Preview: Summer Movies 2019

Tarantino takes on Hollywood circa 1969 with a couple of “newcomers.”

Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story? The Russo Brothers have the top-secret answers to the world’s biggest superhero cliffhanger as summer movie season opens April 26 with their epic Avengers: Endgame. Expect variety to be a spice of life more potent than popcorn salt at the multiplex this summer with superheroes, talking plush toys, remakes of animated films, hot rod hijinks, glimpses at bygone eras, girl power extravaganzas and whimsical musicals coming to a theatre near you.

This month’s Marvel multiverse ensemble adventure is just the beginning of a summer superhero season also touting a globetrotting Spider-Man: Far From Home, in which Tom Holland’s arachni-teen faces off against Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. Two X-Men spinoffs, June’s Dark Phoenix (with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and August’s The New Mutants (more of a horror-house mood), try to keep the long-running series afloat longer than a Cher farewell tour by injecting new levels of brood into the brew.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes as Ryan Reynolds voices the title character of the film noir comedy adventure Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. In fact, every doll will have its day this season as Kelly Clarkson and a bunch of misfit toys sing their way through the animated UglyDolls, and “Chucky” returns for a new terror-filled round of Child’s Play.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, filmed in Georgia with hometown star Kyle “Coach Taylor” Chandler, and John Wick: Chapter 3, with Keanu Reeves still on the run, promise to give moviegoers the action they crave. But summer isn’t summer without the “Will Smith effect,” and this movie star’s presence or lack thereof can make or break a summer tentpole (Did you see the Smith-free Independence Day sequel? Neither did we!). Despite no Will in a title role, Men in Black: International marches on with Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth as the central alien-fighting duo. Smith’s actual summer movie is Aladdin, a live-action film of the hit Disney cartoon, and typically macho director Guy Ritchie (Snatch) is betting you ain’t never had a friend like “Blue Genie” Will Smith, and a whole new world of profits are sure to stimulate the economy of Agrabah.

Family films are center stage with another live-action Disney remake, Lion King (Beyoncé and Donald Glover are part of the crooning pride), plus Woody and Buzz are back for Toy Story 4. Even Dora the Explorer is making her primero trip to the big-screen in The Lost City of Gold.

Car buffs will revel in the action of Hobbs and Shaw, the movie spinoff of the Fast and Furious franchise with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Christian Bale and Matt Damon also star in Ford v. Ferrari, the true story of the battle between racecar rivals to win Le Mans in 1966.

Set in the Golden Age of filmmaking in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s much-anticipated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood features Leo DiCaprio as a fading TV star, Brad Pitt as his stunt double and general retro craziness. Other prestige pics include Nicholas Hault as Middle Earth maker Tolkien, hallucinogenic horror movie Midsommar (some are calling it Wizard of Oz for adults-only, from the director of Hereditary) and the hypnotic The Last Black Man in San Francisco with Jimmie Fails as a man refurbishing his grandfather’s Victorian home in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left him behind.

Woman take center stage in The Kitchen, as in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Hadish as women with a score to settle. Director Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart features a sassy duo of straight-A women letting loose in epic fashion.

Summer is also a great time for movies with music. Yesterday is a drama by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle in which the catalogue of The Beatles is mysteriously erased from memory in modern day, and the one guy on earth who remembers the Fab Four’s songs embarks on a mission to make bank by introducing the world to these catchy originals. Folks rhapsodic for musical biopics will be over the moon to watch the story of Elton John in Rocketman, embodied by The Kingsman’s Taron Egerton.

Get ready to binge screen!

Movie Review: Shazam!

Shazam! stars Zachary Levi.

A fun hybrid of Big and The Goonies, the DC Universe gets a lively dose of life and levity with the introduction of David Sandberg’s Shazam! (B). The film’s teen protagonist is grappling with new powers which cause him to toggle back and forth between awkward adolescence and transforming into a full-fledged adult superhero just as he joins a foster family with a bunch of precocious step-siblings. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are superb and funny as the boy and his adult alter ego, respectively, and the film’s family includes Jack Dylan Graser as a cunning sidekick and Cooper Andrews as a lovable lug of a foster dad. The movie is aimed squarely at a family audience, despite a few early scares courtesy of Mark Strong’s viciously one-note villain and a bunch of beguiling CGI monsters. It’s a touch overlong, but the comedy, action and surprises pile high with fairly consistent success, and there are even a few moments of genuinely moving domestic drama. The movie creates characters for whom the audience can truly cheer in an environment largely well imagined. Expect the origin stories explored here to bring further marvels to DC.

In the Spotlight: 2019 Atlanta Film Festival Trailer

The event is April 4-14, 2019, with festival passes and single tickets available here: https://www.atlantafilmfestival.com/

Movie Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dumbo by Tim Burton

Nearly eight decades after the animated original, Tim Burton’s live action Dumbo (C+) has flown onto the scene again, and the pachyderm protagonist remains a charming silent star, no matter what’s going on in the peanut galleries around him. Disney executives appear to operate under the premise that, unlike elephants, moviegoers sometimes forget, so there’s liberty to color in some detail around the original 64-minute cartoon’s plot for those with only a hint of familiarity about the circus-set story. Burton adds generous dollops of fussiness around what was formerly a pretty simple storyline about a misfit animal who finds his big ears actually enable him to fly and become a sensational performer. The human actors including Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton and Eva Green have very little to do in underwritten roles. Characteristic of all but about a half dozen of Burton’s films is his propensity to deliver style over substance or story, and this entry comes up short on all of those metrics. The art direction and costumes are quite lovely, and there are some nice homage and heartstrings moments, but largely it’s a mediocre show at the multiplex.

Movie Review: Us (2019)

Us by Jordan Peele

Anyone who’s ever fantasized about having a twin has probably not seen many horror movies, because doppelgänger-dom is typically hell one earth when your double turns out to be trouble. In telling the suspenseful story of a privileged family facing off with unfortunate duplicate “others,” Jordan Peele’s Us (B+) peels back lots of layers about Modern America and reveals a complex and fascinating motion picture experience. The terror – set largely in West coast enclaves near a lake and a beach amusement park – is taut and the tone of unease singularly stirring, but the imaginative writer/director overreaches at times in his ambition to top Get Out with this unsettling sophomore effort. Lupita Nyong’o is simply fabulous in two distinct and challenging performances, but the problem with all the players is that allegorical characters aren’t that fundamentally interesting. Winston Duke doesn’t fare quite as well with a ho-hum husband character who can only be described as not wearing the pants much, literally or figuratively. Peele’s parade of timely topics spans from red state politics to the digital divide, from defanged authority figures to upper class malaise as clones endeavor to claw their way into the mainstream. A viewer could enjoy the fresh and breathless action without absorbing all the creative points of view the auteur is trying to convey. Ultimately although everything doesn’t add up in this creative piece of speculative fiction, film fans and horror enthusiasts will relish the journey. Peele’s undeniable style and subversive commentary about a country of haves and have nots is sly and smart.

Movie Review: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Here’s a heroic hot take: It took 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe films for the creators to accomplish the hat trick of making it all not look so damn hard. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s easy, breezy entertainment Captain Marvel (B+) places its plum protagonist in a hybrid mystery/prequel set in the ‘90s, and it reveals its plot and characters with leisurely delight and a stunning lack of urgency. The easygoing ensemble includes Brie Larsen being cool and collected in the title role, a special effects de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as ultra-chill Young Nick Fury, Ben Mendelsohn as a funny and super casual alien menace and a fetching feline stowaway low-key stealing its sequences. Aerial dogfighting, mind bending, light speeding and urban outrunning its way into the beloved comic book franchise, the movie builds atmosphere and drama without Thor sledgehammering or strange doctoring into too much needless complexity. The unfussy story: find yourself, find a secret charged object and set the stage for saving the universe. Plus it’s fairly woke in the casting and character departments. Mawkish supporting performances by Jude Law and Annette Bening are thankfully eclipsed by the nifty grunge-era songbook, splendid visuals and generous helpings of heart (Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar are wonderfully warm as the captain’s surrogate family). The cast and crew clearly worked hard on this one, and it’s nice they put on a show without being so showy.

Movie Review: The Wife (2018)

Best known for one of the showiest portrayals of rage set to cinema (pet rabbits beware Alex’s Fatal Attraction!), Glenn Close gets to take a slow-burn turn as doting spouse with a secret in the sleeper character study film that may finally land her a deserved Academy Award. Björn Runge’s austere drama The Wife (B-), written by Jane Anderson based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel, follows Close as the title character and her novelist husband (Jonathan Pryce) on a fateful trip to Stockholm where he receives a Nobel Prize for Literature and she experiences a wake-up call about why she has enabled an extremely flawed partner. Pryce is an effective blowhard, and Christian Slater is also quite watchable as a snooping biographer. But it is Close who commands every frame she is in and elevates an occasionally bourgeois bore into a banger. A veteran actress conveying deep and abiding emotions, Close may be the unexpected face of the #TimesUp movement in a year full of strong female performances. The film’s quietly observant style is strongest in the pivots – when argument turns to embrace, when adoration descend into disgust. Film buffs will appreciate that Max Irons plays her adult son (Close’s Reversal of Fortune co-star Jeremy Irons is the actor’s dad). Although they are fine actors, Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd as flashback versions of the central couple can’t quite compete with the master class shadows Close and Pryce cast. Not quite as revelatory or rousing as it often intends, the film is unquestionably lifted by Close’s every contribution and her strong choices about pacing and piercing to the heart of a given situation. In more ways than one, her time has come. It’s her world against his.

Industry News: Oscars Predictions – 2019 Telecast

Stephen at the Oscars

Get ready for the biggest party in Hollywood—The Academy Awards telecast is Sunday, February 24, 2019 at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC. For many of us, the best part of the evening is pre-gaming to red carpet arrivals (E! Entertainment is the place for stargazing). Be on the lookout for fashion plates like nominees Emma Stone, Michael B. Jordan and Regina King. But, the movies are the main event, so here’s a look at what to expect as you prepare to win your own preferential ballots.

Oscars So Woke

This year’s Oscars ceremony is infamously host-free (there are rumors of Whoopi Goldberg gearing up to be a stealth emcee) and promises to tickle and tick off just about everybody as both Hollywood hits and artier indie fare compete for top prizes in a year when representation on screen has been paramount. This juried juggernaut is the culmination of a prolonged awards season in which anything is possible, and surprises and snubs will undoubtedly own the night.

And the Winner Might Be…

Many films and featured artists are sure to blow up your Twitter feed to “Grammy Michelle Obama proportions,” so you’ll want to binge up on any movies you’ve missed. Expect to hear the swirling sounds of Gaga – the Radio Gaga variety, as Rami Malek is a frontrunner for his flamboyant frontman role as Freddie Mercury in the Queen music biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Lady Gaga type as she sings her A Star Is Born hit single “Shallow” opposite co-star and snubbed first-time director Bradley Cooper. Both in this romantic duo are nominated for their searing performances in the hit remake. Black Panther was the $700 million juggernaut of 2018 and blew peoples’ minds with its Afrofuturist take on the epic action odyssey. The first comic book adaptation ever to compete for best picture, it’s a long shot for the top prize but wouldn’t surprise anyone as Wakanda has forged its forever place in cinematic history. Spike Lee is also making history with his latest joint, finally up for competitive prizes after a sterling career as a cinematic trailblazer. He’s vying in directing, writing and best picture categories for BlacKkKlansman, a winning real-life story with John David Robinson (Denzel’s son) and the nominated Adam Driver infiltrating a hate group in Colorado. The film is alternately funny, ferocious and fascinating. You’ll also hear lots about Roma, a black and white film set in 1970s Mexico City about a housekeeper (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio) who quietly watches over the family she lives with during a time of contemporary revolutions. Expect Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal Spanish-language film – which premiered on and is now streaming on Netflix – to get mucho praise come Oscar night. The sleeper film still charming multiplex audiences is Green Book, a real-life buddy comedy with Viggo Mortensen of Lord of the Rings as a Brooklyn bouncer who must transport a classical pianist played by True Detective’s Mahershala Ali through the late-‘60s Deep South with only their emerging friendship and a race relations guidebook to steer their destiny. Expect Ali, a recent Oscar winner for Moonlight, to score a second trophy for this classic Hollywood road picture with an acting pair reminiscent of Shawshank Redemption. Also worth viewing before the big show are Glenn Close as a spouse with a secret in The Wife, Sam Rockwell and Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in the political satire Vice, and Olivia Colman as a droll and debauched queen in the offbeat dark comedy The Favourite. My predictions: Black Panther upsets Roma for Best Picture with Cuarón winning director and best foreign film, Glenn Close and Rami Malek take first-time featured role wins and Mahershala Ali and The Favourite‘s Rachel Weisz land second-time supporting wins. There will be lots of awards to go around and the movie faithful will watch until the very end to see if their predictions hold true.

My video predictions:

Movie Review: Friedkin Uncut

Acclaimed and criminally under-appreciated motion picture director William Friedkin is known for the gritty near-documentary reality he imbues in projects such as The Exorcist, The French Connection, Sorcerer, Cruising and Bug, so it’s fun to witness the man behind the movies sounding off about his approach. Francesco Zippel‘s Friedkin Uncut (B) stitches together interviews with the titular director and many of his contemporaries about his place in history and examines sequences from the seminal works of his outrageous oeuvre. He’s a cunning subject with a POV on topics such as staging a great car chase, mounting an opera, embedding with priests and police for ultimate authenticity and getting deep in the heads of filmmaking pioneers. Quentin Tarantino, Ellen Burstyn, Willem Defoe and Francis Ford Coppola are among the most compelling storytellers about Friedkin’s influence. One of the greatest tricks Friedkin pulls is the art of filming with one simple take. Some behind the scenes and archival footage is better than others, but Zippel captures a compelling portrait of an exacting auteur.

Movie Review: The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

Constructing a clever comedy requires a lot of bright component parts, and I suppose even Henrik Ibsen would marvel at the master builders behind this month’s blockbuster sequel! Veteran animator Mike Mitchell’s The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (B+), wisely written by the original film’s writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is a deft deconstruction of the walls governing plot and pacing. The result is a madcap bricks-and-mortar tour de force filled with hilarious highjinks, industry in-jokes and winning life lessons to be enjoyed by all ages. Chris Pratt (two roles), Elizabeth Banks (heroine) and especially Tiffany Haddish (shape-shifting emerging villain) shine in voice roles as the heroes face “Ar-mom-ageddon,” basically becoming toys thrown in the storage bin. The film blasts its ensemble of heroes and superheroes from a Mad Max style dystopia to an outer space world, with time travel and live action thrown in for good measure. It’s a pretty great musical too, following up “Everything is Awesome” with a variety of enjoyable new tunes including an earworm called “Catchy Song.” Just when you think you know where the plot is going, the creators have a few more bricks up there sleeve. There are so many great throwaway lines and creative gags that this second part may require a second viewing.

Review of the original film here

 

Industry News: Reviews of 2018 Best Picture Nominees

Roma, now available on Netflix

Today’s clickable picks for the eight Academy Award nominees for Best Picture are the following:

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

A Star Is Born

Roma

Vice

Movie Review: Glass (2019)

M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass (B) could also be called Superhero Erased as the always fascinating Sarah Paulson plays a conversion therapist to humans who believe they have superpowers. She turns her attention to a trio introduced in two films now considered the opening salvos of the “Eastrail 177 Trilogy”: Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), The Overseer (Bruce Willis) and The Beast plus his 23-member Horde (James McAvoy). Spencer Treat Clark, who played Willis’s son and Charlayne Woodard who played Glass’s mom in 2000’s Unbreakable and Anya Taylor-Joy as the abducted teen with a touch of Stockholm Syndrome in 2016’s Split round out the primary players in this mystery/thriller oddly devoid of quite the twists and turns the director usually has up his sleeves. Shyamalan puts the puzzle pieces together with joy and precision 90 percent of the time and a bit of clumsiness in the margins (his cameos in his movies, for instance, are almost always stupefyingly bad). The central trio of oddities each gets to showcase a brilliant bag of tricks, with Willis embodying silent heroism, Jackson devilish masterminding and McAvoy a whirling dervish of over-the-top schizophrenic characters. The pacing loses momentum in the denouement, but even a prolonged sequence which begs “get to the point already” gets ultimately explained. There are knowing references for devotees of the first films and enough soap opera twists and turns to catch up newcomers to the series. For a film called Glass, it could use a bit more sharpness and clarity. Although far from perfect, it certainly falls into the recommended works by this director.

This is the third film in what is unofficially called the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. See also these reviews of the other films, which were a bit better but together make an interesting observation about heroes and humanity:
Unbreakable
Split

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