Here are the quick movie reviews for The Mustang, Murder Mystery & The Biggest Little Farm.
The Mustang centers on Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts). Roman is the kind of man who would attempt to get into a fistfight with a horse. And, well, that’s exactly what the shaved-head bruiser does the first time he’s placed in a round pen with the unruly mustang who he’s been assigned to tame and prepare for auction. It never crosses his mind that the stallion weighs a thousand pounds, or the fact that horses don’t even have fists. Roman only knows how to express himself through violence. That’s why he’s been locked up in the Northern Nevada Correction Center for the better part of a decade, and why his long prison stint has frequently been interrupted by stretches in solitary confinement.
The Mustang is full of well-trod territory and some clichés. And yet it breathes new life into some of it’s conventions, thanks in no small part to Schoenaerts and his remarkable work. Normally, with a performance as spare as this one, one might refer to it as “restrained,” but here, it’s Roman who seems to be holding back, and not the actor. Schoenaerts plays the character as a man constantly on the verge of eruption. His silences and blank expressions have the effect of a bare wall, unnoticeably trembling from the force of whatever’s wailing away at it on it’s other side. The few moments in which that wall gives away are no less effective. That actor’s vulnerability and physicality clearly makes Roman’s journey better than any piece of dialogue ever could. It lends an indispensable gravity and immediacy to The Mustang.
Matthias Schoenaerts in The Mustang
But through his great performance Schoenaerts isn’t helped much at all by the screenplay. The script, which director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre cowrote with Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock, stumbles with some of the supporting characters and subplots. But if the script requires some patience and tolerance, its clichés doing few favors to some of the subplots, the film’s visual splendor is a stimulant. Cinematographer Ruben Impens approaches The Mustang with a willingness to enter a space or a story we think we already know, and turn it all slightly on its head, giving it the same level of thoughtfulness as he brought to Julia Ducournau’s 2017 film Raw.
A prison drama that’s penned into the trappings of a classic Western, The Mustang is a small movie about a subtle transformation. In the film’s closing moments — however contrived as they might be — are touching as they are unexpected. In nearly any other story the closing moments would reek of trite and manipulation. Yet, it still works. Some horses can’t be broken, but Clermont-Tonnerre’s spirited debut reverberates with the feeling that even unforgivable men can be rehabilitated.
In the past few years it was starting to look like Adam Sandler got his groove back. His performance in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories was among the best of his career, his comedy special Adam Sandler 100% Fresh was a steady reminder of what people loved about him in the first place, and judging by set photos, his performance as a Diamond district jeweler in the upcoming Safdie brothers film Uncut Gems looks to be something special. His talent and creative potential have never been in doubt, but at long last it finally seemed like he was putting them to use on a more regular basis. And maybe he is. Maybe the consistently terrible Netflix movies Sandler churns out to fulfill the deal that his Happy Madison production company has with the streaming platform are all part of a long con to make people drop to their knees in gratitude whenever he deicides to work with a good filmmaker instead of throwing out scraps for the content factory. That sinister plan is working better than it should. After all, it’s pretty clear that Sandler doesn’t care in the slightest about most of the stuff he stars in.
Sandler’s newest Netflix film, Murder Mystery, is the kind of lazy and uninspired garbage that can only be made by someone who knows that it doesn’t matter; bad movies are made all the time, but precious few pieces of content are so satisfied to breathe in their own foul stench. There’s a strange and unusual calm about the awfulness of this film which glazes over your eyeballs like an Agatha Christie novel that’s been adapted into some kind of illustrated elevator music. There’s a calmness to how little anyone seems to care about its zero-dimensional characters, the sitcom-esque jokes they make, or really anything else.
Jennifer Aniston & Adam Sandler in Murder Mystery
The high-concept premise here is every bit as strained as the ones that prop up many of Sandler’s other Netflix ventures, but where many of those other Netflix obscenities flop around in a pointless effort to save themselves, Murder Mystery settles into an apathetic groove as soon as its plot takes shape. Sandler plays a semi-conscious NYPD cop who just can’t seem to pass the detective’s exam (yet another non-character for Sandler). He’s stuck in a stale marriage and desperate not to disappoint his wife (Jennifer Aniston) anymore than he usually does every day, Nick lies to her and tells her that he passed the test and got a promotion. It’s a costly mistake, as after fifteen years of promising his wife that he’d take her on a trip to Europe, he’s finally cornered into pulling the trigger and spending all the money he doesn’t make on a brief vacation from their miserable lives. And it’s during that vacation that they get caught up in a “Murder Mystery.”
In a way, the lack of effort in Murder Mystery is almost beautiful. We live in anxious times, when everything seems like the end of the world, and it can be weirdly appeasing to watch a film so flat that it can turn your living room into a sensory deprivation tank. Murder Mystery is the cinematic equivalent of being the only passenger who’s still awake on a quiet, smooth red-eye flight; it’s just you, your thoughts, and the gentle hum of a machine doing insurmountable damage to the environment. But hush, hush you don’t have to worry about that unpleasantness right now — look, Jennifer Aniston is playing a blue-collar hairdresser whose face is in a frozen scowl of disappointment. Isn’t this fun? But, hey, maybe we as a nation would be a few steps closer to understanding why Sandler and Aniston still think they have any kind of chemistry together. Maybe Sandler’s character wouldn’t only be defined by his often repeated catchphrase: “I’m hungry as shit.” The comedic brilliance of that line is so clearly evident, but by the third time you hear it, it starts getting harder to believe: Sandler has never seemed more satisfied with himself. At least theses movies are making someone joyful.
The Biggest Little Farm
From the opening minutes of The Biggest Little Farm, John Chester makes it clear his utopian vision is going to fail. With his wife Molly, a culinary writer, the filmmaker abandoned their Santa Monica home to launch a sustainable farm an hour outside the city. The movie tracks this epic saga across seven years of ups and downs as the reality of taming nature settles in. A gorgeous and often devastating look at good intentions slamming into harsh practical challenges, The Biggest Little Farm is a rare eco-friendly documentary that reaches beyond the celebratory formula to explore the exercises of its environmental message in detail. It’s a remarkable educational experience for anyone eager to go back to the basics. Throughout the process, it arrives at a deeper understanding of the underlying impulse, while delivering an emotionally resonant narrative with plenty of adorable animals to spare.
As Chester explains in a constant narration, in 2010, John and Molly Chester were pushed by their dog Todd to pursue their dream. Todd’s a rescue who’s very lovable, but barked all day when they were gone, which made apartment living impossible. This spurred the couple to get investors and buy two-hundred acres about an hour north of Los Angeles where they would hope to live in harmony with nature. Rejecting the monocropping of major agribusiness, John and Molly, with the help of farming expert Alan York and some experienced labor, began the long arduous process of taking land where the soil was dead and rejuvenating it into viable farm. What they discovered was a constant give and take where the “highest level of biodiversity possible” usually meant contending with different creatures that want to destroy everything you’ve built.
Emma (the pig) John Chester in The Biggest Little Farm
However, thinking the farm would settle into a routine was a bit of a pipe dream because nature is inherently chaotic, especially nature in the 21st century where you suffer through long droughts or raging wildfires. This means that while it’s great to have ideals, you have to confront which of those ideals will be sacrificed when attempting such earthiness. What’s consistently admirable about The Biggest Little Farm, is how it never shields away from how hard farming is, and not because the Chesters were ill-prepared or didn’t take farming seriously, but because nature does not care about our nice ideas about living alongside it.
Yet, The Biggest Little Farm isn’t perfect. As John Chester, who directs this film, overplays the dramatic nature of the material. Whether that be with over-the-top music or voiceover that feels inclined to offer poetic observations about every new twist that viewers never get the chance to think it through for themselves. But still, in its best moments, The Biggest Little Farm shows the striking duality of nature, a system so fragile that it needs the right food chain in place to keep thriving, but also so hearty that it will easily succeed if all humans disappeared tomorrow. The Chesters didn’t have to go to some far-flung rainforest or jungle to see this striking beauty and horror. They were able to build it themselves.