Friday, November 29, 2019

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith posed on the hood of one of several getaway cars they drive while fleeing the shooting of a Cleveland police office on the night of their first date. That sequence is anguishing, and sets the bar high for the rest of the film. If only the disciplined intensity was sustained. Matsoukas and screenwriter Lena Waithe serve up quite a melange during the fugitive couple's trek toward Miami and a plane to take them to Cuba. Some episodes are comic, some romantic, some philosophical, some political but the inconsistency does not enhance the story; it left me puzzled. The tonal variety feels like a mix-tape, which is probably not coincidental as Matsoukas is a veteran music video director; this is her first feature film, and it has a phenomenal soundtrack. The film's premise feels undermined by a surfacy narrative that can not withstand close scrutiny; leaps of logic and geographic dislocation detract. These would not be matters of concern if the film was being offered as a parable, the characters more totems than real people trapped in an unbelievably untenable situation, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on here. Communities are shown embracing and protecting the fugitives but for reasons that don't rise above vengeance and bloodlust. At this moment in history -- with tensions between black communities and law enforcement raw -- audiences, particularly audiences of color, need rational stories that explore all aspects of human loss -- not just BLM agitprop.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Laundromat

Steven Soderbergh's unique brand of political subversion doesn't always deliver the audiences but his films certainly are entertaining. His latest, The Laundromat (Netflix), weaves together a handful of ironic tales of people crushed by a predatory cartel of gouging, phantom underwriters. Meryl Streep heads a cast of characters caught in Gary Oldman and Antonio Bandera's web of fraud and unaccountability that spans the globe.(Yes, ripped from the headlines.) Streep's Ellen Martin is left a widow after a touring river boat capsizes near Trenton, Michigan. When she discovers the tour company's insurer can't pay she investigates and finds nothing but false leads and dead ends. Her story intersects with several others, each taking the level of corruption deeper. Although Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns sermonize during the last five minutes of the film, it's a welcome and timely message about the threat greed and deception pose for democracy.

Friday, November 22, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Marielle Heller's engrossing Can You Ever Forgive Me? from last year depicted the descent of a blocked and frustrated writer into a morass of self-destruction through fraud. Heller's latest, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, charts a different though still riveting course as it recounts the beginning of the friendship between a magazine writer (Matthew Rhys) and Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks with his usual uncanny brilliance). Cynics will no doubt chuckle at Rogers' unrelenting cheesiness but will quickly be entranced by his steadiness and abiding decency. It's those qualities that the wounded and bitter Lloyd Vogel doesn't trust, and tries to reveal as Rogers' attempt to mask his own demons. A new father who has resisted the role, Lloyd is estranged from his own father (a wonderful Chris Cooper) who is trying to reconnect after years of absence. Heller has crafted a visually arresting and narratively complex story that brings together fine actors for exchanges that resound with truth and healing. At one point toward the end of the film, Rogers and Lloyd are sitting over lunch and Rogers asks for a minute of silence to call to mind all of the people who made their lives possible. For that entire minute, not a sound, not a breath was heard in the theater during the screening I attended. What a touching sequence!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Doctor Sleep


Mike Flanagan's Oculus (2014) was an ably crafted entry in the new horror genre of spirits who kill for no reason, just because they can. In Flanagan's latest film, Doctor Sleep, the demons certainly seem to have purpose but it's tough to care if all we're given is "evil has always been." Working from Stephen King's sequel to The Shining, Flanagan expands on the original's world of clairvoyants, angry haints and mad men with axes for an intermittently entertaining update on mind-reader Danny Torrance, who as a boy escaped the haunted Overlook hotel with his mom, leaving his possessed father to freeze to death, lost in a hedge maze. Thirty plus years later and Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is walking roadkill, who stays drunk to keep his demons at bay. His "shine" is awakened by a young girl Abra [as in Cadabra] (Kyliegh Curran), who "sees" the kidnapping and murder of a boy by a witchy mystic (Rebecca Ferguson) and a tribe of fairly redundant hench-people who feast on the souls of shining folk. Yes, the premise lacks the subtle creep of King's best work; it's loopy, ham-fisted and bombastic.The last reel showdown takes place in the abandoned Overlook hotel where the ghosts from the previous picture make a not-unexpected curtain call. It's all a bit annoying and silly. Stanley Kubrick's film broke new cinematic ground and Jack Nicholson powered through his role as the unlucky Jack Torrance, and delivered moviedom's most memorable Kubrick stare. Flanagan and crews' energetic effort does not rise to the level of artistry of the original (and, frankly, the story never actually gels) but it probably fits nicely in the new world of meaningless menace.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Motherless Brooklyn

Writer / Director / Star Edward Norton's hommage to Hollywood gumshoe features, Motherless Brooklyn, has so many stellar elements to it -- the cast, the period detail, the story, the music -- that I wish it were a better movie. Norton's heart is in the right place in putting this tale of big city corruption and racism in the New York boroughs based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem on the screen in Trump's America. I just didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Maybe the narrative reminded me too much of Chinatown (1974). Maybe Norton's character's Tourette tick didn't seem to add as much to the character or the story as his obsessive compulsiveness. Maybe it was the draggy pacing and some seemingly interminable passages that a more seasoned director would have sensed were extraneous and repetitive. Maybe it was the unevenness in dialogue that seemed to borrow both from gangland flicks of the Cagney era and the streetwise banter of a more recent age, with some pretty jarring moments of "they wouldn't have said that in 1950s New York." The picture still entertains; it's just not the keeper I really hoped it would be.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Jojo Rabbit

The most pressing question about Taika Waitit's Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit is not IF it works (it does), but HOW. Waititi carries much of the film's outrageousness himself as a spectral Adolph Hitler, the ghostly best friend to the film's lead, 10-year-old Jojo (a fine Roman Griffin Davis), a softhearted member of the Hitler Youth, who doesn't understand war, hatred or prejudice but is willing to fake it until he makes it. Jojo's loving mother (Scarlett Johansson) is a member of the resistance and is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in crawl spaces. Jojo, on the mend from a youth camp grenade accident, discovers Elsa while recuperating at home and begins the real journey into manhood. Waititi has a keen eye and ear and masterful way with childlike enchantment and heartache. The picture, bold and bracingly funny with its anachronistic soundtrack, is loaded with small moments of emotional eloquence.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

My Nephew Emmett


Kevin Wilson Jr.’s short film My Nephew Emmett (2017) is as devastating as the movie’s premise would suggest. It is Aug. 28, 1955, and 14-year-old Emmett Till is taken in the middle of the night from his uncle’s home in Money, Mississippi, by the husband of a white woman Till reportedly whistled at earlier that day. L.B. Williams plays Till’s Uncle Mose Wright, who was unable to protect his nephew from the hate white folks were steeped in. The moment when he begs the raging husband (Ethan Leaverton) to take him and not the boy evokes disdain and pity, which are key to appreciating this film. One must understand how powerlessness works and see how anguishing it is.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The King

David Michôd directs Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris in The King, a literate and intriguing staging of the early days of the reign of England's Henry V. With a script by Michôd and Edgerton, the film depicts the young king's determination and uncertainty. He's determined not to be like his despised father (Ben Mendelsohn) but uncertain how to be his own man because, to date, he's done little but carouse. As played by Chalamet, who has established himself as an actor of uncanny emotional depth, Hal, as he's known, is a pensive commander. Uneasy lies the head ....His scenes with both Edgerton as his confidante, the former knight and wastrel Sir John Falstaff and Harris as senior counsel William Chief Justice are smart exchanges that merge period drama elegance with contemporary bombast. That's not to say the exchanges are always transparent. Hal questions the motives and loyalties of the nobles and courtiers who surround him and so his movements are a negotiation between forthrightness and wariness. The movie builds to the famous Battle of Agincourt, where Henry led England in defeating the French, led by the ridiculous dauphin (Robert Pattinson). The sequence does not feature Shakespeare's famous St. Crispin's Day speech but Hal's address does not lack in dramatic heft. The battle itself is fairly bloodless, more a rugby scrum in chain mail than medieval slaughter but it is still pretty stirring. A fine, entertaining picture.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Harriet


Kasi Lemmons' Harriet is a star vehicle for Tony winner Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) that strikes familiar chords in its depiction of slaver tyranny along with a few fresh notes in its treatment of the dynamic between its black character. London-born Erivo is Minty (later Harriet) whose fiery temperament has made her a liability to her resentful young master Gideon (Britisher Joe Alwyn). When bills advertising her sale are posted about, she leaves her husband (Zackary Momoh), a free black man with whom she cannot live, and escapes the Maryland plantation that has been her home. She heads for Philadelphia with the help of a local preacher (Vondie Curtis-Hall), and there she meets a free black abolitionist (Leslie Odom Jr.) who helps her find lodging and work and unwittingly stokes a fire for her to return south to lead her family to freedom. And thus she begins her journey to becoming a conductor for the Underground Railroad. The film's treatment of the many dimensions of blacks' relationship to enslavement is its most interesting aspect and I wish there was more of it rather than the long sequences of Harriet running from pursuers, which, of course, is the core of her story but is certainly not all of it. Scenes between Harriet and her husband, her parents, and the free blacks of Philadelphia are all exceptionally well done and insightful. The interactions with slavers, menacing but trite. Also, the spiritual aura in which the Harriet is cast will undoubtedly resonate with some audience but it does not enhance her persona. Rather, it seems to diminish her bravery and brilliance.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice


Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman offer fans a musical treat in their bio documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. Epstein and Friedman (The Celluloid Closet) are masters of the narrative arc and smartly recount Ronstadt's discovery and rise, her musical experimentation and embrace of her Mexican roots and these later years that have been quieted by Parkinson's disease. The joy of the film is not just in the soundtrack, which is irresistible, but in hearing Ronstadt tell her own story throughout. She reveals herself to be not a detached superstar but insightful and reflective about herself and the world. She's had one hell of a career, inspired numerous other female artists in popular music and been a cherished friend. Hearing Emmylou Harris's story of Ronstadt's generosity will fill your heart and hearing Ronstadt join her cousin and nephew in a lovely Spanish love song will break it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Dark Ages

  
If you ask me, black folks have been catching hell ever since the church made up white Jesus and the black devil. Since then darkness has been the code for badness. It's a deep, deep stain in Western culture. So deep we've laughed at it and cheered it on. Now that's powerful.






Marguerite (film short)



Canadian director Marianne Farley's beatific short film Marguerite (2017) is a two-character portrait of an aged woman in her last days and the young home-health nurse who makes daily visits. The film has barely a page of dialogue but the women are involved in an intimate exchange of care and trust. So much is said with their smiles and eyes. When Marguerite learns nurse Rachel has a girlfriend, at first her face shows surprise but then she seems to wander off into memory. We learn of Marguerite's lingering regret and are nearly broken when she asks Rachel, haltingly, what it is like to make love to a woman. "C'est beau," the nurse says, tenderly. "C'est beau," the older woman repeats. This exquisitely humane story is wrapped in fallen snow and downy comforters and warm light: it speaks to our need for love and our capacity for loving.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie


Vince Gilligan's El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is smartly crafted but cruises rather than races. Compared to the original series, the film feels lethargic in spots, but that's purposeful. Gilligan has crafted an epilogue for fan reflection and contemplation. There's gun play and explosion, but this picture, this chapter closes the book softly. Quietly.
Aaron Paul's performance is wonderful. His Jesse Pinkman does the heavy lifting for the story about the meth-chef's next steps after escaping from brutal bondage with a vital assist from his mentor Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in the series' final episode.
The unfamiliar might assume El Camino is a wanderer's tale, in which the hero encounters various characters, some familiar and some new, each holding a valuable piece of his fate. It is that tale, for sure, but it is also something more existential. It's about a human's transformation.
Pinkman -- once high wattage and "bitch" obsessed -- is now a low drone. His speech is laconic, his eyes are steely. His PTSD is authentic, his scars are quite visible and his future is an open question.
The film's close is satisfying, if not certain. And such is life.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Judy


British director Rupert Goold's Judy depicts an iconic figure, Judy Garland, near the end of a life that's been addled by a drug addiction spawned by a merciless motion picture studio system when she was a teenager. Renee Zellwegger, stripped of her cherubic girlishness, is a gaunt and enervated Garland, kept alive by booze and pills and love for her children, performing a series of concerts in London just months before her death at 47. Though the script by Tom Edge has moments of near campy hysterics, it also has some lovely, quieter moments that resonate. Judy's evening with a gay couple (Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira) is respite from the grind of performance, isolation and insomnia. She enjoys a meal and a moment of genuine connectedness. It's a passage of warmth in the film to counterbalance the alienation the character has felt most of her life. The film's unevenness in tone will keep it out of the running for Best Picture but Zellwegger's total encasement in the body of an abundantly talented and tremendously tragic woman will most assuredly get a nod.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Joker


That Joaquin Phoenix’s physical form appears to have been broken and improperly mended adds levels of credibility to his performance as Arthur Fleck a/k/a Joker in Todd Phillip’s brutal character study. The picture, an origins film of sorts for the Batman saga, depicts a grim and violent Gotham City, the filthy home to teeming masses of the discarded and forgotten and a few wealthy princes of the city. Phoenix’s Joker is a distressing, sunken presence who dreams of making it big as a stand-up comedian but lacks the imagination to pull that off. Instead he works as a clown-for-hire, tends to his feeble mother (Frances Conroy) and fixates on a local late-night talk show host (Robert DeNiro). After a punishing beatdown by teenaged thugs and a series of other indignities, Arthur decides to fight back against a world that threatens to devour him. His actions inspire imitation and insurrection. Phoenix gives his usual masterful performance in a movie that taps contemporary societal stressors to leave viewers shaken and disoriented.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Hustlers




Lorene Scafaria'sHustlers serves up heavy doses of social commentary and feminist homilies as it retells the story of a crew of underemployed pole dancers in post-economic  collapse New York who operate a scheme, directed by the crew's stripper goddess / badass Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), to entice, drug and fleece horny Wall Street traders and bankers to fill the ladies' empty designer purses. Constance Wu (Crazy, Rich Asians) plays Destiny / Dorothy,  the new dancer who is befriended and schooled by Ramona and becomes the crew's CFO. Though Scafaria tries to add layers to the women at the center of this story, the film never moves much beyond its two-dimensional cat-and-mouse construct. Both Ramona and Destiny have children but motherhood is more a device to soften the women than to actually reveal more about their capacities. They talk about their duality more than act within it, I feel, which isn't to say the picture is weak. Its message of empowerment and vindication are welcome, even if the glow fades pretty quickly.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ad Astra


Image result for Ad Astra

James Gray's space mission film Ad Astra (Latin for "to the stars") is intriguing because it successfully navigates on two planes -- the planetary exploration plane and the personal, existential plane. And Brad Pitt, in an exceptionally contemplative role, is the agent at the center of both of those stories. Gray, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ethan Gross, has set the action in the "near future," after the moon has been colonized by earthlings and turned into a bit of the Wild West with marauding bands of pirates robbing anyone who happens to wander away from the safe zone. From the moon, Pitt's Maj. Roy McBride hitches a ride to Mars to send a message to his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who captained an exploration to Neptune in search of life. Something has gone wrong with that party, and its cargo of anti-matter is fueling power surges that threaten all life in the solar system. During all of this doom and catastrophe, Pitt's McBride reflects on his interior life, his relationship, actually lack of one, with his father, and anyone else, for that matter. This has left him a highly functional clutch player for the space program but not much else. In this way, the film, which will no doubt remind some viewers of 2001: A Space Odyssey, is less in the mold of Kubrick's space masterpiece and more like last year's First Man, the story of a stony Neil Armstrong's personal quest to set foot on the moon and the human cost required for such a feat.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Fauve

Image may contain: 1 person

Canadian director Jeremy Comte's disturbing French-language short Fauve follows two boys -- competing alpha males -- playing daring games in the environs of a Quebecois mine until one of them gets stuck in a pit, fun turns to fear and the natural world intrudes abruptly and definitely. The last 5 minutes, filled with expanses of barren grayness, are haunting.

Friday, September 13, 2019

It Chapter 2



The best of Stephen King relies more on the horror of being human than inhuman. The terror of Andy Muschietti's It Chapter Two is homegrown -- crash and slash abuse and neglect and enervating guilt and fear. Yes, there's a toothy clown (Bill Skarsgård) snacking on the children of Derry, Maine, but that's almost secondary to the hurting the townspeople are putting on themselves. Or maybe this hateful clown is feeding the town's nastiness.This message is introduced in Chapter Two with a lamentably tone-deaf gay bashing that opens the film. I found it a perplexing stunner that got me wondering if this is indeed the movie about the scary clown, until he appeared to finish the job the haters began. Yep, this is the place. This misstep along with the film's excessive length and jokiness (provided by Bill Harder and James Ransone) make for a long, strange trip -- and not in a good way.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Celine Dion



Image result for celine dion

Despite being the queen of adult synth pop on the Vegas Strip, Celine would be in my personal heavenly choir along with smoky Abbey, joltin' Joni, and divas assoluta Jessye and Leontyne. Some of my too-cool-for-school hep-cat friends make no room for arguments about Dion's brilliance, pointing to her string of hits and the popularity of the mega showstopper "My Heart Will Go On" (1997) from Titanic as evidence of her unworthiness. I see that chart topper and the infectious power ballad "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" (1996) as evidence she's got the pipes and pathos to pull off a lost love epic AND the MILF-y swagger to sell "That's The Way It Is," a song that was released 20 years ago, and with a tweak of the lyrics would have been at home in a boy band's set list. Dion is coming to Charlotte in January after 8 years residency at Caesar's Palace. Some sources set her net worth at $800 million.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Madre (Mother)


Image may contain: 1 person, standing and indoor

I took a 20-minute break from the hell that is Trump's America to visit the private hell of Madre, in which a Spanish mother gets a call from her 6-year-old son who has been abandoned by his father on a deserted beach in France. Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen shot the incredible Oscar nom in nearly one single, unbroken take and it's an absolute nightmare. Marta Nieto plays the titular mother who unravels before the audience's eyes.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Timothée Chalamet




I'll be presenting a paper on Timothée Chalamet's breakout film Call Me By Your Name (2017) at the Popular Culture in the South con this month. I've analyzed how time is threaded through the film's narrative. For a young actor, Chalamet takes on some exceptionally difficult parts -- most of them with a lot of interior performance -- brooding, uncertainty, self-destruction. I don't know this film, The King, but Joel Edgerton, one of the most interesting writer / director / actors to come along since Mel Gibson, is attached to the picture so I expect it will be serious and well-crafted. Chalamet is also starring in Greta Gerwig's Little Women with Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson, which will be released around Christmas.
https://m.imdb.com/title/tt3281548/?ref_=m_nv_sr_1

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Gillian Anderson

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

I read Gillian Anderson will be playing battle-axe Maggie Thatcher on The Crown. That should be something to see. Anderson has been more interesting, at least to me, than her partner in crime solving David Duchovny, who's actually a pretty breezy writer. She's done more interesting films and series and has been nominated for Olivier awards for her stage work. But the real key to Anderson's allure is her being bidialectical, which means that Downton accent she uses in The Fall is authentically hers.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ready or Not

Image result for ready or not film

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett borrow a bit of Get Out's relational paranoia and class warfare and mixes them with heaping helpings of survivalist lunacy in Ready or Not. Aussie actress Samara Weaving's Grace must outrun her cursed in-laws on her wedding night as the family of blue blood game board heirs hunt the new bride in their cavernous mansion with pistols and crossbows, thwarted not only by young Grace's chutzpah but their own familial dysfunction. Blood flows freely. It's a gas!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Image may contain: text

André Øvredal's Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is a fairly solid creepy horror film with serviceable acting from its casts but production design befitting a stronger story. Zoe Margaret Colletti is a commendable lead as the motherless child Stella who finds a haunted book that scripts and executes all who trouble it. The story shimmers with Stephen King-like weirdness and will certainly strike some viewers as a bit of a retread of earlier (and better) movies. Still, the young actors who fall victim to the unhappy spirit's scorn are believably freaked out by the intrepid creatures (no doubt courtesy of producer Guillermo del Toro's imagination) who come for them.

Good Boys



Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, selfie and closeup

Gene Stupnitsky's Good Boys features a trio of tweens stumbling through some fairly clever writing and robbing a film that should be more than outrageous of valuable cinematic weight. It feels gimmicky and exploitative. As talented as Jacob Tremblay (Room) is, his co-stars -- Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon -- are cute and energetic but only adequate line deliverers and in some scenes so off-key and out of synch it's painful. The plot is of little consequence but involves a kissing party to which Tremblay's Max has been invited and further to which his lifelong buds Lucas and Thor will accompany him as wing men IF they can replace Dad's destroyed drone and score some MDMA for a duo of teenage girls. The film was backed by the Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg stable of producers, which means the picture is verbose and profane and occasionally brilliantly. To that point, listening to 12-year-olds dropping f-bombs non-stop is fleetingly entertaining, pour moi, if you'll pardon my French. The deeper into the picture the more grating it becomes and one ends up feeling sorry for these kids who probably understood little about what they were saying and less about the marital aids they were juggling throughout.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Jeffrey Wright


Image result for jeffrey wright

You don't have to press very hard for me to admit that Jeffrey Wright is among my top five favorite actors -- Joaquin Phoenix, Tilda Swinton, Viola Davis, post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe being the other four. I've not seen everything Wright has done (he seems to be everywhere and in everything) but in all that I have seen he is immersed and controlled, no superfluous motion or affect, a joy to watch. I remember first seeing him in Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil, in which he played a former slave attached to a young Reb fighting Union soldiers in Missouri. I then went backwards and sought out Julian Schnabel's Basquiat, the biopic of the legendary street artist. I saw him in Topdog/Underdog on Broadway with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def at the time) in 2002 and a year later he was starring in Angels in America on HBO. Wright won a Golden Globe for playing multiple roles but primarily the nurse Belize, arguably playwright Tony Kushner's alter ego, and had won a Tony for his Broadway performances. I know nearly nothing about Wright aside from what I see on the screen ... and that he was also born in D.C. Homeboy.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Image result for the peanut butter falcon


Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz's touching road movie The Peanut Butter Falcon stars Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson, imperfect strangers helping an abandoned man with Down Syndrome (Zack Gottsagen) find family while searching for his hero, a minor wrestler in the North Carolina Tidewater. Nilson and Schwartz, who also wrote the screenplay, keep the tone light throughout but do not dull the picture's messages about acceptance and affirmation. An especially wonderful set piece midway through involves a blind backwater preacher and baptizer offering the travelers the chance to wash away the past and start new, a clear foreshadowing of the film's second act.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Blinded By The Light


Image result for Blinded by the Light

Gurinder Chadha's Blinded By The Light takes giddy exuberance seriously in recreating the late '80s story of a Pakistani-British youth (a charmingly earnest Viveik Kalra) who is inspired by Bruce Springsteen's universalization of human life to dream of a world beyond his bigoted, stifling town. It’s not the freshest of storylines but Kalra’s young cast mates (Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura and Dean-Charles Chapman) are toothy and appealing, the conflicts and villains are broadly brushed and the closing 10 minutes a calculated weepfest of affirmation and reconciliation. No, there’s not enough of Springsteen’s music but enough synth pop to last several lifetimes.

Monday, August 12, 2019

True Detective Season Three

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Mahershala Ali is a Hollywood A-lister whose performances exude discipline and craft. He strikes me as an actor who studies, prepares, presents, all with deliberation and precision. In True Detective Season Three, Ali is an Arkansas detective during three time periods in the complicated case of the disappearance of two children, a brother and sister. He and his partner (Stephen Dorff) follow clues, draw conclusions, chase red herrings, arrest, release, rethink and revisit, while the bodies of those surrounding the case pile up. This is a particularly challenging part because Ali's character must maintain the same fiercely individualistic core while being shaped by family, co-workers and criminals against a backdrop of personality politics, class and race. His most impressive work is as the aged detective, battling dementia while trying to answer lingering questions: primarily, what was done, by whom and why.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Boys

Image result for The Boys

Amazon Prime's The Boys' rattling cynicism about the human propensity for greed and deception (especially when those humans are "special") is balanced by the series' crackling humor and cockeyed proposition that "normal," clear-eyed folks who give a damn can indeed save the world.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Fast amd Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

Director David Leitch's marauding Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw plows through a messy tale of biological re-engineering and tattered family ties without a hint of self-consciousness. It's all roaring engines, snapping alpha dogs and crushing close quarters combat. Fun.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Yesterday




 
Director Danny Boyle's hummably insightful morality tale, Yesterday, is a sure starmaker for amiable Hamish Patel, who plays a struggling Suffolk strummer who wakes after an accident during a worldwide blackout the only person who knows the Beatles songbook. He wouldn't! He does! He begins performing the songs, claiming them as his own, gets noticed by the recording industry machine and off he goes. But Boyle isn't only making statements about an individual's struggle with truth and authenticity but, as has also been reflected in his previous films, the unpredicatbility of LIFE, and how we all are accountable for our choices despite what the universe tosses at us. Like most of us, Patel's Jack Malick is not a bad person; he's just blessed, like most of us, with an abiding ordinariness -- and maybe that should be enough.


Midsommar

 
 
Florence Pugh (Fighting with My Family) carries the full, freaking weight of Ari Aster's second horrorshow, Midsommar, as a needy grad student whose beau (Jack Reynor) invites her along on a boys' trip to Sweden for an ancient festival of viscera, sacrifice and sex. But who knew? Aster's Hereditary was so unnerving because of its cold clincalility (not unlike the film's infamous dollhouse miniatures), its dispassion, its unaverted gaze at the horrors. Midsommar features the same meticulousness in creation of place and space, in the brutality of the sects rituals and in the simmering animus that alert audience members will sense from the moment the "family" is introduced in its idyllic woodland retreat.

Spider-Man: Far From Home



Director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home furiously swings for and clears the MCU fences as a rousing treatise on truth and lies in which star Tom Holland’s teenaged hero struggles with love, identity and duty while battling elemental evils during a class trip across Europe. Watts weaves into the story numerous references (not even thinly veiled) to public trust and deception and the power one wields with plausible deceit. An impressive set piece three-quarters of the way through the film depicts a green and naive Spider-Man being confronted and confounded by multiple holographic "realities," playing his nature against him time after time. It's not only a beautifuly crafted passage but the message resonates like the tolling of a bell.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Shaft (2019)



Tim Story's tribute to toxic masculinity, Shaft, gives filmgoers Samuel L. Jackson swaggering through frustratingly predictable gangland set pieces that portray him as invincible and his estranged FBI data analyst son (Jessie T. Usher) as an undersexed geek. Happy Father's Day.

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.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...