Saturday, May 18, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum


Interestingly, even though Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 3 —Parabellum delivers deliciously brutal set pieces where our hero (Keanu Reeves) dispatches with zen master efficiency armies of bounty hunters, its biggest stomach-turner is a stoic ballerina pulling off a toenail.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Guava Island



Donald Glover's "This is America" was more Fela Kuti than minstrel provocateur to me. Glover continues his indictment of racial and cultural oppression in his peculiar but pleasing "Guava Island," where he is a guileless singer angering island bosses while lifting people's spirits.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Long Shot



Jonathan Levine's gushily giddy Long Shot is not pitching the believability of a lovely gov't officer (Charlize Theron) falling for an untidy news reporter (Seth Rogen), an old childhood friend. Rather it appears to be hawking principles over politics, a more interesting premise.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Amazing Grace



When Aretha's Amazing Grace was released in June 1972, my grandmother heard a bit of a friend's and had to have it. I was dispatched to make the buy. I took D.C. Transit to Northeast; copped the record for 10 bucks. Mama played nothing else that summer. She would LOVE the movie.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Avengers: Endgame



Avengers: Endgame lingers on some wonderfully affecting moments among the surviving members of this dysfunctional but lovable family as they suit up for a battle royal for all existing chips. Downey's Iron Man is once again the MVP but all of the graying originals take their bow.

If it is about anything other than superheroes and supervillains ~ and it most certainly is ~ it rings most clearly and passionately about humanity's capacity to heal after catastrophic losses and to resist evil. It is wild and jokey but also touching and profound.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Homecoming



Beyonce’s documentary Homecoming is part concert film / part journal / part tribute to Black collegiate culture but wholly splendid as a testament to Bey’s discipline, genius as an iconic performer and her power as a spokesperson for marginalized people — in and out of the Hive.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Ramy



Comedian Ramy Youseff's self-titled sitcom on Hulu combines familiar American millennial disaffection with Muslim identity codes and conflicts to create a bracingly provocative and funny series about Ramy's search for happiness and God, praying they won't be mutually exclusive.

Fleabag



True to its promo still, Fleabag Season 1 was indeed about unpleasant people, but creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge had much more in mind as she peeled away layers of callous defensiveness to expose Fleabag's festering sex addiction to, hopefully, healing air. Season 2 begins in May.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Missing Link



Chris Butler's riotous Missing Link brims with visual cleverness as it recounts the adventures of an anxious Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) on a global hunt for his secluded Yeti cousins, aided by an icy British speculator (Hugh Jackman) and a gutsy widow with a map (Zoe Saldana).

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Shazam!




David F. Sandberg's Shazam! dazzles because of the hilarious pairing of Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer as the eponymous mystical superhero and his mouthy buddy, respectively. Their scenes make up for regrettably lackluster performances by nearly everyone else in the picture.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Long Time Coming




Jon Strong's Long Time Coming (2017) scores as much as any film could that convenes unlikely Little League rivals, blacks and whites, 60 years after their Jim Crow-defying game in Orlando. In their 70s, the men reminisce about pain and obliviousness but muster a bit of hope too.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Umbrella Academy



Netflix's The Umbrella Academy uses attachment and alienation as the connective tissue for funny and fragmented sci-fi / family drama about cobbled together super-siblings who discover both truth and lies as they race to overcome personal dysfunction and stop global annihilation.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Us



Jordan Peele's Us bests Get Out’s celebrated cultural-psychological intricacy, broadens the scope and depth of Peele's singular vision of horror, shakes and tickles audiences that will be coaching the film’s gritty family of vacationers through a night of doppelgänger bloodletting.

Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke lead the crackling good cast through Peele's invasion nightmare, as the heads of a vacationing family who confronting deadly threats with familiar faces. Much to his credit and this viewer's relief, Peele, who also wrote the picture, does not reach for the supernatural to explain the weirdness but expands the narrative and story space to, once again, probe America's race and class pathologies.

Yes, it's loaded with attack and bleed set pieces and is densely layered, operating, perhaps most importantly, as an assault on complacent tribalism and divisiveness. How much of it will resonate with the average Joe and Jane remains to be seen. It will undoubtedly puzzle some and fascinate others, but haunt most.






Monday, March 11, 2019

Leaving Neverland



Dan Reed's unsettling Leaving Neverland goes beyond describing Michael Jackson's alleged sexual predation of two boys -- Jimmy Safechuck and Wade Robson -- to examining the seductive nature of celebrity and wealth and how it entices ordinarily sensible people to set aside their reflexive guardedness to get next to fame or to protect their idols. 

Safechuck and Robson offer compelling accounts -- painful, distressing testimonies -- of their long-term relationships with Jackson, which encompassed much of their childhoods. It is that element, their youth and their families' unwitting complicity (or irresponsiblity) in giving the boys over to Jackson's tutelage and abuse, that is so grueling. To say that the adult Jimmy and Wade are conflicted about their relationships with Jackson would be as gross an understatement as would be describing their stories of regular, ritual sex play with the pop superstar as "upsetting." They describe what to outsiders sound like a nightmare of manipulation and control, all to placate the appetite and loneliness of a supremely damaged man. Both men say as boys they viewed the sexual contact as their special relationship with Jackson.

Reed's companion interviews with mothers and siblings add levels of frustration to this riveting film because the audience listens to the mothers describe how much they too were enamored of Jackson and were stricken by his generosity and gentleness while we, the audience, know what is to follow: charges from other boys of abuse that paint Jackson as a serial pedophile, hiding his tendencies (crimes?) behind his global image, fairlyland innocence and celebrated gifting to children's causes.

That Jackson is presented as a strange and tragic figure makes it difficult to lay all of our scorn on him even as we hear of the horrors the men's lives became after their close relationship with Jackson was chilled and they were replaced by other younger boys. Both men describe being wracked with depression and self-doubt as adults, hobbled by crippling guilt and sadness, tormented by resentment toward those who should have protected them. Of course, all of this comports with what is generally understood about the adult survivors of child abuse.

Certainly those who believe Safechuck and Robson will pity them for being victimized not only by a man who was accustomed to always getting what he wants, as one of the mothers recounts, but also by a culture that prizes proximity to the rich and famous, sometimes above our own safety and common sense. Those who don't believe the accounts, maybe dismissing them as calculated attacks to squeeze the Jackson estate for money, must come to terms with the unprecedented "normalization" of not only Jackson's ravaged, deracinated appearance but his fixation on boys, which under any other circumstances would have been questioned if not roundly condemned.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Captain Marvel


The Marvel Comic Universe's narrative architecture is truly a mar... er, wonder but there's just so many ways you can WOW audiences with photon blasts and hyperdrives. Three-D certaintly adds a thrilling, near tactile element but at some point "been there / seen that" creeps in and studios can't correct nagging sameness by adding length to the battles because then the picture becomes a numbing spectacle.

Such is the case with the latest entry in Marvel's massive movie franchise. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's Captain Marvel offers some snap, lots of crackle, but, sadly, very little pop as it draws a bead on "throws like a girl' social / cinematic conventions with a hypercharged origins story about the title character and the interdimensional Avengers war coming in April.

Brie Larson is a likable Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), a crack jet pilot who by turns tries to remember who she really is and how she came to be an intergalatic cop with a short fuse in a universe where deception is key to survival. The story, set in the '90s with a matching toe-tapping soundtrack, features some cockeyed banter between Danvers and a then-two-eyed secret agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) after she falls to earth in L.A. during a battle with some shapeshifting aliens led by uber-baddy named Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). The movie's large cast performs yeomen's work with a decent script by Boden, Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet and the noble speechifying is pretty much reduced to a verbal chuck on the chin by Danvers bestie, fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), before sending her off to kick butt.

That's not to say that Captain Marvel isn't a stunning model of female empowerment but the film raises questions about a seemingly invincible woman who appears to be free of the entanglements and hubris that check her male counterparts. Where does she go when there are no limits and will we be willing to follow her?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Tom Sturridge


Tom Sturridge's oily Jon Dondon delivers Velvet Buzzsaw's epigrammatic theme -- "In the attention economy, celebrity is an art form." Unfamiliar with his face, I explored an early Sturridge film, Like Minds (2006, alternatively titled Murderous Intent), and found his patrician bearing and beauty alluring but the film muddled. Sturridge's Nigel plays opposite Eddie Redmayne's Alex, a strident English boys school malcontent who is accused of shooting to death his roommate (Sturridge). The story is told primarily in flashback with Toni Collette playing a psychologist who is tasked with determining if Alex did indeed commit murder; evidence is circumstantial. Nigel, an amateur taxidermist, is early on introspective and passive but quickly takes on the role of the aggressor, as he moves out of Alex's room and into his head with tales of legend and lineage.

Cynthia Erivo


 
Tony winner Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale, Widows and the upcoming Harriet) is as outrageous and fabulous as she wanna be. She's theatrical and electric, dramatic and hypnotic, like her Widows co-star Brian Tyree Henry, a tireless and endlessly fascinating performer who was all over the place in 2018 -- Beale Street, Atlanta, in the Hotel Artemis, with White Boy Rick.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Skin


Oscar-winning short film Skin sets racial animosity in a wholly irrational world. Its story is startling; its message unclear and so unpersuasive. The characters are moved deliberately toward the ironic climax but narrative shortcuts make the conclusion little more than clever.


Eighth Grade


Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade is so cool in its depiction of adolescent terror in the age of smartphone ubiquity, shallow attachments and devastating missteps as packaged in Elsie Fisher's phenomenally naturalistic performance as Kayla, whose life is an admixture of desire and dread.

Capernaum


The weight of Nadine Labaki's masterfully devastating Capernaum is borne on the spindly shoulders of 12-year-old Zain (al Rafeea), an angry, combative boy on the streets of Beirut, battling his unloving parents and a chaotic, brutal world commited to taking from him every good thing he has.

Shoplifters

Hirokazu Koreeda's Shoplifters inhabits a world between the real and the romantic as it beautifully and elegantly unspools the webby tale of a cobbled-together family of thieves who mean no harm but certainly are up to no good until they rescue an abused and abandoned girl and attempt to school her in love and criminality.

Fighting with my Family



Stephen Merchant's comedic sensibilities are on display in the robust Fighting with my Family, which entertains even if the true experiences of WWE diva Paige and her ragtag family of start-struck, small-town British wrestlers who have more heart than talent hold few surprises.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The marvelous thing about The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is the precision in its pop culture commentary. This song is just so brilliant and is true to its name, which makes the whole thing surrreal. Well, the title warned you. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_HFm54lb04

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Velvet Buzzsaw



Dan Gilroy's Velvet Buzzsaw is a stylish playdate for its growups (Gyllenhaal, Collette, Russo, Malkovich) and youngsters (Ashton, Dyer, Sturridge), who go for a ride on the film's bloody combo parody carousel and funhouse, a sendup of artistic pretensions and manufactured taste.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Fyre



Chris Smith's Fyre fumes over failed-festival organizer Billy McFarland's conman and cad while training a forensic lens on the folks who enabled his fantasy, charmed by McFarland's frat daddy slickness and cheesy optimism, to their emotional and financial detriment.

Cold War

 
Pawel Pawlikowski's mesmeric Cold War handles diffidence and disaster with candor, finding love (or its proxy) in the lines on the faces of his Polish lovers (Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot), who scamper all over post-WWII Europe, running toward and away from fate and each other.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

High Flying Bird

 
 
Steven Soderbergh's wonderfully scripted High Flying Bird, starring a terrific Andre Holland (Moonlight and Castle Rock), is about the NBA but has no court action; instead it's both the story of a ballsy player agent during a lockout and a metaphor for black pride and self-determination.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

KIlling Eve

 
 
BBC America's intoxicating Killing Eve is an intricate pas de deux for its splendid leads, with Sandra Oh's fractured, obsessive MI6 intelligence agent transforming into a hapless fly, struggling frantically in the seductive web of Jodie Comer's icily efficient Russian assassin.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Kid Who Would Be King


Joe Cornish’s exuberant The Kid Who Would Be King plants Arthurian legend in the midst of a gloomy modern-day England where an unassuming and good-hearted school boy, Alex (Andy Serkis’s son Louis), pulls Excalibur from a stone in an excavation site and awakens ancient evils.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Oscar Notes



Thoughts about some Oscar noms:

BEST PICTURE

"Black Panther" -- Big personal and professional accomplishment for the director, enormous box office, positive message. Comics don't win.
"BlacKkKlansman" -- Spike is back and is in the same groove. Uneven tonally and the lead is not strong despite being Denzel's kid. Won't win.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" -- One truly unbelievable performance does not a winner make.
"The Favourite" -- Rich and ribald. Multiple strong performances and broken rules. Could win.
"Green Book" -- It made a lot of people feel good and a bunch of people feel bad. Mahershala Ali will win supporting actor. And that might be it.
"Roma" -- Impeccable film. Understated and lovely. Hypnotic, heartbreaking and troubling. Should win.
"A Star Is Born" -- Lots of heart, good tunes, but a familiarity that will not be rewarded over the freshness of The Favorite and Roma.
"Vice" -- Fine acting, disjointed script, self-satisfied and not as resonant as most of the rest of the list.

LEAD ACTRESS

Yalitza Aparicio, "Roma" -- Will break your heart.
Glenn Close, "The Wife" -- Will have you cheering in the last reel.
Olivia Colman, "The Favourite" -- Will hypnotize you.
Lady Gaga, "A Star Is Born" -- Will have you singing.
Melissa McCarthy, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" -- Will have you reaching for the scotch -- in a good way.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, "Vice" -- Not her strongest performance but that's not to say it's weak.
Marina De Tavira, "Roma" -- She plays overwhelmed like few performers I've seen.
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk" -- She's loved by everyone, and her Puerto Rico breakdown is the dramatic heart of this picture. Will win.
Emma Stone, "The Favourite" -- Her amazing performance is canceled by Weisz.
Rachel Weisz, "The Favourite" -- Her amazing performance is canceled by Stone.

LEAD ACTOR

Christian Bale, "Vice" -- Bale brings Bale to every picture. It's a prosthetics tour de force. Could win.
Bradley Cooper, "A Star Is Born" -- Bradley does Barbra. Won't win.
Willem Dafoe, "At Eternity's Gate" -- Little seen, disorienting film with a wonderful performance.
Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- A little gimmicky but the kid worked his arse off. Might win.
Viggo Mortensen, "Green Book" -- Audiences loved the chemistry between Tony the Lip and Dr. Shirley but may have loved Shirley more. Dunno.
 
SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mahershala Ali, "Green Book" -- He won for Moonlight two years ago. Too soon for a repeat? Maybe not. Too thematically similar? Maybe so.
Adam Driver, "BlacKkKlansman" -- A good performance in an uneven picture.
Sam Elliott, "A Star Is Born" -- There are no small parts but this one might be.
Richard E. Grant, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" -- Actually, a bit more than a supporting role and remarkable. Should win.
Sam Rockwell, "Vice" -- He won for Three Billboards ... last year. It was a stronger performance than George W.

DIRECTOR

Spike Lee, "BlacKkKlansman" -- Spike does Spike.
Pawel Pawlikowski, "Cold War" -- Who has seen it?
Yorgos Lanthimos, "The Favourite" -- Brilliant and rococo and in English.
Alfonso Cuarón, "Roma" -- Lovely and humane and in Spanish.
Adam McKay, "Vice" -- Too much clever rehashery from The Big Short.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

"The Favourite" -- The language was glorious.
"First Reformed" -- Truly disturbing
"Green Book" -- Whose story is it?
"Roma" -- Personal and elegant
"Vice" -- Smart but a bit clownish

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" -- Masterful weaving together of disparate tales of western woe.
"BlackkKlansman" -- Gaps and gaffes.
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?" -- Sassy and sorrowful.
"If Beale Street Could Talk" -- Truncates much of Baldwin's brilliant prose but will probably win.
"A Star Is Born" -- Not enough story.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

"Cold War" -- Who has seen it?
"The Favourite" -- Some nice, disorienting fish bowling effects.
"Never Look Away" -- Who has seen it?
"Roma" -- The beach rescue scene is phenomenal. Should win.
"A Star Is Born" -- Moody and dour in spots, lustrous and intimate in others.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Mid90s


Writer/ Director Jonah Hill’s spirited study of LA lost boys, Mid90s, is told through the often impassive eyes of 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic), who is battered by his bitter older brother (Lucas Hedges) but befriended by four rootless teen skaters, a damaged but caring crew.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ben is Back



Peter Hedges directs A-lister Julia Roberts and his uncannily reliable son Lucas in the somber film Ben is Back, a teen drug addict tale that is more existential than cautionary as it considers the limits of love and family and asks how much of what we become is in our control.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

On the Basis of Sex


Mimi Leder's rousing biopic On the Basis of Sex delivers the requisite dramatic moments as it blends stories of the evolution of law professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) as champion of women's rights with her role as a devoted wife and the mother of a defiant feminist.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Hedges and Chalamet


Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet (here at the Golden Globes) approach acting with fearlessness and generosity. Each routinely hits his marks and delivers truth while leaving space for others on the screen, in the story, unlike many older actors who fret and crowd to no effect.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Escape Room


Adam Robitel's high-concept Escape Room recasts the entrapment puzzle game as a fairly entertaining and plausible franchise bid complete with a beautiful and brainy lead (Taylor Russell) and an ethnically diverse Six Little Indians who bicker while warding off artful termination.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Lifespan of a Fact.



John D'Agata and Jim Fingal's fiery disquisition on the nature of "non-fiction" ~ The Lifespan of a Fact. (now a Broadway play) ~offers readers (and no doubt playgoers) a probing, often infuriating exercise in truth mining, with an article on a teen's death-by-suicide as ore.

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Interestingly, even though Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 3 —Parabellum delivers deliciously brutal set pieces where our hero (K...