Given the seemingly arbitrary nature of the curriculum within America’s current school systems on the subject of our own history, it’s not entirely implausible to believe that America: The Motion Picture will be taken as more fact than fiction. Netflix’s first animated film is a veritable who’s who of this country’s most notable figures and founding fathers, all mashed together with no discernable logic or reason behind most of it.
How refreshing is it to finally see a Disney live-action film with some real style to it? Far too often with their live-action remakes, the end result works as an adaptation, but fails to make a convincing argument for its own existence. Beauty and the Beast looked great but was essentially a beat-for-beat remake of the animated classic. The same goes for The Lion King and Mulan. This time around, Disney had the good sense to forego the same route with 101 Dalmatians and explore an origin story by focusing on that film’s memorable villain.
A zombie Siberian tiger. A microwaved zombie hand. A needle-drop of The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” Sean Spicer. All of this – and so much more – are part of the lunacy and silliness that we have to look forward to with writer-director Zack Snyder’s newest film Army of the Dead.
With a title like The Killing of Two Lovers, you’d be forgiven if you were to go into it expecting a more violent drama. But director, screenwriter, and editor Robert Machoian has more on his mind than surface-level passion. Namely the slow and painful disintegration of a marriage, and everyone that gets sucked into its wake. Machoian’s film uses many impressive tricks and techniques to sell the ideas he’s working towards, but the film could ultimately be polished more in its shadings of some of the secondary characters.
Calling Stowaway a sci-fi film feels a little disingenuous. Yes, the film is set in space and involves a voyage to Mars, but the setting feels almost perfunctory: the mission at hand is more about survival than science. Director Joe Penna, whose feature debut dealt with Mads Mikkelsen stranded in the arctic, was a solid, assured tale of man versus nature. For his follow-up, he expands the cast and jettisons them into the void of space, while still grounding his characters in reality and not resulting to formulaic plot points.
The internet can, on very rare occasions, be used as a force for good in the world. In 2017, Disney pulled the insufferable short film Olaf’s Frozen Adventure from Coco’s screenings after audiences voiced their overwhelmingly negative reactions. In 2019, Paramount re-tooled Sonic the Hedgehog after fans recoiled in horror at the reveal of the titular character’s look. And now, 4 years after its initial release, Warner Bros. has caved to its fans and released the long-fabled “Snyder cut” of Justice League.
Fred Hampton’s story is a worthwhile one to be shown on screen, not only because it is inherently dramatic, but because of its relevance to the struggles of minorities today. Thank goodness he has a steady hand in King to tell it, and capable performances to show who he really was.
Filmmakers tend to take on projects in familiar genres for one of two reasons: One could be to explore a previously untapped or underutilized element of the genre. The other could be to put their own personal spin on the material. Martin Scorcese explored the long-lasting effects of the typically short-lived life of crime in The Irishman. Ryan Coogler imprinted the Black experience on Black Panther. Even last year, the time-loop genre went through a reinvention of sorts with Palm Springs. I’m not saying that the release of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is hindered by its proximity to Palm Springs; rather, it’s that it has hardly anything new to say, in a genre with fairly limited breathing room to begin with.
Many elements of AppleTV+’s Palmer will probably seem familiar to many of its viewers, but the film still does offer some redeeming qualities. Fortunately, director Fisher Stevens imbues the film with enough heart, and fills the cast with capable actors from top to bottom, to get past any glaring issues.
The Top 10 Films of 2020.
It’s been 6 years in the US since the latest film from Japanese master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, which means that the animation world (and yours truly) has been sorely lacking an animated film with enough style and heart to break through the candy-coated onslaught of Disney and Pixar films.
The title of director Stephen Soderbergh’s latest film feels less like a thematic summation and more like a way to describe Soderbergh’s method of approaching his subject matter. Filmed almost entirely aboard a cruise ship as it makes its way from New York to Southampton, the script reportedly consisted of minimal outlines from scene to scene, and the actors were left to improvise the rest. Soderbergh, who has made a habit lately of experimenting behind the scenes by filming entire movies on iPhones, may have finally found a gimmick that meshes successfully with his sensibilities. Of course, a film with no script can only be buoyed by the performances of its cast, and Let Them All Talk is brimming with talented actors.
Darius Marder makes subtle decisions that make Sound of Metal feel fresh and humanistic. The most noticeable of those decisions is the incredible sound design. Rather than portraying Ruben’s hearing loss with the same dulling of noises, each iteration we get inside Ruben’s head sounds slightly different, devolving in sound quality as his hearing ability does. After Ruben’s diagnosis, he visits a retreat for the hearing impaired – a resolution that requires some heavy coaxing from his girlfriend and bandmate, Lou (Olivia Cooke). The retreat home is run by Joe (Paul Raci), a Vietnam veteran who lost his hearing in the war and can read Ruben’s lips. Joe breaks Ruben in with a heavy dose of tough love, but Raci still makes Joe a likeable character.
How does David Byrne follow-up Stop Making Sense, the concert documentary that birthed an entire genre, even if it’s had 36 years to marinate? As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many of the elements that make Sense such a delight – the boundless joy and energy of everyone onstage, the production value, the musicality – are on display here, and it feels like Byrne hasn’t missed a step in the intervening years. And yet, it’s the moments between the music that sets American Utopia apart from its predecessor. Sense was simply a documentation of a band’s place in time, while Utopia has more on its mind, as Byrne tries to make sense of his place in the world. Sure, Talking Heads had larger ideas on display and made some grand statements with their lyrics, but Sense never aspired to be more than a concert documentary.
Rashida Jones turns in a great performance, but I kept wondering how exactly her character had grown by the end of the film. What does Laura learn about herself by going through these adventures? What does she learn about her father that she didn’t already know? The conclusion wraps up nicely, and it’s played effectively by both Jones and Wayans, but I found myself wondering where the couple goes from there.