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


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


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.


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.


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.

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...