***/**** starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryuhei Matsuda, Mahiro Takasugi, Hiroki Hasegawa screenplay by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Sachiko Tanaka, based on the play by Tomohiro Maekawa directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
by Angelo Muredda The apocalypse becomes an occasion for everything from learning what makes humans tick to getting to know the distant alien who is your significant other in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's genre-defying twentieth feature Before We Vanish, which might be most firmly characterized as a black comedy if it weren't so puckishly sunny. A return to form of sorts after Creepy and Daguerreotype, neither of which were without their charms but did feel at times like a master's idle wheel-spinning, Before We Vanish works best as a high-concept sampler platter of the wildly divergent tones Kurosawa is uncommonly good at mixing up. That isn't to say the alien-invasion framework and neatly-bifurcated dystopian road movie/romcom structure are purely excuses to see how much mileage Kurosawa can get out of his generic indeterminacy. Still, one would be hard-pressed to deny that half the fun lies in taking the film in as the strange sum of its many seemingly ill-fitting parts.
**½/**** starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole directed by Ryan Coogler
by Walter Chaw There are issues Black Panther raises that I'm not equipped to discuss. I don't understand them. I do understand that its closest analogues are Wonder Woman and Rogue One, in that these are deeply-flawed films that, for particular audiences, hold a near-totemic value as representative artifacts. I can't possibly express the joy and immense satisfaction I felt seeing Asian faces in a Star Wars film. I can't possibly share in the same joy and sense of satisfaction that women got from Wonder Woman and that African-Americans will likely experience with Black Panther. They are all three films that you only really dislike from a position of privilege, and such is the conundrum of our current discourse. I will say that there are a handful of scenes in Black Panther that are as powerful statements of racial outrage as anything I've ever seen in mainstream cinema--that is, in a film that is not otherwise directly about slavery and the African-American experience. During its prologue/creation myth, I gasped at a scene of slaves, chained together, being led onto a slaver's galley. There are moments so bold (if not reductive) that they're genuinely breathtaking in their audacious impoliteness. Bold enough that some of my more conservative peers left the screening soon after a particular pronouncement about the legacy of slavery poisoning race relations into the modern day. At the end of it, a character proclaims they'd rather die than live in chains. It couldn't get balder than that, nor more revolutionary. Yeah, man.
There's Always Vanilla/The Affair (1972) *½/**** Image B- Sound C+ Extras A- starring Ray Laine, Judith Streiner (née Ridley), Johanna Lawrence, Richard Ricci written by R. J. Ricci directed by George A. Romero
Season of the Witch/George A. Romero's Season of the Witch/Hungry Wives/Jack's Wife (1973) ***/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Jan White, Ray Laine, Joedda McClain, Bill Thunhurst written & directed by George A. Romero
The Crazies/Code Name: Trixie (1973) ***/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras B- starring Lane Carroll, W.G. McMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar screenplay by Paul McCollough & George A. Romero directed by George A. Romero
by Bryant Frazer George A. Romero, one of the unquestioned masters of American horror cinema, never intended to be a horror filmmaker. It's one of the great ironies in film history. When the Pittsburgh-based writer and director ventured from industrial filmmaking (via his production company, The Latent Image) into features, he made a horror movie not out of any claimed interest in or affinity with the genre, but simply because exploitation pictures were considered the safest investments. And for years after its release, the man who made the epochal Night of the Living Dead (1968)--not just the blueprint for the modern zombie movie, but also a metaphor for U.S. misadventures in Vietnam and a disturbing allegory for inhuman behavior among the living--was still apologizing for what he perceived as its shortcomings. "There's so much terrible dialogue, and there are several really poor performances," Romero said in a 1972 CINEFANTASTIQUE interview conducted by local actor Sam Nicotero, who was playing the role of a sheriff's deputy in Romero's then-in-production sci-fi/disaster hybrid, The Crazies. "Technically, the film is not that bad--but, Christ, our commercial work is better than that."
**/**** Image B Sound B Extras C+ starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams screenplay by Frederick Knott, as adapted from his play directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw I've never seen Dial M for Murder in 3-D, but I can imagine how, in that format, Hitchcock's slow push-ins and dolly-outs would create a habitable space, perhaps a sense of looming menace in his flower vases and teapots and of course the scissors with which poor Margot (Grace Kelly) manages to save herself late one night. In 2-D, Dial M for Murder is literally and figuratively flat: an adaptation of a smash stage play that Hitchcock transplanted without much "opening up"--a dry run for sister film Rear Window, a more polite rounding off of Rope, and what I have to believe was another visual/tonal experiment in a different format. How else to explain its complete airlessness in the middle of the Master's masterpiece period? Maybe it was, as Hitch described it to Truffaut, a piffle, a contract film peeled off to appease Warner Bros.: "Coasting, playing it safe." His own words about it comprise a good chunk of the total scholarship on the picture, but in that brief, three-page section in Truffaut's book-length interview with him, Hitch admits that he hollowed out a pit in the floor of the soundstage, the better to create relief in low-angle shots. In 3-D, the sense of forced intimacy as we as an audience engage eye-level with, body-level with, betwixt our urbane plotters and murderers could be both suffocating and grand. I had a dream once that I attended a screening of this film in 3-D in a large, velvet-lined auditorium. Freudians, take note.
**½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Michael Palin, Max Wall, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier screenplay by Charles Alverson and Terry Gilliam, from the Lewis Carroll poem directed by Terry Gilliam
by Bryant Frazer The pre-credits sequence of Jabberwocky features director Terry Gilliam's ex-Python troupemate Terry Jones portraying a hunter collecting trapped wild animals from a pastoral forest as shafts of sunlight stab through tree branches and featherlight moths flit among the leaves. The natural beauty is subverted, ominously, by point-of-view shots taken from far overhead, accompanied by boomy, creature-feature sound design (think Jaws, released a couple years previous), suggesting the hunter is also the hunted. Jones glances around quizzically, a dopey, open-mouthed expression plastered across his face. With a jump cut, he turns suddenly towards the camera, wide-eyed and screaming in extreme close-up. The camera pulls back from the ground and carries Jones with it, still yelling and beating his arms frantically in the air. He jerks his head this way and that, his tongue lolling about in and around his mouth, delivering a death scene of such unexpected intensity that it's hard for an audience to know how to respond. Is it scary, or hilarious? Or just...goofy?
½*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C+ starring Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Andy Garcia screenplay by Dean Devlin & Paul Guyot directed by Dean Devlin
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. It's the near future. Not much has changed, except the President is conspicuously not repulsive, "HoloFrames" have supplanted cell phones, and climate change is no longer an immediate threat, thanks to the creation of a global weather-management system called Dutch Boy, after the story of the little Dutch boy who plugs a leak in a dike with his finger. (Like all those movie scientists who've named their game-changer "Icarus," the christeners of Dutch Boy should've read to the end of the story.) Gerard Butler's Jake Lawson scienced Dutch Boy together but got kicked off the project when he switched it on ahead of schedule. Now, with the damn thing turning miles of Afghanistan desert into frozen tundra, White House lackey Max (Jim Sturgess with inexplicable hair) knows there is only one man who can get to the bottom of this glitch: his estranged brother Jake, who reticently returns to the International Climate Space Station (ICSS), leaving young daughter Hannah (Talitha Bateman) to fret for his safety and narrate the film for that soupçon of folksiness. More incidents accumulate both on the ground and miles above the earth, including a terrifying ordeal for a lady in a bikini who's cornered by a flash-freeze wave, leading Jake and Max to believe that President Palma (Andy Garcia) might be plotting a planet-wide attack of hellish weather--a "geostorm," if you will--in order to impede Dutch Boy's upcoming transfer of ownership from America to "the world."
by Bill Chambers In the interest of full disclosure, I've yet to see three of the major Academy Award™ contenders, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, or Phantom Thread. Fortunately, they've all been discussed on Twitter with the fanatical zeal of that machine that stuffs corn down a duck's gullet to make foie gras, so I felt I could bluff my way through this year's scorecard. I for one look forward to enjoying Michael Stuhlbarg's Call Me By Your Name monologue once I've forgotten how good it's supposed to be.
**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan screenplay by David Marconi, based on the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather directed by Martin Campbell
by Walter Chaw Martin Campbell's The Foreigner, based on Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman, showcases the great, the incomparable, Jackie Chan as a grief-stricken man with a Special Forces past, galvanized into action when an IRA bomb kills his only, and last, daughter in a chichi London retail block. Having failed in his attempts to bribe London officials for names, Chan's Quan, restaurateur/owner of The Happy Peacock, focuses his attentions on former IRA/Sinn Fein leader Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). Quan terrorizes the terrorists, stakes them out at Hennessy's farmhouse/fortress, and generally makes life miserable for everyone until he finds the people responsible for his daughter's death. It's a role that Liam Neeson would have played had there not been a recent hue and cry over yellowface and whitewashing, and so Chan, in the twilight of his action career, is forced into somewhat thankless service in a film that wants to be more like The Fourth Protocol than like Police Story. The Foreigner isn't a great film, but it's an interesting one for all its mediocrity.
by Alice Stoehr Dashboard-mounted cameras are surveillance tools. They can prove who's at fault in an accident, counter insurance scams, and record run-ins with the police; in the corruption-riddled nation of Russia especially, they've become widespread as legal safeguards. But the footage they capture can also double as entertainment. For what, in the whole history of moviegoing, has stimulated a viewer's lizard brain better than a car crash? In The Road Movie, documentarian Dmitrii Kalashnikov has compiled dozens of clips shot by his countrymen on dashcams and uploaded to video-hosting websites. Their lengths range from a few seconds to a few minutes, and the events they document are unpredictable, but they all share the same vantage point: gazing through a windshield onto the road. The director's input is subtle. He's present mostly in the curation and arrangement of the videos, with signs of trimming here and there. Kalashnikov achieves a seamless flow that keeps the film's 70 minutes from growing monotonous. So, for example, during one stretch a cloud of smoke pours from a burning bus; runaway horses block a car's progress through the snow; then a driver ricochets off a snowbank and right into oncoming traffic. Kalashnikov doesn't impose any context on them, so that task falls to the vehicles' occupants, whose faces usually go unseen and whose subtitled chatter is only sporadically relevant to the scene in the road.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
***½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B+ starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, Jared Leto screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green directed by Denis Villeneuve
by Walter Chaw Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 is oblique without inspiring contemplation, less a blank slate or a Rorschach than an expository nullity. It's opaque. There are ideas here that are interesting and inspired by the original film and Philip K. Dick source material, but they've all been worked through in better and countless iterations also inspired by the original film and Philip K. Dick. The best sequel to Blade Runner is Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, with a long sidelong glance at Under the Skin, perhaps--and Her, too. All three films are referenced in Blade Runner 2049 without their relative freshness or, what is it, yearning? There aren't any questions left for Villeneuve's picture, really, just cosmological, existential kōans of the kind thrown around 101 courses taught by favourite professors and at late-night coffee shops and whiskey bars. Yet as that, and only that, Blade Runner 2049 is effective, even brilliant. It's a tremendous adaptation of a Kafka novel (a couple of them), about individuals without an identity in tension against a faceless system intent on keeping it that way. It has echoes of I Am Legend in the suggestion that the future doesn't belong to Man, as well as echoes of Spielberg's A.I. and its intimate autopsy of human connection and love, but it lacks their sense of discovery, of surprise, ultimately of pathos. This is a film about whimpers.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
It: Chapter One ****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+ starring Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Bill Skarsgård screenplay by Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman directed by Andy Muschietti
by Walter Chaw There's a girl, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), she must be around thirteen or so, she's standing in front of a wall of tampons at the drugstore, trying to make a decision on her own because her dad (Stephen Bogaert) is alone, and a creep, you know, a little scary in how he keeps asking her if she's still his "little girl." So she has to do this by herself, even though it's embarrassing--but she's doing it. The next aisle over, a few boys, they call themselves "The Losers" because why not, everyone else does, are gathering medical supplies to help the new kid, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), who's been cut up pretty bad by bully Henry (Nicholas Hamilton). They need a distraction because they don't have enough money to pay, so Bevvie provides one, and now she's a "Loser," too. I read Stephen King's It in September of 1986, when I was thirteen. Thirteen exactly the age of its heroes in the "past" of the book, the flashback portion that's paralleled with the kids, as adults, called back to the Derry, ME of their youth, where they had forgotten that, once upon a time, they fought a thing and won. There is nothing better when you're thirteen than Stephen King. It was my favourite book for a while, although I didn't entirely understand why. I think I might now. Better, I believe Andy Muschietti, director of the underestimated Mama, and his team of three screenwriters, Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, understand that what works about It isn't the monster, but the fear of childhood as it metastasizes into the fear of adulthood--and how those two things are maybe not so different after all.
**/**** starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer directed by Steven Spielberg
by Walter Chaw Two scenes. The first a posh dinner where Spielberg subtly changes the field of focus to show that the ostensible star of this show, WASHINGTON POST publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), is listening in on a conversation recklessly shared in her presence. (It's at once a subtle presentation of gender dynamics and a master-class in visual storytelling.) The second a shot of Graham descending the steps in slow-motion to rapturous, feminine approval following a Supreme Court victory. Both are vintage Spielberg, the best technical filmmaker the medium has ever produced and a big giant, sentimental, cotton-headed ninny-muggins who can't leave the audience to its own devices and doesn't have the muscle to end things on a down note. When he manages one, his films are nigh well perfection. When he doesn't--and he hasn't, really, since Munich or maybe Catch Me If You Can--his films are 90% the best thing you've ever seen and 10% the worst. That's good enough for most. For me, it's the fantastic six-course feast that ends when you find a cockroach in the flan.
There's one good thing that came out of the first year of the Trump presidency, just one: this realization that what we had always indulged in terms of masculine misbehaviour is dangerous and vile. The entertainment industry, the lowest arm of which gave us Trump, took the brunt of the new "wokeness," almost as though it were taking responsibility for birthing something like Trump by enacting a purge. It's not over. One can only hope the enablers are next--the ones who looked the other way or silently helped normalize a flesh tax for entrance into the realm. Change has to be more than lip-service and the now-familiar tone-deaf apology for narcissism and incomprehension. I could go deeper here about my personal dismay, sense of betrayal, rage, disgust...and I want to--but men have been talking over women about their experiences for long enough.
*½/**** starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan screenplay by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinker, based on the book Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg directed by Jake Kasdan
by Walter Chaw Inexplicably named after a Guns N' Roses song, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (henceforth Jumanji 2) is a deeply problematic film that castrates its smartest ideas in order to please the broadest possible audience on opening weekend before dragging itself off somewhere to show up in a Redbox in a few months' time. Start with Kevin Hart--reunited with his Central Intelligence co-star, Dwayne Johnson--playing a porter, essentially, in a jungle adventure. Which, you know...what the actual fuck? I'm sure it means well, and Hart's threadbare shtick of being short and put-upon certainly fits the situation, but there's opportunity here, should director Jake Kasdan have chosen to take it, for Hart to comment on how degrading it is for a star of his stature to be appearing in a movie as Bagger Vance. He doesn't seem to notice there's baggage related to his playing a character who essentially carries a bag and hands weapons to the hero. He complains about it, though mostly he complains about not being able to run very fast and having one of his avatar's weaknesses be pound cake.
*½/**** Image A- Sound A+ Extras C+ starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Tom Hardy written and directed by Christopher Nolan
by Walter Chaw The bits of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk that are good are so good. The bits of it that are bad are just awful. I'm a Nolan fan. The only films of his I don't like are his remake of Insomnia and his much-lauded Inception, which is so emptily pretentious that it creates a vortex in the middle of the room and sucks the air right out of it. Though a lot of people accused Interstellar of doing that, there's a real heart in there. It's a bad science-fiction movie, but it's a great movie about fathers and daughters. (Not unlike Contact.) In other words, I have defended Nolan against charges of his being all of empty spectacle. I think his brand of operatic proselytizing works exactly right for the Batman character, who does the same and has the same sense of self-worth and wounded entitlement. I think The Prestige is a nasty, ugly, fantastic piece of genre fiction. Dunkirk is like a cornball version of Memento; that is, a Memento that is neither a noir nor a down film but just as much of an endurance test. Also, it's puffed-up full of itself, and it's about one of the most well-told tales of British pluck in WWII. It's going to win many awards because the people who give awards generally reward movies like this. It's like an adaptation of a Silver Age Amazing War Tales comic book.