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Entries in Reviews (404)

Wednesday
Aug242016

Review: Hell or High Water

by Eric Blume

With their new film, director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Starred Up) and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) make one thing abundantly clear: they really, really hate banks.  Hell or High Water is a sort of southwest answer to The Big Short, a tale of rural Texas poor on a Robin Hood mission. 

Sheridan’s script was the winner of the 2012 Black List prize for best unproduced screenplay, a fact which feels surprising during the cliché friendly first half hour.  Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard are characters we’ve seen many times before, with a sibling dynamic that’s not new either.  Tanner (Ben Foster) is the wild bro released from prison, complete with a violent streak and true-blue redneck energy.  Toby (Chris Pine) is the tender brother, a taciturn and emotionally bruised man trying to make things right.  Together, they start robbing small Texas banks to secure money to save the family farm.  As Counterpoint we have two Texas rangers on their case:  Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), for whom this is the last big one before retirement(!), and partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), the sage Native American sidekick. 

For about the first thirty minutes, you sit in fear that this is all the film will be, a simple chase to the inevitable populated with stock characters. The only hope it has is to somehow deepen.  Fortunately, it does...

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Friday
Aug192016

Review: Spa Night

by Sean Donovan

In Andrew Ahn’s feature length debut Spa Night, our main character David is introduced hunched over in a dimly lit sauna, a towel draped over his head. The sound mix emphases his heavy, sighing breath, which is audible but blocked by the weight of the towel. In this 2016 Sundance competition film, towels become a provocative motif, suffocating expression and concealing desire.. At the intersection of his existence as a second generation Korean American and a fledgling queer man exploring his sexual desires, pressure hits at David from multiple angles. The admiring but unenthusiastic praise which has greeted Spa Night’s release is a recognition of Ahn’s exciting early command of framing and craft, but fails to truly meet this remarkable film on its own level, that of a profoundly emotional, and refreshingly serious point of view. Jump on in! The water’s fine...

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Saturday
Aug132016

Review: Meryl Streep as "Florence Foster Jenkins"

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

It takes a gifted singer to sing this horribly. Every other note is wrong. No phrasing goes unmangled by shortness of breath. No lovely moment meant to soar cannot be shattered by a flat ear-piercing decibel. The central conceit of Stephen Frears new comedy Florence Foster Jenkins is that Florence, a considerably wealthy patron of the arts played by Meryl Streep, lives for music but is ghastly at it. The inside joke, given the casting, is that we all know La Streep can sing with the best of them. She followed the "is there nothing she can't do?" revelation of Ironweed's tragic showstopper "He's Me Pal" (1987, Oscar-Nominated) with transcendent country crooner feeling in Postcards From the Edge (1990, Oscar-Nominated), and just kept on singing whenever a movie gave her the opportunity all the way up through last year's Ricki and the Flash which was practically a concert film there were so many scenes of Streep at the mic, rocking out.

Florence Foster Jenkins doesn't rock out. Florence is not that kind of girl and Florence, also, is not the kind of movie...

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Saturday
Aug132016

Review: Pete's Dragon

By Chris Feil

It's at the outset of David Lowery's reinvention of Pete's Dragon that the titular beast is intended more as a puppy to our namesake hero. What follows is a sharp left turn from the original's vaudevillian slapstick, with the "boy and his dog" approach used as a distinguishing characteristic from the aimless original and as an easy emotional access point for the audience. Gone are the musical numbers (though the hipster rock is cranked up to 11) and the buffoonery in favor of something more genuinely wraught straight from the heart.

But more importantly, this iteration of Elliott the dragon serves to stir more than just cutesy, cheap surrogate affection. Lowery is unafraid of scaring the kids and making the grown ups weep along the way. What remains is a family film about coping defenses, especially how we lean on our furry friends in the face of trauma.

This nuanced angle is made plain in the film's stunning prologue, confidently announcing those stark differences from its source and the emotional rollercoaster to come. The film is fascinated by moments of magic in the real world, and luckily Lowery has conjured a film that does just that, from Elliott's reveal to the organic emotions it creates. Yep, we finally have some magic at the movies this summer.

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Monday
Aug082016

Review: Ira Sach's "Little Men"

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

Feeling fatigued by summer movie season's emphasis on loud and flashy but ultimately empty spectacles? You're in luck. Little Men, now playing in limited release, is the perfect antidote: quiet but insightful, memorable and substantive. It's not a spectacle by any means but you should still see it inside the movie theater because it's the kind of careful storytelling that benefits from being fully inside of it. Getting lost in a story is much easier to accomplish in the pages of a great novel or the dark of a movie theater than if you wait around to Netflix and chill. The movie comes to us from one of our best LGBT directors, Ira Sachs. The New York based writer/director made his feature debut 20 years ago with The Delta (1996) but recently he's been on quite a roll.

Little Men is not an adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott sequel to Little Women, but it does feel like a rich unexpected sequel to a more contemporary future classic. Ira Sach's last film was the moving gay seniors drama Love is Strange starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina whose marriage at the beginning of the film sets off a surprising chain of events which leaves them homeless and at the mercy of friends and relatives. That beautiful movie ended, rather intuitively, with a wordless and narratively inconsequential scene in which we followed their young nephew on his skateboard down the streets of the city at magic hour. The image was rapturous and watery... or rather just rapturous; I was watching it through cascading tears was all. [More...]

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Sunday
Aug072016

Review: Suicide Squad

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  But it wasn't very good, either.

by Lynn Lee

Suicide Squad was supposed to be DC Comics’ answer to Marvel’s big-screen dominance.  It had even more pressure riding on it to make up for the underwhelming Batman vs. Superman.  Unfortunately for DC, there’s nothing here to challenge Marvel’s crown.

It’s not that it’s unwatchable, it’s that everything about it is either unfocused or uninspired: the plotting, the fight scenes, the visual aesthetic, and most damning of all, the character development.  Let’s face it, most superhero movies are variations on the same handful of basic plot arcs and themes; their rhythms are so familiar to us that they rarely pack true surprises.  What makes some more compelling than others is the characterization of the heroes (and, less frequently, their villains)...

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Saturday
Aug062016

Review: The Little Prince

Tim here. It's the end of a long, baffling journey to American audiences for The Little Prince, an English-language French-made animated feature that has been waiting since the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for this moment. A substantial hit in most of the markets where it opened across 2015, the film was scheduled for release in the United States on March 18, 2016, but for reasons still unknown, distributor Paramount got cold feet at the very last minute, and cancelled the release entirely on March 11. A few days later, Netflix rode to the movie's rescue, and now the film has finally started streaming (alongside a perfunctory New York/Los Angeles release to qualify it for awards consideration).

To say that it's been worth the effort is wildly insufficient: The Little Prince turns out to be a wonderfully beguiling, visually inventive animated feature that easily ranks among the year's best...

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