**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.
Star Wars: Episode VIII -The The Last Jedi ***/**** starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Benicio Del Toro written and directed by Rian Johnson
by Walter Chaw I wrestled for a long time with this review. Not what I would write but whether I should write it at all. I consider director Rian Johnson to be a friend. He's kind, smart, true, and unaffected despite having been handed the reins to the most revered American mythology--save for becoming somehow more humble during the course of it. In the middle of a period in which everyone in the business, it seems, is being outed as a cad, Rian is something like hope that there are good and decent men left. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (hereafter The Last Jedi) is every inch his movie. It's about hope, see, and hope is the word that's repeated most often in his script. By the end of it, he suggests that hope can even grow from salted earth. It's a beautifully-rendered image as open, guileless-unto-corny, and genuine as Rian is. I don't love everything in the film, but I do love Rian and The Last Jedi as a whole. In a franchise this venerated and valuable, it's ballsy as fuck that he decided to do his own thing and that Disney let him. Now they've decided to invest another $600M or so in letting him do his own thing some more.
BLOOD FEAST *½/**** Image A Sound B Extras B+ starring William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Scott H. Hall written by A. Louise Downe directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963) **/**** Image B- Sound B- Extras C starring William Kerwin, Allison Louise Downe (as Vickie Miles), Sandra Sinclair, Mal Arnold written and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis (as Lewis H. Gordon)
by Bryant Frazer One among very few genuinely terrible films that are also justly famous, Blood Feast is the oft-cited progenitor of a certain strain of American cinema: the slasher film--or, more specifically, the splatter movie. Conceived by the briefly prolific, ultra-low-budget director Herschell Gordon Lewis (who will be forever known as the Godfather of Gore)--along with producer David F. Friedman--as an alternative to the commercially competitive genre of cheap-and-easy nudie flicks, the splatter movie was at the time even more disreputable than the soft porn film, ramping up the T&A with a new women-in-peril component. Gory murder scenes combined fake human blood and real animal entrails to sickening effect. Blood Feast is venerated by gorehounds and has a "so bad it's good" reputation among horror buffs, but what's really breathtaking about it is its shameless demonstration that, in the grand cinematic scheme, artistic merit, cultural influence, and commercial success have precious little to do with each other.
½*/**** starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage written and directed by Martin McDonagh
by Walter Chaw There are three young women in Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter Three Billboards)--four if you include Abbie Cornish as Woody Harrelson's twenty-years-his-junior wife--and two of them (or three) are absolute fucking idiots and the third was raped while dying and then set on fire with gasoline. As a man who has been told often lately that it's not his place to talk about these things, I'll leave it at that. I didn't think it was funny when the 19-year-old girl (Samantha Weaving) dating the abusive shit-fuck ex-husband (John Hawkes) of our anti-heroine, Mildred (Frances McDormand), is used as an object of derision/tension-breaker, and I didn't think it was funny when secretary Pamela (Kerry Condon) is treated identically before getting punched in the face as her exit from the film. (I'm not mentioning the girl Mildred kicks in the crotch because the trailer spoiled it.) I also have a hard time with a scene where Cornish's Anne berates Mildred for something she knows very well didn't happen (or should know, anyway), which just goes on and on in the McDonagh fashion. Maybe it's that there's this cast of actors here whom I've loved, almost without exception, in everything I've seen them in and now they're suddenly all terrible in exactly the same way. It doesn't take talent to make a bad movie, but it takes a lot of talent to make a movie that's bad like this. Or maybe a lot of arrogance. McDonagh, to his credit, has been doing it since the beginning--a real auteur.
Opening this Thanksgiving weekend in select cities is Joe Wright's Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman and a Costco tub of latex. And don't miss Greta Gerwig's solo directorial debut Lady Bird, which has been quietly expanding into more theatres. Our own Walter Chaw covered both films at this year's Telluride.