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Joker (2019)

DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips

CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham

REVIEW:

With the simply-titled Joker, an independent stand-alone existing on its own unconnected to any other film in any Batman franchise, director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have gone even further afield of the stereotypical tropes and restrictions of a “comic book movie” than the likes of The Dark Knight, Deadpool, or Logan (rarely for a comic book movie, it shares with the last two examples a well-deserved R rating; this is an adult movie which is thoroughly intended for adults and inappropriate for younger viewers). This is a “comic book movie” in a loose definition of the word, owing more to Scorsese—Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy in particular—than the pages of the Batman comics. Taken on its own merits, Joker is a slow burn but darkly engrossing ride following in gritty, down-to-earth fashion one man’s descent into madness. It’s the kind of movie it’s arguable to say is conventionally “entertaining”, but it’s powerful and disturbing, and not easily shaken off afterwards.

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Ad Astra (2019)

DIRECTOR: James Gray

CAST: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler

REVIEW:

Ad Astra (Latin for “to the stars) joins the likes of Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian as serious, hard sci-fi space movies that seek to portray with docudrama realism and verisimilitude the realities of space and the difficulties and dangers inherent therein. To that end, it’s aimed at a markedly different audience from the action-oriented likes of Star Wars and Star Trek, and its slow-burn deliberate pace requires a commitment of attention from serious-minded viewers.

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It: Chapter Two (2019)

DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti

CAST: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Isaiah Mustafa, Andy Bean, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton, Teach Grant, Bill Skarsgard

REVIEW:

IT: Chapter Two, the film adaptation of the “27 years later” adult section of Stephen King’s novel, hasn’t saved the best for last. The conclusion to 2017’s IT is far from the worst film adaptation of a King written work, but it’s bloated, overstuffed, and unwieldy, clocking in at a formidable—and unnecessarily drawn-out—-three hours, a full thirty-five minutes longer than Chapter One. That’s a lot of meandering runtime. To be sure, there’s a number of strong scenes in the mix, but it requires a bit of sifting through uneven material.

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Angel Has Fallen (2019)

DIRECTOR: Ric Roman Waugh

CAST: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tim Blake Nelson

REVIEW:

Despite ever-worsening critical reviews, the “[INSERT CODE NAME HERE] Has Fallen” franchise, like its generically stalwart hero Mike Banning, keeps chugging along. 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t any kind of great movie, but it was a surprisingly enjoyable Die Hard knock-off. 2016’s London Has Fallen was a lazy, uninspired, low energy classic example of a sequel slapped together because the original did well at the box office, not because there was anywhere fresh or interesting to take the story. Angel Has Fallen is probably a little better, and at least a little more engaging, than London Has Fallen, but not as good as Olympus Has Fallen. It achieves more-or-less exactly what it promises—-a generic, moderately diverting but immediately forgettable action shoot-em-up—which given this franchise’s track record, is a low bar to hurdle.

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The Lion King (2019)

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau

CAST: voices of Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric André, J.D. McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph

REVIEW:

Considering Disney’s recent noxious trend of remaking its own animated classics with less-than-classic scene-by-scene regurgitations, it was virtually inevitable that The Lion King would be included. The Lion King is generally considered the “king” of the Magic Kingdom’s fleet of animated movies, arguably only rivaled by Beauty and the Beast, and now, following Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, the lion roars again, this time in CGI rather than hand-drawn animation form. Of all these remakes, The Lion King is probably the best, partly simply because it’s a remake of the one that had the best story in the first place, partly because it is visually splendorous. However, a surfeit of eye candy can’t entirely overcome a slightly hollow feeling, like a competent but uninspired cover of a classic song.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

DIRECTOR: Jon Watts

CAST: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Cobie Smulders, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Marisa Tomei

REVIEW:

Coming on the heels of The Avengers: Endgame (it arrives with the other film still in theaters), Spider-Man: Far From Home (the third MCU installment of the year) serves as both epilogue and new jumping-off point, while also giving Tom Holland the chance to swing back into theaters in his second solo outing. To the second point, Far From Home is half of a tedious high school comedy and half of a worthy Spider-Man adventure. The first half leans hard into the weakest elements of 2017’s Homecoming, but the second half surpasses it.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

DIRECTOR: Simon Kinberg

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has fulfilled a long-harbored wish to take a second stab at the Dark Phoenix storyline he previously tackled as co-writer of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, dissatisfied with the final product (which was directed by Brett Ratner). For fans of the X-Men comics, the Dark Phoenix storyline, written by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum and running from the late 1970s into 1980, is regarded as one of the comics’ great narrative arcs (in addition to The Last Stand, it has also previously been adapted twice for animated television series). I’m not prepared to say a two hour movie has entirely done justice to a comic storyline which ran for years (reportedly Kinberg initially wanted to tell the storyline across two movies, but the studio declined), but comic book and film are different mediums. In its own right, Dark Phoenix has breathed a little more life into the loose reboot young X-Men series (began with 2011’s First Class and spun off into an alternate timeline by 2014’s Days of Future Past), more compelling than its immediate predecessor, the laborious Apocalypse and overall a better, if rushed and abridged, adaptation of the source material and the Dark Phoenix storyline than The Last Stand.

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Rocketman (2019)

DIRECTOR: Dexter Fletcher

CAST: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard

REVIEW:

Is someone in Hollywood trying to build a ’70s rock star cinematic universe? Close on the heels of last year’s Oscar-winning (albeit somewhat overrated) Bohemian Rhapsody, now comes Rocketman, covering one of the few ’70s-’80s musical icons who rivaled or surpassed Freddie Mercury for over-the-top flamboyance: Elton John. Director Dexter Fletcher, who took over finishing up Bohemian Rhapsody in place of a fired Bryan Singer but gets full creative control here, takes a different approach, styling Rocketman as a musical fantasy rather than a strictly conventional biopic. And of course, like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman will take some nostalgic fans of the featured artist down memory lane.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

DIRECTOR: Michael Dougherty

CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi, Thomas Middleditch, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson, Aisha Hinds, David Strathairn

REVIEW:

I desperately wanted to love this movie. As a child of Godzilla movies, with virtually the entire film series and various action figures of Godzilla and friends (and enemies) in my possession, and as a fan of Gareth Edwards’ lukewarmly-received 2014 film (though I acknowledge it has issues), I followed along with the marketing with hype and attention. Lukewarm-to-negative critical reviews gave me pause, but I’d never really expected a Godzilla movie to be critically-acclaimed. To many critics, these movies are just too inherently silly, and at least outside of his native Japan, Godzilla is really more of a cult following. On the one hand, King of the Monsters does feel pretty much like an old-school Godzilla movie (with all the good and bad that that implies). Alas, it hasn’t gone above and beyond, content to follow in the same basic formula of virtually every other Godzilla movie, giant monsters smacking each other around and levelling buildings, sandwiched in between a ridiculous convoluted plot that primarily exists as a flimsy skeleton to string the monster mashes together and populated by goofy and/or one-dimensional humans scurrying around with inane “drama”. Balancing big monster action with human drama is a tricky act, and Hollywood hasn’t figured it out yet.

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Aladdin (2019)

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie

CAST: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Numan Acar, Alan Tudyk (voice)

REVIEW:

Hasn’t the novelty worn off yet for Disney throwing a lot of money around on scene-by-scene live-action regurgitations of its own animated classics? Probably not, at least until Jon Favreau’s upcoming The Lion King (probably the most anticipated of them all), but Guy Ritchie’s remake of the 1992 animated musical Aladdin has done nothing to increase my enthusiasm for this latest fad. Everything that was true of Bill Condon’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast is equally true here, if not more so, a rote and uninspired retread of a previous movie that can be revisited on DVD any time its fans desire that offers nothing except the “novelty” of seeing it underwhelmingly reenacted in live-action (and losing most of its pizzazz along the way). Unfortunately, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and Disney’s string of cannibalized remakes are almost guaranteed to continue to be a reliably profitable, if terminally lazy, cynical, and creatively bankrupt enterprise. This rehash might boast live action, Will Smith, and expensive sets, costuming, and CGI, but it’s missing the magic.

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