Robert Pattinson in space. It’s a concept, particularly for a man who amassed enough money early in his career that he can make whatever he wants for the rest of his life. He’s been in a limousine, he’s been a fascist, and now he’s practically alone on his way to a black hole. An existentialist French project, what we’ve always dreamed of for the man. High Life is less hard science fiction than it is difficult science fiction, but it works.
Men In Black was a genuine mid-to-late nineties phenomenon, released at that transitory time between VHS and DVD. Agents J and K returned twice more over the following fifteen years, with somewhat diminishing returns. People don’t like to admit it, but a way to refresh a franchise without rebooting it is to shift character focus and location. Cue Men In Black: International, a European alien adventure featuring two fan favourite Marvel actors, and a different perspective on intergalactic relations. Men In Black: International should be funnier than it is, but it does not have any of the bloat that one might expect from a 22 year old franchise.
There’s a classic genre: man has a public meltdown, goes into seclusion, and gradually grapples with his depression. Papi Chulo takes this idea and posits: what if the depressed man was gay? Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer for a similar concept, and so writer-director John Butler (Handsome Devil) dares to dream. Papi Chulo is a sweet but often painful examination of one man’s life behind his impossibly cheery facade.
All things come to an end, but some come to more of an end than others. X-Men: Dark Phoenix is set to be the final X-Men movie after nineteen years, so you’d think that they would swing for the fences, try something big. In Dark Phoenix, writer Simon Kinberg (TV’s The Twilight Zone) attempts to revisit the story that he famously botched in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. The good news: it’s nothing like that movie; the bad: it’s nothing much like anything, really. Logan was an ending but, with this addendum, nearly two decades fizzle out on the screen.
A wise Hulk once said “big monster”. He wasn’t talking about Godzilla, but these two words sum up Godzilla II: King of the Monsters regardless. In 2014, Godzilla was controversial because it barely featured the title beast, and his opponents were nondescript. Godzilla II: King of the Monsters not only takes a mere minute to feature our hero, he has a whole menagerie of distinct fiends and friends to commune with. 2019 is a good year for fans of giant lizards.
The musical biopic, just like the bitch, is back. After the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, we almost immediately have Rocketman, which does more for Elton John than the former ever did for Queen. Movies should not always be reviewed via direct comparison, except there is an important connection between the two: Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle) is openly the director of Rocketman, and he was the secret director of Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was fired. Where Bohemian Rhapsody was a spectacular creative failure and a massive commercial success, Rocketman is an actual movie, with an aesthetic, a voice, and not total contempt for its ostensible star. Rocketman is still a music biopic, with all the drawbacks of the genre, but it at least attempts something with the form.
Aladdin is the second of three live action adaptations of classic Disney cartoons released in 2019. After the retrofuturistic art deco Dumbo, which took extreme liberties with the source material, Guy Ritchie’s (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) Aladdin is a more straightforward piece. With an extra forty minutes to fill and a desire to give Princess Jasmine more agency, the new Aladdin has its points of difference without compromising its story. Even without the spontaneity of Robin Williams, who practically invented improv animation, Aladdin still has something to recommend it.
Stephen King is in a constant state of adaptation renaissance. For this reader and viewer’s money, Pet Sematary 1989 was a slavishly faithful adaptation of the novel, keeping all of the content but missing out on the soul. You can safely say this 30 years after the event, but the child actors weren’t up to much, either. (And Dale Midkiff barely got any work again)
Pet Sematary 2019 is a different beast entirely. It has the bones of the story right, and it changes things up. An esteemed colleague postulated that when it makes these changes for its climax, Pet Sematary becomes “just a horror movie.” A pet theory around these parts is that King’s works often lose much in the translation from page to screen due to the novels’ inherent interiority of character.
Despite all of that, Pet Sematary is a fair shake at some of King’s more challenging and troubling thematic work. The changes make Pet Sematary more enjoyable than its literary counterpart because we lose the intense nihilism of the original incarnation. The misery may have been the point, but this new movies shows that sometimes you want a bit of an undead sting instead.
Who amongst us has not been burned by a DC Extended Universe movie? Since Man of Steel, it’s been a bit of a bust. They haven’t all been bad, but it’s rare that you can recommend a DC movie without reservation.
Shazam! is that movie. Finally returning to the superhero wellspring of found families (even Bruce Wayne has an entire menagerie of Batkids and Batcousins, a fact that most movies forget), Shazam! is family friendly, it’s funny, and it has Mark Strong in it, and as we all know, Mark Strong is game for anything.
If the measure of a movie is how much you think about it afterwards, Us is the finest film of 2019. It’s the sort of movie that rewards repeat viewing, because it is packed with details that you’re guaranteed not to pick up on the first time around.
The following review isn’t entirely accurate: it claims that Us is largely humourless. This was written through the haze of the sheer anxiety and panic that a first run through can provoke in someone (ie me) trying to grasp exactly what is happening. It’s pretty funny at times, and not just because it has Tim Heidecker in it.
More than that, Us is a painstakingly constructed film that contains elements of horror, but realistically it’s a complete experience, drawing from many different sources to become a cohesive and disturbing hole. You can take it at face value, but to give it even a little thought, you’ll be chewing on it for a long time thereafter.