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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
If Beale Street Could Talk
BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee
The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos
If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins
WINNER – Roma – Alfonso Cuarón
A Star is Born – Bradley Cooper
Avengers: Infinity War
WINNER – Black Panther
The Emissary (short)
The Hate U Give