Friday, July 31, 2020

Here's The Scoop: Shattered Glass Is An Exceptional (And Tragically Timely) Film

It can be easy to think that the age of “alternative facts” is something new. Somehow, humans have never been susceptible to inaccuracy on such a wide scale until now. While the failed reality TV show host running America may have made this trait more overt than ever before, falsehoods have always had a prominent place in American society. Supermarket tabloids claiming that “Elvis is alive!” have always existed. Politicians who spread smears about marginalized populations have always been around. And journalists, like Shattered Glass lead Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), have always been capable of spreading lies for their own benefit.  

As we begin Shattered Glass, though, Stephen Glass is not portrayed as someone who lies. Instead, we are introduced to him talking to a room full of kids at his old school. In this framing device, he’s taking these youngsters, who all want to get into the writing industry, through his job working for The New Republic. This is a publication read by world leaders around the world, including the President of the United States. What Glass and his coworkers have written influence people with real authority. That’s why Glass takes his job so seriously. Through his explanations to the students (and, by proxy, to the viewer) about how an average New Republic article is put together, we can see just how much work goes into a single New Republic article.

Glass proves to be a great person to clarify how a New Republic magazine gets made. Glass has a quietly charismatic air about him that he uses to woo over his co-workers. He can win anyone in this office over by complimenting their writing, their jewelry, any specific quality about them. That same affable quality is ingeniously used to make the exposition about the New Republic digestible to the viewer. Glass isn’t counting a stiff Wikipedia summary of this publication. He’s trying to take his listeners on a journey that emphasizes the sheer majesty of working for something like New Republic. You’re hanging onto his every word as he speaks. Meanwhile, the editing from Jeffrey Ford deftly cuts between Glass in the classroom and the various departments working together to bring this magazine to life. The rapid but precise sense of timing in these cuts conveys the idea that everybody is connected at New Republic.

The screenplay by Billy Ray (who also directs) is so effective at getting the viewer to be cast under Glass’ spell. That make the gradual reveal that something is askew with his writing (namely that Glass is making up his stories) hits like a ton of bricks. In this regard, Shattered Glass reminded me of this years similarly top-notch movie Bad Education. Both derive a lot of engrossing entertainment out of peeling back the layers of lies surrounding an influential human being. Also in both cases, the levels of fraud reveal themselves in a gradual manner.

In the case of Shattered Glass, such reveals beautifully play off earlier scenes of the movie that immerse us in the perspective of Stephen Glass. Ray’s writing and directing is so good at establishing a sense of trustworthiness between the viewer and Glass. This character lures us into their world and creates a seemingly unshakeable status quo we can hold onto. As it becomes more and more clear what Glass has actually been up to, well, it becomes downright engrossing to watch the world shift beneath the viewers’ feet. Both the lying and the moviegoer are fascinatingly dragged back into reality, primarily at the hands of New Republic editor Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard).

Lane is an excellent example of the kind of thoughtful writing Billy Ray incorporates throughout Shattered Glass. His character is widely derided by his co-workers as just a one-note killjoy. But the film itself always gives Lane a greater deal of complexity. This is evident early on when Lane, upon being offered a very lucrative new job, doesn’t just revel in the idea of more power. He expresses genuine trepidation over taking on this new job and how it’ll affect his co-workers. Throughout the rest of the movie, Lane maintains this level of nuance in the face of a protagonist with a warped worldview casting himself as a put-upon martyr.

Glass starts out Shattered Glass as an irresistible individual you could listen to for hours on end. Why wouldn’t schoolkids hang on his every word? Glass ends Shattered Glass sitting alone in an empty schoolroom. Like much of his writing, Glass’ experience of talking to the next generation of newspaper writers was all in his head. The journey from the hopeful start of Shattered Glass to its somber end is one rife made even more compelling by the lead performances of Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard. Both take their respective characters into such unexpected yet riveting directions throughout the course of Shattered Glass. In their performances, both actors demonstrate how the fight against falsified information posing as the truth is nothing new. What’s old is new again. It’s scary how timeless this story is. On the other hand, it’s far more pleasing how timeless well-made movies like Shattered Glass are.

Max Dugan Returns Is Pleasant Enough Filmmaking. Sometimes, That's Enough

I know by writing this review I'm getting into deep water. The Max Dugan Returns internet discourse has gotten...well, there's no other way to put it, it's gotten ugly. Lives have been torn apart. Careers have been savaged. Friendship obliterated. All in the name of discussing a 1983 Herbert Ross film that  the kids of today just can't stop talking about. But I am a film critic. I do not shy away from a challenge. To walk into the belly of this beast is to fulfill my obligations as a writer of cinema. Onward, everyone! Let us delve into the realm of Max Dugan Returns discourse! May we all emerge from this voyage unscathed from the fury of Donald Sutherland Stans!

Who is Max Dugan returning to, you ask? Ah, that would be Nora McPhee (Marsha Mason). She could use a break. Everything in her life is going haywire. She’s trying to raise her teenage son, Michael (Matthew Broderick), all on her own. Everything in her house seems to be breaking down. On top of it all, she can’t turn her back without her mode of transportation (whether it  be car or motorcycle) stolen. You know what would help her out? Cash. Lots of it. That’s just what Max Dugan (Jason Robards) brings when he shows up at her doorstep one rainy night. Max Dugan is Nora’s long-absent father. Turns out, he’s been spending the last few decades committing crimes and getting revenge on some real estate brokers.

Now, Max Dugan has an illness that’s given him only six months to live. He’d like to live with Nora McPhee for a little time under a new alias so that he can have a chance to connect with the grandson he never knew. Nora doesn’t exactly like that idea, especially since she’s gotten romantically involved with police officer Brian Costello (Donald Sutherland). Max Dugan tries to assuage her worries by using all of his money to buy her and Matthew every lavish gift you could imagine. The greatest gift of all, though, are the moments where Nora and Matthew get a chance to actually connect with the long-absent Max Dugan.

The best way to describe Max Dugan Returns is that it’s the perfect rainy Saturday afternoon movie. It’s undemanding, it doesn’t break the mold, but it proves perfectly pleasant in its own right. Part of that comes from Neil Simon’s screenplay. Nothing in Max Dugan Returns approaches Simon’s best work as either a screenwriter or a playwright. Still, Simon knows his craft well enough to ensure that Max Dugan Returns remains perfectly agreeable. Probably the best aspect of Simon’s writing is how it’s able to involve overt displays of sentimentality without coming off as treacly.

Similarly, over-the-top sight gags involving Nora McPhee’s house being littered with state-of-the-arts gizmos or being house overhauled into a mansion could have felt out of place. But Simon constantly keeps the characters just enough in focus to make the uber-apparent qualities of Max Dugan Returns tolerable. In other words, Simon always has a character-related purpose for these unconcealed moments of poignancy and humor. Additionally, Simon smartly keeps the whole production running at a manageable 98 minutes. Meanwhile, his decision to make Max Dugan a charming schemer rather than someone super malicious goes a long way to making the whole wacky plot work like it does.

If Dugan was someone that was doing this whole family reunion for self-serving reasons (as I suspected early on in the runtime), it would be really hard to make Max Dugan Returns work as a touching comedy/drama. By committing to a more sincere character, Max Dugan Returns prospers. Still, a number of details do keep the film from being more than just a fine diversion. Chief among them is Donald Sutherland’s romantic interest character. He just doesn’t work as either a believable person or someone you wanna see Nora McPhee end up with.

He does turn out to be a great source of comedy at least. It’s unintentionally amusing just how quickly he commits to a romantic relationship with a woman he just met. A third act scene depicting Brian Costello divulging how he knew Nora’s dad was a crook also had me laughing mostly because of Sutherland’s stern expression and decision to place his hands on his hips. Not every character in Max Dugan Returns is a winner. A bold statement, I know, but I knew I was gonna drop some hot takes when I entered the Max Dugan Returns discourse.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Get Swept Up In The Overwhelming Feature The Wind

We're nearly five months into this whole pandemic thing in America. Considering we've all spent way more time in our own homes in 2020 than we ever could have imagined, I think we can all relate to The Wind protagonist Letty Mason (Lillian Gish) right about now. Specifically, the way Mason finds her home in Sweetwater, Texas to be more of a prison than a home. Granted, when it comes to COVID-19, I'll take being stir-crazy over getting sick any day of the week. Still, it's understandable to feel a touch tired of your own four walls after a while. Mason gets it, though she's got way more to worry about than just how overly familiar her home is.

"I'd Give My Left Two Lugnuts For Somethin' Like That!": A Look Back At Disney/PIXAR's Cars

I have a confession to make: I collected die-cast vehicle versions of the Cars characters.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Ryan Reynolds Delivers Unexpectedly Intense Acting in Buried

Before he made it big as Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds was a common sight in indie movies. In fact, in the last three years before he got to play a comics-accurate version of The Merc With a Mouth, Reynolds worked with indie directors like Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Marjane Satrapi and Atom Egoyan. I'll always wonder, if Deadpool had never happened or even flopped, would Reynolds have just kept on doing these types of indie movies? Would he have just quietly fizzled out doing these movies or would he have eventually found the role that catapulted him to the status of indie darling? We'll never know now that Reynolds is busy doing Deadpool movies until the end of time.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Proves That Batman Belongs In Animation

Most live-action Batman movies tend to be more interested in Batman's baddies than Batman himself. It's hard not to argue against being super interested in Michelle Pfieffer's Catwoman or Heath Ledger's Joker. Still, that's meant thoughtful examinations of Batman as a character have been left unexplored by the live-action Batman movies. Luckily, one 1993 animated feature is here to correct that. Much like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a much more thoughtful film than most live-action Spider-Man movies, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm eats the lunch of other live-action Batman movies. Between Phantasm and The LEGO Batman Movie, maybe Batman should just star in animated movies from now on?

In Laman's Terms: What Happened to the Big Screen Comedy (PART TWO)

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

Last week, we started an examination of what happened to the big-screen comedy over the last decade. In that timeframe, big-screen comedies have frequently faced challenges at the box office. After looking at some issues plaguing modern comedies last week, this week, we turn to other problems the genre is facing as well as a look at an uncertain future.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Last Full Measure Employs Half-Measures When It Comes To Storytelling

The Last Full Measure may become my go-to example of a movie that's focused on the wrong character. Much like Million Dollar Arm or The Red Sea Diving Resort, The Last Full Measure has compelling side characters who should be the lead characters of their stories. Instead, Measure, like Arm and Resort, shines a spotlight on a generic white dude protagonist. Such a character will only prove interesting to studio executives who spend nights fretting about focus group responses. In the process, Measure undercuts its own intended message of raising awareness for veterans that have been forgotten.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Melodramatic Love is Well-Realized All Throughout Farewell to Arms

It is World War I. On the Italian front of this worldwide conflict is Lieutenant Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper), an American architect serving as an officer on an ambulance in the Italian Army. A night of drinking leads him to run into English Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes). Their first encounter isn't so splendid but a later rendezvous in a garden proves much more fulfilling for both of them. That night, the two of them make love, taking Barkley's virginity in the process. After this night of passion, they realize they love each other. Unfortunately, forces much greater than Henry and Barkley ensure the two are quickly separated. Even across endless miles of trenches and warfare, their love continues to burn bright.

Premature Captures Teenage Angst Both Intimately and From a Distance

Seventeen-year-old poet Ayanna (Zora Howard) is preparing for a lot of big changes in her life. She's about to leave her small home in Harlem for college. The next phase of her life is about to begin. But before that monumental change occurs, it's time for one last summer vacation. Over the course of this summer, Ayanna begins to take up a romantic affair with an older man by the name of Isaiah (Joshua Boone). Ayanna becomes enamored with him, though Isaiah doesn't just bring joyful romance into Ayanna's world. He also brings a number of challenges into her life, including Ayanna grappling with feelings of jealousy as well as helping to stir up animosity between Ayanna and her mother.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Radioactive is an Overstuffed Movie About a Scientific Trailblazer

Well, I suppose it's high-time Marie Curie got the movie biopic treatment. After all, Andrew Jackson, Dick Cheney and Christopher Columbus have all gotten their own biopics, why shouldn't Curie? Written by Jack Thorne and directed Marjane Satrapi, Radioactive chronicles the life of Curie beginning with her days as a scientist struggling to get any respect from her male colleagues. Eventually, she partners up with eventual lover Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) and the duo begin to make great breakthroughs in fields related to radium and polonium. Further struggles in Marie Curie's life emerge from how she fails to garner any credit for her scientific innovations as well as her being demonized for carrying on an affair with a married man.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Joe Dante's Matinee Puts On One Heck of a Show

Joe Dante loves movies. Now, you have to love this artform to get into the field of making movies. But even by that standard, Joe Dante really really really loves movies. His features aren't just full of references to older films. Dante loves to pay homage to the very act of watching films themselves! Sometimes, this happens in more subtle ways, like the Gremlins watching Snow White in a theater in Gremlins. Other times, like the Gremlins overtaking a projector in Gremlins 2: The New Batch, these homages are the sole focus of a scene. Dante's love for movie-watching, as well as his filmmaking skills, reached new heights with the 1993 film Matinee.

Run, Run, Run As Fast As You Can Away From The Gingerbread Man

It was no surprise to learn that Robert Altman's The Gingerbread Man was plagued by production problems. The movie has all the hallmarks of something that's been tormented by competing creative visions. You don't just get the kind of clumsy editing or erratic tone in Gingerbread Man in just any movie. It could only come out of producers & directors having wildly different visions for how a motion picture should be. Of course, you don't have to know about its behind-the-scenes struggles to know Gingerbread Man is messy. Its journey to the big screen could have been smooth as butter and Gingerbread Man would still be a poor movie.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

First Cow Is A Divine Bovine Shrine To The Importance of Kindness

Close your eyes and picture the traditional American frontiersman. Chances are, we've all got a similar vision of what such a person looks and acts like. First Cow begins with a group of these individuals. A collection of white men adorned in fur pelts with thick beards, gruff attitudes, and a proclivity for violence. They talk about women as just objects they can use for sex and then dispose of. Anything that strikes them as unconventional, they'll try to slaughter it. The cookie for this group is a man by the name of Cookie (John Magaro). He doesn't fit the traditional American frontiersman profile at all.

In Laman's Terms: What Happened To The Big Screen Comedy At The Box Office? (PART ONE)

An image from Superbad, a hit comedy from 2007.

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 past May, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson starred in a widely-publicized comedy entitled The Hustle. Opening in 2,750 locations, it managed to gross just $35.4 million domestically. Just one week prior, the Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron comedy Long Shot grossed just $30.3 million. Save for Good Boys, these two were the highest-grossing comedies of summer 2019. The final domestic hauls for these star-studded comedies released at the start of May were remarkably similar to the $32.3 million domestic gross of Balls of Fury, a comedy dumped into theaters over Labor Day weekend 2007.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Dirty Harry's Filmmaking Is Ill-Suited For Such A Disposable Story

Look, let's get this out of the way first and foremost, yes, Dirty Harry is an exceedingly uncomfortable movie to watch. Not in an effective way either, like when you're watching a brazenly bold comedy or an intentionally upsetting drama. Harry is a wish-fulfillment fantasy for people who stamp Blue Lives Matter stickers to the back of their truck. Every white boy who feels that firing a gun off is the only way to solve any problem in the world has found their savior with the titular character of Dirty Harry. It's a character who was woefully out of date and uncomfortable back in 1972 and he's only even moreso in 2020.

Monday, July 20, 2020

On The Record is a Fascinating Exploration of Voices So Often Silenced

CW: Discussions of sexual assault

In the wake of the creation of the Me Too movement, voices of sexual assault survivors have begun to get elevated in a way that just hasn't been the norm for American society. But that doesn't mean all sexual assault survivor voices have been given equal treatment. As explored in the documentary On the Record, Black women who have had sexual assault experiences face extra struggles trying to get their stories told or even in just feeling like their experiences are worth sharing. Even as awareness increases regarding how rampant sexual assault is, the world still turns away from struggles pertaining to Black women sexual assault survivors.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

A Dry White Season Is, Tragically, Still An All Too Relevant Feature

Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) thought he had his life in South Africa figured out. In his eyes, everything was as it should be, every person in society was living in their proper place. After all, he didn't suffer in his day-to-day life. Therefore, nobody, least of all his gardener Gordon Ngubene (Winston Ntshona), could be suffering around him. Of course, du Toit carried this perception while working as a schoolteacher in a school for white children only. The horrors of a racist society were staring him in the face every day yet he failed to see these injustices. However, Ben du Toit's entire cozy worldview is shattered when Nbubene goes to investigate the sudden disappearance and death of his son.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

System Crasher Is a Harrowing and Impressive Piece of FIlmmaking

As System Crasher begins, everybody has kind of given up on nine-year-old Benni (Helena Zengel). She's been moved from foster home to foster home. Each time, something goes awry. No matter how much it seems like Benni has found the perfect home, her violent tendencies, as well as a desire to retrun to her birth mother, keep creeping up. Anger management trainer Michael Heller (Albrecht Schuch) believes he can help Benni. He takes her on a three-week trip into the woods where they'll live in a secluded cabin. Away from the world, Benni will have to find more constructive outlets for her rage. Or at least, that's the plan.

Zombi Child Uses Zombies to Explore Something Deeply Human

At the intersection of a fairy tale and a cautionary tale lies Bertrand Bonello’s Zombi Child. The newest film from the director of the 2017 feature Nocturama, Zombi Child concerns Melissa (Wislanda Louimat), who has just moved to a new school in France from her old life in Haiti. Melissa feels isolated in this environment, though she eventually finds a friend in Fanny (Louise Labeque). Her new pal is part of a very exclusive clique that eventually allows Melissa to become its newest member. Even with four new friends, Melissa still feels lonely, mostly because Fanny and her cohorts tend to (both intentionally and unintentionally) treat Melissa as an "other" in their lives.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Superman Returns Is A Rote Rehash of Past Superman Movies

Oh, what a puzzle Superman Returns is.

Describing how Superman Returns goes awry makes one sound like they're just contradicting themselves. At once, Returns is a film that's too dour but also too goofy. It's got too little action for long stretches but what action we do get is pretty uninvolving. It's slavishly devoted to the original Christoper Reeve Superman films (complete with recreating the final shot of Superman II) yet struggles to understand what actually made those classic movies work. While those grievances may all sound like vague paradoxes, they're also all true. Superman Returns strives to be the kind of epic movie event that soars above all other blockbusters. Instead, it just falls to Earth. Hard.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Superman II Is Old-Fashioned Fun In The Best Way Possible

Christopher Reeve's Superman will never fail to instill some warm and fuzzy feelings in my heart. However, I would say the most inspiring moment of Superman II does not come from Reeve's Superman. Instead, it comes from a bunch of civilians reacting to the apparent demise of Superman at the hands of General Zod (Terence Stamp). Watching an otherworldly figure defeat somebody as powerful as Superman hasn't instilled fear in their hearts. Instead, these mortal humans are now rallying together to take on Zod and his two goons. "C'mon! I know judo!" announces one Metropolis resident as everyone prepares to confront Zod.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Love and Basketball Scores At Being Well-Made Entertainment

Long-time next-door neighbors Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) have always harbored ambitions related to basketball. For Monica, those dreams entailed making history as the first woman to play in the NBA. For Quincy, it was all about living up to the legendary reputation of his basketball father Zeke McCall (Dennis Haysbert). Their shared passions eventually take them both to the University of Southern California, where they become a romantic couple. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and this one's no different. Most notably, problems arise once Quincy learns a devastating secret about his dad, all while Monica is busy trying to get any time on the basketball court.

In Laman's Terms: Kelly Reichardt and Her Comforting Lack of Answers

Jamie (Lily Gladstone) from Certain Women
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!

At the end of Kelly Reichardt's 2016 movie Certain Women, Jamie (Lily Gladstone) embarks on a quest. She's recently spent her nights chatting away with attorney Beth (Kristen Stewart) at the local diner. Now, Beth has suddenly returned to her distant hometown. Yearning to see her again. Jamie decides to head down to Beth's town. After hours of driving and a whole night of searching the town, Jamie finally stumbles down on Beth. It's the reunion Jamie has been dreaming about for so long now. Unfortunately, the reunited Jamie and Beth don't exactly have an exchange straight out of one's dreams.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Greyhound Lends A Human Touch To Wartime at Sea

Most war movies tend to star very distinctive protagonists. A mythic general. The soldiers who planted the flag at Iwo Jima. A soldier who refused to fight. Those kinds of people. Perhaps the most unique quality of Greyhound is that its lead character is intentionally framed as someone who isn't all that remarkable. Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) isn't really a notable person. His presence in this war isn't in and of itself a massive achievement. He's just a guy who has got a lady back home and would very much like to survive his time serving in World War II. Putting this guy front and center in a war movie see's Greyhound positing the idea that wars are not fought by legends, they're fought by everyday human beings.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Shock Corridor Exemplifies Samuel Fuller's Impressive Boundary-Pushing Tendencies

The works of Samuel Fuller were boundary-pushing in the best possible way. They weren't shallow edgelord poppycock, Fuller's films were actually dangerous.  They dared to cover topics that were taboo (and even still are) in mainstream Hollywood, including authentically messy portrayals of racism. Fuller wasn't afraid to make audiences uncomfortable and that talent is certainly around in his 1963 feature film Shock Corridor. Fuller's script is based around an idea that, in basic outline form, sounds like it might make a decent half-hour campfire story. In the hands of Fuller, though, it becomes something more haunting that comments on the uncaring nature of humanity.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Splice Is An Appropriately Unnerving Creature Feature

For the weekend of June 4, 2010, you had a couple of options in terms of new release movies. You could watch Killers, a Katherine Heigl/Ashton Kutcher romantic-comedy. You could also partake in Marmaduke, the newest attempt by Hollywood to make that Alvin and the Chipmunks lightning strike twice. Then there was Get Him to the Greek, starring Russell Brand (man, the movie stars of 2010 are such distant memories they might as well be the movie stars of 1920). Or you could watch Splice, an original horror film from Vincenzo Natali that goes in some...let's say strange directions. It's certainly not an ordinary film but I found it consistently engaging, even if only on a "What will they do next?" level.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Ang Lee's Hulk Dared To Smash Traditional Superhero Movie Rules

Ang Lee's Hulk is the Johnny B. Goode of superhero movies.

In Back to the Future, Marty McFly delivers a lively performance of Johnny B. Goode at a 1950s prom. Similarly, Ang Lee unleashed his unapologetically unique Hulk move onto the public in June 2003. The creative ambitions of McFly and Lee were clear. They both knew exactly what they wanted and were executing their creative visions to match those ambitions. Unfortunately, both the teens at that 1950s prom and summer moviegoing audiences in 2003 weren't receptive to what McFly and Lee, respectively, were dishing out. "I guess you guys aren't ready for that, yet," McFly said once his Johnny B. Goode performance went over like a lead balloon, "But your kids are gonna love it!"

The Secret Life of Bees Buzzes Best In Its Laidback Sequences

Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), the lead character of The Secret Life of Bees, doesn't know who her mother was. Beyond the fact that she's responsible for inadvertently shooting her mom, Lily doesn't know a thing about her mysterious mom. Her father, T. Ray Owens (Paul Bettany), certainly won't tell her anything about her mom. That means Lily has got to find out for herself. Teaming up with her family's house worker Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), Lily travels to a pink-colored house that she just knows is connected to her mom's past. The house is run by honey farmer August (Queen Latifah) and her sisters, June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo), who give Lily and Rosaleen a temporary place to stay while Lily tries to discover who her mom was.

Immortality Leads To Solid Action Filmmaking in The Old Guard

The Old Guard begins with death. The lifeless and bullet-hole ridden face of Andy (Charlize Theron) lying on the ground. Voice-over narration from Andy indicates that this isn't the first time she's been confronted with death. In fact, it's something she's so familiar with that she's become sick of it. Death would become a familiar face to you too if, like Andy, you were an immortal warrior. Andy and her companions Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are all individuals with extraordinary healing powers that have lived for centuries. They've fought in all the great historical wars in an effort to make the world a better place.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Take Some Time To Chill With Palm Springs

It's always tough coming months late to films that make a big splash on the film festival circuit. Features debuting at Sundance, Cannes, or any other big festival can generate a lot of hype at their premieres. But when they finally get released to the public months later, some films can't live up to their now-mythic stature. What was a surprise success at Tribeca is now an underwhelming experience in general release. Luckily, Palm Springs, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews six months ago, is not an example of that phenomenon. Put simply, Palm Springs is an utterly delightful comedy whether you're watching it at a film festival or on your living room couch!

The Safdie Brothers Began Their Feature Film Careers With Daddy Longlegs

Back at the start of 2020 (you know, in the Before Times), A24 re-released Uncut Gems with a new segment where the films directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, met up with Adam Sandler at a diner and took questions from various celebrities. In 2020, the Safdie Brothers are notable enough figures for Jason Bateman to know their names. But they didn't just appear out of the blue. They have been directing short films since 2005 and directed their first* feature film together with the 2009 production Daddy Longlegs. Though a much scrappier affair than their pair of recent A24 directorial efforts, Daddy Longlegs already carries a number of the defining traits of subsequent Safdie works.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

In Laman's Terms: How Will Movie Theaters Reopen Domestically?

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!

Note: The plans for reopening movie theater detailed in this piece are not ones endorsed by the author. I personally believe movie theaters should be closed until we get a COVID-19 vaccine. This piece is just dedicated to speculation on how domestic movie theaters will reopen based on recent comments from movie theater chain heads and movie studio executives. Said speculation is not based on personal desires of the author, who values human lives over being able to watch Gerard Butler movies theatrically during a pandemic.

For the longest time, the plan for reopening movies domestically seemed pretty concrete.

Tenet's refusal to move from its July 17, 2020 release date seemed to make it clear that Tenet would be the movie that ushers audiences back into multiplexes. It was the kind of perfect happy ending Hollywood loves. After months of movie theaters being closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, these locations would reopen their doors so that audiences could see the newest movie from a filmmaker whose always championed the theatrical experience. It was too good to be true.

Turns out, it was.

Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women Masterfully Uses Silence To Convey Internal Woe

All of director Kelly Reichardt's movies have made great use of silence. The extended trip to an outdoor sauna in Old Joy immediately leaps to my mind as a great example of this. Ditto the quiet endings of Meek's Cutoff and Leaves of Grass that eschew dialogue to allow the audience to fully absorb the entire movie. In her 2016 feature film Certain Women, a hushed quality washes over the proceedings even when characters are trading lines of dialogue. Everyone in this movie is plagued by some kind of woe that they've lived with for so long that they deal with it in subdued terms. Even a situation where a man holds another man hostage at gunpoint doesn't feature so much as somebody raising their voices.

For the character Certain Women, what's the point of yelling? Doing that in the face of their anguish would be like throwing a pebble at a tank. Writer/director Kelly Reichardt communicates this idea in a haunting fashion throughout the trio of stories that Certain Women explores. A hundred torture porn movies with all their grisly mutilations wish they had the harrowing quality of Reichardt's filmmaking in Certain Women.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Angry Birds Movie 2 Could Stand To Channel The Spirit of Flapjack More

Why would I have any interest in watching a sequel to the overall terrible (and surprisingly racist) Angry Birds Movie? Three words: Thurop Van Orman. He's the filmmaker tasked with directing Angry Birds Movie 2, but previously, he was the creator of the Cartoon Network TV show The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Flapjack was such an oddball program and I adored it for that. The gags on that show were usually as disturbing as they were comedic, which isn't a statement one can normally say for kid-oriented programming in the 21st-century. The prospect of him getting to direct a feature-length movie, even one starring those Angry Birds, was an exciting prospect for me!

Yep, Hamilton Still Rules

I mean, what else is there to say about Hamilton?

The Broadway musical sensation started playing for the general public in August 2015. However, it already feels like it's always been here. A once-forgotten founding father will not forever be associated with one of the most popular musicals of all-time. The various members of the original cast of Hamilton have all gone on to have thriving acting careers. Meanwhile, in my world of online writing, essays criticizing, praising, or doing mixed responses to Hamilton have managed to boost the careers of numerous writers. Hamilton is such a rich, how could it not spawn equally insightful pieces of writing?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Maurice Contrasts Societal-Ingrained Loneliness With Romantic Unity

Maurice begins on a highly amusing note. An eleven-year-old version of the titular protagonist is talking with a schoolteacher on the beach. The teacher begins to explain to the youngster that he's about to underdog the process of puberty. To illustrate this point, the schoolteacher proceeds to grab a stick and use it to make a variety of drawings of human genitalia in the sand. Now he's got a visual aid for his overall point. After their conversation, the two characters begin to walk away only for Maurice to realize that the drawings are still etched into the sand. Just as the schoolteacher hopes the tide has washed them away, a family comes upon the doodles and becomes aghast.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Devil and Miss Jones Is a Relevant and Hilarious Tale

Wealthy & reclusive tycoon John P. Merrick (Charles Coburn) has a thorn in his side. That thrown is the people who work at one of the department stores he owns. These employees are now taking to the streets bellowing about the importance of unions and worker rights. Merrick doesn't know why these people can't just go to wor and be grateful for a job. In an effort to figure out how to undermine their union ambitions, Merrick decides to do a little undercover work. Specifically, he'll go to the store and pose as a new employee. There, he'll earn the trust of his new co-workers, find out who's in charge of unionizing at this department store and squash out this revolution before it even begins.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen is as Richly Human as it is Emotionally Affecting

While cis-gendered actors are frequently being praised and even nominated for Oscars for playing trans characters, actual trans performers tend to languish in terms of the kind of opportunities they receive. They can't even get the chance to portray the rare specifically trans characters in films, let alone ones that aren't just defined by being trans. That fact is one of many entertainment-industry double standards explored throughout the documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. The premise for this one is simple as director Sam Feder interviews an assortment of trans celebrities and media figures on a variety of topics.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Dark Star Demonstrates Creativity In Low-Budget Confines

I'll freely admit that I went into Dark Star with low expectations. Chalk that up to the fact that its own creative team hasn't spoke fondly on the project since its 1974 debut. Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon even went as far as to label it "the world's least impressive professional film". With that informing my pre-viewing perception of Dark Star, is it any wonder I was going into my viewing on the dubious side of things? In a happy turn of events, though, it turns out that Dark Star is actually pretty good! John Carpenter's directorial debut has its rough patches, no question. Yet, it impresses in its dark humor and crafty filmmaking as well as in how it indicates certain elements that would be prevalent in Carpenter's filmography going forward.

Welcome to Chechnya Harrowingly Depicts Endurance in the Face of Omnipresent Prejudice

In the last few years, a massive wave of violence against LGBTQIA+ people has emerged in Chechnya. It isn't just random citizens engaging in hate crimes either. Police are now arresting gay people and then torturing them for more information on where gays are hiding. The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, doesn't just deny the existence of this behavior. As seen in an interview in Welcome to Chechnya, Kadyrov outright denies the very existence of gay people in Chechnya. It's an easy way for him to sweep this inhumane behavior under the rug. Violence against a marginalized people can't exist if the marginalized people do not exist in the first place.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

My Spy Struggles With Comedy and Originality

It is May 2008. I'm watching a rerun of Kindergarten Cop. I have never seen this movie but it's already familiar. A muscular action star playing opposite a precocious kid in a children's movie. The formula is apparent.

It is November 2004. I'm eight years old. I'm in a movie theater waiting to watch Chicken Little. The trailer for The Pacifier plays.  A muscular action star playing opposite a precocious kid in a children's movie. It has happened again.

It is June 2020. I am twenty-four years old. I'm at home watching the new movie My Spy. Directed by Peter Segal, My Spy concerns CIA agent JJ (Dave Bautista), whose good at snapping necks but bad with people. When little girl Sophie (Chloe Chloeman) stumbles on his newest mission, Sophie coerces JJ to be her friend in order to earn her silence. In the process, JJ and Sophie begin to help solve each other's personal problems.

This movie has already run for ten minutes. Yet it already feels like it's run for an eternity. Screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber have created an utterly formulaic script. Every beat in the story is predictable.

In thirty-five minutes time, JJ and Sophie will begin to bond at a school event.

In seventy-five minutes time, JJ's lies will catch up to him and he'll briefly have to leave Sophie's life.

It is December 2009. I am fourteen years old. The impending end of Middle School weighs heavily on my mind. At some point, I catch a portion of the trailer for The Spy Next Door. There it is again. A muscular action star playing opposite a precocious kid in a children's movie.

Two hours into my future, I struggle to write a review for My Spy. There's so little to say about a movie this disposable. The filmmaking is stale. Jokes are executed lifelessly. Only Kristen Schaal, as a C.I.A. accomplice to JJ, manages a handful of laughs. Otherwise, My Spy is totally forgettable. How can I write about this movie?

I am sixty minutes into My Spy. The villain of the movie, Victor Marquez (Greg Bryk), just stabbed someone to death. Why does a film aimed at children feature such gruesome deaths? It's understandable when darker kids movies like The Dark Crystal or Rango engage in violence. But usually My Spy has all the edge of a Dove hand soap commercial. The random bursts of violence are intrusive rather than an organic extension of the tone.

I am ninety minutes into My Spy. Kristen Schall just delivered her fourth witty line referencing some odd detail in the plot, in this case the fact that a runway was built next to a cliff. My Spy seems to believe that characters being aware of nonsensical details in the script will automatically create comedy. It doesn't. Lampshading is not an apt substitute for jokes.

It is March 2017. I am watching Bringing Up Baby for the first time. I am cracking up. Katharine Hepburn is a comedic master. This is one of my favorite comedies. My Spy is certainly not.

It is July 2, 2020. My Spy has finished. Clumsy pay-off's to JJ's inability to either ice-skate or dance close out the movie. It's an awkward finish. Dave Bautista is a good actor. He can be quite funny. But he's poorly directed here. His depiction of JJ struggling in social situations just makes the character come off as abrasive. Meanwhile, his handling of JJ's myriad of slapstick stunts isn't very funny. Bautista's performance lacks life, as does the rest of My Spy.

It is now five hours later on July 2, 2020. My fingers tap away at the keys on my laptop. I am writing the final words on my review for My Spy. What an awkward movie. Not funny enough for adults. Kids will probably be bored by it more than anything else. Talented people like Dave Bautista and Kristen Schall deserve better than starring in the newest Cop-and-a-Half knock-off.

I'd hope a forgettable movie like My Spy would put an end to bad family movies starring a muscular action star playing opposite a precocious kid.

But if Hollywood has taught me anything, it's that nothing ends. Nothing ever ends.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004) Updates The Original Movie For Better and For Worse


Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) is a hero. That's what everyone says. Responsible for saving the lives of nearly everybody in his platoon back in the early 1990s, Shaw has gone from being a legendary veteran to a potential Vice-President candidate. His former superior, Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) spends his days prevailing people with tales of Shaw's courage. But what if the truth wasn't what it seemed? Recurring dreams that Marco and Shaw keep having indicate that maybe something else happened to Marco and Shaw's team on that fateful day on the battlefield. Maybe their minds were altered as part of a larger global conspiracy...and maybe that conspiracy has grisly plans for supposed hero Shaw.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Olivia Proves A Decent Movie And An Interesting Historical Artifact

Going to a new school, that's always a daunting experience. That's been especially true for Olivia (Marie-Claire Olivia), the star of the 1954 Jacqueline Audry film Olivia. She just arrived at a finishing school in France, one run in a more open-minded way than the restrictive educational facilities she's previously attended. The headmistress of this school is Miss Julie (Edwige Feuillere), who also serves as the object of fascination of an invalid woman named Cara (Simone Simon). As Olivia goes on, Miss Julie and Olivia become closer. In fact, they become quite close. Apparently, this isn't the first time Miss Julie has developed a close bond with a student. Is Olivia just the newest object of brief fascination for Miss Julie or is there something deeper bonding the two together?

Rachel McAdams Shines But Will Ferrell Struggles In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Each year, the Eurovision Song Contest (which is an actual thing) brings together musical talent from all of the European countries and has them compete to see who can deliver the greatest showstopper musical performance. It's an event that Icelandic natives Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) have been preparing for their entire lives. They've always carried ambitions of taking their unconventional musical act to Eurovision. Such hopes have been frowned upon by their friends and neighbors, particularly Lars' father Erick (Pierce Brosnan). But when this duo gets a chance to actually perform during Eurovision, it seems like their dreams are finally going to come true.

In Laman's Terms: What Movies Have Ruled The Independence Day Box Office Roost?

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!

Note: All box office figures are taken from archived web pages of Box Office Mojo courtesy of Wayback Machine. This was done because the overhauled version of Box Office Mojo implemented in October 2019 makes it impossible to organize and navigate box office records. You have to go old school if you want coherent box office data!

Box office reports of theatrical movies are on pause at the moment. However, that doesn't mean we can't look at the box office grosses of past theatrical movies! In this case, in honor of the impending 4th of July holiday, let's take a look at what movies have ruled the box office over the Independence Day box office weekend!