Archive for the ‘Indie movies’ Category

Click here to read Part I

Velvet Buzzsaw

Set in the world of high-end modern art, writer-director Dan Gilroy reunites with his Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (plus Toni Collette and John Malkovitch) for this wonderfully wicked mashup of satire and horror.

The plot follows the discovery of an unknown artist’s work after his death, and the assorted bon vivant (a celebrity critic, a gallery owner, an art agent, etc.) who both admire the craft as well as see the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Only one problem: the paintings appear to be imbued with some hostile and supernatural force that sets about eliminating the cast in increasingly gleeful displays of carnage.

You’re mileage will certainly vary with this one, and Gilroy’s attempts to zip two genres together (as if the Final Destination franchise had been grafted onto The Devil Wears Prada) don’t always result in a seamless delivery. But the experience is so unique, kinetic and unassuming, anchored by a hypnotically devoted Gyllenhaal, that it makes for a rare, if beguiling, treat.

Grade: B+

*Watch it NOW on Netflix

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Jillian Bell, a very funny if not yet widely known comedian, stars and shines in this semi-biographical film by debut director (and screenwriter) Paul Downs Colaizzo.

As the titular Brittany, Bell plays a woman who, after some hard truths about her health from a doctor, resolves to turn her life around by training for and running in the New York City Marathon. Brittany finds confidence and new purpose with each lost pound, but the film is far from an advertisement for Gold’s Gym memberships — it follows a woman’s search for identity and self-appreciation, trading laugh-out-loud comedy with cringing tragedy as it builds up to a powerhouse finale.

Grade: A-

Watching “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s documentary on populist provocateur and propagandist Steve Bannon, one can’t help but wonder what the subject expected to get by granting a filmmaker such intimate access to his life.

Much like the 2016 fly-on-the-wall documentary “Weiner,” which similarly premiered at Sundance, “The Brink” finds a controversial and scandal-prone American political figure behind closed doors in the places where the public typically isn’t invited to go.

In this case it’s Bannon’s intimate meetings with far-right European leaders as he attempts to stitch together a coalition of the misfit toys to take on “the establishment” over immigration and exclusionary nationalism. At every turn Bannon insists his work is not racist, anti-Semitic or vitriolic, then he gives a smile and a wink as he’s pressed to explain his fearmongering tactics and dog whistles.

The movie is book-ended by two major setbacks for Bannon’s philosophy — the defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama and the election of a Democratic House majority in 2018 — but the lingering message from The Brink is that Bannon is always one to regroup, reinvent, and resurface.

Grade: B

The Report

In the years since the September 11 attack and the War on Terror, America’s pop culture response has incrementally shifted from the escapism of 24 to the repressed jingoism of Zero Dark Thirty to the pessimistic criticism of Looming Tower.

Into that maze steps The Report, the Adam Driver-led film by Scott Burns that zealously hopes to set the record straight on the moral shortcomings of U.S. intelligence and government leaders.

It’s vehicle in that effort is the “Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Report of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” and its lead researcher, Daniel Jones, whose dogged pursuit of the facts despite byzantine bureaucratic intransigence exposed the truth of the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read: torture) and the agency’s lies and misrepresentations to two presidents and the American public at large.

You might wonder how the creation of a 6,000-page government report can make for compelling drama, and The Report is initially clumsy and disjointed as it attempts to set the narrative background and cast of characters (played by a stellar supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Cory Stoll, Michael C. Hall and Annette Benning — as Sen. Diane Feinstein). The end result is an enlightening and thought-provoking film that is perhaps 30 minutes too long due to its slow start, but one that finishes strong and on an aspirational note for American democracy.

Grade: B

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The Lodge

Riley Keough (Logan Lucky) stars as Grace in this frostbit thriller by directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala about a woman snowed in while on a get-to-know-you vacation with her boyfriend’s children at a remote winter cabin. Once the storm hits, frozen pipes and a broken-down generator leave Grace and the children cut off and alarmed by an escalating series of inexplicable — supernatural? — events.

The Lodge has atmosphere in spades, utilizing the dark setting and inhospitable weather to great effect. But its plot and character work is considerably less artful, ham-fisting symbolism for religion and family onto the screen as though the writers were standing nearby shouting “See! It has layers!” into your face while you watch.

The story’s big moment comes in the flip between Act II and III and a twist (?) is handled so poorly that the film — serviceably eerie until that point — careens into farce and slumps its way to the closing credits leaving little more than head-scratching uncertainty about what transpired.

Grade: D

State of the Union

Confession: Despite State of the Union‘s inclusion in Sundance’s Indie Episodic category — for indie TV pilots and series — I walked in expecting a traditional narrative film. Even so, the 10 relatively short chapters combine perfectly into a not-quite-2-hours single sitting, as the vignettes blend seamlessly into a coherent arc for its characters.

Written by the great Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education, Wild) and consisting of little more than a pub setting and two characters, (Played by a wonderfully comedic Rosamund Pike and the winning every-man Chris O’Dowd) SOTU tells the story of Tom a Louise, an on-the-rocks couple who meet up for a drink each week before a marital counseling session to talk strategy.

The dialogue is superb, insightful, witty and heartbreaking as Tom and Louise track the evolution of their relationship, looking for what went wrong, what is salvageable, and how to move forward. It’s real and raw and touching in that sad-funny sweet spot that Hornby does so well.

Watch out for it when it launches (likely on Sundance TV but presumably available elsewhere afterward) is it’s not one to miss.

Grade: A

Big Time Adolescence

“Coming-of-age” is the classic, quintessential staple of the stereotypical *SUNDANCE* movie, and Big Time Adolescence fits that trope in spades, following Mo (American Vandal‘s Griffin Gluck) as he navigates high school, first dates and being a well-intentioned teenage drug dealer.

But the film also flips that narrative with its co-lead Zeke (SNL’s Pete Davidson) who remains-of-age smoking dope, getting blitzed and hanging with his buds, including his best bed Mo the 16-year-old brother of an ex girlfriend Zeke never quite stopped pining for.

The characters both support each other and feed into a destructive impulse that stunts their emotional development, with the big question of whether the inevitable crash will shake them lose and allow them to mature or doom them to perpetual childhood.

It doesn’t quite satisfy that question in its final moments, falling just shy of a perfect landing, but it still manages an impressive launch through some universal, meaningful territory.

Grade: B+


Read Full Post »

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve been sitting on this post for no good reason since before 2018 ended. I had seen everything I needed to see (within a reasonable degree of certainty) but couldn’t settle on the final order until, literally, moments ago.

I’m still not certain I got it quite right, and every film in my top five at one point or another held the top spot. So before I doubt myself and reshuffle the deck, yet again, here’s my 10 favorite moves of 2018.

10. Vice

Adam McKay’s film about the modern Republican Party and the rise, and rise, and rise of Dick Cheney has its detractors, many of whom make very good points about the film’s overt distaste for its central subjects and over-reliance on gimmickry. But there’s no denying the power of Christian Bale’s chameleon performance, juxtaposed against the otherwise surrealist take on American political “history” (characters occasionally break the fourth wall or slip into Shakespearean prose to hammer home the narrative’s points about the hollow theatrics of government).

You’re mileage will definitely vary here, but I’m always prone to award points for bending the rules of convention, which “Vice” does from start to finish.

9. A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut landed with a bang during the summer, and while its status as the “it” movie of 2018 has diminished somewhat against late-arriving contenders, it’s still likely to be one of the movies that people remember even after they stop confusing the dates on their checks (Is that still a thing? Do people still write out checks?).

That’s due in no small part to the raw and dynamic performances by Cooper and Lady Gaga, a killer soundtrack and a confident, observational directing style that feels as if the story on screen is something accidentally, and heartbreakingly, stumbled upon.

8. Hereditary

It’s easy to overlook the skill involved in a good horror film. Lesser entries over-rely on conventions: dark rooms, loud noises and ghastly manifestations that send a chill down the audience’s spine before sending them home with a smile on their face. Then there’s movies like “Hereditary,” which use those tools to burrow under your skin and sit with you for days.

“Hereditary” is packed with shocking, disturbing moment, but the movie doesn’t rely on stunts. There’s a mythology at play, and an examination of grief and familial bonds, all obscured under a deep and bewitching atmosphere of dread.

7. Annihilation

“Annihilation,” the novel by Jeff Vandermeer is, to put it mildly, ambiguous. It conveys mood — and particularly a deepening sense of unease — more than plot, with its characters barely attempting to describe the fantastic and terrifying things they encounter as they venture into…something.

It’s also a great read, and wonderfully adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, whose film combines beautiful and haunting imagery with a more concrete narrative about an expedition of women scientists exploring a phenomenon of likely alien origin located along a rural segment of the Florida coastline.

6. Paddington 2

I never got around to seeing the first Paddington, and I was somewhat confused when I started hearing reports that it’s sequel was the best-reviewed film in Rotten Tomatoes’ history (at the time).

So I took the bait, and I’m here to tell you the hype is real. Paddington 2 is infectiously joyful, a film that gushes sincerity and charm, and combines slapstick humor with thrilling chase sequences and, somehow, everything in between. As the film’s antagonist, Hugh Grant has simply never been better, and a stand-out scene utilizing pop-up book imagery took my breath away. See this movie, now.

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It took a few years, but Netflix finally did it. With “Buster Scruggs” the streaming giant had its first must-see feature film, a collection of six western vignettes by the Coen Brothers.

Frequently funny, often tragic, occasionally disturbing and sometimes all of the above, the Coen’s ballad has a little bit of everything and will leave you wanting more.

4. First Man

I was born into a world where man had already walked the lunar surface, with the tragedies, national rivalries and scientific uncertainties of the space race long since past. As a result, the most compelling aspect of Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic was, for me, the anxiety it conveys as now-historic ambassadors of Planet Earth set off on unproven and spectacularly dangerous missions to test the boundaries of human accomplishment.

The film’s centerpiece is a coup de grâce, as Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his crew make their decent from Lunar orbit and, once landed, step out onto an otherwordly landscape. Chazelle takes it all in, giving the scenes room to breathe without needless interruption or embellishment.

3. BlacKkKlansman

From the “You can’t make this up” file comes “BlacKkKlansman” the mostly-true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, the film sizzles with a sharp, darkly-comic energy, aided by the pitch-perfect, odd-couple casting of John David Washington and Adam Driver, as well as a surprisingly effective Topher Grace as KKK grand wizard David Duke.

2. Roma

The term “visionary” is thrown around a little too liberally in film criticism, but in the case of Alfonso Cuaron it applies. Consider the recent run by the director, from “Children of Men” in 2006 to “Gravity” in 2013 and now “Roma,” which was wisely snapped up by Netflix.

Known for his long takes and massive scale, Cuaron painstakingly recreates Mexico City circa 1970 for his meditative profile of an affluent family and their live-in housekeeper/nanny. It’s a movie brimming beyond the edges of the screen with life and detail, following one young woman’s path through a city, and nation, in a state of social and political flux.

1. The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a style all his own, simultaneously enticing and intentionally off-putting, as seen recently in “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” His films are absurd, but with absurdities masked under a veneer of sterile banality that he carefully cracks to expose the bizarre machinations at play.

With “The Favourite,” working off a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos focuses his singular artistic eye on the court of England’s Queen Anne (a superb Olivia Coleman) and the schemes of two women (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) who battled for the monarch’s trust and affection.

In the world of “The Favourite,” the familiar pomp and circumstance of imperial English decorum are on full display, albeit ratcheted up to farcical heights that, while deliciously anachronistic, convey the petty jealousies and political scheming that carry through to modern society. The result is a period piece unbound by the trappings of history that, through caricature, captures something wholly real, grotesquely bizarre and hilariously relatable.

Read Full Post »

Finally, FINALLY!, I’ve seen all the films I needed to see to put together the Top 10 list for *last* year. Living in a flyover state is such a burden for the recreational cinephile (#FirstWorldProblems).

I’ll keep the intro brief, but wanted to comment on the year that was. I already noted in my post for the Number 11 film about how great movies were spread out through the calendar year instead of being clustered only in the November-December holiday season. But what also stands out to me about 2017 was the level of humor in the best films of the year; not necessarily as outright comedies but as film’s that didn’t feel forced to cram themselves strictly into the typical binary of serious vs. silly.

It made for richer movie-going experiences, IMHO. And besides, in 2017 I think we could all use a few extra laughs.

Without further ado, here’s the 10 best movies that came out 2017. It was an agonizing process to select them, as always, and I’ll add a few extra shout-outs to good movies that didn’t quite make the cut at the end.

phantom-thread1.jpg

10. Phantom Thread

Say it ain’t so DDL!!!!  Daniel Day-Lewis, currently the greatest living male actor (come at me!) claims that his latest collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson is his last film — as in, ever. As tragic as the thought is, it’s at least comforting to know that he’s going out on a great note.

Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker and unyielding perfectionist who finds his latest muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their relationship is toxic and one-sided, by Woodcock’s design, except that Alma isn’t content to wither and fade as the dressmaker’s former lovers did.

The movie takes a bit too long getting to its deeper machinations, which in the hands of a lesser filmmaker and cast would doom the film. But the combination of DDL’s customarily immersive performance and PTA’s ethereal direction make every minute on a hypnotic delight, even if their combined weight causes the film to drag slightly.

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

4df7682d59c840989fa04507f13ab917-db22c32b1feb4099b730b0deea1a6ea3-1-800x381.jpg

9. Nobody Speak: Trials of a Free Press

Whoulda thunk one of the most troubling and potentially detrimental challenges to the First Amendment would involve a Hulk Hogan sex tape, but here we are. Terry Bollea (the man behind the do-rag) quite literally sued the pants off of Gawker after the site posted excerpts of Bollea’s sex tape, arguing that while *Hogan* was a public figure and subject to additional scrutiny by the press, the man behind the character, Bollea, was a wholly separate individual who deserved his privacy.

Much like the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, there’s a lot more going on here than one might immediately suppose, and director Brian Knappenberger does a superb job at peeling back the layers of this particularly rotten onion. In a time when the media is under concerted attack by public figures (“FAKE NEWS!”) and reality TV stars and tabloid provocateurs have their hands on the highest levers of governmental power (again, “FAKE NEWS!”) the ability of someone like Bollea, backed by the personal fortune of a vendetta-driven billionaire (in this case, Peter Thiel), to sue a media outlet into oblivion over objections to its content is, quite simply, terrifying. (Yowza, how’s *that* for a run-on sentence?).

Watch it on: Netflix

Critica_de_cine-Estrenos_de_cine-James_Franco-Cine_272983921_58846284_640x360.jpg

8. The Disaster Artist

There have been many movies about making movies, and even a few movies about making bad movies (See: Ed Wood). But there’s never been anything quite like The Disaster Artist, which dramatizes the true and truly bizarre story of the making of The Room.

Part biopic for the notoriously terrible film’s director/writer/star Tommy Wisaue, part love-letter to film itself and part tribute to the fruits of indefatigable optimist. Centered around the all-in performance by James Franco, himself an occasionally out there multi-hyphenate, The Disaster Artist is the funniest film I saw this year. Between the abundant laughs, it’s also succeeds, somewhat unexpectedly, at making a sympathetic character out of its wackadoodle protagonist, who managed to achieve his goal of being an all-American Hollywood star (and maybe vampire?) through the most unlikeliest of routes.  (Bonus: Make sure to see “The Room” if you haven’t, but not necessarily *before* you watch The Disaster Artist. It works in either order).

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

The-Big-Sick-movie.jpg

7. The Big Sick

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by the real-life couple whose story is dramatized on screen, The Big Sick is the charming millennial love story none of us knew we were waiting for. Kumail Nanjiani (playing a version of himself) and Zoe Kazan (as Emily) are dynamite as the central couple. And when Kazan is sidelined by the titular physical ailment of her character, the movie pops to a whole new level with the arrival of Emily’s parents, played on-the-money by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.

On its face it’s a love story, but the smart and unfussy script folds in themes of religion and family ties for a rom-dramedy that truly shouldn’t be missed.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime video

Logan-Lucky-840x420.jpg

6. Logan Lucky

After the 2013 movie “Side Effects,” Steven Soderbergh claimed he was done directing movies. He focused on television, churning out some great work in projects like The Knick and Behind the Candelabra, but maintained that he was retired from the big screen.

*Lucky* for us (see what I did there?) he changed his mind.

Going back to the heist format that launched him into the upper-Hollywood stratosphere with Ocean’s Eleven, Soderbergh bottles lightning with “Logan Lucky” a madcap, freewheeling story about misfit toys who come together to rip off a NASCAR event. It’s anchored by the oddly soulful performances of Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, the latter sporting a comically rudimentary prosthetic arm, and bolstered by an A-plus ensemble cast that includes the indescribably joyous casting of Daniel Craig as the redneck bomb-maker “Joe Bang.”

If there’s one weak point, it’s Seth McFarland as an obnoxious NASCAR driver, but it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise inventive and refreshingly clever smash-and-grab job.

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

the-post-2.jpg

5. The Post

Not only is Steven Spielberg’s latest very good, it’s also very necessary, arriving at a moment when the free press and First Amendment are under more scrutiny and pressure than they’ve been since…well…since the Nixon Administration depicted in the film’s plot.

The cast is stellar and the plotting is taught, diving into the emotions at play as the leadership of the Washington Post (then a second-tier paper behind the behemoths like the New York Times) wrestles with whether and how to publish the Pentagon Papers. At the center of it all is Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, waxing journalistic as the Post’s publisher and editor respectively. For newsy folk like myself, it’s the cinema equivalent of catnip, but for those outside the industry it’s a reverential and informative peak behind the curtain of one of our nations most essential democratic institutions.

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

p04qh89p.jpg

4. A Ghost Story

No film that I saw this year stuck with me the way A Ghost Story did. If you’ll pardon the pun, I was haunted by it.

There’s nothing conventional about this movie: it’s a bold and enigmatic story of a couple separated by mortality in which the protagonists spends the bulk of the running time obscured by a sheet like a child’s simplistic Halloween costume. You literally could not do less to show a ghost on screen, but the effect works wonders as the character (unnamed and played by Casey Affleck) looms outside the perception of his grieving wife (Rooney Mara) before becoming lost in time through a series of ponderous vignettes, all paired to precision with the single best soundtrack of any film this year.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime video

lady-bird.jpg

3. Lady Bird

Few films feel as effortlessly alive as “Lady Bird,” the impressive directorial debut of indie darling Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan (it rhymes with “inertia”) in her funniest role to date, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age-tell that shrugs off expectations to tell a story that is at times universal (awkward first loves, parental embarrassment, dreams of adulthood in the big city) and at times wholly individual (to whit, the incredible mother-daughter pairing with a never-been-better Laurie Metcalf).

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

GetOutWhite3-e1489420682985.jpg

2. Get Out

Speaking of directorial debuts, from the mind of Jodan Peele comes the biggest talker of the 2017 year in film. Released in February, “Get Out” landed with a bang so loud the ground was still shaking by December. Not quite a horror movie, not quite a comedy and not quite sane, the movie leaned hard into America’s racial tensions, taking a textbook “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” setup and spinning it around until the wheels fall off.

Most impressive, the film doesn’t fall apart without the element of surprise. By the time most people saw it (myself included), word-of-mouth and buzzy reactions had made even the most diligently spoiler-averse audience member aware that strange things were afoot at the Circle K. You may not know exactly what is in store, but you know going in (or very shortly afterward) that things are going to be a little odd.

No matter, because Peele’s twisty concept and in-your-face constructions are simply that good. In a way, “Get Out” is spoiler proof, because what it has to say is louder than plot.

Watch it on: HBO Go/Now

Christopher-Nolans-Dunkirk-IMAX-poster-cropped.jpg

1. Dunkirk

I had a hard time choosing the image for this entry, since every option seemed so small compared to the experience of actually watching Christopher Nolan’s epic film in the theater (if you missed the large-screen format, you should still watch Dunkirk but know that you’re missing out on it’s most impressive effect: size.)

Dunkirk is a film at odds with itself. Everything about its imagery is big, from the wide-angle aerial shots to the endless horizon of a sea boiling with hulking warships toppled under billowing clouds of smoke and fire. But it’s individual moments are small, and largely wordless, as we follow various groups of soldiers, pilots and civilians engaged in the most straightforward of tasks made daunting by circumstance: getting from one side of the English channel to the other.

The contradictions in tone are made all the better by the film’s format, which weaves together three narratives that take place in different windows of time (one week on land, one day at seat and one hour in flight). It is at first disorienting, until you embrace the disorientation and look past chronology. Every scene is its own story of survival, so it doesn’t quite matter which order they occur in.

The Battle of Dunkirk has been depicted on film before, most notably in the excellent film Atonement. But while those stories made pit stops at the beach, Nolan’s story is lazer-focused on the plight of the English and French forces trapped between the German invaders on one side and the treacherous waters on the other. A straightforward telling would have made for a straightforward movie, something Nolan has shown he has little interest in, and one that may have been fine but wouldn’t stick with you the way “Dunkirk” does.

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

769341148_5618218526001_5617890179001-vs.jpg

And a few more:

As always, there’s more than 10 movies that deserve recognition. I mentioned a few already with my Honorable Mentions, but most of those weren’t ever under consideration for my end-of-year Top 10.

Because movies come late to Utah, I end up making a Top 10 and then bumping titles off as late releases outrank them, which is heartbreaking. This was particularly the case with I, Tonya, with which I went back and forth for a few days deciding between it and Phantom Thread for the final spot.

Similarly, it killed me to not include Blade Runner 2049. I’m a huge fan of director Denis Villeneuve and really enjoyed his gorgeous sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. But I can also see where its detractors are coming from, and while I recommend it wholeheartedly there are few little nit-picky things that kept me from ranking it.

Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell is very good, and Stone *in it* is particularly excellent. I was going to mention it as Best Indie but I just couldn’t get over It Comes at Night. Similarly Wonder Woman deserves every inch of its success and I look forward to what Patti Jenkins does with the franchise (still the only corner of DC’s cinematic universe worth paying attention to.)

I was surprised by how much I liked Murder on the Orient Express. I knew nothing about the story which probably added to my enjoyment (your mileage may vary if you already know the big reveal) and I’m pleased that a sequel is reportedly in development, especially since this time it *won’t* include Johnny Depp.

Also Wind River is another worthwhile directorial debut, this time by Taylor Sheridan who has written some of the best crime-related films in recent years (Hell or High Water, Sicario). His skills in the director’s chair aren’t quite to the level of his writing ability, but it’s a strong first film that suggests even better things on the horizon (Sicario, you may recall, was directed by Denis Villeneuve, which ties this list together in an interesting way. And its sequel “Soldado” comes out this summer. I am, to put it mildly, excited.).

Last but not least, The Greatest Showman is a darn good musical. Sure, I would have liked a less sanitized version of P.T. Barnum — a complicated man, to say the least — but the music is great, the choreography pops, and its quite successful at what it sets out to do.

**Addendum*** This morning’s Oscar Nominations reminded me that I forgot to include The Shape Of Water in my post-list shoutouts. GDT is a visionary director, and his latest has the feel of a moving painting. Great performances by the cast (most notably Sally Hawkins is a near-silent role) and a great fantasy creation. It was a contender for the Top 10 but got bumped in the final weeks.

Read Full Post »

Note: Portions of this review were first published during coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

the-big-sick-movie

Written by and based on the life of Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick functions like an inter-nationality take on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” for the millennial generation.

Before he was an anchor player on TV Comedies like Silicon Valley, Nanjiani was a stand-up comedian slumming it on his way up the food chain and a closeted agnostic in a family of strict adherents to Islam and Pakistani culture, which includes arranged marriages. In the dramatized version, he meets the decidedly *not* Pakistani Emily (Zoe Kazan) after a gig, kicking off a courtship that is tested first by his reluctance to reveal all to his disapproving parents and second by a mystery ailment that places Emily in a medically-induced coma.

The writing is sharp, with a sharp blend of comedy and drama as Kumail deals with the titular “Big Sick” Emily experiences. It also includes knock-out supporting roles by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents, who arrive with their own marital demons in tow to the bedside of their ailing daughter. The film’s best moments derive from the stuttered progress Nanjiani makes winning over the parents of a woman he scorned as the three characters hope for the best but fear the worst.

That the based-on-a-true-story film ends on a positive note isn’t spoiling much , but “Big Sick” keeps the tension under the breezy humor and the film easily earns its sentimental finish.

Grade: A

*The Big Sick opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 7.

Read Full Post »

i-dont-feel-at-home-in-this-world-anymore.jpeg

I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore

We typically have to wait almost a year — or more — for the public at large to see the big winner from the Sundance Film Festival. But not only is “I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore” out less than two months after snagging the Grand Jury prize in Park City, its also viewable from the comfort of your home due to Netflix scoring the distribution rights.

Starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, IDFAHITWA sees a woman shaken out of a rut after a break-in at her home triggers a compulsion to pursue justice. It’s also the directorial debut of Macon Blair, best known for his acting collaborations with director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room). Blair borrows from Saulnier’s style of minimalist, organic and unflinching violence, but also injects his feature with a heavy doze of sardonic humor. The result is something like a marriage of hipster comedy and Coenesque drama and shows a lot of promise for an emerging multi-hyphenate storyteller.

636114755410723339-Mascots-Unit-12277.jpeg

Mascots

If you’re a fan of Christopher Guest…well, you’ve probably seen Mascots already. But otherwise you should know that the team behind the mockumentaries Best in Show, A Mighty Win and Waiting For Guffman have a Netflix Original film about the cutthroat world of competitive Mascot-ery.

To  be sure, Mascots is a lesser-Guest. But it is still hilarious in its survey of bizarre, pseudo-surrealist characters, like Chris O’Dowd’s Tommy ‘Zook’ Zucarello, who performs as “The Fist” for a hockey team, and whose every action in the musculatured foam hand suit is a master class is sight gags.

burnafter.png

Burn After Reading

Speaking of Coenesque, and lesser-entries, “Burn After Reading” may not be the strongest entry in the Joel and Ethan Coen canon, but don’t let that stop you from its unique pleasures, number one on that list being that fully-committed and unbelievably ludicrous performance of Brad Pitt as a pompadoured buffoon of a personal trainer.

Combining gym rats, DIY sex toys and international espionage in a way that only the Coens can, “Burn after Reading” wrings gallons of humor out of a few ounces of its characters poor decision-making.

it_follows.jpeg

It Follows

The horror genre is experiencing something like a creative renaissance, and just in the nick of time. After 2004’s “Saw,” there was a decade in which horror producers were arms-racing each other to up the ante on torture porn. Thankfully, the trends are showing sign of shifting back toward risk-taking and storytelling, and there’s perhaps no better example of that New-School thank the incredible “It Follows” (which, as you may recall, was among my picks for the 10 best films of 2014).

As both an homage and a satire of classic scarers, It Follows takes the trope that in horror, sex = death, and stretches it to its logical extreme. Its antagonist is a loosly-defined specter that relentlessly pursues its victims as they pass its curse from one to another through sexual intercourse. You can survive by passing “it” on to someone else, but if “it” gets them, then you’re back at the top of the list, being followed again.

The device is incredibly effective as “it” shapeshifts through various forms, visible only to the infected. It causes the viewer to dart their eyes around the screen, looking for anyone who seems out of place, or a little *too* determined in their gait. Layer on top a gorgeous, pulpy style full of neon lighting and synth-pop atmosphere and you have a cinematic experience that leaps above the rest.

 

Read Full Post »

Jessica-Williams-Film-The-Incredible-Jessica-James-To-Close-Sundance-2017-715x405.jpeg

The Incredible Jessica James

Jessica Williams stars as the titular Jessica James, an aspiring New York City playwright on the bad end of a breakup. It’s a showcase for the comedian, consisting largely of her character’s whimsical take on life, love and ambition with little by way of plot besides wanting to make it big and maybe meet a nice guy while she’s at it.

It provides enough laughs for the price of admission, and is an encouraging argument in favor of Williams as protagonist. But there’s not a lot of there, there, and not much to say beyond what a million other young-in-New-York films have said before.

Grade: B-

The-Big-Sick-movie.jpeg

The Big Sick

Written by and based on the life of Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick functions like an inter-nationality take on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” for the millennial generation.

Before he was an anchor player on TV Comedies like Silicon Valley, Nanjiani was a stand-up comedian slumming it on his way up the food chain and a closeted agnostic in a family of strict adherents to Islam and Pakistani culture, which includes arranged marriages. In the dramatized version, he meets the decided *not* Pakistani Emily (Zoe Kazan) after a gig, kicking off a courtship that is tested first by his reluctance to reveal all to his disapproving parents and second by a mystery ailment that places Emily in a medically-induced coma.

The writing is sharp and funny, with a nice blend of comedy and drama as Kumail deals with the titular “Big Sick” Emily is going through. It also includes knock-out supporting roles by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. That the movie ends on a positive note isn’t spoiling much, and the film easily earns its sentimental finish.

Grade: A

AN-INCONVENIENT-SEQUEL-TRUTH-TO-POWER.jpeg

An Inconvenient Sequel

In a way its frightening that we’ve had 10 years since Al Gore first delivered his power point presentation on climate change in “An Inconvenient Truth” only to still be debating the science of carbon emission.  But at least the ensuing decade has given the once-and-future president plenty of material for a round two.

Yes, the ice has melted, the waters have risen, the storms have worsened and myriad other Gore predictions have manifested, but “Sequel” also goes beyond the doom and gloom to track the real and significant political efforts made, notably the Paris Agreement of last year. Naturally, President Trump’s pledge to tear up that agreement and double down on fossil fuels is a bummer for Gore, and a bit of a thorn in the third act of “Sequel,” the documentary still manages a message of optimism among its impressively researched call to arms.

Grade: B+

Rememory.jpeg

Rememory

The best way to describe “Rememory” is that it is relentlessly serious. Peter Dinklage stars as one of several broken souls in a pseudo-science fiction world in which a machine has been created that can record and display the mind’s memories. When the machine’s inventor dies under suspicious circumstances, Dinklage’s Sam steals the memory machine in order to both probe his own dark past and solve the inventor’s murder. But the final reveal on both points is underwhelming and bogged down by the slog of dull greys and moody glances.

It’s a notable film, largely due being one of the final performances of the late Anton Yelchin, and there are a lot of lofty ideas about how life’s experiences shape us into who we are. But its ambitions our ground into powder by its crushing atmosphere.

Grade: C+

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »