Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:51

‘Young Hearts’ can be broken

There’s an urgency to the love between teenagers that is never really replicated in adulthood. The newness of it all – not just the specific relationships, but just love in general – makes everything feel outsized and overwrought. The knob is turned to 11 and then snapped off.

Often, when adults seek to evoke those early romances – particularly in YA or YA-adjacent fare – they succumb to the temptation to add variables to the equation. Sometimes, they go with elements of the supernatural. Other times, they introduce drastic health issues. However it is done, the intent is always to contribute more obstacles to the situation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

So when you get a story that is just a sweet, simple story of young love, it almost feels daring.

That’s the new film “Young Hearts,” co-directed by Sarah and Zachary Ray Sherman from a screenplay penned by the former. It’s a sincere love story, devoid of high-concept flourishes; it’s just about the connections between teenagers and the ways in which those connections can change due to forces internal and external alike.

At its (very large) heart, this movie is about reminding us that high school romance is innocent, yes, but it also comes with its own difficulties. Dealing with those difficulties is part of the adolescent experience – an experience portrayed wonderfully here.

Published in Movies

There are a couple of different ways to make a documentary focused on a single figure. You can go the cradle to grave route. You can take the snapshot view, pulling a moment or moments to the forefront to serve as your foundation. Or you can mix it up, using the latter strategy to develop ideas within the framework of the former.

That last method is what Academy Award winner Freida Lee Mock has opted to do with “Ruth – Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words,” the documentary newly available via virtual theatrical screening. The film takes a look at much of the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life, though the primary focus is on her relationship with the Supreme Court, both in terms of arguing before it and serving on it.

Unfortunately, the film’s relatively lengthy quest for distribution – the film started making the festival rounds back in 2019 – means that in some aspects, it is a little dated. Specifically, it was completed before Justice Ginsburg’s passing in September of last year, leaving a few segments feeling a little askew.

Still, those off-key moments are relatively few and found primarily in the film’s final act. For the majority of the proceedings, we watch as the dynamic between the legal powerhouse that was RBG and the highest court in the land grows and evolves. And we get that through the standard talking head interviews, yes, but also – and primarily – through audio and video recordings of the woman herself, lending a proximity of perspective that invites the viewer in.

Published in Style
Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:43

‘Little Fish’ a smart sci-fi love story

So much of how we relate to the world rests on a foundation of memory. But what if that foundation were to crumble? How can a society survive without remembering?

How can love?

“Little Fish” – directed by Chad Hartigan from Mattson Tomlin’s screenplay – is a look at what might happen if the world started to forget. A young couple is just starting out on their life of love when their future is threatened by a global pandemic (yes, I know), one that threatens the very memory of their time together.

It is a thoughtful and emotional engagement with the idea of what it means to be connected to one another and how much of what binds us together is shared experience and the ability to return to those times through memory. Without that tether, we simply float away. And yet … perhaps love can transcend that tether and form a tie of its own.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 February 2021 13:01

Forgetting to remember – ‘Malcolm & Marie’

The deluge of pandemic movies is coming. Brace yourselves.

As we sit just shy of a year since the country shut down in the face of COVID-19, we’re starting to see some of the early fruits of cinematic pandemic pivots. These films will in many ways be defined by the circumstances of their origins – separating movies made during this time from this time will be impossible. Now, they aren’t necessarily ABOUT the pandemic, but rather shaped by the situation.

“Malcolm & Marie” is a prime example – an Amazon Prime example – of what these projects might look like. It’s a legitimate two-hander; there are literally two people that we see on screen in the entire movie. It is a legitimate single location shoot; all of the action takes place in and around one house. It is a dialogue-heavy black-and-white relationship drama, one that features two actors on the rapid rise to movie stardom in Zendaya and John David Washington. And all of it came together over the course of a couple of weeks with a twenty-person crew in an effort to keep working following the shutdown of Hollywood operations (including Levinson and Zendaya’s HBO show “Euphoria”).

But while the dense dialogue and vaguely true origins of the story prove compelling, the back-and-forth verbosity slowly starts devolving into a Hollywood-centric Albee riff – think “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” meets “The Player” – that rings false. Now, the barrels of charisma spilling all over the set courtesy of the two leads certainly help mitigate the situation; Washington and Zendaya certainly generate heat. Alas, that heat is somewhat undermined by Levinson’s affinity for speechifying; ultimately, there’s an insincere hollowness to it all – and that CAN’T be solved by presence alone, leaving the actors to their struggle.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 February 2021 12:52

Doing it for the ‘Gram – ‘Fake Famous’

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tenuous grasp on the concept of what it means to be an influencer. While I recognize that it involves building a large following on assorted social media platforms, then using those platforms to promote both one’s personal brand and the brands of those companies willing and able to cough up free stuff and/or cash, what I don’t get is … why?

Fame used to be the byproduct of individual talent, whether that talent involved music or movies or athletics or politics. You were famous because you DID something. But here in the 21st century – and especially in the last decade or so – that formula has been inverted by many. That is, you do things because you’re famous.

Again – what does that mean?

That’s the central question that the new HBO documentary “Fake Famous” is attempting to answer. The film – which marks the filmmaking debut of journalist Nick Bilton, who wrote and directed – bills itself as a social experiment of sorts, an attempt to delve into what exactly it means to be an influencer and exploring whether they are born or made.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 10 February 2021 12:37

Set adrift on memory – ‘Bliss’

What if the life you know isn’t the whole story?

Few science fiction tropes offer the kind of narrative oomph that you get from parallel worlds. It’s an ideal way to introduce that “what if?” vibe that can make for such an interesting story. A more recent evolution of the concept is from the notion that we are living inside a simulation – an idea that seems to be steadily be gaining more real-world traction.

Of course, the fact that it CAN be effective doesn’t mean it always WILL be effective. And that potential for effectiveness means that we see it used a lot; unfortunately, that high volume doesn’t necessarily translate to consistent quality.

“Bliss” – the latest film from indie genre auteur Mike Cahill – attempts to explore some of the potential ramifications that might come from learning that what you believe to be real … isn’t. And while it does find room for some interesting ideas and a couple of sly subversions, it unfortunately becomes rather tangled in its own construction, to no one’s benefit.

Cahill, who wrote and directed the film, has a history of doing a lot with a little, crafting a pair of marvelous genre gems in “Another Earth” and “I Origins.” He’s venturing into familiar territory here, but despite some big ideas and strong performances from his leads, the film never quite clicks, particularly in its chaotic and vaguely unsatisfying third act.

Published in Movies

It’s probably safe to say that this Valentine’s Day will be unlike any other that we’ve experienced. Under the still-looming shadow of the pandemic, we might not be able to celebrate this holiday of the heart in the ways that we have in the past.

In recognition of that fact, I’ve decided to try something a little different for this year’s traditional Valentine’s Day cover. Since many people may not be able to get out and do what they ordinarily would, I thought I might lean into one way that couples could celebrate together.

Movie night.

But not just ANY movie night. What I’ve done here is gone through the annals of cinematic history and chosen one film from each year from 1920 up through today. One movie that is a story of love and romance. Maybe a comedy, maybe a drama, maybe something in between – the only requirement is that love play a big part. It’s an ambitious list, to be sure. And while many of these titles will doubtless be familiar, I’m guessing that there will be a few that are new to all but the most ardent cinephiles.

(Note: For most of these, a simple description – a couple of sentences – will suffice. As we go along, however, I’m going to occasionally break out and go in-depth on some of my personal favorites.)

In the end, though, it’s all about finding the film that speaks most to you, about finding the movie to which you feel the strongest connection. Maybe you’re looking for something new. Maybe you’re looking for something familiar. Or maybe you don’t know what you’re looking for at all just yet. Regardless, I’ve got something for you here.

Let’s go to the movies.

Published in Cover Story

Denzel Washington is a movie star. One of the few we still have, really.

This doesn’t mean that every movie he makes is automatically some sort of commercial and/or critical success. He can usually open a movie – well, as much as anyone can outside the realm of blockbuster IP – and he’s almost always good, but the films themselves are a little more inconsistent.

“The Little Things” – currently in theaters and available on HBO Max – is a prime example of that variability. It’s a period crime thriller (though as an aside, calling a movie set in 1990 “period” has me feeling my age) – red meat for Denzel – with a couple of Oscar-winning co-stars in Rami Malek and noted weirdo Jared Leto. That certainly looks like a formula for success.

Unfortunately, while director John Lee Hancock did an admirable job in eliciting good performances and evoking an engaging atmosphere, screenwriter John Lee Hancock failed to rise to the occasion, leading to a story that feels formulaic, disjointed and a little derivative. For me, the pros slightly outweigh the cons, but your mileage may vary.

Published in Movies

I’m a huge admirer of triple threats – that is, performers with the ability to sing, dance and act at a high level. It’s a term most often foisted upon stage actors, specifically Broadway types, but it can be applied to a number of stage and screen talents.

Here’s the thing, though: Something has to be third. No one is EQUALLY gifted at singing, dancing and acting. Yes, you can be good, even great, at all three, but there has to be one that comes in last.

This brings us to Justin Timberlake, a performer of immense ability across the spectrum – a legitimate triple threat. However, I feel very comfortable saying that for JT, acting definitely comes in third.

And yet, when I watch him in “Palmer,” his new film currently streaming on Apple TV+, I wonder. Not enough to change my mind, of course, but that’s more because his singing/dancing talents are so extreme rather than any acting shortcoming. We haven’t seen Timberlake take on any kind of a serious role in years (and never anything like this one), so it’s easy to forget.

This movie – directed by Fisher Stevens from a screenplay by Cheryl Guerriero – pushes the pop star toward a darkness that is vastly unlike any of his previous efforts. It’s a heartfelt story of redemption and acceptance, one that goes to some morally murky places and is unafraid to venture into unpleasant territory. It’s about responsibility, about protecting those who need protection and how that protective instinct can grow into something more. And it’s about what happens when someone who has lost everything sees a chance to regain some of what he no longer has.

Published in Movies

Maintaining a connection to the past is paramount to understanding the present. Knowledge of history allows us to learn from those who came before, and where we come from can often help us get to where we’re going. But just as the past informs the present, so too does the present attempt to define the past.

But the quest for that knowledge isn’t always an easy one. While many seekers will be pure of intent, there will always be those who attempt to profit or self-aggrandize, people made erstwhile gatekeepers through matters of circumstance rather than talent.

“The Dig” – directed by Simon Stone from a screenplay by Moira Buffini, adapted from the John Preston novel of the same name – is a story of history uncovered, a based-on-a-true-story tale of amateur archaeology and passions both overt and opaque that explores the bonds of shared interest and understanding that can help transcend barriers of class.

With a charming sense of understatement, a deliberate pace and some quietly compelling performances, “The Dig” is a low-key delight, a warm blanket of a movie that unhurriedly unspools with a stiff-upper-lipped sweetness. And while there’s not a lot of excitement here, the film manages to engage with its audience just fine.

Published in Movies
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