Review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ is the final plunge for a franchise that forgot how to soar

An unusual contradiction of expectations await the arrival of “Dark Phoenix.” For reasons motivated more by corporate hegemony than pure storytelling, the 12th entry in the “X-Men” franchise is essentially the last under the 21st Century Fox umbrella, following the studio’s acquisition by Disney earlier this March.

So, suddenly and somewhat startlingly, “Dark Phoenix’s” responsibilities are multiple, not the least of which is to provide a sense of finality. Depending on where your franchise loyalties lie, that may not be nearly as important as fixing the mistakes of 2006’s Brett Ratner-directed “X-Men: The Last Stand”; after “Days of Future Past” – still the most memorable of this recent run of “X-Men” extravaganzas – nuked its timeline in 2014 in ways we still don’t quite understand, the franchise had a clean slate to revisit the beloved Dark Phoenix comics storyline, and to tell it the right way.

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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and unexpectedly tender directorial debut, it’s the assurance that these high school comedies will never feel outdated.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: Theron stunningly powers ‘Long Shot,’ in which politicians try to act their age

There’s a lot of unsubtle implication in “Long Shot.” So very many will be turned off by it. I rather think it works in its favor.

The comparable presence of things said and unsaid – many times they’re one in the same – powers the movie’s comedy, its sweet core and the unexpected veracity of its progressive commentary, which provides the political rom-com a greater degree of substance than initially expected to the first third of that trifold description.

The movie is funny. Really funny. And the high levels of enthusiasm forming the foundation of its jokes and romance over roughly two hours, the stuff that makes watching “Long Shot” akin to peering into a warped alternate timeline of our own political reality, ensure the movie is simultaneously a time capsule of starkly 2019 window dressing and an evergreen suggestion of accountability on the part of those whose steady gaining of influence correlates with a slow drying-up of conviction at the well of power. Continue reading →

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: 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: ‘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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Review: In ‘Shazam!,’ a teen becomes Superman and DC gets Amblin-ified

Superhero movies weren’t supposed to be like this anymore.

The current stage in the life of the superhero genre, with all its strengths and flaws, has been its most prosperous. Caped crusaders and steel-hearted heroines have made a ho-hum achievement of the billion-dollar box office threshold, and have done so by way of ever-maximizing spectacle and a collection of perennial Hottest Celebrity of the Year candidates. The genre feels increasingly beholden to larger narratives that span more than just trilogies, their capital-C Characters sacrificed at the altar of commerciality to become just another character.

TL;DR, you already know what you’re going to get when you buy a ticket to superhero movies these days. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that what we’re going to get is how the genre will remain for as long as the general moviegoing populace justifies it with their wallets.

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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: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ is a deeply-layered, uber-ambitious genre movie

“Blink, and you might miss it” is the great, contradictory nature of horror. Spontaneity is an on-ramp to FOMO when watching a scary movie; there’s a reason the genre is so closely associated to images of multiplex audiences practically peeling back their eyelids like they themselves are the target of the flashing knife, the pouncing boogeyman, the black-magic spell being cast.

For as long as we’ve been terrified by the nightmarish images conjured up by Hollywood’s twisted minds, we’ve been equally as enamored. Our hands can be cages in which we’d gladly cut ourselves off from watching what unfolds on-screen, but – to borrow from the same metaphor – our fingers are also the bars. And some deep-rooted force is typically victorious at encouraging us to bear witness.

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