Category: Reviews

Darkest Hour is a Case for Conviction

Overview: Winston Churchill takes over as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at a crucial point in World War II. Focus Features; 2017; Rated R; 125 minutes. Help Wanted: In Darkest Hour, we first meet Winston Churchill in the dark. He’s lying in a robe in bed, and strikes a match temporarily illuminating the entire room before it fades back to black. Soon, he’s dictating words to a young female typist, who mistakenly types his memo single spaced. Churchill likes—no, demands—that things be double spaced. The young typist leaves the room in embarrassment and tears. It’s 1940 and World...

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Roman J. Israel, Esq Presents a Character in Search of a Story

Overview: An LA-based criminal defense lawyer fights the system after his small firm disbands. 2017; Rated R; Columbia Pictures; 129 minutes. What Do You Stand For?: What do you do when an opportunity presents itself? Do you go for it, or shy away? It depends on the type of person you are. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is the type of person who gets an opportunity and sees it as a chance to fulfill his calling. What’s Roman J. Israel, Esq.’s calling? To find the answer to that, you’d have to track down and ask Dan Gilroy, the writer and...

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Shines With Honesty

Overview: A small Midwestern town is thrown into chaos when a grieving mother puts up three billboards accusing the local authorities of incompetence in their investigation of her daughter’s rape and murder. Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 115 minutes. [Warning: Includes spoilers] The Personal Heresy:  The genius of Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri rests in a single scene about thirty minutes in. Local gift-shop cashier Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has been dragged into the police station by Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on a charge of assaulting a dentist with his drill during a routine check-up. Mildred...

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New on Amazon Prime: The Big Sick is Exactly What We Need

Originally published on July 5, 2017, The Big Sick is now available for streaming for Amazon Prime users. Overview: A new couple is challenged by familial, cultural, and medical issues. 2017; Apatow Productions; Rated R; 119 minutes. Some Background: Before getting into the movie as a whole, it’s important to talk about how Kumail and Emily got to where they are today. Back in the early days of podcasting, I met the couple through The Indoor Kids, a podcast where the couple and a guest played and talked about video games and the culture that surrounds them. When I...

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New on Amazon Prime: Fences is a Performance Powerhouse With Questionable Follow-Through

Originally published on January 9, 2017, Fences is now available for streaming for Amazon Prime customers. Overview: Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Fences examines the struggles of an aging black man in the 1950s as he tries to provide for his family, while his personal failures isolate him. Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated PG-13; 139 minutes. August Personage: We’d be hard pressed to find a writer who so exquisitely captured the voices of black Americans during the 20th century like August Wilson. Wilson’s works carry blackness within their very punctuation, each break, stammer, or interruption illuminating a great...

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Debuts: Ridley Scott – The Duellists

The Filmmaker Before Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott worked in television as a set designer for BBC shows like Z Cars and Out of the Unknown. He was very almost the man given the job of designing the Daleks for a brand-new science fiction show called Doctor Who but a scheduling conflict got in the way. He eventually rose through the ranks and began directing episodes of BBC shows including the comedy, Adam Adamant Lives! Scott’s most notable work from this early period is actually a commercial for bread. In 1973 he directed an...

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Blade Runner 2049 is an Epic Personal Journey

Originally published on  October 9, 2017; republished in celebration of Director Ridley Scott’s 80th birthday. Overview: 30 years after the events of the original film, Blade Runner K uncovers the body of a replicant who died in childbirth. Investigating this seeming impossibility unravels a mystery that can change the world and stop human progress dead in its tracks. Warner Bros. Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 163 minutes. Fearful Symmetry: Blade Runner 2049 begins with an eye, before the scene shifts to a spinner vehicle moving through dark, towering structures. This opening directly recalls the opening of Ridley Scott’s film, all...

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The Best Years of Our Lives and the Invention of a Necessary War Narrative

War films are imbued with a sense of fatalism, with protagonists caught in the vast maelstrom of events of which they are only a very small part. Their actions when multiplied carry the weight of the entire endeavor while each individual carries the burden of their specific relationship to it. For decades, American cinema predominately concerned itself with the former, while explorations of the latter have been comparatively rare. Hollywood films, forever representative of escapism, often remain as insulated from the direct ramifications of war as the American public. William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives bridged that...

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Call Me By Your Name is a Tender Romance Told Tenderly

Overview: A teen and a graduate student reckon with their surprising shared attraction during the former’s six week stay at the latter’s home in Northern Italy. 2017; Rated R; Sony Pictures Classics; 132 minutes. A Stranger’s Touch: It’s easy to become immune to the intimacy of touch. We’ve grown so used to making physical contact with those we’re close with that it doesn’t make much of an impact when it happens. And when we shake hands with someone, we’re expecting it, though maybe we’re taken a bit by the strength of the grip or the coarseness of the hand....

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The Punisher Drives a Sledgehammer into the Gut of American Deniability

“You want justice because you haven’t figured out there is no such thing yet.” Overview: Not long after Marine veteran Frank Castle believes he has hunted down those responsible for the death of his family, he finds himself caught in a government conspiracy with secrets that threaten to unravel American security, our policies on violence, and Frank’s very sense of self. 2017; Netflix; TV-MA; 13 episodes. Welcome Back, Frank: There’s no way that the Punisher, a character entrenched in gun violence, Reaganism, and ice-cold rage, could successfully tackle the systemic mishandling of justice, and the resulting violence from the...

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I’m Not There and Grace Through Change

Todd Haynes has never been a stickler to structure. His most conventional films still reveal characters who have a need to break free from their normal surroundings. Mundanity always threatens to burst through the frame and dive into the surreal. So when he takes hold of a biography of Bob Dylan—not a performer known for his mundanity—the experiment is the structure. Six different actors play six different iterations of the famous musician in I’m Not There. (2007). The actors (Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Marcus Garl Franklin, and Ben Whishaw) depict wildly discontinuous versions of Dylan’s...

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Mudbound: Two Families, Bound and Separate

Overview: Two families with sons returning from war navigate hard times on a 1940s Mississippi farm. Elevated Films; 2017; Rated R; 134 minutes. More Alike Than Different: Mudbound follows two families who have a lot in common. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) wants to find prosperity through owning farmland, so he moves his family from Memphis down to the Mississippi Delta. He brings his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), their children and his father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) along, while his younger brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) is off flying bombers over Europe in World War II. Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) also dreams...

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Justice League is a Mostly Satisfying Endpoint and New Beginning

Overview: The death of Superman has left the world open to attack from an alien god looking to reshape the world in his image. To stop the invasion, Batman and Wonder Woman assemble a team of reluctant heroes who must rediscover hope within themselves and each other in order to save the world. 2017; Warner Bros; Rated PG-13; 120 minutes. One Year Later: The world doesn’t look like it did before. In terms of the space in which these fictional characters live and our real world, things have changed. There’s a psychological need for a bit more optimism, a...

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