A Simple Favor Review

Over the last decade, Paul Feig has established himself as a director who loves to work with talented women. From Bridesmaids to Ghostbusters to The Heat, he’s often excelled at capturing the uniquely spiky relationships modern women have with each other and themselves. At first glance, his choice to direct the suspense thriller A Simple Favor may seem inexplicable, since Feig’s other films are all straight-up comedies. But A Simple Favor, surprisingly to its detriment, is a movie as interested in being funny and self-aware as it is in being twisty and tense.

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The world is hard. Movies are largely rising to the challenge of portraying that reality, which is wonderful – but the soul can only withstand so many depressing films. Sometimes, we need something that’s just nice. Not necessarily the saccharine sweetness of a Nancy Meyers movie, which is a delight, just something that revels in small victories for a good person. Director Sebastián Lelio understands that sometimes the sight of Julianne Moore dancing and smiling is enough to set the heart a flutter. Gloria Bell, his American remake of his own Chilean film, provides us the opportunity to celebrate the little things.

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There are very few filmmakers who can match the energy Nicolas Cage brings to the screen. Werner Herzog is one; his Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a bad-cop-gone-worse story, pits Cage against his drug-fueled demons and has them breakdance to taunt him. Adaptation, one could argue, traps Cage within creative claustrophobia and makes him force his way out. Perhaps this year’s Mom and Dad comes close, allowing Cage to take a sledgehammer to a pool table while singing the Hokey Pokey. But Panos CosmatosMandy, in which Cage does more screaming than speaking, may well be the Holy Grail.

The Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit montage on YouTube is creeping up on a million views, and while it’s all too easy to make fun of it, the video also doubles as the show-reel of an actor willing to dive in headfirst unlike most others. Cage creates people that feel like they can’t be contained by a screen, and Mandy is the rare film (the only film, perhaps) that approximates what it must be like to live inside the head of one of his characters. It’s filled to the brim with melancholy energy, in constant motion even during its quietest moments, stripping away layers of meaning and imagery until it furiously smashes them back together. “Finally,” I thought, as Mandy reached its fiery climax, “a film about Nic Cage’s specific brand of sadness.”

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if beale street could talk review

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins returns with If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of the novel by James Baldwin. Romantic and tragic, Beale Street is gorgeous and emotionally stirring – the type of movie that only comes along every so often.

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Slice Trailer

You can see what the filmmakers are going for. In fact, it’s so clear that it makes it all the more frustrating that writer/director Austin Vesely’s feature debut, Slice, keep missing the mark even as it bombards us at every turn with characters, story turns, jokes, and horror movie tropes, all arranged by someone who has watched hundreds — maybe thousands — of scary movies and not much else.

The result is a work that is whole-heartedly ambitious in terms of its scope — a pizza place built atop a gateway to hells is admittedly a wonderful idea — but so many other elements (character development, creatively conceived special effects, pacing) are left so far out of the mix that the film slogs along, feeling uninspired and overlong, which is tough to do with a film that barely crosses the 80-minute mark.

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Everybody Knows Review

Iranian writer and director Asghar Farhadi is a true master of character motivation. He understands that when people talk, they are rarely telling the truth, instead offering a lie wrapped in equivocation. His filmography evinces a nearly single-minded focus on watching how quickly lives can unravel when the falsehoods once which they rest become exposed.

Everybody Knows, Farhadi’s latest work, is the filmmaker distilled into an essence. The lie at the heart of the film, however, is of a different variety than his usual ones. The open secret makes for Farhadi’s fiction of choice here. Everybody Knows could easily bear the subtitle “…but no one acknowledges.” The film’s characters are all aware of an unpleasant truth, one that they have all chosen to ignore, deny or dismiss. Read More »

wildlife review

Early on in Paul Dano’s Wildlife, the movie’s 14-year-old protagonist, Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould), takes an after-school job at a photo lab. It’s a plot point that also serves as a mission statement for the film, which tells the story of a family’s dissolution in early-1960s Montana. A spare, deeply empathetic piece of work, Wildlife also works as a sort of photo essay on the lives of its characters, presenting evolving snapshots of its central family’s members as they experience varying stages of exasperation, damaged pride, desperation and disappointment.

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mid90s review

Jonah Hill has struck gold in his first feature film as director. mid90s is a heartfelt coming-of-age story made with real wisdom and insight into what makes young men tick. Though highly specific to Hill’s own milieu growing up in Clinton-era Los Angeles skateboarding culture, his incisive portrayal of how adolescents forge social bonds carries a wide-ranging resonance that transcends the particulars of the situation.

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Let’s be real. You’ve probably made up your mind about seeing Scott Mann’s Final Score based on the trailer, so nothing I say will likely convince you either way. It does what it says on the tin. Distributed by Saban in the United States, it’s the next in a long line of “Die Hard, but in a _______” movies (see also: Skyscraper, AKA Die Hard in a building), proving that while nobody can do it better than Die Hard, damn near everyone is going to try. In that regard, it sort of defies traditional review (In this economy? HA!) given how its entire basis is transposing familiar beats to a new setting — not the beats of a genre, mind you, but the beats of a single film.

Spoiler alert: It’s fun! It’s not everyone’s kind of fun, but if “Dave Bautista bike chase through a football (err, soccer) stadium” sounds like your way of unwinding with a glass of wine, then by all means, read on.

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Climax trailer

Whenever any cinematic movement occurs with a noticeable sense of purpose on screen, critics commonly employ the trope of reaching into the language of dance. It’s not just walking, it’s a filmic ballet. It’s not just blocking, it’s choreography. Maybe it says something more about the scattershot cinematography of a screen-saturated culture where images are captured with little acknowledgement of the relationship between the subject and cameraperson, but when the two are in complete symbiosis, it stands out.

French writer, director and provocateur Gaspar Noé makes a more literal connection between dance and camera blocking in his latest film, Climax. The story, insomuch as there is one, follows a group of dancers as their drug-laced sangria sends their rehearsal careening off the rails and straight into hell. Not unlike in his psychedelic Enter the Void, Noé explores the possibilities of his camera with cinematographer Benoît Debie to mimic a sensation. Here, it’s the ecstasy and agony of a body in motion, controlled and compelled by a force deep within beyond their command.

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