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***/**** starring Maxine Peake, Eleanor Worthington-Cox written and directed by William McGregor by Alice Stoehr The place is Wales. The time is the past. The subject is a penniless family of three. Mancunian actress Maxine Peake plays the sallow, unsmiling mother of two girls: little Mari (Jodie Innes) and teenage Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox). They live in a ramshackle farmhouse amid mossy boulders and fields of emerald grass. The sky tends to be thickly overcast; particles of soot get everywhere. Wind rasps the valley and pervades the sound design by Anna Bertmark, whose credits include You Were Never Really Here. The soundscape is much like that of Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse, another film about rural privation on an uncaring earth. Snow falls, thunder cracks, and the family's meagre assets dwindle. This is the starting point for Gwen, William McGregor's flinty debut feature. McGregor started in British television, with shows like "Misfits" and the period drama "Poldark", on both of which he collaborated with Gwen's cinematographer Adam Etherington. The two of them put tremendous discipline into the film's style, shooting across the Welsh countryside in early winter. They apply a rich visual lexicon to this desolate space: focus pulls, slow pans... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Film Freak Central
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**½/**** starring Nicholas Alexander, Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Leo Sheng, Margaret Qualley screenplay by Ariel Schrag, based on her novel directed by Rhys Ernst by Alice Stoehr The first five minutes of Adam offer a concise sketch of its title character. He's an unsuave 17-year-old from a Bay Area suburb; his parents fret over his social life; and he's spending summer 2006 in a closet at his lesbian sister's Bushwick apartment. Screenwriter Ariel Schrag condenses the first 40 pages of her 2014 novel into this prologue, after which the credits accompany Adam's first cab ride through Brooklyn. A montage of murals and graffiti flashes past. Nicholas Alexander plays Adam, his hair floppy, his expression glazed, as a vessel ready to be kiln-fired and filled. (He looks a little like Ice Storm-era Tobey Maguire.) He's the star of this bildungsroman about a young man's initiation into the LGBT community and the glaring fact of his own cisness. As he tags along with his sister Casey (Margaret Qualley) and her crew of queer hipster friends, Adam stumbles into an unlikely farce. He's mistaken for a trans man, first by a drunk woman at a nightclub, then by winsome redhead Gillian (Bobbi Salvör Menuez).... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Film Freak Central
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***½/**** starring Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Dean Norris screenplay by Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman, based on the series by Alvin Schwartz directed by André Øvredal by Walter Chaw André Øvredal's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (hereafter Scary Stories) is a dulcet, autumnal picture balanced right there between the endless summers of dandelion wine and the interminable and harsh winters of brutality that lie ahead. A project based on a beloved series of children's books by Alvin Schwartz, it transcends its source by understanding the true function of little nightmares: the stories we tell our kids to begin to toughen them up for lives spent in this hell. Scary Stories unfolds, essentially, in the days between Halloween, 1968 and Election Night (November 5th) of that same year, when Richard Nixon won the Presidency on a date that disrupted 36 years of New Deal expansion. Hubert Humphrey was the Democratic nominee, but only after Bobby was shot (just a short while after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot); the beheading of the Democratic party's progressive soul was now complete. George Wallace, a piece of shit still somehow not as repugnant as Donald Trump, carried five states... Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***/**** starring Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman written and directed by Jennifer Kent by Walter Chaw Philomela was the daughter of King Pandion I of Athens, sister to Procne, who was married to King Tereus of Thrace. After five years apart, Procne asked her husband to fetch Philomela for a visit. During the trip back, he raped her, and when Philomela wouldn't promise to keep quiet about it, Tereus cut out her tongue and left her for dead. She wove the story of the crime into a tapestry, however, and the two sisters, once reunited, boiled Procne and Tereus's son and fed him to Tereus. Upon discovering this, Tereus flew into a rage and the gods changed them each into birds: Procne into a swallow, Tereus into a hoopoe (the king with his crown of feathers), and Philomela into a nightingale, renowned for its song. In literature, the nightingale is associated with truth. John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" is one of his poems of "negative capacity." The traditional interpretation of it finds the poet falling into a state of death without death, exploring an idea that everything is transient and tends towards decay. It opens like... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***/**** starring Lauryn Canny, Bryan Batt, Nora-Jane Noone, Pollyanna McIntosh written and directed by Pollyanna McIntosh Fantasia Festival 2019 runs July 11-August 1 in Montreal, Quebec. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Walter Chaw A promising and at times exceptional hyphenate debut, Pollyanna McIntosh's Darlin' continues the saga of Jack Ketchum's feral, cannibalistic Family with this sequel to Lucky McKee's inexplicably controversial The Woman. A few years after her escape from a family of Evangelicals, The Woman (McIntosh) drops off feral child Darlin' (Lauryn Canny) at a Catholic hospital, where Darlin' falls under the kind ministrations of Nurse Tony (Cooper Andrews). It's an interesting conceit that this wild thing, having seen the dangers of living without health care, should leave her charge at an institution peopled by the same society that had previously tried to "civilize" her through imprisonment and rape. Viewers familiar with The Woman will place that Darlin' is the child abducted/freed by The Woman at the end of that film--raised now to be a knowing, hilarious miniature doppelgänger of her guardian. At one point, McIntosh frames the two of them as they stand together surveying the wilderness, their enormous hair making them look like... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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****/**** starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino written and directed by Quentin Tarantino by Walter Chaw It was a late summer night, humid and low, in the "hill" area of downtown Seattle, outside a coffee shop called "Coffee Messiah" festooned wall-to-wall with tacky tchotchkes featuring our Lord and saviour. I spent a couple of college summers there and in the San Juans with my friend, Keith. I'd met him at a Primus concert where an entire gymnasium had been converted into a mosh pit. We locked onto each other and agreed that if one of us went down, the other would pick him up. We've been friends now for almost thirty years. So we were standing outside Coffee Jesus sometime in the early Nineties with two other friends I'd made through Keith: Sam and Dan. Dan, tall, white, and awkward, was playing around with being a DJ; Sam was a squat Jewish kid with a chip on his shoulder and a lot of hours spent in a gym. A guy walked up to us swinging nunchucks, shirtless and raving. Sam smiled, put his hand out and talked to him until he put his sticks away. The guy... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc **/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C+ starring Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kevin Dillon, Kathleen Quinlan written by J. Randal Johnson and Oliver Stone directed by Oliver Stone by Bryant Frazer Oliver Stone's lofty take on California psychedelic rock band The Doors begins near the end, with a thickly bearded Jim Morrison--Val Kilmer, delivering a well-practiced but largely soulless imitation of the '60s cultural icon--slouched in a dark Los Angeles studio recording lines of spoken-word poetry. "Did you have a good world when you died?" he demands. "Enough to base a movie on?" The setting is December, 1970, a few months before Morrison voluntarily exiled himself in France--perhaps to dodge a potential prison sentence after his arrest for lewdness on stage--and a little more than six months before his death in Paris. Stone fills all of that in later, but he starts here, not just because the poem Morrison is reading, "The Movie," is too apropos for a filmmaker as literal-minded as Stone to resist, but also because Morrison's demonstrated preoccupation with death and storytelling dovetails so nicely with the film's manifestation of same. Stone includes a formative event from... Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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*½/**** starring Richard Dreyfuss, Lyriq Bent, Krista Bridges, Colm Feore written and directed by Shelagh McLeod Fantasia Festival 2019 runs July 11-August 1 in Montreal, Quebec. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Walter Chaw The variety of oldsploitation entertained briefly by Steven Spielberg in the 1980s, Shelagh McLeod's Astronaut saves itself from terminal sap by allowing its hero, retired widower Angus (Richard Dreyfuss), a modicum of agency before the end. In that pursuit, the film becomes something like a rebuke of "Google expertise," a defense of experiential knowledge and Boomers, who have, let's face it, fallen a few dozen notches on the Q-meter of late. It seems billionaire Marcus (Colm Feore) has set up a lottery wherein one lucky, publicly voted-upon winner will get a chance to go into space on the first commercial vehicle making the trip. Angus is a couple of decades past the cut-off age and in nowhere near the physical shape to do it, but he enters anyway because it's always been a dream of his. His life on Earth has taken a turn of late: Long-suffering daughter Molly (Krista Bridges) has put him away in a home, while son-in-law Jim (Lyriq Bent)... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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*½/**** starring Elaiza Ikeda, Takashi Tsukamoto, Hiroya Shimizu, Renn Kiriyama screenplay by Noriaki Sugihara, based on the novel Tide by Koji Suzuki directed by Hideo Nakata Fantasia Festival 2019 runs July 11-August 1 in Montreal, Quebec. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Bill Chambers After ushering in contemporary J-horror with Ringu, the first feature-film adaptation of Koji Suzuki's novel Ring, Hideo Nakata directed Ring 2, which was made in response to the poor reception of Rasen, a sequel based on Suzuki's own. Ring 2 doubled the original's grosses, and Nakata tried his luck in Hollywood. But with a stated desire to avoid horror (he didn't want to repeat himself), he couldn't get a bite from the studios (which only want people to repeat themselves)--until fate conspired to put him at the helm of the sequel to Ringu's own American remake, The Ring Two. Nakata nearly quit over the producers constantly foisting rewrites on him, which did not result in a particularly coherent or cohesive film, and the eminence he brought to the project was ultimately used against him by critics. He returned to Japan, where he's bounced around in the years since between film and television, documentaries... Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**/**** starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots, Steve Terada written and directed by Riley Stearns Fantasia Festival 2019 runs July 11-August 1 in Montreal, Quebec. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Walter Chaw Riley Stearns's The Art of Self-Defense is the easier-to-digest version of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, but only star Jesse Eisenberg knows it. He's in The Lobster; everyone else is in an ironic-slopping-over-into-arch indie exercise that presents toxic masculinity and rape culture as something with a potentially upbeat outcome. It's a fairy tale, in other words--the kind sanitized for your protection, although the occasional flashes of ultra-violence suggest that it was something darker in an earlier conception. What remains is a sometimes mordantly funny social satire that loses first its steam in its middle section (when a post-workout massage doesn't pull the trigger it should have pulled), then its nerve with a resolution that actually feels pandering and weak-willed. The picture wants very much to console, yet there's no consolation. I guess the real lesson learned is that the temperature of the room isn't real interested in hearing how everything's going to be all right. The key moment left hanging is a confrontation in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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Overture, curtains, lights, This is it, the night of nights No more rehearsing and nursing a part We know every part by heart Overture, curtains, lights This is it, you'll hit the heights And oh what heights we'll hit On with the show this is it Tonight what heights we'll hit On with the show this is it Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st in Montreal, Quebec. Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***½/**** starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson written by Michael Rasmussen & Shawn Rasmussen directed by Alexandre Aja by Walter Chaw Haley (Kaya Scodelario) swims in college. She's good. But Alexandre Aja's economical, fierce Crawl opens with Haley coming in second in a freestyle leg. Although she takes it in stride, while talking to her sister and infant nephew a little later she makes snapping gestures with her mouth that hint at some intensity driving her and perhaps seeping into her familial relationships. A quick flashback shows a younger Haley being coached by dad, Dave (Barry Pepper), who tells her not to give her competitors the pleasure of seeing her cry. He reminds her that she's an "apex predator." The script, by the team of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, is a marvel of spartan efficiency. It's a bear trap. The prologue sets up in just a few brief strokes that the film will be about perseverance, programming, family...and apex predators. It seems that Haley and her dad have been estranged since her parents' divorce. When a hurricane comes and her father stops answering his cell phone, Haley makes the two-hour drive home to see what's happened. There's... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras C starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz written by Christina Hodson directed by Travis Knight by Walter Chaw Travis Knight's Bumblebee is a tone-perfect amalgamation of The Love Bug and The Iron Giant. It is, in other words, both a throwback summer programmer (perhaps mistakenly released during the Christmas season) and a sophisticated parable about coming of age in a divided America. It casts Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, a gearhead who loves her car more than she's interested in fielding the advances of the awkward neighbour kid pining after her. And then it has her dealing with the loss of a parent as she finds her way through an already-difficult period in a young person's development. It wisely hires Knight, who at Laika Studios produced the unexpectedly sensitive and introspective ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings (the latter of which he directed), and screenwriter Christina Hodson (the woman entrusted with upcoming films about Harley Quinn and Batgirl), with uncredited contributions from Kelly Fremon Craig, writer-director of the sensitive The Edge of Seventeen, which also starred Steinfeld. In placing gifted, effortlessly diverse people before and behind the camera and then... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**/**** starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, George MacKay, Clive Owen written by Semi Chellas, based on the novel by Lisa Klein directed by Claire McCarthy by Alice Stoehr A century ago, English animator Anson Dyer adapted Hamlet into a one-reel satirical cartoon. A couple of years later, Danish actress Asta Nielsen played her melancholy countryman, recontextualizing him as a woman. Since then, filmmakers have transposed the Bard's source material into the beer industry, the animal kingdom, and (on several occasions) the corporate boardroom. Film history, in other words, is full of revisionist precedent for Ophelia, which begins with its title character floating in a brook as she intones in voiceover, "You may think you know my story... It is high time I should tell you my story myself." Daisy Ridley--Rey of Star Wars fame--stars as this strong-willed young woman, done up like a Pre-Raphaelite painting with long red tresses. Quick with a turn of phrase, she registers unease in her hazel eyes and indignation in her jaw. Her Ophelia would rather go for a swim than attend to the queen, and the other ladies-in-waiting tease her for her coarseness. Screenwriter and "Mad Men" alum Semi Chellas, working from the 2006... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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*/**** starring Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers directed by Jon Watts by Walter Chaw Burdened by the need to be the epilogue to Avengers: Endgame, Jon Watts's Spider-Man: Far From Home (hereafter Far from Home) trundles along awkwardly, lurching like an overburdened, top-heavy beast of burden bearing an unwise payload of poorly-packed goods. Its pacing is atrocious-approaching-deadly, and there's a notable lack of chemistry and timing between the leads made that much more glaring for the gloriously fleet and endlessly inventive Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which immediately precedes this film on the Spidey timeline. Compared to the most leaden entries in the MCU, Far from Home doesn't look any better, either. It leans into the teen comedy of Spider-Man: Homecoming with little success and, like it, can only be a teen comedy for half the time anyway--the other half given over to world-building in an endless slog of soapy Act 2s. I love that viral clip of Gwyneth Paltrow not knowing she was in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Who can keep these movies straight, and why would they bother? If we get down to it, would something as hackneyed and atrocious as... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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*½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker written and directed by Jordan Peele by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Get Out was an instant classic that appeared at the spearhead of a new blaxploitation movement. It introduced terms and concepts into the lexicon ("Now you're in the sunken place"). It attacked race relations with intelligence and, save one tonal slip at the end, maintained an almost unbearable tension throughout. Its signature image of a black face, frozen in terror, the path of a single tear tracing its way down one cheek--you see it three times, on three different characters in the film--encapsulates the black experience: outrage held forever in abeyance, voices stolen by the ruling culture, along with lives and potential lives. Get Out won its writer-director Jordan Peele accolades and the type of laurels (the next Spielberg!, the next Hitchcock!) that, the last time they were handed out (to one M. Night Shyamalan), did the recipient no real favours. And where Get Out asked the question of what Peele's limits were, Us answers it immediately--and decisively enough that it feels almost cruel. Us has a couple of vaguely interesting... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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****/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald screenplay by Martin Goldsmith, based on his novel directed by Edgar G. Ulmer by Bryant Frazer Among legitimate Hollywood classics, Detour is about as threadbare as they come: a small film, shot on a shoestring over a handful of days (between six and 14, depending on whose accounting you believe) at a Poverty Row film studio. And yet, the finished product is uniquely compelling. As a crime thriller, it's notable for the absence of gunfights, chase scenes, double-crosses, and back-stabbings. What it's lacking in film noir's usual narrative detail or expressionistic flourishes is compensated for by its overarching preoccupation with determinism and a healthy contempt for fate. Amplifying and accompanying the slow-building sense of despair and helplessness is an internal-monologue-in-voiceover that's unrelentingly dreary and self-pitying, even for noir. Detour isn't remotely sexy or exciting, though it is amply dour and uncomfortably personal--disturbing, even, in its spare vision. It didn't come out of nowhere. Screenwriter Martin Goldsmith adapted his own novel, which had been published several years earlier, and lead actors Tom Neal and Ann Savage were known quantities who had recently shot a trio... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, Ed Gale written by Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Steve Gerber directed by Willard Huyck by Bill Chambers If you'll indulge me, as I recall it was at my local Sunrise Records that I first laid eyes on the egg with the hatched beak chomping on a cigar, which became as emblematic of Howard the Duck, albeit not as iconic or enduring, as the gleaming bat symbol would become of Batman three summers later. It was on the cover of a 12" EP of the movie's title track, performed by Dolby's Cube featuring Cherry Bomb, a fictitious band consisting of actresses Lea Thompson, Liz Sagal, Holly Robinson, and Dominique Davalos, who did all their own singing. (Thomas "She Blinded Me with Science" Dolby wrote and produced their songs.) When I flipped the jacket, I encountered a photo spread of Thompson in rock-'n'-roll leathers and big, crimped hair, and I reacted how any 11-year-old boy hot for Marty McFly's mom would: I begged my dad to buy it for me. This was at the start of summer vacation, over... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***/**** screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton directed by Josh Cooley by Walter Chaw Much like AI, Steven Spielberg's similarly fascinating, similarly imperfect spiritual collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, Josh Cooley's Toy Story 4 asks questions about creation and the responsibility of the creator to the created. Toy Story 4 is itself the product of a chimeric parentage, this being the third sequel to a franchise that is to Pixar what Mickey Mouse is, or once was, to Pixar's parent company, Disney. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is a modern archetype of the sort described by Barthes: an image, a sign, encompassing an entire history of meaning for members of a sympathetic culture. It means one thing by connoting a multitude of things. The Toy Story films rely on the shared human experience of creating totems in the endless fort/da exercises we engage in as children. Inanimate objects are imbued in that way with our expectations of our parents and our disappointments with them, too, as we re-enact events real and play out dramas imagined. They are practice and we invest them with the payload of our souls; the root of the term "animation," after all, is that literal investment... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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½*/**** starring Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson written by Art Marcum & Matt Holloway directed by F. Gary Gray by Walter Chaw Banking on the idea that no one has seen Tomorrowland, F. Gary Gray's atrocious Men in Black: International (hereafter MiB4) begins three years in the past on a steampunked-out Eiffel Tower, where our titular alien hunters, Agents T (Liam Neeson) and H (Chris Hemsworth), battle an alien threat to the world called "The Hive." Flashback twenty more years to when young Molly (Mandeiya Flory as a kid, Tessa Thompson as an adult) saves a little CGI alien, inaugurating a lifelong fascination with the Men in Black, then flash-forward twenty...three (?) years to Molly applying for the FBI and CIA before she somehow finagles her way into MiB headquarters and wrangles an internship with Agent O (Emma Thompson). Said internship involves going to London and partnering with the philandering, James Bond-ish Agent H, who gets out of a sticky situation by fucking an alien squid thing. (We're a long way from the will-they/won't-they? flirtation of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, Dorothy.) The idea of modelling this movie on the James Bond conventions is fine in... Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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½*/**** starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits written and directed by Jim Jarmusch by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Near the end of Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die, Centerville police chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray)--probably named after legendary everyman actor Cliff Robertson just because--intones to his deputy Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver)--probably named after legendary Formula 1 driver Ronnie Peterson just because--that Jim Jarmusch is a dick. He's responding to Ronnie's revelation that Jim has let him read the entire script while only letting Cliff read certain scenes. Luigi Pirandello did shit like this in his exhausting, wall-breaking, self-referential stuff. He believed the actor would inevitably break with the text and so, in his most famous play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author", he has them reject their script and question their existence. A forerunner to the Theatre of the Absurd, Pirandello was held in some esteem (and met with an equal amount of suspicion) by Mussolini--you can read into the rebellion of his fictional characters from their fictional circumstances a hint of his true allegiances. It's timely, given our current fascist circumstances, for Jarmusch to evoke Pirandello, I guess, and other modern examples like... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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½*/**** Image N/A Sound A Extras C+ starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen screenplay by Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn directed by Brett Ratner by Walter Chaw As an example of what can happen when a homophobic, misogynistic, misanthropic moron wildly overcompensates in a franchise that had as its primary claim to eternity that it was sensitive to the plight of homosexuals, Brett Ratner's painfully queer X-Men: The Last Stand (hereafter "X3") manages to present its series of melodramatic vignettes in such a way as to completely negate any sense of peril, individuality, or struggle for the characters. Without a sense of weight, the references in the piece to genocide and The Holocaust ("Ink shall never again touch my skin!" says Ian McKellen's Magneto) become pure, laggard exploitation in the service of a sub-par superhero action film that shows its true colours time and again in its hatred of women ("Hell hath no fury!") and loathing of female sexuality, as well as in its flat-eyed regard of children trying to hasp off their wings while their fathers attempt to break down the bathroom door. It's Michael Bay's Schindler's List: a reptilian populist, at ease with the slick... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***½/**** starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain written and directed by Simon Kinberg by Walter Chaw So downbeat it plays like a dirge, or a riff on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" (which Dylan described as ten pages of self-loathing prose "vomit" that needed to be set to music), Simon Kinberg's Dark Phoenix ain't got nothing and so's got nothing left to lose. Subject to numerous delays and a now-notorious reshoot in response to Captain Marvel beating them to the proverbial punch with a space-set finale, it is, against all odds, a tidy, thematically-succinct capper to Fox's X-Men saga--which, at its best, was always explicit about how these films were metaphors for not fitting in, not being accepted for what you were born as, and the importance of building families when your biological ones turn out to be frightened and faithless. Bryan Singer handled the first two instalments before leaving to do Superman Returns. Those three films--X-Men, X2: X-Men United, and Superman Returns--comprise a trilogy of mythologies for disaffected loners, brutalized by disappointment and betrayal, looking within themselves for value in a universe that sets them eternally, pointedly apart. There's an interesting paper to be written... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***/**** starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice Van Houten, Eriq Ebouaney, Guy Pearce written by Petter Skavlan directed by Brian De Palma by Alice Stoehr When Brian De Palma was 17, relates Julie Salamon in her book The Devil's Candy, he tried to prove his father was having an affair. "All summer long he recorded his father's telephone calls," she writes. "On more than one occasion he climbed up a tree outside his father's office and snapped pictures of him and his nurse." Though perhaps too pat as an origin story, this experience--oft-repeated by biographers, as well as the director himself--haunts his filmography. From Dressed to Kill to Blow Out to Snake Eyes, his characters and camera fixate on audiovisual evidence. They foreground how film itself can act as documentation, to either reveal or distort the truth. These same preoccupations shape Domino, his thirtieth feature and the first he's directed since 2012's Passion. The espionage thriller, penned by Norwegian screenwriter Petter Skavlan, intertwines three sets of characters as they bound across Western Europe. Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a Copenhagen cop who sees his partner's throat slit in a set-piece modelled after the opening of Vertigo. He seeks vengeance against the assailant, Ezra... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**½/**** starring Virginia Gardner, Christina Masterson, Eric Beecroft written and directed by A.T. White by Alice Stoehr Leadville, Colorado is a couple hours' drive from Denver. Ensconced among the Rockies, it has the highest elevation of any American city. The town's forbidding winter serves as the backdrop for the apocalyptic horror of Starfish. Essentially a one-woman show, the film stars actress Virginia Gardner (of last year's Halloween) as Aubrey, a DJ with tousled blond hair and a mustard sweater. She's visiting for the funeral of her friend Grace, whose loss devastates her and sets a pervasively wistful tone. That night, she sneaks into Grace's apartment, immersing herself in what are now keepsakes: her vinyl collection, her yellowing letters, her surviving pet jellyfish and turtle. Fernanda Guerrero's production design is precise and analog, suggesting a place where dust has recently begun to settle. Aubrey peeks through an antique telescope and sees a neighbour's window, this distant vertical block in a sea of darkness. A man and a woman strip, then climb into bed together. "Perv," laughs Aubrey. Later, she lies on her late friend's couch and stares up at the wooden ceiling, where she envisions that same couple superimposed as she... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2019 at Film Freak Central