2021 Movie Reviews: Belfast / Passing / My Friends’ Wedding

A good movie, a disappointing movie, and an actual wedding.

Belfast

Reacting to Takashi Miike‘s Audition, a very popular movie in Belfast.

‘Flabbergasted’ is the best word for how I feel about Belfast‘s ecstatic reception and resulting Oscar buzz. Are we as a society so starved for a movie that’s safe and non-challenging, that we’ll take the blandest, slowest, least specific, mediocre grandma schmaltz imaginable and crown it King Shit of Fuck Mountain? This is Green Book-level underhand pitching, absolutely insulting to the intelligence of any moviegoer. A movie that doesn’t have characters but archetypes, a movie that doesn’t have a POV but recycled generic Hallmark sentiments, a movie that wouldn’t know proper conflict if it climbed up a shillelagh and bit it on the puckered ass. Seriously, this is the softest movie ever made about a violent ethno-nationalist conflict that only manages to generate two solid minutes of suspense before disarming it completely. The fact it’s deliriously optimistic isn’t what really bothers me though, I love so many cute, low-stakes films (just see my glowing reviews of Barb & Star or Sister Act 2). What really bothers me is how disingenuous this all feels. Genuine, honest films are peppered in with specific details. Belfast is peppered in with almost no details beyond the meticulous set decoration. Like I stated above, this movie has no characters that feel authentic and they’re all so pleasantly unflawed (or flawed ever so slighty) it’s hard to connect with them. The grandparents played by Judi Dench and Ciarin Hinds are the worst, not because they aren’t amazing actors, but because there are no character traits defining them. Please, someone who has seen this, give me a description of each of their characters. I dare you. I double dare you. It will either prove my point or inform me of something I may have missed during the course of the most ass-numbingly boring 97 minutes I’ve had all year. It’s supposedly somewhat autobiographical, based on Kenneth Branagh‘s childhood growing up in Belfast before his parents decided to peace the fuck out of there. It’s supposed to be seen from a child’s idealistic perspective, but as children, the bad things we experience get burned harder into our memories than the good stuff. Are you telling me Branagh lived through people literally murdering each other with Molotov cocktails in the streets and the most traumatic thing he can remember is a parental argument over debt? I don’t buy it. On the positive side of things, this is a gorgeous movie to look at it that knows how to implement black and white cinematography well. The art direction pays a level of attention to detail that makes you wonder why they couldn’t spend an additional weekend on the screenplay. Basically, this just fizzles into being Roma for white people. God, I hate saying that because it sounds so oversimplified and reductive, but it’s astoundingly accurate. And I wasn’t even a huge fan of Roma, I found it gorgeous but frequently boring. Compared to Belfast, it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, though. Grade: C (In Theaters)

Passing

The only thing I can pass is gas.

In her behind-the-camera debut, actress Rebecca Hall (The Night House, The Town) both writes and directs this black and white, but mostly white, period drama. It centers around two light-skinned black women, Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) and Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga). Irene often passes for white when shopping or running errands to save herself the awkward looks and persecution, but Clare, a lighter-skinned black woman, with platinum blonde hair, is the master of passing. She’s infiltrated white society and even has a rich husband who doesn’t know she’s black. In of the most difficult to watch scenes, her husband (Alexander Skarsgaard) reveals himself to be an outrageous bigot. “You’re getting blacker and blacker every day, Nig.” Mr. Bellew remarks. He later explains to Irene that he calls his wife, Nig, cause if her skin gets any darker he’s gonna wake up next to a n—— one day. He’s obviously the biggest piece of shit in the movie, and it works because he’s more or less a composite of educated, wealthy racists of the time. His “I read all I need to know about them” is the 1920s equivalent of “I do my own research”. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this is that his wife, Clare, finds this funny. It’s even more disturbing that when Irene tells her husband, an educated black doctor (Andre Holland) about this, he thinks it’s funny as well. This is a smart but often dry (especially in the back half) examination of race relations in the 1920s that is saved by some really wonderful performances. Tessa Thompson and Andre Holland are great, but the movie completely belongs to Ruth Negga, a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She just radiates energy in every scene she’s in, you cannot take your eyes off of her. Passing is just good enough a film to make you wish it was better. Grade: B (Streaming on Netflix)

My Friends’ Wedding

Did someone drop a cute bomb in here, ya’ll?

My friends got married last year, but because of Covid-19 they had to have a small, private ceremony with just close family at a courthouse, and not a big honking wedding. They decided instead to have a small-ish party at their home sort of like a wedding reception. It took place in their beautiful backyard which the groom and the bride’s dad spent like every weekend getting ready. It was complete with food, booze, larger-than-life relatives, old friends, awkward small talk, purple cauliflower, and 30-something minutes of relatively painless, obligatory speeches. There were only a few tears to be had, more than my sister’s wedding, but still, not very many at all. It was a super nice time.

Some guy and part of the groom.

I arrived fashionably late at 45 minutes past the start time and looked around to find the venue less than half full. Goddamn it. Not fashionably late enough, Michael. My friend and his girlfriend showed up comically early so it was nice to have someone to talk to, straight out of the gate. We talked a bit about recent movies, my current diet and they pointed out a big veggie tray on the food table which I jumped on pretty quick. This old acquaintance approaches me with his fiance and wants to know all this shit about my life, so I felt pressured to oversell my success. Honestly, they were wearing me down to the point of where I was almost like “You caught me! I’m not doing shit! I’m writing fucking movie reviews for 100 people a week and maybe putting together a submission tape for America’s Got Talent that’s probably not gonna go anywhere, so yeah!” But I didn’t, I just nodded, smiled, and was like “Ehh, you know, it’s hard out here.”

Two people I don’t know.

I kept trying to make my way over to the food table but people I knew from my past kept coming up and engaging me in conversation. It was nice and I appreciated it, but I was really starting to get hungry. I finally touched down at the buffet table at 7:25pm and filled my plate with purple cauliflower, spiced almonds, yellow peppers, and some salami, cause I’m naughty. It was delicious, but then, something happened that tempted me to the very core. A whole spread of bruschetta stared me down and begged me to slide them into my warm, sweaty mouth. I had to take a firm line with them and say, “Look, motherfuckers, you just bread, I’m a human being. I don’t need you. I can exist without getting eaten, unlike you, that’s your entire identity, a warm mouth to gobble you up. You, assholes!” I think someone heard me call a spread of bruschetta “assholes”.

Two of my funniest friends were judging the speeches.

After eating my food rather slowly, alone in a corner, I made my way to the main house where the groom collided with me. “Hey, how are you doing? Getting enough food? Sorry, I can’t mingle more. I’m so glad you’re here.” All 100% genuine things, but I was like “No worries dude, this is your big party, go mingle, make the rounds.” I make it to the inside of the house, where a couple of the groom’s relatives spoke with me about The Sopranos. This one guy took the ending of the finale the wrong way. I was trying to explain to him why I think it’s absolutely brilliant, but I gave up when I observed his eyes saying, “This fat guy is a pretentious dick bag.” I made my way over to my friend from the beginning and asked if he wanted to smoke some of the weed I brought. He complied.

I think Kohn is in there, somewhere.

We made our way to the front yard near the porta-a-potties to blaze up. We were deep in conversation about Addams Family Values, a superior film to the 1991 original, The Addams Family, when another friend from LA approached us. She was annoyed that we were talking about Addams Family Values, so she left. Whatever. Eventually, a bunch of close friends, almost family really, from out of town, rolled through and I spent most of the remainder of the wedding talking with them. Also, one of them showed up in just a t-shirt, it was hilarious. Usually, I’m the one committing a fabric faux pas!

The groom’s mom and my friend.

The speeches came and they were all pretty solid. The maid of honor speech was really genuine and moving. Being friends with a bunch of comedians, it’s refreshing to see someone not mask vulnerability with awkward humor. The next speech was the best man speech, the groom’s brother, and it was some hilariously awkward rambling that somehow managed to stick the landing. You’d think he was the comedian. Maybe I’m just biased because in the speech, he ranked me specifically above Bernie Mac in terms of being funny, and that was honestly the highlight of my night. It’s certainly not true, but it’s nice to hear. The moms of the married couple gave short and sweet speeches and then the groom pretended to make a pregnancy announcement. It was actually an announcement for Pizza Party Comedy’s next show, Friday, November 26th, 8:30pm in Tempe. Come check it out!

Best Man AKA The Sandwhich Sleuth

At around 12:35pm, my dogs were barking something fierce so I decided to pack it in. I ended up giving the best man a ride home because he lived right around the corner. He came equipped with four large containers of leftover sandwiches. Apparently, he really fought for these leftover sandwiches. “These sandwiches are going to last me for fucking ever!” he proudly exclaimed while letting out a twisted giggle, as we walked the 200 feet back to where I parked. He’s a good dude. I dropped him off at his place and headed home, where I proceeded to watch Frasier and go to bed. It was a great night, one of the better weddings I’ve attended. Grade: B+ (Streaming on Tubi)

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