Category Archives: 2021

Movie Review: Dear Evan Hansen (2021)

Universal Pictures – now in theatres.

Tunefully tackling mental health, cancel culture and the nature of truth in the Internet age – and none of these topics with much dexterity – Stephen Chbosky’s mixed bag musical movie of Dear Evan Hansen (B-) nonetheless provides an absorbing showcase for an ensemble of female actress/singers who wave into a window of emotions more authentic than that of the film’s male lead. Call it Medicated High School Musical, and call it like it is that Ben Platt’s character translates awkwardly from the Great White Way to the silver screen. Platt is mostly crooning to the mezzanine balconies while Chbosky lenses the actor’s histrionics in awkward close-ups which reveal he is powdered in age-reducing prosthetics to reprise the lauded teenage performance he created nearly a decade ago on stage. The cinema canvas also surfaces flaws in the Broadway source material, namely that the audience is meant to sympathize with a character whose mounting lies prove to undermine his perceived good intentions. The characters breaking out into song isn’t really explained or consistent and can be confusing when one of them actually plays guitar as a plot device; and since emotion is already heightened, there’s often not much higher to go in some pedestrian presentational soliloquies. Were the YouTube fans meant to like the speech or the song? One must suspend a good bit of disbelief. However, let’s get to the good stuff, because there are many highlights in this overlong but often moving enterprise. First, the music is flawless, including two solid new songs to add to favorites such as “You Will Be Found.” The film is chock full of stunning female talent: Amandla Stenberg as an activist classmate whose tune “The Anonymous Ones” is a highlight, Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever as a mother and daughter recoiling from tragedy in earnest songs such as “Requiem” and “Only Us,” and Julianne Moore whose final reel “So Big/So Small” is a heartbreaker. Platt does indeed shine in many of his scenes of comedy and intense singing, even though the director should have reigned him in and clarified many aspects of the character. And Colton Ryan as a troubled classmate is so captivating in his two major sequences that it’s surprising he didn’t nab the lead role. Still, the parts of this story that work and surprise have the capacity to genuinely touch hearts and minds about the tug of war of man versus his worst instincts in a quest to belong. The film and its protagonist are often a tangled mess, but musical fans will likely grant Chbosky, Platt and company a full pardon for some of their missteps in bringing such an emotional wallop to the screen.

Movie Review: Malignant (2021)

In theatres and on HBO Max.

This head-scratcher of a horror movie is announcing its intentions as a new realm in terror, but its terrain of dreamscapes and damaged souls feeds on lots of tropes which have already been around for a while. A woman’s premonitions about a deranged killer’s next murders are just the beginning of the story in James Wan’s twisty thriller Malignant (B-), a slow burn of a tale that gets pretty unhinged in its final reel. In the protagonist role, Annabelle Wallis is effective as a troubled woman who may just have a connection to the gilded dagger wielding villain, but amidst many underwritten parts and plot threads, the sometimes hokey film often feels like the work of a first-time filmmaker rather than one who has been making Hollywood horror for some time. The psychobabble that bubbles up fairly far into the movie’s running time is evocative of early Brian de Palma films even though the camerawork and choreography rarely deliver much of a creative spark. It’s all more eerie than scary, and the film often seems enchanted with special effects and stunts that don’t add much to the storyline. Still, it casts a peculiar spell and keeps bringing in ways to keep things exciting, and the promised plot twists do indeed ratchet the proceedings up to a whole new level.

Industry News: Fall 2021 Movie Preview

Real-life stories of Hollywood royalty, chronicles of singing poets and lovers, displays of supernatural super heroics and much more will vie for your attention across multiplex and media as the fall film season gets fully underway. Filmmakers continue to showcase the movies they’ve been safely creating during the pandemic, and you’ll get a variety of new fare to enjoy on both big screens and home streaming in the months ahead.

Anticipated sequels and franchises include No Time to Die, the latest Daniel Craig 007 film; Dune, which covers half of the dense sci-fi novel about outer space wars; Halloween Kills with further mayhem between knife-wielding Michael Myers and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis; and Maverick, Tom Cruise’s long-awaited follow-up to Top Gun.

True-life sagas range from director Ridley Scott’s chronicle of a murderous fashion family with House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver to Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos with Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as television idols Lucy and Desi Arnaz. Two tragic legends also get the big-screen treatment as Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in Spencer and Ana de Armas embodies Marilyn Monroe in Blonde. And King Richard stars Will Smith as the father and coach of the Williams tennis sisters.

After the recent successes of Marvel on television, an emboldened box office run should continue with recent Oscar winner Chloé Zhao’s Eternals featuring an ensemble of immortal gods such as Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek plus the third in the latest Spider-Man trilogy, No Way Home, injecting a bit of twisty multiverse time travel into the teen web-slinger’s adventures.

Dear Evan Hansen with Ben Platt as a troubled teenager opposite Amy Adams and Julianne Moore ushers in a season of musicals, followed by Peter Dinklage in an acclaimed crooning performance as Cyrano, Andrew Garfield as an artist on the brink of hitting it big as he faces an early mid-life crisis in Tick Tick Boom, the Colombia-set Disney animated family feature Encanto about a magical family and Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler as star-crossed lovers in the gang lands of New York.

Awards season will be in full bloom when Martin Scorsese presents Killers of the Flower Moon starring Leo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro, Jane Campion showcases The Power of the Dog with Kirsten Dunst and Benedict Cumberbatch, and Guillermo del Toro transports us to Nightmare Alley with Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett. The next movie by the droll Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch, features talent such as Timothée Chalamet and Bill Murray.

Some other anticipated autumn fare includes Don’t Look Up, a crashing comet comedy with DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence; Kenneth Branagh’s personal black and white historical drama Belfast with Jamie Dornan and Judi Dench; and the artsy Last Night in Soho with eccentric leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy. Plus there’s some unexpected casting including Denzel Washington as the title character in Tragedy of Macbeth and Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound man in The Whale.

There’s something for everyone, and expect these and many more to receive their bite-sized reviews weekly here at www.SilverScreenCapture.com.

This story is also syndicated throughout American newspapers this month.

Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Now in theatres.

This movie crouches with creativity until it starts draggin’. For its first two acts, Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (B) grabs the brash brass with a swagger worthy of a first-ever Marvel movie; but by the end of the final reel, the labored adventure limps like the 25th Marvel film installment that it is. The film successfully grounds its characters in intriguing emotional arcs, even if some veteran actors are better suited at the drama than the newcomers. Acclaimed Hong Kong movie star Tony Leung skillfully portrays the patriarch of a dysfunctional family and is the catalyst for a story that transports viewers from San Francisco to Macau in a quest for generational redemption and supernatural accessories. Simu Liu is a stunner of a physical actor in the title role, but his emoting in dramatic sequences is hit or miss, as is that of Meng’er Zhang who plays his stoic sister. Faring much better are Awkwafina in true command of her comic relief love interest sidekick role (leading man Liu is far more natural in moments of levity opposite her) and Michelle Yeoh who ups her “aunty” with dramatic and martial arts choreography skills. The film is an origin story in reverse, and the opening U.S. sequences with casual comedy and an outstanding extended fight aboard a runaway bus eclipse some otherwise deft world building to come in the Asian environment of underground fight clubs, shape-shifting bamboo mazes and enchanted villages with a menagerie of CGI beasts. Other than a glorious battle aboard skyscraper scaffolding, the events abroad do not measure up to the story and tone captured stateside. The film is chock full of interesting ideas but ultimately overstuffed in its endless parade of finales. It’s mostly highly entertaining even if the front is more of a kick than the remaining thrust.

Movie Review: Annette (2021)

Now playing on Prime Video.

An undoubtedly frustrating and absolutely beguiling head scratcher of a fever dream musical, Leos Carax’s Annette (C+) is the love child of Sweeney Todd and Chucky from Child’s Play and plays like a dystopian La La Land in its biting take on twisty Hollywood romance. Set to an unusual parade of songs by the band Sparks, it’s more of a film experience to let wash over you rather than ever taking it too literally or seriously. A sensational and physically ominous Adam Driver absolutely sells the central performance of an unhinged comedian who marries an opera singer (a resplendent but underused Marion Cotillard) and starts a family including the marionette child of the film’s title. Carax is known for mixing the natural and artificial, so it’s appropriate he leverages a Brechtian rock opera approach with songs like “We Love Each Other So Much” as a stand-in for an actual courtship and “I’m an Accompanist” to introduce Simon Helberg’s character who is exactly that on the piano. The oddball styling of the songs and sequences, the bonkers shifts in tone and vocal quality and the meandering plot line don’t add up to a cohesive whole, but boy is it an intriguing mixed bag of an experiment. And for fans of Driver, this is probably the most Driver performance you’ve ever seen.

Movie Review: Candyman (2021)

Universal Pictures; In theatres.

More of a bonbon for cinephiles than a slasher contraption for the masses, Nia DaCosta’s Candyman (B+) builds on producer Jordan Peele’s recent masterworks to expose horrors of the American race and class struggle. Her uncanny Chicago-set narrative about appropriation and gentrification focuses primarily on razor-focused actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen, who plays an artist obsessed with a new subject based on the urban legend of a hook-armed killer bearing sweets who once haunted the city’s projects. The talented Teyonah Parris provides a formidable foil as his partner, an art gallery executive trying to remain above the fray of mysterious mounting events. The ubiquitous Colman Domingo is also effective in a small role. The cinematography, music and menace are straight out of a Hitchcock or Kubrick composition, providing the typical tenets of the horror genre with a considerable upscale upgrade. The labyrinthine honeycomb of this only slightly supernatural take on the Windy City, filled with swirling bees, fun house mirrors, eerie incantations and blood dripping like honey through nooks and hallways, becomes an apt metaphor for twists to come. There are few extended sequences of gore or fan favorite jump scares; instead there is a gradual unveiling of themes and origin stories to stimulate the mind and provide a deeper sense of unsettling. Watch the color palette for clues, and enjoy creative montages including shadow puppets for clever insights into the backstory. DaCosta is all sting as she goes in for both the message and the kill, and if there were one constructive criticism to offer an already pensive film, it would be that it needed even more character development and nuance so that personal transformations could fire with additional intensity. DaCosta’s film is strong and beguiling, and it could become one of those unsuspecting art films to mysteriously rule the box office.

Movie Review: Free Guy (2021)


Now in theatres.

You might find yourself with resting glitch face after all the stimulation of Shawn Levy’s video game comedy fantasy Free Guy (B), a film that actually gets better and richer as it progresses and reveals superpowers in some of the most supporting players in society. A bit of a riff or revival of The Truman Show set in an open-world video game, this film places Ryan Reynolds at the center as a “non-player character” who learns he can start making his own choices. There’s interplay among the denizens of the game, plus a plot about a diabolical dudebro executive (a hilarious Taika Waititi) trying to manipulate the gameplay to line his pockets and a duo of developers (Jodie Comer and Joe Keery, both earnest) helping steer the situation to a better resolution. The passiveness of the main character is a problem for the first half of the movie, despite Reynolds’ considerable charms and penchant for physical comedy. But the film gains a bit of soulfulness at the half-way point and proceeds to surprise and delight. If you can bear the clang and clamor, you’ll find Levy and company have something to say about community, about taming toxic masculinity and about choosing your own adventure. It’s a bit better than expected, with funny asides, clever effects and a timely lesson about the power of world building.

Movie Review: CODA (2021)

Available on Apple TV Plus and in limited release in theatres.

This film is speaking my love language. As the teenage daughter of deaf parents with her only sibling deaf as well, Ruby, played with sublime grace by Emilia Jones, seeks to be a standout in the field of choral music, which no one else in her rural New England family can actually hear, in the formulaic but feel-good dramedy of the summer, Sian Heder’s CODA (B+). Heder writes and directs the film with an admirable lack of sentiment and grounds the central family in a highly relatable milieu. The protagonist’s quest to pursue her art while also pulled into the mounting demands of the family fishing business (she’s their sole interpreter) provides ample material for conflict, but most everything comes back to love in an overall work that can best be described as heartwarming. Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur are outstanding as the parents, Daniel Durant charming as the brother and Eugenio Derbez is a delight as the music teacher. Ruby and her family feel real in their every interaction, and even when the story unfolds in pretty much the way a viewer would expect it to, it still does so in surprising ways because of the composition and cunning of this unconventional family. Viewers will be won over by the sweet-natured strengths of the ensemble, the unexpected representation and inclusion of the casting and the writer/director’s skills at quiet observation. Additionally the music sequences are wonderful. Far from a chore or a bore, this film is uplift from beginning to end.

Movie Review: Respect (2021)

In theatres August 13, 2021, MGM.

Even the Queen of Soul herself can be enhanced by a judicious editor, and Liesl Tommy’s Aretha Franklin biopic Respect (C) would have been improved if the filmmakers had commenced to condense. Instead the film takes a fairly circuitous journey in the telling of the songstress’ life and gives cursory treatment to some significant incidents of trauma she experiences as both a child and adult. Jennifer Hudson’s singing is sublime, but there’s a hollowness to the character and portrayal, slighted and undermined by unfocused writing and narrative. Forest Whitaker and Marlon Wayans also have rather thankless roles as the controlling men in the musician’s life. There’s also a relative paucity of musical sequences, which is disappointing given the film’s ample duration. After a rather absorbing first hour, the film doesn’t trust its most creative instincts and instead resorts to paint-by-numbers behind-the-music conventions for nearly 90 more minutes. The movie imparts lots of great data points about why Aretha Franklin was a trailblazer, but Tommy’s film largely misses the mark in taking viewers beneath the surface of the legend.

Movie Review: The Suicide Squad (2021)

In theatres and on HBO Max.

This reboot of a cult comic book ensemble film is distinguished by a parade of sensational casting and visual choices. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (A-) is a splattery spectacular madcap adventure with rousing action, vivid effects, ribald humor and idiosyncratic characters. Although its violence is not for the faint of heart, Gunn’s film is tonally and thematically one of the most winning DC Comics adaptations yet. The story revolves around the government sending the world’s most dangerous supervillains including Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena) Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to a remote, enemy-infused island for a search-and-destroy mission related to a science conspiracy. Interlaced into the propulsive plot is a menagerie of exquisite weaponry, human/animal hybrids, throwaway gags, witty asides and just about any treasures Gunn can bury in the cartoonish carnage. It’s a rollicking ride with Robbie again a delightful standout and Melchior a winning find as a pied piper of both CGI rodents and some surprisingly emotional moments. Add in an anthropomorphic shark, stunning stunts and an epic showdown finale, and many will agree Gunn has assembled one helluva Squad.

Movie Review: The Green Knight (2021)

New in theatres from A24.

Welcome to the Arthurian art film that’s about to get medieval on your summer. A trippy and faithful adaptation of a 14th century poem, David Lowery’s Green Knight (aka Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous) (B+) is both cerebral and eerie in its duration, culminating in a brilliant near dialogue free final act as the protagonist faces his fears. It’s essentially about a bit of a deal with the devil and the ensuing consequences as a knight musters the courage for a showdown that will seal his destiny. Dev Patel is engaging as flawed protagonist Gawain. Alicia Vikander as two characters – Essel and the Lady – and Joel Edgerton as The Lord also turn in outstanding performances as pivotal pawns along the massive chess board of an epic. The film is earthy, pulpy and often looks like a Renaissance painting come to life. The production design and costuming are exquisite. Because it is rather intellectual and episodic (with lovely ornate title cards, incidentally), it’s sometimes difficult to trace exactly where the film is headed (or beheaded) in the journey of its sweeping storyline; but even when the pace is slow, it is a mesmerizing piece of cinema. 

Movie Review: Jungle Cruise (2021)

Now in theaters and Disney+ paid access.

Hot off a series of horror movies and Liam Neeson-led thrillers, director Jaume Collet-Serra is an unlikely choice to helm an old-fashioned Disney adventure based on a classic theme park ride but acquits himself nicely in the pleasant summer escapism fare of Jungle Cruise (B-). Similarly, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, best known for muscular action films, gets to flex his unexpectedly assured comedic timing to successful avail as a South American skipper of a small riverboat who takes a group of travelers including siblings played by Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall through a jungle in search of the Tree of Life. Johnson and Blunt are winning comic and would-be romantic partners with verbal and physical pratfalls aplenty, as he wields dad jokes and swagger in equal doses to her acerbic and acrobatic spunkiness. Faring less on the likability scale are characters played by Jesse Plemmons, Paul Giamatti and a coterie of cursed conquistadors in cartoonish or CGI villainous roles which add very little menace opposite the explorers. The film works best in rip-roaring action sequences and when Blunt and Whitehall provide some droll fish-out-of-water entanglements. As for the plot, we’ve been down this river many times in much better films. The first hour is fairly breezy fun; then as the protagonists get closer to their goal, the sogginess sets into sluggishness for a good while. Still, it’s competently made family friendly fun, and most of the kids haven’t seen the movies this riffs on, so it may all be new to them. Like its Adventureland origin attraction, you get to sit down in the shade and take a breezy ride for a while with a smile on your face for much of its duration, and that may be all we need this summer.