Seven Sisters **½/**** starring Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close, Pål Sverre Hagen, Willem Dafoe screenplay by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson directed by Tommy Wirkola
by Alice Stoehr The bad news manifests itself in a flurry of stock footage and newscasters' voices. "Too many people, not enough food," declares one near-future pundit. "It is the biggest crisis in human history," adds another. Dr. Nicolette Cayman, a politician so Thatcher-esque that Glenn Close plays her in pearls and a navy blue suit, helps Europe's now-federalized government institute a strict one-child policy. Her Gestapo-like Child Allocation Bureau (or "CAB") patrols city streets, threatening hidden siblings with indefinite cryogenic stasis. So far, so familiar. It's much like Soylent Green or Children of Men or any of a dozen other dystopian thrillers. But What Happened to Monday's knotty premise continues: What if, say, seven identical sisters grew up in this political climate? They could each leave the house exactly one day a week, each time assuming the same collective identity. And what if one of these sisters, while out and about, happened to disappear?
***/**** starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Daniel Craig written by Rebecca Blunt directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Angelo Muredda Steven Soderbergh returns from a self-imposed retirement of all of four years with Logan Lucky, a heist movie so steeped in its maker's creative and commercial history that it casually makes time in its climactic moments for a newscaster to dub its working-class heroes' shenanigans "Ocean's 7/11." Begging to be read as an unnecessary but enjoyable victory lap from a filmmaker who hasn't gone away so much as temporarily opted out of the rat race of alternating between formalist exercises, crowd-pleasers, and prestige pictures, Logan Lucky sees Soderbergh working in his most amiable register--and for the most part doffing his aesthetic predilection for piss-yellow lighting--while still cycling through his pet interests of late. A polymath by nature, as evidenced by his annual viewing logs, Soderbergh more or less successfully wields Logan Lucky into a charming sampler platter of his tastes, from hitting genre story beats faithfully to realizing the smallest procedural details and celebrating sincere Americana while bemoaning its toxic corporatization.
**½/**** starring John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie written by Mark Boal directed by Kathryn Bigelow
by Alex Jackson Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit is painfully afraid of controversy. It's as though Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were given the assignment to make a film about the 1967 Algiers Motel incident and cringed their way through it, trying their best to alienate neither black nor white audiences. Hilariously, the end result has now become one of the most controversial films of the year. An essay by Jeanne Theoharis, Say Burgin, and Mary Phillips (a trio of academics in political science, history, and African American studies, respectively) recently published on the HUFFINGTON POST denounced it as "the most irresponsible and dangerous movie of the year." Angelica Jade Bastien of ROGEREBERT.COM states that she left the theatre in tears, not because of the violence so much as the "emptiness" behind the violence. And, of course, Armond White had to get his licks in, concluding, "Watching black people being brutalized seems to satisfy some warped liberal need to feel sorry." Looks like I was wrong! Black film critics, at least, seem to fucking hate this movie.
**/**** starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley screenplay by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel directed by Nikolaj Arcel
by Walter Chaw If I cared or knew one thing about Stephen King's revered Dark Tower series, I'd probably really hate this movie in exactly the same way I initially hated Francis Lawrence's Constantine. I was a devotee of the Vertigo sub-line of DC comics through the early-'90s--the one that produced titles like Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman", Jamie Delano's "Animal Man", Grant Morrison's "Doom Patrol", and Delano/Garth Ennis's "Hellblazer", which of course formed the basis for Lawrence's picture. But I don't. Care about The Dark Tower, that is. For all that King once meant to me as a kid, it and The Stand were two of his epics I could never get into. I missed the window on Tolkien, too. And in not caring and in my complete ignorance, I like Nikolaj Arcel's The Dark Tower about as much as I like Constantine now, not needing the four or five years to come to terms with how it doesn't jibe with images and rhythms I'd conjured in my jealous nerd-dom. (I maintain, however, that if they were going to make Constantine a Yank, they should've cast Denis Leary.) In The Dark Tower, the main hero is a kid named Jake (Tom Taylor) who, one day, discovers that all those crazy dreams he's been having, which have led to all those creepy-kid drawings plastering his bedroom walls, are TRUE. Why won't you listen to Jake, adults? Obviously modelled after the kid in Last Action Hero, Jake dreams of a dark tower that is not Idris Elba that is under attack by the evil Man in Black, who is not Johnny Cash but is named Walter and is played by Matthew McConaughey. My favourite moment in the film is when Walter shows up in Jake's parents' kitchen, frying something on the stove, explaining apologetically that where he's from, there's no chicken.
*½/**** starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones screenplay Kurt Johnstad, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnson and illustrated by Sam Hart directed by David Leitch
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Essentially No Way Out with less hot sex but better action sequences, David Leitch's Atomic Blonde is a lot of truly dreary Cold War spy intrigue interrupted periodically, but not often enough, by the good stuff. It proposes the antiquated notion that collusion with the Russians is treason in having heroic MI6 agent Lorraine (Charlize Theron--Mr. F after all, all this time) take ice baths and try to figure out who mysterious mole "Satchel" is in the last days of East Berlin. Her contact there is skeezy Percival (James McAvoy) whose handlers fear has gone a bit "feral" in the field. We're introduced to him trading Jim Beam and blue jeans for information and waking up with two girls (two!) to pick up Lorraine at the airport. There's also a French spy named Delphine (Sofia Boutella) who offers up a Sapphic love interest for Lorraine and ends up the way that lovers end up in spy movies. Leitch, an uncredited co-director on John Wick, brings the same style of kinetic, close-in martial arts and, eventually, gunplay of that film, but missteps badly by, among other things, making this about more than avenging a dead dog. Without an emotional charge--and there isn't enough of one generated by the loss of two of Lorraine's lovers--there's no real sense of emotion or energy in the action scenes. They're super cool, don't get me wrong (at least they are until Leitch decides at the very end to overuse slow motion), but they lack motivation and investment. But that's the least of Atomic Blonde's problems.
There Was a Little Girl **½/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras B- starring Trish Everly, Michael Macrae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart screenplay by Stephen Blakley, Ovidio G. Assonitis, Peter Shepherd and Robert Gandus directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis
by Sydney Wegner The final frames of Madhouse are a title card with a George Bernard Shaw quote: "...life differs from the play only in this...it has no plot, all is vague, desultory, unconnected till the curtain drops with the mystery unsolved." In that instant, in one of the most beautifully-executed "middle finger to my haters" moves in cinema, criticism of Ovidio G. Assonitis's 1981 clusterfuck is rendered irrelevant. Sneaking that in at the end rather than putting it at the beginning is doubly hilarious, as you've just spent an hour-and-a-half trying to grasp onto this ungraspable thing, only to have all your hard work flushed away in a second. If your movie doesn't make sense, it's because living doesn't make sense; case closed. Our own plots are never resolved, people flit in and out of our lives without us ever truly knowing them, our familial relationships are tangled and it's sometimes impossible to figure out where any animosity began, we think we understand people but it's rare that we truly do.
**½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras C+ starring Scarlett Johansson, 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, Michael Carmen Pitt, Juliette Binoche screenplay by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger, based on the comic "The Ghost in the Shell" by Shirow Masamune directed by Rupert Sanders
by Walter Chaw Emily Yoshida, in an article for THE VERGE addressing the outcry over the casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, has the last word on the topic as it pertains to anime in general and Mamoru Oshii's seminal original in particular (an adaptation of a popular manga to which most casual fans in the West won't have been exposed). She provides a stunning, succinct historical context for Japanese self-denial and the country's post-bellum relationship with technology, then writes a review of this film in which she systematically destroys it for its essential misunderstanding of the source material. I agree with every word. I learned a lot. And I still like the new film, anyway. I think Ghost in the Shell is probably fascinating in spite of itself and because the environment has made it dangerous for pretty much anyone to discuss what its critics (not Yoshida, per se) wish it did. I like it because its production design is beautiful and I like it even though it's basically a RoboCop port that takes the American attitude of being horrified by technology rather than the Japanese one of being largely defined by it. It's puritanical. It was interpreted, after all, by a country founded by Pilgrims. Ghost in the Shell often doesn't know what to do with the images it's appropriating, and when push comes to shove, the dialogue falls somewhere between noodling and empty exposition. Still, there's something worth excavating here.
*½/**** starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rutger Hauer written for the screen and directed by Luc Besson
by Walter Chaw Effortlessly, almost guilelessly sexist in the way that only a 12-year-old with lacklustre breeding can be, Luc Besson's latest opus of antsy expressionism, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (hereafter Valerian), is so relentlessly puerile, so unapologetically awful, that there's absolutely no chance it won't become a midnight masterpiece. Not one of the good ones, like Besson's own The Fifth Element or The Professional (or The Messenger, curiously the most historically accurate Joan of Arc film), but one of the ones that are the feature-length equivalent of that repetitive noise your 9-year-old son makes when you're driving him to a friend's house. It's an interminable adaptation of the Ruby Rhod sequence from The Fifth Element, an endurance test of unusual cruelty and imagination. If you're sensing some grudging admiration for it, you're not wrong. It's like going to a torture museum and marvelling at the level of invention and craftsmanship dedicated to the methods to which humans go to discomfit one another. Some of that sadistic shit is worth millions--priceless, even.
*½/**** 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.
*½/**** starring Grant Davis, Davi Santos, Ben Baur, Ajiona Alexus screenplay by Carlos Pedraza, based on the novel by Jay Bell directed by David Berry
by Alice Stoehr Musicals bloom from effusive emotion. When Catherine Deneuve strolled down the streets of Cherbourg, when Judy Garland hopped on a St. Louis trolley, their yearnings were too intense to merely be spoken. They had to be sung. In Something Like Summer, newcomer Grant Davis stars as Ben Bentley, a Texan teen and aspiring singer who's heartsick (like Deneuve and Garland) over a boy. But his sweetheart Tim, played by Davi Santos, is a "good-looking jock," as Ben puts it--closeted, Catholic, and deeply ashamed. After a few sub rosa liaisons, the two bitterly part ways. The film cuts to a dim, empty theatre, where Ben sublimates his sorrows into a cover of the break-up song "Barely Breathing": "I know what you're doing," he warbles. "I see it all too clear." While Deneuve had Jacques Demy and Garland had Vincente Minnelli, Davis has first-time director David Berry, who stages the handful of musical numbers with minimal panache. No dancing, some haphazard camera movement, the actor emoting on a stage. Later, handheld close-ups will peer at Davis during his halting rendition of "La Vie en rose." (He sings it in a Parisian café, the Eiffel Tower shining through a nearby window.) The soundtrack includes a couple of new compositions alongside songs originally by Regina Spektor and Ne-Yo, many of them intercut with bland montage, none of their lyrics especially salient to the story. Cohesion and spectacle both receive low priority versus the endless reams of plot.
**½/**** starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller written by Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves directed by Matt Reeves
by Walter Chaw There are two problems that plague War for the Planet of the Apes. The first is that this far along into a franchise, it becomes a real burden to deal with the lore of eight (is it eight?) previous instalments; the second is that Rise... and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, this sequel's two immediate predecessors, are so subtle and intelligent that there's a real danger now of being too "on the nose" in trying to keep up with them. That co-writer/director Matt Reeves is able to wrangle both tigers to the extent that he does speaks to his skill. That he's not able to entirely avoid a mauling speaks to the near-impossibility of the task. What was before an elegant parable of race and tribalism, dehumanization and Turing empathy tests, is now well and truly a blockbuster franchise product. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it's obvious, transitioning from a very fine, elegiac western like a late Ford or an any-time Anthony Mann into, by the end, first a broad and winking take on Apocalypse Now, then a carefully-narrated Moses allegory. Consider a moment where the ersatz Kurtz, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), speaks to our chimp hero Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis) about the cost of vengeance and the sacrifices made during war that allow him to paint himself as Abraham even as he transitions into Pharaoh. Everyone's fantastic in the scene; the problem is that its expository payload is mainly meant to set up the Charlton Heston film that started it all. Too, it confuses the characters of its parables in such a way as to suggest, uncomfortably, a connection between Jews and their persecutors, and a concentration camp/Egyptian slave narrative involving the persecution of apes for cheap labour only adds to the confusion. Oh, also, they're building a wall that Caesar calls "madness" that will solve nothing.
**½/**** starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Jon Watts & Christopher Ford and Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers directed by Jon Watts
by Walter Chaw A painfully adequate entry in the ever-expanding MCU, Spider-Man: Homecoming has the benefit of a brilliant young lead in Tom Holland and a fantastically-layered villain turn by Michael Keaton, but it bears the burden of all the films that came before it and all those yet to come. There's a lot of checking-off of boxes, in other words, with Homecoming reminding most of Ant-Man in that there seems to be a good standalone movie in here somewhere that keeps getting diverted into looking backwards and forwards. There was an episode of "St. Elsewhere" where a patient believed himself to be Mary Richards of the "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". Midway through, he spots Betty White, who had a recurring role on "St. Elsewhere", and calls out "Sue Ann!," the name of her character on "Mary Tyler Moore". Both programs were produced by MTM, by the way, the company founded by Moore and ex-husband Grant Tinker. To enjoy that episode of the show completely would require knowledge of the "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its production company. It's a living example of the concept of post-modernism: a product based on nothing but itself and reliant entirely on the insular knowledge of a small group of fetishists. Such is the fire in which fandom is born, and Spider-Man: Homecoming is the natural product of that: an origin story that doesn't provide an origin because the previous incarnations of this story have provided it already; and film number 19 or 20 or something in a series that includes television shows and comic-book runs that, at this point, would require someone with absolutely nothing else to do to keep track of it. That's another fire in which fandom is born.
**½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B- starring Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Vincent D'Onofrio written and directed by Dax Shepard
by Bill Chambers I can't say I was surprised to see another movie based on a television series flop when CHIPS failed to earn back its meagre $25 million budget last spring. 21 Jump Street is the only recent one that's stuck, and that had star power behind it, as well as a stubborn presence in pop culture thanks to Johnny Depp. Plus--and this is important--it was good. CHIPS is driven by career supporting actors, and, like Baywatch after it, perhaps, is based on a show that people remember like the candy of their childhood: wistfully, but with reflex revulsion. And unlike when, say, The Flintstones came out (1994, the heyday of the TV-to-film adaptation), there's no rerun culture cultivating "new" fans of "CHiPS". If the title still produces a look of recognition in younger viewers, it's probably as a synecdoche for cop shows the way that "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza" are synonymous with westerns. The specifics--was there a guy named Porch or Punch or something?--have long since evaporated from the collective conscious. Such is the fate of most pre-prestige television in the age of cord-cutting and so-called "YouTube stars," but studios today lack the courage to be originators, preferring even the elusive clothing of a brand's ghost to sending a movie out into the world naked.
**½/**** starring Ansel Engort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx written and directed by Edgar Wright
by Walter Chaw Edgar Wright is a good filmmaker and a better fan. The things he likes, he likes better than other people. It makes him the perfect choice for a zombie movie, a buddy movie, an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type alien-invasion movie, even a videogame movie. What Edgar Wright doesn't appear to be is the type of Sidney Lumet/Walter Hill, gritty 1970s action-film auteur he'd probably like to be. With his new film, he's going for Report to the Commissioner but coming up with The Super Cops--and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, except that straining for one impacts the effortlessness and unfiltered joy of the other. Baby Driver lands somewhere in the area of Peckinpah's The Getaway with its nasty rogue's gallery and Hill's The Driver with its enigmatic hero and his way with cars before sliding off the rails at the end, which feels like, of all things, the climax of Christine. Yet for a few effortless minutes at the beginning, it's something all its own, and it's delirious. It's the feeling you get when you first see Shaun of the Dead: like watching a favourite film for the first time again. I like that Wright loves all of these guys and their movies, but I wish he'd pick a lane. I admire his ambition and taste a great deal. But his far-ranging interests have made a disjointed mix-tape of this picture. It's the kind you make to impress instead of from the heart. For what it's worth, and it's not worth a lot, I just selfishly sort of wish he'd do more Cornetto films. How many flavours are there, anyway? At least seven, right? Let's get on that.
**½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C+ starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick directed by Daniel Espinosa
by Bryant Frazer If you're going to steal, they say, steal from the best. It almost works out for Life, which borrows the fundamentals of its premise from Alien--hostile, shape-changing lifeform let loose in the confines of a spacecraft grows larger and more powerful as it eats its way through the crew--and rides that pony for a good forty-five nerve-jangling minutes before running out of oxygen. Alien's setting was an interstellar mining vessel that doubled as a haunted mansion, with long hallways, high vaulted ceilings, and other shadowy spaces where the boogeyman could wait for his prey. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick lose some of those gothic atmospherics by setting their story on board the International Space Station, since it imparts a more sterile, sci-fi feel. Moreover, in what's arguably a more brazen case of cinematic larceny, director Daniel Espinosa, best-known for the 2012 thriller Safe House, swipes his anti-gravity stylistics from Alfonso Cuarón, opening the film with a single, very long, VFX-heavy take that sends the camera around in gentle swoops from character to floating character as the space station itself tumbles slowly around its axis.
****/**** starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning written for the screen and directed by Sofia Coppola
by Walter Chaw Sofia Coppola tells Romanticist versions of one transitional moment in her life. She turns it in her hand to see where the light catches it. Her films are examinations of the liminal field between girlhood and womanhood, littered with casualties and trenches, the one left behind and the other ahead, maybe eternally out of reach. Her moment is immortalized one way in father Francis Ford Coppola's decision to cast her as the main love interest in The Godfather Part III, a late replacement for Winona Ryder. Sofia's failure, and her father's betrayal of her by failing to protect her from it, is traumatic, though perhaps not much more than any adolescence--just public, cast into the collective, as it were, for the wolves to worry. It is one of a select company of misfires that is almost universally known. Sofia immortalizes the devastation of her experience in movies that speak, lyrically, to the tragedy of coming-of-age for a young woman. Hers is as coherent and important a body of work as any contemporary filmmaker's, made more so, perhaps, by her status as the only woman director in the United States permitted to explore an elliptical, unpopular theme across several projects.
***/**** Image A Sound B- Extras A starring Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco written by Rafael Moreu directed by Iain Softley
by Sydney Wegner When a baby is born, a universe of possibilities opens wide in front of them. They don't yet know how to move or talk, but they hold within them the capacity for good or evil and everything in between. No matter what, parents look at their children in those first moments of life and think, Here in my hands I hold a doctor, a scientist, a legendary artist, a Nobel prize winner, an Olympic gold medallist. Despite my own failures and shortcomings, I have given birth to a life that may manage to overcome all the shit I will put them through to become someone infinitely greater than myself. Maybe it will influence the lives of millions to make the world a better place. Though parents have a great effect on how they turn out, ultimately they are their own unpredictable and uncontrollable person. We know they'll change something, that they will affect the people they come to know, that this one small thread they represent will alter the vast human tapestry in some way. Of course, we always hope it will be for the best.
**/**** screenplay by Kiel Murray and Bob Peterson and Mike Rich directed by Brian Fee
by Walter Chaw I don't understand very much about the Cars universe. I don't understand its rules. Do the sentient cars feel pain? What part of them needs to "die" in order for them to die? The implication is that the voice actor needs to die, but even then the Paul Newman-voiced "Doc" is resurrected (along with Tom Magliozzi's "Rusty") in Cars 3 through the miracle of old voice outtakes and flashback sequences. It raises questions about sentience in a Blade Runner sort of way. It invites speculation that this is all a post-apocalyptic nightmare in which our "smart" cars have either outlasted, or outwitted, their primate creators. I wonder, too, about how they reproduce, as these films have always been clear that there are "children" in this universe. Or are they like child vampires: wizened monsters trapped in infant chassis? When I look at a sentient ambulance in this one's central "Flesh Fair" demolition-derby sequence and how its patient bay is built for a human-sized customer and not a car, well...it raises questions. And let's talk about the idea of a demolition derby in a film populated entirely by thinking, feeling cars. What would the human equivalent to this be? Thunderdome? It's worth a conversation, though it's not the conversation Cars 3 wants to have.
***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+ starring Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane written by Derek Kolstad directed by Chad Stahelski
by Bryant FrazerJohn Wick: Chapter 2 opens, somewhat incongruously, with shots from a Buster Keaton action sequence projected on the side of a midtown Manhattan office building. Make no mistake: That's not homage--it's a declaration of principles. Hell, it's a boast. A master of stunts, sight gags, and visual effects, Keaton was perhaps the most sophisticated silent filmmaker when it came to truly understanding and exploiting cinematic space--the magical Méliès, maybe, to Chaplin's more grounded Lumière. For much of film history, his influence was felt most vividly in movie musicals, where the athleticism of Gene Kelly, especially, seemed to call back to Keaton's knockabout screen presence. In the 1970s, the best musical action on screen was happening in Hong Kong, as Bruce Lee's lethal martial arts style laid the groundwork for Jackie Chan's more broadly comic (though no less precisely conceived and executed) fighting style. Chan was no fan of guns, but John Woo developed a balletic, two-fisted style of gunplay while imagining romcom mainstay Chow Yun-Fat as an action hero in the Clint Eastwood mold. That brings us more or less to John Wick, as director Chad Stahelski and the army of drivers, stunt coordinators, military veterans, tactical firearms consultants, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructors who helped turn Keanu Reeves into a precision-tuned killing machine assert their legitimacy as heirs to a tradition that began in the days of hand-cranked cameras and nitrate stock.