Tag Archives: Giancarlo Esposito

The Eyes of Maxine Minx


by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Mia Goth and Ti West had both existed successfully separately in moviedom for years, West having become an indie horror filmmaking darling with his third feature, 2009’s The House of the Devil. Goth’s unique beauty and malleable ennui made her a showstopper as early as her 2013 feature debut, Nymphomaniac: Vol. II.

But, appropriately enough, it was with their collaboration that they both became stars.

Their 2022 feature X delivered a magnificent mashup of Boogie Nights and A Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a late Seventies grindhouse ode with style for miles. Easily the best film of West’s career, it was followed quickly with a prequel, the absolute lunatic genius of 2023’s Pearl.

If X articulated just how much skill West brought to a feature, Pearl declared Goth a talent to be reckoned with. She deserved an Oscar nomination. She was breathtaking.

And so, obviously, horror fans have been giddy since the trailer for the third film in the trilogy, Maxxxine, dropped. We circle back to Goth’s X character some years since the incident in Texas. A popular porn star, Maxine Minx is about to make the leap to legit films with a starring turn in a horror sequel.

The popularity of West’s series means a boost in both budget and cast. Elizabeth Debicki, Kevin Bacon, Giancarlo Esposito, Halsey, Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale class up the ensemble this go-round in a film that feels more apiece with late 70s/early 80s urban thrillers a la Eyes Of Laura Mars.

As warnings about California’s “Night Stalker” plead with women to be careful, Maxine asserts her ability to take care of herself, even as it becomes clear that she is being stalked. Maxine’s director (Debicki) warns her to eliminate the distractions in life, and Maxine makes a promise to do just that.

Okay, then, here we go!

But though blood does flow around West’s pastiche of 80s pop and fashion, nothing here pops like the uniquely stylized timestamps that helped make the first two horrors so memorable. Much of the film begins to feel like a series of setups in search of that elusive, satisfying payoff.

There’s no doubt Goth still commands attention, but West’s foray into the 80s seems less edgy, less ambitious, and just less horrific. The comments on fame and excess become broadly generic, and somehow Maxine herself becomes a little less interesting.

On its own, the film fits nicely into the role of a competent urban thriller. But when cast as the final piece of a potentially iconic horror trilogy, MaXXXine ends up limping to the finish.

Rated R for gratuitous use of shoulder pads.

Crash: The Musical


by Rachel Willis

Based on the musical of the same name, director Michael Berry’s film Stuck is the story of six strangers trapped on a subway car who change each other’s lives in meaningful ways.

Or at least, that’s what the movie tries to achieve. Unfortunately, it doesn’t accomplish its goal.

The characters are all one-note stereotypes. During their time trapped on a subway car, they reveal their own prejudices toward each other, as well as huge details of their lives. The personal stories, the elements that attempt to make each character unique, are all shared through song. However, it’s easy to guess who each character will be because they’re roles we’ve seen many times before.

As each person shares a little more of themselves with the others, the characters’ facial expressions are meant to convey internal change. There are sympathetic looks, a few words of apology, but none of it feels like true growth. The characters who enter the subway car are the same characters when they leave the subway car.

One of the most frustrating elements of the film is the “all is forgiven” attitude toward one character who has been stalking another character for several days before the events of the film. Though we learn the intentions are “innocent,” it’s angering to watch as the other characters give him a pass because he’s a good artist.

The musical aspects here are the strongest elements. The choreography, the lyrics, the musical arrangements, and the performances are all effective, with the individual character songs among the only moments where genuine emotion is conveyed. The musical styles are unique to each character, giving them more depth than the dialogue conveys.

All the actors are strong singers, which is refreshing since several movies lately have featured actors who can’t sing well, or at all, in singing roles. It’s one of the areas where Stuck succeeds. Ashanti is particularly powerful in her vocal performance, though Giancarlo Esposito also stands out as an impressive vocalist.

Though Esposito sings several of the film’s songs, his character is the least explored. He isn’t given a backstory like the others, and it’s unclear if he’s meant to be a conduit for the others to reveal themselves or a character in his own right.

In a film like Stuck, the point is to never judge a book by its cover. The people we pass on the street everyday are dealing with things about which we will mostly likely never know. Hardships in their lives may be the reason why they’re impatient or cruel, so it’s a reminder to treat everyone with kindness.

It’s not a bad message. But it’s one that’s been delivered before in more effective ways.



Animal Planet

The Jungle Book

by George Wolf

Much like the “man-cub” Mowgli prancing gracefully on a thin tree branch, director Jon Favreau’s new live action version of Disney’s The Jungle Book finds an artful balance between modern wizardry and beloved tradition.

The film looks utterly amazing, and feels nearly as special.

Impossibly realistic animals and deeply nuanced landscaping completely immerse you in the jungle environment where the young Mowgli (a wonderfully natural Neel Sethi), after being rescued as an infant by pragmatic panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), lives happily among the wolf pack of Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o).

But after threats on the man-cub’s life by the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), Bagheera decides it is time to lead the boy back to the “man village” for good.

Based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling, Disney’s 1967 animated feature showcased impeccable voice casting and memorable songs to carve its way into the hearts of countless children (myself included). Clearly, Favreau is also one of the faithful, as he gives the reboot a loving treatment with sincere, effective tweaks more in line with Kipling’s vision, and just the right amount of homage to the original film.

And this group of voices ain’t too shabby, either.

Kingsley is perfectly elegant, Elba commanding and scary, while Scarlett Johansson gives Kaa the snake a hypnotic makeover oozing with seduction. Then, in the heart of the batting order, along comes Bill Murray to fill Baloo the bear full of sarcastic gold and Christopher Walken to re-imagine King Louie as an immense orangutanian Godfather.

All the elements blend seamlessly, never giving the impression that the CGI is just for flash or the cast merely here for star power. The characters are rich, the story engrossing and the suspense heartfelt. Credit Favreau for having impressive fun with all these fancy toys, while not forgetting where the magic of this tale truly lives.