Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals

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img_5707Haunted characters inevitably return to the scene of the crime, and in Tom Ford’s stunningly realized neo-noir Nocturnal Animals (B+), its principals traverse a tragic, twisty journey to discover the inescapable character traits vexing them through adult life. Ford photographs both a posh Los Angeles modern day story and a Texas-set film-within-the-film with an almost dreamlike clarity. The actors radiate an arch intensity in flashbacks and flash-forwards over a blissfully dense old-Hollywood Abel Korzeniowski score. This amped-up storytelling style benefits shape-shifting Amy Adams as a wealthy but lonely art curator a bit more than intense-in-any-role Jake Gyllenhaal as a novelist and star of his own shattered American pastoral. Shining in more straightforward supporting performances are Michael Shannon as a plainspoken Texas detective, Aaron Tayor-Johnson as a wild-tempered roadside ruffian and a nearly unrecognizable Laura Linney as a headstrong matriarch. Packing a punch within a puzzle, Ford’s tone poem is part romance, part revenge thriller, part requiem for one’s soul; and it’s consistently absorbing and affecting. In the tradition of Mulholland Drive, In the Bedroom and Fargo, it’s a film for those who love the form. The curious finale is sure to spark conversations among cinephiles.

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Posted in 2016

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

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img_5708There are three reasons to see Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen (C+): the continually wondrous Hailee Steinfeld doing her darnedest with the film’s frustrating and frumpy front-woman role, Woody Harrelson in an understated supporting part as her high school teacher and part-time consigliere to her darkest impulses and newcomer Hayden Szeto as her awkward admirer. Much of the film’s content feels like a ho-hum homage to Sixteen Candles minus most of the comedy; in the pantheon of cinema, however, Edge does correct a blemish of Sixteen by casting Asian-American actor Szeto as an attractive and full-developed love interest. Steinfeld’s character’s central conflict involves her brother (Blake Jenner, playing his usual milquetoast Golden boy) starting to date her one best friend (an amenable Haley Lu Richardson). Most of the movie feels like a series of unfortunate first-world problems for a central character who purports to be an old soul. Her disdain for fellow millennials just seems like an excuse for the screenwriter to write wittier zingers for her character than her classmates. Compared to John Hughes classics or even turn-of-the-millennium high school comedies such as Clueless, Ghost World or Mean Girls, this entry just doesn’t deliver many revelations or comedy gems. Steinfeld gives it all’s she’s got, but she’s filling awkward shoes.

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Posted in 2016

Movie Review: Moana

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imageCo-directors John Clements and Ron Musker have animated quests with more Herculean tasks, drawn crooning crabs making a bigger undersea splash and created caves with greater wonders than the adventure afoot in Moana (C+), their mostly adrift Disney Polynesian epic wannabe. It’s quite enchanting to look at, at least for the first act; and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho brings lovely life to the brave and modern title character. Coupled with a goofy demigod convincingly acted and sung by Dwayne Johnson, the heroine embarks on an ill-conceived odyssey marked by listless villains, average banter and misbegotten mishaps. There’s one good song (of seven) played several times in the film, a propulsive anthem by Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda called “How Far I’ll Go,” but alas its prescient title begs the answer “too far” or “not far enough.” The most inventive use of tattoos since Memento and a creative battalion of Mad Max style pirate ships cannot lift the story to the gravitas to which it sometimes aspires. Bogged down in bluster and with story conceits which fail to differentiate it in the Disney kingdom canon, the film is barely better than its makers’ Treasure Planet and The Great Mouse Detective. The co-directors have found unexpected box office success but might have been better off leaving this journey in the bottle.

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Posted in 2016

Movie Review: Arrival (2016)

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imageEvery couple of years, directors as diverse as Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, John Sayles, John Carpenter, Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Nolan add to the pantheon of films addressing making contact with alien life. The notion of actually communicating with interstellar visitors, so memorably celebrated in five iconic music notes in the finale act of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, sets the stage for serious modern films tackling this task of translation, but Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral science fiction drama Arrival (A-) radically riffs on a familiar tune with a stunning viewpoint and sustained atmosphere that remixes a well-worn genre. The Canadian director follows successful crime thrillers Prisoners and Sicario with an all-out orchestra to the outsider, exploring what it means to be imbued with preternatural power to alter the course of human events or perhaps even bend time if only the universal ability to understand one another is possible. After twelve mysterious UFOs begin hovering over world cities, the U.S. military recruits a linguist masterfully played by Amy Adams to assist in making sense of alien communication. What follows is a deliberately paced, at times puzzling and consistently revealing opus on the phenomenon of language and science as bridge builders to deeper understanding and community. Adams thoroughly dominates the film and is engrossing and believable in showcasing her convictions and discoveries. Jeremy Renner is successful at playing her supporting scientist, the kind of role typically reserved for a love interest, but there’s scant time for romance when the world is at stake. The film’s effects – striking and unusual – buoy a thinking person’s meditation on big issues of international and cosmic collaboration. The kindest accolade of all is that the film inspires a desire for repeat viewing and discussion.

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Posted in 2016

Guest Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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imageBy Eli Sanchez Guest Contributor, Silver Screen Capture

David Yates’ prequel to the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (C-) changes the Wizarding World setting from mainly rural Great Britain to 1920’s New York City. The film follows the exploits of Newt Scamander, author of the famous book on which that the title is based. Played by a very lost Eddie Redmayne, Newt visits the U.S. to talk to someone about acquiring another creature for his menagerie. The film is a series of misadventures with Newt losing control of some of the magical creatures he keeps locked away in his secretive suitcase. Yates struggles with finding the movie’s rhythm, with head-scratching acting choices and throwaway romantic subplots, leaving viewers unsure most of the time about what’s going on in the background. If you’ve read the original book series, some of the references will make sense; and in essence this first prequel feels very much like a set-up for four future installments. But, this entry takes too long to pick up steam. The action picks up considerably in the final act. The film has superb special effects but fails to conjure the magic associated with the best of the Harry Potter series. In fairness, we know nothing about The Boy Who Lived at this point in the timeline, and children who grew up on the series may be a bit disappointed. Future installments will likely involve the re-emergence of Albus Dumbledore and a more substantial look at Gellert Grindlewald. The promise of the film is diminished by a storyline as underwhelming and confounding as the performances of some of its cast members. Elements of the film felt very derivative of both Return of the Jedi and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

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Posted in 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

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imageBenedict Cumberbatch casts one helluva spell as an intellectual, cerebral superhero with the ability to shape-shift his surroundings in Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange (B), a mostly engaging entry into the Marvel multiverse. The title character is an arrogant surgeon who gets his comeuppance in a crushing car accident and subsequently turns to mystical arts in an effort to heal. Cumberbatch is an unlikely protagonist, but he’s witty, literate and believable in a world in which the supernatural stakes mount mightily. Like Tony Stark/Ironman, his smarminess and smarts with science help his journey take flight. Derrickson cribs from Christopher Nolan a bit too much with secret societies of Asian warriors and Inception style city bending, but the overall vibe is cunning and imaginative. If anything the pace could have been picked up in Kundun style monastery sequences. The effects of hopping out of one’s body make for some giddy multitasking fight sequences, and the hero’s CGI cape should win best supporting costume. Tilda Swinton commands her every mesmerizing sequence as a trippy bald sorceress in a mustard-colored frock. Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor don’t get much to do as an ER doctor and fellow warrior, respectively; and Mads Mikkelsen is menacing as a baddie who looks like he just finished a bender at the discotheque. But it’s really the casting of the central role that’s the coup de grace of this time and space oddity.

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Posted in 2016

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

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hacksaw_ridge_posterAn epic true tale of faith has met its match in a filmmaker for whom fire and brimstone are merely a prelude, and the power and singularity of his vision on screen cannot be denied. Director Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (B) is a tough mudder of an action movie, hearkening to the actor-turned-director’s own roots in Peter Weir’s WWI classic Gallipoli and imprinted with a world-weary POV applied to WWII’s Battle of Okinawa. Funneled through Gibson’s prism of gore and glory, the film is far from subtle but nonetheless audaciously moving. At the center of the proceedings – and key to its believability – is Andrew Garfield’s knockout portrayal of real-life American hero Desmond Doss, whose Christian beliefs prompted him to become a conscientious objector to violence simultaneous to enlisting in the military as a medic without a gun. Opening sequences feel like a Whitman’s Sampler of giddy nostalgia that would give Forrest Gump a run for his money in treacly sweetness. But soon after dispensing with some basic training melodrama, the film quickly detours into a fog and slog of war and a series of difficult decisions and riffs on themes of sacrifice and redemption. The director is adroit at putting the viewer in the heart of the action, relating to the protagonist’s fear and faith of being disarmed in the face of encroaching force. Aside from casting Vince Vaughn against type as a droll drill sergeant, the filmmaker rounds out his ensemble with sterling British and Australian actors ranging from Sam Worthington to Hugo Weaving to a relative newcomer, the delightful Teresa Palmer. The images of war are among the most suspenseful and sensational committed to screen, with the titular ridge, flanked with a mountain-high netting leading infantry to setbacks and triumphs, among the splendid set pieces. The sheer duration of some of the sequences dull their impact, but the fight choreography is second to none. Many will love the film’s messages but be turned off by the graphic violence; others repelled by Gibson will miss out on a poignant story. The auteur has once again found the pulse of an incredible and inspiring brave heart.

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Posted in 2016

Movie Review: Moonlight (2016)

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imageWritten and directed with poignancy and grace, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (A) is urgent in telling a three-chapter coming of age story of a young African-American man named Chiron and how his experiences growing up in America (largely in a surreal pastel drenched Miami) shape his identity. Rather than tackle only the physical violence associated with most inner-city dramas, the perceptive Jenkins traverses the emotional landscapes of self-worth, racial identity and sexuality and how Chiron learns to find traces of comfort in his own skin. The writer/director has fashioned a very dynamic narrative around a shy and withdrawn protagonist; as embodied by three supremely talented actors – Alex Hibbert (child), Ashton Sanders (teen) and Trevante Rhodes (young man), viewers will ache for him to come to answers. Naomie Harris is devastating as Chiron’s emotionally abusive addict mother, and Mahershala Ali is magnificent as a drug dealer who takes on a role as a near-spiritual guide. The film explores the games people play with each other and with themselves in their quest for acceptance. The clues aren’t easy to discover as the film employs an overall tone of heartache punctuated with bursts of uplift, but the journey is consistently gripping. Based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film is splendid and assured cinema with an austere and stunning score by Nicholas Britell and a dreamlike color palette created by cinematographer James Laxton and colorist Alex Bickel (first chapter emulates Fuji film stock to emphasize skin tones followed by Afga film stock adding cyan and the final chapter in Kodak form). This is a must-see for cinephiles and is moving indeed as it pinpoints exactly why this black life matters and how the people who come into our lives shape our evolving selves.

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Posted in 2016

Movie Review: Captain Fantastic

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imageSomewhere on the cinematic patriarchs continuum between Captain von Trapp and the Great Santini, Viggo Mortensen gives a sensitive, soulful and indelible portrayal of a flawed but well-meaning dad in Matt Ross’ incredibly engaging Captain Fantastic (A-). Mortensen is the draw here, summoning a rugged loner charisma that at this point can just be called “Mortensenesque” as a man raising his six children off the grid in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest with unconventional techniques to teach them self-sufficiency, critical thinking, peak physical performance and a global worldview. His headstrong homeschooling, an ongoing ropes course and debate society in the woods, wins him no favor with his in-laws (well played by Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) but makes him a hero in the eyes of his neo-hippie children, all beautifully played. George MacKay is an earnest delight as the oldest of the offspring, incredibly moving as he experiences a date for the first time after being shrouded in the wilderness. Ross makes an assured directorial and writing debut, showcasing the central family’s confrontations with society in a way that keeps you guessing of whether or not it will all work out. There was a melancholy moment I thought would be a pensive ending, but I liked the extended epilogue – including an unforgettable family jam session – even more. The film is a cult sensation challenging American mores in the tradition of Easy Rider and Into the Wild and highly recommended.

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Posted in 1987, 2016, Rent It Tonight

Industry News: Young Lando Has Been Cast!

Original Lando: Billy Dee Williams
Original Lando: Billy Dee Williams

Original Lando: Billy Dee Williams

Donald Glover

Donald Glover

Donald Glover has been officially cast as a young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming and not-yet-officially-titled Han Solo: A Star Wars Story film slated to arrive in theaters in 2018, according to a breaking press announcement by Lucasfilm.

Donald Glover is a popular TV star thanks to his role in the cult comedy Community and in the acclaimed current FX network series Atlanta. He co-starred with Matt Damon in The Martian and appears in next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

As previously announced, young Han Solo will be played by Alden Ehrenreich of the Coen Brothers’ film Hail, Caesar! This will be the second standalone Star Wars film outside of the trilogies structures, unless you count the two Ewok movies (I don’t).

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (makers of 21 and 22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie) are co-directors of the film based on a screenplay by father-son team Lawrence and John Kasdan. Lawrence Kasdan has written Han Solo’s character in every film except Star Wars: A New Hope.

According to today’s announcement, the film is “bringing two iconic Star Wars characters back to the big screen, but at a time in their lives previously unexplored. This new film depicts Lando in his formative years as a scoundrel on the rise in the galaxy’s underworld — years before the events involving Han, Leia, and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and his rise to Rebel hero in Return of the Jedi.”

Lord and Miller added, “We’re so lucky to have an artist as talented as Donald join us. These are big shoes to fill, and an even bigger cape, and this one fits him perfectly, which will save us money on alterations. Also, we’d like to publicly apologize to Donald for ruining Comic-Con for him forever.”

To hold you over until this 2018 film, Disney and Lucasfilm have other films in the hopper:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story arrives in theatres December 16, 2016. The yet-to-be-titled Star Wars: Episode VIII, directed by Rian Johnson, is slated for December 15, 2017.

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Alden Ehrenreich

Alden Ehrenreich

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Posted in Industry News

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