A Touch of Time Travel: ‘Don’t Let Go’ Review

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CREDIT: Sundance Institute

Okay, so: Don’t Let Go is about a homicide detective (David Oyelowo) whose brother, sister-in-law, and niece are brutally murdered, and then he starts getting phone calls from his dead niece (Storm Reid), but it seems that she’s still alive, because she’s calling from … THE PAST! Yeah, so I’m hooked.

Det. Oyelowo gets right into it, directing Storm to start doing some covert investigating of her own in the hopes of altering the timeline. Of course then Don’t Let Go bumps up against a common time travel conundrum, i.e., if the past is altered, how will that affect the present, and will anyone remember the original past timeline, and if so, will that make sense? Or will it turn out that any “alterations” were a part of the original timeline all along, with any attempts to make changes proving instead to be a recursive insurance that it will all end up the same way?

Don’t Let Go actually manages to pull off the former in a way that makes enough cinematic sense to get by (and the shifts are rendered visually in satisfyingly disorienting fashion), as the past and present seem to be tethered together on an inflection point. And if we want to, we can say that the phone conversations are the portal that allows for the callers to have memories of multiple timelines. That being said, there are relatively few moments when the timeline is actually altered, and it certainly feels like there could be more. But I wonder if it had been bulkier that way, maybe it would have been too much to keep track of. So I’m mostly satisfied. Alfred Molina plays a reliable authority figure! It’s a fun genre experiment!

I give Don’t Let Go My Agreement to Complete Its Weird Requests.

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Movie Review: The ‘Child’s Play’ Remake is Sharp with the Satire but Oversatured in Gore

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CREDIT: Eric Milner/Orion Pictures

Starring: Gabriel Bateman, Mark Hamill, Aubrey Plaza, Bryan Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, Marlon Kazadi, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio, David Lewis, Carlease Burke

Director: Lars Klevberg

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Prime Bloody Cuts of Human Meat

Release Date: June 21, 2019

The original 1988 Child’s Play was a sneaky little B-horror pic that snuck in some pointed satire about the crass commercialism of marketing aimed at children by asking the question: if the soul of a serial killer were transferred to a toy doll, would all the adults be too distracted to notice? The remake takes its aim at the paranoia surrounding artificial intelligence. This is oft-explored territory, so the horrors of the next-gen Chucky doll (voiced with easy panache by Mark Hamill) are not particularly unique. But the satire is built around a salient, timely concern: what if all of our smart Internet-connected devices suddenly became weaponized against us? The new Chucky is part of the “Buddi” line assembled by Kaslin Industries, an Amazon-esque tech monolith that promises consumers a domestic utopia with its thorough suite of products, with Tim Matheson as the wise, old, just-creepy-enough face of the company.

While the ideas of nu-Child’s Play are impressively on target, its plot machinations are a bit too silly and Grand Guignol for their own good. Original flavor CP worked on a visceral level because while Chucky was nearly impossible to kill, he wasn’t impossible to subdue. But upgraded Chucky is far more omnipotent, as he can basically become telepathic and telekinetic with the right Bluetooth signal. Thus, it is never in doubt that he is going to kill someone, which leads to the hyper-violent stakes being raised in ways that call to mind Saw and Final Destination much more than I expected. Occasionally, there’s a really devastating sick visual joke to lighten up the gore, but most audiences can expect their bloodlust to be satisfied many times over. Ultimately, Chucky is defeated less because of any weakness and more just because the movie is about to end.

Also in the “been there, done that” category is Chucky’s motivation: the old “if I can’t be your friend, then nobody can.” Frankly, I think that Chucky has more on his mind than just what some random kid thinks of him. But that is what his programming demands once he meets young Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and automatically “imprints” on him. It suggests a worst-case scenario of how it would go if the most smartphone-obsessed among us had their feelings reciprocated. Smart A.I. can be dumb, but while this Child’s Play is satisfyingly diverting, it doesn’t convince me that our devices are that psychotic.

Child’s Play is Recommended If You Like: Smart device paranoia

Grade: 3 out of 5 Stabby Stabbies

This Is a Movie Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

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CREDIT: Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Bryan Tyree Henry, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Finn Wittrock

Director: Barry Jenkins

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Longtime Friends Becoming Lovers and Their Families Yelling Awful Things at Each Other

Release Date: December 14, 2018 (Limited)

One of the strength of Barry Jenkins’ films is that they work much like how the human brain works. They process their stories from a clear beginning to end, but along the way they take detours, often expressionistic and dreamlike, because in their associative natures they have tendencies to temporarily disassociate. The narrative focus in If Beale Street Could Talk is on the effort to free Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) from jail after he has been (obviously and egregiously) falsely been accused of rape. We stay close with his family and pregnant girlfriend Tish (KiKi Layne) as the weeks tick by and they do whatever they possibly can for a young black man in 1970s America. Interspersed with this steady passage of time are flashes of Fonny and KiKi’s memories, hopes, and nightmares. The images in these moments are often idyllic and tranquil, but there is an undercurrent of imprisonment demonstrating that the worst of reality cannot be fully escaped as it infects our psyches.

If On Beale Street Could Talk is based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, and Jenkins’ smooth hand ensures that Baldwin’s conception of Harlem is brought to tactile, contemporary life. Layne’s sweet, mischievous, and unapologetic narration; Nicholas Britell’s smooth score; and James Laxton’s crisp cinematography make for a sensuous feast that altogether works to achieve a remarkable feat of empathy generation. All films that are worth their weight put us in their characters’ headspaces and let us discover what they were all about, but Beale Street is a special case. Every moment is especially intimate and familial, and it is thus an honor to be invited in. Like most stories about false accusations and systemic discrimination, this one is frustrating to anyone who cares about justice, but amidst all that there is to be angry at, Jenkins somehow manages to achieve an odd sort of peace by the end. Everything is far from perfect, but the love between Tish and Fonny is real and worth celebrating.

If Beale Street Could Talk is Recommended If You Like: Moonlight, The Harlem Renaissance, Love & Basketball

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 People Who Love Each Other

This Is a Movie Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Entertainment

This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber, Bryan Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Kathryn Hahn, Chris Pine, Zoë Kravitz

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: PG for Superhero Bumps and Bruises and Dimension-Altering Explosions

Release Date: December 14, 2018

Even if you prefer Tom Holland or Andrew Garfield’s versions of Peter Parker, it is fundamentally outrageous that the cinematic Spider-Man has been rebooted multiple times so soon after the massively successful Tobey Maguire chapters. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse avoids this pitfall by forgoing the same old Peter Parker origin story, or even the same old Peter Parker himself. Instead, the focus this time is on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Puerto Rican and African-American teenager who inherits the Spider-Man mantle after he too is bitten by a radioactive arachnid. Additionally, while Miles is the primary protagonist, room is also made for just about every parallel universe version of Spider-Man that has ever existed in the comics (including noir, manga, and porcine iterations). I would love it if the live-action Marvel action movies were similarly diverse, but there is more space to be bold within animation (at least according to how the blockbuster industry currently operates).

A running gag throughout Spider-Verse is each version of Spider-Man giving us the rundown on his (or her) origin story. The film assumes that the audience is significantly familiar with the web-crawler’s mythos, and thus we get shout-outs to iconic moments from both the panel and the screen, like the murdered uncle and the upside-down kiss in the rain. These moments could play as cheap nostalgia, but instead they are far from it because there is so much visual information to digest. The effect is more one of self-awareness and reinterpretation.

Spider-Verse follows in a line of recent animated franchise films like The Lego Movie and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies that benefit from their deep wealth of knowledge about their own histories. They all comment on their own pasts, avoiding snark in the name of favoring celebration while also managing to craft new adventures that stand on their own. Spider-Verse takes its unique place as one of the most visually vibrant entries in the history of CG-animated cinema, with a cornucopia of expressive and energetic styles. Add to that a sterling voice cast, and this is one of the witties (vocally and visually), and just plain most satisfying, experiences you’ll have in all of 2018.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Recommended If You Like: Every Spider-Man Comic Ever, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, The Lego Movie

Grade: 4 out of 5 Alternate Dimensions