All posts by Stephen Michael Brown

I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

Industry News: Oscars This Sunday

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.

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

 

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: 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

Movie Review: Vice (2018)

Adam McKay’s genre-hopping Vice (B) is a distant cousin to Oliver Stone’s similarly dark comedic  Natural Born Killers, admirable for creative storytelling about issues ripped out of the headlines but a bit confounding in what it’s intending to explore about its caricatures. Christian Bale is as good as you’ve heard brilliantly inhabiting the enigmatic role of Dick Cheney at various points in his life; he’s best in his quietest moments utterly lacking in expected reactions (his multiple heart attacks are treated like an occasional case of the hiccups). Amy Adams is magnificent as his deeply humanizing wife Lynn; she’s in fact his beating heart and just as ruthless. Many others in the ensemble simply feel like stunt casting, although Sam Rockwell does indeed make a spiffy W. The plot largely explores the build-up of the case for unilateral presidential (and strong vice presidential) authority and for the Iraq War.  McKay so blissfully plays with the conventions of cinema – never trust a closing credit scroll or that a sequence won’t show up in iambic pentameter – that he often loses track of his central themes. In the film’s straight down the barrel of a shotgun portrayal of Wyoming’s famous son who stays pretty resolute in his principles and doesn’t care if you like him or not for it, you can find traces of character to please both sides of the aisle. But largely it’s a blistering assessment of power and an indictment of what the Cheney/Bush (or was it the other way around?) administration did with said power when they had it. There wasn’t a big record to clear up here, and the film doesn’t attempt to rose color it.

Industry News: Georgia Film Critics Picks

The Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA) has announced its slate of nominees for the 2018 GAFCA Awards. Founded in 2011, this year marks the 8th annual awards program for the critics group. GAFCA is made up of 32 film critics from around the state, representing print, television, radio and online media. Nominations in all 17 categories have been released, as well as the shortlist for the Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema—a special prize for a film made in Georgia. Winners will be announced on Friday, January 11, 2019. Three films lead the nomination count, with A Star is Born, The Favourite and If Beale Street Could Talk each earning nine nominations. Black Panther and Roma each received seven nominations while BlacKkKlansman and First Man received six nods apiece. Eighth Grade earned four nominations; Leave No Trace and First Reformed received three each.

Full List of GAFCA Nominations:
Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Eighth Grade
The Favourite
First Man
First Reformed
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Quiet Place
Roma
WINNER – A Star is Born
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Best Director
BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee
The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos
If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins
WINNER – Roma – Alfonso Cuarón
A Star is Born – Bradley Cooper
Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
WINNER – Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)
Best Actress
Yalatza Aparicio (Roma)
WINNER – Toni Collette (Hereditary)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
WINNER – Sam Elliott (A Star is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Best Supporting Actress
Adam Adams (Vice)
Claire Foy (First Man)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (Leave No Trace)
WINNER – Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)
Best Original Screenplay
WINNER – Eighth Grade – Bo Burnham
The Favourite – Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
First Reformed – Paul Schrader
A Quiet Place – Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski
Roma – Alfonso Cuarón
Best Adapted Screenplay
WINNER – BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott
Black Panther – Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler
If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins
Leave No Trace– Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
A Star is Born – Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth
Best Cinematography
Black Panther – Rachel Morrison
The Favourite – Robbie Ryan
First Man – Linus Sandgren
If Beale Street Could Talk – James Laxton
WINNER – Roma – Alfonso Cuarón
Best Production Design
Black Panther – Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart
WINNER – The Favourite – Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
First Man – Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
If Beale Street Could Talk – Mark Friedberg, Kris Moran
Ready Player One – Adam Stockhausen, Mark Scruton
Best Original Score
AnnihilationGeoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard
Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson
WINNER – First Man – Justin Hurwitz
If Beale Street Could Talk Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs – Alexandre Desplat
Best Original Song
“All the Stars” – Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Mark Spears, Al Shuckburgh, Anthony Tiffith (Black Panther)
“Girl in the Movies” – Dolly Parton and Linda Perry (Dumplin’)
“Maybe It’s Time” – Jason Isbell (A Star is Born)
“The Place Where the Lost Things Go” – Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Mary Poppins Returns)
WINNER – “Shallow” – Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt (A Star is Born)
“Suspirium” – Thom Yorke (Suspiria)
“Trip A Little Light Fantastic” – Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Mary Poppins Returns)
Best Ensemble
Black Panther
Crazy Rich Asians
WINNER – The Favourite
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows
Best Foreign Film
Burning
Cold War
The Guilty
WINNER – Roma
Shoplifters
Breakthrough Award
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
WINNER – Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (Leave No Trace)
Best Animated Film
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
WINNER – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Best Documentary Film
Free Solo
Minding The Gap
RBG
Three Identical Strangers
WINNER – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema

Avengers: Infinity War

WINNER – Black Panther

Boy Erased

The Emissary (short)

First Man

Game Night

The Hate U Give

Love, Simon

Poor Jane

Still

Movie Review: Bird Box

You may want to cover your eyes and frankly shut down all of your senses for Sandra Bullock’s overhyped dystopian suspense film playing exclusively on Netflix. Susanne Bier’s Bird Box (C) follows Bullock’s heroine who, along with a pair of precious children, embarks on an adventure through the woods and down a river blindfolded to avoid supernatural entities which cause people who lock eyes with them to take their own lives. Bullock and co-star Trevante Rhodes acquit themselves pretty well in the acting department, while a supporting cast including John Malkovich overplay wildly underwritten roles. The action and effects are quite average, and the end result is not worth all the fuss. It’s mostly a wobbly endeavor and a far cry from the similarly themed A Quiet Place, one of 2018’s best movies.

Movie Review: Aquaman

The DC universe’s fishing expedition for a worthwhile film remains an ongoing upstream journey. James Wan’s foray into surf and turf sci-fi fantasy Aquaman (C+) has all the subtlety of a Super Bowl commercial, with either a tidal wave of action as bait or a dreamboat dilf as its siren call to adult moviegoers over the age of 13. Awash in largely inconsistent or indifferent special effects, the film is basically a palace intrigue barnburner between Jason Mamoa as the quip-happy mer-man hero versus Patrick Wilson as the bland opposing heir to the throne of Atlantis. It’s all underwritten, overlong and underwhelming but not without its occasional charms (although the flowing underwater hair effect is not one of them). Kudos to Nicole Kidman for classing up the joint. Otherwise it’s lots of inconsequential action, some akin to wrestling matches. If the film were a dish at a restaurant, it would ironically need more salt.

Movie Review: On the Basis of Sex

Mimi Leader’s On the Basis of Sex (B) takes a page out of the Spielberg Lincoln playbook by telling the story of a pivotal player in American life through the lens of a single subplot that succinctly illuminates an individual’s singular belief system. In this new movie, that person is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (also chronicled in an awesome recent documentary RBG); and she’s splendidly embodied by Felicity Jones, playing the part with a quiet ferocity. Opposite a game Armie Hammer as her supportive lawyer husband and opposite old-fashioned adversaries played by the likes of Sam Waterston, Jones’s Ginsburg gets a lovely pedestal on which to shine. She’s most rousing in the moments in the margins, like when she notices she’s being fetishized by a make job interviewer or when she realizes her teen daughter has inherited her stubbornness. Her public performances lack some of their intended punch, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the case setting her destiny in action. The filmmakers were shrewd to choose a rather cut and dry example of discrimination on which to base the film’s central narrative; there were certainly pricklier scenarios they could have spotlighted which would have challenged the director and audience more. The storytelling is a bit predictable but still very lovingly rendered, and it’s a thrilling showcase of both actress and subject. In these times, there can hardly be enough films like this.

Movie Review: The Mule (2018)

Although there’s nary a line as memorable as Gran Torino’s “Get off my lawn!” this time around, Clint Eastwood’s The Mule (B+) continues the actor/auteur’s loving curmudgeonly entreaty to the next generation to be kind to people even when the words coming from your mouth fail to express it, to take time for those you love even if you weren’t always great at this gesture in the past, to seek inner peace inside your family over the clarion calls of the outside world and to quit living on your damn cellphone. Eastwood as both director and leading man imparts his brilliant life lessons through an unconventional, deliberately paced tale and brings out lived-in performances from cast mates ranging from Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña as federal agents, Andy Garcia and Ignacio Serricchio as drug-lords and Dianne Wiest as the protagonist’s estranged ex-wife. The plot answers the question about what second career an old-school gardener can take in the internet age, and it’s not greeter at the local discount superstore. Eastwood’s enlistment as an inauspicious 90-year-old drug courier for a ruthless Mexican cartel provides the spry senior with a new job involving seeing the countryside, singing along to favorite radio oldies and procuring ample envelopes of cash, before the runs get increasingly dangerous. Many of Eastwood’s late-career (or is this mid-career?) films contemplate Big Issues, and he and screenwriter Nick Shenk (the man behind the words of Torino as well) do a splendid job balancing tangible tension and action, a marvelously relatable flawed hero and a small dusting of issues related to crime, class and race to be sorted out at your own leisure. Some mild quibbles include the hero’s occasional muttering of self-conscious soliloquy under his breath, inconsistencies about his spectrum of naiveté, some tender moments that get a little too treacly and pacing that could be a good bit tighter. But overall Eastwood’s metaphors are in full bloom, and he’s no passive rider in chronicling the American story. He’s still a major voice making movies that matter.