2/10The Black Phone is this year’s Malignant, and that is not a compliment. It is a bizarre, incoherent mashup of several other movies and archetypes it admires but can’t come close to imitating. As a macabre circus-freak of a film, it’s required viewing, but for anyone just wanting to enjoy a movie, steer well clear.
North Denver, 1978- A serial child abductor known only as “the grabber” (Ethan Hawke) roams the gloomy North Denver suburbs, and as a new school year begins with noticeably fewer classmates, police are no closer to finding him, even though his hunting grounds are limited to a single elementary school zone. Finney Blake (Mason Thames) shelters from bullies and an abusive father as the grabber diddles all his classmates in the background until at long, long last, he’s kidnapped himself and locked in the grabber’s basement. His only resource is a disconnected black phone through which the grabber’s prior victims contact him from beyond the grave. Also, Blake’s little sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) has psychic powers, and the completely incompetent Denver police feel the need to enlist her help finding the grabber. Also, there is a coked-out dude named Max (James Ransone).
7/10 I usually can’t stand biopics or the work of writer/director/producer Baz Luhrmann, but the pair of formulas complement each other perfectly in Elvis.
Las Vegas, Jan. 20, 1997- Lying in his hospital bed in the hours between a stroke and his resulting death the following morning, “Colonel” Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) remembers his career managing Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), all the way from first meeting and signing him in the Deep South in 1956 until he had to return to his home planet in 1977.
Parker’s memory is a celebration of Elvis, one that frequently bumps against the walls of his infamous mismanagement. He calls attention to the ways he impeded Elvis’ career with his preemptive excuses for them, and the film becomes his unintentional confession.
7/10 Time is doing its thing. Cooper Raiff is a Dallas native who’s five years younger than I am, I drive past his high school a few times a week, and he made one of the biggest deals in Sundance history this year when he sold his second feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth, to Apple TV+ for $15 million. This is the first up-and-coming director of the TikTok generation, and this is what he’s making.
Livingston, New Jersey- Fresh college graduate Andrew (Raiff, who writes, directs and produces) moves back into his step-father’s house. Knowing nothing about what he wants to do with his life, Andrew enters the apparently cutthroat underground world of bar mitzvah DJing, where he meets Domino (Dakota Johnson, who also produces) and her autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew resents his step-father, Greg (Brad Garrett), advises his younger brother, David (Evan Assante), as he develops interest in girls, pines for his college girlfriend moved on to bigger and better things and navigates his quickly developing attraction to the engaged Domino.
7/10 “The end of the Jurassic era,” woah! The Jurassic Park series is an “era” now, OK, that’s certainly a word. And Jurassic World: Dominion is the end of that era! Don’t get sick of it now, we’ve only got one more ticket to sell you! We swear!
Very few marketing campaigns these days are comfortable selling viewers on an individual film. The pitch is always to raise the stakes, convince viewers that the new movie is an extension of what they’ve already invested time and energy into, and not going to see it would turn their enjoyment of a beloved older film into some kind of sunk cost. Little energy is spent on the question of whether or not this individual movie is good and worth seeing, but for the first time in a long time with this “era,” yeah, Jurassic World: Dominion is pretty all right.