Film Fanatic

Film Fanatic: ‘Cold Pursuit’ Review

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There’s a high body count in Cold Pursuit. Then again, there always is in Liam Neeson movies post Taken. It’s been quite the career pivot for an actor in his late 60s. Whether it’s rescuing his daughter in Europe, preventing the hijacking of a plane or the derailment of a train, he’s your guy. Don’t travel with this man.

But Cold Pursuit attempts to offer something different. There’s been a level of humor lacking in Neeson’s action films and his newest vehicle attempts to use brevity under horrific circumstances in a Fargo sort of way. Key word being “attempts.”

Neeson plays Nels Coxman (One of many memorable names in this movie), an ordinary man whose job is to plow a certain stretch of snowy road in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. He has a wife and son and the town names him “Citizen of the year.” But he gives an eloquent movie speech talking about the road not taken and how he picked a good road. A bit on the nose, but kind of eloquent.

But his normal life is upended when his son dies of a drug overdose. “Kyle wasn’t a druggy,” he says to the coroner. This sets in motion a revenge plot to find his son’s killer. In doing so, he creates a war between two rival drug gangs.

Don’t mess with Coxman. | (Summit)

Cold Pursuit’s major flaw is its screenplay. Where writers such as the Coen Brothers, the McDonagh Brothers or Quentin Tarantino excel at writing characters and dialogue within the world of gangsters and murderers, first-time screenwriter Frank Baldwin can’t juggle multiple storylines with enough compelling material.

Neeson is the star, but the film constantly pushes him aside to showcase the rival gangs and their daily struggle with running an illegal operation. I mean how can you manage a drug trafficking business while also monitoring your young son’s allergies and food intake?

There’s a couple of clever scenes, like the boy having a conversation about fantasy football with one of his bodyguards or one henchman telling another about his success rate in sleeping with hotel maids, but there’s not enough to keep the pace moving.

You can see Baldwin trying to tell a story about fathers and sons, but he can’t balance it all. So instead of Cold Pursuit being a pulpy revenge film, it’s just a second-rate black comedy.

The film has a weird relationship with death in general. Director Hans Petter Moland acknowledges every death on screen, which is something you don’t often see. But he does it for laughs. It goes from being clever to tedious real quick.

The root of the story and the motivating factor for Coxman should be the relationship he has with his son. But they share maybe one scene together. Coxman’s killing spree then feels more like pent-up rage from living an ordinary life rather than justice for his son. Why did the son have to die in the first place? That’s still confusing.

Laura Dern plays the wife and before completely disappearing from the movie; never to be seen again, she quite literally pokes holes in the screenplay by calling out Coxman for not really knowing his son. Neither do we.

There isn’t a single memorable female character to be found. Emmy Rossum plays an idealistic young cop looking to make a difference, but she’s constantly in the dark about what’s really going on. And she has to use sex as a tool to further her investigation. Original.

Cold Pursuit tries so hard to be different and yet it ends up being a soulless comedy thriller with rough draft dialogue and a forgettable performance from Neeson. Remember those copycat Tarantino movies from the mid-’90s trying to be kitschy and macabre? This feels like one of those. Only 25 years later.

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ Review

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There’s a moment early on in Velvet Buzzsaw, the new film from writer/director Dan Gilroy, when Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) is justifying his negative thoughts on a piece of art.

“A bad review is better than sinking into the great glut of anonymity,” he says to two women. His point being that taking risks is still better and more memorable than being conventional. I thought about this quote after seeing Velvet Buzzsaw. Is the movie good? Not particularly. But is it unique? Most certainly.

The film follows a group of ostentatious people in the contemporary art scene with names like Damrish, Piers and Cloudio. Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) is trying to find the next great collection for her gallery. But when her assistant, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), comes across a massive collection from an unknown artist who recently died, everyone is clamoring to get a piece of it. What they don’t know is that this discovery unleashes a supernatural force that enacts revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art. In this case, almost everyone.

Gilroy is exploring the idea that commerce and greed exploits great art and creativity. Using these themes, he has created a satirical horror film. It’s an interesting idea, but if you mash up different genres, you risk muddling the storytelling from a tonal standpoint.

Velvet Buzzsaw certainly has some fun moments and Gyllenhaal in particular is having a great time. Whether it’s the bowl cut hair, his very subtle pretentious fake British accent or his constant diatribes, Gyllenhaal shows his versatility as an actor. One very funny scene has him admonishing the color choice of a casket at a funeral.

The art of death. | (Netflix)

But the problem is, Gilroy doesn’t go far enough in either the satirical side or the horror side. The opening scene presents these characters as people who no longer care about or appreciate art and simply see it as a way to make money. But once the supernatural element is introduced, the movie ceases to be about the value of art and instead becomes a series of creative ways to pick off characters one by one.

And the death scenes are creative in a Final Destination sort of way. One scene has a character being literally swallowed up by the bleeding colors of a few paintings. Another character dies by way of a hobo robot. That’s right. A hobo robot. The movie can be very silly at times.

A movie like American Psycho perfectly balances satire and horror because there’s a central character, Patrick Bateman, who is the audience’s guide. Even Gilroy’s previous film, Nightcrawler, works because it focuses on one man’s ambition to make it in America through the lens of seedy voyeurism and exploitation.

You strangely root for characters like Patrick Bateman and Lou Bloom even though they are doing horrible things. I didn’t care about anyone in Velvet Buzzsaw and Gilroy doesn’t really want us to after he criticizes all of them in the opening scene. Gyllenhaal at least knows what kind of movie he’s in, but even his arc goes nowhere.

The irony is that the film just isn’t very compelling on a visual level. Nightcrawler is so memorable, besides Gyllenhaal’s performance, because of the way Gilroy shoots Los Angeles at night. It’s one of the best visual representations of a city ever put to film.

Velvet Buzzsaw is mostly people talking in rooms and unless you’re David Fincher, it’s usually not going to be captivating. This movie should have urgency and momentum and yet it just ends up feeling like the rough draft of an interesting idea for a story.

What is art and how do we value it? Gilroy comments on this multiple times in the film. A so-called expert mistakes a pile of trash for art. A group of people walk through a dead body mistaking it as being part of the instillation. A piece is worth six figures to one person and $5 from another. These are interesting ideas to explore.

But Gilroy’s vision for Velvet Buzzsaw is to be a slasher movie with something to say. That we should appreciate art for art’s sake rather than it be something we buy and sell. You have to admire him for trying something different, but the execution is ultimately unsatisfying.

Velvet Buzzsaw is available on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Glass’ Review

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Following the release of Unbreakable in 2000, M. Night Shyamalan had plans to make two more films in the series. But while Unbreakable was a modest success, it didn’t shatter (Sorry) box office records the way The Sixth Sense did. So Shyamalan moved on for better (Signs) and for far worse (Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth).

This brings us to Split, an unlikely follow up to Unbreakable that was a success both critically and financially. Shyamalan was officially back and fans were eager to see him complete his grounded superhero trilogy.

A common theme in both Unbreakable and Split is trauma. More specifically, that trauma is possibly the source of these character’s heightened abilities. David Dunn’s (Bruce Willis) near drowning as a boy somehow prevents him from ever getting hurt or sick again as well giving him superhuman strength and reverse clairvoyance (Seeing people’s sins of the past).

In Split, Kevin Wendell Crumb’s (James McAvoy) abuse by his mother as a child creates 23 different personalities. Including one where he literally transforms into a beast. The beast finds “pure” women to act as sacrifices to fuel the beast and somehow ease Kevin’s painful past.

Mr. Glass doesn’t have much to do in his own movie. | (Universal)

These are interesting ideas from Shyamalan, particularly in the case of Unbreakable, because it’s arrival in theaters marked the beginning of the superhero boom we currently reside in. He could get away with having Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) expound upon the importance of superheroes and comic books without it coming off as too pretentious because we didn’t have nearly 20 years worth of comic book movies under our belt yet.

But with the release of Glass, Shyamalan attempts to bury the mythology he built in the two previous films by having Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson) convince Dunn, Crumb and Price that they are suffering under a delusion of being superheroes and that her work needs to free them of this delusion.

Using psychology as a through-line with these three characters is an intriguing angle in terms of possibly leading us down an uncertain path (Maybe they don’t really have super powers). But it goes nowhere fast. Although, you’d expect it to; considering the amount of time spent inside the institution.

The problem is, Shyamalan saps any momentum the movie has once we arrive at the institution and the film turns into a series of scenes where characters, particularly Dr. Staple, talk again and again about the tropes and conventions of comic books as if we haven’t been to a movie theater in the past 20 years.

There’s very little character development because it’s the third film in a series and Shyamalan is relying on the audience to have seen the previous films. So Dr. Staple becomes sort of the main character for a large chunk of the film which is a mistake.

We’re not sure who’s movie this is and it’s certainly not all three. After an entertaining opening 20 minutes revealing where Dunn and his son, Joseph, (Spencer Treat Clark) have been all these years, Dunn becomes second (or third) fiddle while at the asylum.

Crumb is then the focus and McAvoy once again shines. His ability to switch personalities on a dime, many in one shot, are staggering. He can be funny, vulnerable and terrifying all in one scene.

The first two films match the tone of their main character. Unbreakable is an idiosyncratic and somber superhero movie about realizing one’s potential. Split is a manic and disturbing horror movie about overcoming trauma.

With the title being Glass, you’d expect Price to be the focus. But he literally doesn’t speak for half of the movie. When he does, it’s all part of his master plan to escape and reveal to the world that people with special abilities do exist. Jackson is certainly having fun once he has something to do. But he’s nothing more than a mustache-twirling villain. Glass should have been about Price finding his purpose in life. He believes he was a mistake from the beginning due to his brittle bone disease.

Shyamalan simply doesn’t trust his audience. He has to step outside the narrative to tell you about the narrative. And Staple and Price are the main culprits. It’s clunky and saps the film from any momentum it builds. He’s known for having twist endings too. In this, there are three! This drains the film from feeling like the conclusion of a trilogy and instead attempts to expand the universe. By then, we’ve had enough of this franchise.

 

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Review

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With great power comes… okay forget it. You know the rest. And the filmmakers behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse know that you know the rest. Since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was released in May of 2002 breaking box office records, there have been five more films.

That’s six Spider-Man movies in a 16-year span. On average, that means we get a Spider-Man movie every 2 ½ years. Add in the fact that there have now been three different iterations of the character in that time with three different actors portraying the wall crawler and I’d say Spider-Man fatigue is a real thing. And we’re getting another one next summer so buckle up!

But Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is different. The first observation is that it’s the first animated Spider-Man movie. But it’s also a fresh and unique take on the character thanks to its outlandish story, specific visual style and energetic sense of humor.

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ isn’t your typical Spider-Man story. | (Sony Pictures)

The story takes place in a multiverse where teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider. Before he has time to even develop these sudden powers, his dimension’s Spider-Man is killed shutting down a collider that opens the multiverse (Multiple universes for the uninitiated).

The original Spider-Man is successful, but not before a number of Spider-People enter Miles’ dimension. Now Miles must get them back to their dimensions while also living up to these newfound expectations.

And ultimately, the film is not about responsibility, but expectations. Before becoming a reluctant superhero, Miles is trying his best to flunk out of his new prep school and go back to school in Brooklyn. He doesn’t know what kind of person he wants to be to himself or his parents.

One of the Spider-People, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), is also wrestling with expectations. Despite being a mentor to Miles, Peter struggles with whether he wants to be a father or not. Both characters bond as the film progresses and they learn to handle greater challenges life brings them. But the emotional stakes aren’t the only unique thing to this film.

Live-action superhero movies, for the most part, steer clear of recreating the pages of the comics on a literal level. There have been exceptions. Ang Lee’s Hulk and the first Thor movie feature many “dutch” angle shots where the filmmakers attempt to make the panels in the comics come to life. Even Zack Snyder’s Watchmen features shots taken directly from the graphic novel.

But while fans of the comics appreciate that level of detail and recognition to the source material, they don’t necessarily want it. Comic books and movies are different mediums.

In animation however, there’s more room for creativity on a visual level. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a millennial/punk/cotton candy aesthetic. It’s not that the animation is better than a Pixar or Disney Animation film. Spider-Verse is just distinct in its Banksyesque color palette. The street artist even gets a mention in the film. The way the characters are illustrated and highlighted in the foreground while the background is sort of blurry may be jarring at first, but it’s visually dynamic.

The animation is visually dynamic and unique. | (Sony Pictures)

The set pieces also illustrate the wonderful animation. When Miles first learns to web sling (Wearing his Air Jordans), he does it through fall trees that are acid-drip orange juxtaposed with pillowy white snow on the ground. In one of the more comedic sequences, an elevated subway train drags Miles and Peter B. through the streets of New York. As they crash into cars, buildings and the train, word balloons pop up on the screen with words like “Honk,” “Crash” and “Bang.” It’s a great nod to the comics. To describe the visuals would be akin to jumping in a gumball machine.

Speaking of the comedy.This is by far the funniest Spider-man movie and one of the best comedies of the year. Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The duo behind The LEGO Movie) act as a writer and producer respectively. They bring their wonderfully self-aware humor to the story. The film acknowledges past movies, including a terrible scene in Spider-Man 3 and they throw in easter eggs and plenty of terrific voice-over work from the likes of Kathryn Hahn, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage and Liev Schreiber. And the voice-over bench is much deeper than that. I won’t spoil who else shows up.

It’s also a wonderfully diverse movie featuring a main character who is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent and multiple female characters including a female Spider-Man (Spider-Gwen).

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse takes that static feeling of flipping through the pages of a comic book and brings them to life thanks to a breezy and confident plot that subvertes the origin story we’ve seen countless times. The animation is eye-popping and the meta humor is delightful. It’s also the best animated movie of the year.

Film Fanatic: ‘Skyscraper’ Review

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Skyscraper should have a lot going for it. It’s a movie that isn’t a sequel or superhero movie. It also stars, Dwayne Johnson, perhaps the biggest movie star in the world at the moment.

But despite not being based on any pre-existing material, Skyscraper lacks originality, energy or enough humor. Its mere existence should make it daring (What with all of the adaptations and franchises), but writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber fails to capitalize on the concept by making Johnson an everyman.

After a hostage situation went south resulting in him losing his leg, Will Sawyer (Johnson) has left the FBI to start a small security company. His first big contract is assessing the Hong Kong skyscraper, The Pearl.

With Sawyer’s approval, the Pearl will open its residential area. But before he can, the building is attacked by terrorists looking to retrieve something belonging to the building’s owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Between this and The Dark Knight, Han should probably avoid tall buildings.

Tom Cruise did it better. | (Universal Pictures)

To make matters worse, Sawyer’s wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their two children are trapped inside the burning building. Now he must get back inside to save his family and stop the terrorists.

Skyscraper has been compared to Die Hard, but the problem is that Johnson can’t really play the straight man. The reason Bruce Willis was so great as John McClain is because he doesn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. He’s just an everyday guy trying to get help, save his wife and rescue the hostages.

By comparison, Johnson looks like a superhero. The amputated leg is a clever way of humanizing him and giving him an extra challenge, but by making him the everyman, Johnson’s charisma and charm are absent. This is surprising considering Thurber’s previous films are all comedies, including Central Intelligence which Johnson starred in.

In place of humor is the usual tropes: Kid with an inhaler, bad guys leaving the good guy by himself to plan an escape, and the dispensable hacker. There’s also massive amounts of foreshadowing in the first act that prevent any surprises from occurring later in the film.

The lack of humor and energy make Skyscraper a rather dull experience. And the action isn’t original or memorable enough to make up for it. Remember Tom Cruise climbing on the outside of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai? Of course you do. That’s an iconic scene because Cruise really did it.

We need more Neve Campbell in our lives. | (Universal Pictures)

Skyscraper features lots and lots of CG. And it all takes place at night. So anytime you see Johnson hanging outside the building, you can’t help but think of the hours and hours Johnson spent in front of a green screen.

They do make good use of his prosthetic leg and there’s a recurring joke about duct tape that works. Also a nice Die Hard reference.

By far the biggest bright spot of the film is Campbell. She’s a smart, confident and capable character and it made me think, where’s Neve Campbell been? A movie based around her character might have been better.

Rolland Moller plays the main villain and he has absolutely zero personality. He’s just another jughead who watches too much MMA and likes tattoos. Hans Gruber he is not.

The reason Johnson works in the Fast & Furious franchise is because that’s a heightened world where there are virtually no consequences and he’s constantly winking at the camera. It’s basically his superhero franchise.

Skyscraper is a by-the-numbers action movie that does nothing to reinvent the wheel. It’s like they thought they had an old-fashioned action movie on their hands and instead made something generic.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ Review

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Here’s a hot take. Jurassic Park should never have been a franchise. The reason being is that all of the dinosaurs are on an island. They can’t go anywhere. If you stay away from the island, everyone is fine.

But Jurassic Park made more than $1 billion worldwide. In fact, it was the first movie ever to make a billion so naturally, sequels were inevitable. The problem is that now you need reasons for people to go back to the island. Who would be dumb enough to do that?

In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, they came up with a second island, Isla Sorna, full of dinosaurs. Because that worked so well the first time. Then it became a rescue mission to save Julianne Moore’s character because she was dumb enough to go there. Now more people have to go. And then even more because some greedy rich people want to extract the dinosaurs from the island and bring them to NORTH AMERICA. Great idea.

Jurassic Park III is also a rescue mission as Alan Grant (Sam Neill), our favorite paleontologist, goes to Isla Sorna to save a boy alone on the island. The reason for the boy being anywhere near the island is idiotic.

The entire franchise is essentially those stories you read about people willingly jumping into the lion cage at the local zoo. They inevitably die and we have to feel sorry for them even though they were stupid.

This brings us to the Jurassic World franchise. In the first film, John Hammond’s vision of a working dinosaur park is finally a reality. But much like going to a NASCAR race to see a car crash, the dinosaurs have to eventually take the island to create action, suspense and even a little bloodshed.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.’ | (Universal Pictures

In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the dinosaurs have once again been left alone. Only this time, there’s a volcano that’s about to erupt which will lead to their extinction all over again. Great, problem solved.

Except, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), has suddenly grown to care for the dinosaurs and now runs a dinosaur activist group keen on saving the animals. “They have rights too,” she says at one point. How does her sister feel about this? You know, the one with the two kids who Claire nearly had killed in the first film.

She stumbles into a meeting with Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who was an old friend of Hammond. He has an idea to move the dinosaurs to a sanctuary where they can live in peace. With very little convincing, she agrees to go the island, with the dinosaurs that nearly ate her, and the volcano that’s about to erupt, to access information about Blue, the last remaining raptor.

No one knows Blue better than Owen (Chris Pratt), so she convinces him to go to the island too. “Save the dinosaurs from a volcano that’s about to explode. What could go wrong,” he says.

Everything, actually. Everything could go wrong and does.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is two movies. The first half is the rescue mission on the exploding island. This is where all the money for the budget went. Our likable yet stupid characters escape lava, dinosaurs (Naturally) and a fall off a cliff.

In one of the better set pieces, two characters are stuck inside a gyrosphere underwater. In what’s made to look like one long shot, Owen attempts to open the gyrosphere as Claire and Franklin (Justice Smith) begin to drown. It’s tense and well executed.

They survive and learn that Lockwood’s right-hand man, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), intends to sell the dinosaurs to the highest bidder.

The second half of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a haunted house movie. Set entirely inside Lockwood’s giant mansion; Claire, Owen and a young girl attempt to foil Mills’ plan. In a scene taken right out of King Kong, Mills holds an auction (In the basement, I guess) with the one percenters and wheels out each species of dinosaur.

Our three heroes break the dinosaurs out, who proceed to eat some of the people. But it’s okay, because they’re all rich which means they’re probably evil. Probably. There’s also a Russian. You know there’s something sinister about that guy.

You can tell the mansion scenes were tailor-made for director J.A. Bayona. His credits include The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls. He’s a master of creating suspense and when a new dinosaur engineered in a lab breaks out, the movie turns into a claustrophobic nightmare as the dinosaur seemingly stalks the young girl. One terrifying scene sees the girl attempting to enter a small elevator in the mansion as the dinosaur barrels it’s way toward her down a narrow hallway.

Maybe just stay home next time. | (Universal Pictures)

As mentioned earlier, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is two movies. The first half is the studio’s and the second half is the director’s. This pivot at least creates distinct visual looks, but as a whole, the movie lacks momentum. They don’t seem to be building toward anything.

There’s no development with Pratt’s character and he’s far less charming in this than he was in the first film. There’s an attempt to develop his relationship with Blue, but that’s over quickly and you could argue Blue is the action star of this movie. Not Pratt.

Claire has some growth as a character, but when compared to the first film, her actions and motivations make no sense. Other characters exist simply for comic relief and the villains are borderline cartoon characters.

There’s also a bizarre subplot with the girl’s true identity and when they reveal it, you’re left thinking, “wait, what!”

And then there’s the idiotic decision-making. It’s a tradition with this franchise and I’ve already chronicled some of them. But one in particular at the end is so offensive, the person should be locked up.

This decision sets up the third movie, which is really the only reason for this one to exist. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is nothing more than filler. The plot borrows directly from other entries in the franchise and when we inevitably get a third movie, I might be rooting for the dinosaurs.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Tully’ Review

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One of my favorite scenes from any movie is the “Does it get easier?” scene from Lost in Translation. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are lying in bed discussing the challenges of life. Topics include growing older and marriage and they eventually get to kids. The following quote is from Murray about having children.

“It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids. It’s the most terrifying moment, the day the first one is born. Your life, as you know it, is gone… never to return.”

This is the first half of his thoughts on having children. He ends the scene with a beautiful statement about how your children will eventually become the most delightful people you will ever meet.

But I want to focus on the first half because I thought about this scene after watching Tully. Jason Reitman’s latest directorial effort sees him reuniting with writer Diablo Cody and star Charlize Theron after their work on Young Adult.

Tully follows Marlo (Theron), a mother of three including a newborn who is having a really hard time with everything that comes with motherhood. Her self-esteem couldn’t be any lower, her middle child, Jonah, requires extra attention and of course, there’s the newborn.

Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron in ‘Tully.’ | (Focus Features)

At the insistence of her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), Marlo hires a night nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), to help with the baby. Hesitant at first, Marlo soon finds comfort in the extra help and begins to reestablish her own life while also forming a bond with Tully.

As someone who doesn’t have children, this movie certainly didn’t shine it in a positive light. Bill Murray was right. Your life as you know it is over. Reitman does a tremendous job illustrating this with a montage early in the film of Marlo’s monotonous daily routine of making lunches, avoiding stepping on Legos, finding new and creative ways to get a baby to sleep and the glamorous nature of lactating. There’s also various shots of strange and random stains throughout the house. Also, it never occurred to me that you will have to eventually cut your baby’s finger nails. Try doing that to a crying baby.

Remember how badass Theron was in Mad Max: Fury Road and last year’s Atomic Blonde? The transformation from those movies to Tully showcases how versatile she is as an actress. This is the antithesis of Charlize Theron: Movie Star. At one point, the baby spills a drink on Marlo’s shirt. Fed up, Marlo removes her shirt revealing her post-baby physique.

“Mom, what’s wrong with your body?” says her daughter, Emmy.

But besides the physical transformation, Theron embodies Marlo with both fragility and splashes of humor thanks to Cody’s terrific script. Theron walks a tightrope of completely losing it before landing gracefully from scene to scene.

“No one’s treated my hole for a really long time,” says Marlo to Tully after they discuss treating one’s individual parts to make them whole again.

This is among Theron’s best performances. I wouldn’t be surprised if she receives an Oscar nomination by the end of the year.

Davis is equally great as the mysterious Tully. The moment she appears on screen, Davis elevates the tone with unfiltered charisma and energy. The ambiguity to her character is also essential to the plot.

Ron Livingston plays the husband, Drew, and he acts as the typical husband leaving the wife and kids to go to work. I would have liked to see his character developed a little more, but he does get a wonderful scene at the end with Marlo that is heartwarming.

As the film reaches its conclusion, Tully takes a much darker turn with a shocking twist that is one of the best in recent memory. In fact, the twist essentially recalibrates your entire opinion about the film and its illustration of postpartum depression. Some may have a hard time with the direction it goes.

In the end, Tully is both an emotional roller coaster and a celebration of motherhood. Theron is exceptional, Cody reminds us why she is one of our best screenwriters and Reitman delivers his best film in nearly a decade.

And the final shot is a perfect yet simple encapsulation of what it means to be a parent or significant other. Even for those who can’t relate to it.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Review

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It’s difficult to write a review for a movie like Avengers: Infinity War. It’s difficult because every Avengers movie is more of a culmination and celebration of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) than an individual film. And if you think the first two Avengers movies were big, Avengers: Infinity War is something else entirely.

Infinity War brings together not only the original members of the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc..), but the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and others including Scarlet Witch, Vision and War Machine. With so many characters, no wonder the movie is 2 ½ hours long.

But you need the ’27 Yankees to deal with a villain like Thanos. Introduced at the end of The Avengers, Thanos is the ultimate bad-ass in the galaxy. His goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to wipe out half of all living beings in the universe. It’s his sordid way of establishing balance so that those who remain can lead a full and rich life. That or he just has a real affinity for jewelry.

And he’s arriving at the worst possible time for the Avengers. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers have split up. Cap and several others have gone dark, Iron Man is struggling with the truth behind his parent’s death and Thor and Hulk are hurtling through space.

Ten years of movies packed into one. | (pro.boxoffice.com)

Within the first five minutes, Avengers: Infinity War establishes one rule: there are no rules. Whatever you think you know or love about the MCU changes quickly with Thanos. It’s a shocking opening that sets the tone for the rest of the film. It also introduces Thanos as something more than a one-note villain who’s only desire is to destroy the world.

The best villains are those who believe what they’re doing is morally right. Thanos is a character with a belief system and moral compass. It makes him terrifying and somewhat empathetic at the same time. Josh Brolin dons the mo-cap suit to portray Thanos and he gives a refreshingly complicated and layered performance as the antagonist. He also cries. When was the last time we saw a baddie cry in a superhero movie?

When you have so many characters, the usual course of action is to break them up. The aspect of the film I was looking forward to the most was the interactions between characters who hadn’t previously met. In this case, seeing Tony Stark and Doctor Strange trade snarky quips was everything I wanted it to be. Equally satisfying is the Guardians interacting with any of the Avengers. Star-Lord is jealous of Thor’s good looks. Rocket wants the Winter Soldier’s metal arm and Drax continues to confuse everyone he encounters.

Despite the dour opening, the Russo Brothers maintain that signature humor that has been present in the MCU going all the way back to the original Iron Man. The stakes may be as high as ever, but there’s still room for jokes about Cap’s haircut, Bruce Banner’s performance issues and the movie Footloose.

The Russo Brothers previously directed the last two Captain America movies and they prove worthy successors to Joss Whedon in taking over the Avengers films. Every character has a moment to shine which is remarkable and they once again show off their ability to create fun and exciting set pieces. During a pivotal scene, a number of characters team up to remove Thanos’ mighty glove. It’s as if comic book panels leap from the screen as our heroes work together to stop Thanos.

Thanos may be evil, but there’s empathy in his actions. | (denofgeek.com)

Despite being the longest movie in the MCU, Infinity War flies by thanks to roughly 80 percent of it being action. This proves to be a bit exhausting. While there are some emotionally effective beats, it would have been nice to see a few quieter moments. The constant action causes the film to feel a little disjointed narratively.

I mentioned earlier that each of the characters are given their moment to shine. But for a large majority of the characters, it’s only a moment. There’s a romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision that proves to be a pivotal relationship in the movie. But there isn’t enough time for us to buy them as tragic lovers.

Cap and Black Widow are given nothing to do and while the last act features Wakanda heavily, the rich and interesting country established in Black Panther is nothing but a playground of destruction in Infinity War. You could tell this movie was filmed before the release of Black Panther. It’s kind of like when Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave and then showed up as a flight attendant in a Liam Neeson action movie a few months later. Marvel just didn’t know what kind of phenomenon Black Panther was going to be.

There’s also a few powerful superheroes conveniently “hurt” in some way resulting in Thanos having a much easier time. But these are minor quibbles.

Avengers: Infinity War is everything Marvel fans want in a superhero movie. It’s exciting, funny and full of surprises. Now let’s talk about the ending. I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say it ends on a cliffhanger. It’s meant to be shocking, but it kind of felt like a cop-out regarding the stakes. Perhaps it will play a little better once we know the full context of the overall story with the release of the final Avengers movie next summer.

But for now, enjoy the mother of all superhero movies. Ten years and 18 movies have led to this and for the most part, Marvel and Disney pull it off.

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘A Quiet Place’ Review

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From the moment A Quiet Place begins, it has you.

A family carefully maneuvers through an abandoned pharmacy looking for medication without making a sound. They’re cautious, but you can tell they’ve done this before. This is the world they live in now. The family includes the father, Lee (John Krasinski), the mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their three children Regan, Marcus and Beau.

After leaving, they follow the bread crumbs, or in this case sand, back to their home. They think it’s another successful trip. But something happens. Something I won’t spoil, but this event sets in motion not only the stakes of the film, but the drama surrounding this family.

The family lives in silence because there are creatures that hunt by sound. You so much as step on a leaf or whisper and the creatures will find you. As a result, the family begins communicating through sign language not only because it’s necessary, but because their oldest, Regan, is def. Adapt or die.

To call A Quiet Place one of the most ingenious thrillers ever conceived would be an understatement. What Jaws did for water, this film does for silence. Except in Jaws, Chief Brody and his family could escape by simply walking on land.

This happens a lot in ‘A Quiet Place.’ | (Paramount Pictures)

This family has no escape. You are on pins and needles for every second. It’s a unique theater experience. People are usually quiet during a movie, but this was different. People actually waited for music to play before clearing their throats or eating popcorn. The movie is that captivating and compelling.

But it’s not a simple monster movie. At the heart of A Quiet Place is a family struggling with things every family deals with including grief, resentment and pain. These themes raise the film to another level and despite the short running time, director Krasinski develops each character so that when trouble arises, you’re with them and care about what happens to them.

You would think that if an actor didn’t have to speak for most of a film, it would be an easy part because they wouldn’t have to learn their lines. But it’s probably more difficult because they must use different muscles in delivering the performance.

So, on top of being a thrilling and terrifying film, A Quiet Place is also well acted. Krasinski gives one of his best performances as a father with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He has a wife and three children to protect and even when the children make mistakes, he must show patience because if he doesn’t they could die.

Blunt is incredible as always and she’s also pregnant in the film. Let’s just say the birthing scene is a highlight and one that will be remembered.

Regan is played by Millicent Simmonds who is def in real life. She steals the movie as a girl who makes a mistake early on and spends the rest of the film tormented by that mistake. You can see the pain in her face and despite her disability, the filmmakers find a way to use that as a weapon that ultimately redeems the character.

Krasinski is actor, co-writer and director of ‘A Quiet Place.’ | (Paramount Pictures)

As mentioned earlier, this is a short film. But because silence is essentially a weapon, every second is important and Krasinski is efficient and surgical in the storytelling. There’s a couple of jump scares here and there, but the first two acts are about establishing this family and world.

And Krasinski can avoid the usual expository dialogue to his advantage. There is no explanation as to why, how or when these creatures arrive and other than a literal wall of exposition revealing a couple of things, we’re in the dark. Sometimes ambiguity just works better.  

Logic doesn’t always make sense however. If the creatures sense everything, why don’t they hear a paper blowing in the wind? And how is it that a room can suddenly be sound proof with nothing but a mattress?

When we finally get to the third act, all that buildup pays off in an extremely satisfying way with one thrilling sequence after another. Let’s just say a nail, water and corn all play key roles down the stretch.

To simply call A Quiet Place a genre film would be doing it a disservice. It’s a smart and emotional film about a family masquerading as a creature feature. But there’s still room for plenty of scares.

 

 

 

 

Film Fanatic: ‘Ready Player One’ Review

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When Steven Spielberg is releasing a film, it’s still an event. The most prolific filmmaker in history still tells great stories, but it’s been while since he’s dipped his toe in the action-adventure genre. Perhaps he was scared off following the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

In the decade since, his focus has been on prestige dramas. Some hit (Lincoln, Bridge of Spies) while others (War Horse, The Post), seemed to fade away rather quickly. I didn’t even mention The BFG because I still haven’t seen it. Did anyone see it?

Which is why I was so looking forward to Ready Player One. Not only is it a return to Spielberg’s blockbuster roots, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else tackling the source material considering the book exists in large part due to Spielberg’s work.

Tye Sheridan stars in ‘Ready Player One.’ | (Warner Bros.)

The year is 2045. The real world isn’t necessarily dystopian, but it’s kind of boring. People need to escape. To do so, they enter the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything and most importantly, be anyone.

The OASIS is the creation of James Halliday (Mark Rylance), an eccentric but brilliant man who’s love of pop culture, books, movies and video games (Particularly anything from the ‘80s) inspires him to create the OASIS for everyone.

But after his untimely death, many wonder who will inherit not only the OASIS, but the great wealth that goes with it. Halliday planned for such a thing as he has left behind three hidden keys within the OASIS. Whoever finds all three will obtain an Easter egg and inherit everything.

Ready Player One is essentially Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the video game generation. Only instead of worrying about turning into a blueberry or falling in a river of chocolate, you have to be mindful of coins you collect to power up and grow stronger within the OASIS. It’s like a VR arcade.

Our protagonist, Wade (Tye Sheridan), much like Charlie in Wonka, is a young man who comes from nothing. But he also happens to be somewhat of an expert on Halliday as well as everything pop culture. When he eventually obtains the first key, he garners not only the attention of everyone within the OASIS, but an evil corporation that has unlimited resources to acquiring the keys and Halliday’s fortune.

Ready Player One is the definition of nostalgia. There are references on top of references. If you were a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s and you have a keen eye, you will no doubt spot and appreciate many of them. Although it will require multiple viewings to consume them all.

Based on the book of the same name, Ready Player One is a well-paced adventure with Spielberg sparing no expense in the set piece department. An early scene features a race through the streets of New York as Wade, while driving the DeLorean from Back to the Future, must dodge fellow racers, a T-Rex and King Kong.

In perhaps the best scene in the movie, Wade and his friends must enter a popular horror movie from the ‘80s and wander through it to obtain one of the keys. Everyone in my theater loved every second of it.

Some references are more obvious than others. | (Warner Bros.)

Despite a 140-minute runtime, Ready Player One flies by thanks to Spielberg’s direction. But it doesn’t overwhelm you and that’s a testament to Spielberg’s decades of knowledge in crafting and staging exciting sequences. You can follow the action and just when it feels like you’ve had enough, he’ll slow things down so you can catch your breath.

But perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is the one it shares with the book. If the OASIS is so immersive and fun, why would anyone want to do anything in the real world? Spielberg asks the audience to appreciate what’s real and the people in it. But he doesn’t spend enough time there or develop the supporting characters enough for us to want to put down the VR goggles.

As a result, the ending doesn’t feel quite earned.

Sheridan’s performance is also a bit stale. Nearly all of his backstory is dumped on us through exposition within the first five minutes. From there, we have to just go with the fact that he’s this clever kid. But Sheridan isn’t given room to show personality or charm. Thankfully, his love interest, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), more than makes up for it. She’s a confident, intelligent and a bad-ass character who’s far from being the Princess Peach of this story.

The concept and plotting of Ready Player One is where the movie works best. It worships the past and while it doesn’t really offer anything new, it’s still an immensely entertaining ride.