Monday, March 28, 2016

Midnight Special (***)

Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols


Midnight Special is Jeff Nichols' fourth feature. To this point, all of his films are deconstructions of the American South; part commentary, part appreciation. He dissects the region's virtues and prejudices, its insanities and its mythologies. They also all star Michael Shannon. They have these things in common, but still have their own pulsating independence from one another. Take Shelter is a shattering tale about a man's mental disintegration, a psychological thriller with biblical allusions and an alarming sense of empathy uncommon in that kind of story. Mud was a film shoved together in the public mind as part of 2013's McConnaissance, but it was actually a stunning Southern Gothic with an achingly sweet center - it managed to recall both Harper Lee and Flannery O'Connor. Midnight Special is his most confounding film yet, and its his first venture into science fiction. Once again, Michael Shannon is on board. Shannon is such a strong screen presence - his ability to translate pain and torment with such effortlessness is matched by only few others in Hollywood. His fragmented film persona works perfectly with Nichols' tales of misplacement, of the South's perpetual discomfort with a rapidly modernizing world. Born in Arkansas, Nichols' has a warmth for this place and these people, and it shows in his films. He understands their behaviors and superstitions, and his ability to mold them into these wonderfully unique films is what makes him one of the most fascinating young filmmakers out there. Midnight Special tackles some familiar themes: religion, displacement, a creeping fear of outside threats and basic otherness. Nichols is experimenting with more complicated plot elements here, but at its heart, Midnight Special's story is simple. How far will a father go to protect his child?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hello, My Name is Doris (***)

Directed by Michael Showalter


What a wonderfully sweet snack of a movie Hello, My Name is Doris turned out to be. Michael Showalter, of Wet Hot American Summer fame, gets behind the camera and directs only his second feature film, but gone is the absurdity of Summer and his cult television shows The State and Stella, and in its place is a wonderfully sincere and poignant tale of a spunky but troubled sexagenarian realizing that she can take control of her life for the first time. Her name is Doris Miller and she's played with pitch-perfect comedic timing by Sally Field. Doris is a long-time accountant at a quickly-modernizing New York City corporation; a union dinosaur quickly becoming surrounded by younger and younger co-workers. Doris' whole life was taking care of her unwell mother, but when her mother passes, she's left with a house cluttered with hoarded belongings and decades-old food. Her brother, Todd (Stephen Root), and his maddening wife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) want her to address her hoarding problem, clean up the home, and get it ready for sale so that way Todd can get his half of the inheritance. Doris cannot seem to keep her mind on her brother's request, though, because she has become fixated on her company's new hire, a California-transport named John Fremont (Max Greenfield) whose boyish handsomeness and all-around niceties makes him the immediate focus of Doris' complete infatuation. Doris' best friend, Roz (Tyne Daly), finds Doris' obsession with the decades-younger John unbecoming, but with the help of Roz's thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Vivian (Isabella Acres), Doris creates a fake Facebook account and friends John, allowing herself to keep tabs on all of John's likes, dislikes, passions and hatreds. She uses the fake account to reinvent herself as sixty-something year-old millennial, and finagling herself into becoming one of John's better friends in the office. But will she be able to win his heart?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Knight of Cups (**1/2)

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick


There's so much to like in Knight of Cups. It's got a great assortment of beautiful actors, caught up in another swirling cinematic ballet from Terrence Malick. Since his fifth film, The Tree of Life (a film meant to be his magnum opus and it rises to that expectation), Malick has gravitated more and more toward the abstract. 2013's To The Wonder was a sweet, melancholy companion piece with a much more reduced viewpoint and a surprisingly tender portrait of the whims of romance - it's also one of the few times that Malick crafted a female character (Olga Kurylenko's Marina) that wasn't simply a male fantasy of love and virility. If we're making Knight of Cups the third part of an unofficial trilogy, it fits in aesthetically, but not so much emotionally. It's an angrier film, much more subjective, a film that sees less grace in life. It's not a satire of Los Angeles, but it's certainly a commentary. It sees life in the film business as not really life at all, but a prolonged dream sequence fueled by excess in drugs, sex, power. This is the third collaboration between Malick and legendary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. These two artists have such a wonderful visual fusion together. Lubezki has made many films by many filmmakers look incredible, but its his work with Malick that really sticks out. Malick isn't interested in making Lubezki do endurance tests the way Cuarón and Iñárritu are, but instead taps into the Mexican cameraman's ability to craft blissful, fluid shots of human interaction. Knight of Cups is far from either Malick's or Lubezki's best work, but it's another example of their mastery of cinematic lyricism. Too bad the same can't be said of Malick's handle of narrative.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Podcast: Is 'Deadpool' Better Than Jurassic Park?

Hey guys, the latest episode of 'Is It Better Than Jurassic Park?' is up and we're talking about Deadpool with the Deadpool super-fan Conner Kennedy. As usual, there are definitely tangents, but not enough to derail the ultimate question: Is it better than JP?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Zootopia (***1/2)

Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush

Calling Zootopia a film for children is not inaccurate, but it skips a very important piece of information: the substance in this film's screenplay (written by co-director Jared Bush and Phil Johnston) is made for the adult audience. Everything from the thinly-veiled metaphors to the pop culture references will resinate stronger with the parents then they ever will with the kids. And yet, Zootopia totally works in both capacities. I can only think of one other instance in which such a perfect balance was achieved, and that was Pixar's The Incredibles in 2004. I'd claim that both of these films are actually films for adults wrapped in the kind of cutesy packaging that gets the kiddies into the theater. The Incredibles was a brilliant, stirring film about the dynamics of marriage and the truly American problem of handling your own heroism. Zootopia's view is a bit broader, less piercing in its dissection, more willing to play to the illusion of being a film constructed for children. It is so much more, though. The humanistic virtues that it espouses are not original and yet we find ourselves in a place where its themes of tolerance and multiculturalism are much needed for the whole country, if not just the younger ones.