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Monday
Dec242018

Vice (2018)

Like an idiot, I expected Vice to be a Dick Cheney biopic. Writer/director Adam McKay follows up his powerful and informative housing-crash drama The Big Short with a cartoon, a red-meat polemic aimed strictly at progressives whose political memory drops out between late 2008 and early 2016. Speaking of Barack Obama, the best way to describe this film's disappointing lopsidedness is to imagine a right-leaning McKay crafting a seering POTUS 44 biopic: We open on an aimless black kid snorting cocaine in the 1970s. Later, he ascendeds to the presidency on a wave of identity politics and aspirational charm. He leaves office having overseen unprecedented journalist prosecutions and deportations, and an expansion of his predecessor’s war campaigns into so many countries that we nearly ran out of bombs. All true. But weaving a context-free narrative from speculation and bullet points doesn’t make you a historian. It makes you Dinesh D’Souza.

Tuesday
Dec182018

Revenge (2018)

George Carlin once said, "I can prove to you that rape is funny. Just imagine Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd." In a sense, Revenge is the movie version of that joke. Writer/director Coralie Fargeat never asks us to laugh at sexual violence in her story about a mistress and a millionaires' hunting retreat gone wrong. But she insists on a levity-as-catharsis atmosphere in details both explicit (four people lose as much blood as forty people) and mundane (in one scene, the main villain's wardrobe matches his throw pillows, sofa, and tacky couch-painting). Though the ass-shots are gratuitous and the gore will make even die-hard horror fans queasy, Fargeat's hard-driving, midnight-movie attitude is so thoroughly coated in commercial gloss that an Autobot leaping out of the Moroccan-desert backdrop would not have felt out of place. This is I Spit on Your Grave for the age of Agency and iffy attention spans.

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.