Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Summer ’21, Pt. 3: ‘The White Lotus,’ ‘Malcolm & Marie,’ and More

Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy in THE WHITE LOTUS — Photo: HBO.

In this edition of my monthly movie and television catch-up article series titled ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews,’ I once again talk about my experience of trying to catch-up on some of the 2021 films released earlier this year, but this time I also want to talk about a show that I was surprised I liked as much as I did. What did I like about The White Lotus? Is Malcolm & Marie better than its reputation? Are Antoine Fuqua and Stefano Sollima’s latest action films any good? Well, scroll down to find out what I think about all of that (and more) in yet another jam-packed edition of Additional Bite-Sized Reviews!


  • What are Additional Bite-Sized Reviews?
    – My monthly movie and television catch-up review series ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews‘ is an evolution of the Overview-article section previously titled ‘What I Didn’t Write About.’ I was originally inspired by film critic Peter Sobczynski’s article series ‘Films I Neglected to Review,’ wherein he writes short, or brief, reviews of films that he hasn’t had the time to write full reviews about. Therefore, in articles such as this one, I will provide my readers with my thoughts on select films, shows, and even classics that I feel like giving my thoughts on, even though I don’t have the time to dedicate thorough reviews to them.
  • Why do the bite-sized reviews not include either a letter grade or a review score?
    – In my full and thorough reviews, I like to score or grade what I watch. But since these reviews aren’t as detailed, I think it is fairer to the films and shows to simply just decide whether or not to recommend them. I guess you could say this is the only type of review that is basically ‘scored’ with the classic thumbs-up/thumbs-down-method on my site.

To All the Boys: Always and Forever | Film | Dir. Michael Fimognari | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yeah, but.

When I first saw Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in 2018, I was rather impressed by what I thought was a very charming young adult romance film that, though clichéd and predictable, was buoyed up by the chemistry that its stars Noah Centineo and Lana Condor shared. While I did mostly enjoy the sequel, Michael Fimognari’s To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, it felt like the excitement and magic that was so endearing in 2018 had worn off in 2020. Now, a year later, Fimognari has had another go at the film series in what is allegedly its final entry.

Always and Forever is a film about taking that big plunge into the great big world, when you go to University, at which point you may end up leaving people behind to whom you are not comfortable saying “so long,” just yet. The film is all about graduation, prom, college acceptance and rejection letters, expectations, and trying to make things work, while planning for the future. The central question for Lara Jean (still played by Lana Condor) seems to be, what do you do when you and your boyfriend aren’t going to go to the same college, which you had originally envisioned you would?

When I first saw P.S. I Still Love You, all it got out of me was a half smile and a shrug, and I think it showed in my review. As I mentioned, it was just more of the same. The reason why I didn’t rush to see Always and Forever when it was released in February of this year is precisely because the previous film in the series, which Fimognari had also made, had made me lukewarm on the entire series. When I finally sat down to watch it this summer, I hoped to be surprised and, indeed, elated by the supposed conclusion to the film adaptation series.

So, how is it? Well, again with the third film, I must say that is clichéd and very predictable. It gets by almost entirely on the connection we have to the past films, as well as the undeniably charming screen presence of Lana Condor. Noah Centineo shares a great chemistry with her, and they are great together here, as expected. The problem is that I just don’t think it is much else. It feels like it has almost all of the same positives and all the same negatives as the second film in the series. Now, however, I did enjoy this film more than I enjoyed the second film in the series, and that is in large part due to the whole theme of accepting and dealing with change that is risky to your relationship (the film is very relatable), but, as a text, it doesn’t ever reach the highs of the first film.

Lana Condor and Noah Centineo are just fun to watch in these films, but is the film really anything more than that? I appreciate the theme and I appreciate the New York and Seoul sequences, but, ultimately, this is just more of the same. If the previous films floated your boat, then this one will too. I do think, however, that this does have a fitting ending, even though it is hopeful in a way many of these kinds of romance films are. It hasn’t done anything bold and original here, but it is a solid ending, even though it is slightly unremarkable and not-very-memorable. In the end, I think it’s clear that the career breakthrough of Condor and Centineo is what will ultimately be these films’ legacy, and I think I speak for everyone, who, like me, has found themselves entertained over the course of these three films, when I say that I am excited to see where their careers go from here, as I have become somewhat of a fan of them.

The White Lotus: Season One | Series | Created by Mike Wright | Release Year: 2021 | Season Length: 6 Episodes | Seen on: HBO Nordic | Recommended?: Yes.

This is such a strange show, and I’ve had a bit of a difficult time in my attempts to recommend it to others. Mike White’s The White Lotus is a dramedy satire set at a tropical resort in Hawaii, where we follow both the guests and the staff at the resort, while they are either on a holiday or trying to make guests’ holiday be the best that they can possibly be. The premise perhaps doesn’t sound too exciting, but what is really so grand about this excellent example of social satire is the biting humor and its depressing musings on privilege. We essentially see characters leave all of their baggage on employees at the resort, some of whom are clearly victims of the privileged individuals to whom their resort’s immense luxury caters. It’s honestly quite sad, when you try to describe it. There is a lot of focus on the carelessness and obliviousness of the privileged guests, as well as the damaged inflicted upon the resort staff.

It perhaps doesn’t sound as funny as it sometimes is. This can be a very uncomfortable show about privileged people, the damage they inflict, and the sometimes odd predicaments they find themselves in as a direct result of a double booking or the like. What will probably help keep most viewers intrigued throughout is the fact that the first episode opens as a bit of a murder mystery. The actual reveal was jaw-dropping to me but not because it was unpredictable. It’s just really absurd.

I think this is a bit of an interesting companion piece to a show like Succession, which also deals with the luxuries and the carelessness of the extremely privileged. I don’t think the show is ever as good as that show, but I will say that Mike White has made one of the great television surprises of this year, and that is also, in part, due to some extremely good performances from Alexandra Daddario, Jennifer Coolidge, and Murray Bartlett.

Malcolm & Marie | Film | Dir. Sam Levinson | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: No.

Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie is a black-and-white single-location drama that was written and shot entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The film is about a filmmaker, Malcolm (played by John David Washington), and his partner, Marie (played by Zendaya), who, after having returned home from the premiere of Malcolm’s latest feature film, get into a series of arguments about film criticism, the film industry, relationships, and the act of being acknowledged or ignored.

When the film was released on Netflix earlier this year, its awards campaign was, I guess, sidelined in a way by the extensive criticism written about the film, mostly due to the way Levinson may or may not have targeted a specific female film critic who panned Levinson’s previous film, Assassination Nation. I didn’t take part in the discourse back then since I hadn’t yet watched either film, and I, honestly, didn’t know what to expect when I finally sat down to watch this film. I wasn’t sure if the criticism that I had heard had been hyperbolic or justified, and, in a way, I was glad that I would finally figure out my own stance on the matter.

Ultimately, I don’t think the film is as bad as I had feared, but, it did, however, really disappoint me when I saw just how bitter the film is about film criticism. In no way, shape, or form are art critics above criticism, but there is a difference between bringing up valid points about film criticism and spouting senseless anger towards someone very specific, and the latter certainly, at some points, seems to be the case here. While there are moments where Levinson’s dialogue makes fair points, like how some phrases are overused by film critics, his main character’s own high-minded ideas don’t really add up to much. A walking contradiction (though likely intentionally), Malcolm certainly feels like a stand-in character. But that’s not a good thing here for various reasons, some of which I won’t get into in this short review. Washington’s character is defined by his vitriolic ramblings about film criticism, in which he punches downward against a very particular person. It is entirely mean-spirited, it feels direct, and it feels a little bit cruel within context.

But whether or not a character’s comments are mean-spirited or not, of course, doesn’t make or break a film. What does, however, break the film is that there isn’t enough here to weigh down the negatives. I think that the black-and-white images are stunning, I love the house that the film is set in, I think that the film is very stylish in moments, and I think Zendaya is genuinely great as this, at first, restrained lionness who is able to pounce on Malcolm at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, the dialogue — or rather the extensive monologues — drown out anything that John David Washington is trying to do. Washington is a fantastic young actor, but, with this very theatrical but thinly written character, he is given very little to work with, and you find yourself genuinely baffled by the fact that Marie hasn’t walked out the door yet multiple times throughout the film. His rants are excessive, smug, not to mention completely unnecessary and borderline film ruining.

Malcolm’s incessant tirades amount to little more than namedrops and unprompted temper-tantrums that are entirely uncalled for (Malcolm is literally complaining about a glowing review for so much of this film), and these monologues will only succeed in making the film more incomprehensible and insufferable than ideal for your average viewer, which is exactly why I think this feels more like a messy exercise than a film with an actual target audience. And, as an exercise, I, frankly, don’t think it’s able to sustain the runtime. Frustratingly, the filmmaker’s baffling insistence on going after film criticism so hard drowns out some of the fairly interesting comments that are made about the industry or the male gaze (which are never expanded upon enough and definitely would’ve been a more interesting way to spend a lot of the runtime).

Honestly, and excuse my blunt and informal wording, this film is a bummer. Because it feels a little bit like a minefield within film criticism (but for good reason), while, at the same time, there is undeniable potential and talent at play here that seems destined to be forgotten amidst all the noise. Because of that I’ll be interested in seeing what Levinson does next (I was already a fan of Washington and Zendaya, so my excitement for their next projects should be a given), and I hope the meat of Levinson’s next film won’t be pushed to the side by unnecessary monologues that probably should’ve been trimmed down before the cast and crew arrived on set.

Without Remorse | Film | Dir. Stefano Sollima | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Prime Video | Recommended?: Mixed Thoughts.

You know, this is exactly what it looks like in the trailers. It is what it is. At the end of the day, this is a Tom Clancy action movie with an emphasis on the action (of which I particularly liked the ‘fire’ and ‘water’ scenes). Disappointingly, though, the film is also needlessly convoluted, so much so that the sometimes too dimly lit final third became admittedly uninteresting to me.

This is, when it comes down to it, a somewhat tired and worn out action movie with a Cold War-inspired plot for the modern day. I would say that I appreciate what Michael B. Jordan and Stefano Sollima bring to the film, though. But, to be honest, I only really liked about half of this movie (back when it was merely a fairly simple revenge film, I think it’s a perfectly fine action film), but, you know, I wasn’t captivated by it all the way through. There is definitely something here for people who really dig this genre and Tom Clancy stories, but I definitely did not have the necessary amount of interest in the overarching Cold War-inspired movie plot to really become engrossed by what it was trying to do.

Infinite | Film | Dir. Antoine Fuqua | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Paramount+ | Recommended?: No.

This film is so derivative that it feels completely generic. It’s honestly wild to me how much it borrows from other films, whether that be X-Men or The Old Guard or you-name-it. There are several things about it that just don’t work. At the end of the day, it just feels tedious, even in spite of all of its ‘deep’ lore and action scenes.

I really struggled with Wahlberg’s lead character, and, especially, his performance. At several times, it just looked like Wahlberg was bored, and his unresponsive and drab performance is certainly not able to carry a film that relies on so much heavy-lifting. Ejiofor, admittedly, does go all out with a wild accent to match his character’s beard and eye-liner, but it never feels believable. But it’s not just the main performances that don’t work. 

Again, this film is just generic, and its script feels like it was assembled from so many different well-known influences to such an extent that it is just completely uninteresting. The dialogue is just not up to scratch, as it is filled to the brim with expositional dialogue and humor that doesn’t work. As if that wasn’t enough, Wahlberg’s flavorless performance is made worse by a sporadic voice-over that tries to hold your hand, while most viewers will probably be busy checking their phones. Infinite, Antoine Fuqua’s science-fiction action film, is, on the whole, bafflingly featureless.

Vacation Friends | Film | Dir. Clay Tarver | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Disney+ | Recommended?: Yes.

Released on Hulu (or on Disney+ in my region), Clay Tarver’s Vacation Friends is a kind of film that I would probably call a ‘buddy-couple comedy.’ This film, specifically, is about Marcus (played by Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (played by Yvonne Orji), who are a couple that have booked an exotic vacation at an expensive hotel. But due to an accident at the hotel, they end up having to stay in the same room as the friendly but also extremely wild couple of Ron (played by John Cena) and Kyla (played by Meredith Wagner).

Although the two couples end up having a great time on vacation together, Marcus and Emily, unlike Ron and Kyla, are not interested in continuing the friendship once they get back home. But Ron and Kyla are not willing to let a good thing go, so they decide to invite themselves to Marcus and Emily’s upcoming wedding, which is a surprise that Marcus and Emily are not ready to handle.

To be perfectly honest, this film isn’t anything too special. It almost feels like a fairly disposable Netflix comedy, but John Cena helps to make it feel like something more (he has so much energy in this role). It probably won’t last the test of time, it isn’t all that memorable, and perhaps it won’t be particularly rewatchable. But the plot is easy to roll with (there is some heart there), and, even though the film is a little bit predictable and not laugh-out-loud funny, it must be said that it is genuinely chuckle-worthy from time to time.

Now, admittedly, the first half (when they are actually on vacation) is easily the best part of the film, and the rest of the film is not nearly as entertaining, but John Cena‘s strength as a comedic actor helps to make this film a passable comedy that I think most people would enjoy.

As someone who has followed John Cena‘s career since his early WWE days, I continue to find so much joy in seeing him thrive as a comedic actor, which I never would’ve pegged him as. At this point, I think I’d watch any comedy he is in.

The Voyeurs | Film | Dir. Michael Mohan | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Prime Video | Recommended?: Mixed Thoughts.

Michael Mohan’s The Voyeurs follows a young couple — Pippa (played by Sydney Sweeney) and Thomas (played by Justice Smith) — as they move into their first apartment together. Not long after they’ve first moved in, they notice that their apartment gives them the opportunity to look directly into another apartment across the street, where another couple lives.

Pippa and Thomas initially get a kick out of spying on their neighbors, and eventually Thomas starts to lose interest. But Pippa is unable to let go of her unhealthy obsession, when she discovers that one of the people across the street may be cheating on his partner.

The Voyeurs is an almost passable twist-heavy modern take on an erotic thriller that is obviously inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. It is a little bit too long, it definitely doesn’t all work, and for a while there isn’t a lot to write home about, but its bonkers third act made it stand out right when I thought it was losing my interest. Do the plot twists stand up to scrutiny? Perhaps not, no. But I appreciated that strange change of pace late in the film. I also think the egg-transitions in the film are very interesting. That visual motif is probably the most memorable thing about the film.

– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

2 thoughts on “Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Summer ’21, Pt. 3: ‘The White Lotus,’ ‘Malcolm & Marie,’ and More

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