Premise: Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic out there.
At what point should we start worrying about the original storytelling capabilities of Pixar? While the studio remains at the forefront of modern animation and earns plenty of major awards at the end of almost every year, the studio has loaded its docket lately with sequels to its most beloved franchises, some less successful than others. Look through their recent filmography and the last non-sequel put out was all the way back in 2017 with Coco. Go back even further and you won’t find any until 2015, with The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out – a mixed bag, as the former is one of Pixar’s worst, and the latter one of its best. Granted, most of their sequels have been mostly solid (Toy Story 4 was one of my favorite films last year and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature), but the studio’s reliance on existing property could be taken as a troubling sign. Continue reading →
Premise: After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord..
You would certainly be validated for being a little skeptical of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), especially after the unmitigated disaster that was 2016’s Suicide Squad. Heck, you’d even be validated based on DC Comics’ track record in trying to establish their own Marvel-esque connected universe. The studio stumbled out of the gate up until and including 2017’s Justice League, but has had some winners recently with Wonder Woman and Aquaman. But once DC leaned away from forcing the issue of a shared universe and focused on the characters within that universe, they found a way to make compelling films again. Rest assured though, Birds of Prey may contain some hidden Easter Eggs for diehard DC fans – which I missed entirely – but there were far from any overt references to other characters (besides the Joker, of course) or set-ups to future films. Continue reading →
Premise: A look at iconic pop artist Taylor Swift during a transformational time in her life as she embraces her role as a singer/songwriter and harnesses the full power of her voice.
Celebrities: they’re just like us! They eat spicy burritos! They wear denim overalls! They spill their steaks when there’s turbulence on their private jets! It’s hard to go into Miss Americana if you’re not slurping up the Taylor Swift Kool-Aid (like myself) without at least some level of cynicism. It’s not that I dislike Swift or her music – I thoroughly enjoy both the song and music video for “You Need to Calm Down” – I’ve just always been very clearly outside her target demographic (plus I’ve fallen way out of touch with contemporary music in general, but that’s a discussion for another essay). Continue reading →
Premise: On an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.
Maybe it’s reductive – cliché, even – to say that there’s nothing quite like your first love. Maybe, for some, it’s not your first that you remember most, but someone who opens your eyes and shows what true human connection can be. These are only some of the themes explored in Céline Sciamma’s latest film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Heartbreaking but hopeful, complex but familiar, Portrait tells the story of a doomed romance between two young women in the 18th century – one a painter (Noémie Merlant) and the other her muse (Adéle Haenel), the daughter of a wealthy family who is betrothed to a man she’s never met. Continue reading →
Premise: Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.
There’s no denying that 1917 is a technical marvel. There’s also no denying that nearly every individual element of the film is impressive, from the score to the cinematography to the production design. Unfortunately, the elements that are left by the wayside are the ones it needs to be a complete experience that its audience can fully invest in, like memorable characters or an original story. Continue reading →
Premise: A group of women take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.
In the final title card before the credits roll on Bombshell, it states that Roger Ailes was the highest-profiled figure to be taken down from sexual harassment, “and he won’t be the last”. This message of hope is certainly earned after the film that preceded it, but it’s the overall way it was handled that prevents it from really sticking. The film opens with a fourth-wall breaking monologue from Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) to get us all up to speed on the inner workings of the Fox News network where she anchors her own conservative talk show – Bombshell begins in the early days of the Republican presidential primaries and runs roughly up to the election. Because this is 2019 and we’re living in a post-The Big Short world (no surprise that Bombshell was written by Charles Randolph, the Oscar-winning co-writer of the former), I suppose it’s now mandatory for all films with semi-complex true stories to include some direct to camera speeches, breaking down the ideas at work into easily digestible chunks. But after the beginning, these self-aware moments, including some internal monologues from some characters and a weird visual moment, fall by the wayside in order to tell a more straightforward story. Which ultimately end up being a wise decision from director Jay Roach because those moments just feel like dead weight. Continue reading →
Premise: Behind Vatican walls, the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.
When you have an event in the Catholic Church that hasn’t occurred in around 700 years, it’s almost inevitable for a film depiction of that event. In the case of The Two Popes, that event was the abdication of the papacy by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 and the ascension of Pope Francis. Director Fernando Meirelles, with a script from Anthony McCarten, depicts the event as a series of meetings between the Pope (Anthony Hopkins) and then-cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) as the two debate faith, and the role the church plays in helping its members. The film establishes within minutes, following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the election of a new Pope by the conclave of cardinals at the Vatican, the differences between the two and what is at stake for the church as a whole: one is all about reform, and one is more conservative. Pope Benedict (then-Cardinal Ratzinger) is the favorite, who is seen actively campaigning after the first vote, whereas Bergoglio is more reluctant and even seems relieved when he is not elected. Fast forward seven years and Bergoglio considers retirement when he is called to Rome. The bulk of the film takes place at the pope’s summer home in the Italian countryside where Bergoglio attempts to persuade Benedict to accept his resignation, and Benedict stalls, hoping that he will stay. The film is stripped of some of its drama because we already know the end result, but Meirelles uses these scenes to emphasize the differences between the two men; whereas Bergoglio sees himself as a servant of the people (a core teaching of the Jesuit sect to which he belongs), Benedict believes the church is a beacon on a hill, helping to steer people in the right direction while remaining at arms’ length. “Change is compromise”, Benedict states early in their meeting. Continue reading →
Premise: A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.
Meet Howard Ratner. He’s Jewish, in his 40s, married with three kids but is in the midst of divorcing his wife. He runs a successful* jewelry business to the stars in Manhattan, and has what can laconically be described as a gambling addiction. Almost everyone is tired of Howard’s shtick as soon as they come into contact with him, including his wife and daughter. The only people he has genuine connections with are his teenage son and his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox, a breakout star in the making). Physiologically speaking, he has to sleep at some point, but there is no evidence to suggest he does. His mind is constantly racing, moving from one deal to the next, trying to get ahead and hit the jackpot. He’s a machete juggler where all of the machetes are on fire, and he’s prone to dropping them a little too frequently. Continue reading →
Premise: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.
In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren tells Rey “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” The line, along with many other plot developments, was read as director Rian Johnson’s overt message to fans to let go of any preconceived notions of what a Star Wars movie should be. It was a bold move, considering fans have done nothing but look to the original films, hoping to reclaim the glory and joy that they felt when Star Wars was at its peak. Continue reading →
Premise: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven leave Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest of an enchanted land. They set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.
Look. When you’ve got one of the most profitable films of all time like Frozen in your back pocket, there’s bound to be talks of a sequel. This is 2019 after all, and the studio that made Frozen is Disney, who’s never met an original property it couldn’t shoehorn into a prequel, sequel, or spin-off. Not to mention the untold millions Disney has raked in from merchandising ever since – if you’ve gone a single Halloween since 2014 without seeing an Anna or Elsa or Olaf costume, you’re either lying, or weren’t paying attention. None of this is surprising. Continue reading →
Premise: All unemployed, Ki-taek and his family take peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks, as they ingratiate themselves into their lives and get entangled in an unexpected incident. Continue reading →
Premise: Hal, wayward prince and heir to the English throne, is crowned King Henry V after his tyrannical father dies. Now the young king must navigate palace politics, the war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life.
The King may not be the longest, the most plot-heavy, or even the most complicated movie of 2019, but it may be the most tedious to get through. Here’s a fun parlor game you can play with your friends: gather everyone together and turn on The King. The first person to either nod off or check his or her phone loses. Best of luck to you, because I would have failed this challenge within the first 30 minutes. Continue reading →
Premise: The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
“I knew ye was mad when ye smashed that lifeboat and chased me with that axe” Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake bellows to Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow (or is it Thomas Howard?) late in The Lighthouse, the newest from director Robert Eggers, after his breakout success of The Witch. The question, on its face, isn’t all that significant. What makes it stand out – and emblematic of the entire film – is that, just minutes earlier, we see the exact opposite happening with Dafoe madly chasing Pattinson. Is Dafoe messing with Pattinson? Was it a drunken hallucination? Is Dafoe the crazy one, or is Pattinson (or both)? Throughout The Lighthouse, Eggers has the audience constantly question what he just showed us, as his characters descend deeper and deeper into madness.
When The Witch debuted in 2015, praise was rightfully heaped on Robert Eggers for his thorough commitment to realism. Each detail felt lived in and authentic, from the dialogue to the sets that were built. For The Lighthouse, Eggers continues to raise his game – the crew even built a life-size lighthouse off the coast of Nova Scotia. Not only do both actors talk like they were plucked from the shores of New England at the turn of the century, but the minimalism of the island truly helps to feed the madness as it sets in. Shot by Jarin Blaschke on black and white film and given an almost square aspect ratio to evoke a more claustrophobic mood, The Lighthouse looks unlike any other movie you’ll see this year. Eggers and Blaschke take full advantage of the lack of running electricity to create some fantastically memorable images. Many scenes are only lit by a single light source, and the resulting shadows on Willem Dafoe’s face almost gives him an inhuman appearance. Pattinson at one point makes his way up the lighthouse stairs, where the lens is only visible through a metal grate. Eggers holds the camera on his face as he’s mesmerized by the glow, as patterns of light and darkness constantly dance across his face. He wants to be in the light, but just can’t break through.
The Lighthouse is a film where we can essentially guess the outcome from the beginning, but the process that Eggers takes to get there is full of fun and madness nonetheless. The story is mostly told from Pattinson’s perspective, so we see all of Winslow’s hallucinations and fantasies, though we’re never totally on his side. Is he justified in his accusations, or is he just a paranoid drunk? The cast list is literally three actors long: Dafoe, Pattinson, and Valeriia Karaman, who plays a mermaid, so there is no outside perspective to make any distinction between who is right and wrong. Of course, Pattinson and Dafoe give incredibly layered performances, one seeming to one-up and out-crazy the other. Both characters feel like real people with real grievances though; in lesser hands they could have easily slipped into caricature. And Eggers gives each actor plenty of meat to chew: Pattinson has a great scene where he drunkenly airs his criticisms, and Dafoe gives a terrifying yet exaggerated response.
Fans coming see an outright horror film may leave The Lighthouse a little disappointed; while there are plenty of disturbing images, most of the fear is internalized. Instead, almost every minute of the film has an almost dreadful atmosphere, where it feels like something will get markedly worse from one moment to the next. The distinctive foghorn blaring at all hours of the day probably doesn’t help matters much either. The “nature vs. nurture” debate is never brought up during the film, but maybe it applies to why these two people go insane. Were they crazy before arriving on the island, or did their close proximity to each other bring it out?
Premise: Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon. Continue reading →
Premise: In this dramedy based on the Mossack Fonseca scandal, a cast of characters investigate an insurance fraud, chasing leads to a pair of a flamboyant Panama City law partners exploiting the world’s financial system. Continue reading →
Everything about this movie feels phoned in. Sinbad is fun but it really feels like large swathes of the script is just "have Sinbad improv exasperation" instead of trying anything interesting. Every narrative beat is painfully obvious, even for a kid-friendly Disney movie.
Freaks owes a big debt to Firestarter but it's at least more original outside of its homage than Stranger Things was/is (and I like Stranger Things a lot).Very wise to deliver the world building through the perspective of Chloe. Good storytelling and impressive effects work.
Very cool low budget atmosphere piece. It's all tone and mood and it's done to good effect. Set design, cinematography, locations, makeup and costuming all work together to make some really striking visuals.
Thorough documentary that shares the African American perspective on the horror genre and charts the involvement of African Americans in the genre itself. Excellent panel for the talking heads. The documentary covers its subject from a place of love and handles it with the necessary care and importance.Enjoyed it.
Blown away by Jim Cummings' performance. The nuances to the character and the raw grief and emotional crisis of the story is so well-realized that I'm nearly at a loss for words. This is a movie that lives in a state of chaotic empathy and brings you into its world in such an immersive way that it's almost overwhelming.Spectacular movie.