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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 easily informs the irresistable 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 sacrifing verisimilitude at the altar.
With strong subtext coursing through its scarce plot, the narrative overambition noted in Hereditary is channelled into a discreetly organized summer vacation from hell, packing its own punch of "JESUS CHRIST!" while justifying the evolution of its irresistably psychotic premise every creeping step through. Reminiscent of seminal excerpts in film history (the eliptical mindfuckery of The Shining, the patient escalation of Rosemary’s Baby and of course the cult crazies of The Wicker Man), Aster reverts from appealing to today's tastes craving spookhouse bullshit 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 damn funny – thanks Will Poulter – even its most jaw-droppingly grotesque moments may have you guffawing simultaneously. It’s a tricky spatial and emotional balance to strike – this could have so plainly been parody in lesser hands.
For as function-only as the band of characters are, 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 eerily accurate 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 awaits 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.
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 Kaboom 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 seperately 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 match 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 predispositioned 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 Sudekis 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 priviledged 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 over violent skirmishes you most likely already don't look favorably upon Wick or any blockbusters of the same ilk.
But scrutizing 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 in a firm middle-ground, 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 Ruhien 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-ripoff is pretty pitiful but Detective Pickachu 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 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 maintained his acclaimed affability.
The sole blemish 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 rolling 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)
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 one of the most antiquated processes 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 jaunty edges and absurdly old-fashioned adventure trappings render Missing Link a revivifying albeit slightly less sincere shift from its predeccesors.
As wee as it is, in relation to 2019's paltry context 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 wonder there will surely be enough patient viewers to beam as their tedious work intricately unfolds.
3 (out of 4)
Where did DC's swift turnaround come from? After Wonder Woman broke the shit streak in 2017, Justice League arrived just in time to remind us why Snyder’s apocalyptic visions could only hypothetically operate in an era free of self-awareness and irony. Aquaman was 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, suggested the movie would be worth a chuckle during the trailer. Director David F. Sandberg proved instead that although the superhero origin story is an exhausted template, with a heartfelt approach it remains a specifically 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 situations 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 successfully dropped the idea of crossover interconnection, Shazam! continues to show the essentials to caring for 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 slyly sympathetic origin.
The movie is a restrained rarity, an unanticipated, unfettered pleasure within a genre so bloated and saturated it needs hours of liposuction. Obviously Shazam! works with a narrative a child could understand but this universality is indicative of sentimental honesty, sharp, clean humor and occasionally profound realism. Orphanhood, estrangement, identity crisis – the film's emotional earnestness overcomes any lack of the expensive spectacle and breakneck pacing we’ve been progressively attuned to expect. Shazam!'s whimsically meta delights are enough because the film resists easy, derisive smugness. 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 barrel toward the 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 had 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 Mendelsohn 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 have before.
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 public 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 a Star Trek fan’s wet dream. The visuals are impressive for a movie 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/'90s references, while wearing thin after awhile, don't come down in bombardment.
Given how long we've known the Avengers, its hard to ignore the drawbacks of the film's placement in the greater whole of the saga. I enjoy my superhero movies largely free of future money-making ingredients but the introduction of this character into MCU is the most shoehorned aspect of a corporate empire 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 alongside the trend-setting style of Sin City and the textbook precision genre-crossing of From Dusk til Dawn, there isn’t room for much else besides improvement. Rodriquez continues to be a polished practitioner of visual flair but what Alita: Battle Angel does most skillfully is pass 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. Meanwhile 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 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, the horror timeloop 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 an alternate timeline 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 superlative 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. 1981's Excalibur did as much honest justice as the story could in serious fashion 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 participation 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 English tendencies of Attack the Block's neighborhood alien invasion look quaint in the process. If you were wondering what took Cornish eight years to churn out what amounts to a tenacious 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 for 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 fervently people complain about 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 loose connection between McAvoy’s multifaceted Beast and Anya Taylor-Joy's character from the film before is the key, dismally weak emotional tether. Glass also is and looks dirt cheap – Shyamalan's capacity to bore you 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 cannot relocate the extraordinary realism and unique bleakness of Unbreakable. 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 (The Sixth Sense, Signs to an extent) – Glass finds Shyamalan indulging in his worst behavior even if the outcome is more interesting than it has been in some time.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
so many briefings including
It Chapter Two
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice