the party's just beginning review

Karen Gillan is still a relatively unknown quantity in the U.S. After shooting to cult success in Doctor Who, Gillan muddled through a few obscure comedy roles before getting her big break as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy. But her prosthetic-covered, blue painted face has hindered her chance at widespread recognition, though her performance in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may have finally earned her the attention she deserves — if people could see beyond the Rock’s pecs.

She deserved to shoot to stardom with the unfortunately titled 2014 TV series Selfie, in which Gillan played a vain, selfish, and damaged heroine addicted to the instant gratification of social media. She gave a stunning performance in a show that was seen by too few and that was gone too soon. But Gillan’s directorial debut, The Party’s Just Beginning, takes that damaged, troubled character and runs with it — spawning an intriguing heroine for a dark, oddball film that deals with the lasting damages of grief.

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all about nina review

Movies about comedians are usually a gamble. Often they’re too self-indulgent, or mawkish, or overly mean-spirited. Rarely do they balance the high drama of comedians’ inherent insecurities and the, you know, comedy. But the few that do succeed because they strike a personal chord — one that mirrors the self-deprecating performance and painfully real revelations of a good stand-up set.

All About Nina is as personal as you can get. Written and directed by Eva VivesAll About Nina is a searing, semi-autobiographical portrait of a troubled young woman trying to make her big break in the comedy scene. Played with an intoxicating swagger by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Nina is an abrasive stand-up comedian who never shies away from provoking people on and off-stage, but hides a dark past of her own.

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Song of Back and Neck review

Do we really need another sad middle-age white guy comedy? Probably not, but if we have to have them, at least let them be more like Paul Lieberstein’s Song of Back and Neck. The artist best known to audiences as Toby from TV’s The Office makes his first step behind the camera for feature filmmaking to largely positive results, handling some slightly morose material with equal parts sincerity and dry humor.

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maine review

If you see Maine features a woman hiking a trail alone and assume you’re in for a retread of Wild, think again. In upstart director Matthew Brown’s sophomore feature, we see people fleeing the burdens of their life in the great outdoors in search of escape and fulfillment – but ultimately finding neither. The answers to life’s problems do not simply appear out of thin air in the woods, as much as the film’s two hikers might try to will them into existence. And yet, there’s catharsis in the film’s complete lack of cathartic moments, just as there’s deep feeling in the emotional reserve and an intense connection with characters who can never get outside of themselves to connect to each other.

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braid review

I’ve never robotripped, ingested geltabs of acid or licked stimulant toad excretions, but if I did, I’d imagine the experience to resemble Mitzi Peirone’s Braid. Style over substance just had a new league invented by this hallucinogenic rabbit’s hole, laced with uppers and light on explanations. Keeping up isn’t an option here – audiences are better served soaking in sugar plum scenic drenches than trying to rationalize character motivations. Peirone marches to the beat of her own drum, that’s part of a massive in-tune band, performing on her own made-up holiday. Hold onto something and try not to lose your mind…there’s no Mad Hatter to save you this time.

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the seagull review

Put Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, and Corey Stoll in a room, and you’ve got yourself one of the most talented, charismatic rooms in Hollywood. It’s too bad that The SeagullMichael Mayer‘s plodding, histrionic adaptation of the Anton Chekhov play of the same name, puts that talent to waste.

Mayer and screenwriter Stephen Karam enthusiastically try to modernize an 1896 romantic drama that is steeped in the subtext and social environment of Chekov’s Russia. And while the camera swings with lively verve and the lush, picturesque setting lends a dreamy quality to the film, the many colorful characters are still stuck in a story that feels like it’s over 100 years old. At the end of the day, Bening and Ronan can only do so much, and The Seagull becomes a comedy of errors without the comedy.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post Review

A teen fidgets nervously with the pages of a Bible.

This is the first image glimpsed in Desiree Akhavan’s sophomore effort, an equal parts melancholy-and-optimistic gay conversion drama. The antsy teen sits alongside several Bible Study peers – including high-schoolers Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Coley (Quinn Shephard), whose budding, secret romance the film keeps flashing back to – as a pastor bellows about the evils lurking within all children their age. The world sees these queer kids as ugly, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a joyous rebuke despite the darkness it portrays.

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Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro

After two high-profile Q&A disasters at panels with the cast of Scarface and TV’s Westworld, the organizers of the Tribeca Film Festival had to breathe a sigh of relief when Robert DeNiro stepped on stage and had very little to say. The festival’s co-founder had an hour with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle co-star Bradley Cooper but admitted he was outsourcing the questions to friends and family who could text him what they wanted to ask.

The result, to start, were some awkward pregnant pauses – but it ultimately led to Cooper filling in the silence with amusing anecdotes about his experiences with the legendary performer.

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to dust review

Death makes fools of us all because it exposes the limitations of human knowledge. We may have strong beliefs about what happens after our final breath, but none among us truly knows what happens. That uncertainty can gnaw away at those left behind with little more than the memory and the body of the recently departed.

In To Dust, first-time feature director Shawn Snyder locates the tragedy in pining for such answers but also digs a little deeper for a truly revelatory find. Because of – and remarkably, not in spite of – the weighty material he deals with, he finds the comedy in the situation. The lengths to which devastated widower Shmuel (Géza Röhrig) goes to achieve the sense of finality that he cannot locate within his religious community eventually reaches the point of absurdity. We don’t laugh at him; we laugh with him because the Grim Reaper could come knocking at one of our own loved ones’ doors someday soon.

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little woods review

The Western has wholly transformed since the days when John Wayne first drew his pistols. No longer is it a glamorous validation of rugged individualism, or a sweeping ode to Americana. No, the times, they are a-changin’ — and with it, one of cinema’s oldest genres.

Nia DaCosta‘s haunting directorial debut, Little Woods, is the latest incarnation of the Western, a potent slow-burning thriller that taps into the economic devastation that has wracked middle America for the past few decades. And anchored by two incredible performances by stars Tessa Thompson and Lily JamesLittle Woods becomes an intimate and painfully now film that gives us a glimpse of the evolution of a genre primarily populated by hypermasculine men.

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