Adam Driver does insightful, searching work as auto legend Enzo Ferrari in the filmmaker's study of a pivotal year in his life.
Michael Mann’s 21st-century work is, first and foremost, a cinema of feeling. When it comes to the details, he remains as much of a nerd as he was when he choreographed the thrilling terror of Heat’s climactic blowout. But Collateral, Miami Vice, and Blackhat pay special mind to the senses, to connection. It’s Colin Farrell and Gong Li finding a rare moment of joy as they dance to live music in Havana. It’s Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tom Cruise taking in the stillness of daybreak on an L.A. train. It’s Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei clinging to each other on a near-empty subway as they try and fail to block out grief for survival’s sake. In Ferrari, it’s Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz sitting across from each other, laying out what they need from each other in their business partnership and estranged marriage.
But while Ferrari is unmistakably in conversation with Mann and his creative collaborators’ earlier work, it’s more emotionally reserved than much of his 21st-century filmography. While his John Dillinger picture Public Enemies is certainly a cousin (a period piece built on a specific period in the life of an iconic man), it’s as much about the time and place and the ensemble. Ferrari is, first and foremost, a character study. 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 →
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 →
After stumbling with Downsizing, Alexander Payne bounces back with a gentle & witty comedy-drama.
The artist Dmitry Samarov one said to me that the ratio of good to bad late periods in an artist's life was depressing to consider. For every Sir Edward William Elgar there was an Eric Clapton (my example, not his), and that it was rare to see someone sharpen as they aged. Now, I like Dmitry and certainly respect his opinion, but I can’t help but feel that when film overtook painting as the dominant artwork that people engage with, the ratio shifted towards bizarre experimentation and welcome self-reflection as much as dull self reflection.
Take for instance 62 year old Alexander Payne, who, after the biggest disaster of his career (2017’s confused parable Downsizing), has started his fourth decade as a director by leaning hard back into what he knew (and what the royal “we” enjoyed) and rediscovered himself with The Holdovers, a movie no one can seem to stop comparing to Hal Ashby. No mean feat, of course, but even that sells its virtues short. This is no mere homage, no mere return to form, this is the movie that Payne’s been hoping to make since his 90s heyday, a film that earns both its jaundiced gaze and its catharsis. 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 →
At this point, you can roughly divide the output of Nicolas Cage into one of two categories. First, there are films so tailored to his reigning wild man of cinema persona that it seems unimaginable they could exist if he passed. In the other camp are the quieter efforts like The Weather Man, Joe, and Pig that remind of what a powerful actor he still can be. His latest project, writer-director Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario, combines both approaches into a single offering. The result is a strange and wildly audacious work anchored by a surprisingly deft and low-key turn from Cage that stands in marked contrast to the weirdness surrounding him. Continue Reading →
Whenever a crowd pleasing movie hits theaters or streaming, people lament, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Often, these people refer to middle-of-the-road movies from the 80s and 90s, the type of film that would play on cable television in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, something that people watch over and over again, simply because it makes them feel lighter. The Burial, the new courtroom drama from writer/director Maggie Betts, falls firmly into this category. It’s dad-fare, set in 1995 when it also likely would’ve had mainstream success in popular culture. Continue Reading →
She Came to Me
Seven films into her career as a filmmaker and Rebecca Miller is still a perplexing study. From 1995’s Angela, her symbolic unpacking of a lost childhood (presumably her own) to 2015’s Maggie’s Plan, a symbolic study of a desire for independence (presumably her own), she's made female pain and pleasure her subject without ever settling on a formal approach. Miller is an auteur in the sense that the peculiar combination of confrontational sexuality and highly personal discursiveness seem like the province of someone who both knows exactly what kind of things she wants people to think about, even if she’s never decided the way she wants us to think about them, other than “immediately.” Continue Reading →
Fair Play is all about the rules of engagement—in business, in bed, in relationships—and the chaos that ensues when someone who lives and dies by those rules suspects his partner is breaking them. However, it isn’t the fairness of the righteous or the just she’s violating. No, it is the unwritten rules he believes everyone should play the game by. Continue Reading →