Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out places the buzzed-about director in a difficult place. The critical and commercial dominance of his debut feature contained novel social commentary atop its horror bone fides, while also having a comedic subplot that connected Peele to his sketch background and spread out the film’s tension. Get Out’s success sets up Us for huge expectations, not just for an excellent film but one that has something important to say. Us, however, is hampered by an impenetrable mythology and a comedic tone that worked better in Get Out because it was separated from the high stakes events of the main plot. There’s a great deal to appreciate here in Peele’s second film, but if his two directing gigs were doppelgangers, Us is the one relegated to the underground.
Lulu Wang’s first film, the underseen and barely released Posthumous, reads like a standard indie romance about two beautiful white people in Berlin. It’s probably fine, but whether or not it could only have been made by Wang is an open question. The Farewell, on the other hand, adapts a story from her own life that’s specific to her and her family, and fills it with a familiarity and an honesty in spite of the central incident revolving around a lie. With a healthy release schedule for a heavily subtitled film and a family-friendly PG rating, The Farewell is something of a throwback, a critically acclaimed tearjerker with a healthy amount of laughs that can be recommended to everyone from 10 to 100. By putting a realized version of her life onscreen, Wang emerges as one 2019’s most accomplished filmmakers and one of cinema’s most anticipated voices.
Adapted from a young adult novel and directed by George Tillman Jr and his penchant for black-themed prestige pictures, The Hate U Give is aiming to be a Boyz N the Hood for a new generation, specifically the part of Boyz that featured Laurence Fishburne holding court on an Inglewood street corner about the invisible forces behind the neighborhood’s plight. The film wants to be about as much as possible, from code-switching to police brutality, and often when political box-checking takes over a film, it’s the characters that go first. However, in most cases, Tillman Jr never loses sight of his cast and is able to place sociological forces alongside them instead of using those forces to push characters forward. Featuring a star-making performance from Amandla Stenberg and a dad portrayal that rivals Fishburne’s Furious Styles, The Hate U Give serves up the sugar of a grounded and affecting story and the medicine of a reflection about the worlds that black and white teens have to grow up in.
Twenty-plus movies in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had to rely less on the origin stories that fans have long been exhausted by. However, as the last ten years of superhero flicks gives way to the next hundred, new characters must be introduced, at least before CGI de-aging allows actors to portray superheroes well into their 70’s and Disney’s monopolistic growth captures the whole of Hollywood. Captain Marvel, the first female-led MCU film after twenty prior entries, is also the first origin story since the previous year’s critical and commercial juggernaut Black Panther. With that kind of immediate predecessor, Captain Marvel has very big shoes to fill. However, while the character herself might be the most powerful in the franchise, the film about her struggles to find a new way into a pattern that kids raised on Iron Man could now recite in their sleep.
I remember watching Pamela Anderson’s Comedy Central roast and marveling that anyone could spend a second with Courtney Love, Anderson’s ally on the dais. Love was obnoxious and erratic and disruptive, a drug-addled mess who could have projectile vomited or stripped naked at any moment and made it seem like the natural conclusion to her evening. Elisabeth Moss embodies that kind of energy in Her Smell, a five-chapter story of a destructive rocker and the people she drives away with her instability. Director Alex Ross Perry builds atop his quieter psychodramas for a film that puts the viewer square in the chaos created in his lead character’s wake, and he and Moss pull off the miracle of letting the character hang onto some hope of a turnaround. It’s Perry best work yet, and more evidence that Moss is one of the best actors of her generation. If she can make a Courtney Love facsimile redeemable, she can do anything.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.