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Thematic ‘Toy Story 4’ Puts Big Radical Ideas Over Big Radical Plot 

At the height of Pixar’s creative boon, Toy Story 3 threatened the impossible: a sequel would be the animation studio’s best movie to date. This on the heels of the triple-threat punch of Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up, to this day the finest consecutive output Pixar would manage. Toy Story, to this point in the studio’s history, was Pixar’s only ongoing franchise – Cars 2 would come along and bust their Fresh streak just one year later – but its sequels managed to keep pace with their starkly original one-off creations by diving deeper into the pathos of its collection of anthropomorphic toys and achieving an even greater sense of world-building. Woody, Buzz and the gang discovered things about themselves by exploring larger sandboxes and, accompanying them, we too saw the world with eyes renewed.  Read More

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Punishingly Bland ‘MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL’ Left Me Wanting Neuralization

I know I’ll never get the two hours I just spent watching Men in Black: International back, ’tis part of the great contract us movie critics sign with the devil of Hollywood. But if only there was a way to zap myself with some kind of bright glwoy contraption, to erase that grueling 120-minutes sat in a popcorn-fueled daze,  watching the swashbuckling Chris Hemsworth and charming Tessa Thompson flail in a dead fish revival that was never meant to be. If only some people in black suits could trot up and zap away those banal 7200 seconds, rewriting my history by telling me I just watched John Wick 3 again or just “something really cute” really. But alas, neutralizers don’t exist. And watch Men in Black: International I have. Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘YESTERDAY’ Part Sunny Beatles Musical, Part Terrible Rom-Com

With Yesterday, a rom-com Trojan-horsed in a concept comedy that imagines a world where Paul, John, George and Ringo never formed The Beatles, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) has allowed the musical catalog of that formative group to do most of the dramatic heavy lifting. If you’re up for a poppy movie about Beatles music that co-stars Ed Sheeran, this is the movie for you. Otherwise – yeah, probably best to not pay it much mind. Using just enough of Boyle’s trademark flair behind the camera to simulate a modicum of visual intrigue, Yesterday deeply fails its quasi-sci-fi conceit by treating the intriguing parallel universe concept as mere window dressings for a lukewarm romance between struggling artist Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who strikes it big exploiting his knowledge of Beatles music, and his DIY manager Ellie (Lily James). The movie earns good graces when its blazing through the band’s discography and seeing the world at large react to their music for the first time but the rom-com-heavy second half drags it all off the rails with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) succumbing to one tired, obnoxious cliché after another in increasingly painful manner. (C) Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘THE DEATH OF DICK LONG’ A Dicked Up Black Comedy for the Sickos in the Crowd Like Me

In The Death of Dick Long, three close friends and bandmates are horsing around and, wouldn’t you know it, Dick Long dies. Causes are…mysterious.  Playing out like a demented Nickelback-version of Fargo, so begins the most incompetent criminal coverup of all time. Every effort Zeke (Michael Abbot Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland) take to conceal their part in the matter only serves to shape a police case against them. The film from Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) is of the jet-black-comedy variety, loaded with schadenfreude and cringe humor that only gets weirdest as it circles a truly wild conclusion. What’s most shocking is that as it turns increasingly deranged, it finds an unexpected sensitive side, turning these Alabama fuck-ups into more than one-dimensional laughing stocks. Do note, this is a textbook A24-style acquired-taste-only films exclusively for those truly looking to get weird. (B+) Read More

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Essential ‘THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO’ Glows With a Special Kind of Movie Magic 

Every once in a while a new voice emerges that feels so innovative, so essential, so fully-fleshed out and whole, that you just want to sing its praises from the rooftop. The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails’ stunning story of a friendship, a city, a home, has reduced me to a lame rom-com fuck boy. I want to scream it from the rooftops – I love this movie. Read More

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SIFF ’19: Zom-Com ’THE DEAD DON’T DIE’ Is Stiff Attempt at Satire

As if struck with rigor mortis, Jim Jarmusch’s take on zombies is a DOA satire of sorts, one that’s much too self-aware for its own good. Foregoing the traditional scares of an undead creeper, Jarmusch swings and misses trying to put the “dead” in deadpan comedy. Even his pairing of stars Adam Driver and Bill Murray remains something that sounds better on paper than actually works in this context, their synchronized low-energy, unfazed drift through the world of the undead unable to get much of a rise. Read More

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Mo’ Monsters, Mo’ Problems in Moronic ‘GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS’

One of the chief complaints regarding the 2014 Gareth Evans-directed Godzilla reboot was the lack of screen time for the titular monster. The character for which the film was named famously only appeared on screen for about 8 minutes and some fans felt they got the short end of the stick when they plopped in their theater seats expecting all-out-monster mayhem. In the timeless tradition of cinematic call and response, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, as directed by Michael Dougherty of Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus fame, takes that complaint baton and sprints blindly the other direction, delivering a movie that is packed to the gills with fussy monsters and cityscape destruction porn but remains an exhausting and brain-numbing eyesore nonetheless.  Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘WILD ROSE’ A Fierce And Ill-Mannered Country Music Come-Up

Featuring a star-making turn from Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose follows a recently released convict/songbird with Nashville dreams. Eyes will be superglued to Buckley who brings ragged life to a complicated deadbeat momma aspiring to be a country star in Tom Harper’s somewhat familiarly-written film that examines the shoals of starry-eyed aspirations and harsh real world realities. Fastened with warm, heartfelt soundtrack (performed with spellbinding beauty by Buckley) and with a solid foothold in semi-charmed redemption, Wild Rose is a white trash crowdpleaser that manages something new to say in a routine ‘star is born’ subgenre. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘THE NIGHTINGALE’ Warbles A Brutal Tale of Colonial Oppression 

Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) is an evolving director. Shifting the focal point of trauma from monsters that lay in wait beneath your bed to the sociopolitical horrors of our collective pasts (colonial-era Tasmania is the setting here), Kent tells a rape-revenge western that explores the loss of power and the power of loss. The story of a woman hunting the man who raped her and killed her husband and baby is well over two hours but there wasn’t a moment that I was not glued to the screen. Kent’s second is a distinctively difficult feature, savagely blunt but not also without its nuance and beauty. Aisling Franciosi and  Baykali Ganambarr weave understated human compassion into characters separated by entrenched racism, with the Irish convict and aboriginal tracker banded together to seek retribution. Striking cinematography from Radek Ladczuk casts the often brutal imagery in gorgeous natural lights; luminous and ruminant, even through the darkness. (A-) Read More

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SIFF ’19: Deadpan ‘THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE’ Brilliantly Sharpens Riley Stearn’s Dark Wit

Fight Club by way of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), Riley Stearns’ screed on “might is right” toxic masculinity is a giggly black comedy that cowers down a twisty-turny rabbit hole. Jesse Eisenberg plays a neurotic weakling (shocker) who gets mugged and turns to karate to boast his manliness and self-confidence via the transformative power of foot punches and heavy metal. Importing the welcome strangeness of producers David and Nathan Zellner (Kumiko the Treasure Hunter), The Art of Self-Defense is hysterically dark, niche cinema, a deadpan mockery of the sanctity of life and the sacredness of death. It kicks ass. (A-) Read More