A decade's worth of superhero movies goes out with a big, stupid grin on its face.
One would hope that a film franchise with as much money poured into it as the DC Cinematic Universe would rage, rage against the dying of the light. Yet here we are, limping towards the end of a slate of superhero flicks marred by terrible reviews (Shazam! 2), controversy (The Flash), or sheer too-little-too-late-ness (Blue Beetle). As the superhero genre continues to flag in a year of duds, DC's set for a reinvention, a clean slate courtesy of former Marvel it-boy James Gunn and co-head Peter Safran. Before they can wipe the board and start all over with the label's slate of classic capes, though, there's a few rounds left in the last guy's chamber to fire off. That's what Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom feels like, easily the least objectionable of the DC films to come out in 2023. Problem is, that's not saying much.
A sequel to Aquaman should have been a slam dunk: Director James Wan's 2018 take on the King of Atlantis was a welcome breath of neon-soaked pop art in a franchise studded with Snyderesque dourness, leaning into the innate silliness of an underwater take on Flash Gordon. Jason Momoa is as effortless a casting as you could imagine for DC's hardest-to-pin-down superhero, brimming with giddy frat-boy energy. At its best moments, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom leans into its star's goofiness and even lets it infect some of the rest of the cast. But there's no escaping the feeling of weariness, both for a cast and crew who are just repeating the novel beats of the first and an audience that's just plain starved for something new. Continue Reading →
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 →
An overview of the diverse features selected to screen at this year's Austin Film Festival.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the work being covered here wouldn't exist.
A cycle rickshaw, adorned with a Texas flag billowing in the wind, whizzes by while blaring a Luke Combs tune. Massive murals of Willie Nelson and Post Malone gaze down on passersby like the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg. A man in a Blue Lives Matter shirt waltzes past a "PROTECT TRANS KIDS" sign planted on the lawn of a Catholic Church. Welcome to Austin, Texas, a Southern hotspot that, for the final weekend of October 2023, wasn't just home to these and other oddball sights, but also the backdrop for the 30th edition of the Austin Film Festival. Though not as world-famous as the Toronto International Film Festival or Cannes, Austin's annual ode to cinema is still a much-ballyhooed event attended by freelance journalists, aspiring screenwriters, iconic filmmakers, and everyone in between. Continue Reading →
The low-budget confines of Blumhouse movies mean that any idea can become a movie, including bold original visions like Whiplash or Get Out. Unfortunately, it also means a lot of subpar stuff can easily get the green light. The latest example is the new Amazon/Blumhouse collaboration, Totally Killer. Hailing from director Nahnatchka Khan, Totally Killer dares to ask a question no reasonable soul was pondering. “What if Happy Death Day and Hot Tub Time Machine had a tedious baby?” Buckle up, horror devotees. Here comes yet another dose of 1980s nostalgia and some frighteningly lousy editing. Continue Reading →
Meg 2: The Trench
Ever since James Cameron boldly wrote “S” after ALIEN on a chalkboard and then changed it to a dollar sign, the quickest way to sequel-ize your killer extraterrestrial/reptile/mammal/whatever has been to add more of it. You scored a hit with people fighting one giant mosquito? Great, here’s a sequel with six of them. Continue Reading →
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Despite their hue, not all TMNT films deserved to be greenlit.
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in 1984. Now almost 40 years later, what started as a comic book has inspired seven movies, five television series, and countless amounts of merchandise. This week the four ninja tortoises return in a new animated incarnation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Considering I’ve been a fan of the Turtles since six years old, this seems like the perfect time to put an official rating on four decades of movies. Some are gnarly, some tubular, and there’s always a whole lot of cowabunga.
Writers Note: This list doesn’t include the recent Netflix installment Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, a TV-movie crossover Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the live recording of the 1990 Coming Out of Their Shells stage show. That one you can catch on YouTube, although I don’t know why you would. Continue Reading →
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe got bigger and bigger and bigger, it was downright refreshing to see something as fittingly small and low-stakes as the Ant-Man films break up all the universe-ending tension. It was nice; after watching the Avengers punch through an exhausting sea of robotic baddies and set up a bunch of Infinity Stone dross, along came Paul Rudd as a smirking, kinda-dumb thief who lucked his way into a shrinking suit he used on a tech heist. After Thanos snapped half the universe away, we flashed back to good ol' Scott Lang on a caper to bring his mentor Hank Pym's (Michael Douglas) wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) back from the Quantum Realm. They were lighter, more carefree, a much-needed sitcom wing of the MCU. Continue Reading →
In the climactic monologue of the original Magic Mike, Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) says, “I don’t want to be a forty-year-old stripper.” It’s an affecting scene that shows that Mike understands the dead-end nature of his current lifestyle and his desire to escape, and it makes the ending where he gives stripping up a satisfying one. Continue Reading →
We’re officially in the third decade of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being a movie star. The former WWE legend made his cinema debut in the forgettable sequel to The Mummy, where he’s introduced as the dreaded Scorpion King, one of the most infamous early CGI debacles. Special effects have since improved, along with Johnson’s abilities as an actor and charismatic leading man. However, it feels like now we’ve come full circle with DC’s Black Adam. Continue Reading →
James Nguyen hammers down the end of his bad-movie trilogy with a true stinker of birdemic proportions... and not in a fun way.
(This review is part of our coverage of Fantastic Fest 2022.)
With its stilted acting, incompetent screenplay and direction, and special effects that looked like someone puttering around with After Effects for the very first time, James Nguyen’s "ecological horror" film Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) became a cult favorite among bad film fanatics, especially latecomers to the hoopla surrounding The Room looking for something they could claim as their own. Continue Reading →
Considering Kevin Smith's career from a 2022 perspective is a fascinating exercise. His early output, from 1994's Clerks to 2001's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, were once quintessential texts for Gen X / film nerds, treated with the same reverence as the films of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. But that isn’t the case anymore, and hasn’t been for over a decade. Continue Reading →
It's no understatement to say that Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok was a welcome shot in the arm for both the titular God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. There's something to be said for cutting out the creaky Shakespearean grandeur of the first two Thors in favor of whiz-bang sitcom theatrics, with a dash of Guardians of the Galaxy's signature irreverence thrown in, all leather and ironic needle-drops and "well that happened"s. The result was a whiz-bang sci-fi action comedy that made a buttload of cash, extended Thor's lease on cinematic life, and catapulted Waititi into Hollywood's A-list. Continue Reading →
In the video game version of the original Jurassic Park for the Sega Genesis, you can choose to play the side scroller as either Dr. Grant or a Velociraptor. Of course, you choose the raptor almost every time because dinosaurs are cooler than humans. It’s a great lesson for making a fun video game, but not for making a successful movie franchise. Continue Reading →
Aadrman's original 1989 Creature Comforts did something unique. Director Nick Park took interviews with everyday Britain residents and then put those vocals into the mouths of stop-motion animated zoo animals. The result was fascinating, as two disparate elements combined to tap into the daily woes which inform our lives. Whether you’re a lion trapped in an exhibit, or a man just yearning for the space of your original home country, melancholy emotions are universal. Continue Reading →
It's clear from the starting gun that Paramount originally intended to push The Tomorrow War as a major summer theatrical release. But given the pandemic, Amazon Prime Video has stepped up to rollout this 140-minute sci-fi action romp starring Chris Pratt of Marvel’s Cosmic corner and Jurassic World fame. Continue Reading →
At this point, the mechanics of a Fast and Furious movie are no secret. Running on an engine of blistering sincerity, the over-the-top action inevitably finds Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) pulled in for “one last job.” You’ll see a street race populated by women in bikinis. Fancy cars will defy the laws of physics as they inevitably crash, fly, or crash while flying. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) shall vamp and riff to kingdom come. Coronas will be consumed and, in the end, family will emerge victorious. Continue Reading →
Peggy Sue Got Married
As Gena Radcliffe laid out in her keynote, Francis Ford Coppola’s work most often reflects an ambition to blow out plot points to near-operatic proportions. Coppola makes it literal in The Godfather series, but one can observe it throughout his career—in Harry Caul’s outsized paranoia, the psychological horror of Apocalypse Now, the costuming of Dracula (and everything else come to it), the teen and gang dynamics of both The Outsiders and Rumble Fish and so on. Continue Reading →
There are certain places that, when you visit, you can feel the weight of time pushing up from under your feet. In 2015, I was visiting a friend in Sweden when his partner took us to the island of Oland, where you can touch the monolith headstones of the Vikings buried there. In one spot, two rows of stones met, parted, and met again in a longboat shape. I’ve thought about that day often since then, the long-dead warriors whose monuments I could touch. Less than a year later, my friend would be gone, but I will always remember that day, the way the time-worn stone felt under my hands. Continue Reading →