Tag Archives: Jeffrey Wright

The Darkest Knight

The Batman

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The question is plenty familiar.

“Who are you?”

But the answer isn’t the one we’re expecting, and it’s an early declaration that there’s a new cape in town.

“I am…vengeance.”

Talk about your dark knights. Director/co-writer Matt Reeves and star Robert Pattinson make Mr. Nolan feel like Mister Rogers in comparison. Anyone looking for the recent superhero giddiness of No Way Home will find none, while comic purists may finally discover the treatment they’ve been clamoring for all along.

For the rest of us, The Batman delivers a defiant, somewhat overstuffed vision, one that embraces darkness of theme and palette while crafting several truly dazzling visual set pieces.

Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn of and War for the Planet of the Apes) wisely skips the backstory intro, giving us Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) some two years into his “Gotham Project.” Alfred (Andy Serkis) worries about the family finances, while Master Wayne is only interested in feeding his vigilante alter ego.

But while Bruce is watching the city, the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano, taking the legendarily comic villain in a terrifying new direction) is watching The Batman, leaving personalized messages with each new assassination.

His puzzles draw Batman, Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and a resourceful waitress with hidden talents of her own (Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle) deep into the Gotham organized crime scene run by Carmine Falcone (John Tutturo ) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell under some astounding makeup). There is no shortage of characters at play, and Reeves struggles to justify all of them in one film.

At stake are long-held secrets about Gotham that the Riddler wants “brought into the light,” some of which will challenge what you think you know about the birth of the Bat. And that seems only appropriate for a film that challenges expectations of its genre with a narrative more reminiscent of Seven than anything we’ve seen from DC or Marvel.

So dark, and so rainy.

Pattinson’s Emo Batman works well within the structure and aesthetic Reeves develops. He carves out a very different crusader, one more introspective and heartbroken than righteous. This Bruce Wayne views the bat signal as both a call and a warning, and Pattinson is able to effectively keep the tortured soul’s head above self-pitying water.

Dano’s exceptional, Farrell’s fun, and Kravitz develops an intriguing antihero of her own. People talk about Joker’s lineage, but Catwoman is another iconic villain. Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway have all left their mark, but Kravitz sidesteps broad stroke villainy in favor of something nuanced and human.

But ultimately, what makes this film most interesting is the way Bruce Wayne struggles to justify the consequences that The Batman has had on Gotham, and the surprising side of hero worship. Where is the line separating savior and sinner? And who gets to draw it?

Reeves isn’t the first to pull Batman into these relevant questions, but he raises them with a commitment fierce enough to generate excitement for yet another trilogy. And though there’s no surprise waiting after the credits here, keep an eye out for a villain to be named later.

Bloody Well Write

The French Dispatch

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Who’s ready for Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson-y movie to date?

It feels like we say that every time he releases a new film, but The French Dispatch is absolutely the inimitable auteur at his most Andersonesque.

The French Dispatch is a magazine — a weekly addition to a Kansas newspaper covering the ins and outs of Ennui, France, the town where the periodical is based. The film itself is an anthology, four shorts (four of the stories published in the final edition) held together not by the one character each has in common, editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), but by Anderson’s giddy admiration for France and The New Yorker.

Boasting everything you’ve come to expect from a Wes Anderson film — meticulous set design, vibrant color, symmetrical composition, elegance and artifice in equal measure, and a massive cast brimming with his own stock ensemble — the film is not one you might mistake for a Scorsese or a Spielberg.

Expect Anderson regulars Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Deydoux, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand and newcomers Benicio Del Toro, Timothee Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright. And those are the big roles (although truth be told, no one is on screen all that long).

Blink and you might miss Saoirse Ronin, Willem Dafoe, Henry Winkler, Elisabeth Moss, Ed Norton, Christoph Waltz, Liev Schreiber and Jason Schwartzman.

In the segment filed under the “Taste and Smells” section, Dispatch writer Roebuck Wright (Wright) turns in a sprawling profile on master chef Nescaffier (Steve Park) that – to Howitzer’s chagrin – contains merely one quote from Nescaffier himself. As with the other pieces of the anthology, the many tangents of the piece are explained through Anjelica Huston’s narration, which can’t replace a truly emotional through line and holds the film back from resonating beyond its immaculate construction.

Anderson’s framing of symmetry and motion has never been more tightly controlled, and the film becomes a parade of wonderfully assembled visuals paired with intellectual wordplay and an appropriately spare score from Alexander Desplat.

As a tribute to a lost era of journalism and the indelible writers that drove it, Anderson delivers a fascinating and meticulous exercise boasting impeccable craftsmanship and scattershot moments of wry humor. But the layer of humanity that elevates the writer/director’s most complete films (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) never makes it from page to screen, and The French Dispatch ultimately earns more respect than feeling.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0_hwGWen-I

Shaken and Stirred

No Time to Die

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Daniel Craig’s had a good run. As Bond, he delivered a much needed transformation for the Brit spy series, shouldered the best film in the entire franchise (2012’s Skyfall), and allowed considerable nuance to seep in to the characterization.

Bravo.

He needed a bold and fitting final film to cap his time with MI6, and 2015’s disappointing return to the old guard Spectre wasn’t it. A global plague pushed his finale back nearly two years. Luckily, No Time to Die was worth the wait.

Craig’s retired agent is lured back to the game (of course he is) by a global threat (of course it is) involving an old nemesis (natch), a new rival (sure) and the beauty who broke his heart.

Yes, but wait, because co-writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) takes these familiar elements in new directions, thanks mostly to Craig’s wearily vulnerable performance.

Bond is a tough gig for an actor because there has generally been so little actual acting required – or allowed. And while Craig shows us a wizened soul with humor, longing and vulnerability to spare, Fukunaga surrounds that performance with a story worthy of his send off.

Since the Craig era began, his Bond has always seemed more determined to exist in a more relatable world with more universal stakes. Here, Craig’s final outing speaks often of love, legacy, sacrifice, and precious time, against the threat of human contact itself becoming fatal. And while there are still plenty of moments to suspend disbelief, this film again benefits from the move away from the parody-ready version of 007 that reigned for decades (cheekily emphasized here by Bond’s brief adventure with Ana de Armas’s rookie agent, Paloma).

Mysterious new villain Safin (Rami Malek) shares a tragic past with Bond’s love Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), while the legendary Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is still able to pull deadly strings from inside maximum security.

Bond’s old friend Luther (Jeffrey Wright) and an over-eager newbie (Billy Magnussen) recruit Bond for the CIA, seemingly pitting him against M”s (Ralph Fiennes) MI6 team and its new 007 agent, Nomi (Captain Marvel‘s Lashana Lynch). Can Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) sit this one out and remain neutral?

Not bloody likely.

Opening with a tense and expansive 26-minute prologue, Fukunaga unveils thrilling set-pieces and gorgeous visuals that beg for a big-screen experience. Aided mightily by a soaring, throwback score from Hans Zimmer, Fukunaga infuses NTTD with a respectful sense of history while it marches unafraid into the future.

The one-liners, callbacks and gags (like Q’s multi-piece tea set) are well-placed and restrained, never undercutting the nearly three-hour mission Fukunaga clearly approached with reverence.

Where does James Bond go from here? Hard to say, but this 007 doesn’t care. Five films in 15 years have changed the character and the franchise for the better, and No Time to Die closes this chapter with requisite spectacle and fitting emotion.

The Grapes of Something Something

The Public

by George Wolf

Emilio Estevez just does not do nuance.

The Public marks his fifth feature as writer/director, and it sports the conviction of his best work while also suffering from his familliar lack of restraint.

Estevez also stars as Stuart Goodson, a dedicated, stoic manager at the Cincinnati Public Library. While Stuart and his staff deal daily with an array of homeless citizens using the library, he finds himself a “good son” under fire when complaints about body odor lead to one vagrant’s eviction – and a lawsuit.

And then things get complicated.

Beyond the free computer use, the library also offers respite from the bitter winter cold, and when a deadly deep freeze grips Ohio, Stuart sits at the center of an armed standoff between the city and homeless folks needing shelter.

And it’s not just the homeless question The Public is addressing. From addiction and recovery to tabloid journalism, political cowardice and civic (ii.e. “the public”) responsibility, Estevez has plenty of heart available for numerous sleeves, getting admirable support from a solid ensemble cast including Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Jeffrey Wright, Taylor Schilling, Michael Kenneth Williams, Gabrielle Union and the ever-ageless Jena Malone.

Characters and subplots converge through dialog that’s too often desperate for authenticity, and a film that decries “intellectual vanity” seems overly proud of its own moments of clumsy enlightenment.

Case in point: a callous TV reporter (Union) is pumped at the social media traction she’s getting for her live reports from the library conflict. While her cameraman points out the plight of people at the heart of the story, she stays glued to her phone.

Point made, but Estevez can’t leave it there.

“Huh? What?” she answers, then a cut to the cameraman rolling his eyes. Second that.

Similarly, the stunt Estevez engineers for the big resolve gets a bystander explanation that is not only unnecessary, but factually dubious at best.

It’s just a culmination of the slow slide from good intentions to self-satisfied finger-wagging. The film has a respect for books and libraries that is indeed admirable, but by the time Goodson starts reading from Steinbeck on live TV, it becomes painfully evident what The Public wants to be when it grows up.

 





Walk the Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur

by Hope Madden

Is there any name in filmmaking more reliable, any surer bet, than Pixar?

Maybe not.

The Good Dinosaur, as is always the way with a Pixar film, opens with a fascinating short. Longtime Pixar animator Sanjay Patel directs his first effort, and Sanjay’s Super Team defies expectations to tell a lovely, warm story of overcoming father/son barriers and, in doing so, opens larger doors for similar cross-cultural embracing.

The animation giants’ second feature in less than a year takes us back to a magical time when dinosaurs were farmers and cowboys. That meteor? It missed Earth, you see, so this is what might have happened had we evolved right alongside those majestic beasts.

Rather than relying on a star-laden vocal cast (although Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, and the unmistakable Sam Elliot do lend their talents), the bulk of the film features – almost solely – the work of 14-year-old Raymond Ochoa.

Ochoa plays Arlo, the runt of the dino litter who needs to battle his own insecurities to find a way to make his mark. He does so with the help of a feral whelp of a human called Spot.

Though the story borrows heavily from The Lion King, first time director Peter Sohn combines hyper-realistic scenery with very cartoony characters in a way that’s surprising and lovely. Punctuated frequently with silly humor, the mostly serious tale does not shy away from darker edges and a real sense of peril, eventually delivering a genuinely emotional punch.

Sohn is even craftier without the aid of dialog, as many of the funniest and most touching moments are delivered in silence or with grunts.

After producing arguably the best film of 2015, Pixar has the cajones to release a second feature this year. I guess when you’re the undisputed king of cartoons, that kind of swagger makes sense. And while The Good Dinosaur is no Inside Out (or Up or Toy Story, for that matter), it’s a worthy entry in their impressive canon.

Verdict-3-5-Stars