Review: In “Avengers: Endgame,” the MCU takes a victory lap and a moment to reflect

For how much the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven its willingness to be malleable in its storytelling, to allow filmmakers to both shape and expand what we categorize as a superhero movie, finality is something it’s never really concerned itself with.

Post-credits scenes, cameos and cross-pollination have become as much a characteristic of these films as tight spandex and daddy issues. We used to see individual superheroes exclusively on the frontlines of their own big-screen stories – Tobey Maguire never web-slung across the city alongside the Human Torch – but that’s become a relic of yesterdecade with the MCU’s steadily calculated erasure of narrative borders because of, and in service to, an overarching narrative that only began to become clear several films into the MCU’s existence.

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Review: ‘Hail, Satan?’ is an unexpectedly timely rejection of a toxic hive-mind mentality

The title of “Hail Satan?” is presented as a question. But from the viewpoint of this documentary on the contemporary non-theistic, activist movement that is the Satanic Temple, and the everyday people who run it, it’s pretty clear-cut – perhaps to the point of ironic confirmation, more likely to the point of semi-existential shock – who can or can’t legitimately call themselves a Satanist. At least by the temple’s definition.

The inquiry is much more affirming than you’d probably expect, and after just a few minutes you realize it would generate more rigorous self-reflection to ask yourself something along the lines of: “Do I want to get up and make myself a sandwich right now?”

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Una poca de gracia: Lou Diamond Phillips on his breakout turn as Ritchie Valens

[This article was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.]

SAN ANTONIO — Search the internet for video evidence of Ritchie Valens’s iconic-but-all-too-brief career as a Latino rock pioneer, and you’d find yourself searching for hours.

In fact, there’s only one bit of footage that’s easily found on YouTube—a brief performance by Valens in the 1959 movie “Go, Johnny, Go” that sees him crooning to some club-goers. That film is only 75 minutes long, features the likes of Alan Freed, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and was released four months after Valens died in a tragic plane crash at just 17 years old.

The real-life story of Valens was over right as its second chapter was beginning. But its first has had such a profound impact on pop culture – specifically the timely infusion of Chicano influence into rock ‘n roll as the genre was beginning to blossom – that it’s easy to forget the California musician’s professional career lasted less than a full year.

That brevity also made things a bit difficult for the young actor who would portray Valens 28 years after his death in the film named after his biggest hit, “La Bamba.”

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Review: Impulsivity, vice and margaritas reign in ‘The Beach Bum’

It’s hard, after sitting through the sunshined-draped “The Beach Bum,” not to wonder that something substantial and substantially life-altering has happened to writer-director Harmony Korine in the seven years since his dark escapist drama “Spring Breakers.”

While that movie was an exercise in causticity and bringing to life some strange, morbid fantasy involving bikini-clad Disney products trading in their Mickey Mouse ears for Uzis, “The Beach Bum” – here referring to a blissful, good vibes-distributing Matthew McConaughey who has never Matthew McConaughey’d harder – uses that same degree of impulsivity as a force for inebriated l-i-v-i-n livin’. The movie is equally about abiding by one’s own rules and flourishing by our self-made excuses for success, but “Spring Breakers’s” coldness made sure that success came at the expense of ostensible innocence. In “Beach Bum,” it comes by way of a colorful drink in a cocktail glass garnished with a mini umbrella.

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Review: Mads Mikkelsen tries to escape the worst of winters in ‘Arctic’

Much like the immediate outlook of its unlucky characters, the details are stark in “Arctic.”

In Joe Penna’s pulls-no-punches survivalist drama, the seemingly skyscraper-sized “SOS” carved out in deep snow; the remains of a grounded, battered plane that looks like it’s flown through hell and back; and the pop of red of a winter coat breaking a seamlessly, blindingly white winter panorama are impossible to miss—the foundation for a story of clenched-teeth resilience that doesn’t lend itself to rose-tinted inspiration so much as explore the prickly grittiness of how we respond when pushed to our absolute limits, and ultimately beyond.

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Review: ‘Cold War’ matches lush cinematography with dose-of-reality romance

You’d be forgiven for thinking that “Cold War”is a happy love story.

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski puts you in an illustrious trance with such sensual storytelling, painting the world of discordant lovers Zula and Wiktar with such visual decadence that he makes us want to live in it. It harkens back to a traditional kind of black-tie moviegoing experience where the film is experienced through an air that is always a bit hazy. Jazz music plays in the lobby. A waiter asks if you’d like some champagne beforehand.

It’s a delicious story for our senses to absorb, the foreign-language “Cold War” is. Which is why it makes the contrast all the more haunting one we comprehend the narrative playing out in this magnificent and magnificently devastating opus.

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Review: In ‘Velvet Buzzsaw,’ a painting is worth a thousand gallons of blood

In “Velvet Buzzsaw” – Dan Gilroy’s third film in five years after “Nightcrawler” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” – art is a destination for curious eyes, eager wallets and ostensibly deep critique.

It’s also, eventually, a channel for horror, bloodshed and shlock. The contrast isn’t accidental, and the transition happens nearly as fast as it took you to get to this paragraph from the one above.

The general absence of subtlety in Gilroy’s film, a contemporary art-market satire drunk with a few drops of cinematic absinthe, makes parts of “Nightcrawler” feel like a PBS documentary. For better or worse, hyperbole is a way of the world in “Velvet Buzzsaw,” and even more so as it reaches the realm of violence. “I think sober hasn’t been good for him,” Jake Gyllenhaal’s faux-elitist art critic utters at one point. “Velvet Buzzsaw” doesn’t think so either.

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Review: ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ is a throwback to recent, and apparently now classic, fantasy cinema

Ask any 20-something who absorbed the rings, spells and talking lions that dominated fantasy cinema – and, in some of those years, outright cinema – in the aughts, and they’ll tell you their cultural upbringing involved stories of companionship, fortitude and self-discovery pervading some of the medium’s most imaginative worlds.

I would know; I’m one of them. The adaptions of Tolkien, Rowling and Lewis achieved new standards for the fantasy genre, particularly in the case of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, an enticing gateway drug that demolished what we previously thought of as large-scale action in film, even as we were maybe a few years away from discovering film film.

Joe Cornish, the writer-director of “The Kid Who Would Be King,” realizes that too. In his modern retelling of the age-old tales of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table, he uses the archetypes and fantastical flourishes found in “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” not just as influence, but as the recipient of a love letter to those films that made statements with critics, at box offices and in the larger history of cinema. Continue reading →

Top 10 movies of 2018

2018 was a gnarly f*cking year.

I think no matter what your political affiliation, how much time you spend on Twitter or whether you stan DC or Marvel films, we can all agree that that is fact now that it’s over.

Thankfully, we still had new cinema to turn to. To provide us solace, to help us make sense of it all, to provide context for changing times and to make us wish that we had a bucket hat-wearing, marmalade sandwich-munching expatriate helping us to get along with each other.

But perhaps even Paddington was too good for this world.

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Review: Young black love battles oppression in Barry Jenkins’s ethereal “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Barry Jenkins’s latest piece of cinematic fantasia begins in sensual fashion, but considering the sensibilities at play, that’s to be expected. We sweep and glide and spy on two young, black lovers strolling through a city park, approaching ever closer without knowing it until the camera is right up alongside them.

“You ready for this?” Alonso asks, to which Tish replies she’s never been more ready for anything.

Perhaps it’s because of modern, continuously evolving ruminations of love and relationships that we’re tempted to overthink what exactly “this” is. Is it marriage, a child or another otherwise drastic change to come that will test the couple? Is he going off to war? Is she leaving town, him unable to follow? Are they somehow aware of what’s to come—that Alonso, or “Fonny” as he’s called, will soon be arrested for an alleged rape he denies he committed? Continue reading →