Steve McQueen’s work has always been weighty and dour, but with a distinct sense of purpose. Viewers are probably most familiar with the Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave, but McQueen’s other features depict a sex addict (Shame) and the Irish hunger strikes during The Trouble (Hunger). Widows, McQueen’s newest feature shares some of the dour coloring of his previous work, but is much more suited for general audiences. McQueen draws potent performances from a rich ensemble that features Viola Davis, another Oscar winner. The story, penned by McQueen and Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl, is interesting from both the perspective of plot and its peculiar, non-linear structure. Eminently more approachable that the rest of Steve McQueen’s oeuvre, Widows is that rare concoction of pulpy action and piquant social commentary.
Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer hired in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Based on Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, the film follows the young upstart officer through the racial prejudices of the police department. When he is transferred to the undercover investigations department, Stallworth hatches a plan to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
They Shall Not Grow Old is a day-in-the-life of the British soldier during World War I. The documentary from Peter Jackson was commissioned by the Imperial War Museums and 14-18 NOW in association with the BBC to celebrate the centennial of Armistice Day. When these groups approached Jackson, they had only one caveat: Jackson must use their archived WWI footage exclusively. After a think, Jackson decided to restore this old footage using modern production techniques, all towards a singular effort: show us the life of a WWI British soldier.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t sound like it can possibly work. Columbia and Sony Pictures produces an animated Spider-Man film that is not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but instead deals heavily with “the Spider-Verse”, an infinite collection of realities each with their own specific Spider-Person hero. Who does movies that are their own thing anymore? What is it, 1999? Well, these guys do. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman directed the film from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Rothman. Uh oh, so many people, so many companies involved, such an odd choice in setting. It must be a disaster, right?
Bo Burham’s Eighth Grade is a coming-of-age story for a digital generation. But even though young Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) must mature her way through a world of Snapchat and vlogs and the other trappings of Generation Z, her struggle is still timeless. Awkwardness knows no timestamp, and anxiety existed long before YouTube. Eighth Grade is replete with superlatives, but it starts with the duo of Fisher and Burnham. Fisher’s performance is astonishing, especially for such a young actor. Burham’s writing pops with realism and his direction oozes confidence, impressive for a feature debut. Together, the two infuse the film with a bittersweet realism and a staunch statement that it is always hard to grow up, but it is always possible to make it through.
Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is a wonderful and devilish little concoction of a film. At its center is Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), an old-fashioned “works with his hands” kind of guy who restores old cars in a near-future where all of the cars drive themselves. After an accident leaves him a quadriplegic, one of his more wealthy and influential clients offers to help him by implanting an experimental chip in his brain called STEM that will allow him to walk again.
It works. And then the chip starts talking to him.