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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Review: LIFE ITSELF

The Buzz: Dan Fogelman, the successful creator of the acclaimed and meteorically popular tv show This Is Us makes his return to the big screen in an attempt to recapture some of that same cross-generational formula that has captured the rapt attention of so much of Middle America on a weekly basis. Life Itself is his sophomore effort following 2015's Danny Collins, and was the subject of a big bidding war between Paramount, Universal and Amazon, the latter of which won the rights to the film to the tune of $10 million dollars. Life Itself spans several decades within two families, both centered on a shared tragedy, and studies the intricacies of their relationships and the impact trauma has had on their familial lines.

What's Great About the Movie: A third of Life Itself is set in Spain, and stands apart from the rest. Captured almost fully in Spanish and subtitled, there's something to be admired about how Fogelman has seemingly tricked his intended audience into watching a "dreaded foreign language film". When Antonio Banderas first arrives on screen, and he immediately involves you in a monologue regarding the circumstances in which his character has found his fortune, there's a level of genuine pathos and emotional investment that is instantly sated within the viewer. Perhaps it's his years of starring in subpar projects, but there's a confidence in his line deliveries, and his ability to formulate a living, breathing character out very little that speaks volumes about what a powerful and undervalued performer he actually is. Thankfully, much of the rest of this sequence (approximately 1/3rd of the film), while veering into melodrama a little too sharply at times, is equally co-anchored by Laia Costa and Sergio Peris-Mencheta, whose story is handled with a defter touch and built around strong-enough chemistry that the all too brief sojourn into their lives is when Life Itself isn't actively painful to watch.

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: Everything else. The first third of the film feels like tragedy porn, trying its best to both pontificate over and over on the concept of an "unreliable narrator" and pull at the viewer's heartstrings, while competently achieving neither. The final third of the film feels basically like a (poor quality) Lifetime movie, but not in a fun and satirical way. It's hard to understand how the middle portion of the film is so much more watchable than what leads and follows it, but perhaps some of the credit is due to the fact that I wasn't hearing the dialogue in English. There are good ideas buried in this film, but they're completely washed away by the poor dialogue, the asinine philosophizing, and the way the actors wrestle with the script. Oscar Isaac, usually one of the more reliable performers in any film he's in, is completely drowned by this material. He looks uncomfortable and feels, at the very best of times, completely inauthentic. Olivia Wilde fares no better. Fortunately we don't have to spend the full running of the film with these characters, but they manage to tank the movie before it even gets out the gate.  

Final Verdict: If you like This is Us.... just go watch that. 

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 245

Black Badge #2
by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins


 Coyotes #6
by Caitlin Yarsky


Ether: The Copper Golems #5
by Jen Bartel


 John Wick #3
by Ben Garriga


 Mister Miracle #11
by Nick Derington


The Wildstorm #17
by Jon Davis-Hunt


That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Monday, September 10, 2018

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 244

Nancy Drew #4
by Tula Lotay


Sleepless #7
by Leila Del Duca


Wonder Woman #54
by Jenny Frison


Birthright #31
by Andrei Bressan


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #2
by Kevin O'Neill


That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Monday, September 3, 2018

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 243

Cover #1
by Zu Orzu


Clankillers #3
by Antonio Fuso


Vampironica #3
by Audrey Mok


Black Science #38
by Creaturebox


That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Quick-take: SEARCHING

The Buzz: Searching won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film prize at Sundance Film Festival, which kicked off most of the buzz around this movie. The film's writer and director's career trajectory is also noteworthy. This is the first feature film from 27-year-old Aneesh Chaganty, who turned heads in 2014 by creating a short film, Seeds, which went viral. The short was filmed on Google Glass and, after catching Google's attention, landed Chaganty a creative position at Google. Searching marks Chaganty's turn away from that career path and towards a film trajectory. 

What's Great About the Movie: It seems appropriate that after going viral for a short filmed on Google Glass, Chaganty's first feature film has a similar techno-gimmick running through its DNA. Searching is unique in the way it unfolds its story, visually; everything the audience sees takes place on screen rather than on camera. That means we see the characters do web searches, watch videos, in news clips, and so on - everything we're seeing is something that someone could also watch on a computer. While it doesn't work 100% of the time (sometimes the need to have a screen/camera stretches the narrative), it is fascinating to watch the way it plays out. Unique visuals aside, Searching also features John Cho as father David Kim, who's using the web to trace his daughter's last steps before she went missing. Cho's performance is the most compelling part of this film and what breathes life and emotion into it, which isn't an easy job to do when the audience spends a considerable amount of time looking at computer screens. 

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: Despite its technical intricacies, and weighty themes (though occasionally hewing a little too closely to "the internet is a scary place" at times, a subject that feels about 20 years too late on arrival), the narrative utterly buckles under its plot, which is built on twist upon twist upon twist and then resolved by a head-smackingly stupid final reveal. It's as if Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian wanted to verge into Gone Girl territory, but lacked the panache to pull off that kind of send-up of trashy Lifetime storytelling, and instead just deliver a routine, and increasingly stupid thriller that is masked by the computer screen gimmick - the diminishing returns of which only unveil the thinness of the script even further. Also, amusingly, David seems to only be able to read text when his cursor floats over it; an example of the premise struggling with ensuring that its audience does indeed follow along. And in terms of performances, despite Cho's good work, Debra Messing is as miscast as she can possibly be as the detective assigned to Margot's case. It's a stiff, unconvincing performance, with a character so ineptly written, you wonder how she could have possibly earned that commendation she's awarded in the film's initial act.

Final Verdict: Searching displays a ton of promise at the outset, and Cho, one of our most undervalued actors, is almost reason to watch alone...but as its runtime rolls on, it grows so head-smackingly stupid and trite, you'll wonder why you wasted the time at all.


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Monday, August 27, 2018

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 242

Scarlet #1
by Michael Gaydos


X-Files Case Files: Hoot Goes There #2
by J. J. Lendl


 X-Men Grand Design: Second Genesis #2
by Ed Piskor


 The New World #2
by Tradd Moore


Batgirl #26
by Joshua Middleton


That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Monday, August 20, 2018

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 241

Jughead: The Hunger #8
by Cary Nord


 Mike Hammer #3
by Alex Ronald


 Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. #6
by Tommy Lee Edwards


Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #2
by Sija Hong


Cold Spots #1
by Mark Torres


That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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