If you’ve left Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla feeling like there wasn’t enough monster action to eat up, Michael Dougherty provides so much more of that in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (fittingly enough, whose name is taken from Terry Morse’s American bastardization of Ishirô Honda’s film). But decidedly, you’re also left wondering how much of this feels exciting especially when you’re in the face of nonstop monster action from beginning to end and in that same sense, Godzilla: King of the Monster can be equal parts exhilarating or just overall exhausting. But for longtime fans of the series who were eagerly awaiting to see Mothra or King Ghidorah coming to the screen in an Americanized format, there’s a whole lot that one can eat up at in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Putting it lightly, it’s a film that took notes from the fan reaction to Gareth Edwards’s take but everything that Michael Dougherty does worse in King of the Monsters might also give you a lot more to appreciate about how Edwards approached the start of the MonsterVerse.
For director Werner Herzog, it’s easy to see how a story like this would be incredibly personal for him. But one can only set their expectations high enough when talking about a film director like Werner Herzog because he has always remained one of the most fascinating people of his own kind, both in general and when discussing his work as a filmmaker. It’s hard enough to point out what makes his style so distinctive but he has also maintained such a distinguishable personality over the years and seeing him take on the role of a documentarian would also prove a treat when you’re being subjected to listening to him speak. When talking with someone like Mikhail Gorbachev, Werner Herzog already seems like the perfect person to discuss how the career of one man whose influence went far beyond the Soviet Union, especially as its final leader. But if anything else makes Meeting Gorbachev feel all the more meaningful, all that one would really need is the sort of message that Herzog would want to share in the current political climate – because there’s a whole lot that we could learn from the way Gorbachev speaks about how his political career has impacted his personal life too.
M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is a film that seems to feel like in its own sort of league from the many other superhero films that also come out over the years, and that’s one among a few things that I find to be most welcoming about it. Nearly twenty years after the release of Unbreakable came out and offered a refreshing perspective on the superhero genre, with its deconstruction of the general structure, Shyamalan’s many ideas continued flowing with the potential of reaching a greater stature. When Split came out in 2017, there was that reminder Shyamalan has yet to lose his touch – because of the bridge presented between the two films. So with bringing both films together in Glass, one would only be left wondering how much further can we bring these ideas to come together in order to create a different sort of superhero film by bridging the gaps between both films. For a while, I’ve been wondering about how exactly everything would be culminating in the end, and though I didn’t quite get the answers that I was hoping for, there’s still a lot to be admired about what how the threads come together in Glass.
It’s not unfamiliar to see WWII revisionism coming ever so frequently but there’s something about Overlord that also carries a distinctive charm that would also grant it a place above most other films of its sort. Director Julius Avery and screenwriters Mark L. Smith and Billy Ray have crafted what shows itself to be Hollywood escapism at some of its finest, especially in its celebration of the heroism that led to the downfall of the Nazi party. But Overlord already knows the sort of film that it’s trying to be, and doesn’t pretend it’s anything far beyond that. That having been said, I can’t help but feel as if there could have easily been so much more done with a concept like this especially given its own setting since it’s not terribly inventive with what it has, though there’s no denying that it has a lot of fun with what’s available to work around. Sometimes I think that’s all that would really be necessary in order to create an overall fun time at the movies, even providing that satisfaction of seeing Nazis getting exactly what they deserve from start to finish – but who wouldn’t want to see that?
The easy way to look at The Dirt, the new Netflix biopic about 80s shock-rock group Mötley Crüe, is that somebody took one of the most notorious rock acts in the world and made a mostly harmless by-the-numbers biopic about them.
Most of our plucky readership probably understands the biopic formula, but for those who don’t, Patrick H. Willems made the only video you’ll ever need to see on the subject. If you don’t have 35 minutes to spend on watching a video, here’s a quick and dirty version: biopics take the messy life of a person and try to shape it into a neat dramatic arc for easy digestion, which would be fine if a.) the formula wasn’t so overused, with movies like Ray, Walk the Line, Get On Up, Straight Outta Compton, and Bohemian Rhapsody essentially telling the same story with a few differences of varying importance, and b.) if the act of squeezing an entire life into a two hour story didn’t gloss over so many crucial, fascinating details within that life. Point B seems especially prudent in the case of The Dirt; watching it, I felt like you could’ve made at least three movies about the band.
Movie 1 would be about the rise. After the biopic’s standard in media res introductory scene, we meet each band member starting with bassist Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), who at a young age distances himself from his mother (Kathryn Morris) and the multiple abusive stepfathers she keeps bringing into their home. In contrast to Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee (Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly) had a happy and supportive home life and a deep love of hard rock. Guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) is an old man compared to these kids, but he’s got a degenerative bone disease that pushes him to go harder than most dudes half his age. Rounding out the group is lead singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), a high school buddy of Tommy’s who joins up as a favor to his friend and is really just in it to get laid. Within each other, these four dudes find a groove together and start tearing up the Sunset Strip until a record label (represented here by Pete Davidson at his adorkable best) inevitably takes notice and pulls them into the spotlight. Movie 2 would be about the fall; the band tearing itself apart as the weight of their excessive lifestyle starts to take a toll on them, culminating in Sixx’s heroin overdose. Movie 3 would be about the band’s emergence from rehab as the cultural shift to grunge was right around the corner, and their struggle to stay invested in the music and each other now that everything that made it fun has been taken away from them.
Any one of these stories would be bangers on their own; when you relegate each of them to a single act of a larger story that’s squeezed into an hour and 48 minutes, things start feeling rushed and emotional beats don’t land like they should. The first arena gig for these boys should feel like a big, triumphant moment. Without a good buildup to that moment, however—without a sense of the evolution and trial-and-error it took to get to that point—it’s just kinda there. A lot of such moments are just kinda there, undermining a lot of the film’s dramatic power.
Despite all that, the movie has a lot going for it, starting with a low-key self-awareness that the core story being told is a story we’re all familiar with. This is Jeff Tremaine’s first full narrative feature after something of a soft start with Bad Grandpa. He ends up being an inspired pick, clearly believing in the story he’s telling without necessarily believing it’s a capital-I Important one. Without the pretension that makes many of these biopics insufferable and more vulnerable to scrutiny (the fact that it only briefly acknowledges Tommy Lee’s issues with domestic violence and flat out ignores Vince Neil’s own issues with assaulting women seems a little less questionable when it’s so clearly not going for Oscars), Tremaine is free to make himself comfortable within the well-worn formula and focus on the things he does best. His experience on Jackass and its many spinoffs gives him an intrinsic understanding of the appeal of excess and bad behavior and the power of brotherhood and found family. To that effect, his four leads have impeccable chemistry, allowing the film to partially compensate for its lack of appropriate breathing room and ultimately stick the landing. The Dirt may be a safe story about a dangerous band, but it’s still a well-told and engaging one.
Watch the trailer here:
Image courtesy of Netflix
Directed by Jeff Tremaine Screenplay by Rich Wilkes and Amanda Adelson, from the book by Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, and Nikki Sixx, with Neil Strauss Produced by Julie Yorn, Erik Olsen, Allen Kovac Starring Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber, Pete Davidson, David Costabile Release Date: March 22, 2019 Running Time: 108 minutes
It isn’t unfamiliar to see young children grow jealous when their parents shift their attention to a new sibling. I know for a fact that when I was young, and my own younger brother had been born I was always jealous about him having gotten far more attention than myself at the time, but Mamoru Hosoda creates a whole other adventure from something that could have seemed so simple at first in order to create a perfect tale of coming of age, even while incredibly young. Admittedly, Mamoru Hosoda’s sentimentality was never something that had always worked for myself (even holding back films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars from being truly great in my eyes), yet I’ve always admired the sweetness that he aims for in his work. With Mirai, what comes by is a perfect story for children – especially those who are still learning how to cope with jealousy amidst their families, but there’s a resounding sense of nostalgia that comes by for adult viewers which would allow its impact to stretch much further. As is, I had already found the film to be admirable enough even if I still found it slightly lacking in that same way I have always thought of Hosoda to be.
One among many things that I’m really glad to see out of a film like Cam that I notice Hollywood rarely if ever was able to create, is a non-judgemental portrait of people who make a living through sex work. This Blumhouse production for Netflix, while still overcoming its own hiccups, feels so refreshing in that very sense because it also shows a new perspective to the audiences. In part this is the responsibility of screenwriter Isa Mazzei, who herself worked as a camgirl and allows a her experience to come onto the screen in some way here, but it’s also in part reflective of another horror that the sex industry imposes onto its own workers. Yet never does it ever sink down to the levels of bad judgement of such people, we’re made to see what life is like for these people for ourselves before we comment further. But that’s only one among many reasons as to why Cam is an admirable effort. It’s an admirable effort because it never feels judgemental of the people whose story is being told on the screen especially given the scrutiny that comes their way, and you feel something for their own struggle in the meantime too. You feel terrified for being that position, perhaps the best thing that Cam has going for it too.
I’ve always found it difficult to get into the films of Jacques Audiard which is one among many reasons I was unsure of what to expect from The Sisters Brothers. But this being so different from his past films already had me wondering if this could be an instance where he would click with me, because his films have always remained distinctive for being so unflinching – if also quite emotionally hollow. So how exactly was this sort of style supposed to work not only for a western film in the English language, but also a dark comedy? I think it’d only be fair to say that maybe it opened my eyes to see Audiard’s sensibilities working better as Hollywood productions than they do outside, because The Sisters Brothers only ever made itself out to be an entertaining ride.
I think that a film about a rising teen pop star already finds itself with a very fitting start after it plays a Grimes song during the opening credits. Something that would be rather easy for me to say, because I am a huge fan of Grimes’s music, but how exactly it fits into the context of Max Minghella’s own directorial debut – that’s another story being told. It’s a film that encapsulates whatbuilds up “teen spirit” in that very sense, of course with being set in the world of music as a perfect support system. Yet there’s something about Teen Spirit that still carries an endearing enough quality, even beyond how much fun writer-director Max Minghella is having with the music scene. But sometimes I wonder if being fond of the music in itself would be critical to one’s own enjoyment of the film, because I already know that sitting there watching Teen Spirit and even wanting to hum to the tunes to I recognized well enough while I was in the theater made me feel like I was really in that moment.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser finds its titular character (Shannon Purser) caught in a Cyrano de Bergerac situation after her school’s resident mean girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) gives Sierra’s phone number to humble football player Jamey (Noah Centineo), claiming it as her own. Jamey, who goes to a different school, starts texting Sierra thinking that she’s Veronica, and Sierra finds herself going with it; at first because the truth is too awkward, but then because the truth is too scary. Once she learns that Veronica’s trying to woo a college dude, Sierra (a regular victim of Veronica’s) comes to her with an offer: tutoring on college-level subjects in exchange for help with keeping the lie going.
A teen romantic comedy that asks you to root for a lead that’s catfishing her love interest can be a tough sell, but Purser’s on home turf here. As Barb on the first season of Stranger Things, she took a character who was kind of a drag on the page and infused her with a tragic soul that propelled her into pop culture iconography and scored her a well-deserved Emmy nomination. It doesn’t hurt that we don’t see a ton of women like her on-screen—tall and full-figured, she’s immediately distinguishable from most actresses her age, which would probably be an advantage in a culture that didn’t promote “thin and small” as the feminine ideal. (A culture, if we’re being real, that’s driven by scumbags who regularly prey on women.) Sierra Burgess has a little bit to say about such a culture, and Purser happens to be a perfect figurehead for its message. She brings a curious, appealing swagger to the lead character, starting the movie by regularly shaking off the vicious barbs that her classmates throw at her while she tries to keep her head down and get into Stanford. She’s fairly confident (in her skills, at least) and lightly funny, easily setting an appealing pace for the film.
Of course, soon after Jamey starts texting Sierra, the armor she’s built up comes clattering down as the two of them fall into an easy, pleasant rapport. Purser’s great at making you see why Sierra keeps this charade up long after any reasonable person would hit the brakes and come clean, but more impressive is how Purser charts Sierra’s gradual breakdown throughout the second half of the movie, brought on by the stress of maintaining her lie. Just about everyone in on this hare-brained scheme knows that it’s a horrible idea. In the script, Sierra’s best friend Dan (RJ Cyler) serves the primary function of constantly reminding Sierra how messed up this is, and it works mostly because Cyler does a similarly great job of giving Dan an appealing personality outside of his nagging, and partly because what Sierra’s doing is really messed up.
The cast comes through for this, even if their characters feel more than a little arch. Veronica’s meanness, in particular, seems unrealistically shallow at first; once the movie gets to dive into her family life, her bitterness starts making sense, and Kristine Froseth begins to light up in turn. Surprisingly, the film’s script, written by Lindsey Beer (who’s currently attached to a number of high-profile properties according to IMDB) starts to put a little more weight on the burgeoning friendship between Sierra and Veronica rather than the burgeoning romance between Sierra and Jamey (not that the romance is ever sidelined). It’s to the film’s benefit; Purser and Froseth are excellent together, and the film’s meditation on self-respect—how we often seem to have it when we don’t, how important it is to learn the difference—feels more honest for it.
It’s not the only interesting decision on display. Director Ian Samuels, making his feature debut, veers away from the typical visual grammar of a teen movie for a more rugged look, with lots of handheld shots and a color palate that tends to favor darks and fluorescent yellows over typical bright colors. He and DP John W. Rutland aren’t shooting this for glamour; they’re trying to capture an unromanticized version of high school life, the way kids like Sierra might see it as opposed to how someone dealing with the pressures of adult life might fondly remember it. The vision is supported by the mostly down-to-earth sets used; there’s a plainness to it that feels refreshing and gives everything a nice sense of verisimilitude.
That verisimilitude works against it sometimes. A couple of key plot beats feel weirdly rushed, particularly Sierra’s first text conversation with Jamey; it’s beyond me why anyone would think they could build the whole foundation of Sierra’s absurd scheme on three text messages and a spoken claim that they texted all night, but at least it makes up ground later on. (The texting sequences, in general, are well done; Samuels foregoes the overlays that have become popular in portraying texting, choosing to communicate incoming texts entirely through shots of the phone. This helps him nail the natural anxiety and uncertainty that comes from having text conversations with someone you really like.) Things eventually get surprisingly brutal in a way that feels wholly earned, but the wrap up from that feels too neat, partly because of that rush. You get a film that tries to present itself as something a little different than your average teen romcom and tries to show some of the heavy emotional consequences of the ill-advised game these kids are playing, but in the end, it can’t really commit. Still, the effort is admirable and very appealing, absolutely worth your time if you’re a fan of teen movies.
Watch the trailer here:
All images courtesy of Netflix
Directed by Ian Samuels
Written by Lindsey Beer
Produced by Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Molly Smith, Rachel Smith
Starring Shannon Purser, Kristine Froseth, RJ Cyler, Noah Centineo
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 106 minutes
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