Review: In “Maiden,” charting a course for equality

Like unassuming ripples that evolve into waves to be reckoned with, the ragtag group of sailors spotlighted in the new Alex Holmes-directed documentary “Maiden” – about the first ever all-women crew to compete in a yacht race around the world – are connected by a dream that evolves into an unspoken understanding surrounding the magnitude of their 1989 voyage.

It’s astonishing that it happens over a brisk 95 or so minutes; while the movie tends to cut away from its emotional pinnacles a bit too soon, watching “Maiden” feels like we’re witnessing the historic 1989 journey of British skipper Tracy Edwards and her crew in real-time, feeling the shifting perceptions of those watching the sport. It’s a vitally raw example of the value of documentation and a timely (and timeless) portrait of a barrier-breaking endeavor playing on the strength of depicting an easy-to-root-for team with a dream within the context of an athletic event that stands as ripe fruit for storytelling in its own right: The many-thousands-of-miles-long Whitbread Round the World Race. Continue reading →

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Review: In “The Farewell,” a drawn-out funeral is disguised as a shotgun wedding

The emotionally resonant and sharply-written “The Farewell” is so laser-focused on deconstructing the dichotomies woven into its narrative – individuals and society, emotions and gulfs, love and pain – yet the most acute yin/yang in this semi-autobiographical wonder of a movie from Lulu Wang is of the purely filmmaking kind: The movie is tantalizingly patient, unfolding with ease and confidence despite its foundational plot – the end of a life – calling for anything but patience, ease or confidence.

Yet the movie’s penchant for pensiveness, balanced by a kind of humorous caliber of caustic wit that’s universal in its domesticity, feels utterly appropriate for Wang’s movie, which feels like no less than a landmark in cross-cultural storytelling—and a too-rare example of a story that transcends the limits of its medium by acknowledging it shouldn’t try to meet them. Continue reading →

Review: “Yesterday” is a vapid excuse to listen to pop’s greatest songs

If the works of The Beatles are integral to a movie’s narrative, but the movie doesn’t acknowledges it, do The Beatles make a sound?

That ends up, unintentionally, being the thought-experiment driving the vastly underwhelming “Yesterday,” rather than its elevator pitch for the ages: What if you, a struggling musician, woke up to a world in which The Fab Four never existed? Directed by the typically-reliable Danny Boyle, “Yesterday” is a two-hour long and winding road through two stories with clashing styles and sympathies, yet the most confounding thing about this project – one that would’ve worked better as either a 3,000-word experiment in “The Atlantic” or an 8-episode Netflix experience – is that neither justifies the existence of the other. Continue reading →

Review: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” examines a city and a friendship through the lens of identity

There are many moments in Joe Talbot’s new film, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” in which serene sequences you expect to be able to sink into – the focused painting of a windowsill, the playing of a piano, the beginning of a life-affirming speech – are shattered all-too-early, interrupted by reality. And reality, in this movie, is a thing to reckon with at every street corner; its most enticing versions are manufactured, or else the ugliest of situations are dressed in bright optimism destined to burn out before we’d had a chance to prepare for it.

The film is one of the more hopeful stories of hopelessness I’ve ever seen. It’s stuffed with a Wes Andersian air of whimsy and engrossing shots of a city mired in gentrification, but also brimming with an urban melancholy spray-painted on the walls of commercial manifest destiny—though you wouldn’t know it by the pair of best friends at the movie’s center, its beating heart. Continue reading →

Review: Spidey is “Far From Home,” in a movie that is far from memorable

Spider-Man’s movies, more than any other superhero this side of the DC/Marvel divide, are identified by their villains—how memorable they are, and often the tangible connection they have to the movie’s most memorable scenes.

The one with a tentacled Alfred Molina, and the train battle.

The one with a winged Michael Keaton, and the twist that bares its teeth en route to a high school dance.

The one with a cackling Willem Defoe, and that stupendously horrific metal mask.

In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the big bad is the big bowl-headed Mysterio—a fascinatingly zany, stoicly formulaic amalgam played by the consistently zany, never-formulaic Jake Gyllenhaal, who fills his armored suit with the unkillable ambition of a smartass whose plans seemingly depend on being little more than a smartass. Gyllenhaal’s presence is the movie’s cheeky wink in A-list actor form, never less than incredulous and never more than high-concept gag, Continue reading →