October 2022 Screen Reviews

Best of the Silver Screen and the Small Screen
 

Best New Movie: Confess, Fletch

The latest adaptation of Gregory McDonald’s Fletch novel series does an admirable job of bringing the comedic detective series to modern audiences, many years after Chevy Chase’s iteration of the character. Jon Hamm stars as the investigative reporter, Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher, hot on the case of searching for his wealthy fiancé’s (Lorenza Izzo) stolen collection of priceless paintings—until he stumbles into a murder investigation where he gets labeled the presumptive prime suspect. Greg Mottola, the director behind Superbad and Adventureland, helms the picture keeping a witty, sardonic tone throughout this enjoyably breezy caper that manages not to overstay its welcome. Hamm is best known for his brooding, mostly internal performance as Don Draper on the acclaimed television series Mad Men, but at every opportunity he has gotten, mostly in bit parts in various films and TV series, Hamm has always delivered as a comedic performer and here he is finally given the chance to show that quality in a leading role. As Fletch, Hamm is able to fire off a range of pithy one-liners and sarcastic comebacks throughout the many interrogations he takes part in, trading barbs with a cast of familiar faces. While Fletch is under investigation for the murder of a woman found at his Airbnb rental, he is relentlessly pursued by a hapless police duo, played by comedian Roy Wood Jr. and Ayden Mayeri, who both fall for Fletch’s evasive games like they were in a live-action Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny sketch. As he tracks down the culprit of the art theft, Fletch also encounters a hypochondriac art history professor played by Kyle MacLachlan, a flamboyant Italian countess played by Marcia Gay Harden, and the ditzy neighbor to the scene of the murder played by the always hilarious Annie Mumolo. There is even a highly enjoyable Mad Men reunion, as John Slattery appears to trade insults as Fletch’s former newsroom co-worker. As can be expected, all the seemingly disparate threads come together as the real criminal mastermind is revealed. The tone throughout the film remains casual with witty dialogue and finely-calibrated chemistry carrying the fairly predictable plot that doesn’t reinvent the private investigator subgenre, nor does it strive to. Mottola delivers an enjoyable, frequently funny and entertaining mystery that is anchored by a charming and eccentric performance by Jon Hamm that would be a welcome start to a new series of films following the character. Hamm has gone to great lengths to discuss how hard he fought to get this new adaptation of the Fletch character off the ground and the fruits of his labor haven’t gone to waste, as he may have found a new signature character for the post-Don Draper chapter of his career.


Small Screen Highlight: Atlanta

For many years, Donald Glover was considered to be something of a prodigious wünderkind; having joined the writing staff of 30 Rock at the age of 23 to being a scene stealer in another beloved sitcom Community, all whilst developing a successful career as rapper Childish Gambino, a moniker he took from the WuTang Clan Name Generator. The expectations for Glover as a creative have been astronomically high since a very young age, and upon the debut of his satirical and surreal series Atlanta, he finally delivered on the lofty promise of his clearly evident talent. The series, once pitched as Twin Peaks with rappers, would go onto widespread critical acclaim, awards recognition and become one of the most influential series in the prestige TV landscape with other shows, such as Reservation Dogs and Ramy, all cribbing from the distinctive tonal balance between heavier issues and humor of Glover’s series, and opened the door for other series lead by auteurs operating both in front and behind the camera such as Barry and Ted Lasso. The creative spearhead of <Atlanta> doesn’t come from Glover alone. Alongside his brother Stephen the duo created a world that deftly handles a variety of genres and feels grounded in the real-life Atlanta but also allows for off-the-wall visuals and situations to arise ranging from an invisible sports car to a ghoulish former child star inhabiting a mansion reminiscent of a haunted house, as well as an assisted suicide ceremony for someone who may or may not be Tupac Shakur. While the visual style for the series was created by longtime music video director Hiro Murai, who has since gone on to be one of the most sought-after directors in television today. The series is always beautifully shot and features surprising compositions of visuals that feel completely fresh to the medium. And then there is the leading quartet of the cast, Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, LaKeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz, each of whom have gone from relative unknowns to constantly in demand performers appearing in some of the biggest films of the past few years—a feat that not even the cast of Friends could unanimously reach. Glover stars as Earn, the put-upon manager for his rapper cousin Alfred (Henry), who has gone from a virtually homeless, Ivy League dropout to a wildly successful talent handler over the course of the series. Beetz, who gave memorable performances in projects like Todd Philips’ Joker and this year’s Brad Pitt vehicle Bullet Train, appears as Earn’s on-again, off-again partner and baby mama, Van. Through the show, Beetz has dug into Van’s character through her anxieties as a young mother, dealing with the directionless trajectory of her life, and being in an emotionally distant and sporadic relationship with Earn; Beetz has developed Van into a fully-fledged, believable character, despite having significantly less screen time (and arguably a more underwritten part) than the rest of the ensemble. As Darius, Stanfield quickly became a fan favorite, floating through scenarios on a cloud of aloofness, dropping idiosyncratic observations and words of wisdom; the part has given Stanfield the chance to show his unique talents as a performer for a mainstream audience and allowed him to secure key roles in films such as Knives Out, Uncut Gems and lead Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. Then there is Bryan Tyree Henry as Alfred—better known by his stage name, Paper Boi. Henry is nothing short of a revelation in this series, giving a remarkable performance filled with the deep-rooted frustration from feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders simmering beneath the surface until it inevitably boils over. It is a star-making performance that demonstrates the wealth of talent Henry possesses and has garnered him much deserved acclaim and opportunity for his career going forward. As it airs its fourth and final series, Atlanta is going out on top as a still reverential series that is constantly reinventing itself, featuring a group of almost peerless talents that are sure to dominate Hollywood for years to come. Whatever the Glover brothers and this formidable cast go onto next will surely be worth paying attention to.

 

 

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