Most films don’t come with homework. The same cannot be said of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s new movie, The Marvels. Unless you’re a devoted MCU fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of both the movies and the Disney+ TV originals, it’s difficult to understand the mechanics of this disastrously convoluted entry in the floundering franchise. It feels like being dropped headfirst into a crossover episode based on three shows you’ve never seen -- mostly because it is. The Marvels kicks off with a bit of genuine visual interest (that never appears again) in the form of hand-drawn comics created by teenage superhero-slash-Captain Marvel fangirl Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), aka Ms. Marvel. Vellani, who previously appeared as Kamala on the little-seen Disney+ series Ms. Marvel, is a spunky, hilarious teenage heroine whose impressive comedic timing buoys the leaden, disjointed script. She so thoroughly steals the show that it’s disappointing this movie wasn’t just about her; instead, it's a confused mix of storylines involving Kamala, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), and astronaut Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, Candyman). It feels like the powers that be made a huge mistake in consigning her story to a poorly publicized streaming original, instead of letting her headline a film on her own. Continue Reading →
Rules of Engagement
Even William Friedkin's most loyal fans would admit the Nineties were not a particularly fertile artistic period for him. That decade saw him putting out the laughable horror film The Guardian (1990), the eventual release of his long-on-the-shelf and heavily recut 1987 death penalty drama Rampage (1992), the tepid sports drama Blue Chips (1994), and the resoundingly unnecessary (save for a nifty car chase) Jade (1995). On the small screen, he helmed two made-for-cable remakes, the Roger Corman production Jailbreakers (1994) with Shannen Doherty, Antonio Sabato Jr., and Adrien Brody, and 12 Angry Men (1997) with a powerhouse cast that included Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, Ossie Davis, James Gandolfini and, perhaps inevitably, Tony Danza. Continue Reading →
The Kill Room
I was a latecomer to The Room, not seeing it for the first time until 2010, long after its initial, extremely short-lived theatrical release and then its designation, spearheaded by, among others, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, and Paul Rudd, as a genuine pop culture oddity. I only had some vague idea of what it was about (and its off-putting poster art, featuring it's Kubrick-staring writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau, offered no clues), but I was also a fan of cinematic endurance tests and thought that I should see what the big deal was. Continue Reading →
When it was announced in 1975 that Robert Altman, then riding high on the success of his groundbreaking epic Nashville, had been hired to direct the film version of E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel Ragtime, it almost seemed too good to be true. After all, not only was he one of the most inventive American filmmakers of the era, he seemed uniquely qualified to bring the book to the screen. Additionally, with its sprawling cast of characters, multiple storylines, and cheeky mixture of fact and fiction, Nashville now seems like an experiment to test out potential approaches for tackling that book. Continue Reading →
Hollywood is in something of a conundrum these days. Audiences have by no means lost their taste for a good action flick, but such movies are meant for a theater experience, which has become somewhat limited by necessity. Then there’s the fact that so much of our lust for violence tends to be sated by established properties such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its competitors, not to mention other franchises such as the Fast & the Furious and The Purge movies. Continue Reading →
Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard
It takes almost an hour for Patrick Hughes’ The Hitman’s Wife's Bodyguard to take a break. At around the 52-minute mark, the film goes without dialogue, gunshots/explosions, or a car chase. But this short-lived, relatively still moment lasts less than a minute. Like a person terrified of an awkward silence who just keeps talking and talking to fill the void, Hughes does not let the movie ever take a second to breathe. Continue Reading →
Spiral: From the Book of Saw
If you happen to stumble upon the Wikipedia page for Spiral, the ninth and newest feature film in the Saw franchise, you find a goldmine full of stories, exaggerations, and words strung together that you hardly believe are real. Chris Rock, the star and executive producer of Spiral, ran into Michael Burns, the Vice Chairman of Lionsgate, at a friend’s wedding in Brazil. They chatted about the horror genre, with Rock expressing intent to take his career on a different path. Continue Reading →
Every month, we at The Spool select a filmmaker to explore in greater depth — their themes, their deeper concerns, how their works chart the history of cinema and the filmmaker’s own biography. For March, we celebrate the birthday (and the decades-long filmography) of one of America’s most pioneering Black filmmakers, Spike Lee. Read the rest of our coverage here.
It’s been 32 years since the release of Spike Lee’s 1988 hit School Daze, a film that tackles the tough conversations and experiences of young educated black people through music, dance, and situational confrontation. It’s Lee’s third film, one where he’s still finding his footing, and yet he already has his finger on many of the issues that affected young black audiences at the time, and still do today.
Set in the fictional historically-black Mission College, viewers are first introduced to young black activist Dap (Larry Fishburne) when his boycott of apartheid in South Africa is interrupted by Greek life (and social order) leader Julian (Giancarlo Esposito) and his pledges. Throughout the film, the pair butt heads in more ways than one, but the confrontation at its core is who really brings power to black people. Continue Reading →
Spike Lee & Company: Do It a Cappella
For the month of March, we look back at the vibrant, confrontational, incisive work of one of American filmmaking's most iconic figures.
It's hard to say where American filmmaking (especially African-American filmmaking) would be without the impact of one ambitious Brooklynite named Spike Lee. At this point, he's been making films for over twenty-five years, from stone-cold classics like Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour to misguided misfires like She Hate Me and Oldboy. But whether you love or hate a Spike Lee film, you always feel some kind of way about it, which is a testament to Lee's incredible passion. There are no half-measures in Lee's work; it'll either change your life, or make you cock your head in confusion.
But even if he doesn't have a perfect batting average as a filmmaker (and who does, really?), Lee's explosive breakout into the American independent film scene, and subsequent longevity, are impossible to deny. One of the most prominent African-American filmmakers in film history, his early successes with She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, and Do the Right Thing (all of which are deeply entrenched in Black culture, relationships, and sociopolitical concerns) turned him into a symbol for Black excellence, and helped usher in a wave of new Black filmmakers to achieve more wide-reaching appeal.
What makes Lee's film so divisive -- so easy to celebrate when they're good, so noxious when they're bad -- is his admirable capacity for provocation. There's no room for white comfort, no 'one of the good ones' layering that often allows crossover audiences to distance themselves from the racism and prejudice he explores in many of his works. Characters practically (and often literally) shout their grievances right at the camera, from the montage of racist rants performed by Do the Right Thing's characters partway through the film to Edward Norton's incendiary monologue in the mirror during 25th Hour. They're practically in your face, in the most fitting sense of the word. Continue Reading →