Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
2. Gary Oldman
3. Robert De Niro
4. Sean Connery
5. Willem Dafoe
6. Sam Rockwell
7. Ian McKellan
8. Jack Nicholson
9. Hugh Jackman
11. Alfred Molina
12. Nick Stahl
13. Brendan Gleeson
14. Michael Clarke Duncan
15. Don Cheadle
16. Morgan Freeman
17. Christian Bale
18. Tom Wilkinson
19. Robert Downey Jr.
20. Eric Bana
21. Anthony Hopkins
22. Jack Black
23. Johnny Depp
24. Bill Nighy
25. Geoffrey Rush
26. Simon Pegg
27. Vinnie Jones
28. Kevin Spacey
29. Dustin Hoffman
30. Ben Foster
31. Steve Buscemi
32. Tim Robbins
Evan Rachel Wood
Quick picture the scariest, most blood-curdling thing in the world. Don't think just picture it. An image; a moment; a feeling of such utter mortification, disgust, and soul-chilling repulsion, even tangentially picturing it makes your skin clammy and fills you with dread. Have it? Good. Now, let's compare notes. I'll hazard a guess: it's not vampires, zombies, or ghosts. It's not clowns, axe-murders, or murderous children. It's not falling, being trapped underwater, or in a tight space.
It's high school.
Yes, it's a profound enough realization to catapult Stephen King from up-and- coming novelist to genre titan, pioneering decades of audiences realizing the true horror was not elaborate fantasies on screen it lay in the people surrounding them in day-to-day existence, and just how perverse, vindictive, and creatively cruel they could be. And it's a guiding principle that helps Brian De Palma's seminal adaptation of King's fledgling classic persist as more than a schlocky '70s thriller, landing in The Exorcist camp of one of the most deeply disturbing but perversely, sheepishly enjoyable cinematic frights of all time. And that's not even factoring in the blood-drenched mass-murder by telekinesis.
De Palma, a director largely acclaimed for style at the expense of substance, here finds the ideal wedding of the two, recognizing that King's parable is all the more gruesomely effective when seen through the heightened, hormonal dizziness of high school. At first glance, we're given the sense he's somewhat sold himself short, as the cheerfully gratuitous credits, featuring a gaggle of spectacularly naked coeds bouncing around a change room, suggest a jocular resignation to the comic book camp of B-horror (B for beeeeewwwbbs, naturally). A subsequent shot of Carrie ambiguously pleasuring herself in the shower, pelted by a playfully ejaculating shower head, is straight out of a porn parody. But then: a spurt of blood, and the shower's gone ice cold, as we're plunged into one of the most chilling openings to a horror film imaginable, as Carrie's histrionics, blindsided by her first period, are trumped by the scarring spectacle of her being pelted with tampons by her hooting, jeering cohort.
And then the shoe drops: De Palma, cunningly, has cottoned on to the true horror inherent in King's treatise being the see-sawing of expectations being requited and rebuffed. Initially, horror takes the backseat to satire, as De Palma gleefully lampoons the genre's objectification of female sexuality, and tacks on a deceptively savage incitement of the school system's inability to properly address bullying and mental health concerns (here, Betty Buckley expertly riddles her do-gooder teacher's kindly exchanges with Carrie with pedantic clumsiness and subtle resentment), while sprinkling in visits from Carrie's horrifically deranged mother (and the most distressingly leering Jesus on a crucifix in cinema history) so unhinged they can't help but ring grotesquely emotionally true. The social commentary is tempered somewhat by the slightly out-of-touch 'male writer hypothesizing what it's like to be a high school girl' (not helped by a cast nearly as visibly inappropriately old as Grease), but the cruelty rings hauntingly true.
But De Palma changes gears to to full-blown suspense building in the second act. Hardly subtle about his amorous Hitchcock influences (check out the sampling of Psycho's shrieking strings in Pino Donaggio's elegantly bombastic musical score), De Palma treats prom like Hitch's proverbial bomb on the bus - the anticipation, watching every last piece fastidiously click into place, is what makes it horrifying. With sadistic cheerfulness and perfectly steely, squirm-inducing pacing, he cross- cuts between Carrie, audaciously daring to hope she could still integrate with her peers at prom, and her classmates taking a late night jaunt to the slaughterhouse. It's almost unbearably cringe-worthy - pop culture infamy ensures we know exactly what the coup de grace is, but can't quite look away as it painstakingly runs its course. The final blowout itself - a maelstrom of dizzyingly circling cameras, whip- pan zooms, fast-forwards, and split-screens - toes the line of being distractingly stylized, but it's too guiltily, sordidly cathartic a payoff not to drink up. What we don't expect is a climax part II - even more distressingly batsh*t, as Carrie's mother requites the looming Psycho allusions before Carrie - literally - brings the house down. Tack on a jump scare coda that suggests De Palma, smirking, trying to outdo the heart palpitations from his buddy Steve's shark movie, and there's no question we've got a chilling classic on our hands.
Sissy Spacek is almost achingly perfect as the titular telekinetic, and there are few cinematic images that convey the writhing claustrophobia of adolescent isolation as her pitifully slumped, dishevelled form. Watching her painstakingly build nuggets of self-confidence, conceiving that her supernatural abilities could be miracles rather than satanic curses, to her beaming, tearful euphoria at being crowned prom queen, are almost too adorable to watch, making her descent into bug-eyed murderousness as heartbreaking as it is chilling. Piper Laurie unquestionably steals the show with a grotesquely fever-pitched tour-de-force as Carrie's fundamentalist mother, all the more titanically detestable upon realization that, idly humming while dragging and locking her daughter in a closet, she genuinely believes she's acting in Carrie's best interests. John Travolta and Nancy Allen are each deliciously awful as Carrie's malevolent bully and her dopey, sadistically eager boyfriend, their caustic banter as funny as the underlying abuse is unsettling, while Luke Skywalker-wannabe William Katt and Amy Irving are each understatedly earnest as the two sheepishly trying to redeem Carrie's year (the ambiguity of Katt's oscillating enthusiasm as Carrie's prom date remains one of the film's most enigmatic touches).
Carrie may verge on being overcooked at times, but its blend of visceral imagery, incisive social critique, and bonkers climactic payoff sear its place into the annals of horror history. So go ahead: take Carrie to the prom. You just might not be sorry that you did.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Bland, James Bland
In 1969, George Lazenby's 007 stampeded the screen with the exquisitely '60s marketing battle cry of "Far up! Far out! Far more!" (and how! Like, wow!). Unfortunately, it's advice that Mr. Bond, James Bond continued to follow, well into the Roger Moore era, until the franchise had somewhat written itself into a corner of exponential excess, cultivating in the grotesque, campy bloat of Moonraker. So how to top Bond in space? Bring him back down to earth, naturally, with a cracking, gritty tale of espionage, to reestablish Bond as secret agent rather than Jedi Knight. And For Your Eyes Only nearly works as a welcome revitalization of Bond's class and spy credibility (even if it borrows even more liberally from From Russia With Love than The Spy Who Loved Me did from You Only Live Twice). It's just a shame that director John Glen seems to have overcompensated somewhat, endeavouring so tirelessly to deliver 'serious Bond' that his resulting romp, while pleasant, remains one of the blandest and least memorable outings of the series.
To his credit, Glen rides the 007 franchise's most flamboyant, pointedly responsive tonal shift with ease, conjuring a distinctly vintage Fleming/John Le Carré vibe, and that rare shocker of a Bond film where (gasp!) the plot is actually its main selling point. And no, that's not just a jab at the comparative lack of 007 razzle-dazzle populating the spectacle frontier. Indeed, Glen stages a good action scene (the opening double-whammy of shipwreck and aeronautical murder are both genuinely alarming), even if many could do with having the pace and intensity accelerated to avoid pacing drifting into worrisomely laggy territory (the underwater submarine subterfuge and cliffhanger finale are all fun, but so lugubrious they're - literally, in the case of the shark-baiting water skiing - a drag). Glen makes good use of his experience as a veteran 007 second unit director, and evocatively captures the natural flavour and unassuming beauty of Italy and Greece. Still, the restrained spectacle and distinctly grey colour palate - set largely at night or in earthly locales, the only real colours pop up in Moore's gaudy wardrobe - do lend the film a disappointingly muted feel, which can't help but suck a lot of the fun out of proceedings. Serious is one thing, but snoozy is a step too far.
Equally, the fawning fandom renown for the film's grit and credibility do demonstrate some selective memory: a somewhat shambling subplot having Bond subdue assailants by use of every Olympic winter sport is a strained contrivance whose fun factor wanes quickly, while a 'deus-ex-parrot' has to be one of the lamest plot devices of the entire franchise. Then there's the pre-credits sequence, which takes its place as the least thrilling and most idiotic offloading of Bond's legendary arch-nemesis imaginable (its inclusion being a thinly-veiled middle finger to Kevin McCrory, who hoarded Blofeld's rights for the execrable Never Say Never Again, is droll, but still self-indulgently stupid). And then there's Bibi - Lynn-Holly Johnson's contribution to the 'most annoying Bond girls' pantheon, whose infamous whiny, childhood petulance is excused only as cue for Moore's most amusingly acrid one-liner in his 007 tenure ("Put your clothes on and I'll buy you an ice cream"). Perhaps said ice cream could help sooth that burn.
Bill Conti's jaunty disco synths and cowbells are groovy, but toe the line of distracting silliness, saved only when weaving the Bond theme in (more sparingly than usual, though - boo), while Glen anchoring the film's predominant car chase with a VW Beetle is really pushing the limit of tongue-in-cheek. And speaking of cheek: Daniel Craig's 007 may have met Queen Elizabeth, but it took Moore to take the p*ss out of Margaret Thatcher. It's a closing note of such amusing ballsiness you have to wonder how many shaken-not-stirred martinis Cubby Broccoli imbibed in before signing off on.
Pairing the legendarily droll Roger Moore with the film's self-declared serious ethos could have misfired terribly, but Moore flexes his acting chops and keeps the British end up masterfully. He's starting to look a touch too old for the part here, and tempers his Bond appropriately - more sparing with the quips (though his incredulous eyebrows provide perennial punchlines in themselves), sombre and dignified visiting his wife's grave, and even more so when cautioning Melina not to be consumed by vengeance. As said vengeful firecracker, Carole Bouquet may be a touch flat, but she's elegant and credibly fierce, and welcomely far more capable than the average Bond girl. The same cannot be said for Julian Glover, whose adversary is so dull and immediately forgettable he's almost invisible while sharing scenes with his fellow actors. Thankfully, as the film's Kerim Bey surrogate, Topol is practically bursting at the seams with bawdy, infectious charisma (ten points if you recognized him without his Tevye beard, too). Cassandra Harris (Pierce Brosnan's late wife), is charmingly prissy as one of Bond's motivationally vaguer trysts. Finally, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell's Q and Moneypenny are charm incarnate as always, while James Villiers, dripping with snide contempt, covers the vacancy of M well, after Bernard Lee's tragic mid-film passing.
For Your Eyes Only marks a valiant social experiment in fighting against the decade's excesses in the interests of re-grounding the ethos of the character, and for this it deserves credit. Ultimately, it's one of Bond's quieter, more sombre and reflective outings, and in somewhat steadier hands could have served as a strong character study. As it stands, it's a pleasant, suitably engaging watch, with many strong moments undermined by inconsistent silliness and a general sense of hazy disengagement. Ultimately, for better or worse, it's a moment of zen for Bond - intriguing but scarcely memorable for many outside of die-hard fans, and unlikely to spur any new recruits into posing in tuxedos (or powder blue snowsuits) in changing rooms. Maybe if you offer to buy them a delicatessen...
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Welcome home, web-head
Spider-Fans are a thick-skinned lot. And, in watching his attempts to crawl onto the big screen, we've taken some gut-punches. From the early, fun-but-twee Sam Raimi days to the murky, Marc Webb hipster days (to say nothing of the nightmare of 'Dancing Emo Peter' - a farce of idiocy the character will be lucky to ever shrug off), we've watched our boy take more beats than a bout with Doctor Octopus. So, even finally(!) reacquainted with his REAL parents - a Marvellous accomplishment in itself - dare we hope? In the face of so much misguided corporate overreach, hackneyed tonal imbalance, flagrant disregard for comic backstory, and (shudder) hip-thrusts, dare we dream the dream of a half-decent cinematic Spider-Man, for the first time in more than some viewers' lifetimes?
Rest easy, true believers: Homecoming is the best Spider-Man movie ever made.
Right from the playful strains of a certain familiar theme over the opening logos, it's immediately apparent that Marvel Studios have not treated the reacquisition of their most beloved character lightly. Director Jon Watts' film practically leaps off the screen with a bouncy, mischievous energy, snappy humour, and such a sheer outpouring of joy at its own existence (no tired teen angst here!) that it's nigh impossible to resist grinning from start to finish. In contrast to the increasingly cosmic Marvel Cinematic Universe growing around it, Homecoming is winningly small and intimate: not only does Watts paint a love letter to the rough and tumble charm of Queens and its inhabitants, but the film's stakes are not the fate of the world or universe, but, appropriately, the neighbourhood becoming less friendly.
It's a hugely welcome tonic to blockbuster bloat, and the rare summer romp with space for characters to breathe. Watts channels Parker's bustling eagerness for a higher calling into one of the most organic, truthful depictions of a modern high school, with a John Hughes ear for its stresses, infantilization, and small joys. One sequence, where Peter wrestles with the ethics of crashing a party as Spider-Man to raise his social standing to help bag a date to the titular dance, is so adorably true to the character it's hard not to shed a tear in gratitude. It's telling that we know and care more about Parker's high school classmates than many of the B-tier, celebrity-cast superheroes in the MCU, and Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Tony Revolori (whose Flash, while no longer a jock, hits terribly credible cringeworthy notes of modern bullying), and especially Jacob Batalon (who sells many of the film's comedic and emotional beats with surprisingly hilarious aplomb) flesh them out superbly. Paradoxically, the film's grounded aesthetic also helps blend it into the MCU much more seamlessly than many of its cohort, reframing the MCU's macro conflicts through a nonplussed ground level (upon an exquisitely tongue-in-cheek Chris Evans cameo, Parker's teacher deadpans "or maybe he's a war criminal now. I dunno"), while the House of Mouse cheerfully works in Star Wars swag at every turn.
But, in the midst of this uncharacteristically unassuming 'world-building,' for Marvel, the fun and thrills have not been left crammed into a locker. Watts' action interludes are fizzy, raucous, clumsy (one car chase has Peter destroying - and chatting with - most of Queens in his inexperienced tenacity), and just as exhilarating as any of the bigger, brawnier Marvel counterparts. If anything, Watts infuses his blowouts with such worry Peter is in way over his head (his heroic intervention to the crumbling Washington Monument is interrupted by a panic attack from the altitude), that emotions are unprecedentedly ratcheted up for superhero combat. Even initial concerns of Spider-Man being too governed by Stark tech melt away in the face of Parker's unquenchable enthusiasm in the face of his costume's wacky potential, as his stacked super-suit cues many of the film's biggest laughs (two words: 'Intimidation Mode'), while Michael Giacchino's twinkling score soars and lilts with the quintessence of Spider-Man.
Michael Keaton's Vulture is unexpectedly terrifying, adding a uniquely aerodynamic to keep their tussles fresh and thrilling. Keaton's idiosyncratic, bristling, and grimly heartfelt performance (a righteously indignant 'working class hero' antithesis to Tony Stark) takes what could have been another bland, disposable villain and makes him one of the most deceptively memorable and compelling of the MCU. There are the slightest wobbles in the web - the Shocker is fun but a touch underwhelming for such a cult classic Spider-foe, while Donald Glover's cameo is amusing but superfluous. But in the face of the film's relentless outpouring of fun and heart, including a third act twist as astonishingly unexpected as it is retroactively self- evident, they are less than inconsequential. And there is one sequence, ripped from the comic pages of the Lee/Ditko days, that is almost overwhelmingly emotional, anchoring the core 'tireless underdog' ethos of Spider-Man in tearfully perfect fashion.
And Tom Holland. Dear Tom Holland. To call his impish, earnest charisma perfect for Peter Parker would be an understatement - he's almost achingly affable and human in and out of homespun or high tech costume, with a flair for pitch-perfect Spider-quips, raw vulnerability, and self-reproachful asides that are almost too lovable for words. In short, he is Spider-Man through-and-through. Supporting him, Robert Downey Jr. continues to find unexplored wrinkles in his eighth time embodying Tony Stark, and his clumsy 'Uncle Tony' mentoring ("my dad was never there for me, so, uh, breaking the cycle of shame") is hugely amusing without overstaying his welcome. Marisa Tomei is too effervescently delightedly not to larb as Aunt May (now with more charm and less life lessons! Yay!), while Jon Favreau is reliably hilarious as the crusty Happy Hogan.
Homecoming doesn't just do whatever a spider can - it redefines Spider-Man while showing unprecedented care and affection for what makes the character tick, all while teeming with humour, heart, humanity, and infectious fun. Soak it in, Spider-Friends. He's home.
Baby Driver (2017)
That's not bolognaise, Baby
Action movies are musicals!
It's an idea that's titillated film studies scholars for years - characters expressing themselves through the elaborate, narrative-pausing spectacle of shootouts and car chases in lieu of song and dance breaks. But it takes a director as fastidiously committed and immaculately mad as Edgar Wright to properly literalize the idea. And in his hands, rock-steady but drumming with excitement, we have Baby Driver - a movie as unabashedly nostalgic as it is fresh and innovative, hat-tipping to the era of Steve McQueen cool while pushing the envelope past pastiche and parody into new frontiers for the 'car chase film,' or even action genre. It's also one of the most infectiously kinetic, technically flawless, and uproariously fun times had at the movies in years - a Fast and the Furious for film buffs, conductors, and any adjacent audiences swept along for the ride.
You know that feeling of cathartic exhilaration and deep satisfaction you get watching a particularly well-edited music video, that synchronizes action beats to the timing of the song? Wright kicks that out of the park with a pulse-pounding opening heist/chase, already the most thrilling thing seen in years. Already, it's impossible not to marvel at how painstaking each movement (right down to the eyes!), sound effect, and action is matched to the song - if the adrenaline rush left any space for conscious admiration, that is.
And then. He just. Keeps. Going.
That's right - Every Single Cut in Baby Driver is precisely synchronized with the timing of an almost wall-to-wall soundtrack awesome enough to make Quentin Tarantino and Peter Quill tap their toes in envy, like a retro-Hollywood Stomp. Even the soundtrack-free dialogue sequences are so precisely timed they carry a 4/4 rhythm and keep the beat like scat interludes (listen carefully, and you can practically hear Kevin Spacey conducting his own soliloquies). It's a remarkable, unprecedented feat of mad scientist editing that is an almost deliriously impressive feat to behold in a Hollywood film - a nearly two-hour pop-rock-funk-soul opera bursting at the seams with slick style and exuberant joie-de-vivre. Call it a gimmick if you will, but I dare to to find a gimmick as meticulous, committed, and downright rip-roaring-fun.
And as for the story amidst the spectacle? Wright is a careful and ingenious enough writer to ensure he's in the driver's seat in regards to 'one last job' clichés rather than letting them drive him. He pumps in enough twists, turns, a laundry list of pop culture winks, and moments of savagely bonkers humour (come for the Michael Meyers; stay for the Monsters Inc.) into the overly familiar framework to keep it as fresh and interesting as can be. Certainly there are nitpicks - a couple of third act reversals are so earnest and contrived it's almost sweet, while Wright's unfortunate trend in vastly under-writing female leads continues with Lily James' Deborah, who, despite James' radiant charm, is transparently a plot-propelling prop rather than organic character.
Still - when we're strapped to the hood of Baby's chariot, slamming around the city with some of the most plentiful, playful, and voraciously fun car chases of the past several decades (amazingly, without a lick of CGI, a-la Mad Max: Fury Road), all the more dizzying through Wright's trademark hyperkinetic, whip-pan editing and concussive sound effects? A more bonkers, spectacle-ridden action climax than the average budget-bloated blockbuster, even more dazzling by being purely done with practical effects? Watching Baby ricochet a barbed wire road block into a pursuing cop car mid-turn, still in time with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms?" Three words: F*cking. Cool. As. Hell ('oh sh*t; that's four words').
Wright's cast all excel at embodying their bevy of '90s Tarantino film archetypes' with as much slick charisma and idiosyncratic oddness to ensure their walking through predictable beats is anything but predictable. As the titular vehicular savant, Ansel Elgort proves himself an enigmatic leading man for the ages, hitting the perfect balance between unflappable, impassive cool and goofy charisma. Watching him sashay his way across town in a long take tracking shot - itself a playful riff on the opening to Wright's Shaun of the Dead - to the Harlem Shuffle may be one of the most irreverently joyful sequences to grace screens this year. Kevin Spacey could play his 'steely but paternal' mob boss in his sleep, were his articulate eloquence and exquisite comedic timing not signs of his being very much awake. Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm both steal scenes with tremendous aplomb, each nailing an impeccable balance of being tremendously unpredictable and frightening and deadpan hilarity, while Eiza González provides a steady, smirking foil for their hamming (no pun intended, I swear). Finally, Jon Bernthal aces his 'seething mug' Punisher shtick in an extended cameo both disappointingly and amusingly short, while CJ Jones is charm incarnate as Baby's foster father.
Baby Driver may be Edgar Wright's most accessible, albeit least personal work of his astonishingly airtight career (indeed, memories of his having preemptively taken the p*ss out of the genre with Hot Fuzz are inescapable). But, apart from a couple of over-earnest plot contrivances, it only furthers his title as the industry's most inventive, fiendishly playful, and inconceivably immaculate maverick still working. So strap in for the most audaciously exhilarating and stupidly fun romp of the summer so far.
Firing your gun in the air during a high speed pursuit while yelling "AAAAHHHHH" optional. Vroom vroom.
It's tempting to read the title of director M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller as a cruelly reflexive play on the schism of his infamous filmmaking career: part I (the Early Days, where he was heralded as one of the industry's most visionary living directors), and part II (a slew of exponential misfires so inexplicably ill-advised no one, most likely including Shyamalan himself, quite knew what was Happening). Sadly, although Split does recall Shyamalan's early glory days (literally - to an almost inexcusably tacky fashion), there are mere hints of promise and potential here, skulking like phantoms amongst a film too mired in silliness and indecisive murk to leave too much of a mark. This isn't to say Split is a total write-off - there are trashy thrills to be had, and pitted against the bulk of Shyamalan's last decade of work, it's practically Citizen Kane. Still, it bears the melancholy mark of a fallen maverick who hasn't so much reclaimed his mojo as located the postal code it relocated to.
If anything, Shyamalan is wise to play it safe, steering clear of sci-fi, fantasy, and airbenders with a taut tale of abduction and frayed psychology that almost amorously borrows from Hitchcock's Psycho. Still, in spite of this textbook familiarity, Shyamalan still(!) somehow manages a work as loopy and hard to navigate as any of his more labyrinthine psychodramas. On the surface, he's conjured a setting rife for a satisfyingly campy b-thriller a-la Sam Raimi, replete with jittery, claustrophobic camera-work, an appropriately creaky, ominous soundtrack by West Dylan Thordson, and contrived enough reasons to strip his captive coeds to make Sharknado roll its eyes. And, for the sequences when Split commits to pure, primal 'what's around that corner' breathlessness, like a slightly sillier but equally chilling bunker buddy of last year's 10 Cloverfield Lane, it is effective as hell, and pure popcorn fun.
But, rather than committing to the amiable wink and nod, Shyamalan clouds his film with an uneasily out-of-place streak of (yawn) seriousness. To say the least, it sits uneasily with a wagon-load of aped genre tropes - a grainy aesthetic that hearkens back to the Doom era of action horror, hazy mental health fretting, Madonna/whore obsessions, clumsy flashbacks to our tortured protagonist's tortured childhood torturedly; even a healthy helping of cringe-worthy self-harm hero-worshipping? - that would've felt stale in a straight-to-DVD late night special from the early 2000s. The film's lugubrious editing doesn't help, making McAvoy's mysterious madman feel as sluggish as he is indecipherable. And if that wasn't enough, Shyamalan sifts in a shroud of self-important faux-mythology (wide-eyed characters whisper mental health bunk as if reciting sacred texts, conflating mental health disorders with superpowers in a way that is, amazingly, both cloyingly infantilizing and alienating as hell) that would be borderline offensive if it wasn't such silly claptrap.
Then, for those masochistic viewers still desperately trying to wrangle the film into being worth it, try our arch-foe(s)' motivation on for size: McAvoy's multiple personalities (or at least some of them ) kidnap high school girls something- something confused sexuality something-something abused as a child blah blah worshipping superpowered Satanic death cult to punish them for not having suffered enough? Hel-LO-O! They're in high school! Methinks it's you who doesn't know the meaning of the word suffer, Mr. 'Beast.' Go back to pining over a rose. Maybe sing about it.
And the invariable Shyamalan 'twist?' Only that nothing, not even standalone passion projects made by former art-house darlings, is safe from the encroaching, wearing mega-blockbuster trend towards interconnected cinematic 'universes.' Yes - our entire movie outing here exists for the sake of shoehorning in an almost staggeringly self-indulgent finale linking the film to Shyamalan's Unbreakable - a modest hit from 17 years ago(!) that a minimal percentage of viewers might remember offhand sans google - just so he can chase the superhero bandwagon like Tobey Maguire pitifully wheezing after his departing bus in Spider-Man? Nah. No thank you indeed. Good day to you, sir.
The film's main selling, of course, is showcasing James McAvoy's range, with the kind of role actors fight tooth and nail to show off with. Thankfully, he's fairly excellent, and transitions so seamlessly between flamboyant personalities (including some pretending to be others... oooh!) with subtle shifts of face and posture. It's almost a shame that he has to contort to the dopey 'superpower' conceits of Shyamalan's script, as he's easily fascinating and scary enough on his own without crawling on the ceiling like a bargain basement Underworld counterfeit. Apart from the central novelty of McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy gives an impressively enigmatic, haunted performance as our leading teen, plagued by plenty of inner demons pre-abduction (though, again, she's better off emoting on her own right, rather than having her performance hand- held by irksome, unnecessary PTSD flashbacks). Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula are both solidly credible, in spite of the 'panting cheerleader' stereotypes they're saddled with, while Betty Buckley works her darnedest to ground her breathy exposition-dolling plot devise of a therapist with wry sharpness and astute charisma.
The thing is, you want to like Split. You can practically smell the sweat on Shyamalan trying to rekindle his rep, and scorning poor McAvoy, practically bleeding energy onto the screen, feels like kicking a (psychopathic) puppy. And hey - if you're in the market for a silly, braindead little thriller full of nerves and amiable nonsense, Split will pass the time with a couple of jumps, shivers, and chuckles, both intentional and not. But as a purported comeback from the mind behind The Sixth Sense, and with another Unbreakable sequel that next to nobody will be waiting eagerly for still in the pipeline? Let's just say that none of us, least of all Night, are now strangers to the Beast's suffering litmus test of worthiness.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Worth waiting for (Godot)
In 2015, the post-credits zinger for Marvel's Ant-Man had Evangeline Lily's heroine, the Wasp, promised her own super suit. Her retort: "It's about damn time." The world echoed her sentiments. And waited. But alas: you snooze you lose, Marvel. Wonder Woman is here, loud, proud, heartfelt, and almost absurdly fun. Not to mention: in the super-super-saturated cinemas of late, it's the first female-led superhero film in 13(?!) years? Suddenly Wasp's pithy barb feels like the understatement of the century.
If we're going to continue to play the Marvel card (and we should, for Wonder Woman is more akin to the MCU's bright, mischievously fun fare than any of its sombre, melodramatic, ludicrously unironic DC precedents), director Patty Jenkins magpies the best bits of Captain America and Thor into a robustly satisfying romp. It's a lot to juggle, simultaneously sating the twin bastions of feminism and fun in the rare superhero film expected to be About Something, but Jenkins, drawing upon nearly 80 years of fandom and iconography, is rightly confident. Her social commentary streak is as hearty as her flair for fun, and she gamely plunges into the film's WWI setting as a potent vehicle for one of the genre's most potent explorations of the ethics of action combat. Jenkins juxtaposing the sparking, saturated sapphire colour scheme of Diana's Amazon island with the sepia soot on the war-torn outside world (and just when we'd been enjoying a welcome break from the gloomy DC greys sigh) succinctly feeds into Diana's indictment of human cruelty. A superhero film sincere enough to advocate for empathy and benevolent compassion instead of revenge, justice, or simply violence? It's a core moral streak so puppy-eyed and earnest it would verge on cornball were it not sold with a ferocious fervour heartfelt enough to trigger twinges of guilty reflection in between bites of popcorn. And that's nothing to sneeze at.
But, paradoxically, in spite of this effective call for compassion there's almost never been a movie where watching someone punch things has felt so goddamn awesome. Jenkins uncorks action interludes with a zippy abandon, as balletic as they are concussively cathartic, so stupendously fun that you shouldn't be surprised to see audience members unconsciously swept to their feet with the infectious, heady momentum (Robin Wright, in particular, nearly steals the show with a functional cameo just by making ass-kicking in a leather miniskirt look so ferociously cool). Paired with the crisply perfect period wartime décor, and especially when accompanied by her exhilarating and impossibly catchy guitar riff, Wonder Woman is the first superhero film in years where the fight scenes, rather than merely pleasant diversions, are moving, almost overwhelmingly endorphin-flooding experiences. The mere memory of Diana crumbling a clock tower or flattening a roof with single blows, or granted her very own Éowyn moment by storming into no man's land (get it?) is enough to bring shivers of magnificence.
And that's when the shoe drops, and the 'women only Texas screening'-shaped elephant in the room rears its head: we've had decades for the exuberance of men hitting things to wear off. Wonder Woman reminds us of how much fun it can be to watch WOMEN hitting things, and how desperately rare it is. Mercilessly scrutinized under the gender policing microscope, Jenkins, cannily, doesn't oversell her gender politics. Instead, she calmly naturalizes them by steering the film through Diana's headstrong, take-no-sh*t character, with each feminist beat emerging naturally through her personality. It's oodles more effective than any polarizing, dogmatic diatribe, and yields many of the film's moments of sneaky humour. One aside in particular, where an exasperated Diana condemns petticoats and skirts for impeding high-kicks, instantly cements itself as an iconic reprieve of solidarity for women's dressing rooms for the next century.
Still, a Wonder Woman film would be moot without the right Gal in the lead. Here, it's indisputably clear that it's been worth waiting for Godot. Anchored by a tempestuous, fiery charisma, Godot's remarkable performance is just as unforgettable in her small moments of zealous humanity (her almost childlike indignation at a war counsel willing to abandon soldiers as a strategic coup, or equivalent jubilation when tasting ice cream for the first time) as she is fiercely convincing tossing tanks or bridling enemies with a glowing lasso. Supporting her, Chris Pine is at his most disarmingly hysterical and irreverently lovable here, and provides a welcome anchoring of incredulous realism when the film threatens to topple into being too steeped in mythology. Danny Huston's Red Skull clone hits all the requisite skulking, ominously pontificating adversarial notes, but he's nowhere near as interesting as Elena Anayu's luridly sinister and tragic Dr. Poison, who, disappointingly, is relegated to sidekick status. Thankfully, Diana's remarkably diverse cabal of 'Howling Commandos' pals remain on the right side of fun without overstaying their welcome (though Ewen Bremner is just one bug-eyed nibble of haggis away from belonging in a live action cartoon). Finally, David Thewlis' droll prissiness perfectly befits Diana's befuddled ambassador to the human world, even if his range isn't quite up for the challenge plot twists demand of him.
Wonder Woman isn't perfect there are expanses when Jenkins' juggernaut pacing fumbles (especially an overlong expository origin governed by an overbearingly dour Connie Nielsen), and it toes the line of being a touch too derivative, leaning on its superhero predecessors so liberally that key emotional moments threaten to belly flop from over-familiarity. Still, it's only a fleeting wobble of tentativeness and creative laziness, that only serves to reinforce Robin Wright's advice: Wonder Woman is at its (/her) best when she truly believes in herself. Still, when Godot is armoured up, flashing her gauntlets and kicking through walls, the film achieves an almost peerless sense of infectious awesomeness. Will its legacy abide? Well, I'll let the waves of young girls (and boys!) jump-kicking and slamming their forearms together when stampeding out of the auditorium of my screening speak for themselves.
Belle de jour (1967)
Godard may have quipped that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, but Luis Buñuel knew better: all you need to make a movie is a girl and her imagination. Picture this: opening credits beckon us in to a peaceful, aristocratic countryside carriage ride, with almost histrionically dull effete banter between suave, chirpy husband (Jean Sorel; exquisitely bland) and stony, disaffected wife (Catherine Deneuvre). But don't worry - the drolleries only last minutes before they're interrupted by a rape and bondage sequence orchestrated with carnivalesque bounciness, making it almost as disturbingly cheery as it is jarring. It's polarizing, distanciating, and risks losing any particularly prim viewers within the first five minutes. And, naturally, it's completely false. And thus, having successfully doubly(!) yanked the rug out from under us within roughly the first five minutes, the only thing we know to be real about Buñuel's Belle de Jour is its commitment to falsehoods - and therein lies its playful, magnetic, fascination that lingers more than any voyeuristic titillation.
Belle de Jour is still regarded, doubtlessly with a nervous chuckle in some circles, as one of the earliest films conflating eroticism and artistry. Yet it's shy even for the swinging' 60s in terms of depicting actual sex on screen - cleverly, Buñuel realizes that for us, as for Deneuvre's bored-housewife-turned-high-class-prostitute Séverine, sex is best when left up to the imagination. But the film is anything but shy in its voracious, almost fidget-inducing satire of antiquated, monolithic gender roles, with Séverine's stagnant facade of happy upper-class home life being the film's most brazen illusion of all, and her escape into the equally constraining and prescriptive role of men's sexual fetish object in an attempt to actualize her lurid fantasies evoking a sour laugh in itself. Over time, Buñuel's slow-born critique unearths a viciously tongue-in-cheek account of the dissonance between Séverine tentatively but aggressively trying to wrestle her own meaning out of a life full of people trying to dictate hers - her husband, society, their pretentiously aristocratic neighbours, especially Michel Piccoli's eloquently unrepentant horndog - with the results being as sordidly funny, and, inevitably, deeply sad as anyone would expect.
Pacing is appropriately dreamy, verging the line of excessively languid, but Buñuel packs each frame with tantalizingly subtle details of characterization and foreshadowing, keeping the fantasy/reality playfully hazy throughout. Some, like Roger Ebert, point to the subtlest of sound cues to differentiate the two, but it's just as possible these are as much of a red herring as any of the film's more prurient interchanges. Each of 'Belle de Jour''s colourful trysts allow for gleefully salacious scene-stealing bits, most memorably a teasing "what's in the box?" moment that Mr. Quentin Tarantino, amongst countless others, can thank Buñuel for (and here, like its homage in Pulp Fiction, the answer is fiendishly simple: it's whatever you want it to be). Like any self-respecting French film from the '60s there are gangsters, as cartoonishly grotesque as they are impossibly slick, particularly Pierre Clémenti's sulky, cane-wielding vampire. And then: that legendarily ambiguous ending, the film's most innocuously and and subtly perverse of all. Unless, of course, it's just another rug-yank, that Buñuel, that scoundrel, never quite shows his hand with. Perhaps, it's simply macrocosmic of the earlier mystery box: it's whatever we want it (or most fear it) to be.
Still, the film reaches the annals of legend almost singularly through Catherine Deneuvre's rivetingly inaccessible performance. It takes an actor of rare talent who can anchor a film of guiding an audience through every scene while remaining so impenetrably deadpan, but Deneuvre's cool, chic glassiness bleeds out just enough flints of a vast inner world of yearning and desire that even she may not be fully privy to. She barely speaks throughout the film, but her eyes and the smallest moments of relaxing her shoulders are more subtly revelatory than the most stentorian soliloquies, the delicate power therein making her work here truly unforgettable.
Based on Joseph Kessel's novel, Buñuel's Belle de Jour's play with sexual, ideological restriction and release is too sharp not to have inspired a number of real life accounts. Most vocal about her experiences is Brooke Magnati, who herself reappropriated the titular billing for a series of books based on her own call-girl experience as an upper- echelon prostitute while completing her PhD which, naturally, are themselves now being adapted into a film. Fantasy inspiring fantasy inspiring reality inspiring fantasy? Sounds about right.
The Lost City of Z (2016)
Welcome to the Jungle, we got no fun or games
Percival Fawcett - intrepid explorer, whose exploits into charting the Amazon jungle in search of a mystical ancient civilization captivated the world and inspired a generation of adventure writers - would probably fall asleep during his own dour, flaccid biopic. Now, this isn't to say the only way to cinematically interpret Fawcett's life would be to whip-crack into full-blown Indiana Jones (though a film this allergic to fun could do far worse than shallow, Romancing the Stone mimesis). Instead, director James Gray strives to tap into Fawcett's mythos and mystique with the lyrical, abstract profundity of a Terrence Malick or Werner Herzog (indeed, his telling is irreconcilably indebted to Herzog's own parable of jungle madness, Fitzcarraldo). Sadly, he's too clumsy a director to commit to the kooky poetry of his thematic earmarks. Instead, his lolling sequences of Fawcett's crew wandering through the jungle or circumnavigating stuffy British Geographical Society politics - amazingly, equally drab and aimless - at times pleasantly hypnotic, but threaten to turn proceedings into The Lost City of ZZZzzzzzz.
Fawcett's memoirs tell of encounters with 60 foot snakes, deadly spiders, and enough peril and adventure to galvanize Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World. These tales may have been tall (who's to say? are YOU going to forage through the jungle to fact check?), but it's a rare exercise in cinema purposefully downplaying the fun factor of its source material. The film starts promisingly: after an effectively squirmy opening with Fawcett failing to advance through the ranks of claustrophobic military culture in rural Ireland thanks to disgraced parentage, Gray bequeaths us a fun Ian McDarmid cameo as the evil Emperor of Geography, whose ominous monologue hypes the exotic perils of the jungle, stopping just shy of him purring "Goooood. Goooooood!" So far so good (gooooood!). But, after a thrilling (not) foray into the fine details of cartography, we finally follow Fawcett into the jungle. And wait. And walk. And wait. And cough. And fidget. And try not to check our phones, but my goodness, is that the time? But don't worry: you've two hours of more of the same awaiting you.
(I could tell, as a Canadian viewer, that my crowing this triumphantly at hearing the titular legend correctly[!] pronounced as 'Zed' rather than the customary big-screen 'Zee,' was a sign of how dire the cinematic experience was here )
One brief sequence, where Fawcett's raft and crew are besieged by indigenous arrows, only to meet a bloody end by looming piranhas, plays as a lively prelude to more thrilling adventures to come. Instead, it's the activity high point, an uneasily early climax paving the way to two thirds of increasingly diminishing content. There's no facts, literature, or even conjecture to establish even the skeleton of a mythology enough to share Fawcett's burning desire to unearth the titular lost civilization, apart from a few nonchalant shards of pottery, quickly whisked away from. Instead, we're reminded that the film shares a production team with 12 Years a Slave, and is thereby a Film With an Important Social Message. Behold: lengthy, awkward, anachronistic shoehorned-in diatribes shooting for feminism and anti-colonial racial equality instead playing as Hallmark pandering, patronizing asides of white saviourism. Think of Brad Pitt's uncomfortably didactic, self-congratulatory monologue in 12 Years a Slave. Now imagine sinking into a full 30 minutes of it, in a film that really isn't an organic platform for filmic slacktivism du jour. Yeah, I saw you checking your watch there - don't even pretend.
Even such a feeble ebb of a film could have coughed up some embers with an appropriately charismatic, magnetic lead. Unfortunately, Charlie Hunnam is effectively the antithesis of any such qualities. If his cross between snoozy murmuring, overcooked pontificating, and absentminded smugness were meant to play as enigmatic, he clearly dropped out of Mumblecore college too early to find a balance skewing anything close to watchable. If anything, Robert Pattinson appears to be practically bursting at the seams to chew scenery as eccentric comic relief with deranged relish - so, naturally, after an encouragingly wild-eyed introduction, he's rendered effectively mute by Gray, his performance as much of a dud as his surroundings. Sienna Miller is similarly too swamped by the script's quicksand of 'frowny, long-suffering wife with absentee husband' cliché to cough up anything resembling a spark of humanity to grab onto. So we're left with Tom Holland, funnelling every ounce of sprightly energy, charisma, and irresistible earnestness into Fawcett's son-with-prodigal-father, heralding the film's only genuine character arc. Try as he might, he's barely in it. It isn't enough.
Gray's film is not entirely without minor blips of enjoyment: it's well-shot, and makes good use of the beautiful Amazonian scenery (even if it is all dulled by a frustrating grey filter - there's really no need to live up to your namesake literally, James). Add the serene, soothingly ethereal score of Christopher Spelman, and many of Fawcett's jungle walks attain a pleasantly elegiac peacefulness, like a meditative nature walk. It's just a shame that this is the extent of the film's ambitions, as we otherwise see next to nothing of the excitement, mystery, or peril that made the jungle so obsessively captivating for Fawcett, instead making each jungle reprise, instead of bustling with possibility, at most muster a murmur of placid indifference. The Lost City of Z may be benignly, mildly engaging, but, remains overall, like Fawcett, a promising curiosity fated to be buried in the annals of cinema history. So, if that feat of metatextual anticlimax was Gray's aim, he accomplished it masterfully - the only such instance of mastery throughout. Oh - are you still awake? You're doing better than me. Yawn.
Nacho average monster movie (groan)
Think of all the rules you normally assume about monster movies. Then get ready for Colossal to subvert, tweak, tease, and stomp all over them, in favour of something altogether unprecedented, as richly spun as it is utterly bonkers. One of the industry's few recent genuine surprises, Colossal lumbered in out of nowhere, its only publicity preamble being an (absurd) lawsuit from the producers of 2014's Godzilla over similarities (namely...both have giant monsters?). But there's nothing derivative about Nacho Vigalondo's viciously entertaining satire, which weaponizes kaiju tropes as trenchant, hilarious, and surprisingly dark social barbs, the end game being a rambunctiously fun yet grimly chilling commentary on the real monsters being - you guessed it - people.
First off: there's an easy jab at Team Shyzilla in that, with roughly 10 minutes of monster mash, Colossal almost outperforms the budget-bloated mess that had the titular behemoth cameoing in his own movie. Still, Colossal is so much more than monster spectacle that, in sinking your teeth into its strange, idiosyncratic charms, you'll almost forget to get pumped for the Seoul-stomping mayhem. Vigalondo's subtly hilarious, razor-sharp script starts with a naturalistic, albeit familiar, portrait of a woman reeling from partying herself down to the cinders, with Hathaway capably riffing on her Rachel Getting Married burnout. But, just when it seems the stage is set for a schmaltzy indie rom-com about broken people healing (complete with genre darling Jason Sudekis on hand): in come news reports of a gigantic monster (which, during production, probably didn't intend to evoke Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy so strongly...thankfully Disney is no such lawsuit lemming), causing havoc rampaging through South Korea. And the rug is yanked, the whole game changed, and we're off on the most raucously oddball (anti)blockbuster of the year, complete with CGI that valiantly outshines its modest budget, and a playfully ominous score by superb 10 Cloverfield Lane composer Bear McCreary that perfectly sets the lurching monster vibe.
But, one twist is not enough for Vigalondo. And just when we start to acclimatize to Colossal's wonderfully weird, cheerfully nonsense butterfly effect internal grammar, somehow finding a cohesive midpoint between goofiness and tragedy while leaving room for a few indelible monster movie images (apologetic Korean calligraphy, for one), Vigalondo yanks the rug out from us...again. Welcome to a third act tonal switch so unexpectedly distressing you unconsciously creep to the edge of your seat more from chills than thrills. It's here that Colossal shows its dwarfing, scaly hand: it's a film all about control - having it, losing it, and the abhorrent depths humans stoop to to reclaim it, at all costs. Suddenly, a film about gigantic Michael Bay-FX escapees transmogrifies into one of the most shamefully realistic, painfully tense human stories of the past several years, while sprinkling in micro-commentaries on consent, addiction, gender dissonance, overseas media violence and spectatorship, and self-esteem for good measure. If there a momentary wobble, it's Vigalondo's reliance on fairy-light flashbacks to frame character revelations, which flirts with daft cliché...until, naturally, their seeming sappiness is revealed to be all part of the plan, and key to a final big reveal as f*cked up as it is clever. And then, before you know it, we rumble into a climax more emotionally laden and bombastically, cathartically thrilling than most Hollywood fare boasting 10 times the budget can muster. If nothing else, you'll never look at a sandbox the same way again.
If there's ever been an actor perfectly poised to navigate Colossal's bizarre blend of Hollywood and indie energies, it's Anne Hathaway. She anchors the film with a powerhouse performance, part acerbic silliness, part raw, dripping vulnerability, all grounded by a steadfast charisma too honest not to believe, in spite of the emotional and tonal roller coasters the film takes her on. Matching her, Jason Sudekis is a flooring revelation, proving himself to be a remarkable performer as capable of wells of immense, terrifying darkness as he is a quirky, affable, goofball, often within seconds of one another. Finally, Beauty and the Beast's Dan Stevens gives an impressively precise performance teetering the balance between charmingly sympathetic and didactic asshole, while veteran character actor Tim Blake Nelson is always readily on hand for a fiendishly funny non-sequitur, like Donny from The Big Lebowski, but with more encroaching puppy dog sadness.
Somehow (somehow...!) so much more than the cataclysmically collision of its disparate parts, Colossal pairs the introspective whimsy of Gareth Edwards' Monsters with the stomping, metaphoric social drama of the original (read: good) Godzilla, spun through a cheeky p*ss-take of a cutesy indie movie, while still leaving more surprises - and not always pleasant ones - in store. It's a thoroughly unexpected genre-bending gem, as resonant as it is massively fun. And although its limited release and head scratching high concept will, sadly but inevitably, strip it of the widespread adulation it deserves, if you're wondering how Vigalondo's film will fare as a retroactive cult hit... well, let's just say you won't have to fish for an adjective for very long.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
You've Got (Snail) Mail
Speak of The Shop Around the Corner in contemporary times, and you're more than likely to be greeted by blank looks until you revise its moniker to 'You've Got (Snail) Mail' ("Ohhhh! THAT one!"). But, while director Ernst Lubitsch's classical rom-com may have to contend with its '90s remake for pop culture recognition, it's easily charming and delightful enough to warrant, at the very least, comparable adulation. Distinctly more demure and gentle than the masses of sparkier screwball comedies in vogue at its time, Lubitsch's film strips itself of any such pretences, striving instead for a softer, infinitely more vulnerable play for unfettered emotion, seasoned with knowing wit. His sentiment pays off, as the film remains an abiding holiday classic, almost too lovable to resist.
Adapted from Hungarian playwright Miklós László's work Parfumerie, Lubitsch's retaining the Budapest setting with transplanted American actors may take some acclimatizing to (perhaps Lubitsch was content to have a more heartwarming link to Europe than all of the wartime atrocities cluttering the newsreels - notice the conspicuous absence of any politics or world events), but it only adds to the film's nostalgic, somewhat anachronistic charm. With a dreamy, unassuming pace, Lubitsch allows his characters to breathe, carefully delineating the lives, fears, hopes and dreams of each staff member of the titular department store's staff with tender compassion before allowing the centrepiece love story to build amidst them with slow, teasing playfulness. Certainly, the film has its blips of alarming darkness that suggest Lubitsch was too attuned to the sociopolitical climate to create an entirely vacuous fairy tale, but they are painted with the same observant humanity and care as the rest of the film's naturalistic character beats. And if the corresponding friction inherent in the film's Much Ado About Nothing twist may come with occasional whiffs of contrivance or excessive convenience, the mischievous, disarming sweetness with which they weave tantalizingly closer to one another more than makes up for it. The film's 'first date' scene alone is so unforgettably clever and savagely funny that even You've Got Mail couldn't resist borrowing it almost shot-for-shot, and winning the raucous laughs of a whole new generation of viewers.
Still, it's the indelible chemistry of James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, one of the most reliable pairings of the classical era, that elevate the film to the level of classic. The two play off each other with consummate ease, segueing from caustic, prank- filled, screwball-lite barbs and fireworks to embers of affection seamlessly, and Sullavan's fast-talking, peppery vigour proves the perfectly adorable foil for Stewart's twinkling, huffy bluster. Supporting them, Felix Bressart practically embodies the film's gentle, winking spirit as their kindly coworker, Joseph Schildkraut is so oily he practically glistens as the store's resident fink, William Tracy is so loudly comedic he practically seems to have cockily strolled in from another film entirely (but remains irresistibly funny nonetheless), while Frank Morgan hits the perfect cocktail of imposingly obtuse with a secret heart of gold as the shop's perennially harried owner.
It's hugely refreshing, even for the early 1940s, to find a film so straightforwardly pleasant and enjoyable, but Lubitsch's deft hand has the film bursting with simple but robust charm. Resonantly heartwarming comedy and romance, an undercurrent of melancholy stripped of any histrionics and with only the gentlest indulgence of saccharine Hollywood convention, The Shop Around the Corner's abiding sweetness continues to make it a welcome discovery or revisitation, whether as a holiday watch, or a means of unwinding with a smile year-round. And if its success had anything to do to stem the flow of tacky, ornamental music boxes? All the better.