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Thursday
Dec072017

The Shape of Water (2017)

I’m done with cinematic “love letters”. Master filmmakers have every right to create dazzling homages to the movies that inspired them, but I’d rather see that passion funneled into innovation, instead of overlong indulgences that put the “old” in “old fashioned”. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a technically perfect, very well acted Cold War fairy tale, a mash-up of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Hidden Figures,* starring Hellboy’s Abe Sapien. It also bursts with the same spaghetti-on-the-wall narrative carelessness that sank Pacific Rim. The screenplay's myriad distractions from the paper-thin and dreadfully predictable (for Del Toro fans) central story--such as a black-and-white musical sequence; movie-palace porn; and golly-gee social-justice smugness--are so on-the-nose they’re practically zits. Years from now, I hope someone apes the Del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth (or, hell, Crimson Peak), and not whoever this un-checked nostalgia whore is.

*Complete with Octavia Spencer!

Wednesday
Nov292017

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Tommy Wiseau may be the last hold-over from pre-Internet society. Despite having achieved global status as one of the worst filmmakers alive, he maintains an air of mystery as impenetrable as his ubiquitous black sunglasses. In adapting the book about the making of Wiseau’s defining (and terrible) relationship drama, The Room, writer/director James Franco embraces the auteur’s enigma. Instead of trying to out-do the quirkiness inherent in his subject’s truly alien persona, Franco steers into territory both meta* and base (foreign accents are funny!). The Disaster Artist isn’t as start-to-finish-hilarious as you’ve heard. But, like Ed Wood, it is a surprisingly tender and inspiring call to action for creators everywhere. No innate talent required.

*He plays Wiseau. Brother Dave plays aspiring actor Greg Sestero, who not only starred in The Room and co-wrote the Disaster Artist book, he became Tommy's surrogate brother in real life (complete with epic, crushing rivalries).

 

Thursday
Nov232017

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Three-quarters of the way through My Friend Dahmer, I made the mistake of pressing "Pause" and looking up crime scene photos of the titular serial killer's apartment/meat locker. The images are horrific but darkly compelling, like Francis Bacon paintings realized as sculpture wrought from impossibly contorted human bodies. In adapting John "Derf" Backderf's graphic novel about his awkward high-school relationship with Jeffrey Dahmer, co-writer/director Marc Meyers doesn't employ such imagery--choosing instead to push actor Ross Lynch to the very limits of a tortured character study. The crumbling family life, repressed homosexuality, and razor-thin tightrope walk between peer approval and revulsion make Dahmer such a sympathetic character that it becomes easy to forget how the rage boiling up behind his sheepish eyes and dorky glasses ultimately manifested. A lifetime of being ignored taught Dahmer the art of hiding in plain sight, which gave him the freedom to pursue other arts, too.

Thursday
Nov162017

Justice League (2017)

From the opening scene, I knew I was in trouble. By now you've heard about Henry "Superman" Cavill's Mission: Impossible 6 mustache, which he was contractually forbidden to shave during the simultaneous Justice League shoot. Paramount won a pissing match with Warner Bros, apparently, and the resulting spray of face-replacement CGI piss douses every inch of this thoroughly mediocre superhero team-up movie. Between Ben Affleck's bored Batman, Gal Gadot's "Blue Steel"-posing Wonder Woman, and the latest Lord of the Rings-cast-off/ world-ending villain, there's literally nothing to recommend here--beyond, perhaps, a fleetingly thoughtful character introduction (Ray Fisher's "Cyborg") and a thrilling chase on the Amazonian isle of Themyscira (both of which are memories after minute twenty-five). The remaining hour-forty is mildly better than the rest of Zack Snyder's hopelessly tone-deaf and misguided superhero franchise. But not even millions of dollars in concealer can turn this bad look into a glamour shot.

Tuesday
Nov142017

Superman III (1983)

David and Leslie Newman were really onto something with Superman III. Spring-boarding from Part II’s existential crises (“Who is Superman without his powers?”), the screenwriting duo pushed further into the duality of Clark Kent and Superman by turning the Man of Steel into a drunken, menacing jerk—thanks to a synthetic hunk of Kryptonite laced with tar. The junkyard battle, which externalizes Supes’ internal struggle, is one of the most distressing scenes I can remember seeing in a family film. Unfortunately, this next-level look at the Blue Boy Scout gets subsumed by a hundred-and-ten minutes of Richard Pryor’s shocked-face vamping; a super-computer sub-plot that goes nowhere; and a semi-coherent romance storyline between Clark and high-school sweetheart Lana Lang (the radiant-but-squishy Annette O’Toole). The early Superman films always vacillated between sincerity, slapstick, and the horrors of omnipotence. This third outing best illustrates the schizoid hazards of treating comic books as kids’ stuff.