Stan Lee’s impact on someone who never opened a comic book

I had just turned 9 years old when Dad took me to see “Spider-Man 2” at an Indiana movie theater. It was the summer of 2004, and there was little foundation in my mind for what I could expect to marvel at on the big screen, other than the first Spidey movie and a tie-in computer game I spent some time playing a few years prior.

Of course, that didn’t stop me, nor millions of others, from having a hell of a moviegoing experience. In 2018 “Spider-Man 2” still a highlight of the genre—even though its arrival was still early in the era of the superhero movie, when Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t yet a part of the Hollywood lexicon.

It was also a movie that led me to an epiphany. Continue reading →

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Review: Cinema’s iconic alien hunter deserves better. Maybe that means putting him to rest.

Something was always going to give.

The space-time continuum splintered when it was announced, seemingly a decade ago, that Shane Black would helm the next installment of the unquenchable “Predator” franchise.

On one hand, you have a nostalgia-fueled auteur responsible for two of the smarter comedy-mysteries of the 2000s. On the other, he’s taking on a sci-fi property in freefall correlating with an insistence to stay bound by shackles of self-seriousness. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Juliet, Naked,’ a delightful (if unfinished) updating of the love triangle trope

We all have idols. Human monuments – whether in the public’s consciousness or merely our own individual headspaces – who we venerate in blogs or by internal means.

But in those obsessions, do we ever stop to monitor ourselves, and consider how we believe they influence the world don’t mirror how they perceive themselves? Have we ever thought about what we’d say if we ever met them, or worse, if they alleged our perceptions are off-target?

That’s one of a few simultaneously interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts explored in Jesse Peretz’s “Juliet, Naked.” It’s also arguably its most interesting, interweaving adoration and comically exaggerated (or perhaps not?) reverence, though the one Peretz spends the least amount of time deconstructing. Continue reading →

Review: Chaos and authority clash in surreal ‘Madeline’s Madeline’

There’s a common misconception about filmmaking 18 years into the century which the exceptionally bold “Madeline’s Madeline” seeks to destroy: That films have to guide the audience through its thoughts and preconceptions.

Most of the time that hand-holding results in muted climaxes, or worse—the all-important “missing of the point.” That’s fine and all in a Hollywoodscape where directors insist moviegoers on forming their own conclusions as they leave the theater (or close the Netflix app), but writer-director Josephine Decker’s ostensibly small, but monumental, film blasts that atavistic notion to oblivion. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Three Identical Strangers,’ you only think you know what you’re in for

We typically enter documentaries in a different mindset, a different approach than with typical Hollywood fare.

Familiarity bypasses anticipation not by way of absent excitement, but rather because we expect to delve deeper into a subject we’re already at least somewhat familiar with. Earlier this year, the melancholic “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” underwent that route to excellent ends.

“Three Identical Strangers,” however, defies that expectation. If you know this story, chances are you only know how it begins. As has become customary in the age of instant gratification and mistaking 280 characters on Twitter for a news story, we rarely follow up on the flavor of the 5-minute trend – and that’s where the film seizes its chance to captivate. Continue reading →

Review: Boots Riley announces his presence with authority and absurd satire in ‘Sorry To Bother You’

There’s a moment early in the third act of Boots Riley’s “Sorry To Bother You” when the writer-director crosses a line.

It’s not the line, but only because there are several borders to increasingly absurd territory over the film’s runtime. It’s not completely non-sequitor, because anything less might stall the plot’s exponentially batshit crazy momentum.

And you can’t quite argue against it, because it’s a plot development that might hue quite close to normalcy—at least that’s what we come to believe after spending some time in Riley’s head. Continue reading →

The Surgence of the Spring Movie Season

11 years ago, amid what society at large (including The Hollywood Sphere™) had for years deemed the “movie calendar’s graveyard shift,” a comic book movie burst onto the screen.

There were no superheroes in it. Six-packs, absolutely, but no genetically altered physiques housing superior, moral objectivity or superhuman wit. In other words, it would be another year before the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The character of Iron Man was about as familiar to the mainstream moviegoer as a contemporary Oscar contender released before March — aka, not very familiar. But, more on that later.

The movie I’m referring to is the uberviolent, uberlubricated “300.” The only still-relevant aspect a decade later is its (over)reliance on CGI as an innovated form of box office-busting, audience-driving weaponry.

(And no, I won’t hear your argument that Gerard “Sure I’ll Sign Up For Your Generic B-Movie Action Flick That Won’t Make More Than $30+ Mil Opening Weekend” Butler has remained relevant.)

(Lena Headey makes a strong case, though.)

Virtually transplanted for the screen from its comic book roots in a way that somehow didn’t constitute plagiarism, “300” transported audiences in a way few films had up to that point. More importantly, it transported them at a time when virtually any film of its kind didn’t dare to.

Continue reading →

Fish-men, dressmaking and peaches: The top 10 movies of 2017

With a few weeks left before what has quite loudly morphed into the most unpredictable Oscars in years, it’s finally time to take stock of what we had in 2017 at the cinema.

In brevi: It was an astounding dichotomy of auteurs operating – or continuing to operate – at the height of their powers (Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve) and first-time directors yielding surprise gems and excitement for the future of film (Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele).

In a year that ended with Hollywood beginning to form a new identity – the result of which may not be evident on the big screen until at least 2019 – it also gave us much to cry, scream and ponder about in the theater.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in the months following an incredibly epic and incredibly awkward Best Picture win by “Moonlight” – itself a eulogy to identity and the winding road it can personify itself as – some of 2017’s best movies featured heroes, villains and everyday characters grappling with theirs.

Sometimes it involved busting out a move at an impromptu dance party in Italy, other times it was shedding your identity for the entertainment of others.

And, at other times still, it involved fish sex. 2017 truly had it all.

Adding to the sea of similar pieces that represent closing a chapter and opening a new one more than anything of actual substance, here is this film critic’s top 10 films of the year. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Darkest Hour,’ a resplendent Gary Oldman is the highlight, but not its sole strength

The year is 1940. Hitler’s Nazi regime is forging a merciless trail across Europe. France is under siege. England is backed into a corner both metaphorically and, in the case of the 300,000 British soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, literally.

If you watched Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” over the summer, you know the story and you know what’s at stake for these soldiers. But what you may not know about is the chaos unfolding at Parliament. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has been pushed out for a replacement much less suitable for the office, not to mention at wartime – the easy-to-scrutinize Winston Churchill.

Churchill may be commonly discussed in high school textbooks, and cited in epigraphs of WWII videogames, but as told in “Darkest Hour,” he was just a benchwarmer until peace negotiations could begin. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Shape of Water,’ beauty saves the beast. No verbiage necessary.

For 20 years, Guillermo Del Toro has found success in the bizarre and carved himself a niche in the eclectic. He’s done more than anyone (not named Peter Jackson) to create a spot for fantasy in contemporary cinema, with 2006’s piercingly original “Pan’s Labyrinth” serving as the crown jewel of his catalog.

The imaginative Mexican director’s latest effort, though, makes a strong claim for the crown. A more character-driven story than anything he’s undertaken before, “The Shape of Water” is simultaneously a departure from Del Toro’s unfettered imagination and a showcase of the filmmaker at the height of his technical powers.

The fantastical has always been Del Toro’s forte, but “Shape of Water” operates as proof that he can tell a spellbinding story while leaving nightmarish creatures on the bench, while also trading mysticism for a previously untapped amount of realism. Continue reading →