“Lilac, Wine, Pomegranate, Black,” by Eric Robert Nolan

This new mountain night
drains the waning day in violets.
Light declines to lilac, wine, pomegranate, black —
another plum-colored
sunset over Roanoke.

(c) 2019 Eric Robert Nolan

 

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A very short review of “Crawl” (2019)

“Crawl” (2019) is an often corny creature feature that still delivers the scares quite nicely, given its decent special effects and its successful mashup of man-vs.-nature plots.  (Our father and daughter protagonists here must face off not only against the movie’s reptilian horrors, but also against the hurricane that conspires to aid the lizards’ hunt.)  Our heroes are portrayed by the terrific Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario, both of whom are better than the script’s forced and clunky family drama.

But the real stars here are the alligator-related catastrophes that we bought a ticket to see, and those are inventive and fun.  The movie feels like a particularly creative 10-year-old playing with his toy alligators in his sister’s dollhouse — but I mean that in a good way.  It totally works.  I jumped a couple of times, and that’s a pretty good sign that a horror movie is working.

I’d rate “Crawl” an 8 out of 10, and I’d cheerfully recommend it to someone looking for a decent new summer monster movie.

 

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A review of “Us” (2019)

“Us” (2019) passes the litmus test for a good horror movie — it is genuinely scary, thanks largely to Jordan Peele’s terrific directing and its cast’s immense talents.  Lupita Nyong’o shines the most here; she gives a tour-de-force performance in the dual role of both a terrified woman and her savage, homicidal doppleganger.  (If you’ve seen the trailer for “Us,” you know it portrays a nuclear family of four being assailed by their mysterious, murderous lookalikes.)  Shahadi Wright Joseph is also especially good, in the dual role as both the family’s traumatized daughter and her cherubic-yet-stabbity twin.  This is a creative horror film with excellent shooting and imagery, and I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

I don’t know that everyone will enjoy the film as I did, as I don’t think it is perfect.  Its overlong third act is easily its weakest, when the traditional cat-and-mouse horror-movie antics eventually take a back seat to the film’s key reveals.  We do get an explanation for the clone-tastic shenanigans in “Us,” even if it isn’t altogether satisfying. There is actually an extensive fantasy/sci-fi backstory that Peele has prepared, and which I will not spoil here.

But I do think that many viewers would enjoy the story more without it, as I think I would have.  The movie’s key reveals are implausible and slightly befuddling at first, and then grow preposterous in the viewer’s mind the more that he or she thinks about them.  They’re presented a bit ploddingly, too, in a film that feels maybe 20 minutes too long.  As good as it was, “Us” would have been a more entertaining film if it had left the genesis of its strange events a mystery.  If it had been presented as a simple, violent parable about the id, for example, it would appeal to a far wider audience and might approach the status of a horror classic, as Peele’s outstanding “Get Out” did in 2017.

But that isn’t what Peele wanted.  The friend with whom I watched “Us” last night sent me a great March 22 article by Aja Romano at Vox that admirably breaks down the movie’s ending.  Peele indeed had a more detailed and thoughtful message than a general statement about mankind’s duality.  Long story short — the movie’s mythology might not make a lot of practical sense, but it makes a lot of sense thematically.  There is some intelligent social messaging here, even if it isn’t perfectly delivered.  It helps if you think of “Us” as a surreal horror story instead of a realistic one.  I found that I liked the ending much more after reading this, and you might too.

One more note — this is the first time I’ve seen Elizabeth Moss on screen.  (She’s in a surprisingly hilarious supporting role here; I think most readers of this blog will recognize her as the protagonist of Hulu’s adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)  She’s got great comic timing, and she’s absolutely magnetic.  People keep telling me that I should watch “The Handmaid’s Tale;” maybe I really am overdue for that.

 

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A review of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019)

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019) is a fun enough Marvel movie; based on my own enjoyment, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.  It’s got the same qualities as almost all the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — fun, humor and great special effects housed within a remarkably well constructed shared universe.   This mostly standalone adventure is definitely one of the MCU’s campier outings, but I think that most viewers will find it a welcome break after the last two high-stakes, apocalyptic “Avengers” films.  (You may have heard of them.)

It’s also a great film to appeal to comic fans who are younger adults.  The humor usually works, and the characters are nicely relatable.  Peter’s peers and teachers are all engaging enough on their own, and make a good group of supporting characters.  I know most fans have commented how much they like Ned, and I do too — but I think the MCU’s biggest improvement in this part of the mythos is the character of M.J.  She is vastly different from her comic book progenitor, but in good ways.  She’s dry, sardonic and slightly dark, and she’s extremely well played by Zendaya.  I don’t imagine that many fans will agree with me here, but I personally find this character to be a lot more likable and compelling than the MCU’s Peter Parker.

And that brings me to my largest concern about the new “Spider-Man” films.  Their version of Peter is sometimes frustrating.  I don’t think it’s the fault of Tom Holland, who brings a nice amount of energy and personality to the role.  I think it’s the fault of the screenwriters, who have made the character so doltish, boyish and eager-to-please that it’s occasionally annoying.  He sometimes seems more like a middle school student than an advanced high school student.  (Isn’t he supposed to be a senior here?)  The writers seem to want to counter-balance the character’s high intelligence with a humanizing flaw, and they seem to want to contrast young Peter with the older, more seasoned Avengers lineup.  All of that makes perfect sense, but I do think they go a little overboard.

I’m willing to go on record here and say that I prefer Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.”  His trilogy between 2002 and 2007 had more heart, more devotion to heroic archetypes, and greater attention character depth and detail.  (I still think that 2004’s outstanding “Spider-Man 2” is one of the best comic book movies ever made.)  There are advantages, too, to depicting an iconic superhero that doesn’t inhabit a shared universe — you spend more time exploring the character than exploring their context in relation to others.

Still, I’d recommend “Spider-man: Far From Home.”  Like I said, it was a fun movie.

 

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THIS TOWN CAN PARTY LIKE RAGNAROK.

Nothing stops these Southerners on the Fourth of July.  We had intermittent thunderstorms roll through and around Roanoke early this evening.  But when faced with thunder and lightning, residents just kinda … shot back.

If you crested the right hill here, you could see fireworks displays at every corner of the compass — blasting back at the sporadic storms like a hubris-fueled war with heaven.  Seeing lightning streak across the sky with fireworks exploding in front of it is really, really damn cool.  (Regrettably, I did not get a shot of that.)