midnight special review

If Steven Spielberg was born and raised in Texas, he could have made Midnight Special. But he wasn’t and he didn’t, so the task fell to Jeff Nichols.

While this is undeniably the work of the same filmmaker who made Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud, his particular skill set is being utilized in service of a very different kind of story. Midnight Special is a science fiction road movie that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve while boldly treading into new territory. This is Close Encounters of the Third Kind with a southern drawl, Starman with a lived-in sensibility, and, most of all, it is one of the most stunning original and humane genre films to arrive in a long time.

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don't breathe review

Don’t Breathe revives one of the horror genre’s most convenient tropes: what happens when a group of genuinely rotten characters find themselves up against someone so much worse? It’s like a get-out-jail-free card for any filmmaker with a nasty streak, as they can proceed to punish the lead characters in unfathomable ways without asking the audience to feel too guilty for relishing in their suffering.

And director Fede Alvarez lays that suffering on with a heavy brush. Once Don’t Breathe finds its rhythm, it becomes one of the most relentless horror movies in recent memory, a non-stop assault that finds that fine line between crowd-pleasing and shit-your-pants terrifying. Alvarez already showed horror fans that he wasn’t kidding around with his vicious 2013 Evil Dead remake, but Don’t Breathe is his and his alone, proof that his brand of intensity can operate when removed from a beloved franchise.

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keanu review

This is not a review of Keanu. The version that screened at SXSW was described as a work-in-progress cut and changes, both significant and minor, can still occur between now and when the film arrives in theaters. Jokes can be be swapped, sequences can be tightened, and entire scenes can still be excised or added. To say something definitive right now would be unfair.

However, the cut of director Peter Atencio‘s new comedy that played before a packed house at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin certainly felt like a finished movie…and that’s a bit of a mixed bag. So let’s break out the questions. Is the big screen debut of beloved comedy Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele funny? Yeah, of course it is. These two can’t not be funny. If the trailer made you giggle, there is plenty to enjoy here and you’re in for a good time at the movies. But is the film more than the sum of its best jokes? No. At least not in this particular version.

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everybody wants some review

Richard Linklater is defined by his empathy. Few filmmakers love their characters quite as much as he does, and his affection fills his low-key dramas and broad comedies alike. Linklater’s affection for the young men at the core of his new film, Everybody Wants Some, is evident in every frame. These guys, young, dumb, and prepared to make all kinds of bad decisions because they’re obviously going to be 18 forever, are as realized as any comedic characters of the past decade. To watch their movie is to get to know them, to hang out with them, to join their party.

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the witch review

Last week, I attended a screening of The Witch hosted by the Satanic Temple and then went to a Satanic ritual. It was my second time seeing The Witch, but my first time participating in a ritual that concluded with chants of “Hail Satan.” The remaining shards of Catholic still embedded deep within me screamed the entire time.

My invitation to this screening explained how The Witch is “transformative Satanic experience” and how the Satanic Temple “supports the film’s declaration of feminine independence, which provokes puritanical America and inspires a tradition of spiritual transgression.” I saw The Witch at Fantastic Fest last year and was blown away by it (and have written about it on more than a few occasions since then) and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to revisit the film and collect an interesting anecdote or two.

And since The Witch is in theaters now (and just had the biggest opening in A24’s history), this certainly feels like the right time to have a larger conversation about this film, a deeply uncomfortable horror movie that plays differently depending on what baggage you bring into the screening. In this case, I had three perspective to consider: my entirely secular worldview, the beliefs of my Catholic wife/screening plus-one, and the ethos of the screening’s Satanist hosts.

Spoilers for the film follow.

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ZOOLANDER 2

It can be tempting to react to the never-ending torrent of remakes, reboots, sequels, and spinoffs with a knee-jerk groan. Truthfully, though, that’s not always fair. Creed was a spinoff-reboot-sequel combo that restored the long-running Rocky series to its former glory. Ditto The Force Awakens for Star Wars. On the TV side, Ash vs. Evil Dead and Fargo have both managed to recapture the spirit of their respective originals, while also bringing something new to the table.

But if those titles are evidence that Hollywood’s obsession with existing IP can yield excellent results, Zoolander 2 represents the worst-case scenario. Not because Zoolander 2 is the worst movie ever made — it isn’t — but because it’s what we fear every time one of these projects gets announced: a joyless cash-grab more interested in rehashing old ideas than building on them.  Read More »

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Indignation Review

After finding fame as the titular hero in the Percy Jackson fantasy franchise, Logan Lerman has started to carve an impressive acting career over the past few years with praiseworthy performances in films such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Fury. But his latest leading turn in Indignation, an adaptation of Philip Roth‘s novel of the same name, shows the outstanding talent that Lerman has when given the right role. Indignation has the best performance of Logan Lerman’s career, and it helps that the film surrounding this stellar work is brilliant as well. Keep reading for my full Indignation review. Read More »

The Birth of a Nation

In his debut feature as a director, Nate Parker attempts to do no less than reclaim American history in the name of the slaves who had their own lives and their own stories ripped away from them. This re-appropriation starts with the title — The Birth of a Nation is stolen from D.W. Griffith’s racist epic — and continues with an opening epigraph. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” reads the quote from Thomas Jefferson, famously a slave owner, “that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Parker himself stars as Nat Turner, a Virginia slave who in 1831 led the deadliest slave rebellion in American history. By the end, about 60 whites had been killed — and a hundred or more blacks had been slaughtered in retaliation. The Birth of a Nation is the sorrowful, righteously angry chronicle of how Nat, a kind, charismatic, and devout preacher, came to spark a bloody uprising.

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Life, Animated

Life, Animated is a joyful film about the true power of cinema. Movies are not disposable entertainment but stories that have the power to inspire and dramatically change our lives. Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams tells the story of an autistic boy named Owen Suskind who re-learned language and found understanding through Disney animated movies.
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