“Reminiscing” would seem to be the prevailing conversational mode that (good) action films of the 2010s tend to have. The John Wick franchise owes Buster Keaton numerous blood debts, wherein director Chad Stahelski pays tribute to the filmmaker by projecting a scene from one of Keaton’s films in the opening of Chapter 2. In Parabellum, as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) courses through New York City in a downpour, you can catch a glimpse of Keaton in The General on one of the numerous screens that bombard you in Times Square. Yet to contain the scope of Parabellum’s influence on the physical comic of the silent era is entirely insufficient – this is a film that engages in a very vivid and perpetually evolving parley with American cinema of the past, outsourcing techniques that have been diluted with time and repurposing them here, within an ever-expanding criminal underworld. There aren’t many films that can suggest John Ford and D.W. Griffith in one scene and follow that up with a sequence involving a knife thrown directly to the groin, but Parabellum impossibly does.Read More
Pokémon Detective Pikachu’s minute-by-minute appeal is that it’s cute. It’s kawaii, in so far that it drips that cuteness out of its pores. It’ll reward audience members for knowing which Pokémon is which, in one of those rare instances where the fenced-off real estate that shelters the names of all 800+ Pokémon will provide you with a momentary endorphin rush through the act of recognition. Is this what people mean when they say it rewards “the fans”? Is Pokémon Detective Pikachu for “the fans”? Sure, whatever the fuck that means. I mean, this movie is probably intended for people who use the term “the fans” in a serious, non-derogatory way. Or those who say “it slaps” un-ironically. It’s probably not intended for fogies who still say flim flam conversationally. Anyway, this saccharine flim flam is designed for mass consumption and people will eat it up. Good for them. But this viewer couldn’t help but find this exercise, which does possess some passages of imagination, to be disappointingly grim.Read More
It’s April. The news comes with the dichotomous anxiety that anticipates warm summer Chicago months yet can’t shake the bone-petrifying cold and emotionally grueling days that started the year. And it’s a bitter pill to swallow, knowing just how heavy the first 90 days of Q1 has settled into my marrow. So like any mentally well-adjusted person, I needed a diversion and I needed one fast. Case in point: David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! The film, a product of a cultural movement demanding protracted, world-building nonsense, is part of Warner Brother’s Pictures’ intended DC Universe. That’s about all the information I had walking into the film. I knew nothing of the character, nothing of his origins or superpowers or the film’s cast or filmmaker. It was a blank slate. It felt anonymous, unknown, and ready to be discovered. For someone who felt found out, exposed, and without a communion of support for the past few months, I saw this facelessness as something incredibly appealing and approachable. Little did I know just how much I would relate to this film’s ethos. I’m perhaps inflating my appreciation for Shazam! because of a certain, personal vulnerability. You’ll just have to accept this asterisk-filled endorsement with the caveat that Shazam! ended up being exactly what I needed when I needed it.Read More
I’ve read and reread Joan Didion’s essay On Self-Respect more times this month than I have fingers and toes. When you’ve hit rock bottom and you’re not even five days into the month, staring at a reflection of yourself wearing a wash-worn two-piece hospital gown that hangs on you like a sack and donning an unintentionally expressive pompadour, realizing that this will be “Day 1” of an indefinite hospital stay, you’re left reconsidering where things turned south. And so I thought about Didion and how she gets to the heart of things about the origins of self-respect, where she suggests, “character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.” That quote has been running through my mind, along with the tangential idea of recognizing the importance of fighting for something, and the gray, abstract areas associated with negotiating with who gets hurt in that fight. Us, Jordan Peele’s intriguing, messy, and relentlessly sensory new film, is about this idea of leaving the bargaining table behind, refusing to ask permission for rights or apologizing for deficiencies, and executing the moral nerve to seize the life that you want.Read More
In brief: I watch professional wrestling. It’s one of those interests that I keep mostly to myself, having lost the conviction to defend my ritual habit of consuming NXT, WWE, NJPW, and AJPW content. When the subject, (never brought up by me) is discussed at a party, the same exhausting repartee tends to take place, whereby the nonfan acknowledges the viewer with a cynical, somewhat condescending tone, reiterating some variation of “but isn’t it fake?” At which point, my skin crawls with goose bumps and my eyeballs make a full 360 rotation behind my skull as I sulk out of earshot of the conversation, so as not to get involved. Discussing this interest, particularly with those who consider it little more than a facsimile of a sport, can just be so taxing. Linking the interest with my passion for film, even doubly so. But I get it: there’s a culture, there’s a fanbase, there’s a stigma associated with professional wrestling that makes it primarily a blue-collar, fundamentally thoughtless mode of entertainment intended to satisfy a certain kind of, ahem, fringe type.
Stephen Merchant’s Fighting with My Family attempts to dislodge the stereotype by embracing it, deploying a rote sports narrative as if to propose that professional wrestling is just like any other sport. The result is an innocuous, WWE Studios-approved exercise, intended for generic uplift that sacrifices specifics for something safe and anodyne. Brief interludes suggest something more profound or simply strange (so few films, even about wrestling, really examine how elementally bizarre the sport can be), but these asides are just too infrequent to leave a notable impression.Read More
In Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day and sequel, 2U, everything happens quickly but nothing actually happens. Landon’s films indulge the viewer’s wish fulfillment in reconciling past mistakes but blandly suggests that you can only be set free from the past’s circuitous loop of despair when you learn from those errs. Or: Groundhog’s Day. But if Landon’s aping of Harold Ramis’ culturally-accepted quote unquote classic (never been a fan) served as the blueprint for his first film, then 2U embodies the films of another filmmaker entirely: John Hughes (also: never been a fan). Not that Hughes’ influence couldn’t be felt throughout Landon’s first film (the antiquated sexual politics, the blasé and ultimately mindless examination of white privilege, etc.) but it all seemed underplayed within the novelty of its structure. 2U is rather insistent on making the insular experience of one woman repeating her death into a communal, ensemble piece filled with goofy asides and facile attempts at “subversion”. 35 years after Molly Ringwald’s birthday slipped the minds of her parents in Sixteen Candles and we still have to deal with a woman’s narrative getting hijacked by a couple of generic dude-bros. History’s cyclical, and intellectually and emotionally we still live in the 1980s; cinema like Happy Death Day 2U would have you believe that it’s admirable for that quality.Read More
Adam Robitel’s Escape Room posits that we are all hermetically sealed in our own isolation chambers, locked within man-made structures of guilt, self-doubt, and despair, listening, recounting, and mentally relitigating the same tired series of traumatic events that cripple us into complacency. Or at least it’s what the film tries to suggest. This is a film that requires a pretty endless series of mental acrobatics to make sense of, whether it be the inanity of its plotting or the skull-clutching awkwardness of its performers reciting banal, hackneyed platitudes from a screenplay that would seem amateurish to even a SyFy network executive. Welcome to the cinematic dregs of January, this film would seem to announce.Read More