WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR: Did Mr. Rogers Fail?

Did Mr. Rogers fail?

This question hangs heavy over Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie that is thankfully less of the hagiography I expected and more an examination of one man’s attempt to make a difference. But did he? I’m not just pulling that out of thin air – very early in the movie one of his friends asks that very same question.

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THE FIRST PURGE: A Searing Howl Of Exploitation Anger

The First Purge is a searingly angry film, a scifi movie whose subtextual messaging is so barely subtextual that the film plays less like an alternate future than a prescient look at the day after tomorrow. The film is a howl of rage not at an imaginary Purge but at the slow and deliberate genocide being visited upon black and brown families in our country today, right now, a genocide carried out by cops and ICE and broken social service systems that not only devalue black and brown suffering, but possibly sees it as a perk.

If that’s a big statement to make about the fourth Purge movie, the fourth Purge movie is a big statement. As the blazingly political fourth film in a series, The First Purge is filled with the DNA of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, a movie that modeled its ape uprising scenes on footage of the Watts Riots. As a die-hard Apes fan this is not a comparison I make lightly; I don’t think The First Purge is as good as Conquest (screenwriter James DeMonaco is definitely no Paul Dehn), but it’s a descendant of that movie, and like Conquest I think The First Purge will play stunningly to future audiences who won’t quite be able to believe a movie this nakedly political and angry was also an exploitation quickie.

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JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM Review – Same Shit, Different Dinosaur

This review contains spoilers

Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom is so dumb it would have voted for Trump. It’s a movie so dumb that its own premise doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it only gets worse from there. The script, by noted bad filmmakers Derek Connelly and Colin Trevorrow, pulls back from the wanton cruelty of the last film but still is entirely incapable of showing the slightest amount of heart. The Jurassic World films are simply sociopathic.

Director JA Bayona at least brings visual chops to the film, unlike Jurassic World, which was flat and boring to look at. Bayona seems to have studied Spielberg frame by frame, and many of the film’s best sequences – the end of the first act island escape, for instance – has the look of vintage Spielberg. But it doesn’t have the feel; Bayona is utterly unable to evoke the actual emotion and joy that Spielberg gets into every frame of his adventure films. Bayona’s Spielberg stuff is a simulacra, a golem of Spielberg that walks and talks but has no soul. Continue reading “JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM Review – Same Shit, Different Dinosaur”

HEREDITARY Is The Camp Classic Of 2018

This contains full spoilers for Hereditary

Stephen King famously dislikes Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. As I watched Hereditary I thought a lot about King’s problems with the portrayal of Jack Torrance in that movie: “When we first see Jack Nicholson, he’s in the office of Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, and you know, then, he’s crazy as a shit house rat. All he does is get crazier.”

There’s something similar happening with Toni Collette’s Annie in Hereditary. By the end of the movie she’s a raging crazy person in boots and a nightgown, but it’s not that much of a distance from where she starts out at the beginning of the film. Now, I know that’s part of the point – much of what writer/director Ari Aster is doing in this movie is talking about the transmission of generational trauma – but what this means functionally is that Collette, and the movie around her, very quickly get to 11 on their amplifiers. This is a movie that gets broad very fast, and as a result I spent a lot of time not quite sure if I should be laughing as much as I was.

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a trifle. Solo is a puff pastry of a movie. Solo is a lark. But none of those things are inherently bad, and in fact they’re kind of refreshing. In the main Star Wars saga we get movies about the big, dramatic moments in galactic history. In Rogue One we got a movie about a small but vital moment in galactic history. In Solo we get a fun heist with some enjoyable double crossing and reversals that has plenty of connections to the larger Star Wars universe but that is more interested in exploring small parts of relationships rather than big pieces of canon.

It definitely feels like a prequel, but not to Star WarsSolo ends in a way that seems to be setting up a major storyline for some future media (a sequel? A cartoon? A series of comics? Masters of Teras Kasi 2?), and it expands out the criminal underworld of Star Wars enough to offer space for all sorts of other spin-offs. There is always a small universe problem plaguing the Star Wars films – everybody talks about the same six planets, after all – but I actually think Solo carves out enough new space (and illuminates existing space in enough interesting ways) to give the Star Wars universe a little extra breathing room.

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Heavy Spoiler Review

This contains complete spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, and begins spoiling right from the first sentence.

There will likely be more from me about this movie in the days ahead, but I think that the structure and the form of the film make it hard to write about properly before the sequel is released.

This is your last chance to turn around.

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LOVE, SIMON Review

I’m a middle aged straight cis white guy, so Love, Simon isn’t my story. But at the same time I found Love, Simon to be a story I could identify with deeply, personally and immediately, because Love, Simon is a truly human story with truly human concerns. For me this movie rebuts the silliness of retrograde white male issues with onscreen representation skewing away from us – if the movie is good and you’re open-hearted, even the most specifically identity-based story can speak to everyone in some way.

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BLACK PANTHER: Tradition in Turmoil

“Tradition!”

So sang Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof, and his cry also echoes across the plains of Wakanda in Black Panther, a movie so rich with complex themes that pulling out one or two of them for discussion is daunting and feels like a disservice to the whole. But the tension between tradition and modernity is one of the driving forces behind the film, and in the space between these two forces is where director Ryan Coogler finds a way to the future.

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MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS And The Impossibility Of Justice

Walking into Murder on the Orient Express – the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s hyper-famous detective story – I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s 2017, after all, and big budget movies are generally spectacle these days. The trailers certainly promised lots of CGI, and perhaps even some two-fisted action. I’m no purist – I read Orient Express in high school, during a period when I discovered detective novels aren’t for me – but I couldn’t imagine a modern adaptation of this work would feel like anything but bloated bombast.

So imagine my surprise when the movie ended up being rather small scale and even intimate, with the camera crowded into corners of sleeping compartments and often peering down from overhead. Yes, there’s plenty of CGI – every establishing shot looks like Star Wars – but Kenneth Branagh’s take on Christie keeps the scope small and most of the action mental.

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Review: THOR RAGNAROK

This is all spoilers.

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most unusual blockbusters in recent years because it answers a question that has been haunting the edges of Hollywood’s latest round of overinflated, unasked for franchises: how do you finish out a trilogy of films about which nobody gives a single shit?

We can sit here and argue the relative merits of Thor and Thor: The Dark World all day long, but I think that we have to agree that these films are probably the least of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe works, and that out of all the MCU movies they’re the most like the sort of forced franchise that the public can’t really get worked up about (see the currently collapsing Dark Universe for an example of the forced franchise phenomenon reaching the end of its life cycle). Out of the initial wave of MCU characters, Thor had the most intriguing and offbeat source material, and yet it somehow never quite worked onscreen. Loki popped more than Thor or any of the Asgardian side characters. The movies made some money but never captured the popular imagination in a meaningful way; in comic book terms they’re the issues in a crossover event that you buy out of a weird materialistic sense of obligation.

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