Movie reviews by
3 ½ (out of 4)
Rian Johnson’s movie career is the real mystery. Arriving after a competently thorny neo-noir debut (Brick), a half-baked comedy caper (The Brothers Bloom), some solid sci-fi (Looper) and what can only be described as the most detestable Star Wars sequel you could possibly dream up (Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, in case you forgot), Knives Out is what you could call his mischievous masterpiece. It's the movie he’s clearly been itching to get to, deserving of all the hype since this past TIFF and one of the most emphatically, heartily entertaining films in years.
Whereas his snide teasing and frivolous misdirection left a spurious space where The Last Jedi’s supposed soul and sophistication is, Knives Out merrily frolics through your expectations in a way that invigorates the interpretation of Johnson’s self-branded whodunit genre-disassembly. The writer-director finds plenty of room within the Thrombey Mansion to administer his shrewd formal finesse – by the end of Act 1 Knives Out has already become its own enterprising creative item despite copious influences. With the likes of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle too obvious to mention, more relevantly this film is something like the crass Americanized companion to Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. However Knives Out is also comprised of timeless dramatic irony and substantial suspense, reaching back to the voluptuous anxiety of noirs' seminal classics such as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity or Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window.
Daniel Craig’s magnificent lead performance as Detective Benoit Blanc crowns an imposing cast. In a role reminiscent of the empirical investigative work of, say, Dial M for Murder, Knives Out demonstrates the same anticipatory unease of many a Hitchcock flick. Johnson’s incarnation of the spellbinding, unshakably suave private snoop is a fine riff on the Philip Marlowe’s and Hercule Poirot’s of the past. “This machine, unerringly, arrives at the truth,” and so go many of Craig's southern-baked soliloquies, each as smooth and sharp as Tennessee Whiskey. Ana de Armas is the film’s emotional ballast and her affect makes for a sympathetic protagonist and ensures some refinement in the politics.
The remainder of the sterling ensemble includes Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer and Don Johnson, all who conform to Johnson’s cognizant premise without getting cute or gleefully slipping into mugging stereotypes. As a reflection of our culture’s own dread of holiday discord, the underpinnings of national divide are appropriate but will get the Right riled up for spitting in the face of anti-immigration rhetoric. But the financial journey of the Thrombey children is about the hypocrisy of entitlement and how little self-sufficiency there can be for privileged, opportunistic leeches. Essentially Knives Out supposes karma rewards nature’s kinder characters; the upper class comeuppance and ultimate meritocratic sentiment is a fine notion.
From the dexterous dolly shots to the mansion's sublime mise-en-scène, Johnson’s airtight picture is able to serve all audiences equally with admirable auteur craftwork as well as timely cheek. The vivid characters sell the design of the ethical debates and borderline asinine revelations of the final admissions – Johnson’s script dances down the tightrope of cleverness, wobbling only slightly in the last steps over the vacuum of convolution. If the dialogue weren’t so savory, or the editing so poetic or the performances so refreshing, one slip-up could have spoiled the whole stew – does a minor plot hole matter in the scope of such cunning storytelling?
In revisits I’m sure the gratification of the film’s composition – in addition to Johnson’s mission for audiences to find themselves aligned somewhere in a ‘classic vs. trash’ argument – will be its own reward. In the face of box office prosperity a sequel has been ordered involving Detective Blanc’s further cases – Craig is so delectably compelling to observe at work I'm on board no matter what.
3 (out of 4)
Last year Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was touted less as an exceptionally enlightening documentary and more simply because anything venerating Fred Rogers is by extension worth celebrating. Such is the case with the third film by Marielle Heller – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is securely anchored and basically blessed by the graceful hand of Tom Hanks but more actually safeguarded by the very spirit of Rogers alone.
But Heller's flair is for knotty personality profiles and with A Beautiful Day she sustains a spotless, steady career. The director has become a biopic specialist since her first, fussiest and most uncomfortably realistic film – and the only one she’s also written the screenplay for – the adaptation of quasi-graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? could convert anyone into a believer in Melissa McCarthy whilst illustrating a psyche I’m sure no other filmmaker could've drawn clearer. Humor's plainer, more indifferent shades informed these two dark-comic films and their precedent only stresses how few rough edges outline A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
The unsympathetic elements are there in a logical attempt at emotional revelation, an obvious contrast to draw next to Roger's unwavering earnestness for the necessary melodramatic backdrop. The Esquire article from which the movie is inspired tries to place you in the writer/cynic (same thing) Tom Junod's disposition – Matthew Rhys stars as the "Can You Say ... Hero?" article scribe, reasonably detailing the mindset of the curmudgeon. As Rogers', Hanks plays a supporting figure who is less a foil than a headshrink (yes I realize Rogers was an ordained minister) so then Heller's propensity to depict discomfort can be applied to the genuine yet exasperating process of Rogers transforming journalism into therapy.
But nearly everyone who walks into the Mr. Rogers movie likely doesn’t need an intervention. Only a few scenes deserve the easy tears they so smoothly extract, often at the assistance of Hanks’ portrayal, which takes a mere 90 seconds to get used to. The grains of wisdom and inquiries into sadder truths take a collectively heavy toll as Heller cranks the waterworks nearly as high as the documentary did. But, as I said in that review, with no dirt to dig up Rogers' life's work exists as it always has making me question whether this Oscar-attractor circa 2019 is worth more than a binge of a bit of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood cannot get around the fact that the tenderhearted television icon’s mentality has only so much to offer other than a moral, civic ideal to aim for admire – and of course the film takes time to assert that Rogers needs no deification and we shouldn't place his piousness on a pedestal, arguing if his degree of kindness is exceptional it will never be the status quo.
Hanks has his first Supporting Actor nomination in the bag after two famous consecutive Best Actor wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump plus three more nominations in the same category. This latest biographical portrait amounts to the sixth real life figure modeled in six years – Fred Rogers follows the titular Captain Phillips, Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, two Spielberg projects including James B. Donovan in Bridge of Spies and Ben Bradlee in The Post as well as Sully in the only decent recent Clint Eastwood movie of the same name). Great acting is about being as good at playing yourself as you are at emulating a chameleon and Hanks is suited for this role like he's been for so many before. This performance is just below some of his deepest, most distinguished turns like Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, Big and Phillips.
Heller’s film has a compelling ethical compass but it is just not as gutsy or provoking as her earlier explorations. This is no slump since she’s willing to touch on an unregistered maturity at the heart of even the most innocent of circumstances just like the cardigan-toting shepherd himself. Just because Heller’s playing it safe doesn’t mean she isn’t doing it well.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Martin Scorsese is a great director whose magnitude is under ceaseless reappraisal, and so his superior touch must reestablish itself as new ventures rectify the compounded weight of a filmography stretching over half a century. It’s been a decade of providence for Scorsese with vigorous, extravagant epics and purposeful passion projects (Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence, you decide which is which) leading to The Irishman. Despite its shortcomings as a late, indulgent excerpt alongside a seismic oeuvre and within the tradition of the gangster film, the film is nonetheless another autumnal masterstroke fashioned out of each and every one of Scorsese’s convictions and practicalities.
The Irishman is flimsiest when the story must adhere to the unavoidable if oftentimes impressively accomplished de-aging, but the extreme expense behind the Netflix-backed undertaking is otherwise exhausted on the integral things – substantial period reproduction in the sets and costumes, thoroughly convincing make-up design and premiere acting talent. The informal narration, discreet editing and cold humor are as blistering as the subjective historical commentary and vicious violence – all the elements adding up to Scorsese the auteur are fully functional, though whether or not we have an indispensable cinematic exploit on our hands will be long in dispute.
Will this endure as immaculately as the fundamental gangster benchmarks of Francis Ford Coppola, Sergio Leone or Quentin Tarantino? The Irishman has its own exposé and its own history, and Scorsese never appears to tire of forming new questions of conscience and hefty, mythically complex portraits. His dedication to the apathetic reality of Philadelphia hitman Frank Sheeran’s story is as sure-handed as his dissections of other nefarious personages in crime history or the seedier exploits of his own experiences that snuck into his early work like Mean Streets.
De Niro, in his ninth collaboration with Scorsese, is somewhat worse for wear despite his devotion, and while Pesci outshines him in general, both actors posit the greater empathy the closer they play to their real age, both because de-aging technology is aways from perfection and even when the CGI is passable the actors are more organic when they aren’t required to live in anything other than their own skin and a wee bit of makeup. Al Pacino is the film's strongest asset as Jimmy Hoffa and, even with a legendary career founded on heralded, iconic performances (Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather films, Scarface, etc.), he’s still an actor to be reckoned with as he ruggedly operates a classically tragic arc.
No matter if you think 3 ½ hours of this mobster ethos is too much, The Irishman is so assured, authoritative and abundantly entertaining it’s enough to have you reassessing and reacquainting yourself with the mighty scope of Scorsese’s body of work. Personal favorites like The Last Temptation of Christ and After Hours inch up on the rewatch list, his most cherished films (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) demand another bout of evaluation – how superfluous was Casino after all – and I’ve never felt more compelled to fill in the blanks with The Age of Innocence, New York, New York or Who’s That Knocking At My Door? In short, if you really are only as good as your last movie, Scorsese is doing pretty well for himself. And after fifty years why should he stop trying now?
2 (out of 4)
The funny thing about feminist cinema is its prime examples were never self-declared but self-evident. At the very least if a woman's picture (as a man in the 40s might refer to it) was a financial failure the director didn’t blame it on absent misogynists – sorry but if this Charlie’s Angels flops isn’t it the missing ladies in the audience who are the real problem? And when novice filmmaker Elizabeth Banks, whose only directorial credit is shooting Kay Cannon’s script of Pitch Perfect 2, is hardly some kind of Kelly Reichardt or Greta Gerwig in waiting and the film is so instantaneously forgettable, there's really nothing to defend or get worked up about.
K-Stew is trying but frankly I’ve never found her notion of charisma more excruciating to behold. If there isn’t lame, trifling humor – which doesn’t jar at all with the blockbuster big boy pants the film yanks on for the action drops – then the super woke dialogue is literally reciting gender statistics. Gee I bet women feel so empowered! Jasmine from the new Aladdin (Naomi Scott) is an idle audience insert while the utterly winsome Ella Balinska is misspent when she’s good enough to be bolstering Bond or Mission: Impossible.
I never thought I’d look back at the McG Angel’s flicks with nostalgia and admiration, but besides Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu playing more compellingly capable heroines, those two dumb wire-fu parodies at least had a semblance of stylization and adequate proportions of fetishism and feminism. All 2019’s reboot has is Patrick Stewart.
Ford v Ferrari
3 (out of 4)
This is what they call a good old-fashioned time at the movies – nothin’ fancy at all. Technical prowess, sprawling historical illumination, thrilling tests of human endurance and seasoned actors bringing legends to life – if not for those things Ford v Ferrari somehow doesn’t abandon the common yokel's grasp of the joint business / engineering competition or insult your intelligence with too much superfluous open road navel-gazing. Basically everyone in the audience has a hook especially with such phenomenally edited action, but FvF is foremost steeped in emotional earthiness.
James Mangold ventured down the biopic path with Walk the Line to similarly well-rounded success (healthy awards recognition and decent treatment at the box office) while more current turns to comic books with The Wolverine and Logan did not erase but fortified his craft. Christian Bale is as good as some of his defining performances (American Psycho, The Machinist, The Prestige, Rescue Dawn) and Matt Damon reminds you why he was ever such a big deal to begin with, so naturally the friendship between Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles clicks the film’s disparate dramatics into place. It's no surprise the most interesting part of the racing movie is the human friction – Ford v Ferrari's still got true momentum no matter how fast things are moving.
The Good Liar
1 ½ (out of 4)
The employment of standard narrative discipline usually conjures the expectancy of forthcoming scenes, but there are some movies so transparent, predictable and pointless it's actually befuddling to picture people enjoying such stuffy schlock. I’m usually the one playing the fool when it comes to twist-laden attractions like The Good Liar, no matter how many movies I’ve seen, but damn – I could call every listless shot.
I’m not so clever but there was only so much to be done with the arrangement of dueling elderly deceivers. Let me give you a hint – whoever you think has the upper hand (wait for it) doesn’t. The Good Liar has a pinch of merit – opposing legends of stage and screen Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren make the viewing compulsory and… that’s about it. It’s a pity the tacky novel wasn't restricted to the rotating rack at the airport kiosk as culture intended. Something tells me the hidden #metoo / Nazi-revenge double threat helped keep this snooze in the creative conversation.
2 (out of 4)
Stephen King's spot on the big screen is more illustrious than ever and just as inconsistent. Even in an already big year for the heavyweight author – a Pet Sematary reboot, It Chapter Two, even In the Tall Grass for Netflix – the creative impotence of Doctor Sleep would feel more like King's fault if the movie didn't principally function as an inevitable consequence of the 1980 interpretation of The Shining.
Since no one's ever clamored for a King screenplay save for Creepshow, the story goes the more detached he is from the reworkings of his books the purer the results, most evidently felt in the lingering predominance of Stanley Kubrick's hallmark of the horror horizon some 40 years out. That said, I wasn’t automatically pessimistic to hear King’s latent continuation of his famous 1977 novel was being fit for the screen courtesy of the runaway success of 2017’s It. Considering Doctor Sleep invariably must exist as a curiously inconsequential follow-up to maybe Kubrick’s most inscrutable creation, as both a fresh King adaptation and a dormant sequel it soon becomes apparent that this film's artistic task was impossible.
But what matters by the time you sit your ass in the theater is the story find some way justify its stupendously ill-advised undertaking and ridiculously indulgent two and a half hours. At the outset Mike Flanagan's feature looks like it's navigating a divergent nightmare, but Doctor Sleep is ultimately so dysfunctional as entertainment and can be so promptly discredited as cinema because of the fatal choice to perpetually hammer home Kubrick’s influence. Flanagan is certainly no force of filmmaking nature akin to Stanley but honestly who is? As a sharp marksman of B-movie diligence – Oculus is a treat, better than his triptych of Netflix joints (the shrewd slasher Hush, the dim-witted dreams of Before I Wake, and an antithetically pocket-sized King adaptation Gerald’s Game) – Flanagan is a man of quiet consistency, and at the very least his gloomy voice as a lesser, yet practiced digital auteur is intact, the only factor shaking off a few of Doctor Sleep's inescapable cinematic shadows. Even as the film’s writer, editor and director, who’s to say how much of his voice was left untouched since there’s King’s capital K Krazy source material to consider and Warner Brothers' itch for a movie proportionate to Kubrick’s deliberate, initially alienating calculations.
By egregiously citing Kubrick’s premeditated dexterity, Flanagan's Hollywood break is incapable of emerging as its own thing. Despite a radical shift in the internal mythology, Doctor Sleep never fails to act as a stylistic simulacrum of The Shining’s meticulously mind-dissolving psychological trip. The exact score (harsh horns, nebulous, spectral ambiance and those heartbeat jungle drums) and visual references (imposing symmetry, glacially superimposed transitions, haunting tracking shots) are feel more plagiarism than homage, serving to always remind you of its predecessor's perfection especially when King's story solemnly unravels the most boring, witless X-Men tale of all time.
Yet all the paling in comparison there is can't discount the fact that Ewan McGregor will forever play a creditable protagonist and Rebecca Ferguson continues to exercise villainesses as her exquisite forte. A friend told me if the movie reminded him of that dreadful sequence from Ready Player One it'd be the kiss of death, and with pointless reproductions of memorable Shining moments by lookalikes (um, WB you do own the original footage correct?) the worst has been realized. As with Spielberg's conundrum, reverence alone does not suffice to give you a pass no matter how intrinsically great the source – and whether the "material" of Doctor Sleep is more Kubrick's film or King's book, the movie just kind of sucks either way.
3 (out of 4)
Taika Waititi is going places, and he’s not pausing along his abnormal directorial path to catch a breath or sniff some roses. Alongside the Russo brothers and Joss Whedon, Waititi was one of the few Hollywood transitions – ya know, the routine of small time filmmaker turned overnight blockbuster neophytes – to pay off successfully with Thor: Ragnarok, a Marvel film with an uncommonly discernable identity. Before Waititi takes on an inescapably expensive adaptation of Akira – turned down by Jordan Peele – he protects his place as an oddball on the outskirts while also netting some invaluable license to Oscar prestige with Jojo Rabbit.
Something like Wes Anderson's mind meshed with Life is Beautiful or perhaps Come and See, Jojo Rabbit is constructed on an inflexible tone of indifference. The movie's somewhat inflammatory existence makes me all the curiouser about Germany’s take on a thoroughly Americanized (or Kiwied, however you look at it), flagrantly parodic impression of Hitler’s ideology on youngsters, particularly when certain stateside spectators are so irked. Waititi’s satire does not exactly succeed as brazen folly, although a well-placed pun or turn of phrase let’s Waititi show his stuff in regards to swift, sage dialogue, where his truest talents lie.
It's never too soon to begin commenting on the nature of distorting history – especially the extra sensitive, 20th century sort – to your own will. When Tarantino warps WWII as he likes, it's a saucy continuation of an foolhardy brand but somehow Waititi's impish twists on Nazis, Jews and the subjects in between have been enough for grumbling critics to dismiss the film altogether. To be frank I don't care one smidgen how writers and directors erroneously tweak the past for the sake of a cinematic present, nor about the frail sensitivity of audiences readily conditioned to be rattled at a second's notice. Jojo Rabbit got under my skin emotionally and no amount of personal provocation could agitate shoo-in sympathetic wit once the uneasy first act subsided. This isn't Au Revoir, Les Enfants after all, it's a quirky, sappy comedy by the guy who made that vampire mockumentary starring himself and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which is twice the eccentric flick Jojo is and sadly no one's seen it. Even when someone both respected and Jewish steps behind the camera as in Steven Spielberg with Schindler's List, there are still the most petulant of bellyachers unable to be quelled. I guess religion and nationalism can always be counted on to bring out the worst in the worst of us.
Even if this affair has some overly cute or farcical flashes, the succession of goofiness and heartache is rather strategic, even mathematical. At first, especially any amount of Rebel Wilson onscreen, you should be daring Waititi to land the film in a manner emotionally effective enough to win TIFF's People's Choice Award (over Marriage Story, Parasite) but it doesn’t take long for the agreeable juggling act of silliness and substance to strike a sincere rhythm. Waititi himself executes this both on and offscreen, inhabiting young Jojo's idea of Hitler, like a wisecracking devil on the shoulder throughout the entire film. His supporting cast – Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Stephen Merchant – hand in some of the better performances of their career as they have terrible fun with pronounced stereotypes. Johansson is specifically moving as a mother raising Jojo (the unassumingly extraordinary Roman Griffin Davis) and sheltering a Jewish girl Elsa (the wonderful Thomasin McKenzie) while her husband fights the war.
Building an organic bridge of empathy as any wholesome film should, Jojo’s steadily sentimental relationship with Elsa elicits an innocent earnestness to reconcile the film’s touchy tonal oddities. It’s honestly McKenzie – who maybe is only so good at acting when it comes to playing scruffy homeless girls as in Leave No Trace – taking every leap of pathos in stride, and her recognizable devotion saves Jojo Rabbit from tripping over its own excess of twee.
3 (out of 4)
The appropriate prescription for drafting a movie review suggests a pun here or there is just good fun and, especially as a headline or parting sentence, often inevitable. With The Current War the fruit has never hung so low – no matter how you come down on this picture it's just too easy to joke about, so I’ll just get it all out of the way now and say the film is enlightening if not electrifying and has enough battery life to bypass short circuiting etc. etc.
Before it was shelved a result of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, what would become the original version of the predictably tailored Oscar bait premiered to general derision at the 2017 TIFF. Thus after the film was acquired by the ashes of The Weinstein Company (Lantern Entertainment oddly enough) and entirely re-edited in eventual post-post-production – the ineffectual subtitle Director's Cut used in advertisements was at least stupid for a reason – The Current War picked up distribution at last. Two years ago the film would have arrived with the muted response deserving of the least trustworthy device for Academy awareness. Today the circumstances are not too different except this historical drama doesn't conduct itself (damn it) like an awards sweetener firsthand.
A multifarious biopic, turn of the century period piece, hoity-toity costume picture – the film has all the mandatory accoutrements of past, proven Weinstein-backed snores. The secret ingredient is Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, director of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, who is enriched with his cache of filmmaking sleights and strategies and was not hesitant to enforce his final word as head honcho. He found a clause in executive producer Martin Scorsese's contract securing creative control including reshoots deemed artistically necessary because of the rushed post-production of the first cut. However deficient the early draft of The Current War may have been, Gomez-Rejon's renovation can’t help but spin the stodgiest of historical topics and trifling rivalries into an intriguing exercise.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, Matthew Macfayden as J. P. Morgan all ensure their roles are not overstated caricatures but suitable embodiments of towering Industrial Age figures. Hollywood's always calling on Cumberbatch to be the face of curt robotic thinkers real and fictional – Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, his stint leading Sherlock and I guess playing the WikiLeaks guy counts too – but his analogously contemptible and smug Edison is apparently in accordance with historical memory. Shannon and Macfayden have never disappointed and don't here. Meanwhile Hoult could have easily disgraced the most important innovative magnate to the story, but his Tesla, while no David Bowie in The Prestige, measures up to the young actor's best attempts.
But really it's Gomez-Rejon stealing the show, eagerly snatching from his grab bag of influences and techniques to ward off possible boredom as his rendition of the dawn of the 20th century unfolds. The Current War is also written with unthinkable wit by playwright Michael Mitnick, who initially envisioned the AC/DC contention as a musical in the making before dozens of subsequent drafts. The script also refuses to congratulate or condescend to today's audiences for common knowledge, at least not as egregiously as some of its genre equivalents. The screenplay spells out the authorship of invention in a fascinating fashion, finding truths on business, politics, journalism and the global direction of technology applicable to our removed 21st century existence.
Usually generous explanation and exposition can be a waste of time – Mitnick, although he takes the popular route, realized that the social concerns relating to the intellectual and economic contest of the countrywide alternating versus direct current Westinghouse/Edison skirmish would be more captivating than some patronizing science class. Even if Gomez-Rejon wasn’t pulling out all the cinematographic stops – whips pans, low angles, zooms, overheads, breathless tracking shots, headlong editing, literally you name it, there's a movie moment like it – there would still be an engrossing chapter of the past left to uncover.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Daunting, stupefying and tactile, The Lighthouse is the American cinephile's moment of bliss for 2019. Doused in gothic, Poe-inspired gloom, Lynchian soundscapes, an expressionist aura and early surrealist spontaneity, director Robert Eggers' formal freakishness is one of such consideration that the mere montage of this scrupulous digression of sanity already easily supersedes contemporary attempts to cerebrally bewilder like Shutter Island or A Tale of Two Sisters, placing the film in the discussion of maddening psych-horror classics like The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby.
And for all its pedigrees in a primitive cinematic approach, Eggers' film and his touch will be everlasting to the art form by emphasizing the surest signs of great filmmaking: ceremonious performances, palpable production and the orchestration of motion or stagnation through all the consummate, painterly beauty you can muster. Rounding out a year of superlative second features for thriving horror saviors – Eggers’ film joins Jordan Peele’s Us and Ari Aster’s Midsommar as unquestionable evidence to the genre’s relentless revival – The Lighthouse lives up to every capacity of excellence demonstrated in that one sick New England Folktale instant classic debut that was The Witch.
But Eggers’ latest is really its own act of separate genius regardless of its forthright influences both mythological and cinematic. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are phenomenally convincing, the period garnishes are exhaustively researched and the dreamlike downward spiral is deliciously grotesque. The antiquated 1.19:1 aspect ratio and orthochromatic color spectrum, which gorgeously invokes the likeness of 18th century photography, is a decisive element of The Lighthouse's particularly illusory nature.
The psychological thriller has been the bedrock of classic horror for ages, and Eggers’ spectacular imagination is completely evocative of former filmmaking eras where philosophical drama was not incongruous with invitingly strange fables. But for every painstaking piece of the minimalist bedazzlement, the Shakespearean parlance and prose of Eggers' and his brother Max's script is primarily and staggeringly brought to life by Dafoe’s otherworldly conviction; he's doubtlessly true to his Melvillian character. Otherwise the hallucinatory passages are wonderfully implicit and chilling, so much so that the lofty ambiguity precisely employs the intended essence of mythic allegory, enrapturing theatricality and playful puzzlement. The editing and cinematography are as faultless as Eggers’ most obviously praiseworthy assets. The prolonged plunge into hysteria is hard to withstand.
The Witch’s sense of storytelling is more unadorned which is why I believe I prefer it to the more volatile obscurity of The Lighthouse – but neither film can be diminished when auteurism so astounding allocates so much attention. So far Eggers is so attracted to the area where the fundamentally real intersects with the supernaturally indefinite, and this fiber interlacing his two films is also a crucial condition of this corner of horror's history. His work as of now is the precise equivalent to campfire stories directed by Kubrick. The morose sequences of gaslighting, absurdist humor, suggestive poetry and spiraling monotony are so methodically arranged it’s impossible not to be hypnotized by blinding promise of Eggers’ brilliance. Whatever necessary pretensions lay within, The Lighthouse is an uncontestable, mesmerizing masterwork worthy of every and any morsel of praise it reaps.
2 ½ (out of 4)
With a decade of horror-comedy hindsight, the ingenuity of Zombieland rings considerably fainter than it did in 2009. Whereas Shaun of the Dead is a legitimately animate genre-niche template reinforced with as many iconic touches as its flesh-eating progenitor, Zombieland is really just as boorish and haphazard as you’d expect any latent American counterpart to be.
Besides beating a couple of catch phrases into the ground and securing an uncommonly fair profit for Sony, there was no reason why this afterthought of a sequel to the first Z-land demanded creation. Whatever the present momentum behind such a follow-up, the questionably aged modesty of Zombieland has been remotely improved with a new installment – but the trivial, hardly noteworthy adjustments are too slight to celebrate. The original movie and now Double Tap’s reliance on rom-com remedies ultimately places them closer to the forgettable mashups of Warm Bodies (recollect that one if you can) than little cultural moments inspired enough to treasure.
But most of the audience is there for the cast rather than spoofs and trashy gore. Of course the most bankable performer is Woody Harrelson, who thank god has dropped the Twinkie thing and pleases most reliably as himself and himself alone. Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone follow suit although to far less dependable results – Harrelson's essence alone can shift lifelessness into revelry with satisfaction guaranteed but Eisenberg’s meekness, inseparable from his shtick, hasn't matured much. And although Stone has retracted the bangs and excessive make-up, the Academy Award-winning actress is barely removed from the Queen of Sarcasm status she was known for in her Easy A days. Meanwhile the former innocence of Abigail Breslin doesn’t hold weight when the young lady is 23 years old – as the smallest celebrity on the poster, the writers do what they can to remove her character from the centerfold of the movie. The search for an absconded, impulsive 18-year-old is more of an actual story than the near-sketch comedy of the former movie and the additional characters apart from undead cannibals are the film’s only antidote to sameness.
Borderline cameos by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch lead you to a gleefully choreographed one-take sequence, making up the best second act action-comedy excerpt you could ask for from something like this. But it takes Zoey Deutch (of Everybody Wants Some!! and other far worse movies) playing a stereotypical mid-20s dumb slut to secure some decent chuckles and give this Z-quel a specific flavor. Unfortunately Deutch's character is just a pawn in Double Tap's labored attempt to shade the Eisenberg-Stone romance with a new hew, but this reliance on the most shopworn sitcom jealously angles severely limits the degree of charm these movies exude.
In theory, the idea of misfits surviving a zombie apocalypse is genre gold, maybe once; in practice, it’s marginally strained and underwhelming in either case. The continuation of Eisenberg’s narration exacerbates things, tying together faint, unrelated themes in a passable enough perhaps for a random episode of Scrubs. Both Zombieland flicks fall just short of the laugh-out-loud funny threshold, and if this new movie didn't revise the sloppiness that had a hand in the previous film's popularity – accommodating sharper self-awareness, inserting a twist or two beyond the accidental murder of Bill Murray – Double Tap would be hazardous to your health rather than a mid-October evening-killer.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Even with a resemblance to Lynne Ramsay’s fiery You Were Never Really Here a few years back and roots soundly planted in Martin Scorsese’s revered early history – Taxi Driver and most directly The King of Comedy – Joker is nonetheless a 2019 movie mile marker all its own. DC's latest standalone success is more meritorious than your garden-variety comic book movie, but is it as hazardous to mass consciousness as was preordained? Would it be such a bad thing if it were?
So despite an unwarranted forecast of devastation before this film's debut, obviously no one was slaughtered and anyone who feared and/or expected some eruption of white male aggression at the cinema should have felt a tart combination of shame and chagrin. As a film alone though, my prior wariness to whatever variety of villain exposé I was walking into was due entirely to Todd Phillips' place at the helm. With the overrated quintet of Old School, the Hangover trilogy and Due Date behind him, the symptomatic normalization of boyish men seemed to make Phillips precisely the wrong choice to handle material so potentially inflammatory and disruptive. Little did I expect some realist themes, such gorgeously candid digital cinematography or third act risks so ballsy – the cumulative moments of insanity alone are enough to destine Joker the status of cult favorite at the very least and deservingly so. This near-masterpiece enriches DC with the best of the brand's preceding year of consecutive solo features: the underrated Aquaman, Shazam!'s undeniable appeal and now Joker's timely, ferocious acting showcase.
The remarkably provocative movie around Joaquin Phoenix eclipsed my middling expectations, but it is the Method (acting) Man himself who quickly quiets every other reservation. Phoenix's marvelous commitment exponentially amplifies the film's cinematic power – then again, try not capturing documented gold after a spell with Phoenix and an expensive camera. Sure, Heath Ledger’s role will reign supreme forever as the exquisite capper to an all too brief legacy because, ya know, he's the best part of the cultural touchstone that was The Dark Knight – though when you watch Phoenix there’s nothing reminding you of Ledger, Jack Nicholson or anyone else. It’s almost as if you didn’t need Phillips or any direction whatsoever to mold Phoenix's utterly feral exertions, especially after a decade of mesmerizing performances (The Master, Inherent Vice, YWNRH). His magnetic, impeccable role-playing averts not only foolishly portraying mental illness but also pissing off comic book disciples.
Of course, given how divisive this film has been even ahead of hitting theaters, there’s no denying how many feathers have been ruffled, or maybe even plucked, in public or critical circles. The philosophical backbone of the film – that seedy, spiteful nihilism – will rigidly appeal to the most dejected members of the audience, the 4chan-browsing incels we should be oh so cautious of at the local cineplex. Just like the folks with common sense who exasperatedly oppose those claiming that callous video games and Tarantino films manifest real carnage, all I can say for the crowds using the ideology of the Joker as a liberating model for their own dispirit is let them enjoy the movie and vicariously rid themselves of a few repressed impulses as each one of us subconsciously does when we enter a dark theater.
Still, the very fact that Warner Brothers has to remind people this film is not a call to incite actual anarchy should tell you how explosive the narrative substance is and, more importantly, how little implicit trust can be placed on the general public's facility to process any subtextual satire, irony or motifs nowadays. This is without mentioning how swiftly pop culture journalists and easily offended social media users will scramble to scandalize anything incongruous with their worldview. The whole sick escapism/heinous portrait angle of Joker, in addition to the unreliable narrator ticks and classist rage within, screams American Psycho more than any Marty film. Hilarious, horrifying – it's an incredibly fine line and Phoenix is there to disguise the spaces between pity and empathy, catharsis and disgust better than the much less enthralling script.
Even if you loathe this film in its entirety you’re bound to ponder it significantly more than the movies you casually despise. Certain screenwriting tropes are so completely smoothed over by Phoenix's unshackled lunacy – clichés become a non-issue when trying to distinguish between a main character's prescribed nuttiness and our lead actor's eccentric, undefined personal level of crazy. I'm sure many will find fault in aspects of the film's composition, but my only real grievance is Arthur Fleck inflicted revolutionary change occurs almost entirely without his impetus. Fleck's largely accidental V for Vendetta-esque symbol of collective resistance doesn't really reflect the character's renowned ingenious mastermind.
In fact, other than the intriguing psychopathy, all Joker really seems to have in common with DC is the new wrinkle in portraying the Wayne's as ignorant, elitist yuppies. DC and WB apparently have learned antithetical prudence is the way to outsmart, or at least counter, Marvel’s epic monopolizing – simply by stripping the blockbuster masquerade to the essentials with thrifty filmmaking, Joker became the most profitable superhero film of all time in the wake of Endgame's record-annihilating run. Whether absorbed by overeager nerds or average Joes, it's rather infrequent that a mainstream standalone character study warranted intense dissection or considerable pondering, let alone one billion dollars in earnings (a first for R-rated films). From whichever perspective, if all else is overlooked, it's impossible to ignore Phoenix's rare sensibilities.
2 (out of 4)
The contemporary cinematic space race has been in full sprint since 2013 when Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity became the first in a line of comparably ambitious affairs continuing with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Ridley Scott’s The Martian and Damien Chazelle’s First Man. It’s not that director James Gray is exactly late to the cosmos-obsessed blockbuster party but his final efforts, after delayed release dates and a lengthy post-production, are so compromised, disimpassioned and disappointingly dim the movie fails to serve as the truly anti-sensationalist sci-fi fare we've been sorely missing. Though even before I saw Ad Astra, it was evident how little the project had to lend to the genre's revival.
Sure, Gray maneuvered through his early career with numerous crime dramas only to swap that alcove for his recent pair of historical features – the hushed poetry of The Immigrant and the Amazonian adventure epic The Lost City of Z. Ad Astra adheres to similar father/son dynamics of Gray's last film not to mention themes weighing the toll of legacy and levying critiques of both archetypal masculinity and Manifest Destiny-esque conquest.
However everything so supple and honorably old-fashioned about Gray's 20th century odyssey doesn't equivalently benefit his futuristic one. Even without some god awful narration – which feels tiresome, tacked on and otherwise clumsy – the film is an impotent slog despite principled intentions, confusing every one of its pedestrian attempts at existential investigation for something Kubrickian or at least likewise distant and new. Many have likened Ad Astra to Apocalypse Now, which is a fairly insulting comparison to draw between a perennial classic and a modern snooze. Rather than draw out those parallels, all I'll say is Tommy Lee Jones is no Brando and the epic journey of disappointment has a quarter of the introspection and even less odious beauty.
Expectations of galactic intrigue may have misled the average moviegoer but I was one to anticipate some mind-numbing slowness from Ad Astra knowing the plot would venture through the vaguely immigrated and colonized solar system. But even as one who never associates the word 'boring' with any kind of moviegoing, this film is painfully tedious and emotionally dormant. Sometimes that can be my exact cup of tea – an underplayed and aged near-future, as in Blade Runner or Children of Men, can elaborate on purposeful global predictions as easily as it implements stirring escapist stimulation.
A mundane, gloomy space voyage to Neptune could be wonderful if paced out properly, but with certain swells of action akin to Gravity's technical flourishes, the clip of the space voyage through daddy issues takes a plain plot and makes its dull to feel out as well as think about. Whether it's Brad Pitt's character sneaking onto a rocket mid-takeoff only to murder everyone onboard or detours with deadly lab monkeys, there's minimal intelligence to discover in Ad Astra in any sense.
And it can't be emphasized enough: not a single sentence of Pitt’s inner voice-over improves any given scene – even when we're blessed with actual dialogue the utilitarian drudgery and the emotive outbursts are equally cheesy. There's even an underused Liv Tyler as an ex-wife seen through stodgy flashbacks just to hammer down the customary melodramatics of the script.
If it weren’t for Hoyte van Hoytema’s lovely Roger Deakins-inspired cinematography – the gifted director of photography trades his Interstellar expertise for a visual scheme ripped right from Blade Runner 2049 – Ad Astra would be agonizing. There’s no shame in a film being the product of multiple, rather pronounced past influences, but Gray’s film is vastly inferior to every one of them and drawing from so many cinematic benchmarks eventually feels more like pastiche than inspiration. In theory this movie was designed to please me by way of old-fashioned genre storytelling and spectacle, but every modern insert – hasty editing, bisexual lighting, set piece interludes – sully such a possibly striking and pensive sci-fi fable. The mostly meditative film feels ripped apart by the simple conflict of studio prerequisites and artistic intent.
Pitt – an actor you can’t believe burned so bright in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood just a month or two ago and will likely secure his first deserved Academy win for such a surefire supporting role – would have been a monotone bummer to see Ad Astra through even without his torturous internal monologues. Drawn on the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra, or "through struggles to the stars," Gray's film has all the conditions for classic science fiction filmmaking, but its minor victories just aren't worth trudging through so much preceding discomfort.
3 (out of 4)
It’s no small thing to make America sit through a three-hour movie, let alone one half of a supernatural clown story. Stephen King’s gargantuan bedside table paperweight has become the centerpiece of a madman’s prolific paperback output and, for the sake of cinematic clarity, the nonlinear, cocaine-fueled coming-of-age creeper has been severed into halves. The second and final portion of It is handily structured, pleasingly grotesque and thoughtfully cast – Chapter Two also has neat practical and visual effects, nasty (if at times oh so cheap) frights and a bargain bin of relatable humor courtesy of Bill Hader. In the philistine domain of horror sequels, this is one of the most justified of its kind in terms of both coasting off a former film’s success and in the knotty abbreviation of a daunting adaptation.
Chapter One separately had its own nostalgic simplicity as well as direct genre conventions and the latter part of the tale should be held accountable for the same indiscretions: jump scares aplenty, half-baked (if self-aware) conclusions, not to mention every cliché and oddity each screen version has inherited from King’s own inscrutable kookiness. Both installments are some of the highest grossing horror films in history, which suggests things will not exceed a certain threshold of weirdness for today's eyeballs – but even abridged, King’s peculiarities have exited the page and provided the sort of monstrous entertainment that lives up to It’s horribly big reputation.
So yeah, I admit I didn’t read the 1000+ page novel – I didn’t even make it all the way through The Shining and Kubrick's variation is one of my favorite films of all time. Neither It movie will become as iconic as other classic realizations – Brian De Palma’s Carrie, John Carpenter’s Christine, Rob Reiner's Stand By Me and Misery – but damn if the pair of films in question aren't scary by the masses’ standards and at least a few cuts above the garbage enticing typical audiences to flock in fear. My personal lack of refresher to the events of Chapter One made the collective amnesia of the Losers all the more relevant, the evolution of their childhood phobias more cogent and film's unavoidable repetition not only forgivable but satisfying. And the absence of the original film's camaraderie left the modified relationships full of apprehension and confusion – the borderline wistful crowd-pleasing of the former film is exchanged for disillusionment and unshakable unease.
If there are mistakes in adapting King’s unconscious insanity, I am gladly none the wiser – and I know about the space turtles and tween orgies and whatever else. It Chapter Two expands the budget, scope and momentum of its predecessor by taking risks with elaborate set-pieces and generous narrative clip. The movie could have easily reeked of indulgence, but trying to reasonably relay King's overcooked omelet of nightmare ideas is bound to inform your final film with a fair share of both heedless experimentation and some dumb deficiencies. This It nestles into the seldom-entered territory of epic horror and leaves you there to bask in the genre's most self-evident and arcane gratifications.
2 (out of 4)
Richard Linklater has been long overdue for a misstep, an honest mistake. It wouldn't be his first flub, especially with that Bad News Bears remake in the rearview. He had a handsome hot streak this past decade with Before Midnight, the completed Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!!, but now rather than the enterprising filmmaker we’ve come to know and love since the early '90s Linklater is looking more like a washed up Jason Reitman. Without appealing humor, captivating performances or even useful revelations, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is a comedy-drama excelling at neither, and the venue for some of the indie savior's most deflated introspection.
Bernadette has plenty in common with Linklater’s customary inclinations: optimism, philosophizing, gentle laughs – his trademark humanism is at the forefront where it usually sits. But whereas the writer-director's reflective dialogue often leads to magical spells of wit and burning, veracious insights, the adapted voice of Maria Semple, not to mention a handful of other screenwriters, reduces Linklater's ability to impart his typically harmonious truths. I didn’t need to see several bad trailers to know this was going to be more than a little underwhelming – after numerous delays for the release date spanning the last ten months, the movie’s precarious mediocrity became readily apparent even without dispiriting confirmation of its internal confusion on the level of Fast Food Nation.
Cate Blanchett is always fun to scrutinize and as fascinating an actor as you could pray to have steer your film, but her graces here are underutilized. Her depressive, pretentious role reminds you of the class catastrophes of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, except that 2013 pearl was an actually adroit character study anchored by a full-blooded performance. Blanchett seems wasted on this cheap consideration of fame, talent and individuality, whereas Billy Crudup and Kristen Wiig seems right in at home filling in the background of the bland status quo. Whether a miscalculation of tone, adaptative finesse or general cinematic potential, Where’d You Go is lost in purposelessness.
2 ½ (out of 4)
It only took nine successively dumber movies for the Fast and Furious franchise to eventually realize just how stupid it actually is. Even with the most rudimentary skeleton of a plot, a heavy injection of cheekiness and a competent man of action behind the camera in director David Leitch, somehow the seemly spin-off Hobbs & Shaw fails to outshine the best of the adjacent films like it seemed properly primed and poised to.
Not that this flick isn't immediately superior to a majority of the rest of the macho, metal-minded affairs. The simple onscreen marriage of The Rock and Jason Statham – the antagonistic furrowed brows of parts 5 and 7 respectively before each antagonist became an ally – adds up to more chemistry, allure, likability, what have you than any cast led by Vin Diesel. Statham doesn't extend beyond his Transporter gruffness and The Rock just plays himself as always, but their personalities properly suit the marginally sillier material. Idris Elba deserves better than his stock villain role but the esteemed actor has some appreciable fun as our bionic baddie. Leitch, the tactician behind Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and part of the original John Wick, implements at least some kind of cinematographic gravitas akin to Justin Lin's (The Conjuring, Aquaman) series-best direction in Furious 7.
And the right turn into broad laughs – not just tired quips via Tyrese Gibson – should have happened ages ago. Remember when the crux of The Fate of the Furious just two years ago was Charlize Theron threatening to murder a baby? Johnson and Statham's over-the-top personas bring about enjoyable repartee but the indication to laugh is spelled out a little too clearly given prominent supporting roles for Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart to ad-lib it up. The lighthearted direction also follows less trodden paths by reducing the fetishization of the major female players (mostly Vanessa Kirby, not the only element reminiscent of Mission: Impossible – Fallout). All I'm saying is there’s only one obligatory ass shot – the times really are a-changin'.
Still, at over two hours – the runtimes of these movie have ballooned just as fast and furiously as the budgets and 'splosions – you couldn’t have indulged in more paint-by-numbers action plotting. This "presentation" sports so many genre clichés (a mad scientist, a deadly virus McGuffin, world ending stakes, evil corporations, twisted bad guy logic and monologues) you might get whiplash. Now, having binged every Fast & Furious movie in one week awhile back, recalling the finer narrative facets of any of them would be too impossible even for Ethan Hunt. But there'd be no reason to whine about a braindead story if the action icing on top of this cardboard cake was considerably worth licking off.
Sadly, apart from a few seconds of practical exhilaration scattered throughout, Leitch’s proficiency in superbly arranged stunts and standoffs is all but lost amidst the numbing stubbornness of quick-cutting and 200 million dollars of VFX. When there is something worth mouthing “wow” for, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw usually feels the need to spoil it with gratuitous slow motion. Still, within a relative scale in quality that almost forces you to call crap palatable, on charm alone the film becomes part of the upper crust of a rather barrel-bottom-tier media property.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Quentin Tarantino has managed to sustain the novelty of his immediate success rather flawlessly. His filmography really only diminishes in quality based on individual taste and how you feel about Tarantino's exceptional ability to tread the middle ground between high and low-brow filmmaking. The man's reputation long precedes him by now – the inexhaustible penchant for graphic violence, the ear for the musicality of film dialogue, the sheer number of female feet and so forth. Tarantino is a sort of perpetual wunderkind, informed by a multitude of cinematic obsessions and nonetheless a stalwart original all the same.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood broadens the scope of his controlled catalogue and helps make the case that despite his last film The Hateful Eight forming the lowest rung on the ladder of his career, Tarantino's historical revisionist trilogy (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, and now this) are on par with his most laudable work. His latest doesn’t quite attain the momentary high highs of Basterds' scrupulous tension or deftly merge genres like Django’s fearlessly satirical Blaxploitation/Spaghetti Western hybrid. Once is Tarantino’s most restrained, sophisticated and sweepingly subtextual film in years, and already destined to age finer than anything he’s composed in a long time.
For as indulgent as Tarantino is (really? Tarantino? Indulgent?) with the runtime and the restlessly breathable pacing, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood saves its darkest gratifications for an ending at once marvelously tasteless – like some of his best bloodbath finales, though it's no Crazy 88 massacre from Kill Bill: Volume 1 – and in touch with the purpose of movies. In making a mockery of Manson's murderous followers, he's able to retroactively alter the evil and immorality of the world by creating an idyllic and hopeful antidote, not unlike killing Hitler and exacting retribution upon slavers. Of course the director’s insensitive sensibilities spawn new detractors at every turn (he got away Django guys, he’s going to get away with anything) but any fresh semblance of misogyny or racism is clearly satirical, and any naysayers are probably projecting their values against a radically different period in hope of contradiction. This epic tinsel town fairy tale abides only by well-considered scripting and the intrepid auteur's childhood idea of the era.
Which means the lens with which Tarantino sees late '60s Hollywood is intensely nostalgic if still unusually authentic. Neither Charlie nor Sharon Tate is key to the sprawling, era-capping chronicle. Splendid as Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Tate is, the moviemaking reality here is obviously obfuscated by Tarantino’s ageless playfulness, and the inserted fiction shuffling around the events of 1969 is in sharper focus. The fictitious Western actor Rick Dalton (played to pure excellence by Leonardo DiCaprio), his equally fictitious stuntman Cliff Booth (a perfectly pitched Brad Pitt) and the steady wane of their respective careers form a tragicomic snapshot of the seemingly copious possibilities Hollywood, and popular culture at large, appeared to offer through the 20th century's most culturally prosperous decade.
It’s not exactly worthy of Sergio Leone’s titular legacy and yet, my god, Tarantino's ninth feature is in the same ballpark, which is no small feat. Everyone should witness the sublimity of Once Upon a Time in the West unless you, like Rick Dalton, believe Italian Westerns to be awful. As much as Brad Pitt anchors the film in classic, studied cool and an everyman fantasy only he could provide, Leo is the one turning out perhaps the peak performance of his career (up there with The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator). In terms of sheer virtuosity, especially backed by Tarantino's ability to harness Leo's larger than life, 120% persona, you end up with a faultless dramatic display and priceless performances within performances – DiCaprio's really exquisite here.
Tarantino's myriad influences have always been plainly conspicuous but while he's never made a fool of himself in relying so dearly on homage, it's sad that his seasoned skills will likely be with us for only one more film, if he sticks to his word and ends his career with ten features to his name. It's wise to quit while you're ahead but Tarantino's singular style of post-modernist, hyper-escapist, cinematic history potpourri still feels like a taste of a Brand New Wave after more than 25 years in the racket. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may come across underwhelming side by side with his most unshackled, exaggerated works but it's yet another Tarantino film worth carefully dissecting, gleefully quoting and lackadaisically living in, only this time you can feel reasonably less ashamed.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Ari Aster effortlessly entered horror's ongoing revival with last year’s Hereditary but he swiftly secures his name as one worth remembering in his gonzo follow-up a mere thirteen months later. Swapping out demons and mental illness for culture shock, PTSD and ancient perversions, Midsommar is a real doozy.
Grandly composed yet atmospherically insular, Aster ignores the safeness of the supernatural to take a classically inspired look at the most macabre facets of human nature – grief, resentment, temptation and betrayal. The commitment to measured realism naturally informs the irresistible slasher setup with grace and patience while invoking copious genre thrills. Aster sows together break-up subject matter with once-a-generation Swedish folk festivals, finding advantageous ways to thread together the setting, mythos and themes without sacrificing verisimilitude at the altar.
With strong subtext coursing through its scarce plot, the narrative overambition noted in Hereditary is channeled into a discreetly organized summer vacation from hell, packing its own punch of internal panic while justifying the evolution of its enticingly psychotic premise every creeping step through. Reminiscent of seminal excerpts in film history (the sinuous trickery of The Shining, the patient escalation of Rosemary’s Baby and of course the cult crazies of The Wicker Man), Aster reverts today's tastes craving more spookhouse hogwash to create a vivid psychological horror epic abundant in dauntlessness.
Tonally Aster has achieved something so delicately bizarre it becomes difficult to resist laughing along with the absurdity just as surely as we wince at the freakiest turns. Midsommar is so strangely funny – thanks Will Poulter – even its most jaw-droppingly grotesque moments may have you guffawing simultaneously. It’s a risky spatial and emotional balance to strike – this could have so plainly been parody in lesser hands.
Though the band of characters are function-only, they're developed enough that the typical frustration as a powerless horror movie audience member doesn't impede captivation. Partaking in the Kool-Aid and going with the flow bring you two tripping sequences so eerie in their own subtlety and thematic employment they stand apart as their own separate bookends of scariness. The lure of spiritual rebirth only to find death awaiting you with a warm smile on its face is its own warped brand of creepy.
Like anything so initially inviting, Midsommar doesn’t entirely deliver on every promise of its foregone potential but it arrives damn close. Hereditary had something special going until it wet the bed in the home stretch. Aster aims past the risers here and comes out far more unscathed than his debut.
2 (out of 4)
Well it appears the Marvel/Spidey mashup has officially hit the brink of diminishing returns. With Spider-Man (the character and Tom Holland) trapped like a cute kid in a nasty divorce, Sony and Disney's bickering and bartering over the rights appears to have finally settled down. After losing the webslinger for about a month or so, Disney reclaims Spidey as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – though, in that leg of limbo the Disney executives pretended they actually did everything they planned to with Spider-Man concluding with Far From Home. The Mouse can't help but affect the movie's themselves with their backstage wheeling and dealing, but even viewed as just a comic book movie, Far From Home is Marvel at its most conventional and monotonous.
After Endgame left nothing beyond Thor and Guardians adventures to forecast post-Phase 3 – at least until Comic-Con reminded us, inevitably, that nothing about this franchise is ending whatsoever – Far From Home approaches the cinematic situation with even less. Spidey's second subtitled affair doesn't come close to sufficiently serving as the soothing comedown to the biggest theatrical release of all time. Some impressive aspects notwithstanding, this Marvel "vacation" proves just why the long running and recycling series will never match the pure evocative earnestness of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, let alone the better parts of the MCU.
The most bothersome blemish of Disney's two featureless Spider-Man films is the fact that the insanely iconic hero just isn't trusted to be the star of his own show. The boilerplate themes of Far From Home are even more frustrating than they were in Homecoming, particularly because they haven't changed at all. Peter Parker must once again strive to live up to Tony Stark’s precedent (now in death rather than the flesh), but the responsibility-shrugging struggles were lame the first time and RDJ's shadow looms all too imposingly and unnecessarily – it's a flagrantly unmasked repeat of stale ideas.
Tom Holland has been a dependable age-appropriate Spider-Man and Jake Gyllenhaal continues Marvel’s late-period streak of strong antagonists as Mysterio who, granted, may be one of the finest villains of the series. The underplayed teen romance is surprisingly sweet, although I do not respect Zendaya as an acting talent, or as any talent really. The third act gets things moving but by then the series has been slightly retconned and you’re being frequently reminded of a bad take on The Incredibles. Gyllenhaal's perfect casting as a nerd favorite has to be cathartic for some but still, whatever righteous reinvention Homecoming offered with our central characters, Far From Home has scrubbed off most of the residual charm. The movie wants to be a relaxing summer tonic following a far more eventful, emotional heavy hitter a la Ant-Man rearing Age of Ultron (or their respective sequels three years later) but the hype is all exhausted and any exaltation at new CG effects and freshly stale quips is long expired.
Furthering the John Hughes imitations and those pesky recurring jokes – best friend Ned's fling, Jon Favreau's Happy's infatuation with Marisa Tomei's Aunt May (haha isn’t she HOT?) – does not assist the amusement but deflate it. Never has the classic MCU “comedy” been so strained, the action literally been more artificial and the sense of wonderment and heroism been so dampened by the overwhelming serialization and minimal digestion between installments. This is the fourth time Spider-Man has played a key role in an MCU film, once per year since 2016 – it just makes Far From Home, especially as a farewell to the relatively grand, if overlong Phase 3, the antithesis of amazing.
Until J K Simmons reappears in a rare, actually worthwhile post-credits stinger (sadly more enjoyable than the entire preceding movie), Far From Home offers few particulars of enjoyment other than some psychedelic Spidey-screensavers via Mysterio's anticipated trickery and high school hipster courtship. There are no puzzle pieces left to put together and the forward motion of the most momentous Hollywood endeavor ever is suddenly glacial. As a mere passable dessert following Endgame's purposeful overindulgence, Far From Home purposely seeks to evade routine and ends up one of Marvel's most formulaic efforts.
1 ½ (out of 4)
In spite of noted classics and separate brushes with Oscar limelight lending him the status of household name, Danny Boyle is not a director you could accurately call an all-time great. But considering this is the man who initially brought us the lively licentiousness of Shallow Grave and the scintillating sickliness of Trainspotting, you’d hope his summer fairy tale flick in the form of a musical tribute to the Beatles wouldn’t share the same mediocre sheen of the rest of this season's releases.
I thought after Trance earlier this decade Boyle could never make a more frustrating film but never mind I guess. Unless he’s dipping into genre fare like space (Sunshine), zombies (28 Days Later) or an Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic (Steve Jobs) the dependency on Dutch angles and contrasted colors ironically highlights just how little substance Boyle's really bringing to the table and serves only to energize my anger. The premise of Yesterday (of a world where only one dude remembers the Fab Four) is already wildly dumb on arrival but the film averts every potentially fascinating direction for the story and the internal sense adds up to ass the more you ponder it. Would a song like "I Saw Her Standing There" really resonate with the contemporary pop music climate without a trap beat?
Some hazily creative choices are situated as insistent jokes, making for real narrative non-starters. In Yesterday not only the Beatles but other societal #1's (Coca Cola, Harry Potter, cigarettes I guess?) have also been erased from existence – but this is treated as a pointless curiosity unfit of investigation. Actual ingenuity is downplayed for more Ed Sheehan, pathetically spoonfed themes or the worst representation of an aged John Lennon conceivable – sorry no, the guy who scream-sang "I'm lonely, wanna die" on "Yer Blues" would not be dishing out love advice at random. Richard Curtis' maddening screenplay teases the odd and nightmarish by introducing a few strangers also not effected by this mass memory wipe. Instead of capitalizing on a neat aspect of paranoia that would have given our protagonist his deserved comeuppance, the film instead takes one last turn for the saccharine.
A movie so generally innocent shouldn't inspire such violent reactions but that's just how stupid Yesterday gets. The crucial romance is tepid, most performances are forced and even Kate McKinnon for all her charisma can't liven things up in the background. Himesh Patel is a grating lead to watch take advantage of this musical blackout and Lily James' doe-eyed loveliness is wasted on sugary mush. The dynamics of the banal love story are bafflingly backwards – yeah I'm sure Cinderella herself would be the one doing the yearning.
Even in a world where proper summer escapism had been erased, Yesterday would still dissatisfy. If I were as religiously attached to the Beatles as some, I'd be devastated by such an insensitive, unstudied and prosaic so-called "celebration" of the band. I can't believe I'm typing this out, but you're better off revering the most popular music act in history through 2007's Across the Universe.
3 ½ (out of 4)
I’ll be damned Disney – I came into the latest latent Pixar sequel with enough upfront cynicism to ready myself for Cars 4. Why oh why go out of your way to spoil a good thing? It goes without saying the Toy Story trilogy is the flagship of the Pixar brand – each installment has an abundance of emotional complexity and unencumbered creative freedom, as well as the potential for joy and pathos in devastating spells. Number four’s strongest distinction is the renewed inventiveness in addition to a consistently impassioned approach to more mature themes. It's hard to keep Disney's money-milking schemes out of your head (especially in the year of three remakes of their own animated classics, three Marvel movies, Frozen II and a Star Wars episode), but unbelievably Toy Story 4 is a product of prudence and intelligence rather than brand recognition and capitalist underpinnings.
It’s crazy to write out but this is some of Pixar’s finest stuff this decade, a few forgivable moments notwithstanding. The sympathetic villain in a voice(box)less Gabby Gabby doll improves on past antagonists while the major anthropomorphic trinkets are redrawn with enough new wrinkles to justify the very idea of this film's existence. Some inspired new character creations like Keanu Reeves' Duke Caboom mean some old favorites have to take the backseat, which would be disappointing if it weren't an even trade. Ultimately after having nightmares in anticipation of this sequel's mediocrity, I have to humbly admit the results of the previously predicted corporate devilry behind Toy Story 4 are as optimistic as one can imagine. The plot is appropriately minuscule for a film functioning as a touching epilogue to a great series. Just from the opening scene (a flashback of Woody and Bo Peep's parting that could work as its own short film), you know right up front this is not some obvious cash-in.
Toy Story 4 even has the upper hand on 3, thought to be its own impressive series capper. I grant you the final act of the 2010 Story is masterly but the progressed quality of animation, elevated moderation in the storytelling and the revisionist examination of Woody’s character makes Toy Story 4 the sequel we didn’t know we needed desperately and deserved unknowingly. Similar to Incredibles 2 (a strong and reasonable revisitation to original properties unlike Monsters University or Finding Dory) there is little compromise of independent imagination for the sake of popular demand.
1 ½ (out of 4)
20th Century Fox’s former piece of the Marvel pie is going out with a wheeze rather than one last hurrah. After Apocalypse popped a blood vessel grasping for epic scope, Dark Phoenix, the fourth installment in the rebooted X-Men series, inverts the abnormality of X-cinema to its cheesiest and most frugal form. The final mutation of the now extinct franchise places its chips on Sophie Turner's latent Game of Thrones popularity and a twice-tried storyline stuck on the overpowered character Jean Grey. I thought Famke Janssen was always lacking personality, especially in X-Men: The Last Stand, but this immaterial redo (directed by the same spotty writer Simon Kinberg no less) is on its own level of eh.
As far as the 12-film, 19-year Fox franchise is concerned, there really is nothing new under the sun – same old themes, character traits, reflective politics, generic platitudes and clumsy confrontations. The story of Dark Phoenix is not unlike Captain Marvel in many ways (premise and villains largely) but the dialogue itself lands with a crash and thud from start to finish, as if a spec script made it through all of shooting. Even the extraordinary displays of mutant combat barely live up to the usual freakish fun until its admittedly exciting – and entirely reshot – finale.
Michael Fassbender's Magneto sustains his one beautiful note but he and Baby Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the best of the new X-generation) are underused despite being the current company's best in show. Baby Cyclops sucks (or maybe Tye Sheridan does) while Evan Peters' Quiksilver gets classically nerfed early on. James McAvoy hardly does justice to the role of Professor X anymore and J Law literally can’t die soon enough (whoops spoilers, like anyone cares).
Beyond Disney buyouts, this was already the bastard child of the X-Men series. An initial trilogy, a prequel trilogy and three successively improved Wolverine films (not to mention two separately successful Deadpool films) led to this: a hamstrung borderline-parody of a superhero film full of phoned-in acting, TV editing, lackluster visual effects and more than a few stretches of unintentional humor. Phoenix deserves to be left right in the ashes, never to be reborn except under strict direction of Master Mouse.
2 (out of 4)
As a sister of the mumblecore movement, Olivia Wilde should have felt right at home while crafting her own hipster coming-of-age debut. It's something of a right of passage from Welles and Truffaut to Gerwig and Burnham. In Wilde's case a less than stellar acting career has led to a desperate appeal to the Gen-Z audience in the form of the essay in clichés known as Booksmart.
What is this genre known for? Adolescent insight, barbed one-liners, high school tomfoolery and maybe even a tear or two shed. John Hughes' multiple distillations of this formula gave the 80s a few of its intrinsic flavors but Wilde’s amendment on the tactics matches neither Hughes' overrated abilities or the ingenuity of her contemporaries. Unlike the novelties of Edge of Seventeen, Lady Bird, The Diary of a Teenage Girl or especially and most recently Eighth Grade, Booksmart falls way shy of the creativity of its counterparts. The wisdom is weak, the situational comedy is forced and many characters do little other than secure an imagined quota of LGBTQ+ representation, a political move just as deliberately predisposed as the rest of the film.
Booksmart wants to be the female Superbad – let the losers loosen up just as high schools ends – but that 2007 flick still holds favor because its script finds the appropriate time for each instance of silliness, satire and insight in order maintain both relative realism and homespun, inappropriate entertainment. Wilde's attempts to illustrate the newfangled quirks of present-day youth are periodically cringe-inducing and ignore any semblance of universality. Even with a hard R, Wilde's film is a soft summer comedy – Booksmart desperately yearns to shine with the luster of an underseen cult classic. It's another faux-indie wide release with an oppressively modern soundtrack (sorry but these girls don’t listen to Death Grips along with Top 40 garbage), broad gags and big comedy names in the lesser roles (Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis and Jessica Williams). As much as the supporting casts amuses, a few funny side characters don't outweigh the stock of stereotypes and agenda-fillers.
Leads Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever both seem typecast. The former repeats her exact role in Lady Bird albeit larger and the latter is still playing high schoolers, this time in a more comic context. Feldstein’s shtick is already stale and Dever’s improvisational chops are nonexistent. Their onscreen friendship has sweet moments but there’s no self-awareness in Wilde asking us to sympathize, not scrutinize, the most privileged teens imaginable. There’s nothing at all revelatory about realizing rich kids get into ivy league schools regardless of their grades, which is the inciting insecurity of Feldstein's valedictorian, straight-edge protagonist. If Booksmart took place in a Midwest town... well the premise would be moot but her character's shock is unrelatable and every succeeding act of their unexpected evening is contrived and unfulfilled.
If it weren’t for the fact that Booksmart has damn near unanimous praise, I wouldn’t blink an eye at a middling SXSW film. I would guess the deeply feminist slant has the liberal majority of critics on its side regardless of the film’s actual content, though I don't deny there are some inspired choices amongst the prescribed fun and feels. Wilde's work still lands without empathetic impact and its coaxing through breakneck editing and blaring needle drops is more exasperating than charming as intended.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Finally attaining the breadth of frenzied hysteria and hysterics this film series intended from the start, the third John Wick installment is an individually dynamite action picture systematically outdoing its predecessors and establishing a fresh benchmark in stunt perfectionism for today's genre enthusiasts. Of course, if you prefer sensible storytelling to violent skirmishes you most likely already don't look favorably upon Wick or any blockbusters of the same ilk.
But scrutinizing plot is wasted effort in this context and anticipating narrative innovation is misguided when one's focus should be fixed on the particulars of editing, choreography, stuntwork and set design – with uncompromising action thrillers, story usually does and should fade into the aesthetics of staggering blockbuster filmmaking, assuming there’s someone proficient behind camera. When your central premise is the most unbeatable assassin returning from retirement for a cascading series of absurdly brutal scenarios and new emotional motivations, the propulsion better be one more of feeling than logic. As much as Chapter 3 doesn’t necessarily solve persisting genre clichés – one-by-one henchmen attack plans or the elasticity of movie physics – this series already sits as the modern measure of action film greatness.
The first Wick was a blistering, left field gem, now standing as a downplayed action classic. The sequel posited impressive improvements on the finer fringe details of the assassin-verse but regrettably threw the combat switch from thrill to overkill. Parabellum lands firmly in between, reaffirming the original's brazen tongue-in-cheekiness and reverting the violence to a kinetic, outlandish fun house. The sheer amount of RPG headshots isn't as thoroughly numbing as last time and the sense of visual clarity and opulence has never been more uniformly crisp. Bourne has been forgotten and Bond has been the sight of every kind of reinvention process – only Mission: Impossible and Fast & Furious hold relevancy to the genre and each are two movies away from completion. John Wick had humble beginnings and expertly earned its cult following, critical raves and exponential box office numbers. Who knows where this crazy train ends but the views so far have been uncommonly spectacular.
Collecting the memorable antagonists from the Raid franchise – Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman – as merciless number twos to Zero, the deadliest fanboy on the planet (Mark Decascos), the Wick series reaffirms its genre cred and impossible niche in another martial arts/neo-noir hybrid brimming with gun-fu freak-outs and practical choreography tutorials. Ballet ties into its basic but functional themes on the harmonic relationship between art and pain – the exploration of the elegance of movement is at the core of John Wick 3, crystallizing the film and franchise within their own artistically justified heights. If lustrous final boss battles and antique knife fights bring us closer to the savage audiovisual poetry absolving us of our restrained recklessness, so be it. Chapter 4 will suitably raise the stakes, break the rules and have us laughing and/or gaping in awe once again – topping Parabellum's slew of sick opening set pieces and the algorithmically orchestrated climax will be a marvelous challenge.
2 (out of 4)
Like the Jack Sparrow of his own Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Ryan Reynolds is the recurring grace note keeping Detective Pikachu at all bearable. If it weren’t for his hapless ad-libbing, the first live-action Pokémon movie would be a true bust rather than the year's most forgettable summer flick for the whole family.
The actual narrative within the quasi-mystery of this Roger Rabbit-rip-off is pretty pitiful but Detective Pikachu thankfully doesn't rely entirely on nostalgia to secure your investment. The updated poké-politics – I suppose it is a little cramped inside those pokéballs – try to finagle the ridiculous reality of Pocket Monsters into a framework vaguely fit for live-action spaces. But nondescript lead characters in Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton, unmistakable bad guy Bill Nighy and some abysmal visual effects do not help the cause of this so-called urban fantasy. Plus no matter how many dead parents there are the film never gets even remotely emotional.
Now’s the moment to bellyache like I resemble a real fan: I grew up with Pokémon – the trading cards, the action figures, the television series and of course the video games – and had a peculiar attachment to the property. This PG movie is inspired by the 2016 game of the same name, undoubtedly placing its bets on the freshest, most susceptible generation of fans. Still, when you hope to see such fantastical delirium in a tangible setting, you'd like classic characters filling in not only the foreground but the edges as well. Favorites like Psyduck, Mr. Mime and Mewtwo are on the front lines, but the background is teeming with the most witless ideas those Japanese creators ever conceived. I could be doubly upset at the lack of an Ash Ketchum storyline but the gripes continue since Rob Letterman's film settles for a mediocre visual spirit when the bracing anime style of the original show and early films could've been cleverly converted.
But, like many mainstream blockbusters, this movie was not created with only myself in mind. Tweens and younger are probably gonna lose their minds watching Detective Pikachu. All I know is the first animated Pokémon movie from 20 years back didn’t require Pikachu to act human in order to convey the master-trainer bond with Ash. Primitive as the idea of battling is as each film in question suggests, the reverent relationship between man and the creatures of nature was always the point. Detective Pikachu has taken extraordinary effort to write its way around this crucial element of the world of Pokémon in order to have the Deadpool guy say funny things.
You’re better off watching Pokémon 3 if you want an actual story and not just placeholder plotting, weightless CGI and middling humor.
3 (out of 4)
Director Jonathan Levine has grappled with horror and hilarity from the Texas Chainsaw pastiche of All the Girls Love Mandy Lane to his exceptionally honest cancer comedy 50/50 to the rom-zom-com middle ground of Warm Bodies. Long Shot is in many ways just another Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg product – much like Levine’s last film The Night Before – but damn if Rogen hasn't maintained his acclaimed affability.
The sole smudge of Long Shot, an otherwise thematically frank and well-tapered romantic comedy, is the idea that the ceaselessly stoned Jewish schlep (yet again Rogen's 'character' is barely removed from his real persona) would ever obtain the love of someone as untouchable as Charlize Theron, let alone her as Secretary of State and future president. Rogen has been paired with fine ladies over the years (Katherine Heigl, Elizabeth Banks, Rose Byrne, Amber Heard for Christ's sake) but the pairing in Long Shot sails past even Adam Sandler-tier male fantasies.
With that primary nitpick out of the way, it's safe to say Long Shot is frequently hilarious, appropriately cast (Randall Park and O'Shea Jackson Jr. continue to and should pop up in everything) and discerning enough given the usual quota of sex jokes and pop culture references. The film actually has its own take on today's politics, namely the relationship between the media, the public and the powers that be. And regarding the premise – the early stages of a successful female presidential run – this is not a feminist film; It's Her Turn is not the big ol' message. The politics lean decidedly left – Bob Odenkirk as the current president, former TV star and self-obsessed dummy should spell this out obviously enough – but Long Shot's relatively complex view of public discourse and political candor is passable for mainstream amusement.
Apart from the joint topics on journalism and government, a Seth Rogen movie means we’re getting self-deprecating humor, drug sequences, offhand ad-libbing and a fairy tale ending. All of this is true of Long Shot but, like the best Rogen vehicles, the laughs come very natural and relaxation becomes second nature. The sequence wherein Theron’s Charlotte Field negotiates a hostage situation whilst on MDMA is a bit of brilliance. A forced namedrop here and there can’t spoil Long Shot's fun – Levine reminds us of all the shameless comfort you can glean from a romantic comedy worth suspending reality for.
3 (out of 4)
Avengers: Endgame is a virtually perfect resolution to a miraculous franchise and an adequate superhero movie all its own. We can forever argue in apocalyptic or utopic rhetoric about serialized filmmaking forever changing the very fabric of Hollywood's ability to satiate the masses. But as the crest of the superhero sensation appears to have finally broken on the shore, Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely confirm the collective decline of the phenomenon. Endgame has reached audiences in numbers akin to just a few films in cinematic history – if this final Avengers (for now) felt more complete, emotionally conscientious or judiciously trimmed, it could have been a pop culture criterion worthy of the blinding spotlight.
Endgame traces the best and worst of Marvel's proven formula, from the studio's selective capacity to stir audiences to its most feeble attempts to pander to them. As a 3-hour triptych including a weepie, Back to the Future Part IV and finally the superhero showdown to rule them all, Avengers: Endgame is almost too much to process at once. For the most part the movie is a sustained wonder of synchronicity save for a soft joke or a jarring edit here and there. But like countless epics before it there are trade-offs to the long-form dramatic staging. Engrossing, multi-strained spectacle can be foolishly interrupted by condescending simplifications or structural top-heaviness.
But at least the Avengers finally have something to avenge. While clearly inferior to Avengers: Infinity War (pretty much tippity top on the MCU scale), the subsequent half of this titanic superhero sendoff is unwieldy and unexpected. Endgame strolls along a fine line between all-ages entertainment and nerd-specific sensory overload, just not quite as gracefully as its predecessor. As much as Endgame isn’t your typical latter half of a huge series finale (like Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay or Breaking Dawn), it still takes anywhere from a few flicks to up to 21 movies of preparation to enjoy. All the rewards meant for devoted Marvel fans are actualized primarily in the last hour of pornographic superhero battles which, ironically, can also be fundamentally enjoyed by just about anyone.
The mounting drama running through true film sequels can prompt instances so poignant they are capable of transcending the medium altogether – look no further than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for said pathos. Despite its enormous pleasures, Endgame feels in many ways like another link in the chain of endless buildup leading to all too little crowning compensation. Minor gripes aside – the misuse of Captain Marvel, lack of closure beyond the biggest characters, the overflowing narrative – Endgame is the sort of mass cultural orgasm that doesn’t need to earn over a billion dollars opening weekend to prove itself a mammoth event picture. Tapered, monopolizing execution lent this film unfathomable, impossible anticipation and expectations, a detriment only to people like me who scoff at comic book readers and yet take these movies way too seriously.
The Russo brothers have been upping their game since the Captain America sequels, and Marvel Studios' president Kevin Feige and head MCU screenwriter Stephen McFeely have handled the paramount points of the interrelated universe rather scrupulously thus far. Whether through absurdity, affect or sheer dumb luck, Endgame's outcome is involving and emotional in spite of its myriad moving pieces. The payoff for major character arcs – at least for the highlighted heroes, this time including Hawkeye and Ant-Man (absent from the last get-together) alongside big finishes for Captain America and Iron Man – are fairly reasonable in their ultimate satisfaction. Thor's blubbery, manic-depressive turn is fitting even if it's milked for many laughs – only Hulk and some of the previously dusted superfriends feel forgotten or underrepresented.
Seen with some measure of clarity – this is just a movie after all, no matter how many loose ends were dangling following Thanos' climactic snap – Endgame has as much fun as is logically allowed and makes a number of judiciously weighed gambles rearing the 22-film, 4D chess game. While no disappointment it's almost as if this one colossal undertaking needed another two-parter to elaborate properly. As an overworked three-hour superhero quasi-denouement the film may be Hollywood excess at its zenith and yet the highlight instances of catharsis are classically effective. Endgame became the highest grossing film of all time worldwide just as Phase 4's seeds were sown. If Disney's streaming service played no role in their best and surest property's future (I will NOT be watching television to prepare for Doctor Strange 2), the horizon would seem like the right kind of corporate comedown was in store. Instead Disney will do it all over again, just the same but bigger – they can't help but keep feeding a perpetually monopolized storytelling catastrophe in motion. Chances are Endgame will be looked upon fondly after superhero flicks – whether in general interest or relative quality – recognizably start to fade. For now, we can criticize and enjoy the peculiarity of the popular cinematic present for all its worth.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Rise of Skywalker
A Hidden Life
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice