Joker Drowns Under its Desire to Be Groundbreaking

The discourse surrounding Joker has been happening for so long, you’d be forgiven if you thought the movie had already come out by this point. Long before the movie was named the (surprising) recipient of the Venice Film Festival’s coveted Golden Lion (which in years’ past has gone to films such as Short CutsBrokeback Mountain and most recently, Roma) there was anxiety about its impact in a world being ravaged by armed, white men. Director, producer and co-writer Todd Phillips (The Hangover) has spoken at length about why the seriousness of Joker appealed to him (Comedy was too PC for him, boo hoo!); this isn’t just another comic book origin story, Phillips wants you to know that this is a serious, gritty character drama. Then there were the stories about just how far Joaquin Phoenix went down the rabbit hole in preparation for his role as Gotham’s Clown Prince have earned him the status of frontrunner in this year’s very crowded Best Actor race. It has all been exhausting to say the least. But now the movie is finally here to be judged on its merits, for what it is and not the controversy and “what ifs.” The most offensive thing about Joker is how bland, boring and toothless it is. 

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“Booksmart” is the Best Movie of the Year (So Far)

I’m just going to say what everyone is already thinking (and what some of us have already said): Booksmart is the best movie of the year. Sure, it’s only the end of May. We still have a whole other half of the year left to go! Am I crazy? Probably (yes). But my insanity is not a cloud over my judgement. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a tenderly assorted, rip-roaringly funny love letter to the tradition of best friendship and high school debauchery.

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Jordan Peele’s “US” is A Terrifying Hall of Mirrors

Mirrors have been a tool in the horror genre since its inception. I think of the shattered mirror in Carrie as she gets ready for the prom, the REDRUM laden mirror in The Shining and more recently the sinister, inescapable reflections terrorizing Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Just like those movies, Jordan Peele’s US uses the mirror (literal and figurative) to send a message to his audience. 

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Again and Again: “Happy Death Day” is A Surprisingly Subversive Horror-Comedy

Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) just can’t catch a break. After waking up in a strange boy’s (The Blind Ring’s Israel Broussard) dorm room after a night of heavy drinking, Tree is fighting a killer headache and must do the walk of shame, in which she tries to unsuccessfully attempts to dodge a pesky student protestor, a guy she’s been ghosting, and her sorority sisters. Later, she will be confronted with the wife of the professor she’s been having an affair with, but now she’s late for her surprise party because there’s a masked murderer trying to kill her. Oh, did I mention it’s also her birthday?

If this sounds like life is playing some cruel joke on her, then just wait till you hear the punchline. When the masked killer does in fact kill Tree (and they do), she wakes up again on the morning of her birthday, doomed to live out the same excruciating day again and again, and again until she can solve the mystery of her murder. 

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Anne Hathaway is Back and Better Than Ever in “Colossal”

If you’re anything like me, you might have been wondering “Where in the world has Anne Hathaway been?” for the last couple of years. 

After the one two punch of her Oscar-winning work in Les Miserables and The Dark Knight Rises, Hathaway took a step into the background. That may have had something to do with the unfair, sexist press coverage she received during the 2012-2013 awards season. It may have also had something to do with her personal life; she got married shortly before she began the press junket for Les Miserables and had a baby a few years later. She was still acting of course; she had a cameo in Don Jon, reprised her voice-over role in Rio 2, starred alongside Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar, headlined The Intern alongside Robert DeNiro and even popped up in the ill-fated Alice Through The Looking Glass. But there was a stark contrast between Hathaway before she won an Oscar, and after. 

Where Hathaway’s post-Oscar roles weren’t exactly the worst roles the actress could have taken, they did little to showcase the full range of her capabilities. But in director/writer Nacho Vigalondo’s black comedy Colossal, Hathaway has found a role that superbly showcases the best of her abilities as a performer. 

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“Beauty and the Beast” Feels Like A Wasted Opportunity

It feels like Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics have all been leading to this moment. Though everyone is sure to have a different favorite, Beauty and the Beast is the most iconic of their catalog, next to The Little Mermaid (which is next to receive the remake treatment). The original was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture, and even managed nominations in Sound Mixing and three for Original Song. Alice in WonderlandSleeping BeautyCinderella and The Jungle Book have all been remade with varying degrees of critical success and huge, record breaking returns at the box office. Beauty and the Beast is bound to be their biggest endeavor yet.

And yet, for all of the hype, star power and magic, Beauty and the Beast winds up being just a straight and very soft pitch down the middle, never slipping into train wreck territory but never achieving the moments of grandeur and greatness that it so clearly desires. 

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“La La Land” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

La La Land was one of my most anticipated films of the year. From the moment that excellent first trailer arrived, I was hooked. First of all, I’m a huge sucker for musicals. And while I wasn’t a huge fan of director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, he seemed to be aiming towards evoking the nostalgia of the great Hollywood musicals of the past, with a modern spin which I was totally down with. I’ve also been a huge fan of Emma Stone’s since her brilliant star making performance in Easy A, and this seemed like the perfect project for her talents. And she had such great chemistry with Ryan Gosling in CrazyStupid Love so what could go wrong, right?

Since then, La La Land has gone on to become the Best Picture frontrunner. It’s racked up wins from the New York Film Critic’s Circle, the coveted People’s Choice Award from TIFF, a bunch of Critic’s Choice wins and a bunch of Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild nominations. It’s been written to death about how La La Land is the perfect antidote for our flaming garbage pile of a year, because after 2016, what we need is a breezy, delightful musical.

But La La Land simply doesn’t live up to the premise or hype bestowed upon it. And while it has some charming moments, they can’t hide the flawed and flimsy plot beneath all of the glitz and nostalgia.

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“Rogue One” is a Great Addition to the Star Wars Saga That Can Stand On its Own

Last year, The Force Awakens burst onto the screen at the end of the year and kickstarted a love of Star Wars for a whole new generation, while (sort of) making up for the dreadful prequel films that still feel all too recent to longtime fans of the series. The film was, in a word, fun; it had everything that made the original trilogy so enjoyable, while not being so wrapped in nostalgia that it felt old and recycled.

We still have another year before we get a look at the next chapter in the adventures of Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron but damn it we need something to hold us over until then! Enter Rogue One, a stand-alone film that sets back the clock a bit to before the events of A New Hope and some time after Revenge of the Sith. The Empire looms large over the galaxy, the Jedi are gone and Luke Skywalker has not yet had his fateful encounter with Obi-Wan Kenobi, nor has Princess Leia been captured.

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“Manchester By The Sea” is By Far the Year’s Most Frustratingly Overrated Film

For months I’ve been hearing nonstop talk about Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, which seemed to be the only film out of Sundance that could, at the time, find any coverage outside of Nate Parker’s Birth Of A Nation. As the year has gone on, Manchester has chugged along and slowly been building steam as one of the three Oscar heavyweights. It was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review, with lead actor Casey Affleck winning Best Actor honors from both the Gotham Independent Awards and New York Film Critic’s circle.

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