Review: Olivia Wilde is a weary warrior in the contemplative, inconsistent ‘A Vigilante’

I’m not totally sure if “A Vigilante” – the feature debut from writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson – is meant to be soaked up as entertainment so much as a reconciliation between movies-as-art and movies-as-therapy. The small-scale story is interested in a single dominating issue, that of domestic violence, though in ways that feel inconsistently intentioned, despite the high amount of promise on display Daggar-Nickson.

Her screenplay is a contemplative, slippery ice puck of a revenge-fantasy story, slip-sliding everywhere in chronology and priority. The movie has some interesting, if questionable, points to make about an issue that many other films are frustratingly content with circling overhead of, namely: Does eye-for-an-eye have a place in the age of #MeToo? Where is the line drawn between moving on and fighting on, and – more urgently, at least in the movie’s purview – are they one-in-the-same? Continue reading →

Review: ‘Booksmart’ braves the wilds of high school in Olivia Wilde’s directorial bow

If there’s one thing to take away from “Booksmart,” Olivia Wilde’s rambunctious and unexpectedly tender directorial debut, it’s the assurance that these high school comedies will never feel outdated. There isn’t a more appropriate canvas for filmmakers to paint loss-of-innocence stories than the final, unsure, panic-inducing hurrahs of high school, but the template feels more malleable than ever.

Leave it to John Carney and Greta Gerwig and Greg Mottola to prove as much, their respective efforts united only by their timelessness.

Like engaging in questionably legal or sexually awkward adventures for the first time with people we only thought we knew before, the act of watching a high school story is a special kind of communal movie-going experience. We’re all drawn together by the shared lack of knowledge and preparation over just what the hell we were getting ourselves into that characterized those last few days of teendom; the raw truthfulness goes hand-in-hand with the “Yep, been there” weary-but-sweet nostalgia.    Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Little Woods,’ Tessa Thompson and Lily James fight for opportunity where there’s none to be found

A progressive rage simmers at the despondent heart of “Little Woods.” It isn’t just that writer-director Nia DaCosta spends a busy 95 or so minutes examining how working-class economic anxiety often begets the toppling chain of dominoes for those trapped in it, but more so that she unfolds her debut feature through the lens of a complex, dynamic relationship we surely don’t see enough of on-screen, and even less so in a movie of this kind.

Tessa Thompson and Lily James play two sisters, Ollie and Deb, who at movie’s start could certainly be faring much better than they are. The former, in a way, is; Ollie is getting her life together after being caught smuggling drugs at the border (the U.S.-Canada border, that is). She’s only got a few days left on her parole. And while she’s looking to create change for herself via legal means, the daily grind is still unmitigatedly just that—a daily grind.

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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 ‘The Favourite,’ Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz battle for adoration

In Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest work, politicians squawk and squabble, insult and chastise, demean and decry. It’s a time of war, but personal status and desire are much bigger priorities than frontline strategy, and a royal palace that increasingly feels populated by childish personalities rarely puts country first.

Lanthimos and Co. probably weren’t expecting or intending for “The Favourite” to have so much in common with the American political hellscape of 2018, but this delightfully deranged retelling of power struggles in 18th-century England makes for eerie and enticing comparison. During an age when it’s become increasingly difficult for satirists to make hyperbolic sense of our world, “The Favourite” –  a period piece “Mean Girls” with layers of complexity – smashes us over the head with (mostly) historically accurate allegory. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Roma’ is a ravishingly realized portrait of loneliness

There was a certain scene in Alfonso Cuarón’s ravishing “Roma” when, for me, it evolved from a gorgeously shot drama into something much, much more powerful; from a gentle giant of a movie into something whose roar can’t be denied. I suspect that point of welcome no return is different for everyone treating themselves to the Mexican auteur’s latest miracle of a movie.

I also suspect that, in a film without agenda but certainly not without rhyme or reason, that’s Cuarón’s intention.

According to him, Cuarón didn’t direct “Roma” so much as live it, having referred to the work as a construction of his memories from growing up in Mexico. He’s not only the film’s director, writer, cinematographer and editor; he’s its autobiographer. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: Crime of Grindelwald’ doesn’t conjure up enough charm to make up for confounding story

They linger, skitter and roar; excite and intimidate. Their presence can be curious, and at times the absences of others are a relief. They have their own hierarchies, although at times clashes can break out for the worst.

When a film’s moniker bears the words “fantastic beasts,” it’s not an advantage when those above words describe its multitudes of plot threads as accurately as the extraordinary creatures conjured up for J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

Much like this universe’s beloved nifflers, powerful dragons or sassy bowtruckles, the various tidbits of story and exposition in the second installment of this “Harry Potter” prologue series are disparate, with their own ambitions and unpredictable tendencies rooted in a hunger for attention. Ultimately, it’s to the film’s detriment, though fans of the series would be hard-pressed to leave the theater not feeling a little enchanted simply on the merits of returning home to this universe. Increasingly, it feels like reuniting with an old, robed friend. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Widows’ is an increasingly rare caliber of thriller, and bold new territory for Steve McQueen

There’s a scene early in “Widows” – Steve McQueen’s latest and most unorthodoxly mainstream movie – in which Robert Duvall’s aging, racist local statesman tells his son and heir that his new $50,000 painting comes across as mere wallpaper.

Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan responds with a nondescript rebuke, as if on a deeper level he doesn’t fully disagree: “It’s art.”

The brief exchange can garner a universal chuckle for those watching in a moviehouse, but one gets the sense that isn’t McQueen’s intention. How we react to the scene, after all, is also a product of our experiences.

Would $50,000 turn our lives around? Is it pocket change? Do we ever dream of being at a place where that sum of money could be spent on a single, needless piece of wall decor? Could we dream of it? Continue reading →

Review: “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t just bad; it’s borderline appropriation

A fist is raised. Feet are stomped. A guitar riff rings out. And a legacy is cemented.

The final 20 minutes or so of the new Freddie Mercury biopic/Queen story – it isn’t quite clear – is essentially a mini Queen concert, specifically recreating the band’s 1985 Live Aid appearance. It’s the prime reason why at some point, someone has recommended you watch “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the biggest and loudest screen you can.

The suggestion has legs, though to somewhat of a fault. It’s an energetic and appropriately entertaining sequence driven to an obsessive pursuit to include every detail from the real-life event, exhibiting as much authenticity as is absent in the previous 100 minutes of the film.  Continue reading →

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 →