‘Ford v Ferrari’ Review: Racecar drama isn’t quite as gripping in its story as it is thrilling on the track

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

 

The elegant bluntness of its title aside, the conflict fueling “Ford v Ferrari” – a sleekly-produced but vaguely-formulaic and overlong racetrack drama in the running for Best Picture at the Academy Awards – isn’t so much the one between two legendary auto companies duking it out at 200+ mph, but rather an intracontinental feud. The cozy offices of Detroit vs. the liberating, wide-open roads of the West. Image vs. performance. White collar vs. blue collar. The movie shows how ambition of the portfolio and ambition of passion are two different things, though the route it takes to reach that conclusion is distractedly conventional.

A film that pays due attention to the aesthetic details of its pretty cars both in the showroom and on the track – as well as when they’re getting ripped to shreds in competitive mishaps – “Ford v Ferrari” fetishizes competition and white male provocation through the (mostly-accurate) lens of history. For his first directorial effort since the R-rated superhero western “Logan,” James Mangold goes exponentially safer in telling the story about how the Ford Motor Company reasserted its international dominance via the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans race, a feat of endurance that may be on par with watching the more tedious segments of this 150-minute auto epic unfold—that the movie has a strange aversion to using on-screen graphics to inform the audience of the story’s timeline (it could have taken place in a span of a few weeks or a few years, as far as I’m concerned) does it no service in terms of comprehension. Continue reading →

‘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 →

‘Underwater’ Review: So-so aquatic disaster flick is a true January doldrums release

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

 

 

The lights start their ominous flickering early in “Underwater,” and – as suggested by the movie’s 90-minute runtime – the bursting walls of a claustrophobic ocean-drilling facility follows shortly after, sending Kristen Stewart scurrying for her life through flooded corridors in horrifically dark ocean depths just as we’ve settled into our seats.

There’s no mistaking the caliber of B-movie rush that director William Eubank’s aquatic disaster-sci-fi-horror-drama (got all that?) is shooting for, and in certain moments the director of 2014’s “The Signal” even finds them—frantic brushes with shadowed deep-sea monsters are balanced by excessively melodramatic attempts to make characters feel like more than the tropes that they are, all in the name of cinema that seeks to be more viscerally enthralling than thematically engaging.

You’ll know exactly what you’re getting into if you buy a ticket to “Underwater,” to the point where you can make a game out of it. Bring along your Bingo cards filled with the requisite clichés; the movie is sure to hit most of them! Foreboding mechanical creaks and organic groans haunting our protagonists; an iron-voiced captain/commander who won’t survive, but won’t go down without a fight; the fleeting moments of wonder at how exorbitantly huge the movie is willing to all-too-briefly go in its climax, as if suddenly thinking itself unworthy of such immense, Lovecraftian scale. “Underwater” is the kind of movie that wouldn’t have made sense coming out anytime other than mid-January—we’ve seen all the major Oscar contenders by this point, but I suppose it’s nice to have something new to take in while getting through this dead zone and to the actual ceremony. Continue reading →

The 25 best movies of the decade

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

It’s a maxim among cinephiles that movies don’t change—but people do. Our reaction to a new film is shaped by the experiences and perceptions we bring into it, even as the first words upon leaving the theater (or turning off Netflix) typically are about an actor’s performance, a screenplay’s effectiveness, a specific shot’s inventiveness. That we can revisit movies later and come away with new insights – new pieces of the cinematic fabric to grasp onto – says as much about the medium’s unspoken power as it says about our malleable connections to art. Who among us doesn’t have a movie we refuse to revisit for the first time since childhood, out of fear that adult sentiment will muddle our memory of it?

A decade that felt both historic in that the world has never been more connected by social media and fleeting in that we’ve never been more empowered to move on to the next viral story – or the next thing in our streaming queues – shaped the cinematic product, too. For one, movies have never felt so much like a reckoning with real-world forces that are continuing to mold what the 2020s will look like.

For another, it’s an increasingly rare thing for a film to be universal, in its ability to resonate not (or not only) through legions of audiences, but through time, beyond the moment it carved out for itself on a release schedule. These 25 films – the best of the 2010s – remain moviemaking triumphs as the curtain begins to close on this decade, and may very well endure as such into the next as well.  As a certain purple Mad Titan would say: They are inevitable. Continue reading →

‘Uncut Gems’ Review: Adam Sandler has never been wilder than in the Safdie Brothers’ new anxiety attack of a movie

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

 

Adam Sandler is such a morally unkempt, familiarly uncouth and determinedly unkillable livewire of shameless intention in the adrenaline rush of “Uncut Gems” that watching him in Josh and Benny Safdie’s new film doesn’t involve seeing an actor strut about and say their lines so much as observing a star on the verge of bursting into supernova.

And as Sandler’s pernicious Jewish jeweler Howard Ratner goes, so do the Safdies and their movie. “Uncut Gems” – a grand showcase of acting, and also of the Safdies’ cosmic filmmaking sensibilities – swells when Howard swells, spirals when he spirals and takes a breath when he takes a breath (which, if I recall, is practically never). As with Robert Pattinson in the Safdies’ 2017 breakout “Good Time,” Sandler’s performance and the movie itself are impossible to separate and scrutinize on separate terms. A scant few other films in 2019 have had a similar kind of deeply-anchored performance—among them Elisabeth Moss in “Her Smell,” Lupita Nyong’o in “Us” and Jessie Buckley in “Wild Rose.”

It may very well be a career-defining performance for Sandman, but it’s worth parsing out what exactly that means for someone whose filmography is enshrined in memes and reaction gifs, and not necessarily conversations of the prestige. Continue reading →

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Review: The phantom finale

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

 

Force ghosts, parental legacies, devotion to prophecy—“Star Wars” has always been a story influenced by specters of the past. It’s also true in “The Rise of Skywalker,” the historic franchise’s ninth episodic entry – and, if the marketing is to be believed, the surefire finale to the Skywalker saga (anyone ready to take bets on that?) – that revisits old locales, revives long-thought-dead space dictators and echoes the conservative approach to character-building that was tossed out with Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber in the early moments of “The Last Jedi.” There’s no extinction in the galaxy far, far away, apparently; only hibernation. (It’s quite literally stated in the very first words of Episode IX’s crawl.)

But “Rise of Skywalker” – a triumphant finale, so long as you’re content with emotional complacency, raw visual bombast and general lack of ambition – is also stalled by specters of the future, and an unshakeable feeling that the movie is doing little more than rocketing toward inevitable showdowns you could predict from several parsecs away, as if rushing to get the fall’s most anticipated film over with. Continue reading →

‘A Hidden Life’ Review: Quiet acts of superheroism

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

 

Although “A Hidden Life” takes place in early-1940s Austria – an era of hell on earth for much of Europe – the sound to be wary of in director Terrence Malick’s latest film isn’t sirens signaling an incoming blitzkrieg, but the chirp of a bell. A bike-riding messenger makes increasingly regular visits to the idyllic mountain valley village that is home to August Diehl’s Franz Jägerstätter, who exchanges concerned looks with his wife, Franziska. They’re awaiting the inevitable, and the day they’re dreading eventually arrives: There’s a message for him. It’s time to march for Hitler.

But he’s concrete in his resolve to abstain, even through arrest, imprisonment and abuse. The idea of being on the frontlines doesn’t frighten him; rather, he refuses to swear loyalty to nationalistic attitudes that have begun to invade the consciences of the other farmers he has worked, drank and lived alongside all his life. Exercising free will, Franz insists, has to be more than swearing blind allegiance. For him, that extends to challenging it.

With “A Hidden Life,” Malick has his most exceptional work in years, even as his devotion to impressionistic storytelling increasingly goes against the grain of cinema on the cusp of a new decade. Set to release in late December, this may very well be the last film of the 2010s worthy of the term “profound.” It’s a different kind of war epic (clocking in at nearly three hours, it’s the director’s longest movie in 21 years), one in which ideologies are the artillery, perseverance the battle strategy and victory achieved through martyrdom in the dark. Continue reading →

‘Bombshell’ Review: Kidman, Theron, Robbie fuel chronicle of pre-#MeToo empowerment that transcends its Fox News prodding

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

 

In the three years since Donald Trump’s stunner of an election victory, we’ve had some movies produced in response, whether explicitly or implicitly, to what was perhaps the monumental American moment of the 2010s, a decade that saw rage spilling from online forums into the streets, and to the multiplex as well. Spike Lee’s “BlackKklansmen” tackled the cyclical nature of history’s ugliest chapters, ending with a coda of condemnation. The truths simmering under the tensions of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” were just as undeniably relevant. And there’s a reason Bong Joon-ho’s rage-against-the-system thriller “Parasite” is resonating with American audiences this fall more than any of the Korean director’s previous works.

Now we have Jay Roach’s “Bombshell,” a peek behind the cameras of a toxic Fox News newsroom in the days leading up to Roger Ailes’s luxurious ousting following allegations of sexual harassment. Trump isn’t just part of the world of “Bombshell”—he’s essential to the movie’s clear desire to be a story of the moment. Considering that the filmmaking process is typically a years-long one, as well as the fact that President Trump may not even last a full term, Roach’s gamble paid off.

“Bombshell” is the first film I can think of with chants of “No KKK, no fascist USA”; tweets from the president attacking everyone in sight fill the screen; and Roach uses actual footage from 2016’s election early and often, including a GOP debate when Fox personality Megyn Kelly (here played by Charlize Theron, completely transformed) targeted him for his attacks on women, inviting poisonous words. Later, in the offices of Ailes (John Lithgow), Kelly and her boss high-five their strategy. It made for excellent TV—what’s more important? The answer, as we later learn, might be the stuff that self-respect and integrity is made of. Whether those things can be found in Roach’s version of Fox News – “the nostalgia machine for lost America,” as Theron’s Kelly describes it, and where reality can be mistaken for hyperbole – is a whole other question. 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 →

‘In Fabric’ Review: Covens, rituals and murder—but make it fashion

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

 

 

The first thing you notice in Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric” are the synthesizers. It’s impossible not to—the hypnotic, brazen, constantly-droning score from German alternative group Cavern of Anti-Matter makes the music of “Stranger Things” feel tame in comparison. Once the credits roll two hours later, however, the synths are far from the most evil element of Strickland’s viciously bizarre horror movie, in which consumption is the all-powerful curse of capitalism literalized in bloody, discordant ways.

Undercurrents of eroticism and sinister intention dominate the socially abrasive world of Strickland’s film (an A24 joint if there ever was one), making it easy to be on the side of the middle-aged Sheila (played by the English actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste, whose work in 1996’s “Secrets & Lies” garnered her an Oscar nomination) as she searches for a second shot at love. Meanwhile, her son’s friend/artistic model/sexual partner (a vampiric Gwendoline Christie, making me curious why she isn’t being cast in projects left and right) practically moves into their home, and the managers at the bank where she works humiliate her daily, to cartoonish levels. Continue reading →