at the ready review

Wearing bulky Kevlar vests and bulletproof helmets, a squadron of law enforcement personnel prepare to enter a residence. It’s an image that is primed to make one automatically raises one’s hackles — given the sociopolitical landscape in the past 10, 20 years, we know exactly how this scene will play out. But then you notice how young they all are. Sporting braces and adolescent acne underneath their paramilitary equipment, the mostly Mexican-American teenagers of Horizon High School are participating in simulations of high-stress policing situations as part of their school’s law enforcement club — one of the many popular law enforcement clubs in the region that puts them on a fast-track to getting a job at Border Patrol. See, Horizon High School lies about 10 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, home to one of the country’s largest immigrant populations — and to one of the region’s largest law enforcement education programs.

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prime time review

Ever since Peter Finch stormed in front of the TV studio cameras to declare that he’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, people — fictional or otherwise — have held a kind of twisted fascination with the parasitic relationship between broadcast television and its viewers. The ghoulish appeal of capturing the attention of an easily distracted public on a live broadcast with some shocking message has sadly permeated reality in harrowing ways. But what if said messenger never got in front of the camera?

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marvelous and the black hole review

13 is a hard age. No longer a child, not yet an adult, and nowhere to channel that teen angst, which is even rawer for angry delinquent Sammy Ko (Miya Cech), who is struggling to overcome the grief over losing her mother. So Sammy breaks things at her school and tattoos little x’s on her thigh with a makeshift tattoo pen, until her father (Leonardo Nam) gets fed up and threatens her with military camp. If she can make it through one business class over the summer, then she doesn’t have to go.

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i was a simple man review

“Dying isn’t simple is it?”

Masao (Steve Iwamoto) is on his death bed, unwilling — or unable — to reckon with his debilitating sickness, even as his estranged children and grandchildren flit around and away from his bedside. The only presence that has stuck by his side the entire time he’s been bedbound is not a physical one: it’s the ghost of his long-dead wife, Grace (a beatific Constance Wu), who had arrived soon after the formerly robust, dynamic Masao had received his diagnosis, looming on the outskirts of his isolated house before finally being allowed entrance by her frightened husband. As Masao waits to die, his spectral wife guiding him through his final days, Christopher Makoto Yogi‘s elegiac family drama I Was A Simple Man crafts a haunting tapestry of a man’s life, interwoven with Hawaii’s own post-colonial landscape, highlighting and embracing the scars that are left behind by both.

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together together review

Together Together is a love story – kind of. This is not the typical romantic love story that Hollywood usually pumps out; it’s a story about platonic love. About finding a connection with another human being that isn’t based on seduction or romance. And that’s refreshing! More stories like this from the movies would be welcomed. Unfortunately, the film that’s built around that platonic love story is lacking, resulting in a film that’s sweet and kind but also kind of forgettable.

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2021 Sundance Film Festival Awards

Today, the Golden Globe nominations were announced, and the results were pretty bad! So perhaps we should try to cleanse our palates with the 2021 Sundance Film Festival awards. This year’s Sundance was virtual, and while that experience can’t hold a candle to being on the ground in Park City, the festival organizers deserver lots of credit for putting the fest together in any capacity and running it smoothly. While I found a lot of the films I saw this year to be lacking, there were still plenty of noteworthy titles. Lots of attention was paid to Coda, a film that went over big when it opened the fest. The same goes for another opening night film: Summer of Soul, a documentary from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

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john and the hole review

Every now and again, some internet smart aleck will cut a trailer for a beloved comedy classic that imagines that film as a horror movie. Mrs. Doubtfire, Shrek, Ross from Friends, what have you — they all turn into the psychopathic killers given the right editing choices and a creepy enough musical score. But the most popular victim (or villain, depending on your reading) is Kevin McCallister from Home Alone, whose cartoonish antics strike fear in the hearts of people who think about their real ramifications.

Of course, the chilling psychological thriller John and the Hole is more than just a cobbled-together internet video. The feature directorial debut of Pascual Sisto, penned by Oscar-winning writer Nicolás Giacobone (Birdman), John and the Hole is a harrowing deep dive into pre-adolescent ennui, that is closer to the empty cruelty of Yorgos Lanthimos. It only maintains a surface-level similarity to the premise of Home Alone — a young boy who is left to his own devices, only here, the boy, John (a chilling Charlie Shotwell) is the one who is holding is family captive in a misguided attempt to understand his own burgeoning pubescence.

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judas and the black messiah review

“A badge is scarier than a gun.” So says William O’Neal, a Black man who sits in an interrogation room, bloodied and bruised. It’s the 1960s, and O’Neal has just been caught trying to boost a car while impersonating an FBI agent – and the crime could spell the end of his life as he knows it. His words ring true – he knows he doesn’t need to pull a weapon to frighten African Americans into submission; the threat of a lawman with unchecked power is far more terrifying. O’Neal’s attempt at car robbery sets him on a path towards destruction. He stays out of prison – but his freedom is gone.

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First Date review

The best thing I can say about First Date, the wacky new crime comedy from writer/directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, is that it almost never takes its foot off the gas. It opens with a bang (someone gets shot in the first scene), and after a very brief sequence which establishes some of the main characters, it quickly kicks back into high gear. But that fast pace means the film never stays in one place for very long, and your mileage may vary on whether or not all of its detours and destinations are ultimately worthwhile. Read More »

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the blazing world review

You would think any movie that casts the iconic Udo Kier as an enigmatic dream guide who munches on fireflies would at least be interesting, but no – The Blazing World, an over-stylized, under-baked bit of tomfoolery from writer-director-star Carlson Young never manages to engross the viewer even as it continues to throw out fantastical scenarios left and right. It’s a draining mishmash of Intro to Psych lectures mixed with dream journal excerpts swirled together with some not-so-subtle Pan’s Labyrinth rip-offs. It’s no doubt a film made with the best intentions, but that doesn’t make it any less of a chore to sit through.

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