Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: The Death of Stalin

the-death-of-stalin-posterThis is a film the Russian government doesn’t want you to see. Literally.

Banned by Putin’s government and labelled as “extremist” and “propaganda,” really this is little more than a continuation of director Armando Iannucci‘s continued skewering of government apparatchiks set against the backdrop of Soviet Russia. If you loved his previous work (In the Loop, The Thick of It, and Veep), this is more of that same brand of humor– all it’s missing is Peter Capaldi swearing very loudly.

Instead, you have an all-star cast that includes Steve Buscemi as Nikita Krushchev, Jeffrey Tambor as Georgi Malenkov, and Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov. Simon Russell Beale also plays the head of the NKVD (Stalin’s secret police) and Jason Isaacs tries to steal the movie when he shows up halfway through as Zhukov, head of the Red Army. And if you know those names and institutions and who they are, you will probably also love this movie. (Yes! That Russian Studies degree finally pays off!)

Based on a comic book of the same name (which we reviewed here), it’s the same sort of bureaucratic pissing contest between insecure men which Iannucci has made a career out of skewering. The basic tension is over succession following Stalin’s (spoiler alert!) eponymous passing. At the height of Stalin’s terror and paranoia, the various apparatchiks go about plotting against one another. . .  and wackiness ensues.

A darkly hilarious early scene involves an ailing Stalin unconscious on the floor, and he has soiled himself. The Soviet leadership gathers in the room and must decide by committee vote what to do. All of the good doctors have been sent to the gulags. So do we call a bad doctor? What if Stalin recovers and blames us for calling a bad doctor? And when they finally go to pick him up to take him to a bed, no one wants to kneel in the spot where Stalin peed. That’s basically the movie– and also lots of people being shot in the head for treason.

Death of Stalin US posterThe biggest problem in the film is its failure in its lack of representation. Two women have very minor roles in this, and it in no way approaches passing Bechdel or any other test. This seems to be something people noticed about the film, as the US poster released features Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter. But she is barely in the film. It is also as white as a Leningrad blizzard.

If I’m going to call out films like Dunkirk and Darkest Hour for choosing to tell stories only about and involving white men, I feel the need for consistency to do so here as well. Yes, yes, yes, historical accuracy and all that, but any time you choose to tell a story only involving white men — even if it viciously satirizes them as this film does — you have to ask why we chose to make this movie and not something else.

Despite that problem, it’s still a really funny movie and something that is incredibly enjoyable– and disturbing. If any of this sounds interesting to you, you’re going to love this film and its dark humor. If not, well, there’s always Tomb Raider, A Wrinkle in Time, and Black Panther out there if you want to see an adaptation that’s a little lighter. The Death of Stalin opens in limited release March 16, expanding March 23.

3.5 out of 5 stars

SXSW Movie Review: Alt-Right: Age of Rage

This is the scariest movie playing at the SXSW film festival, because it’s all 100% real.

The film opens and closes with the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 and shows key background on how we got there and its aftermath. The documentary focuses on two key figures on both sides. The first is Richard Spencer, popularizer of the term “alt-right” and recipient of everyone’s favorite Inauguration punch.

The second is Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an Antifa activist whose work over the past several years has been exposing white supremacists and organizing counter protests.

Their styles and substance could not be more different. Spencer is the more polished, smug, and comfortable in the limelight he has courted. He also immediately goes for the throat, and attacks Daryle on his looks rather than his substance. (You know, for someone who claims he is of a superior race and academic style, he sure immediately goes for the ad hominem. Just sayin.) Jenkins talks about Spencer as a symptom of a larger problem, and even tells Spencer to his face that if all he has left to say is fat jokes, then he has already won. And the coup de grace comes in the final moments of the film, as each of them is asked how divided we are as a country and what is to be done about that. No spoilers, but their answers tell you everything you need to know about each of them and their agendas.

The documentarians here have done an amazing job. It feels like they just happened to be at the right place at the right time — including on the street in Charlottesville where a right wing terrorist plowed over peaceful protesters in his car, killing one. It’s unsettling and traumatic to watch. And it should be. But this is where we are as a nation.

And when the tiki torch brigade surround protesters, starting fights with them, shooting their guns at protesters, and the police stand by and do nothing, you can see exactly what is so wrong with the system. Indeed, you see the Antifa protesters getting tear gassed and maced, including Jenkins himself, but they remain undeterred.

Meanwhile, Spencer and his team of personal security plan for how to get in and out of a black SUV motorcade as though they expect the hippies to come after them with AR-15s. It’s comical, except that it’s so sad. Spencer and his fragile white male contingent really do feel that somehow they are threatened. They feel like their right to free speech is under attack, when nothing is further from the truth.

Free speech means the government can’t shut you down or arrest you for saying something. It doesn’t mean people have to put up with your bullshit, which is exactly what the Antifa contingent repeats during the film.

And when you have a president — THEIR president — who is actively attacking the 1st Amendment by trying to prevent stories about him from being broadcast on 60 MinutesI just can’t feel sorry for Richard Spencer because he doesn’t feel welcomed on the campus of UC Berkeley.

If there’s a fault in the film, it’s that even though trying to achieve balance by presenting Spencer and his ilk in their own words and going behind the scenes of their movement, the film feels heavily slanted against white nationalists. But, is that really a vice? I mean, did you want a documentary that was sort of milquetoast on Nazis?

It’s unsettling and sticks with you. And, unfortunately, doesn’t really leave with any sort of resolution, except, perhaps for the hope that Jenkins leaves us at the end.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Alt-Right: Age of Rage premiered at SXSW on March 9. It has a final screening March 13, 8:30 pm at the Alamo Ritz, but you can check its official page for more “buzz” screenings.

SXSW Movie Review: ¡Las Sandinistas!

Get ready to cheer for badass feminist socialist revolutionaries. ¡Las Sandinistas! tells the story of the women involved in the Nicaraguan revolution and government. They were key to their success, but their work, sacrifice, aqnd goals have largely been erased.

This celebrates them and will make you root for them.

But, Sandinistas, you say? Weren’t they. . . c-c-c-communists? Yes and no. It’s fair to see you should watch how they present everything to judge for yourself, as the women of the movement saw themselves fighting for something wholly different. However, the film does gloss over any real critique of the regime — except for the one brought by the women themselves, who claim they had to fight “a revolution within the revolution” for equality and against the raging machismo of so many of their compatriots.

Las Sandinistas! Still 3 Dora Maria

The film is told through a series of interviews with five women, Dora Maria Téllez (pictured at right), Claudia Alonso, Sofia Montenegro, Gioconda Belli, and Daisy Zamora, and intercut with archival film, newscasts, and photos. Dora Maria becomes a sort of breakout star among them, especially given her pivotal role in the assault on the National Palace, seen as a turning point in the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. She then became the first Minister of Health, leading to the eradication of polio and massive reductions in malaria and other illnesses as health care was provided to the masses.

I won’t lie– I came out of this film with a giant social justice crush on Dora Maria, whom one of her fellow interviewees referred to as “the smartest woman in the hemisphere.” She may be right.

But all of these women are remarkable, and today continue their fight. Despite the Sandinista government re-taking power in 2006, they now face many of the same repressive barriers they had torn down previously, including a nationwide abortion ban. They also find their contributions to the revolution and as early government leaders suppressed and forgotten.

While the film is a little bit long, it is simply because there is so much story here to tell. They win the revolution at around an hour in and you think, “Ok, we’re done here, right?” Instead, the second hour takes you everywhere you had no idea it would, up to and including the past where they continue to fight in the political sphere.

This is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a while, and I hope gets seen enough to make it into contention for next year’s Academy Awards. It’s certainly Oscar-worthy. If this is the best movie I see at SXSW this year, I will have had a great festival.

4.5 out of 5 stars

¡Las Sandinistas! premiered earlier today at SXSW and has two additional screenings later this week that you should not miss!

Tuesday, March 13, 4:15pm, Alamo Lamar A
Thursday, March 15, 2:45pm, Alamo Lamar A

Its official schedule is here where you can see any additional “buzz” screenings added later in the week.

SXSW Movie Review: They Live Here, Now

Jason Outenreath Still2 Photo by Martin do Nascimento

One of the best things about the SXSW film festival is how personal so many of the films shown are. They Live Here, Now is a documentary about Casa Marianella, a unique shelter for immigrants and refugees on Austin’s East Side is intimate, unique and powerful with a message that couldn’t be more timely.

Writer/Director Jason Outenreath (left), a former Peace Corps volunteer who got his film degree at the University of Texas at Austin, hopes the film spurs “people to be galvanized to action. I want people to be moved by the stories of the immigrants in the film, and to have a stake in what happens next in this narrative.” To achieve this, he uses a cinema verite style of just setting up the camera and letting people tell their stories.

This produces sometimes comic results, as people are interrupted, or other residents notice the cameras running and quickly move out of frame. But what it mostly produces is an experience that is incredibly personal and feels very much free of artifice. It never feels heavy-handed or like it’s pushing an agenda


Some of the residents wished to remain anonymous, and their stories are among the most powerful. An anonymous woman, whom we only see from the chest down, from Cameroon tells her story of violence both in her home and along the path to America, including being kidnapped and tortured in Mexico.

Indeed, stories of gang violence, war, and struggles of crossing the border are among the most common elements of their stories. What they don’t comment on are the politics of the situation. Indeed, a refugee from Iraq goes so far as to say he doesn’t want to talk about the politics or get into a discussion of how the US destabilized his home– he instead speaks of the kindness of everyone he’s met and how grateful he is to be here.

While I mentioned how the film is free of artifice, that isn’t exactly true. Outenreath instead employs a single actor to bring to life a fictionalized story of Nayelli, a sixteen year old Mexican girl who lost her mother on the way to the US and is searching for her father. You might feel outraged or manipulated except that her story is by no means the most fantastical and is inspired by true stories of other immigrants.


Because Nayeli’s story is the only one we keep coming back to in the film, it provides a thematic through-line weaving what otherwise would just be a dozen disconnected stories together, so I will forgive Outenreath his artistic license here.

What we end up with is a beautifully empathetic story that hopefully will spur people to action on the issue of immigration. Even if at the very least you can come away with a greater sense of empathy for immigrants and refugees, this film will have hit its mark.

3 out of 5 stars

They Live Here, Now had its world premiere earlier today, Sunday, March 11, at 4:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. You can catch two more screenings later this week at:

Monday, March 12, 5:45pm, Austin Film Society Cinema at the Marchesa
Wednesday, March 14, 1:30pm, Rollins Theatre at the Long Center

See its official schedule at for any additional “buzz” screenings added later in the week.

SXSW Movie Review: Number 37

NUMBER 37 PosterA low-level criminal, Randall (Irshaad Ally), owes money to a loan shark. His legs broken and with a ticking clock to pay back his debt, his only connection to the outside world is his window facing out over his slum neighborhood of Cape Flats, South Africa and a pair of binoculars that let him see too much of what is going on.

A series of desperate and poor decisions suck in his girlfriend Pam (Monique Rockman), his friend Warren (Ephraim Gordon), the local pastor, and the police as director and writer Nosipho Dumisa rachets up the tension. “Number 37 might look like a gritty, South African street gangster movie, but it’s a lot more than that… It’s about everything that could go wrong for a couple when ambition, curiosity, greed, fear and horrific bad decision-making collide,” said Dumisa.

The very obvious immediate comparison is to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but that almost does this film a disservice. Dumisa revealed that this was her sort-of love letter to Rear Window, which is one of her favorite films, but also her influences for the film were as based on David Fincher’s Se7en, as well as the more recent Green Room and Don’t Breathe– and that really feels more like the pedigree of the film despite the obvious homage to Rear Window. Hitchcock relied on a sense of voyeurism and mystery, but Number 37 straight up shows us the domestic abuse, threats, people being killed, and so on. We never wonder about the mystery, because there is none. What it does by showing us the action through Randall’s binoculars is contribute to the tension by making us feel as helpless as he does as events unfold.

Number 37 Film Still 2

The acting here is nuanced and powerful. Randall has to remain stoic despite his world collapsing around him. Meanwhile Pam is a voice of reason who is too often ignored, and they both face the consequences of their failures. She has to do so much more of the outward emoting, while Randall tries to fold everything together.

The filmmaking behind this is also spectacular, with excellent camerawork helping us feel the small, confined spaces the film takes place in. It has such a perfect sense of place by taking us into these slums, which become a metaphor for the tension of the film and feeling “trapped.” According to Dumisa, “These areas were constructed in the times of apartheid and people of different racial groups were forcibly removed from their homes to these areas, with the idea that the people in there would not be allowed to leave without permission. This was legal back then but over two decades after apartheid, these areas still exist, although nobody is “forced” to live there anymore…legally. Economically and psychologically these suburbs can often feel like a prison even now. Once you’re inside, it’s difficult to imagine the beautiful tourist Cape Town could exist.”

Dumisa also revealed she wrote the film originally in English, then working with her actors– most of whom were locals — and some translators, they translated the film into an Afrikaans dialect that is specific to the Cape Flats area she was trying to emulate.

This is a great film, especially for a first feature from a young 29-year old director. If Marvel is looking for someone to take the helm of a Shuri-centric spinoff of Black Panther, they should check out Number 37.

4 out of 5 stars

Number 37 had its premiere at SXSW March 10, 2018, and will have two additional showings:

Monday, March 12, 2:30pm, Alamo Lamar C
Wednesday, March 14, 7:30pm, Alamo Lamar C

For more information and for additional “buzz” screenings, check out their official schedule at SXSW here.

Movie Review: Red Sparrow

RedSparrowIf you’re looking for a good spy thriller, search literally anywhere else than here.

From the open to close of Red SparrowJennifer Lawrence‘s character Dominika Egorova, is brutalized in every way possible. Her leg is viciously broken, robbing her of her life’s work of being a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi in Moscow. She is raped, beaten, groped, tortured, another attempted rape, beaten some more, stabbed all in the service of the state’s “Sparrow” program, which teaches agents to use their sexuality to engage in spycraft. Really? It’s more of a pretense for patriarchy — state sanctioned sex slavery where the price of not complying is a bullet in your head — and the film plays out more like a snuff film than a spy thriller.

<<Nyet! Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? This is Bob Smith, True American Patriot, and definitely not Russian hacker bot Dmitri Desyantnikov. These dumb libtards like Andy Wilson and Graphic Policy are so dumb. I lost my job as Twitter troll during last week’s purge because of SJW nonsense like this! DEY TERK ER JERBS!!! This is perfectly great movie. You get to see J-LAw’s bewbs! And I like how smart the script is! It kept me guessing!>>

No. Just no. This is the opposite of smart. This movie does nothing that is not telegraphed a mile away.

And it’s just tiring to see a movie literally based around the single conceit of a woman robbed of any agency or efficacy. I can see why acolytes of our sexual-assaulter-in-chief or alpha male Vladimir Putin would enjoy it.

<<This is why you snowflakes lost the election! You got to make everything political! It’s just a movie! Y u so triggered?>>

Yeah, in case it isn’t clear, this movie will be incredibly triggering for rape survivors. Beyond that, it’s just gross. Anyone who enjoys watching this is highly suspect.

This movie is rated R for “strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.” Once again, the MPAA completely fails and exposes itself as a tool of a cishet normative patriarchy. This time, its shortcoming is not in unnecessarily censoring things, but in not warning audiences exactly how disturbing this film is. An R rating simply isn’t sufficient, nor is a dreaded NC-17, which I’m sure this film was never actually in danger of getting.

Let’s break this down: “some graphic nudity” means a short shot that includes a wide angle on a naked man showing his penis. That’s what’s “graphic” according to the MPAA — dong. If that had been omitted, it’s unclear what the MPAA would have said about the female nudity in the film, which is always always always coupled with violence. The MPAA simply has no problem with the sex and violence of this movie, as it’s all heterosexual and it’s all womens’ bodies. It’s R. And it’s the same R as, say, Atomic Blonde, or Lady Bird. And that is absolutely ridiculous, especially in a world where Call Me By Your Name has to be careful not to get an NC-17 rating because it involves homosexuality.

It shouldn’t be surprising, since the MPAA is upholding the same traditional power structures that underpin so much of what is wrong in America today. And anyone who doesn’t see what’s wrong with the film and why it might be offensive is, frankly, part of the problem.

<<There you libtards go again! So what if I liked a movie?! That doesn’t make me sexist. And just because I’m not slobbering all over Black Panther doesn’t make me racist! You’re in the tank for Disney! How much money are Disney and Soros paying you for your reviews?!?!>>

The job of a film critic is often to sit through garbage so you, the audience, doesn’t have to. This is garbage.

And it didn’t have to be! Jennifer Lawrence is amazing, and here’s she’s reunited with the same director from the last three Hunger Games movies. A sexy spy thriller? Yes please! Set in the geopolitik of American-Russian relations? How timely!

What’s not timely? How tonedeaf this film is in its graphic depictions of rape and violence towards women during the #MeToo moment.

<<Naw, bro! This movie is empowering to women! J-LAw is teh coolest and she is a cool, kickass spy. Y u no like powerful women, bro? U gay?>>

I can see how someone who has no idea what the words “consent” or “agency” mean might see nothing wrong with this film. But at no point does our main character have any control over her own destiny. Even at the (spoiler alert? IDGAF) relatively triumphant ending — yay! our heroine is victorious! — all she really has done is climbed the ladder in a violent, patriarchal state. She didn’t break the system, she merely played it to get what she needed. She’s Cersei Lannister, not Daenerys Targaryen.

This film was at one time talked about as though it was a sort of Black Widow movie that wasn’t really a Black Widow movie. It’s not. I still want to see a Black Widow movie– a kickass spy thriller with a smart woman manipulating everyone around her set in the MCU. But Red Sparrow is a blueprint for exactly what not to do.

Natasha Romanoff is always in control. Even if she’s following orders, she’ll go rogue when it meets her personal moral compass. Even if she’s tied to a chair and getting punched by a Russian in the opening of The Avengers, she’s in control, and she’s the one actually doing the interrogation. She subverts perceptions of power to use it. And so everything that Black Widow is, Red Sparrow is not.

It’s also incredibly long. It feels every second of its 2 hour 20 minute runtime. And so much of it was completely unnecessary. It’s like a horrible meal in an awful restaurant, and the servings are ginormous.

I thought the year couldn’t sink any lower than Fifty Shades Freed. I was wrong. As misogynistic and rapey as that is, this takes it to a completely different level.

0 stars

If you’d like to hear me swear loudly in Russian about how much I hated this movie, check out this week’s episode of the Bored as Hell podcast, where we also talk about Game Night, Annihilation, and make our Oscar picks.

Movie Review: Game Night

game-might-movie-2018-posterIt’s Horrible Bosses meets David Fincher’s The Game.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a mostly happy married couple living in the suburbs whose highlight of their week is a game night with their friends. But when Max’s much more successful and wealthy brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to visit, awakening Max’s sibling rivalry and competitive streak to the next level, Brooks decides to take over their game night by replacing it with a kidnapping / murder mystery. The twist? Brooks is actually kidnapped, and our group thinks it’s just a game. And. . . hijinks ensue.

What could’ve been another mundane comedy actually has some good laughs, including when it’s using its R-rating to the fullest extent it can. But more than that, it relies on building its characters and a great supporting cast to keep it interesting. Normally this premise might have worn itself thin, but there are a couple of twists and turns that keep it enjoyable. However, it’s never too much and the script never takes itself too seriously or thinks it’s smarter than it is. Overall, it’s what we expect from the people who made Horrible Bosses. 

The real gem of the movie, though, is Jesse Plemons, who plays a creepy cop neighbor who really wants to get invited back to their game night. Plemons is one of the best actors working today, and he is perfect, even if a little over the top at times.

But his performance, like so many elements, actually make sense as things wrap up and you see the entire film for its totality. For instance? There are all these shots of various neighborhoods from above that somehow look like tiny scale models rather than real life. . . is it all part of a (gasp!) game? Make sure you stay through the first part of the credits for some specific payoff.

The other enjoyable part of this film is just how well it’s put together. An earlier comparison to Fincher is not just hyperbole– there is some artistry in the cinematography and directing here. For instance, a scene three-fourths of the way through the film during which a Fabrege egg (really it’s just a mcguffin– go with it) is used in a game of keep away in a gorgeous mansion as baddies chase our protagonists around– up and down staircases, in and out of rooms, swooping up and down giant open rooms with balconies above — all done to look like a single take.

It’s almost as much fun to watch as Plemons enjoy the heck out his character.

The biggest weakness of this film is it happens to be released amongst other films that will overshadow it at the box office. Can I recommend Game Night? Yes. Can I recommend you go see it instead of Black Panther or Annihilation? Well. . .

But if you are like our protagonists and are seeking some fun time with adult friends — and especially if you can go to a theater that will sell you adult beverages to go with it — and you just want to laugh and have a good time without thinking too much? This will scratch that particular itch. Otherwise, this is a definite recommend for watching at home with friends, with adult beverages, and perhaps with board games, especially if the game includes betrayal and murder. I highly recommend pairing this with a good game of Betrayal at House on the Hill or Werewolf.

(Rolls a d6 to determine overall score)
(Adds +2 Jesse Plemons)

3 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Black Panther

Lets get this out of the way, Marvel films are rather formulaic. We get the origin of the hero in the first third of the film, the second third is the set up where they are beaten down, then the last third turns into a fist fight. This is generally what we can expect and as more films are released, that formula grows a bit old. So, the question is, with each new release, can Marvel Studios deliver enough “new” to keep the audience engaged and interested. Black Panther delivers a lot new and then some, though suffers in that last third due to the formula.

The story is a bit James Bond as Black Panther must bring to justice a man who stole the country’s precious Vibranium decades earlier. Cool gadgets are plenty as illegal deals are attempted to be broken up all as we learn more about these cast of characters.

While we know some of Black Panther and the Dora Milaje (his elite bodyguards/warriors) from Captain America: Civil War where they debuted, the world of Wakanda is mainly unknown and this film is far more than the few that debuted in what seems forever ago. In a sense, this is an origin story like so many other Marvel Studios releases as T’Challa takes up the mantle of King as well as Black Panther. But, where Black Panther stands heads and above what’s come before is how it does that origin story and it’s focus on not just one man.

Played by Chadwick Boseman, T’Challa is conservative in many ways. There’s not as much ego or brashness, instead Boseman plays the character as the leader of a nation but also one who is clearly learning. He doesn’t go it alone or “have to learn,” he seeks council and relies on those around him. This is a very different superhero and the movie does an excellent job of recognizing that. Where it really stands out from those before is the supporting cast which is large and in charge. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Letitia Wright as Shuri, it’s the women (especially the Dora Milaje) who steal the show. Wonder Woman showed us kick-ass women, this film takes it to the next level in so many ways. And, while they definitely kicked ass, their presences was a statement too. The Dora Milaje are not one size fits all. While all members are athletic, the heights, build, and skin tone differ for each. While I expected a general uniform look (something more like the Amazons in Wonder Woman), I was surprised at the vast differences. In one scene in particular one rather tall member is next to a shorter member and I can only think this was done on purpose to emphasize this. Wright especially stands out for her enthusiasm and Q like character. She delivers the tech that makes Black Panther (and Wakanda) function. As T’Challa’s sister, there’s also a healthy relationship that feels fresh and like it’s been missing from movie screens.

But, it’s not just the young brilliant and kick-ass women who add to the film. Angela Bassett as Ramonda and Forest Whitaker as Zuri add a gravitas in a way and feel like they’re passing the baton to a new generation of Black actors.

But, what is a Marvel film without its villains? Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue and Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger step into those roles in what may be the best Marvel villains to date. We’ve seen Serkis’ briefly in a previous Marvel film, but here he’s able to amp up the sleaze to the next level both having fun with it all and making the audience feel dirty. But, it’s Jordan’s Killmonger that delivers a character that’s complicated at at times sympathetic. It’s difficult to truly dissect everything without spoilers but he’s an American whose goal is to take over the throne of Wakanda. His Western Imperialism embodied but one whose past and history makes him sympathetic.

And that complicated nature is what also makes Black Panther stand out as one of Marvel’s best films. This is a film, that in numerous scenes, debates the isolationist policy of Wakanda. It debates how this wealthy African nation leaves other nations and specifically Black individuals to suffer. While it prospers it does not provide aid, instead pretending it too is a Third World Nation. It directly addresses the concept of Black individuals “making it” then leaving others, the debate about supporting one’s own community. While the film takes place in Wakanda, it’s a debate that’s had right here in American communities, about supporting Black owned businesses or creators. It’s that sort of layering and detail that again makes the film stand out and the films’ writers Ryan Coogler (who also directed) and Joe Robert Cole deserve accolades for that.

Coogler’s direction, while good, falls a bit short of my expectations. Coogler is known for Fruitvale Station and Creed (both starring Michael B. Jordan). When it comes to direction, both of those films surpass Black Panther. But, visually, the film is amazing delivering us something that would make Jack Kirby cry. This is Afrofuturism on screen and through all the wonders of the city, when we get to the streets it feels lived in and real. Visually the film is stunning and you do see Coogler’s touches with small looks and moments that create a story that feels natural and how individuals actually interact.

As I said, the film does stumble a bit towards the end with a typical battle that has become standard in Marvel Studio films. This one feels like a bit of escalation with the amount of individuals involved so it does shake things up in some ways. It’s not just the usual hero fighting bad guy. But, the film does stumble in typical Marvel fashion. If it had come out earlier, before the pattern of stories was clear, this wouldn’t have been as much of an issue. But, the pattern and formula is pretty clear now.

Black Panther feels fresh though. The women steal the show. The first 2/3s feels more like a James Bond film than typical superhero movie, and there’s a healthy dose of exploring real world issues. There’s an enthusiasm and enough freshness about the film to make it stand out from the pack as one of Marvel’s best. The fact that everyone on screen doesn’t look like me is a large portion of that. Hopefully the film is as much of a success as I expect it to be and we see much more of this to come.

Overall Rating: 8.75

Movie Review: Fifty Shades Freed

fifty shades poster

Dear target audience for this movie:  you know that there’s porn on the internet, right? It’s free. And most of it has greater artistic and societal value than this boring abomination of a “film” which comes out at a moment where it feels particularly tonedeaf.

Normally I won’t rip in to a movie just because it’s not my cup of tea. When I made my Worst of 2017 list, I specifically pointed out I wasn’t including “easy dunks” like Fifty Shades Darker — which now, by comparison to this, looks like a goddamn masterpiece.

But this movie isn’t even sexy. It’s not even really that kinky. (And no, I’m not going to kink shame anyone here, either. You do you. And if you really want something fun [and comic-related!] and a little kinky, check out Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which just came out on Blu-ray/digital — based on the true story of the man who created Wonder Woman and the women and kinky lifestyle that inspired her) And beyond being tonedeaf to the cultural moment we are in and the empowering of women in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the worst thing any movie can be is boring.

This is utterly boring.

It’s also garbage.

The film begins with the wedding of our two main characters, Anastasia Steele and the eponymous Christian Grey. And far from normalizing their kink by including it in the confines of their marriage, it makes it all the worse and all the more creepy because of all the societal baggage of chattel marriage of women being treated as property of their husbands.

Christian demands Anna not take her top off on a nude beach in France. He later “punishes” her for her “defiance” when she does. (More on this in a moment.) He gets angry when he tries to email her at her first morning back at work and her email address hasn’t been changed to “Anastasia Grey.” He’s also angry that she’s taking meetings with other men. She goes out for drinks with her friend instead of going straight home from work when he’s out of town. He polices what she is and isn’t allowed to wear because he doesn’t want other people looking at her. She’s not allowed to drive his sports car. He doesn’t want her to work, and constantly pulls her away from her career, playing up the fact that he owns the publishing house where she works, pulling rank as her “boss’s boss’s boss’s boss.” These are all classic warning signs and markers of abuse. Not kink. Abuse. Oh, but he makes it up to her when he buys her a mansion. Nice.

The film also has the distinct honor of ruining three of my favorite songs ever. David Bowie’s “Young Americans” plays in the background as Anastasia cooks Christian dinner, and he remarks how much he likes seeing her in the kitchen, to which Anna replies “barefoot and pregnant?” BARF. Do you remember your President Nixon? BARF AGAIN. (It also bothered me that Anna pulled a supposedly perfect medium rare steak out of the oven, put it on a plate, and Christian immediately cut into it and ate a slice– you need to let it rest for at least two to three minutes to let the juices redistribute or else they’re going to run out all over the plate instead of keeping the meat moist! You monster!! Oh, back to the music. . . )

Later, Christian sits at a piano and sings Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,”  a song which could not be more tonedeaf. But, you guyz, he’s such a poor tortured soul, and he’s a lonely man in the middle of something that he doesn’t really understand. (F@#$ YOU, MOVIE for having all the subtlety of a jackhammer). Also, ahhem– we’ve never known Christian was a musician before, and suddenly he’s singing and playing piano? HE’S A TOTAL MARY SUE, YOU GUYZ!!! (I’ve said this before about other terrible movies from the last two months, but anyone who hated Star Wars deserves to go sit and watch this movie and be reminded of what a truly bad movie is.)

And then, the final ignominy, in a scene that is supposed to be sexy, set in Christian’s “Red Room” full of kink, he binds her up and tortures her as Bishop Briggs massacres INXS’s classic “Never Tear Us Apart.”

Torture and massacre are not words I use lightly. First, this version of the song literally takes the best, most dynamic parts of the song in the chorus and tones them down, as though Briggs maybe can’t match Michael Hutchence’s vocal dynamics? It sounds like a dirge. And this is the ultimate metaphor for the film– taking something awesome (say, sex) and making it absolutely awful and boring.

The important thing to remember is that at least we survived, and some classic songs, like, say, Depeche Mode’s ode to bondage and domination “Master and Servant” were never touched.

As for the torture. . .  this is not kink-shaming. [Minor spoiler alert, but srsly IDGAF I’m gonna spoil this movie here] In both this scene and another, Christian takes Anna’s “defiance” of his orders/wishes and then uses them as fuel to dish out and withold pleasure and pain. Specifically here, he uses a sex toy to take her up to the edge of orgasm and then pulls away, denying a climax as a punishment for not doing what he said.

She even invokes her safe word and scolds him that he wasn’t doing this out of love, but to hurt her. Ummmmmm. . .  yeah.

We’ve been telling you, Anna, for two and a half movies that Christian doesn’t respect you, your boundaries, your agency. And you think that now, just because you’re married, he’s going to get better?

Let’s get Rob Porter’s ex wives on the phone, and they can tell you how that turned out.

If anything, it’s worse being married, because now Christian believes he is entitled to Anna’s body and to police her full time. After all, he bought her! Errr. . . married her! It’s that sort of entitlement that is even worse in many ways. As Anna’s boss or boyfriend, she still could walk away. As Mrs. Grey, walking away mean losing everything, including her career. He’s still not getting consent for all of their activities, meaning what he’s doing is sexual assault. Not kink, but abuse.

But this movie plows right past spousal rape and abuse as though it doesn’t matter and makes it better because Christian can sweep her away to a romantic getaway to Aspen.

And herein is the second biggest tonedeaf part of this “film”– the conspicuous consumption and ridiculous lengths they go to in this movie to parade wealth and privilege around. It’s just sickening. It’s not cool how awesome and fast your sports car is. (And it’s SUPER gross you won’t let your wife drive it.)

The fact that this film is being released now (before Valentine’s Day? Gross) is the biggest testament to how tonedeaf it is. The cultural criticisms of the Fifty Shades books and movies has been out there for many years now. The fact that the producers of the film will choose to release it now shows they’re just as complicit in fostering a culture that degrades womens’ agency and value, not just in Hollywood but across the country, as those who empower monsters like Harvey Weinstein. They just don’t get it. And so you know what else they shouldn’t get? Your money. Or your time.

There are those who will say, “Oh, but I have MoviePass– I have to see just how bad this movie is, just like I had to see Geostorm or Winchester or Den of Thieves.” Yeah, this movie is not only not worth your money, it’s not worth your time. Even if you could see it for free, don’t.

Seriously consider any of the following as good alternatives:
[the aformentioned] Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – for the sexy times, the kinky times, and the comics tie-in.
The Shape of Water – This is a beautiful love story and an even more beautiful film. Go see it in theaters and see why it’s nominated for so many Academy Awards. I also like when she explains how the creature’s penis works.
Magic Mike / Magic Mike XXL – Again, for the sexy. You and your gal friends want to see something tawdry and fun? At least watch something shot well by the amazing Stephen Soderbergh, or even the just slightly above mediocre sequel.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – It’s about to leave theaters, it’s such a great film, even if it isn’t really very sexy. But because “That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what love.” Go see Star Wars again.
Or just go watch 2 hours of stuff on YouPorn or something.

But this is not worth your time or attention.

0 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Chris Claremont’s X-Men

Chris Claremont came to Marvel as a young man, and was assigned a book that no one else wanted, a book on the brink of cancellation: X-Men. Over the next 17 years, his work on the title turned it into the biggest franchise in comic book history. Forty years later, his work has been adapted into ten films, three TV series, countless video games and has become a part of our cultural mythology. But, it all started with one writer and his commitment to emotionally honest storytelling and real character building.

Chris Claremont’s X-Men sees an extended version released this week, a documentary exploring the influential creator’s run and impact. Taking us from his childhood to his exit from the X-Men, the film is an interesting exploration that provides a lot of insight into the creator’s run and why it was both successful and such a big deal.

Featuring interviews with Clarmont, Ann Nocenti, Louise Simonson, and more, secrets are revealed into what went on behind the scenes, both good and bad. The documentary also features interviews with the likes of Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, and hard-core fans who share about the impact on them and dish on some of what went on towards the end.

But, what’s interesting is director Patrick Meaney‘s narrative which feels like it organically came out of the interviews. We see how Claremont saved these characters and drove them to stardom but how that success eventually drove Claremont off of the titles as well. Success brought the need for greater commercial reach which then drove the narrative creating a cycle that feels like it’s plagued comics today in many ways.

And, there’s an honesty about it all. Claremont, Nocenti, and Simonson don’t hold back discussing the good and the bad. Their time on the screen feels like friends together reminiscing about this amazing thing they’ve done. Through their recounting of history, we also get to see how much of modern comics spun out of this series in multiple ways, from talent working today to those behind the scenes. That’s in addition to the world of the X-Men coming to the big and small screen in multiple ways.

Claremont helped launch all of that.

The documentary is low-fi. There’s no fancy graphics or transitions and the shots are pretty basic in production but there’s something charming about that. It’s raw in many ways. There’s use of cosplayers (and unfortunately one of those cosplayers has been accused of horrible things) for transitions which brings down the product a little, but overall, you’re watching this for the history not the production value.

The documentary is fantastic taking the viewer into the important history of the X-Men and Chris Claremont’s hand in all of it. It captures the history, both good and bad, presenting it all without commentary from the director, instead this is history in the own words of people who lived it and were there.

Overall Rating: 8.0

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