****/**** 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.
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan screenplay by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel directed by Brad Peyton
by Walter ChawSilent Hill is still the best video-game movie, but points awarded to Brad Peyton for taking a flyer at adapting an old side-scrolling punchfest and giving it a standard sub-genre narrative. Rampage is the same kind, if not the same quality, of adaptation as the first Pirates of the Caribbean: an idea that makes no sense on paper that's unexpectedly decent in execution. Anyway, Rampage is the standard eco-horror conceit of evil scientists trying to engineer something evil for the military-industrial complex, which underestimates the controllability (and the evil) of the thing they're trying to make and thus endanger a lot of people/the world with their greed/godless curiosity. On the other side, there's beefy primatologist Davis (Dwayne Johnson, reuniting with San Andreas helmer Peyton) and a disgraced, formerly corrupt scientist named Dr. Kate (Naomie Harris), who enter into an uneasy partnership with government spook Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to counteract the Frankenstein that's been unleashed. Said Frankenstein being a growth agent or something that causes a wolf, an alligator, and Davis's best friend, George, an albino gorilla, to grow to gargantuan proportions--and become nigh invulnerable, to boot. Fans of the arcade game will note that this is faithful casting; they will also recognize the building-punching and helicopter-biting.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
**½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B- starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari directed by Peyton Reed
by Bryant FrazerAnt-Man and the Wasp opens, like Ant-Man before it, inside Uncanny Valley, with one of those flashback scenes haunted by creepy, de-aged CG replicas of famous actors. Less than 40 seconds into the film, Cartoon Robot Michelle Pfeiffer widens and rolls her eyes in an unsettling, overdetermined gesture that feels no less artificial even if it's sourced from Pfeiffer's "real" work in front of a performance-capture camera. It's not just that CRMP's eyeballs seem so much more active than those of every other actor in the film--that could be put down to her individual style of emoting--but more that they don't quite sync up with the rest of her face. Sure, as crimes against nature go this one is minor; the similarly de-eldered Creepy Zombie Michael Douglas looming behind her is more distracting, with a deader face. Still it's an unforced error. Why go to these lengths? CRMP's presence is barely required in the film; in most of her scenes, she's already wearing a mask. And the scene offers no crucial information or insight.
****/**** starring Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck written and directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
by Walter Chaw The Coen Brothers' one-shot revival-in-spirit of DC's "Weird Western Tales," The Ballad of Buster Scruggs features six narratively-unrelated Old West challenges to genre mythology that are so practically effortless, so technically perfect, that the typical Coen payload of misanthropy and, yes, nihilism lands as particularly caustic. Binding each episode in this, a short-story anthology from our most literary filmmakers, is a conversation about how the American myth of self-actualization is indelibly stained by westward expansion, self-justified by the amoral equivocations of Manifest Destiny. It's about the lie of American exceptionalism, riffing on and shading stock hero archetypes like the gunfighter, the outlaw, the travelling troubadour, the prospector, the settlers of course, and the bounty hunter. The presentation is all a bit too much: it's too handsome (Inside Llewyn Davis cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel returns to the fold), too exquisitely choreographed, too...tricky? The moment the brothers frame a POV shot from the inside of a guitar, complete with suddenly-muffled singing and strumming, you realize the movie is maybe having some fun at your expense--that it is maybe, in fact, an asshole. "Misanthrope?" asks Buster (Tim Blake Nelson), reading his crimes off a wanted poster, "I don't hate my fellow man!" Dressed all in "white duds and pleasant demeanour," Buster may not be a misanthrope, but he's definitely an asshole, as well as a psychopath. It's an efficient, devastating dissection of the Gene Autry/Roy Rogers subgenre of western, in which cherub-faced, potato-bloated cowpokes settle land and cattle disputes, woo big-eyed women, and punctuate their acts of questionable heroism with a nice, wholesome tune. Howard Hawks had something to say about this in his brilliant, subversive Rio Bravo. Now the Coens are having a go.
**/**** starring Jessica Barden, Hayley Law, Brett Dier, Camila Mendes written and directed by Carly Stone
by Alice Stoehr Sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw wakes up in a hotel room after a fling with a Frenchman to find a thousand dollars on the nightstand. This is midway through "The Power of Female Sex," episode five of HBO's "Sex and the City". She summons her friends, sensualist Samantha and hard-headed Miranda, to ask them, "What exactly about me screams 'whore'?" Samantha counsels keeping the money; Miranda tosses around the word "hooker"; and Carrie weighs the gesture as either "an incredible compliment or an incredible insult." The episode has little to say about sex work and the attendant stigma beyond articulating some knee-jerk squeamishness. Twenty years have passed since then in the realms of feminism and pop culture. Twenty years, yet here's The New Romantic, a romcom with the same level of nuance on the subject of sex for money. Its heroine is Blake (Jessica Barden), a college senior who writes about her sparse sex life for the school paper. With the editor poised to take her column away, she tries to spice it up by interviewing a local "sugar baby"--a young woman who barters dates for luxury. It's not long before Blake herself is sipping wine opposite Ian (Timm Sharp), a well-off professor twice her age. Nor is it long before she, as a Nora Ephron devotee, starts to worry she might be sacrificing romance for the sake of journalistic material.
***½/**** starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on the book by Lee Israel directed by Marielle Heller
by Walter ChawCan You Ever Forgive Me? is about Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a gifted biographer who has achieved some small measure of success but lately finds herself unemployable, unloved, maybe unlovable. Her best friend calls her a "horrid cunt" and it's the nicest thing anyone says to her. Her agent, Marjorie (Jane Curtin), tells her that she needs to be nicer. Only successful people are allowed to display the full measure of Lee's misanthropy, she says; the full wrath of her lacerating wit and intimidating intelligence; the full portion of her knowledge and impatience with your lack of it. It's essentially the speech Crash gives Nuke in Bull Durham about fungus in his shower slippers. You get to be a slob when you're famous. When you're a slob and you're not, you're just pathetic and disgusting. I spent 36 hours in New York City once several years ago in circumstances very much like the one I'm in now: wondering what I want to do with the rest of my life, worrying that I'll never find it, worrying that I'll never get to do it if I do. It's frightening to think you won't achieve your goals. It's worse when you've achieved every single one of them and it means nothing to you, and so you're back at square one-ish. Luckily, though (well, maybe luckily), you do have this one skill...
****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C- starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee, based on the book by Ron Stallworth directed by Spike Lee
by Walter Chaw Colorado Springs is a big, modern, beautiful city. It's home to natural wonders like the Tolkien-sounding Garden of the Gods and the Cave of the Winds. Its zoo, perched on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain, is world class. Spencer Penrose built a shrine to his friend Will Rogers on that same mountain when Rogers died in a plane crash. Cheyenne Mountain is also where NORAD is housed, and Colorado Springs is also host to the United States Air Force Academy and, once upon a time, Focus on the Family. It's an ultra-conservative city just south of blue Denver, which is itself south of the trust-fund hippie commune of Boulder. And for a few years starting around 1925, there was no greater stronghold for the Klan in the United States than in Denver. In 1978, Ron Stallworth became the first African-American police officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department, and then the first detective when he went undercover to infiltrate a Kwame Ture speech at a black nightclub. In 1979, he answered an ad hoping to establish a chapter of the KKK in the Springs, posing over the telephone as a man who hated every non-white race, but especially "those blacks." A white counterpart attended meetings while Stallworth eventually gained the trust of then-Grand Wizard David Duke. Duke reached out to Stallworth recently because he was concerned he was going to be portrayed as a buffoon in Spike Lee's adaptation of Stallworth's memoir, BlacKkKlansman. I mean, if the hood fits... If there is one indicator of involvement with cults like this, it's deep-seated insecurity. It bears mentioning that Denver's old airport, Stapleton International Airport, is the namesake of five-time Denver Mayor Ben Stapleton, who was a high-ranking member and, until the end of his reign, vocal supporter of the Klan. The airport is gone, but the neighbourhood that replaced it still carries his name.
Opening this week are a few films we covered at festivals earlier in the year. Walter Chaw reviewed Jason Reitman's The Front Runner at Telluride, while I wrote about Boy Erased, Transit, and Bodied--all three of which were released in Toronto today--during TIFF (TIFF '17, in the case of Bodied). And be sure to check out our reviews of some other recent releases that may have escaped your attention, including The Old Man & the Gun, Monrovia, Indiana, and the great Burning.-Ed.