First things first: Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) is worth a watch. With ten years’ acting experience and character familiarity on their shoulders, the four leads turn in better performances than last time, even if some (Emma Stone’s Wichita and Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee) are better than others (Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus and Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock—you can’t really blame Breslin, as the script treats her character as a MacGuffin most of the time). Speaking of the script, by Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick, now that there’s less need to spend time on worldbuilding and forming character dynamics, this second installment can get right to the conflicts and character arcs and zombie-bashing setpieces. And that’s where it falters.
James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019), co-written with Ethan Gross, is a stellar (sorry) achievement. Occupying the space orbited by Sunshine (2007), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), and Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time (2016) (not Life’s Journey but the shorter version narrated by Brad Pitt), it succeeds where First Man (2018) fails, to symbolize one man’s traumatized state with the infinite void of space; and it stands in good contrast to Blade Runner 2049, which loaded the atmospheric gravitas onto various earthbound locations. The film also draws from Solaris (both 1972 and 2002) and Gravity (2013) for certain sequences. Brian Tallerico wrote a rave, as did Richard Brody. Pitt’s acting, the cinematography (by Hoyte van Hoytema), the production design (by Kevin Thompson), and the score (by Max Richter and Lorne Balfe) are all to die for. But it’s not a perfect film, knowingly eliding over its weak plot structure by deeming it “beyond the scope of this” film.
Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko / 天気の子 2019), Makoto Shinkai’s new feature, is a strange beast. The trailer conveys it well: stunningly beautiful, but with two plotlines that seem to be on different planes altogether, to the point where the trailer can’t find a way to put them together. Also, the characterizations are lazy archetypes and many points of tension are artificial. I still enjoyed it though.
Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2019 Taiwan International Queer Film Festival.
My Days of Mercy (2017), Tali Shalom-Ezer’s death penalty lesbian rom-com written by Joe Barton, is a strange bird. The basic structure is very similar to Up in the Air (2009), with Ellen Page playing the George Clooney audience surrogate role, and Kate Mara as the Vera Farmiga outsider role. But whereas that film used its downtime to explore the depths of the Clooney character’s loneliness (with the help of Anna Kendrick), here the second focus is a serious, nuanced exploration of the aftereffects of execution by the state (with the help of Amy Seimetz and an adorable Charlie Shotwell).
Vampire films are inevitably an allegory for something or other, and Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) (which is told through an interview with a vampire), which Jordan wrote uncredited based on Anne Rice’s book and first draft, is no exception. Tom Cruise of all people plays the vampire Lestat, who turns Louis (Brad Pitt) out of loneliness, and saves the “life” of Claudia (an outstanding eleven-year-old Kirsten Dunst) by turning her as well—she becomes the daughter of the two men’s subtextual marriage. Strangely, Claudia’s also the only character with whom we can fully identify.
I’m not gonna lie, Polder (2015), a Swiss-German co-production written by Samuel Schwarz and directed by Schwarz and Julian M. Grünthal, is a mess in three languages. The messy sci-fi has sequences in German, Japanese, and Chinese, but the incoherence has less to do with the multilingual conception and more to do with the complicated plot’s lack of context.
In the spirit of our political age, I watched three political documentaries about prominent liberal American politicians (I vote Democrat, for what it’s worth); hagiographies they may be, but they still evince various degrees of insight.
I walked into this one cold, not knowing a thing about it—if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t’ve walked in at all. Imitation Girl (2017), by writer-director Natasha Kermani (who also has a music credit), had me wanting to crawl out of my skin or, failing that, drop down in front of my front row seat to do some pushups, because I detest fish-out-of-water stories, and this film has three of them: adult film star Julianna (Lauren Ashley Carter) trying to improve her life but being utterly unprepared, an alien (also Carter) who seems to be a benevolent version of the alien from Under the Skin (2013) slowly acclimating to human society, and Lauren Ashley Carter herself doing her best to pretend fluency in Farsi, because that’s the main language of the family the alien joins. For me, it was pure torture.
The quickest way to describe Men in Black: International (2019) is to call it a Marvel film that’s more allergic to sincerity and features worse acting. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are both fine actors, but here the former (when not doing action scenes) is reduced to his Ghostbusters (2016) shtick, and the latter coasts along on a broad and blunt comedic performance. They do provide a handful of the obligatory GIF-able moments though, so mission accomplished!
This will be less a review of Hudson Hawk (1991), the Bruce Willis passion project directed by Michael Lehmann, and more an excuse to say two things about how I look at films.