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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

There are a lot of people – directors and writers and actors and designers – who need to succeed in order to make a good movie. But that success is relative – it is possible for the work of one or a few to have an outsized impact on a movie, to be great even if their surroundings don’t quite measure up.

This is a long-winded and overly verbose way of saying that the new movie “Stillwater” – directed by Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the script alongside Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bregdain and Noe Debre, and starring Matt Damon – is a so-so film that is nevertheless home to some outstanding individual work.

This story of an Oklahoma man who devotes himself to proving the innocence of his young daughter, jailed in France for a crime she claims not to have committed, drew inspiration from the real-life story of Amanda Knox, whose own salacious case of murder and wrongful conviction played out over the course of years back in the ‘00s. It’s a deep and often moving portrait of one man’s efforts to do what’s right, only to continually and thoroughly misstep … not to mention one of Matt Damon’s best performances in years.

(It should be noted that there’s an ongoing discourse surrounding “Stillwater” with regard to Knox and her feelings about having her ordeal used as fodder for the film; the parallels are fairly clear. The degree of control a person has over their own personal story becomes lessened when they move into the public eye, whether by choice or against their will. It might not be right, but it’s how it is, at least right now.)

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 19 November 2019 11:57

Race to the top – ‘Ford v. Ferrari’

One of the complaints surrounding awards shows like the Oscars in recent years is the fact that often, the movies up for these honors aren’t necessarily movies that a lot of people have seen. They are critical darlings, but that acclaim only sometimes translates to significant commercial success.

“Ford v Ferrari” is that relative rarity, a film intended to win both at the ballot box and the box office. It’s pure Oscar bait, but with a big-budget sensibility – no surprise considering we’re talking about Disney here. It’s a sports movie and a biopic – the story of Ford Motor Company’s efforts to usurp Ferrari’s place atop the racing world back in the 1960s – with two no-doubt movie stars heading up the cast.

This kind of movie was once a mainstay of mainstream Hollywood. Now, it’s an unexpected treat. And it is a treat – you’ve got a talented and flexible studio director in James Mangold, with A-listers Matt Damon and Christian Bale taking turns driving. Just like the race cars produced by its namesakes, “Ford v. Ferrari” is sleek and fast; a powerful and expensive machine.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 January 2018 13:49

‘Downsizing’ comes up short

Sometimes, a film is simply less than the sum of its parts.

Take “Downsizing.” This movie has everything you could want in terms of quality entertainment. You’ve got a talented writer-director auteur-type at the helm in Alexander Payne. You’ve got a top-tier movie star playing the lead in Matt Damon. You’ve got a dynamite high-concept premise that offers fertile ground for satire with room for both humor and hubris.

All the pieces are here. Unfortunately, “Downsizing” can’t figure out just how to put it all together, leading to a film filled with tonal inconsistencies resulting in a haphazard narrative. Instead of assembling one puzzle, this film tries for three or four different pictures; what we end up with is something muddled and more than a little frustrating.

Published in Movies
Friday, 27 October 2017 10:03

'Suburbicon' suburbi-can't

Clooney-helmed film fails to live up to potential

Published in Movies
Friday, 17 February 2017 15:02

‘The Great Wall’ not quite great

Damon-led action epic intriguing, but uneven

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 12:35

Bourne again - 'Jason Bourne'

Damon returns for fourth Jason Bourne film

The sheer number of films that come out each year can prove to be a bit overwhelming. There are so many, in fact, that it is inevitable that there will be occasional gaps in coverage simply put, it's really hard to see everything.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 13 August 2013 21:13

The future of the 1 percent - Elysium'

Good science fiction has a tendency to use the future as a mirror reflecting the concerns of the present. Societal concerns and issues can be addressed with a degree of remove, allowing them to be looked at with fresh eyes.

Writer/director Neill Blomkamp gave us one of the best sci-fi allegories of recent years with 2009's 'District 9.' That film used alien refugees and the bureaucratic agencies that dealt with them as a surrogate for apartheid, resulting in one of the most thought-provoking films of the year and one of the best science fiction offerings of the past decade.

Published in New Releases - Film
Wednesday, 09 January 2013 14:21

Promised Land' less than promising

Film offers heavy-handed message, not much else

It's always intriguing when a number of Hollywood's heavy hitters get together to work on something especially a pet project. Sometimes, it's a story that they have always wanted to tell. Sometimes, it's just an excuse to go on a working vacation with their buddies. And sometimes, they just want to remind you that they care about stuff.

The first one usually bears positive fruit; if nothing else, the superstar got to prove his or her mettle. The second one is hit ('Ocean's 11') or miss ('Couples Retreat'). And the third one? The third is almost never a good idea. That's when they're looking to impart a 'message.'

Published in Movies

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