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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: The Death of Stalin (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi

I'm sure the real story was even more absurd. All the pieces are there, after all: a brutal tyrant who is ultimately undone by his own short-sighted desire to protect his power by destabilizing everyone around him; the political cronies who are left jockeying for power, stabbing each other in the back and trying to think out their next moves, taking a few gambles on how circumstances are going to shake out; a citizenry terrorized by the whims of those in charge, making the difference between life and death as arbitrary as possible; a son who is desperately trying to hide the fact that the national hockey team has been killed on his watch and that he has replaced the players in the hope that no one will notice. Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin is comedy that's about as black as it gets and if it plays a little fast and loose with real history, well, I have to assume that that's because truth is stranger than fiction and that it would seem even less believable if it were all true.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Review: Game Night (2018)

* * *

Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams

The game is real is one of the lazier story premises this side of mismatched police partners or love interests who start out hating each other only to fall in love. For proof look no further than the trailers for the absolutely atrocious looking Truth or Dare, which asks "What if a bunch of 20-somethings played a slumber party game... to death?" But even an unremarkable premise can be saved by strong execution, which is something that Game Night, a comedy about sibling rivalry and a parlor game that gets a little too real, has to its credit. Anchored by the deadpan comedic chops of Jason Bateman and the effortless charms of Rachel McAdams, Game Night suffers slightly from having more plot twists than it absolutely needs, but it's ultimately a winner.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Thoroughbreds (2018)

* * *

Director: Cory Finley
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin

I wanted to like Thoroughbreds a lot more than I actually did. The first two-thirds are clever, intriguing, and go to darker places than most movies about teenagers that aren't outright horror movies or Heathers. Then the ending comes along and ties everything up so quickly and so neatly that I could only feel disappointed. Thoroughbreds is a perfectly fine film built on a trio of strong performances from Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, and the late Anton Yelchin, and a film which, despite its origins as a play, manages not to feel stagey (though it helps that the narrative is enhanced by a feeling of claustrophobia), but it just doesn't quite get there as a story despite a solid build up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: Black Panther (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o

Long live the King. To watch Black Panther is to be awed, not just by the film itself (though it is a work of incredible achievement) but by the tradition that it joins. As the opening credits unfold, highlighting the characters and films of the Marvel cinematic universe, it's hard to be unimpressed by what Marvel has accomplished, the way that it has brought together so many moving pieces, creating properties that are unique from each other but also complement and build off of each other as part of one large, unified tapestry. That this is not as easy as Marvel (barring a misstep in the form of The Incredible Hulk) has made it look is evident in the struggles of other would-be cinematic universes, from the struggling DC's superhero series to Universal's dead on arrival "Dark" universe. Eventually the series will start to be hit by the reality that you can only go so high before you start to come down, but that sure as hell doesn't happen with Black Panther, which joins Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok as movies that probably could not have been made 10 years ago (or, at least, not with the budgets and hype that they got) and continues Marvel's streak of just getting better and better.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Oscar Winners

As they're announced:

Best Picture: The Shape of Water

Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Original Song: "Remember Me," Coco

Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 (FINALLY!)

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name

Best Live Action Short Film: The Silent Child

Best Documentary Short Subject: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Best Film Editing: Lee Smith, Dunkirk

Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Best Animated Short Film: Dear Basketball

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman

Best Production Design: The Shape of Water

Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk

Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk

Best Documentary Feature: Icarus

Best Costume Design: Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri