Contact is about nothing more than humanity's place in the universe and how we see ourselves fitting into it. This breadth is fitting for writers like Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, whose earlier work in TV includes the seminal series Cosmos. Sagan, an astronomer and brilliant science communicator, died shortly before Contact's release, but Contact is an often-beautiful distillation of his worldview and his way of thinking. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jodie Foster, Contact brings Sagan briefly back to life, asking the kinds of questions he asked through his scientifically-skeptical outlook. It's not a perfect film, but as far as films pitched directly to me, this one's right down the middle.
It's usually a good thing when a film evokes a physical reaction. Feeling exhilarated after Fury Road or Creed or wrung out after Spotlight or Manchester By the Sea are surefire signs of a film's greatness. Conversely, there's the headache that throbs after seeing something particularly irritating, and that brings us to David O. Russell's Joy. Russell's popular renaissance, now definitively over after a consistent, Shyamalan-esque decline, has always included heated arguments and characters shouting over each other, but what was authentic in The Fighter has become intolerable in Joy. Where once there were recognizable characters and scenarios, now there are hideous misanthropes and overwrought melodrama. The only thing that's stayed consistent is the age-inappropriate casting of Jennifer Lawrence, this time as a single mom turned inventor and home-shopping magnate. Joy is a complete misfire that hopefully frees Lawrence from Russell's orbit.
Raw is one of those films that engenders visceral reactions in its viewers. Its showings have apparently resulted in the paramedics being called in after audience members have fainted. Even the trailer dares the viewer to look away. As the latest entry into the company of the French Extremity genre, along with gorefests like Martyrs and Gaspar Noe's nightmare landscapes, Raw deserves its grotesque reputation, but it is not solely going for cheap thrills. Julia Ducournau's intense but heady film is a feast for the eyes, as oddly beautiful and entrancing as a story about a sheltered veterinary student's cannibalistic awakening could possibly be. Ducournau throws down a challenge to stomach her work and an invitation to experience it. Both are worth accepting.
Hugh Jackman's portrayed Logan, otherwise known as Wolverine, in nine films dating back seventeen years. Over that period, the X-Men films featuring Jackman have been all over the map, spanning from the execrable to the entertaining. However, he's never been at the center of a film like Logan, his final bravura outing in the role. While the X-Men films keep getting bigger, with larger casts and greater destruction, the stand-alone Wolverine films keep getting smaller as the casts constrict and there's a turn toward the internal. That focus bears substantial fruit in Logan, by far the best X-Men film in the extended franchise, and one of the best superhero films in the present era that Wolverine and the X-Men arguably kicked off.
My first experience with the work of Paolo Sorrentino came in the beginning of 2017 with his gonzo HBO series The Young Pope, a delightfully campy, often nonsensical sojourn into a campy, often nonsensical organization. I don't see any reason Pope Francis wouldn't have LMFAO playing while putting on the papal tiara, as Sorrentino's pope does, or that the real Vatican Gardens don't have a kangaroo hopping around freely. Sorrentino's auteurist mind was a fun place to hang out in for a period of time, and there's no reason the same expectation shouldn't extend to his film work. In Youth, the Italian director applies his overwrought dialogue and oddly-beautiful interstitial scenes to another cloistered area, this time a swanky spa and hotel for the rich and famous.
The follow-up to the Wolverine solo series did not have to try too hard to surpass Wolverine: Origins. Burdened with ineffective CGI and crowded with characters that were bungled or unnecessary or both, Origins remains the worst film in the entire X-Men franchise despite some serious competition. In James Mangold's The Wolverine, the series washes its hands of its predecessor and moves Hugh Jackman's feral, adamantium-infused super-healer from North America, with its large and distracting cast of intertwining characters, to Japan and its low mutant population. This first step avoids one of the many traps that Origins fell into, namely a temptation to stuff too many characters, with their respective mutant powers, into a rickety narrative. The setting also affords Jackman's Logan the chance to work in a culture that has long mirrored and inspired Western films. Cowboys and ronin have a lot in common, and lone heroes sauntering into unjust situations fit just as well in Japan as they do in the American frontier. In adapting comics that correctly saw Logan as a claw-fisted Man With No Name, and in having the good sense to not have Logan screaming 'NO!' to the heavens, Mangold helps Jackman expunge the memory of Origins.
There's a scene in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising that briefly turns the film into a documentary before reverting back to the raunchy comedy it otherwise is. College freshman Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) is learning during sorority recruitment that sororities are not actually allowed to throw parties from perfect chapter president Selena Gomez. Asserting that this is actually true and imploring prospective members to Google it, and by extension, viewers to do the same, director Nicholas Stoller tries to place his film in a feminist perspective. He returns to those frat bacchanals that were previously celebrated, but through Moretz and her friends' eyes, these are now wholly degrading horror shows where gross bros control all the social access. For a director and writer that delighted in stocking the fraternity-centered Neighbors with unspeaking eye candy in the background, Neighbors 2 is something like atonement.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.