March 31, 2022

Even a Taste of “Morbius” is Bitter (Review)

Morbius is the most expensive April Fool’s joke of all time.

Set in one of the now-infinite Marvel film universes, Morbius is an ill-fated venture of a film that gives Jared Leto a chance to redeem himself and his Oscar-winning acting abilities. It’s not even able to accomplish that, though, and somehow becomes one of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen — in a world where Thor: The Dark World and Dark Phoenix exist!

Leto plays the titular Dr. Michael Morbius, a man who’s suffered from a rare blood disease his entire life. His experiments, in hopes of finding a cure, leave him mutated and with an unquenchable thirst for human blood, with the FBI on his tail and his surrogate brother (Doctor Who’s Matt Smith) idolizing what Morbius has become.

March 30, 2022

Travel Back to the ’60s in Linklater’s Magical “Apollo 10½” (Review)

I wasn’t alive during the moon landing, but sometimes I wish I had been. To be a part of history, even in an observatory fashion, must have been remarkable — but let’s be honest: what kid wouldn’t have wanted to do even more?

Enter Stanley, played by Milo Coy, the protagonist of Richard Linklater’s new film Apollo 10½. At the very start, Stanley is lifted from the playground and recruited directly by the United States government for a top-secret mission. They’ve accidentally built the initial lunar module too small, and they need someone to take it to the moon as a test run for the upcoming Apollo 11 launch.

“Everyone was doing something for NASA, one way or another.”
Image courtesy of Netflix

But that’s not what Apollo 10½ is really about. Through Stanley and his family, we get a powerful sense of the culture in the late 1960s. The Space Race was going strong, hatred and fear were high for the Soviet Union, and there was a hopeful change in the social consciousness brewing that indicated everything would be shifting sooner rather than later. This is how my father grew up, and based on what I know, I believe this is the best representation of the time period that’s ever been put to screen. It makes perfect sense that it’s partially based on Linklater’s own upbringing, seeing as he would have been eight years old at the time of the moon landing.

March 29, 2022

Marvel’s “Moon Knight” Doesn’t Pull Punches, and is Better for It (Review)

This review does not contain spoilers for Moon Knight. However, if you wish to go in completely blind, it’s probably best to come back to this page tomorrow.

It’s a fun exercise in vagueness to review a Marvel series that no one else has seen yet, but I must say that you’re in for a wild ride with Moon Knight.

I’ve heard this said, pre-release, about every Marvel Cinematic Universe film and series, but Moon Knight is unlike anything they’ve ever done before. A six-episode standalone miniseries that vastly limits its connections to the overall MCU is something not often seen, especially with the size of the ever-expanding universe of stories. Its autonomy isn’t the only thing that makes it great, but it’s an excellent start, and eliminates any distracting fan service and lets us focus on the characters we should be familiarizing ourselves with.

The Lenient Critic Podcast Episode 19: The 94th Academy Awards

Heath Lynch rejoins Rowan to discuss one of the more interesting Academy Awards in recent years -- but it’s really all because of one moment. Of course, they’ll also discuss the winners, what should have won, if the hosting strategy was successful, and what’s up next.

Dont forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

March 26, 2022

“Human Resources” is a Workplace Comedy with a Big Mouth (Review)

Google has decided that the genre of Netflix’s Human Resources, a spinoff of their hit animated series Big Mouth, is “ribaldry.” They don’t label it as a sitcom (which it absolutely is), and there’s no hint of it being an adult animated series. Their use of “ribaldry” is accurate, though — like its parent series, Human Resources is a foul-mouthed and indelicate series that explores the complexities of human emotions through their physical representations.

Image courtesy of Netflix

A spiritual successor to Big Mouth Season 5’s shattering of the fourth wall, Human Resources brings back many characters from Big Mouth, most of them monsters that influence and symbolize the feelings of the humans they’re assigned to. Human Resources isn’t so much about the humans, as its parent series is, but instead covers the interpersonal lives and relationships between the monsters, structuring itself as a more straightforward sitcom.

The Lenient Critic Podcast Episode 18: Turning Red, The Adam Project, X, Deep Water

The metaphors in Turning Red are not exactly subtle, but does that bring down the film? Rowan discusses this with our new guest Robert Bouffard, co-editor of SiftPop! Together, they discuss Turning Red, Netflix sci-fi action The Adam Project, A24 horror X and Deep Water, a film that has somehow not aged well despite only just now being released. Plus, their top five A24 films, and what they’ve been watching lately.

Dont forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

March 25, 2022

“The Lost City” is Better Left Buried (Review)

Of the wonderfully ridiculous films to premiere at South by Southwest this year, I had the least hope for The Lost City. A comedy with extreme Romancing the Stone undertones, The Lost City begins as Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), a romance author who has descended into a spiral of depression ever since the passing of her husband, embarks on a tour for her latest novel — one that she desperately hopes will be the last. Things, of course, don’t go as planned, and Loretta is kidnapped by billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who believes that the treasures Loretta writes about are real…and she’s the key to finding them.

Channing Tatum plays Loretta’s cover model Alan Caprison, who goes to rescue our main character after she goes missing. Alan may believe that he is actually Dash, the fictional hero around which Loretta’s book series is based. I think the film may have worked better, beyond its surface level, if it played into that a little bit more and made Tatum more than just a relatively dimwitted romantic lead. We know he has the acting chops, and we’ve seen him utilized well before, so unfortunately I found myself underwhelmed by his presence in The Lost City.

March 23, 2022

A Selection of South by Southwest Film Festival 2022 Reviews

I was once again given the chance to attend a virtual film festival this past week as South by Southwest (commonly styled as SXSW) held its latest film, music and technology convention in-person in Austin, Texas, with a virtual component so those who were unable to make it were still able to publicize the festival and its films.

I covered the festival for The Invention of Dreams, so I will not be able to print my full reviews here but I will instead redirect you to my reviews on the aforementioned site. Many of the films, including the headliners (Everything Everywhere All At Once, The Lost City, X, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and more) were only shown in-person, but those will all be reviewed in some respect on The Lenient Critic in the future. I was able to see five film premieres, with a wide range of subjects, stars and genres. Without further ado, here are a selection of my reviews from the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

March 18, 2022

The Lenient Critic Podcast Episode 17: The Batman SPOILER Discussion

The Batman is the first superhero film of 2022, but it’s been a long time coming, so can it live up to expectations? Rowan assembles a team to give you the answer. Returning guests Alice Ginevra-Micheli and Heath Lynch are joined by Shane Conto, the Wasteland Reviewer, as they break down DC’s monster-sized, three-hour Batman experiment, discussing subtle themes, the cast, the bombastic score and much more. 

Dont forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

March 13, 2022

“Turning Red” Begins a New Era of Pixar (Review)

I always appreciate when animated movies are willing to get a little more adult, while still staying true to their values and producing films that can be enjoyed by everyone. Cars was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, and now thousands of young Pixar fans, myself included, have passed into adulthood. I have been able to understand a lot of the adult-oriented jokes for years, but 2022, sixteen years since Cars, is the first time I’ve seen an entire Pixar movie that centers itself around a theme that may not be entirely kid-friendly — and I am absolutely here for it.

Image courtesy of Pixar

From the director of Bao, one of the best Pixar shorts ever made, comes Turning Red. Set in 2002, the film follows Mei (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a young Chinese-Canadian girl whose puberty takes on an interesting form — whenever she experiences strong emotions, including excitement or anger, she transforms into a giant red panda.

The metaphor isn’t exactly subtle — “my panda, my choice!” — but it doesn’t need to be. Like any good Pixar coming-of-age film, it’s brutally honest (in a PG way) about children growing up. They’re going to be mean to their parents, they’re going to drift away from what they used to enjoy doing, and they’re going to be awkward as hell — in fact, I’m pretty sure a lot of the excuses that Mei gives to her parents are word-for-word what I’ve said to mine. As someone who’s still not very far from that point in my life, I appreciated the sincerity of its portrayal here.

March 12, 2022

“The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey” Examines its Subject Matter with Care and Respect (Review)

There's something perversely odd about Samuel L. Jackson playing a character much closer to his age, as opposed to effortlessly pulling off the look and feel of a man thirty years his junior. Actually, we get both from Jackson in Apple TV+’s new series The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, based on a novel by Walter Mosley. Jackson plays (you guessed it!) Ptolemy Grey, an aging man with crippling Alzheimer’s, in the present of 2021 and in some flashbacks — and if there’s anyone who makes 93 look stunning, it’s him. In a flashback, all they have to do is slap a mustache on his face, and he can play 46 just as easily.

Image courtesy of Apple TV+

But I digress. Last Days centers around Ptolemy, picking up shortly before a tragic event forces him to not only take on a new caretaker, but also leads him to be a trial patient for a new drug that gives him the lucidity he’s been lacking for many years. With the limited time he has with a clear head, Ptolemy decides to track down the man responsible for his nephew’s death, all while dealing with exploitative family members, unwelcome childhood memories, and perhaps even a new love interest.

There’s a certain universal emotional resonance in The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey that I thought was absolutely fascinating — the fear of Ptolemy’s condition, losing most of your treasured memories and knowledge, is something many have at some point in their lives. And while Last Days is optimistic about the future of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, I couldn’t shake the feeling of impermanence — but perhaps that’s just me projecting and pondering my own mortality, as I’m wont to do.

March 11, 2022

The Lenient Critic Podcast Episode 16: Cyrano, The Batman, Fresh

Image courtesy of Hulu

Is Fresh as good as its title promises? Rowan thinks so, and so does our NEW GUEST this week, Ian Whittington (Behind the Sins, Captain’s Pod). Together, they discuss Fresh, Cyrano, and the coveted new superhero epic The Batman, which everybody (except one particular podcast guest) seems to absolutely love. Plus, their top five loosely-defined superhero solo movies, and what they’ve been watching lately. 

Dont forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

March 10, 2022

Future-Focused “The Adam Project” is a Love Letter to the Past and the Present (Review)

With Netflix, it’s hard to know what exactly qualifies as a “hit,” but what’s undeniable is that Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Levy are proving to be quite the dynamic duo. Free Guy was a bona fide hit, and if they can follow that up with another hit, they can do anything!

Image courtesy of Netflix

That follow-up is The Adam Project, a science-fiction comedy all about daddy issues. Well, sort of. In 2022, Adam Reed (Walker Scobell), a twelve-year-old constantly bullied in school, is still dealing with the death of his father only a year before. Ryan Reynolds plays Adam’s future self, who arrives from 2050 with a mission that could either save or destroy the fabric of reality.

The casting is picture perfect. Scobell is a miniature Ryan Reynolds, which makes scenes between the two especially fun. Sure, Reynolds is playing into type, but that’s far from a bad thing — like most of his movies, he is able to make The Adam Project effortlessly charming, and I don’t see this movie working quite as well with anyone else in the lead. Mark Ruffalo plays Adam’s father Louis in a more sizable role than you might expect, and the interactions he has with other characters are a true delight. Jennifer Garner plays Adam’s mother, and Zoe Saldaña is Laura, his girlfriend from the future. Casting name actors can be a crutch, but for The Adam Project it’s a strength.

March 8, 2022

In “Studio 666,” Blood and Gore Make a Memorable Foo Fighters Experience (Review)

A few weeks ago, if you asked me to name one Foo Fighters song, I wouldn’t have been able to — in fact, I still can’t. But the release of Studio 666, the first non-documentary film to feature the Foo Fighters, certainly increased my appreciation for them. There’s just no way watching a band have a good time while making a ridiculous horror/comedy can’t be a ton of fun.

To make their tenth album, the Foo Fighters (all playing themselves) move into an abandoned mansion, the site of a grisly massacre almost thirty years beforehand. Supernatural forces begin to interfere with the album, and the band begins to suspect that one of them might be possessed.

It’s an inspired, if very surface-level story, essentially leaving the door open to any silly (and some genuinely terrifying) scares. For a small-budgeted film, it looks absolutely fantastic, and Studio 666 makes full use of both its location and cast (which includes Whitney Cummings, Will Forte, Jeff Garlin and Leslie Grossman, alongside a host of weird and unpredictable cameos).

March 6, 2022

“Winning Time” Shows us the Rise of the Lakers Dynasty Through Adam McKay’s Eyes (Review)

I’ve never been much of a sports person, so the world of basketball is almost completely foreign to me. I can explain some of the basic rules, and I could name a few players. It just so happens that most of them have roles in HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.

Image courtesy of HBO

Taking place in the 1980s, Winning Time is an unfiltered dramatization of the highs and lows of what I am told is an absolutely legendary basketball lineup. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Norm Nixon and Larry Bird (some of the only players I could name off the top of my head) are all a part of this story, with the first episode heavily featuring Magic’s decision to go pro and his heavy negotiation to join the Lakers.

March 5, 2022

Outback Western “The Tourist” is the Perfect Jamie Dornan Vehicle (Review)

There will be a certain point where we’re going to have to stop identifying some actors purely by one of their past projects which may not have been received very well. It doesn’t typify their strong suits, and it’s not fair to their future careers. Just like Robert Pattinson has proved everyone wrong with his Batman turn, Jamie Dornan is no longer the “Fifty Shades guy,” and has continued his Belfast and Barb and Star streak with the internationally co-produced miniseries The Tourist.

Image courtesy of the BBC

Dornan plays an Irish man who, while visiting Australia, is run off the road by a pickup truck seemingly without reason. When he wakes up in the hospital, he’s unable to remember his own name or any details about his life. What becomes abundantly clear is that someone is after The Man, trying to get revenge for something The Man did in his mysterious past.

March 4, 2022

Modern Horror Continues to Stay “Fresh” (Review)

There are certain movies that are best when you go in completely blind. I managed to do that with classics like Get Out and The Godfather, and they were all the better because of it. Fresh, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is one such film. Immediately beforehand, it was picked up for distribution by Hulu, and I’m glad we’re all able to see it so soon. This isn’t one that deserves to be shuttered and stored for years before an eventual release.

Image courtesy of Hulu

Our lead is Noa (Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones), who’s trying to make it on the dating scene. A supermarket meet-cute leads her to start seeing Steve (Captain America’s Sebastian Stan), who seems almost too good to be true. The relationship doesn’t prove to be what she’s looking for, though…in quite a dangerous way. I’ll just leave it there.

First of all, the two central performers should be enough to sell this movie on their own. Edgar-Jones and Stan are incredible, and seeing as we spend nearly eighty percent of the movie’s runtime with them, they’re appropriately charismatic and both dominate the screen non-aggressively. It helps that they’re immaculately shot in brilliantly edited and extremely purposeful scenes — everyone, in front of and behind the camera, gave it their all, and it definitely shows.

March 2, 2022

“The Batman” Brings the Bat Back to the Basics (Review)

The Batman. Now there’s a powerful title if I’ve ever seen one. Just like its story, it brings the Caped Crusader back to his detective roots, with a clean slate that doesn’t have to live up to the standards of an already-established cinematic universe. Directed by the impeccable Matt Reeves, The Batman reinvents the DC film universe once again, bringing in an entirely new cast and managing to differentiate itself by telling a story completely its own.

Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) isn’t doing much for Gotham City, but his alter ego The Batman is, fighting crime by night and day alongside police officer Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). A web of political conspiracy, reaching from the lowest depths to the highest offices of Gotham, comes to light when the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins to cause chaos by targeting government officials.

What separates The Batman from the rest is the fact that it doesn’t feel the need to be a straight action movie all through its nearly three-hour runtime. Batman stands still and untangles the mystery more than he beats up bad guys (though there’s plenty of that), but The Batman isn’t afraid of taking its time establishing tension and hinting at future twists, which is, honestly, why it’s three hours long. But that’s less of a problem and more of an attribute — I absolutely loved its commitment to setting the tone and making sure all of the puzzle pieces are put into place before the story really gets going.