hostiles review

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” So begins the epigraph of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, a Western that explores America’s then-undeveloped territories as a fertile ground for nihilism, despair and self-reflection. Gone is the frontier myth of endless possibility and opportunity, replaced by a plot that is quite literally a march towards death.

As his final assignment, Christian Bale’s hardened Captain Joseph Blocker gets charged to return Adam Studi’s ailing war chief Yellow Hawk back to his tribe’s sacred land in the Montana territory. It’s a ferrying operation of the direst degree, and one that Joseph approaches with a fair amount of trepidation. He knows the route and the perils inherent in crossing this way. In order to let Yellow Hawk die with dignity, many others may die along the way getting there.

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On Chesil Beach Review

A novel is a novel, and a movie is a movie. A novel can be turned into a movie, but to do so successfully, it must surrender certain properties of the page to better suit the screen. This seems obvious, but it bears repeating because this common sense seemed to escape Ian McEwan when adapting his own novella On Chesil Beach for the cinema. By keeping a literary structure intact, the film is dead on arrival. Read More »

kings review

Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Kings is the latest, but almost assuredly not the last, cinematic response to the increased visibility and amplified intensity surrounding conversations on police brutality towards black Americans. The Turkish director claims to have been working on the project for over a decade since she attended film school in the United States, and it’s highly likely that a significant factor in getting the film greenlit (and attracting the talent it did) came from the continued prevalence of racially biased policing in the news. If we’re due for a rash of these woke-minded dramas, though, they need to have a firmer, more strident voice than what Ergüven displays here.

The writer/director casts her gaze back a quarter-century to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 following the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. She’s correct to observe from the outset that the situation was so tense that it resembled a volcano, a comparison she makes by quite literally superimposing faded footage of lava over aerial footage of the City of Angels. It’s heavy-handed, sure, but at least Ergüven is saying something here. The rest of Kings is a muddled mess of narrative threads and half-considered ideas, intimations of intriguing stories that she never gives the chance to develop.

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Chappaquiddick review

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” declared then-candidate Donald Trump in the middle of the 2016 Republican primaries. Perhaps he was well acquainted with the chapter in the life of Ted Kennedy, the legendary “lion of the Senate,” chronicled in John Curran’s Chappaquiddick – and how it ultimately failed to move the needle among his constituents. Despite lies, misrepresentations and cover-ups, Kennedy’s involvement in the death of a political aide now serves as little more than a footnote on his Wikipedia page.

Curran, with stone-faced intent and brutal focus, makes the case that such an incident cannot help but illuminate the true character of a man. People may not need to reconcile Kennedy’s deficient response to a tragedy of his own creation with his legacy of championing liberal causes. But Chappaquiddick provides a sobering, non-ideological reminder that if such deeds do not become a part of a public figure’s narrative, then a frightening impunity for elected officials can reign.

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DOWNSIZING

Alexander Payne built a reputation as one of the sharpest wits and most brutal ironists in independent cinema, even to the point where the internet conversation around his last film even encompassed the question of whether he was mean to his characters – as if they were people. For his biggest, most expensive undertaking, he tries on something a little different: sincerity. That sensibility reared its head periodically in The Descendants and Nebraska, but it never reaches the default level the way it does in Downsizing.

His latest script with frequent writing partner Jim Taylor uses the instrument of satire to probe a lingering disaster first identified by 18th century British economist Thomas Malthus: overpopulation. Malthus predicted an increasing decline in society’s standard of living due to the scarcity of resources available on earth. Downsizing begins with two scientists announcing a remedy they believe can cure the problem in a presentation called “Human Scale and Sustainability.” Over the course of 200-300 years, they will transition humans to a vastly shrunken size, reducing their waste by decreasing their size thousands fold.

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Breathe Review

As an innovator in the field of motion capture technology, Andy Serkis might possess a greater understanding of the nuances and capabilities of the human face than anyone working in cinema. The knowledge shows early on in Breathe, Serkis’ directorial debut, as Andrew Garfield’s protagonist Robin Cavendish begins to succumb to paralysis from polio. Serkis shoots his affliction primarily in extreme close-up, a camera length at which Garfield is more than capable at conveying nuance. With just the slightest shift of his glance or the quiver of his lip, Garfield conveys as much as his grandest gestures in other films.

Unsurprisingly, Garfield nails the immediate micro-level specificity necessitated by portraying someone with such a debilitating condition. He’s robbed of so many key acting tools: the scope to take in an entire scene, the ability to react in full, the emphasis in his extremities. Yet within this tightly proscribed frame, Garfield still manages the full expressive capabilities for which has garnered great acclaim. In Breathe, he captures that same moving range from elation to depression.

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Battle of the Sexes Trailer

It’s difficult now to remember a time when people didn’t map political values onto nearly every cultural competition. In the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, everything from the Super Bowl to the Academy Awards inspired memes rehashing such flashpoints as Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote and not visiting Wisconsin. In an era when politics have become pop culture, it seems inevitable that people choose to project their anxieties onto whatever might grant them a moral victory.

Before these cultural issues were common talk, however, certain events served as release valves for social tension and battlegrounds for dueling ideals. Rather than serving as winking recipients of tribal loyalty, the participants openly embraced and championed the causes of a side. In 1972, the burgeoning women’s liberation movement in America began to meet fierce backlash from a patriarchal system unwilling to give up the benefits of privilege to achieve equality. As the Equal Rights Amendment languished, stakeholders on either side of the issue found a reason to cheer on the tennis court for either Billie Jean King or Bobby Riggs.

Their head-to-head matchup was more than just a series of serves and volleys. It was, as the title of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ new film about the duel suggests, a Battle of the Sexes.

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Taken - Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson is “taken” with the action genre no more.

The unlikely action star is retiring his particular set of skills and turning his back on the action genre a few months past his 65th birthday. I say unlikely because Neeson was a renowned prestige drama actor until the late ’90s and early ’00s saw him dabbling in blockbusters like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins. Then Taken came along in 2008 and gave him a late-career boost, transforming him into the modern era’s exemplary grizzled action star.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer Review

While watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a passage from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary came to mind: “It’s probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls — as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything. And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity.”

Yorgos Lanthimos, director of the bleak but funny The Lobster, takes his penchant for the unpleasant to the next level with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. As the film unfolds and grows progressively disturbing, you can’t help but ask yourself, “Why am I watching this?”

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Roman J. Israel, Esq. Review

Writer Dan Gilroy made an exciting directorial debut with 2014’s excellent Nightcrawler, a Los Angeles-based character study with a strong lead performance. Now Gilroy is back with yet another character study set in L/A. Sadly, lightning doesn’t strike twice for Gilroy – his new film, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a mess.

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