Tag Archives: 2022

The Fabelmans

On a 1999 episode of his revered series Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton once asked Steven Spielberg about a connection that he saw between Spielberg’s parents and a moment in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Recalling that Spielberg’s mother was a musician and his father was an engineer, Lipton remarks that the aliens’ attempt to communicate with humans through a computer generating musical tones could be a metaphor for how Spielberg tried to reach his parents through their divorce. Spielberg is surprised not only that Lipton put this together but that he himself hadn’t either until that very moment. All great filmmakers put pieces of themselves within their stories but with his 34th movie The Fabelmans, Spielberg finally tells his most personal story yet: his own.

The film revolves around young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), a stand-in for Spielberg, who we first meet as he heads into a movie theater with his mom Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and his dad Burt (Paul Dano) to see 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Sammy is frightened but entranced by a train crash setpiece towards the film’s conclusion, which he attempts to recreate with a model train set and 8mm camera at home. So begins Sammy’s fascination with filmmaking, which continues into his teenage years as he makes silent pictures with his fellow Boy Scouts and archives his high school class’ beach-set Senior Ditch Day. But while shooting footage of his family on a camping trip, Sammy uncovers evidence of an affair that has seemingly eluded others in real life but can’t escape his watchful camera.

The Fabelmans doesn’t quite have enough conflict to justify its stout 151-minute runtime but it has a handful of knockout scenes where Spielberg and his co-writer Tony Kushner make the most of their decades-long collaboration. One such moment occurs early on, with young Sammy projecting his first movie onto his hands as a way of seeing it but also as a visual metaphor for his desire to control his initial fear of the sequence. Another juxtaposes a shared line of dialogue between Sammy and his father during two different conversations, spliced together with a playful cut which underlines that the subject of the latter conversation is a film editing machine. Elsewhere, Judd Hirsch and David Lynch pop up in small but unforgettable roles that pepper the film with gruff wisdom that Sammy is able to apply to his life and work.

Spielberg also uses The Fabelmans as a way to explore the alienation he felt as part of a Jewish family who moved around routinely and sometimes ended up in places where they weren’t well-received due to their faith. This presents itself in more subtle ways when Sammy is younger, as when he notices that their house is one of the few darkened ones among a sea of Christmas-lit homes in their neighborhood. But more blatant antisemitism reveals itself during his high school years and while it’s difficult to watch Sammy be the target of bigoted bullying, the ways that he thwarts his cruel classmates’ efforts are unexpected and empowering. There is some respite with a love interest played by Chloe East, who is a devout Christian but finds something ineffably inviting about Sammy.

In terms of performances, Michelle Williams certainly has the most room to play as idiosyncratic matriarch Mitzi, whose antics suggest mental health issues that are touched upon but not thoroughly explored. However, Williams is a tremendously talented actress and even if this role calls for her to act a bit more broadly than she typically does, it’s a bit of a joy to watch her cut loose some. On the other end of the spectrum, Paul Dano is much more restrained here than he was as his raving Riddler character from The Batman earlier this year, though he’s more unmemorable as a result. This is obviously a breakout role for the young Gabriel LaBelle and he makes the most of the opportunity without pushing things too hard. He channels a young Spielberg effortlessly, further cementing The Fabelmans as a master moviemaker’s most personalized statement yet.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming to theaters this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Violent Night, a holiday action comedy starring David Harbour and John Leguizamo depicting Santa Claus’ attempt to thwart a group of mercenaries as they attack the estate of a wealthy family on Christmas Eve.
Also coming only to theaters is I Heard The Bells, a Christmas movie starring Stephen Atherholt and Rachel Day Hughes which tells the inspiring story behind the writing of the titular beloved Christmas carol and its author, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Streaming on Netflix is Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a romantic drama starring Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell adapting D. H. Lawrence’s firebrand novel about an unhappily married aristocrat who begins a torrid affair with the gamekeeper on her husband’s country estate.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Menu

Comedian Patton Oswalt has a hilarious bit titled “Great Food Is Cooked By Psychos”, in which he equates his past love for out-there authors and musicians to his recent adoration with worryingly eccentric chefs. It’s a notion that HBO’s Succession director Mark Mylod and The Onion alums Seth Reiss and Will Tracy must have had in mind when crafting the razor-sharp black comedy The Menu. As one would hope, the jokes in the film cut a bit deeper than “hey, isn’t it funny how tiny the portions are at fancy restaurants?” and get into why this kind of snobby subculture continues to thrive. When the movie starts to infuse more thriller and horror elements, it can sometimes get a bit out of its depth but overall, this is a devilishly fun dish.

We meet Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) as they board a boat with 10 others who are also traveling to Hawthorne, a luxury restaurant situated on a private island. Each couple is paying $2500 to savor a meal made by idiosyncratic celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) and his slavishly devoted kitchen staff. When the group arrives, they’re given a tour of the grounds by austere maître d’ Elsa (Hong Chau) before heading inside the lavishly designed restaurant. Chef Slowik’s introduction and the amuse-bouche seem normal enough but with each subsequent course, his preambles get stranger and the mood in the dining room gets more tense. Even though fanboy Tyler is still enraptured by the experience, Margot’s unwillingness to eat any of the prepared food draws Slowik’s ire and curiosity.

Pretentious foodies and the ultra-rich may make for soft targets in a satire but The Menu serves them their just desserts just the same. When the guests first arrive, the mood is not dissimilar from an Agatha Christie whodunnit but as the night goes on, the film turns into more of a playful dark comedy about the kinds of people who would pay this much for food. There’s the Anton Ego-esque food critic and her obsequious editor, a trio of techbros, a washed up actor with his assistant and a businessman and his wife, who converse as if they’re enjoying soup and breadsticks at Olive Garden. Even before Slowik sardonically dispenses with moral judgements about who these people are and why he suspects they’ve come, it’s clear none of them actually care about Slowik’s cooking in the first place.

But Margot wasn’t Tyler’s originally intended guest, which seems to concern Elsa right away and is brought to Slowik’s attention shortly after, so she is immediately seen as being outside of this typically sealed system. Fiennes and Taylor-Joy are outstanding scene partners as the chef calls Margot back to the kitchen for a series of terse conversations where they poke and prod at one another to gain understanding of their respective mindsets. Editor Christopher Tellefsen cuts these jagged-edge exchanges with a serrated knife but when the night gets more twisted, he moves to a butcher’s knife — punctuated by Slowik’s loud claps to introduce courses — to savor the intensity of the moment. Obviously, there are tantalizing (and occasionally ludicrous) plot developments you’ll want to avoid knowing specifics about going into the movie but suffice it to say, there are some delectable turns peppered throughout the film.

As much as this is a cheeky parable about the 1% and the people who serve them, The Menu is obviously a movie about the art of preparing food and all the emotions that come along with it. There is a scene of catharsis in this movie that recalls last year’s transcendent Pig, a film which is also set in the high-end restaurant scene but uses it as a way to gain understanding into how the characters live their lives once the meal is over. For most of its runtime, The Menu isn’t nearly that earnest and its primary aim is to skewer its band of obscenely rich patrons. As such, it’s a more superficial effort and not as satisfying as a movie that has more interest in its characters. But like a plate of burger and fries from your favorite fast food spot, The Menu will fill you up and put a smile on your face.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming to theaters this weekend:
The Fabelmans, starring Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, is a coming-of-age drama from Steven Spielberg about a teenager growing up in post-World War II era Arizona who aspires to become a filmmaker soon after discovering a shattering family secret.
Strange World, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid, is an animated sci-fi adventure following a family of explorers whose differences threaten to topple their latest and most crucial mission in the uncharted and treacherous land of Avalonia.
Devotion, starring Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell, is a biographical war drama which tells the true story of a pair of elite fighter pilots who became the U.S. Navy’s most celebrated wingmen during the Korean War.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

When news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing shook the world in August of 2020, Black Panther director and co-writer Ryan Coogler was already deep into development on the sequel for his massive superhero hit. Somehow, Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole were not only able to completely rewrite their screenplay around the absence of their franchise’s lead protagonist but were able to turn it in the following spring for filming. Between Chadwick and covid, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was beset with so many creative and logistical challenges that it’s something of a miracle that a finished product actually emerged from the murky waters of uncertainty. It’s neither the cultural phenomenon nor the MCU high point that its predecessor was but it’s a noble effort to pick up the pieces after an unexpected tragedy.

Our story opens with tech wizard Shuri (Letitia Wright) frantically trying to synthesize cures for her ailing brother T’Challa (Boseman, in archival footage) before hearing that he succumbed to his illness. After mourning the loss of their king, Wakanda sends Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to the United Nations on their behalf to discuss how the trade of vibranium, their most valued resource, can continue. Among parties interested in said resource is Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the powerful leader of an underwater kingdom who threatens Ramonda and Shuri with war if they don’t find the scientist responsible for creating a vibranium-detecting machine. Shuri and fearless General Okoye (Danai Gurira) tap CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) for help in seeking out the one Namor demands in order to stave off conflict with his humanoid soldiers.

Movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t known for their brevity as is and at 161 minutes, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is second only to the 3-hour Avengers: Endgame in terms of runtime length within the now 30-film series. At points, it undoubtedly feels its length but for a movie that’s so overstuffed, it cultivates a handful moments that are nonetheless stunning and stand toe-to-toe with the best material in the first Black Panther. Every scene dealing with the passing of Boseman, from the modified Marvel Studios card that honors his legacy to the divine end credits featuring Rihanna’s stirring single “Lift Me Up”, is handled with intelligence and utmost respect to the late actor’s memory. MCU fans have been trained to stay through and after the credits for what is typically a pair of extra scenes; audiences should note that there is only one such scene this time around but it’s absolutely unmissable.

Thematically, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever struggles to pack the formidable punch of its predecessor, which seamlessly incorporated the quandary of isolationism vs. globalism within its narrative. Black Panther was also a landmark film for Afrofuturism but now that we’ve already seen Wakanda in multiple MCU entries, this world doesn’t feel quite as magical as when we first laid eyes upon it. While the undersea nation of Talokan hasn’t been seen on screen up to this point, the conception and aesthetic of it simply isn’t on par with how immaculately Wakanda was conceived for the first film. It also doesn’t help that trailers for next month’s highly anticipated Avatar: The Way of Water, a film that also features submerged CG blue people, have been running in front of this movie and upstaging it with visual effects that are quite literally second-to-none.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the final film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which also includes 8 TV series and 2 one-off holiday specials. Even for a moderate Marvel movie fan as myself, it’s getting to be quite a bit and I’m beginning to question how much creative satisfaction can be gleaned from a media franchise that has inevitably repeated its own concepts. It could also be that the current “Multiverse Saga” era of storytelling feels more disjointed than the previous “Infinity Saga”, which set up the Infinity Stones as interstellar MacGuffins for our heroes to snatch from big baddie Thanos. After this film, I don’t see how it or movies like Black Widow or Eternals will fit into this overarching storyline but I suppose we’ll all have to keep watching to find out. Regardless of how Black Panther: Wakanda Forever works into the master plan, it’s another reliably exciting and occasionally moving heroes and villains tale.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters is The Menu, a horror comedy starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy following a young couple as they travel to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the celebrity chef has prepared a lavish menu with some shocking surprises.
Also coming to theaters is She Said, a based-on-a-true-story drama starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan depicting the pair of New York Times reporters who broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct allegations.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Spirited, a musical comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell retelling Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol about a miserly misanthrope who is taken on a magical journey of self-reflection the night before Christmas.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

When Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was released 15 years ago, it skewered music biopics like Walk The Line and Ray so thoroughly that the subgenre was in danger of ever recovering. The comedy went on to inspire a fake trailer for a real music icon a few years later, a three-minute clip for a movie dubbed Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. But as the straight-faced music biopic came back with commercial hits like Bohemian Rhapsody and Elvis, so has the satire of the same subgenre. 12 years after the Funny or Die clip that teased a tongue-in-cheek look at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s life and career, we now have a full-length feature to match. Expanding from his original comedy short, director and co-writer Eric Appel throws a bushel of comedy concepts into his directorial debut with predominantly ripe results.

After an uneasy childhood with his father and mother (played by Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson, respectively), Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) moves away from home and tries to make it on his own as a musician. Making bologna sandwiches for his roommates one day while “My Sharona” plays on the radio, inspiration strikes and he replaces the original words with silly lyrics of his own. His newfound proclivity for parody songwriting catches the ear of Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), an eccentric radio broadcaster who offers to manage “Weird Al” (a stage name he comes up with for his new client) in his burgeoning career. The duo find that when Al spoofs a song, the original artists benefit from an increase in record sales and when Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) notices this “Yankovic Bump” phenomenon, she decides she wants in.

Where Walk Hard covered a fictional music icon in Dewey Cox, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story involves an artist who’s not only still alive but is still making music — a reminder: stay through all the end credits for some extra yuks. While the ludicrous exaggerations and hilarious falsehoods about how the real-life Al rose to fame are naturally the funniest aspects of the film, separating them from the nuggets of truth is good fun too. Some of the movie’s events, from a young Al becoming inspired to pick up the accordion from a door-to-door salesman to his first recording being done in a public bathroom, are actually true to life. On the other hand, one can assume a pool party Al attends with all manner of personal idols from drag queen Divine to surrealist artist Salvador Dalí didn’t quite occur as portrayed on-screen.

As ridiculous a scene as this seems, music biopics still stretch artistic license and try to get away with a milder version of these “fortuitous meetup” moments in their films. Weird also goofs on the “eureka!” beat to which we’ve become accustomed, a bit of dramatic irony where we in the audience know even more than our protagonist just how impactful a moment of inspiration will be for their journey. Not only does Al stare at a packet of bologna with growing intensity but the title words of “My Sharona” repeat over and over as he does, reminding us just how ham-fisted these “made-for-movie” moments can be. Some of the more broad comedy, like a subplot involving Al rescuing Madonna from the clutches of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, recalls the antics of real-life Al’s foray into movies with his 1989 cult classic UHF.

Adapting a fake trailer into a 100-minute movie comes with expected obstacles and there are points where Weird makes a better case for itself as an hour-long comedy special as opposed to a full-fledged film. Even though he’s thumbing his nose at the fall from grace and subsequent redemption arc we see in these narratives, Appel runs low on steam in the third act before landing things nicely with a final scene that sums things up in suitably outlandish fashion. When people watch comedies, they may note while watching the points at which the story gets in the way of the laughs but in retrospect, what matters most is the sequences where the humor truly clicks. Those who like their biopics to stick close to the facts will wince throughout Weird: The Al Yankovic Story but those who jive with “Weird Al” Yankovic’s playfully irreverent spirit will eat it up.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a Marvel superhero movie starring Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o about the leaders of Wakanda fighting to protect their nation against invading forces from a hidden undersea city after King T’Challa’s death.
Streaming on Netflix is My Father’s Dragon, an animated fantasy starring Jacob Tremblay and Gaten Matarazzo about a young runaway who searches for a captive dragon on Wild Island and finds much more than he could ever have anticipated.
Continuing at Cinema Center is Moonage Daydream, a documentary about rock iconoclast David Bowie compiled of live concert footage and previously unreleased footage from Bowie’s personal archives.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Tár

The cultural conversation around “separating the art from the artist” has been around for decades but the public discourse surrounding the philosophy has been especially fervent over the past few years. How much of the messiness of one’s personal life is permissible to spill into their professional creative work? At what point do we deem their improprieties too great a liability to continue to support one’s art, no matter how essential it may seem to be? Does a pattern of ostracism or vigilantism create a chilling effect for creators to speak openly and honestly in public forum and stifle artistic expression? Should the works of those artists whose misdeeds reach criminal level be expunged? The new film Tár doesn’t just wrestle with these questions; it deepens their meaning and gives us a new narrative upon which to consider our answers.

Tár tells the story of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic with an unparalleled résumé so voluminous that it would likely spill off the bookplate of a sheet music stand. She’s led her orchestra through all of Mahler’s symphonies, save his sweeping number 5, which will be recorded live before an audience and pressed to vinyl. Tár’s day-to-day is guided by her personal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and her nights are spent in a spacious apartment with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), who is also the principal first violin player in the Philharmonic. The addition of young Russian cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer) to the orchestra and the emergence of incriminating allegations against Tár from a former conducting apprentice lead to mounting pressures that threaten to knock the renowned maestro off her raised podium.

Lydia Tár is not a real person but from the opening moments of his first film in 16 years, writer/director Todd Field presents a profile so precise that some may be fooled into thinking this is a biopic. Tár throws a lot at its audience from the outset — even aside from the full set of opening credits and acknowledgements — but that’s by design. Tár is a larger-than-life figure whose body of work is meant to be as intimidating as her physical body is in the tight low angle shots where her arms span the frame. This is masterful filmmaking covering a gargantuan figure that is told through a symphony of moments so small, they can sometimes be easy to miss on the first pass. These carefully orchestrated phrases and movements lead to a breathtaking finale as salient and satisfying as any conclusion I’ve seen for a film so far this year.

In an opening interview, Tár speaks on the grave importance of time to her work and the same can be said for the way that Field chooses to arrange and pace this fall from grace story about assiduous ambition and accrued arrogance. Some scenes, like a mesmerizing one-take during a teaching session at Juilliard, flow gracefully for minutes at a time, while the sequences of the orchestra playing tend to be cut at a quicker tempo to match the dynamics of the pieces they’re performing. With editor Monika Willi, Field establishes a storytelling method that is pensive and patient, more indicative of masters from East Asian cinema than any modern American filmmakers I can recall. The ambiguity and subtext that Field leaves for his audience to parse over reminded me of the way Lee Chang-dong or Wong Kar-wai trust their viewers to unpack the complexities of their stories.

Cate Blanchett has won two Academy Awards, the first for portraying chatty screen legend Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator and the second for her work as the manic protagonist of Blue Jasmine. While both are fine performances, they showcase more surface-level delights as opposed to the more considered and nuanced roles Blanchett has taken at other points in her career. Her work in Tár is truly the entire package and calling it the finest performance in her filmography doesn’t feel like a stretch at this point. Field says that he not only wrote his script with Blanchett in mind for the title character but that if she had turned down the project, he never would have made the movie. It’s certainly not every actor who has screenplays tailor-made for them but when directors and performers are working harmoniously at the highest levels, the results can be transcendent.

Score – 5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Armageddon Time, a coming-of-age story starring Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong about a teenager living in 1980s New York who is sent to his older brother’s private school after being caught using drugs with his friend.
Premiering on Netflix is Enola Holmes 2, a mystery sequel starring Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill continuing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s now detective-for-hire sister as she takes her first official case to find a missing girl.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Causeway, a psychological drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry about a soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury while deployed in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Black Adam

Swooping in to spoil spooky season, the latest addition to the DC Extended Universe exacerbates the franchise’s identity crisis that has existed since its inception with Man Of Steel in 2013. Though Black Adam had been in development years before that Superman flick kicked off the whole shared universe, it finally lands with its original star attached and truckloads of marketing in its wake. It’s often said that movie studios look to replicate the “Marvel formula” when creating new superhero films but with this new offering, it seems Warners took their cues from Sony’s Spider-Man Universe instead. Like Venom and Morbius, Black Adam has historically been depicted as a villain in the comics but for the purposes of the movies, now he’s an anti-hero who’s just misunderstood.

Our story begins around 2600 BC in the fictional city of Kahndaq, where Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is bestowed powers by the Council of Wizards from Shazam! to escape a power-hungry king. In present day, archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her crew conjure up the super-powered Teth-Adam while trying to track down an artifact known as the Crown Of Sabbac. Recognizing the oppressive crime syndicate Intergang as similar to the tyrannical forces he opposed thousands of years ago, Teth-Adam uses his powers to pick apart the mercenaries and liberate the people of Kahndaq. Concerned over the violent tactics that he uses to impose his will, the Justice Society of America, led by Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), look to set boundaries for the newly-awakened metahuman.

Johnson is one of the most bankable actors on the planet right now, so casting him in a movie from what is easily the most lucrative film genre at the moment makes overwhelming financial sense for Warner Bros. The issue is that his Black Adam is a joyless bore, utilizing none of the charm or charisma that turned wrestler The Rock into action star Dwayne Johnson. There are some one-liners that work in the film, dutifully delivered by Brosnan and Hodge, but they’re all fish-out-of-water punchlines where Black Adam is the butt of the joke. Adrianna’s son Amon, played by Bodhi Sabongui, is also meant to register as overly-exuberant comic relief but his fanboy giddiness while pitching catchphrases to Black Adam runs thin quite quickly.

Often, the secondary and tertiary characters are the most interesting ones that Black Adam has to offer but even they feel carbon-copied from existing superhero fare. The breadth and depth of Doctor Fate’s powers aren’t clearly conveyed but he shares enough in common with the MCU’s Doctor Strange that comparisons are inevitable. Justice Society of America newcomers Cyclone and Atom Smasher come across as retreads of Storm from the X-Men series and the Giant-Man from Marvel, respectively. Though these DC characters existed in comics well before their Marvel counterparts, this is the first time they’re appearing on screen and it’s hard not to think they’re late to the punch Additionally, the villain character played by Marwan Kenzari may take the crown as the DCEU’s most unconvincing antagonist.

Black Adam doesn’t reinvent the wheel as much as Johnson is endlessly touting that it does on social media but some of the action is more creatively violent than the DC movies have gotten to be in the past. Sure, there are bloodless fight scenes and bodies being flung in the air with no thought to how they might land but there are also moments of ruthlessness that are consistent with how the title character is set up. But director Jaume Collet-Serra uses the same brand of speed-ramped phantasmagoria that Zack Snyder popularized in his contributions to the franchise. Not all of the CG effects here look bad but the shots that do look especially unconvincing, recalling Johnson’s dreadfully-rendered Scorpion King character from The Mummy Returns over 20 years ago. Once Warners figures out how to implement Black Adam into their ever-expanding franchise, then he could serve as a nice counterpoint to the more straight-laced superheroes but his first time out is a dud.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Prey For The Devil, a supernatural horror movie starring Jacqueline Byers and Colin Salmon about a nun who prepares to perform an exorcism and comes face-to-face with a demonic force that has mysterious ties to her past.
Expanding to local theaters is Till, a biographical drama starring Danielle Deadwyler and Jalyn Hall follows a mother who vows to expose the racism behind her son’s brutal lynching while working to have those involved brought to justice.
Premiering on Netflix is Wendell & Wild, a stop-motion horror comedy starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele about two scheming demon brothers who enlist the aid of 13-year-old to summon them to the Land of the Living.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Halloween Ends

The leaves are changing to golden hues, the brisk air smells of Pumpkin Spice Latte, and that can only mean one thing: a new Halloween sequel is on Peacock. Whether Halloween Ends, the thirteenth installment in the Halloween franchise, will truly be the series’s last is still a bit of an open question, given how lucrative these films continue to be. But at the very least, it does seem to be the definitive end for the trio of films that writer/director David Gordon Green started in 2018 with legacy sequel Halloween and its 2021 follow-up Halloween Kills. As a trilogy capper, it wraps things up about as well as it could have and the quality level is consistent with the other two recent entries. If you were a fan of those two, then Ends is unlikely to disappoint. If, like me, you’ve been underwhelmed with this slasher series, then you may do better to select from the plethora of other recent quality horror titles for spooky season this year.

Halloween Ends picks up 4 years after the events of Kills, with the town of Haddonfield still traumatized from Michael Myers’s latest slaying spree and subsequent disappearance. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has since bought a house in town with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and is writing a memoir about her encounters with evil incarnate. Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) is doing his best to learn Japanese and got himself a new guitar to pluck around with. Everyone is just trying to move on. That includes Corey (Rohan Campbell), still tormented from a babysitting gig years ago that unexpectedly turned deadly during his watch. But as this series has proven over and over, evil never dies and Myers does eventually come out of hiding to wreak havoc on Halloween night once more and to finish his face-off with Laurie.

As much as Universal is touting Halloween Ends as a feature-length showdown between Michael and Laurie, most of the film’s narrative revolves around the relationship that develops between Corey and Allyson. Outside of their individual hangups — Corey has a dead-end job at a salvage yard, while Allyson gets overlooked for a charge nurse promotion because she won’t sleep with her boss — they both share pain related to how residents of Haddonfield see them. They’re local legends for the wrong reasons and diner-goers and bar patrons don’t miss an opportunity to remind them about every chance they get. Of course, their struggle mirrors the conflict Laurie has had with Michael all these years but Corey and Allyson being young and eager to leave town makes their cause easy to root for as well.

Thematically, Halloween Ends ponders the nature of evil, most notably in a monologue Laurie gives about external evil borne of negative circumstances and internal evil borne of one’s reaction to them. The idea that bullies, who show up in this film even more than its two direct predecessors, act negatively against others to poorly cope with their own struggles is not a new one. While the movie does shed new light on what becomes of the bullied when they decide to fight back, it doesn’t exactly tie in with how the rest of the franchise functions. In the very first Halloween, Michael Myers is a disturbed child who murders his babysitter for reasons we and he don’t fully understand. He comes back later as an adult and goes on a killing spree without an explanation of how he got that way. To quote Scream, “it’s scarier when there’s no motive.”

I have nothing against the slasher genre; I’ve enjoyed both X and Pearl from this year alone and recent reboots of Candyman and Hellraiser have worked for me, in addition to the subversive Happy Death Day entries. But I think it’s time to retire Michael Myers at this point. He’s had quite the run over the past six decades, with some great movies and not-as-great movies under his belt. Even as an embodiment of pure evil, to paraphrase series protagonist Dr. Loomis, he just isn’t much of an interesting character anymore. He’s a mute antagonist whose levels of physical strength and vulnerability have varied greatly over the years — and even sometimes within the same movie. If Halloween Ends inspires the beginning of a brand-new slasher series, or different kind of horror subgenre entirely, then this new trilogy will have served its purpose.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing exclusively in theaters is Black Adam, a DCEU superhero movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Aldis Hodge chronicling a super-powered being who is hungry for justice after being awoken from his Egyptian tomb after nearly five thousand years of imprisonment.
Also coming only to theaters is Ticket to Paradise, a romantic comedy starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts about two divorced parents who travel to Bali after learning that their daughter is planning to marry a man whom she has just met.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Raymond & Ray, a family dramedy starring Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke about two half-brothers who reunite at the funeral of their father, with whom both had a poor relationship.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Amsterdam

On its surface, Amsterdam has the hallmarks of a refined mid-budget studio film for which critics and cinephiles clamor routinely. Arriving at the beginning of the oft-competitive awards season, it’s helmed by an acclaimed writer/director in David O. Russell and sports an even more accomplished ensemble cast. It’s a movie about serious subjects that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is based on a true story (with wink-wink exceptions) that doesn’t slavishly adhere itself to the facts. Most importantly, it belongs to a group AMC refers to as Artisan Films, a term for pretty much any movie that leaps over the low bar of not being based on existing IP. Given all this pedigree, it’s a massive disappointment with sparks of genius that get snuffed out by an avalanche of dead-end plot points and a myriad of fussed-over characters.

After a “you’re probably wondering how I got here” prologue set in the early 1930s, Amsterdam flashes back to World War I where infantry doctor Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) meets fellow soldier Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). The brothers in arms are wounded during battle and treated by nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), whose eccentricities and magnetism draws the three of them together through wartime and afterwards when the trio move to Amsterdam together. After carefree years of dancing and palling around, Burt and Harold eventually leave for New York City, the former beginning his own medical practice and the latter becoming a lawyer. The death of their mutual commanding officer Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) brings them back together but a curious autopsy sends them on a chase for clues when they begin to suspect murder.

It’s about halfway through its runtime that Amsterdam finally focuses in on its real-life inspiration: the uncovering of a fascist political conspiracy by a group of oligarchs to overthrow FDR and install a dictator. While such a true story is worth investigating at feature length, the film gets way too bogged down with a cavalcade of detectives, spies, and hitmen to retain narrative cohesion. Familiar faces from Zoe Saldaña to Taylor Swift to Chris Rock show up to impart some passing notes on the storyline but don’t have a lasting impact beyond being recognizable. Most of the movie plays like a flittering hummingbird, rapidly whipping its pretty wings while staying roughly in the same place to sip on the nectar of vacuous words.

With films like The Fighter and American Hustle in his oeuvre, Russell has proven in the past that he can wield a star-powered cast but the story in Amsterdam simply gets away from him. Credited as the sole screenwriter, he gets too tangled up in knotty espionage threads and dubious romantic through lines to reach a clear set of themes that resonate. With a tighter screenplay, it’s possible that Russell’s brand of controlled chaos could have given this movie the verve that it needed to hum but without the right music, it’s just a cacophony of discordant allegros. The actors, which also include Oscar winners like Robert De Niro and Rami Malek, do what they can with the herky-jerky material and occasionally manifest moments of manic brilliance but ultimately, it all goes to pot.

I attended an IMAX screening of Amsterdam, a presentation typically reserved for big budget blockbusters due to the larger screen and enhanced sound, but I appreciate that 20th Century made it available in that format. Emmanuel Lubezki, the visionary cinematographer behind works like Birdman and The Revenant, brings forth signature touches like roving close-ups and extended takes to draw us into these characters. His camera also loves the faces of these movie stars and seems to revel in both their beauty and their imperfections. As social creatures, our eyes are drawn to faces and subconsciously, we go to the movies to study them and, hopefully, to learn something new about each other. It’s just a shame that Amsterdam has little to offer beyond that.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters and streaming on Peacock is Halloween Ends, a slasher sequel starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Andi Matichak that allegedly caps off the showdown between masked murderer Michael Myers and perpetual survivor Laurie Strode.
Streaming on Hulu is Rosaline, a romantic comedy starring Kaitlyn Dever and Isabela Merced which retells Shakespeare’s most well-known story from the point of view of Romeo’s titular ex-girlfriend, who Romeo first claims to love before he falls for Juliet.
Happening at Cinema Center from October 13-16 is the Hobnobben Film Festival, which will screen a festival-record 128 films over the four-day event. Go to hobnobben.org to learn more about the festival, including the full schedule and ticket information.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup