Tag Archives: Reel Views

At Eternity’s Gate

Iconic Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh has been the subject of several biopics over the years but none have captured his unique artistry more vividly than the excellent new film At Eternity’s Gate. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly director Julian Schnabel has rendered a portrait of the troubled visionary that is appropriately impressionistic and experimental in ways that Van Gogh himself may well have appreciated. Filled with vibrant landscapes and illuminating dialogue, this is a film that constantly searches for beauty and purity as it investigates the final years of a man who took a similar approach to crafting his own masterworks.

Willem Dafoe lends a committed and impassioned performance as the tormented artist, to whom we’re introduced in 1880s Paris where his impact in the local art community is almost nonexistent. On the suggestion of his pontifical peer Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), Van Gogh relocates to the rural town of Arles in the south of France, thanks to the financial support of his benevolent brother Theo (Rupert Friend). There, Vincent rediscovers the natural landscape and is inspired to create some of his most remarkable paintings but the insurmountable loneliness inevitably takes its toll as his inner demons threaten to get the best of him.

The most bold artistic choices from At Eternity’s Gate come courtesy of cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, who uses unconventional angles and point-of-view shots to share Van Gogh’s perspective with the audience. This unorthodox style may frustrate those looking for a more standard biopic but for me, the use of subjective camera to get inside the headspace of Van Gogh was both engrossing and enlightening. For example, a trip to an art museum, during which Van Gogh confesses in voiceover his reverence for his contemporaries as he gazes upon their works, is shot exclusively from low angles to illustrate how daunted he feels by his peers.

Schnabel, who is credited as a co-writer for the screenplay, also uses thoughtful dialogue to uncover aspects of Van Gogh’s psyche that seem applicable to artists working in any medium. Vincent conveys his compulsion to create to one of his subjects when he remarks “the faster I paint, the better I feel” and while not everyone who makes art does so with as much fervor as Van Gogh, the impulse nonetheless feels universal. In a conversation with a priest played by Mads Mikkelsen, he laments that he feels like a man out of time by suggesting “maybe God made me a painter for people who aren’t here yet.”

Portraying such a towering figure in the art history is an unenviable task and despite the age difference between Dafoe and the real-life subject, he crafts a performance that is effortlessly engaging from start to finish. Even though the actor’s portrayals of rage on-screen would seem compatible for an artist prone to fits of madness, Dafoe does an excellent job of sublimating outward anger into a more nuanced form of melancholy that unquestionably inspires empathy from the audience. At Eternity’s Gate is sensitive and exquisite depiction of a troubled master that is made both by artists and for artists.

Score – 4/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
A Madea Family Funeral, starring Tyler Perry and Cassi Davis, is the 11th and reportedly final entry in the popular Madea film series about a Georgia funeral that erupts into chaos as family secrets come to light.
Greta, starring Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz, tells the story of a young woman who becomes intertwined with an eccentric French piano teacher after a chance encounter.
Opening for a limited IMAX engagement is Apollo 11, the documentary that scored rave reviews at Sundance last month which documents the 1969 space mission that landed man on the moon.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Dreamworks closes out an impressively consistent trilogy with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, another stunningly animated adventure that serves as a fitting conclusion for fans of the series. While the story is a bit more conventional than those of the previous two films, this entry still has all of the elements that made its predecessors successful and adds notes of finality that distinguish it from the rest. Dean DeBlois has returned as the sole writer and director and his commitment to spearheading these projects has resulted in a trio of films that has bypassed the dips in quality that accompany even the most well regarded trilogies.

We return to the Viking village of Berk as the efforts of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his pet dragon Toothless to rescue captured dragons has resulted in their town becoming increasingly overpopulated. As Berk’s head chief, Hiccup makes it his mission to seek out the fabled “Hidden World,” a far away land that could serve as a safe haven for their fire-breathing compatriots. During his journey, Hiccup encounters the treacherous and cunning dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) as well as a brightly colored dragon nicknamed “Light Fury,” with whom Toothless becomes hopelessly infatuated.

The How To Train Your Dragon series has stood apart from its animated peers mainly due to the quality of its visual sensibility and The Hidden World is no exception to this. The film’s opening, in which Hiccup and his friends ambush a dragon raider’s cove, gets things off to a dazzling start as fire and fog battle in the background while swords clash in the foreground. The growing number of dragons on-screen also allows for creature design that grows richer the more time we spend in this world. But the high point is undoubtedly our first glances of the Hidden World, a bright and vivid landscape that calls back to the groundbreaking CG work of Avatar in the best ways possible.

As stunning as the animation is, the storytelling this time around is not quite up to the standard set by the previous two entries. Despite some deliciously devious voice work from Abraham, it’s difficult to disguise the fact that the villain and his motivations are hardly dissimilar from those of the previous film’s antagonist. Still, the introduction of romantic subplots for both Hiccup and Toothless create opportunities to take the story in both humorous and heartfelt directions. Toothless’ efforts to impress Light Fury with a mating dance result in the film’s biggest laughs while their synchronized movements across the night sky recall the affectionate space dance from Pixar’s WALL-E.

Returning to contribute music to the film, composer John Powell brings back some of the series’ most memorable musical motifs while adding new themes that augment the emotion underneath each of their accompanying scenes. The film also has sonic delights in its accomplished sound design as well, which brings to life the flapping of dozens of dragons’ wings as they maneuver through the air. As a satisfying ending to a family-friendly entertainment that has always had its sights set higher, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World passes with flying colors.

Score – 3.5/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Fighting with My Family, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Florence Pugh, tells the real life story of professional wrestler Paige as she rises up the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Run The Race, starring Mykelti Williamson and Frances Fisher, is a faith-based feature co-produced by Tim Tebow about two brothers who overcome hardship both on and off the football field.
Opening at Cinema Center is Academy Award nominee Cold War, a historical period drama from Poland about a musical director who discovers and subsequently falls in love with a young singer.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Palace

Screening this weekend only at Cinema Center, the new drama Palace is the remarkable feature debut from Taylor University graduate Andrew Paul Davis about the strength of communal bonds among turbulent times. Shot entirely in Indiana (Grant County, specifically) with a $10,000 budget, the film has a clean and professional look that maintains a grounded aesthetic while also finding the unexpected beauty in its surroundings. With a tapestry of richly realized characters, Davis creates an authentic and vivid portrait of Hoosier life that is rarely seen clearly in either independent or mainstream cinema.

The narrative circulates around numerous locals with whom we spend varying amounts of time but the story predominantly centers around three central figures. We first meet Chris (Todd Bruno), an aimless auto mechanic trying to overcome the hang-ups of everyday life by creating a political movement within his community. Then we spend time with Chuck (Joe Martyn Ricke), a lonely retiree who drowns the sorrow of insurmountable medical bills with nightly beer pitchers at his local bar. We’re also introduced to Alexa (Emily Sweet), a music education major at a local college who has trouble finding an audience for her up-and-coming hip-hop trio.

What I appreciated most about Palace is the way that Davis uses his ensemble cast to place characters in settings where we may only see them once but the possibility of seeing them again is always in play. For instance, we first meet a character who is rude to Chris at his job but when that same character is the only person to attend Chris’ political meeting, their relationship is completely recontextualized. Much like the work of Terrence Malick, Davis lets the trajectory of the story ebb and flow with the feelings and mood of the characters, which can take things into territory that is darker at times and more light-hearted in others.

The screenplay, also written by Davis, investigates the ways that all of these characters with differing backgrounds and circumstances are trying, often desperately, to form connections with one another. Whether it’s Chris posting videos online trying to convey his political affiliations or Chuck sitting down with a table of strangers in a bar to start conversation, there is an inescapable loneliness that permeates most of the film. Amid this heartbreak, however, there are notes of humor that balance the tone, as can be found in the back-and-forth banter between Chris and his co-worker as they shoot a game of HORSE during sunset.

The use of music, both diegetic and non-diegetic, is varied in terms of the genres that it invokes but this mixture allows for different insights into whichever character is in focus at the moment. Though their musical performance styles couldn’t be more different, both Chuck and Alexa have found comfort in expressing themselves through their music and their passion gives the film an extra layer of soulfulness. With plenty of heart and compassion at its core, Palace is a bittersweet love letter to rural Indiana from a promising young filmmaker who will no doubt have a prolific career ahead of him.

Score – 4/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Alita: Battle Angel, starring Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz, is the latest special effects spectacle from Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez about a scientist who brings a human cyborg hybrid to life.
Isn’t It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth, follows a young woman who is hit in the head and wakes up in a world that mimics the tropes of a PG-13 rated romantic comedy.
Happy Death Day 2U, starring Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard, revisits the Groundhog Day-esque slasher in which a young girl keeps reliving the same day repeatedly after being killed by a masked assailant.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

When The Lego Movie was released in 2014, it was an overwhelming success with both audiences and critics which used the popular toy line as a jumping off point to tell an amusing and visually inventive story. 5 years and 2 spin-offs later, a direct sequel is now upon us but unfortunately, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part does not recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle success of its predecessor. Despite investigating childlike concepts of creativity and playtime, the first film felt relatively mature in its ideas and execution. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the sequel’s attempt to cater more to younger audiences, it’s a creative decision that undoubtedly weakens the film’s comedic thrust.

Set 5 years after our hero Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) saves Bricksburg from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), the Duplo invaders have since turned their idyllic city into a post-apocalyptic wasteland renamed Apocalypseburg. A new alien threat emerges as General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) kidnaps Emmet’s girlfriend Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) along with other citizens of their town and takes them far away to the Systar System. After Emmet crosses paths with intergalactic hero Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt) and his crew of talking velociraptors, they launch a rescue mission to recover their friends from the shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish).

The Lego Movie‘s directing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have returned to write this follow-up but in the director’s chair this time around is Mike Mitchell, who helmed the Dreamworks hit Trolls a few years back. This change might seem inconsequential but the impact is evident, as the overbearingly bright color palette and more juvenile tone of that film seems to be on full display for The Lego Movie 2. The story is generally one-dimensional until the third act, during which its message about altruism amid trying circumstances is laid on so thick that I felt like I was getting sprayed with a pathos fire hose.

With their work on the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Jump Street films, Lord and Miller have established their own brand of meta humor that pokes fun at the tropes of their respective franchises. They use the same approach with the screenplay this time around, as when Rex Dangervest unveils his heroic tools like the CPD (Convenient Plot Device) and the Implausitron. While they do occasionally land some nice one-liners in the process, the jokes on a whole just don’t seem as fresh as in Lord and Miller’s previous work. Perhaps I’ve grown a bit weary of self-aware humor as of late but it’s also possible that the writing duo just didn’t put quite as much effort in this time around.

The film also relies more heavily on pop music and musical numbers to keep the energy high but nothing quite matches the infectious exuberance of The Lego Movie‘s “Everything Is Awesome.” There is an attempt to recreate the first film’s earworm in the appropriately titled “Catchy Song” but its claim that “this song is gonna get stuck inside your head” feels like more a threat than an invitation. Beck and the comedy trio The Lonely Island fare better on an end credits song that may be the film’s peak in terms of comedic innovation. Sadly, it’s a reminder of the lost opportunities that precede it which make The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part a mild disappointment.

Score – 2.5/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Dern, tells the tale of a vengeful snowplow driver up against a drug cartel after his son is murdered in their Rocky Mountains hometown.
The Prodigy, starring Taylor Schilling and Jackson Robert Scott, centers around a mother who begins to suspect that her brilliant young son may be possessed by supernatural forces.
What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson and Tracy Morgan, is a gender-swapped remake of the Mel Gibson film What Women Want that follows a woman who is able to hear men’s inner thoughts.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

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

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