In John Patton Ford’s gritty crime drama Emily the Criminal, the titular character, played by Aubrey Plaza, is given the opportunity to describe her flailing economic status. One can imagine Ford turning over in his head exactly how much student debt she should have. The number arrived at is nothing to shirk at, but not so much that Emily should feel crushed by it. It’s manageable, or it would be if she could find something that paid better and if an employer could also overlook a youthful felony conviction. Emily the Criminal isn’t a class-based screed or a manipulative piece of poverty porn, but a complicated character study about the limited aspirations available to a person trapped by her earlier decisions. If the world wants to treat Emily like an untrustworthy person capable of little more than fraud and graft, then she’ll lean into it.
Movie stars give high-wattage performances in Adam and Aaron Nee’s The Lost City. Exactly the kind of original adventure property that rarely gets made, audiences turned out for a chance to see its cast do the things that they do best. Sandra Bullock is sardonic, Channing Tatum is enthusiastic, and Brad Pitt is an untouchable action hero who gets mooned over by the main characters, regardless of gender. Combined with Daniel Radcliffe’s sniveling villain turn, the central quartet construct an entertaining cinematic romp through the jungle.
Robert Eggers has made a distinctive name for himself after three period-set movies by submerging the audience in whatever bleak era of history he’s chosen to play in. This applies not only on the costuming/production design level, but in the minds of the characters themselves. Their fears and superstitions are ratified by the events of the film. Their vision of morality and cosmology is depicted without modern judgment. The viewer is a visitor to a world inhabited by humans but a version of humanity completely alien to contemporary values. Eggers has honed a form of time travel, and with The Northman, the illusion is all-encompassing. With a budget far greater than what Eggers had with The Witch and The Lighthouse, every dollar is onscreen in a grim fantasia that is thrilling in its bone-deep commitment to its premise.
The Nicolas Cage persona has been played to meta effect multiple times in his career, but never so aggressively as in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a self-referential circle that allows Cage to portray the mystery that is himself. The problem is that for the film people who are this film’s primary audience, Cage isn’t that mysterious. He’s an actor given to occasional histrionics but also quiet focus, frequently capable of greatness but, thanks to money problems and a readiness to saying yes to questionable projects, has a poor career batting average. Tom Gormican’s film is less about this one idiosyncratic actor than it is about any actor who experienced massive cultural domination and then watched it fade. By being specific to Cage’s experience only in reference to his filmography, it becomes a fun but disposable action comedy that no one would include in the ten to fifteen great films/performances of Cage’s career.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.