Sundance Film Review: Kajillionaire Is Pure Miranda July, and That’s Actually a Good Thing

This review is part of our Sundance 2020 coverage. The Pitch: Meet the Dynes: parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) with daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood). They’re con artists, in the most small-time sense of the word; their grifts include sneaking into post offices to steal stuff out of the PO Box next to theirs, trying (and failing) to return gift certificates or cash items, and so on. They barely scrape by an existence in the streets of LA, living in a vacant office space behind a bubble factory(?) that leaks every day; not only that, they’re $1500 behind on rent and facing eviction. Enter Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an extroverted, deeply curious woman who gets roped into their latest scheme and decides to stick around. Is it curiosity? Is it boredom with her everyday life? Is it an unexplainable attraction to Old Dolio, a twentysomething emotionally stunted by her neglectful, emotionally abusive parents? Whatever the case may be, her presence gives the Dynes both their greatest chance for success and the keys to their own destruction. The Fourth of July: “Preciously broken” is a descriptor you could apply to a lot of writer/director Miranda July’s characters, but they certainly […]

Film Review: In Fabric Perversely Challenges Our Habits, Routines, and Desires

The Pitch.There’s something profoundly gratifying about watching a film take off into some uncharted part of the imagination and wondering, Did that just happen? Did this film really just do that? And when you see it happening over and over again—a director’s purest surreal impulses steering the car, taking you with them, unworried about shock, disturbance, bafflement, anything—you may feel, once the film is over, that your mind has been truly, as the cliché goes, bent. Such is the experience of watching In Fabric, the new film from Peter Strickland, purveyor of such previous oddities as The Duke of Burgundy. Ostensibly about a red dress that has a distinctly unpleasant effect on its wearers, often bringing violence or worse on them, it’s not really about a dress. But the movie isn’t a metaphor, either; it’s more a philosophical character study of the dress’ purchasers, a who-how-why-dunit in which you have the answer to begin with, after which many larger questions start. Is the film perverse? At the least, yes. At the same time, though, it’s intimate, and real, and sad, even when one could claim some of its parts, by themselves, are unbelievable. It’s a Bargain, in More Ways Than One: The film […]

Film Review: Disney+’s Lady and the Tramp Feels Neutered

The Pitch: One Christmas morning in a quaint Midwestern town in 1909, Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) gifts his wife Darling (Kiersey Clemons) with an adorable Cocker spaniel she names Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson). After a few years as the Dears’ loyal, sophisticated housepet, though, Lady senses that the impending arrival of Darling’s new child will leave her without a home. One terrifying dogsitting stint from nosy cat lover Aunt Sarah (Yvette Nicole Brown) later, and Lady’s out on the street with nowhere to go; luckily for her, she runs into a cocky mutt with no name (voiced by Justin Theroux) and an equally independent perspective on life. Sparks fly, dogs kiss over noodles, you know the rest. Isle of Dogs: As Disney remakes go, Lady and the Tramp is certainly one of the more inoffensive of the bunch. It’s fitting that it’s headed straight for streaming (as part of Disney+’s opening slate), since everything about Charlie Bean’s remake of the 1955 original screams a kind of warm, gentle safeness. It’s a warm blanket disguised as a motion picture, focus-tested and guaranteed to not ruffle feathers (or fur) while making sure children don’t lose the script. It feels made for TV, for lack […]

Film Review: The Ranger Turns a Flashlight on Authority Horror

The Pitch: A rag-tag crew of crusty punks evade the law by leaving the city and heading out into the woods, where one of their friends has a secluded family cabin. Unfortunately for them, they’re not alone as they come face to face with the titular terror, who may or may not recognize said friend. Will these punks survive this sordid “Police Story”? Police On My Back: Okay, so it’s a little Green Room, it’s a little Evil Dead, and it’s a little Cabin Fever, but what really elevates this woodsy story from being, well, another woodsy story is its capitalization on authority horror. At a time when those red and blue lights have taken on an ominous turn, a villain like Jeremy Holm’s Ranger really works. It helps that Holm rips apart every scene with his bare hands, dialing back to ’90s DTV villainy in the most complementary way. Whether he’s swinging axes into people’s jaws or pressuring a snotty teen to tear their leg from a bear trap, he’s always grinning like an asshole, and you can’t help but relish every second he magically appears. Yet you also can’t help but shudder, either, no pun intended. Holm’s caricature […]

SXSW Film Review: Stuber Thrives as an Action Movie, Not So Much as a Comedy

(Editor’s note: The following review concerns a work-in-progress cut of Stuber at SXSW 2019. As such, a final grade will be held until the film’s release this summer.) The Pitch: Hardened Los Angeles detective Vic (Dave Bautista) is supposed to be at home recovering from a recent LASIK procedure. But when Tejo (Iko Uwais), the drug lord who killed his partner six months earlier, is reported to be back in town, he disobeys doctor’s orders in an attempt to seek revenge. Because Vic is barely able to see, he ends up enlisting the help of a pushover Uber driver named Stu (a.k.a. Stuber, played by Kumail Nanjiani), to be his eyes, navigator, and reluctant sidekick. The tension between the unlikely crime-fighting team threatens to explode as the danger increases, and the two men begin offering unwanted advice about each other’s personal lives. Four Stars for Action: Taking a page from so many R-rated buddy-cop films of the ’80s and ’90s, Stuber refuses to pull its punches when it comes to the violence. The knockout opening sequence contains all the bullet dodging, spurting blood, and crushed bones you could ever want from two onscreen powerhouses like Bautista and Uwais. There’s an artistry in the […]