I knew going in to American Underdog, the movie about the life of former NFL star Kurt Warner, that I wasn’t going to be watching an Oscar contender, but what I didn’t realize was how much it would feel like a faith-based Hallmark movie. The film has an inconsistent main metaphor in which Kurt’s coaches tell him to stay in the pocket, even though he only ever has success when he ventures out, and you could basically call this, Platitudes: The Movie. As well, it’s unclear whether the movie is trying to say that some people are born specially chosen by God, we make our own success through hard work, or a mix of both. It’s a have-its-cake-and-eat-it-too situation.
But even though Dennis Quaid gives his best attempt at doing Harrison Ford in 42, Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin are both solid as Kurt and his wife Brenda. They’re enough to make the movie at the very least watchable, since it does have a good amount of heart and sincerity behind it. The football sequences are some of the best I’ve seen since Moneyball, which adds a bit of excitement amidst the eye rolls. And even though you never understand why this is called American Underdog (he lives in America, and that’s about as far as the movie ever goes in exploring the idea), this is a subpar, but still not terrible family film with good values inside.
The Night House
I’ve been hearing praises of The Night House for months, but since it was distributed by Searchlight Pictures, it was out of local theaters just days after it arrived. So with the year winding down, I forked over $4.99 and rented it on iTunes. Maybe I set my expectations too high, but I didn’t quite love this movie. Don’t get me wrong, Rebecca Hall is incredible, but I didn’t really find the film to be saying anything new. It’s about grief, tragedy, and understanding the people we love, but I wasn’t particularly saying anything about these ideas in a particularly gripping way. The Night house is better than a good amount of horror that I’ve seen lately, and it feels like a mix of Black Bear and The Invisible Man; it just couldn’t all come together for me.
If you loved Best Documentary Feature-winner Free Solo in 2018, then there’s a good chance you’ll get at least some of the same enjoyment out of The Alpinist, the story of Marc-André Leclerc. Featuring some interview footage from Alex Honnold himself (the subject of Free Solo), The Alpinist shows the life of someone even more camera- and attention-averse than Honnold. Leclerc is an interesting subject, but due to him not wanting the attention that having a documentary made about him might bring, the footage that the filmmakers got is not nearly as exciting or dynamic as it could be. That being said, the story on display is incredibly compelling, and since the film is on Netflix at the moment, it’s wholly worth a watch.
It might just be that I’m becoming jaded at this point, but “appreciate the little things” movies have to absolutely blow me away for me to love it anymore. Soul did it in 2019 and About Time is one of my favorite movies, but Nine Days was missing that ever-elusive special stuff. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, because it was! It was probably great, in fact. It has Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale, and Bill Skarsgård in very good and personal performances, so right away, you feel at home, yet emotionally vulnerable. The film is high concept, and uses its conceit quiet effectively in getting its story told and themes communicated. All in all, this sort of film is usually exactly what I love — Nine Days was just missing something to make it click for me.
If you’ve ever read my blog or watched my YouTube channel, then you probably know of my affinity for movies that deal with religion in a non-straightforward manner. Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta does just that, as it follows the titular character who claims to receive visions from God himself and later becomes a nun at her local convent in the 17th century. But as I was implying, it’s not a simple life for Benedetta at the convent, as she begins an affair with one of the other nuns. The film uses this story to address religion, its structures, and oppression and inequality that have always been present within, specifically in Christianity. Benedetta examines these ideas effectively, though its shocking, no holds barred way of going about it does restrict the effectiveness of the themes it’s trying to convey.