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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Entries in Reviews (261)

Monday
Jan262015

Sundance: "Tangerine" The Best Trans Hooker Christmas Comedy You Might Ever See!

This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

Indie writer/director Sean Baker (and recently his co-writer Chris Berloch) specialize in portraits of characters on the margins of society. Baker's previous slice-of-life film was the still underappreciated Starlet (2012), which traced an unlikely friendship between a young porn star and an old woman she meets at a garage sale.  Their very worthy follow up is TANGERINE (not to be confused with the Estonian drama currently nominated for Oscar's Foreign Film Category called Tangerines). Again we find Baker looking at places others haven't thought to look — or at least haven't looked at with anything like the same affectionate humor and nuanced humanity.

In this case that place is a Hollywood block filled with ex-con trans hookers who still have their penises, their lonely trade, immigrant cab drivers, and the colorful seedy neighborhood they all share. Tangerine is filled with memorable scenes in busted-ass laundromats, car washes, cheap motels with "party rooms", and of course Donut Time. The movie tells the story of a single event-filled day and night (Christmas Eve) in the lives of Sin-Dee Rella (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez) and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) who treats her to half a holiday sprinkled donut in the movie's abrasively funny opening scene. 

"Merry Christmas, bitch."

Remember that claim that Wolf of Wall Street used the most "f--ks" ever uttered in a movie? I hope Tangerine makes that claim for "bitch". [More...]

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Monday
Jan262015

Sundance: 'Entertainment' is a Twisted Misfire

Michael C here reporting from Park City

 

The failing comedian at the center of Rick Alverson's Entertainment performs as if he loathes the very idea of humor. He flings his hackneyed one-liners at disinterested barflies with a disdain that aims to wound, not amuse. His appearance mocks the very idea of a comic, a slouched caricature of failure who takes the stage in a cheap tuxedo with a microphone and a vodka in one hand and three more vodkas cradled in his other arm. His desperate combover is pasted to his head giving the appearance of permanent flop sweat. It would be surprising to learn that he has genuinely laughed in years...

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Saturday
Jan242015

Sundance: "Glassland", a Compassionate But Bleak Mother/Son Drama

Breaking News: Someone finally gave Toni Collette something to act onscreen again. She has lines and emotions and everything. (Tammy and Hitchcock -- never forget!). But I'm jumping too far ahead since Glassland takes some time to come around to her story. When we finally get to it she all but dares you to listen with hostile self-pity in an amazing and amazingly lengthy monologue. [More...]

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Monday
Dec292014

Reviewish: Into the Woods, Musical Numbers Ranked

This review originally appeared in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

Once upon a time Stephen Sondheim wrote a musical classic Into the Woods. The first act brings together classic fairy tale characters into one comic misadventure and the second act debunks the “happily ever after” myth and transforms the whole play into a masterpiece about virtually all the Big Stuff: growing up, parenting, marriage, death, rebuilding after great loss.

Cinderella's family mocking our movie musical anxiety

When it comes to lines we can repurpose to talk about the prospects of a film version, Little Red said it best:

It made me feel excited. well, excited and scared.

Isn’t that how devotees of the movie musical feel each time a new one arrives? A bit of background to justify the high-anxiety. The live-action movie musical died alongside Bob Fosse's alter ego in All That Jazz (1979). The genre was six feet under for two full decades despite intermittent attempts at excavating its exquisite corpse (Annie, Little Shop of Horrors, Newsies). The Disney animation renaissance of the 1990s renewed interest and the genre was successfully reborn at the turn of the century by the one-two-three-four punch of Dancer in the Dark, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Moulin Rouge! and Chicago. That's a four consecutive high quality film run that this ancient-newborn genre has yet to match since. And why is that exactly? Some people blame the lack of strong directors who are skilled in the form, others the resistance to new blood (nearly all modern musicals are adaptations). Still more culprits are Hollywood’s frequent miscasting since musical skill is considered optional.

But The Witch (Meryl Streep) would like us to stop bitching and get on with this review...

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Saturday
Dec272014

Review: Selma

Michael C. here with your weekend review

Among the many achievements of Ava DuVernay’s tremendous Selma, the biggest may be that it rescues Martin Luther King from canonization as a two dimensional political saint. In the thirty years since Reagan declared a national holiday in his honor, the rough edges have been sanded off King’s legacy, its complexities all but deleted from the public consciousness. The remaining image is a positive but reductive one. To focus solely on King the martyr, standing at the podium, speaking about his dream of a world without prejudice is to gloss over all the messy grunt work that actually went into altering the course of history.

Now we have Selma, which not only restores King’s humanity, but his agency as a shrewd political strategist. The result is a film that doesn’t just bring the 1965 Selma marches blazing out of the history books but reflects current society back at us with riveting urgency.

I can already feel myself fighting a reluctance to go on extolling Selma’s importance for fear it might appear I am awarding the film bonus points for good intentions and right thinking. So let’s be clear: Selma is above all a triumph of filmmaking, proving that tackling Oscar-friendly material need not lead to a finished film that exudes a tepid, play-it-safe attitude. I can’t recall a moment where I found DuVernay’s film falling short, its grasp equal to its considerable reach at every turn.

Like many of the best biographical films, Selma avoids a birth-to-death retelling of King’s life, letting a narrow portion stand in for the whole. DuVernay’s film picks after King has delivered his “I have a dream” speech”, portraying the months when he organized a series of marches from Selma to Montgomery to protest the infringement on voting rights for southern blacks. With the recent passage of the Civil Rights Act ending legal segregation, President Johnson expects a grateful King to refrain from stirring up trouble, but he is dismayed to find King will not be deterred or even delayed. Instead, Dr. King plans to exert pressure on LBJ by goading the worst of the racist southern bullies into attacking peaceful protesters in front of TV cameras so the ensuing horrors can be beamed directly into the homes of sympathetic northern white audiences.

Selma’s portrayal of the appalling violence endured by protesters is heart stopping in its immediacy. I don’t think I will ever forget the image of a policeman on horseback emerging from a tear gas haze brandishing a whip at fleeing protesters. But where a lesser film would see such material as an end on to itself, Selma uses it as the jumping off point to a wider, more complex picture. The film recalls Lincoln in its depiction of the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes historic change possible, but DuVernay's is the sharper, more disciplined affair, lacking Spielberg’s weakness for schmaltzy emotional crescendos. The script by Paul Webb, reworked by DuVernay, doesn’t shy away from making pointed political critiques either. Scenes contrasting King’s organization against a less effective local civil rights group make an unambiguous statement about the need for protests to be media savvy in pursuit of tangible political goals.

Special salute also to Bradford Young’s striking cinematography, which keeps things intimate and visceral, a million miles away from the stilted honey-drenched lighting other “important” films lay on a with a trowel.

Bradford Young and David Oyelowo on set

David Oyelowo’s mighty performance as King dominates the film, as it must, but one of the pleasant surprises of Selma is how generous it is with its expansive cast. Stephen Root, Tessa Thompson, Oprah Winfrey, Wendell Pierce, Giovanni Ribisi, Martin Sheen – this is only a partial list of the actors afforded moments to shine. And in her limited screen time as Coretta Scott King, Carmen Ejogo conveys the range of their relationship as both a marriage and a political partnership.

And then there are Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth, a pair of old English pros delivering the character actor goods as two very different southern politicians, President Johnson and Alabama Governor George Wallace, respectively. Roth wisely underplays a figure plenty loathsome without any additional hamming and Wilkinson does justice to the sharp writing by mapping out a marvelously nuanced LBJ. The climactic confrontation between LBJ and Wallace is a corker, packed with the tension of unspoken motives and opinions - right up until some of them get said aloud, that is.

David Oyelowo, is a wonder as King but not quite in the way one expects from a great man biopic performance. One is never tempted to drag out the hoary old, “I felt like I was watching the real person!” cliché. He’s close enough to King to be entirely believable, but his performance is not a feat of mimicry. His best moments are not in duplicating the history book highlights, but in showing how that commanding presence transferred to the quieter behind-the-scenes moments - a fraught confrontation with his wife, a sad audience with the father of a slain protester, a tense altercation over the phone with the president. When the actor is given free rein to let loose with a full blast of King’s oratory it is all the more spellbinding for carrying with it the accumulated power of these smaller moments.

It is shocking to reflect that it took until 2014 for such landmark events to be brought to the big screen. It would have been easy in this case for DuVernay to skim the surface and end up with a satisfying film just by depicting the material at all. By choosing to steer the movie into such ambitious territory DuVernay has proven herself a force to be reckoned with. As a portrait of political unrest in action, Selma could not be more relevant. As the arrival of a directorial heavyweight it is essential viewing. Combine all this with a take on a vital segment of modern American history surprisingly under-explored on film thus far and Selma qualifies as a cinematic event.

Grade: A
Oscar Prospects: Across the board
Related Posts | Previous Reviews

Tuesday
Dec162014

Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Michael C here to look at an embattled new wide release. 

Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is so dead in the water, so consistently baffling in its choices, that it is difficult to know where to begin. How about the simple fact that when one is adapting the Old Testament there is no getting around God? 

Gods and Kings doesn’t go so far as to omit God altogether. The Lord is present (sort of) in the form of a petulant eight-year old child who first appears from behind the burning bush to issue vague marching orders to Moses. What Scott and his quartet of screenwriters do attempt is an end-run around the almighty in the form of an ill-considered attempt to wedge the Book of Exodus into the Batman Begins mold where all the miraculous events are brought down to Earth with realistic explanations, or at least semi-plausible interpretations.

Is God really talking to Moses or is Moses talking to himself because his exile knocked a screw loose? Does God intervene at the Red Sea or did the Jews get lucky with a fortuitous low tide? [more...]

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