russell Beale). His forces, the NKVD, carry out torture and executions with more causal More >
The Sophomore Slump forgives not. The expectations following a promising debut sometimes can spur artistic leaps (see, e.g., Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky). More often for the brash auteur, critical capital dries up on the second try. Just ask Ana Lily Amirpour or Richard Kelly. Definitely don’t ask Michael Cimino, whose third time behind the camera is truly the stuff of ignominious legend. To this list, I submit Alex Garland, the screenwriter-turned-director responsible for some of the most noteworthy sci-fi thrillers of the new millennium. The fine “Sunshine,” the haunting “28 Days Later,” and the sublime “Ex Machina” all set the stage for Garland to up the budget and casting antes in service of a magnum opus. Those expecting his coronation with “Annihilation” will have to wait at least another picture more.
Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, “Annihilation” tells a story far less bewildering than it presumes. Johns Hopkins biologist Lena (a relatively inert Natalie Portman) mourns the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). Kane kept his Army-issue weapons, while Lena traded hers in for a microscope. Having been presumed killed in action, Kane suddenly reappears like a drugged-out Lazarus to shake Lena out of her mitosis lecture languor. In no time at all, she is chatting with psychologist Dr. Ventress (a nearly flat-lining Jennifer Jason Leigh) and signing up for a repeat of the mission that we learn had kept Kane away for almost a year. A force field known as More >
My texts are widely known (disparaged?) for their proper capitalization, syntax, and punctuation. Rarely, though, do I allow the words to speak for themselves. In the Simpler Times™️, I might have adorned iMessages with a “;)” or a “:P,” when feeling particularly playful. More elaborate constructs, ASCII emoticons in nerd parlance, never suited me. Why go through the pains of a “Sup Son” when “:-/”communicated the same ennui with fewer thumb strokes? The moment that emoji–yes, everyone, that is the preferred plural form–crossed the delicate threshold separating tween convos from adult dialogue, my reaction was a decided 🤔. Or was it 😐? Either way, I am now smitten. The emoji keyboard is imprinted on my cerebral cortex in a way that its QWERTY forebear never will be. If there were applications to the Unicode Consortium, I would hand mine in yesterday.
Imagine my delight, the ecstatic 😱+😍, with which I greeted the first rumors of “The Emoji Movie.” Now imagine my face as I exited the theater. No emoji face, hand, or symbol alone adequately reflects the feeling. Perhaps this chronology will do:
😏 (light amusement around 2:00) ➡️ 😬 (visible grimace around 5:01 after the first “joke” landed with a theater-shaking thud) ➡️ 😦 (creeping disbelief through 30:00) ➡️ 😒 (unmitigated annoyance by 59:59) ➡️ 🤢 (a well of sickness, aided by rapid ICEE consumption, rising around 1:00:00) ➡️ 😶 (loss of recognizable human emotion, cut to credits)
Second only perhaps to the prestige biopic, every filmmaker, actor, and other Hollywood hanger-on seeking the mantle of “serious artist” has turned his or head to the hellscape that was World War II. That specific trajectory assumes greater importance for those who established their names on popcorn-fueled blockbusters and action heroism. Even cinema’s mainstream iconoclasts have found reservoirs of inspiration in the European theater and “Natzi”-killing. The conflict proving that its predecessor had neither made the world completely safe for democracy nor ended all wars is tailor-made for silver screen appraisal. The villains were worse than any screenwriter could conjure. The settings crisscrossed continental Europe, North African deserts, the great oceans, and the deep blue skies. Is there any wonder that over 1300 movies have used its narrative to extract the best from the business?
Christopher Nolan takes this heritage seriously with his true magnum opus, “Dunkirk.” Very seriously. Just as his spiritual predecessor Steven Spielberg used the Second World War to break free of aliens and dinosaurs, Nolan invites us to witness his directorial prowess unburdened by comic book flash or CGI wizardry. And witness you should. “Dunkirk” is, hands down, the best genre entry since “Saving Private Ryan.” I might even wager that it’s better.
Leaflets raining down upon deserted streets announce that Germany has pushed Allied forces to the beaches of Dunkirk, France. By late May 1940, More >
You know the drill. Another year, another trip around the sun, and it’s all for THIS. We here at The Parsing Haus are doing it again, shined and primed for a long and robust jaw-aching feed at the swollen teat of decadent celebrity culture.
Join us on Sunday, February 26 for live coverage of the 2017 Academy Awards; bury your hungry snout in our trough of cinephiliac num-nums and popcorn and snark-dumplings and perfect little starfucker sundaes topped with delicious bon mots. It’s a feast. You’re welcome.
- Our live red carpet coverage starts ~2:30 pacific / ~5:30 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
- Our live Oscar coverage starts 4:00 pacific / 7:00 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
So tune in right here. It’s going to be choice.*
* – and don’t forget to refresh the page. On some browsers, the live blog software we use doesn’t auto-update. We’ll fix this someday, probably.
INT. LEGENDARY ENTERTAINMENT’S BURBANK OFFICES – 2014.
ZHANG YIMOU: Matt, thanks so much for coming by to talk about the new picture. You got the script, right?
MATT DAMON: Absolutely, Mr. Yimou, but I only had a chance to skim it. I recently finished shooting a movie called “The Martian.” It was a trip. My character grows poop potatoes and staves off insanity by cracking wise. I can only assume I’ll be fielding questions about whether the film is a comedy or drama for years to come.
YIMOU: Sounds confusing. Well, the head honchos at the studio thought you would be the perfect choice for a legend about the Great Wall of China. Mind you, this saga has no basis in local lore.
YIMOU POINTS TO THE MEN SEATED OFF TO THE SIDE, WHO WE NOW REALIZE ARE THE SCRIPT TEAM.
These three screenwriters and three additional storytellers get full credit!
DAMON: About the script. I have A LOT of questions . . . .
YIMOU: I’ll cut you off right there, Matt, ‘cause I already know where you’re heading. Ok, first, you are the star. Many Chinese actors will be cast, but they will be little more than necessary set pieces. That said, you won’t have to work very hard on this movie. Most of the lines that our narrative brain trust put to paper are three-word sentences. Maximum. What about your character William’s More >
We’re testing a new occasional format here at The Parsing Haus, the Doubleheader — pitting two fearless reviewers against one other in a steel cage showdown of bon mots and savvy! (Or not. Sometimes, we might even agree.) Here’s the deal: CLGJr and Haus both saw the upcoming film Patriots Day, both penned reviews, and only once they’d finished did each see the other’s. Behold, the result. Suffice to say we didn’t see eye to eye this time.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially designates the third Monday of every April as Patriots’ Day. (For some reason, its northern neighbors in Maine prefer the singular possessive.) Bostonians host their storied marathon on that same day each spring, as they have for almost 120 years. The morning of April 13, 2013—not unlike the early hours of September 11, 2001—was by all accounts unremarkable. And then tragedy struck. Bombs placed at two sites along the finish line detonated, killing three and horrifically injuring hundreds more. “Patriots Day” recounts those events and the weeklong investigation without the nuance, focus, and skill warranted. It’s bluntly a mess of a movie, a depressing and borderline exploitative endeavor.
The narrative, known to any sentient person, first crisscrosses the pre-Marathon preparations of an unwieldy stable of characters.
We then witness the bombing More >