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Director: Rob Letterman Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe Running Time: 104 minutes


It’s 2000 and you’re nine and you’re waiting in line at the cinema for Pokémon: The First Movie. You’re loaded up on sugar and Burger King and immeasurable excitement. Pokémon is a global phenomenon in spite of how it baffles anyone who’s five years older than you or more, you’ve been freebasing a cocktail of video games, toys and cartoons for the last year or so and you think it’s the most amazing thing imaginable. As far as your nine year old understanding of art and culture goes, “: The Movie” of The Thing is the ultimate elevation, the crowning glory of entertainment and so you’re pretty sure this is going to be the biggest and best movie of all time. And imagine. It’s only the first one. You look at the poster and it has, like, every Pokémon on it. Incredible. Mewtwo and Mew square off in the centre and you can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like when they finally fight. Your brother looks like you must look, like he’s about to explode from the excitement of it all. Your mother looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. Philistine. And then the screen opens up. And you go in.

And it’s…fine.

It was fine?

…was it even fine?

You’re only nine and you are so ready and willing to love this movie and there were certainly fun bits, certainly moments where it seemed to be giving you exactly what you wanted, but now its over and all that anticipation and excitement has left you and there hasn’t really been anything left in its place. You don’t feel disappointed, exactly, but there is something nagging at you. Surely life isn’t so cynical that it would lure you into a cinema screen, distract you by having your favourite characters bounce around for two hours doing nothing of much importance, stick in a dumb, even contradictory moral at the end and shoo you out until they’re ready to show you The Next Movie? You may not have felt exactly like this in 2000. Or when you were nine. You may have felt like this at some stage though. Maybe even recently. We all get sold on the biggest and the best and the phenomenon and we all end up in that moment when the anticipation has departed. If you take these things too seriously you feel like you have to explain, in so many words, why something nagged at you or not, or your delight when the excitement pays off, or your sense of betrayal when it doesn’t. Before you know it you go into school one day and no one thinks Pokémon is cool anymore. Nobody gave you the heads up about this.

It’s 2019 and you spend your own money on movies that are only fine now so at least your mother is less disappointed. It turns out that life actually is so cynical, sometimes, but mostly you’re still pretty ready and willing to love movies. You’re the one who gets baffled by the weird things they try to sell kids these days, and then you see them announce a pretty baffling thing: a movie where Pikachu is a detective. And he talks. There’s a part of you, somewhere in the place where that anticipation and excitement used to be, that knows that it’s just a regular Pikachu with a stupid, cheap hat. He still embodies all the awful commercialism he did before.

But he’s got a new hat!

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Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo Starring: The Avengers Running Time: 181 minutes


What follows below is a quick-and-clean, spoiler-free review of Avengers: Endgame. If and after you’ve seen the film and want something with more depth and detail to continue the discussion, we’ll be back next week with a second look, which you can read at your own risk.

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Director: Marie Monge Starring: Stacy Martin, Tahar Rahim Running Time: 105 minutes


It’s common practice for films in France to have very different titles in their native tongue than in the translated English. Marie Monge’s Treat Me Like Fire goes by the more straightforward Joueurs (“Players”) when shown at home, as it was during last year’s Cannes Film Festival. They seem like very different names at a glance but both ultimately have the same energy; Treat Me Like Fire a Lana Del Rey-ven cigarette exhale on the film’s story of burning, fleeting, dangerous romance, while “Players” is more Stevie Nicks to the ears, an indication not just of the film’s gambling content but of the general circumstances under which players will love you.

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Director: Wanuri Kahiu Starring: Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva Running Time: 82 minutes


One of 2018’s more underseen and personable films in a collection of new romantic comedies was Love Simon , a queer teen romance that managed to jog where other films had once walked, allowing itself to focus funly, freely and  matter-of-factly on the romance of its gay lead in a setting where other obstacles where pointedly settled. Wanuri Kahiu’s story of queer African adolescence deserves plenty of props for following in that vein as much as it can, focusing on the falling stage of two young Kenyan girls’ romance in spite of and beyond the very real national contextRafiki is a delicate but vibrant love story, a smile that can’t help breaking out.

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Director: Mimi Leder Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer Running Time: 120 minutes

With the close of 2018 having put the integrity of the United States Supreme Court seats in the spotlight, the story of the remarkable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is something that has been a notable cinematic feature of early 2019. This feature length adaptation of Ginsberg’s formative legal years could perhaps best be watched alongside the documentary RBG, which has garnered more critical acclaim thus far, securing a nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars.

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Director: Barry Jenkins Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King Running Time: 117 minutes


“I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.”

The words of James Baldwin, from a character that sadly knows that plenty have had to look at someone they love through glass, or through some restriction or another, few, if any, deserving to have their full hearts clutched by oppressive fists. As a writer who felt even harder than he thought and had too many of his own restrictions, it’s hard to blame the writer for his frustrations that ignored that pathos. Writing about the cinema of his time that aimed to show the black experience, socially active author Baldwin only ever found it inadequate. Their feel-good narratives rang false, tripping gracelessly over themselves to reassure and reframe for guiltily ignorant, or ignorantly guilty, white audiences. We can’t speak for Baldwin, but in adapting his novel If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins has clearly and skillfully endeavoured to present a lived experience that is genuine, lives that feel real, and a lush love story that is all the more enriched by that effort to be genuine.

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Director: Travis Knight Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. Running Time: 114 minutes


For over a decade, the Michael Bay-inflicted Transformers movies have been a force for evil in the film world, a miserable exercise in corporate-asset churnery, a film series propelled by millions of dollars but decimal points of inspiration, a world-view that seemingly looked up to the US military and down on absolutely everyone else. First Shia Labeouf, and later Mark Wahlburg, the eejit ids of everything these films stand for (which is to say, nothing), ran and yelled and gawped through a swampy succession of increasingly convoluted and visually overwhelming CGI, and most any of the many watched it got nothing from it at all except for their hearts to be hardened, left for hours to stew in their own cynicism when faced with stupidity and sneers writ large in IMAX 3D; lazy mean-spiritedness blown up to overwhelming size. Merely not being that makes Bumblebee more than a breath of fresh air. It’s more a vital grasp of any air, wonderful oxygen gulped into screaming, scratched lungs that have been poisoned something noxious. On its own merits though, Bumblebee with its spirit, its optimism, and its creative enthusiasm, storms far, far ahead of everything else in the series so far, less a spin-off than a strike-out, a knock-out blow to its inferior predecessors, floating and stinging like, well you know.

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Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber Running Time: 117 minutes


The suggestion that we have hit a saturation point with superhero movies has become an increasingly pointless gesture in film criticism. One might as well say that Hollywood has hit a saturation point with making money, and the idea has always carried a degree of ignorance, or arrogance; a dismissive view of a form of storytelling whose domination of the comic book medium is closer to reaching a century than a saturation. The people are here for superhero movies, and the future for the genre isn’t to die out but to make sure they speak to all the people; growing and changing and embracing the vast potential of the medium to show superheroes, their powers and their capacity for good in exciting new ways. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse does all this and more, with a confidence, enthusiasm and joy, all of which put it firmly in the conversation for best superhero movie of the year.

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