Man on High Heels St...

I don’t know how to feel about Man on High Heels. Not because it has the complexity of a Silence or the mystery of a Mulholland Dr. but because it breaks new ground, and I’m not sure it does so in the right way. One paragraph in and a good time to back up: Man on High Heels, or...

Criterion Discovery: Roma

Background: Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical Roma (Spine #848) is a cluttered, messy affair that nevertheless contains sequences of intense, visceral power. This is Fellini’s twelfth film in the Criterion Collection: Amarcord (Spine #4), Nights of Cabiria (Spine #49), And the Ship Sails On (Spine #50), Variety Lights (Spine #81), 8½ (Spine #140), Juliet of the Spirits (Spine #149), The White Sheik (Spine #189), La Strada (Spine #219), I vitelloni (Spine #246), La dolce vita (Spine #733), Satyricon (Spine #747). Story: A loose, nonlinear procession of reminiscences and allegories, Roma sees director Federico Fellini turn his camera...

Fifty Shades Darker Has A Few Bright Spots Feb10

Fifty Shades Darker Has A Few Bright Spots

Overview: Anastasia and Christian are up to their old tricks, but this time . . . they’ve got company. Based on the novel by E.L. James. Universal Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 118 minutes. How Many Shades of Grey Are There Really?: When the credits rolled on 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey, there was a sense that the movie salvaged something in its closing. That film, based upon the first entry in the cash grab erotic trilogy from E.L. James, was never going to overcome its wooden dialogue and its clumsy narrative feet, but it did stick the landing in terms of structuring its character development, the elevator doors of its conclusion...

Samantha Sanders Talks Elle With Pop Culture Case Study Feb09

Samantha Sanders Talks Elle With Pop Culture Case ...

Where do you even start in a discussion of the power dynamics, the unflinching violence, and the sheer Verhoeven-ness of the mesmerizing French film, Elle? Lucky for me, the always-reliable and ever-curious David Hart of Pop Culture Case Study had that covered. You can listen to the conversation here. I hope you enjoy our lively discussion of each twist and turn of what, for me, was one of the most engrossing films of 2016. We even managed to keep our Isabelle Huppert fawning down to just a few minutes! (Be happy Hart didn’t give me unlimited time) If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe—and special thanks to Pop Culture Case Study...

Netflix Hidden Gem #97: 3 Women

3 Women (1977) Director: Robert Altman Genre: Drama 20th Century Fox Synopsis: In a barren 1970s California desert town, a woman forms a complicated relationship with her mysterious co-worker at an elderly rehabilitation center. Overview: Among the deluge of outrageous and depressing headlines that came out of November 2016, Shelley Duvall’s appearance on Dr. Phil stood out. Duvall’s obvious mental illness became fodder for the kind of tabloid opportunism that turns human lives and stories into an “eyes at any cost” media strategy. There was of course a collective response of disapproval, but our attentions have been diverted to the newer,...

T2 Trainspotting Comes Close To Greatness Feb07

T2 Trainspotting Comes Close To Greatness

Overview: Twenty years after abandoning his friends, Mark (Ewan McGregor) returns home to Edinburgh to make amends. Meanwhile, Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) plot their revenge on him for the money he stole. TriStar Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 117 minutes. Choose Your Future: The question of how to make a great sequel, especially over two decades later, is one that is often asked but rarely answered satisfactorily. With legacy sequels, you have a wide range of uses of nostalgia. There’s Harrison Ford’s, “Chewie, we’re home,” that made people cry simply watching a trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and on the other...

Chapter & Verse Is Indulgent Viewing Feb03

Chapter & Verse...

Overview: A recently paroled ex-gang member struggles to re-acclimate himself into society after serving eight years in prison. Paladin; 2015; Not Rated; 97 minutes. Tough Crowd, Tough Crowd…: One of the film critics I find myself returning to over and over again for inspiration is the...

20th Century Women & The Distance Between American Generations Jan30

20th Century Women & The Distance Between Ame...

Overview: In 1979 Santa Barbara, single mother Dorothea struggles to raise her son Jaime and seeks the help of two young women. A24; 2016; Rated R; 118 minutes. Mama Can’t Buy You Love: Director and writer Mike Mills, recently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, has more than proven his mastery of incorporating personal yet universal themes in his work. Mike Mills’ most recent feature, Beginners (2010) was simple yet profound, heartbreaking yet hopeful, and creatively crafted. 20th Century Women certainly feels larger, and while in some ways it is a more adventurous endeavor, it is no less personal and no less...

Smokin’ Aces: 10 Years of Dead Reckoning, Sl...

To call Smokin’ Aces sleazy is an understatement. It’s a shotgun blast of nihilism with the bullets made out of compact flesh from a rusty meat-grinder. Once the trigger is pulled, the shrapnel propels itself into a block of cheese that will not be satisfactory to everyone’s tastes. But Joe Carnahan isn’t interested in taste here. The focus is on watching a menagerie of degenerates and people in way over their heads get lost in the shuffle of what we can refer to as a “gaggle-fuck” of bad decisions and worse combatants. It also stars an assortment of fantastic character actors doing some of the weirdest work in their careers. The...

A Patch of Fog Backtracks Into Predictability Jan26

A Patch of Fog Backt...

Overview: After he’s caught shoplifting by an obsessive security guard, a famous writer finds himself pulled into a maniacal and possibly deadly forced friendship. XLrator Media; 2015; Not Rated; 92 minutes. Caught in the Act: Almost 25 years ago, Sandy Duffy released his first and only book....

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a Satisfying Relaunch Jan24

xXx: The Return of X...

Overview: The death of an ally brings Xander Cage out of self-imposed exile to stop a series of terrorist satellite attacks. Paramount Pictures; 2017; Rated PG-13; 107 mins. Fast & Furious: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage reintroduces the audience to Vin Diesel, as Xander Cage over a...

Kuro Challenges the Way We Think of Storytelling Jan23

Kuro Challenges the ...

Overview: While caring for her paraplegic lover Millou, Romi recounts for him the story of a time they spent in Japan, caring for a man named Mr. Ono. 2017; Not Rated; 84 minutes. Space: There’s a lot of in-between space inside of Kuro, the new film from directors Joji Koyama and Tujiko...

The Founder is Almost Golden Jan23

The Founder is Almost Golden

Overview: Ray Kroc turns a single hamburger stand into one of the most successful business models ever—often at the expense of those along the way who help him. The Weinstein Company; 2016; Rated PG-13; 115 minutes. American Dreams: Rarely do the trailers before a film factor into its review, but it was impossible to miss something interesting that was happening in the 15 minutes before The Founder began. If film is a kind of projection of our collective psyche, right now we’re awfully anxious. And the studios seem to sense our fear. The previews I caught were about, in turn: Stalin’s 1932 takeover of Ukraine and the famine that followed;...

Elle Offers Captivating Condescension Jan17

Elle Offers Captivat...

Overview: An affluent French businesswoman is violently assaulted in her own home and subsequently mounts her own private revenge against her unknown attacker. Sony Pictures Classics; 2016; Rated R; 130 minutes. Violence & Condescension: Isabelle Huppert is an undeniable screen performer...

Patriots Day is a Jingoistic Power Fantasy Jan17

Patriots Day is a Ji...

Overview: Police and armed forces begin a manhunt for the people responsible for the Boston marathon bombings. Lionsgate; 2016; Rated R; 133 minutes. Started at the Relatively Decent: Peter Berg’s directorial form has never been an issue. Shot composition is broad, never atmospheric but lays...

Silence, the Problem of Pain, & the Challenge of Cinema as Religious Text Jan16

Silence, the Problem of Pain, & the Challenge...

Overview: Upon hearing that their mentor has apostatized, two 17th Century Jesuit priests venture into Japan, where Christianity is outlawed, to find him. Based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō. Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 161 minutes. What’s In The Frame?: Martin Scorsese famously said, “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out,” a sentence that might be as useful as any working definition that has been offered for the art form as it hits its toddler stage. But the sentiment is also useful in its implied reductive comparison. What is and is not in the frame, that which does and does not happen, what we see...

Netflix Hidden Gem #92: Autohead

Autohead (2016) Director: Rohit Mittal Genre: Drama Amit Verma Films/Stalker Films Synopsis: A group of documentarians get more than they bargained for when their cinéma vérité subject—an auto rickshaw driver in Mumbai—reveals a side of himself that’s darker and more horrific than they could have ever imagined. Overview: We expected the first murder in Rohit Mittal’s Autohead. We’ve seen Narayan (Deepak Sampat)—a rural immigrant to Mumbai who’s making a pathetic living as an auto rickshaw driver by day and a pimp by night—deal with tough customers. We’ve seen older ladies stiff him his fares, old men browbeat him for taking wrong...

Live by Night is a Frustrating Misstep Jan12

Live by Night is a F...

Overview: Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, Live by Night follows a bandit who, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, rises as a successful crime boss during the Prohibition era. Warner Bros. Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 129 minutes. Sleep by Day: The opening narration, mumbled by Ben...

Hidden Figures Favors Drama Over Impact Jan11

Hidden Figures Favors Drama Over Impact

Overview: Three black women employed by NASA in the early 1960s solve mathematical equations essential to the success of the space program’s manned missions. 20thCentury Fox; 2016; Rated PG; 127 minutes. Women in History: In the early 1960s, a team of black women worked for NASA as mathematicians and engineers to help the U.S. beat the Soviets in the race to space – and none of us knew about them. Hidden Figures shines the spotlight on three real-life women: Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a brilliant mathematician who graduated high school at 14, college at 18, and taught math before becoming the most skilled mathematician in...

Watching Barry In Trump’s America Jan11

Watching Barry In Trump’s America

In director Vikram Gandhi’s new film Barry, American citizens who have been waking up in fear every morning are offered the hope of a communal solution. Some context that you already know: A man with no prior political experience has been elected to become the Leader of the Free World, despite losing the popular vote. Donald J. Trump, a notorious philanderer, real estate developer, and reality television star, will unseat current president Barack Obama in fewer than two weeks. After eight years of social progress and liberal civility, the very worst monsters have emerged from the closet of American history. Bigotry, sexism, and racism have...

Go North: A Gorgeously Filmed Debut With Missteps Jan10

Go North: A Gorgeous...

Overview: After an unidentified disaster wipes out the adults of the world, a community of children and teenagers descends into dangerous chaos run by a rowdy crew of high school jocks. Desperate for freedom, friends Josh and Jessie run away in search of other survivors and hope for the...

Fences is a Performance Powerhouse With Questionable Follow-Through Jan09

Fences is a Performance Powerhouse With Questionab...

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 soul of humanity, each one beautiful, damaged, and as individually complex as the laws, regulations, and...

Netflix Hidden Gem #91: Blue Jay

Blue Jay (2016) Director: Alex Lehmann Genre: Drama Netflix Synopsis: Past lovers meet unexpectedly in their hometown and reconnect through one meaningful night. Overview: I don’t like crying at movies just for the sake of crying. It’s just not my idea of a good time. Sometimes it feels like movies of the romance/drama genre aim to shoot little darts at the ovaries/brovaries of viewers just to get a cheap reaction rather than relying on solid writing and performances to get the message across. Quite frankly, outside of the random repeat viewing of Bridges of Madison County, I never go looking for that kind of “get me some ice cream”...

 The Controversies of Straw Dogs 30 Years Later

“Bloody Sam” Peckinpah made a name for himself with his vicious western The Wild Bunch in 1969. After controversy surrounded his professional methods, he took to England to film Straw Dogs, a movie that 30 years later remains as controversial as the director himself. Straw Dogs is certainly a frustrating film to watch. Those familiar know that it’s generally praised or condemned for its content to two extremes: is it a misogynistic, self-fellating film or an insightful look at humanity’s savagery? Looking at it on its 30th anniversary I aimed to ask, why can’t it be both? The truth is that it is both – but not equally or without...

Jackie Is All Towering Performance Dec21

Jackie Is All Toweri...

Overview: In the week after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, his wife, Jackie, is tasked with making impossible decisions to preserve his legacy while grieving publicly and privately. Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 100 minutes. “A man may die, nations may rise and fall,...