Maybe all we need is just a little bit of happiness. Maybe happiness is all there is. Or maybe not. Little Joe is a clever, crafty little sci-fi fairytale that is destined to become a cult classic. This low budget drama is the latest written and directed by Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner, and it's playing in competition at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. The film has some flaws, and is way too slow, but there's something alluring and intelligent about it that sticks with you and buries itself in your mind. And even though it's honestly pretty easy to figure out what's going on, it's the way she brings this idea to life and portrays it all on screen very minimally that makes it especially captivating. The film achieves so much (in the way of thought-provoking storytelling) with so little, an effective example of very low budget filmmaking expanding upon bigger ideas.
With the original John Wick, screenwriter Derek Kolstad and co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch created an atmospheric neo-noir thriller with exhilarating action sequences, an iconic action hero in John Wick, and an equally iconic lead performance by Keanu Reeves. The film, about an ex-assassin (Reeves) who comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his dog, earned $88 million worldwide, and thus began the John Wick Cinematic Universe™. Stahelski and Kolstad doubled-down on the non-stop, exquisitely choreographed bloodshed in the sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 while exploring the mythological, hyper-real criminal underworld John Wick inhabits. Now, with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Stahelski and Kolstad walk a tightrope between world-building and trigger-pulling to deliver a propulsive action flick with some of the most impressive stunts and set pieces in American action cinema.
There's a new film that just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year titled Les Misérables, but it has nothing to do with Victor Hugo's famous novel (of the same name) or the musical or any of that. It's a contemporary story set in a suburb outside of Paris, France, and it's a remarkably fresh, masterful feature directorial debut of a filmmaker named Ladj Ly. The festival is just getting going, but it's one of the best films I've seen here so far - impressive in every way, especially from someone making their first feature film. But damn does it rule. It's an intense watch. This Les Misérables is one of those intense films that you take a deep breath while watching, and only start breathing again once it's over. I admire how raw and honest and ambitious it is. The story gives us plenty to chew on, while never descending into negativity or hopelessness.
Jarmusch seems pretty upset about the way things are in our society these days. So he made a zombie film. The Dead Don't Die, a zombie comedy written & directed by American indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (of Dead Man, Ghost Dog, Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers, The Limits of Control, Only Lovers Left Alive, Paterson), just premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival as the opening night gala film. This actually isn't so much of a zombie film, as it is social commentary covered with blood and zombie make-up, along with a couple of weary small-town cops who try their best to survive this hell. The film is an extremely obvious criticism of how miserable things are becoming, between climate change and materialism and idiots running America, and how it's all going to end badly no matter what we do. Alas, its wears out its welcome rather quickly and doesn't offer much heart humor to make-up for it, only zombie irony and meta goofiness.
Directed by brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, Avengers: Endgame is the fourth installment in the Avengers franchise and the 22nd Marvel Studios feature to date. The 181-minute movie represents the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, which first began with the release of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008. Since then, Marvel Studios movies have grossed a combined total of over $18 billion worldwide over the last 11 years. The previous Avengers entry, 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, has already earned over $2 billion at the box office, making it the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time. To say this follow-up is eagerly anticipated would be an understatement, but does Marvel's Endgame – a finale 11 years in the making – live up to the unprecedented hype and unrealistic expectations? Yes it does. And then some.
Originally based on the book written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, 1941's Dumbo was the fourth animated feature film made by Walt Disney Productions, following up Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), and Fantasia (1940). Originally conceived as a short film, Dumbo was reworked as a low-budget feature to help recoup the financial losses of Pinocchio and Fantasia. Made for half the cost of Snow White, the 64-minute film turned a profit, earning $1.6 million during its initial release. In addition to box office success, the film garnered some critical acclaim as well, winning Best Original Score at the 14th Academy Awards. Now, 77 years later, Walt Disney Productions is re-introducing the iconic character to a new generation with a live-action remake directed by Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Frankenweenie).
Myths of duplicates and alter-egos have persisted for thousands of years… In Zoroastrianism, one of the world's oldest religions, the deity Spenta Mainyu is The Holy Spirit while his "evil twin" – Angra Mainyu – is the Destructive Spirit. In Ancient Egyptian mythology, a ka is a "spirit double" with the same memories and feelings as its counterpart. Native American folklore depicts an upper world where the good people reside and an underworld where their evil doubles dwell. Today, we refer to look-alikes as doppelgängers, a German word meaning "double-walker." When it comes to cinema, numerous iconic films have tackled the phenomenon, from Vertigo (1958), Persona (1966), and Dead Ringers (1988), to more recent movies like The Prestige (2006), Black Swan (2010), and Enemy (2013). Now, Academy Award winner Jordan Peele follows up his provocative 2017 horror-thriller Get Out with a definitive take on doppelgängers in Us.
Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Captain Marvel debuted in 1967's Marvel Super-Heroes #12. During the Silver Age, the name belonged to Mar-Vell, a Kree military officer who becomes Earth's protector. In the '80s, Monica Rambeau assumed the title and later became the leader of the Avengers. In the '90s, Rambeau ceded the name to Mar-Vell's son, Genis-Vell, who passed it down to his sister, Phyla-Vell, in the 2000s. In 2012, Carol Danvers, a super-heroine long known as Ms. Marvel, assumed the mantle in a series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. That series serves as the basis for the twenty-first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), titled Captain Marvel, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and starring Academy Award-winner Brie Larson as Marvel Studios' first stand-alone, female-franchise title character.
There's something strange in the neighborhood, someone new and just a bit weird. Synonyms is the latest film from Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid (Emile's Girlfriend, Policeman, The Kindergarten Teacher), co-produced by German filmmaker Maren Ade, and it premiered in competition at the Berlin Film Festival (where it also won the Golden Bear top prize). I caught this film during the festival and I must say - I have never seen anything like it before, which is always impressive. Synonyms is a very weird, wild, funny, odd, satirical French-Israeli dark comedy of sorts. It's hard to describe, and even harder to understand after an initial viewing, but the more I talk about it and play scenes back in my mind, the more I admire its boldness.
One of the most fascinating discoveries of the Berlin Film Festival this year is a German dark comedy titled O Beautiful Night, which is the feature directorial debut of a German animator and/or filmmaker named Xaver Böhm. This stylish, neon-drench indie is about a lonely, nihilistic kid named Juri who is greeted by a guy who identifies himself as Death - a spiny, chain-smoking, crack-head with a tiny scythe necklace who first encounters Juri inside one of those smoky automated casino joints (which are all around Germany). He takes him on a late night adventure around town, stopping to get drugs, win money, and finally to get drinks at a bar. It's actually a cool concept for a film - not necessarily that original, but nicely refreshed this time.
In 2007, following her breakout performance in Michael Bay's Transformers, Megan Fox was set to star in her next project, a Rogue Pictures horror-thriller produced by Bay. Then called Half to Death, the project was pitched as Groundhog Day meets Scream, with the script following a college freshman who must relive the day of her murder over and over again, stuck in a time loop that will end only when she discovers the killer's identity. For reasons unknown, the studio decided not to move on with the project. A decade later, Blumhouse Productions revived the long-gestating project with director Christopher Landon and actress Jessica Rothe. Now titled Happy Death Day, the horror comedy was a surprise hit, grossing $125 million worldwide on a small $4.8 million budget. A sequel was inevitable after that kind of success. Enter Happy Death Day 2U, an inventive and entertaining follow-up that expands upon the first in nearly every way.
"If we opened people up, we'd find landscapes." Agnès Varda is a genuine master. She is unquestionably of the greatest filmmakers, storytellers, and artists to ever live - there's really no debating this. It may have taken decades for everyone to catch up with and learn about her (and discover her work), but now we all know the truth, and gosh darnity she's still making more films (even at age 90). Varda by Agnès is a new documentary made by Agnès Varda looking back at her entire life as a filmmaker and artist. It's a beautiful examination of the inspiration and explanations behind some of her work (in cinema & in art) she created throughout her life. She has an immaculate understanding of cinema, and shares some of her insights here (but not all of them, of course) and it's an utter joy to watch her talk for nearly two hours. Varda is the best.