Sunday, June 30, 2019

Black Girl is a Masterful Reaffirmation of Its Titular Protagonists Humanity


Gomis Diouana (Mbissine Therese Diop) came to this job as a domestic servant expecting one thing but got something else entirely. Originally residing in Senegal, she was enticed to take on this job working for a white French couple known only as Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek) and Monsieur (Robert Fontaine) (two characters who smartly never get names so that they can only be known as people who carry on the legacy of racial horrors rather than as actual human beings) for the promise of money and taking care of children. Now that she's here, though, the truth comes out about what Gomis has actually become ensnared in. The children she was supposed to take care of are rarely around and she's stuck doing dehumanizing work for her employers while never being allowed to leave the house she lives in. Gomis came here to be an employee but she's instead become a prisoner.

Toy Story 4 Rules The Box Office Playground Again As Annabelle Comes Home Delivers Conjuring Series Lows And Yesterday Hits A High Note

Per usual for a PIXAR summertime sequel, Toy Story 4 reigned over the domestic box office for a second weekend in a row. Grossing another $57.9 million this weekend, Toy Story 4 fell 52% from its opening weekend, slightly better than the 56% second-weekend drop of Incredibles 2 from last year and roughly on par with the $59 million second-weekend gross of Toy Story 3 from nine years ago. Toy Story 4 has grossed $236.9  million in ten days of domestic release, putting it just behind the lifetime domestic gross of Brave ($237.2 million) and is slated to surpass the lifetime domestic gross of Toy Story 2 sometime this week. Now the question becomes can it beat Toy Story 3's $415 million domestic haul? It's still running about 5% ahead of Toy Story 3 in terms of overall domestic box office at the same point, but it's already having smaller weekend grosses. I say it's a coin toss at this point.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Enemy Has Audacity To Spare And A Top-Notch Jake Gyllenhaal Performance To Spare

Unless you're Jan de Bont or Simon Kinberg, blockbuster movie directors don't start their directorial careers helming big-budget features. Usually, they kick off their filmographies with smaller-scale tales that depart heavily in tone and genre from the blockbusters they'd eventually helm. Jon Watts, for instance, directed the small-scale thriller Cop Car before moving on to helm the MCU Spider-Man movies and Peter Jackson directed foul-mouthed horny puppets before he directed the epic fantasy movies Lord of the Rings. So it is with Denis Villeneuve, who is in the middle of directing a massively expensive adaptation of the sci-fi epic Dune, but just five years ago directed the highly unorthodox thriller Enemy.

Child's Play Is A Surprising Cut Above Typical Horror Movie Remakes

I've never seen a Chucky movie before (though I'm certainly familiar with the character), so I had little in the way of expectations for what I expected to be yet another subpar horror movie remake in the form of Child's Play. After all, 21st-century horror movie remakes, unless they're Suspiria, rarely turn out well, as the likes of Pet Sematary can attest while the peculiar decision to make a new Chucky movie while the original creator of the character, Dan Mancini, was doing his own series of separate Chucky movies really left a sour taste in my mouth. So color me shocked to report that the new Child's Play remake, hailing from director Lars Klevberg, is actually a pretty well-crafted and fun enterprise!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Julie & Julia Offers Up Two Pleasant True Stories For The Price of One

The saddest part of watching Julie & Julia in 2019 is that it feels as foreign from modern American cinema as 1953's The Big Heat (another movie I watched for the first time yesterday). Can one even imagine the current version of Sony/Columbia, whose present-day slate features Peter Rabbit, Men in Black International and a Morbius the Living Vampire movie, spending $40 million on a delightful mid-budget movie like this? Julie & Julia was mighty profitable in its initial theatrical release and scored a Best Actress Oscar nomination, but if they tried to make it today, well, they'd have to make it as an eight-episode Netflix miniseries, there's just no room in the modern American marketplace for movies that aren't made for under $10 million or over $250 million.

Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers Share Delightful Chemistry In Stage Door

One shouldn't be surprised to learn that Stage Door originated as a stage play, its heavy emphasis on tight-knit dialogue exchanges set over a minimal amount of different locales certainly makes that abundantly clear. Though certain stage shows have had trouble translating into the world of film, Stage Door manages to achieve a smooth translation mainly by taking advantage of all the opportunities the artform of film has to offer. For instance, feature films, by their very nature, bring the viewer much closer to the characters in visual terms, there's really no way to accomplish a close-up in a stage show. This means the movie version of Stage Door can incorporate more tiny details in costumes and props dealt with by ancillary characters that may never get seen properly in a stage version of the same story.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dee Rees' Narrative Film Directorial Debut Pariah Vividly Realizes Coming-of-Age Queer Experiences


In my review for BlacKkKlansman last year, I mentioned how one virtue of the feature was how it was clearly made without any thought of placating or sugar-coating things for white viewers, it was about the stark reality of how racism permeates American society to this very day. A similar quality informs Dee Rees' 2011 feature Pariah, though in this case, it's a movie clearly made explicitly for and from a queer perspective. Pariah is a film exploring the turmoil that ensues when a family isn't accepting of their child's sexuality and benefits mightily from not wasting time to assure heterosexual viewers that "not all heterosexual people are like that" or similar platitudes. That's not what Pariah is here for. Its focus is bringing specifically queer experiences to a cinematic format of storytelling and it does that marvelously.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

In Laman's Terms: Remember When Robert Zemeckis Was Going To Make A Yellow Submarine Movie With Motion-Capture Animation?

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!

With this Friday's new release, Yesterday (which, as of this writing on Tuesday afternoon, I have yet to see), we see the newest in a long line of movies inspired by the iconic music of The Beatles, a band whose songs have a widespread presence in cinema with films hailing from a whole assortment of filmmakers ranging from Julie Taymor to Jessie Nelson. As for the band itself, they have a more sparse presence in terms of people portraying versions of them in music biopics. Plenty of movies have been made about the era in which The Beatles music changed everything but few have actually dared to star actors playing The Beatles.

Despite The Presence of Danny Boyle and Lily James, Yesterday Is Let Down By A Lackluster Script

You know Summer 2019 is coming up short on quality cinema when even Danny Boyle is delivering average fare. Whereas fusing Danny Boyle’s direction with the writing of Aaron Sorkin turned out to be a match made in heaven in 2015s Steve Jobs, merging his directorial skills with the writing of Richard Curtis (of Love, Actually fame) in the new feature Yesterday turns out to be a match made in…certainly not Hell, but somewhere in between (Milwaukee, maybe?) Though Yesterday has one of the more unique premises for a mainstream movie in a blue moon, the execution of that premise leaves much to be desired.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Wildlife Is A Quietly Haunting Portrait of Family Chaos from Newbie Director Paul Dano

Hollywood, when it comes to non-indie fare, has always seemed to struggle with what to do with Paul Dano as an actor, usually putting him in the roles of either a disposable sidekick (Knight & Day) or a whiny slimeball (Cowboys & Aliens). Despite that, Dano has managed to procure a number of memorable performances over a little over a decade of steady work in offbeat indie fare like There Will Be Blood, Love & Mercy and Swiss Army Man, to name just a few. Over the course of a quietly impressive acting career, Paul Dano's become quite a fascinating actor and now we can add talented director to his resume with his directorial debut Wildlife.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Too Often, Echo In The Canyon Reduces Complex Rock Stars to Caricatures

Back in the 1960s, the introduction of The Beatles into the music scene basically turned all the rules of mainstream pop music on their head. Suddenly, a new age had dawned with artists like The Byrds, The Beach Boys and The Mommas and Poppas upending conventions with their blend of folk & rock music, extended runtimes for songs and more introspective lyrics. Many of these artists lived in a portion of Los Angeles called Laurel Canyon where, in their interactions together they each, managed to strengthen one another's music. Influence in the form of the presence The Beatles kicked off this era of music so it shouldn't be a surprise that influence would crop up again in the form of artists in this pocket of L.A. impacting one another's music.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunnyside Is More Average But Still Pretty Humorous Charlie Chaplin Fare

Sunnyside, released 100 years ago this year, is about par for the course for a late 1910s Charlie Chaplin comedy featurette. Wacky physical comedy, Chaplin playing a kind of precursor to The Tramp character, a thinly-sketched love interest for Chaplin's protagonist to pine after, it's all here. That means Sunnyside offers little in the way of surprises but if one is watching Charlie Chaplin films from the 1910s, it's doubtful you're looking for a twisty-turny thriller on par with Se7en. If you're just looking for the kind of amiable comedy only Charlie Chaplin could deliver, Sunnyside will do alright.

Despite Lots of Potential and A Great Cast, Captive State Is An Underwhelming Attempt At Sci-Fi Social Commentary

At one point in time, Captive State was one of my most anticipated movies of Summer 2018! Yes, in a dark era before I knew what Monster Factory or Lil' Nas X was, Captive State was slated for an August 17, 2018 theatrical release and I was eagerly awaiting this new directorial effort from Rupert Wyatt given how much I adored his 2011 feature Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But then Focus Features delayed the title for March 2019 where it came and went so quickly at the domestic box office that I never got a chance to see it in theaters. Finally seeing it now, alas, Captive State turns out to be a movie so messy that it would have been a dissapointment even if I had never heard of it before prior to watching it.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is An Emotionally Intoxicating Examination of the Homes That Shape Us

A home is not just a home. Where we're raised becomes a part of ourselves. For good, for ill and for everything in between, wherever we're raised tends to become deeply ingrained into the fabric of who we are as people. We can fight it, we can deny it, but the influences of where we're raised tend to creep in eventually. This part of who we are as people serve as the centerpiece of The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a fascinating tale contemplating the relationship between ourselves and the places we call home. For this particular story, the real-life saga of Jimmie Fails (here portrayed by himself in his first ever feature film performance) and his desire for his childhood home is told against the backdrop of San Francisco.

The Toys Are Back In Town With Toy Story 4's $118 Million Bow As Chucky Slices Up An OK Bow And Anna Misses Box Office Mark

Is a $118 million domestic opening disappointing? God no. However, that's the amount Toy Story 4 opened to this weekend and it did indeed come in notably below both Disney and industry expectations. $118 million is big but, admittedly, Toy Story 4 was supposed to be even bigger and its debut came in below the $135 million debut of Finding Dory and the massive $182.6 million bow of Incredibles 2 from last year. Still, that $124 million sum is the fourth-biggest animated movie opening weekend of all-time, the third-biggest opening weekend of 2019 and the fifth-biggest June opening weekend in history. Disney would have liked an extra $15-20 million, and Gods know anyone involved with the domestic box office would have loved Toy Story 4 to be as big as possible given the otherwise dismal June 2019 box office, but a $118 million debut is still a fine haul all in all, especially since its $120 million foreign box office bow gives it the biggest worldwide opening weekend ever ($238 million) for an animated movie.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Stray Dog Meditates On Morality With Great Performances and Exceptional Blocking

Akira Kurosawa is handily one of my favorite filmmakers of all-time. Not exactly the most original sentiment, I agree, but gosh, I just love his movies to pieces. In particular, I love the blocking in his films, the arrangement of characters in a given shot, not to mention their body language, can be immediate visual indicators of who these characters are as people. Take a shot (pictured below) from Stray Dog, for instance, that films three characters in an interrogation room head-on. The woman being interrogated is closest to the camera and clearly evokes a sense of assured confidence that she can get out of this situation, while in the far back is the films protagonist, Detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune), all buttoned up, nervous and kept at a distance from someone he wants answers from.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Heartbreak Provides A Springboard For Enjoyable Comedy in The Breaker Upperers

Everybody's gotta make money somehow. Me, I make money through working at Walgreen's and also through writing about movies on the internet. For the two lead characters of The Breaker Upperers (which is now streaming on Netflix), Jennifer (Jackie van Beek) and Mel (Madeleine Sami), they make their money through a service that sees them being hired by people to break up their failing relationships. Jennifer and Mel, who became best pals and business partners after they found they were seeing the same man, then proceed to concoct some sort of scheme to tear the two people apart and make a solid sum of money in the process. It's been a reliable business for quite some time, but now challenges have emerged threatening this set-up.

Too Many Lifeless Aspects Drag The Dead Don't Die Down

In the quiet small American town of Centerville, some strange occurrences are happening. Just when it's supposed to be night outside, the sun is shining as if it's the middle of the day. Animals are vanishing. Did I mention that polar ice caps are being so severely fracked that it's adversely affecting the Earth's axis? Yep, lots and lots of strange occurrences happening around Centerville. Police officers Ronald Peterson (Adam Driver) and Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are perturbed by such events and they only become even more concerned once two local citizens are slaughtered in a vicious fashion. Only a zombie could do such a slaying. Oh boy. This is not going to end well.

In Laman's Terms: Ranking the PIXAR Movies From Worst to Best (Part Two)

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!

Back on Tuesday, I began my ranking of the twenty PIXAR films from worst to best. With ten films out of the way, we now come to my top ten favorite PIXAR films, which kicks off with...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Manila in the Claws of Light Uses Restraint To Vividly Capture Its Characters Agony

Julio Madiaga (Bembol Roco) is on a mission, though he isn't exactly upfront about it. He has come from his home in Marinduque to the city of Manila seemingly just for the purpose of finding construction work. It's a job he's able to eventually procure and while on this job he makes a handful of friends, some of whom gradually learn why Julio has come to Manila in the first place. The love of Julio's life, Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), has been kidnapped and brought to the city of Manila and he's on a mission to find her and bring her home, even though he has very little in the way of information on where she could be beyond knowing the identity of the woman who lured her to Manila in the first place.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Late Night Is A Solid Comedy With an Outstanding Emma Thompson Performance

One of my all-time favorite books is The War for Late Night by Bill Carter, a 2010 book chronicling the events leading up to, during and after the whole early 2010 fiasco involving Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show. Lots of great anecdotes about the various American late night shows hosts in that tome including extensive descriptions about what it's like to work for David Letterman. One such description had unnamed employees of his note that Letterman was a distant comic driven by anger and frustration in his work, but whenever he began to verbally beat himself up in front of his staff, they would immediately wish he'd redirect that anger unto them rather than continue to drag himself.

Who Let The Dogs Out? And Who Allowed Love on a Leash To Be Made?

Dziga Vertov's works have always been challenging and that's especially true of Love on a Leash, a hodgepodge of footage of a canine and a woman that, among many other unorthodox filmmaking touches, frequently eschews audio entirely over sequences that should typically have dialogue or music. Clearly, Vertov is using this mechanism to speak to the emptiness of the human condition, there is truly nothing in the souls of these characters so why should they be accompanied by sound or music? It's a bold approach to filmmaking that's accompanied by similarly off-kilter choices like returning to a pair of ducks swimming in a pond as a sort of visual motif. There's also a disjointed style of editing that sees entirely new sequences beginning before you even realize prior sequences were over.

In Laman's Terms: Ranking the PIXAR Movies From Worst to Best (Part One)

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!

This Friday brings the release of Toy Story 4, the twenty-first feature film from PIXAR Animation Studios, a studio whose output has been a topic of fascination for me ever since I was born just a month after the first Toy Story was released! Like any PIXAR devotee, I've given some thought to just how I would rank the twenty PIXAR titles from worst to best and in honor of the newest PIXAR title hitting theaters, I thought it'd be time to reveal my ranking through a two-part In Laman's Term column, the first of which you're reading right now and the second part of which will debut on Thursday. Today, we'll look at the ten weakest PIXAR films, a collection that has its fair share of misses but also its fair share of noteworthy winners as well.

Let us begin with the weakest PIXAR film of them all...

Monday, June 17, 2019

Paths of Glory Brutally Emphasizes the Anguish of Everyday Citizens In Times of War

War is a concept that Stanley Kubrick is fascinated and repulsed by. Through Kubrick's movies, one can tell he believes that war is an expansive effort that ends up benefiting nobody and usually destroying everything. Two of his most famous works as a filmmaker, Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket, differ heavily in tone but share a common thread of exploring this perspective by going to the ground-level of combat and examining how it impacts people on a profound level. His fascination with this topic is apparent in even one of his earliest works as a filmmaker, Paths of Glory. This 1957 feature was Kubrick's fourth directorial effort and it kicked off Kubrick's examination and condemnation of the concept of war with utterly fascinating results.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Offers Some Thrills But Struggles With Characters And Atmosphere

At the tail end of the 19th-century, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) are legendary robbers who steal from trains and get away without anyone even knowing they were there. They've had remarkable good luck over the years and maintain a mostly friendly relationship with a number of their associates ranging from fellow crooks to important townsfolk. But their luck runs out when an unknown group begins to chase after the duo relentlessly. This time, they can't seem to shake whoever it is that's on their tail. If anyone could get out of this scenario, it's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid...but what if all of their luck has finally run out?

Men in Black: International Falls Short of Its Predecessor, Ditto For Shaft While Late Night Draws Little in the Way of Viewership.

Another summer 2019 weekend, another box office frame where the new releases came up short, including the top title of the weekend, Men in Black: International. Though it was the first Sony/Columbia movie to top the domestic box office in six months (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the last title from the studio to achieve that), Men in Black: International only grossed $28.5 million over the weekend, a 48% drop from the $54.5 million opening weekend of MIB 3, the last entry in this Men in Black series. It's also the first the live-action movie in history to open under $30 million despite playing in over 4,000 theaters.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

I Am Mother Finds Some Solid Thrills Especially When It Comes To Its Titular Robotic Character

I Am Mother takes place in the wake of the apocalypse. We open on a robot called Mother (Rose Byrne) in a small compound, shielded from some kind of Armageddon that's wiped out humanity, beginning her task of raising a human child. Eventually, she'll have to use the thousands of embryo's stored in the facility repopulate the whole human species, but for now, she's just gotta take care of this one little youngster who grows up to become Daughter (Clara Rugaard). Mother and Daughter get along just fine, but once she turns 18, Daughter begins to become more curious about what's going on in the outside world, which Mother tells her has been contaminated from a virus. Daughter's perception of reality is challenged when a lady only known as Woman (Hillary Swank) emerges from the outside world alive.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Ma Is Best When It Gets Messed-Up and When It Comes To Octavia Spencer's Performance

The writer of Superhero Movie just wrote Chernobyl, one of the most thoughtful TV shows in ages, and one of the two dudes behind Movie 43 just directed a Best Picture-winning movie, so sure, why shouldn't the director of The Help, Tate Taylor, transition over into directing micro-budget trashy horror movies like Ma? Taylor hopping into this genre of filmmaking produces a feature that's honestly average in most regards but does produce its share of fun off-kilter moments. Whenever it dares to get strange and messed up, Ma does have a spark of life to it, even if most of it tends to be more rudimentary than disturbing. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Mysteries of the Cosmos End Up Being Pretty Boring in Men in Black: International

Good luck trying to remember Men in Black: International the moment it’s over, this is one of the most disposable blockbusters I've seen in a good long while. Despite starring two talented actors in a story about aliens living on Earth, Men in Black: International is a movie shockingly lacking in energy or fun. There isn't even a memorably bad movie to be found here, just a massively forgettable one likely to leave even the most undemanding moviegoer yawning. If you thought the day would come where we'd all be nostalgic for two-headed Johnny Knoxville from Men in Black II, well, keep waiting, that day hasn't arrived yet, but Men in Black: International still isn't very good.

Homophobia Creates an Inescapable Cage For The Main Characters of The Wound

Like many films exploring the perspectives of queer individuals in societies that refuse to accept who they are, The Wound is a movie all about identity. Directed by John Trengrove and shot in South Africa, The Wound is the story of Xolani (Nakhane), who is hired to serve as the guide for Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini) during a sacred initiation ceremony meant to turn boys into men. The adults in these ceremonies have a very clear idea of what a proper grown man should be and these rituals help mold their children into fitting that idea, one that does not have any place for the presence of homosexuality. At first, Xolani goes through the motions of his now regular annual job of being a mentor figure for a new kid, but he soon learns that Kwanda, like himself, is gay. This, along with Xolani's secret relationship with fellow mentor Vija (Bongile Mantsai).

The Perfection Is An Extravagant & Messy Thriller But Also A Brilliant One


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

John Travolta's Lead Performance Provides Both the Best and Weakest Parts of Saturday Night Fever

Given how pop culture has immortalized Saturday Night Fever as basically a movie where John Travolta dances to a collection of Bee Gees tunes, it's a surprise to watch the actual film for the first time and discover that this is a much darker than expected feature. Over the course of the runtime, Saturday Night Fever reveals its true colors as a tragic story about a nineteen-year-old trying to break out into his own identity but struggling to do so with his toxic group of friends and a troubled home life. I wasn't fully captivated by this John Badham directorial effort but I do appreciate how Saturday Night Fever tries to be a more introspective motion picture than its general reputation would indicate.

In Laman's Terms: Chronicles of a First-Time Film Festival Attendee

A picture of me, Douglas Laman, trying to look like a serious film connoisseur in front of the Texas Theater! 
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!

Being someone who writes about films online for a living, I'm very much aware of the film festival scene that has critics descending on an assortment of annual film festivals to watch premiere screenings of brand-new films as well as screenings of classic pieces of cinema. It isn't just critics going to these events though, it's also major figures in the film industry as well as the general public that regularly attend film festivals both big and small. In an interview for the Criterion Channel, Barry Jenkins once described the Tribeca Film Festival as a place where everyone, from first-time filmmakers to Werner Herzog, get to be put on equal footing, it's a place that allows film lovers of all stripes to engage in extensive consumptions of the artform. That observation of his feels like an apt summation of what makes these festivals so special. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Grapes of Wrath Goes Dour To Properly Explore The Brutal Plight of the Joad Family

Though apparently softened down from its John Steinbeck penned source material (particularly in terms of its ending), The Grapes of Wrath carries with it a startlingly grim tone that, much like In a Lonely Place, doesn't feel like the kind of thing you might find in a movie made under the Hayes Code era of American filmmaking. This was an era where tidy morality and an upholding of a narrowly defined status quo were emphasized greatly, so it's shocking to see a movie like The Grapes of Wrath tell a tale this committed to a dour aesthetic as well as make villains out of law enforcement individuals with nary a good cop in sight to establish some kind of #NotAllCops message to appease Hayes Code censors.

Medicine for Melancholy Saw Barry Jenkins Hit The Ground Running As An Exceptional Filmmaker

Barry Jenkins is best known today for directing two of the best movies of the 2010s, Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, but those weren't his first two forays into the world of feature film filmmaking. Prior to those two outstanding features, in 2009, he directed a small indie feature entitled Medicine for Melancholy that saw Jenkins channeling his inner Agnes Varda and Richard Linklater in telling a story about two people just spending a day together walking around a city and exchanging dialogue. Watching the film now, it's interesting to see how various parts of Medicine for Melancholy compare to his subsequent directorial efforts, with individual elements of the movie coming off as direct precursors to Jenkins' future directorial work.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Paris Is Burning Intertwines Movement With Intimate Interviews To An Astonishingly Powerful Effect

You ever watch a movie and know in your heart of hearts that you're watching something special? That's how I felt while experiencing Paris Is Burning for the first time. I was well aware of this 1991 documentary from director Jennie Livingston being a highly acclaimed motion picture and also being considered one of the all-time great pieces of queer cinema, but prior to watching it for the first time, I was otherwise totally in the dark on what exactly kind of plot or subject matter it covered. That turned out to be an ideal way to enter Paris Is Burning, whose many virtues unfolded before with a glorious sense of newness, it was like managing to open a wonderful gift on Christmas morning without managing to be spoiled on what it is.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Oak Cliff Film Festival 2019: Light from Light Is Thoroughly Committed To A Grim Tone, For Better And For Worse

The Oak Cliff Film Festival is an annual film festival held in Dallas, Texas across multiple movie theaters, including the iconic Texas Theater.

Sheila (Marin Ireland) is the lead character of Light from Light, an employee at a car rental company and also a paranormal investigator. Well, sort of, she isn't working for any paranormal research groups right now, she's merely working her day job and looking after her High School Senior son, Owen (Josh Wiggins). But grieving Richard (Jim Gaffigan), who lost his wife in a plane crash a few months prior, recruits her help to determine if the ghost of his wife is lingering around their house. It's an unorthodox job Sheila takes on without accepting any sort of financial payment just as Owen begins to struggle with his plans for the future, including his potential attraction to his friend Lucy (Atheena Frizzell).

Oak Cliff Film Festival 2019: American Movie Humorously Captures The Grueling Independent Filmmaking Process

The Oak Cliff Film Festival is an annual film festival held in Dallas, Texas across multiple movie theaters, including the iconic Texas Theater.

The 1990s were the decade that redefined the American cinema scene through homegrown indie productions directed by the likes of Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino that provided an overhaul to the very concept of American indie movies. Suddenly, these rags-to-riches stories made it seem possible for anyone to make a movie. It’s fitting then that the decade would end with a documentary exploring how, even in this blossoming age of homegrown cinema, it’s still immensely difficult to make a movie. This documentary was American Movie, a Chris Smith directorial effort that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and was screened in 35mm at the Oak Cliff Film Festival yesterday.

When They See Us Is A Sprawling And Appropriately Harrowing Artistic Accomplishment

CW: Discussions of sexual assault, racism 

One of the core tenants of Ava DuVernay's filmmaking is her ability to transport the viewer directly into history. Under her directing, the works of Ava DuVernay have an ability to bring you into the past to a harrowing degree, as most notably seen in one of the most emotionally devastating scenes of Selma where Martin Luther King Jr. meets with a man whose son was just killed in a racist hate crime. It's an intimate scene and one where DuVernay captures it with such a raw quality that lays out the emotions of the characters bare that you feel like you're in that same room with that grieving father and Martin Luther King Jr. DuVernay's works like Selma, The 13th or her newest directorial effort When They See Us explore people of color dehumanized in their own eras of American history and proceed to make cinema about those same individuals so powerful that we're right there next to them in their moments of joy, in their struggles and in their humanity.

A Rough Box Office Weekend See's Secret Life of Pets 2 Becoming First Illumination Box Office Disappointment While Dark Phoenix Is Given The Bird

Ever since they first came into existence with the first Despicable Me movie, Illumination has been unstoppable at the domestic box office (save for their one foray into live-action filmmaking, Hop). Each of their computer-animated films has grossed over $200 million domestically, all but one of those movies have cracked $250 million domestically and four of their titles have grossed over $850 million domestically. That winning streak came to an abrupt and unexpected win this weekend with The Secret Life of Pets 2, which, despite scoring the highest opening weekend theater count (4,561 locations) for a movie that isn't Avengers: Endgame grossed just $47.1 million. That's a whopping 55% drop from the $103 million bow of the first Secret Life of Pets and the first time ever an Illumination animated feature has opened below $50 million.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The X-Men Movies Comes To A Close With The Grim Snooze Dark Phoenix

"Make way for the X-Men, an outdated metaphor for racism from the 1960s!" - Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) in Deadpool 2

The X-Men movies have had an erratic track record in their nineteen years of existence but their highest points showed an admirable level of ambition that fit these audacious comic-book characters. Creatively gusto spin-off's like Logan or Deadpool took the American superhero movie into unique terrain while X-Men: First Class used a period era setting and a zippy tone to breathe vibrant life into a tired franchise. In that context, the already disspiriting low-quality of Dark Phoenix becomes extra sad to see, it's such an all-around lackluster production that's as groggy and lifeless as a hungover college student. All of the ambition that marked the best entries in this series is gone, replaced with all the enthusiasm of a new kid forced to publically introduced themselves to all the students in the class.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rocketman Shows How To Do A Music Biopic Right

Just as Avatar ushered in a barrage of movies released in digital 3D and It ensured that no Stephen King book would be spared from a film adaptation, the box office success of Bohemian Rhapsody has guaranteed that the music biopic is about to be omnipresent in cinema once again. After nearly a decade of dormancy only interrupted by Straight Outta Compton, that Freddie Mercury biopic made more than enough money to ensure that the subgenre won't be facing an absence like that for quite a long time. If we're gonna get a whole heap of music biopics, can more of them be like Rocketman? Imaginatively made, fun to watch, actually thoughtful when it comes to exploring its real-life subject, as Anakin Skywalker might say, now this is music biopic filmmaking!

Ali Wong and Randall Park Shine In The Charming Romantic-Comedy Always Be My Maybe

One of the genres the Netflix Original Movies have smartly zeroed in on has been the romantic-comedy, a genre most major American movie studios have ignored in the last decade. Netflix, meanwhile, has been filling a void in the marketplace with the likes of To All The Boys I've Loved Before and The Kissing Booth that have managed to become among the most talked about titles on the streaming service. That means we're bound to get more Netflix rom-com's in the future and their newest foray into this genre is Always Be My Maybe, directed by Nahnatchka Khan and starring and written by Ali Wong and Randall Park.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Michelle Williams Walks A Financial Tightrope In Wendy and Lucy


Wendy Carrol (Michelle Williams) lives a solitary life on the road. Accompanied only by her dog Lucy, Wendy is on her way to possible job opportunities in Alaska when she gets stuck somewhere in Oregon due to car troubles. Now she has to figure out how to get her car repaired with what little money she has in a region unfamiliar to her. It's a simple story, but one that serves as a great example of how character motivation, not scale, are the best informers for how emotionally intense a movie can be. Wendy's problems are intimate in size but they're harrowing to experience because of how writers Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt (the latter also directing) make it abundantly clear what how precarious Wendy's daily life with minimal money and no guaranteed shelter is.

In Laman's Terms: Six Filmmakers Who Made Their Directorial Debut On Blockbusters

J.J. Abrams, the producer of Morning Glory
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!

This Friday sees the release of Dark Phoenix, the final film in the main X-Men series (though we still have that New Mutants spin-off movie next Spring) as well as the first movie directed by Simon Kinberg. It may sound strange to have Kinberg, a man who has primarily worked as a writer and producer up to this point, direct a $200+ million budgeted blockbuster if he's never directed anything before, but that's actually quite common in Hollywood, which has seen plenty of instances of filmmakers making their directorial debut on big-budget blockbusters. For this week's In Laman's Terms, let's look back on some of these instances as well as what kind of directorial career these directors have had since their big-budget debut.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Sing a Song of Passionate Romantic Turmoil With The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

There were a whole barrage of live-action musicals in the mid-20th century but none of them were quite like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  A 1964 directorial effort hailing from French filmmaker Jacques Demy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, much like a typical opera and in the vein of certain beloved Broadway musicals such as Les Miserables or Hamilton, is wall-to-wall singing, everybody communicates through song, there isn't a note of speaking to be found here. Interestingly, unlike Les Miserables or Hamilton though, which have characters solely singing in traditionally organized musical numbers, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg makes no use of the usual parts of conventional cinematic musical numbers.

Monday, June 3, 2019

In Cold Blood Makes For An Appropriately Unsettling Adaptation of Truman Capote's Iconic Novel

If a book turns out to be a bestseller, well, usually that means a film adaptation of it can't be far behind. This means that Truman Capote's iconic 1966 tome In Cold Blood was always headed for a silver screen adaptation, though it's hard to imagine a proper feature film adaptation being possible if the Hayes Code hadn't been abolished in 1964. The Code's restrictions placed on violence and grisly material would ensure that this intentionally disturbing piece of literature would lose much of its sting in being translated to a cinematic format. Luckily, In Cold Blood was one of a number of late 1960s American features using newfound creative freedom to create distinctive and dark pieces of cinema that would be influential for years to come.

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is a Glorious Ode to Absurd Animation

As a lover of all things animated, it was a total joy to discover the 1962 Karel Zeman directorial effort The Fabulous Baron Munchausen. Hailing from Czechoslovakia, this highly off-the-wall motion picture beautifully merges live-action and hand-drawn animation in a fluid manner decades before the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? fine-tuned American cinema's approach to this same technique. Though nearly sixty years old at this point, many modern-day movies could stand to take more than a few cues from The Fabulous Baron Munchausen in terms of both merging animation and live-action seamlessly as well as how to take advantage of the stylized opportunities afforded by the medium of animation.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Lack of Jean Reno Causes Godzilla: King of the Monsters to Open With Only $49 Million Bow

"Let Them Fight"
1998s Godzilla movie wasn't as big as Sony/TriStar wanted, but thanks to it tapping into the sizeable Jean Reno fanbase that endures to this day, it still managed to become the ninth biggest movie of 1998. Keeping in mind what singular element catapulted that film to such big numbers, it's no surprise to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which couldn't even spring for a Jean Reno cameo, to open to only $49 million, down a whopping 47% from the opening of the 2014 Godzilla movie and down 20% from the opening weekend of Kong: Skull Island. To put things into perspective, this opening is closer to the $16.2 million bow of Michale Dougherty's last movie Krampus than it is to the $93.1 million debut of the 2014 Godzilla movie.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

In a Lonely Place and its Humphery Bogart Performance Constantly and Brilliantly Subvert Viewer Expectations


By the time the 1950s began, American moviegoers were more than a touch familiar with the most well-worn routines of the genre that would be later known as film noir. So In a Lonely Place, a Nicholas Ray directorial effort, decided to play on this familiarity in a clever manner. This brilliant feature lulls the viewer into thinking they know every step of its story by, at first, playing itself as a straightforward film noir, right down to casting film noir legend Humphery Bogart in the lead role. But around the midpoint in the story, In a Lonely Place pulls the rug out of from under the viewer and subverts expectations over who and what this movie is really about. A traditional film noir, this is not, and In a Lonely Place is all the better for that!