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Sunday
Nov252018

Vox Lux (2018)

If Lars von Trier had re-imagined The Neon Demon as another iteration of A Star is Born, then abandoned the project half-way through (necessitating a Vonnegut-style narration by Willem Dafoe to fill in gaping theme/plot/character chasms), the wobbly product would be a dead ringer for Vox Lux. Brady Corbet's follow-up to 2015's criminally underseen The Childhood of a Leader has a higher-watt cast (including some von Trier alumni), a bigger-looking budget, and ambitions of critiquing everything from pop culture to gun culture to Trump culture. Sia wrote the music for this film about a vapid, angry chanteuse (Natalie Portman) whose rise to fame might have been supernaturally inspired. But Sia is not a vapid artist, and hearing her deliberately forgettable tunes only compounds the ennui as Vox Lux, like its protagonist, fumbles drunkenly and disgracefully from audacious heights, creating as fleeting a story as last week's (or yesterday's) pop scandal.

Thursday
Nov222018

Candyman (1992)

We’re due for the annual complaints about a lack of strong female characters in movies. Before Wonder Woman shattered the glass box office, viewers had to settle for the 2.0 Ghostbusters. By then, Furiosa and Katniss Everdeen barely qualified as memories (see also Ellen Ripley, Laurie Strode, Leia Organa, and the countless invisibles stuck in Genre Jail). Some blame a lack of movie-history knowledge. I wonder if some types of films featuring bold, front-and-center females are less likely to draw that segment of moviegoers. Candyman stars Tony Todd as the murderous, hook-handed manifestation of a Chicago urban legend. But this is Virginia Madsen’s show, through and through. Her Helen Lyle was brilliant, tough, and fearless a quarter-century before those became mere marketing adjectives. Helen's quest for truth leads to a bloody upstaging of the guy on the poster, offering a sterling refutation to arguments that grow sillier by the year.

Wednesday
Nov212018

Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)

Urban Legends: Final Cut has a trilogy-conclusion title, even though it’s only the first sequel to Urban Legend. The follow-up should have been called Urban Legends (à la Aliens), with the third being Urban Legend: Final Cut.* Beyond the title, there’s very little else to connect with in this infrequently engaging slasher about a film school beset by grisly murders, some of which are based on (Meta Alert!) the first film’s urban-legend-themed killing spree. Confused? Step in line behind my weary brain, which spent half the time trying to remember if I’d seen this during its theatrical run, and the other half guessing the odds of so many cast members becoming ABC (and ABC Family) stars two decades later. At least the first film’s cruel streak is gone—minus the fact that one of the school’s buildings is named after Orson Welles.

*The stinger leaves room for another (mercifully, unproduced) installment.

Wednesday
Nov212018

Urban Legend (1998)

Movie nostalgia is like breakup nostalgia. Time and newfound affections sometimes paper over epic missteps. On better days, you might even recall teenage screaming matches as butter-hued stepping stones to the future Better You--until a random supermarket encounter or a Facebook Memory pops the wound afresh like a neck zit. Revisiting Urband Legend, I was struck by gooey memories of baby-faced WB stars snarking their way through 1998’s answer to I Know What You Did Last Summer (i.e. 1997’s answer to Scream). But watching Tara Reid beg for her life in a campus radio station reminded me of my dislike of this movie twenty years ago. A banal cruelty pulsing beneath the “Use By 1999” in-jokes suggests that the filmmakers had run out of stars and steam and anything clever to say about horror. It was back to, “Ain’t murder fun?” and other childish questions best left in the past.

Monday
Nov192018

A Star is Born (2018)

As surely as the blinking embers of creativity struggle against Hollywood’s unyielding brand-recognition vacuum, this fourth iteration of A Star is Born will not be the last. Co-writer/director Bradley Cooper plays country star Jackson Maine, who falls for Lady Gaga’s Ally after seeing her perform at a drag bar. They flirt. They fuck. She joins him on tour. Jackson succumbs to a lifetime of demons via drugs and drink. Ally teams with a hungry young producer (Rafi Gavron) who leads her on down a wayward pop path. For glossy Awards bait, A Star is Born doesn’t shy away from big questions about the dueling allure and repulsion of fame, constantly returning (through music and a recognizably human supporting cast) to the question, “Does art matter if the artist has nothing to say?” Gaga answers with a rousing final number that elevates this triple-take remake above prodcut into genuine, soul-searching spectacle.