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Sporadically Gruesome ‘BRIGHTBURN’ Could Burn More Brightly

Man of Steel meets We Need to Talk About Kevin in Brightburn, the James Gunn-produced “What if Superman bad?” movie that’s had folks buzzing since its mysterious announcement last year. Gunn, who cut his teeth in the Troma movie scene – a disruptive production company infamous for splatter and farce-fueled horror movies like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and The Toxic Avenger – before becoming a big shot with The Guardians of the Galaxy series, has his gore-tastic fingerprints scattered throughout Brightburn, though the superhero script-flipper’s signature touch is decisively missing, Brightburn lacking the mark of a seasoned filmmaker with keen editorial prowess, a knack for subjective horror, and Gunn’s dark, cruel wit. Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘LATE NIGHT’ Millennial-splains Entertainment to Baby Boomers

Curmudgeonly talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson, essential here) has lost her edge over the years, her ratings have followed. So begins the glow up of “old crone gets new voice” that is Late Night. When amateur “diversity hire” Molly (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay) is given a seat on Newbury’s white-male-dominant writing staff, the unlikely pair develop a working relationship that promises professional rebirth and a deeper understanding of modern entertainment tastes – to middling, and often safe, effect. The enjoyable, if forgettable, comedy from director Nisha Ganatra doesn’t have a lot of tooth to bare, nor much bold to its protest, and its dramatic impact is dulled accordingly. The film functions much like late night television, lulling watchers into an amused (if hardly impassioned) trance; momentarily entertaining but rabid for whatever upcoming slice of disposal entertainment. (B-) Read More

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Disney’s Lifeless ’ALADDIN’ Remake is the Opposite of Art

As far as I’m concerned, Aladdin is the worst movie of the year. There is not one ounce of artistic value in this soiled remake ostensibly from director Guy Ritchie (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), not one element that was not a clunky and borderline offensive down step from the original 1992 animated film, no attempt to refurbish the material and put any semblance of fresh spin on it. This is “filmmaking” as black magic – the result of someone burying the original Aladdin V/H/S in a Pet Sematary, its shambling resurrected corpse showing up on marquees pretending to be a real movie.   Read More

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SIFF ’19: ’BLINDED BY THE LIGHT’ Proudly Belts Out Familiar Hit, Cheesy Heart Firmly on Sleeve

Against the cynical backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s UK, Blinded By the Light tells a true-and-true tale of a Pakistani writer finding his voice and independence through the discovery of American heartland rocker Bruce Springsteen. It’s a heartfelt fantasy wherein every problem can be solved with a well-placed Springsteen lyric but one that ultimately does little to distinguish its coming-of-age story from the countless working-class renditions that came before it. Javed’s status as an immigrant in an increasingly racist UK and strain on his relationship with his traditional father are explored to a degree but it all feels cliché, despite its unwavering earnestness and nagging personal touch. Almost giddily cheesy, this feel-good crowdpleaser benefits from its patent sincerity and thoughtful cultural angle, even if it is still much too long. (C+) Read More

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‘BOOKSMART’ a Sincere (And Sincerely Funny) Ode to High School Ride or Dies 

In August of 2007, Superbad hit theaters and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I had graduated from high school three months earlier and though I’d never sat in a ride along with infantile po-po, or forced to sing karaoke to a room full of coke heads, the theme of life’s defining crossroads and their inevitable effect on friendship struck a nerve. Underneath the playful sheen of a raunchy teen comedy, Superbad spoke to the challenges of an unknowable future and the tectonic shifts that crackle in the multitudinous friendships you’ve curated over the years. A few days after Superbad, I left for college.  Read More

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SIFF ’19: Awkwafina Gets Serious in A24’s Cross-Cultural Drama ‘THE FAREWELL’

Ignorance is power in A24’s celebrated Sundance hit The Farewell. The film follows Awkwafina’s Chinese family who, scattered across the globe, assemble when news breaks of the family matriarch’s terminal cancer diagnosis. The skinny is no one has told said matriarch, the family cooking up a ruse to keep that treasured info from her in increasingly heartbreaking and comical ways. The film from Lulu Wang is a rare family film that genuinely speaks to the deep, historied, and complicated bonds that tie while remaining thematically viable and content appropriate for practically all ages. Wang’s is a deeply felt and emotionally sincere film that benefits from its serio-comic nature, if not one that left me entirely moved. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’19: Confident ‘BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON’ Is a Big Fat Crowdpleaser 

Jillian Bell is off to the races as an overweight and under-motivated millennial living in the Big Apple who decides to turn her life around through the transformative power of running. The seriocomic account of seizing power from dark instincts is laced with the ripe reality of self-destruction and lifted by the hopefulness of finding self-love. Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo structures the film as Brittany’s rom-com with herself and Bell, who packed on (and lost) quite a bit of weight for the role, is simply fantastic delivering a marathon of darkly-tinged comedy and uplifting pathos. (B) Read More

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Lynn Shelton Talks ‘SWORD OF TRUST’ And The Politics of Conspiracy

”I wanted to give myself permission to make a comedy caper.”

Seattle native Lynn Shelton has been steadily making films since the mid-aughts, championing mumblecore tenements, giving her performers a vast opportunity for creation in the moment. Films like Humpday and We Go Way Back set the stage for her burgeoning talent but the writer-director touched a nerve in the independent film community with her 2011 film Your Sister’s Sister, which starred Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, and Rosemarie DeWitt and involved a messy familial love triangle triage in a far-flung cabin. Shelton cranked out Touchy Feely, a comedy about the powers of physical touch, and Laggies, about late-onset adulthood, working with actors like Ellen Page, Sam Rockwell, Chloe Moretz, and Keira Knightley. Over the second half of the decade, Shelton has poured herself into television work, directing episodes for shows like GLOW, The Good Place, Maron, Master of None, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Shameless, and a long stretch on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat. Read More

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 ’JOHN WICK 3 – PARABELLUM’ Is Like Dipping Your Eyes in Pop Rocks

When you buy your ticket for John Wick 3, prepare for war. The third (and evidently not final) installment in Keanu Reeves’ increasingly trendy no-fuss no-frills action franchise is an idyllic distillation of the draw of the series, amped up to the Nth degree, slurping down a snifter of brandy, armed with Schubert on vinyl, locked, stocked, loaded, ready to tango. There’s someone to kill around every corner, alongside a brain cell or two, if you fancy buying into all the bloody mayhem. The weapons are more plentiful, the armor is thicker, the violence is more violent. Hell, even the blood is bloodier. As the criminal underworld puts the titular invincible assassin squarely in its seemingly ubiquitous crosshairs, it’s John Wick versus the world. The odds are less than even.  Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘SWORD OF TRUST’ is Exactly the Undemanding Indie Tailor-Made for Festivals

Lynn Shelton’s most recent foray into feature film stands upon the mumblecore tenement of character reigning supreme above plot. The circular narrative about a couple (Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins) who enlist a pawn shop owner (Marc Maron) to help sell a Civil War-era sword is a closed loop of somewhat vacuous plotting. Shelton’s breezy, unchallenging story highlights the underlying tension of legacy and the damage of past selves that we’re forced to carry around with us. Maron is stealthily funny even if Sword of Trust is rarely – if ever – laugh out loud comical but Shelton’s barbed dialogue and empathetic scene setting made for a fine pairing of snide and pathos that, when employed in harmony, make this absurdist satire of the American south stand tall and punch back. Softly though it may be. (C+) 

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