Review Round-Up: May 4


Happy May the 4th, everyone! It’s so nice that we have decided to reserve this day each year to celebrate Disney’s Lucasfilm’s sprawling Star Wars franchise. Otherwise, throughout the year, we would have only the eight weeks its major films dominate our attention and the eternal accessibility of its other properties. This is a well-deserved holiday we have bestowed upon the world’s most omnipresent corporation.

Speak of the devil—Marvel, the other stone in Disney’s own Infinity Gauntlet, has a movie out, just weeks after its previous film, it seems. You’ve probably seen that already, and all I have to say is: don’t worry, they’re all okay.

What dares challenge Marvel this week? Some mid-budget counter-programming, of course. We’ll have to wait another week for a superhero/space movie. First up is Tully.


I soured on Juno (2007) over time, but I remember rather liking Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s other collaboration, Young Adult (2011). Maybe it’s simply that I adore Charlize Theron and have a soft spot for Patton Oswalt, but I thought the film, while offering nothing unconventional in the morals department, featured a couple of very good performances and some deep laughs. Adam Nayman at Reverse Shot does not agree with me about the previous Cody/Reitman/Theron film, and boy, does he have some bombs to drop on this latest one:

One way to look at this conscientiously mature, strategically magic-realist movie is as its creators’ most ambitious joint effort to date, yet it’s actually this same, superficial “daring” that points up their work’s underlying lack of real imagination. 

A word of warning: Nayman’s review spoils the movie’s major twist (yes, this dramedy about motherhood has a major twist), so only read if you’re immune to spoilers.

Elsewhere, Tully is doing a bit better in the reviews department, though overall it’s mixed. Jesse Hassenger praises Theron’s performance at The AV Club; David Edelstein’s review at The Vulture starts negative but ends appreciative. One other sceptical voice, though, is Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who not only agrees with Nayman’s assessment of the film’s obviousness, but also connects its shortcomings as a drama to its lazy and regressive gender politics. 


Overboard, a remake of the Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell rom-com I used to change the channel from on TV all the time, explains why I’ve recently seen Anna Faris tell-all interviews blaring at me in the grocery store checkout line. It’s not supposed to be very good.


But the movie I’ll be watching this weekend—because if somebody made a couple good movies thirty years ago, I’ll never give up on them, I guess—is the surprising new John Woo-directed movie on Netflix. Manhunt is Woo’s return to the kind of balletic action flick that made him famous in Hong Kong in the late 1980s. Simon Abrams has a middling review of the film over at, but one paragraph, intended as a critique, convinced me to set aside time for this movie:

Parts of the over-the-top finale of 'Manhunt' bring to mind the loosey-goosey, punch-drunk Woo that made 'Face/Off,' another campy exercise where he tried to go back to his roots after a couple of relatively impersonal projects left him feeling more like a hired gun, and less like an artist. Ironically, 'Manhunt' loses momentum whenever its already fast-paced narrative gets a frenetic 'Face/Off'-style energy boost from distracting father/son squabbling and a prison break-style sub-plot involving a secret drug lab.

Sorry, but if this movie has the frenetic campiness of Face/Off, I’m 100% there. It was the odd melding of Woo’s style with the budgets and dramas of Serious Hollywood Movies that ultimately ruined his films. Face/Off was peak Woo, just before he was dragged down by the expectation that an action film be, you know, psychologically coherent. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club has his reservations, but writes that “when Manhunt gets to its actual action scenes, it delivers with aplomb the kinetically choreographed decadence that has been Woo’s forte since the 1980s.” That’s enough for me. Eat your heart out, Cannes. I’m staying in and watching Netflix this weekend.

Review Round-Up: April 13


Friday the 13th! An auspicious day to return to rounding up reviews. While away, I’ve been thinking that the format in this recurring column needs a bit of adjustment, for the sanity of its writer. Starting with the paragraphs below, the Review Round-Up will link its readers to reviews of a few different movies, but it’s going to focus on recommending one movie you should see this weekend, based on those reviews. 

There’s a big ape movie out this weekend, featuring Rock “The Dwayne” Johnson. I am a fan of The Dwayne, and have been since tweenagedom—some day I’ll tell you all about how his wrestling style was truly deconstructive, and not in the way that people usually use that word to mean “analytical”—but I just can’t get behind this project. Rampage wasn’t even that good a video game: it was fine to play at the arcade for five minutes, but I rented it on console once and practically fell asleep on top of my N64. Reviews for the film are middling, but the kind of middling where you can tell that the critic would have panned it if they weren’t trying to avoid seeming haughty and out of touch.

Meanwhile, Jon Hamm, a man beautiful and funny enough that we have forgiven and forgotten this, is making another attempt at big-screen stardom with the spy thriller Beirut. It seems like the kind of film whose politics would probably disgust me but which I might put on to fall asleep to when it’s on streaming in approximately six months.

Movies about bonding with digital apes and topical CIA thrillers handsome Hollywood hunks: is it the mid-aughts again? Maybe time is a flat circle, after all: Lucrecia Martel, the Argentine director who last released a film nearly a decade ago, has a new one out, Zama, and it’s the film I’m recommending this week. It’s an existential parable about 16th-century colonialism in South America, based on a 1956 novel by Antonio di Benedetto. A Kafkaesque story about a Spanish conquistador born in Paraguay but waiting to “return” to Spain, Zama is being roundly praised for its use of absurdist humor in depicting the inhumanity of colonialism. 

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times shows no reserve in her praise for both lead actor Giménez Cacho and director Martel. As the film is about waiting and therefore has little pushing its plot forward, it operates largely via surprising juxaposition and

meaningful oppositions: freedom and captivity; open, bright skies and closed, gloomy homes. Ms. Martel’s cool approach fits di Benedetto’s story and can be just as devastating, especially when she abruptly flips drama into comedy. 

Zama is probably not playing everywhere, but if you have the opportunity, it’s the film you should be seeing this weekend. If nothing else, it’s probably the only film in theaters this weekend in which you’ll get to see a llama. If it’s not playing near you, though ... go with the giant ape movie, I guess.

Review Round-Up: March 16


Tomb Raider (dir. Roar Uthaug)

Hot off a very successful reboot of the franchise in 2013, Tomb Raider publisher Square Enix apparently decided it was prime time to reboot the film franchise, too. And the movie clearly hews closely to the game that revitalized the plan, speaking to a much more controlled corporate-synergy strategy than the one that birthed the first two films, in 2001 and 2003. Anyone who’s played the 2013 Tomb Raider will recognize in the film trailer not just Lara Croft’s revamped look from the game, but the setting and even individual cut scenes that have been appropriated for the film.

Here’s the thing, though: although successful, the 2013 Tomb Raider wasn’t that good. Taking too many cues from adventure and survival games of its moment (of course she has a bow and arrow), it played less like a re-imagined Tomb Raider and more like a simplified Uncharted (2007-2016). Narratively, it may have impressed some, but to me it seemed nothing particularly special, except for the amount of physical abuse it subjected Lara to in order to make her character “gritty.” Knowing how closely this film was going to try to stick to the game’s tired, orientalist plot, I had serious doubts.

At least at first glance, these doubts have been confirmed by the reviews. Let’s start with the actual video game people at Polygon, who should know. Susana Polo critiques the film’s blunt approach to narrative, accusing it of alternating action scenes with bland “exposition dumps.” Characters end up being short-changed on the way to action or exposition:

… many moments in 'Tomb Raider' feel like events are slightly fast-forwarded. We are often told when we should be shown, or shown a scene that feels like it’s skipped a vital moment in a character’s emotional transition, in favor of getting to the next action sequence or necessary piece of exposition. 

(Btw, I’m a big fan of Issue at Hand, Polo’s video series explaining superhero comics, which you can find here.)

Rodrigo Perez at The Playlist also feels the movie fails to sell its characters, asking us to buy into Lara Croft’s transition into, well, Lara Croft, way too quickly and easily. Some of the most damning (and well phrased) criticism, though, comes from A.A. Dowd at The AV Club, who was just bored by the film:

'Tomb Raider' is the kind of draggy, weirdly uneventful blockbuster that makes you fleetingly grateful for the lowest-aiming genre junk; at times, it seems perversely uninterested in delivering what a Lara Croft movie theoretically should. Even once we reach the island, where Walton Goggins shows up as a marooned scoundrel mad with ambition, 'Tomb Raider' never quite transitions into a set-piece machine; its second half rushes through a dump of mythological exposition while treating the “good stuff”—treacherous puzzles, swinging booby traps, run-and-gun showdowns—like perfunctory stops on a checklist.

There are surprising dissenters, however, some of whom describe the movie in a way that diverges so far from Dowd and his ilk that you almost wonder whether they weren’t shown a different cut of the film. David Edelstein praises both its B-movie sensibility and its emotional realism (?), but the film’s real champion is Matt Zoller Seitz at Seitz opens his review by asserting that “‘Tomb Raider’ is much better and more original than anyone could have expected,” and he buys the daddy-daughter narrative in a way that no one else cited here does:

This is the story of a daughter learning from, surpassing, and ultimately forgiving her dad—a journey that hits fresher beats than you tend to get in genre films starring male heroes whose fathers died, vanished, or disappointed them…

The jury’s out on this one … I’m probably not going to see it, though. Take from that what you will.


Love, Simon (dir. Greg Berlanti)

The consensus is that this teen romance would be very “eh” if it weren’t for its main feature: that the romance at its center is a gay romance. Critics are more or less univocal in their admission that, though bland, the movie is important: gay kids deserve their bland, mildly charming teen romances, too, the line goes.

Glen Wheldon at NPR only reluctantly reiterates the line from Fox’s marketing materials that the film is “groundbreaking.” Wheldon is one of the only critics to point out that, in fact, there have been other gay teen romances. Eventually he lands on the conclusion, though, that Love, Simon is groundbreaking in the sense that it is mainstream, intended, seemingly for everyone to see.

Yes, 'Love, Simon' does everything it can do to parboil the flavor, color, consistency and fabulousness out of its queer romance, until all that's left is the familiar beige, featureless pap of overcooked heterosexual teen rom-coms. But that's ... kind of the point. Why shouldn't queer kids get the chance to see generic, mass-produced versions of themselves onscreen, overcoming minor obstacles on their path to True Love(tm)?

Everyone seems to say a version of this, more or less. Here’s David Sims at The Atlantic:

In attempting to appeal to the biggest possible crowd, the director Greg Berlanti’s movie sometimes feels frustratingly safe, given that it’s centered on a bland, upper-middle-class hero whose edges are sanded off. With that said, there’s still something undeniably powerful about 'Love, Simon’s ordinariness. After all, there have been dozens of mediocre studio films about straight teen romances over the decades; it says something about the direction of the film industry to finally see one centered on a young gay man.

Mark Jenkins’s review at the Washington Post has a more negative valence, but it’s more unimpressed than outraged. Simon, the main character, is a bland archetype, a clear construction, but so is the movie itself:

Simon’s love for rock of the British Invasion is unpersuasive, but then so are all his passions. Like the movie about him, Simon is pleasant, well-meaning and curiously devoid of adolescent hormonal tumult.

Love, Simon seems like it deserves cred for depicting gay romance without overly sensationalizing it, and for doing so with the blessing of a major studio. But it also sounds like a kind of a dull film: in making Simon an unremarkable teen in all aspects except that he is gay, the filmmakers seem to have written themselves into a corner, having made a film with a main character who’s missing distinctive characteristics. The film’s release may seem to point toward some kind of Change, but it is worth wondering whether that change can stick if its harbinger is so anodyne, if it is focused so intently on normalcy that it doesn’t get anyone’s attention.

Review Round-Up: March 2


Hey, the Oscars are this weekend! With that in mind, here are some of the best features on the Oscars the Internet has to offer: 

Dinner with Oscar, reviews of this year’s Best Picture nominees by our own Felicia Elliott. Come for the opinions, stay for the dish recommendations you can bring to your Oscar parties.

All 89 Best Picture Oscars ranked, Slant Magazine

It’s pretty baffling that Gary Oldman is the frontrunner for Best Actor (video), Film Club on The AV Club

Our Expert Predicts the Oscar Winners, The New York Times

Honest Trailers: The Oscars (video), Screen Junkies.

As for my favorites … Look, it’s a film with practically no women in it; the only people of color are French soldiers in the background of a single shot; it features, particularly at the end, some sentimental nationalism (though not as much as many previous films of its genre); it’s a goddamn Christopher Nolan movie, and I’ve long considered the man a charlatan more obsessed with puzzles than with film; but goddamn Dunkirk was good.

Death Wish (dir. Eli Roth)

This remake of the Charles Bronson “white man on a rampage” classic (?) is getting uniformly negative reviews, but then, it doesn’t seem targeted at the social subset critics usually occupy. Set in Chicago, the film reads as a dramatization of Trumpism, in which every block of Chicago is inhabited by bloodthirsty quasi-human murderers who must be forcefully put down. A.A. Dowd calls Death Wish out for its fascism at The AV Club

There’s really no such thing as a good time to remake 'Death Wish'—and not just because it’s basically impossible to find a safe, respectful distance from a mass shooting in America. Plenty knew what they were seeing in ’74: a deranged fascist fantasy about a middle-aged “bleeding-heart liberal” brought around hard to the idea that the world is a cesspool in need of flushing. Released during a brand new era of anxious whitelash, Roth’s remake transports this righteous rampage from an almost apocalyptically dangerous, pre-cleanup New York to the Chicago that Trump is always dog-whistling about, a hellhole whose streets run red with blood and deep-dish pizza sauce.

Dowd begrudgingly admits that the movie has some strengths as a B-calibur shoot-em-up, but ultimately its “fuck-up politics” ruin it for him.

Matt Zoller Seitz gives Death Wish 1.5 stars, and the review is certainly net-negative, but occasionally he seems to be going easy on the film. (Certainly, he’s much easier on the previous Bronson version of the film than Dowd, assuming that its roots lay in wholly justified anxiety about urban decay, ignoring the overtones of post-Civil Rights white resentment.) At the very least, he wants to find more subtlety in the remake, or assume better intentions, than Dowd’s review does. He acknowledges the racist dog-whistles in the film, but sees the film as containing a potential self-irony: 

The new 'Death Wish' is a vigilante film that's also about vigilante film cliches, when it remembers to think about such things, which is only occasionally. Most of its attempts to subvert or freshen up familiar elements aren't well developed, and they're certainly never strong enough to counter the bloodlust and gun worship that's invariably going to power this kind of project.

“Invariably” may be an unfortunate choice of words here: is it really inevitable that gun worship comes along with a film about vigilantism? Seitz’s review makes it sound a bit like the film fails in a struggle with its own nature, rather than that the filmmakers intentionally made a reactionary, Trumpist film.

On the other hand, such a film would have to look rather differently at its principal character in order to avoid tones of resentful white supremacy, of fascist revanchism. And that would mean asking more than the simplistic, obfuscatory question, “is what he’s doing right?” It’s odd to me that some of the same publications who sneer so openly at the politics of Death Wish can endorse the endless slog of pseudo-moral questioning that was the Punisher portion of Marvel’s Dardevil, season two, or the spin-off series about the same character. There’s little distinction between The Punisher’s Frank Castle and Death Wish’s Paul Kersey, other than that the former wears the symbolic get-up of a superhero. But I suppose that’s just how we like our fascism delivered to us.


Red Sparrow (dir. Francis Lawrence)

Wasn’t this erotic-spy-action-thriller supposed to come out months ago? I saw the first trailers for this around Spring 2017 -- for, I believe, a summer release. This is the typical sign of a delayed film, which is never a good omen, particularly when it’s a summer release re-scheduled for early March. I have my doubts about Jennifer Lawrence’s ability to sell the role of a Russian ballerina-turned-spy (is that the career path of all female Russian spies?) either in a way that makes me take such rote material seriously or in a way that makes it a fun romp.

That said, reviews are pretty evenly split. It depends, I presume, on the amount of time a given critic is able to endure J. Law’s affected Russian accent. The venerable Manohla Dargis calls the accent in question “passable,” and rather appreciates the film’s representation of a tough female spy, writing,

That may not be everyone’s idea of progress, but it’s both appealing and crucial that 'Red Sparrow' doesn’t soft sell Dominika. There’s an attractive, recognizable toughness to her as well as a febrile intensity born from need and circumstances, including the existential reality of being a woman in a man’s world. Dominika is sentimental (mostly about her mother), but she isn’t sentimentalized and never becomes the movie’s virgin or its whore, its femme fatale or good girl. 

The film does not quite reach either Stephanie Merry’s idea of progress or her idea of a passable accent; she writes in the Post:

... the top-notch cast of mostly British actors, including Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds, have varying degrees of success with the Russian accents, which is just one more distraction in a movie teeming with them. It’s hard to overlook, for example, the sheer number of sexual assaults Dominika is subjected to or the way the camera ogles its female lead with the same discomfiting gaze as her perverted boss.

Over at SlashFilm, Josh Spiegel’s endurance failed the film’s test; he could get over the accents, but not the overlong, convoluted story. The film, he writes, is “flaccid, more convinced of its intelligence than it should be, and painfully overlong.”

Review Round-Up: February 23


Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)

Ex Machina (2014) director Alex Garland takes on the first book in Jeff Vandermeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy of novels. Of the two books I read in the series, Annihilation was the good one: mysterious and evocative, it is a fantastic example of the way SF-horror can re-figure a trip into the recesses of the human psyche into a trip into the unknown. It also happens to be highly and recognizably derivative: the overall concept (that there is a strange area of obscure origin in Florida that nature has reclaimed and in which it is now running amok) is a secularized version of Andrei Tarkovsky’s SF-as-religious-allegory classic Stalker (1979); and the rest of the story smacks strongly of H.P. Lovecraft’s interest in the abject, the indescribably monstrous—except with complex characters who aren’t white men terrified of difference. The quality of Vandermeer’s book comes from how naturally he melds these two seemingly quite different takes on SF, uniting Tarkovsky’s sublime and Lovecraft’s abject in a thrilling, yet obscure, suspense story.

Anyway, enough about that book: now there’s a movie based on it. A.A. Dowd, lead critic at the AV Club, finds the film likewise “derivative,” picking up in particular the similarities between  the story and Tarkovsky’s SF. Nevertheless, he gives the film a strong-ish B, writing,  

The film wages war on the nerves across multiple fronts, creating a state of regular disorientation through its scrambled visual grammar (like the mismatched eyelines during Lena’s bewildered first scene at the compound) and the distant remove of most of the performances, Portman’s included. As a pure creature feature, it has individual images and moments straight out of a wake-in-fright nightmare. 

The impression I get from Dowd, who’s quite skeptical of Alex Garland’s ability to deliver a fully satisfying story (see: Garland-scripted Sunshine (2007), a film I greatly admire despite its flaws but that Dowd singles out for shade-throwing here), is that Annihilation is much better than the average big-budget SF flick, but not by any disinterested standard a particularly good film.

Emily Yoshida at Vulture views the film a little more charitably. She laments that, in an era when the cinematic image is so pliable, the mind-altering implications of Garland’s imagery will not be as iconic or impactful as earlier films that propelled the viewer into warped, otherworldly places. Nevertheless, she writes, Garland’s trippy images bring the viewer (along with Natalie Portman’s main character) to a deeply personal and emotional place. 

Even more appreciative is Tasha Robinson at The Verge, who sees Annihilation as the best SF film since Arrival (2016). The film defies “spoiler culture,” she writes, revealing its ending right off the bat in order to focus us on the emotional content of the story.

But it’s a mark of success for the film that even knowing the outcome doesn’t disperse the tension. 'Annihilation' is a portentous movie, and a cerebral one. It’s gorgeous and immersive, but distancing. It’s exciting more in its sheer ambition and its distinctiveness than in its actual action. And by giving away so many details about the ending up front, writer-director Alex Garland ('Ex Machina') seems to be emphasizing that 'Annihilation' isn’t about who-will-live dynamics, or the fast mechanics of action scenes. It’s about the slow, subdued journey Lena and the others take into the unknown, and how it affects them emotionally.

It’s my impression that few “genre films”—even or especially the ones that I would consider the true greats—get unanimously sterling reviews upon release. The mixture of opinion and the hesitancy of the praise for Annihilation actually gives me hope that what we may have on our hands is a truly original sci-fi film, one that, like the book it’s based on, does not allow itself to be hemmed in by its (quite overt) influences.


Mute (dir. Duncan Jones)

Speaking of derivative Sci-Fi, Duncan Jones has returned to the genre after his brief flirtation with big-budget fantasy in Warcraft (2016). It’s a welcome return—Jones’s Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011) are among the best SF films of the past decade. Mute, now on Netflix as part of their barrage of SF/cyberpunk, is a passion project he’s been planning since before Moon was released, but reviews are not particularly auspicious:

Viewers likely won’t complain too much about the film’s look (although its design failures will register subconsciously), but they will notice that there’s almost no real sense of danger in this world, and so the stakes don’t seem high enough to care about what happens to anyone. The biggest problem comes down to pacing. The movie takes too long to go anywhere, and so it’s the kind of movie that you get an hour into before you realize that you don’t care about what’s happening. 

I’m not sure I agree with Brian Tallerico here about filmgoers’ indifference to the design of a film; isn’t one of the reasons people love Black Panther so much the design of the world and the characters? This offhand comment seems a bit condescending to me. 

Tellerico and other critics are sure to note the film’s rather obvious debt to Blade Runner and other ‘80s pop-cultural touchstones, which the film wears on its sleeve. Eric Kohn at Indiewire points out the perhaps excessive influence of M*A*S*H on Mute’s character dynamics, along with plot elements taken from, of all things, Witness (1985).

All things considered, Jones juggles these ingredients well enough in individual moments, but they can’t overcome some of the clumsier bits in the script (“I’m AWOL, you’re a-hole”), or a third act reveal that doesn’t quite hold together. Tonally, the movie suffers from a disconnect between earnest storytelling and broad caricatures. 

David Bramesco gets a bit too personal in his take-down of Mute at The Guardian, I feel, pinning Jones’s apparent artistic decline on his wife’s cancer and the death of his father, David Bowie—all while, in the very first paragraph, comparing Jones to George Lucas. That’s quite an interpretive leap, not to mention a hurtful observation, if you ask me. Reviews across the board are pretty abysmal, so here’s an almost-dissenting voice, that of Film School Rejects’ Rob Hunter:

… even with the stumbles 'Mute' manages to capture and hold your attention thanks in part to its visual style and tone. World-building is an often underrated aspect of science fiction films as too many of them focus on imagery that screams “sci-fi” while never truly meshing together as part of the world. The Holy Grail in this regard is Ridley Scott’s 'Blade Runner' … Numerous films have tried to ape the original’s style, but while 'Mute' appears to lack Scott’s budget it succeeds better than most in dropping both characters and audiences into a believable and fully-functioning world.

Hunter’s estimation of the film’s world-building efficacy, however, flies directly in the face of the consensus. Either he’s a more observant director, or he’s a bit too caught up in the hope that Duncan Jones will deliver another classic SF film.


Game Night (dir. John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein)

It seems to me that Jason Bateman is in at least one of these low-budget, R-rated comedies every off-season. If it’s February, March, September, or October, you can be sure you’re getting Jason Bateman as a nondescript American male getting in over his head in some kind of heinous situation.

But is Game Night actually good? Matt Zoller Seitz thinks so. Giving the film 3.5 stars (out of 4), he suggests that the comedy actually has a story rooted in its characters’ interrelationships and psychology and anchored by solid performances from the leads.

The actors put it all across with flair—especially Bateman and McAdams, who complete each other's thoughts so deftly that they really do seem as if they've been married forever, and Plemons, who steals every scene he's in through deft underplaying. And while there are a few touching moments, the film never tries to claim sentimental or revelatory power it hasn't earned.

NPR’s Glen Weldon is also surprised by Game Night’s relative quality, something that he did not find suggested by either its outline or its trailers. Surprisingly enough, he sees Bateman as one of the central appeals of the film:

Bateman's familiar presence unlocks the film in an interesting way; it seems to become an extension of his publicly perceived sensibility. 'Game Night' trades on the comedy of ironic restraint, of de-escalation, of mundane conversations taking place against wildly violent, criminal, life-or-death backdrops. The pop-culture references, which are many, don't seem the product of some last-minute, punch-up-by-committee scripting session, they grow directly out of these characters' overdeveloped trivia acumen.

A stub review in the New York Times by Glenn Kenny concurs with these positive takes on the film, singling McAdams in particular out for praise. 

Not quite on board is Richard Brody at The New Yorker, one of the smartest critics working. He agrees that the film puts more emphasis than the average comedy on distilling characters into comedic action, but he calls the film “compulsively watchable yet empty,” which barely qualifies as slight praise. 

The movie is distinctive for its sense of forethought and composition; it’s an utterly insubstantial experience but a complex wind-up toy of a movie that, in its nested iterations of reality and deception in the kidnapping plot, and in the multiple fields of action that are juggled and interwoven to realize it, feels like a throwback to the showily crafted entertainments of classic Hollywood, voided of their substance and symbols.

Ouch. Brody’s waiting for something new to emerge in the wake of the decline of the Judd Apatow-style improv-flick. Game Night is a departure, but it’s not the new direction, his review suggests.

Review Round-Up: February 16

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Black Panther (dir: Ryan Coogler)

You may or may not have heard that Marvel has a new movie out this month. Black Panther is out, promising to break February box office records and, perhaps, change the film industry. The theory is that this movie—a gargantuan blockbuster directed by a black man, starring an all-black principal cast—will make Hollywood more open to black voices. That remains to be seen; I see it as just as likely that entrenched Hollywood producers will conclude from this movie that Marvel can sell anything, not that black heroes sell.

Reviews are glowing, praising director Ryan Coogler and the expansive cast, none more so than Coogler’s frequently collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed), who plays the film’s villain. Critics are citing his character, who bears the unlikely name of Erik Killmonger, as perhaps the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a charismatic man with complex motivations. At, Odie Henderson compares the Coogler/Jordan pairing to that of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, predicting we’ll one day be talking about them with the same aura of awe.

Coogler, for his part, generally isn’t praised for the film’s spectacle or action sequences, but for making the characters feel grounded, their interactions real. This, critics point out, makes Black Panther stand out among the quippy Marvel movies. The film has an authenticity—despite being set in an invented fantasy land—that the other Marvel films lack, David Ehrlich of Indiewire writes:

'Black Panther' is different. It’s the first one of these films that flows with a genuine sense of culture and identity, memory and musicality. It’s the first one of these films that doesn’t merely reckon with power and subjugation in the abstract, but also gives those ideas actual weight by grafting them onto specific bodies and confronting the historical ways in which they’ve shaped our universe. Last, but certainly not least, it’s also the first black superhero movie since the dawn of the genre’s seemingly endless golden age (or at least since that one where Will Smith hurled a giant whale at a bunch of innocent sailors).

Another thing that sets this film apart from the Marvel rabble is that, for once in the last decade, it’s a standalone movie: it doesn’t crossover in any serious way with the ongoing drama of the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe, allowing it to establish its own identity. David Edelstein at Vulture is thankful it isolates itself from the “tiring” franchise.

Ehrlich believes decisively that Black Panther is the best superhero movie yet; Henderson calls it one of the best of the year; Edelstein calls it the “most original” superhero film. Slightly more reserved is the AV Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who gives the film a B+. 

Nevertheless, the reviews are encouraging. I thought last year’s Wonder Woman was a stiff, cheap-looking, badly written superhero origin story—and also a potential step forward for women in the industry. With these reviews I have renewed hope that Black Panther, which looks to break similar ground in terms of representation in front of and behind the camera, will be both Good and good. 


Tehran Taboo (dir: Ali Soozandeh)

This new drama about sexual hypocrisy in Tehran distinguishes itself by the fact that it’s rotoscoped, meaning that it was filmed in live action and then traced over and accentuated with—well, with computers, no longer with hand-held tools—thus turning it into an animated movie. As many reviews recount—no doubt, this information was in the film’s press packet—director Ali Soozandeh did this because, an expatriot living in Germany, he was not able to make the film in Tehran, and did not want to use a substitute. 

Rotoscoping the film made it possible to capture some authentic Tehran atmosphere, which Geoffrey Cheshire, apparently a frequent visitor to the city, confirms in his review for Cheshire appreciates the film’s complexity in its handling of its subject matter, the double standards applied to men’s and women’s behavior in Iran: 

Although the primary female characters here—and to a lesser extent, some of the men—are trapped in the strictures of a traditional patriarchal society that’s enforced by a theocratic government, the film wisely doesn’t come across as a two-dimensional polemic. That’s largely because Soozandeh’s storytelling is so engaging and nuanced.

J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader is on board, citing the film’s revelation of religious hypocrisy. But Film Journal is much more ambivalent, much more concerned that Soozandeh may have chosen an easy route of attack: “While certainly insightful about life governed by Islamic Revolutionary law, Soozandeh’s script traffics in a seedy sort of suspense.”

Cheshire, who likes the film, even points out that it’s probably outdated: his friends in Iran assure him that the morality police (a thing) aren’t so bad anymore. And in the end, my suspicion is that, despite generally positive tone of the reviews, this film is not very good. The praise is a bit too tepid, and the constant citation of the same fact about why Soonzandeh chose rotoscoping makes it seem like critics were reaching for something to say about it.


Early Man (dir: Nick Park)

The most fun recurring comment between reviews for this latested clay-mated film from the makers of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run is that Hognob, the main character Dug’s pet warthog, should have been the main character. Unfortunately, for critics, that’s just a way of voicing their disappointment in the failure of Aardman Animation to produce another mild hit/critical darling.

First: Anthony Lane, whose one-two punch review of Black Panther and Early Man reviews at The New Yorker is further evidence of his disinterest in popular film. His short review finds time to get lost in its own meandering tangents more than once. Here’s one perambulation he makes while trying to tell us what he thinks about Black Panther:

There have been black superheroes before, and Will Smith’s character in 'Hancock' (2008) was an unusual blend of potency and dysfunction, but none have been given dominion over a blockbuster. (The one who merits it best is Frozone, from 'The Incredibles,' who has to miss dinner to save the world. “We are talking about the greater good!” he cries. Back comes the reply: “Greater good? I am your wife. I’m the greatest good you are ever going to get.”)

He does manage to catch up to Early Man, though, according with the general consensus that the film is not up to Aardman’s usual quality:

If 'Early Man' slips below the studio’s highest standards, that may be due to its length. In 'A Grand Day Out' (1989), Park managed to rocket Wallace and Gromit—one man and his dog—to the moon and back in twenty-three minutes, whereas the new movie takes more than an hour longer to tell a plainer tale, topped with a lighter scattering of laughs. 

The reserved praise of critics like Sam Adams at Slate assures us that, 16 years from now, we will not be reflecting fondly on the fun time that was Early Man, as we all do periodically on Chicken Run (right?). 

There’s something especially captivating about the miniaturist backgrounds in stop-motion animation. Even characters as ingratiating as Wallace and Gromit were sometimes in danger of being upstaged by their wallpaper, and Dug, who’s little more than a generic good guy, doesn’t stand much of a chance. (His pet warthog Hognob, who’s voiced, or more accurately snorted, by [Director Nick] Park, would have made a more interesting lead.) If you’ve already devoured the Wallace and Gromit canon, as well as 'Chicken Run' and 'Shaun the Sheep,' 'Early Man' is a wonderful way of extending their giddy glow, even if it feels like a small step backward. 

Most obviously disappointed is Stephanie Merry at The Washington Post

In the grand scheme of movies for kids, the stop-motion comedy is hardly a stinker. But it’s also less fun and inventive than you’d expect, given the company’s stellar, Oscar-winning track record.

Merry’s review helped me settle something that had been bugging me since the first trailers for the movie. Many of the jokes from the trailer, which involved cave-people doing modern things with primitive implements—e.g., using tiny alligators as clothespins—seemed terribly familiar, but I couldn’t quite place them, or didn’t want to expend enough energy to do so. Merry makes the connection: they’re Flintstones jokes!

The upshot, this week, it seems, is go see Black Panther.

Review Round-Up: February 9


The Cloverfield Paradox (dir. Julius Onah)

This film, a surprise reveal during the Super Bowl that was posted to Netflix immediately after the game, which is the third film in the loosely associated Cloverfield franchise, is supposedly pretty bad. Matt Zoller Seitz at finds a bit to appreciate about the film—Onah’s approach to revealing the film’s SF world, for example—but settles on a star and a half for the film. In his final paragraph, he pins the film’s failings on its creative team, headed by J.J. Abrams: 

J.J. Abrams, whose name is on the film as a producer, perfected the so-called "mystery box" method of storytelling that promises profound and shattering revelations only to pivot to bromides like, "We should all be nicer to each other" or "Let's learn to forgive ourselves." The script to this one falls well within that wheelhouse. I'd like to visit the alternate universe where 'The Cloverfield Paradox' is worthy of the stroke of PR genius that launched it.

This sounds about right to me. Abrams’s schtick has been old for some time. There were several things I didn’t like about The Last Jedi, but the best thing about it was the way it exploded all of Abrams’s silly mystery boxes from the first film.

A tired-sounding David Edelstein (whom I’ve been a bit iffy on ever since he spent half of his Wonder Woman review crassly detailing his fetish for Israeli women) also doesn’t see much to appreciate in Cloverfield except its director. The content of the film is familiar SF melodrama, but ...

The Nigerian-born director Julius Onah is extremely skillful. The screen is loaded with colorful sci-fi bric-a-brac but the frames are nonetheless spacious. He knows how to keep the camera in motion without being a hot dog about it.

Far less forgiving is David Ehrlich at Indiewire, who is almost convinced that J.J. Abrams has managed to kill a franchise that seems to have excited no one more than the reviewer himself:

By the end of the second quarter of Super Bowl LII, 'The Cloverfield Paradox' was revealed on national television. By the end of the fourth quarter, it was already streaming on Netflix. By the end of the night, Abrams’ best idea had led to his biggest blunder. It’s too soon to say if 'The Cloverfield Paradox' killed its franchise (a fourth installment is already slated for later this year), but it’s already clear that the 'Cloverfield' brand — until yesterday a magic word capable of stirring excitement out of nothing — is now tainted beyond recognition.

Come on, dude, Netflix is making a sequel to Bright. J.J. Abrams’s baby is not in danger.

Fifty Shades Freed (dir. James Foley)

The erotic movies that, reportedly, are roughly on par with 90s Cinemax softcore—but tamer—and in which the principal male character is a never nude chauvinist, may have just gotten watchable. At Indiewire, Manuela Lazic reports that the films have finally found a sense of humor about themselves: 

At this point, who would have thought that a 'Fifty Shades' film, supposedly interested in the very alternative kind of sexual experimentation, would provide enjoyable (and maybe for some, even exciting) sequences of respectful and playful foreplay and oral sex?

Even more surprising: how this lighter approach to sexual intercourse seems to lift the spirits of the characters along with the tone. Johnson, radiant and committed, gives Ana a certain confidence and ease that she’d never had before, and Christian, the man of steel himself, proves he has a few decent jokes in him – though Dornan struggles slightly to portray that goofiness. In cinema as in sex, a dose of self-awareness can do wonders.

Other critics are less sure. Diametrically opposed, in fact, is Chris Nashawaty’s review at Entertainment Weekly, which accuses the new film of the same anti-feminist inclinations as the other films. Nashawaty, too, found humor in the film, but reaches different conclusions about it.

The audience I saw this with cracked up the whole time. And not in the we’re-uncomfortable-so-let’s-nervously-laugh way, but in the can-you-believe-this-is-an-actual-movie forehead-slapping way.

Emily Yoshida has my favorite take, neither as dismissive of Nashawaty’s nor as accepting as Lazic. Her review takes sum of the films series’ cultural impact and relevance, and lightly mocks the superficialities that are almost too obvious to dwell on. Bad sex scenes, cardboard acting, tepid romance, and staid plot aside, what should bother us about these films is its adoration of money and the billionaire lifestyle. The films are on the wrong side of the defining cultural war of our era:

Money has always been the cushion for 'Fifty Shades’ spicier provocations, and it’s the aspect of the series that has aged the worst in the three years. Since E.L. James’s books originally made their splash, we as a culture took our sweet time realizing that most billionaires are more interested in deporting immigrants than sweeping young assistants off their feet, and we have become more suspicious of the powerful boss/naïve intern dynamic that fuels so much of the film’s sexual intrigue. Not that anyone is or should be looking at these films with such a stern eye, I’m just saying that they look more out of step with the times than ever. As the trilogy goes out, more desperate than ever to convince us it was in on the joke all along, it’s hard to say exactly what the joke was.

Another February weekend, another slow week for film releases. Maybe we should all just go see Phantom Thread again: it’s like Fifty Shades but without the sex, the violence, the helicopters, the expensive vacations, or the jeans. This week, we’re stopping with two films; Black Panther reviews also started appearing this week, but I’m saving that for its release next week. In the meantime, I’m going to try to catch that Hedy Lamarr documentary at the Music Box before it’s gone.

Review Round-Up: February 2

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Happy Groundhog Day, everyone! 

...Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!

It’s a pretty sparse week, release-wise. The next two weeks, what with Fifty Shades and Black Panther coming up, promise to produce plenty of critical discourse. But here’s what critics are saying about a batch of this weekend’s few releases:

Good Time (dir. Josh & Benny Safdie)

If you’re in Chicago, you can catch this film for another week at The Music Box. The only review you need to read is Sarah’s, here at The Cinessential, which crafts a particularly vivid portrait of the film:

The world of 'Good Time' is so lived in and fully realized and populated, it felt like I could plunge my hands into the movie and pull out its guts with my fists. “World building” so often refers solely to fantasy and sci-fi, but it’s what the Safdie brothers have done here. The New York they explore is technically real, but it’s a version of the city that feels like it’s free-wheeling through space and time. City hospitals, empty amusement parks, and outdated apartments form the backdrop for a mess that unfurls over the course of what can’t be more than 36 hours or so, but what a beautiful mess the Safdies make it.

It’s supposed to be pretty damn good. I plan on catching it this weekend.

A Fantastic Woman (dir. Sebastián Lelio)

Chile’s nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year is a melodrama about a transgender woman that—get this—stars a transgender actress (Daniela Vega) in the lead. This surprising innovation is singled out for praise over at Slate:

The entertainment industry’s habit of casting cisgender actors in transgender roles—some of them, like Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor, giving performances that are exceptionally fine—has gone hand in glove with its near-monolithic focus on stories of transition. Focusing the camera on Vega, an openly trans actress (apparently Chile’s first), allows 'A Fantastic Woman' to tell a different, richer kind of story and allows us to process the subtleties of her performance without always having to evaluate the success of the underlying transformation.

It isn’t the only reason the film’s getting high marks, though. David Ehrlich of Indiewire praises director Sebastían Lelio, who manages to be strike notes of authenticity even while quoting melodrama auteurs known for their use of stylization and artifice: 

Second only to Pablo Larraín among Chile’s most popular emerging filmmakers, the young Lelio has already established himself as a compassionate chronicler of marginalized women (Paulina García won Best Actress at the 2013 Berlinale for her role as an aging divorcée in Lelio’s 'Gloria'). He deepens that sense of empathy here, unpacking a drama that resists the heightened sensationalism of genre and remains sobering even as it cribs a number of highly stylized elements from the likes of Fassbinder and Almodóvar.

There is a note of reserve in much of the praise, however—the consensus would seem to be that A Fantastic Woman is not quite a masterpiece, but it is a step forward in the representation of transgender individuals. Indiewire gives the film a B+; The AV Club only a B. Good marks, but not great ones.

The main dissenting voice is Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, who goes after the film a bit harder—but contrarian disdain is his bread and butter, after all. To his credit, his critique seems well-grounded: morally, the film is impeccable, he writes, but dramatically, it is obvious, predictable, somewhat wooden. The problems extend to the main character, Marina, who lacks the kind of impenetrability that make characters interesting:

Fans of Lelio will recall the eponymous heroine of 'Gloria,' his memorable film of 2014. She was a divorced woman in her fifties who hung out in singles bars, saw too little of her children, and woke up on a beach, alone, after a heavy night. Something about Gloria evaded our grasp, whereas Marina feels all too solidly present and, despite the defiant poise of Vega’s performance, oddly bereft of moral ambiguity. Her conversations tend to be the opposite of quick-fire, with the characters pausing for a while—or an eternity—before responding, just to make quite sure that we get the point.

It’s not hard to imagine that the film’s drama seems a bit on-the-nose at parts; but then, isn’t that just the melodramatic mode? In Fassbinders’ films, an apparent reference point for Lelio, characters often express their feelings and motivations with Brechtian directness, and oppression is always depicted in heightened eruptions of emotion or violence. Perhaps, though, Lelio doesn’t quite strike the right balance of authentic affect and melodramatic style. Fassbinder, too, sometimes missed that mark.

24 Frames (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)

This is the final film by late director Abbas Kiarostami, an experimental film that, rather than assembling moving images into a story, contemplates 24 discrete still images. (24 frames per second is the standard frame-rate for movie-making.) Each still image, over the course of its four minutes onscreen, is gradually brought to life through digital animation. For Godfrey Cheshire at, the effect is “as delightful as it is surprising.” The film invites the imagination of the viewer: the experience of watching the film is “curiously dual”:

It’s very easy to be swept along by the cleverly playful visual patterns and evolving quasi-storylines. Yet at the same time, I suspect that every viewer will simultaneously (re)make the movie in his or her own mind by providing a wealth of personal thoughts and associations. Among the many that I flashed on were: the early films of the Lumiere Brothers and Georges Melies; the discrete worlds of Joseph Cornell’s boxes; experimental works by filmmakers ranging from Maya Deren to Stan Brakhage; a host of early animated films leading and including the masterpieces of Walt Disney; the valedictory purity of Kurosawa’s 'Dreams.'

Cheshire likens the film to an array of modernist art, but a more immediate reference point for me would be the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky loved to point his camera at paintings, especially religious and medieval ones, in films like Andrei Rublev (1966), The Mirror (1975), and The Sacrifice (1986). These films, like Kiarostami’s new film, were also very interested in time and the relationship between how the cinema represents it and how the mind perceives it. Other filmmakers it calls to mind are classic experimental directors like Chris Marker, who composed a narrative sci-fi film out of still images with La Jetée (1962), and Michael Snow, best known for his decidedly un-human-centric, slow-moving experimental films Wavelength (1967).  

Manhola Dargis at the New York Times does not agree with Cheshire’s unambiguously admiring take on the film. True, she has a soft spot for it 24 Frames being the last we’ll have from Kiarostami—but she doesn’t seem to be able to get into it:

'24 Frames' can’t help but be affecting because it is Kiarostami’s final movie. But it’s intellectually uninvolving, and its technical limitations prove frustrating. In a few shots, snow or rain falls, for instance, on the same left-to-right diagonal, creating a distracting pattern that suggests the software wasn’t altered for each photograph. This synthetic quality may be an intentional imitation of life; certainly it’s obvious that Kiarostami was thinking a great deal about cinema.

From the descriptions, the film seems most suited for university film theory courses—but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Your level of intellectual involvement may depend on how interested you are in the question of how time, the moving image, and human affect relate to each other.

Review Round-Up: January 26


Review Round-Up is kind of like Rotten Tomatoes, but more human.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Dir: Wes Ball)

Ben Kenigsberg of the New York Times has surprisingly sympathetic things to say for the teen dystopian action franchise you forgot about: 

But as silly as they sound, these movies are pretty well made, capable of outsize action and teary intimacy. The director, Wes Ball, knows how to move his camera around a futuristic medical compound, and the filmmaking brio — especially the sights of Earth’s last city, shot in Cape Town — mitigates the eye rolls prompted by the plot.

The venerable (though the jury is still out on their late-2017 redesign) A.V. Club concurs. Jesse Hassenger’s praise for the film is both reluctant and tepid—compelled largely, one suspects, by The Maze Runner’s underdog status—but the review is positive nonetheless:

As it turns out, with hardly anyone outside of hardcore Maze Runner fans (and however many supplemental moviegoers it takes to get within range of $100 million domestic) paying attention, the runty little brother of The Hunger Games has gotten surprisingly proficient in that area of well-produced sci-fi junk where a lot of the dialogue consists of variations on, “Go, go, go!”

The film’s director, Wes Ball, is frequently cited as a reason this third film kinda almost works, against all odds. Apparently style saves a film that is otherwise a jumble of young-adult tropes and dystopian cliches. What turns out to be a less favorable review by Emily Yoshida over at Vulture singles out Ball as well, if not for making a good film, at least for making it less painful than it could be: Ball and his “engaging cast” are “able to wordlessly communicate dynamics and histories that I’m grateful the script did not spend too much time rehashing.”

Decidedly less positive, though still appreciative of Ball’s action sequences, is Christy Lemire at

For better and for worse, it’s an overwhelming experience. And just when you think it’s over, there’s another coda, and then another. The music will swell to a crescendo, signaling our need to experience peak emotions and planned catharsis, and then there are more loose ends to be tied up, more overly explanatory narration to endure.

You can read a certain amount of fatigue in each of these reviews, and not just because, at two hours, the film is a tad long, or because the experience itself is overwhelming. Yoshida notes with discernible relief that the YA-dystopia craze is fading. May we be so lucky.

Hostiles (Dir: Scott Cooper)

Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian appreciates the look—and even the drama—of the film, but finds something lacking in its handling of its purported moral material:

The violence of the white pioneer and the Native American in the old West are set up against each other, and (tacitly) declared to be of tragic equivalence, though eligible to be redeemed by gestures of good faith and unexpected romantic developments. The beauty of the landscape and the violence of its human inhabitants are evidently supposed, in their respective extremities, to add up to something. But what?

To my mind, if indeed the violence of white settlers and that of Native Americans is portrayed as equivalent in the film, Bradshaw isn’t outraged enough. Surely Native American tribes fighting whites committed terrible acts, but that doesn’t make the two sides equivalent. The Allies committed atrocities during World War II, but that doesn’t make their crimes equivalent to the Nazis’. Portraying a genocidal force as equivalent to those desperately defending themselves against genocide is ideological; no matter what moral quandaries the main (white) characters face, the project of such a film is equivocation: “but everyone was murdering!” This equivocation draws our attention away from who the original aggressors were, who is most responsible for the bloodshed, who committed the greatest crimes, and who benefited from these crimes.

Godfrey Cheshire at is more attentive to this particular flaw in the film, ending his review with the observation that Hostiles is

a film that’s beautifully shot and acted, but also meandering, overlong and only sporadically focused on its central issues. As for its politics, in making the story primarily about one (white) man’s redemption, “Hostiles” falls back on a well-worn if still potent dramatic trope while saying virtually nothing about the genocide committed against Native Americans.

The film, by all accounts, seems to add nothing new to our Western mythos, inasmuch as it approaches racism and war from an exclusively white perspective. In all, I would recommend you just re-watch Fort Apache (1948). It’s not not-chauvinist, but it is a harrowing drama about white racism and bloodlust—a version of the Old West story that, from my impression, Hostiles adds little to.

Please Stand By (Dir: Ben Lewin)

This indie dramedy is eliciting some conflicting appraisals. The story concerns a young woman on the autism spectrum who is travelling across California to enter her Star Trek spec script in a competition. (The script, for those of us in the know, sounds a lot like the concept behind the classic DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations.”) For the A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo, the film’s handling of autism is same-old, same-old: 

By the time Patton Oswalt shows up for a winking cameo as a cop who defuses a situation by speaking to Wendy in Klingon, Please Stand By has lost all touch with reality. It’s just another instance of equating autism with kookiness.

Slate’s Marissa Martinelli, who betrays a little more partiality to Paramount’s sci-fi franchise, disagrees, writing that

It’s a relief to see Wendy played as more than simply a bundle of symptoms. While her color-coded sweaters, nervous knitting habit, and deep well of Trek knowledge might seem quirky—she is in an indie comedy, after all—she’s also a fully realized person who is determined to prove that she’s been underestimated, while also showing off a softer side, which we see in her interactions with kids and babies along her trip.

I’m inclined to favor the former perspective, not only because its account of the representation of people with autism rings more true, but also because I prefer its relative neglect of Trek discussion to Martinelli’s apparent enthusiasm for the current “Treknaissance.” Sorry, everyone, but the Abrams movies and Discovery suck. I’d rather go on watching repeats of TOS, TNG, and DS9 (400 episodes of television!) for the rest of my life than feel obligated to witness all the half-cooked ways that CBS-Paramount wants to revamp Star Trek.

Jeanette Catsoulis in the New York Times has somewhat reserved praise for Dakota Fanning’s performance, but goes after the film for reasons similar to D’Angelo’s:

… despite her commitment to the role — and the generally fine supporting performances — this timorous tale sidesteps uncomfortable realities in favor of soothing whimsy and preordained uplift.

Catsoulis’s brief snippet of a review doesn’t cover the film in very much detail, but it does find time to mistake Worf’s rank, referring to Starfleet’s only Klingon officer as “Lieutenant Worf.” Worf was promoted to Lieutenant Commander back in 2371; come on.