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‘STUBER’ Hails Nanjiani and Bautista for Violently Funny Masculinity Workshop

In Stuber, a rogue detective (Dave Bautista) hot on the case of the heroine dealer who killed his partner has just undergone Lasik eye surgery. Functionally blind, Bautista’s Vic not-so-serendipitously gets an urgent break in the case but can barely walk two paces without running into a wall or down a flight of stairs. Wanting to avenge his fallen partner before the case is handed off to the feds, Vic finds salvation in ride share technology, hailing Uber driver Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) to unwittingly save the day as a kind of seeing-eye-Prius-driver. Read More

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‘THE LION KING’ Doesn’t Have An Original Bone in its Stunningly Photorealistic Body

Not a lot of films have found success at the multiplexes this summer with franchise entries like Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix and Men in Black: International crashing and burning at the global box office. What with their iron grip over Marvel (Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home), Pixar (Toy Story 4) and a catalogue of classic animated films like Aladdin and Dumbo ripe for live action remakes at their disposal, Disney has kept their head above flood waters, saving the AMCs and Regals of the world from becoming desolate, sticky wastelands of stale popcorn kernels and cola syrup. Disney is a king of their domain. And that domain is business. And business is good. Read More

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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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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

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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