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So much of Hollywood is driven by spectacle. There’s a bigger-is-better ethos at work that drives more and more of the industry with each passing year, often crowding out some of the less flashy fare. Yet one could argue that movies work even more effectively as a medium for delivering smaller, more intimate stories. Bigger might be better, but sometimes, smaller is superb.

Take “Blackbird,” the new film directed by Roger Michell. A remake of the 2014 Dutch film “Silent Heart,” “Blackbird” is the story of an ailing matriarch bringing her family together for one final celebration of their lives together before her death – a death that she intends to be entirely on her own terms.

Featuring an absolutely stacked cast, “Blackbird” is a heartfelt meditation on the familial complexities that come with death and a look at how an impending loss can impact our choices. It’s a movie about choices and wrestling with the consequences of those choices and how, in the end, we must allow people to make those choices for themselves.

Published in Movies

As the brilliant Scottish poet Robbie Burns once said (apologies for the English paraphrasing), “The best laid plans of mice and men/Go oft awry.” It’s a sentiment that rings true across all avenues – and the movie business is no exception.

For instance, say you had a film. You had three talented actors leading the cast, including an Oscar winner and a couple of legitimate movie stars. You had a rising young director and a screenwriter adapting his own Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for the screen. All of this folded into a period piece with a striking setting. You’d think that it was poised to be a great film, yes?

Alas, in the case of “Waiting for the Barbarians,” the sum total falls short. Despite the presence of the brilliant Mark Rylance and bold turns from the likes of Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson, despite the presence of director Ciro Guerra, despite J.M Coetzee’s adaptation of his own 2003 novel of the same name, the film can’t scale the heights to which it so clearly aspires.

It’s a story of isolation and empire, a cautionary tale about colonialism that can never fully get out of its own way. There’s no denying the quality of performances or the stunning backdrop against which they are set, but the film simply never generates any kind of momentum, limping along through most of its 114 minutes without ever presenting a sense of dramatic urgency. All the pieces are there for a great film, only they’re assembled into something that is just OK.

Published in Movies

Every once in a while, an unanticipated confluence of circumstances results in a piece of art inadvertently becoming representative of a moment in time. That isn’t to say that the book/movie/song isn’t resonant on its own terms, but that outside factors can impact how a work is received.

“She Dies Tomorrow,” written and directed by Amy Seimetz, is just such a work. It’s a visceral and hallucinatory ride through a woman’s inexplicable epiphany regarding her own mortality and how that epiphany transforms everyone that she encounters. It is vivid and raw, a roiling collection of colorful confusion, the kind of movie that would be memorable in any environment.

But in THIS environment – in a world where a raging pandemic has left us isolated and exhausted – this film hits like a sledgehammer. This movie is an exploration of metaphysical contagion, of how fear and paranoia and sadness and fatalism can infect us. It wasn’t made with the current moment in mind, yet it could not be a more apt representation of that moment.

Published in Movies

There are a handful of scientific figures whose names are common knowledge. These are the scientists who have so transcended their disciplines as to become part of the cultural fabric. It’s a short list. And if you want to talk about women on that list, well … there’s really only one, for better or worse.

Marie Curie is the first female scientist that many people ever learn about. For many, she might be the only female scientist they ever learn about. She is an iconic figure, one of just four people to win multiple Nobel Prizes, having won for both physics and chemistry.

It’s no surprise that such an icon would have her story represented on film. The latest attempt to cinematically share the legacy of Marie Curie is “Radioactive,” currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s an attempt to reckon with the legacy of Curie’s work, looking back on her life as a scientist while also trying to come to terms with how her discoveries have impacted the world.

It’s a noble effort, but unfortunately, it never quite coalesces. Directed by Marjane Satrapi from a screenplay by Jack Thorne (adapted from Lauren Redniss’s 2010 book of the same name), the film tries a little too hard to be “important.” All the awards season checkboxes are ticked, but the pieces simply don’t fit together in the way that they should. That’s not to imply there’s nothing here – there are some interesting filmmaking choices and Rosamund Pike is exceptional as Curie. It just doesn’t quite achieve the heights to which it transparently aspires, ultimately falling a bit short.

Published in Tekk

Creating tension – genuine tension – is one of the most difficult things to effectively do in a film. It’s about finding the right buttons to push, yes, but also about discerning the best manner in which to push them. It comes down to the choices made by the filmmaker. When those choices don’t work, the result is flat and leaves the viewer disinterested and disengaged. When they DO work, however, the sky is the limit.

The new film “7500” is very much the latter – both literally and figuratively.

The film – currently streaming and available for free on Amazon Prime Video – is the story of a pilot confronted with an attempted hijacking. Taking place almost exclusively within the confines of the cockpit of an airliner, it is a claustrophobic and taut piece, a bundle of exposed-nerve tension that is rendered all the more powerful by the limitations of its setting.

Anchored by a phenomenal performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “7500” is a story about a man being pushed to the breaking point – and beyond – by circumstances outside of his control. His survival and the survival of his passengers are reliant on his making the right choices at the right time. And thanks to the efforts of Gordon-Levitt and first-time feature writer/director Patrick Vollrath, we’re there right alongside him – muscles tensed, breath held – until the bitter end.

Published in Movies
Monday, 15 June 2020 15:09

Band of brothers – ‘Da 5 Bloods’

What a perfect time to get another Spike Lee joint.

Granted, there’s never a BAD time to get a movie from America’s greatest black filmmaker, but considering the state of the world in which we’re currently living, the sort of live-wire storytelling that is Lee’s specialty is particularly welcome. No one brings the sort of electric social consciousness to the screen that he does, along with style and vision that is unparalleled among his peers.

His latest offering is “Da 5 Bloods,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a story of a quartet of Vietnam veterans returning to the country for the first time since the war, each carrying the world-weariness of age along with the emotional burdens that still endure from their time in battle. The foursome are on a sort of dual quest to make right the real and perceived wrongs that they have suffered, all in service to the brotherhood they formed in that life-or-death time.

It’s a typical stylistic triumph from Lee, featuring the blending of aesthetic techniques and cultural touchstones that mark his best work. And he mines truly exceptional performances from his talented cast – again, the usual. This movie – much like so many others in his oeuvre – contains multitudes in a way that no other filmmaker can match, but that’s not really surprising – there’s only one Spike Lee.

Published in Movies

What does it mean to be famous?

We live in a world in which there have never been more paths to finding some degree of fame. There are the traditional arenas – entertainment, athletics, politics and the like – but the advent of the internet and social media has led to a whole different kind of fame, a fame built around likes and shares and the dopamine rush that comes with the clicks that, in some small way, validate our presence.

And there will always be those for whom infamy is just as good.

“Infamous,” written and directed by Joshua Caldwell, takes a look at the dark potential of this thirst for fame. It’s the story of a young couple who find online notoriety thanks to a video record of their criminal exploits across the South. It also serves as a look at the corrupting power of fame, with the pair getting in over their heads; they go bigger and bigger as the internet audience for their spree grows and grows. After all, you’re only as famous as your last post.

Published in Movies
Monday, 08 June 2020 14:54

Sorry Ms. Jackson – ‘Shirley’

The biopic has been a crucial part of the cinematic landscape since the very beginning. So many of our most acclaimed films have been built around the lives and narratives of real people. Whether they are cradle-to-grave or period snapshot, they share the stories of figures that have in some way shaped the world around them.

But when is a biopic not a biopic? When it’s “Shirley.”

The new film – directed by Josephine Decker from a script adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel of the same name by Sarah Scarf Merrell – takes a look inside the life of the notable and notorious writer Shirley Jackson, whose genre-adjacent fiction was among the most chilling of the mid-20th century.

With a dynamite performance by Elisabeth Moss in the title role, “Shirley” is not only a deconstruction of its subject, but of the very notion of biographical film. It is a sharp, biting film – one unafraid to lay bare the basic unpleasantness of its characters. By refusing to be bound by traditional tropes, this film offers up a striking and impactful interpretation of the creative process and the emotional and physical struggles that can accompany that process.

Published in Movies
Thursday, 04 June 2020 17:46

Master of puppets – ‘Judy & Punch’

There’s nothing quite like that moment of realization – usually within the first few minutes of a movie – that you had no idea what you were in for. Most of the time, I sit down with a fairly clear idea of what to expect from a film. It’s rare for a movie to surprise me.

“Judy & Punch” surprised me.

The film – written and directed by first-timer Mirrah Foulkes – is inspired by the traditional Punch and Judy puppet show, a subversive slapstick satire with roots in the tradition of commedia dell’arte. The stylized brutality and savage humor of the duo proved very popular in Restoration Era England – the same time and place that serves as the setting for this film.

That inspiration lays the foundation for a genre-fluid and deeply weird cinematic experience, one driven by that same ethos of savagery. This is a movie that gleefully pinballs from comic absurdity to stark social commentary to graphic brutality, all in the space of mere minutes. This is a film that is unafraid to shock and almost gleeful in its willingness to undermine expectations. It is dark and unsettling and bizarre, shot through with an anarchic sense of humor that borders on Pythonesque.

All in all, I dug it, but be warned – your mileage DEFINITELY may vary.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you have a movie experience that is unlike any that you’ve ever had before. It’s not about whether the movie is good or bad – we’re talking about something that can’t be so simply defined. We’re talking about a movie that is bad-good or good-bad, a wildly uneven project featuring elements both excellent and execrable.

We’re talking, ladies and gentlemen, about “Capone.”

“Capone” transcends the very idea of good and bad. The passion project of writer/director Josh Trank is such a jarringly weird viewing experience that it’s hard to use general terms in describing its quality. The storytelling choices are often vividly unpleasant and the narrative flow is inconsistent – all of which is exacerbated by a needle-pinning performance from Tom Hardy in the titular role.

This is a film that fails to work in a multitude of ways, yet remains eminently watchable. Granted, it’s peek-through-the-fingers watchable at times, but watchable nevertheless. “Capone” is a roadside accident of a movie – unfortunate and potentially gruesome, yet still oddly fascinating to look at.

Published in Movies
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