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Often – perhaps too often – we are wont to romanticize the past. We look back at the events of history through rose-colored lenses that focus on the grandiose and filter out many of the more unsavory elements.

The age of chivalry, for instance. We tend to celebrate the heroic and heraldic whilst utterly ignoring the bleak realities of that time for anyone who lived outside the sphere of knights and noblemen. The crushing poverty, the endless warfare, the lack of agency for anyone outside the elite – these truths are absent from the familiar tales of derring-do.

“The Last Duel” – directed by Ridley Scott and based on the 2004 book of the same name by Eric Jager – attempts to delve deeper and address that time and place with a little more honesty. Jager’s book, which is based on a true story, is adapted for the screen by some rather notable writers: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who wrote the script alongside Nicole Holofcener.

Damon and Affleck star, as do Adam Driver and Jodie Comer, in this multi-faceted tale of what happens when a woman of this era accuses a man of rape. Told from multiple perspectives, it’s an effort to deconstruct the uneven power dynamics of the time, its historicity inviting comparisons and contrasts to present-day circumstances. The film sprawls across the screen, asking the audience to view the proceedings through the eyes of three different narrators, each of whom with their own beliefs regarding how the story played out.

Published in Movies

I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been writing about movies for well over a decade at this point, with a fairly well-rounded history of cinematic consumption before that. I have experienced a LOT of films – good, bad and mediocre.

One of the greatest joys that spring from watching movies is the simple fact that, until they start, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Oh, you might have some idea, whether it is from trailers or reviews or word of mouth, but YOUR experience, well – you don’t know until it happens. So I’m no stranger to being surprised by what I see on the screen.

But there’s a very real chance that I have NEVER been as surprised as I was by “Annette.”

The film, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video after a brief limited theatrical run, is one of the most enjoyably jarring movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. “Annette” is directed by Leos Carax, making his first feature since 2012’s acclaimed “Holy Motors,” with a story by Ron and Russell Mael, the brothers behind indie pop darlings Sparks (the brothers also handle the film’s weird and exceptional music).

As a rule, I make an effort to keep my head clear going into a movie – the less I know, the better. Again – the joy of that leap into the unknown … and boy oh boy, was this the unknown.

Published in Movies

This isn’t going to be my usual movie review.

As you undoubtedly know, “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” has landed in theaters, purporting to mark the end of the saga begun over 40 years ago. A saga that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Seriously - the first movie I ever saw (or at least, the first movie of which I have any memory of seeing) is “The Empires Strikes Back.” We were at the drive-in on outer Hammond Street; I was four years old, curled up under the rear windshield, half-dozing due to the lateness of the hour, yet unwilling to allow my eyes to remain closed as this marvelous thing unfolded before my eyes.

In the decades since, I have devoted considerable energies to the consumption of “Star Wars.” I watched the films of the original trilogy countless times on VHS. I paid multiple visits to theaters when the remastered versions returned to the big screen. I saw the prequels and convinced myself they were good even when in my heart I knew. And I’ve experienced with delight the recent reintroduction of new films.

Years of my life, shared with these people and places. And I’m hardly alone – there are millions of us out there, each with our own very specific connection to the Star Wars saga. So many people, all with a deep-seated devotion to the story; our feelings might be similar, but all are unique.

The uniqueness of those individual connections are a big part of why the response to “The Rise of Skywalker” – and really, to all the post-prequel films to some extent – has been so scattered. The truth is that we all bring our own feelings to the table when it comes to “Star Wars.” There’s no way for a piece of popular art to elicit the desired response from all those who seek it – it’s simply impossible.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 10 December 2019 12:04

When love leaves – ‘Marriage Story’

When does the story of a marriage end? And how should it be told when it does?

That’s the fundamental question behind “Marriage Story,” the latest offering from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The film – which stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson – is a portrait of a marriage in dissolution, a relationship that has arrived at its expiration date. It is emotionally raw and darkly funny, driven by moments of passion and poignancy.

There are many reasons for two people to choose to be together. There are many reasons – some the same, some altogether different – for two people to choose to stay together. And there are many reasons – a surprising number shared with the previous choices – for two people to choose to break apart. And the underlying reality is that the story of a marriage has two sides … and the truth lives somewhere in the middle.

“Marriage Story” is unrelenting and discomfiting – and one of the year’s best films.

Published in Movies

Making a movie – any movie – is a monumental task to undertake. No matter whether you’re talking about an indie feature or a summer blockbuster, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. But sometimes a particular film, for whatever reason, is just that much harder to make than most.

Terry Gilliam’s passion project “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is one such film, a mishap-riddled odyssey 25 years in the making. Directed by Gilliam from a script he co-wrote with Tony Grisoni, it’s the end result of a quarter-century of false starts and natural disasters, of casting and recasting and shooting and reshooting. The production dealt with so many issues of varying types that one would be forgiven for believing the entire project to be somehow cursed.

After many years, the film was finally completed in 2018. And yet, the difficulties weren’t done even then; some messy legal issues between Gilliam and a former producer on the film resulted in a wonky, uneven release schedule; the movie didn’t reach American screens (non-festival edition) until now, with a limited theatrical run quickly followed by a VOD drop.

One would expect a film that had been through so many iterations to be haphazard and scattered, jagged and rough-edged. And frankly, those terms describe “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” in a lot of ways. But those viewers who are able to look beyond the surface jankiness will see Gilliam’s unique vision at work; there’s enough here – particularly for Gilliam’s fans (among whom I include myself) – to illustrate the clear, fierce passion that the director has for this story.

It’s an uneven and unflinchingly weird movie, which surprises no one; it bears the marks of both his love and his desperation and wears them proudly – and really, how else could it have gone?

Published in Movies
Friday, 24 August 2018 08:57

‘BlacKkKlansman’ goes under the hood

When it comes to telling true stories at the movies, one always has to recognize the flexibility of the notion of what is “true.” Terms like “based on” and “inspired by” give filmmakers a lot of leeway as far as shaping these true events in such a way as to serve the story they wish to tell.

Spike Lee’s latest film “BlacKkKlansman” is foundationally a true story, based on the memoir “Black Klansman” by Ron Stallworth. But again, there’s small-t true and Large-T True, and with a visionary auteur like Lee both running the camera and creating the script (Lee co-wrote the screenplay along with David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott), well … he’s going to err on the side of Large-T every time.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 December 2017 13:54

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ far from least

There are few films as difficult to review as a “Star Wars” movie. There’s such a fine line that needs to be walked with regards to the narrative; no one wants to be responsible for spoiling any aspect of such an eagerly-anticipated cinematic experience. However, you also want to be able to convey your feelings about the movie in a manner that is both engaging and accurate.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 11:36

Of heists and hillbillies - ‘Logan Lucky’

Soderbergh’s cinematic return well worth the wait

Published in Movies

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