Movie Review: Joker (2019)

Todd Phillips’s Joker: “A-“

This is the ultimate story of “the other.”  Todd Phillips’s Joker (A-) flips the script in what is ostensibly an original origin story about one of Batman’s most notorious villains. Masterfully played by Joaquin Phoenix, the titular antihero fashions a fascinating and occasionally heartbreaking portrait of a desperate and marginalized loner. The bleak period atmosphere of a dystopian 1981 in Gotham City (essentially a struggling New York) evokes the crime, corruption, gang and peep show filled mean streets of vintage Scorsese, but the real action is interior as Phoenix’s sad clown and wannabe stand-up comic falls deeper into delusion and paranoia. The film’s graphic and nihilistic spirit will be tough for some audiences, but it’s an indelible and engrossing experience built on a complex character. Frances Conroy is effective as his ghastly mother, and Robert DeNiro is smartly cast as a late night talk show king of comedy who mocks the lead character via the airwaves. Zazie Beetz is a warm presence as a kindly neighbor and object of either affection or obsession. The swoop of stardust music with sweet tunes such as “Smile” and “That’s Life!” are juxtaposed against a loony, lost landscape. Phoenix gives a signature performance, high praise after the powerful legacy of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s takes on the character before him. He’s got the ticks of A Clockwork Orange and the tolls of Taxi Driver mixed with his own blend of American Psycho. He’s also got some of the creepiest dance moves since Buffalo Bill put the motion in the basket. This is gripping, immediate and eminently watchable material, with descents and detours into madness beyond expectations.

Movie Review: Judy (2019)

Judy (2019): “B”

There’s no place like home on a stage as a fantasy respite from a troubled life. Rupert Goold’s Judy (B) is the anticipated biopic with Renée Zellweger playing actress/ songstress Judy Garland in the fading fog of a salvage effort for money and maternal rights while in residency at a London concert hall. The story is slight, and the supporting characters make very little impression, but “Judy via Z” is a brass band of a performance. Ms. Zellweger finds the soaring voice (literally) and stirring humanity in a tragic real-life legend gone too soon. Through the haze of booze and pills, under puckered makeup and vice-grip hair and in poignant backlot flashbacks of being a controlled child performer in the Hollywood Studio System, there’s a stunning character portrait here. Goold conjures warm nostalgia amidst the melancholy and even captures some witty moments of acerbic humor. The music numbers don’t quite achieve the pulse of the moments in the margins, but you won’t want to miss a trip over the bittersweet rainbow with this talented woman of incomparable smarts, heart and courage.

Movie Review: Hustlers (2019)

New film Hustlers: B+

The true wolves of Wall Street have arrived, and they’re adorned with bling and chinchilla. The latest addition into the hall of fame of superb real-life crime dramas is Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers (B+), buoyed by outstanding performances from Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez as exotic dancers who devise a scam to drain the credit cards of Wall Street clientele in the aftermath of last decade’s financial crisis. Scafaria’s visceral storytelling and exciting camerawork puts viewers directly in the action and elicits sympathy from characters who exhibit mixed motivations. Lopez delivers a performance of a lifetime as the queen bee of an unlikely hive of gangsters. She assumes the demanding role with brute force physically and emotionally. The film’s unapologetic glimpse at a transactional culture and its effect on friends and family gives it a pedigree to be remembered as awards season gets underway.

Movie Review: Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Peanut Butter Falcon: B+

A feel-good odyssey in the milieu of Mark Twain, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s Peanut Butter Falcon (B+) wins over cynics with career-best performances from two young actors and an introduction to another indelible character plus an easygoing and authentic sense of human adventure. After escaping a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler, a man who has Down syndrome (joyously played by Zack Gottsagen) befriends an outlaw (Shia LaBeouf) who becomes his coach and ally. Dakota Johnson is the counselor on the hunt through North Carolina’s Outer Banks for the coastal castaways. Through boat chases and Baptisms, gun fights and hideaways, the human bonds become increasingly heartfelt. The final reel sputters a bit after already securing the glory of its fabulous fable. Familiar faces abound, including Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and John Hawkes in supporting roles. The film is sweet without saccharine, and the characters stick to the roof of your soul.

Movie Review: It Chapter Two (2019)

It Chapter Two: “C-“

All the clamor over the hush of forbidden, guilty secrets really puts the SH… in this IT. Andy Muschietti’s bloated follow-up to his adaptation of the childhood passages of Stephen King’s nostalgic ode to overcoming what scares you is overlong, not remotely frightening, full of half-baked creature effects, sloppily paced and only occasionally charming due to the assets of select cast members. It Chapter Two (C-) flash forwards a quarter century to showcase the “Losers Club” kids all grown up facing off again with evil, especially embodied in Pennywise the Clown. In the body count of who vanquishes themselves as actors in the FX-covered ensemble, Bill Hader and Jay Ryan are a delight, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy are underwhelming, James Ransone is a mixed bag and Isaiah Mustafa does his role no favors. Most of the characters have been haunted in some way since they became Derry free, but reuniting in the small town brings back all the feels. The film too often flashes back to events in or adjacent to the prior film, and it just feels like a retread. The present danger isn’t particularly menacing, and the adults seem rather casual for a good bit in following the tedious rules of stopping evil in its tracks. The showdown is evocative of the ’80s mainly due to feeling like a neverending story. The much-heralded clown is a bit incidental this time around. The last five minutes are quite nice.

Industry News: Fall 2019 Preview

Scarlett Johansson and Roman Griffin Davis in the film JOJO RABBIT. Photo by Larry Horricks. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

It was a summer of car chases and cartoons come to life, but now Tinseltown’s thespians are ready to assume their glow in the spotlight. Prepare for a variety of favorite actors – including Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in more movies than can be counted – to showcase award-worthy performances on multiplex and streaming screens.

Two Stephen King sequels promise to shock: It Chapter Two, in which adult characters played by the likes of James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain face down the clown with a red balloon who so terrorized their childhoods, and Doctor Sleep (filmed in Atlanta) with Ewan McGregor as the grown-up “Danny” from The Shining who can’t escape his demons either.

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which will debut both on Netflix and in select theatres, is a gangster tale starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. It’s the story of mobster Frank Sheeran and the disappearance of one of the leaders of the biggest crime families in American history.

Giving Netflix a scrappy run for its money in the streaming department will be the debut of Disney+ in November, complete with the full binge-able back-catalogue of the studio’s films plus a Disney live-action Lady and the Tramp (set in Savannah) and Anna Kendrick as Santa’s daughter Noelle in a save-Christmas quest.

Iconoclast directors Taika Waititi and Rian Johnson, each most recently helming Marvel and Star Wars movies, return to eccentricity with Jojo Rabbit, a WWII-set fantasy with Rebel Wilson and Scarlett Johansson in small roles, and Knives Out, a star-studded whodunit with Chris Evans, Daniel Craig and Jamie Lee Curtis along for the mystery.  

Sometimes Hollywood finds an ideal match between actor and lead role. Tom Hanks plays Mr. Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Harriet features Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman in the story of the Underground Railroad. Joaquin Phoenix is already getting festival buzz as the Joker, an R-rated look at the classic DC villain’s origin story. Goldfinch features star-on-the-rise Ansol Elgort as an art forger. And Ad Astra stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut embarking on a space flight in search of his lost father, whose experiment threatens the solar system.

The Report stars Adam Driver and Annette Bening in a docudrama about an FBI agent’s investigation into the CIA’s use of torture on suspected terrorists in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And a stage director played by Driver and his actor wife played by Scarlett Johansson struggle through a grueling divorce that pushes them to their limits in Marriage Story. Plus, the biopic Ford v Ferrari stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale and follows the 1966 Le Mans race, in which Ford designers attempt to crack the code of their rival sports car’s racing team.

J.J. Abrams concludes the nine-part Skywalker saga with Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker in which we will finally discover the origins of Daisy Ripley’s Rey, get a glimpse of never-before scenes with Carrie Fisher, witness the return of Billy Dee Williams, discover the fate of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and find out what that pesky phantom menace has been up to behind the scenes. Finn and Poe also get mysterious girlfriends (Kerri Russell and Naomi Ackie), and beloved BB-8 gets a new scooter-like companion droid.

Heads are being scratched not because of fleas but because of feline CGI fur effects as folks anticipate the adaptation of Broadway’s Cats, featuring the likes of Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Swift in full four-legged singing and dancing creature mode.

And let Oscar talk begin! Steven Soderbergh’s biographical comedy-drama The Laundromat stars Meryl Streep whose dream vacation takes wrong turns into the world of off-shore tax schemes. Gary Oldman, Jeffrey Wright and Sharon Stone round out the ensemble. Greta Gerwig’s Little Women stars Laura Dern, Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in a spry adaptation of the literary classic. And Sam Mendes’ 1917 features Richard Madden and Benedict Cumberbatch in a WWI dramatic adventure.

Movie Review: Blinded by the Light (2019)

Blinded by the Light: B

Some things that don’t seem to naturally go together can create nice harmony, like the frustrated Muslim teen in rural Thatcherite England and his newfound muse, working-class American rocker Bruce Springsteen. Having played in a similar milieu with a girl who wants to bend it like her soccer hero, Gurinder Chadha crafts her latest coming of age dramedy Blinded by the Light (B) with a gentle and loving touch that transcends her story’s sometimes color by number conceits. Casting her protagonist with the talented Viveik Kalra is the first win, and although some of the exposition is clunky and techniques labored, you can’t help but root for this spry hero. The handful of songs by “The Boss” provide a fantasy foil to both the teen’s mundane struggles with his parents, finding love and testing his mettle as a writer as well as a larger commentary on the xenophobia and class warfare of 1987 British politics as it plays out in a provincial community. The musical sequences feel as awkward and amateur as the tentative young man being inspired by them (this is in fact a compliment), and the sentiment generally pays off with an authentic supporting cast. It all works better than it should, given some head-scratching plot points which don’t all get resolved. The film is ultimately a marvelous family film and a giddy glimpse at how you should go about borrowing the best traits from your idols when endeavoring to find your own voice.

Industry News: Exhibit, Bus Tour Celebrate Georgia Film & Television

The latest offering from Atlanta Movie Tours: A tour through the filming sites for nostalgic, paranormal thriller hit, Stranger Things

Georgia is the biggest hub of multimedia content outside Hollywood? I’ve heard stranger things!

A new bus tour through the state’s fictional locations featured on one of TV’s biggest hit shows plus a vibrant exhibit about movie making in Georgia are both making their debuts this week.

The acclaimed Atlanta Movie Tours organization is now taking reservations for its latest track: The Atlanta Upside Down Tour, a veritable cornucopia of Stranger Things locations. In an exclusive media-only tour, Silver Screen Capture participated in the three and a half hour maiden voyage led by local actor and precision driver Colin Cary in an uncanny Chief of Police Jim Hopper uniform.

Highlights of the “watch a sequence and then see the real place where it was filmed” excursion included a trip to Sleepy Hollow Farm in Powder Springs, Georgia, home of the rotten pumpkin patch and Hopper’s iconic cabin, where Eleven was hidden from the government. Other stops on the journey included the site of the police station and the Palace Arcade in Dawsonville, the restaurant that doubles as Benny’s Burgers in Lithonia Springs and even the sites of the bustling community pool and the warehouse full of rats in East Point.

The great crew at Atlanta Movie Tours makes their excursions bright and breezy, with trivia, commentary, great photo stops, well curated videos, a snack break and even a Dustin-inspired singalong. The Upside Down Tour is one of many themed bus trips embarking from the company’s Castleberry Hills headquarters, which doubles as a nifty retail shop of all things Georgia film.

A less likely location is also site of movie making celebration this year. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum has opened an exciting new exhibition, Georgia on My Screen: Jimmy Carter and
the Rise of the Film Industry
. Beginning with then-Governor Jimmy Carter’s creation of the first state film office, the exhibition traces the development and impact of a multibillion-dollar industry in the state. The exhibition will be on display through the end of 2019.

Created with the generous support of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, major production studios, local film offices and museums, the exhibition includes artifacts from over 60 productions, filmed over the last 46 years in Georgia, including critically-acclaimed films, blockbuster movies, and major television series.

A few highlights of the exhibition include the Best Picture Oscar® for Driving Miss Daisy and Gone With The Wind, more than twenty objects from The Walking Dead including Negan’s bat, Lucille and Daryl’s motorcycles, Vinny’s boots and Mona Lisa’s dress from the 20th Century Fox film, My Cousin Vinny, Denzel Washington’s coaching uniform from Remember the Titans and tributes to the Marvel universe, whose films Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame are among the most popular movies ever made in the Peach State. Alongside the exhibition (offered as a part of entry fee for the library), the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum will be hosting a variety of lectures and talks, screenings, and family-day events throughout the year.

For more information and reservations:

https://atlantamovietours.com/tours/atlanta-upsidedown-tour/

https://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/events

Movie Review: The Farewell (2019)

An “A” for The Farewell (2019)

For a movie about looming death, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell (A) is a surprisingly joyous work. Her understated film is a near note-perfect glimpse at family dynamics as ordinary individuals endeavor to unravel the responsibilities of adulthood while confronting cultural dynamics in flux. Aspiring Chinese-American writer Billi, deftly played by Awkwafina, visits her Nai Nai (Mandarin for grandmother), beautifully embodied by Zhao Shuzhen, in Changchun, China for a poignant occasion. Although Nai Nai has a terminal illness, her family chooses to abide by a longstanding tradition to “carry the burden” for the matriarch and engages in a conspiracy to conceal the diagnosis from her. While the spry protagonist initially rejects the notion of deceiving her beloved relative, a series of heartfelt events bring insight and balance to a woman caught between worlds. Wang strikes a magnificent consistency of tone in telling this familial tale of the immigrant family’s return to the homeland, and she draws sincere and sentimental performances from her talented female leads. Although she also displays melancholy dramatic chops to great avail, Awkwafina’s humor is the tender translator at the film’s center. This cinematic family is one to remember and its story one of the delightful sleeper hits of the year.

Movie Review: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Tarantino’s 9th film looks gorgeous, gets a B-

One of the film industry’s most notorious writer/directors slows his roll into leisurely paced comedy and doesn’t quite succeed until things get violent. He’s clearly better at the Spaghetti Western than The Decline of Western Civilization. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (B-) explores how movie stars are always one step away from their big break, whether because of talent, typecasting or breakout performances or, more commonly, because they join a celebrity entourage or get invited by famous neighbors to a cocktail. It’s no coincidence that two of the biggest stars in the world – Leonardo DiCaprio, portraying a boozy actor in career decline, and Brad Pitt, playing his stuntman and designated driver – steal the show with wile and charm. They deliver a lot of yummy tapas in the movie, but it doesn’t add up to a fully satisfying meal. Pitt is the charismatic one here, with a cadence and style he has honed before in the auteur’s revisionist history universe; quite frankly, he’s really good in his every sequence and has uncanny chemistry with an animal co-star. With a less interesting and underwritten character, DiCaprio lacks intrigue and consistency. He’s ironically at his best in a “movie within the movie” when his character is actually acting. The discarded duo of cowboy and fighter with a backdrop of a classic industry in upheaval almost seems like the makers have Toy Story 2 on the mind. Tarantino is, of course, endlessly fascinated with movie lore, so he includes in his spotty ‘60s pastiche some gorgeously filmed milieus and commentary about the transition of the Golden Age of Hollywood to something much different. He eschews many of his usual flourishes, and without a better style to replace them, they are missed. Subplots with Al Pacino and Margot Robbie build on the film’s themes but don’t ever become center stage in a captivating way. Boy, are there some great set pieces and play sets, including a Hollywood Hills home, two insider Mexican restaurants and a former Western movie backlot inhabited by Charles Manson acolytes. It’s a film full of imaginative notions not fully realized. Like a grindhouse double feature, this feels like a talky two hour character study followed by a thirty minute short in which those characters actually get to do what we’ve been wanting them to do all along.

Movie Review: The Lion King (2019)

The Lion King (2019)

Disney’s Mouse House has found a way to corral more currency out of Casa Mufasa and despite critical carping blowing across the savanna will likely have hakuna mutata (no worries!) about doing so. Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King (C-) is a largely joyless and superfluous affair, replacing traditional line drawing with a photo-realistic nature documentary CGI animation style. Not one element improves on the original, even though most of the content about a lion’s exile and return to assume control of his kingdom is still there. Voice actors Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen make the most of their Timon and Pumba characters amidst the dirge-like proceedings, riffing with abandon amidst an otherwise overly reverential storytelling format. Some of the best sequences in the original still work once transmitted through the Favreau facsimile, while many other emotional moments are rendered toothless. Donald Glover and Beyoncé deliver more lemon than lemonade in the voice talent department with indifferent line readings. The cuddly animated Simba cub will sell a lot of plush toys. Nostalgia factor and escape from the summer heatwave will lure folks in to the multiplex, but those expecting to have their pride rocked may be better served with a viewing of the delightful original.

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home: B

Director Jon Watts follows up his Marvel Universe reboot of the web-slinging series with the returning, utterly charming Tom Holland conveying convincing spectacle in the title role of Spider-Man: Far from Home (B), a worthy but overly busy Spidey sequel. This installment finds our hero mourning the loss of a fellow superhero while juggling a high school European field trip in which he’s looking for a romantic hook-up with MJ played with sass by Zendaya and battling emerging supervillain Mysterio, a mixed bag of a Jake Gyllenhaal performance. The teen angst is the best part; the set-up for the epic action in an augmented reality showdown is curiously half-baked. Holland’s Peter parkours, trapezes, amazes and teases through it all and makes this episode worthwhile viewing. The film is fast, funny and occasionally tender. 

%d bloggers like this: