movie reviews

Joker review at Mountain Xpress

I wrote a Joker review last week, largely transcribing what I said on Ep. 012 of The Podcass.

But I also wrote up a review of the film for Asheville’s Mountain Xpress this week. And given the space restraints of print, it’s often a challenge (one I enjoy) to shorten and distill my thoughts.

“[…] the Joker is very much a comic book character. Though Phillips wants to deny that fact, clothing Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in 1980s grime and despair and the visual language of early Martin Scorsese films, he can’t avoid the fact that the Joker is best known as Batman’s archnemesis. Allusions are even made to the future existence of the Caped Crusader. Can one exist without the other?

Perhaps the tie-in is fan service intended to placate die-hard comic book fans. But it’s also a concession that this story wouldn’t be distinct without a familiar villain who paints his face with clown makeup and favors purple suits with yellow accessories. Phillips tries to have it both ways.”

Continue reading
movie reviews

Behind great Joaquin Phoenix performance, ‘Joker’ wags finger at society for creating villain

For the past 20 years, figuring out what makes villains evil has become an entire creative industry. I don’t know if it started with the Star Wars prequels, but that seems to be where it was popularized. How did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader? OK, that question was inherent with the character because we knew that he was Luke Skywalker’s father and a Jedi Knight alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

Yet was that story really begging to be told? I think we all — whether “we” means Star Wars fans or general pop culture — thought we wanted to see that story. But would it have been better if Darth Vader stayed ruthless and villainous? Isn’t it enough that we knew he had a change of heart by the end and chose to save his son over his devotion to the Empire and the Sith?

The mystery of what made Anakin turn into Vader added appeal to the entire Star Wars mythology because it invited people to imagine what might have happened, rather than having that story told to them. 

Continue reading
movie reviews

Renee Zellweger’s performance prevents ‘Judy’ from being forgettable biopic

Judy does what most good biopics do, focusing on a particular period of the subject’s life, rather than try to fit an entire life and career into a two-hour story. 

There are flashbacks that show what Judy Garland endured as a young girl, trying to please those who wanted to make her a star at the cost of any sort of normal childhood. Those sequences presume that you know about Garland and her career, which doesn’t seem particularly unreasonable if you’re seeing this movie. If you know Judy Garland was in The Wizard of Oz, that’s probably all you need to get by here. 

Continue reading
movie reviews

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ chooses violent fantasy over final word on tragic character

With the title Rambo: Last Blood, you get everything you need to know about this movie. It’s the last stand of John Rambo, a character who already received a fitting ending in 2008’s Rambo.

Sylvester Stallone should’ve just left Rambo on that Arizona ranch, training horses and repairing tractors for the rest of his life. His Vietnam veteran turned virtual superhero finally left war, service to his country, and his self-imposed exile in Thailand behind. But maybe Stallone saw Logan two years ago and thought Rambo could get a final story like that. 

Stallone should’ve left it alone, man. A better version of this story exists in Rambo: Last Blood, but Stallone and the other two writers credited who worked on this script, nor director Adrian Grunberg, aren’t interested in exploring how a man trained to be a weapon can’t escape violence, can’t truly find peace. Maybe he should’ve traveled to Neptune with Brad Pitt. 

Continue reading
movie reviews

Ad Astra’s beautiful solitude in space creates emotional clarity for Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt in space! Months ago, when I saw a sponsored post for an Ad Astra trailer pop up in my Twitter timeline, I thought Brad Pitt was doing a car commercial, making sure Matthew McConaughey didn’t own that territory. That misperception was quickly corrected once I clicked on the trailer. 

So Brad Pitt is doing his space movie. I forget who wrote this or where I read it, and I would love to give him — or her, but I’m pretty sure it was a “him” — credit for saying that every big actor has to do a space movie in his career. Because it sure seems true. 

George Clooney did Solaris, then Gravity. (Hell, let’s give Sandra Bullock her space movie here too.) Matt Damon had The Martian. McConaughey did Interstellar. Tom Hanks did Apollo 13. Ryan Gosling was in the criminally overlooked First Man last year. (Seriously, what happened there? How is that film not more acclaimed?) 

Can we put Hugh Jackman in The Fountain in this category? Does Mark Wahlberg in Planet of the Apes count? Will Smith in Independence Day?

Continue reading
movie reviews

Unfortunately, the new Hellboy is noise and gore signifying nothing

There’s a scene about midway through Hellboy in which a giant sword goes through a monster’s head, virtually splitting it in half, unleashing a reservoir of blood, and showing some of the soft tissue underneath the skull. While taking in that moment, I thought to myself, “I think that’s what watching this movie feels like.”

I was rooting for the 2019 reboot of Hellboy. It was going to be too easy to dismiss this movie and say Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman did it better — twice — without even seeing this new version. But the wave of early reviews seemed to confirm what so many feared when this project was announced. Was there really any point to reviving Hellboy if there wasn’t anything new to offer?

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t have a problem with remakes and reboots, even if they’re being made too often now. (Saying “Hollywood is out of ideas” is an opinion that’s run out of ideas.) Popular characters and franchises are always going to be mined for new movies and TV shows if a newer angle can be taken. And if new digital effects and moviemaking techniques can tell those stories better than their previous versions, it might just be worth doing.

Continue reading
movie reviews

Shazam! stands out by embracing what makes the superhero fun

With one magic word, Shazam! keeps the fun train rolling for the DC cinematic universe. DC was already on the right track with the success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, but taking a chance with a B-list (maybe even C-list) character who had a chance to reach a younger audience might have derailed that momentum.

Some fans and critics might feel like DC’s big-screen product won’t be fully established until the big names like Batman and Superman have been restored, and the cinematic universe is on a path to getting the band together in another Justice League film. But Marvel seized the superhero movie pedestal with lesser characters and by creating a slow build that stoked anticipation for a big payoff.

Another reason that Marvel has succeeded while so many other studios and franchises have failed in trying to build a cinematic universe is its realization that many different types of stories and genres could be featured within a superhero universe. Movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man resonated with audiences because they were comedies as much as blockbuster spectacles. Humor has always been the honeypot for these movies.

Continue reading