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.

Continue reading →

Advertisements

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.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Review: ‘Captain Marvel’ a nearly wholly underwhelming MCU origin story

It’s fair to say that “Captain Marvel” – the 21st entry in the franchise to rule all franchises, and in many ways its most pragmatic – is arriving at a bit of a crossroads for this ever-blossoming superhero saga 11 years after it began.

More accurately, it itself is the crossroads; another origin story for another superbeing whose name hadn’t been uttered in over 40 hours of films, and yet the story of a hero with pre-ordained expectations of the highest order, thanks to a post-credits stinger, a pager and a logo that sent the Internet into a frenzy last April.

With “Captain Marvel,” our MCU overlords ask us to forget, if for a couple hours, about half of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes being reduced to dust, and instead shift our gaze to Kree and Skrulls, a disorienting story that feels three steps ahead of the audience in the worst of ways, and Carol Danvers’s introduction as already one of the MCU’s most charismatic figures in spite of it. The miracle of overcoming one of the more ill-advised MCU narratives in recent years isn’t quite achieved, but the superhuman strength on display in the last bits of the movie by its titular hero should have Thanos sweating. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Yardie’ is an underwhelming directorial debut from Idris Elba

The director’s chair being filled with established actors is becoming an increasingly popular card for Hollywood to pull these days, albeit with wildly varied results.

Up until this point, the reception to those efforts in a way mirror the novice auteurs behind the camera; Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” – perhaps you’ve heard of it? – garnered near-universal acclaim to the tune of multiple Academy Award nominations. It’s a beloved film, much like its director-actor was before its release.

On the flip side, another actor still working under the radar despite having collaborated with the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve and Steve McQueen quietly directed one of the most intoxicating films of 2018. But Paul Dano’s “Wildlife” was, to a similarly strange degree as its director, seemingly never meant to break into the cultural consciousness in a meaningful way, despite the praise heaped onto it by critics.

So it will be interesting to see how Netflix’s audience responds to “Yardie,” the enticing-but-jumbled directorial debut from Idris Elba, when it’s released on the streaming service in mid-March. Though if merit has any say, it may struggle to hold the attention of movie-watchers. There’s a restlessness at the heart of the film, but in the end that attitude does little more than throw crime, familial drama, music and a sprinkling of Jamaican lore into a pot to create something of underwhelming taste.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Getting way too hype for the Oscar possibilities that await Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune”…in 2021

We need to talk about the Oscars. No, not this year’s awards that will be presented in a few days’ time, the culmination of several months’ worth of head-scratching decisions, logistical retreadings and general affirmation that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are at a crossroads. That discourse has been beaten with the proverbial golden statuette through many an op-ed, Twitter thread and blog post.

So no, we’re not talking about the 2019 Academy Awards. Nor the 2020 ceremony. If you’ll indulge me, let’s skip ahead to early 2021, where – pending the existence of the human race – it feels increasingly likely that the revival of a certain sci-fi/fantasy property is poised to have the genre’s biggest night at the Oscars since the finale to Peter Jackson’s standard-bearing “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in 2004. Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

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 →