Film Review

Don't Bogart Those Billboards

If I could, I would rent three billboards and they would read:

Billboard One: This movie is frustrating

Billboard Two: Because its story is badly flawed

Billboard Three: But the performances are great

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri goes rogue after the first act/first third of the movie. Read more »

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight)

After the credits rolled, I wrote in my notes: "an epic and magical adult fairytale drama for the ages." This beauty and the beast fable is set in Maryland in 1963 during the height of the Cold War as well as culture wars against civil, homosexual and women's rights, and reinforces what we already know about that time period. Director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro is not afraid to let us peer backwards to see the world today, to see the world through his lens and view the real monsters that roam our planet. He paints his world in a by-gone era patina that is both warm and familiar -- the spot-on period sets with the cars, and clothes and shabby apartments, the films and TV shows -- as well as the dark and paranoid. It was a time in America's history just before the barriers of the man vs "monster" ethos would to be confronted, whether it was the threat of the Soviet Union's communism and global domination, or the fear of African-Americans, the handicap, gays or women wielding a voice in our society; sadly these issues exist today. Even the creature's design is reminiscent of the original Creature From the Black Lagoon (Universal, 1954). But, having said all of that, it is more than just an homage to a bygone era. Read more »

Haze or Frat-Ricide

Who doesn’t enjoy a little Euripides with their breakfast cereal or, in this case, with their unrelenting celluloid exploration of sadistic, on-campus initiations? Of course, hazing has been ceaselessly explored in the news each time there’s a new frat and in previous efforts such as Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland’s documentary Frat House (1998) and John Landis’ comedy Animal House (1978). Even the Lifetime channel (The Haunting of Sorority Row (2007)) and one of this year’s best movies (Prof. Marston and the Wonder Women) have taken out their paddles, exploring the female side of these rituals. However, seldom has Dionysus and the Bacchae been incorporated into the subject matter. Read more »

Blade Runner 2049

To be completely transparent, I purposely didn't read any reviews of Blade Runner 2049. I didn't want to be influenced by another critic's opinion.

Smart movies don't always catch fire; may not be box office blockbusters nor receive the universal critical acclaim they so deserve. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner sequel may not have caught the collective raves or boffo box office receipts that others movies can boast, but that doesn't diminish the fact that it is an incredible sequel and in some ways better than the original. In today's 90 minute "super hero" hyper-edited, 3D cinematic experience a movie like Blade Runner 2049 crawls along at a snail's pace, allowing the dystopian landscape to infect the movie audience's collective consciousness and to create a visual backdrop that affords the narrative its forward thrust. Read more »

Battle of the Tepid!

There should be a disclaimer at the beginning of Battle of the Sexes: "This story is based -- loosely -- on real people and events."

Rather than telling the actual story of Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, and depicting their characters with something approaching authenticity and depth, the film is as two-dimensional as if it were Battle of the Sexes: The LEGGO Movie. It is like watching a top tennis player get an easy overhead smash and dump it in the net -- or swing wildly and miss it entirely. Read more »

A Mighty Wind

Wind River is the best movie this year that you likely haven't seen and possibly haven't heard of.  

That's the problem with Hollywood these days.  While the film won accolades at Cannes (and has done well internationally), it's $11 million budget is it's (or Hollywood's) problem. Hollywood allocates marketing and advertising dollars based primarily on the size of a film's budget. The bigger the budget, the bigger the ad campaign.  And then there are the tiny Indie films with budgets of $1 million - $5 million. They are worth the risk of ad dollars because the profit reward can be so enormous. But, in the $10 million - $25 million range, movies get stuck in a no-man's-land. Read more »

Oh, What A Lucky Man...

When the New York Times gushes that a movie is "ridiculously entertaining" the expectations for that movie go through the roof. Few if any films can live up to that kind of over-the-top hype. Read more »

Rally Round The War Film, Lads

Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan's first act -- at 20 minutes -- depicts some of the most realistic and harrowing war footage in all of movie making. Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk takes that feat and turns it into two hours of equally harrowing, white-knuckle horror. Read more »

The Big Sick

Some romantic comedies transcend the mundane and crawl into your heart and stay lodged in there forever. The Big Sick is one such movie. Hard to imagine how a "coma comedy" could work, but in the able hands of veteran comedy filmmakers Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, This Is 40) and Barry Mendel (Trainwreck, The Royal Tenebaums), director Michael Showalter (Hello My Name Is Doris), and actor/writer Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), the outcome is unforgettable, especially given that it's based on Nanjiani and his wife's near-fatal relationship. Read more »

Baby Driver or Oedipus Wrecks

Vroom! Vroom! Ansel Elgort, the cute-as-cute-can-be lead of the cancer romance, The Fault in Our Stars, bops around Baby Driver like Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero, with his ear buds semi-glued in. You keep expecting a few disco balls to pop into view while the Bee Gees let loose on the soundtrack.

Sadly, no balls. No white suit. And not much of a credible plot in this frenetic crime/coming-of-age hybrid. Read more »

The Incomparable Rose Hartman: I Shot Andy Warhol... David Bowie... and Bianca Jagger on a Horse

If Andy were still strutting about nowadays, he might just tweak his "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" to "in the future, everyone will be starring in her own documentary or reality TV series."

The latest beneficiary of such a crowd-funded, ego-boosting journey into her past travails is the prickly “Tasmanian Devil of Photography,” octogenarian Rose Hartman. You who are of a certain age, especially those of you with fashionista leanings, will recall this salty soul's snapshots or at least those who were apprehended by her lens: Kate Moss, Steve Rubell, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Truman Capote, Lenny Kravitz, and Linda Evangelista. Her candid images were mostly taken at society functions, discos, and fashion shows. Read more »

Re-Animate Me!

The 18th Annual Animation Show of Shows
SVA Theater, NYC

I became an animation fan -- a true aficionado -- early in life. It had little or nothing to do with children's shows on television (Hanna-Barbera, Speed Racer, Gigantor, et al), though I watched and liked most of them. Rather, it was probably when I first saw Fantasia (likely mid-1960s), and then The Jungle Book (1967) and (of course!) The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968). By that time, I was actively looking for good (or great) animation. I was not a fan of Disney (though I have a sentimental fondness for The Aristocats (1970)), and anime feature films did not become widely known in the U.S. until the 1980s.

Fearing The Aliens!

Alien: Covenant (20th Century Fox)

I really loved Prometheus, not as a cinematic masterpiece, but as movie-worthy prequel to Sir Ridley Scott's genre-defining 40 year-old masterpiece Alien. And having rewatched it again, Prometheus's smart narrative and deliberate storyline still resonate with me. Perhaps it is my age, and probably his, that that prequel raised major existential questions --  "why are we here?" and "who created us?" -- that resonate with In that film, why did the Engineers seed life in the ever-expanding universe and our own planet, if they did at all. He certainly knows how to direct action sequences that have grit, energy, and beauty as his films Gladiator and Blade Runner Scott next chapter Alien: Covenant answers many of the questions left dangling at the end of the aforementioned movie, but still leaves some questions unanswered -- a great device to hook newbies and fans alike. And certainly raises new questions, some of which parallel our current society. Genetic engineering? Is it a good thing for our food and for life? Corporatization of our politics, Some fan blogs have not taken to some of the plot points that I admire. And some may have missed Scott's bigger themes. Sure, it's still man vs. monster, but it's also man vs. machine, man vs. man, and mankind's insatiable search for universal truths. Read more »

François Ozon on Frantz, Sex and Death, and Hitchcock’s Rebecca

“Awards are like hemorrhoids. Sooner or later every asshole gets one,” François Ozon, one of France's most prolific director/screenwriters, has noted.

With Frantz, his pacifistic, feminist, and slightly homoerotic chronicling of a post-World War I love affair of sorts opening Stateside this week, he can say that with a smile. After all, this feature has already garnered eleven Cécar nominations, including one for best film, and a dozen more from various international film festivals. Read more »

Oscar Time 2017!

The nominations have been set for the 89th Academy Awards airing on February 26th! Who will crush it? Who will slink away awaiting for their chance next time? How many even care? I know that in a world with too much useless digital information and a political climate that seems ready to implode or explode (depending on your political leanings), perhaps we all need the escapism. Read more »

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