For years, Pixar focused on original films, ignoring the sequel trend so prevalent in children’s entertainment. Sure, there were two sequels to “Toy Story,” but that was the exception. Now, the company regularly alternates original projects like “Inside Out” with sequels to “Cars,” “Monsters Inc.,” and “Finding Nemo.” But even as critics bemoaned the sequelitis that inflicted the company, there was always a caveat. “No more sequels … well, maybe The Incredibles.” Brad Bird’s 2004 animated classic felt like the most sequel-ready film in the entire Pixar canon. It was an origin story, the first chapter of a universe waiting to be explored. For some reason, it Read More


How should a dinosaur movie be? The makers of the first dinosaur movies, clearly drunk on their imaginations and the way their visions could be realized with then-new effects technology, did not have the self-consciousness to ask the question. The two early landmarks, 1925’s “The Lost World” and 1933’s “King Kong,” in which the giant creatures roamed the modern world courtesy of stop-motion animation conceived and executed by Willis O’Brien, were straightforward spectacles with nasty racialized touches, but they’re still valid (and in many respects thrilling) because they do their jobs: creation and destruction, things you’ve never seen before wreaking havoc on the world you live in. Read More


In September, 1983, Tami Oldham Ashcraft and her fiance, Richard Sharp, were hired to take a 44-foot yacht on a 4,000-mile journey from Tahiti to San Diego. About halfway through their cross-Pacific journey, they ran into Hurricane Raymond, a tropical storm which had been building in power for a couple of weeks. They struggled to control the yacht in 145-knot winds, and Sharp was washed overboard, lost in the mountainous seas. Ashcraft had a head injury, and the yacht was badly damaged, but she managed to jerry-rig a sail and then navigated her way—manually, using a sextant and a watchover 1,500 miles to Hawaii. It took her Read More


No stunt doubles. No computer graphics. No strings attached. These nine words represent the most astonishing element of “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior,” the first Thai film to break through in the martial arts market. Having seen documentaries showing how stunt men are “flown” from wires that are eliminated in post-production, having seen entire action sequences made on computers, I sat through the movie impressed at how real the action sequences seemed. Then I went to the Web site, and discovered that they were real. Yes, they do a lot with camera angles and editing tricks. With the right lens and angle and slow-motion, you can make it Read More


“Can you just let me sit with my own memories?” This plea, from Jennifer (Laura Dern) to her mother (Ellen Burstyn), is a key moment in “The Tale,” an extraordinary and disturbing new film directed by Jennifer Fox, based on Fox’s own experience with childhood molestation. It’s key because “The Tale” is, in many ways, about memory, and memory’s unreliability and slipperiness. Memory can cloak trauma in another “better” narrative, sparing us until we’re ready to deal. Joan Didion famously wrote “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” (Jennifer quotes this in “The Tale” during a lecture to her film students). Didion’s words are often recast Read More


As unnecessary prequels go, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” isn’t bad. It’s not great, either, though—and despite spirited performances, knockabout humor, and a few surprising or rousing bits, there’s something a bit too programmed about the whole thing. It has certain marks to hit, and it makes absolutely sure you know that it’s hitting them. Everything that you expect to see visualized in “Solo,” based on your experience with previously stated “Star Wars” mythology, gets served up on a silver platter, from young Han Solo’s first meeting with Chewbacca to Han winning the Millennium Falcon in a card game from its original owner, Lando Calrissian, and making the Read More


Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” in which Ethan Hawke brilliantly plays an alcoholic Protestant minister undergoing a profound spiritual and psychological crisis, is a stunning, enrapturing film, a crowning work by one of the American cinema’s most essential artists. Yet in the moment I deliver that unstinting endorsement, I feel compelled to add that this is a very special film for a certain, inevitably rather limited audience. In line with other Schrader movies, but perhaps more so than any, it defines itself against many of the central assumptions and conventions of most mainstream moviemaking. In his seminal 1972 book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (written at age Read More


Making a debut at Sundance is an ambitious film by Carlos López Estrada’s “Blindspotting,” a movie that has already been criticized for some tonal jumps in the final act. Sure, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew, but I’ll go to bat for a creative team that tries something this ambitious and culturally resonant instead of so much of the lazy indie filmmaking we so often see. “Blindspotting” is a raw, abrasive call for an adjustment in the way we see each other. It is so much a film of its moment that there were also opening night criticisms arguing it was too on Read More


There was a time in which films set during the Holocaust were made with the expressed intention of keeping history alive for future generations. For my junior high history class, I analyzed three movies that observed the impact of Nazi atrocities from strikingly different perspectives—the encroaching dread of a family in hiding in George Stevens’ “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the visceral horrors of a concentration camp in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and the monstrous denial of Nazi judges on trial in Stanley Kramer’s “Judgment at Nuremberg.” As a kid, this unofficial trilogy served as a sobering illustration of the unthinkable evil committed by ordinary human beings Read More


“Midnight Sun” does what it means to do for the people it means to do it for—and that might just be enough. The 12-year-old girls who are the film’s target audience probably won’t realize what it’s derivative of: a little bit of John Hughes and a lot of “Love Story.” “Midnight Sun” also bears more than a slight resemblance to last summer’s Young Adult drama “Everything, Everything,” in which a rare disease supposedly spells doom for a blossoming teen romance. (Director Scott Speer’s film is actually based on a 2006 Japanese film of the same name.) Xeroderma pigmentosum—a one-in-a-million skin ailment that makes exposure to the sun’s rays Read More