It’s hard to know what to say about Going in Style because it’s a movie that wishes to bother you as little as possible. Want a couple of mildly wacky heists? Medium-rare banter between three great actors and a fairly committed supporting cast? Obstacles but not too many obstacles? Zach Braff has got your back.
We’ve all wondered, at least for a moment, what we would do if we were the only person on Earth. Would we explore the remains of society, hole up in shelter or simply bask in the planet’s daunting silence? It’s a fun question and one that writer-director duo Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan examine in Bokeh. For Riley (Matt O’Leary) and Jenai (Maika Monroe), a young American couple vacationing in Iceland, this query of what to do if the human race vanished isn’t hypothetical. One morning, they wake up and discover that it has become their reality.
I have no doubt that a movie like The Other Half takes considerable emotional dedication to make (of course, this could be argued about any movie). For lead actors Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen, it very well may have been draining. As a couple in real life, the struggles and pains of their characters’ troubled onscreen relationship must have felt, on one hand, more accessible and, on the other, far more intimate and difficult. Joey Klein, the film’s writer and director, builds on an already restrained tone with muted color motifs and a dour landscape.
Movies like Wolves occupy a safe middle ground. They are here to show us a story that has been told before with the hope to entertain us in the moment. It’s modest filmmaking, discarding subversive aspirations and daring ideologies in favor of tried and true formulas.
Whether or not it works depends on your tolerance for such things. Writer/director Bart Freundlich admirably shapes his story based on these principles, and while never impressing the audience, he crafts with a sturdy hand and brings about well-rounded performances.
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.
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.
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.
“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.