B+

'Captain America: Civil War' SPOILER review: How many superheroes is too many?

A fun ride from moment to moment, but Cap gets a bit lost in his own movie
<p>Captain America: Civil War</p>

Captain America: Civil War

Credit: Marvel

A review of Captain America: Civil War — designed, like my TV episode reviews, to be read after you've seen it, which means there will be many many spoilers — coming up just as soon as you try some of my date loaf...

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A

Review: Beyonce's amazing truthbomb turns emotional lemons into 'Lemonade'

HBO and Tidal give us our first look at one of 2016's biggest pop culture moments
Review: Beyonce's amazing truthbomb turns emotional lemons into 'Lemonade'
Credit: Warner Records/Columbia Records

Is it okay for a critic to say, “I respect this work of art, and I am not fully qualified to speak to the profundity of the text?”

Because that’s where I find myself with Beyonce’s Lemonade, a remarkable visual album that she released under a cloak of complete secrecy last night. HBO made the one-hour program available twice on their channel during their free-preview-weekend, and it was also available for 24 hours via HBO Now, the app that I have. I don’t have cable, and I don’t like cable. I want the right to consume things a la carte, and anything I can do to support that media model, I do. I will pay providers for content, but I want to do it the way I want to do it. Because it was on HBO Now, I’ve been able to watch the film repeatedly, stopping it, grabbing some stills from it. It may be gone tomorrow, but for now, I’m enjoying it, and part of the enjoyment is realizing that I’m not getting everything it’s doing, and I’ll need help to get there.

I look at this film, this collaboration between Beyonce Knowles Carter and a fistful of filmmakers including Mark Romanek, Kahlil Joseph, and Melina Matsoukas, and I am overwhelmed by it. It is powerful and it is personal, and it is full of cultural touchstones that are not mine. Tonight, I’ll be reading as much as I can about how other people are reacting to it because I’m genuinely curious. I would love to have it decoded and digested by writers who share more common cultural ground with Beyonce, and I am also excited to read how other people in my own position react, people coming at it from the outside. That is one of my favorite kinds of art, art that challenges me to adopt a perspective that is not my own. I can react to it in my way, and I know that my reaction is not universal. And yet, there are things about it that I found immediately moving, immediately pulling me in

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C

Review: 'Winter's War' looks pretty, but there's no reason for a 'Hunstman' sequel

I don't get this one at all
Review: 'Winter's War' looks pretty, but there's no reason for a 'Hunstman' sequel
Credit: Universal Pictures

Last week, I rewatched Snow White And The Huntsman, and then went back to read my review of the film. I think I liked it more the first time. I found myself impatient with it on a second viewing, and while I still think there is some terrific world-building in it, I just don’t care about the story the film tells. The one thing that it most certainly did not do was make me want to see a second part of that story. None of the characters grabbed me as a viewer, and the story wasn’t left in a place that asked any questions that felt like they needed to be answered.

But this is the age of the franchise, and so any story worth telling is obviously worth telling at least twice and hopefully as a trilogy with potential ancillary spin-offs, right? Sure, the original Grimm stories were folklore collected both for their cultural and their literary value, stories with clear beginnings, middles, and conclusions, stories built largely around moral metaphors or social mores, but what really matters is sequels. It’s telling that the director this time is Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the first film’s visual effect supervisor. This is his debut feature, and I’ll say this much for him: he certainly knows how to make a film look pretty, especially when there are visual effects involved. From scene to scene, there are some beautiful images in the fantasy world where this is set, but frustratingly, it never adds up to something that comes to life. This feels like terrific production design and costuming in search of a story worth telling.

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A+

Review: The Captain America trilogy comes to an amazing close with 'Civil War'

Thematically, dramatically, and visually, this is Marvel's finest hour so far
Review: The Captain America trilogy comes to an amazing close with 'Civil War'
Credit: Marvel Studios

My first political memory is of Watergate. I was too young to truly understand what was happening, but I was aware that the President of the United States had done something wrong, and the country was upset because of it. That may be why I’ve grown up with a healthy sense of skepticism towards authority, particularly when it comes to the idea that authority is always right. I’ve never believed that, and that attitude has served me well.

Truth be told, I wish that was not the case. I wish I could believe that our elected officials have our best interests at heart. I wish I believed that all policemen truly wanted to serve and protect our entire population equally. I wish I believed that the banks were designed to help us all financially. I wish I believed that the system was set up to allow all of us the same chances in this world, and that hard work was always rewarded and that making the right moral choice meant good things would happen. It is a constant effort to teach my children about the world without allowing my own cynicism about things to bleed through, and if anything, they have given me some hope that things can and will be better for them. One of the reasons I am excited to share Captain America: Civil War with my own kids is because I think it fully embodies the struggle I've dealt with my whole life regarding my feelings about authority and government, and it does so in a way that challenges the viewer without offering up easy answers.

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B

Review: Mike Flanagan's 'Hush' is slasher fare served up lean and mean

Sometimes it's enough just to get the basic moves right
Review: Mike Flanagan's 'Hush' is slasher fare served up lean and mean
Credit: Netflix

An isolated house in the middle of the woods. A young woman on her own. A man with a mask and a knife.

Taken individually, none of those things are particularly fresh to the horror genre, but taken together under the firm directorial hand of Mike Flanagan, they add up, making Hush a worthwhile sit for horror fans of all stripes. Flanagan is a talented filmmaker who has yet to have his breakout moment. His movie Oculus played the Toronto Film Festival, and I liked it when I saw it. Overall, it got solid reviews. Last year, I saw an early screening of Before I Wake, which was supposed to come out months ago. It got delayed, and I can understand why. It’s not really a horror film, and figuring out how to sell the movie for what it really is might be difficult. I like it as well, though, and I thought it reinforced that Flanagan is coming at things in his own way.

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A-

Review: Jon Favreau's 'Jungle Book' is a rich and rewarding family fable

Eye-popping effects and simple human charm make a winning combination
Review: Jon Favreau's 'Jungle Book' is a rich and rewarding family fable
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book has been adapted to film numerous times over the years. The 1942 live-action film, which you can see via Hulu Plus if you have it, remains beautiful and mysterious even now, while the 1967 Disney animated version is one of their most iconic films. Years ago, when I was still new to Los Angeles, there was a stretch of about 18 months where my writing partner and I shared an apartment with a married couple named Dave and Laura. Laura was a preposterously sweet woman, and she had a keen affection for Disney animation. In particular, she loved Mowgli and his gangly, lanky frame, all elbows and angles. About halfway through last night’s press screening of the new Jon Favreau version, I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking about how much Laura’s going to love Neel Sethi, who stars as Mowgli, because he looks like he was plucked right off of some animator's drawing board.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Disney’s new push to turn all of their animated films into live-action movies. It’s another way of strip-mining their own library, and the results have been wildly uneven so far. Cinderella, for example, struck me as a solid retelling of the original story, but there was nothing about Kenneth Branagh’s film that felt like live-action was essential or that illuminated the earlier Disney version of the story. It was fine, which is way more than I can say about the disturbingly ugly Alice In Wonderland that Tim Burton directed. Walking into The Jungle Book, I was worried that it would either be paint-by-numbers or that it would be a big empty style exercise, and instead, I walked away from it with one word running through my head repeatedly…

Magic.

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Director Mike Flanagan believes 'Hush' is scarier when you see it at home

One of horror's rising stars discusses his latest lean and mean thriller
Director Mike Flanagan believes 'Hush' is scarier when you see it at home
Credit: HitFix

One of the things I’m hearing from you guys is that you’re concerned about the amount of video versus the amount of writing that appears here at HitFix these days, and I wanted to quickly address that concern. I am, first and foremost, a writer. The purest expression of what I do comes when it’s just me speaking directly to you guys via the written word. We work in a new media landscape, though, and video is an important part of not only keeping the site going, but building it, which is always our goal.

When we decided to stop attending junkets and doing those five minute sound bite videos, we started pushing to invite guests to our studios instead so we could sit down for a longer conversation. The results have been better across the board, and it’s because a longer conversation is always going to be a better way to get to know someone and a better showcase for their thoughts about the work they’ve done. And honestly, I feel like a video interview is better than a print one because of things like body language and nuances in tone. It's better to present the person as they are, instead of imposing an editorial voice on them.

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A

Review: Linklater nails another anthropological comedy with 'Everybody Wants Some!!'

The Austin indie titan may be our best American behavioralist
Review: Linklater nails another anthropological comedy with 'Everybody Wants Some!!'
Credit: Paramount Pictures

If I had to estimate how many times I’ve seen Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused since it was released in 1993, I’d be willing to bet it’s over three dozen by now. I adore the film, and it’s one of those movies that has grown over time for me. The more I’ve gone back to it, the longer I’ve lived with it, the more I’ve found in it. That movie has a cast that was largely unknown at the time but that has gone on to look almost overstuffed with star power. It is a remarkable ensemble, and even the kids who didn’t go on to further work or bigger stardom did work that has aged beautifully.

I never got around to seeing a trailer for this one. In fact, it almost feels like Paramount’s sneaking it out. It just premiered at SXSW, and then I got invited to a press screening and read on the invite that the film was coming out the next day. Normally when films are treated like that by a distributor, it’s because they’re no good and the studio’s looking to minimize the damage, but that’s certainly not the case. Everybody Wants Some!! (I like the double exclamation points) is a direct mirror held up to Dazed & Confused, but with 23 years of experience under Richard Linklater’s belt.

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C-

Review: 'Batman v Superman' is noisy, busy, and too overstuffed to digest

If this is ground zero for the Justice League, we're not sure we want to join
Review: 'Batman v Superman' is noisy, busy, and too overstuffed to digest
Credit: Warner Bros

I live less than two minutes from Warner Bros., and to get anywhere, I have to drive by the studio, and every single poster spot on the side of the studio, normally occupied by four different movies and four different TV shows, is currently taken by Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. From my living room window, I can see the water tower at the center of the lot, which currently features the shield-and-cowl combination logo for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. In fact, it is impossible to look anywhere in that general direction or be in my car or be outside my house in Los Angeles without feeling like I’m being bludgeoned by the oh-so-urgent existence of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

Speaking as a fan of Man Of Steel and of Zack Snyder’s work in general, I am baffled by what I saw tonight. In one regard, it certainly feels like they delivered on the promise of that incredibly awkward and franchise-minded title. But I’m not sure how a filmmaker whose work normally speaks to me as clearly as Snyder’s does could deliver something that feels this confused, this impersonal, and this corporate. It is a confounding mess of a movie, and while there are individual sequences that I enjoyed as isolated moments, it is almost breathtakingly incoherent storytelling. Characters do what they do because the movie requires them to do it, not because they are behaving like characters at all. There’s no sense of voice to the film. I have no idea what I should think about Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman based on what I see here. They are all apparently blanks who simply exist to react without thought or purpose to whatever stimuli is presented to them. Structurally, there’s something fundamentally broken about the way this thing’s been built, and I have a feeling it’s going to take some time to really pull apart all of the mistakes that were made.

One thing’s clear: I don’t want the Justice League this movie promises.

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B+

Review: 'Pee-Wee's Big Holiday' is a gentle delight, both new and familiar

Director Paul Lee evokes earlier Pee-Wee outings while makng something fresh
Review: 'Pee-Wee's Big Holiday' is a gentle delight, both new and familiar
Credit: Netflix

A quick note: my computer finally gave up the ghost last week, and I’ve spent the past five or so days scrambling to get back up and running. I’ve never gone this long without posting at HitFix, not since we began the site, and it’s a disconcerting feeling to just watch pop culture flow by without having the tools be part of the conversation. It’s amazing how ingrained it is at this point, and even when I’m working as hard as I can, I still always feel like there’s more that I’d like to write and publish than I’m able to actually accomplish.

Case in point: I was hoping to publish this review last Friday night after my sons joined me and my girlfriend for an evening built around the Netflix premiere of Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, directed by John Lee. One of the things that excited me when they made the announcement about Lee as director is that he’s got a history of pretty wild conceptual comedy. I love his TV work. I think he’s been part of some of the most interesting and vital American comedy of the last five or ten years, working on Wonder Showzen, Inside Amy Schumer, and Broad City, among other things. There’s a whole generation of guys who helped make the really strange and vibrant TV comedy for channels like Adult Swim and Comedy Central who are making the jump to features now, and they seem hungry for it, ready and more than able.

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A

Review: 'Midnight Special' serves up a strangely beautiful parable on parenting

A very special little boy and a dangerous road trip done a different way
Review: 'Midnight Special' serves up a strangely beautiful parable on parenting
Credit: Warner Bros

A young boy who possesses strange and difficult-to-explain powers makes his way towards a mysterious rendezvous with his father doing everything he can to protect him from anyone who might stop him.

That's it. That's the basic plot of Midnight Special, and when you boil it down that far, it sounds like something familiar, something we've seen many times before. What makes the film sing is the extraordinary control exhibited by Jeff Nichols as a filmmaker at this point, especially when he's working with Michael Shannon, who has given some of his finest performances when working with Nichols.

That continues here. Michael Shannon plays Roy, and when we meet him, he's on the road with his childhood best friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and his little boy Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). It's not clear at first why they're running, where they're coming from, or where they're going, and Nichols does a very nice job playing with ambiguity here, definitely leaning towards the less-is-more school of storytelling. Even as the film concludes, there are plenty of questions, some of them big, some small, that are still unanswered, and it's perfectly acceptable.

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A

Review: Great performances make '10 Cloverfield Lane' a cut above most thrillers

Director Dan Trachtenberg makes an impressive debut with this closed-space thriller
Review: Great performances make '10 Cloverfield Lane' a cut above most thrillers
Credit: Paramount Pictures

If you walk into the theater expecting a direct sequel to Cloverfield, you may be disappointed, but I'd expect most audiences to be quite satisfied with the smart, character-driven thriller that is 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Economically told from the start, the film moves beautifully. This is a strong feature debut for Dan Trachtenberg, working from a script by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle, and a beautiful showcase for three very good actors. It is simple, it is direct, and it is impressive. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) flees her marriage after something happens with her husband, and as she's on the road, upset, she is in a terrible car accident. When she wakes up, she is in a bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman), a farmer, who tells her that there has been some sort of attack on the surface, and they are unable to leave now. There is one other person, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) in the bunker with them. Things go badly. That's pretty much it, and yet, using that very simple template, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers a terrific piece of entertainment, tense and smart and concise.

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F

Review: Sacha Baron Cohen hits comedy rock bottom in the awful 'Brothers Grimsby'

It's not often that someone this talented fails so completely
Review: Sacha Baron Cohen hits comedy rock bottom in the awful 'Brothers Grimsby'
Credit: Sony Pictures

Sacha Baron Cohen is a very smart, very funny man. One of the best parts of his publicity tour for The Brothers Grimsby has been hearing him give interviews out of character about his process when working on Da Ali G Show, Borat, and Bruno. The worst part of it, unfortunately, is the movie The Brothers Grimsby, which is an entirely laughless affair and easily the low point of Cohen's career so far.

No one is more shocked by my reaction to the movie than I am. I am an easy laugh. I'll admit it. I am predisposed to laughter. That's my natural state, my preferred condition. I love comedy. I love all forms of comedy. I love cerebral wordplay. I love silly physical slapstick. I love the gross. I love the esoteric. If you search through my collection, you'll find all kinds of things, and I love that. Every now and then, though, someone will take a big swing and miss completely, and it's almost fascinating to see what a total whiff The Brothers Grimsby is. From foundation to frosting, the entire thing is off, and the result is one of the most difficult sits I've had in a while. I didn't just sit without laughing; I found myself actively hating every choice, every new scene. It's miraculously bad. It is a case study in getting everything wrong, to such a degree that I have to think it's just a one-off. Nobody as talented as Cohen misses as completely as this unless they're really, really trying. Whatever else I might say about the film, I don't think Cohen was indifferent about it or phoning it in. He's trying as hard as he can here, which is part of what made me cringe.

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B-

Review: Tina Fey anchors 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' with intelligence and charm

Oh, look, Hollywood, here's what you should be doing with Tina Fey
Review: Tina Fey anchors 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' with intelligence and charm
Credit: Paramount Pictures

I'm not sure Tina Fey was meant to be a movie star.

She is, no question about it, a dazzling wit, and I think she can be very funny onstage as well. So far, though, Hollywood has not figured out what to do with Fey as a leading actress because she simply doesn't fit the cookie-cutter archetypes that so many actresses are forced to play, and it's left her in a weird place as an actress. She's obviously talented, but who's writing the roles that she could play?

As it turns out, all it takes are directors like Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and a writer like Robert Carlock, who worked with Fey on 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I like Ficarra and Requa. I don't think every film they've made is great, but they have a good eye for both character and detail. My favorite film of theirs is still I Love You, Phillip Morris, but working from the book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days In Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, they've made something that is easy to enjoy, and it feels like it's grounded in honest observation, something that was totally missing from last fall's similarly-themed Rock The Kasbah.

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A

Review: 'Zootopia' is more rooted in the zeitgeist than typical Disney animation

An uncommonly of-the-moment movie from the studio continues a streak of success
Review: 'Zootopia' is more rooted in the zeitgeist than typical Disney animation
Credit: Walt Disney Feature Animation

One of the most interesting things about Walt Disney Feature Animation is the way it has evolved over the course of its history from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs to today. There are such distinct eras in its development, such major shifts in creative energy, such giant peaks and valleys, that even the worst moments in its history are worth study for animation fans. I wish Disney would embrace their entire history and not just their hits, because there is so much to learn from films like Song Of The South or The Black Cauldron. Right now, though, they have hit a stride that is admirable, and Zootopia is another triumph for the current version of the studio following films like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6.

First and foremost, Zootopia is a reminder of just how beautiful animated films can be. Holy cow, this thing is almost hallucinatory. Set in a world where both predator and prey have learned to live together, Zootopia itself is a city divided into impossible sectors, with Tundra Town right next to Sahara Square, both of them adjoining a rain forest area and an entire miniature city just for creatures the size of mice. It's like the most insane safari park in the world, but with walking talking animals, one of which is new to the city, pursuing her lifelong dream of being the first rabbit cop.

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D

Review: Profoundly unfunny 'Zoolander 2' faceplants on the runway

Ben Stiller swings and misses and throws the bat and poops his pants all at once
Review: Profoundly unfunny 'Zoolander 2' faceplants on the runway
Credit: Paramount Pictures

I wanted to laugh last night. Hell, I needed to laugh last night. And Zoolander 2 failed me completely.

Brutally unfunny, visually off-putting, and filled with cameos so embarrassing I am bruised from holding a cringe for a full half-hour, Zoolander 2 is every horrible decision you can make with a comedy sequel wrapped up into one nigh unbearable film.

There is a single shot in one scene of Olivia Munn, and I couldn't tell you what she was playing or what role got cut down in the final film, but that one last errant useless shot, left in instead of being totally excised with the rest of her part, sums up the way the entire film feels to me. It feels like it was thrown together in a blender and just poured into a cup indifferently, no matter what ended up blended in there. So many jokes fall so flat that it's almost impressive after a while. Characters appear and disappear randomly, and they hold the entrance of the film's villain so long that I forgot he was in the movie by the time he finally showed up.

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B+

Review: 'Deadpool' is the world's most violent and vulgar Bugs Bunny cartoon

The Merc with a Mouth finally gets the film he deserves, and it's ridiculous
Review: 'Deadpool' is the world's most violent and vulgar Bugs Bunny cartoon
Credit: 20th Century Fox

To be honest, I can't believe this movie even exists.

It's not like Deadpool is some impossible to decipher art film, or like the plot is impossible to follow. It's more a case of "Fox has never been this loose or this adventurous with any of their franchise superhero properties, and I'm not sure how anyone convinced them to do this," and if for no other reason, I salute the studio for taking this particular chance.

And while superhero films are enormously popular and the X-Men franchise in general has been a steady performer for the studio, make no mistake: Deadpool represents a genuine roll of the dice. Aside from the R-rating, a first for this franchise, it's also just plain weird. Structurally, I can't think of another film quite like it. It's two scenes as well as some flashbacks and connective tissue. That's it. In one scene, Deadpool attacks a bunch of cars to find a guy. The guy gets away and, in the second scene, threatens Deadpool's girlfriend so they fight. That's it. That's the entire story. It is almost preposterous how little "plot" there is in the film.

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B+

Review: The Coens use 'Hail, Caesar!' to take a silly but smart look at Hollywood's soul

Josh Brolin can't fix everyone, but he's sure going to try
Review: The Coens use 'Hail, Caesar!' to take a silly but smart look at Hollywood's soul
Credit: Universal Pictures

As I was driving home from talking to Joel and Ethan Coen about their latest film, I called my parents, laughing about the way the film folds Hollywood truth into Hollywood fiction. I mentioned that the Loretta Young story was an obvious inspiration for one thread of the film, and my parents seemed confused by the reference. They knew who Loretta Young was, no doubt, but they had never heard the defining story of her personal life because back when Young was still an active movie star, my parents were part of the audience who were protected from the truth to help keep those movie star images squeaky-clean.

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B-

Review: 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' is an agreeably silly mash-up

Burr Steers gets this long-in-the-works film across the finish line and mostly right
Review: 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' is an agreeably silly mash-up
Credit: Lionsgate

First and foremost, I can't believe this movie actually finally exists.

In development since 1921 or thereabouts, this is one of those films that has had roughly 300 different directors attached since it was first announced. At one point, this was going to be a David O. Russell film with Natalie Portman starring, and I'm still not sure what that would have looked like. The thing is, when Seth Grahame-Smith first published his mash-up novel, built onto the skeleton of Jane Austen's classic, I'm going to bet he never imagined how long it would take for this to become a movie, or even that it would be one someday. It felt like a sort of English major goofing around, only to somehow see it become this publishing smash.

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A+

Review: Casey Affleck's amazing work anchors fest best 'Manchester By The Sea'

What a remarkable work by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan
Review: Casey Affleck's amazing work anchors fest best 'Manchester By The Sea'
Credit: Amazon Studios

Grief is a terrible animal, red of claw and tooth, and once it gets hold of you, there is no way of knowing what it will do to you. Over the last year, I've watched a dear friend of mine struggle with back to back losses of two of the most important people in her life, and at times, I've genuinely worried that it would be too much for her to take. This is a strong, vibrant person, and grief landed on her in a way that very nearly crushed all of that joy and vitality right out of her. I've had my own bouts with profound sorrow over the last year as a result of the end of my marriage, and while I feel like I've reached the other side of all of that, I remain shaken by just how damaged I was by things. For the first time in my adult life, I had to turn to a professional for help, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed.

One thing I've learned for sure is that no one can judge anyone else's sorrow from the outside, and we are not all built to bounce back when life kicks us in the teeth.

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A-

Review: 'The Birth Of A Nation' is a furious act of subversive historical drama

More battle cry than biopic, this is one of the must-sees of this year's Sundance
Review: 'The Birth Of A Nation' is a furious act of subversive historical drama
Credit: Fox Searchlight

Recently, I've found myself having to discuss some very difficult moments from history with my oldest son because I am deeply frustrated by the history he's being taught in school. It's the same history I was taught, whitewashed and sanitized and, unfortunately, not true. It's hard to explain to him that he has to regurgitate the bullshit version of things in order to pass his tests, and he's getting angry about the vast differences between what he's taught and what actually happened.

When I emerged from today's screening of Nate Parker's exceptional The Birth Of A Nation today at Sundance, I overheard an exasperated "How many movies do they have to make about slavery?", and it almost stopped me in my tracks. It's not my job to get into an angry argument with anyone about a movie, but that sentiment almost did it. The correct answer to that question is "As many as it takes for us to stop denying that America's history was written in blood and skin." While I admire Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave, part of the point of that story is that it was an anomaly, and following a free man into the world of slavery, black or not, gave us a tourist's view of life in the time of slavery. This is decidedly not that film, and as a result, there's no comfortable distance that you can maintain as a viewer.

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B+

Review: Don Cheadle hits lots of sweet notes in the not-really-a-biopic 'Miles Ahead'

This film breaks some pretty serious rules, but so did Davis, so that seems appropriate
Review: Don Cheadle hits lots of sweet notes in the not-really-a-biopic 'Miles Ahead'
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

It's pretty clear where I got the first name of my first son, Toshiro, and he's well aware of the legacy of the artist who inspired that name. While he hasn't seen Seven Samurai yet, he knows who Toshiro Mifune was and that he is an actor I hold in very high regard. What's less immediately clear is that my younger son is also named after one of my artistic heroes, because it's his middle name. He is Allen Miles McWeeny, and sure enough, he is named after one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, a towering figure whose music has meant more to me than I can ever fully express.

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B+

Review: Matt Johnson's 'Operation Avalanche' is found footage done right

Buzz Aldrin is not going to like this one at all
Review: Matt Johnson's 'Operation Avalanche' is found footage done right
Credit: Lionsgate

Frequently, when I am writing a review, I will have to look someone up to jar my memory. I see so many films that it is possible for me to like something, even review it well, and then never think of it again. Such was the case with The Dirties. I actually went back today and read my review, and as soon as I did, I remembered all the things I liked about the movie and its director/star/co-writer Matt Johnson. The same things are true about Johnson's new film, Operation Avalanche, but even moreso, and I think Lionsgate stands a chance at turning it into a low-key hit if they handle it right.

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A

Review: We've finally reached peak Tarantino with 'The Hateful Eight'

It may not be his best film, but it's his most Tarantino film for sure
Review: We've finally reached peak Tarantino with 'The Hateful Eight'
Credit: The Weinstein Company

As much as any mainstream film consumer has an opinion, positive or negative, about "Star Wars," it is likely that they also have an opinion, positive or negative, about Quentin Tarantino, as big a brand as any working filmmaker. At this point in his career, he's the reason I go to the theater. I don't care what the subject matter is, who's in it, or when it's released. I will go see any movie Quentin makes, no matter what, because he's earned that at this point. When he makes a film, he does it with a voice and an attitude and a style that is clearly and unmistakably his, and by now, if you're even remotely interested in his movies, you have a pretty good idea what sort of thing you're in for when you go to see "The Hateful Eight."

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A-

'Star Wars,' 'Creed,' and when your sequel is really a remake

J.J. Abrams and company got to play mix-and-match with the best parts of the original trilogy
<p>Star Wars: The Force Awakens</p>

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Credit: Disney

This morning, I went to see "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," and wound up having many of the same feelings I did when I saw "Creed" earlier this month. I'm going to get into exactly why, along with many spoilers for "Star Wars" (you're pretty much safe on "Creed" spoilers), coming up just as soon as I'm a big deal in the Resistance...

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Review: JJ Abrams breathes new life into 'Star Wars' with 'The Force Awakens'

This is our spoiler-free review of the film, so don't worry
Review: JJ Abrams breathes new life into 'Star Wars' with 'The Force Awakens'
Credit: Lucasfilm

At one point before the premiere last night, I heard an ardent fan say that it is impossible to review a movie like "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." I understand what he means, particularly because he's coming to it as a fan first and foremost, but that's obviously not true. While I am a first-generation "Star Wars" freak, chemically transformed by the experience of seeing the first film in 1977, I am also a working film critic, and at heart, "The Force Awakens" is indeed "just" a movie.

It's a very good movie, I'd say, and should entertain audiences both deeply and casually invested in the ongoing saga of the Skywalker family. Made with a profound sense of passion and respect by an entire generation of filmmakers and performers who were influenced by the original films, this is a deeply affectionate film, and that affection, that honestly felt love, is what is going to make all the difference for viewers.

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Review: Chris Hemsworth seems beached by the phony 'In The Heart Of The Sea'

For a true story, this one's not really concerned much with fact
Review: Chris Hemsworth seems beached by the phony 'In The Heart Of The Sea'
Credit: Warner Bros.

One of my favorite films in Ron Howard's long career as a director was "Rush," and part of what I loved about it was how it didn't really feel like a Ron Howard film. There was something audacious and rude and hilarious about the film's unlikable set of main characters.

Howard is the perfect studio filmmaker because his work is rarely dangerous or challenging. He makes professional movies with good casts that tend to be good but rarely great. There are a number of Ron Howard films that I like, and a I few that I really like. "Apollo 13." "Frost/Nixon." "Parenthood." "Rush." "Night Shift." "Splash." I like that he's spent his career trying different things. He's capable of putting some of the best technical artists in the business together, and he always seems to give himself to his movies 100%. When I'm not a fan of a film he's made, it's inevitably because I just plain don't like the script he shot. When "A Beautiful Mind" comes up, it's the script that makes me crazy. When I say I don't like "The Dilemma" or Backdraft," it's because I think they're shambles as screenplays.

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Review: Ice-cold revenge, angry bears, and Tom Hardy all terrify in 'The Revenant'

This might be the most beautiful film ever made about ugly things
Review: Ice-cold revenge, angry bears, and Tom Hardy all terrify in 'The Revenant'
Credit: 20th Century Fox

History is written in blood by tooth and claw and gunpowder, and no recent film makes that point with more graphic impact than "The Revenant." Based on a novel that tells the story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who was attacked by a bear and then left for dead by the men who were supposed to tend to him, the film is a testament to punishment, both in terms of the story being told onscreen and in terms of what it must have taken to wrestle the film up onto the screen.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has been an expert chronicler of human suffering so far in his career, and it makes his films difficult emotional experiences. I still remember that sinking feeling I got when I saw "Amores Perros" in the theater the first time. I felt it again during "Babel" and again during last year's "Birdman." Innaritu seems to be fascinated by some of the darkest corners of the human heart, and it doesn't matter if the destruction comes from without or within. What matters most to him as a filmmaker is how we pick ourselves up and continue after we have been shattered, and to that end, "The Revenant" feels like the ultimate expression of what he's been chasing in his work so far.

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Review: Jennifer Lawrence gives her all but can't quite make 'Joy' fly

This latest collaboration with her 'Silver Linings' director bites off more than it can chew
Review: Jennifer Lawrence gives her all but can't quite make 'Joy' fly
Credit: 20th Century Fox

David O. Russell's career can be divided right down the middle at this point between the movies he made before the horrible nail-related head injury and the movies he made after it.

Now, I'm not implying he had a head injury, of course. I'm referring to the film that was eventually released as "Accidental Love," which finally snuck onto Blu-ray this year. It's a terrible movie by any metric, and one of the saddest things about it is watching just how flat every attempt at humor falls in it. I am an unrepentant fan of "I Heart Huckabees," the last of the "old" Russell films, but it felt even at the time like he had followed that particular sensibility as far as he possibly could. It was six years until he roared back to life, suddenly transformed into the most reliable "I will get you nominated for an acting Academy Award" director that we have working right now. And of all the actors he's worked with since this reinvention, none have shone quite so brightly as Jennifer Lawrence.

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Review: Holiday horror comedy 'Krampus' ends up more naughty than nice

There's some good stuff in there, but it's muddled hopelessly
Review: Holiday horror comedy 'Krampus' ends up more naughty than nice
Credit: Universal/Legendary

One of the weird sub-genres of film that I am fascinated by is the "scary Christmas movie," and when said scary Christmas movie is from the director of "Trick 'r Treat," I am doubly curious. Walking into "Krampus," I had my fingers crossed that I was about to see something that could enter the annual rotation.

While I don't think the film works as a whole, there is a lot to like about "Krampus," not the least of which is that once it gets going, it doesn't seem to hold anything back. This is one of the most intense PG-13 films I've ever seen, with a nightmarish second half in particular full of images that really will be too much for many younger viewers. Michael Dougherty, who co-wrote and directed the film, has a fondness for the truly off-kilter, and his monster designs in this film feel very tactile and organic and perverse. You wouldn't want to touch anything you see onscreen. Doughterty's assembled a great cast, and he certainly has a great nasty sense of humor. So why doesn't this one feel like it connects?

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