12 Best Movies To Watch After The Marvels (2023)
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 →
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
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 →
Ridley Scott’s surprisingly hollow biopic of the French military commander falters as a character piece and comes shy of victory as an epic.
For a film with as many contradictions as Napoleon, it’s odd for it to be so straightforward. It covers 28 years, but it never feels like a lot of changes. It’s over two and a half hours, which, while not a herculean runtime, never entirely slows down. Perhaps it’s because it never really gets started. Ridley Scott’s latest opens with a public decapitation of Marie Antoinette (Catherine Walker), giving way to the 1793 Siege of Toulon. The violence is often unsparingly graphic, so why, then, does it feel so cosmetic? Shouldn’t a live horse eviscerated by a cannonball to the chest do something to the viewer?
Maybe not when there’s such little context. If Napoleon is one thing, it’s episodic—ahistorical, even. David Scarpa’s script begins in the trenches and is content on staying there. Everyone and everything are simply window dressing. That includes Napoleon Bonaparte himself (Joaquin Phoenix), whom the film oversimplifies from intrinsically flawed leader to wholly externalized man-child. After the Siege, he wins the affections of Joséphine de Beauharnais (Vanessa Kirby). The two soon marry. Continue Reading →
Kids deserve better than yet another dull, going-through-the-motions misfire.
The animation world was recently startled by Warner Bros.' announcement that they planned to shelve their recently completed feature Coyote vs Acme for a quick tax write-off, rather than spend money to release it. Not to be outdone, Disney Studios offers up Wish, an animated feature that is the kind of artistic misfire that deserves to be hidden away and never spoken about again. This is a creation so alternately bewildering and banal that it's implausible that at no point during the entire creative process did anyone point out the seemingly obvious fact that virtually none of it works on even the most basic levels.
Wish takes place in the kingdom of Rosas, which was founded and is currently ruled by Magnifico (Chris Pine), a seemingly benevolent sorcerer who offers peace and protection for all those who live there. The catch is that they must surrender their deepest wish to Magnifico, who stores them in the lab in his castle in bubbles and once in a great while returns one to the person who made it. Inexplicably, the people of Rosas think this is a good deal, none more so than Asha (Ariana DeBose), a teenager who is all in on both Rosas and Magnifico and is hoping that the latter will present her beloved grandfather (Victor Argo) with his wish to commemorate his upcoming 100th birthday. 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 →
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 →
As daybreak bleeds from within the walls, Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) wakes up next to her husband, Elvis (Jacob Elordi). Her water’s broken and, as he calls for a car, she goes to the bathroom, where she applies the perfect fake eyelashes in silence. Continue Reading →
Five Nights at Freddy's
I have never played Five Nights at Freddy’s. I need to make that abundantly clear before proceeding with this review. 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 →
A Haunting in Venice
The first two entries in director/actor Kenneth Branagh’s foray into Agatha Christie adaptation lost the magic of the English writer’s mysteries. With his third attempt, A Haunting in Venice, Branagh decides to make considerable changes to the story. Using the bones of Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, writer Michael Green changes the setting from a small town in the English countryside to a palazzo in Venice. Branagh emphasizes the gothic elements of Christie’s story, leaning on the horror of the location, the manic nature of the children’s Halloween party, and the gruesome moments before and after an unexpected death. Continue Reading →
Sitting in Bars with Cake
(Editor's note: A previous version of this review included the full name of the presumptive real-life inspiration for the film; upon a subsequent request to maintain their privacy, we have removed that sentence.) Continue Reading →