Avengers: Endgame Review – Marvel Delivers A Superhero Epic Like Never Before

Avengers: Endgame wraps up the story of the MCU so far, delivering an epic superhero adventure while honoring the past in a satisfying finale.

Marvel Studios kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly 11 years ago with 2008’s Iron Man. Back then, they had a relatively modest vision of building to The Avengers by assembling a team of heroes from their respective origin movies into a single unit. In the decade since Robert Downey Jr. made his debut as Iron Man, the MCU has grown to include superheroes from all across the universe, from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, Avengers: Endgame marks the 22nd film in the MCU and sets out to achieve a feat Hollywood has never seen attempted before by ending the story that first began in Iron Man. And it does, in a spectacular accomplishment. Avengers: Endgame wraps up the story of the MCU so far, delivering an epic superhero adventure while honoring the past in a satisfying finale.

Avengers: Endgame picks up after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, which saw the Avengers divided and defeated. Thanos won the day and used the Infinity Stones to snap away half of all life in the universe. Only the original Avengers – Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – remain, along with some key allies in the forms of War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Each of the survivors deal with the fallout from Thanos’ Decimation in different ways, but when an opportunity presents itself to potentially save those who vanished, they all come together and set out to defeat Thanos, once and for all.

For Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios assembles its veterans behind the scenes as well, re-teaming directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who joined the MCU with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who’ve penned a total of six MCU movies since Captain America: The First Avenger. All that’s to say, Avengers: Endgame fits perfectly within the larger MCU in terms of direction and screenwriting because it was created by those who had a prominent hand in crafting the sprawling cinematic universe. And with so much experience under their belts, the Russos excel at balancing the superhero spectacle with human drama, while the more focused story of Endgame allows for the characters to truly shine. There are moments when the story gets a little unwieldy, suffering from similar problems to Infinity War in maintaining a consistent pace throughout the entire film. But Avengers: Endgame is meant to be a culminating epic and it’s clear that the Russos, Markus and McFeely took the care to make sure they got it right.

At the heart of Avengers: Endgame are the heroes we’ve been following since the very beginning. At this point in the franchise, there’re too many heroes for one movie – even a three-hour movie – to focus on all of them. Avengers: Infinity War undoubtedly struggled under the weight of balancing so many characters. With half the universe gone, Endgame is able to focus on the original six Avengers, who are the true center of the MCU (at least, so far). The film remarkably balances its character arcs so well it’s as if each hero gets a solo movie in Avengers: Endgame. There are certain character beats that may not work for all viewers, and even within the original six, certain heroes get more focus than others, unfortunately. To their credit, though, the actors give some of their best performances in the MCU, especially the original six: Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Johansson and Renner. Even with future movies or TV shows already planned for some characters, this is the original Avengers team’s swan song, and the actors put their hearts and souls into Avengers: Endgame.

In addition to the character drama, Avengers: Endgame delivers superhero spectacle like nothing seen in the MCU – or any other superhero movie – ever before. With Endgame acting as the conclusion of the MCU thus far, it goes all in on action. There are times when Endgame falls back into Marvel’s old problems (hordes of unimportant villains, too much CGI and muted coloring), but they’re tempered with character-focused moments. While most of these are in service of the core six, each Marvel hero in Avengers: Endgame gets a moment to truly shine and join in on the superhero fun. Some of these moments are unashamedly fan service and, in fact, there’s a great deal of fan service in Avengers: Endgame overall. But after 11 years and 21 movies, Marvel has earned some fan service, and it all adds to the epic, event nature of Avengers: Endgame.

Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame is a whole lotta movie, but the filmmakers put every single second of its three-hour runtime to good use. Since Endgame concludes the Infinity Saga (the official title of the story thus far), Marvel and the filmmakers have the unenviable task of delivering a movie that satisfies all MCU fans. While there are bound to be aspects of Avengers: Endgame that don’t work for all viewers, for the most part the movie actually, truly offers a satisfying ending to the Infinity Saga. As a result, Avengers: Endgame is a must-see for Marvel fans, even those who have only a casual interest in the MCU. Because of the spectacle, it’s worth seeing Avengers: Endgame in IMAX, though it isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie. Marvel Studios’ latest faces the highest expectations of any Marvel Studios movie thus far and manages to exceed them, which is nothing short of extraordinary. Simply speaking, Avengers: Endgame is one of the best Marvel movies ever.

Trailer

Avengers: Endgame starts playing in U.S. theaters Thursday evening April 25th. It is 181 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-23 03:04:53

Molly Freeman

The Curse of La Llorona Review: The Conjuring Lite is Still Entertaining

First off, some clarification: yes, The Curse of La Llorona is a Conjuring movie. The film’s marketing has been relatively vague on this point, claiming that it simply hales “from the producers” of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros.’ popular horror franchise. However, following its premiere at SXSW in March, word quickly got out that the thriller exists in the same continuity as Valak, Bathsheba, and that trouble-making Annabelle doll. Whether that was always the case or not is open to speculation, but the connection ultimately makes sense… which is to say, the film draws so heavily from James Wan’s playbook on the original Conjuring that it might as well be an official spinoff. Despite a lack of originality and substance, The Curse of La Llorona makes for an entertaining funhouse ride of a movie set in The Conjuring universe.

The Curse of La Llorona director Michael Chaves has already been hired to helm The Conjuring 3 and it’s easy to see why, based on this film. Chaves shows a knack for crafting spooky set pieces and sequences here, using little more than a flickering light, a creaking door, or (in one memorable case) a transparent umbrella to build up tension before the inevitable jump scare hits. Naturally, some of these scenes are better executed than others, but Chaves does a nice job of mixing things up with his approach, as opposed to simply rehashing the same techniques or resorting to cheap shots. As with the other Conjuring movies, the sound editing is essential to The Curse of La Llorona‘s success in this regard. For the large part, the film relies on silence to create suspense, making it all the more effective when the eerie score by Conjuring 1 & 2 composer Joseph Bishara comes into play.

Occasionally, though, Chaves is guilty of cribbing from Wan’s bag of tricks here, especially when it comes to specific camera angles or pieces of visual storytelling (like a sequence shot that maps out the interior of the film’s soon-to-be haunted setting near the beginning). But then again, something similar could be said for The Curse of La Llorona at large. The screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (Five Feet Apart) is pretty bare-bones when it comes to plot and character development, doing little to distinguish the family in peril at the heart of the narrative – in this case, widowed social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) and her children, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) – from those in Conjuring movies past. At the same time, Cardellini delivers an engaging performance as the film’s lead and invites the audience’s sympathy, even when she makes a terrible mistake that’s responsible for La Llorona “latching” onto her and her kids in the first place.

Speaking of The Weeping Woman: those who’re fans and/or were raised on stories about the famous latino folklore specter may want to check their expectations. The character makes for a serviceably creepy villain in The Curse of La Llorona, but otherwise amounts to little more than a standard Conjuring movie monster. That goes double for the film’s central set piece and 1970s backdrop, which are equally acceptable in quality, but lack the rich sense of atmosphere and sinister production design that Conjuring spinoffs like Annabelle: Creation and The Nun had. And like the other movies in the franchise before it, The Curse of La Llorona ultimately gives up on trying to be low-key haunting in its third act, in favor of a finale that delivers louder thrills and action, but sacrifices the feeling of dread sustained throughout the film’s previous two-thirds.

Thankfully, Chaves never loses sight of what he wants The Curse of La Llorona to be (again, the cinematic equivalent of a scary theme park attraction) and keeps the story flowing at a steady pace, without getting hung up on the movie’s thinly-sketched themes about faith and personal loss. The supporting cast seems to be onboard with what the director’s going for here, as costars Patricia Velásquez, Sean Patrick Thomas, and Tony Amendola (who plays a familiar priest) all strike the right tone of seriousness without going too far or coming off as unintentionally campy in their performances. Indeed, one of the best parts of the film is Raymond Cruz as Rafael Olvera, an ex-priest turned independent demon fighter who brings a welcome touch of deadpan humor to the proceedings. It helps that Rafael’s an interesting character in his own right, and his mysterious backstory begs for further exploration. (Maybe in a future Conjuring spinoff?)

As far as Conjuring spinoffs go, The Curse of La Llorona is far from a mold-breaker, but it should get the job done for anyone in the mood for a fun, schlocky supernatural horror-thriller. The movie’s connection to the rest of the Conjuring universe is tenuous at best, so those who haven’t seen the previous films in the franchise (including, the mainline sequels and prequels) can feel comfortable about boarding the bandwagon here, if they’re interested. As for La Llorona: if the Annabelle movies – including this June’s midquel Annabelle Comes Home – have taught us anything, it’s that you just can’t keep a nasty demon down… assuming their films make big bucks at the box office, anyway.

The Curse of La Llorona is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 93 minutes long and is rated R for violence and terror.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-19 05:04:40

Sandy Schaefer

Someone Great Review: Gina Rodriguez’s Rom-Com Is A Win For Netflix

Someone Great puts a new spin on the rom-com genre with an entertaining romp through NYC as three friends reach turning points in their love lives.

Last year, Netflix found a great deal of success with their romantic comedy fare, and the streaming service responded to that success by upping the output of their original rom-coms. The latest to hit the streaming service, Someone Great, is a refreshing breath of air in the romantic comedy genre, focusing on three friends at a time of major upheaval in their lives. At the center is music journalist Jenny (Gina Rodriguez), who is broken up with by her boyfriend of nine years, Nate (Lakeith Stanfield), just before moving to San Francisco for a new job. She’s comforted by her friends Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow) throughout one particular day and night in New York City, but Erin and Blair are dealing with their own relationship dramas. Someone Great was written and directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Sweet/Vicious), and is her directorial debut. Someone Great puts a new spin on the rom-com genre with an entertaining romp through NYC as three friends reach turning points in their love lives.

Someone Great largely focuses on the story of Jenny and her grief in the wake of her breakup with Nate. Through flashbacks, the movie explores various stages of their relationship, from the night they met through to the breakup. In present day, Jenny is reeling from the end of their nine-year relationship and trying to distract herself by spending time with her friends in one last hurrah before she moves across country. Instead of focusing on the start of a relationship, though, Someone Great goes a different rom-com route by detailing the end of a long-term relationship and depicting a woman trying – and sometimes failing – to move forward. The end of a relationship can be much messier than the start of one, and Someone Great portrays that facet of love and romantic relationships in an incredibly honest, realistic way.

But while Jenny is perhaps the main protagonist of Someone Great, Erin and Blair are also faced with their own important decisions with regard to their love lives. Erin has been casually dating Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones) for months and must decide whether to commit or continue flaking out on someone she has real feelings for. Meanwhile, Blair is in an unfulfilling long-term relationship when her eye strays to a guy Jenny had a crush on in college, Matt (Peter Vack), who comes back into their lives. In these stories, which have almost as much focus in the movie as Jenny’s, Someone Great plays out two typical rom-com storylines – the romantic interest afraid to commit and the protagonist looking for someone more fulfilling. These arcs work to balance Jenny’s breakup with other tales of romantic love and depict different phases of romantic relationships, in similarly honest and realistic fashion, keeping Someone Great well within the rom-com genre.

But while Someone Great delivers the romantic storylines viewers would expect from a romantic comedy, the true strength of the movie is the friendship – platonic love – of the three main characters. And that’s undoubtedly thanks to the performances of Rodriguez, Wise and Snow, who portray these three friends’ relationship as complicated, but ultimately loving. Someone Great depicts a variety of love – self-love, platonic love, romantic love – in a way that feels much more true to life and revolutionary because of it, especially in a genre like romantic comedies that tend to elevate romantic love above all else. It helps to set Someone Great apart from other rom-coms, and the film ultimately delivers a much more honest picture of the lives of these modern women. A great deal of that is due to the performances of the three leads, but it also comes down to the film’s script.

Prior to Someone Great, Robinson’s main credit was the short-lived MTV drama Sweet/Vicious about a pair of girls who become vigilantes on their college campus taking down those who get away with abusive behavior. Like the TV show before it, Robinson’s Someone Great script features plenty of snappy dialogue and focuses on the bond of the film’s female characters, with their other relationships often taking a backseat to the core friendship. Robinson’s writing and directing on Someone Great elevates the film. And considering the well known hands-off approach Netflix takes to its originals, the quality of Someone Great is a testament to Robinson’s talent, as she once again showcases a unique and wholly necessary voice in Hollywood at the moment. Someone Great is further proof that we need more and different voices in a storied genre like that of rom-coms in order to keep it fresh and modern.

Ultimately, Someone Great is a wonderful addition to the romantic comedy genre, putting a new spin on the classic tropes and taking a look at a side to romantic relationships very rarely explored within films of this type. It’s a fun and enjoyable watch for rom-com fans, and/or those looking for strong female-fronted and female-created cinema. With the low barrier of entry that comes along with all Netflix originals, Someone Great has the potential for major success on the streaming platform. In the rom-com revival that we’ve seen over the last year or so – with Netflix as a major contributor – Someone Great fits well into the wave of new films that elevate the genre beyond (most of) the tired tropes of decades past, while still providing an entertaining romantic comedy experience.

Trailer

Someone Great is now available for streaming through Netflix. It is 92 minutes long and is rated R for drug content, drinking, sexual material and language throughout.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-19 05:04:16

Molly Freeman

Teen Spirit Review: As Simple But Delightful As a Catchy Pop Song

It’s a familiar tune: the small-town kid with big talent finally gets their shot at superstardom, assuming they can navigate all the potential pitfalls that come with it. Such is the basic premise for Teen Spirit, a music-fueled teen drama that features Elle Fanning as its onscreen pop star in the making, and serves as actor Max Minghella’s writing-directing debut. The movie earned a generally supportive reception from the journalists who caught its premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and for perfectly valid reason. Teen Spirit is a simple yet exuberant coming of age story that, like the catchiest pop songs, successfully infuses an old formula with new life.

Fanning stars here as Violet Valenski, a 17-year old Polish girl who divides her time between going to school, trying to have a social life, and working to help her single mother, Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska), make ends meet in a small town on the Isle of Wight. She also daydreams of becoming a pop singer, and has the talent to make that fantasy a reality… if only someone would give her the opportunity. Sure enough, she gets just that when a world-famous singing competition called Teen Spirit holds auditions in her hometown. And just like in any other fairy tale, Violet get some assistance from an unexpected source in the form of Vlad (Zlatko Buric): a heavy-drinking local who, as it turns out, has some professional experience in this area.

Minghella’s Teen Spirit script follows a pretty clear-cut trajectory from the get-go and never really wavers from it thereafter; even the various obstacles it throws at Violet are typically predictable, as are the ways the film ultimately resolves them. Thankfully, Minghella doesn’t seem to have any pretensions about the narrative he’s weaving here, either, and spends most of his effort on infusing the formulaic proceedings with a real sense of panache, instead. At the same time, one of the movie’s best qualities is the way it takes pop music (however insubstantial it might seem to others) as seriously as its teenaged protagonist does, and never looks down its nose at her or her ambitions. Teen Spirit even manages to quietly subvert expectations at times, like the way its avoids painting Marla as a stereotypical nagging mother, and expresses real sympathy for her concerns about Violet’s pursuit of fame.

Stylistically, Teen Spirit often looks and feels like a music video (in a good way), between its energetic montages – some of which are set to toe-tapping instrumental versions of hit pop songs – and the scenes where Violet actually performs (and yes, Fanning can sing quite well). The movie was shot by cinematographer Autumn Durald, who draws from her experience working on music videos for real-life artists (like Janelle Monáe and The Arcade Fire) in order to express the passion and jubilance that Violet experiences when she sings through the film’s shiny and sometimes hyperreal visuals. Teen Spirit was clearly a low-budget production, but Minghella and his team nevertheless succeed in crafting some genuinely dynamic sequences here, and employ stylistic flourishes like lens flares and quick-cutting to help further spice things up.

For all its glitz and glamor, though, Teen Spirit still ends up telling a fairly basic story and never digs that deeply into its themes about the nature of celebrity (nor the questions that it raises about why Violet wants to be a pop star in the first place). Still, it’s elevated by a combination of Minghella’s direction and the cast’s performances, especially that by Fanning. In addition to her singing, Fanning paints a relatable portrait of an introverted teenager who expresses themselves through their art here, making it all the easier to cheer Violet on as she pursues her dreams. She has also a touching onscreen chemistry with Buric, whose character Vlad is very much the typical off-beat mentor, but a likable version of the archetype all the same. The other cast members (like Rebecca Hall as a music industry figure who immediately recognizes Violet’s potential for greatness) are far less developed by comparison, but are otherwise sturdy and make the most of the material they’ve given to work with.

At the end of the day, Teen Spirit isn’t trying to break the mold so much as it wants to prove that the mold doesn’t necessarily need to be shattered – if you have the right ingredients and enough creativity. In a way, it’s refreshing that Minghella doesn’t overstretch himself in his first-time directing and instead aims to deliver an enjoyably simple crowd-pleasing musical drama that has just enough meat on its bones to avoid feeling like a triumph of flashiness over substance. It might be not a must-see with everything else playing in theaters right now, but Teen Spirit is certainly worth a look at some point and suggests that we can continue to expect good things from Fanning and Minghella alike, on opposite sides of the camera. And yes, you’ll want to give the soundtrack a listen-to afterwards.

Teen Spirit is now playing in select areas and will expand to more theaters over the forthcoming weeks. It is 92 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content, and for teen drinking and smoking.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-12 08:04:12

Sandy Schaefer

After Review: This Fanfiction-Inspired Love Story is Actually Quite Good

After is an intimate look at the ups and downs of first love that takes some nonsensical narrative turns, but is nevertheless a captivating romance.

Like Fifty Shades of Grey and The Mortal Instruments before it, After started off as fanfiction. Specifically, it was fanfiction about One Direction band member Harry Styles, and it amassed such a massive readership that its author, Anna Todd, received a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster. The story of a young couple falling in love inspired an incredibly devoted fan base among preteen and teen girls, but was also criticized for the abusive nature of the central relationship. For the movie adaptation, After was directed by Jenny Gage (All This Panic) from a script by Susan McMartin (Mom). After is an intimate look at the ups and downs of first love that takes some nonsensical narrative turns, but is nevertheless a captivating romance.

In After, Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) starts her freshman year of college as the perfect daughter, and the perfect dedicated student. However, Tessa’s world changes when she meets the brooding Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin). The core of After is the relationship between Tessa and Hardin, which the movie builds and develops in a compelling manner. First love can be all-consuming, especially when coupled with teenage rebellion, which is the case for Tessa and Hardin in After. Tessa has lived her life as the perfect daughter/student/girlfriend, and she meets Hardin when she’s on her own for the first time, discovering who she really is. In that way, After also operates as a coming-of-age tale as Tessa discovers her own desires and what she wants from a romantic relationship, and her life. The movie balances the coming-of-age story and the romance well enough, though it does skew much more toward the romantic storyline.

The romance between Tessa and Hardin is explored in an incredibly intimate way through Gage’s tendency to use a great deal of closeups on Langford and Fiennes-Tiffin, allowing the viewer to experience the characters’ range of emotions and moments of intimacy along with them. After is, of course, a PG-13 movie, but it still manages to depict its female protagonist exploring her sexuality for the first time in her life in a way that feels honest – even if it’s set within a hyperreal romance story world. Much of that comes down to Gage’s deft directing, but the relationship between Tessa and Hardin is also carried by Langford and Fiennes-Tiffin, who work incredibly well together. Further, the relationship is developed well through McMartin’s script. There are moments when the script really shines, like one particular back and forth between Tessa and Hardin about Pride and Prejudice, but there are other times when the story seems restricted by its need to stick to the source material.

While Tessa and Hardin are the focus of After, everyone else in their orbit is underdeveloped as a result. The script particularly suffers when attempting to justify key story points because After doesn’t properly develop the relationship between Tessa and her mother. The film twists in certain directions to get Tessa and Hardin to where they need to be for the big third act conflict, but never truly justifies how they got to that point. Meanwhile, though After makes the effort to add diversity to the story by genderswapping the romantic interest of Tessa’s roommate, Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder), so that Tristan (Pia Mia) is a female character, the film is so focused on its main couple that it spends very little time developing these supporting characters. Similarly, the other teens in Hardin’s group are largely one-note stock characters that play their roles in moving the plot forward, and do nothing else in the movie. After also tragically wastes the talents of Selma Blair as Tessa’s mother, as well as Peter Gallagher and Jennifer Beals, who play Hardin’s father and stepmother, respectively.

Still, though After may struggle under the weight of adapting a book as lengthy as its source material, Gage’s movie does an excellent job in condensing the story to a palatable hour and 46 minutes. Further, and perhaps most important to those that recognized the abusive nature of Hardin’s behaviors in Todd’s original book, Gage and McMartin’s After evolves the relationship between Tessa and Hardin to be much less abusive in nature. Hardin still makes mistakes, but Tessa – and, by proxy, the movie – holds him accountable for his actions. After also gives Tessa a great deal more agency and independence in a way that rectifies the inherently problematic power dynamic between the two in the book. Gage and McMartin adapt After into a truthful and relatively more healthy story of first love, while not changing too much about the original story so as not to alienate fans of the book.

As a result, After is an entertaining watch for fans of Todd’s original novel, or even those who were interested in the story but concerned about the implications of the relationship between Tessa and Hardin in the book. It’s an honest look at first love and a young woman’s sexual awakening, but one that sticks as close to the source material as possible without adapting too much of its problematic themes. The film isn’t necessarily a must-watch in theaters, but is definitely great counterprogramming to other releases at the moment, offering an engrossing romance tale. After is a truly worthwhile romance for the modern era, and it’s one that will be beloved by girls and young women – which is, ultimately, who the movie is for anyway.

Trailer

After is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 106 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sexual content and some college partying.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-12 07:04:01

Molly Freeman

High Life Review: Robert Pattinson Gets Lost in Space

He may always be Edward Cullen to the generation that grew up watching the Twilight movies (and fittingly so), but for years now Robert Pattinson has branched out into the world of arthouse filmmaking, collaborating with directors like David Cronenberg, the Safdie Brothers, and James Gray along the way. For his latest offering, High Life, Pattinson joins forces with celebrated French filmmaker Claire Denis, marking her english-language debut after more than thirty years of documentary and fictional storytelling. The resulting movie is a decidedly moody and chilly space odyssey that clearly has a lot on its mind, but gets a little lost in its own naval-gazing. As contemplative and unsettling as it is, High Life struggles to develop its bleak sci-fi vision into an engaging and cohesive piece of cinema.

Pattinson stars in High Life as Monte, whom the movie introduces as one of two survivors aboard a spaceship that’s headed for a black hole, along with his infant daughter Willow. The film (which Denis also cowrote) is reminiscent of Andrei Takovsky’s Solaris in the way it drops viewers into its sci-fi setting with little to no setup, then gradually peels back the curtain to reveal the dark and disturbing events that gave rise to the status quo. Indeed, the movie’s first act – which consists of Monte interacting with Willow and keeping the ship running smoothly, intercut with flashbacks to his past life both on earth and in space – is the most compelling portion of High Life overall. It also does a good job of laying the groundwork for the depressing revelations to come, be it by showing Monte disposing of his deceased crew-mates’ bodies or providing glimpses of the terrible event that set him on his path when he was only a child.

Unfortunately, things start to get messy from there. In time, High Life reveals that Monte was part of a group of convicts who agreed to participate in a dangerous space mission to try and extract energy from a black hole. Along the way, however, the prisoners were experimented on by the attending Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), as part of her attempt to produce a human child in outer space through artificial insemination. The film aspires to explore themes about the horror of sex and reproduction in these segments, but comes off feeling somewhat aimless in its attempts to get at deeper ideas about the dark side of human nature and existence. Something similar could be said for the movie’s dystopian portrayal of a human civilization on the brink of oblivion; it feels incomplete, as though High Life were more interested in simply dwelling on the darkness of it story and scenarios without actually saying anything of meaning about them.

Part of the problem is that High Life feels stuck somewhere between being a grounded, hard sci-fi film, and more of an impressionist take on the genre. It’s far from the only recent movie to try and blend the two approaches (Alex Garland’s Takovsky-esque Annihilation did something similar), but its lo-fi aesthetic has a tendency to clash with its more poetic flourishes, like the moments where it eschews gritty realism in its portrayal of space – a place where you can die horrifically by taking one wrong step – in order to go for something more surreal, like the visual of bodies falling in zero-gravity. The film’s editing is equally intriguing, yet infuriating, in the way that it often jump-cuts across vast periods of time to focus on key developments (like a baby being born or someone committing a sudden act of violence) that may or may not advance the plot. Clearly, High Life wants to be a challenging viewing experience, but its attempts to be provocative and jarring get tedious after a while, with no clear throughlines to latch onto.

Pattinson, for his part, delivers a fine performance as Monte, a protagonist whose actions often speak louder than his words (or, rather, his voiceover, which is where the majority of his dialogue comes from). The same goes for his costars here, especially Mia Goth as Boyse – a rebellious convict who expresses open disdain for Dr. Dibs and her goals – and Binoche as the not-so-good doctor herself. At the same time, many of the supporting characters seem to exist solely for High Life to mistreat or torment in whatever fashion it deems fit, in the same cruel way that Dibs “experiments” on the convicts or viciously robs them of their agency. Again, that’s clearly the intention to some degree, but it becomes tiring to watch in a film that seems more interested in showing that people can be bizarrely savage without having much else to say on the matter.

At the end of the day, though, High Life might be one of those divisive films that some moviegoers find hauntingly atmospheric, while others find it to be dreary and unnerving, but not a whole lot else. Still, it’s an interesting movie whichever way you cut it, and will surely please Denis’ longtime fans the most – if only because they’re well acquainted to the filmmaker’s style by now, and know exactly what they’re getting into here. Those who’ve largely enjoyed Pattinson’s recent ventures into the realm of high-brow filmmaking may want to give this one a look at some point too, though it’s not necessarily one that they need to rush out and see in theaters. At the very least, this should give cinephiles something to talk about while they wait and see what Pattinson’s gotten himself into next by signing up for Christopher Nolan’s new blockbuster.

High Life is now playing in select areas and will expand to more theaters over the forthcoming weeks. It is 110 minutes long and is rated R for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and for language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-12 05:04:55

Sandy Schaefer

Little Review: A Cute & Heartfelt Age-Changing Comedy

Little successfully puts a funny new spin on age-changing comedy with a surprisingly heartfelt message about staying true to yourself when growing up.

Age-changing comedies are nothing new to Hollywood, with Big and 13 Going on 30 taking young preteens, aging them up to become adults and inevitably teaching them a lesson about not growing up too fast. In Universal Pictures’ latest comedy, Little, that particular formula is reversed, with an adult woman being turned back into her 13-year-old self – to hilarious effect. Little was directed by Tina Gordon (Peeples) from a script she co-wrote with Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip), who’s credited with the story of the movie. Little successfully puts a funny new spin on age-changing comedy with a surprisingly heartfelt message about staying true to yourself when growing up.

Little introduces 13-year-old Jordan Sanders (Marsai Martin), who’s bullied in middle school for her interest in science and as a result of one particular incident, learns the wrong lesson about how to deal with bullies: she becomes a bully herself. Cut to grown up Jordan (Regina Hall), who’s become a tech mogul in charge of her own company. She’s feared by all of her employees, including her overworked assistant April (Issa Rae). And when Jordan is mean to a young girl, that girl wishes Jordan was little – and the next morning Jordan wakes up as her younger self. With an important work pitch looming and Jordan desperate to return to her adult self, she turns to April for help in finding the little girl that cursed her. However, Jordan will have to learn some hard lessons – ones she didn’t learn the first time she was little – before she returns to her adult self.

In terms of putting a new spin on the age-changing comedy, Little does a good job of offering something new within such a specific brand of film. Even this particular reverse on the aging up of Big and 13 Going on 30 has been done before with 17 Again, but Little sets itself apart by focusing on the experiences of a black girl/woman, bringing some much needed representation to this branch of comedy. The movie mines its premise, along with the gender and race of its characters, for a great deal of comedy. Oliver’s script for Little, like that of Girls Trip, is unapologetically female-focused, diving into not only Jordan’s experiences as a girl and as a woman, but her dynamic with April. The result is an oddball story with well-developed characters that brings plenty of heart to a typically comedic age-changing story. Little doesn’t skimp on the comedy, but it doesn’t skimp on the heart either, balancing the lessons Jordan learns as her young self with the more wild moments of humor.

The star of Little is, undoubtedly, Martin, who’s made a name for herself in Hollywood as one of the leads in ABC’s sitcom Black-ish. Martin rather effortlessly pulls off the character of Jordan in Little, portraying an adult in a child’s body with a great deal of grace and humor. Thanks to her performance as the younger version of Hall’s character – and Hall is certainly solid in her own right as the wildly mean adult Jordan – Martin effectively sells the concept of Jordan being stuck in the body of her 13-year-old self. Meanwhile, Rae works as a great complement to Martin and Hall’s Jordan, portraying the more subdued and fearful April. The relationship between April and Jordan is the anchor for much of the more hard to believe aspects of Little, working to ground the movie’s fantastical premise and over-the-top comedy. The trio of actresses are a solid cast to lead the film and though there are memorable bit parts for the supporting players, Martin, Rae and Hall are what makes Little work as well as it does.

Still, though Little strives to rise above the typical studio comedy with its new spin on the age-changing premise, the movie plays it relatively safe. Making the main characters of Little a pair of black women certainly puts a fresh perspective on the premise of an adult becoming their younger self and learning certain life lessons, but the movie still follows a fairly predictable path to that conclusion. And there’s nothing wrong with predictable, especially in terms of Little, which is fun both because of and despite its predictability. Moviegoers looking for a solid comedy that helps them escape for a few hours will find just that in Little.

Ultimately, Little may not have reinvented the wheel of comedy but it’s perfect for fans of Oliver’s last film Girls Trip, or those who have followed Martin’s rise on Black-ish. Further, fans of Rae’s own HBO comedy Insecure will see her playing a similarly earnest and unsure character in Little. Anyone that was intrigued by the trailers for Little will find plenty to enjoy in the movie’s often uproarious comedy, which is effectively balanced by a touching story about growing up – one that reinforces a lesson both kids and adults likely need to learn. Little is a successful comedy and an entirely enjoyable experience at the theater that may get lost amid a month with so many big releases, but it provides some necessary counter-programming to the superhero blockbusters debuting in April.

Trailer

Little is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 109 minutes long and rated PG-13 for some suggestive content.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-12 05:04:42

Molly Freeman

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy Review – So Begins the Ip Man Universe

They might not be a full-blown shared universe just yet, but the Ip Man films have certainly taken a step in that direction thanks to the Max Zhang-led spinoff, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy. The original Ip Man and its sequels were box office hits in China that elevated lead Donnie Yen to newfound levels of popularity in his homeland (and, ultimately, led to him gaining international fame in films like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), so it stands to reason that an off-shoot could do something similar for Zhang. Wherever the greater Ip Man franchise goes from here, its first spinoff is more successful than not in realizing its simple, but unpretentious ambitions. Master Z delivers its fair share of pulpy entertainment and stylish martial arts fights without bringing anything particularly fresh to the genre.

Zhang, reprising his Ip Man 3 role here, stars as Cheung Tin-chi, a Wing Chun master who leaves his old life behind him (following his defeat behind closed doors at Ip Man’s hands), in favor of a quiet existence running a grocery store with his young son. While Master Z includes black and white flashbacks to key moments from Ip Man 3, the finer details of Tin-chi’s backstory are of little relevance to the narrative at hand. As a result, the spinoff serves as a decent entry point for those who’re unfamiliar with the previous movies in the Ip Man franchise, but makes for an otherwise unnecessary extension of the property. Nevertheless, it gives Zhang the chance to further demonstrate his mettle as a star (which he does) in a mid-20th century martial arts drama of his own.

Plot-wise, the Master Z script by Ip Man trilogy writers Edmond Wong and Chan Tai Lee weaves together story threads about British colonialists and corrupt police officers, the head of an organized crime gang (Michelle Yeoh) trying to turn her operation into a legitimate business, and Tin-chi attempting – and failing – to keep his head down amidst all this, no longer able to find any meaning in his practice of Wing Chun and life of combat. Suffice it to say, the movie is full of melodramatic subplots and one-dimensional villains, including the opium-dealing Tso Sai Kit (Kevin Cheng, playing Yeoh’s onscreen brother) and Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista), a brawny drug smuggler who pays off the cops and uses his posh restaurant as the cover for his crimes. Ultimately, these threads amount to little more than the catalyst for Tin-chi’s arc, which is pretty straightforward and might’ve benefitted from having fewer storylines to compete with for screentime.

Obviously, when it comes to this kind of B-movie genre fare, the major selling point is the martial arts fighting, not the story and character development that comes between it (more on that soon). Still, Master Z generally fails to subvert expections or take its plot threads in unexpected directions, even though some of them (like the one involving Yeoh) might’ve been able to sustain a whole film on their own. More frustrating, admittedly, are the movie’s regressive qualities, like the way it tends to reduce its female characters (those not played by Yeoh, that is) to either helpless damsels, victims brutalized by the movie’s bad guys, or capable fighters who’re inexplicably left out of the biggest battles. The latter criticism applies specifically to Julia (Liu Yan), a woman who helps Tin-chi and guides him on his personal journey, but is increasingly sidelined in favor of her brother Fu (Xing Yu), as the story progresses.

Fortunately, when it come to the fighting sequences, Master Z is much more successful in execution. The film was directed by the renowned Hong Kong martial arts filmmaker and choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (still best known in the U.S. for his work on The MatrixCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Kill Bill), and his near-fifty years of experience serves the action well here. Master Z‘s close-quarter combat sequences aren’t as innovative as Woo-ping’s most famous efforts, but he finds clever ways of staging the battles – most notably, during a fight set atop a collection of business signs – and shoots the action in a visually crisp and cohesive fashion that really showcases the athleticism of his performers and stunt team. It helps that Yeoh, Zhang, and Bautista all have very different fighting styles, so the various throwdowns avoid blurring together and each possess their own distinct look, feel, and rhythm.

Overall, Master of Z is a perfectly serviceable martial arts offering, if one that lacks the rich character-driven storytelling that made the original Ip Man such a noteworthy addition to the genre in the first place. The film might be as cartoony as the “Black Bat” comics that Tin-chi’s son is obsessed with, but it seems to recognize that for the most part, and rarely holds itself up as being more than a flashy, insubstantial pice of entertainment. It doesn’t really have lavishing production values either, so those who’re interested might want to hold off and catch this one at home (assuming it even makes its way to their local theater). As for those who prefer their Ip Man movies to actually feature Ip Man: fear not, Ip Man 4 proper is coming down the pipeline next.

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 108 minutes long and is not rated.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-12 05:04:36

Sandy Schaefer

The Perfect Date Review: Noah Centineo Shines In Netflix Rom-Com

Netflix’s The Perfect Date is a fairly standard and entirely enjoyable rom-com that excels as a starring vehicle for the charming Noah Centineo.

In 2018, Netflix found a great deal of success in adapting contemporary young adult romance novels to feature-length original movies with The Kissing Booth and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Now, Netflix continues that trend with its latest rom-com, The Perfect Date, an adaptation of Steve Bloom’s 2016 novel The Stand-In. Bloom co-wrote the script for The Perfect Date with newcomer Randall Green, while Chris Nelson (Ass Backwards, Date and Switch) directed the film. Unlike many rom-coms, The Perfect Date centers on a male main character and operates as part romantic comedy, part coming-of-age tale. Netflix’s The Perfect Date is a fairly standard and entirely enjoyable rom-com that excels as a starring vehicle for the charming Noah Centineo.

Centineo stars in The Perfect Date as Brooks Rattigan, a high school student with aspirations of getting into Yale and living an impressive life – but the catch is he needs money. He and his father, Charlie (Matt Walsh), live a comfortable middle class life, but Brooks dreams of bigger things. When he offers to take the offbeat Celia Lieberman (Laura Marano) to her school formal in exchange for payment, Brooks realizes there’s big business in being a dating stand-in. With the help of his best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis), Brooks launches The Stand-In app and lets girls decide who he’ll be on each date. However, as Brooks gets closer to his goals of paying for Yale and getting the girl he wants, the rich and popular Shelby Pace (Camila Mendes), he also grows more distant from his friends and father. In the end, Brooks will be forced to reexamine what exactly it is that he wants out of life.

The Perfect Date is the kind of blend of coming-of-age story and romantic comedy that is typically found in young adult books, and that mix helps to develop this movie beyond a simple rom-com. Certainly, it has plenty of the hallmarks of a rom-com. But The Perfect Date is also surprisingly progressive, which isn’t always the case in a film genre that has in the past often tended more toward tradition than challenging the norm. The movie shows Brooks going on a variety of dates and never shaming the girls he meets for their preferences, even if he doesn’t always understand them. And a great deal of Brooks’ arc in The Perfect Date sees him developing the emotional intelligence needed to build, maintain and, at certain points, repair his various relationships. Mix the romantic implications of Brooks’ hard won emotional intelligence with the charm of Centineo, and The Perfect Date becomes excellent rom-com escapism that fits perfectly into our current moment of pop culture.

To be sure, The Perfect Date is also an exemplary starring vehicle for Centineo, who became the next big thing in Hollywood thanks to his breakout role as Peter Kavinsky in Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Though Brooks and Peter have little in common, both characters come to life thanks to Centineo’s performances and he infuses each with his natural charisma. With The Perfect Date, Centineo proves himself as a great rom-com lead for a new generation. What further cements Centineo as a good rom-com lead is he works well opposite all his co-stars, and in The Perfect Date that’s Marano as Celia. The two have a great deal of chemistry and it helps elevate the movie’s romantic storyline. Of course, like many rom-coms, the side characters like Murph, Shelby and Brooks’ father don’t get as much development, but they are a little better developed than supporting characters typically are in rom-coms. Still, Centineo is unequivocally the star and he shoulders that responsibility with grace.

The Perfect Date isn’t necessarily a perfect romantic comedy, as it struggles with certain aspects of its main characters. The teen characters are very obviously teen characters as written by adults (adults with an eye-rolling aversion to cellphones and Instagram); there’s even a bizarre joke in which Brooks asks, “What is a Reddit?” It only works thanks to Centineo’s delivery but still feels incredibly out of touch with the reality of teens today. Still, The Perfect Date is certainly a rom-com that’s indicative of how the genre can continue to grow with new writing and directing voices. The movie taps into the current cultural landscape in a compelling manner to offer the escapist fun viewers get from romantic comedies.

Ultimately, The Perfect Date fits well into Netflix’s library of original rom-coms, helping to further revive the genre that’s been struggling to evolve and make an impact over the last decade. It has all the charm viewers would expect of Centineo after his breakout role in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and allows him the opportunity to lead his own rom-com – and he excels in the starring role. As such, The Perfect Date is a must-watch for any romantic comedy or Centineo fans, but it’s also worthy viewing for anyone with only a passing interest in the genre or actor. Essentially, The Perfect Date is perfect for Netflix date night – whether that’s a date with a significant other, friends or yourself.

Trailer

The Perfect Date is now streaming on Netflix. It is 89 minutes long.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-12 05:04:25

Molly Freeman

Hellboy Review: This Superhero Reboot’s a Bloody, Lifeless Dud

Despite a potentially compelling lead, Hellboy is a surprisingly boring superhero epic that drags between sequences of fantasy action spectacle.

Based on the comics by Mike Mignola, the new Hellboy movie additionally serves as a reboot of the big screen franchise that previously consisted of Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. However, when plans fell through for Hellboy 3, the studio decided to take the series in a new direction by rebooting it and casting a new actor in the role of Hellboy, with David Harbour taking the reins from Ron Perlman. It was promised the new movie would be more faithful to Mignola’s original comics, with a script by Andrew Cosby (Eureka) and directed by Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones), but Hellboy suffers from pacing issues that may arise directly from so closely adapting the comics. Despite a potentially compelling lead, Hellboy is a surprisingly boring superhero epic that drags between sequences of fantasy action spectacle.

Boiling the plot of Hellboy down to its most basic, the film is about Hellboy (Harbour) teaming up with allies of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) in an effort to prevent the ancient witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the Blood Queen, from wiping out all of mankind. The movie operates as an origin story for Hellboy, offering insight into where he came from and why his adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane), chose to raise him as a son. But the film also offers slightly more abridged origin stories for the other members of Hellboy’s B.P.R.D. team: Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). With side stories that take Hellboy in different directions to battle giants, deal with a faerie changeling and face off with Baba Yaga, Hellboy throws everything and the kitchen sink at the viewer but fails to tie it all together compellingly.

The pacing issues of Hellboy may be the result of sticking too close to Mignola’s comics as the movie has a sense of jumping from one story to the next with the Blood Queen as the loose connective tissue – similar to how comics tell a story per issue, but link together for an overarching tale. However, when that storytelling method is translated to the screen, it has more of a disjointed feel as Hellboy takes far too much time to get to the real main conflict of the movie, then wraps it up quicker than expected. Further, because so much time is spent on side stories and quests, it takes time away from developing the main characters of Hellboy. Rather, Cosby’s script does more telling than showing, explicitly laying out Hellboy’s inner conflict of whether he believes he’s a good person or not. It has the makings of a compelling character story, but much of it gets drowned out by everything else going on. Nimue, Alice and Ben receive similarly heavy-handed character arcs that are clunky and ham-fisted into the already overcrowded storyline.

Where the movie excels, perhaps, is in its fantastical action sequences insofar as they offer largely enjoyable spectacle. Marshall’s direction makes for exhilarating fighting scenes that are almost on par with the episodes of Game of Thrones he directed: “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall.” Because of his experience, Marshall handles the battle scenes of Hellboy well, though they have the feeling of a cinematic TV movie more than a blockbuster film. Still, the sheer absurdity of certain Hellboy action scenes is entertaining enough for the viewer to just go along for the ride. It’s in these scenes that Hellboy earns its R rating, too, using it to gruesome effect. Much of the bloody violence in Hellboy seems to be included simply for the sake of it. So viewers who dislike too much gore will want to be forewarned there is a lot in Hellboy.

Hellboy has all the potential of an epic superhero movie with an intriguingly atypical hero in Harbour’s Hellboy; a strong cast that includes the likes of Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim and Milla Jovovich; and a whole host of known folktales and lore to draw on and adapt to a modern fantasy blockbuster. However, Hellboy throws too much into one two-hour movie and the overcrowded story ends up dragging down what could have been a compelling character examination of Harbour’s hero. Hellboy seems overly concerned with adapting everything from the comics that fans may love and less focused on a telling an entertaining standalone story. The result is a movie that may be more faithful to the comics, but struggles to keep viewers invested in everything going on for its full two hours.

Ultimately, Hellboy may be worth a watch for fans of the original comics, or those interested in seeing a different take on the character than del Toro and Perlman’s. However, in a month as crowded with superhero movies as April, Hellboy may be the most missable of the bunch. The movie has its merits, and the fantasy spectacle may be worth seeing on a big screen, but it’s a middle of the road fantasy-action film; it’s not bad enough to be so-bad-it’s-good and not good enough to be widely appealing. Instead, Hellboy seems bound to be a misfire that quickly gets overshadowed by bigger blockbusters arriving in the coming weeks.

Trailer

Hellboy starts playing in U.S. theaters on Thursday evening April 11th. It is 121 minutes long and rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2019-04-10 03:04:21

Molly Freeman