Yorgos Lanthimos directs a sumptuous adult fairy tale featuring Emma Stone at her very best.
Here’s the thing about Yorgos Lanthimos: you’re either on board with him, or you’re not. Even in The Favourite, arguably his most accessible film, there’s a sort of joyful grotesqueness to it, leaving the audience laughing and wincing simultaneously. His latest offering, Poor Things, is his most visually dazzling film yet, with moments of stunning beauty and bittersweet insight, but still isn’t afraid to test the audience’s sensibilities. It’s a film about what it means to be alive, every little disgusting aspect of it.
Based on Alasdair Gray’s novel of the same name, Poor Things opens in dreary black and white London, where eccentric scientist Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) is overseeing an experiment that’s both miraculous and horrifying. Baxter, whose face looks like it was carved into several pieces and then put back together the wrong way, has brought a woman back to life after she committed suicide. The woman, whom he’s renamed Bella (Emma Stone, with a magnificent pair of eyebrows), initially has the mind of a toddler, but she’s learning and maturing at an astonishing rate. Bella refers to Godwin as “God,” and so far knows no one and nothing else but him and their home together. Continue Reading →
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Despite a challenging premise and an overlong runtime, the Hunger Games prequel makes the most of the hand it’s been dealt.
The character of Coriolanus Snow is an odd choice for a Hunger Games hero. In the original books and films, as played by screen giant Donald Sutherland, Snow was a cold-hearted, cruel dictator clearly meant to echo real world fascist leaders. Here, in the prequel story The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (say that five times fast), Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) is just a sensitive, emotional teen dreamboat whose main goal is to provide for his family in the wake of the violent revolution that tore apart Panem, the country formerly known as the United States of America.
It’s difficult to understand why author Suzanne Collins, who wrote the novel Songbirds is based on, made the decision to try to humanize a violent authoritarian when a core theme of the original Hunger Games books and movies was lashing back at systemic oppression. Nonetheless, director Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire, I Am Legend) and his enthusiastic cast of talented performers make the best of the rather thematically confused story arc they’ve been given, turning in one of the most exciting, emotionally arresting entries in the franchise. Continue Reading →
To talk about The Killer is to strip away pretense. Well, one can try. Cold it may be, but David Fincher's latest is an incredibly open film. The houses are made of glass; the windows are ceiling-high; the voiceovers from the title character (Michael Fassbender) give infallible insight into his worldview. The film is his worldview, simple in its machinations and complex in its philosophy. In most other circumstances, this would unfold over time. And it does here, at least to an extent. 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 →
Upon the news of the passing of William Friedkin, every headline reporting on the news focused on two films. It’s not surprising that the media spent so much time talking about The French Connection and The Exorcist, two bona fide masterpieces that paved the way for a new era of American filmmaking. What was disappointing was this seeming willingness to reduce a cinematic legend’s legacy to a burst of time in the early 1970s, thus dismissing the five decades that followed as either negligible or outright unworthy of interest. Continue Reading →
If Sorcerer’s sole highlight was Roy Scheider's descent into hallucinatory madness amidst an almost lunar rock field, it would still be a special movie. Scheider is Jackie Scanlon, an American getaway driver turned washed-up exile in the isolated Columbian village of Porvenir. He’s the last survivor of a desperate mission to transport increasingly unstable dynamite to a burning oil well. The blaze is so bad that only controlled explosions to burn off its fuel stand a chance of extinguishing it. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, including Jackie’s kibashed truck giving out a long walk from the well. Haunted by—or just plain hallucinating—the laughter of his dead co-driver, he stumbles forward. Surrounded by the surreal with nothing but a rickety crate between him and the hair-trigger death, it’s all he can do besides die. Continue Reading →
As an avid consumer of romance—be it in book, film, or television format—you learn to level expectations when a beloved story is adapted. That’s particularly the case amongst the recent spate of mid-to-low budget adaptations across the gamut of streaming services. Usually, the best-case scenario is they’re mildly enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. For example, there’s Prime Video’s recent adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue. More often than not, they’re absolutely dreadful. The less said about Netflix’s take on Austen’s Persuasion, the better. What is true, though, is that they’re very seldom genuinely good. Continue Reading →
A Million Miles Away is one of those movies that live in the meaty part of the decent curve. Far too sturdy and well-made to be called bad. Too rote and predictable to really call good. It tells the true story of José Hernández (Michael Pena), an unquestionably inspiring man who did an impossibly difficult thing under impossibly difficult circumstances. Continue Reading →
Cory Finley is obsessed with money. His characters have nice things or want them. They live in beautiful houses or enviously plot to get them. Even in the year 2036, with aliens living on (or, more precisely, about two miles above) planet Earth, people still fret over money and try to make scads of it. That’s the state of things in his latest, Landscape with Invisible Hand. It’s a title with the same bespoke aestheticism as the stuffed ocelots and oversized chess pieces his characters own. It feels seemingly designed to scare off less curious viewers. While the film has an awful lot of plot, the undergirding is the same. As in his 2017 debut Thoroughbreds, his follow-up Bad Education, and even his episodes of the abysmal miniseries WeCrashed, the drama comes from the idea of what money does to the soul. Continue Reading →
Say what you will about independent film auteur Neil Breen: he has a vision. All of his movies have a common theme, in which a man with superhuman abilities (played by Neil Breen) directs those abilities toward vanquishing evil corporate and government entities. Many people die in the process, but in Breen’s vision it’s all in the name of world peace. What he’s trying to say isn’t all that hard to figure out: he thinks the world would be better off without corrupt CEOs and pass-the-buck lawmakers (and hey, I don’t disagree). Continue Reading →
In 2011, just after I turned seventeen, I ordered a copy of Mysterious Skin. Being online during that era, particularly on blog sites like Tumblr, meant images from Gregg Araki’s 2004 film permeated my timelines. I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as gay sex worker Neil, kissing his male friend in the front seat of a pickup truck to enrage a small-town homophobe or sitting, bruised and bloodied, on the New York subway. Black and white GIF-sets of the film’s final heartbreaking scene came up regularly, the poetic closing lines quoted beneath them in italics. Continue Reading →
When people sit down to analyze the career of maverick filmmaker Sam Peckinpah, his 1972 thriller The Getaway is usually found wanting, and remembered mainly for the scandalous affair that developed between co-stars Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. Coming smack in the middle of a filmmaking stretch that was preceded by the highly controversial The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971), and followed by the wildly idiosyncratic Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), it feels like an exercise in playing it safe from a director not exactly famous for doing such things. Despite that, it still works as a solid crime thriller that demonstrated that Peckinpah could play by Hollywood’s rules if he wanted to do so. Continue Reading →
Remember when conspiracy theories used to be fun? Well, maybe “fun” isn’t the right word, but entertaining? Once, they were limited to harmless weirdos who would gladly give a presentation on chemtrails or how many different assassins were actually at Dealey Plaza when JFK passed by, but could also at least maintain some veneer of normalcy. Then the internet made it easier for people to spend most (instead of just some) of their time discussing their favorite conspiracies, without anyone telling them that they were getting obsessed, or that what they were saying sounded insane. And then, of course, QAnon turned conspiracy theories into a kind of religion, one in which its followers were willing to kill to prove their belief. It stopped being entertaining a long time ago, and now, like a lot of things about the world in its current state, it’s just bleak and terrifying. Continue Reading →
Since seeing Red Rocket, I haven’t been able to stop listening to “Bye Bye Bye.” The hum of the song’s wonky strings overlays the opening shot. As the camera zooms out from a jarring close-up of a bus seat, the synthetic beat kicks in, revealing Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), battered and bruised. NSYNC’s upbeat, indignant track lends a pulsing momentum to the opening montage as Mr. Saber disembarks from his steel chariot and starts the long walk to his ex-wife Lexi’s (Bree Elrod) domicile. “I know that I can take no more, it ain’t no lie,” indeed. Continue Reading →
Netflix has really made a play in recent years to corner the high-concept action movie market: Extraction, The Old Guard, 6 Underground, Project Power et al. feel like they fill the algorithm's innate need to fill the John Wick-sized hole in the moviegoing public's diet. It's that sweet spot that Outside the Wire is unabashedly trying to fill: sci-fi concepts right out of Black Mirror blended with brutal, highly-choreographed fight sequences. The trouble is, despite (or, more precisely, because of) its military sci-fi premise, Mikael Håfström's (1408) latest crumbles under its own sociopolitical weight. Continue Reading →