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 middleground 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 retained his acclaimed affability.
The sole blemish of Long Shot, an otherwise thematically frank and well-tapered romantic comedy, is the idea that the drug-addled liberal 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 premise of 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 that out obviously enough – but Long Shot's relatively complex view of public discourse and political candor is mature for mainstream amusement.
Besides 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, relaxation becomes second nature. The sequence wherein Theron’s Charlotte Field negotiates a hostage situation whilst rolling on Molly is a bit of brilliance. A forced namedrop here and there can’t spoil how much fun Long Shot is – Levine reminds us of all the shameless joy you can glean from a romantic comedy worth suspending reality for.
3 (out of 4)
It’s a new Laika movie – what more need be said? Maybe Boxtrolls has been lost to forgetfulness but Coraline, ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings are some of the leading examples of what the most antiquated process of animation has left to uncover in an overwhelmingly digital age.
Each project of this sort – Aardman is the only other studio crazy enough to commit to these insane undertakings – requires the investment and integrity of a painstaking collective. The efforts are always rich and rewarding purely by the homespun aesthetic often regardless of how the story plays out. Missing Link, like other Laika features, secures an impressive voice cast (Hugh Jackman, Zack Galifinakis, Zoe Saldana) to bring an original oddity to life. Landing more on the comic side of the studio's crop, it follows a stubbornly stalwart explorer (Jackman) out to prove Sasquatch’s existence only to discover the myth is desperate to locate a purpose of its own. While these films typically have a bedtime aura between homey and haunting (Coraline most accurately), this movie’s comical edges and absurdly old-fashioned adventure trappings render Missing Link a revivifying albeit slightly less profound shift from its predeccesors.
As minute as it is, in relation to 2019 Missing Link is an unsailed channel in a sea of familiar. Though almost all these movies are created with the intention to fail financially, hopefully the founding Knight family doesn’t discontintinue their factory of creative obsessions any time soon. As long as people are dedicated enough to continue stop-motion animation’s history of fastidious delights there will surely be enough patient viewers to carefully watch their tedious work intricately unfold.
3 (out of 4)
Where did DC's turn around come from? After Wonder Woman broke the shit streak, Justice League arrived just in time to remind us why Snyder’s apocalyptic visions could only hypothetically work in an era free of self-awareness and irony. Aquaman was most recently a dynamically divisive change of pace and the global response has been resoundingly celebratory. The muted anticipation for Shazam!, the most prudent installment of the Extended Universe by far, should have been left the film worth a trailer watch and a chuckle. Director David F. Sandberg instead proved that although the superhero origin story has been done to death, with the right approach it's a sturdy framework for a resilient kind of moviegoing bliss.
A winning cast (young Jack Dylan Grazer is the highlight) brings out the best of an enchanting screenplay which levels out savvy, family friendly humor with moments of wickedness more in line with '80s movies and dark bedtime stories. As much as it plays to a general audience (even though it shares several traits with Deadpool) Shazam! emanates a classic sort of simplicity and understated idealism. After Aquaman essentially dropped the idea of crossover interconnectedness, Shazam! shows precisely what it takes to care about characters from scratch. You don’t need trilogies and team ups to develop a handful of well-acted personalities – even our generic villain (Mark Strong in his mode) has a sympathetic origin.
The movie is a minuscule miracle, an unanticipated and unfettered pleasure within a genre so bloated and saturated it needs hours of liposuction. Obviously Shazam! doesn't work with a narrative a child couldn't understand but that universality is indicative of sentimental honesty and occasionally profound realism. Orphanhood, estrangement, identity crisis – the film's emotional earnestness overcomes the lack of action or scale in ways we’ve been progressively attuned to. Shazam!'s whimsically meta delights resist smugness and easy gags every step of the way. Did I mention Zachary Levi is an absolute treasure?
2 ½ (out of 4)
My god, how many of these are there? Even as Phase 3 reaches the ultimate culmination and climax of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we barrels towards its Endgame, they’re still introducing characters? And it took 21 movies for their first solo heroine? And, despite the most pernicious online precedent to one film's release, Captain Marvel is actually decent?
Listen, there’s very little left to critique stylistically regarding the MCU as it comes and goes, which happens more frequently than ever. The action and humor relieve each other in quick succession; a few jokes hit, many fall flat. The structure, despite any side-agenda universe-building, is rooted in three traditional acts. Although you'd think grading Marvel movies on their own curve would bring about harsher appraisals, it actually leaves you far more lenient. Films like Infinity War, Civil War, and the original Avengers tickled me with satisfyingly scopic spectacle. The offbeat, individual entries of this epic miniseries – the best includes Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and of course Iron Man – need to please in the premise of their story and the personality of their protagonist.
Captain Marvel as both movie and character is sensibly showcased for the sake of the collective franchise. She's a spark of hope for anyone dumb enough to have thought the final moments of Infinity War were permanent and her film itself is a way to introduce fresh blood into the Marvel crowd before the main players (Cap, Thor, Tony) more than likely depart. It's hard to understand the genuinely dissatisfied naysayers and "true" fans acting like she's ruining the whole enterprise. The actors are strong (casting has always been Marvel's forte and Jude Law, Ben Mendelson and obviously Samuel L. Jackson don't disappoint), the story is architecturally fresh, self-contained and driven by nice twists and revelations. It’s all fairly routine at its core and even underwhelming in totality given what the MCU has offered before, yet it goes down as easy as many watchable Marvel flicks before it.
Despite not clocking in the same hours, Brie Larson is as talented as her seasoned co-stars with which she will soon share the universe. Carol/Vers' relationship with Jackson's long-returning and now de-aged Nick Fury is enjoyable indeed. Larson's backstage rants interfered none at all with my experience because all I see is the woman who moved me so in films like Short Term 12 and Room. Considering her character's ridiculously overblown invulnerability (a problem at large but not in context), she would have a chip on her soldier wouldn't she? However infested with trolls Rotten Tomatoes is, the reaction to her performance has been one of sickeningly undue scrutiny.
The sequences on Holla liken to old-fashioned sci-fi more than the majority of the Thor and Guardians films – the first act of Captain Marvel is like Star Trek fan’s wet dream. The visuals are as good as anything as modestly budgeted as Ant-Man. Themes on memory and identity keep things intriguing and emotional. The comedy bits aren’t too distracting and the soundtrack choices and 90s references, while wearing thin after awhile, don't come down in bombardment.
Given how long we've grown to know the Avengers, its hard to ignore the drawbacks to the film's placement in the greater whole of the saga. I love a movie largely free of future money-making ingredients but the introduction of her character into MCU is the most shoehorned aspect of a corporate universe which usually places its bets conservatively and congeals its characters smoothly. With only eight weeks prior to Endgame, Captain Marvel is in line with production quality and yet little more than an appeteaser and an afterthought.
2 (out of 4)
Robert Rodriguez has an exalted reputation but considerably less clout. When the Spy Kids movies (the original, The Island of Lost Dreams and 3-D: Game Over that is) seem like career highlights there isn’t room for much else besides improvement. Rodriquez continues to be a polished practitioner of visual flair. Sin City perfected a trend-setting style and From Dusk til Dawn was textbook precision genre-crossing. Alita: Battle Angel skillfully passes the time.
Alita is positively the director's most ambitious undertaking and at least one of the most technically accomplished films of Rodriguez' career – Battle Angel is nonetheless a deficient example of what big-budget cyberpunk and sci-fi cinema can yield in emotion and prescience. There’s copious thematic substance to be extracted from the subjects of artificial intelligence even without great recent examples like Upgrade, Blade Runner 2049, and Ex Machina. Rodriguez' manga adaptation doesn't function as anything other than masturbation fodder for 14-year-olds. It's yet another American take on a popular Japanese property about a mechanical female badass in a dystopian world; Alita barely has the upper hand over 2017’s disastrous Ghost in the Shell remake. Both films have little to ride on save for respected source material and a hot chick punching people – I guess that counts for something.
The uncanny valley and bloated eyeballs of our protagonist Alita (Rosa Salazar) aren’t as distracting as trailers suggested. The visual effects are for the most part intricate and grandiose – some of the action has show-stopping weight and transfixing choreography. With a 175 million dollar price tag and what felt like eons in development, at minimum Battle Angel looks properly belabored.
But as soon as I saw James Cameron's credit as screenwriter and not just as producer, I knew why the film was a halfway decent epic save for the laughably developed love story. Alita and her boy toy Hugo are the worst cinematic couple of the decade, maybe this century. A cast including a pair of two-time Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winners in Mahershala Ali and Christoph Waltz is not just for show, but even prime acting caliber doesn't salvage silly conflicts and a passable futuristic history. For all the money behind it and an established popularity in other pockets of media, the cinematic Battle Angel is just short of DOA.
3 (out of 4)
A Blumhouse movie turned a profit?! Surprise, surprise. Weird thing is that 2017's Happy Death Day was actually great fun despite flagrantly thieving from its handful of influences. Just short of a gem it was nevertheless the most ingenious premise with which to perfect the PG-13 slasher.
Christopher Landon’s agreeable sequel to his gratifying original finds him favoring sci-fi over serial killers. Like the original Happy Death Day there is an inability to ignore the debt owed to Groundhog Day – this entry borrows mainly from the montage of inventive suicide scenarios – but now we focus on time-travel claptrap fit for Doc and Marty or an Edge of Tomorrow sequel.
Borrowing from the Marvel manifesto of pseudo-heady plot concepts, quantum energy is used not only to explain a day repeatedly reset but parallel existences as well. Side character Ryan (Phi Vu) begins 2U experiencing the same phenomena as Tree (Jessica Rothe) did in the last film. Then his college science experiment malfunctions sending Tree back return her original birthday timeloop, only in a parallel dimension this go-round.
Rothe remains as much a rarity of charm and comic chops as the temporal trooper. Her natural chemistry with Israel Broussard (as love interest Carter) let's Happy Death Day 2U slide as essentially a romantic comedy – the Valentine's weekend release (as opposed to October) is no accident. The mystery of the baby-masked psycho is of far less concern this time but the silly continuation is an enlightened alternative to Rebel Wilson, Battle Angels and Taraji P. Henson reading Tracy Morgan's disgusting thoughts.
It’s not terribly inventive given the scope laid out in its first and best act, but sweetness and well-tuned wit carry Happy Death Day 2U far indeed. If it wasn't so modest it could have been the rare superior sequel.
3 (out of 4)
Last year when Guy Ritchie bestowed upon us a telling of King Arthur by way of PS4 cutaways, it would have been reasonable to suggest the popular legend never again be put to film. In serious fashion 1981's Excalibur did as much honest justice as the story could be done and in parody Monty Python conceived comythic perfection nearly 45 years ago.
It would take a Brit who actually knew what they were doing to revitalize the wearied lore. Cue Joe Cornish – following his lively 2011 indie sci-fi debut Attack the Block and a co-writer credit on Ant-Man, The Kid Who Would Be King functions as mighty tyke-friendly entertainment easily servicing the interests of the average viewer. It's a properly scary children's fantasy film (Rebecca Ferguson is as terrifying as she is wickedly attractive) and a pointed commentary on Britain's current national tumult. Cornish ruminates Brexit's massive toll to unearth the present-day relevance of Britain's most perennial legend, Tolkien notwithstanding.
It may be about twenty minutes too long but after so many poor attempts to make better on tired tales, the sheer ambition of The Kid Who Would Be King is of such gusto it makes the laptop visual effects and proudly absurdist British tendencies of Attack the Block's neighborhood sci-fi look quaint in the process. If you were wondering what took Cornish eight years to churn out what amounts to a strong kid flick, the answer is quiet diligence. He appeals to whatever helpless innocence is left in all of us while fancying himself a populist moviegoing antidote, January release and weak box office receipts be damned.
2 (out of 4)
M. Night Shyamalan has been lowering the bar of his own brand since The Village silenced those citing him as Spielberg 2.0 fifteen years ago. But thanks to the more recent success of Split, the director's esteem seemed to be restored following box office profits and favorable reviews.
Split’s positive reception was confirmation that Shyamalan needed only a decent premise and a few respectable actors in order to have people salivating over his trademark class of thriller once again. The borderline offensive depiction of mental illness by a mugging James McAvoy (a proven actor just having fun yet still pissing me off) was really baffling given how much people complain every last thing nowadays. The bothersome 2017 flick needs the foremost focus considering Glass is less a trilogy capper beginning with 2000’s Unbreakable than it is a slightly more ambitious follow-up to Split.
The detriment of Glass is in spite of a strong continuation for the characters of Unbreakable (two-thirds of the film’s main cast with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson returning), the weak emotional tether is the loose connection between McAvoy’s multifaceted Beast and Anya Taylor-Joy's character from the film before. Glass also is and looks dirt cheap – Shyamalan's capacity to bore apart from his visual sensitivity is rather insane when accounting for the X-Men psychology and stripped superheroics.
The film’s philosophy of finding the space where supernatural horror and comic book tropes coexist is admirable and yet the film Glass on the extraordinary realism making Unbreakable so bleakly unique. Glass is the best thing Shyamalan has done this decade and nonetheless unforgivably bland and sterilized by an inevitable and uninspired triptych of last minute twists. Restraint has always marked the infamous director's most potent work – Glass finds Shyamalan indulging in his worst behaviors even if the results are more interesting than they've been in some time.
3 (out of 4)
Barry Jenkins wasted no time substantiating the overnight wunderkind reputation chiseled out by his Oscar-winning breakthrough Moonlight, which snagged the Best Picture award in the most memorable fashion conceivable. With an adapted screenplay he apparently penned at the same time on a European summer vacation, If Beale Street Could Talk lives up to a quick update on the director's fresh prominence – it’s a nuanced drama and textured romance intertwined, threaded with relevant themes and sincere social commentary.
His early trademarks of point-of-view perspectives and fidgeting with the focus pay off strikingly well here, as Jenkins' identifies the central innocent love story for its remote delicacies while delivering melodrama with all the aplomb a great modern play might deserve. For every bit of hype behind Regina King’s performance – she’s practically destined beyond nominations to win for Best Supporting Actress – her turn is absolutely devastating. Her character’s convictions and superb dialogue have only remote relation to the raw emotion King funnels through the role.
Our leads are also great – Jenkins not only has a sharp eye for casting but an intuition as to how to draw the most vital vulnerability from his actors. Jenkins was quoted as saying shooting is his favorite part of directing because of the scope of possibilities each take provides. It may be an inevitable comedown following Moonlight’s transcendence but, if nothing else, the effectiveness drawn from KiKi Layne and Stephan James leaves Beale Street worth observantly strolling along.
2 ½ (out of 4)
Adam McKay is fresh off The Big Short, which happily sat amongst the most enjoyable of 2015's Oscar pool. His new film is equal in vigor, emotion and righteous aim, but Vice is half the film in potency. If not for McKay’s innate capacity to render the boring absorbing, as well as Christian Bale’s unassumingly perfect turn as Dick Cheney (a performance in debt to some of the best make-up work in years), Vice would feel a pointless affair, nothing more than a passing biopic. But McKay is more than aware of his audience, subject matter and the slippery slope when it comes to true stories.
Vice is, if nothing else, overwhelmingly entertaining. McKay’s script is packed with insight and cleverly recreated interplay between mythic modern political figures. Still, his yearning to relate complex social issues through a mainstream comedy lens just doesn’t coalesce as sharply as when he related the financial confusion of the 2008 housing market crash in The Big Short. In characterization – as this is more conventional Oscar bait – things are played very dramatically and Bale carries McKay’s interpretation of Cheney wherever need be.
But the cutaways, cute gags and grandstanding feel like a distraction, fueled nobly by outrage but executed with the narrow objectivity of a Michael Moore movie. Some of the gimmicks in McKay’s arsenal really work – Bale and Amy Adams exchanging Shakespearean dialogue before bedtime is a surreal moment – but his desire to make people laugh at true life absurdity seems entirely at odds with his passion to inform the masses on pressing, relevant truths.
3 (out of 4)
First off let's not pretend superhero movies are more than vaguely artistic. For god's sake they've been Hollywood's fat calf for nearly two decades. The fruits of the genre are conceived for a general audience even if they are often subliminally designed for children and overweight forty-year-olds. The only thing left to explore in superheroism after all the formulas and subversions have been exhausted is a few eccentric characters (why I've always been fond of those misfits called X-Men), unexplored settings and formal experimentation. Aquaman has everything it needs plus its own variety of deliriously campy pleasures.
I have to come out of the gate in defense because saying you care for a DC movie that's not Wonder Woman leads your audience to believe you are a contrarian. Aquaman is one of the best, if not the best, the DCEU has yet to offer. As the first film since Justice League made no impact on the world of superheroes one year ago, Aquaman is a spiritual rebirth for DC and a new page in Warner Brothers capeshit saga. It's a refreshing tonic rinsing out everything so dull and putrid about earlier entries.
Aquaman's story is anything but complicated yet beneath the surface level there are fathoms of context to unravel. It’s no secret the DCEU has floundered one release after another – Man of Steel was promising before quickly becoming excruciating and same goes for BvS, credit to Snyder’s ambitions misguided as they may have been. Suicide Squad and Justice League are so utterly flavorless they can barely be classified as films considering the very public studio meddling. Wonder Woman, imperfect as it is, became the obvious exception to the rule two summers past.
Aquaman doesn’t reinvent the wheel – there are no challenging narrative choices like Nolan’s Bat-trilogy or in Infinity War earlier this year. James Wan – the man behind Insidious, The Conjuring and the most acclaimed of the Fast & Furious series (number 7 to be exact) – has the touch of a pop craftsman and you can register his audacious approach to Aquaman from head to fin. Before the turn of the century there was never any hope a movie like this could’ve been even remotely possible conceptually – Wan's blockbuster works with a boilerplate origin story that would have felt familiar 20 years ago and in spite of this Aquaman overwhelmingly prevails as pure spectacle.
What can I say? The film is good clean fun – it applies epic scope to conventional adventure plotting and archetypal characters including the macho reluctant hero and the capable and incredibly sexualized love interest. It all feels kind of classic in its own fantastic if farcical fashion, though it's easy to see the clichés too. For me Wan's unmistakable vision is so kinetically gratifying even the clunkiest lines are forgivable – altogether he keeps the mood just serious enough to care about and just goofy enough to enjoy intensely. Aquaman strikes a deft balance of copious entertainment in spite of every perceived preceding limitation right down to the drumming octopus. This kind of preposterous extravaganza comes only so often. There's a satisfaction in seeing something so sensational be taken at face value, especially when the visual realization has been rigorously storyboarded.
The humor is there but unlike Marvel movies Aquaman doesn't break from established drama to wink at the audience about the whole affair, tempting as that might have been. With loads of CG scenery to chew, the fairly talented and inarguably well cast performers hold our attention. Jason Mamoa's interpretation of an undersea outlaw and Amber Heard's entirely appropriate merwoman princess role play to their respectively moderate strengths. Patrick Wilson and Willem Dafoe are far above this material but that doesn’t stop them from giving their all to such blatant schlock. The subaquatic monologuing and mythology is its own reward if you have an open mind. Exposition isn’t this film's strong suit but the Atlantian mythos is somehow much more interesting than that of Wakanda, Themyscira or Asgard.
What Aquaman really does is revert the superhero recipe back to the dumb escapist fare it was before The Dark Knight wrongly encouraged people to expect sophistication from their capeflicks. The original two Spider-Man films are among the best the genre has ever spawned but they are absurd to a tee whilst achieving the gusto of a comic book. All in all I can't explain such vivid revelry in viewing Aquaman other than it has all the kooky creativity of an old-fashioned cult classic burnished with expensive contemporary cosmetics.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is able to realize multiple objectives concurrently with The Favourite. He composes a flagrant, caustically comic farce of the same regal period piece dramas usually magnetizing Academy Awards attention while simultaneously conveying his own brutally realistic and reasonably tragic window to the past by stringently obeying historical accuracy.
Lanthimos is among the most innovative contemporary filmmakers. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, he emulates Stanley Kubrick’s approaches to direction while circumnavigating outright imitation. The genre whoredom, emotional opaqueness, impeccably detailed sets and costumes – not to mention the splendid camera strokes of superimpositions, symmetrical framing, tracking movements – all direct back to Kubrick's fundamental influence. But Lanthimos' own assortment of fastidious and uncompromising auteurist tendencies allow him to color in his own mysteriously idiosyncratic characteristics.
After the satirical dystopian romantic comedy The Lobster and the near-horror comedy framing of his mythologically-inspired supernatural thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the director’s third English feature continues to advance his tendencies toward surrealism and absurdism in relation to the most confused, disgusting and uncanny aspects of human nature. The tonal acrobatics Lanthimos is able to pull off in The Favourite are akin to the counterintuitive strangeness of The Lobster and his vexing, jet black sense of humor in Dogtooth. In addition to the historical posturing Lanthimos draws upon screwball elements, classic comedy of manners, seals them in subtle irony and psychological torment and wraps them in a dazzlingly fish-eyed bundle.
By never losing the pinch of woe within its gonzo hilarity, the gratifying oneups(wo)manship between the delicious lead characters lend The Favourite much of its cinematic grandeur. Lanthimos' efforts would be moot if not for evenly exquisite actors: Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Nicholas Hoult are perfectly selected for their parts and do not hesitate to live up to them.
The fact that Lanthimos can both destroy and improve the face of the film's genre is a testament to his own indisputable talents and deliberately imposing vision. The cinematography, period flourishes, performances, scripting and editing are all of sublime repose. The deplorable crooning, coying and craning for attention is as disgusting as all the realistic vomit – palpable, deliberate disgust stains the ornate surface of The Favourite. This is baroque filmmaking at its finest as Lanthimos imparts tantalizingly modern cinematic formality.
3 ½ (out of 4)
No solitary superhero, not even Batman, has such a glut in film media. I wasn't anticipating Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for this reason alone until I found out Phil Lord, half of the duo behind Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the Jump Street films, was a screenwriter.
It was enough to get me to pay for a Sony animated movie – after Spider-Man: Homecoming, I was over the idea of Spider-Men that weren’t Tobey Maguire and wasn’t too keen on animated capeshit not directed by Brad Bird. Needless to say Into the Spider-Verse obliterated my mild expectations and is unexpectedly exemplary of the genre’s potentialities. It's a triumph of stellar visual conception, acutely funny scripting, inspired voice work, emotionally staked plotting and perhaps the weirdest superhero ensemble the silver screen has seen.
Using sci-fi gobbledygook to bridge realities and juxtapose great characters and voices, the Spider-Verse's cup runneth over in novelty and fun. John Mulaney as Peter Porker, Nicolas Cage as Noir Spider-Man, Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, Jake Johnson as an aged Peter, Kimiko Penn as Peni Parker and of course Shameik Moore as protagonist Miles Morales all fit and bring their bizarre characters to a strangely smooth place of relatability.
This Spider-Man is perpetually entertaining and appropriately invested in both pathos and danger. But a clever script and memorable characters are complimented with pristine visual motion, the actual look and feel of a comic book. The animation grain is constructed with a near-kaleidoscopic design – the speckled film surface perfectly blends the kinetics of stop-motion movement with the texture of polished 3D animation. Even the end credits are wondrous to behold – the entire visual design translates the wonder of a drawing coming to life, coalescing with seamless fluidity.
This is a stuffed Spider-Verse with many in-jokes for geeks and enough unregulated imagination to span an entire phase of the MCU. The bar has been raised for July's Spider-Man: Far from Home when it debuts with both Endgame and Captain Marvel still in multiplexes. That movie will be three times as expensive as Into the Spider-Verse but Sony's smartest play in years will have been easily the best thing to originate from Stan Lee’s most popular single creation since Spider-Man 2 changed the game 15 years ago.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Alfonso Cuarón has embraced the unencumbered creative freedom afforded him since he transformed the Harry Potter series from a line of kid flicks to the benchmark for mainstream fantasy in a post-LOTR world. His follow-up, 2006's Children of Men, is one the most mesmerizingly photographed movies of the 21st century and in company with the best films of our time too. He then took seven years to churn out Gravity – in every visual respect the work of a technical prodigy but worth significantly less in writing and performance.
Still, Cuarón has broken many barriers and was bound to return his privilege and prowess to the most antithetically personal playing field. The Mexican filmmaker hasn’t fashioned a film in his own language or country since the emphatically erotic Y tu Mama También so it was only a matter of time before a most welcome readjustment to a more practical artistic framework. With Roma Cuarón produces a poignantly quotidian portrait working both as a sincere slice of his own subjectivity and as a harrowing new installation in the director’s diverse and dominating filmography.
Far from exploding satellites, the restrictively domestic struggles of a modest housekeeper are showcased with uncommon clarity as Cuarón refurbishes his love of long-take experimentation. The 3D wizardry and handheld authenticity are substituted for swiveling pans informally illustrating action through up to 360 degrees of investigated space. The same simple camera motions capture tedious chores as bluntly as jolting violence and severe revelation. The extended single-shots are all justified in measured bouts of beauty. If you think the pivotal birth scene in Children of Men was intense, it has nothing on the analogous delivery sequence in Roma – Like Children, some of Roma's most traumatic moments are nonetheless awe-inspiring.
Cuarón comfortably elevates the definition of a Netflix original film with a particularly great film reputable enough to also earn a fairly wide theatrical release, setting a paramount precedent. The mode of viewing notwithstanding, Roma is a beautiful film in thought and sensation, sweepingly portrayed in monochromatic glory and humbly humanized by newcomer Talitza Aparicio.
2 (out of 4)
YA novel adaptations had their time in the sun but at this point trying to cash in on the faded fad is embarrassing. The Hunger Games briefly took residence in the void left by Harry Potter but since both disappointing Part's of the Mockingjay have long flown, the flashes in the pan since (your Divergent's and your Maze Runner's) haven't lasted long. From afar, Mortal Engines posited itself to revivify a dying trend of teen fantasies but its lack of pulse on arrival is more like the final nail in the coffin.
Alas, even with the screenwriting trio for The Lord of the Rings, Mortal Engines spins familiar tales as robotically as those enormous mechanized wheels. As always with the latest universe to develop, the hook (cities on the go, yippee) and the introduction to a newish world gets you involved and thinking, but the adventure in wait requires vested interest in stock characters. Lamentably, for all its intriguing trappings and borderline blockbuster commercial setup, audiences have barely taken the effort to shrug – it's the flop of 2018 and Universal is expected to lose as much money as they gambled.
The script by Peter Jackson – as well as his wife Fran Walsh and collaborator Phillipa Boyens – is far too truncated and whittled down to bare essentials to leave room for character development and an organic progression of stakes. Our key heroes and villains are so damn one-dimensional and every side character contributes little beyond explanatory exposition. It's no great sign that director and Jackson's right hand man Christian Rivers has no real filmmaking voice overpowering the belabored aesthetics and visual effects, neat as they often are. Obviously there’s not a minimum nine hours and three movies to dwell upon a gaggle of personalities as with this team's last two trilogies, but Mortal Engines is exclusively world-building and bustling plot and suffers enormously as such.
But 100 million dollars was never spent so efficiently. On every visual front, from set construction to costume design to CG 'splosions, Mortal Engines at least has the veneer of epic grandiosity. The production design is full of genuine craft but the script feels entirely rushed, like if a five-hour movie had every other page ripped from its screenplay. There are more than enough details of the dystopian cosplay wonderland to continually pique one's curiosity but the film plateaus halfway through and settles for predictable payoffs and dimensionless conclusions after the tour is over.
The film’s first act has something going but by the exhausting third act it can’t end sooner. Mortal Engines fundamentally fails to escape a sense of mediocrity that slowly envelops the film before taking it over completely by the routine special effects smackdown. Clearly the 2001 novel has imagination to spare in terms of contemporary youth fiction. The futuristic fantasy steampunk inspired Jackson and, especially just from the first and best scene, you can see the cinematic experience he dreamt of imparting. Too bad this film's moment for greatness and recognition is long past.
3 (out of 4)
The Farrelly brothers can be most affectionately labeled proto-Apatow, but Green Book is far removed from their aged breed of humor. The comedy twosome grew more irrelevant with time but Peter – breaking away from Bobby (not the dumber, just the unluckier of the pair) – rejuvenated the merit of the Farrelly name overnight with Green Book, a film long donned with Oscar cachet since it received the People's Choice Award at TIFF.
Removed from a contextual acquaintance with Dumb and Dumber or There’s Something About Mary – not to mention ignoring the candor of its depiction of some kind of historical truth – Peter Farrelly's Green Book comes across as an effortlessly comic road trip movie embroiled with a few worthwhile sentiments and some impressive performances. The average viewer, cynicism not entirely deep-seated, will likely find the film's structure and themes timeless, translating soiled clichés into tender holiday escapism.
Still, between Don Shirley's nephew speaking out in sharp protest to the film's existence and Nick Vallelanga's own partiality in penning the script, the entire agenda of this movie will have people choosing sides in these unequivocally divisive times, especially vying over what qualifies as tact in regards to race relations. The younger Shirley resents that the son of Viggo Mortensen's character Lip Vallelanga went ahead with the film and, without his input which was indeed asked for, created what young Shirley believes to be a total fabrication. That's sure to be irksome, particularly given the "true friendship" part of the tagline. According to his kin, Shirley never considered Vallelanga a friend – therefore the film has no merit apparently, despite the fact that Farrelly's script purposely showcases him through a gradually more empathetic eye and given the respect with which Mahershala Ali plays Shirley.
All I'm saying is why complain later when you had the chance to improve the inevitable beforehand? And how often do we actually believe supposed true stories in film play out exactly as they occur? Green Book isn't Zodiac, and as painstaking as David Fincher's great film is there are liberties taken for the sake of cinematic storytelling. Maybe Shirley really despised Vallelanga – still this road trip happened and the sentiments meant to be imparted are pretty indispensable, especially considering how much attention is paid to Shirley's undeniable virtuosity.
Following the sad and shameful hit and miss hilarity of Dumb and Dumber and the vivid screwball romance of Mary, Green Book is a natural result of slyly tender maturity eventually outweighing the crude humor. In writing alone Farrelly's film far exceeds any former expectations but the performances are what seals Green Book as spellbinding even at its most treacly. Ali is a recent Oscar winner and all but confirmed to become another and Mortensen is sadly playing fourth whistle to Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and finally Rami Malek. Their caricatures become surprisingly real by the hallmark conclusion and the performers each deserve their due praise.
It may fit the blueprint of today's average Oscar bait, but damn if Green Book doesn’t strike you like it's supposed to. It’s design is to please the mild temperaments of educated liberals but it’s so effortlessly classic (more Rain Man than Driving Miss Daisy if we're comparing BP winners) that its glaring faults are worth forgiving. Truthfulness and triteness rest but a few, ham-filled degrees apart, so despite superficially appearing to be a product of the latter category, Peter Farrelly possesses the uncommon ability to see past today's politics to arrive at a veracious destination free of the acrimony associated with his past work and any agendas of another us v. them position in today's political atmosphere.
3 (out of 4)
The Coen Brothers aren’t renowned for their artistic stasis. So following the less than fervent reception this decade with the folk tragedy of Inside Llewyn Davis (which nonetheless rests alongside their best to date) and the Hollywood skewering in Hail! Caesar, America's real dynamic duo escape to Netflix to experiment with film anthology and assist in altering the cinematic landscape of the most popular streaming service. Alfonso Cuarón's Roma is the equally distinguished flip-side of this high-profile one-two punch.
The Brothers have tried their hands at Westerns several times, whether in neo-noirs more representative of their compositions like the pair's debut Blood Simple and their magnum opus No Country For Old Men, or their recent remake of True Grit. Yet Buster Scruggs is most similar to the saturated crusades of O Brother Where Art Thou?. Similar to spinning country tales out of The Odyssey, Ballad rattles off a number of different tunes in the tumbleweed tradition – some straight, some strange, all Coen. Though the quality and conviction of the film relies on the oscillating tone and variety of ambition betwixt the six short stories, Buster Scruggs is a savory encapsulation of everything else they've ever wished they could do with the dilapidated genre. Stagecoaches, prospectors, gunslingers and wanted posters – I’d accuse them of simple deconstruction but the performances are too terrific, the scenery and production too beautiful and the writing is too wily and pointed.
After the most parodic sketch for our titular character serves as the hilarious musical opener, the film takes the turn for the tragic, ironic and quietly existentialist. The fourth segment "All Gold Canyon" with Tom Waits as a guileless prospector in search of gold, as well as courtship on the wagon trail in the highlight segment thereafter "The Girl Who Got Rattled," feel like miniature classics alongside many a Coen film. Every portion has a full purpose.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is relatively insignificant compared to your average Coen joint given its release platform and episodic structure. Still, despite themes and tricks that have served them all but flawlessly the past three decades, this album of a film is but the latest proof that cinema's best bros will never be done taking you off guard with poetic swoop of melancholy or a proper punch of mirthfulness.
1 ½ (out of 4)
J. K. Rowling proved herself fantasy's biggest fraud once she reached the uninspired denouement of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (wow Harry is just like Jesus, amazing). Later her poorly received Broadway play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and a directly cinematic debut in the tolerably superficial Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them presented little evidence that the Wizarding World is as carefully thought through as fans want to believe. Regardless, Rowling's first screenplay was the inception of a prospective five-film franchise and Warner Brothers will scour and scrounge for every cent they can retrieve from the carcass of their most regularly profitable property.
In following up the phenomenon of her young adult heptalogy, Rowling has gone down a path trodden most famously by George Lucas: attempting to cement the touchstone of one's creative legacy with fruitless, inconsequential prequels. The history of wizards and witches has infinite potential for narrative pleasures but Rowling's new stories are pathetically written. Given how she's distorted Pottermania in order to sow the seeds for future, equally undesirable films, this is universe expansion at its worst. The Crimes of Grindelwald echoes the worst of the Star Wars franchise in more ways than one.
Though Rowling, just like Lucas, leans on both homage and her own basic mythos for support, she's reaching Disney-tier levels of spoonfed fan service. It's as if either her lack of palpable genius or studio interference demanded a certain number of callbacks and easter eggs to the recognizable elements of the very familiar world of Harry Potter (remember THE SORCERER'S STONE?!). The Force Awakens and Rogue One are just as shameless in this respect but where the SW comparisons paint the most proportionate picture is in how similar Grindelwald is to The Last Jedi. Both films are thorough failures rendered slightly noble by overindulgence for the sake of artistic investigation. The Crimes of Grindelwald is full of enterprising concepts but it's risky and daring in the exact same illogical and ideologically misplaced fashion that Episode VIII was last year. For all its moving parts, nothing is of particular importance and narrative momentum is a mere illusion. Rowling tries her hand at many conflicts, characters, jokes and action sequences, but they all feel reminiscent of better times in the Potterverse no matter how far she ventures from well-known areas.
Given how often you are tricked into thinking you're watching prime Potter, it's tempting to liken The Crimes of Grindelwald to a Disney product but only a prima donna like Rowling could reach Zach Snyder levels of dreariness. A film with the central premise of MAGIC should be fun but with a dozen characters to cycle through – Zoë Kravits, Erza Miller, Callum Turner, the list goes on – and three whole movies to set up, boredom sets in quickly. I enjoy how basic spells now require no exposition but those little efficiencies don't leave the plot any less bumbled. David Yates is in his sixth go round with the wand-waving stuff and all this entry adds up to is an extended trailer for the rest of the series.
Even our lead – Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander – feels swept up and confused for a side character. Like in the previous installment, Newt's relationship with Katherine Waterston's Tina Goldstein is the solitary point of emotional interest. Jude Law and Johnny Depp are both well chosen as youthful Dumbledore and Grindelwald respectively, and though they perform with dignity the overcrowded script simply doesn't afford them enough screen time. Instead we have 15 minutes outlining the Lestrange family tree and recycling racist themes from back in the Chris Columbus days.
The first Fantastic Beasts was properly self-contained other than that stupid final twist. It benefited from a level of lukewarm originality despite being inferior to even the campiest (Chamber of Secrets) or the most infuriatingly adapted (Order of the Phoenix) of the former film series. Grindlewald's gotcha ending is much worse than its predecessor and wastes a lot more time setting it up. Just like she developed a habit of climactic, emotional deaths from entries 4 through 6 of Harry Potter, Rowling presently confuses pointless character revelations with dramatic payoff.
2 ½ (out of 4)
Steve McQueen requires no introduction. The man can lay claim to the most heartrending and meritorious Best Picture winner of the decade and his abbreviated filmography has thus far been spotless. After a few years toiling away at HBO, McQueen returns to cinema with his dramatic heist film Widows, doubtless his most accessible release yet.
On paper the film appears to be an unmistakable masterwork in the making and an effortless triumph for McQueen. Apart from plenty of prestige and the pertinent subjects of female empowerment and political cynicism, the cast of Widows is a distinguished list of players. Just with Viola Davis in the lead – which is to not mention Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez and Jacki Weaver supporting – this appeared, from afar, to be not only a shoo-in for Academy buzz but destined for the higher honor of copious praise among the year's finest. Disappointment can be as hard to shake as exaggerated expectations following such as monumental career, yet Widows, for all its relative inadequacies, is one of the stronger releases in a very weak holiday lineup.
You want to love it – the premise compels curiosity, the direction is fully realized and the performances are more than serviceable. But it's difficult to deny how disenchanting Widows ultimately is. Hunger, Shame and, most decisively, 12 Years a Slave were all stories bearing urgency and purpose in their telling – the formal integrity merely sealed their potency. Widows too is forged with cinematic intelligence on behalf of McQueen's direction but Gillian Flynn’s story, based on a 1983 British television series, can’t escape the framework of a soap opera or a sleazy paperback. No matter how fetching the feminine heist concept or how passionate the acting, the twists, buildup and even the memorable encounters with Daniel Kaluuya are stilted at minimum, and the climax is frustratingly scant. As a comeback following a try at TV, Widows is superficial enough enough to say it'd be better suited for the small screen like its derivation.
But as much as critiques come faster when the maker's résumé is most laudable, when the film works it crackles like I dearly hoped it would. Davis and everyone behind her put forth fortitude and McQueen makes the most of the film’s terse bursts of action. It's best moments may not quite compensate for its substantial weaknesses but Widows earns a positive reaction by the skin of its teeth and the preeminence of its credentials.
2 (out of 4)
Joel Edgerton the director is an anomaly – he's often typecast as a villain in other projects and he does the same thing to himself. With a penchant for inserting antagonistic self-directed performances, The Gift and now Boy Erased are afforded a strange subtext that lends each of his films a disservice. The former was a solid psychological thriller stifled by Edgerton's own farfetched writing and distracting casting. In Boy Erased, the director has his hands some fresh Oscar bait subject matter and a new deranged loony to inhabit – this time instead of an avenging nerd weirdo we have a hyper-Catholic gay conversion therapist.
The main problem is there's nothing subtle about Edgerton’s presence or performance, and as the main extension of the movie's moral conflict there's nothing understated about the film either. Boy Erased is a thinly veiled hate letter to far right conservichristians who despise the LGBTQ+ community. While Edgerton’s performance is strained, Lucas Hedges' lead performance is the film’s only exceptional asset. Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, as the insensitive parents, are like amateur stage actors next to Hedges straitlaced verisimilitude – they're own attempt at nuance is almost equal to Edgerton's hamminess, especially Crowe.
The film’s sensory output is one of perpetual gloom doused in teal and grey and as we're lulled into dreariness. Moments meant to shock or apply emotion are irregular in their effectiveness. The film's internal text – plainly used in order to let liberals applaud themselves for identifying the obvious villainy behind blatant emotional trauma – is far from terribly refined. But despite the easy footing on this moral high ground, Edgerton is still able to present the familial and internal struggles of this topic with exposé-like docudrama.
But if you're not into the political topic flavor of the month – or just one of those people who doesn't carve out time to see a scene of anal rape – Boy Erased, much like the superior social issue movie Beautiful Boy, is poised to flounder in reference to Academy attention. A distaste for Catholicism may suffice to not automatically say "skip!"; or maybe even that's not enough.
1 ½ (out of 4)
Claire Foy is having an exemplary breakout year and a leading role in a film as mediocre as The Girl in the Spider’s Web can’t hamper the momentum of her ascending career. She was the phenomenal face of Steven Soderbergh's Unsane – perhaps the most underrated movie of the year – and Foy is likely to lock down a Best Supporting Actress nomination for First Man.
As the newest Lisbeth Salander, Foy is suitable enough as the hot topic hacker but she doesn't possess the right shade of brooding, fragile vigor embodied by Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara. Still she manages to considerably enhance the material with her capable presence in spite of a flimsy accent. Miscasting is the least of the problems with Spider’s Web – the faithful Swedish adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s beloved trilogy as well as David Fincher’s robust American remake all offer unquestionably superior adult escapism. If the latest film seems like an off-brand reboot, it's because the substandard incarnation stems from books written by David Lagercrantz, Larsson’s successor to the Millennium series following his death in 2004.
While director Fede Álvarez rightfully made 2016's Don’t Breathe an enjoyable horror hit after initiating his career with a Sam Raimi-approved Evil Dead redo, his inky, icy touch isn’t enough to either improve a deficient script he helped pen or give Lisbeth back her established infamy. To be fair, even Fincher’s meticulous murkiness couldn’t redeem the trite tangle of Spider’s Web, which takes everything annoyingly implausible about Jason Bourne movies twice as serious. There are a few neat sequences in the first act but once Salander's story is wrapped up with Lakeith Stanfield’s overly gifted NSA agent, a targeted youngster (Christopher Convery) comically forced into her care and a long lost sister slash cartoon villain played by Sylvia Hoeks (Luv of Blade Runner 2049), the plotting becomes plodding.
The emotional pivots of the film are as flaccid and formulaic as they are in something like the average James Bond movie. Spider’s Web pedestrian script chooses to forgo the mystery element of the series in order to posit itself as a fashionably clichéd action movie just violent enough to bear an R rating, convoluted enough to qualify as mature and packed with enough tepid confrontations and spyware to call it a thriller. This Girl's worst sin is it stretches a meager 43 million dollar budget into blockbuster bucks, actively assisting audience boredom by amping up what should be mostly macabre and enigmatic. Ironically every attempt to inject excitement into this misguided bit of brand burnishing is another compounding instance of disinterest within a guessable narrative.
3 ½ (out of 4)
Paul Dano offers 2018 its supreme actor-turned-director display – the eccentric performer's cinematic savvy exceeds ambitious A-listers like Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, or John Krasinski in front of or behind the camera. While no gobsmacking masterpiece, Wildlife is a dexterous, contemplative period drama ripe with accomplished filmmaking facets across the spectrum. The decor, lighting and editing, not to mention the stellar stagecraft, are all superlative – this doesn’t feel like Dano’s first rodeo.
Written by both Dano and his longtime romantic partner Zoe Kazan, Wildlife is adapted from the 1990 novel of the same name by Richard Ford. Refining the material to his liking, Dano has no trouble composing a solemn meditation on the disintegration of nuclear-era domesticity. The applicability of the 1960-set film lies largely in the erosion of the era's idealism and the atrophy of martial love. Universally, Wildlife looks straight into the blemished and resentful face of divorce and precisely paints all the unspoken pain it yields.
It's unfair to Dano but Wildlife is an actor's film if ever there was one. Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould are each extraordinary individually and terrific together. The experienced parental performers exhibit themselves to the foremost of their abilities and the authenticity of the sprouting protagonist in all his frustrated powerlessness is too close for comfort. Gyllenhaal – still as superb as we've come to expect – might have outshone Mulligan's motherly role if he wasn't so absent from the story. As a lonely wife losing grasp of her fidelity and maternal instincts, Mulligan adds to a repertoire already stocked with impressive achievements with a career-best performance.
This subdued stroke of genius is no contender for much awards consideration. Yet even narrowly examined as an acting showcase, Wildlife is more unnecessary evidence that Paul Dano is a Hollywood outsider capable of classic-tier creative contributions. And yes, Mulligan and Gyllenhaal will have their Oscar speeches planned for some career-encapsulating project down the road, but it's Ed Oxenbould bearing the soul of the film. While he's a discouragingly passive protagonist, his acting reflects the reserved, modest dissatisfaction that Dano himself has come to exhibit so well himself.
Bolstered by indispensable themes and masterly performances, Dano's manner in arranging these elements is so good that Wildlife is a delicacy even at its most dispiriting.
1 ½ (out of 4)
With Tchaikovsky’s rapturously iconic ballet and a story as simple and surreal as E.T.A. Hoffmann's enduring 1816 fable at your disposal – not to mention 120 million dollars – how did Disney's spin on a Christmas classic turn out as pitifully deficient as The Nutcracker and the Four Realms?
Since, as a rule, invented sequels to popular lore are always inferior to their inspirations (how I hate to recall Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland), the abundantly affluent studio has warped dreamlike source material into a dull and diluted fantasy adventure. Disney is extremely practiced at shaping digestible and predictable family-friendly fare but the proclivity for pressing their stamp on established fiction could use some restraint in general, and especially here. You don't need to see the names of two directors in the credits – Lasse Hallström primarily and Joe Johnston for reshoots – to realize this Nutcracker was produced not by creative impetus but rather to cash in on the ballet's lasting onstage popularity.
Every character is an indistinct caricature. Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer, Kiera Knightly as the Sugar Plum Fairy nor Mackensie Foy as the central figure Clara cannot redeem celestially callous filmmaking. Acting was less the principal reason I entered a tyke-teeming theater than it was for Tchaikovsky's orchestral music. The movements alone are dazzlingly, resplendently expressive as Disney themselves proved in one of their greatest achievements Fantasia. At first some of the most famous sonic passages are present before getting misplaced within plot-heavy rubbish, when dancing could have told the story far better than neophyte Ashleigh Powell's script. James Newton Howard's accompanying score is forced to make up for the multiple movie moments Disney felt couldn't be harmonically sustained by the Russian composer's work – skilled as Howard is, his adjacent symphonic measures are meager next to Tchaikovsky’s innumerable timeless melodies.
In discounting unrestricted access to a wellspring of beautiful music and storytelling, Disney moreover squanders the opportunity to produce a potentially definitive screen version of The Nutcracker. The 1986 Maurice Sendak-assisted attempt did the ballet best and the Japanese 1979 stop motion feature exercised real narrative invention – neither are exactly exemplary but the Mouse King had boundless resources and wasted most of them. Although this Nutcracker's sheer production value is exorbitant, the fantastical factors are implemented without awe or splendor. Disney's substantial monetary exertion only accentuates the degree of wasted effort spent on a most prosaic adaptation.
2 (out of 4)
After eight tumultuous years in production, the arrival of Bohemian Rhapsody is hardly the momentous occasion for the music biopic genre one might expect from transcribing the extravagant life of Freddie Mercury to the screen. Succeeding only in staging the influential British rock band's most recognizable tracks with lifelike stand-ins and lively camerawork, the film is little more than a shot of nostalgia for baby boomers and Queen 101 for young punters.
Bohemian Rhapsody is manufactured to pander to those with scarcely an iota of familiarity with pop culture, which is to say anyone. But for music savants craving some scrutiny regarding Mercury's distinctive genius (as the film isn't really concerned with Queen at large), the pang of paucity will be poignant due to the paltry, bullet-pointed and undeveloped scripting. Writer Anthony McCarten's screenplay is dominantly comprised of obvious references and historical simplifications – Queen's speedy rise to international domination from 1970 to 1985 is awkwardly crammed into a three-act script simulator. McCarten is contented to appeal to plebeian emotions and convert facts to fantasy, not unlike his other feathery and shamelessly sentimental English biopics The Theory of Everything and Darkest Hour.
However, the sloppy editing and shoestring narrative impetus can be chiefly blamed on Bryan Singer, who was fired as director late last year after rumors of showing up late to work and clashing with the film crew, especially lead Rami Malek. Singer's name has already been clouded by multiple accusations of child sexual abuse but he deserves derision for taking full credit for two-thirds the filmmaking labor and exhibiting less than half the stylistic commitment of even his worst X-Men film. Replacement director Dexter Fletcher has not been awarded recognition as per the rules of the Directors Guild of America.
Malek on the other hand is so much better than anyone dearly wishing for the Sacha Baron Cohen version could have hoped for. His prosthetic British chompers are downright distracting in the first act but by the time the clean cut and mustache are in play, Malek operates smoothly as a convincing imitator of Mercury’s signature theatrical flamboyance. His acting alone, while exaggerated even for Mercury, salvages the film altogether. The supporting cast is also admirable – Gwilym Lee as lead guitarist Brian May, Ben Hardy as drummer Roger Taylor and Joseph Modello as bassist John Deacon are all just as plausible aside Malek's extraordinary performance. The real life Taylor and May were consulted during production and were the most outspoken against Cohen's casting. Their input seems negligible though, as Bohemian Rhapsody's narrative abbreviates the band's history and the muffled PG-13 rating eschews the reality of rock and roll – sex, drugs and foul mouths.
Failing to live up to the traditional standards of Straight Outta Compton, Get On Up and Walk the Line or even make an attempt at the experimental, poetic contemplation of I'm Not There or Love & Mercy, Bohemian Rhapsody is a safe and featureless portrait of a fearless and unforgettable performer. Still, the swimmingly climactic rendition of Queen's celebrated Live Aid concert and Malek's soulful caricature save the film from total tedium – easy come, easy go.
3 (out of 4)
In a year when several earnest movie actors readily acquired financing to inscribe their directorial mark – John Krasinski (A Quiet Place), Paul Dano (Wildlife) and of course Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) – Jonah Hill was not the one I was betting on as an artist in waiting.
Endorsed by the mainstream art house distribution cred of A24, Mid90s is a succinct if slight debut principally for its consideration of an unfettered and guileless realism. Hill's explicit millennial backdrop screams brazen nostalgia but the near-contemporary scenery is an incidental template for character development and cultural observations. The film bears surface similarities to Boyhood in this regard even if Mid90s lacks the timeless immediacy of a coming-of-age classic.
Hill's film rests on his confidence in an assortment of young performers, all of whom do not fail him – the slim story is boosted beyond mumblecore pretensions by the lifelike acting. Hill’s conception prudently resists a wistful lens and the naturalism is imperative to Mid90s as a way which to view the impressionable stages of adolescence – peer pressure, social acclamation, nasty habits – in addition to the best and worst of formative experiences. Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is astonishing as our pubescent protagonist and his bliss and frustration quickly become our own.
I was a good little boy at age 13 but the ensemble of teenage characters Hill has gathered are a wildly authentic bunch. The family of our young lead Steven is on the sidelines because that’s how every fresh teen wants to keep it; Katherine Waterston is mom and Lucas Hedges plays the older brother. Seriously injuring yourself, misunderstandings turned to jealousy, succumbing to your friends' most damaging traits are the grotesque pangs of the experience Mid90s has to offer – the general ambiguity in tone is a further positive, provoking nurture vs. nature arguments and speaking to the confused perspective of early teenhood. Mid90s forgoes proper narrative scope but its concerns are relatable and its performances are plausible.
The widescreen-averse 4:3 frame evokes home movies but the stark compositions scrub all sentimentality. All that keeps the reminiscence relevant is the needle-dropping soundtrack – a fun collection of choice hip hop singles from the genre's finest era intermingled with generation-appropriate alt-rock tracks. It's a pleasing time capsule on its own but even the grooviest of playlists shouldn't supplant original material from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross invoking their wizardry a la The Social Network. In all there are '90s references aplenty but the miniature story remains soundly universal even removed from its titular framework.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
so many briefings
The Absolute State
of /tv/: Film on 4chan