****/**** starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Regina King screenplay by Barry Jenkins, based on the book by James Baldwin directed by Barry Jenkins
by Walter Chaw Barry Jenkins's If Beale Street Could Talk evokes Wallace Stevens's "The Snowman" and its idea of nothing beholding the nothing that is there and the nothing that isn't. It is all of the delirious, sublime rapture of falling in love; and it is all of the terrible fear of losing love to a capricious world that's rooting against you and rooting hard. The lips that would kiss are the same that form prayers to broken stones. If Beale Street Could Talk is about race and it's about sex--gender, somewhat, but more about how sex is politicized, used as a verb and an adjective, and there in the touch a sculptor gives his creation or lips give a cigarette. It's in the words that lovers old and new use together and it's in the sultry twilight where you can see the shape of your possible futures outlined as shadows against the exhaustion of another day. Baldwin's literature is seduction. His characters urge one another to listen and to use care when speaking. Words have meaning in Baldwin's world because in their interaction between the speaker and the listener, that's sex, too. He offers that there's harmony, even beauty, in the world, then shows the world in its bitterness and ugliness and challenges you to see it for yourself. I usually can't. Barry Jenkins, judging by the evidence of his films, can. It makes this adaptation by Jenkins of Baldwin's novel of the same name something a little like magic--you know, a little like sex.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+ starring Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan screenplay by Eric Kripke, based on the novel by John Bellairs directed by Eli Roth
by Bryant Frazer What happens when Hollywood's foremost torture-porn impresario channels his inner child and goes into business with Amblin Entertainment as a director-for-hire on a kid-friendly adaptation of a young-adult thriller from the early-1970s? Well, you get something like Eli Roth's The House with a Clock in Its Walls--nobody's idea of an innovative masterpiece, but at least an unpretentious, lavishly-designed, and mischievously-executed spookshow. Adapted by "Supernatural" creator Eric Kripke from a novel written by John Bellairs and illustrated by none other than Edward Gorey, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is one of those sad-orphan-is-sent-away-to-live-with-a-distant-relative yarns that begins with a young boy's arrival in an unfamiliar city. Naturally, he becomes privy to magical goings-on that open a window on the wider, more dangerous world before him.
****/**** screeplay by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, hereafter Spider-Verse, is a game-changer. It's American anime, essentially, an Akira moment for our film art that will sooner or later be identified as the definitive event where everything tilted forward. I hope sooner. More than beautiful, it's breathtaking. More than kinetic, it's alive. And more than just alive, it's seething with possibilities, self-awareness, a real vision of a future in which every decision in Hugh Everett's quantum tree produces an infinite series of branches. It's a manifestation of optimism. There's hope in Spider-Verse, along with a reminder that more people in these United States believe in progressive values than don't, no matter who the President is. Empathy and compassion hold the majority; there's a recognition we are essentially the same--the same desires, the same disappointments. When a father tells his son he's proud of him, it makes us cry because we identify with the entire spectrum of complexity such a conversation entails. When it happens in Spider-Verse, the son is unable to respond and the father is unable to see why, and the visual representation of the distance that can grow between fathers and sons is astonishingly pure. Turgenev never conceived a more graceful image on the subject. It's perfect.
***½/**** starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beal directed by James Wan
by Walter Chaw I don't think the DCEU was done any favours by the success of Christopher Nolan's exceptional Dark Knight trilogy, charting as it did a course of "grittiness" and topical social relevance that made the examination of its heroes' subconscious motivations the text rather than the middle to be teased out by generations of readers. When nerd culture took the bully pulpit, in many ways it took the mantle of being a bully, too. There is literally no way to review a comic-book movie without getting death threats: woe be to you if you don't like it--but if you do like it, you're probably not liking it in the right way. Making lockers to be pushed into virtual didn't, apparently, solve the problem of being a mediocre male looking to express dominance. There's a connection here to why comic-book movies about the troubles of sad white people are less and less current, while stuff like Black Panther, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, and Wonder Woman are the tantalizing hope for a positive future. No accident that minority and marginalized filmmakers have found a way forward with this genre.
Tenebre ****/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras B starring Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D'Angelo, Daria Nicolodi written and directed by Dario Argento
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Dario Argento is a stylist and a fan who pays attention. His films are shrines to Hitchcock in the way that Tarantino's are shrines to grindhouse exploitation: imitations that transcend imitation by understanding what made the originals work. Argento's movies invite you to engage with them at a meta-level to appreciate them intellectually, yet are so engaging on a visceral level that it's hardly a requirement. At their best, they're phantasmagorias mashing up stuff like Cornell Woolrich, Mickey Spillane, and Edgar Wallace with Antonioni and, of course, Hitchcock. At their worst, Argento's films either perilously discard the gialli pillars that provide touchstones for him in favour of gothic horror (his truly abominable takes on Phantom of the Opera and Dracula), or desperately try to recapture old glory (The Card Player, Sleepless, and, alas, Mother of Tears).
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A- starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie
by Walter Chaw As the title flatly states, Mission: Impossible: Fallout (hereafter Fallout), the sixth instalment in our very own Jackie Chan's signature series, will be about Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) emotional baggage, earned over twenty-plus years of saving the world from threats foreign, domestic, and auteur. The main personal casualty for Hunt is the disintegration of his marriage to Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who must remain a "ghost" so that she doesn't suffer the, yes, fallout from Ethan's hero work. She checks in every once in a while, Hunt's teammate Luther (Ving Rhames) tells Ethan's new flame, former MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). It's what keeps Ethan going. Accordingly, Fallout starts with an apocalyptic dream of Julia in the hands of maddog terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris)--the type of dream James Cameron used so effectively in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where everyone turns to charcoal and flies apart. It's important to focus in on all of this because Fallout is about a very specific element of the myth of masculinity, this romanticizing of sacrifice and suffering that men must go through in order to protect the women in their lives. The best part of Martin Campbell's extremely good Casino Royale is when fatale Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) brings Bond (Daniel Craig) back from the dead and his first sentence is spent asking if she's okay. There's a scene like that at the end of Fallout as well when Hunt, back from the dead, apologizes to Julia for everything. It's the sentiment and the situation that makes men in the audience spring a manly leak. Hunt--even his name is a primordial gender assignation--is the avatar for male expectation, which casts his heroics in an odd light, I think: fantasies of male heroism played against grandiose, extravagant, paranoid delusions. I don't know now if I'm talking about Cruise or Hunt. Same, same.