A Loose Screw

Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures

The Turning (2020)

It’s difficult to imagine “The Turning,” Universal Pictures’s newest throwaway in the January trash heap following the dismally reviewed “Cats” and “Dolittle,” being worse than those two debacles. Indeed, music video auteur Floria Sigismondi’s first film since indie gem “The Runaways” a decade ago could pass as respectable if not for its utterly impenetrable final minutes.

Continue reading "A Loose Screw" »

Creep Dive

Twentieth Century Fox

Underwater (2020)

A remarkably late addition to Fox’s 1980s sci-fi canon, “Underwater” finally surfaces some three years since the completion of principal photography. To be sure, the studio has never gotten out of the B-picture business entirely, but for the past few decades its niche pipeline has been mostly outsourced to Eurotrashy outfits like Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, resulting in more bargain actioners like “Taken” while the low-budget sci-fi well ran dry in favor of . . . James Cameron’s other preoccupations.

Continue reading "Creep Dive" »

Girls Tripped

Eli Joshua Ade/Paramount Pictures

Like a Boss (2020)

Miguel Arteta’s distinctive directorial style could, depending on the film, be seen as either auteuristic or indicative of a limited range. He is at his most memorable, for better or worse, when his characters walk the line of childlike naiveté and mental imbalance à la “Chuck & Buck” and the recent “Duck Butter.” “Like a Boss,” only the second studio film in Mr. Arteta’s two-decades-plus career, retains this intangible indie/sitcomesque sensibility in spite of the raunchiness promised by his star Tiffany Haddish.

Continue reading "Girls Tripped" »

They Shall Not Grow Dull

François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

1917 (2019)

Alfred Hitchcock pulled it off in 1948 with “Rope.” Regarding “1917,” Paul Schrader wrote on Facebook: “The ‘one shot film’ is no longer an innovation. It has its own Wikipedia entry. The question is no longer ‘how did they do that shot?’ but ‘why did they do that shot?’ ”

Continue reading "They Shall Not Grow Dull" »

Taxied to the Dark Side

Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The first three words in the crawl are "The dead speak!"

Other critics can talk about how the movie looks awful – the reliance on CGI and seizure-inducing light effects doesn't make up for its feeling of flatness. Others can tell you how the camera swooshing around constantly is supposed to provide big emotions. Others can tell you that the death of Carrie Fisher apparently killed all the ideas the film apparently had for its climatic 40-year resolution of this fight between good and evil, but that did not stop them using her likeness (body doubles, CGI superimposed on footage with poor Daisy Ridley, and yes, full CGI again) to make it appear she was part of this. And if that was the only way the dead spoke, it would almost – almost – have been bearable.

Continue reading "Taxied to the Dark Side" »

Suffering Succotash

Universal Pictures

Cats (2019)

There is nothing wrong per se with musicals, but Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh have been rubbish. With that out of the way, any big-screen adaptions of their work can be afforded some leeway to be judged independently of flaws inherent in the source materials. Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Webber’s 1981 West End production, “Cats,” Tom Hooper’s expensive version feels like belling the cat. A musical of course necessitates the suspension of disbelief, but Mr. Hooper seems never to have quite made up his mind on whether to approach the material with theatrics or realism and winds up with something the cat dragged in.

Continue reading "Suffering Succotash" »

Hang 'Em High

Claire Folger/Warner Brothers Pictures

Richard Jewell (2019)

There are at least three aspiring heroes in Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell”: Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), the security guard turned suspect at the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing in Atlanta; Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), an F.B.I. agent investigating; and Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter covering the story. How the three disparate attempts at heroism parallel and intersect might have made an interesting movie in expert hands, but "Richard Jewell” isn’t it. The film focuses on the demonization of Jewell by law enforcement and media, while itself hypocritically vilifying Shaw and Scruggs in the exact same fashion.

Continue reading "Hang 'Em High" »

The Hosts

Claire Folger/Lionsgate

Knives Out (2019)

As one would expect from a whodunit, “Knives Out” is rife with false leads and misdirection. But it’s not so slick as to warrant or withstand repeat viewings. Without spoiling who did it here, the film's big reveal replays a couple of clues, in case you miss them early on, and intersperses those with previously unseen footage and information withheld from the characters and the viewers. The film never shrewdly pulls the wool over our eyes, because its ending isn’t so much a twist as it is context to facts we’ve already gathered.

Continue reading "The Hosts" »

Relatively Distant

Bruno Machado/BFI London Film Festival 2019

Invisible Life (2019)

Teenage Eurídice (Carol Duarte) has a slightly older sister called Guida (Julia Stockler). They live a precarious middle-class existence in 1950s Rio de Janeiro, under the thumb of their unkind father Manuel (António Fonseca). Guida plans to escape via her Greek sailor boyfriend. Eurídice escapes via her world-class piano playing. Life being what it is, things don’t work out the way the sisters planned. Manuel being who he is, things are much, much worse than they need to be. The title implies something hidden would be made visible, but the movie delivers a very different story.

Continue reading "Relatively Distant" »

Parts Unknown


To the Ends of the Earth (2019)

“Lost in Translation” remains a deeply wonderful and deeply problematic movie about two Americans at loose ends in Japan, a strange and alien culture for them that reflects their own confusion and discomfort. Being isolated and scared in their own separate ways brought the hero and heroine together. The Japanese heroine of “To the Ends of the Earth” has no such human companion on her journey in a wild and strange place – in her case, Uzbekistan – which means the emotional impact is very different. This is not necessarily wrong, especially in comparison, but the movie’s own mistakes are what lessen its power.

Continue reading "Parts Unknown" »

© 2008-2020 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on Twitter | Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions