Without any awareness of the Hitchcockian tag—impossible, what with it being The Point in the marketing, but let’s try—Windfall is the best advert yet for Ojai, California. Right from the get-go, director and co-writer Charlie McDowell serenely guides viewers around a gorgeous hacienda with an Eden of Pixie tangerines and the Topatopa within eyeshot. In short, this is a fetching property, easily bearing a price tag in the millions. It’s an item someone in the style of our unofficial tour guide (Jason Segel), a daring blend of off-duty Sheriff Hopper and the designer-disheveled-ism of modern tech bros, would possess. Or maybe host the Roys if they are to reattempt family therapy. Continue Reading →
I'll say this for Simon Kinberg: he's got to be just about the nicest man in show business. After all, how do you get a second chance at the director's chair after the unmitigated disaster that was X-Men: Dark Phoenix? According to interviews, he only got that gig at the insistence of Jennifer Lawrence, who would only do the film with him in charge (he was reportedly very easy to work with when Bryan Singer went AWOL on X-Men Apocalypse, forcing Kinberg to pick up the baton). While working on Dark Phoenix, Jessica Chastain approached Kinberg with the idea of starring in and producing a female-led spy franchise a la Mission: Impossible; and so we have The 355, a film seemingly tailor-made to be the kind of mid-budget dross we get every January. Look out, Liam Neeson, you've got competition! Continue Reading →
The King's Man
Early in the King's Man, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) reads a newspaper chronicling the human cost of the then-nascent World War I. The headline for all this carnage reads "When will this misery end?" It’s fitting since I found myself constantly asking myself the same question as The King's Man dragged on and on. For some reason, a franchise that’s previously leaned heavily on anal sex jokes and Elton John beating up evil henchmen wants to get serious in the most superficial way possible. Continue Reading →
West Side Story
While audiences and critics often bemoan the plethora of sequels and remakes that litter the media landscape, retelling a familiar story isn’t inherently bad. After all, Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo and Juliet, was based on earlier works, and in 1957 playwright Arthur Laurents (along with composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim) adapted the tale into West Side Story, which Robert Wise turned into a classic musical in 1961. Sixty years later, Steven Spielberg has thrown his hat into the ring with a new adaptation of the material. But can he make a familiar plot relevant to the 21st century? Continue Reading →
Paul Thomas Anderson set out to make a love story with Licorice Pizza, and ended up creating his most joyful flick to date. Seemingly lacking is the dark heart so many of his stories contain, whether it’s in the wildly toxic relationship between designer and muse in Phantom Thread or brutal depictions of loss and loneliness in Magnolia. Instead, Licorice Pizza has a lightness he hasn’t truly approached since Punch-Drunk Love. Continue Reading →
House of Gucci
There’s a word that exists in the Italian language that doesn’t quite have a counterpart in any other language: sprezzatura. What it essentially boils down to is the art of looking like you don’t care – a style of perfectly-studied imperfection. This idea goes back at least to the Renaissance, a time when the Gucci family earned its reputation as skilled saddlemakers to the rich and aristocratic. Or at least that’s how Aldo Gucci, the powerful and powerfully at-ease paterfamilias played by Al Pacino, relates the family history in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. It is against this backdrop – of wealth, power, history, and above all, style – that Scott and screenwriters Roberto Bentivegna and Becky Johnston weave their story, an uneven yet compelling story about the only person who became a Gucci through their own making rather than by an accident of birth, and yet was forever an outsider. Continue Reading →
Last Night in Soho
Has any other director in recent years had as frustrating a creative decline as Edgar Wright? Discounting his feature debut—the 1995, no-budget A Fistful of Fingers—his streak was white-hot. Two series of Spaced both developed and prefaced his earnest eye for nerd culture, leading up to what would become his Cornetto Trilogy. His work was so loving, so finely tuned, and, especially in the case of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, some of the most pop-culturally keen around. However, Baby Driver couldn’t help but sit in neutral; it was a pet project missing heart. With that out of the way, perhaps there was something more substantial to come next. Continue Reading →
Kenneth Branagh directs a moving film about a working class Irish family impacted by the Troubles.
Historical films — especially those about devastating and traumatic events — require a precarious balance. If you focus too much on the events themselves, you risk erasing the humanity of the people who experienced them, coming across like a dry textbook. Dive too deeply into the personal — especially if your characters are fictional or fictionalized — and there’s always a chance you’ll make a maudlin melodrama that uses history as little more than a backdrop. This balance becomes exponentially more difficult to maintain when your audience’s main point of access to your story is the eyes of a child, because you’re at constant risk of nostalgia muddying up the proceedings.
Given the subject matter of Belfast and Kenneth Branagh’s deep connection to it (although the film is not a memoir, there are a great deal of similarities between the fictional family and the Belfast-born writer and director’s own), he could have easily faltered with this particular story. It would have been easy to forgive him if he did. Hell, he probably would have made a decent film even if it got too sentimental. This is Kenneth Branagh we’re talking about, after all. But what he’s done instead is craft a film that’s as measured as it is miraculous. Continue Reading →
Janicza Bravo's retelling of the 2015 viral Twitter thread boasts great performances and surprisingly solid filmmaking, even if it ends on a shrug.
In 2015, 20-year-old stripper A’Ziah “Zola” Wells met a sex worker named Jessica. Both in Detroit at the time, the two bonded over their “shared hoeism” and established something of a rapport. They spent the night dancing together; they made some money. Fast-forward a couple of hours later and Jessica is inviting her to go dance in Miami, purportedly to make thousands of dollars in one night.
This, of course, wasn’t half of it. They got involved with pimps, some gang-bangers, murder, attempted suicide, and oodles of prostitution cash—at least according to Wells’ 148-tweet thread that went viral. She’s since gone on the record to say that she turned up some of the story to 11, but guess what? Now there’s a movie credited as “Based on the Tweets by A’Ziah ‘Zola’ King,” bringing you about what you’d expect and mostly for the better.
Granted, a lot of this has a lot to do with one's tolerance for ridiculousness. Those intrigued are likely to have fun. It's raunchy, crass, and stylized, and in the pantheon of stranger-than-fiction stories, this is one to stand out. But if you want a jaunt that signals good things to come from its newcomers and further cement the talents of those already established, this is that too. Zola is aptly aggro while also about something: about race, about class, about predation from the preyed upon. And yet, it runs wonderfully. Just make sure you’re ready for a few bumps. Continue Reading →