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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trailer Watch: Frances McDormand is Not to Be F**ked with in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

I always knew Frances McDormand was my spirit animal. Now her shade has risen to its full potential in writer/director Martin McDonagh's (In Bruges) kooky yet grave drama, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. And I am here for every minute of it. The Oscar winner plays Mildred, a grieving mother whose daughter's unsolved murder has sparked a rage in her something fierce. So unf**kwitable that she's decided to create three consecutive billboard signs imploring law enforcement to "stop killing black people" and look for her child's murderer.

Well, that's one way to get their attention in middle America. And it has my full support.

Here's the official synopsis:

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is a darkly comic drama from Academy Award winner Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES). After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), the town's revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing's law enforcement is only exacerbated.

The cast is pretty legit, including Clarke Peters, Peter Dinklage, and John Hawkes. I'm intrigued. 

Take a look at the trailer:

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI doesn't have a confirmed release date yet, but I'll keep you updated with any new information I receive. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A New John Coltrane Documentary Gets the I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO Treatment

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Though I Am Not Your Negro didn't win the best documentary Oscar last month, it's still one of the most successful docs at the 2017 box office (grossing over $6 million already), and continues to inspire audiences with James Baldwin's decades-old words (through an uncanny voiceover by Samuel L. Jackson), which have a remarkable relevance to current events.

So naturally, Hollywood is eager to duplicate the film's success with a new documentary about another revered black legend whose left an indelible mark on both society and entertainment. CHASING TRANE: THE JOHN COLTRANE DOCUMENTARY, written and directed by John Scheinfeld, is the first authorized documentary on the 1950s-60s jazz icon, featuring never-before-seen family home movies, footage of Coltrane and his band in the studio, along with hundreds of exclusive photographs and rare television appearances from around the world. It also includes interviews with Coltrane's children, as well as musicians and notable figures inspired by his work (Common, Dr. Cornel West, President Bill Clinton, Carlos Santana, Wynton Marsalis, and more).

And—wait for it—Denzel Washington does the voiceover. 

Check out the official synopsis:

Written and directed by critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson...?), Chasing Trane is the definitive documentary film about an outside-the-box thinker with extraordinary talent whose boundary-shattering music continues to impact and influence people around the world. This smart, passionate, thought-provoking and uplifting documentary is for anyone who appreciates the power of music to entertain, inspire and transform. The film is produced with the full participation of the Coltrane family and the support of the record labels that collectively own the Coltrane catalog. Set against the social, political and cultural landscape of the times, Chasing Trane brings John Coltrane to life as a fully dimensional being, inviting the audience to engage with Coltrane the man, Coltrane the artist.

I can get behind this. While this is becoming a trend, it's good to see Hollywood using authentic documentaries to tell the stories of notable black figures, instead of trying to recreate shoddy narrative features with terrible casts. Just saying. 

CHASING TRANE: THE JOHN COLTRANE DOCUMENTARY opens in theaters in New York on April 14 and Los Angeles on April 21, with a national rollout in top markets to follow. 


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What's Old Is New Again: The Classic Dystopian Tale, 1984, Heads Back To Theaters

It's hard to get comfortable with the fact that the corrupt, totalitarian future George Owell predicted in his 1949 dystopian novel, 1984, is eerily aligned with the society we're living in today, at the hands of a white guy whose last name begins with "T" and rhymes with Dump.

But, here we are.

So it's fitting that the Michael Radford-directed movie adaptation, originally released in theaters just a year after its fateful title, will return to 180 theaters (and counting) in the U.S., Canada and Europe on April 4. At the beginning and end of each screening of the film will be an exclusive introduction and post-screening discussion with Radford, who will recall stories about the making of the movie and the ways in which Orwell's prescient dystopian tale has retained its haunting and powerful currency across continents and generations.

For those, like me, who have never seen the film, here is the synopsis:

Starring the late John Hurt and Richard Burton (in his last on screen appearance), Michael Radford’s film about Orwell’s 1984 has never been more vital. It uniquely resonates today with the recent rebirth of authoritarian political systems across the globe. As foretold in “1984,” we find ourselves in a time where extremist political parties and unscrupulous national leaders have risen to power through the use of fear, intolerance, and contempt for truth. As Orwell portended and Radford superbly captured in film, “a lie becomes truth and then becomes a lie again." 

Well, I'm hyped. And I can't think of a better time to watch this film on the big screen. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

We Need to Stop Treating Terrence Malick Films Like Necessary Evils

I've never liked the idea of liking a movie out of obligation, appreciating a movie because a particular filmmaker is so "respected" and "creates real art" that we need to "appreciate" it. Seriously, what kind of holy sanctity are we bestowing upon these mere mortal and usually male filmmakers that we just have to accept any garbage they throw at us? Nah, I'm not about that life.

I thought of this as I stepped out of a press screening with a bewildered look on my face after watching Terrence Malick's latest vapid drama, SONG TO SONG. Let's just say, my expectations were low and they were basically met, so I wasn't exactly disappointed. At this point, I'm just doing it to myself; I realize that. But what was interesting about this particular post-Malick experience is that people were flowing out of the theater outwardly complaining about what they just saw, dismayed that they had to endure another film from this guy. So I thought that, finally, a Malick film was about to be slaughtered by critical reviews. Instead, the reviews I've read so far have been tepid at worst, with a caveat implying that the movie is not great but should still be considered mandatory reviewing. A New York Times read, "This may not be a film to love, but it is a film to see." Ughhh we're doing this again.

No, SONG TO SONG isn't great. It's not even good; it's excruciating. Why is it so hard to say that out loud? And why in the world would you recommend it if you don't even care for it?

I thought (read: hoped) that we had moved beyond the trend of "admiring" films and deeming them unwatchable classics to revere for generations to come after finally admitting that the Academy, often considered the barometer of quality, has definitely awarded some terrible films, boosting the egos and careers of sub par filmmakers. We as critics do not have to enable that. Instead, we need to spend that energy boosting the careers of talented filmmakers like Kimberly Peirce, Kasi Lemmons, Jordan Peele, Patty Jenkins, Rodrigo Garcia, Mira Nair, and more who deserve their due. We need to do better.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Noomi Rapace Gets Abducted by Lunatics in a New Thriller from the Director of SECRETARY

I feel like we don't honor Noomi Rapace enough. Beginning in 2009, she embodied one of the most complex woman characters the big screen has ever seen as the title role in the Swedish trilogy. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and has since been playing the role of "the best actress in every movie thereafter." Gawd bless her. 

As I impatiently wait to see her in Alien: Covenant, I'm intrigued to see that she's teamed up with director Steven Shainberg (Secretary) in the thriller, RUPTURE. Coming to theaters April 28, the film stars Rapace as Renee Morgan, a single mother who is abducted of deranged strangers who probe her with questions. Michael Chiklis and Peter Stormare also star. More in the synopsis:

Single mom Renee Morgan (Noomi Rapace) has learned to be strong by necessity. One day, after dropping her son off at school and going about daily chores, she’s suddenly abducted and locked away in a truck that drives off — and continues driving for days. Wherever she’s being taken, it’s very far away. The truck finally arrives at a large, mysterious facility that could be pharmaceutical, could be governmental, could be anything. A mysterious man begins to question her about her medical history. He then starts asking about her fears. Renee realizes just how irrational and frightening a situation she’s in. Others arrive, observing her. Why Renee? What could these people want? The answers to both questions lie far from any scenario she could possibly imagine.

In case you needed another reason to see this, Shainberg co-wrote RUPTURE with Brian Nelson (Devil, Hard Candy). 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

SXSW Award-Winning Short Film Reviews: Heartbreaking Romance and an Eerie School Shooter Narrative

With just a few more days left of SXSW, the festival has announced its 2017 Jury and Special Awards, which include two engrossing narrative short films that defy genre  and expectations. Check out my roundup:

Special Jury Recognition for Acting: DeKalb Elementary
Actor: Tarra Riggs
My Review: It says something when it's not until midway through this 20-minute film that I even realized that I was not watching a documentary. With school shootings on the rise in the U.S., I just assumed that this narrative, which follows a mentally ill man (Bo Mitchell) who surprises an elementary school office when he takes a shotgun out of his backpack and aims it at them, was somehow a chilling reenactment of an actual event. Everything about this rings very authentic, including the fearful portrayal of a school administrator (Riggs) held hostage by an unable man. While you expect the film to spin out with blood splatter and young kids running through the hallways, it remains instead eerily calm, consisting of impressively controlled dialogue between the shooter and his captive, who bravely finds a way to reason with him—revealing intimate details from both parties.

Short Film Grand Jury Awards: Forever Now
Director: Kristian Håskjold
My Review: Breakup films are hard to watch, no matter how much love they reveal. And this 19-minute Danish film is no exception. But with its glorious cinematography (shout out to Christian Houge Laursen), capturing both the romantic warmth and stark coldness of pre- and post-breakup primarily set in a dimly lit apartment, and the performances by its two stars (Frederikke Dahl Hansen and Ferdinand Falsen Hiis), you're quickly swept away into this complicated love affair on the brink. When we meet Cecilie and William, he's struggling to find a delicate balance to break things off with her, while she crumbles before him. Deciding to spend their final night as a couple high on MDMA, recreating their wildest moments in the privacy of their shared apartment, they're reminded the next day of their devastating reality and the souls they are left with.

For more information on the SXSW Film Awards, click here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Only a Horror Film Set in Corporate America Wouldn't Have a Final Girl

Similar to The Purge, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is an obscene horror populated with seemingly innocuous characters ready to take lives at a moment's notice as soon as repercussions are no longer on the table. But what makes this film particularly scary is that it takes place in Corporate America, which can be, if you've seen any horror movie ever, one of the most threatening settings outside of a white suburban neighborhood. You look at me, but you know I'm right.

And this movie may or may not get that (truthfully, I doubt director Greg McLean or screenwriter James Gunn were thinking this way), but as a minority woman I can't help but see the socio-political parallels. It starts out innocent enough though, like any other day at the office (this one being Belko Industries). There's the new girl (Melonie Diaz), the secret office couple (Adria Arjona and John Gallagher, Jr.), the one black woman (Gail Bean), the one black guy (James Earl), the white guy (Tony Goldwyn), the white guy (John C. McGinley), and the white guy (Brent Sexton). At the top of the morning, after begrudging cubicle and office courtesies are exchanged, a gruff voice thunders over the intercom warning them that their building is under siege and they must comply with every heinous demand by this indiscernible yet dangerous stranger. They are told that only a certain number of them will survive the day and they must start killing each other off or else this unknown voice will do it for them. At first, they take it as a joke. But when several employees start meeting their fates, panic propels each of them to turn into the monsters they feared.

What makes this movie interesting is how race, age, and gender politics in the workplace are represented. When things start to get bloody, it becomes clear that two of the white men in the office, Mike (Gallagher) and Barry (Goldwyn) have led the staff into two sectors—outright murderers and diplomatic heroes. Though Mike represents the heroic group, it's telling that he is leading the staff most consisting of minorities, women, and older employees. No, not a woman, a minority, or an older employee, but a 30-something year-old white man whose heroism comes at the cost of the lives of his less privileged colleagues than anything else. On the other hand, Mike, the company's senior director who oversees the entire staff is quick to abandon his leadership duties and grabs the biggest gun he can find to take out the first helpless employee who crosses his path—with his white white male posse, one half consisting of a pervert who harasses women in the office.

Meanwhile, as the two white men fight to the death, the staff who don't pick up a weapon—including women and minorities who are dependable, practical, genuinely A+ employees, some just biding their time until retirement—slowly yet steadily become insignificant. Mind you, all of this literally goes down in a number of hours. It takes less than a day for everyone in this office (or really, just the white guys) to go truly insane once their livelihood is jeopardized.

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT isn't the type of horror film that should remain in your mind long after you've watched it, though it's taut, gripping, and certainly frightening at times. But in today's capitalist society further complicated by Trump politics, it's hard not to see its incidental subversiveness on a whole new level.

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)

Opens in theaters Friday. Watch the trailer:

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