Tuxedoed journalists of the New York variety shuffle along the red carpet of the annual International Press Freedom Awards in the Grand Hyatt. The black tie event hardly seems like the appropriate venue to celebrate the accomplishments of the RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently), a group of Syrian citizen-journalists whose concentrated efforts exposed the imminent threat that ISIS presented not only to Syria, but the world. And so Matthew Heineman begins City of Ghosts with a measure of sardonic humor as the RBSS’ guerrilla activism is recognized within the hushed confines of a posh dinner gala. Revolutions, as they were, are of a peculiar breed.Read More
Exhibit B to Ry Russo-Young’s Exhibit A, John R. Leonetti’s Wish Upon serves 2017 with its seasonal reminder on why teenagers are the absolute worse. Here’s a film littered with an endless parade of detestable young people, each more abusive, cynical, and vengeful than the last. And in Leonetti we have a formally impoverished filmmaker who shares our disinterest in these characters as he invites you to conjure hapless ways for them to be punished. For admirers of the Final Destination series, where quote unquote tension is strictly derived from experiencing an elaborate series of misfortunes before someone is given the greenlight to die, Wish Upon should suffice. For others, Wish Upon’s shoddy humanism just withers the soul and chips away at good taste.Read More
It is my assigned function to review the Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures’ motion picture Spider-Man: Homecoming. If subsidiary companies putting aside bureaucratic red tape in a joint effort to bring you committee-produced and screen-tested to oblivion adverts sounds compelling then Spider-Man: Homecoming ought to be right up your alley. That preceding sentence is unfortunately this review’s singular upshot, as what follows is Chapter XI, Section 2, Article 3 of my ongoing series on why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the absolute worst.Read More
This swamp that is 2017 has produced its fair share of interesting films though I think we’re still a few months, years, before we can really grapple with the consequences of what it’s like to live in the here and now. While some will shoot from the hip and proclaim Jordan Peele’s debut film Get Out, one of the year’s most delightfully unexpected box office hits, to be the first film of the Trump Era, its polemic registers as more of an elegy to Obama’s legacy than a statement on the us v. them that echoes through our living room every time we turn on the television.
Many of 2017’s most interesting films have, covertly, dealt with this ephemeral quality of loss. The concept of a lingering specter overseeing our every movement is explicitly examined in David Lowery’s much-buzzed film A Ghost Story, though that quality of contending with death, coping with grief, and reckoning with an uncertain future are features of films from the arthouse friendly (Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper) to mainstream fare (James Mangold’s Logan). While giving up the ghost may seem like a desirable alternative when confronted with, well, everything in our modern political landscape, the films outlined here actively combat that kind of defeatist attitude. As I suggested in my review of Personal Shopper and remind myself on a daily basis: despair may be in vogue, but hopelessness is not in fashion.Read More
It’s been a decade since Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was released. And in that decade, the template of Apatow’s romantic-comedy formula has seeped into every imaginable cultural sphere. If it’s raunchy yet observed from a squeaky-clean white, heteronormative, and culturally unspecific place then it’s likely a product of Apatow’s frequently replicated, though rarely (convincingly) reproduced worldview. The Big Sick, which is produced by Judd Apatow, is an intriguing true story from Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. It’s a story filled with specific cultural and personal details that resists the narrow and jejune blueprint proliferated by Apatow and Co. Or one would have hoped.Read More
Baby (Ansel Elgort) flips through channels with his deaf-mute stepfather asleep next to him, shifting past the likes of Monster’s Inc. and Fight Club; the sort of films that ornate late-night cable’s movie lineups ad nauseam. But as was the case with Edgar Wright’s seminal Shaun of the Dead (where a character mindlessly flips through channels as the images’ collective message spells out the looming zombie threat outside), what’s on television, especially Wright’s television, tends to speak to something a bit more specific. And while the clip of Monster’s Inc. would be directly referenced later in Baby Driver, it’s the clip pulled from Fight Club that echoes most conspicuously: it’s the scene where Brad Pitt’s character curtly inquires about how [being clever] is working out for Edward Norton’s character. It’s an intriguing scene to pull from, bluntly calling to question: how’s being clever working out for Edgar Wright?Read More
Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a reexamination of the many critical themes that ornate her unblemished filmography. Here, she reconsiders the masculine vanity that she first addressed in The Virgin Suicides, where she replaces Josh Hartnett’s Trip Fontaine with Colin Farrell’s Col. John McBurney. In these two characters, and a multitude of men in between, she exposes a specific masculine preoccupation that prizes women for their sexuality yet responds with hostile confusion at efforts to exercise their agency. This element is considerably underplayed in Don Siegel’s original adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel, which tellingly opens on a voiceover from McBurney’s perspective as Clint Eastwood’s hushed and gritty tenor is matched with barbaric Civil War imagery. Coppola’s film opens instead with a young girl whistling the Civil War tune “Lorena”, a lyrical song with a profound history that crossed Northern and Southern hostilities as an expression of compassion and longing. The considerably more empathetic and wistful opening in contrast to Siegel’s version isn’t necessarily a condemnation, but rather an intriguing counterpoint: the two films tell the same story but are firmly entrenched in different worldviews.Read More
The swirl of red in the water that opens Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down isn’t someone’s blood but a spilled glass of cabernet. And we’re not in the vast void that is the Pacific Ocean, but rather a Cancun resort pool where we find sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) embracing the sort of hedonistic pleasures that can seriously bend someone’s perception of reality. It’s a place where people go to forget, and in Lisa’s case, she’s getting over a breakup with her long-time boyfriend. Lisa confesses that the reason for the breakup was because she’s too boring. This absence of temerity will serve as the propulsive narrative element that finds Lisa and Kate at the bottom of the ocean encircled by sharks. Consciousness effectively becomes nature’s nightmare, where being mauled by a school of elasmobranchii proves to be a rational alternative to being a boring human being – this boozy film is a little more interesting than it lets on.Read More
Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann. Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper. Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Christian Mungui’s Graduation. Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.
Those films all played In Competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and all of them were passed over for the Palme d’Or in favor of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Like the Academy Awards, not every Cannes jury is going to get it right, but the George Miller-led jury was especially wrong in 2016. Though to be fair, that kind of judgment would suggest that I, Daniel Blake is a bad film, which is not entirely true. Like Loach’s previous films, it’s well-intentioned, competently made, socially conscious, and anchored by persuasive performances. But there’s a naivety and arrogant simplicity to the work that makes I, Daniel Blake particularly problematic. To suggest that it’s didactic would seem gravely inadequate.Read More
Let me start by talking about why I was glad that La La Land didn’t win Best Picture. I never did write anything about it back when it was released late last year because at that point everyone had an opinion on the film, where discussions disintegrated into battle cries about mansplaining and heteronormative white masculinity run amok. I wasn’t insulted by La La Land, in fact I even (kinda) admired it. But what I was never able to reconcile was how this film that models itself after musicals like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Singin’ in the Rain wasn’t able to utilize its genre to express any of the anxieties of its characters. La La Land is a musical about the artistic struggles of an actor and musician yet doesn’t actually have a song or dance number about those struggles, instead opting to utilize its genre to glean over their concerns. There’s no sense of artistic struggle or a search for integrity. The characters in La La Land yearn for fame and get it. What’s most disingenuous of all is that the filmmakers maintain that their private sacrifices (giving up a relationship) for professional success somehow insures their moral rectitude – in sacrificing love, actor and musician can finally achieve their dreams, as if to suggest the two are mutually exclusive.Read More