I was instantly intrigued when I first heard that the folks at Titmouse Inc. - the production company that brought us The Venture Bros., one of my all-time favorite animated shows - was making a feature-length film called Nerdland starring Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd. After finding out that Andrew Kevin Walker, screenwriter of Se7en and 8MM, wrote the script, I was even more interested. Perhaps my expectations were set too high, but after seeing the film, I can safely say this is one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had at the cinema this year.
An efficient and direct-to-the-point bit of work, Matthew M. Ross’ Frank & Lola moves throughout its neo-noir aesthetic, punches through its storyline, and then gets out. Its brevity is both a major asset and a moderate liability – using a basic plot structure to avoid overlong diversions at the cost of developing important characters who may not be in every scene.
I love heist movies. I couldn’t care less about the big prizes, but there’s something exhilarating about seeing the layers of an onion peeled back, something thrilling about watching a mastermind play all the chess pieces that were there in front of you the whole time, something gratifying about witnessing a ragtag team surmount seemingly impossible odds.
In a somewhat lackluster year for horror, Nicolas Pesce’s beautiful, monochromatic nightmare The Eyes of My Mother easily stands out as one of the most disturbing and striking films you’ll see this year. An exploration in isolation and the need for human contact lay the groundwork for this unnerving tale of loneliness.
From its fantastic opening credits, I knew I was going to be into Sophia Takal’s psychological drama Always Shine. It instantly evoked some sort of dread that I really couldn’t put my finger on, but those De Palma-esque scrolling letters were enough for me to know this wasn’t going to be a happy-go-lucky comedy about two friends heading to Big Sur for the weekend.
May none of us ever know the pain and hopelessness that comes from becoming forever separated from our family. Losing a child, or becoming a lost child, seems to be one of the most unimaginably horrible things that could happen – but happen it did to Saroo Brierley and to his family.
Unless your heart is made of stone or you simply hate music, it’s more likely than not that you will leave the theater humming at least one of the unbelievably catchy tunes from Disney’s Moana, courtesy of Grammy-winning composer Mark Mancina, Somoan artist Opetaia Foa’i and the great Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame.
“You used to have it all,” a character tells Thomas (Michael Paré), early on in John Fallon’s The Shelter. We come to realize quite early on that whatever he had, he certainly doesn’t have it anymore. He’s disheveled and homeless, an alcoholic who mugs passers-by so he can afford more booze. His life has plunged to the deepest depths and he doesn’t see a way up from rock bottom. Sooner or later, Fallon fills in the loose ends and shows us what happened to our protagonist – a number of years ago, his pregnant wife Maryam (Gayle James) committed suicide, and Thomas has felt immensely guilty, believing he was largely responsible for her depression and death. The ghosts of his past have never left him.
Arrival is sci-fi that thrills on an intimate level while exploring basic fundamental questions of humanity, language, and communication on a grand scale. And there are aliens. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) is typically deliberate, bringing together immaculately composed visuals with bubbling anxiety. Where it goes and how it gets there is mesmerizing, even through some expositional redundancies and a few lulls in the extra-terrestrial conversation.
Hacksaw Ridge, a true story about a pacifist who served in World War II, opens with a slow-motion montage of somersaulting bodies on fire. The juxtaposition of content is made all the more incongruent with a righteous voiceover. The intro helps set up the stark differences between the film’s maudlin first half and brutal second half in which director Mel Gibson depicts graphic battle scenes, his first opportunity to do so since 2006’s vastly superior Apocalypto. The clashing contexts fail to connect. Medal of Honor recipient Desmond T. Doss is unquestionably a hero; unfortunately, this dramatization of his heroism feels a little too sanitized despite all of the battlefield viscera.
Marvel goes mystical in Doctor Strange and the addition of superhero sorcery provides a welcome change of pace in a cinematic universe that’s become much too uniform. Reality, along with architecture, is bent and folded Inception-style, with director Scott Derrickson and his effects team providing singular landscapes for comic book clashes. That said, the trippy visuals and thrilling wizardry can’t completely mask the all-too-familiar Marvel staples, including the hero’s arc and a villain who wishes to destroy the world as we know it because…well, because he’s got reasons.
The good folks over at Cinelicious Pics and the UCLA Film and Television Archive have unearthed Leslie Stevens’ controversial thriller Private Property, lost to the world for half a century, and have released a new 4K restoration of the film for our viewing pleasure.
For most audiences outside of Spain, the name Jose Luis Berlanga remains relatively unknown as do his films. That is until now, thanks to the Criterion Collection, because October 25th marked the first time a Berlanga film has been made available, on Blu-ray, in the US. Long considered one of (if not) Spain’s greatest directors, the Criterion Collection is hoping to transfer that reverence and popularity stateside with the release of his seventh film, The Executioner.
Reading the synopsis of Vincent Masciale’s feature debut, Fear, Inc., it sounded like a horror-themed version of David Fincher’s The Game, a film I’m a huge fan of, so my interest was instantly piqued. While it does indeed draw heavily from Fincher’s film and it in no way eclipses it, Masciale seemingly knew this going into it and instead of attempting to sneakily bite off Fincher, he revels in this emulation, creating a surprisingly funny, albeit flawed, horror-comedy.
An expired visa begets an uncertain future in Iva Gocheva’s Sunday, an exploration of the principles that constitute ‘home’ for our Bulgarian visitor, Eleonora Ivanova. What makes it so and why? Probing questions asked in interview, the recorded audio of which is detached from the visual aspect of the event, transposed to the activities of the interviewee basking in the possibly dying days of American residence.