Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Jerry Maguire Is At Least Better Than We Bought A Zoo

Since Edge of Tomorrow in June 2014, Cruise has exclusively been in either sequels or reboots. Now, sequels aren't inherently bad things as seen by how great the last two Mission: Impossible titles were. However, it is disappointing to see Cruise headlining a crummy Jack Reacher sequel and an even worse Mummy reboot considering how often how his career was built upon original concepts. Even as late as 2013 he was using his star power to get an original title like Oblivion released. Such an onslaught of sequels makes one yearn for the days when Cruise regularly worked with auteurs like Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson. Even a more flawed movie like Jerry Maguire would be greatly appreciated right now instead of Cruise just rehashing catchphrases from the 1980s.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Director Frank Oz Delivers Some More Solid Entertainment With The Score

His work for the Muppets tends to gain greater precedence in terms of his public profile but Frank Oz has managed to have quite the solid directorial track record. Looking over his Wikipedia page, I was impressed with how many iconic films he's managed to helm. I knew that he directed one of my favorite musicals ever, Little Shop of Horrors, but who knew that he was also responsible for highly well-regarded comedies like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, In & Out and Bowfinger? Guy's done quite well for himself in his nearly forty years of directing and that includes his work helming the solid heist thriller The Score.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Searching for Sugar Man Balances Absorbing Twists with Grim Reality to Make a Great Underdog Tale

Who doesn't love a good underdog tale? We've been telling these kinds of stories ever since we were squatting around fires conjuring up yarns about how the stars were actually monsters. They tend to stir the soul by evoking our own desires to beat the odds & achieve victory while also using that universal desire to put us in the shoes of somebody else. We all may come from different backgrounds but we can all be united in our desires to be like Rocky Balboa or any other cinematic underdog that defied conventional wisdom and scored the impossible. Just as universally appealing as the basic underdog story is the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Crip Camp Powerfully Depicts The Kind of Unity That Transcends Time and Space

Being on the Autism spectrum, I've predominately grown up in environments where I'm typically the only Autistic person in the room. In those locales, it's easy to feel like I'm the only Autistic person in the world. That sense of isolation was shattered when, two months ago, I attended a meeting of my college's For Autism Empowerment club for the very first time. Suddenly, I was surrounded by not just other Autistic people but Autistic people from all walks of life, sexual orientations, gender identities. So many times in life I'd felt alone. But this club reminded me that not only wasn't I alone but the Autistic community was a vibrant and eclectic one. In this club, we were more than just societal stereotypes. We were people who had each other's backs.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cameraperson Finds Captivating Unity Across Disparate Pieces of Footage

Kirsten Johnson has been doing this for a long time. She's been a cinematographer for documentaries for a little over three decades now. Having worked on everything from Fahrenheit 9/11 to Derrida, Johnson's been everywhere and seen everything. Over this prolific career, Johnson's compiled piles of footage that didn't make the final cut of individual films she worked on. Instead of letting that footage gather dust in a drawer somewhere, Johnson's decided to do something audacious. Her 2016 directorial effort Cameraperson is a self-proclaimed cinematic memoir comprised entirely of disparate pieces of footage from assorted movies she's worked on.

In Laman's Terms: Why Is Universal Pushing For Shorter Theatrical Releases?

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!

In the wake of COVID-19 A.K.A. Coronavirus ensuring the closure of movie theaters worldwide, movie studios have gotten inventive in getting their titles out to the general public. A whole slew of features have seen their theatrical releases delayed. Meanwhile, movies like Onward and The Invisible Man that were in the middle of their theatrical releases when this pandemic hit have been sent to video-on-demand streamers. When these announcements began to hit the internet, speculative chatter began to emerge theorizing that this was the beginning of movie studios shrinking the 90-day window between when a movie debuts in theaters and when it can hit home video (that window is 70-80 days when it comes to when a movie can drop on digital retailers like iTunes).

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Rita Hayworth Delivers A Lead Performance For The Ages in the Endlessly Awesome Gilda

The Femme Fatale archetype is a common one in the terrain of film noir's but who is the most iconic of the numerous examples of this sort of character? If you did a Battle Royale involving film noir femme fatales, who would come out on top? Well, any character played by Barbara Stynwick would have to be in consideration. Ditto anyone played by Rita Hayworth, she had a commanding presence, an assuredness in her line deliveries and a remarkable sense of wit that made her unforgettable in movies like The Lady from Shanghai and the subject of this review, Gilda. Hayworth had plenty of noteworthy roles but her work as the titular part in this 1946 Charles Vidor directorial effort may be her most iconic work.

Night Moves Is One of Kelly Reichardt's Most Eerie Works

The trio of lead characters in Night Moves just wanted to make a difference. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) are all environmental activists who despise how the modern world has ravaged Mother Nature. Wanting to make a profound point against the corporations that do the most harmful damage, the three embark on a plan. Under the cover of night, they'll set off a homemade bomb against a dam that's adversely affecting the local wildlife. In the process, they believe they'll make an unforgettable statement to the powers that be about what happens when you mess with nature.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Blow the Man Down Is a Thoroughly Unique Dark Comedy

Sisters Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe) already had enough on their plate. These residents of a small seaside Maine town have been grappling with the death of their mother as well as all the financial responsibilities of their home. But then things got even more complicated the night of their Mother's funeral. On that fateful evening, Mary Beth had an encounter with a dangerous man whose car trunk indicated he had been busy murdering women. Evading this man's clutches eventually entailed Mary Beth murdering this dude with a harpoon. In the wake of this grisly act of self-defense, Mary Beth enlists the help of Priscilla to help her cover up the murder.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sorcerer's Bleak But Masterful Filmmaking Is Like Some Form of Magic


The William Friedkin movie Sorcerer begins with a series of standalone sequences establishing the backstories of its four principal players. First, we meet Nilo (Francesco Rabal) as he silently assassinates an unnamed figure in Veracruz. Next, we're introduced to Kassem (Amidou) as he participates in a bombing in Jerusalem followed by a separate vignette establishing Victor Manzen (Bruno Cremer) as a wealthy man in Paris, France who abandons his extravagant life under the threat of being arrested under criminal charges of fraud. Finally, we come to New Jersey, where a group of crooks rob a church. Everyone in the operation ends up perishing in a car accident save for driver Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider), who proceeds to flee to the Latin America village of Porvenir.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Pete Davidson Tackles Darker Material Well in Big Time Adolescence

The time has come for Pete Davidson to enter an age-old ritual for a Saturday Night Live cast member. His first lead role in a movie. Dating back to the days of John Belushi headlining Animal House, SNL cast members have frequently tried their hand at parlaying their sketch comedy fame over into the world of headlining movies. Some have seen more success than others (remember the dreadful Master of Disguise?) but it tends to happen as frequently as the sun rising. Now, Davidson's gotten his chance to headline a motion picture with Big Time Adolescence, a movie that premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival before recently dropping on Hulu.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Kelly Reichardt Mellows Out But Never Forgets Her Filmmaking Skills For Old Joy

There's plenty I find fascinating about the works of Kelly Reichardt but I'm especially intrigued by how she depicts the relationship between human beings and nature. It's a dynamic that consistently carries affection for the environment, though the way she views humans interacting with the natural world tends to fluctuate based on each of her individual stories. Night Moves, for example, is about people who would do anything for the environment but her story doesn't paint them as valiant heroes. Rather, she delves into how their way of protesting environmental hazards tends to do more harm rather than good. That's a vastly different take on the relationship between man and nature than the ones seen in other Reichardt movies like Meek's Cutoff or Old Joy.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Yes, Groundhog Day Is A Comedy Worth All The Hype

OK, yes, somehow, I hadn't seen Groundhog Day until very recently. I've been well aware of its pop-culture ubiquity given how often it's been quoted and referenced in pop culture. Heck, Dodge even did a Groundhog Day-themed Super Bowl commercial complete with the original cast! Despite its massive pop culture presence, Groundhog Day had managed to elude me all my life for no real reason other than that it never seemed like a massive priority to me. Well, I finally popped my Groundhog Day cherry just two weekends ago and now you can count me in as part of the hordes of people who enjoy this particular Harold Ramis directorial effort.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Ordinary People (Mostly) Works as a Grim Family Drama

Ordinary People begins on an appropriately slower note as we follow the day-to-day lives of the Jarrett family. Father Calvin (Donald Sutherland), mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) and their only child, Conrad (Timothy Hutton), seem to be doing everything you'd expect a middle-class family to do. There isn't a raised voice to be found nor so much as a pillow out of place. But something isn't right in Conrad. He just can't adjust to this normalcy, something is gnawing at him. Thus, he begins to see a therapist, Dr. Tyrone C. Berger (Judd Hirsch). Their sessions aren't exactly rife with Earth-shattering revelations but at least Conrad has someone to talk to.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Thoughtful Direction and Costume Designs Aren't Enough To Fully Save The Frequently Formulaic Stargirl

Stargirl tends to evoke thoughts of other movies rather than its own distinct identity. For one thing, there's no getting around how its central premise heavily utilizes the tired Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype. For another, its vision of a High School drama is very much John Green-esque with a pinch of John Hughes and the wannabe-thoughtful dialogue of late-period Cameron Crowe thrown in for good measure. The last decade has seen plenty of unique approaches to teenager-centric cinema across titles like The Spectacular Now, The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird, That makes it extra disappointing to see something like Stargirl that just doesn't have much all that much to make it unique despite having some talented people working on it.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

White Material Is a Grim But Engrossing Effort From Director Claire Denis

I've only seen two Claire Denis movies, High Life and now White Material. However, if these two features are any indication of her overall filmography, then her works are made by bold creative swings, grim story material and truly impressive filmmaking. More specifically, both of these projects also demonstrate Denis' affinity for non-linear storytelling as well as the psychological toll extreme hardships have on individual people. Both High Life and White Material also share a tone informed by a sense of inevitable doom, in both stories, the end feels truly nigh for the on-screen characters.

Friday, March 13, 2020

American Splendor Delivers Both a Unique Movie Biopic and a Top-Notch Paul Giamatti Performance

My primary complaint with so many movie biopics is how rigidly standard they can be. Too often, they're paint-by-numbers stories that follow a real-life subject from their childhood to their death in a linear fashion all while heading down storytelling avenues you can see coming a mile away. In the process, historical figures, many of whom were quite the unusual characters, get boiled down into stock-and-trade motion pictures trafficking in predictability. Such is not the case for American Splendor, a feature film tackling the life of Harvey Pekar that has no problem with tossing traditional movie biopic elements to the wind. Writer and director duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini chase their own creative spirit with American Splendor and it makes for a great movie.

Bloodshot Is The Worst Thing To Happen To America This Week

"How can I have nightmares if I have no memories?" - Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel), Bloodshot 

I guess we were so busy with the whole Coronavirus outbreak that somebody quietly invented time travel. How else to explain the presence of the 2004 action movie Bloodshot suddenly appearing in 2020? The Doc Brown of our time must have taken it from a previous era and plopped it into movie theaters as a stealthy way of announcing that time travel exists. How cute! That's a rational explanation for Bloodshot playing in over 2,800 locations this coming weekend rather than somebody at Sony/Columbia actually believing that this David S.F. Wilson directorial effort will actually kickstart a new cinematic universe. That would be just madness! Anywho, who wants to join me in traveling back to the 1960s so that I can party with Agnes Varda & Vera Chytilova?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Generic Qualities of All The Bright Places Weigh Down Its Better Aspects

The first time the protagonists of All the Bright Places, Violet (Elle Fanning) and Finch (Justice Smith), meet, Finch has to talk Violet down from a ledge. Literally. The duo cross path's when Finch's running routine happens to pass right by Violet preparing to commit suicide by leaping off a bridge. Finch manages to coerce Violet to not take her own life and the duo proceeds to embark on a traditional day of High School. Such a day includes a History class that they happen to share and one that has just assigned a group activity consisting of students pairing off and then examining historical landmarks in the nearby area. Finch is adamant that he and Violet do the project together but Violet is determined to withdraw herself from all other people in the wake of her sister's death a year ago.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Grand Illusion Remembers the Humanity of the Soldiers Caught Up In War

The older a classic movie is, the larger its shadow looms over pop culture. With more years to leave an impressive, the likes of Citizen Kane have had nearly eighty years to influence the art of cinema to a profound degree. Such an influence can take on the form of blazing new trailers in terms of filmmaking (that's especially applicable to something like Kane) but it also emerges simply in movies and TV shows referencing these pieces of cinema and in the process helping to introduce them to a new generation. Such is the case for Jean Renoir's 1938 motion picture Grand Illusion, which not only left a mark on how people make movies but also has been referenced in everything from The Simpsons to Chicken Run.

MacGruber Makes Life-Saving Inventions But Only So-So Movies

Saturday Night Live has somewhat faded out the kind of wacky self-contained characters that were able to be spun-off into so many movies in the 1990s and early 2000s. Last week's re-appearance of Rachel Dratch's Debbie Downer reinforced how the new cast members, save for the occasional Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With, don't really engage in that type of humor anymore. That's probably why we haven't seen as many SNL movies lately. Well, that and the dismal box office results of the vast majority of these titles, including the most recent entry in this fold, MacGruber, a May 2010 Jorma Taccone directorial effort that's managed to generate a cult following in the years since its release.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Way Back Smartly Uses Hallmarks of Sports Movie For a Complex Tale of Addiction

In addition to exploring crime dramas (Pride and Glory), thrillers (The Accountant) and Westerns (Jane Got a Gun), director Gavin O'Connor has now helmed a trio of sports dramas. The first of these was the 2004 hockey tale Miracle followed by the criminally underrated 2011 feature Warrior. Now he's returned to this genre with The Way Back, though, much like Warrior, the focus is less on the sport itself and more on the personal lives of the people embroiled in the sport. Specifically, this is a yarn about struggling with addiction, one that can't help but echo many of the own trails and tribulations of The Way Back's leading man, Ben Affleck.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Beyond the Lights Shines Thanks To Nuance And Strong Performances

Looking over the filmography of the now-defunct film studio Relativity Media, one finds a catalogue primarily populated by disposable fare. Granted, unless you're a specialized arthouse distributor, it's doubtful any studios filmography will be ripe with only hits but Relativity's library is especially heavy on forgettable cinema. The outfits first few self-distributed titles, like Limitless, Mirror Mirror and Immortals, suggested that Relativity media wouldn't be afraid to make movies that could compete with much more established studios. That eventually gave way to a bunch of junk that primarily defined the studio's brief existence like Movie 43, Free Birds and 3 Days to Kill. But there were some gems to be found in there like Scott Cooper's 2013 film Out of the Furnace or the subject of this review, Beyond the Lights.

The Velocipastor Is The Rare B-Movie Homage To Work Like Gangbusters

Thanks to shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 as well as popular cult classics like The Room, not to mention the fact that the people who grew up with 1980's and 1990's schlock are now in control of creating mainstream pop culture, comically bad B-movie cinema is quite in right now. That also means comedic features trying to ape the style of those low-quality genre movies are equally ubiquitous. Such endeavors tend to have mixed results. It's one thing to try and make and Terminator knock-off and end up with unintentionally goofy nonsense like Future War. Meanwhile, the likes of Sharknado (specifically those sequels) tend to strain way too hard at being funny. They're trying to replicate a type of cinematic humor that only tends to emerge inadvertently.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

In Laman's Terms: The Visual Stagnancy of Modern-Day PIXAR Fare

The Good Dinosaur has helped to establish a style of animation that dominates too many modern-day PIXAR films. Curse you Arlo!
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!

Did you see the trailer for Sony Pictures Animation's new release Connected? It actually looks good! No bathroom humor, surprisingly natural voice turns from Abbi Jacobson and Danny McBride and, best of all, a unique animation style. The characters don't just look like they wandered off an assembly line, they're using hand-drawn animation to accentuate the emotions of the protagonist and I like how the sleek robotic antagonists are meant to contrast with the scrappier stop-motion-esque appearance of the human leads. Following Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and even Hotel Transylvania 3 (yes, really), Connected looks like another example of Sony Pictures Animation trying their hand at utilizing a different animation style for each of their new projects.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Daughters of Dust is a Poignant Upending of Cinematic Norms

It can be hard to fully appreciate the magnitude to which cis-het white male filmmakers have exclusively dominated cinematic language until one sees a project hailing from a director that doesn't fall into demographic. The works of Celine Sciamma are a great example of this with their stories that tend to eschew specific populations, like adults in Water Lillies or men for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, to allow for greater focus on their individual lead characters. Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust is like a precursor to Sciamma's works in how it makes a conscious effort in which characters occupy the screen and which ones do not, upending traditional cinematic norms in the process.

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Killing Makes A Killing When It Comes To Delivering Top-Quality Cinema

You don't need a whole bunch of Easter Eggs and clumsy sequel set-ups to establish an expansive world within a single film. Think about the likes of Do the Right Thing or Lady Bird, those movies create seemingly endless worlds out of everyday cities simply by making every single one of their characters immediately feel like human beings. It doesn't matter if they have one line or a hundred, when the characters in those movies speak, you get a sense of their entire life. A similar quality is found in The Killing, which goes through great pains to flesh out its lead characters and in the process creates an engrossing world I could have stayed in for days on end.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Wastes Good Actors On A Subpar Script

Given how I've already written and talked about Guess Who's Coming to Dinner extensively for my Race & Gender in Cinema class (in fact, that's the course that got me to finally watch this for the first time), this will be a shorter than usual review. The length of this review may be briefer but there is plenty to talk about here in Stanley Kramer's 1967 motion picture. This feature touted itself as something bold & transgressive but even by the standards of 1967 feels awfully dated. It's the originator of the kind of movie dealing with race in a soft manner meant to make it palatable for older White moviegoers that Hollywood loves. You'd think we'd have grown out of these movies by now...