By Scott Cole
THE BATMAN – * * * * (4 out of 5 stars)
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro,
During an era where superhero movies seem to be a constant staple in cinemas all year long, The Batman achieves the arduous task of feeling wholly original. Not only does Matt Reeves’ film have a very dark (almost Fincher-esque) edge, but it also feels very urgent and pressing. It is truly an immersive experience as it delves both into the dangerous criminal underbelly of Gotham City, and the psychological duality of Batman and Bruce Wayne (an impressive Robert Pattinson). The vigilante hero Batman works closely with Gotham City lieutenant Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) in attempts to keep the overwhelming tide of criminal activity at bay, but the Bruce Wayne underneath the mask remains haunted by wounds from the past stemming from his parents’ cold-blooded murder. Tensions ramp up when the psychopathic Riddler (Paul Dano) begins a serial killing spree sprinkling puzzling clues to his actions addressed to Batman, whose paths have recently crossed with Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a feline-friendly waitress who appears to share common enemies with our hero.
The Batman starts boldly and confidently and never looks back. It is not a short movie – nearly 3 hours – but it never feels long in the tooth thanks to some masterful pacing and great performances throughout. Pattinson is wonderful, and Kravitz shines and stands as very much his equal. They share a great crackling chemistry. Dano is genuinely threatening as The Riddler, and the climactic interaction between Riddler and Batman had me literally leaning up in my seat (a recliner, no less!) in anticipation. The film gets a little too on the nose with its take on social media and its capabilities to incite mob mentality. I can’t help but always be wary of movies being too current or modern with their plot devices (or even references) for fear that they won’t age well. But as far as thoughtful action pictures go that keep you glued to your seat, it’s hard to think of another that fits the bill this well. Now playing at Regal and AMC Theatres
FRESH – * * * (3 out of 5 stars)
Director: Mimi Cave
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jonica T. Gibbs, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi
Mimi Cave’s new horror comedy Fresh begins somewhat light on its feet as a social satire on the dire modern-day dating scene. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) powers through life as a lone wolf. She reveals early on that she has no siblings or close family, and she no longer speaks to her mother who is her only living parent. When not catching up at kickboxing class with her tough-as-nails best friend Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs), Noa is suffering through the vast lonely swipes of her dating app. Discouraged as can be, she is stunned one day to find herself the subject of real life flirtation from Steve (Sebastian Stan), an attractive doctor who has the gumption in today’s world to actually approach her n person and ask for a date. An instant attraction begins as Noa and Steve share a seemingly great connection. Unfortunately, Noa’s rose-colored glasses prevent her from spotting some early red flags, and – without revealing too much – the relationship and its dynamic take a severe shift around the 30-minute mark when the opening credits finally roll (The “roll credits after the entire first act” trend feels relatively new but is becoming more and more common in new cinema, most notably in last year’s acclaimed Drive My Car).
While the experience of watching Fresh is entertaining, I felt the social commentary and messaging were a little heavy-handed. For every couple of interesting lines or scenes crafted by writer Lauryn Kahn, there is one that falls flat or comes across as tone-deaf. One one hand, the film is almost refreshingly cynical. The way the dating scene is painted even in the early scenes is extremely bleak, and things only dive darker from there. The performances from Edgar-Jones and Stan are always believable and they really sell a lot of the wilder scenes they share here. The progression of their relationship is always something you can track and follow throughout. The film will probably not play well with the squeamish viewer as the violence and grisliness ramps up as the story rolls along to its conclusion. Although a little too pleased with its own sense of hip irony, I can’t deny that Fresh is an entertaining ride. Now streaming on Hulu
AFTER YANG – * * * * 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Haley Lu Richardson, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja
If there’s a certain ailment of cynicism that seems to permeate many films nowadays, filmmaker Kogonada (who spent some formative years here in Nashville) is the antidote. His films practically burst with empathy and humanity at every turn, and his new science fiction drama After Yang is an achingly beautiful continuation of these themes. It is quite simply one of the best films I’ve seen dealing with the aftermath of losing someone important. For Jake and Kyra (the fantastic pairing of Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith), the loss in their family is their robotic – actually, technosapien – child Yang (Justin H. Min) who inexplicably shuts down one day. They purchased Yang as an older sibling to their adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) to provide companionship and teach her about her cultural heritage. Jake sets out on a quest to fix Yang and the journey Jake and his family embark on will teach them a lot about love, memory, and what is left in the vacuum created when a loved one is taken away suddenly.
In both its dealing with a fractured family dynamic and its dreamlike pacing, I was constantly reminded of Sofia Coppola’s underseen and underappreciated 2010 masterpiece Somewhere. Both films are very smart about their pacing and wisely do not overstay their welcome. They are short films that cast a long shadow, lingering in your mind days after seeing them. After Yang was a spellbinding and haunting experience for me, quite unlike anything I’ve seen. This is one of the best films of the new year. Now playing at Belcourt Theatre and airing on Showtime
STUDIO 666 – * (1 out of 5 stars)
Director: B.J. McDonnell
Starring: Dave Grohl, Pat Smear, Nate Mendel, Whitney Cummings, Leslie Grossman
One of the more baffling ideas committed to film in many a moon, Studio 666 stars Foo Fighters in their first (and likely last) non-documentary feature film and manages to fail on nearly every level. It is a horror comedy without scares and largely without laughs. Facing severe writer’s block while trying to produce a 10th studio album, Foo frontman Dave Grohl and the band (all playing themselves) rent a creepy mansion with a sketchy past to try and find their way to some fresh new material. Dave becomes convinced that the house will inspire him to create original music. Of course, the plan backfires as gory deaths and demonic possessions become commonplace and dark secrets from the past are unearthed.
Even as I look at that plot description now, it reads more fun and interesting than it actually is. There are a few funny moments like a really entertaining early cameo from Lionel Ritchie and some cheeky arguments between the band members where the audience gets to wonder how much is actually being mined from their real life dynamics. But overall this movie just falls flat on its face time and time again with dumb jokes and horror scenes that end up just being gross and devoid of anything scary or funny. Perhaps the film’s greatest sin is that even with so much happening at all times, the film still manages to find a way to be incredibly boring for long stretches in the middle of its 108-minute running time. Because of this, Studio 666 can’t even fight its way into “so bad it’s good” territory. Now playing at Regal and AMC Theatres