Monday, June 29, 2020

Bessie Imbues Some Unique Details Into The Music Biopic Genre

Bessie Smith was a one-of-a-kind music legend. Born in Chattanooga, Tennesse, Smith was raised in a troubled household and struggled to find steady work as a singer. A chance to work Ma Rainey (Mo'Nique), however, gives Bessie Smith the breakthrough she needs. Soon, Smith is her own solo act and one that's becoming quite famous. As the years go by, the highs for Bessie Smith are high but the lows, including her worst struggles with addiction, those sink very deep. All the while, Smith also grapples with her inability to really emotionally connect with others as well las torment from the past that's informing her iconic blues music.

Charlie's Angels Demonstrates Promise As Well As Glaring Shortcomings

First drafts can be rough. Speaking from experience on this matter, first drafts can frequently hold a lot of promise but also a lot of rough patches. Ideas may not be as fully-formed as they should be. The structure of your piece can be clumsy. Your singular voice may not shine through as distinctively as it should. No worries, though. After all, who gets it right on the very first try? Certainly not me! Unfortunately, Elizabeth Banks' Charlie's Angels reboot feels like the cinematic equivalent of a first draft. Full of promise and hinting at something interesting but it still needed some more work.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Puncture Wastes A Promising Story On a Clumsy Screenplay

"Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places" is an oft-repeated line throughout Puncture. It's one of a number of dialogue motifs throughout Chris Lopata's screenplay, which also includes a large number of food-based metaphors. Unfortunately, none of these recurring fixtures manage to amount to a thoroughly compelling courtroom drama. That's a shame given that Puncture is based on an interesting true story. A lawyer mired in drug addiction who also sought to take down hospitals that were jeopardizing medical workers by continuing to use bad needles. That's an intriguing set-up that doesn't get executed well.

Friday, June 26, 2020

James Dean's Harrowing Lead Performance Anchors the Haunting Rebel Without a Cause

All these years later, the ripple effects of Rebel Without a Cause are still reverberating throughout pop culture. Nicholas Ray's 1955 movie is one of those features whose influence on cinema as a whole really can't be overstated. Whether it's the costume worn by protagonist Jim Stark (James Dean), certain lines of dialogue, or just the way Stewart Stern's screenplay depicted teenage angst, Rebel Without a Cause is still influencing our world in 2020. Having finally watched it for the first time, it's not hard to see why. Rebel Without a Cause doesn't feel like a relic from a bygone era, it still feels as fresh and relevant as ever.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

In Laman's Terms: Will Ferrell and His Consistent Commitment to Colorful Comedic Characters

In hindsight, Will Ferrell was the last of a generation.

In his first forays into the world of being a comedy leading man, Ferrell, like fellow Saturday Night Live vets Mike Myers and Adam Sandler, played big broad characters in PG-13 comedies. These were people with outfits so distinct they were practically tailor-made for Halloween costumes, accents as big as all outdoors, and perhaps even a catchphrase or two. Ferrell's oversized characters could contain traces of recognizable human qualities. For the most part, though, Ferrell's creations were so humorous because of how detached they were from reality.

Driveways Is as Peaceful As it Is Poignant

Shy youngster Cody (Lucas Jaye) and his mom, Kathy (Hong Chau), have come to clean house. Literally. Kathy's sister has just passed away and has left a home that's packed to the gills with assorted items. Kathy and Cody are gonna have to clean it all out before they can put the house on the market. While tackling this seemingly insurmountable task, Cody runs into next-door neighbor Del (Brian Dennehy). An elderly Korean War veteran, Del may keep to himself but he and Cody eventually strike up a friendship. It's a bond that provides both of them with plenty of amusement as they each navigate where they're going in their lives next.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Will Smith and Michael Mann Prove to be The Greatest Parts of Ali

Muhammad Ali (Will Smith) was a larger-than-life figure. Ergo, it's no surprise a movie about his life like Ali begins with a similarly grandiose bang.  Michael Mann's 2001 chronicle of the boxer and civil rights advocate kicks off with a nine-minute sequence that covers a whole lot of ground in a short period of time. Set against a rendition of Bring It On Home to Me, Ali proceeds to show its titular lead in the middle of a boxing match, meeting best friend Drew Brown (Jamie Foxx), enduring rigorous training and even a flashback to adolescent Ali having to sit in the back of a segregated bus. It's an appropriately expansive kick-off for what turns out to be an expansive motion picture.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Miss Juneteenth is an Easygoing and Impressive Directorial Debut For Channing Godfrey Peoples

Every parent wants their child to have the best. For Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), that means making sure her daughter, Kai Jones (Alexis Chikaeze) wins the local Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant. After all, winners to this competition get a scholarship to any prestigious all-Black college in Texas. That's the kind of education Turquoise, whose struggling to pay her home's electricity bill, just can't afford. It's also the kind of education that Turquoise knows will give Kai the opportunity to lead a better life than her mother. Miss Juneteenth is the story of a mother wanting the best for her daughter and the ways that this pursuit impacts the dynamic between Turquoise and Kai.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Y tu mamá también See's Alfonso Cuaron At His Most Raunchy And Most Reflective

Alfonso Cuaron's thirty years of directorial experience are interestingly varied. Like most filmmakers, Cuaron kicked off his filmography with a small independent feature. In his case, it was the 1991 movie Solo con to Pareja. Afterward, though, that's where Cuaron just goes delightfully all over the map. Cuaron proceeded to do not one but two fantasy kids movies, plus a grim apocalyptic drama, a visual-effects heavy 3D spectacle and, most recently, an intimate portrait of his own upbringing in Mexico City. Much like Steven Soderbergh or Billy Wilder, Cuaron's love for the medium of film is reflected in how he refuses to stick to just one genre. Cuaron wants to do anything and everything in an effort to explore all the possibilities this medium has to offer.

7500 Fails To Take Flight

It was supposed to be an ordinary flight for pilot and 7500 protagonist Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Just steer the aircraft from Berlin, Germany to Paris, France. Just another day for a guy whose life takes place in the sky. Unfortunately, shortly into the fight, something goes horribly wrong. A group of terrorists take the cabin of the plane and begin to bang on the cockpit door. They want in, but Ellis, obeying protocol, refuses to let them in. The terrorists insist they'll start killing hostages if their demands aren't met. Screenwriter Patrick Vollrath attempts to enhance the intensity of this scenario by filming almost the entirety of 7500 from the cockpit of the plane.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What Does Cinemark's Reopening Plan Look Like?

If you live in Texas, chances are you live near a Cinemark. Though we've got plenty of AMC Theaters, Studio Movie Grill's, and Alamo Drafthouse's in Texas, Cinemark, which was founded in Texas, is the movie theater that dominates the state. That means any news about the chain will be big news for Texas denizens. That's especially true when it concerns plans for the theater chain to reopen its doors in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. After months of closure, Cinemark will be reopening five Dallas/Fort Worth locations on Friday, June 19 (including Cinemark West Plano) while planning to open further locations each Friday from there.

In Laman's Terms: The Terrors and Joys of the Unknown, As Explained By Cinema

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

This piece was originally submitted to Bright Wall/Dark Room as a pitch for their June 2020 prompt of "The Unknown". They're an excellent outlet and I'd highly recommend checking them out, particularly this Fantastic Mr. Fox piece from my colleague and friend Ethan Warren!

            How can something terrifying also be exciting?

            How can a sensation that provokes nightmares also create real-life experiences that feel like a dream come true?

            It sounds impossible, but that is the very nature of the unknown. Though the unknown comes in different forms for each person, it frequently emerges as something that’s both imposing and tantalizing. An impending job promotion, for example, can instill dread in how unprepared you feel. Simultaneously, the prospect of all your hard work paying off in this promotion can make you heart soar. The unknown can, to quote the Huey Lewis and the News song “Power of Love”, “Make one man weep, make another man sing”.

            The complicated nature of the unknown has been reflected in cinema dating back to its earliest days. After all, cinema has always been used to reflect real-world experiences. No wonder, then, that filmmaking has always explored the universal experience of confronting a nuanced form of the unknown. For example, the very first Best Picture winner, Wings, was hinged on the uncertainty surrounding who would survive in World War I. This was used to inform both its suspense and its central love triangle. All the way back in 1927, the unknown was already being utilized in movies to convey both potential corpses and potential love.
           Twelve years later, one of the most iconic takes on the idea of the unknown being a complicated entity was released. Such a famous depiction emerged in the fantasy story The Wizard of Oz. Though aimed at children, there is a reason this feature has managed to be equally captivating for adults. The way The Wizard of Oz uses its titular location as a reflection of the finer nuances of the unknown is something audiences of all ages can appreciate.

Of course, The Wizard of Oz protagonist Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) doesn’t appreciate the finer nuances of the unknown land of Oz when she first arrives here. Once she enters Oz by inadvertently murdering a witch and incurring the wrath of a Wicked Witch, all Dorothy wants to do is go back to her far more familiar Kansas home. As she travels down the Yellow Brick Road, though, Dorothy begins to realize this unknown terrain isn’t exclusively a terrifying place. Though full of new sights, Oz is also home to friendly fellows like The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) and The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) as well as truly wondrous sights in the Emerald City.

On a surface-level, this multi-faceted approach to what Dorothy encounters on her journey helps to instill a sense of suspense in the proceedings. The viewer is never certain whether the next person Dorothy is going to encounter will be a friend or foe. On a deeper level, though, embracing this measured approach has far richer dividends. Going this realistically nuanced route with the unknown fantastical world of Oz grounds Dorothy’s journey in something real.

Watching Dorothy thrive in the best parts of the unknown and endure through the worst parts of the unknown is something views can recognize as reflective of their own experiences with the unknown. Delving into wholly new scenarios rarely delivers only joys or only misery. These experiences tend to be marked more by shades of grey than anything else. Though The Wizard of Oz occupies a world lions sing and monkeys fly, its take on the unknown isn’t just realistic, it’s also reassuring. We, the audience, can take comfort in knowing that there can be something good in the unfamiliar, we can find our version of The Scarecrow or Cowardly Lion in the middle of uncertain circumstances. At the same, The Wizard of Oz also reminds us that we can endure through the worst parts of the unknown just like how Dorothy perseveres through the most challenging portions of her trek through Oz.

The Wizard of Oz may be one of the famous examples of a movie tackling the finer nuances of the unknown but it’s not the only film to approach this topic. Another sterling example of this approach can be found in Donna Deitch’s 1985 masterpiece Desert Hearts. The Dorothy Gale of Desert Hearts is Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver), an English professor who's just moved to Reno, Arizona in the year 1952. While here, Vivian keeps crossing paths with local painter Cay Riverr (Patricia Charbonneau).

While Bell is figuring out where her life is going to go next, she keeps getting her attention captured by Riverr. What is it about Riverr that Bell keeps getting entranced by? Maybe it’s just the way Riverr doesn’t care about what others think of her. Maybe it’s Riverr’s gifted talents as an artist. Or, maybe, just maybe, Bell is developing romantic feelings for Riverr.

In Desert Hearts, the unknown is represented by Vivian Bell embracing her sexuality. This is a part of herself she hasn’t ever had a chance to explore. The sensation of loving a woman, of having her skin pressed against another lady, of tasting Riverr’s lips on hers, those are all unknown’s to Bell. Those unfamiliar qualities make Desert Hearts’ version of the unknown sound like a reasonably manageable entity. But Bell’s confrontation with the unknown is tinged with danger from more concretely defined elements.

 Specifically, the societal consequences of what happens if Bell and Riverr strike up a romance are always lingering in the back of her mind. How can Bell even entertain the notion of embracing this unknown part of herself when American society is inherently constructed to demonize homosexuality? Bell gets a reminder of the dire consequences of exploring this form of the unknown shortly after she and Riverr share a kiss. Thrown out of the guest ranch she was staying at, Bell is chastised by the owner of this ranch, who claims Bell has “corrupted” Riverr.

The prospect of embracing your own sexuality and/or gender is rife with unknowns that should only be exciting. Defining who you are in your LGBTQIA+ identity should be about painting a blank canvas with your own vibrant hues. But as Vivian Bell knows all too well, that personal explorations gets complicated with real-world prejudices. Whether the year’s 1952 or 2020, bigotry in a myriad of forms makes the unknown that’s tied into LGBTQIA+ identity terrifying rather than exhilarating.  A form of the unknown that should be exhilarating is instead poisoned by intolerance.

Desert Hearts’ has an extremely authentic depiction of just how harrowing exploring the unknown can be for queer people. However, that authenticity doesn’t come at the expense of joy. Vivian Bell and Cay Rivver are not solely defined by the suffocating insularity surrounding them. Instead, Desert Hearts eventually lets them travel into the unknown together. Vivian Bell finally gets to sleep with Cay Rivver. As they begin to embrace each other, Bell openly expresses her nervousness doing this. Why wouldn’t she be? Desert Hearts presents it as totally normal and natural to fee flustered about engaging in unfamiliar sexual acts. This is one of the many instances that Deitch’s filmmaking lends an empathetic lens to souls exploring the unknown.

In the process of going somewhere totally new sexually, Vivian Bell finds herself. All the intolerance that so intimidated Bell hasn’t suddenly vanished. A new form of intimidating unknown now lingers in their lives as they debate what to do about their relationship going forward. Still, Bell has mustered up the courage to cross over into the unknown and not only lived to tell the tale, she is discovered who she is. Bell came to Reno, Arizona unsure of what her future entails. Now, by voyaging into the unknown, she ends Desert Hearts certain about so much in her life. This includes what she wants more than anything in this world: “Another 40 minutes” with Cay Riverr.

Deitch’s writing in Desert Hearts astutely explores what prejudiced elements of society can keep LGBTQIA+ individuals from fully exploring unknown parts of themselves. At the same time, she also provides hope and encouragement in her depiction of Vivian Bell exploring the queer unknown. This character's story is as much about the self-fulfillment and quiet joys that can be found in that queer unknown as anything else. It can be understandably hard to remember those positive elements of the queer unknown considering how daunting societally-ingrained homophobia is.

But those positive elements, they’re always there, lurking in the unknown and waiting to leave an impact, just like how Vivian Bell’s romance with Cay Rivver has forever altered her own life.

Thirty-three years after Desert Hearts, a film came along to offer up one of the very best cinematic depictions of the nuanced unknown. Who knew such a depiction would come from a movie featuring Spider-Ham?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a 2018 animated feature from directors Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman, Into the Spider-Verse’s version of the unknown manifests in the form of newly-discovered superpowers bestowed on protagonist Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). Previously just another High Schooler in New York City, Morales awakens one morning with all kinds of new abilities. Morales, much like the cities recently deceased superhero Spider-Man, has been bestowed with enhanced reflexes, the ability to crawl up walls and even has his own Spider-Sense.

Miles’ status quo is gone. In its place is a new normal rife with unknowns. How will he possibly live up to the reputation of his predecessor? Who are these supervillains bent on killing me? Worst of all, what will his Dad, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), think if he ever finds out? Police officer Davis hates Spider-Man and his vigilante approach to justice. Previously, Morales just rolled his eyes at his dad’s extended tirades at Spider-Man. Now, the words of his father terrify Morales. Miles has become the very thing his own father hates.

Miles grappling with how his father will respond to his new superpowers can’t help but echo an aspect of the queer unknown. Specifically, it is not hard to see parallels in Miles’ situation to LGBTQIA+ individuals grappling with how their parents will respond to their own sexuality and/or gender orientation. Miles soft but petrified query to his father of “Do you really hate Spider-Man?” echoes queer people delicately probing their own parents on how they might possibly feel about the LGBTQIA+ community.

For both Miles and inquisitive queer people, venturing into this form of the unknown is like walking on eggshells while crossing a trapeze wire situated above a tank of piranhas. How will their parents respond? Will you accidentally reveal your own identity in the process of asking these questions? Will your parents become suspicious? Uncertainty defines the most anxiety-inducing manifestations of this facet of the queer unknown that’s reflected in this part of Miles’ personal struggle.

Miles’ navigating his father’s feelings regarding Spider-Man isn’t the only form the unknown takes in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There is also the unknown of what Miles Morales as Spider-Man even looks like. At first, Miles decided to confront this unknown simply by taking cues from the previous Spider-Man. Decked out in a janky Spider-Man Halloween costume, Miles finds trouble merely following in the footsteps of the old. That is not the best way to cross the path leading one into the unknown.

Instead, Miles finds solace within the unknown in a manner similar to Vivian Bell. He begins to embrace the very traits that make him unique. Instead of trying to confront the unknown by being like the old Spider-Man, Miles eventually puts his own spin on the web crawler's persona. Spray-painting the famous Spider-Man costume with his own style of graffiti art, Miles is now able to face the unknown in an outfit that says “Miles Morales” rather than regurgitating the familiar.

This characters willingness to embrace himself while facing off against the unknown defines the most famous sequence of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. As Miles races to the rooftop of a building so that he can test out his new web-shooters, Miles is accompanied by the song What’s Up Danger? and voices from important figures in his life. Among those voices is some sage advice from Miles’ mentor Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson). The advice is Parker’s earlier response to Miles inquiring when he’ll know he’s Spider-Man. Parker simply answered, “You won’t.” Even so, though, Parker informs Miles that you’ve gotta take “a leap of faith”.

Parker’s advice reflects how, both in Miles’ journey and in the real world, there’s really nothing, can prepare one for exploring the unknown. It can be an awkward journey stuffed with disappointment, challenges and anxiety. It is never an easy trek but it is one we all have to take. We all must venture forth into the unknown and that goes for Miles Morales, who now plans to take that “leap of faith” advice to its most literal extreme. Perched high above New York City, Miles jumps.

Despite all those risks, despite the uncertainty, despite all the unknowns that have defined Miles’ journey up to this point, Miles jumps from that building. No longer does the unknown petrify Miles. Now armed with confidence in the qualities totally unique to himself, Miles plunges into the unknown head-first, ready to save the people and city he loves. Miles’ own mentor even gets to heed his own advice at the end of the film when it comes time to return to his own dimension. Terrified that he won’t be able to make things right with his ex-wife Mary Jane Watson, Miles reminds Peter that he won’t ever know that everything will work out. But that’s OK. Because, just like Miles embracing himself, Peter’s own struggles require a leap of faith.

Miles Morales and his journey reflect how we rarely know in life when we are ready for something new. That’s why the unknown instills such complicated feelings inside of us. If we felt prepared for a new promotion, a new relationship or any other deviation for the norm, we could all face the unknown with bravado to spare. But much like Miles Morales grappling with his superpower, we rarely feel prepared for new developments. To face the unknown is to face the truth that we don’t always have all the answers. How utterly terrifying.

In the journey of Miles Morales, we see that it’s okay not to have the answers. It’s okay to be scared of the unknown. Such feelings are normalized as we watch Miles Morales experience the same combination of dread, anxiety and excitement over the prospect of being a new Spider-Man. Even in a film whose animation style is as much of a departure from reality as possible, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse taps into viscerally real experiences of confronting the unknown.

Though all three of these movies inhabit drastically different genres, tones and eras of Hollywood history, they’re all still united in one critical area. Across The Wizard of Oz, Desert Hearts and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, viewers can find explorations of the unknown that resonate as authentic. Through these films, the struggles and joys found in exploring the unknown are reflected with all their nuances intact, as are the outside forces that influence trepidation about even beginning to venture into the unknown.

The unknown is daunting. There’s no getting around that. But as this trio of films prove, entering the unknown is essential if we are to ever truly embrace who we are as individual people.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Two Sides of One Man Struggle to Coexist in Beach Rats

Frankie (Harris Dickinson) has a secret. He spends his night surfing internet chatrooms for gay men looking for hookups. It's all part of Frankie exploring his sexuality. Any person exploring this side of themselves should feel glorious getting to touch upon new parts of themselves. Unfortunately, Frankie is daunted by how his family, and especially his ultra-macho friends would take this news. So he keeps this side of himself buried away. Frankie remains firmly in the closet save for brief indulgences like nighttime sex sessions with men on those internet chatrooms. Frankie hopes to draw a firm line between "the real world" and his suppressed homosexuality. How long can the divide last? What lengths will Frankie go to keep this part of himself a secret?

Monday, June 15, 2020

The King of Staten Island Isn't Quite Comedic Royalty

Despite what the title of The King of Staten Island would have you think, Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) is far from royalty. He's a 24-year-old stoner still reeling so hard from the death of his firefighter papa who's going nowhere in life. Carlin's got a passion for tattoos, a constant detached attitude, and absolutely no plans to move out of his mom's (Marisa Tomei) house. Any changes in his life, like the departure of his High School graduate sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), or his mom getting a new boyfriend in the form of Ray Bishop (Bill Burr), tend to bring out the most frustrated side of Scott. What'll it take for him to grow up? Scott may never be a king of Staten Island but can he at least become something resembling an adult?

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Chi-Raq Goes For Broke Creatively And Succeeds More Often Than Not

Chi-Raq, a 2015 effort from writer/director Spike Lee, establishes its go-for-broke tendencies right off the bat by opening with what's basically an overture. A Nick Cannon song entitled Pray 4 My City plays in its entirety while lyrics for the song flash up on the screen against a black background. Once it's finished, we get a unique rendering of the map of America while audio of a pastor's preaching playing in the background. Only then does the story of Chi-Raq get underway. Kicking off with two separate prologues is a bold move and it's one that establishes right away that Chi-Raq is not going to be a movie aiming to be ordinary. Instead, Chi-Raq wants to be bold, unique, and, most importantly, say something about the modern world.

What Hath Artemis Fowl Wrought?

Why is Artemis Fowl getting released in 2020? At least there'd be some logic to its existence if it had debuted in the years between 2006 and 2010. That's when Harry Potter knock-off's like Eragon, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising and The Spiderwick Chronicles ran rampant. Artemis Fowl would have fit right in. But in 2020, even knock-off's of The Hunger Games have leveled off, Harry Potter knock-off's are practically extinct. Artemis Fowl now emerges in 2020 as a visitor from the distant past, from an era when The Black Eyed Peas topped the Billboard charts, and the Tiger Woods scandal was still fresh news. Whatever year it premiered in, though, Artemis Fowl, which is now streaming on Disney+, would still register as a totally bad movie.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Past Becomes The Present In Da 5 Bloods

Da 5 Bloods makes it no secret where its creative inspirations lie. Any movie about men heading off to unearth gold and developing distrust with one another is bound to draw comparisons to The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Writer/director Spike Lee has been open on that influences as well as how Da 5 Bloods takes inspiration from another Vietnam film, Apocalypse Now. Meanwhile, I myself found Da 5 Bloods frequently evoking William Friedkin's Sorcerer. Da 5 Bloods has an obvious rich love for the cinema of the past. However, this is not one of those movies that lean on homages alone. Instead, past films are used as a springboard for something new, something exciting, and something boldly-realized.

Monsters and Men Is a Timely Look at the Quiet Courage Needed to Confront Systemic Racism

CW: References to police brutality ahead 

Monsters and Men is a 2018 feature from writer/director Reinaldo Marcus Green that was intended to be inspired by the death of Eric Garner. Though we don't technically see the death of the Eric Garner stand-in at any point in Monsters and Men, pieces of dialogue (particularly mention of the now-deceased person being murdered by police for selling cigarettes) make it clear who this story is about. Of course, Eric Garner is not the first Black person to die at the hands of the police. Acts of violence on the parts of police officers motivated by racism have been going on since basically the police were invented. They've also certainly been rampant in the six years since Garner's death.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Down in the Delta Is Top-Shelf Feel-Good Entertainment

Down in the Delta focuses on a family living in Chicago plagued by turmoil. Loretta Sinclair (Alfre Woodard) struggles to secure a job to take care of her two kids while Loretta's mom, Rosa Sinclair (Mary Alice), is forced to take care of the family. Something's gotta change. Rosa, after talking to some of their relatives on a phone call, comes up with an idea. Perhaps a return to the family's root in Mississippi will turn things in Loretta's life around. Loretta and her two kids aren't exactly enthusiastic about the idea of leaving their familiar surroundings for an extended stay at Uncle Earl's (Al Freeman Jr.) house. But the last thing Loretta's family wanted could end up being just the thing they needed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Writer/Director Eliza Hittman Delivers Subtly Vocal Filmmaking With Never Rarely Sometimes Always

CW: Mentions of abortion, sexual harrasment and sexist language ahead.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always begins with its protagonist getting silenced.

In Laman's Terms: Gone With the Wind and Reconsidering What Makes a "Great" Movie

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: References to racism & murder ahead

The ongoing worldwide protests responding to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others as a result of case-based police brutality have already had impressive ripple effects. Most importantly, the city of Minneapolis will be dissolving its police department in favor of an alternate form of law enforcement. Statues of Confederate figures are being torn down while the phrase Black Lives Matter is becoming a part of the mainstream lexicon. There's so much work left to be done, including bringing the murderers of Breonna Taylor to justice. But it's clear that change is in the air. People are inspiring a revolt against the racist status quo and it's incredible to watch unfold.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Platform Is Too Derivative To Really Reach Its Full Potential

Goreng (Ivan Massague) awakens in a small cell with a single companion, an elderly man named Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor). They're in an entity called a Vertical Self-Management Center, which consists of hundreds of floors each housing two people. Every day, a floating table filled with food travels downward in the facility. The people in the top floors get all the good food while those on lower floors either get stuck with scraps or have to resort to more vicious ways of surviving. Goreng is stuck on floor 48 and gets a first-hand glimpse at what desperate means people will turn to in the name of survival. Why would Goreng even come here? Well, he spends a couple months here, he gets a diploma.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Ghost World Comes Alive Thanks To Sharp Writing & Performances

It took me a minute to fully get into Ghost World. At first, the pervasively jaded sensibilities of this Terry Zwigoff directorial effort just were rubbing me the wrong way. Maybe it was just the fact that I was watching a movie about characters who don't care about anything when there were so many real-world events to care about? Timing is everything, including when you watch certain movies. Anywho, it wasn't long before Ghost World won me over just as it's proved irresistible for so many others in the nineteen years since it debut. Turn out there's a lot more going on underneath its jaded surface beyond just teenage nihilism.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Spaceship Earth Is a Documentary That Could Have Used More Humanity

The title of Spaceship Earth refers to Biosphere 2, an enclosed location in the Arizona desert that replicates Earth's ecosystem. This domain has been created in an attempt to create a sustainable environment that could be used on other planets. You could just build another biosphere on Mars and, presto! You've got a location where astronauts can live without any problem! A group of people are placed inside Biosphere 2 to see if it's possible for human beings to survive just in here, with no contact with the outside world, for two years. If they succeed, both the participants of this project and its backers believe they will have made a scientific breakthrough.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Color Out of Space Lays Down Freaky Sci-Fi Horror On a Freaked Out Family

Families always change over time. It's only natural. The sun rises and sets, leaves turn brown and families evolve, it's all a part of life. But rarely has a family changed so significantly in such a short period of time as the Gardner family. Once upon a time, Nathan (Nicolas Cage), Theresa (Joely Richardson), Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), Brenny (Brendan Meyer), and Jack (Julian Hillard) were just a happy family living on an isolated farm with their alpaca's. But ever since a meteorite plopped into their front yard, strange things have been happening. Strange lights keep flashing on and off. Nathan's been acting so irrational. Strange plants keep popping up. Could it all just be a bunch of peculiar coincidences? Or is something much more sinister happening here?

Shirley as an Excellent Page-Turner of a Movie

Speaking from experience, the process of being a writer is an utterly strange one. One would like to imagine it's easy as just sitting down at a laptop and typing away at keys that magically produce the next great American novel. Instead, it's all about patience, trial-and-error. You'll write yourself into many dead ends. Distractions creep in easily. You might spend just as much time worrying about if you're doing enough writing as you actually do the writing. The process of writing is ultimately rewarding but boy does it have its strange effects. If the new Josephine Decker movie Shirley is any indication, author Shirley Jackson, the writer behind The Haunting of Hill House among other works, could attest to that.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Orlando Is a Sweeping Period Piece With an Unforgettable Tilda Swinton Performance

What is it about Tilda Swinton that makes her such a compelling actor? I mean, on the most basic level, she's just a good performer, one who thoroughly commits herself to any role she takes on. But I'd also say that what makes Swinton so captivating is how she always stands out from the crowd. Many performers excel by channeling an "everyman" quality, but Swinton's de facto aura suggests there's something idiosyncratic about her. It's an aspect of her acting that's especially impressive since she can use it in so many different styles and tones. In Lynne Ramsey's We Need to Talk About Kevin, for example, Swinton uses this aspect of her acting style in a haunting manner to indicate how detached her character is from the rest of society after her son becomes a school-shooter.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Come to Daddy Doesn't Quite Fulfill Its Potential

Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) hasn't seen his father in a while. In fact, he hasn't seen him since his dad abandoned Norval and his mom early on in Norval's childhood. That decades of distance has come to a close now that Norval has been invited up to his dad's beachside house. Now reunited, Norval and his dad Brian (Stephen McHattie) aren't hitting it off perfectly. Brian is a tough-as-nails kind of guy who is always pushing Norval's buttons. Meanwhile, Norval just can't seem to find any way to please this dad he never knew. There's already plenty of conflicts arising from this father/son reunion before strange revelations come to light on who Norval's dad really is and what Brian has been up to all these years.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Bringing Out the Dead Is Another Spiritually-Conscious Winner From Martin Scorsese

Death haunts Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage). That's to be expected given that he works as an ambulance driver in New York City. But for Pierce, it goes deeper than that. During his graveyard shifts, he's constantly plagued by hallucinations of a young woman he couldn't save. Every sidewalk he glances at or stores he wanders into, there she is, reminding him of how he failed her. His entire job is dedicated to helping people & saving lives yet here's a reminder that he failed at that job. Over the course of Bringing Out the Dead, Pierce grapples with the state of his life while interacting with a host of characters who have their own relationship with the fine line between life & death.

In Laman's Terms: What Can We Do To Fight For Change?

"I'm no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I'm changing the things I can't accept." -Angela Davis

Today is a day for listening.

Of course, every day we should be listening to members of marginalized populations to understand their plight. But right now is especially important as protests occur all over the world in response to the racist police brutality that caused the death of George Floyd and so many others before him. White supremacy is a real threat in America and all across the globe. Courageous protestors are taking to the streets right now to fight back against not only these deaths but systemic institutions that protect white people from suffering any consequences for their racist violence. A problem this widespread, this enormous, this pervasive requires a response of equally gigantic magnitude.

In lieu of a traditional In Laman's Terms essay, this week's column will be dedicated to highlighting Black voices and charities dedicated to fighting racism. Put whatever money you can into these causes, keep on marching through the streets, and always stand up against racism in whatever form it takes.

First, let's look at speeches and columns about Black experiences If there are any recent powerful columns or speeches that you don't see on this list, please feel free to drop them in the comment section.

John Boyega's speech at a Black Lives Matter rally.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's reflection on the George Floyd protests.

George Floyd, Houston’s Protests, and Living Without the Benefit of the Doubt by Bryan Washington.

Nicole Byer's Instagram Post about how to talk to White kids about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Police Report to Me But I Knew I Couldn't Protect My Son by Keisha Lance Bottoms.

A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 'Fed Up'-rising by Michael Harriot.

America Whooped My Ass, And I Still Smile by Leon Ford

Now, as for charities fighting against racism that you can donate to, there's plenty of options. Here are just a sample of options:

The Black Lives Matter organization

Black Visions Collective

Communities United Against Police Brutality

Emergency Release Fund

NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund

National Bail Out

Reclaim the Block

Richmond Community Bail Fund

Further charities and organizations you can donate to can be found herehere and here.

Today isn't just a day for listening. It's also a day for action.

March through the streets.
Give money to essential organizations.
Do whatever you can to fight back against racism.

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." - James Baldwin

Monday, June 1, 2020

Fight Club Proves Surprisingly Relevant in 2020

David Fincher is an unusual entry into the canon of modern-day acclaimed auteurs. He's a widely-revered filmmaker, and rightfully so, but he tends to eschew the types of movies that usually garner American filmmakers their enormously influential reputation. Fincher is known for his grimier thrillers that don't ease up on the blood or the violence. The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Se7en, Gone Girl, Fincher loves seedy cinema. Considering his exceptional batting average as a filmmaker, thank goodness for his fascination with these darker corners of storytelling. Heck, the fact that his lone dud, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was a much more traditional drama indicates why Fincher stays in this lane so often.