Friday, January 31, 2020

The Rhythm Section Is Let Down By Its Most Generic Creative Impulses

Believe it or not, The Rhythm Section is a bit of an event movie in that it hails from producing duo Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. This is the pair responsible for producing all the James Bond movies, a commitment that's so time-consuming that, in their thirty-plus years of working as film producers, they've only ever produced one non-007 title (that would be the 2017 Annette Bening vehicle Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool). Their cinematic exploits outside of the James Bond series increase to two this week with the release of The Rhythm Section, an action/drama starring Blake Lively as an ordinary woman turned skilled assassin.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

I Lost My Body Makes Great Use of A Determined Animated Hand

Today I declare a new term when discussing cinema. The term shall henceforth be known as Ad Astra Syndrome, a condition wherein a movie is predominately quiet & thoughtful but has brief digressions into extremely over-the-top action sequences. Ad Astra isn't the only example of this phenomenon but it being a movie heavily preoccupied with wistful Brad Pitt voice-over that occasionally pauses for lunar buggie shoot-out's and a violent space primate makes it a perfect example of this trait. I also want to emphasize that this is Syndrome isn't an inherently bad thing. On the contrary, partly why I liked Ad Astra so much was that it had the audacity to occasionally dip its toes into more sensational waters.

In Laman's Terms: Eight More Box Office Duds That Got Super Bowl Commercials

God, Bebop and Rocksteady just do not translate into realistic CGI designs
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!

Last year, I did something pretty fun for In Laman's Terms involving me looking at eight box office flops that aired commercials during the Super Bowl. We always think of ads that come on during the Big Game as lucrative pieces of marketing, they always get people talking about Snickers or Dorito's or any given car company. But these box office misfires proved that not all Super Bowl commercials result in success. That piece was such fun to write that I decided why not bring it back this year? For 2020, we'll look at eight other box office duds whose marketing campaigns included pricey Super Bowl commercials.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

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


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!


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!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Look At Array Releasing, One of the Most Vital Modern Movie Studios

When it comes to American movie studios, we all likely know the Five Major Studios. Which studios occupy that group has shifted over the last seventy years (remember when RKO was part of this group?) but in the modern context, Universal, Disney, Warner Bros. Sony/Columbia and Paramount are the five studios we could name and whose logos we could recognize. Perhaps Lionsgate and A24 are also known by the broader public. Beyond that, though, the sheer number of studios and production companies out there means they inevitably tend to blur together. But one studio that should be on more people's radar is the independent distribution company Array Releasing.

Dolittle Does Little Successfully

"My dad left for a pack of seals and never came back." - Yoshi the Polar Bear (John Cena) in Dolittle.

If it was possible for a movie to sweat, Dolittle would be practically soaked in perspiration. Like a stand-up comic scrambling to find a punchline that will resonate with a crowd, Dolittle tries every well-worn trick in the book to please viewers.  Do you like CGI animals with celebrity voices? Do you like out-of-nowhere references to The Godfather? What about prolonged fart gags? Characters screaming endlessly at each other? It's all the worst kind of comedy that populates the lowest-common-denominator family movies and it's all Dolittle can come up with to try and entertain audiences. In its endlessly manic efforts to please viewers, Dolittle ends up creating the love-child of the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Open Season. This is a combination that simply should not be.

Monday, January 13, 2020

In Laman's Terms: Ranking This Year's Best Picture Nominees From Worst to Best

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!

It's been a long day. The discourse over the crops of nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards has already been draining after just 14-ish hours, especially in regards to how the Academy Awards constantly refuses to recognize diverse voices in its nominations. No women directors, only on person color recognized in the four acting categories, it's just ridiculous. For the sake of brevity on this taxing day, I'll cut to the chase: I've ranked this year's nine Best Picture nominees from worst to best. Sound off in the comments if you have any differing opinions on this matter and make sure to support cinema year-round from the kind of voices the Academy Awards and other awards bodies refuse to acknowledge even exist.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Rebecca Hall Unnerves and Impresses in Christine

How do you deal with tragedy? We all have our coping mechanisms. For example, one of the supporting characters of Christine, Jean Reed (Maria Dizzia), mentions that she likes to eat some ice cream and sing out loud whenever the world is becoming too harsh. We all need go-to outlets like that to turn to in order to fleetingly escape from the horrors of the world. Tragedy is a pervasive part of the world, so too should coping mechanisms to deal with that tragedy. Christine deals with the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a news anchor working for a Sarasota, Florida TV station in 1974 who has had heavy experience with adversity in her own life.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Terminal Is Agreeable But Also Occasionally Awkward

In the early 2000s, director Steven Spielberg went into the most exciting creative period of his extraordinary career as a filmmaker. For the first few years of the 21st-century, Spielberg, the filmmaker routinely criticized for being too schmaltzy, delivered some of his darkest motion pictures that didn't hesitate to confront the moral ambiguities of the modern world. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Minority Report. Munich. Some of Spielberg's best and most daring movies were released in this period of Spielberg's career. In between grim titles like War of the Worlds, Spielberg also delivered one of his most frothy motion pictures in the zippy comedy The Terminal.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Kristen Stewart Gives 110% To The Generic Thriller Underwater

Movies have taught us all many things but they've been especially proactive in imparting wise advice regarding how dangerous underwater beasties can be. Free Willy and Flipper, they're the exceptions, not the rule. Large bodies of water are where Jaws, the Kracken, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and all manner of deadly creatures roam. Add the new Kristen Stewart vehicle Underwater to the long list of cinematic warnings about what lies beneath the water. Unfortunately, it's far from the best moisture-heavy monster tale, though it isn't without its charms. Plus, it's certainly a good deal better than your typical January horror fodder like last week's miserable feature The Grudge.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Water Lillies Is An Intricately-Crafted Coming of Age Yarn

You tend to learn a lot about yourself when you're a teenager and that's all too true of the three lead characters of Water Lilies. The debut directorial effort from acclaimed auteur Celine Sciamma, the most prominent of this trio is Marie (Pauline Acquart). She's a teenage girl who usually spends her time getting into oddball mischief with best friend Anne (Louise Blachere). However, Marie is starting to spend more and more time with swimmer Floriane (Adele Haenel). Though ostracized by the other members of her swim team for her supposedly promiscuous ways, Floriane and Marie begin to develop an unexpected bond, one that leads them to discover that their sexuality is a lot more complicated than they initially presumed.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

THX 1138 Kicked Off The Directorial Career of George Lucas With A Dark Future

In his time as a filmmaker, George Lucas has directed six feature films. Two-thirds of those are Star Wars movies, the franchise everybody associates him with. George Lucas is as directly connected to that galaxy far, far away as Walt Disney was to Mickey Mouse or Charlie Chaplin was to The Tramp. However, Lucas did manage to direct other films (two in fact!) beyond just ones set in the Star Wars saga. One of these was the 1973 box office smash American Graffiti, a feature following a group of 1950s teenagers over the course of one rowdy night. Aside from being a throwback to pop culture Lucas grew up on, it doesn't bear much resemblance to the cosmic adventures Lucas would become famous for.

Get Carter Works Best With Its Blocking And Its Michael Caine Lead Performance

Michael Caine has done a little bit of everything in his decades of on-screen performances. He's played the best version of Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol, he's done dark dramas, he's done goofy genre fare, there isn't an avenue of cinematic storytelling that Caine hasn't traipsed down. His extensive experience as an actor even extends to the world of gangster cinema. Caine headlined one of the most famous 20th-century British gangster movies with 1971s Get Carter. A cult classic that ended up being a favorite among filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, it still endures to this day as one of many peoples go-to pick for Caine's best work as a leading man.

In Laman's Terms: Marmaduke And How Far Studios Will Go To Embrace Trends And Brand Names

The saga of the Marmaduke movie never fails to turn up a new interesting wrinkle. I have just discovered that modern posters for this feature highlight Owen Wilson & Emma Stone as the leads whereas the original poster didn't even mention Stone. Instead, Owen Wilson & George Lopez were the two above-the-title stars.
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!

Movie trends consist of a single movie coming along, becoming extremely popular and a whole slew of other movies try to copy its most surface-level qualities in a bid to replicate that success. The examples of this phenomenon are numerous. The avalanche of sex comedies that followed in the wake of Porky's box office success, which happened again after American Pie made bank. Don't forget about all those 3D movies that came out after Avatar became the biggest movie of all-time or all those postmodern fairy tale comedies after Shrek became a hit. In the moment, movie executives get swept up in all the hype over something new making money and decide to greenlight half-baked ideas or incorporate equally half-baked in-theater technologies in the hopes of getting some of that money for themselves.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Frozen II Delivers Good Musical Numbers But Its Script Is Too Dense For Its Own Good

Doing Frozen II was an inevitability. Disney is a franchise-minded studio, the first one made more money than is conceivable, nobody needs a road map to figure out what comes next. Only the fourth sequel* Walt Disney Animation Studios has done up to this point, Frozen II, thankfully, isn't content to exclusively regurgitate the events of the first movie again. Unlike the direct-to-video animated Disney sequels I grew up on, Frozen II doesn't just give Elsa a kid who wants the complete opposite of what the first film's protagonist desired. Thank goodness, would anyone wanna watch Elsa deal with a child who could spurt fire from their palms? That would get so gruesome so quick.

Only the Brave Focuses On Characters Much To Its Benefit

Only the Brave came and went in a shockingly quick fashion in its October 2017 theatrical release. True, its lead subjects weren't as much of household names as, say, Chris Kyle, so the project was never going to hit Avengers: Endgame box office numbers. Still, a film like Only the Brave that seemed to push all the right buttons for older audiences in its marketing wiping out like it did (it made only $18.3 million domestically, just behind the domestic totals of CHiPS and The Circle among 2017 new releases) was shocking. Hopefully it can one day pick up a second life as a cult classic because Only the Brave is a shockingly good movie, one that's more just forest fires and bro-tastic dialogue.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Director of Phoenix Delivers Another Emotional Knock-Out With Transit

In many ways, Transit reminded me less of director Christian Petzold's previous film Phoenix and more of texts I read in my Literature Under Dictatorship class this past Fall. Centered around books like Ivan Angelo's The Celebration written about experiences living under South American dictatorships, these texts frequently featured extended gazes into the psyche of the author (Angelo goes on long diatribes about the perceived pointlessness of his own writing, for example) as well as telling numerous individual smaller stories rather than just focusing exclusively on a singular protagonist. This way, the reader can get an accurate view of how a dictatorship impacts people on a widespread level.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Conversation Is A Sublime Thriller That's Only Grown More Relevant In 2020

Francis Ford Coppola's best movie, The Godfather: Part II, dropped in December 1974, in the process becoming one of the greatest films of all-time and a Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards. Also competing for that same award in the same year was another Francis Ford Coppola directorial effort entitled The Conversation. What a flex, not just dropping two movies in a year, but making both of them acclaimed motion pictures that traveled the 1970s zeitgeist while also scoring Best Picture nods. In this house called Land of the Nerds, we stan a legend, and such a feat alone renders Francis Ford Coppola as one.

Diane Is A Quietly Harrowing Exploration of Guilt

After we do something wrong, we say we're sorry, we promise to do better and then life goes on. That's how it's supposed to work, atonement from the sinner and forgiveness from those around the sinner. But it's never really that simple in life. No matter how much we apologize, no matter how much we try and rectify our behavior, the past still lingers in other people's minds and our own. Past sins tend to feel like some kind of endless tunnel we can never emerge from. Is there any way out? Even if there is, do we even deserve to find a way out? Such are the weighty questions plaguing the titular protagonist of Diane, an indie feature film from writer/director Kent Jones released last Spring.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Almost Famous Looks At Rock Stars and Finds Human Beings

In the 2010s, writer/director Cameron Crowe didn't have the best of luck when it came to his creative pursuits. We Bought a Zoo was a box office underperformer that spawned a wonderful Twitter account but little in the way of the acclaim that greeted Crowe's earliest films while Aloha....everything went wrong with Aloha. The trailer for Aloha looked like it belonged to a parody film, the actual movie was borderline incoherent and its racially insensitive casting is maybe the film's only legacy. Then there was the Showtime drama Roadies, which lasted a season and hasn't been mentioned since its final episode ended until this very moment.

The Hunted Has Two Exceptional Leads But A Boilerplate Story

For those two people out there who have been dying for an action movie that pits Tommy Lee Jones against Benicio Del Toro, well, the March 2003 feature The Hunted has got you covered. In this William Friedkin directorial effort, Del Toro plays a decorated U.S. soldier named Aaron Hallam who has had extensive experience taking down enemy forces with excessive gruesomeness. Now he's gone rogue from his handlers and committed a series of grisly kills on American citizens. Such slaughterings have caused local law enforcement to call in the aid of the normally reclusive L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones).

Gene Kelly and Company Engage in Delightful Musical Tomfoolery in On the Town

People who view movies through the lens of searching for "plot holes" or characters exclusively acting within logical frameworks would probably be driven batty by On the Town, a 1949 Gene Kelly musical that also saw Kelly stepping into the director's chair for the first time. You see, On the Town, like most old-school musicals, isn't dictated by logic, the behavior of characters isn't motivated by logic. Everything about the characters, and the movie itself for that matter, is influenced by what could make the most exciting musical numbers. Song and dance are the name of the game for On the Town and why wouldn't you have that be the primary motivators when your movie stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra?

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Better Than Expected Disney Movie Togo Is All About A Snow Dog's Purpose

American cinema's current fascination with live-action dog movies continues onward. This time, instead of Sense8 Dog or Kevin Costner Racecar Dog, it's a real-life doggie, Togo, who was instrumental in pulling off that famous 1921 serum run during an Alaskan snowstorm that Balto got all the credit for. The aptly titled Togo can't help but remind one of how many live-action family movies about dogs we've gotten recently but it isn't long before it manages to establish its own identity and notably exceed the level of quality you normally see from these type of movies. In fact, it's probably one of the better features released by Walt Disney Pictures in recent years, though that's not saying something when the studios been focused on titles like The Lion King (2019).