Category Archives: Reel Views

Reel Views

Serenity

Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway team up once again after 2014’s Interstellar to bring us Serenity, a spectacularly miscalculated neo-noir that has “so bad it’s good” written all over it. Director Steven Knight’s previous film Locke was a stripped down feature that was essentially a one-man show for a confined Tom Hardy. Knight’s latest effort seems to take the complete opposite approach, merging story elements that have no business being anywhere near one another. “There’s some weird stuff going on right now,” McConaughey growls at one point while fixing his eyes on a bird above and the truth is, he doesn’t even know the half of it.

McConaughey stars as Baker Dill, a gruff fisherman who has made it his sole purpose in life to catch an oversized tuna that he’s nicknamed “Justice,” much to the chagrin of his first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou). He passes the time consorting with townspeople of Plymouth Island like the well-off Constance (Diane Lane) until his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) comes back into the picture with a provocative proposal. She offers Dill $10 million in cash to take her abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) out to sea so that he can get him drunk and throw him overboard to spare her and Dill’s son from his violence.

At the outset, the premise seems to be a halfway decent hybrid of classic film noirs like Double Indemnity or To Have And Have Not and man vs. nature tales like Jaws or The Old Man and the Sea. That Serenity can’t find a harmonious balance between these two discordant genres is actually the least of its worries, as the truly outlandish third act reveals belong to an entirely different category of film altogether. Knight’s clunky attempts to foreshadow the most surprising revelations of the film’s conclusion are just as inelegant as the explanations themselves. It’s proof that the kind of twist endings that made M. Night Shyamalan famous may not be as easy to pull off as one might think.

Even before the preposterous turns that kick in around the hour mark of the film’s runtime, the needlessly profane script is loaded with dialogue so hollow that it would float in the water if it was tossed overboard. Knight’s direction is equally incompetent as he chooses to fixate on unusual imagery that never fully justifies its existence, as when we see a mysterious man played by Jeremy Strong in a full suit wading through water. To the film’s credit, it’s rarely unpleasant to look at due to Jess Hall’s exotic cinematography, although it is sometimes undercut by bizarre editing choices that seem far too stylized for the story that’s being told.

Just because the performances are not quite as bad as everything else that’s at play here doesn’t mean the actors should entirely be let off the hook. McConaughey is channeling the same one-note brooding demeanor that he uses for his Lincoln car commercials, while Hathaway adds little dimension to the same kind of femme fatale character we’ve seen played better in countless other films. Clarke and Strong both overact so wildly in their scenes that it became increasingly difficult for me to stifle my laughter anytime either of them was on-screen. Watching Serenity is like watching a catastrophic shipwreck occur in slow motion.

Score – 1/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Miss Bala, starring Gina Rodriguez and Anthony Mackie, is an action thriller that follows a makeup artist who trains to take down a drug cartel after they kidnap her best friend.
Playing at Regal Coldwater for one day only on Friday, Febuary 1st is They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary from Peter Jackson comprised of World War I footage that has been colorized and modernized.
Another limited engagement screening happening at Cinema Center on Thursday, February 7 is Joni 75, a concert film celebrating the life and prolific career of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Glass

M. Night Shyamalan fully embraces the superhero genre with Glass, a sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable and 2017’s Split that gleefully brings the comic book lore of its predecessors to the forefront. Indeed, nuance and subtext are not among this film’s strongest qualities but as an earnest, all-out depiction of what superpowers might look like in the real world, it succeeds more often than it doesn’t. Working with a relatively modest $20 million budget (a tenth of what Marvel typically spends on such fare), Shyamalan wisely keeps the action and settings small-scale to thoroughly investigate what makes these superhuman characters tick.

Bruce Willis reprises his Unbreakable role as David Dunn, a security guard who has since become a vigilante hero named The Overseer since discovering his superpowers. He inevitably crosses paths with Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), the kidnapper from Split with multiple personalities who is able to conjure a powerful alter named The Beast. After the two are caught post-showdown, they are brought to a mental hospital where Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is determined to convince them, as well as Dunn’s previous foe Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), that they are just ordinary people who have delusions of grandeur.

In a world where blockbuster comic book movies seem to come out every month, Glass serves as a nice counterpoint to the largely homogeneous product that tends to populate the market these days. Despite falling victim to uneven pacing and distractingly on-the-nose dialogue, the film has a heart and personal vision behind it that feels absent from even the best of Hollywood’s superhero offerings. Like last month’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it also has a reverence for comic book culture that has seemingly been lost during the film industry’s commoditization of the superhero genre.

Shyamalan’s script sometimes strains too hard when making connections to the other two films in the Eastrail Trilogy but in more ways than one, Glass often feels like a worthy conclusion to the grand narrative. It’s difficult to imagine Shyamalan had this film in mind when he was making Unbreakable 20 years ago and even though the two are still tonally incongruous, their connective tissue now feels undeniable. Shyamalan’s smartest storytelling decision here is his inclusion of secondary human characters from previous films, whose ties to their respective superhuman characters make for naturally high stakes that keep us invested in the story.

The performances from the ensemble cast, which also includes Split‘s Anya Taylor-Joy and Unbreakable‘s Spencer Treat Clark, make this mini-universe of heroes and villains that much more believable. Jackson and Willis do a terrific job of resurrecting characters that have laid dormant for quite some time while McAvoy brings an extra level of dedication to an already challenging role by seamlessly switching between disparate personalities at the drop of a hat. Glass may have mixed results with the cult following that has surrounded Unbreakable but those looking for a change-up to the typical comic book formula could be pleasantly surprised.

Score – 3/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Kid Who Would be King, starring Ashbourne Serkis and Patrick Stewart, follows a young boy who sets out on a medieval quest after he discovers King Arthur’s famous Excalibur sword.
Serenity, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, is a neo-noir thriller in which a fishing captain is approached by his ex-wife to murder her new husband.
Stan & Ollie, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, depicts the later years of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy as they commit to an expansive theatre tour in Britain as an attempt to revive their film careers.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins brings magic to the screen once again with If Beale Street Could Talk, a spellbinding and sensuous portrait of young love flourishing amid tragic circumstances. With disarming close-ups and a warm, autumnal color palette, Jenkins creates a world that’s both inviting and illuminating while fully acknowledging and exploring the darker corners that reside within it. Every sensation experienced by the characters — from longing to sorrow to jubilation — is poetically rendered by Jenkins to tell an entrancing story that feels deeply human and lastingly resonant.

Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, Beale Street is primarily a love story centered around 19-year-old Tish (Kiki Layne) and her older boyfriend Fonny (Stephan James), who started as childhood friends but became closer as time progressed. We soon discover that the young and un-wed Tish is pregnant with Fonny’s child, much to the delight of her mother Sharon (Regina King) and father Joseph (Colman Domingo) but to the chagrin of Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis). As the narrative continues, we learn that Fonny has been wrongfully incarcerated and we track Tish’s journey to prove his innocence before their child is brought into the world.

Jenkins utilizes his world cinema influences to weave a tale of injustice and intimacy with a loose chronological perspective; he tends to linger around what he finds alluring within a certain time and place. Striking sequences, like one in which Tish outlines the way different customers approach sampling a new perfume scent, give an evocative sense of context and setting without strictly adhering to the main storyline. There are certain characters, such as the ones played by Brian Tyree Henry and Dave Franco, whose time on-screen is short but their emotional impact lingers throughout the film.

Faithfully adapting both prose and tone from Baldwin’s book, Jenkins fills his script with moments in which characters quietly assert their dignity during the peak of their own personal struggles. During an early scene in which a trepidatious Tish is breaking the pregnancy news to her family, her sister Ernestine comes to her support by saying “unbow your head, sister” and every opportunity for empowerment is beautifully realized. The inverse of this are the lines that remind us of the heartbreaking strife at the core of the story, as Tish narrates “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.”

Collaborating again with Jenkins for the film’s music is Oscar-nominated composer Nicholas Britell, whose achingly beautiful score is so potent that just hearing the first thirty seconds of it had me on the verge of tears. Also returning with Jenkins from Moonlight is Oscar-nominated cinematographer James Laxton, who often uses close-ups of actors looking directly in the lens to engage with the audience and draw us further into the story. The sum of these artistic contributions makes If Beale Street Could Talk an utterly engrossing mood piece that sways to its own rhythm and invites us to join along with it.

Score – 4/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Glass, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, is the latest from M. Night Shyamalan that brings together characters from Unbreakable and Split to tell a new kind of superhero story.
Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman and Sebastian Stan, follow an LAPD detective who revisits an undercover case from years ago to solve a gang-related murder in the present.
Also playing at Cinema Center is Roma, the acclaimed film by Alfonso Cuarón that has already won multiple awards this month (including 2 Golden Globes) and will likely be up for several Oscar nominations next month.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Vice

Christian Bale once again undergoes an astonishing transformation for the new Dick Cheney biopic Vice, the latest from The Big Short director Adam McKay that almost entirely misses the mark. The politically charged film is knowingly divisive and meant to be controversial in its depiction of the former Vice President but for all of its empty provocation, it fails to capture its subject on the most fundamental level. After its 132-minute runtime, I learned barely anything about Dick Cheney that I didn’t already know and aside from some solid performances and a few effective bits of humor, there’s little else to recommend in this superficial satire.

We’re introduced to Cheney in his early years working as a power lineman in Wyoming, where his drunken antics impel his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) to steer him in the right direction. We then cut to his time as an intern in the Nixon White House, where Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) soon becomes his mentor and guides him to a Chief of Staff position under President Ford following the Nixon resignation. After his time in the private sector as CEO of Halliburton, Cheney re-enters the political landscape when presidential hopeful George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) implores him to be his running mate in the 2000 election.

The biggest thing keeping Vice from being at least a passable biopic is the scattershot direction from McKay, which is not only lacking in narrative clarity but is also loaded with an undeniable sense of condescension. Working again with The Big Short editor Hank Corwin, McKay packs in as many talking points as possible, even if they don’t thematically cohere with what’s happening in the narrative at any given point. Just as he delighted in breaking down the 2008 financial collapse for us in his previous film, McKay frequently freeze-frames the action to glibly lecture us on political strategy via a mystery narrator voiced by Jesse Plemons.

It’s this patronizing tone that constantly undermines any sense of comedic or dramatic momentum that is built up during the film. There are individual moments, like a fake epilogue at the movie’s midway point or an Alfred Molina cameo that depicts him as a waiter offering political euphemisms as menu items, that are clever on their own but feel at odds with the film’s more dramatic inflections. It’s obvious that McKay isn’t interested in applying any sort of nuance or insight in his depiction of Cheney’s personal journey and frankly, I’m not sure why he was so committed to writing and directing a movie about a public figure for which he seems to have so much disdain.

A greater sense of drive and purpose can be found more from the ensemble cast than McKay’s direction and that starts with Bale as the central character. Adding another committed performance to his stellar resume, Bale builds upon the prominent physical aspects of the role by also applying a pitch-perfect pragmatic diction that suits the character brilliantly. Elsewhere, Adams makes the most of her limited screen time with a believable sense of determination and Carell continues to hone his dramatic chops while implementing his undeniable charisma. Sadly, their work gets lost in the shuffle as Vice provides a toothless take on Cheney’s legacy.

Score – 2/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
A Dog’s Way Home, starring Ashley Judd and Bryce Dallas Howard, is a canine-centric tearjerker about a lost dog who makes a 400 mile journey home while making friends along the way.
Replicas, starring Keanu Reeves and Alice Eve, tells the tale of desperate neuroscientist who will stop at nothing to bring his family back to life after their untimely demise in a car accident.
The Upside, starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, follows the relationship between a paralyzed billionaire and a recently paroled convict who is hired to look after him.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

2019 Preview

2018 was an especially good year for film and fortunately, 2019 also looks to have plenty of good selections in store. Here are 20 titles to look out for this year:

  • Opening on January 18th is Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero sequel to Unbreakable and Split that once again pits Bruce Willis’ David Dunn against Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass while adding James McAvoy’s The Beast into the action as well.
  • Opening on February 8th is The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which looks to build on the surprise success of its predecessor by bringing back Chris Pratt to not only voice Emmet but also Rex Dangervest, a parody of action heroes portrayed by Pratt in other films.
  • Opening on February 22nd is How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third and final installment in the series which finds a budding romance among Toothless and another dragon as our hero Hiccup looks to defend his tranquil village from an emerging enemy.
  • Opening on March 8th is Captain Marvel, the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that goes back to the mid-1990s to introduce us to Brie Larson as the title character, who discovers her origins as a member of the Kree alien race and joins them in battle against the Skrulls.
  • Opening on March 15th is Us, a psychological horror film from Get Out writer/director Jordan Peele that centers around a family of four looking for rest and relaxation at their beach house but finding nothing of the sort as they’re stalked by a group of ominous strangers.
  • Opening on April 5th is Shazam!, a new superhero comedy in DC’s Extended Universe centered around a troubled teenager who stumbles upon a magical realm that grants him the power to transform into a Superman-like hero, just by saying the magic word.
  • Opening on April 26th is Avengers: Endgame, a direct sequel to last year’s Infinity War that will seemingly resolve the gambit presented during the previous film’s conclusion. Paul Rudd and Brie Larson will likely be added to the already massive cast.
  • Opening on May 17th is John Wick 3: Parabellum, another high-stakes actioner with Keanu Reeves reprising his role as the unstoppable lead character who is now on the run from a league of skilled assassins lurking all throughout the streets of New York City.
  • Opening on May 24th is Ad Astra, a science fiction thriller from director James Gray starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut in search for his missing father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who disappeared twenty years earlier on a dangerous mission to Neptune.
  • Opening on May 31st is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the latest in Legendary’s MonsterVerse starring Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobby Brown that pits the everyone’s favorite gigantic lizard against other classic creatures like Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.
  • Opening on June 14th is Men in Black: International, a reboot of the sci-fi comedy series that re-teams Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as they bust out the big guns and travel the globe in order to solve an intergalactic murder mystery.
  • Opening on June 21st is Toy Story 4, another sequel from Pixar that brings back Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang as they’re introduced to the new toy named Forky on a road trip. Comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele join the talented voice cast.
  • Opening on July 5th is Spider-Man: Far from Home, another adventure for the Marvel superhero that finds Peter Parker on a summer vacation with his friends in Europe as he joins forces with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio to do battle with creatures known as Elementals.
  • Opening on July 19th is The Lion King, a photorealistic remake of the 1994 Disney film that once again follows the journey of the lion cub Simba as he becomes King of the Pride Lands. The stellar voice cast includes work from Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.
  • Opening on July 26th is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest from Quentin Tarantino that stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a TV actor and his stunt double as they look to make it big in the movie business in late-1960s Los Angeles.
  • Opening on August 2nd is The New Mutants, a horror film based in the X-Men universe that finds five young mutants who are being held against their will in a secret facility. Originally slated for an April 2018 release timeframe, the delayed project looks to shake up the traditional superhero genre.
  • Opening on September 6th is It: Chapter Two, the follow-up to the box office smash that picks up 27 years after the events of the first film as the demonic clown Pennywise continues to haunt the members of The Losers’ Club well into their adult lives.
  • Opening on October 4th is Joker, a twist on the infamous Batman villain with Joaquin Phoenix as the title character. Set in the early 1980s, the movie centers around a failing stand-up comedian driven to psychosis and a life of crime by the uncaring citizens of Gotham City.
  • Opening on November 27th is Knives Out, a mystery crime film from Brick and Looper writer/director Ryan Johnson described as “a modern take on the whodunit murder mystery”. A fantastic ensemble cast, including Chris Evans and Lakeith Stanfield, is led by Daniel Craig.
  • Opening on December 20th is Star Wars: Episode IX, the conclusion to the Star Wars sequel trilogy that brings back The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams following the mixed fan reaction to The Last Jedi. Disney looks to put the franchise back on track after the financial failure of last year’s Solo.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Favourite

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos turns the costume drama genre on its head with The Favourite, a wickedly hilarious and delightfully idiosyncratic vision of royal life in early 18th century England. With lavish costume design and exquisite set design, the film excels in areas typical of period pieces but it goes beyond that by pairing those aspects with a thoroughly engaging and entertaining story. Lanthimos has channeled his mordant perspective on human behavior into a bracingly original tragicomedy which proves that not every movie with corsets has to be restrained by the trappings of its respective genre.

Olivia Colman gives a brilliant performance as the depressed and erratic Queen Anne, who has effectively relinquished most of her governing ability to her advisor and confidant Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Though the relationship between the two is strong, Sarah’s efforts to control the Queen are periodically disrupted by haughty Parliament member Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Upon the arrival of her cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s political influence is undermined further as Abigail insinuates herself into the Queen’s daily life. Soon enough, a war of attrition develops between the two cousins as they vie for permanent power.

This marks the first time Lanthimos has worked with a script which he didn’t have a hand in writing himself but fortunately, his darkly comic sensibilities seem to be in lock-step with those of screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. Loaded with biting wit and profane exchanges that will keep audience’s ears perked up, the screenplay also does a superb job at developing these three female characters in such a way that we can sympathize with them one minute and loathe them the next. Perhaps the film’s defining line is a self-aware and droll observation from Abigail: “as it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”

Another audacious aspect of The Favourite is how many stylistic chances are taken from a visual standpoint. The camerawork by Robbie Ryan is boldly unconventional in its frequent use of low (extremely low, in some cases) angles and fish-eye lenses to throw the audience’s equilibrium off balance. He also adapts to the challenges of shooting in low light settings brilliantly — comparisons to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon are both inevitable and deserved. The costume work from Oscar-winning designer Sandy Powell embraces all of the film’s eccentricities while also staying true to the film’s sense of time and place.

Bringing the entire production together are three outstanding performances calibrated perfectly with one another. Colman modulates layers of sadness for both comedic and dramatic effect while Weisz brings a calculating brilliance to Sarah as she weighs cruelty against compassion in nearly every conversation she has. Stone utilizes her deadpan and self-effacing abilities to masterful effect and also carries through a believable transformation in her character. The Favourite is a bold and distinctive work from a director at the pinnacle of his powers and perhaps it’s not a surprise that it’s my favorite film of the year.

Score – 5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Escape Room, starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll, pits six teenagers against a trendy new escape room that they soon discover has deadly traps at every turn.
If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Stephan James and KiKi Layne, is the latest from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins about a young African-American woman looking to clear her husband’s name after he’s falsely convicted of a crime.
On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, tells the life story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg starting with a gender discrimination case that would pave the way for the rest of her career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Mary Poppins Returns

Disney’s recent trend of rehashing existing properties continues with Mary Poppins Returns, a much belated sequel that doesn’t diminish the legacy of its classic predecessor but does little to add to it either. Director Rob Marshall has the unenviable task of filling a 54 year gap between his new film and Mary Poppins, which was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and is widely considered Disney’s finest achievement in live-action filmmaking. The sequel strains hard at every turn to draw parallels to and recapture the magic of the original but nearly everything about this retread feels forced and overly calculated.

Taking place 25 years after the events of the first film, we’re re-introduced to the Banks children Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw), the latter of whom has fallen on hard times since the passing of his wife. After falling months behind with their house payments, Michael and his three children are at risk of having their home taken away from them unless they can produce valuable stock certificates left by Michael’s late father. Sensing that the Banks family needs her help once again, the mystical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) descends from the sky to fill the young ones with joy and wonder amid their dire circumstances.

From an opening number that features Lin-Manuel Miranda sporting a Cockney accent not too dissimilar from Dick Van Dyke’s in the original, this film feels like it’s trying too hard in almost every aspect. There are some numbers, like “A Cover Is Not A Book”, that do find their own spark of creativity but many of these routines feel like they’re intentionally pulling too much from the past. Aside from its inclusion of BMX bike tricks, “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” is obviously meant to recreate the rooftop whimsy of “Step In Time” from the 1964 original but it fails to recapture the spirit and imagination of that rousing number.

At a stout 130 minutes, Mary Poppins Returns outstays its welcome with sequences of song and dance that are intermittently charming and dazzling but feel like distractions from a story that’s quite paper-thin in the first place. It’s not an exaggeration to say that half of this film’s plot revolves around repairing a china bowl and while I understand musicals don’t always have the most dense storylines when compared to dramas, there still needs to be enough at stake to get involved in what’s happening. There’s also a major lapse of logic that occurs in the film’s climax that involves Poppins’ neglect to utilize her magical powers at a critical moment.

Being a Disney production, the film is, of course, very competently made and there’s no shortage of talent on and off the screen. The costumes and set design are both first-rate, while the acting (at least from the adults) is strong all around. Blunt does a great job of embodying the classic character, building off of Julie Andrews’ performance while also adding grace notes of her own. Whishaw makes the most of his limited role and Mortimer does a fine job as well, even though her character is severely underwritten. Mary Poppins Returns may enchant those with close ties to the original but as a whole, this belated sequel simply feels too little and too late.

Score – 2/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Favourite, starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, depicts the power struggle between two cousins jockeying to be court favorites during Queen Anne’s reign in the early 18th century.
Vice, starring Christian Bale and Amy Adams, is another tongue-in-cheek biopic from The Big Short director Adam McKay which covers the influential vice presidency of Dick Cheney.
Second Act, starring Jennifer Lopez and Leah Remini, follows a working class mother who gets a second chance at a corporate career after a falsified resume lands her a high-profile position at a finance firm.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Two major questions loom large over the latest from Sony Pictures Animation: does the world really need another superhero movie and more importantly, does it really need another Spider-Man movie? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse answers both of these questions early and often with an emphatic “yes”; this is not only the most electrifying superhero film of the year but it’s also the best on-screen version of the web-slinger that I’ve ever seen. Packed to the brim with vivid and vibrant animated flourishes that call back to the rich comic book heritage of this series, this is a film that honors the mythology of its central character while expanding on it beautifully.

At the center of this Spider-Man story is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a bright teenager who develops unusual abilities after being bitten by a genetically modified spider. While this part of the story is certainly familiar, the new twist this time around is the introduction of a particle accelerator that allows for access of parallel universes. This leaves the gateway open for other inter-dimensional iterations of Spider-Man, including Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), among others. Together, they all have to come together to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), along with two other major foes, as they try to destroy New York City.

The design of this film is unlike any other that I’ve seen from another animated picture before, weaving together the aesthetics of various genres from anime to Looney Tunes-era cartoons in a spectacularly clever manner. It also incorporates the use of purposefully misaligned colors to out-of-focus objects in the background, which replicates the look and feel of comic books from the 1960s where Spider-Man was born. On top of these homages to other mediums, the film is also astonishing in its implementation of cutting-edge computer animation, especially during the climactic showdown that shuffles objects from one dimension to another.

It would be enough if this was simply the best-looking Spider-Man movie but thanks to co-writer Phil Lord (also behind last year’s similarly hilarious The LEGO Batman Movie), it’s also the funniest. The movie respectfully pokes fun at the different interpretations of Spider-Man that have appeared in comics through the years, from 1930s detective styled Spider-Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) to Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), who has the power to “float in the air at the smell of a delicious pie”. It also has some fun with superhero tropes like the down-to-the-wire heroics; at one point, Parker quips “there’s always a little time before people die and that’s where I do my best work.”

What I appreciated most is that these jokes and the accompanying kinetic animation style don’t detract from the fact that this has an excellent origin story at its core that, spider-bite aside, is very different from what we’ve seen in a film up to this point. The self-referential humor can be cheeky but not in a way that tries to tear down the myth behind the superhero; the trio of directors behind this movie clearly have a great reverence for the character and his lineage. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the most invigorating superhero film I’ve seen since The Avengers in 2012 and proves that even in an over-saturated market, fresh ideas can still be found.

Score – 4.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a direct sequel to the classic 1964 musical which finds the merry and mystical nanny reuniting with two of the children from the original.
Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard, is the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe which follows the titular superhero as he leads the people of Atlantis against the evil sea creature Orm.
Bumblebee, starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena, is a spin-off of the Transformers franchise (technically a prequel to the first film in the series) that focuses on the origin of the titular yellow robot.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

2018 Christmas Weekend Preview

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and if you’re not in the holiday spirit yet, Hollywood has you covered. Here are 5 major releases coming to theaters this upcoming holiday weekend:

Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a direct sequel to the classic 1964 musical which finds the merry and mystical nanny reuniting with two of the children from the original, now grown with children of their own. Filling the shoes of a screen icon like Julie Andrews is no easy feat but it looks like Blunt may be a perfect fit to recapture the charm and whimsy that Andrews brought to the role all those years ago. The trailers so far have teased images that harken back to the hand-drawn animation from Disney’s heyday and with original music from Tony-winning composer Marc Shaiman, this film could be quite a delight. Expect it to clean up at the box office when it opens early on December 19th.

Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard, is the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe which follows the titular superhero as he leads the people of Atlantis against the evil sea creature Orm. With last year’s Wonder Woman and Justice League representing the best and worst of what can be found in this Universe, Aquaman seems like it could wind up in between the two. I can’t say I’m a big fan of this version of Aquaman based on his two previous appearances but the digital effects in this entry at least seem markedly less murky than other recent DC films. This movie has already done almost $100 million in business since its opening in China and with early screenings already trickling out around the US, all signs point to this being another massively successful superhero stint for Warner Brothers.

Bumblebee, starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena, is a spin-off of the Transformers franchise (technically a prequel to the first film in the series) that focuses on the origin of the titular yellow robot. Set in the late 1980s, there’s a good chance this film will lean into pop cultural touchstones from the era to add a bit of personality to the sci-fi action thrills. It’s a bit odd to have a big budget blockbuster like this open in the heart of awards season, especially since the past four Transformers films have opened in June, but I doubt this will affect its financial success overall. With two likeable leads at its center and Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight replacing Michael Bay in the director’s chair, there’s a good chance this could be a critical success in addition to being a hit at the box office.

Holmes and Watson, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, is yet another Sherlock Holmes adaptation brought to us by the same goofball team responsible for Step Brothers and Talladega Nights. The surplus of recent Holmes variations have generally played things straight, focusing on the detective’s almost supernatural deduction skills, but it’s clear that the strategy here is to play everything for laughs. I was initially excited for this film when I first caught wind of it but all the promotional material I have seen so far has made me markedly less eager to see what looks to be pretty flimsy fare. I’m sure there are plenty of laughs that could be wrung from the legendary literary figure but with gags involving killer bees and selfies present in the trailer, Sony obviously went with the broad approach with this comedy.

Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell and Leslie Mann, tells the true story of a man desperately trying to reconnect his life after a violent assault leaves him with almost no memory of his previous life. In order to cope with his loss, he constructs a miniature village called Marwen in his backyard populated with dolls that represent his friends and family. Based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, director Robert Zemeckis looks to blend pathos with technical wizardry together as he did with previous work like The Polar Express and The Walk. Carell has proven that he has the dramatic chops for this kind of material and those looking for an inspiring film around the holidays will likely find what they’re looking for here.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper makes an auspicious directorial debut with A Star Is Born, an often dazzling and occasionally overwrought crowd-pleaser that soars with rousing music and plenty of pathos. There have been four remakes since the original 1937 film and while the story does hit many of the expected beats that line up with the previous iterations, Cooper and crew are able to find just the right notes to deftly bring this timeless tale up to date. Anchored by strong chemistry between the leads and some admirable technical aspects behind the camera, this awards season contender may have what it takes to score some serious Oscar gold next February.

Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a hard-drinking country singer whose best days are seemingly behind him until he meets a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) in a burlesque bar one evening. Blown away by her raw talent, Maine invites her on tour and after a guest performance that brings down the house, Ally begins to pursue her own music career first as a singer-songwriter and then later transitioning into pop superstardom. As a romance blossoms between the two, their relationship is constantly tested by the rigorous pressures of the music industry and by the personal demons that continually drive Maine to the bottle.

Given how much Lady Gaga’s real-life career mirrors the trajectory of Ally’s character in the film, she was a smart choice for the lead role and proves that she has more to bring to the table on top of her stunning vocals. Her performance, both in scenes on and off the stage, feels natural and unrestrained in a way that most big-screen debuts typically do not. She and Cooper form a bond that’s not only believable for their characters but also makes it easy to root for them as a couple too. A scene of confrontation between the two, during which ugly remarks are exchanged by one another, is hard to watch but played perfectly by the two performers.

While Cooper and Gaga play the rock stars in front of the camera, there’s also rock star talent behind the camera in the form of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, known for his work with director Darren Aronofsky. He captures the on-stage sequences with an immediacy that makes them jump off the screen and feel like we have a backstage pass to an exhilarating rock concert. There are plenty of other eye-catching moments off-stage as well, including an especially a captivating close-up of Ally sharing a first glance with Jackson in a bar; the flawless composition of that shot in particular makes it especially memorable.

Of course, a film like this that’s so entrenched in the music industry lives and dies by the quality of its original music and A Star Is Born certainly does not disappoint in that area. The obvious stand-out is the slow-burn duet “Shallow”, whose name is probably being etched into the Best Original Song trophy as we speak, but other cuts like “Maybe It’s Time” and “Always Remember Us This Way” seem to have tremendous staying power as well. The combination of music and melodrama makes for a predictable but ultimately enjoyable movie that marks a promising start to Cooper’s career as a director and to Gaga’s career as an actress.

Note: this film was originally released the first weekend in October; it now returns to theaters for a limited IMAX engagement.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Mortal Engines, starring Hera Hilmar and Hugo Weaving, is a post-apocalyptic tale set in a world where entire cities compete with one another for limited resources while mounted atop gigantic vehicles.
The Mule, starring Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, tells the true story of a World War II veteran in his 80s who became a drug courier for a dangerous Mexican cartel.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, starring Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld, brings everyone’s favorite webslinger back to the animated world as he teams up with other iterations of Spider-Man from alternate universes.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup