REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers

It’s no news to anybody Tim Burton’s films are hit or miss. I happen to appreciate some of his less celebrated work (Mars Attacks, Dark Shadows) and have no patience for some of his big hits (Alice in Wonderland, Big Fish). Dumbo sits somewhere in the middle, two thirds a sentimental triumph, one third an undercooked heist that would be more at home in a Michael Bay movie.

A more “realistic” take on the 1941 Disney classic, this Dumbo doesn’t have anthropomorphized animals (although all of them cameo or are referenced to, even those controversial crows). The story is driven by humans, specifically the Farrier family. The father, Holt (Colin Farrell), has returned from the war maimed and his spirit shattered. His kids have been forced to mature earlier than they should, while sheltered by the circus community. The three of them reconnect over a baby elephant with freakishly large ears.

Dumbo goes from pariah to main attraction the moment he starts using his ears to take flight. The act attracts the attention of a circus mogul (Michael Keaton), who claims to be an artist at heart, but turns out to be another greedy capitalist who Zuckerbergs everybody. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers”

REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call

Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel uses public transportation.

Writer’s note: Much like with the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel has found pushback from the darkest, redest corners of the Internet. I wouldn’t normally be troubled by trolls or James Woods (I know, same thing), but some may bunch together less-than-glowing reviews with the rambles of individuals that feel threatened by Brie Larson’s activism or the idea of a feminist superhero. My critique is focused on the film exclusively and external considerations have no weight in my analysis.


Captain Marvel has a tall order to fill: It must bridge the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War with Avengers: Endgame and has to establish a hero not only capable of going head-to-head with Thanos, but also lead the super-team into a post Iron-Man era.

I’m here to tell you the film does complete the task, but doesn’t excel at it. Captain Marvel is a functional popcorn flick without much of an identity outside being proudly feminist. It’s surprisingly drab-looking for a Marvel Studios movie and the action sequences are perfunctory at best. The performances –not the plot– carry the film, a rarity for this universe. Continue reading “REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call”

REVIEW: Climax Takes a While to Get There

While one of the great provocateurs of modern cinema, Gaspar Noé is not known for his consistency. His most recent work (Love, Enter the Void) doesn’t hold a candle to the truly searing Irreversible and I Stand Alone, but shows a willingness to evolve and an ease with the camera bound to pay off, sooner or later.

Noé comes damn close to get his act together in Climax. It’s not without problems –it feels like a short stretched to feature length– but the setup is one for the ages and features moments of true brilliance.

Allegedly based on real events (as per Noé), the film takes place in the course of one evening at a dance school party in the middle of nowhere. Small dramas and petty conflicts become amplified when someone spikes the sangria with acid (I usually spike it with gin, but to each its own). Unable to escape or contact the outside world, psychosis takes over and the students’ limber bodies take serious punishment. Continue reading “REVIEW: Climax Takes a While to Get There”

Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar

Mads Mikkelsen is Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser in Polar.

Odds are you will come across a number of articles comparing Polar to John Wick. Pay no attention to them. Sure, they both revolve around (relatively) honorable hired guns whose employers turn against them, but the similarities end there. One loves dogs, the other one… you’ll find out.

Based on the graphic novel by Victor Santos, Polar revolves around Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelsen). An accomplished hitman, Vizla is looking forward to his retirement, just days away. His plans come undone when the corporation that employs him would rather take him than pay him severance. The assassin doesn’t take the attempts on his life kindly and plans to take his grievances to the top.

If John Wick mopes the entire movie, the Black Kaiser is not above enjoying hard liquor or a roll in the hay, even if his companion has murder in her mind. He does however have a couple of regrets that reverberate throughout the film. Continue reading “Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar”

REVIEW: At Eternity’s Gate Dives Into Van Gogh’s Psyche

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate.

Granted, there is no shortage of Vincent van Gogh’s biopics. Just last year audiences were treated to the gorgeous, underwhelmingly written Loving VincentAt Eternity’s Gate takes a different approach, one focused on Vincent’s drive, as opposed to his mental health. Of course the signposts are there, but the movie makes a noticeable effort to keep the assorted tragedies that befell Vincent at bay.

As per At Eternity’s Gate, Vincent (Willem Dafoe) was a man ahead of his time. This is not necessarily a good thing when you are a starving artist and impressionism is all the rage. Following advice by Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), Van Gogh trades the increasingly toxic Parisian scene for the tranquility of Arles in the South of France.

While the painter clashes constantly with the town dwellers, the period is particularly prolific. During his time there, Van Gogh produces “Bedroom in Arles”, “The Night Café”, and a number of self-portraits. Unfortunately, his ongoing quarrels with friends and neighbours and his “break-up” with Gauguin send him on a downward spiral. Utter loneliness plays a bigger part on Van Gogh’s fate than any other factor, including mental unrest.

Director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) depicts Van Gogh as a delicate soul that’s easily rattled. Likely because of his background as a plastic artist, Schnabel succeeds at capturing the drive that kept Van Gogh going, despite the scorn of the general public and indifference of his peers. The filmmaker’s obvious regard for his subject is manifest throughout, to the point of keeping the self-mutilation bit off-screen (in fairness, the ear thing has become an obnoxious trope).

While 25 years older than the painter when he died, Willem Dafoe is perfect for the part, the right mix of helpless and mercurial. Less fortunate is the casting of baby-faced Rupert Friend as Van Gogh’s barely younger brother. Schnabel brings back actors from his previous films for supporting roles, but the one who fares the best is a new hire: Mads Mikkelsen as the priest who runs the asylum where Van Gogh is committed. Compassionate and all, he doesn’t think much of the artist’s work and lets him know it. A rare moment of levity in a film carrying a heavy heart. 3.5/5 planets.

At Eternity’s Gate is now playing at the Roxy Theatre.

Ralph Breaks the Internet, from the Inside

Vanellope von Schweetz and the Disney princesses.

Among the many qualities of the Wreck It Ralph sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, the attention to detail is at the top, alongside an age-appropriate message against co-dependence. The film places the leads –the titular Ralph and Sugar Rush’s champion Vanellope von Schweetz– in the world wide web. The hectic vastness of the internet is impressively represented, both the seemingly infinite number of offerings and corresponding visitors.

For a year and a half, animator Benson Shum worked mostly on the Ralph character (allowing him to ‘act’ and ‘emote’), but also participated on the rest: “Even if it’s a background character, you want to animate it as well as the front ones.” Vanellope presents additional challenges, as she glitches and pops up at a different side of the screen within a second: “We have to anticipate her movements. There is a lot of thought into how we get her from this side of the screen to that side. We have a tool that makes glitch lines, pixilation in between.” Continue reading “Ralph Breaks the Internet, from the Inside”

REVIEW: Bel Canto Sings, but Doesn’t Hit the High Notes

Ken Watanabe and Julianne Moore share the piano in Bel Canto.

International casts present a unique challenge to both viewers and filmmakers. The absence of a unifying language can be distracting, as well as the actors’ different rhythms. An archetypical example is a terrible horror movie from 15 years ago called Darkness, for which Spanish director Jaume Balagueró cast Anna Paquin (Canada), Lena Olin (Sweden), Iain Glen (Scotland) and Giancarlo Giannini (Italy) as your average American family to hilarious effect.

Bel Canto knows better. The film uses the language barrier between the protagonists for its benefit, a challenge they have to overcome in order to survive. While the movie works well as a romantic drama, it doesn’t as a thriller, a bit of a problem when you are dealing with a hostage situation. Continue reading “REVIEW: Bel Canto Sings, but Doesn’t Hit the High Notes”

REVIEW: The Wife Is Not that Into You

It’s hard to find a more reliable performer than Glenn Close. The six-time Oscar nominee (should have won for Fatal Attraction) can be equally believable as a take-no-prisoners lawyer, the head of intergalactic police corps, and Homer Simpson’s mom.

The Wife gives Close a different showcase, one that asks from her to repress her emotions until it’s not physically possible. It’s a stunning piece of acting, one than someone with less experience wouldn’t be able to pull off.

The beginning of The Wife is dream-like. Literary lion Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), one of those American writers who think of themselves as gods, is awaken by a call from the Swedish Academy. He has been awarded the Nobel Prize, the perfect capper for a prolific career. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Wife Is Not that Into You”

REVIEW: Smallfoot, Big Ideas

There was a time most kid movies had the same message: “Be yourself”. It was vague and debatable, but suited any story. Thanks to Pixar, young audiences have become more sophisticated, and good nature platitudes don’t cut it anymore.

Other studios have followed suit. For a moment, WB’s Smallfoot really pushes the envelope by peddling scientific experimentation over blindly following tradition (religion?). Of course it backtracks at the end (there is reason behind every stupid ritual), but how amazing is that a kid-friendly flick is teaching healthy skepticism.

The rest of Smallfoot is amiable slapstick that owes a lot to Looney Tunes, at least in aesthetics and disposition. Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is a good-natured yeti hoping to take over his dad on the task of awakening the sun (as you do). His first try goes awry and unexpectedly puts him in touch with the “smallfoot”, a tiny, hairless creature considered a myth by the community’s leader, the Stonekeeper (Common).

Banished for questioning the sacred stones, Migo becomes determined to prove the existence of the smallfoot. To his surprise, his belief is shared by other yetis, including his love interest, the Stonekeeper’s daughter (Zendaya).

Smallfoot’s main problem is inconsistency. It has interesting ideas, which are shelved for a good chunk of the movie to give way to mildly amusing pratfalls and banter. There are a number of cutesy songs that halt the movie’s momentum. Only one registers, a rather cutting solo by Common about the joys of living in denial.

The unassuming flick smuggles other interesting messages: It criticizes the “fear of the other” (peddled by right-wingers across the globe) and how it deprives us of access to different cultures. Smallfoot also believes in a community’s ability to choose its destiny, as opposed to be kept in the dark for its own good. Good on you, movie. Three planets.

Smallfoot is playing everywhere.

REVIEW: Michael Caine Dissects the Sixties in My Generation

For better or for worse, historic depiction of the 60’s is often limited to the social movements in America. The slick documentary My Generation breaks with tradition by focusing on the same period in England: Unburdened by the Vietnam war and decades of civil rights trampling, social revolution in the UK was more about breaking with the social order and the ways of the old guard.

Narrated and anchored by Michael Caine, My Generation mixes beautiful footage of London from over half a century ago, stunning photographies, and testimonies of emblematic game-changers, like Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithful, and Twiggy.

The doc’s thesis is a well-thought one: The rigid class system was asking for a revolution and got one, courtesy of a younger generation less hung up on status than their parents. England’s working class found itself represented in movies, fashion, and music. Success by merit was suddenly a thing, same as living on your own and sexual liberation.

While the approach is somewhat slight and purely from a pop culture perspective, My Generation gets the point across. Michael Caine does more than just read from a piece of paper: An actor who found his way into era-defining films (Alfie comes up often), Caine experienced the revolution from the inside (a cockney actor turned leading man) and delivers a compelling running commentary. He also conducts the interviews with his peers, although we are only treated to sound bites. An odd decision, considering the power footage of Caine and McCartney reminiscing would have had.

The tone of My Generation is relentlessly positive until the final quarter, when the establishment strikes back by pinpointing the use of drugs as the movement’s fatal character flaw. While I appreciate the tidy 85-minute length, the documentary tends to oversimplify and whitewash the decade. Some texture would have been appreciated.

It comes as no surprise the soundtrack of My Generationis a delight: From The Kinks to The Beatles, from rather obvious choices (The Who’s “My Generation”) to deeper cuts (Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men”), this is a movie you can listen, as well as watch. Three planets.

 My Generation is now playing at the Roxy Theatre.