Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Leslie Harris Makes a Thoughtful & Bold Directorial Debut with Just Another Girl On The I.R.T.

SPOILERS FOR JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE I.R.T. AHEAD!

Are you wondering who exactly Chantel Mitchell (Ariyan A. Johnson), the protagonist of Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., is? Don't worry, she'll let you know via fourth-wall-breaking dialogue delivered straight to the audience. Taking a cue from Ferris Bueller and Daffy Duck, Chantel Mitchell lays bare her interior motivations and personality through frank conversations with the viewer. Decimating the barrier between a fictional lead character and the audience isn't something wholly new in filmmaking but it being used to lend a voice to a member of a population that typically doesn't get to headline American cinema (especially circa. 1992), that certainly is a bold move.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Silkwood Quietly Captures the Struggles of Fighting For Workers' Rights

Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), the titular protagonist of Silkwood, isn't all that remarkable and that suits her just fine. She just wants to earn enough money to pay the bills at her job at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site and have enough time to see her three kids on a regular basis. She isn't interested in being someone particularly noteworthy. However, life has a funny way of thrusting the unexpected in our direction. Karen's job is full of hazards that include a high level of risk of exposure to hazardous forms of radiation and, wouldn't you know it, Karen eventually finds evidence that her superiors are saving money at the expense of the safety of their employees.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

It's Complicated Is a More Average Nancy Meyers Directorial Effort

The end of December 2009 was a brouhaha of new releases and, unless you were called Did You Hear About the Morgans? most of them yielded some form of financial success. Disney had their first hand-drawn animated film in five years with The Princess and the Frog, those Chipmunks were back for a Squeakquel, Robert Downey Jr. was getting a game afoot as Sherlock Holmes and Avatar was showing that the public had way more of an appetite for cat-people boning under trees than we could have possibly imagined. Oh, and romantic-comedy expert Nancy Myers also released a new hit movie in the form of It's Complicated.


Thursday, January 23, 2020

1929's The Phantom of the Opera Remains As Impressive and Chilling As Ever

OK, I'll admit it, I went into this original take on The Phantom of the Opera (the 1929 colorized version) with some levels of trepidation. My only two prior exposures to the classic versions of the Universal Monsters (the original takes on Dracula and The Mummy) just didn't click for me. Both had impressive elements but overall, they suffered from a similar flaw of just not being nearly eerie enough nor really interesting visually. That latter flaw is a particular shame given how so many horror films from the earliest days of cinema (like Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) have outstanding imagery that still stands up as blood-curdling today. Thankfully, those shortcomings were nowhere to be found in Phantom, this one clicks together beautifully and totally sold me on why monsters like the Phantom became such silver screen icons.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Jezebel Eschews Stereotypes In Favor of Specifically-Rendered Characters

Like many populations, people who work in the sex work industry have not had received the best on-screen treatment in cinema. Typically, sex workers exist to be used as either visual shorthand for people who can't be trusted or as go-to sources for corpses in crime thrillers. Rarely do people working in this profession get to be seen as human beings with their own lives, perspectives and stories to tell. There have been some exceptions to these depressing trends in recent years thanks to titles like Tangerine, Cam or the new release Jezebel. All of these films allow sex workers to take the role of the protagonist while sidestepping the dehumanizing cliches associated with traditional cinematic depictions of sex workers.


In Laman's Terms: Taika Waititi, Dangerous Fantasies and Gradual Self-Improvement

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

SPOILERS FOR ALL OF TAIKA WAITITI MOVIES, INCLUDING JOJO RABBIT AND HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, AHEAD

Taika Waititi's directorial works are known for being silly. They star kids who think the height of gangster activity is knocking over mailboxes, vampires who do dark bidding over tables on the internet and Korg the rock monster. Humor is a constant presence, the production & costume design frequently employs bright colors, heck, his first movie being titled Eagle vs. Shark seems to set the stage for a filmography built exclusively on wackiness. But as anyone who's actually seen Waititi's movies knows, his works aren't just a bunch of eccentric quirks. Much like The Princess Bride or the best Muppet productions, Waititi's films typically start out as uber-zany while sneaking up on you with just how emotionally invested you've become in the characters on-screen.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Bad Boys For Life Delivers Diverting Debauchery

Seventeen years after Bad Boys II, those boys are back in town (how was that not the official tagline on the post?) for Bad Boys For Life. Director Michael Bay has left the building but directors Bilall Fallah & Adil El Arbi have now taken over while franchise stars Will Smith & Martin Lawrence are still around to hold down the fort. Doing another one of these films all these years later can't help but set off warning bells in one's mind that Bad Boys For Life will be end up being nothing more than just a cash grab. Thankfully, while the resulting film is nothing super lasting or groundbreaking, it does at least deliver on your appetite for explosions and snappy banter.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Harlan County U.S.A. Provides a Startlingly Relevant Tale About the Humanity of Striking Workers

The history of American civil rights is less of an always upwards arrow pointing towards progress and more of a straight line occupying the space of oppression. That isn't to say America has never made progress in terms of recognizing the rights of marginalized communities. But it is shocking how we're still fighting many of the same civil rights battles that were raging on decades ago. Seventy years later, America is still putting members of racial minority groups into concentration camps, women, especially women of color, struggle to be seen as equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens and major corporations are still trampling over the rights of individual workers to save a few pennies.


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Family and Crime Go Hand-in-Hand in Animal Kingdom

We all have family members who can be a touch overbearing. For Joshua Cody (James Frecheville), his particular brand of troublesome family members take the form of a gaggle of unpredictable criminals. Once his mother unexpectedly overdoses, Joshua is forced to live with these relatives that include Andrew "Pope" Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), grandmother Janine Cody (Jackie Weaver) and Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton). Once Joshua arrives, the family is already in the middle of a crisis as a rival gang is keeping a close eye on everybody in the Cody clan to figure out where exactly Pope has gone off to (he's hiding out in a hotel room somewhere at the start of the proceedings).


Friday, January 17, 2020

Sweet Smell of Success Doesn't Skimp On Darkness Much To Its Own Benefit

You know the phrase "He'd sell his grandmother to get ahead"? Well, press agent Sydney Falco (Tony Curtis) is so sleazy that he'd sell both his grandparents if it got him the luxurious life he craves so dearly. In a constant state of petulance, Falco is especially aggravated as of late due to his recent struggles to appease his powerful boss, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Hunsecker wanted Falco to break up a romance between Hunsecker's sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and a jazz musician, Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Falco finally decides to break up this couple by planting a false rumor about Dallas in the papers.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A League of Their Own Is a Good Sport When It Comes to Delivering Heartfelt Comedg

We all like to think of Tom Hanks as America's Dad. He's just so darn loveable playing reliable authority figures we can turn to whenever trouble rears its ugly head. Why else would he be the perfect figure to play real-world figures like Sully or Mister Rogers? But Hanks has actually dabbled in darker roles throughout his career and frequently to great effect! His turn as a curmudgeon FBI officer in Catch Me If You Can is hysterical, he makes a perfect contrast to the zippy law-breaking protagonist. My personal favorite darker Tom Hanks turn, though, is easily his murderous British author in Cloud Atlas. Among that movies infinite pleasures are seeing Hanks totally knock that brief profanity-laden role out of the park!