Fans of Get Out, Peele’s brilliant, mind-bending 2017 debut, may feel vaguely let down that his follow-up is, for all of its sly humor and high style, a fairly straightforward genre piece, and that its bigger ideas and metaphors don’t feel quite fully baked.
First-time feature filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre brings a gorgeous, wide-open sparseness to her visual storytelling (it makes sense that Robert Redford, the original Sundance Kid, is listed as an executive producer), but it’s largely Schoenaerts’ movie to carry.
Most of Fighting’s narrative moves are as choreographed as any undercard match — and the outcome as clearly forecast — but the tears brought on by the movie’s last ten minutes of rhinestoned Rocky triumph taste salty, and real.
It’s mostly left to Rodriguez to carry the absurdity on her shoulders, and the fact that she makes it so watchable is a real testament to her abilities. Next time, may the material rise at least halfway to meet her.
Åkerlund — the Swedish mastermind behind tastemaking music videos for the likes of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift — has jittery, high-gloss style to spare. But the primary-colored nihilism of his storytelling feels amateurish and ultimately exhausting; a gleefully unhinged teenage-boy dream that aims only for hard, shiny surfaces, and stays there.
For a lot of its runtime, Velvet is fun and silly and enjoyably outrageous. It’s hard, though, to walk away with a real sense of anything more than blood on the canvas and a blank where your feelings — beyond mild bemusement, and a sudden appetite for prime Los Angeles real estate — should be.
The racial politics feel almost willfully retro, but the actors’ charisma cuts through: Forced to work strictly from the neck up, Cranston is just the right amount of gruff; Hart, aside from a deeply unnecessary catheter scene, gives a gratifyingly prickly and vulnerable performance. Somewhere beneath this passable-enough Upside, there’s a better, sharper movie for them both.
What’s fun is just watching Lopez and her supporting cast — including her real-life best friend Remini, Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford as her tightly wound coworker, and a loopy Charlyne Yi as her phobic new assistant — move through the scenes so easily.
John Cena is top billed, and though his brick-jawed military man doesn’t actually get many scenes, he does get a disproportionate share of the script’s best lines. He gives good muscle, but Bumblebee brings something even more important — and actually transforming — to the series: a sense of humor, and a heart.
The shrewd, relentless winkiness of McKay’s filmmaking style may have worked better, though, for breaking down subprime mortgages in The Big Short than it does chronicling a deadly misbegotten war. What remains then is the cipher at the center of Vice: the Man Who Wasn’t There, and probably never will be.
What keeps the film from feeling like period-piece amber, all whispered alliances and wiggery, is the keenly feminist sensibility of first-time director Josie Rourke (her background is largely in theater) and the fierce charisma and complicated humanity of its two leads, sovereigns till the end.
Kids could still watch the peerless 1966 original, though their blooming little cortexes will probably respond to the shiny-bright novelty here — and be newly spellbound by a tale almost as old as color television, but still evergreen.
It’s entertaining enough for popcorn — and gratifying, too, to watch these smart, strong women step into roles they’re so often left to support from the sidelines, while men have all the contraband fun. If only the execution of it didn’t feel like such a crazy-quilt patchwork of other, better films, and so jaggedly stitched together.