The Broadway adaptation defangs its best characters in a misguided effort to appeal to a new generation of viewers.
Paramount’s new version of Tina Fey’s cult classic Mean Girls boasts a tagline many Millennials found downright offensive upon debut: “This ain’t your mother’s Mean Girls!” The movie, based on the Broadway musical adapted from the original 2004 film, makes it abundantly clear that it’s aimed directly at Gen Z from its very opening moments, which look like a vertical phone video straight out of TikTok. Fey, the writer of both versions of Mean Girls, hasn’t been without her fair share of controversies over the twenty years since the first film premiered. In a clear effort to avoid upsetting younger audience members who have grown up with more sensitive media, Fey kneecaps many of her own best jokes. The updated script is a wobbly attempt to satisfy fans of the original without offending newcomers. The set-ups where there used to be jokes still remain, but they’re empty husks strung together by mostly forgettable songs. Though not without its unique charms, the musical Mean Girls is glaringly unfunny.
The music, written by Fey’s husband and frequent creative collaborator Jeff Richmond, does little to make up for the chasms where cutting punchlines have been removed. Richmond can write excellent, hilarious songs like the ones in 30 Rock and Girls5eva, but his compositions here are basic and feel uninspired. Most of the sincere songs revolve around bland messages about self-esteem that lack any insight into the actual emotional experiences of teenage girls. Emo outcast Janis ‘Imi’ike (Auli’i Cravalho, Moana), formerly a supporting character, gets what feels like four separate songs about the power of Being Yourself. Only “Sexy,” a playful number about Halloween costumes performed by ditzy beauty Karen Shetty (Avantika), stands out. Continue Reading →
Bradley Cooper pays respectful homage to Leonard Bernstein in this lavish passion project.
The problem inherent to most biopics is one of balance. Err too far on the side of worshipful and you get nonsense like Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Or you could swing in the other direction and you end up with an “oops, all warts” camp disaster like Mommie Dearest. Most linger somewhere in the middle, at a respectful distance, so that they’re ultimately kind of boring, and offer nothing new or particularly insightful about its subject matter.
Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, about the life of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, isn’t boring. It’s too visually dazzling for that. It does not, however, leave one feeling like they’ve really gotten to know more about Bernstein other than he was a complicated, workaholic genius who struggled with his sexuality, which is all information that could be gleaned from his Wikipedia page. But it sure is lovely spending time in his world for a little while. Continue Reading →
The Color Purple
Blitz Bazawule's adaptation of the Alice Walker classic (and the Broadway musical) is a more joyful, celebratory film than its predecessor.
The Color Purple has taken on a musicality ever since Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones adapted Alice Walker’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for the screen. When the first film was released in 1985, Spielberg already referred to it as a “musical.” In a behind-the-scenes interview about the film's musicality included in Warner Bros’ sumptuous new 4K release, Walker, Spielberg, and Jones conduct us through the “diverse places” that music appears in the original film. There are rail work songs, African dance, juke joint blues, and revival gospel; all tonally matched together in a near seamless “immersion” of sound.
In an age where nearly every popular and cult film gets a Broadway adaptation, The Color Purple is a particular no-brainer. Celie’s journey of self-discovery through systematic abuses and struggles at the turn of the twentieth century lends itself to the kind of emotional bigness a musical requires. With music by the legendary Brenda Russell and the late queer songwriting icon Allee Willis, The Color Purple: The Musical also showcases a diverse range of musical styles and modes, especially those well suited for the stage, like swing and Greek chorus. 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 →
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
In cinema, water is a site of birth, rebirth, and drastic transformations. In movies ranging from Sansho the Bailiff to Moonlight to Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, characters walk into vast bodies of liquid one person and exit another (if, that is, they resurface). It tracks, then, that the romantic drama Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe kicks off its central relationship at a community pool. A conversation between the film’s titular leads, set against the blue, kicks off a life-changing connection. 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 →
In a media landscape with fewer and fewer options actually targeted toward adults (often tied to the death of the mid-budget movie), audiences take the scraps they're given and make the best of them. This is the space that Jules occupies, a sci-fi fairy tale about the specific loneliness of senior citizens who feel isolated, ignored, and afraid. It’s also a thin, often ham-fisted take on a tale that could have had real legs in more capable hands. Continue Reading →
Heart of Stone
In the 2023 sea of action movies, setting yourself apart from others becomes increasingly hard. John Wick: Chapter 4, Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part 1, Extraction 2, and more have sparked an action cinema revival. It’s a rebirth that I am incredibly grateful for, certainly. 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 →
Thanks to decades of cameos in movies and promotional stunts intertwining him with the very word “Marvel,” audiences across the planet have a deep connection to comic book legend Stan Lee. Though he passed away in the final weeks of 2018, Lee’s legacy lives on. Marvel Studios even utilized existing audio of his voice in a special 2021 video. It helped them announce the return of its features to movie theaters. Artistic individuals like this tend to endure, no matter what happens to their physical bodies. Continue Reading →
A portrait of a closeted lesbian woman living in England during Margaret Thatcher’s oppressively homophobic 1980s reign, Georgia Oakley’s Blue Jean illustrates a unique paradox for a critic. How does one navigate criticizing a film’s self-imposed binaries while also accounting for the realities of a restrictive period, the gravity of the subject matter (and parallel current circumstances), and the differentiation of what is intended as cinematic affect and what constitutes clumsy filmmaking? Continue Reading →
Over the years, Pixar has enlisted a variety of creatures to populate their wholesome stories of love and acceptance. There have been toys, monsters, cars, disembodied souls, and even the occasional human. In their new film Elemental, the characters are personifications of the four elements. It’s a choice that may leave you asking, “Have they run out of ideas at this point?” Continue Reading →
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
The blockbuster landscape shifted with Michael Bay's 2007 Transformers movie. It fit his directing style, with his love of explosions and male gazing, but what it amounted to was a guy playing with big, expensive cinematic toys. There was knowledge gained from those five previous installments when the 2018 spin-off Bumblebee had more personality and excitement than any of its predecessors. Continue Reading →
The Little Mermaid
The spate of recent live-action Disney remakes has run the gamut in quality from pleasantly diverting (Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon) to unwatchable abominations (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast.) Even the most well-received entries of the bunch struggle to find reasons they should exist in the first place. Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid is no different, but for one crucial factor that sets it apart from the rest: Halle Bailey as Ariel. Bailey is so captivating and winsome in the titular role that this remake almost feels worth it just to launch her into movie stardom. Unfortunately, sub-par CGI effects and clunky changes to Howard Ashman’s classic songs often make it feel like Bailey is left to carry the movie on the strength of her remarkable talent alone. With a shaggy runtime of two hours and fifteen minutes—a full hour longer than the original cartoon—it’s a heavy load for one performer to bear. Continue Reading →
There's at once too much, and somehow not enough, of the whimsical DIY spirit of writer-director Robert Rodriguez in his latest film, the shaky B-thriller Hypnotic. The Austin native made his name in the halcyon days of '90s indie filmmaking, shooting his first feature (El Mariachi) for a mere $7,000 at the tender age of 23. Since then, he's leveraged that inventiveness into a cottage industry of his own based out of his hometown of Austin, Texas, whether it's kid-friendly fare (Spy Kids), big-budget CGI blockbusters (Alita: Battle Angel), moody noirs (Sin City) or grindhouse splatterfests (Planet Terror, From Dusk Till Dawn). Hypnotic is all and none of those things, a chintzy lo-fi Christopher Nolan riff that doesn't have nearly enough life to work. And yet, there are just enough charming elements to save it from outright dismissal. Continue Reading →