As 13-year-old Meilin Lee wakes one morning from restless dreams, she finds herself transformed in her bed into an enormous red panda – a cuddly giant ball of scarlet fluff with pointy white ears and a long, fluffy tail. This tail will cause a bit of damage; so will Mei’s efforts to hide the truth about the big, smelly, unruly monster she’s become overnight.
Mei’s panda character may be an adorably oversized plush toy (and the latest merchandising bonanza from the Walt Disney Co.), but she’s also one hell of a menstrual metaphor.
Which isn’t to say that “Turning Red” — a cheekily succinct title for a film that sometimes plays like “Carrie” with the cuties, or “The Joy Luck Club” meets “Ginger Snaps” — is purely about metaphor. After decades of Disney animated entertainment that thrives on the emotions (but not the whims) of the young woman, this charmingly whimsical comedic fantasy – arriving this week on Disney+ but not, sadly, in theaters – scores something special. a messy pubescent milestone.
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It’s surely the first film of its kind to feature sanitary napkins as a plot device, hardly the least of its many key precedents. It also happens to be the first to boast a Chinese-Canadian female lead who keeps a Tamagotchi (it’s set in the early 2000s), loves a boy band, and still manages to get A’s. ( Mei twerks hard, but she works harder.) And perhaps not coincidentally, this is Pixar’s first feature film directed solely by a woman: Domee Shi, here confidently expanding on the images and ideas of her delicious short. Oscar winner 2018, “Bao”. “
The climactic action scenes owe something to classic kaiju movies; the most lyrical moments – a dreamlike interlude in a bamboo forest, a scene of Mei’s panda leaping over the moonlit rooftops of Toronto – are pure wuxia epic.
“Turning Red” is a delight and, I suppose, infinitely replayable, though in its eagerness to cleanse its own incredibly messy emotions down the stretch, it doesn’t achieve the catharsis it aims for. Let’s give it a solid B-plus. Most would consider it a rave, even if Mei’s mom — and mine — aren’t begging.
(PG, 3 out of 4 stars, 1:40)
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
The Bruce Wayne at the center of Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” isn’t like other Bruce Waynes, and that’s a good thing. This Batman, played by Robert Pattinson, is our goth Bruce Wayne, a youngster more disgruntled than billionaire playboy, and who allows Reeves, as a director, to play with all kinds of filthy imagery, and as a writer, to wrestle with Batman’s true function. It’s a necessary questioning that offers a revealing twist on this familiar character.
On paper, “The Batman” is a standard Batman story: he fights crime in Gotham, confronts the Riddler and the Penguin, and tangles with Catwoman. In practice, it’s Batman via “The Godfather” and “Zodiac,” a serial killer mystery mixed with a mob film. The genre game is a welcome refresher, while the detective work is an evolution of the simple hitting of Gotham’s clownish petty criminals.
As he pursues The Riddler (Paul Dano), a jigsaw-like serial killer leaving the bodies of Gotham’s leaders in his wake, Batman falls into the city’s deep-rooted corruption and organized crime’s grip on the city. local politics and law enforcement, even touching on his own storied family history, hitting uncomfortably close to home. Gotham’s criminal underbelly is populated by twisted cops and menacing mobsters, especially a transformed Colin Farrell (recognizable only by the sound of his voice) as the Penguin. In the attractive and intelligent cocktail waitress Selina, aka Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Batman finds a guide in this world, and ultimately, an ally, perhaps more, although she is far too cool for him, or for n anyone, frankly.
The movie is so melodramatically lyrical and over the top that it kind of winds up getting campy again, especially because throughout the heavy and prodigious story, Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig sprinkle sly flashes of humor and self-reflection on Batman. traditions. But the self-reflection goes much deeper for Bruce as a character, and that’s what makes this Batman reboot necessary.
In his uncompromising vision, it might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely the movie Batman needed.
(PG-13, 3.5 out of 4 stars, 2 hrs 56 mins.)
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
Since “Cyrano de Bergerac” has always been about the superficial nature of appearances, there’s something appropriate about the exterior renovations that gave birth to Joe Wright’s sweet, earnest and sometimes enchanting new “Cyrano.” For starters, the film is a musical in its own right: its roots lie not only in the 1897 play about romantic misdirection by Edmond Rostand, but also in a stage performance written and directed by Erica Schmidt (who adapted the screenplay herself) and which features songs and score by members of The National. And Peter Dinklage, who starred in the off-Broadway production of this musical in 2019, superbly reprises his role here, giving us a Cyrano who is widely mocked not for an oversized trunk but rather a tiny physique. The insults hurled at her may be different, but her sense of social rejection – and her fear of not being fit to love – runs just as deep.
Maybe it even cuts a little deeper. Almost every movie actor who has faced Cyrano de Bergerac has donned a fake nose for the occasion, using prosthetic putty, special effects, or an ingenious concoction of both. Dinklage arrives on screen without such enhancements and is all the more poignant for it: what we see on screen is all of him. But it’s not just the lack of artificial ornamentation that makes his Cyrano feel like such an authentic, lived-in creation. It’s also the silver-tongued spirit, the steel-trap spirit, the feeling that whatever Cyrano may lack in physical stature, he more than makes up for in his intellectual acumen.
“Cyrano” duly dresses and buckles, for a devious if somewhat superficial effect. It’s most enjoyable when he sings, spinning the wacky, busy romantic machinery of Rostand’s plot into an interconnected series of nostalgic pop tunes.
As Cyrano yearns desperately for Roxanne, she locks eyes with Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a handsome young soldier who more than satisfies her desire for masculine beauty. But it will fall to the conflicted Cyrano to fulfill her deeper need for wit and poetry, writing Christian’s love letters with a flowery eloquence that feels both selfless and self-indulgent.
While “Cyrano de Bergerac” is usually set in 17th-century Paris, this one was mostly shot in the Sicilian town of Noto, whose limestone walls and baroque architecture represent an unspecified ancient European city. This vagueness removes a certain cultural specificity from Wright’s conception, although the idea seems to be to introduce this “Cyrano” into a domain of universal and unattached feeling, where the common currency and language are, respectively, the love and music.
“Cyrano” enters and leaves this realm in spurts; it’s not always the most graceful retelling of this oft-told story, and its ardent defense of love for love’s sake can feel paper-thin one moment and fading sincerity the next. What gives the film its steady pulse is Dinklage. Singing may not be this actor’s obvious forte (aside from his ’90s punk band), which might seem like a fatal setback for a character defined by his masterful self-expression. But even when Dinklage’s voice wavers, his soulful baritone and soulful delivery wins out. His expressions alone bring out the deep and painful vulnerability of this Cyrano, whose anguished feelings for Roxanne register with an almost palpable force. “Because every time I see you,” he sings, “I’m defeated” — and so are we, in those moments.
(PG-13, 3 out of 4 stars, 2 hrs 4 mins.)
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times