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The Uncurious Case of Adam McKay, by Tyler Smith

18 Dec

It may have helped his career and general pedigree, but it would seem that the worst thing for director Adam McKay’s artistic sensibilities was winning that Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2016 for The Big Short. In rewarding his comedically-anarchic approach to would-be dramatic material, the Academy essentially communicated to McKay that his throw-everything-at-the-wall instincts were much more of an asset than a liability. And while it can be refreshing to portray harrowing real life events in a humorous fashion – see Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin as a recent example – it can lead to an unevenness of tone and execution that amounts to a sort of thematic wheel-spinning; making a lot of noise, but ultimately going nowhere. This is most certainly true of McKay’s new film, Vice, which purports to portray what lay behind the actions of former Vice President Dick Cheney. The instincts that may have served McKay well with the event-centered Big Short fail him here, as his attempts to make an illuminating character study are undercut by his own incredulity. The final product is a film that is self satisfied, condescending, and – perhaps worst of all – exceedingly uncurious. 

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Too Little, Too Late, by Tyler Smith

12 Jul

Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pleasant enough diversion, with some clever sequences, but never really adds up to anything more than a placeholder within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps that’s okay, though. With the weight of everything that has been going on in the MCU, maybe a light, effects-heavy romp is just what the doctor ordered. Certainly, one of the interesting elements of this franchise is that we can have different tones from one film to another, with the Captain America films feeling notably different than the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, for example. However, ten years in and we’ve been trained to understand that everything affects everything else and that no hero, regardless of how isolated he may seem, is ever truly alone. So while Ant-Man and the Wasp is often a very amusing film – sometimes downright funny – it’s hard to reconcile it with the current tone of the larger franchise. And so the feel of the film is somewhat diminished and I found myself adopting a fatalistic mindset, wondering what the point of all this is, knowing what we do about the larger universe.

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Total Commitment, by Tyler Smith

25 Apr

Six years ago, at the end of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, the Marvel Cinematic Universe promised to become even bigger than it already was. By briefly teasing the eventual appearance of cosmic villain Thanos, they alluded to one of the biggest events in comic book history, The Infinity Gauntlet. Remembering the tragic events of that series, I found myself wondering just how far the MCU was willing to go. With Avengers: Infinity War, I finally have my answer. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, this film is every bit as enjoyable, daring, and vital as any superhero movie in history. It needed to take the genre to a new level of hopelessness, committing to genuine life and death stakes. And, while it may not feature the mass death of the comic book series, its fatalistic tone is everything that I was hoping for.

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Sad and Lonely, by Tyler Smith

21 Jun

It is remarkably difficult to write about Sofia Coppola’s superb Southern Gothic film The Beguiled. How exactly does one lead off with a film like this? To talk about any particular element first is to suggest that this element is somehow more important than the others. But part of the brilliance of this film is how perfectly all of its elements fold together, feeding into each other, until the film is a seamless melding of narrative elegance, visual beauty, and thematic complexity. It is a deeply engaging film, and one that lingers in my mind like a morning fog.

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Awesome Remix, by Tyler Smith

2 May

I was not a big fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. While many people praised its offbeat tone and crazy characters, the whole thing seemed surprisingly conventional to me, especially when one considers director James Gunn’s previous work. The film certainly had the distinction of changing the way superhero movies would be marketed, using classic rock and witty banter to show that these films could have a sense of humor about themselves, but that hardly redeems it (in fact, it might actually condemn it all the more). So, as I walked into Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, I was trepidatious. It seemed to me that Marvel would have a hard time not doubling down on the successful elements of the first film and simply serving up more of the same. Thankfully, the studio seemed to see the success of the first film as license to allow James Gunn to cut loose and tell a truly unique story, realized with some genuinely gorgeous visuals and several exciting action (and comedy) sequences.

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Complex Honesty, by Tyler Smith

23 Dec

It’s easy to classify J.A. Bayona’s beautiful new film A Monster Calls as just another family movie about grief and sadness, like Bridge to Terabithia or Where the Wild Things Are. But, while those films are perfectly good, it would be wrong to do so. That would be too simple, and A Monster Calls is not a simple film. Quite the opposite, in fact, as on its surface it would seem to be about loss, but is at its heart about something much deeper, something more complex. This is a film about honesty, truth, and the often contradictory nature of both. Not exactly light material, and Bayona – directing from a script by Patrick Ness, adapting his own novel – chooses not to attempt an artificial lightness. Instead, he embraces the feelings of its main character; namely a deep sadness and a need for escape.

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Stay on Target, by Tyler Smith

13 Dec

Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One is a worthy entry in the Star Wars saga. The first major motion picture to step outside the “episode” format, Rogue One feels appropriately like the scrappy cousin in a large, respected family. This is to its credit, as the Star Wars films are always at their most effective when they portray makeshift families and ragtag bands of misfits coming together in service of something greater than themselves. And given that the story is about what is essentially a suicide mission, Rogue One certainly fits in nicely with the larger themes of the series. In fact, it is really only in the film’s desperate desire to connect to the rest of the series – bridging the gap between Episodes III and IV – that it stumbles. Whenever it is telling its own story, though, the film is focused, poignant, and entertaining.

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One of a Kind, by Tyler Smith

4 Nov

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Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter is a beautiful and fascinating work of art. It is a film of intangibles, borrowing its tone and imagery from various genres while never belonging to any of them. Somehow it manages to stand alone, defying categorization. That the film was the sole directorial effort of Laughton – a venerable character actor since the 1930s – only adds to its mystique. Not only is it difficult to speak about the film in regards to genre, but it also sidesteps any discussion of auteurism, as we have no previous nor future works by the director to compare it to. Given the surreal, dreamlike quality of both the visual and thematic elements of the film, it seems appropriate that it would remain so academically elusive. It is a film that insists we first view it on its own terms, rather than try to fit it into any larger theories.

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Eternal Significance, by Tyler Smith

4 Nov

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Just when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was starting to bore me, along comes horror director Scott Derrickson to completely re-energize it. This film not only feels like a breath of fresh air narratively, but visually, as well. It’s been a long time since a movie’s visual effects left me stunned, but Doctor Strange features such virtuoso filmmaking that I found myself asking not merely how the director did it, but how he even conceived of it. That is the mark of true creativity and freshness. While so many other films in the MCU were phoning it in, Doctor Strange sets out to genuinely intrigue and astound its audience.

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Real Heroism, by Tyler Smith

23 Oct

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Clint Eastwood’s Sully is the director’s latest film about real life heroism. Starting with Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006, Eastwood has made several films based on inspirational true stories, though often from an odd angle (telling Nelson Mandela’s story as a function of the rugby World Cup, for example). With Sully, however, Eastwood – ever the deconstructionist – has decided to approach what could be a straightforward story and treat it as an opportunity to meditate on the very nature of heroism itself.

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