On the surface, I Am Not Your Negro is little more than a video essay. Director Raoul Peck has taken the text of an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin and applied it to both a biography of the man and contemporary social commentary. Yet what keeps it from a fate of mediocrity is the care that Peck takes in bringing Baldwin’s eloquent text to the screen. The film is not just a look at how there are many racial and social problems still remaining in the United States – it fundamentally questions the elements upon which American society is founded.
Up until this point in time, Criterion has been home to a scant number of African films, two to be precise, both of which come by way of the World Cinema Project - Ahmed El Maanouni’s Trances and Djibril Diop Mambety’s Touki bouki. Their latest entry ups that number to three (obviously) and also marks the first entry for, who many consider, the most important name in African cinema, Ousmane Sembene. His film, Black Girl, which catapulted him into international recognition is too made available because of the work of the World Cinema Project.
As the title of Bill Waterson’s comedy Dave Made a Maze suggests, Dave does indeed make a maze — and what a maze it is. Exploding with creativity, this quirky film about a slacker who creates a cardboard labyrinth in his apartment and subsequently gets himself and his friends lost inside is a ridiculously fun and absurd romp that had me chomping at the bit to uncover each and every unique room and passageway.
An experiment in narrative storytelling, Joji Koyama and Tujiko Noriko’s Kuro sets out to rethink and/or reappropriate certain modes of storytelling within the cinematic landscape. Its experimentation is as refined as it is all-encompassing resulting in an intriguing film-viewing experience as the imagery and sounds of Kuro (almost) never exist within the same spatial reality, each specific aspect detailing different moments in time, concurrently as an overlay of past and present.
Withdrawn is a fitting title for Adrian Murray’s feature-length debut as nearly every aspect of the production appears to inhabit some form of withdrawal within its process. Granted, the title seems to directly refer to the specifics of the film’s narrative regarding a young man plotting to withdraw funds from someone else’s misplaced credit card, but it also extends itself outward, permeating every inch of the film’s fabric.
The world of cinema set-ups is chockablock with the familiar and the unique and in the case of Dim the Fluorescents, director Daniel Warth alongside co-writer Miles Barstead have pooled the two into a unique take of a familiar narrative. The familiar: focusing on the plight of the struggling artist; the unique: the struggling artists in this case bide their time by producing and performing elaborate demonstrations for companies and corporations.
Stefan Avalos’ Strad Style opens with an ominous shot of the lead subject, Daniel Houck, burning what appears to be pieces of a violin in a fire, a stressful way to begin a documentary about a small-town guy attempting to make a 100 percent accurate version of arguably the most famous and expensive violin in the world, Guarneri’s Il Cannone.
Director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg continue their union committed to honoring proletarian American heroes in Patriots Day, a chronicle of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. While this film is shot with the same in-the-moment aesthetics as Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, it’s a much more manipulative action-thriller than those previous worthy tributes.
Opening on a delightful confrontation between a fickle lawman and the film’s three main characters – all women of color – in Virginia’s Jim Crow era, the historical dramedy Hidden Figures comes out of the gate with a bang and offers an unapologetic glimpse at the tone of the story that will follow.
A song can happen anywhere in La La Land because it exists in a world that we so rarely see these days – that of the old-fashioned movie musical. There isn’t an ounce of self-consciousness or cynicism in writer/director Damien Chazelle’s approach to this format, and he has no problem beginning the film with an elaborate number performed by dozens of folks stuck in a traffic jam.
Assassin’s Creed, like many formal creeds, is a long, needlessly-complicated statement of beliefs. And plot. It’s a plodding, talky bore. There’s introductory text and two prologues, but really the entire movie feels like one giant, nonsensical preamble to…something. Based on the popular Ubisoft video game series, Assassin’s Creed plays like a collection of cut scenes that gamers, and movie-goers, would want to skip through to get to the good stuff.
Passengers isn’t the movie that’s advertised in the trailers. To be fair to the marketing though, it’s hard to sell a film that never decides what it is. And why not try to push a sci-fi romance between likeable stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt? Indeed, the charmers play two of many Earthlings traveling to colonize a distant planet. And yes, they are awoken from hypersleep 90 years early, but the circumstances make it impossible to go along with the love story.
Williams has confidence in the thought that the waiting is the worst part and with this in mind, he draws out instances of heightened vulnerability to anxiety-ridden levels of unease. Something is bound to happen, it is just a matter of when and how; that suspense happens to be the cornerstone of the film’s success. A success that is accomplished through its meticulous construction and the confidence of said construction. It also helps that the film benefits from the performances of its two leads - Roscoe and Marx - alongside the cinematography of Chris Messina in his capturing of the seemingly-innocent landscape.
Often thrilling and occasionally frustrating, Rogue One is an ultimately satisfying if faulty Star Wars spinoff. It’s a story we’ve heard before, briefly, and expanding the narrative from a plot point summarized by a few lines in A New Hope proves difficult, especially in a meandering and repetitive second act. A few strong performances, a climax that’s one of the best battles in the entire saga, and spectacular visuals carry the day, however. A couple of horrendously rendered CGI characters notwithstanding.