Silver Dollar Road
Based on Lizzie Presser’s 2019 ProPublica/New Yorker article, Raoul Peck’s Silver Dollar Road starts by barreling headfirst. Its first 15 minutes are a crash course of talking heads, introducing family members with broad, expository precision. The film shows them but doesn’t fully introduce them. Rather, it relies on graphics to fashion a sense of context. What the subjects say to the camera may provide an identity for the story at hand, but Peck’s approach renders such words largely textual. The narrative may be propulsive. The film, however, tends to feel stagnant. Continue Reading →
To Live and Die in L.A.
It must have been easy to be cynical about William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. in 1985. After a blazing hot early 1970s, his critical and popular reputation bottomed out with four straight disappointments. So, it makes sense that someone might think Friedkin’s return to the cop-on-the-edge genre was a purely commercial decision, a hope to rekindle the fire he lit in 1971 with The French Connection. After all, that movie was both a commercial and critical smash. 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 →
Landscape with Invisible Hand
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 →
My mother was not much of a movie fan. They just never interested her that much, but when it became obvious that I was obsessed with them by the time I reached preschool age, she did nothing to discourage me. Every once in a while she'd let me know that the feature on the The 3:30 Movie (my primary outlet for watching films in those pre-cable, pre-VCR days) was something that I had to watch. Oddly, her instincts often proved to be correct and I was exposed at a very early (perhaps inappropriately so age to such films as The Producers, Duel and the Joan Rivers-penned TV movie The Girl Most Likely To. . ., all of which would be long-standing favorites of mine. Continue Reading →
On a Wing and a Prayer
It’s 2009: Owl City changed the way people looked at fireflies, America was gripped by the reality TV exploits of a couple with eight kids. Oh, and an ordinary man with little flying experience named Doug White had to land a private plane with his family onboard after the pilot fell unconscious. The year of Balloon Boy was a wild one. Continue Reading →
Round three of twelve. Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan)—the fresh-out-of-retirement undisputed heavyweight champion of the world—faces Damian "Diamond Dame" Anderson (Jonathan Majors)—the ruthless-came-from-eighteen-years-in-prison reigning champ. Growing up in a group home, Adonis and Damian were brothers—united by care for one another in a callous system and a shared love of the sweet science. Continue Reading →
The love of an animal can be transformative. The mix of companionship and responsibility that taking care of a pet entails can help create stability in an otherwise chaotic life. So it's no surprise that several movies explore the relationship between humans and canines. 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 →
The Addams Family 2
The Addams Family characters have existed since 1938 and yet they’ve never felt as tired as they do in The Addams Family 2. A “kooky and spooky” family once known for subverting the norms is now the star of a movie that couldn’t be more ordinary. If you’ve seen one subpar computer-animated kids film from the last 15 years, you’ve probably seen all the worst bathroom and slapstick gags The Addams Family 2 has to offer. Here’s a feature that can’t be called a success unless it’s intended goal was to make one yearn for the sophistication of Hotel Transylvania 2. Continue Reading →
No Time to Die
To speak of No Time to Die is to speak of what came before it. Of course, that sounds obvious in theory; the Daniel Craig era of 007 comes to an end here. They lightly tied into each other until Spectre drunkenly tried and failed at deepening the mythology. While the quality of the films varied, at least they were all distinct. It's been fifteen years and five movies -- now it all comes to a head, the stakes ostensibly high and the emotions primed to be deeper. And yet, against all odds, Cary Joji Fukunaga's offering to the franchise is derivative enough of its most recent predecessors to fumble conceptually and concretely. Continue Reading →
As sparse as it is specific, Nia DaCosta’s Candyman feels like falling into a nightmare. It has the context, but the context feels increasingly shifted. It has the gravity, but the weight at hand seems to fall onto its audience in slow motion. It has a sense of remove but also a sense of intimacy, and as the picture develops, those schisms manage to lean into one another. Bernard Rose’s 1992 original was about the outsider looking in. DaCosta’s, on the other hand, is about the insider being forcibly removed from himself, and it’s a film as attuned to its own legacy as it is the legacy that’s been hoisted upon it. Continue Reading →
Josie and the Pussycats
By the time Josie and the Pussycats premiered in theaters in April 2001, the pop culture universe of the early aughts was already in full swing. Dissenting and raging against the machine was out, and corporate partnerships and glossy production values were in. Total Request Live was the hottest television show on the air, and it had only been eleven months after Britney Spears released Oops! I Did it Again and became the official celebrity endorser for Got Milk, Clairol, and Polaroid. The Spice Girls had just gone on hiatus, and it was the height of the Backstreet Boys vs. N*SYNC fan wars. Post Y2K and only a few months before 9/11, the Dot-com bubble was imploding and consumerism was already at an all time high. Continue Reading →
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher's 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is both a quite good movie and a deeply frustrating one. At its best, it thrillingly delves into the art of investigation through the eyes of two well-crafted and well-performed protagonists. At its worst, it falls flat on its face and takes its sweet time to get up, dust itself off, and get back into a groove. Continue Reading →
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Oz Perkins' latest, unceremoniously dumped into January, is a revisionist Grimm story as atmospheric as it is thin.
The original fairy tales documented by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen were often bloody, dark stories. As time passed, and we decided that children were too fragile for the originals, we reshaped them into toothless Disney stories of romance and happy endings. And as society began to critique the passive nature of these saccharine protagonists, the 2010s gave us badass butt-kicking makeovers for our heroes, like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
At the dawn of the century’s third decade, however, we see fairy tales leaning harder into their older, more folkloric elements, crafting stories that mine terror out of feeling decidedly old and out-of-step with our understanding of the world. It happened with The Witch, and now we’ve got Gretel & Hansel, directed by Oz Perkins (son of Anthony), which opts for an eerie atmosphere and a decidedly dark interpretation of its source material.
The movie opens with one fairy tale framing another: Gretel’s favorite childhood story of a young child, beset by illness in their infancy. In a desperate bid to save the child’s life, her father takes her to a local witch. While the witch saves her life, she also gives the child the power of prophecy and witchcraft. As the child grows, so does her power and evil, until the townsfolk have little choice but to exile her to the woods. Continue Reading →