Climax (2018)

Director: Gaspar Noé
Stars: Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile, Roman Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schott
Runtime: 96 minutes
Viewed at: AMC Quail Springs Mall 24
In French with English subtitles

Noé’s back on his brand of obscene psychedelic lunacy. Calling his bad trip at a dance troupe his most accessible film yet means nothing when Climax opens with its end credits, presents insightful monologues from the dancers, proclaims its Frenchness, plays awesome ‘90s dance music with fantastic choreography to match, hints at some sympathy, and ultimately dances into the fire once the acid from the party’s sangria kicks in. Noé’s brand of cinema is an acquired taste, but his display of inhumanity always feels human. In its portrayal of dance as both heavenly and hellish, Climax is no exception. (99 words/A PLUS)


Captain Marvel (2019)

Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law
Runtime: 124 minutes
Viewed at: AMC Quail Springs Mall 24 – Dolby Cinema

Marvel’s latest is just what fans needed after Infinity War – a trippy, hilarious origin story. Boden and Fleck’s direction works, masterfully blending space opera and buddy comedy elements suiting its heroine. Larson, as Carol Danvers, puts her Oscar-winning skills to good use, her chemistry with Jackson’s Nick Fury and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau excels, and Law is excellent as ever. Aside from the sheer entertainment value, there’s also plenty of 1995 nostalgia, No Doubt about it. Add two Stan Lee tributes and the coolest cinematic ginger cat since the ‘80s, and Captain Marvel is indeed something to Marvel at. (98 words/A PLUS)

Furie (2019)

Director: Le Van Kiet
Stars: Veronica Ngo, Cát Vy, Phan Thanh Nhiên, Phạm Anh Khoa, Trần Thanh Hoa
Runtime: 98 minutes
Viewed at: Harkins Bricktown
In Vietnamese with English subtitles

There’s no beating Ngo, as small town debt collector Hai Phuong, who must rescue her daughter from Saigon gangsters, face her past as an ex-gangstress, and fight everyone who stands in her way. And I mean everyone. After some pacing issues, Furie kicks into high gear, with stunning fight choreography and uncompromising action scenes that make this Vietnamese film fit nicely alongside its South and Southeast Asian brethren, but enough well acted melodrama, gorgeous shots of both the countryside and cosmopolitan Saigon, and subversive takes on tired old “woman scorned” cliches to land it in a class by itself. (99 words/A MINUS)

Lords of Chaos (2018)

Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Stars: Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer, Sky Ferreira
Runtime: 118 minutes
Viewed at: Harkins Bricktown

Åkerlund’s bloody biopic about seminal Norwegian black metal band Mayhem tries to balance its real-life unreality with black humor and an ultimately humanizing tone. Indeed, he pulls no punches in depicting increasingly shocking elements – suicide, church burnings, hate crimes – with a sense from Mayhem’s late guitarist Euronymous that there’s more to life than darkness. Culkin’s magnificent performance clashes with Kilmer and Cohen as Death and Varg, respectively, projecting deep insecurity. But Lords of Chaos’ title is apt – it tries so much to move past black metal’s more heinous elements that it seems to ultimately write them off. (97 words/B MINUS)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson
Runtime: 122 minutes
Viewed at: Regal Warren Moore — IMAX 3D

Alita not only raises the incredibly low bar for any Hollywood manga adaptation, but obliterates the barrier entirely. Set in the incredibly well-designed yet grimy cyberpunk world of Iron City, the eponymous cyborg, gets saved by kindly doctor Ido, and becomes aware of her past while bounty hunting and playing in the blood sport motorball. Boasting killer action scenes (a Rodriguez trademark), incredible worldbuilding (a Cameron trademark), and above all, a fantastic adaptation of several volumes of Yukito Kishiro’s classic cyberpunk manga Gunnm to cinema that leaves you wanting more, Alita is immersive, brutal blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. (99 words/A PLUS PLUS)

Green Book (2018)

Director: Peter Farrelly
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
Runtime: 130 minutes
Viewed at: Cinemark Sherman

Farrelly trades Lloyd Christmas crass for light blue Cadillac class in this crowdpleaser, where New Yoiker Tony “Lip” Vallelonga drives masterful black pianist Don Shirley on his Deep South concert tour in 1962. Alas, this road trip hits some bumps, occasionally falling into tired awards bait trappings: treating complex race issues with kid gloves, and being tailor-made to please. Those willing to look past the former problem might not find the latter to be so bad, though, as Mortensen and Ali have excellent rapport as Vallelonga and Shirley, and the script’s dry wit finds deadpan humor alongside schmaltzy sentiment. (99 words/B)

Vice (2018)

Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Jesse Plemons
Runtime: 132 minutes
Viewed at: AMC Quail Springs Mall 24

On one hand, McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic runs into moments of bitter self-indulgence that slow down its breathless energy. This is particularly noticeable when he spoon-feeds some unrelenting political opinions down the audience’s throat without any sense of subtlety, and the editing, reminiscent of McKay’s financial takedown The Big Short, gets distracting. But it’s still entertaining to watch Bale, who disappears into his role as Dick, and there are enough funny moments of absurd black comedy, more nuanced insight on the politics of power and legal interpretation, and an overall sense of polish, that make Vice worth watching nonetheless. (99 words/B)

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

Director: Mike Mitchell
Stars: (voices of) Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph, many more celebrity cameos
Runtime: 107 minutes
Viewed at: AMC Quail Springs Mall 24 (Dolby Cinema)

Five years after The Lego Movie was far better than it had any right to be, the inevitable sequel doesn’t merely follow the instructions. Even with the directorial change, Lord-Miller wrote the script, but in The Lego Movie 2’s plot, everything’s not awesome. And that’s okay. No only are there many fun new moments, particularly the Fury Road parodying action sequences, funny musical numbers written by Jon Lajoie (which are gonna get stuck inside your head), even more Arnett Batman, Haddish’s villainous(?) Queen Whatevrawanabi, and Pratt in a hilarious dual role, but the emotional core cuts far deeper. Awesome. (99 words/A PLUS)

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, John Malkovich
Runtime: 113 minutes
Netflix Original

Gilroy’s last big effort with Gyllenhaal and Russo, Nightcrawler, flawlessly emphasized modern journalism’s creed: if it bleeds, it leads. Now, Gilroy applies a similar maxim to LA’s art scene, with no dishonest gallery owner, spiteful critic, or absorbed artist spared from his vindictive brush. The Robert Altman comparisons are apt, particularly before the colorful cast realizes the posthumous paintings of Dease, the mystery artist they adore, have some supernatural qualities. Even when Gilroy’s dry humor devolves into gory horror, Velvet Buzzsaw remains playfully inventive while being pretentious enough to confuse the unwary. Basically? Netflix actually made a cult film. (99 words/A MINUS)

Dragon Ball Super: Broly (2018)

Director: Tatsuya Nagamine
Stars: (voices of) Sean Schemmel, Christopher Sabat, Christopher Ayres, Dameon Clark, Monica Rial, Erica Lindbeck, Vic Micgnogna (English dubbed version, viewed)
Runtime: 100 minutes
Viewed at: Harkins Bricktown – Ciné Capri

The long-running anime franchise gets its most accomplished feature film yet, delivering all the hallucinatory action fans expect, with beloved character Broly finally getting a decent backstory. Yet, even DB novices might appreciate this one, since it relegates the more arcane lore to a couple flashbacks. And with the series’ trademark elements – striking animation, a goofy sense of humor, memorable characters, a spectacular score, and most of all, endless pulse-pounding fight scenes – casual fans of animation could do far worse. If anything, Super: Broly is worth head-cha-la-ing (heh) to the theater to see what the fuss is about. (98 words/A)