Columbus

The debut film from online video essay editor Kogonada, the lush and cinematic “Columbus” is a true surprise beyond its academic aspirations.

Columbus Movie PosterLet me get out of the way the one thing you’ll read in every review of Columbus. This is the debut film of Kogonada, a Korean film critic who specializes in making thoughtful video essays for the web. Critics adore his work because he makes meticulously edited pieces of criticism that break down how a film works and why it matters.

Columbus has the same academic construction and attention to film theory that critics like myself adore. At one point it seemingly argues for the value of slow cinema, and its economical framing and lush cinematography would be catnip to anyone who has been to film school or, better yet, watched one of Kogonada’s videos. But Columbus has heart and intimacy far beyond its pretentions, and it’s one of the better surprises of the year. Continue reading “Columbus”

The Beguiled

Sofia Coppola’s minimalist take on sexuality and power is more thoughtful than the Clint Eastwood original but far less fun.

The Beguiled Poster The original Clint Eastwood adaptation of “The Beguiled” was a crazed, pulpy drama of sex and temptation. It’s a bit too nuts to take it truly seriously. That’s where Sofia Coppola comes in, whose gifts with minimalism can take even the wildest of subject matter and rope it into something contemplative and profound.

In her take on “The Beguiled,” Coppola has given the Civil War story a dusky air of dignity and style. She’s reframed it as a woman’s story of pent up frustration and emotion and how people cling to certain ways of life, rather than a man’s revenge tale against, as Colin Farrell puts it in the film, “vengeful bitches.”

That’s all well and good, but I like the crazy-eyed sexiness of the Don Siegel/Eastwood version. Coppola’s film has the themes and drama in the right place, but does her “Beguiled” have to be so buttoned up? Continue reading “The Beguiled”

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

The Netflix documentary “Nobody Speak” examines the Gawker and Hulk Hogan trial and how this is an example of an attack on the First Amendment.

Nobody Speak PosterOne of the things I’ve had to contend with in the last six months of Donald Trump’s presidency, as well as through the whole 2016 campaign, was justifying my outrage. I had to step back and ask myself, “Is this all really as bad as I think it is?” It’s been very easy for Republicans to now turn around and point the finger at liberals for being hypocrites. Everything they were panicking over eight years ago, now we’re losing our minds. It’s been an endless back and forth of hypocrisy and hysteria.

The Netflix documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” is a good barometer for that paranoia. It’s a movie that argues, quite convincingly, that recent events have set the wheels in motion for the richest individuals to silence speech and press they don’t like and to use money and power to influence the truth and the message in the media. Director Brian Knappenberger believes this is a direct attack on freedom of the press and the First Amendment.

So is he right, or is he cherry picking and stoking more hysteria? I’d like to approach this review from the perspective of someone who might genuinely be dismissive of it, the type of person who uses the phrase “the media” as a pejorative, the type of person who takes pleasure out of drinking liberal tears, or the type of person who wouldn’t bother watching a documentary like this in a million years, let alone exist in the same universe of logic to argue rationally about it. Now I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”

Okja

“Okja” is a scathing commentary of the food industry and an outrageous, cartoonish thrill ride full of hyper kinetic action and colorful social satire.

Okja PosterSatire, not drama, has been the primary way to provoke change and discussion in the 21st Century. So if you want to get a huge population to think twice about where their food comes from and maybe even think about going vegan, don’t show them a depressing torture reel; show them a farce. To paraphrase of Tilda Swinton in the opening scenes of “Okja,” Bong Joon Ho’s film isn’t just monstrous, disturbing, eye opening and surreal. “Most importantly, it needs to taste fucking good!”

“Okja” scathingly critiques the food industry and the perils of a corporate culture that exploits food consumption. But it does so in the guise of an outrageous, cartoonish thrill ride full of hyper kinetic action and colorful social satire. The premise is absurdly fascinating, the characters are extreme caricatures, and the film moves at a blistering pace. Continue reading “Okja”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” takes cues from “Deadpool” and is a superhero movie on the outside of The Avengers looking into the genre.

Spider-Man HomecomingI’m aware that Spider-Man was a thing well before “Deadpool,” either the comic or the movie, but there’s no denying that this latest reboot owes a great debt to the Merc with a Mouth. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” has the same wise-cracking, clumsy superhero in full spandex but with a PG rating. And in both cases, Spider-Man and Deadpool are superheroes on the outside looking into the genre, and that’s a pretty good spot to be in.

If Marvel had their way from the beginning, Spider-Man would’ve been the flagship Marvel Cinematic Universe character from the get-go. But he was a property of Sony who had already gone through one bad reboot, with a 30-something Andrew Garfield trying to pass as a high school student. So Marvel worked around him, and they found a clever way to cross over the character into “Captain America: Civil War.Continue reading “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

War for the Planet of the Apes

The final film in the ‘Planet of the Apes’ prequel trilogy is the best yet, a bleak, thoughtful war film with Andy Serkis at his best

War_for_the_Planet_of_the_Apes_posterI’m floored by “War for the Planet of the Apes.” It has been a point of contention among critics as to why a blockbuster such as this one should be so grave, serious and grim. But the ambition it takes to make a film about talking chimps so emotional, gripping and moving is staggering. That more Hollywood movies don’t strive to evoke “Apocalypse Now,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon” is a war crime. The horror, indeed.

This “Planet of the Apes” prequel trilogy has been an exercise in madness. Slowly we’ve seen Caesar grow and evolve from being a precocious and smart monkey in “Rise” to having the motion capture technology fully capture Andy Serkis’s simmering rage and intensity. “Dawn” opened with the apes living peacefully in the woods, building a society as human civilization has crumbled. Now that’s gone, and director Matt Reeves has put in its place a bleak fight for survival. Continue reading “War for the Planet of the Apes”

The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani brings real dire stakes into the rom-com genre

The_Big_Sick_PosterI have been moved to tears and had my heart warmed by plenty of romantic comedies. But before “The Big Sick,” I had never felt genuine stakes in the genre until now.

Kumail Nanjiani has made a rom-com where the consequences and realities of the film are far greater than whether he and her end up together. Nanjiani grapples with race, religion and life and death all as he tries to tell a funny, modern love story.

It’s such a surprise, because “The Big Sick” doesn’t begin far differently from the films of so many other comedians who follow in Louis C.K.’s footsteps and want to tell their coming-of-age stories. Continue reading “The Big Sick”

The Little Hours

How did a movie about horny nuns go so wrong?

There’s a fine line between outrageous and just loud. The Little Hours has a cast and a premise that should be gleefully silly and vulgar and amazingly comes out neither.

Here’s the premise: Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci, an absolutely hilarious trio, are nuns pent up in a medieval convent. They lie and swear profusely, going as far as to berate their servant for just looking at them. Then their pastor played by John C. Reilly brings home a sexy new farm boy played by Dave Franco. He’s on the run for sleeping with his master’s wife, and his master is a plain spoken, bitter Nick Offerman. Franco is supposed to act like a deaf mute for his protection, but the girls get so hot and bothered that doesn’t last long. Debauchery ensues, witches dance naked in the woods, Fred Armisen shows up, you know the drill.  Continue reading “The Little Hours”

Tramps

Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten make this scrappy indie romance a smart movie about class and coming of age.

Tramps PosterI learned something from Tramps. It turns out if you drive a “fucking SUV,” it means you’re an asshole.

That line alone says a lot about the class divide crossed in this indie romance. Adam Leon’s brief, punchy and charming film is a great love story between two cynical young people, but it also examines why so often there’s bitterness and distance between poor and rich people. Tramps is a movie that inspires its protagonists to reach for better lives than the crappy ones they’ve got, even as they look down their noses at those on the other side of the tracks.

When we first meet Danny (Callum Turner), he’s stuck running a bootleg, off-track-betting parlor out of his mom’s New York apartment. When all the old men from the building leave, he glares at his mom as though asking, “How did I get stuck in this life?” Then he gets a call from prison from his deadbeat brother begging him to do a probably illegal job. Pick up a suitcase, hop inside a car, and drop the suitcase off with a woman. The details are hilariously scant, but “he doesn’t have a choice.”

Then there’s Ellie (Grace Van Patten). One moment she’s on a train, and when the conductor arrives, in the blink of an eye she’s gone, hiding in the bathroom for a few more stops. She’s so poor and has enough problems with money that she can’t sort out the real problems in her life. One is some guy named Scott (Mike Birbiglia) pressuring her to be the wheelman in the same suitcase scam as Danny. He’s berating her all the while offering her a spot in his “queen-size bed.” Continue reading “Tramps”

It Comes at Night

Trey Edward Shults’s unconventional horror film is a moody, atmospheric, evocative thriller about how mistrust has the power to make everyone sick.

Will the apocalypse come when a plague hits, or aliens attack, or when climate change ravages the planet? Or will humanity become so divided and fearful of one another that we gradually kill ourselves?

The monsters in the unusual indie horror film It Comes at Night all live under one roof. It’s a moody, atmospheric, evocative thriller about how mistrust has the power to make everyone sick.

The only image of the end of the world in Trey Edward Shults’s film is on a wall in Paul’s (Joel Edgerton) cavernous cabin in the woods. A Renaissance painting depicts Biblical fire and brimstone, but the vast forest surrounding their home only contains endless mystery. While outside, the family dog barks and chases after nothing in particular except the craggily branches masking whatever horrors we simply assume are out there. Continue reading “It Comes at Night”