A biopic about American historical figure Harriet Tubman has been long overdue. You can’t go through American history without reading or hearing her name and yet filmmakers have steered away from her story until now. Finally, Kasi Lemmons brings the legendary abolitionist’s life to the big screen in her biopic Harriet, and while her story is one every American should know, the way the film tells it is not without fault.
Gregory Allen Howard has been working on bringing the story of Harriet Tubman to the screen for over 20 years. Despite Hollywood’s dismissal of his script, Howard continued to persist in getting his film made and he finally found a partner in director-writer Kasi Lemmons. We talked to the legendary screenwriter about what it took to get the story of such a historical figure to the new biopic Harriet.
Since his first appearance in 1940, the Joker as a comic book villain (and later TV/Film/Video Game villain) has been an ever-evolving enigma, much like his darkly heroic counterpart. So it makes perfect sense for the films to continuously reinvent a character like the Joker, who serves a litany of important functions as an antagonistic presence.
It’s no secret Hollywood loves Hollywood (see: La La Land’s 14 Oscar nominations). A biopic about a beloved star of the Hollywood Golden Age? Singing? My first thought upon viewing the Judy trailer was Oscar. Fodder. But Renée Zellweger’s performance as Judy Garland ultimately transcended my cynicism.
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous Manson Murders — a tragic chain of senseless killings irreparably changing the world forever, and once broadly referred to by Don McLean as one of “the days the music died.” As is true with just about any point in time of this historical caliber, these events have been dramatized in various ways via the cinematic medium. With three films on the subject being distributed this year alone, I decided the time was right to witness and rank each and every one of them that I could get my hands on.
Cruelty is currency, and salvation is nothing more than a branch thrown into a ravaging, rapid river. This is the world Jennifer Kent throws her audience, unwillingly, into for her sophomore feature, The Nightingale. A divisive and often outright dread-inducing picture, Kent’s film rides through the Tasmanian wilderness with a steadfast purpose, to confront and kill the colonizing demons that haunt her main characters by body and land. To an extent, the vindictiveness of Kent’s picture thrives in the lush greenery of Tasmania. But the bonds that hold her characters together break under pressure.
The time has come yet again for a new release to be completely steamrolled at the box office by an installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and shamefully so, if you ask me. The unfortunate and doomed film comes this time in the form of A24’s Midsommar, a folk mystery/thriller from Hereditary director Ari Aster, which just so happens to be one of the best movies of the year.
This past weekend saw the release of Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, a high-concept dram-com with a hint of romance in which an unprecedented global anomaly erases The Beatles (among other cultural bullet points) from history. The Fab Four are allowed to live on, however, in the baffled memory of struggling musician Jack (Himesh Patel), the only one with any understanding of what’s happened.
If you’re a fan of the Annabelle and Conjuring movies, then we have a special treat for you this week. I recently spoke with Gary Dauberman, writer and director of the new horror film Anabelle Comes Home, which hits theaters later this week. Dauberman was also the screenwriter for the first Annabelle in 2014, along with Annabelle: Creation and The Nun. He co-wrote It from 2017 and is the executive producer and co-writer for Swamp Thing, a new DC Comics series on streaming.
The seventh film in the Conjuring series and the third to focus on the now-famous Annabelle doll comes to us from first-time director Gary Dauberman, who previously wrote the first two Annabelle films and co-wrote The Nun, as well as the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s It.
When it came to selecting the Movie of the Week, there was no clearer choice than George A. Romero’s inimitable classic Night of the Living Dead, especially with the recent release of Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die, which was heavily inspired by the 1968 film. Night of the Living Dead wasn’t the first film to feature the undead, but it is widely considered to be the definitive introduction for mainstream audiences. The mythology it established all those years ago continues to be the standard for almost every other zombie movie, TV show, or other medium in the genre to come out since.
It’s been two weeks since the release of Michael Dougherty’s long-awaited sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which hit theaters to a mixed critical reaction and moderate financial success. It hasn’t received the widespread enthusiasm Legendary and Warner Bros. were likely hoping for, but the film does contribute to the now 65-year old legacy of the world’s favorite giant monster in more ways than one.
The Toy Story movies have always been filled with lots of toys, and rightfully so. But every film so far has mostly played around with the character of Woody the cowboy doll. His story has progressed both positively and negatively to some extent over the years, from his fear of being replaced in the first […]
‘Dark Phoenix’ Review – The X-Men Franchise Ends As It Did The First Time, By Flaming Out Spectacularly.
19 years of X-Men films have led to one very awkward moment. A patchwork of sagas ranging from transcendent to bottom-dweller couldn’t have a picked a flatter vehicle for punctuating a complex legacy now in the hands of Disney upon the Disney-Fox merger. And to make matters more confused, we still have another one of these ancillary films, New Mutants, delayed to next spring for an unrelated and likely inconsequential misadventure. For now, Dark Phoenix effectively closes the book on a story that already has two, maybe three endings as it is.
‘Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am’ Review – The Living Literary Icon Gets A Meditative Documentary Of Her Own
Where there once stood the pillar of the white, male gaze in literature, Toni Morrison exchanged her chisel for a sledgehammer and there, knocked it down. The author, editor, and icon has amassed a following worthy of her extraordinary verve. A towering figure in the world of fiction, Morrison’s titles include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, and Beloved, among many others. She is a Nobel Peace Prize winner in literature and, will have you know, she makes the best carrot cake you will ever have.
Over the past 65 years, there have been 35 films featuring Godzilla (or 38 if you’re being technical), a super-powered reptilian giant and titan of the ancient world, born against his will from the complicit ashes of mankind’s mistakes. He’s a rightful god among monsters and humans alike, and such is the case in this latest outing of the world’s favorite monster, in which there might be some serious competition for the title of “King.”
Sifting through Netflix’s endless rolodex of content can be daunting. What should you watch? What are the streaming overlords recommending? Is there a category curated specifically for one’s own tastes? Mind-boggling algorithms aside, there are sometimes those movies that just pop up out of nowhere (fine, not out of nowhere exactly, I just went through the algorithm process). But these are the movies that always seem to simply say, “maybe.” Maybe this is the one. And this time, that “maybe” is literal in Always Be My Maybe, which is now streaming on Netflix and stars Ali Wong and Randall Park.
What we know of Ophelia has only been communicated by men. Shakespeare wrote her, Hamlet showed her disdain, and our high school English teachers misjudged her actions for hysteria. She is a tragic character worth revisiting, and worth further examination. Her story, though thought to be mostly miserable, has earned a more hopeful iteration. It’s […]
Every teen generation tends to get defined by the media they consume and how they consume it. Sure, not everyone can relate with the exact feeling a single song from the 70s can invoke when played in a film like Dazed and Confused, or perhaps what an early 2000s pop culture reference might inform in Superbad. But in Booksmart, the tradition of expanding relatability beyond the constraints and memories of a given era continues in this lovingly ambitious feature debut from actor-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde.
In my view, 2014’s John Wick is the ultimate Redbox movie. On the surface, it looks like your typical, generic B-movie action thriller. It features a recognizable actor who was out of the limelight at the time, and to some, past his prime. In this case, that actor was Keanu Reeves, and this revenge tale looked like any other generic action romp, the likes of which you typically find crowded in those recognizable movie machines outside of Wal-Mart.
I can still recall…The Last Summer.
John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien, author of such high fantasy novels as The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was recently the subject of Dome Karukoski’s Tolkien, a new biopic about the prolific author produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures and released through Disney last weekend.
In Pokémon Detective Pikachu, the rules of Pokémon and perhaps video game movies in general are turned on their head to seemingly serve a single purpose: give the people what they want. But what do audiences really want in a new Pokémon movie? A stylish film noir? A diversely casted Zootopia narrative? Dozens of CG monsters to adore and collect? The Ryan Reynolds brand of comedy under a PG rating? Or perhaps simply a reminder that when many of you were young, Pokémon (in some fashion) was a big deal to you, and now it can be a big deal to your kids.
Filmmakers generally build their stories around proven formulas. Either intentionally or not, most movies you see at your local theater follow a predictable series of set ups and payoffs. Sometimes this can be grating, and other times, it’s part of the charm. In one’s mundane day-to-day living, a familiar, run-of-the-mill story can be dull, meandering, or frustrating. You’ve almost certainly heard someone ask, “Why won’t Hollywood make something new?” But in other cases, a film that’s light, good-natured, and winningly by-the-books can invoke a welcome sigh of relief.
For reasons that may be obvious, critically analyzing a film intended for children can be a difficult task. There’s a prevailing notion that kids, due to their general lack of experience, have very low standards and will eat up whatever colorful media they’re given. There may certainly be some truth to that sentiment, given that children and adults consume art very differently, but one of our responsibilities as critics is to thoroughly clarify how disparate age groups might react to a film, especially one made for kids to enjoy.
Pristinely lined upon walls in America’s capital are the imposing, glorifying portraits of the fathers of our nation. Men who may have written moving words, but did so using the backs of women, people of color, and disenfranchised groups as the desk to write upon. It’s a tiring cycle; to be told the people have power only as far as the ballot box, and only if they can even get there. But in Netflix’s new documentary Knock Down the House, director Rachel Lears follows four women and their personal, political battles against a broken system.
Avengers: Endgame marks the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. At least…until Spider-Man: Far From Home comes out in a few months. Regardless, there are 22 films in this sprawling quilt of franchises, and not all of them are made equal. In this bonus episode of Cinemaholics, I spend a grueling two hours with Sam Noland collaborating and debating a definitive ranking we can both put our names on.
The set up and payoff structure of the Marvel films beginning with Iron Man in 2008 may never be fully realized. These stories will continue on for as long as audiences continue to be fans of the material, so any definitive ending for a saga of episodic films requires a conclusion to at least one prominent idea, not necessarily an entire world of characters and their respective potential as branched franchises. This is why Avengers: Endgame is a film deftly committed to playing out the first and last revelation of such a film series. Tony Stark is Iron Man. And the Avengers are the Earth’s mightiest heroes. Everything else in Endgame is secondary, including its villain.
Actor Raymond Cruz is often best known for his television work, particularly on TNT’s The Closer and his memorable reoccurring turn in Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul. For more than thirty years, however, Cruz has appeared on screens both big and small, providing memorable and distinctive turns in a variety of projects. His latest role in the New Line horror film The Curse of La Llorona, however, is one of his biggest to date. Premiering in theaters and IMAX screens around the world starting tonight, his role in The Conjuring spin-off film is literally and physically among his most gigantic to date, particularly if you see him on the 72-foot screen.
‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Review – The Latest ‘Conjuring’ Feature is Only Superficially Supernatural
The Curse of La Llorona is the sixth film in the ongoing Conjuring series. Released through Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, the film is helmed by first-time director Michael Chaves (the director of next year’s The Conjuring 3), written by Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis, and stars Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, and Patricia Velásquez. The story is based on the Mexican folklore of La Llorona, also known as The Weeping Woman, and follows Anna (Cardellini), a widowed mother of two in 1970s Los Angeles, who must protect her children from the supernatural entity in question (Marisol Ramirez).
Merriam-Webster Dictionary should be on the lookout. Paying attention to the latest changes in the English language, the millennial vernacular has birthed some questionable terms in its wake: “Extra,” “Slay,” and the ever-practical “Lit” have found their way into the jargon of many young folks. But above all other terms, there is one that shames them all. Adulting. Defined: “to behave like an adult, to do the things that adults regularly have to do,” as per Merriam-Webster. This is the very word encompassing the Netflix nexus of Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s neon-lit directorial debut, Someone Great.
Slut in a Good Way is directed by French-Canadian actress Sophie Lorain and stars Marguerite Bouchard, Romane Denis, and Rose Adam as Charlotte, Mégane, and Aube respectively, a trio of teenage girls who are hired to work part-time at a toy store during the winter holidays. Over the course of the season, they each engage in various romantic and sexual exploits with their coworkers and are suddenly forced to reckon with the frustrations and uncertainties that arise when it comes to adult relationships.
‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ Review – Terry Gilliam’s Delayed, Surreal Fantasy Finally Becomes A Reality
For many film fans, Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has taken on a bit of a mythic quality since its inception. Either fittingly or ironically, this long-in-the-works passion project centered (in part) around the literary icon is one that has often alluded the Brazil director. For the past 30 years, Gilliam has tried — with only fleeting success — to bring this mischievous fable to the big screen. Despite every intention and aspiration to make it a reality, Don Quixote yet remained a fantasy.
It’s been some time since I’ve been completely and utterly transfixed by a film. It happened quite often back when I started to really dive into cinema; it was only 2015, but it seems like a thousand years ago, and I remember everything I watched seeming so unique and tantalizing at the time. Naturally, the frequency of this sensation started to die out as my knowledge grew, and it slowly began to take a lot more for a movie to truly knock my socks off.
The escapist horror of Stephen King is known and perhaps beloved for its eery “other” worlds and frightscapes mirroring our own reality, yet are not quite the same. Something is always off in the very best of King’s written stories and media adaptations, and in the same way, Pet Sematary (a remake of the schlocky 1989 horror hit) contains just about everything recognizable in a memorable, unshakeable King horror, but something here inevitably strikes as a bit twisted and wrong.
Robin Bissell has produced, though not frequently, films of varying quality over the years, primarily under director Gary Ross. If you’ve watched Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games, or Free State of Jones, for instance, then you’ve had a chance to spot his name in the credits. And now, after two decades of bringing films to the big screen, Bissell has jumped into the director’s chair with his own screenplay for The Best of Enemies, a lukewarm debut for the veteran producer under the STX Films brand.
There’s a moment in Unicorn Store when frustrated Kit (Brie Larson) is coaxed to sit down at the kitchen table for a chat with her mom, Gladys (Joan Cusack). During their mother-daughter heart to heart, Gladys tells Kit, “The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at something you love.” This is the gamble Brie Larson takes on as director and star of the latest Netflix original film. Unicorn Store is not a failure by any means, but it’s also quite far from brilliance.
If there’s one adjective I typically abhor when it comes to describing films, it’s “cute.” Cute, to my disgruntled ears, comes off as cheap, lazy, and non-descriptive. It’s a broad word that doesn’t really get to the meat of one’s feelings beyond the surface level. It’s a deflection term, often used to describe the exterior of a film while avoiding anything specific, intellectual, or meaningful. It’s an inoffensive word, certainly; there’s really no sense in getting mad about its overuse beyond my (admittedly) overbearingly high literary standards. But I still find it ceaselessly grating. What exactly does it mean to be “cute” anyway? It looks nice? A squeaky-clean disposition? Positive vibes? Good morals? It’s a placeholder word when others fail you.
Originating from the German Expressionist movement of the early 20th century, film noir is a corner of cinema often reduced to a shallow microcosm of its time period. It’s a genre that has been worked in ever since the 1930s, but the most common association with noir is made to the stylish, studio-mandated crime dramas of the 1940s. Production-code-overseen stories of bitter detectives, steely romantic interests, and Tommy Gun-toting gangsters punctuating every sentence with “See?” are typically conjured up when thinking of the prototypical noir story, but there’s a distinct tonal influence hovering over these films, setting them apart from other thrillers. This is the compelling narrative underpinning the Criterion Channel’s choice for our 8th Movie of the Week.
Shazam! is probably the last film a lot of superhero movie fans expected from the expanded cinematic universe of DC stories, which have recently taken a turn for the colorful and fantastical with Aquaman, as well as the dynamic and righteous Wonder Woman. Unlike those entries into the ever-growing mythology of live-action gods and heroes, this new film from oft-horror director David F. Sandberg is a heartfelt family comedy with an authentically “teen” edge, boasting far more angst to chew on than its closest rival, Spider-Man: Homecoming.
In the light of day, the American prairie is an open and endless field of grass. Landscapes of the Old West stretch on for miles, and the golden plains evoke a warm, welcoming feeling. But at night, the howling wind creeps in through the windows. Candles flicker and the once open country becomes a claustrophobic nightmare, where nature speaks and shrieks. This is the visage first-time director Emma Tammi captures in The Wind, a psychological western-horror hybrid with haunting elements that work separately, but never coalesce into something truly frightening.
There are many times in life — perhaps especially, as a critic — when you have to admit that you were wrong. “To err is human,” Alexander Pope once said, and I believe that to be true. For me, when I first saw Get Out in theaters in 2017, I recognized it as a strong and […]
In 2001, the four members of the 1980s rock band Mötley Crüe chronicled their drug and sex laden escapades in a tell-all book entitled The Dirt. It was far more about sex and drugs than it was rock ‘n’ roll; detailing stories of trashed hotel rooms, struggles with addiction, and personal pitfalls over the sake of living the rockstar life doled out in absolute chaos. The film incarnation is, unfortunately, much of the same. Netflix’s adaptation of the tumultuous, vile story of Mötley Crüe never finds the right tone and ultimately hits all the wrong notes.
It’s been half a century since the significant culminating events of the Space Race, and the film landscape is making good on celebrating this milestone. 2018 saw several high-profile releases for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, plus there was the debut of First Man, Damien Chazelle’s fantastic Neil Armstrong biopic. And even more recently, there was the 2019 IMAX release of Apollo 11, Todd Douglas Miller’s fascinating documentary. Not to be outdone, the Criterion Collection recently offered the acclaimed documentary For All Mankind to early subscribers of their approaching streaming service.
Captive State has a lot going for it: a talented cast and crew, a solid visual and narrative aesthetic, and an interesting premise rife with potential to explore the faith we bestow upon our leaders. It deeply saddens me, then, to report that the film misses nearly every opportunity to create something meaningful, original, or memorable. It fails to deliver on any of the promises it makes from the outset and winds up feeling like a wholly unrewarding chore to watch.
The Criterion Collection is often revered (rightfully so) for bringing well-deserved attention to the more obscure, lesser-known corners of cinema history. They have highlighted great films that — whether due to poor accessibility or popularity — have been largely forgotten, and those interested enough to take advantage of the opportunity are typically better off as a result. Their sixth movie of the week, available exclusively to charter subscribers of The Criterion Channel, is a prime example of their knack for worthwhile curation and restoration, and it also serves as an exciting sneak peek into a title not yet released on physical media.
‘Five Feet Apart’ Review – Haley Lu Richardson Should Move Far, Far Away From This Weepy, Teen Romance
Though it is not based on a young adult novel, despite what my brain might tell me (Side note: it’s all the more confusing because they made a novelization and released it at the end of 2018), Five Feet Apart is centered around Stella Grant (Richardson), a bright, motivated teenager who cannot live her fullest life due to the limitations of her cystic fibrosis (CF) diagnosis.
For every fan of cinema, there’s one film that changes everything. It reworks your system. Gives you a new lease on life. Or, perhaps in less dramatic terms, it reroutes your perception of film in general. These rare movies give you a totally new understanding of the art form and can show you what this wondrous medium can do. They provide unforgettable epiphanies and serve as luxurious early showcases for how authentic, inviting, delicate, invigorating, and downright humane cinema can truly be.
At one point in The Kid, a new western directed by Vincent D’Onofrio, someone utters the tremendously bold statement, “It only matters the story they tell when you’re gone.” With all due respect to real-life outlaw “Billy the Kid,” you probably deserve the story this film decides to tell about you.
For their fifth Movie of the Week, the Criterion Channel has decided to highlight Charles Burnett’s career with his third feature film, To Sleep with Anger, released on October 12, 1990. The familial drama tells the story of Harry (Danny Glover), a mysterious drifter from the Deep South who takes up a temporary residence in the home of an old acquaintance named Gideon (Paul Butler) and his wife Suzie (Mary Alice), as well as their extended family.
Keeping your emotions in check means maintaining a semblance of control. Don’t be hysterical, don’t lose your cool, don’t show your feelings or risk being called weak. This is what the titular Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson) is struggling with when we first meet her training on the planet Hala, far from the Earth we know in more ways than one.
For their fourth Movie of the Week, Criterion Channel has wisely decided to highlight Andrei Tarkovsky, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Any one of Tarkovsky’s seven feature-length films released between 1962 and 1986 would make for an excellent showcase of his talent, but it’s only natural that the final choice would be what is perhaps his most talked about film: Stalker. Released in Russia during the spring of 1979 (and a few years later in the U.S.), the film has become a favorite among cinephiles, as well as an undoubtable influence on sci-fi and arthouse fans alike.
Directed by Joe Penna and released by Bleecker Street, Arctic tells the story of a man (Mads Mikkelsen) stranded in the North Pole following a plane crash, where living off of a meager diet of snow and small fish, frivolously broadcasting a poor radio signal, and endlessly awaiting rescue are the only ways to pass the […]
When it comes to trilogies, it’s common for the third (and typically final) installment to be the weakest of the bunch. There are exceptions, of course, like Toy Story 3, for instance. Many Lord of the Rings fans would consider The Return of the King to be the franchise’s finest hours. It certainly has the Oscars […]
Paige and her brother Zak (Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden) want nothing more than to be professional wrestlers, to be whisked away from their small town in England and into the throes of Wrestlemania in America. They were born into a wrestling family, sure enough, and their dysfunctional, WWE-enthused parents (Nick Frost and Lena Heady) […]
Following the tragic termination of Filmstruck, the thoughtfully curated and programmed streaming service, Criterion triumphantly assured distraught fans that they would be independently forming a service of their own. They have a built-in audience by now, and the notion of a service specifically aimed at hardcore cinephiles is thrilling (and necessary) to critics, scholars, film […]
Isn’t It Romantic makes a clear, uncompromising proposition to an audience that should be game. It’s a romantic comedy about romantic comedies, centered around a non-traditionally “Hollywood attractive” leading actress who hates romantic comedies but nevertheless finds herself “trapped” in one. Put more simply, it’s a Rebel Wilson laugh machine that relies on your love […]
‘Happy Death Day 2U’ Review – A Time Loop Sequel That’s Just As Fun And Rewarding the Second Time Around
If there’s any sequel that warranted the right to repeat itself, it’s Happy Death Day 2U. Writer/director Christopher Landon’s promising continuation of his surprisingly spry time loop PG-13 horror-comedy smash Happy Death Day is given a liberating golden pass to ultimately remix its original and essentially remake his hit film — if he wished. Hell, I wouldn’t even […]
You can have the most cynical, braindead, waste of space movie hitting the big screen, and yet it may still win your heart. Why? Because “effort” is always the undervalued advantage hiding behind loud, dumb movies. And the opposite is also true. A film that should work on paper—great cast, writing, visual styles, etc.—can crash […]