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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Review: Roma (2018)

* * * *

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

Alfonso Cuaron's last film, 2013's Gravity, was a cinematic experience that captured the vastness of space while telling what is, ultimately, an intimate story about a woman working through her grief. His latest film, Roma, is a story told on a small scale that suggests the great, wide world going on around it (and, while Gravity was a film that practically demanded to be seen on as big a screen as possible, Roma, which has been released in theaters and Netflix simultaneously, is intimate enough that it's impact isn't lessened by watching in on a smaller screen). Though he's made only five films in the last seventeen years including this one (the others being Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity), Cuaron is one of the most reliably great filmmakers working today and Roma makes a strong case for being his best film to date.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Review: Widows (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell

Widows is more than the movie that you might be expecting, which stands to reason since it's directed by Steve McQueen, who is known for art films (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) rather than crowd pleasers. Widows is, perhaps, the happy medium between the two. It's a heist thriller of no small amount of skill, filled with tension and action and reliant on some of the familiar tropes of the genre, but it's also a character piece about four women who are underestimated by everyone around them. Only three of them are widows (there is a fourth widow, but she takes a different path), but they are all women that the men around them take for granted can be walked all over. Now is the time of year when the studios release the last of their great big blockbusters for the year and the last of their great big award hopefuls, which might leave little time left to catch up on films that have already been in release for several weeks, but Widows is a movie worth making the time for.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

* * *

Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson

Ever since Netflix began acquiring and developing its own library of films the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has, with the exception of Netflix's documentaries, resisted recognizing Netflix pictures as legitimate, award worthy content. This changed last year when Mudbound broke through to get 4 nominations and one imagines that this year, with the release of Roma, already so thoroughly lauded with awards from critics, and with filmmakers like the Coen brothers turning to the platform with their latest, the notion that films released through Netflix aren't "real" movies will be obliterated. The Coen's latest, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a great challenge to the idea that Netflix removes the "cinema" from films, as it is a thoroughly cinematic piece of work even when viewed on a small screen thanks to the sumptuous compositions of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who previously lensed the Coen's Inside Lleweyn Davis. Telling a series of tales set in the old west, Buster Scruggs hearkens back a time when the Western was as big as all outdoors while being told in the wry, modern voice of the Coens.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Screen Actors Guild Nominations

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role:
Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role:
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role:
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role:
Amy Adams, Vice
Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place
Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture:
A Star Is Born
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
Crazy Rich Asians

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture:
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Avengers: Infinity War
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Winners

The winners of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards, announced earlier today:

Best Film: Roma

Best Director: Debra Granik, Leave No Trace

Best Actress: Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Best Actor: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Best Supporting Actor: Steven Yeun, Burning

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Cinematography: Roma

Best Editing: Joshua Altman and Bing Liu, Minding the Gap

Best Animated Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Foreign Language Film: Burning and “Shoplifters (Tie)

Best Documentary: Shirkers

Best Music/Score: If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Production Design: Hannah Beachler, Black Panther

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Golden Globe Nominees

Announced earlier today:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Crazy Rich Asians
The Favourite
Green Book
Mary Poppins Returns

Best Director, Motion Picture
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Peter Farrelly, Green Book
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Glenn Close, The Wife
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Nicole Kidman, Destroyer
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Rosamund Pike, A Private War

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Christian Bale, Vice
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Poppins Returns
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Robert Redford, The Old Man and the Gun
John C. Reilly, Stan & Ollie

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Charlize Theron, Tully
Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Timothée Chalamet, Beautiful Boy
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Amy Adams, Vice
Claire Foy, First Man
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Adam McKay, Vice
Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Green Book

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“Girl in the Movies,” Dumplin’
“Requiem for a Private War,” A Private War
“Revelation,” Boy Erased
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Marco Beltrami, A Quiet Place
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Ludwig Göransson, Black Panther
Justin Hurwitz, First Man
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Motion Picture, Animated
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language
Never Look Away

Thursday, November 29, 2018

New York Film Critics Circle Winners

Announced earlier today:

Best Film: Roma

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Best Actress: Regina Hall, Support the Girls

Best Actor: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Screenplay: Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Best Foreign Film: Cold War

Best Non-Fiction Film: Minding the Gap

Best Animated Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best First Film: Eighth Grade

Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Marielle Heller
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant

Likeability is a very overrated quality in a protagonist. We don't need to like someone to find their story compelling and engaging. We don't even have to like them in order to root for them to come out of things alright. Good thing, too, since Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s Lee Israel, played with marvelously jagged edges by Melissa McCarthy, is pretty difficult to like most of the time. She's a nasty, misanthropic drunk who doesn't think twice about using people, screwing them over, and manipulating them. She's also a lonely person who tends to self-sabotage relationships because she fears connection/expects rejection, adores her cat, and is capable of deep compassion for people who are (somehow) worse off than she is. She's also pretty damn funny ("Oh to be a mediocre white man who doesn't realize how full of shit he is," she laments at one point and, lord, truer words have rarely been spoken) and the movie itself offers a great balance of seriousness and humor. It's one of the year's lowkey delights.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

* * *

Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Rami Malek

Early in Bohemian Rhapsody Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) argues that Queen shouldn't be conventional, a moment that, even at that early stage in the narrative, is hilariously lacking in self-awareness given how conventional the film itself actually is. Yet as formulaic as the film's opening stretch is, by the time it reaches its conclusion Bohemian Rhapsody has managed to overcome its flaws (of which there are many on a basic storytelling level) to become something deeply moving. Maybe it's the music, so familiar, so catchy, so capable of amping a person up. Maybe it's the lead performance by Malek, which transcends mere imitation and hits on something intensely and beautifully true. Whatever it is, once Bohemian Rhapsody gets going it doesn't just take off, it soars.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

National Board of Review Winners

The best in film from 2018 as selected by the National Board of Review, announced earlier today:

Best Film: Green Book

Top 10 Films
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Eighth Grade
First Reformed
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
A Quiet Place
A Star Is Born

Best Director: Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born

Best Actor: Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Best Actress: Lady Gaga, A Star is Born

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Elliott, A Star is Born

Best Original Screenplay: Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Animated Feature: Incredibles 2

Best Foreign Language Film: Cold War

Top 5 Foreign Language Films
The Guilty
Happy as Lazzaro

Best Documentary: RBG

Top 5 Documentaries
Crime + Punishment
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Breakthrough Performance: Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Best Directorial Debut: Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade

Best Ensemble: Crazy Rich Asians

William K. Everson Film History Award: The Other Side of the Wind and They'll Love Me When I'm Dead

Top 10 Independent Films
The Death of Stalin
Lean on Pete
Leave No Trace
The Old Man & the Gun
The Rider
Sorry to Bother You
We the Animals
You Were Never Really Here

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Other Side of the Wind (2018) and They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018)

The Other Side of the Wind Director: Orson Welles
They'll Love Me When I'm Dead Director: Morgan Neville

Rarely has an artist been so astonishingly talented and so stunningly unlucky. Orson Welles was only 25 when he made Citizen Kane, a masterpiece among masterpieces, and while it certainly wouldn't be accurate to say that it was all downhill from there, his filmography boasting several great post-Kane movies, things certainly started to get a lot more difficult almost immediately. By the time of his death in 1985, his film work consisted of projects made just for the money so that he could fund his own personal projects, and those personal projects, which were largely left unfinished. One of those projects was The Other Side of the Wind which was filmed off and on from 1970 to 1976, embroiled in various legal battles for decades thereafter, and has now been completed by a team overseen by Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall. They'll Love Me When I'm Dead is a documentary companion piece to The Other Side of the Wind, detailing its troubled production as well as touching on several of his unfinished projects. Both are available on Netflix.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review: Outlaw King (2018)

* * *

Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine

Generally speaking, when a movie premieres and the only thing people are discussing is the star's nude scene, that's a bad sign. It usually means that there's nothing else that's particularly interesting about the finished project, and when the critical reception is mixed (in the case of this film, to the tune of a 56 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 60 on Metacritic) that only reinforces that idea. In the case of Outlaw King, a historical drama about Robert the Bruce, the salacious bent of the coverage and the lack of enthusiasm from critics doesn't really do the film justice. As far as the much discussed nude scene goes, I doubt people would even give it a second thought if it had been done by an actor less famous than Chris Pine or an actress of any level of fame (and, in fact, Pine's co-star Florence Pugh also has a nude scene in the movie, and one in which the camera lingers on her nudity much more than it does on Pine, but female nudity is so de rigueur in film that it doesn't even seem noteworthy). As far as its poor critical reception, well, it's not a masterpiece but it's a perfectly serviceable movie of the "Important Man Did Important Thing" variety and shouldn't be written off as nothing more than Braveheart-lite.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Hate U Give (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall

I don't know that there's an emptier platitude than when a white person states that they "don't see color." It's a statement that's intended to indicate to whomever is listening that the person making it isn't racist - is, in fact, so not racist that he or she doesn't even recognize that the concept of race exists - but which actually just announces that the person saying it is blind to the way that racism is so institutionalized that it's an inescapable part of day to day life. If you're going to say "I don't see color," you might as well just say "I can't be bothered to see what you're going through, even though it's happening all around me." White people and people of color experience the world in different ways, because the world experiences them in different ways. White parents don't need to talk to their kids about how to minimize the possibility that they will be shot by the police; black parents do. That's tragic and it's wrong and you can't solve a problem without acknowledging that it exists in the first place.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Review: First Man (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy

With First Man Damien Chazelle tells the epic story of the moon landing on a deeply intimate scale. At times it feels more like a domestic drama about a family suffocating under the weight of grief both real and anticipated than a retelling of the dangerous work of figuring out how to send human beings off of earth and onto another astronomical body and then bring them back - though, make no mistake, the film is nevertheless invested in showing the painstaking process of trial and error that resulted in NASA's triumph. Anchored by a great performance from Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, with the supporting ranks full of solid performances themselves, First Man is a thoughtful, sometimes even powerful, film about one of the defining events not only of the 20th century, but of human history itself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Star Is Born: An Evolution in Four Films

They say that there's a version of A Star Is Born for every generation - a statement which isn't technically true since the 1990s never produced a version, resulting in a 42 year break between the most recent two, but which seems true enough in spirit. While the knee-jerk reaction to movie remakes is generally something along the lines of, "Ugh, why?" (unless it's a reboot of Ghostbusters, in which case it will be met with hysterical wailing about childhoods retroactively ruined), there's something endlessly compelling about this love story of a star in decline and a star on the rise. When you strip these four films down to the absolute bare bones of their stories, there is no fundamental difference between them. It's the same story - and, indeed, the same story beats - each and every time, leaving no reason why it shouldn't become stale after multiple outings. And yet there still manages to be something unique and compelling about each version, something which makes it worthwhile to keep coming back to the story again and again. So let's take a look at the fundamental similarities, and the specific differences, between these four films.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review: A Star is Born (2018)

* * *

Director: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper

One of the most pleasant surprises so far this year is how good A Star is Born really is. I doubt many people would have expected that when the project was first announced, and when the studio released the trailer, which to my mind is one of the best trailers of the year, I don't know that most of us would have expected anything more than an okay movie with a really good trailer. So here it is and it's not only as good as its pre-release hype would suggest, it's as good as its tremendous post-release hype has been. I don't remember the last time that a non-Marvel, non-Star Wars movie prompted such a wealth of posts on pop culture sites, burning bright like a supernova of publicity. It's difficult to say that any movie could live up to this much chatter, but A Star is Born comes close enough. It's just a damn good movie; it really is.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

* * *

Director: Michael Moore

The first 10 minutes of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9 are brutal. Taking us back to the eve of the 2016 election, when for many of us it seemed inconceivable that a candidate who was openly racist, an admitted sexual assaulter, and who actively incited violence at his rallies could be elected President, the opening minutes of Fahrenheit 11/9 are awash in people gleeful at the prospect of a Democratic victory, having counted the chickens before they hatched. It's like seeing that two cars are about to collide and being utterly helpless to stop it. And in the end, it's far from the most upsetting thing in this documentary, a polemic that, despite the advertising's heavy focus on Trump, is not really focused on Trump specifically, but the political system that made his ascension to the United States' highest office possible. If you hate Michael Moore you aren't likely to be won over by this film, which is a shame because he makes a lot of solid points.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review: The Children Act (2018)

* * *

Director: Richard Eyre
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

The Children Act, based on the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan (who takes on screenwriting duties here), is a rare breed of modern film. Unlike so many films released now, which are designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible because transcending the boundaries of demographics is the only way to recoup increasingly astronomical production costs, The Children Act squares in on a specific audience and is content to cater to it alone. It's a movie for adults, a drama about morality that centers on a woman in a position of power who comes to doubt the way that she has used that power. It's headlined by Emma Thompson, whose performance is reliably profound and raises the film up even in its weakest sections.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding

You have to play to win, which is exactly what Crazy Rich Asians, adapted from the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, does. Proving a couple of important things right out of the gate - that the romantic comedy isn't actually dead if the effort is there and the product is good, that there is literally no good reason why a big studio feature can't be comprised of an entirely non-white cast - it doesn't buckle under the weight of its potential as a watershed film, focusing instead on just being a good film, period. Crazy Rich Asians is one of the cinematic highlights of 2018, an enchanting romantic comedy that relies on a good story and strong characters, rather than on the audience accepting dumb plot contrivances, in order to work. Crazy Rich Asians is a great way to bring the summer movie season to a close.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

* * * *

Director: Spike Lee
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

I have something of a love/hate relationship with Spike Lee. I think that he's made two of the greatest feature films to come out in the last thirty years (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) and one (25th Hour) that deserves, at least, to be in any conversation of the greatest films to come out in the last thirty years. He's a gifted filmmaker and one who is unafraid to take a clear political stance in his work - a rare virtue in an industry that, more often than not, demands a certain amount of watering down in order to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. My problem with Lee is that, despite his extensive filmmography and 32 years of trying, he has yet to create a decent female character (don't even bring up She's Gotta Have It, which is sometimes cited as Lee's "feminist" film, even though it's anything but). His latest film, BlacKkKlansman, doesn't change that - on reflection I'm pretty sure that there are only 4 women in the entire film with speaking lines and one is just a disembodied voice coming from off-screen - but the rest of it is so good that I can get past that.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: Three Identical Strangers (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Tim Wardle

First comes shock and elation, then come the questions and, with them, the anger. Tim Wardle's documentary Three Identical Strangers tells a story so unbelievable, and ultimately so cruel, that even those at the center of it acknowledge that they'd never believe it if they hadn't lived it. Running at a brisk 96 minutes, Three Identical Strangers is intensely focused in its storytelling, which isn't always a good thing as the film hints at certain narrative threads only to quickly move away from them rather than explore them, but what it does explore is so compelling and fascinating that those omissions almost don't matter. Alternately funny and tragic (and sometimes both at the same time), Three Identical Strangers is a deeply engaging documentary and one which is probably most effective if you go into it knowing as little about it as possible so be forewarned that you may not want to read beyond this paragraph if you want to remain unspoiled about some of the story's twists and turns.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review: Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

* * *

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill

Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the most movie you'll see all summer. It has everything. Allies who turn out to be enemies, enemies who turn out to be allies, double crossing, globe hopping, love triangles (of a sort), car chases, helicopter chases, gun fights, room destroying fist fights, assassination attempts, nuclear bombs, and at least four occasions when it's entirely conceivable that Tom Cruise could have been killed during the filming of the scene. I can't wait to see what insane thing the next Mission: Impossible's director manages to talk him into doing. Maybe he'll go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Maybe he'll wrestle a tiger. Maybe he'll surf a wave of lava. Anything's possible!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield

Sorry to Bother You is a work of surrealism that, like all great works of satire, manages to strike brutally close to home the more wildly it goes over the top. While the film's big, grotesque twist is pretty far outside the realm of possibility (at least, one desperately hopes so), the film's depiction of income inequality and the effects of unchecked capitalism feels familiar even in its most exaggerated elements. If things continue on their current trajectory, where the top 1% have 40% of the wealth and governments have been steadily dismantling all of the mechanisms that once kept income disparity more in check and maintained a path for upward financial mobility, certain elements of Sorry to Bother You's narrative don't seem at all far fetched. An assured, inventive, and thought provoking film from Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You more than lives up to all the hype it's inspired since its debut at Sundance earlier this year.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Review: Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

* * *

Director: Ol Parker
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters

The Mama Mia movies are the sort of works that force you to examine your own taste in art. In a purely objective sense, you're aware that they're not "good" and that, in fact, they don't even really come close to the normal standard of what makes a movie good. They are, if you are being brutally honest with yourself, barely movies at all in any traditional sense. Their narratives are thin as air, existing merely to connect a series of songs to each other, not always accomplishing that in the most elegant of ways. And yet. Isn't the aim of art to stir something in the audience, to touch some emotion and heighten it through the experience of consuming it? If the goal of the work is to bring the audience joy and it succeeds in doing so then isn't it, by definition, a "success" even if it does so in a fashion that might generously be described as "clumsy." This is all a round about way of saying that Mama Mia! Here We Go Again is as terrible and wonderful as the first film and I loved every minute of it.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

* * *

Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly

And so, after the impossibly high stakes of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel dials things back ever so slightly with the sillier, lower stakes of Ant-Man and the Wasp. In a summer that has been pretty underwhelming so far (with the exception of Ocean's 8, Deadpool 2, and poor, unloved Solo: A Star Wars Story), Ant-Man and the Wasp is perfectly crafted for summer entertainment. It's fun, it's quick on its feet, and it's incredibly engaging. There are a number of things that you have to give Marvel credit for with respect to the success of its shared universe, and while the patience to build it one film at a time may be chief among them, the casting is surely a close second. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang - none of these choices would have seemed obvious from the jump (well... maybe Downey as Stark), but all of them now seem inspired. Thank God Rudd never ended up being snapped up to play any of the million other super heroes running around out there.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review: Blockers (2018)

* * *

Directors: Kay Cannon
Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz

It's hard to believe that a comedy centering on a teenage sex pact and featuring a scene involving "butt chugging" - which I sincerely hope is not a real thing that people do, but I'm certainly not going to google it to find out - could be as sweet and insightful as Blockers. That's not to say that the film doesn't have its problems - there is an entire sequence which, in the wake of the "Me Too" movement, I'm surprised could make it into the final cut of a movie (and apparently having elicited no controversy, as far as I can tell) - but it's leagues better than most movies of its kind and it's terrifically funny, too.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

* *

Director: Roar Uthaug
Starring: Alicia Vikander

File this one under "Movies You've Already Forgotten About, Even Though They Only Came Out A Few Months Ago," and with good reason. Tomb Raider is a forgettable adventure movie that forgets the key thing that tends to make adventure movies successful - it's not very much fun. This is a movie with a plot that centers on a giant tomb that is full of elaborate puzzles that need to be solved in order for the players to survive and it somehow manages to be mostly boring. It never had to be great, it never had to be groundbreaking, it didn't even need to stray too far from its video game origins, but it needed to be entertaining and, save for a moment or two scattered throughout, it fails. It is, at least, better than last year's tomb raiding movie The Mummy, but if you've seen The Mummy then you know that that's pretty faint praise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

25 Thoughts About Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Director: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard

I'm not even going to bother rating this. It's a bad, dumb movie. But I expected it to be bad and dumb so I was able to have fun with it while I watching it, thus I have no regrets and was mostly entertained (though some scenes so completely beggar suspension of disbelief that it took me out of the movie entirely). I wouldn't "recommend" it, per se, because it's not even remotely well-crafted on narrative and character levels, being full of plot holes, characters acting stupid solely to advance the plot, and things that just plain make no sense; but if all you want to see is dinosaurs wrecking havoc, then you might be satisfied by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom because there's lots of that in here. My thoughts on the latest in the Jurassic series (be warned: lots of spoilers):

Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: Ocean's 8 (2018)

* * *

Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina

"Why do you need to do this?" "Because it's what I'm good at." Sometimes that's all the justification you need. Did the world need another Ocean's movie? Probably not. I mean, one could reasonably argue that there didn't really need to be three in the first place. But movies like Ocean's 8 don't exist to address a need any more than the candy available at the concession does. These things exist because sometimes you just want a treat, something that has no nutritional value but gives you a bit of a sugar rush. Ocean's 8 is a lot of fun. It might not be striving for greatness, but it delivers pretty much exactly what it promises and its mix of charismatic stars, glamour, comedy and adventure makes for a perfect summer entertainment.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Disobedience (2018)

* * *

Director: Sebastian Lelio
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

The promotional materials for Disobedience heavily emphasize the relationship between the characters played by Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. While that relationship is most certainly a key element of the story, it isn't really what the film is about, but I suppose it's easier to sell a tale of forbidden love than it is a story about people living in a strict religious community being faced with the choice of adhering to the limiting confines of the religions teachings or being expelled entirely. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman and directed by Sebastian Lelio (whose A Fantastic Woman won this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar), Disobedience is a carefully observed film about the struggle between the desire to be and the desire to belong and features great performances by its two Rachels.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Review: Deadpool 2 (2018)

* * *

Director: David Leitch
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin

Part of the charm of Deadpool was its inherent shabbiness. Made on a shoestring budget (at least by the standards of superhero/action movies), Deadpool turned its discount elements into a strength by making it part of the joke. Deadpool 2 has the benefit of having about twice the budget as its predecessor, which gives it a lot more flash in terms of its action pieces, but it still manages to maintain that industrial and minimalist aesthetic of the first. It adheres to the principle of movie sequels to "do the same thing, but more," but it manages to stay relatively true to its roots at the same time, which is surely no easy feat. Deadpool 2 is the equal to its original, better in certain respects but not quite as good in others, and certainly worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

* * *

Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich

There are two things that can't be denied about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The first is that it had a troubled production, with original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (directors of the Jump Street movies and The LEGO Movie) being fired more than half-way through production and replaced by Ron Howard, prompting much speculation about the salvageability of the project. The second is that with an estimated $103 million Memorial Day weekend opening, it's considered something of a flop (by the standards of Star Wars movies, at any rate). That's a lot of negativity for one movie to overcome, but you know what? Solo is a pretty decent movie. It's a goofy adventure/heist movie that, though it has some flaws, is at worst a mid-tier Star Wars movie. Seriously: give it a chance.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: Life of the Party (2018)

* * 1/2

Director: Ben Falcone
Starring: Melissa McCarthy

Life of the Party, the latest vehicle for the go for broke talents of Melissa McCarthy, is neither as well put together as the films that McCarthy has made with director Paul Feig, nor as broad and crass as her previous collaborations with Ben Falcone. There's a sweetness to the movie which many of McCarthy's other movies tend to lack until until their third acts, and it's pretty funny even though it must be said that it has a pretty simple premise - after being left by her husband, a woman decides to make over her life, starting by going back to college - and manages to do remarkably little with it. Still, McCarthy is funny and charming and sometimes that's enough.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

* 1/2

Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton

Red Sparrow is a film that dares to ask: how many rape scenes is too many? If you've heard the term "male gaze" but aren't sure exactly what it means and would like to see a visual example, then this is the movie for you. Ostensibly a spy thriller, albeit of the most predictable, slow-moving, and needlessly convoluted kind, Red Sparrow is really just a perfunctory means of festishizing violence towards women, even though it seems to see itself as an empowerment narrative. It's a 140 minutes which would be reduced to about 15 if you excised all the scenes demonstrating, suggesting, or referencing sexual assault, coercion, harassment, or what the film characterizes as prostitution but which more closely resembles slavery. Hollywood: you can do better than this. You can do better with respect to films and you can do better by someone as talented as Jennifer Lawrence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Tully (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron

Although they've had success separately, it feels safe to say at this point that director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody function best as a team. 2007's Juno remains their big hit, both commercially and in terms of awards, while 2011's Young Adult remains one of the most criminally under-seen and under-appreciated movies of the last decade. Their latest film, Tully, is neither the heart-warming crowd pleaser that Juno was, nor does it possess the same acidic, take-no-prisoners attitude of Young Adult, but it's a sharply written and wholly compassionate film about a woman who is drowning in the responsibilities and expectations of motherhood. That woman is played by Charlize Theron, an actress who has no fear of leaning into a character's worst qualities without trying to soften them, which is exactly what the role demands. The performance is tremendous and the film itself rises to meet it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

* * *

Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Almost everyone

The success of Avengers: Infinity War - both creatively and financially - is a testament to the patience of Marvel Studios and Disney and the vision of the people behind it, particularly producer Kevin Feige, who has spent a decade bringing it together piece by piece. While seemingly every other movie studio has rushed to have (rather than build) shared universes that could double as money printers, Marvel has shown that there's no substitute for doing it one good movie at a time. Infinity War is the culmination of a decade of careful planning and 18 movies that have, save for a lesser entry here and there, mostly run the gamut from good to great. Since the film has already made over $500 million domestically and over $1 billion worldwide, I'm going to assume that spoilers don't matter in the discussion below. Consider yourself warned.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review: I Feel Pretty (2018)

* * *

Director: Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Starring: Amy Schumer

Michelle Williams is a goddamn genius. If AMPAS gave her an Oscar for her performance in I Feel Pretty (it would never happen, that's beside the point) I would be like, "Yep, absolutely." Her character work and total investment in that character make her the absolute highlight of a film that I suspect will be judged and denounced by significantly more people than actually bother to see it. I Feel Pretty is already one of the most divisive films of the year, with critics either really liking it or really hating it and think pieces about it popping up all over entertainment sites. I'm not going to suggest that I Feel Pretty doesn't have problems, but I do think that it's a lot less problematic than all the words that have been devoted to analyzing it would suggest.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: You Were Never Really Here (2018)

* * * *

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix

If you have any doubt that Joaquin Phoenix is one of the greatest actors of his generation, it should be put to rest by You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay's lean and brutal adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jonathan Ames. He is at once savage and fragile here, his character broken and haunted and willing to perform incredible acts of violence. He finds no catharsis in these acts and neither does the film, which offers the least glamorized depiction of violence in recent memory, replacing the stylized trappings that can make violence on film seem like something celebratory and replacing them with a sense of disorientation. Running at a breathless 90 minutes and never pausing to let you find your footing, forcing you to just let yourself be pulled into its narrative riptide, You Were Never Really Here is one of the most stunning viewing experiences of the year.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Isle of Dogs (2018)

* * 1/2

Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, and the Wes Anderson players

I like to think that the title of Wes Anderson's latest film, though it refers literally to the location of much of the film's action, is its first joke. Traditionally, dogs do not fare well in Anderson's films. When they die, their deaths tend to be brutally violent (see The Royal Tenenbaums, see Moonrise Kingdom). When you say this film's title aloud, it sounds like "I love dogs," as in "despite killing fictional pets every chance I get, I'm not a dog hating monster;" and when you watch the film, it starts to feel like it's playing with you a little bit, using your knowledge of the fates of dogs in previous films to tease you at various points with the possibility that some of the canine characters have met with terrible fates, only to reveal it was a fakeout. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but maybe Anderson is having a bit of fun with his audience, making his meta-humor just as offbeat as his regular humor. However, playful as it might be, Isle of Dogs is actually pretty serious stuff and makes for Anderson's most overtly political (for better or worse) film to date.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: The Death of Stalin (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi

I'm sure the real story was even more absurd. All the pieces are there, after all: a brutal tyrant who is ultimately undone by his own short-sighted desire to protect his power by destabilizing everyone around him; the political cronies who are left jockeying for power, stabbing each other in the back and trying to think out their next moves, taking a few gambles on how circumstances are going to shake out; a citizenry terrorized by the whims of those in charge, making the difference between life and death as arbitrary as possible; a son who is desperately trying to hide the fact that the national hockey team has been killed on his watch and that he has replaced the players in the hope that no one will notice. Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin is comedy that's about as black as it gets and if it plays a little fast and loose with real history, well, I have to assume that that's because truth is stranger than fiction and that it would seem even less believable if it were all true.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Review: Game Night (2018)

* * *

Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams

The game is real is one of the lazier story premises this side of mismatched police partners or love interests who start out hating each other only to fall in love. For proof look no further than the trailers for the absolutely atrocious looking Truth or Dare, which asks "What if a bunch of 20-somethings played a slumber party game... to death?" But even an unremarkable premise can be saved by strong execution, which is something that Game Night, a comedy about sibling rivalry and a parlor game that gets a little too real, has to its credit. Anchored by the deadpan comedic chops of Jason Bateman and the effortless charms of Rachel McAdams, Game Night suffers slightly from having more plot twists than it absolutely needs, but it's ultimately a winner.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Thoroughbreds (2018)

* * *

Director: Cory Finley
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin

I wanted to like Thoroughbreds a lot more than I actually did. The first two-thirds are clever, intriguing, and go to darker places than most movies about teenagers that aren't outright horror movies or Heathers. Then the ending comes along and ties everything up so quickly and so neatly that I could only feel disappointed. Thoroughbreds is a perfectly fine film built on a trio of strong performances from Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, and the late Anton Yelchin, and a film which, despite its origins as a play, manages not to feel stagey (though it helps that the narrative is enhanced by a feeling of claustrophobia), but it just doesn't quite get there as a story despite a solid build up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: Black Panther (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o

Long live the King. To watch Black Panther is to be awed, not just by the film itself (though it is a work of incredible achievement) but by the tradition that it joins. As the opening credits unfold, highlighting the characters and films of the Marvel cinematic universe, it's hard to be unimpressed by what Marvel has accomplished, the way that it has brought together so many moving pieces, creating properties that are unique from each other but also complement and build off of each other as part of one large, unified tapestry. That this is not as easy as Marvel (barring a misstep in the form of The Incredible Hulk) has made it look is evident in the struggles of other would-be cinematic universes, from the struggling DC's superhero series to Universal's dead on arrival "Dark" universe. Eventually the series will start to be hit by the reality that you can only go so high before you start to come down, but that sure as hell doesn't happen with Black Panther, which joins Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok as movies that probably could not have been made 10 years ago (or, at least, not with the budgets and hype that they got) and continues Marvel's streak of just getting better and better.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Oscar Winners

As they're announced:

Best Picture: The Shape of Water

Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Original Song: "Remember Me," Coco

Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 (FINALLY!)

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name

Best Live Action Short Film: The Silent Child

Best Documentary Short Subject: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Best Film Editing: Lee Smith, Dunkirk

Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Best Animated Short Film: Dear Basketball

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman

Best Production Design: The Shape of Water

Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk

Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk

Best Documentary Feature: Icarus

Best Costume Design: Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oscar Predictions

Winners will be announced tomorrow, here is my list of predictions:

Best Picture: The Shape of Water

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name

Best Film Editing: Lee Smith, Dunkirk

Best Cinematography: Dan Lausten, The Shape of Water

Best Production Design: The Shape of Water

Best Costume Design: Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Arjen Tuiten, Wonder

Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk

Best Sound Mixing: The Shape of Water

Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water

Best Original Song: "Remember Me," Coco

Best Documentary Feature: Faces Places

Best Foreign Language Film: Loveless

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Best Animated Short Film: LOU

Best Live Action Short Film: My Nephew Emmett

Best Documentary Short Film: Traffic Stop

Friday, March 2, 2018

90th Academy Awards: Best Picture

The nominees are:

Call Me By Your Name

Plot: A teenage boy falls in love with the male student of his professor father, who comes to stay with his family during the summer.

Nominated Producers and Oscar History:

* Peter Spears: First nomination

* Luca Guadagnino: First nomination

* Emilie Georges: First nomination

* Marco Morabito: First nomination

Total Nominations for Film: 4 (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

90th Academy Awards: Best Director

The nominees are:

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Oscar History: 1 previous nomination for Best Director, 2 nominations for Best Original Screenplay, 2 nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay; also nominated for Best Picture

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

90th Academy Awards: Best Actress

The nominees are:

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Role: The deaf janitor who finds love with an amphibian creature being held in a government lab and plots to break him out.

Oscar History: 1 previous nomination for Best Supporting Actress

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

90th Academy Awards: Best Actor

The nominees:

Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Role: A teenage boy who falls in love with the male student of his professor father.

Oscar History: First nomination

Monday, February 26, 2018

90th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are:

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Role: The manager of a cheap motel which is home to several impoverished Orlando residents.

Oscar History: 2 previous nominations for Best Supporting Actor