Featured Posts

Reviews Load More

Features Load More

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, ambitious but unwieldy

Hey, it's time to review the new Star Wars, a movie you're probably going to see anyway! As someone who really doesn't hold much affection for the Star Wars franchise, my love of The Force Awakens really shocked me. Not only did it end up making my end of the year 10 Best Movies in 2015, but it also was what I still think of as a pitch perfect blockbuster - one that breathed new life into that universe, introduced nuanced and compelling characters, and looked pretty terrific while doing it. I couldn't have imagined a situation where I found myself caring about where the plight of the Jedi and their ragtag companions could possibly go, but yet somehow JJ Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy and company all pulled it off.

In the between time, I had to suffer through Rogue One, but it was okay, because I knew Rian Johnson would be at the other end of that tunnel to cradle me in his bearded embrace. His The Last Jedi, which picks up literally within moments of the end of The Force Awakens, paints a picture of a struggle that never took a breath. The Resistance, led by General Leia, find themselves in the middle of a back and forth with General Hux's First Order. Hux, truly the bitchiest member of this new iteration of the Empire, gets into a humorous bit of dialogue with a solo Poe Dameron scouting just ahead of a charge of bombers who are attempting to lay waste to the First Order's colossal Dreadnought. While this event will set the stage for what drives Poe, Finn, Leia, a few new additions to the cast, and the entire Resistance itself, it's also probably the last time audiences are held subject to the standard light and dark side debate that has populated these films as a rule. It was the accepted line of thinking that the guys dressed in black are bad, and the scrappy underdogs in white, and various lighter shades are the good guys.

Well, Mr. Johnson was going to have none of that, as The Last Jedi is a film all about the debate of what lies between those two extremes. Not every character necessarily approaches moral grey tones, but even those characters that are what we deem to be inherently "good" or "bad" are faced with conflicts that drive a question into the morality of their cause. A daring choice for the world's most popular blockbuster series, but when Johnson (who both writes and directs here) centers in directly on that theme, The Last Jedi does something that is all too rare for the Star Wars series: introducing new notions within the sphere of its seemingly impenetrable worldview, and new ways of how we might conceive the two warring factions and the people that have to work for them and the little people who find themselves under their boot heel.
But, as a caveat, the further away the filmmaker gets from this novel approach, the less effective the film becomes. This can be seen clearly in the division of narrative between the three major protagonists of The Force Awakens. Each hero from that last outing, Rey, Finn, and Poe are given their own slice of the film within which to work, and it's clear where in each of the three that Johnson's interests chiefly lie.

Rey's storyline, the most effective of the trio, finds her making contact with the long-lost Luke Skywalker in an attempt to bring him back into the fold of the Resistance, and in turn determine her own place within it and The Force itself. Additionally, this is where Kylo Ren, the wayward son of the now deceased Han Solo and Leia, is directly involved - and if this series does nothing else, it absolutely, 100%, proves to me that he is the most unique and well-developed character of the Star Wars universe. Here, he is basically the mouth piece for Johnson's vision of this struggle, and every scene he and Rey share outshines everything else that surrounds it. We knew Adam Driver was a compelling and nuanced actor, even before this film began to roll, but the surprise here is just how well Daisy Ridley is able to match Driver's well-known intensity.

Luke plays a sort of middle-man between them, and it's not a stretch to say this is surely Mark Hamill's best outing in the role. He's given a good deal of meat to chew on as a bearded, reclusive version of the previous trilogy's central hero. The most welcome element on hand is just how effectively Hamill carves out this elder version of the character and stands separate from any temptation to make him the "Obi Wan" of this entry. From the emotional beats he presents, and the general sense of stubbornness throughout, you can conceivably believe this is the man that Luke grew into.

Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron gets a lot more to work with this time around. Rather than just being the very likable, handsome pilot guy, he's now the Commander of the Resistance fleet and our POV within the machinations of their operating order. Through his story, we spend most of our time with Leia, as well as Lauren Dern's purple-haired Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. In this way, Poe's end of the tale works as a counter-point to the ongoing struggle between Hux and Kylo Ren. In both cases, we see the inner-workings of office politics and their respective power struggles. Poe is faced with issues related to the chain of command, especially in times of crisis - there's a not too subtle influence of Battlestar Galactica present here. It is an arc that is mostly effective, though somewhat truncated by its proximity to the least compelling storyline of the film.

Which brings us to poor old Finn. Finn, who occupied an exciting space within The Force Awakens (that of the faceless Stormtrooper turned hero), is saddled with what is basically a gigantic fetch-quest and the on-boarding of a new character in Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico, a member of the Resistance who volunteers to help him on this side-mission that feels like it lasts 10 years. Not only are the sequences they are involved in the least exciting of the entire affair, but they also are the stretches that rely the most on green screen and iffy special effects, neither of which are Johnson's specialty. One of the troubles here is that Finn basically is static throughout, and he's grafted to what is basically a non-entity in Rose. A character, who in theory, fits right alongside the themes that are being developed in all three storylines to some degree, but the execution of the character is the thing, and Rose never seems to grow beyond "earnest" with a connection between these two that feels rushed to say the least. There's a lot of tell here, and nowhere near enough show.

And to briefly get back to the subject of Carrie Fisher, her return here is bittersweet, as her passing last year does indeed echo within every scene she appears. But thankfully, she is the centerpiece of two of The Last Jedi's most touching moments, one that is especially artful and the other overflowing with emotion, striking a nerve in a moment that is sure to choke up audiences.

Despite the script's occasional lapses, there is at least some worthwhile study for the cinephiles in the crowd, as the stark contrast between the Abrams approach: with his wide environmental vistas and shots that are mostly at eye-level with his actors vs. that of Johnson who takes a slightly more "up from the ground" viewpoint, with much of the action occurring inside somewhat claustrophobic settings, makes for a unique point of comparison between two very different filmmakers. It's not that I expect much auteur imprint, but it's nice to get a hint of the artist behind the camera, which is apparent in both instances, and likely where a lot of the rewatch value will be found where this reviewer is concerned.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a tale of one really great "A plot" and character progression, and a pair of solid and undercooked storylines, respectively, that are tied together as a sort-of "B and C plot". The good news is that by the time the movie enters its climatic final moments, it hits a pretty good groove before the credits, though the way it comes together isn't exactly graceful. On the whole, it's an outing that could have done a little more with less, and while Johnson and company are bursting with ideas (some of which defy expectations), they don't all work and the overly bloated running time of 152 minutes is a testament to that fact. The truth is, there's an entire segment of the film that could have been excised completely from the script and not much would have been lost.

When it works, it really works, but the fat overwhelms it all too often. Johnson acts as a sort of caretaker to the concepts and characters introduced in 2015, and to his credit, he gets them from one end of the film to the other without any major hiccups (save for Finn); but with that said, I find myself far more enthused to see Abrams pick the baton back up for Episode IX and close out what he started.

Oh, and by the way, the Porgs are terrible.

But I know you're not going to.

Read More

Review: Antonio Banderas Gives SECURITY Some Gravitas



The "Weathered Old Man Reclaiming His Masculinity" action genre has proven to be one of the more surprisingly durable trends of the last few years as many of the talented male leads of the 90s have aged out of their traditional roles. I doubt the makers of Taken knew that the trend they were restarting would last years, would outlast their own surprise franchise, and yet here we are. 2017 saw the genre reach what will likely be the high artistic watermark of its modern incarnation with Logan, the surprisingly mournful send-off for the Wolverine franchise, but most films in the genre have been... well, awful, to put it politely. From Tak3n's gibberish action to the dull bloat of the Expendables movies, the genre is reasonably popular but undeniably struggling. But fans of the genre looking for something considerably lighter than Logan's elegiac tone still have at least one 2017 winner to check out: Security.

In Security, Antonio Banderas plays Eddie Deacon, a veteran struggling to readjust and desperate for work. He agrees to take a job as an overnight security guard at a mall, but when a young girl shows up in the middle of the night, begging for help, he breaks the rules and lets her in. She's pursued by Charlie (Ben Kingsley), a mysterious but brutal gang leader seeking to capture the girl. Eddie refuses to let him in, and is forced to lead the mall's other overnight guards in fending off a midnight massacre in their mall. It's Assault on Precinct 13 in a mall, and while it lacks the casual brutality or the cops and crooks team-up of Assault, it's still a solid siege movie.

Security strikes something of an odd tone at times. Banderas' character is in some ways surprisingly grounded, his pain early in the film almost palpable. He's a man of honor coasting through a world to which he's struggling to readjust. But the other security guards are an almost comedic group, from goofy post-frat-bro Vance (Liam McIntyre) to silent bad-ass Ruby (Gabriella Wright). And Kingsley's gangleader is a scenery chewing pulp monster, a calm and collected murderer and player without a semblance of remorse; his gang is even more colorful, at times seeming ported in from a more adventurous action movie like The Raid. His axe-wielding flunky has a particularly fun sequence, though . The intersection between earnest gravitas, simple comedy, and broad pulp doesn't always entirely work, but when it does, it gives Security something extra to stand on its own. 


A large part of the reason the movie works is because, despite the less-than-clean action and some uninspired use of the mall location, is - surprisingly - the character work. Security gets us on Banderas' side immediately. Banderas gives what begins as a surprisingly muted performance - there's no "I have a particular set of skills" chest-thumping in this one - as a good dude struggling to readjust to civilian life after years in the military, and that's something the script manages to get across in a few short scenes. Eddie Deacon is not a proud man, but he's not an anti-hero; he genuinely comes across as a relatively normal guy trying desperately to do the right thing, and that's a rarity in this kind of film. He's more John McClane than Bryan... Taken? Bryan Takesman? Whatever, Liam Neeson.

The film's action also helps set it apart, though not always in a good way. Security largely eschews the brutal violence of Liam Neeson or Hugh Jackman by handcuffing Banderas from the get-go. He has no weapons, and his enemies largely travel in packs. Instead, he has to adapt to the mall, turning sections of the movie into a weird, bloody Home Alone -- albeit a Home Alone with surprisingly real emotional consequences. It reminded me at times of You're Next, the brilliant 2011 home invasion horror film that found an unlikely hero in the midst of a horrifying scenario. But Security lacks the cleanliness of You're Next, particularly when it comes to the action. You're Next, as a horror film, could set up some gruesome, heart-wrenching twists and moments of incredibly visceral violence, while Security largely sticks with bog standard action beats. The scenarios of those beats are varied, the characters within the scenarios are often solid, but the actual filming of the action is too close-shot and choppy to really land with the impact they need to.

Security is, in a lot of ways, a mish-mash of a lot of things that just shouldn't work together, but combined, it's an entertaining and appealing - if undeniably slight - action movie. Banderas has always been a strong, personable screen presence, and in a way, he's doing the reverse of what Neeson did in Taken: There, Neeson dialed back the depth of those expressive eyes, while Banderas actually amps his soulfulness up considerably. This isn't the charming, roguish Banderas of some of his more famous roles, but it feels like a surprisingly earnest attempt at a more mature action role. Security has its fair share of problems, from choppy action to some occasionally bizarre tonal leaps, but ultimately, Antonio Banderas remains a compelling, charismatic leading man, and he can bring a lot to even a fairly slight film.


Security is out now for rent on streaming services like Amazon Video. Written by Tony Mosher and John Sullivan and directed by Alain Desrochers, Security stars Antonio Banderas and Ben Kingsley.
Read More

Monday, December 11, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 208

 Bug! The Adventures of Forager #6
by Mike Allred


 Dept. H # 21
by Matt Kindt


 Gravetrancers #1
by James Whynot


Harrow County #28
by Tyler Crook


Rumble #1
by David Rubín


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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Atlanta Film Critics Circle names GET OUT Top Film of 2017



Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, this year’s top film according to the AFCC. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Atlanta Film Critics Circle Announces Annual Award Winners
Atlanta (Dec. 2017)--Co-founded in 2017 by longtime Atlanta film critics Michael Clark and Felicia Feaster, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle (AFCC) has released its awards for this year’s top films, performers and other stand-outs in a host of critical categories.

Jordan Peele’s debut film effort, Get Out, a blend of horror and social commentary, was the winner as the top film of the year for its insightful transposition of issues of race to the horror genre, followed by Christopher Nolan’s skillful, galvanizing Dunkirk, about that definitive WWII battle, and a rousing throwback to the technical proficiency and style of classic Hollywood cinema.

Winners in the Top 10 film category were a blend of established talent like Steven Spielberg for The Post, horror/fantasy vet Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water and Nolan (Dunkirk).

But in addition to notable works by some of Hollywood’s heavy-hitters, 2017 also signaled the rise of some promising newcomers including actress and first-time director Greta Gerwig whose coming-of-age dramedy Lady Bird, centers on a Sacramento teen headed for college who continually clashes with her emotionally-paralyzed mother (AFCC’s Best Supporting Actress winner Laurie Metcalf); writers Emily V. Gordon and comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick, based on Gordon’s real-life experience with a life-threatening illness; and Jordan Peele, a former member of the comedy duo Key and Peele, who delivered a stunning testament to black fear of the white power structure told through the eyes of a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time in Get Out.

Newcomers and indie and Hollywood stalwarts alike defined this year’s AFCC acting winners. British actress Sally Hawkins delivered a complex, emotionally resonant performance as a mute woman in love with an amphibious creature in The Shape of Water while Laurie Metcalf, perhaps best known for her turn on television’s “Roseanne,” offered a tragic, nuanced performance as a deeply flawed mother in Lady Bird. Longtime film and theater heavyweight Willem Dafoe won a Best Supporting Actor nod from the AFCC for his performance as a harried but decent Orlando, Florida motel manager in director Sean Baker‘s poignant treatment of characters living on society’s margins in The Florida Project. Heralded for his exceptional turn as a brilliant, sophisticated but romantically inexperienced young man falling in love for the first time, 21-year-old Timothée Chalamet was recognized by AFCC for his heart-wrenching performance in Call Me by Your Name.

In addition to these awards, the AFCC each year recognizes a performer, writer or director in the AFCC Breakthrough Award dedicated to exceptional emerging talent in the film industry.

This year’s Breakthrough Award winner was Jordan Peele for his remarkable dexterity in moving from comedy to profound social issue horror in Get Out. This year’s runner up for the Breakthrough Award was Timothée Chalamet. Says AFCC co-founder Michael Clark, of the Gwinnett Daily Post, “the nomination process for our ‘Breakthrough Award’ alone speaks volumes about the diversity in our group. The finalists were the director of a cutting-edge, socially aware horror/thriller and an emerging young actor starring in a tragic romantic drama. I’m proud to have co-founded a group with such a collective keen eye on blossoming talent.”

“This has been an exceptionally good year to be a film critic” says AFCC co-founder Felicia Feaster whose work appears in Atlanta magazine, Burnaway, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Travel Channel, “with a host of remarkable films that engage with very relevant social issues and also propel the art of filmmaking forward by reinvigorating a genre like monster movies in The Shape of Water or the war film in Dunkirk. The AFCC has already demonstrated a knack for identifying notable talent, both new and established.”

Full list of AFCC winners:

TOP 10 2017 FILMS
1. Get Out
2. Dunkirk
3. Lady Bird
4. The Shape of Water
5. Call Me by Your Name
6. The Florida Project
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
8. The Big Sick
9. Baby Driver
10. The Post

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST DIRECTOR
Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

BEST SCREENPLAY
Jordan Peele for Get Out

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Tie: Jane and Kedi

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
BPM (Beats Per Minute)

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Coco

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk

AFCC BREAKTHROUGH AWARD
Jordan Peele for Get Out

ABOUT THE AFCC
Composed of a dynamic mix of Atlanta-based critics working in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, the newly launched Atlanta Film Critics Circle solidifies Atlanta’s status as a Top 10 film market with a robust media presence and a booming film production industry. Georgia is currently number 1 in feature film production over any other market according to FilmL.A. Inc.

Co-founded by Michael Clark and Felicia Feaster, founding members (in alphabetical order) of AFCC are: Ed Adams (Kaleidoscope Reviews), Christopher Campbell (Movies.com), Michael Clark (The Gwinnett Daily Post), Jake Cole (Slant.com), Jim Farmer (Out on Film), Felicia Feaster (Burnaway, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Travel Channel.com), Matt Goldberg (Collider.com), Jonathan Hickman (Newnan Times-Herald), Curt Holman (Creative Loafing, Living Intown Magazine), Will Leitch (New York Magazine, Paste Magazine, The New Republic), Emma Loggins (Fanbolt), Michael McKinney (the CW), Steve Murray (ArtsATL), Kyle Pinion (Comicsbeat.com, GeekRex.com), Eleanor Ringel-Cater (The Atlanta Business Chronicle), Gil Robertston (Kaleidoscope Reviews), Matt Rodriguez (Shakefire.com), Elijah Sarkesian (Outtakes ATL), Josh Sewell (Times-Georgian, Douglas County Sentinel), Jeff Stafford (ArtsATL), Dean Treadway (Movie Geeks United), Jim Vorel (Paste Magazine), Steve Warren (InSite), Drew Wheeler (Athens Flagpole).

For more information about AFCC or our annual award winners, please contact Felicia Feaster at ffeaster@bellsouth.net



Nahuel Pérez Biscayart stars in the AFCC Best Foreign-Language Film award-winner BPM. ©Céline Nieszawer/The Orchard
Read More

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: Guillermo del Toro crafts his best English-language feature with THE SHAPE OF WATER

Guillermo del Toro is a master stylist of neo-gothic intrigue and supernatural thrills, and with his best work, combines those two elements into satisfying forays into otherwordly cinema. No one will ever say the Mexican-born filmmaker is lacking in visual lushness where his films are concerned and those efforts produced in his native language are perfect examples of what happens with del, Toro perfectly executes that acumen for haunting imagery along with a captivating sense of storytelling. Cronos is one of the more creative spins on the vampire myth of the last few decades, The Devil's Backbone is a better Hellboy movie, in tone and spirit, than the actual Hellboy films he made, and Pan's Labyrinth is a full-stop, probably should have won Best Picture, masterpiece.

It's when he takes a spin at films in English where things get dicey. To be fair, I don't particularly think it has anything to do with the language that's at issue; as the troubles in this area are mostly set in his choice of projects in the first place. Being within the purview of blockbuster entertainment over the quieter, artier kind of films that del Toro actually excels at, leaves him at a distinct disadvantage even when it's a project that he originates like Pacific Rim. But what this career path has carved out for del Toro is something that can simply be labeled as: Spanish-language del Toro: Good!, English-language del Toro: Bad! Or to be less pedantic, EXTREMELY hit and mostly miss.

With The Shape of Water, I'm happy to announce that he's cracked the code a bit. It seemed like he was finally embracing the trappings that make his best work shine with 2015's Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water sees that confidence come to full fruition with what is indeed, the strangest romance of the year.

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, a really quite excellent (when is she not?) Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute since birth, part of the cleaning staff at a high security US Government research facility. Elisa loves to watch movies with her closeted artist neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), work alongside her coworker and friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and frequently masturbate in her bathtub. It's this latter detail that immediately grabs hold of you, not in a way that is necessarily gratuitous, but more in the sense that it's an unflinching look at a woman's appetite for sex, and a woman who is also in her 40's at that (if we're to take the actresses' age to be at all indicative of the character's, a dangerous assumption I admit). It's a refreshing blast of honesty right at the outset of the picture, and makes a powerful statement of intent and boldness.

From there, we're introduced to the ruthless Colonel Strickland, who brings with him a recent rainforest capture that he deposits within the facility that Elisa and Zelda work, this amphibian man (Doug Jones, playing a direct descendant of the same inspiration of design that gave us The Creature from the Black Lagoon and perhaps more pertinently Hellboy's Abe Sapien) quickly becomes the subject of experimentation by the sympathetic Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has his own plans for the creature, and brutal torture by his initial captor. Elisa befriends the creature during his cleaning rounds, and this quickly blossoms into something wholly unexpected, if you hadn't looked at a poster, or a trailer or any of the marketing materials or interviews tied to the film. The fallout from this quickly burgeoning relationship create shockwaves through each character's life, in varying ways.

As noted above, del Toro's sensibilities toward creating picturesque settings is on full display here, and it's arguable that this technical day-dream of a world that he and DP Dan Laustsen breathe life into is utterly arresting from the first frame. From the moment, Elisa walks out of her apartment and perpendicular to the movie theater she and Giles spend their nights above, the viewers is engulfed in a environment that feels ripped right out of the most idealized 1950's day dream, while also set apart just enough from reality to feel within step of del Toro's oeuvre. While waiting for the bus, there's a man sitting on the same bench with a balloon and a whole birthday cake. He plays no part in the film except to add to the coloring that surrounds Elisa, but it's hard not to wonder while you're watching, "what's going on with that guy?". The Shape of Water is filled with little details like that from the outset that adds a wicked three-dimensionality that is irresistible.

Beyond its stylistic pleasures, the other great joy on-hand is the narrative's generally propulsive nature and just how effortlessly it shifts from genre to genre. What begins as a flight of fancy, turns into a bit of a horror film, then becomes a romance, shifts to a Cold War spy thriller, then a heist feature, then becomes a horror film again, and finally turns into an outright fantasy. That del Toro is able to allow these disparate tones to sit alongside one another without the sense of an awkward fit is a testament to the filmmaker himself, a avowed fan of "low-cinema" and his full-fledged embrace of the unique theme on hand.

The Shape of Water is, at its core, a love letter to being an "outsider" and the feeling that you simply do not have a place in this world, no matter what your social status may be. This applies to basically every major character within the film's core cast, from the creature himself, to Elisa whose physical limitations have crafted her own perspective, to Giles' own struggles with his sexuality in a repressive time, and Zelda is a black woman in the 1950's...say no more. Even the white males, Dr. Hoffstetler and Col. Strickland are faced with their own sense of existential dilemma and struggles of morality, with Strickland being particularly a stand-out focus of the film in a way that's wholly unexpected. This is the rare film of this nature that actually spends a good deal of its running time to develop its antagonist and give its audience a sense of understanding of just what external and internal pressures drive him to make the awful decisions he makes. We even get backstory for the kind of candy he eats! That's some attention to detail!

If there's an area that could have used a little more work at the scripting stage, it's sadly within the central romance itself. While the principal ideal that drives both Elisa and the creature together is a very intriguing one, even when you describe it in isolation, in context and as presented here, it feels a little light-weight. It's as if, del Toro, a bit impatient to get right to the good stuff, basically just assumes you will be along for the ride when Elisa is instantly attracted to him, and then a little longer down the line moves their relationship into the physical. Some important connective tissue is missing to make this torrid love affair one that's a bit more earned, and to some degree there's a sense of discomfort because the creature is given very little personality of his own beyond a few longing looks and gestures towards Elisa. There's a thin line between this being an even-footed human/non-human pairing, and one where the human is nearly taking advantage of a creature ripped from the safety of his natural home. One can only assume this was a sacrifice of a reasonable running time, but it seems an odd choice in that it critically injures the central conceit of the entire work.

Provided you feel like you can connect those dots yourself, or just get over the unearned nature of this unusual love story, you'll be treated to a nice display of craft, and while it still falls short of his earlier triumphs, it's a step in the right direction for the Hollywood expansion of del Toro's unique vision of the world that lies just underneath our own.



Read More

Monday, December 4, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 207

 Barbarella #1
by Kenneth Rocafort


Batman #36
by Olivier Coipel


Mirror #9
by Hwei Lim


Paradiso #1
by Dev Pramanik and Dearbhla Kelly


Sleepless #1
by Leila Del Duca


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

Review: THE DISASTER ARTIST, the finest film about Hollywood foibles since Ed Wood

I have seen The Room twice now, both times with a relatively large crowd of eager viewers. And both times, it's gone over like gangbusters. From raucous laughter to outright revulsion, Tommy Wiseau's wholly unintentional comedy is, without a doubt, this century's Plan 9 from Outer Space.

And in that vein, much like Plan 9's Ed Wood, Wiseau is now receiving the red carpet biopic treatment that he was denied. Unlike Wood, Wiseau is alive to see it as well as participating in the promotion and benefiting from the same. It's quite a turn of events for a figure who was a source of derision for so long, to suddenly find himself the toast of the industry in a picture glorifying the very making of his long-held reputation as a terrible filmmaker. But thanks to James Franco, who himself is no stranger to outsider art, The Disaster Artist turns the making of one of the (best) worst films of all time into one of this year's best cinematic experiences.

For those coming in wondering what the fuss is about, Franco plays the above-mentioned Wiseau, a man of basically unknown origin (we never learn how old he is, where his accent hails from, or how he seems to be able to pull from an endless source of income). Early on, Wiseau takes the 19 year old Greg Sestaro (Dave Franco) under his wing and, despite Sestaro's mother's protestations, they move to Wiseau's totally unused LA apartment to try and make their dreams of Hollywood stardom a reality. But despite Sestaro's good looks and Wiseau's endless enthusiasm, fame and opportunity continually elude them. And after a joking comment from the younger actor about how they should "just make their own movie", Wiseau decides that's just the thing they need to conquer Hollywood.

There's a wild bit of kismet on display here, with Franco pulling the exact same double duty as Wiseau, both starring and directing, and without a doubt The Disaster Artist fully revolves around his orbit. Franco produces what is, without doubt, the best performance of his career, even outstripping his much more subtle everyman work in 127 Hours. More than mere mimicry, Franco outright becomes Wiseau, or at least such a close approximation, to the point where the actor and role become difficult to extricate. This is the same kind of full-blown transformative character work Franco employed on Spring Breakers, but taken to a new extreme. His performance is so captivating that everyone else feels a bit flatter by comparison, despite the fact that many of his costars are doing some pretty decent work inhabiting people you've probably never heard of, and would have no reason to unless you watched The Room.

Which begs an interesting question. How much would one appreciate The Disaster Artist if you haven't seen The Room before? I've seen it argued both ways. And as always, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. It's easy to imagine there might be an element of befuddlement for the uninitiated, particularly when the filming of the movie itself begins, especially when it feels as though the characters are trying to give voice to the same criticisms of The Room that viewers have observed for years. But the script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is cleanly structured enough, with simple universal themes, built around friendship and trying to subvert expectations that others have cast upon you, that newcomers will find a lot to hang their hats on - along with Franco, presiding over the best directorial work of his career, as he casts aside much of his more outre impulses and delivers a film that zips along from point to point in a highly entertaining fashion. I've seen it twice now already, and I'd be delighted to take it in again, it's so compulsively fun and watchable in a way that Awards season fodder so rarely is.

The Disaster Artist is basically built around the relationship between Wiseau and Sestaro, and does little to stray from that, even during the making of their infamous project. Other characters come and go, but we don't even learn many of their names, which is fine - because they continually pass like ships in the night through the narrative. This allows for a good deal of stunt casting, some of which works (Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, and Jackie Weaver all stand-out especially), while others start to feel more like an SNL bit. But it's all so fleeting, that no amount of Franco bringing his pals on-board really distracts too much at all what is a really rich bromance. It's especially heartening to see the elder Franco never take a tact with Tommy that demeans him as a person. He certainly challenges his decision making process, and how he actively abused his crew during production of The Room, but there's never a point where we as an audience are laughing at him. If nothing else, it's clear that Franco sees Wiseau as a kindred spirit, even down to their shared relationship with the work of James Dean - Franco got one of his earlier big breaks playing the iconic actor, whereas Wiseau's most famous line in The Room: "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" is his own tribute to Dean's most notable role.

With all that said, the truth is Dave Franco's Sestaro is actually the protagonist, and his straight man performance provides a strong sounding board for which Tommy's egotism and madcap attitude can pay off. The Francos, obviously quite comfortable with one another, are able to produce a believable bond between this unlikely pair that drives The Room into cinematic infamy, and The Disaster Artist into greatness. It provides both a satirical and loving look at the art of bad filmmaking, the thirst for Hollywood stardom - lack of talent notwithstanding, and a canvas upon which we get what is basically going to the be James Franco performance to end all performances. It also finally cements him as a filmmaker of note in his own right. Pretty ironic to say the least.

Also, it has the best needle drop of the year.


Read More

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: DARKEST HOUR is your typical biopic take on the Dunkirk conflict

This past Summer, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk hit like a bolt from the blue on the cinematic landscape. An auteurist showcase disguised as an audience crowdpleaser, but what was most remarkable about it, beyond being the finest film in the continually meteoric trajectory of the world's most popular filmmaker, was its own atypicality within the "dramatic reinterpretation of real world events" space. A film made all the more vital by its lack of vital characters, and how it interpreted the expendability of these young men being sent off to war through our biased viewpoints through decades of remove. Its near silent nature gave way to the most realistic portrayal of in-combat dynamics in recent memory, though you could forgive it one or two moments of chest-puffing - it's Mr. Nolan after all.

Darkest Hour (not to be confused with the 2011 clunker THE Darkest Hour, though it's a mistake I seem to make with regularity) is Joe Wright's picturesque take on the same time frame. Though he wisely casts his net away from the conflict on the French shores and instead decides the best dramatic approach is to pay attention to what the bureaucrats are up to during these same tumultuous weeks (and months). In a way, Wright's attempt to make up for a number of his recent big screen misfires produces a suitable companion piece to Nolan's tour de force, not only as a film that fills the gaps that its forbearer leaves open, but also an example to highlight that previous effort's essential nature within the genre.

Of course, it goes without saying, though it will be said anyway, the centerpiece of the film is Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his ongoing travails just before taking over at the head of Parliament and the struggle he faced with his fellow MP's to determine Britain's continued role in the battle against Hitler's growing domination of Europe. Churchill is driven by a dogged determination to continue the fight, and to keep the Axis powers off of Britain's shores, while many of his fearful colleagues - worn tired by the losses in France and elsewhere, no longer want to see their boys murdered on foreign soil and seek to sue for peace.

Hunkered in an underground war facility, with time of the essence, Churchill must manage the biggest challenge of his already event-filled life, while also determining how to get the nation's stranded sons home.

It's hard to deny that Wright has designed a real crowd-pleaser that worms its way into your heart, particularly with its gambit play towards the tenacity of the British people as if it were an object to be grasped. But Anthony McCarten's script is the textbook definition of "safe", with all the typical trappings. The larger than life shots of Churchill and imposing views of Parliament's chambers, the musical swells aimed to manipulate its audience's emotions in a very tactile way, and the typical great man archetype in which this entire story is conceived. To wit, you'd be led to believe, based on the way this film is framed, only Churchill was on the right side of history and Darkest Hour consistently plugs away at the immense pressures he faced in his attempt to "never surrender", until he's even able to win over the fairly adversarial King himself (with Ben Mendelsohn essaying the best take on George VI of the three recent portrayals on both the big and small screen).

Perhaps in an even more transparent fashion to give its audience something relatable to grasp onto, they make a big play of Lily James' character, Elizabeth Layton, who was indeed Churchill's personal secretary from 1941-1945, and not only is she intended to be the POV character for the audience for whom a ton of exposition can be vomited upon, but she basically is Churchill's moral compass throughout. The issue at hand is that while James' performance is capable, given the maudlin nature of the material, every moment we spend with her and not Churchill, is when there's a collective sense of watch checking and it's hard not to see the strings being pulled via her sole function within the film's narrative backdrop.

But indeed, it's Churchill that keeps Darkest Hour just above par through Oldman's absolutely heavyweight performance. His casting itself is likely the most outre aspect of the entire production, given Oldman's slimmer frame and the smarmier qualities that have made him a go-to rogue in so many standout roles over the decades. But, underneath a boatload of facial prosthetics, makeup and layers and layers of padding, one of the industry's most underappreciated character actors is finally given his time to reach for Oscar gold and does so with aplomb. Oldman is barely recognizable, which is truly saying something for an actor who has made his career as a chameleon; but the way he's able to just melt into the physical changes required to bring this historical titan to life are likely worth the price of admission itself. There's a moment that especially strikes at the heart of Oldman's work, when Churchill has to make a desperate call to FDR in order to secure more boats in order to save their stranded soldiers. While we often see Churchill portrayed as an unflappable blustery sort, in those moments, Oldman gives life to something we so rarely see in the historical record: his vulnerability. I often enjoy seeing teeth marks left on the scenery, but Oldman knows just when to dial it back and gives a full-fledged portrayal that basically props up Darkest Hour on his shoulders alone.

In an ordinary year, Darkest Hour would be your Oscar bait biopic that could very well be making a King's Speech style run...but this isn't a typical year, and after Dunkirk paved a far more innovative way for this story to be told (the comparison becomes all the more pronounced when you realize both movies end with the same speech given to Parliament), it's difficult to see Darkest Hour as much more than a pleasant diversion after the real show has already ended.


Read More
Subscribe
Labels
Popular Posts
© GeekRex All rights reserved