Thursday, April 30, 2020

Maybe Skip A Trip To The Island

By the standards of typical Michael Bay movies, The Island is actually better than average. The story is coherent more often than not, it doesn't go off on a bunch of random side-tangents, racist caricatures are kept to a minimum and the climax doesn't get needlessly overblown until the last minute. For cinema in general, that would all be pretty much expected. For the director responsible for 6 Underground and the Erotic Animal Crackers scene from Armageddon, this is an outright accomplishment. Still, as its own movie, The Island still isn't very good and suffers from a number of flaws that plague the works of Michael Bay.

Humphery Bogart Closes Out His Acting Career with The Harder They Fall

From now until the end of time, The Harder They Fall will be unable to stand as just another movie. It'll always be linked to its star Humphery Bogart in that this was the final film Bogart starred in before his passing in January 1957. Dying at only 57, Bogart closed out his Hollywood career with an extremely solid motion picture. It's no Casablanca or The African Queen but what is? The highest compliment one can pay The Harder They Fall is that it's good enough to stand out as noteworthy even beyond its significant place in the history of its leading man. It isn't just sentimental wistfulness over the passing of Bogart that makes The Harder They Fall an entertaining boxing noir.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

They Live by Night Is A Crime Movie Soaked In Tragedy

No, this is not a review of the 2016 Ben Affleck directorial effort Live by Night. I'm not sure if many people confuse the 1948 crime drama They Live by Night with that later Affleck movie considering how few people are even aware of Live by Night's existence. Regardless, this is not a review of a Ben Affleck movie. Nor is this a review of Run All Night, a Liam Neeson/Joel Kinnamon action film. Remember that March 2015 film? That represented one of the last times Neeson was seen as a big enough box office draw for major American movie studios to put money into his Taken knock-off's (his subsequent features have been independently financed). 

In Laman's Terms: Why Can't Disney Send Fox Movies Directly To Streaming?

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!

Everything's going to streaming. Like wannabe millionaires trekking across America for the Western gold rush, movie studios, still stuck with no operational movie theaters, are sending their movies to streaming services in lieu of traditional theatrical releases. There be gold in them Hulu hills! 

With My Spy sneaking its way Amazon Prime, Military Wives shipping off to Hulu, The Lovebirds taking flight on Netflix and An American Pickle taking a chomp out of HBO MAX, it's becoming common for delayed movies to just go with a streaming bow instead of waiting around for theaters to open up. After all, people need brand-new entertainment to consume as they stay stuck in their homes, a new Seth Rogen comedy could hit just the spot. Plus, the movies heading off to streaming tend to be mid-budget movies that don't require a $1+ billion box office haul to be profitable. 

One studio that would seem to be primed to revel in this trend would be Disney. After all, they had a huge stockpile of delayed movies from their newly-acquired 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Studios divisions even before the COVID-19 epidemic closed down theaters. The Empty Man, for example, is a James Badge Dale/Stephen Root thriller that started filming in August 2017 and had been lying on a shelf for nearly two years before Disney gave it a release date last Fall. With a number of movies like The Empty Man just gathering dust on a shelf, why not drop them on a streaming service? Perhaps even Hulu, the streaming platform Disney now primarily controls?

That seemingly natural bit of corporate synergy is basically impossible thanks to a foe more insurmountable than any Marvel Studios baddie: contracts. 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures both have long-term pay-TV deeals for their theatrical releases with HBO. This means HBO has exclusive rights to air and stream their movies six to eight months after they debut theatrically. These deals were last renewed back in August 2012 but they don't expire until 2022. Both movie studios may have changed names and owners, but those pay-TV contracts still stand.

If Disney wants to send a 20th Century Studios film to a streaming service, that's totally within their right. But something like The Woman in the Window wouldn't land on Disney+ or Hulu. It would go to HBO and, in the near future, HBO MAX. Considering that HBO MAX is a direct competitor to Disney+, that makes the streaming debut maneuver an unlikely one for Disney-owned title. After all, the Mouse House would rather not line up a rival with high-profile movies. This is a unique phenomenon that not every studio has to grapple with. However, it's one Disney has actually experienced before when integrating other new studios into the company.

For example, Disney bought theatrical distribution rights to The Avengers and Iron Man 3 from Paramount Pictures, however, the two films premiered on EPIX as part of Paramount's pay-TV deal with EPIX.   Similarly, DreamWorks titles distributed by Disney (like The Help or Lincoln) went to Showtime rather than Starz, the channel Disney had a pay-TV deal with at the time. Disney can work a lot of magic but even it can't wriggle out of long-standing pay-TV contracts, especially when channels like EPIX and Showtime would very much like to have Marvel and Spielberg movies to boost up their profile.

While the situation isn't an unfamiliar one for Disney, the way it's manifested with the various Fox movies is a frustrating one for Disney brass given that both Fox studios produce far more movies annually than either DreamWorks under its Disney tenure or just two Marvel Studios projects. To boot, under the current circumstances that are keeping everyone confined to their homes, Disney would doubtlessly love to flood Hulu with high-profile Fox titles previously scheduled for theatrical release. For now, though, the likes of New Mutants are sticking around in theatrical spaces. The fact that such movies aren't getting a detour into streaming has less to do with "preserving" the theatrical movie landscape and more of Disney being cornered in by long-standing pay-TV deals.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Bad Education Makes The Grade When It Comes To Well-Crafted Dark Comedy

As Bad Education begins, we follow Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) around in his duties as superintendent of the Rosyln School District in Long Island, New York. He's good at what he does. He looks sharp in a suit, he knows every students name, he gets along with all the parents, he's even adhering to a strict diet. He's the idealized vision of a person in education. Maybe too idealized. There's about Frank Tassone. He's a bit too perfect, a tad too polished. Save for the more frank conversations he has with co-worker Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), Tassone is always speaking in inspirational quotes tailor-made to be dropped in a press release rather than in conversation with other human beings.

Monday, April 27, 2020

A History of Violence Showcases The Best Traits of Cronenberg and Mortensen

Director David Cronenberg has always been fascinated by human beings transforming himself. In his first two decades of filmmaking, this fascination took on the form of gruesome body horror titles like Videodrome and The Fly. In these movies, the way human beings modified themselves (either willingly or unwillingly) were given a physical and gnarly form. Despite their inherently stylized nature, these manifestations could still be rooted in real-world parallels, such as with The Fly and its connections to the AIDS crisis. In the 21st-century, Cronenberg has opted more for restrained and realistic works rather than ones rooted in science-fiction but the way he can deliver a captivating exploration of people changing themselves has remained constant.

Gods and Monster Explores the Dark Universe of James Whale's Mind

I didn't mean to watch Gods and Monsters a few days after watching Bride of Frankenstein for the first time. I had actually been meaning to get around to Gods and Monsters for quite a while now and just never found the time. Well, life's funny sometimes and now I managed to watch the two of them for the first time in close succession. Going down this path proved to be a beneficial one for a myriad of reasons. Top of those reasons is that writer/director Bill Condon doesn't just name-drop Bride of Frankenstein throughout Gods and Monsters. In telling a story about James Whale (the filmmaker behind Bride of Frankenstein), he evokes the camerawork of Bride of Frankenstein while also grappling with the films themes regarding what defines a monster. In other words, Gods and Monsters proves to be the perfect thoughtful companion piece to the original Bride of Frankenstein film.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Extraction Shoots A Bullseye In Some Respects But Is Firing Blanks In Others

A child has been kidnapped. Specifically, Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of India's most famous gangster, has been kidnapped by Bangladesh's most prolific gangster, Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli). Ovi's father wants his son back but retrieving the child won't be easy. He'll need to hire somebody to come in and take back Ovi. This is where Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) comes in. A mercenary who lives in a shack with his chickens in Australia, Rake is grizzled, lethal, and only here for the money. Thus, a well-paying operation like this one captures his attention. Tyler proceeds to enter Dhaka, Bangladesh, and snags the kid but a new problem emerges. Quickly, Asif has the entire city of Dhaka locked down and looking for Tyler. It's gonna take a miracle for him and Ovo to leave the city alive.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Eve's Bayou Delivers An Impressively Detailed Directorial Debut For Kasi Lemmons

Eve's Bayou is the story of how our past informs the present. This is epitomized by how the titular character of Eve (Jurnee Smollett) did not come by her name randomly. She was named after a slaved who saved the life of General John Paul Baptiste. Eve doesn't just share a name with this historical figure. This earlier Eve, as a gift for saving the life of Baptiste, was handed a plot of land by a bayou in Lousiana. This is where Eve and her family call home. Both Eve's own name and the place she rests her head are inseparably tied towards an Eve from nearly two centuries ago. That connection between the past and Eve's present (the latter occupying the 1960's) is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how Eve's Bayou reveals links between what has been and what is.

David Byrne and the Talking Heads Put on a Top-Notch Show with Stop Making Sense

I usually find myself checking out of the Saturday Night Live musical performances. It's not that I'm too hip for the room when it comes to pop music, I'm as big of a sucker for a bubbly pop ditty as anybody. Too often, though, the performances just aren't very interesting. They're usually blocked, staged and executed in a rote manner, a singer and accompanying band members just staying in place against an undecorated set. For a major live television performance, you should be bringing some real panache, don't be afraid to embrace your creative side! By contrast, the recent David Byrne SNL musical performance was the epitome of what these guest appearances should be!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Bride of Frankenstein Casts An Empathetic Light On Monsters

Much like Christopher Nolan established his take on Batman with Batman Begins before really cutting loose as a filmmaker with the sequel, The Dark Knight, director James Whale took his time defining his own take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein mythos before going nuts with a sequel. In this case, the follow-up was The Bride of Frankenstein, a film that went bigger in every way than its predecessor. His ambitious sequel went weirder, more comedic, and also more tragic in terms of depicting the loneliness of Frankenstein's beast. We've gotten a lot of Frankenstein movies over the years but this level of creative audacity puts it above even top-tier Frankenstein cinema like I, Frankenstein.

A Look At The First Nine Episodes of The Clone Wars Season Seven

Star Wars is usually all anyone can talk about on the internet. Whether it's debate over the quality of the individual movies, Baby Yoda or Prequel Memes, you're usually never short on Star Wars chatter on the interwebs. That having been aid, I've seen shockingly little discussion on the final season of The Clone Wars, which has been airing episodes each Friday on Disney+ for the past two months. That's probably because the show is aimed at young children rather than adults, who make up the population discussing Star Wars online.

That's a shame because The Clone Wars, while erratic in quality from episode to episode, has frequently done some of the ambitious Star Wars storytelling ever. Even its weakest episodes usually offer something interesting for discussion. Thus, I've decided to do some breakdowns on the merits and detriments of the first eight episodes of this final season of The Clone Wars. Something to note before going forward: The Clone Wars has always told singular stories over multiple episodes. Originally, the amount of episodes were usually three but frequently fluctuated. Starting with its fifth season, The Clone Wars broke its multi-episode arcs into exclusively four episodes.

The seventh season has delivered two four-episode arcs and then a ninth episode kicking off a new arc. I'll be looking at the fully completed arcs in their own section (rather than breaking this down episode-by-episode) before using the third section of this piece to examine the show's most recent episode. I'm also writing this write-up's presuming readers know basic aspects of the show up to this point (like that Captain Rex is a Clone, Ahsoka left the Jedi Order at the end of Season five, etc.) just to keep this concise. If that's all cleared up, let's look at what The Clone Wars has delivered so far in its final season


The Clone Trooper squad known as The Bad Batch
In the Bad Batch storyline, Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) teams up with a group of five clone troopers. They're a seperate squadron due to each member have a notably different physical appearance than standard clones. They also each carry their own extremely pronounced personality. One of them in an intellectual technology wiz, one of them is a scarred warrior whose tough as nails, another is a big burly fellow who loves blowing stuff up. Just as The Clone Wars has previously done homages to zombie and Kaiju movies, The Bad Batch episodes are a homage to men-on-a-mission movies. The result is a reasonably fun endeavor even if it made me yearn for when The Clone Wars had a touch more variety between individual episodes in muli-episode arcs.

In the five-episode season two storyline concerning the Second Battle of Geonosis, viewers were taken all over the place. One episode dealt with Padme navigating palace intrigue, another took viewers to the frontlines of the battle with Obi-Wan and the Clones before things got wrapped up in a final episode detailing Ahsoka and Barriss Offee dealing with worm aliens turning clones into zombies. For the episodes comprising the Bad Batch storyline, there's far less variety in terms of both tone and leading characters. All four episodes are centered exclusively on Rex and these five Bad Batch clones engaging in battle scenes. While the Bad Batch clones have their amusing moments, there's also little to them as characters. They're stagnant beings who would work great as guest stars in one or two episodes but don't quite work as leading men for 100 minutes worth of storytelling.

Even the reintroduction of recurring character Fives (who is revealed to be alive and being used as a Sepeartist weapon against his will) doesn't provoke new layers of the Bad Batch characters. A brief storyline suggesting Fives could still be working for the villains doesn't really go anywhere or challenge the lead characters. Though The Bad Batch struggles with its titular characters, many parts of the four episodes still register as moderately entertaining. Most notably, these episodes reveal that The Clone Wars has upgraded its computer-animation significantly from when it last aired new episodes six years ago. We've come a long way from the stiff animation seen in the 2008 Clone Wars movies, now these characters have such fluid facial expressions while the environments they inhabit have a gloriously tactile quality in their design.

Like any episode centered on the Clone Troopers, the various Bad Batch episodes allow voice actor Dee Bradley Baker a chance to shine. Throughout this series, Baker has been tasked with voicing every single Clone Trooper. It's an endeavor that has resulted in truly impressive voicework as Baker consistently makes sure to imbue a distinct personality into each new Clone Trooper. This time around, he gets to run loose with a variety of outsized personalities while voicing the various members of the Bad Batch. When you've got a voice actor pro like Baker delivering this sort of superb voicework, the storytelling flaws of the Bad Batch arc are easier to stomach.


(From left to right): Ahsoka Tano, Trace Martez, Rafa Martez
Very smart to place this particular four-episode arc in this section of the season. Sandwich in between two arcs dedicated to extensive battle sequences, the second arc of The Clone Wars' seventh season is a smaller-scale adventure. With Ahsoka (the arcs protagonist) no longer a Jedi, this means there are no Jedi or Sith lord to be found in this storyline, just normal people trying to make it through a larger-than-life war. Such a storytelling scope is applied to a plotline seeing Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) running into the lower levels of the planet of Coruscant. Here, she meets orphaned sisters Trace Martez (Brigette Kali) and Rafa Martez (Elizabeth Rodriguez). One fun fact I just learned: originally, this storyline saw Ahsoka teaming up with a male character named Nyx Okami. Genuinely cool that, when it was time to actually finish these episodes up, they made a conscious choice to instead opt to have two women of color headline this arc.

Anywho, Rafa works as a gangster to help herself and Trace get by. Trace and Ahsoka accompany Rafa on her newest mission which entails delivering a shipment of spice to the Pyke empire. Ahsoka's emphasis on morality and Rafa's emphasis on looking out just for herself and her sister inevitably clash. Rafa's outlook, informed by surviving another day rather than helping others, provides an intriguing thematic link between the majority of the protagonists and villains in this storyline. Even the primary antagonist, Marg Krim (Stephan Stanton), isn't your usual mustache-twirling baddie with a personal vendetta to carry out. He's a weary soul well aware of his status as a cog in a gangster empire led by Darth Maul (Sam Witwer). He's fighting for his own survival day-in and day-out almost as much as Rafa. 

That interesting aspect of the writing in this collection of episodes is accompanied by more underwhelming features of the script. Most notably, the third episode of this storyline, Dangerous Debt, features a scene where Rafa finally informs Ahsoka the circumstances that led to herself and Trace becoming orphans. It's a critical moment for these two characters but it doesn't have the impact it should because of how we only hear about these events rather than actually seeing them. Getting the chance to witness this story through a flashback would have lent it a far more vivid impact than the flat way it's delivered here. I know Star Wars movies (save for The Last Jedi) have eschewed flashbacks. However, an exception should have been made for this particular occasion.

Even aside from that underwhelming way of revealing Trace and Rafa's past, the Dangerous Debt episode proves to be the weakest of this storyline thanks to it being superfluous save for introducing Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) into the show. Like a number of Clone Wars storylines from the last few seasons, this is yet another story arc that would have benefited from a shorter episode count.  Even just having the ballad of Ahsoka and the Martez sisters last for three episodes instead of four would have benefited the pacing greatly. At least the storyline ends on a high note with the episode Dangerous Debt. Rafa fights a Trandoshan, a gaggle of Toong cheer on for their boss to kill someone and Ahsoka Tano gets to dish out some delightfully violent Jedi mayhem. Ah Ahsoka, how you've been missed!

Old Friends Not Forgotten

Old Friends Not Forgotten begins the final four-episode-arc ever for The Clone Wars. Nearly twelve years after this show first started in October 2008, we're finally bringing this thing to a close. Because of the importance of these episodes, Dave Filoni and company really went all out in making sure these concluding episodes felt like an event. This gets established right away in Old Friends Not Forgotten, which begins with the classic Lucasfilm Limited Productions logo before making use of John Williams' unmistakable Star Wars theme. The modern-day mantra of "This TV show is actually a movie!" is pretty tiresome. In this context, though, it works since The Clone Wars treating its final episodes as a movie comes off as its creative team closing this show out with a bang rather than a derogatory look at the medium of television.

Tom Kane's opening narration immediately establishes that this storyline takes place only moments before Episode III thanks to visuals showing the viewer that various Jedi like Aayla Secura are in the planets where they'll be eventually executed during the Order 66 montage in Revenge of the Sith. We then get to the story proper, which sees Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) and his clone pinned down by a droid army. This is totally speculation on my end, but it appears The Clone Wars got a significant increase in its animation budget for this last story arc. The already noteworthy visuals of prior season seven episodes is taken to another level here, particularly in terms of camerawork. There are truly sweeping shots throughout Old Friends Not Forgotten that see the camera swooping around the battlefield of various conflicts that truly allows the viewer to appreciate the scope of these fights. Heck, they even have enough money now to allow Obi-Wan to run around in his Jedi robe! I remember back in season one when they didn't have enough money to even let Anakin wear his robe! How times change!

This impressive animation is used for a storyline concerning Ahsoka returning to Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) to inform him that she, Bo-Katan and Katan's Mandalorian warriors need the assistance of the Jedi to take back the planet of Mandalore from Darth Maul. Obi-Wan and Anakin cannot partake in the mission because they need to rescue the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine but they do send Captain Rex and a Clone army to accompany Ahsoka and Bo-Katan on their mission. From there, The Clone Wars delivers perhaps its best-ever action sequence as an army of jetpack-wearing Mandalorians working for Maul attack Ahsoka & Rex's force while they're still in the air. An extensive battle scene set all the way up in the sky follows that delivers a large number of wonderful action beats. Best of those beats has got to be Ahsoka leaping from one ship to the next and using her pair of lightsabers to chop down an assortment of adversaries all in the span of a single shot. 

The days of "Skyguy" are long behind Ahsoka Tano and the fluid body movements used in her animation render her fight scenes as especially impressive. When she and other characters like Bo-Katan engage in hand-to-hand combat, they actually look like real people fighting rather than rigid computer-animated puppets. That part of Old Friend Not Forgotten's animation is one of the best attributes of the entire episode, which ends on a cliffhanger teasing a confrontation between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Maul in the next episode. That episode, entitled The Phantom Apprentice (hey, I know that that's referencing!), drops tomorrow and I can't wait to see where this storyline goes next. If these next three episodes deliver the kind of sweeping & endlessly exciting action running rampant throughout Old Friends Not Forgotten, then Star Wars: The Clone Wars is gonna go out on a high note.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Hayes Code Restrictions Don't Keep Murder By Contract From Being Thoroughly Chilling

There isn't much in the way of good people to be found in Murder by Contract. From the very first scene, this Irving Lerner directorial effort sets its sights on scummy criminals and never shifts away. While the proceedings never become oppressively grim, the are consistently bleak. Death abounds even for the nicer criminals we meet and our protagonist is chilling in how casually he throws around violence. Watching this kind of debauchery exist in the restrictive Hayes Code era carries a thrill. Even in the year 2020, where far more adult movies come out on a daily basis, the historical context of when Murder by Contract was released gives it a unique sensibility akin to taking a cookie from a cookie jar when your parents aren't looking.

In Laman's Terms: Movie Studios Are Abandoning 2020 For A (Hopefully) Better 2021

Actual image of white people protesting that they can't go get a haircut during the COVID-19 pandemic.  
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!

Yesterday, Sony announced that the title of the incoming Venom sequel would be Venom: Let There Be Carnage. In the middle of an era in American history that seems to be delivering non-stop bad news, the entire internet was in agreement of how this title was actually pretty amazing. No generic "Rise of the [BLANK]" or "Revenge of the [BLANK]" sequel title for Venom 2. Instead, they went all out with a super-distinctive title that immediately conjures up images of a trashy fun time at the movie. Even as someone who largely was negative on the original Venom, this title alone has me hoping they've captured a more consistently weird and fun tone for the sequel. Oh, and also make it totally gay. just 110% gay all the time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The VFX of The Abyss Still Register As Impressive, The Characters Less So

Note: This review covers the theatrical cut of The Abyss.

It may be better down where it's wetter but it's also a heck of a lot more dangerous. Just ask the submarine crew tasked with transporting a bunch of nuclear warheads. They were just minding their own business when suddenly a bright violet light emerged and sent them on a crash course with a rock structure. Now stuck at the bottom of the ocean, a crew of divers are being sent to recover any surviving crew members. Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris) is bringing his own crew of divers to the scene alongside a group of Navy SEALS, led by Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn), the latter of whom have their own orders to follow. Also along for the ride Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), Bud's ex-wife.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

David Lynch Creates A Quietly Moving Achievement With The Straight Story

Pauses prove critical to The Straight Story. Emerging in those spaces where characters don't speak are reminders that we're watching regular human beings, ones who don't have all the answers at the drop of a hat. When protagonist Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) is talking to a runaway pregnant teenager, the silences the duo share convey the fact that Straight is not a wise sage here to offer every possible solution to her problems. He's just a guy on a tractor here to be an ear to her woes and offer whatever help he can. Sometimes, people can say so much when they say nothing at all. The Straight Story and its masterful use of silence is a beautiful reminder of this fact.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Selah and the Spades Offers Up A High School Mobster Movie You Can't Refuse

It's quite interesting that writer/director Rian Johnson would have sent out a tweet this week expressing his admiration for the movie Selah and the Spades given that Selah actually reminded me of a Rian Johnson directorial effort. Specifically, Selah evoked Johnson's debut feature Brick, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a neo-noir whose cast was populated by teenagers inhabiting the traditional adult archetypes one would find in a classic noir film. Similarly, Selah and the Spades transplants the world of a mob movie (one also typically populated by adult characters) and brings it to the domain of High School.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Todd Haynes Delivers Another Vivid Reflection On Internal Woe In Safe

Throughout his career, writer/director Todd Haynes has constantly found the interior anguish of seemingly idyllic locations. Lush upper-class neighborhoods in eras of American history widely thought of as prosperous for all can be the home for truly devastating personal struggles. It's like Haynes' films are always turning over a brightly colored rock to unearth an underbelly crawling with worms and muck. This ability to dig deep into the serene and pull out harrowing interior experiences has been the cornerstone of such Haynes' classics like Far From Heaven, Carol and his career-redefining 1995 effort Safe.

Classical Fairy Tale Trappings Meet The Modern World with I Am Not a Witch

It's about as obvious of an observation as "The Lion King was actually based on Hamlet!", but classic fairy tales didn't shy away from dealing with graphic material. Many of them tended to emphasize harsh violence and, in the case of Red Riding Hood and The Little Mermaid, grim endings that left the protagonists deceased at the end. While many modern-day adaptations of fairy tales opt for family-friendly takes on the material, there have been plenty of titles (like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) that skewed towards a more violent sensibility not far removed from what The Brothers Grimm would have written.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Grizzly Man Creates Unbearably Well-Made Cinema Out of the Life of a Highly Unusual Man

Tiger King an unavoidable pop culture phenomenon right now. The saga of Oklahoma zoo operator Joe Exotic is one that has captured the attention of the world. But he isn't the first person to get much too close to the uncontrollable world of wild animals. In fact, Werner Herzog helmed a documentary entitled Grizzly Man about a much more subdued but no less unbelievable figure back in 2005. If the toxic fanbase and/or rampant presence of Tiger King has got you yearning for a different approach to the same material, then Grizzly Man is your movie. The same is true of anyone looking for just well-made cinema, documentary or otherwise.

In Laman's Terms: Seven Movies That Got Extensive Delays Before The Coronavirus Epidemic

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!

CW: Mentions of Harvey Weinstein ahead.

Well, we're all still trapped in our home thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak and that means more and more theatrical releases are getting their once concrete release dates adjusted. As we all sit and wait for new theatrical releases to return, this week's In Laman's Terms is going back in time to look at other times in history that movies got extensive release date delays. Movies don't just get delayed because of health pandemics. Throughout history, there have been a slew of reasons for movies getting delayed ranging uncertainty over marketing to wanting to make time for reshoots to financing woes. As these seven movies show, release dates can become flexible under a myriad of circumstances.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Maybe You Can't Handle The Truth But You Can Handle A Good Movie Like A Few Good Men

Aaron Sorkin's work on television tends to be so prolific that it's easy for me to forget just how many famous movies he's worked on! That's not a comment on the quality of his forays into cinematic works, after all, the screenplay for The Social Network is a work of art and one of the key reasons that David Fincher directorial effort resonated as deeply with me as it did. But between the endless praise for The West Wing and the similarly endless mockery of The Newsroom, the level of involvement Sorkin's had in some super well-known movies can get lost in the shuffle, at least in my mind. Among those acclaimed titles is A Few Good Men, which is actually based on an original play penned by Sorkin.

La Haine Is Bursting With Vivid Imagery & Characters

The philosophy of Chekov's Gun refers to the idea that if you set something up early on in a piece of art, you have to pay it off. The title of this device references the idea that, if you show a gun in a movie, you have to eventually depict the characters using it. Properly using this narrative device allows for a sense of connective tissue throughout the story, a throwaway object from early on can become crucial from the end. In the case of the 1995 French drama La Haine, the interior personalities of the three central and endlessly angry character Vinz (Vincent Cassel) is like the movies own Chekov's Gun. It's something established clearly early on and from there you know it will, sometime down the road, go off. It's a ticking time bomb that should deliver the sort of pay-off that defines Chekov's Gun.

Monday, April 13, 2020

National Treasure Is One of the Best Results of Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney's Extended Relationship

Remember when Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney were inseparable? After years of delivering hits like Beverly Hills Cop for Paramount Pictures, Bruckheimer shifted over to Disney's adult movie divisions Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures in the mid-1990s. Over this period, he produced a slew of action fare that generated big bucks at the box office. With the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, Bruckheimer made his first title for Walt Disney Pictures, which soon led to him producing the lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean movies for the family-friendly side of the Disney corporation.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Deep Impact Leaves An Emotional Impact

Before watching Deep Impact, I was sure I knew what I was getting into. I'm kind of obsessive about the 1990's disaster movie, a subgenre that mixed in the hopefulness of the 1990s with all the then-brand-new digital visual effects technology to make movies about people uniting in the face of staggering disasters. Keeping that in mind, I was coming for some explosions, cities turning to dust and melodramatic line readings. What I didn't expect was that the movie would touch me so heavily. Granted, I've been in such a fragile emotional state during this whole self-isolation business that even the thought of a pug puppy makes my eyes water with tears. Still, Deep Impact did something quite right in lending a more intimate gaze to the traditional disaster movie.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Lady Macbeth Provides So Much To Think About In Addition To A Star-Making Florence Pugh Performance

My God did Florence Pugh ever have a perfect 2019. She scored an Oscar nomination, a lead role in a Marvel Cinematic Universe and she had lead roles in a trio of acclaimed movies. Best of all, each of those 2019 films allowed Pugh to inhabit a radically different role. With Fighting with My Family, she got to play an aspiring wrestler who had a tough-as-nails grit. With Midsommar, Pugh got to play a woman coping with a personal tragedy that allowed her to depict some of the most authentically unnerving crying I've ever seen in a movie. And as for her take on Amy March in Little Women...I could be here all day talking about all the wonders Pugh brought to that role.

Alan Yang's Directorial Debut Tigertail Is A Mostly Solid Tale of a Life Stifled

Tigertail is the feature film directorial debut of Alan Yang, previously most famous for being the award-winning co-creator of the Netflix comedy Master of None. For Tigertail, Yang has taken inspiration from stories about his own father leaving Taiwan and coming to America.  This results in a movie about the fictional character Pin-Jui. We first meet Pin-Jui as a young child growing up with his grandmother in the fields of Taiwan. At this stage of his life, he navigates the uncertainty of where his mother is as well as government forces who see his very existence as a problem. It is in this period of his life that Pin-Jui is instilled lessons from his grandmother not to cry and to keep his focus on practical matters.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Sydney Freeland's Directorial Debut Drunktown's Finest Delivers Exceptional Character Work

Native American characters haven't fared too well in American cinema. Far more knowledgable people than me have penned great academic essays on this topic, chief among them being this piece by Julia Boyd. In a nutshell, though, Native American characters, like so many racial minorities, have been typically erased outright in American cinema. The only time they tend to emerge is so the can serve as supporting characters to white protagonists. Drunktown's Finest is a more than welcome departure from this norm with its trio of Native protagonists. Following this many characters allow writer/director Sydney Freeland (she's of Navajo heritage) to shatter the perception of Native Americans all adhering to singular stereotypes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Man Who Knew Too Much Is an Early Winner For Alfred Hitchcock

This was supposed to be a fun trip to Switzerland, not the kind of trip where somebody ends up getting kidnapped. But Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edan Best, respectively) are the stars of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, so it was inevitable that some kind of misfortune would befall the duo. Specifically, they've lost their daughter, who was kidnapped in the middle of all the commotion stemming from a man getting assassinated. They're informed via writing correspondence to not involve the authorities in this matter or else their daughter will be killed. That doesn't stop Bob from doing his own detective work, in the process uncovering a larger conspiracy involving the assassination of a world leader during an opera performance.

In Laman's Terms: Six of My Favorite Theatrical Experiences With a Crowd

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!

On Monday, a tweet was posted by user Scott Gustin chronicling a crowded movie theaters reaction to an iconic sequence from Avengers: Endgame. It's subsequently gone viral and it's not hard to see why. The audio of people cheering and just going nuts as Captain Americal lifted Thor's hammer and proceed to beat down Thanos, it echoes my own theatrical experience with the movie and the jubilation of the crowd I saw it with. It's a clip that reaffirms the value of the theatrical experience. Seeing a movie with a crowd and everyone becoming united in joy with what's transpiring on the screen, there's truly nothing like it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Differs From Typical Spy Thrillers For The Better

Who can you trust? It's a question at the heart of so many spy thrillers, including the 1974 novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Penned by iconic author John le Carre, this text told a story regarding a mole in the middle of MI6 during the Cold War and one man's hunt to track that informant down. While the previous decade had seen James Bond define the British spy adventure as one full of action, ladies and exotic locales, le Carre's novel went in the opposite direction. What made it such a distinct work was its sense of restraint. There was no bombast to distract from the complex morality Tinker's characters grappled with. Such a subdued sensibility is maintained for its 2011 film adaptation of the same name.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Picnic at Hanging Rock Thoughtfully Realizes Ambiguous Horror

It was supposed to be a day like any other. Isn't that how most horror tales start? But in the case of Picnic at Hanging Rock, it really was supposed to be an average day for the students at Appleyard College. It is Valentine's Day in the year 1900 and a whole gaggle of these students is headed off to a picnic near the landmark known as Hanging Rock. While there, a group of students takes off to do some exploring. They're informed by the supervising professor to come back as quickly as possible. Instead of following orders, they immediately vanish. What happened to them? Where did they go? These questions are not the point of Picnic at Hanging Rock, which instead concerns itself with how the various people, like smitten Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard) and college headmaster Mrs. Appleyeard (Rachel Roberts) react to these girls going missing.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Desperately Seeking Susan Does Empathetic Screenwriting & Chaotic Comedy Just Right

As the plot of Desperately Seeking Susan began to reveal itself, I came to a revelation. This was one of the first times I was seeing the o'l storytelling cliche of a person bonking their head, forgetting who they actually are and proceeding to embrace a whole new persona in a straightforward manner. The only other movie I can think of that did something similar without also being tongue-in-cheek about was the 2018 Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty. Otherwise, I've normally seen this premise executed with a sense of self-aware mischief in the confines of kids cartoons like Garfield & Friends and SpongeBob SquarePants. If Desperately Seeking Susan is any indicator, though, maybe it's a storyline we should be doing more often without any subversive intent. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Original Friday the 13th Kicked Off A Slasher Movie Franchise With Banal Results

In the pantheon of horror fare, a number of long-running franchises have their fanbases of varying sizes. Not every entry in the series may be liked but the likes of Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, tend to be widely regarded as beloved, even if it's just because of the movies that spawned those franchises. Meanwhile, the sequels to Texas Chainsaw Massacre aren't really as famous as the original but those follow-ups (especially the second one) have managed to develop their own cult following. The Friday the 13th features also have their own noteworthy following. However, the original film is predominately viewed as the weakest of the American horror movies in the 1970s and early 1980s that defined the genre stateside for years to come.

A Simple Country Lawyer Headlines An Excellent Courtroom Drama With Anatomy of a Murder

I absolutely love the experience of stumbling onto movies I've never heard of before. It's a ritual I've been enamored with ever since I was a kid dragging my fingers across heretofore unknown VHS tapes on the shelves of the local Blockbuster. The mind reeled at what stories could be inside those video cassette boxes. Nowadays, that sensation has been translated into our living rooms as we browse streaming services and stumble onto movies we've never heard of before. So it was that browsing the Criterion Channel this past Thursday evening that I saw that this platform had added a film called Anatomy of a Murder to their library of titles. Having never heard of this film before but seeing that Jimmy Stewart & Otto Preminger were involved in the production, I immediately took to watching it

It's fun to stumble onto unknown movies. It's even more fun to stumble onto unknown movies that turn out to be masterpieces.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

We Could All Use The Hopeful Musical Spirit of Anna and the Apocalypse Right Now

"I will do all that I can
Before I go to my grave
There is good on this Earth
And it's worth trying to save." - Anna in the song Give Them a Show, Anna and the Apocalypse

Doing a zombie Christmas movie would already be an unusual prospect. But Anna and the Apocalypse goes a step further by doing a zombie Christmas movie that's also a musical. The worst version of this project would probably be some kind of weirdo mixture of Deck the Halls, Prides & Prejudice & Zombies and Glee. Thankfully, it's more on the order of Krampus, Zombieland and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend getting put into a blender. The combination doesn't work 100% of the time but that's to be expected from something that's trying to do so much at once. On the whole, Anna the Apocalypse works more often than not at delivering some macabre yuletide fun.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Twenty-Four Years Later, The Birdcage Remains An Endlessly Delightful Comedy

Boy, couldn't we all just use a fun movie right now? With new theatrical films being paused right now thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, we must turn to classic features for our doses of cinematic fun. Luckily, there's an endless sea of options in regards to 20th-century cinema that will leave your heart feeling full. You can't go wrong with romps starring Gene Kelly or Katharine Hepburn. Similarly, I guarantee you won't be able to stop cackling at The Birdcage. A 1996 Mike Nichols directorial effort based on the 1978 movie La Cage aux Folles, The Birdcage does just what every good comedy should do: keep the hearty laughs coming.

In Laman's Terms: What Did We Learn In March 2020?

"I hate him!"
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!

Ya know, two days before March 2020 started, I turned to my Mom and said "March 2020 is gonna be a life-changing month."

How right I ended up being. Just not for the reasons I thought.

March 2020 was supposed to be the month I traveled down to Austin, Texas to cover the South by Southwest Film Festival for The Spool. It would be my first time attending this festival as well as my first time ever visiting Austin, Texas for more than an afternoon. My excitement for this excursion had been building up for months before the entire endeavor got cancelled on March 6, 2020 due to the COVID-19 A.K.A. Coronavirus outbreak. I thought that would be the biggest cataclysm of the month, but oh boy, we were only getting started. A week later, social distancing was the name of the game as people were told to sit in their homes. By Thursday March 12, 2020, my college, the University of Texas at Dallas, informed its students that classes would be moving online for the rest of the semester. Our graduation ceremony would be postponed to an unknown later date, a discouraging development given how I'm graduating this semester.