A college basketball coach compromises his morality to get the top recruits.
Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Nick Nolte, Mary McDonnell, and Shaquille O'Neal
Review by Jon Kissel
A surprisingly appropriate movie for the immediate moment, Blue Chips scratches the surface of an exploitative and racially divided system, but falls into a familiar trap. The great William Friedkin can’t direct a film that contains the backing of the NCAA and fully indict the system it profits from. Blue Chips is plagued by half measures, doubly so because it’s apparent what the film wants to say and pulls its punches anyway. That’s not to say that there isn’t an entertaining film here. Friedkin gets plenty of mileage out of a cast loaded with non-professionals, while also turning Nick Nolte loose for a wild performance in the lead. Blue Chips gets the feel of the thing that it’s about correct, even if it doesn’t analyze it as sharply as it could.
Bong Joon-ho is a kind of South Korean jack-of-all-trades, in that his movies defy easy classification. His contemporaries are more easily put into boxes, between the psycho-sexual extremity of Park Chan-wook or the mysterious morality plays of Lee Chang-dong or the low-key romance of Hong Sang-soo. Bong is all over the place, often within the same film. His breakout film, Memories of Murder, is a police farce, a ground-level satire, and a deadly serious serial killer chase. He followed that with a comedic monster film, a murder mystery, a post-apocalyptic class metaphor, and an ET-homage, if the government had been trying to eat ET. By being unpredictable for so long, the unpredictability has become his trademark. Wherever a Bong Joon-ho film starts, it’s never clear where it’s going to end. This remains true for his latest and most impactful film, Parasite. The first foreign-language Best Picture winner, Parasite has also ridden a wave of ecstatic critical acclaim, and perhaps recency bias, to feature heavily on end-of-decade lists, all while making a tremendous amount of money over its modest budget. Like all of Bong’s other films, Parasite doesn’t quite fit with what’s come before, but that dissonance doesn’t stop it from being an enthralling exploration of class in a package that is wound like clockwork.
Childhood friends turned filmmakers Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot pour their heart and soul into their debut feature, The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Both natives of the titular city by the bay, Talbot directs and Fails stars in this autobiographical story of gentrification and mythmaking. The former unites the film with similarly themed and located 2018 entries like Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting, but it’s the latter that infuses Last Black Man with a bittersweet romanticism and separates it from the anger of those other films. This is a lament instead of a screed, and it effectively communicates what’s at stake and what’s being lost.
My fraternity experience was valuable in a social, confidence-building, test of skills kind of way, but I never checked an ATM balance after I joined and found my account had mysteriously added a few zeroes. I could’ve got a cherry ride out of it, too, if only I had joined the Skulls, a riff on the Yale secret society that was in the news at the time of the film’s release thanks to generations of Bush family membership. Big-budget schlock director Rob Cohen attempts to mine some cultural criticism out of the aristocratic odor wafting off these kinds of elite organizations, but he surrenders to the impulses he would fully give himself over to in Stealth and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Why make a compelling drama about class when a car chase set to late 90’s dirtbag rock will suffice?
Marriage Story isn’t the first time director Noah Baumbach has taken instances from his life and slapped them onscreen. In The Squid and the Whale, a literary NYC couple divorces just as Baumbach’s parents did and the teenaged kids have to deal with it. Subsequent films of his like While We’re Young and The Meyerowitz Stories are surely infused with Baumbach’s relationship to the younger generation that he’s surrounded by in Brooklyn or with the rest of his family. I’ve seen most of Baumbach’s filmography, and while there’s always some sense of the man himself, especially in the non-Greta Gerwig collaborations, Marriage Story is the one that feels the most raw and real. Baumbach divorced actor Jennifer Jason Leigh in the early 2010’s, and there was likely a point in that three-year process that he pulled out a notepad and started making observations. By engaging in such intense self-examination and writing characters that do the same, Baumbach does that old thing of making the specific into the universal, of finding one couple’s peculiar problems and distilling them into broadly relatable fears and insecurities that most people, married or no, likely have.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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