‘Bad Boys for Life’ Review: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence return to snarky form as an action franchise molds itself to modern times

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

Bullets zip, buildings go boom and wise-cracking crackles in “Bad Boys For Life,” courtesy – once again – of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s snarky Miami detectives who have a penchant for the destructive when they’re not looking to loft a vulgar dig at the other. Maybe you didn’t need to be reminded of what the “Bad Boys” series made its name on when it bowed in 1995, but then again, maybe you did—especially considering it’s been a whopping 17 years to get from “Bad Boys II” to this latest entry. After all, “Rush Hour,” another buddy cop action-comedy franchise at least partially inspired by “Bad Boys’s” authority-defying antics, pumped out three movies in almost half that time.

So, yeah, it’s been a while – as in, the industry’s reliance on old-school action fare has completely changed – since we’ve seen Smith’s Mike and Lawrence’s Marcus battle South Florida crime, typically while laying waste to heavily-populated areas and creating anxiety for Joe Pantoliano’s twitchy Captain Howard, who also returns for a third trip around the action spectacle sun. And while director Michael Bay, who helmed the first two installments, isn’t applying his bombastic touch this time, co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilaal Fallah (styled as Adil and Bilall) do their best impression of him with another series entry that’s high on powder-keg testosterone and higher on its body count. Continue reading →

‘Marriage Story’ Review: A complex portrait of love at the end, and one of the year’s best movies

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

“Marriage Story,” Netflix’s newest offering that finds the life-traipsing of writer-director Noah Baumbach at his most soulfully devastating, begins with a pair of monologues from the couple at its center played over scenes from a marriage. You may remember snippets from the trailers – she loves that he’s brilliant, he loves that she’s brave – but some details are missing. Who are these things being said to? Who are they being said for?

The questions are answered early. And, well…it’s complicated. But if you think those mirroring floods of compliments are Charlie and Nicole at their most honest, prepare to be emotionally walloped by “Marriage Story”—one of the very, very best movies of the year.

It isn’t a spoiler to say “Marriage Story” ends with divorce, but this is largely, and marvelously, unlike most divorce movies you’ve seen. It’s certainly not like Baumbach’s own “The Squid and the Whale,” a thornbush of a film in which every other caustic remark rocketed between members of the Berkman family is intended to do maximum damage. In the story of Adam Driver’s Charlie and Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole, whose mutual vow to keep an initial, seemingly amicable separation free from the tentacles of lawyers is doomed from the start, Baumbach trades in causticity for the infantile inexperience of two people navigating new waters of love and life as they become uneasy participants in contemporary structures meant to pit them against each other. It’s a key choice by Baumbach that Charlie and Nicole aren’t out to make enemies of themselves, and it’s not just for the sake of their son. The auteur is exploring something more heart-wrenching and universal: If we give ourselves completely over to another, what could possibly be left of us when they’re no longer by our side? Continue reading →

‘Knives Out’ Review: Rian Johnson’s clever, caustic whodunnit rips into the uber-entitled as it subverts a classic genre

This review was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

You haven’t met a family at the movies this year that’s easier to hate than the chronically self-righteous, self-serving Thrombeys, who shamelessly leech off the wealth of patriarch Harlan – a successful mystery writer – and for whom the suggestion of creating something with their own hands seems more like cruel and unusual punishment than a gentle nudge towards individual autonomy. The movie’s stunning carousel of actors (among them Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans) fills their shoes with exaggerated greed and understated villainy, but this family’s mask of superiority also indicates something deeply ingrained—a resentment for all things unfamiliar, and for those who enter their cavernous country mansion without permission.

At the start of Rian Johnson’s caustically funny and cleverly-constructed “Knives Out,” the Thrombeys are grieving Harlan’s death. The evidence seems to indicate he committed suicide the week before, just as he had turned 85 at a party attended not just by his family, but also his nurse, Marta (a great Ana de Armas somehow still in the breakout phase of her career). A week later, the police are back for another round of questioning, this time accompanied by man observing from a distance: Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, fiendishly good and spilling words like molasses with a southern drawl). Suffice to say, the case may not be an open-and-shut affair as previously thought, and Johnson, working from his own scrupulous screenplay, continues a career-long mission of leaving his mark on well-worn genres while thematically elevating them to new levels. Continue reading →

‘Jojo Rabbit’ Review: Taika Waititi’s anti-hate crusade is a surprisingly introspective one

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

In a recent episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church – infamous for putting its hateful ideology on shameless display at the funerals of U.S. servicemembers – discusses liberating herself from the beliefs that had indoctrinated her into an isolated worldview of faux moral righteousness.

The way Megan Phelps-Roper puts it, emerging from the dangerous cocoon of the church was a “devastating” exercise in isolation in and of itself—isolation from everything she had known and from the family that had taught her. The cognitive dissonance was world-shattering, and what followed was the start of a lifelong journey to piece together a new perspective.

“How could we have possibly believed that we alone had had the one true answer, and to believe that everyone else was wrong?” she says. “There was just this special kind of shame and humiliation, and this reminder to me of the need for humility and how we see the world and other people.”

Taikia Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” knows all about the discomforts of changing your entire worldview. Large stretches of it are spent dwelling on the the solitude of being stranded in a moral No Man’s Land, though you’d be forgiven early on for thinking the director of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Thor: Ragnarok” has no intention of broadening himself beyond the sanitized sentimentality of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. The Kiwi auteur is a sucker for pathos here, and it’s best exemplified by the transformation of Roman Griffin Davis’s adorable Jojo, who has exactly the kind of face Pixar storytellers will search for when they begin making live-action movies. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ is an exercise in layered, entertaining storytelling, and creates a star out of Jillian Bell

Note: This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

Calling your movie something as austere and stick-figure-drawing plain as “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is a risky bet. If it’s forgettable, it can be easy to imagine how an ostensible inattentiveness was paid to something meant to most immediately grab our attention as moviegoers who have precious time to budget for movie-going.

That scenario is for naught in this case. The combined efforts of writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo and an unexpectedly layered performance from Jillian Bell makes “Brittany Runs a Marathon” not only memorable, but one of the year’s most resonant crowd-pleaser movies—a story that’s worth its weight in generational angst while never limiting its narrative to the millennial spirit that makes up its core. Continue reading →

“Hobbs & Shaw” Review: Zero to 60 in a fair amount of laughs

“We decide what’s impossible,” Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw growls in “Hobbs & Shaw,” the offshoot of the gazillion-dollar “Fast and Furious” franchise that packs enough testosterone to make John Rambo look like Ned Flanders. He’s referring to himself and Luke Hobbs, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s lawman who packs punches, natural charisma and often both at the same time.

I have no doubt they do. Cinema has thrown all the impossible it can muster at Statham and Johnson in recent years – from towering infernos in “Skyscraper” to the “Speed”-influenced if-your-heart-rate-drops-you-will-die insanity of “Crank.” In other words: Just enough so that it wouldn’t be unusual if “Hobbs & Shaw” – which feels like an excess of set piece concepts initially drawn up for the mainline “Fast and Furious” series before being excised – took its leading duo to space.

It doesn’t. Viewed alongside against recent peak “Mission: Impossible” entries, the stunt-tastic “John Wick” series and even the increasingly fast, increasingly furious mainline movies themselves, the action in “Hobbs & Shaw” seemed fairly tame to me. But while two of our biggest action stars throwing punches is the drawing card to “Hobbs & Shaw,” the comedy born of their hilariously interplay are what make the movie’s best bits. Continue reading →

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: “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: Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” is madness served with a side of sunshine

I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so guiltily vindicated by a movie as with the final act of Ari Aster’s sun-bleached, dread-dripping “Midsommar,” a film that bears its blood weight in flower petals and doesn’t leave you forlorn so much as utterly disarmed.

I should have expected as much. After the writer-director burst into our consciousness with last year’s swervingly subversive “Hereditary,” I should have remembered that the best method of preparation for his follow-up, by comparison a movie whose terror comes from a much more personal place, would probably be not trying to prepare for it at all.

This time around, Aster’s destination is completely, and masochistically, at odds with his methodology, a project with so much tonal juxtaposition that it’s a bit of a miracle it ends up working as well as it does, even if it takes some time adjusting to its contours.“Midsommar” is a movie about inevitability, the not-so-sweet period of denial about eventual loss and refusing to anticipate its arrival; the feeling we’ve all had that we’ll do anything to stave off an apocalypse – be it death or breakup or the execution of insidious acts – before the worst kind of realization sets in that you can’t even delay it a moment. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Murder Mystery’ is one of the most Neflixy Netflix movies yet

[An edited version of this review was initially published on The Playlist, and can be viewed here.]

 

What most people might expect to be a source of endless riffing – or, at least, what I expected – in Netflix’s “Murder Mystery” is something the movie never really acknowledges, let alone uses as a punchline. Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, America’s eternal schmuck and its ageless beacon of beauty, playing a couple of 15 years? “Surely there’s gotta be some joke in there,” I kept thinking to myself over its 100ish minutes.

There isn’t, and in a movie that uses nimble meta fingers to play around with Agatha Christie tropes in contemporary Europe, I’m not sure whether the hesitancy to poke fun at “Murder Mystery’s” most eye-catching detail is a result of restraint or a missed opportunity to dive further into the goofier personality of a movie that has too many of them to ever feel cinematically unique.

Essentially, that mystery defines watching “Murder Mystery,” an experience that’s perhaps as amusing as we should expect, given its platform and lack of real surprise. Netflix has ushered in a world where the decision of what new movies to watch is as low-stakes as ever, and if “Murder Mystery” – a movie with lots of homicide and a couple on the run from the law in a foreign country – is triumphant about one thing, it’s its complete absence of stakes. Continue reading →