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The relationships between parents and children have long been fertile fodder for filmmaking. These are easily recognizable dynamics in the macro sense that can nevertheless run the gamut in terms of specifics. That combination of universality and flexibility allows a lot of room for interesting storytelling.

Perhaps its no surprise that writer-director Sofia Coppola would make a movie that explores that dynamic – specifically, that which exists between fathers and daughters. One imagines that her relationship with her own father – the legendary director Francis Ford Coppola – might be fraught, particularly when you consider that she made her way into the family business.

“On the Rocks” is her latest film, currently available on Apple TV+. It’s a story of one woman’s attempts to take a closer look at her life and her relationship, exploring her own feelings of stagnation while also trying to figure out where her husband stands. Her enthusiastic and somewhat misguided ally for these efforts is her wealthy, wayward father, a man who has his own very particular ideas about marriage and relationships.

This is a movie that takes great pleasure in deconstructing the upwardly-mobile marriage at its center, digging into the feelings that can spring up when parenthood and other factors are clamoring for your attention. It also does a great job in shifting and sharing different perspectives regarding what it means to have a successful relationship – or if such a thing is even really possible. And with a dynamite pairing of talents driving the action, the end result is a film packed with heart and humor.

Published in Style

As someone who is fascinated by both mid-20th century American history and the work of Aaron Sorkin, you can imagine my excitement upon learning that those two fascinations were being brought together by the folks at Netflix. It’s relatively rare that a film comes along that is so squarely in the center of a Venn diagram formed by such generally incongruous interests, so rest assured – I was pumped.

Happily, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – written and directed by Sorkin – largely lived up to my admittedly lofty expectations. It tells the story of a tumultuous time in American history through a specific event – the trial of a group of counterculture figures indicted for conspiracy to allegedly incite violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a trial that has come to be viewed by history as a travesty of justice, an effort to make an example of those who would protest the actions of their government.

It also features an absolutely stellar cast, an ensemble running deep with top-tier talent. It’s an opportunity for Sorkin to flash his own particular brand of progressive politics, all while utilizing every trick and trope in his bag to construct a compelling story. As he often does when venturing into the real world, Sorkin takes some liberties with the facts, but for the most part, the larger picture remains connected to the larger truth.

Published in Movies

Translating a story from the stage to the screen isn’t nearly as easy as you might think. Turning something inherently theatrical, something specifically designed for an in-person dynamic, demands a delicate and deft touch. Maintaining the direct energy of live theatre while avoiding the necessarily static nature of a stage story requires a lot of stars favorably aligning.

Those stars have largely aligned for Netflix’s “The Boys in the Band.”

The film – adapted from Matt Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 play of the same name – tells the story of a group of gay men living their lives in New York City in the late 1960s. It is a quiet and compelling drama in its own right, though it was Crowley’s portrayal of gay life that marked its true breakthrough.

So many of the necessary pieces fell into place. The director of this version is Joe Mantello, who also served as the director of the 2018 Broadway revival of the play. The cast is also pulled from that production, with each of the cast members reprising their role for the movie. Netflix darling Ryan Murphy was a producer of the revival and key to bringing it to the streaming service. All of this leading to an adaptation that is as loyal to its unique source material as it can possibly be.

Published in Style

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
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