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Monday, November 30, 2015

We Need to Talk About What's Going On This Award Season

Guys, it's about that time. I'm started to get worried. I am putting a lot of hope into The Hateful Eight--partly because my excitement for a new Tarantino movie knows no bounds, and partly out of sheer desperation. I have been binge watching "Oscar bait" films for the last several weeks and I am B-O-R-E-D. I cannot believe the excessive number of bland films people are calling "the front-runners"this season. Like, for real?

Granted, I still have a few films on my slate to see (and I won't reveal here which ones I have left, but they're very few) and a few more reviews to post. But something tells me that, yet again, the most interesting films are going to be the ones that no one is trying to give any award to. And that sucks balls (#sorrynotsorry, there was no better way to  express that). You know s**t is rough if The Hollywood Reporter features this uninspired group of individuals as their leading ladies this season. It's not that these actresses aren't good. They're all great. But save for Charlotte Rampling (who I'll talk about later in this piece) and maybe Brie Larson, it's just so expected. All are in dramas, all of them are white, and too many of them are either in real-life stories or costume dramas. Does this storyline sound familiar? It should; I wrote the same thing last year.

But unlike last year, when there was a plethora of other films that I thought were more award-worthy than the ones touted, we are experiencing a desert this year. Again, there's still The Hateful Eight, Gawd willing. And yes, a few other great ones, including the criminally underrated Advantageous and What Happened, Miss Simone?--neither of which anyone else seem to be raving about. Which leaves the remaining hot garbage so many others have put on their top ten lists. There are 5-10 films that get nominated in each category, and that's going to be a major feat this year. Even without having seen Creed yet, I almost want to give it some love just to diversify the conversation. I won't praise a film I haven't seen yet, though, after all I'm not The Hollywood Reporter (or too many of my other fellow film critics). But I will talk about these three duds that I haven't already panned on this site over the past few weeks:

BROOKLYN: Listen, I love Saoirse Ronan. She's young, talented, and chooses projects that
highlight her strengths as an actress. In that respect, she's a smart talent. But, my Gawd, this might be the most boring movie I've seen this year so far--and I've seen a lot of dumb ones. She plays a young Irish woman who moves to Brooklyn in the 1950s to start a new life for herself. Yada yada yada...she's torn between her past life and new one....yada yada yada. Needless to say, Ronan is the only good thing in a horribly bland film, which actually eclipses her. She becomes lost in it. There just really isn't anything about this film--not even the obligatory grand cinematography found in most period films--that is memorable or in the least bit interesting.

45 YEARS: So let's talk about Charlotte Rampling, Hollywood Reporter cover girl. She's a solid actress, no doubt. I only remembered this after referring to her IMDB page after watching the film and not being able to place her. She's been in over one hundred movies, some of which I have seen (like Never Let Me Go and Melancholia), but 45 YEARS is the film that has apparently elevated her to superstar status--oddly enough, since it seems more like half a film. It's about a married couple whose relationship is challenged once a former love re-enters the picture. And that's it. There are no dramatic arguments, no threats of a dissolution, not really even a real conversation about the former relationship that is now looming over their heads. It's just a lot of polite squabbles that are truthfully not well written. The actors (both Rampling and co-star Tom Courtenay) are committed to each scene, which seems like 45 years of nothingness. I may or may not have internally yelled at the screen a few times. I couldn't help myself.

And lastly:

YOUTH: With no sarcasm, I will say that this is a very lovely film to look at. Absolutely gorgeous. In fact, I propose that it gets re-released as a silent film. Why? Because each frame is like its own separate story that I would much rather dissect without the dialogue, which is remarkably cliched. Let me set it up for you: Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are aging artists in deep reflection (or more accurately at times, denial) of their mature stage in life--and live out their senior life crisis through the crises of much younger souls. Namely, Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano's characters, who are far more engrossing to watch on screen. Not because of their ages (that would be a cheap shot), but because there is conflict in their storylines--no matter how frivolous it may seem as a young man who peaked as a child actor and a woman whose failed marriage has her in a tailspin, respectively. And I'd even throw in Jane Fonda, whose character, a veteran Hollywood star, serves as a mirror of the two lead characters' lives. But as much potential as the supporting characters have, and how beautiful the film looks, I would have traded it all for a good book and a warm bath. (P.S. YOUTH also has the annoying cliche of a naked young model hanging out in a pool with two old men wearing trunks...because Hollywood). *Sigh*

Here's hoping for better films to come....

Friday, November 27, 2015

HE NAMED ME MALALA Reduces a Compelling Story to a Hallow One

Anytime I think about HE NAMED ME MALALA, I keep hearing Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront say, "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody!" Because this documentary on Pakistani Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai should have been great. I mean, the amazing story was already there. The now 18-year-old has become an international icon for human and education rights advocacy through her own harrowing experience that propelled her to fight even harder. All director Davis Guggenheim really had to do was shoot it. But instead, the film became a distorted mess. 

Never mind that much of the story is told in animation for a reason I don't understand. I can only assume that Guggenheim wanted to appeal to younger audiences, but it doesn't translate well and it also belittles the audience it is trying to include in this depiction. What I found particularly disappointing, though, is the angle of the narrative. The film focuses on how men view Yousafzai's celebrity: many who think she is a fabricated model created by her own father (who is in almost as many scenes as her), men who think she's overrated and who have even wished her harm. Few women and girls are represented in the film, and even when we do hear from Yousafzai, she is often talking about being her father's daughter and how he is her rock. We don't hear her voice, which is a huge detriment. She is one of the most inspirational young women ever, yet HE NAMED ME MALALA relies on a third party to tell her story. What a shame.

I wanted to know more about what life is like now for Yousafzai, having lived through a devastation that many of us may never face; and more of a narrative about the event that changed her life, the state of Swat Valley (her native area in Pakistan), and how it feels to be essentially told she is a fraud (this is touched on in the film, but Yousafzai tries to act unfazed by the question).

HE NAMED ME MALALA feels really impersonal (despite Guggenheim's attempts to eek out an engaging film), and it does her story a major disservice as it succumbs to the male perspective it tries--and fails--to denounce.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Horror Films Still Don't Get it: You Can't Bring People Back From the Dead

For real, though? Do I even need to say that people in the movies should not ever bring their loved ones back from the dead because...they don't ever come back sane? I already know what will happen in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, so I don't really need to read the synopsis. But here it is anyway:

A family lives an idyllic existence abroad until a tragic accident takes the life of their young son. The inconsolable mother learns of an ancient ritual that will bring him back to say a final goodbye. She travels to an ancient temple, where a door serves as a mysterious portal between two worlds. But when she disobeys a sacred warning to never open that door, she upsets the balance between life and death.

Oh Gawd, and ancient rituals too? The horror movie cliches are running rampant. Watch the trailer:

My fellow fans of The Walking Dead will recognize Sarah Wayne Callies (aka Lori Grimes) from the show. Looks like she's gotten herself into more shenanigans in this new film. Jeremy Sisto also co-stars. 

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR opens in theaters March 11, 2016. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Here Comes Another Pretentious Terrence Malick Film

He cannot help himself at this point. As most of you know who've been reading this blog consistently, I am no Terrence Malick fan. Or, scratch that. Actually, I love watching his films on mute, and will probably blog about that experience one day, but his deafening silences coupled with the Big Bang-like cinematography makes me want to gag. It's just too much, and for no reason but to show off.

Anyway, I said I wouldn't rehash my contempt for Malick films here so I won't. But get a look at the trailer for his new film, KNIGHT OF CUPS (Gawd, even the title is pretentious): 

Okay, I love the cast (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman), but still stand by what I wrote up above.

KNIGHT OF CUPS is in theaters March 4. 

ADVANTAGEOUS and Abraham Attah Get Some Spirit Award Love

I can always count on the Film Independent Spirit Awards to recognize some of my favorite movies of the year. Especially after The Hollywood Reporter basically decided to be a sheep and just feature seven of the most generic actresses ever on its cover, ignoring some of the most promising talent out there right now. Which brings us to Advantageous, the sci-fi indie I raved about a few months ago, that has just earned a nomination for the John Cassavetes award. *insert ecstatic applause here*

Oh, and Abraham Attah, the pint size talent from Beasts of No Nation, has also been nominated. I still say he was the best thing about that film, though apparently co-star Idris Elba is consuming a lot of the attention as well.

But wait, where is What Happened, Miss Simone?, the best documentary of the year??? I demand a recount. 

In case you're interested, there are a few other films that got some Spirit Award love yesterday too (some of which are wildly overrated, like TangerineIt Follows, and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl). Check out the complete list of nominees below:

Best Feature
“Beasts of No Nation”

Best Director
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, “Anomalisa”
Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”
Todd Haynes, “Carol”
David Robert Mitchell, “It Follows”
Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Sean Baker, “Tangerine”

Best Female Lead
Cate Blanchett, “Carol”
Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Brie Larson, “Room”
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, “Tangerine”

Best Male Lead
Abraham Attah, “Beasts of No Nation”
Jason Segel, “The End of the Tour”
Christopher Abbot, “James White”
Koudous Seihon, “Mediterranea”
Ben Mendelsohn, “Mississippi Grind”

Best Supporting Female
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Anomalisa”
Marin Ireland, “Glass Chin”
Robin Bartlett, “H.”
Cynthia Nixon, “James White”
Mya Taylor, “Tangerine”

Best Supporting Male
Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”
Richard Jenkins, “Bone Tomahawk”
Paul Dano, “Love & Mercy”
Kevin Corrigan, “Results”
Michael Shannon, “99 Homes”

Best Screenplay
“Bone Tomahawk”
“The End of the Tour”

Best First Feature
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
“James White”
“Manos Sucas”
“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”

Best First Screenplay
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
“The Mend”

Best Editing
“Beasts of No Nation”
“Heaven Knows What”
“It Follows”

Best Cinematography
“Beasts of No Nation”
“It Follows”
“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”

Best Documentary
“Best of Enemies”
“Heart of a Dog”
“The Look of Silence”
“The Russian Woodpecker”

Best International Film
“Embrace of the Serpent”
“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”
“Son of Saul”

John Cassavetes Award
“Christmas, Again”
“Heaven Knows What”
“Out of My Hand”

Robert Altman Award

The Film Independent Spirit Awards airs live on IFC on February 27 at 2PM ST/5PM EST.

On THE NIGHT BEFORE, MASTER OF NONE and the Lack of Women of Color Love Interests

I admit, I had come to Aziz Ansari's defense a little bit when folks criticized his series, Master of None, because Dev (Ansari) doesn't have any women of color love interests. Not because that's not a justified argument (it is), but because he at least has a diverse group of friends with agency on the show. They weren't caricatures; they were real people. That's a lot for a series that has garnered so much acclaim (including mine). And I don't get the sense that he would turn down a woman just because she wasn't white. But I can very well be overreaching with that one, admittedly.

All that to say, I gave Ansari a bit of a pass with--though I think the conversation is a needed one.

Then came THE NIGHT BEFORE, the new Seth Rogen pothead film with a holiday twist that just opened in theaters last week. Isaac (Rogen) and his posse, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie, get into hijinks in New York City on Christmas Eve on their way to the coveted Nutcracker ball. And...smoke a lot of weed, get into a lot of trouble, while dodging adulthood as much as they can. Basically, like most Rogen and James Franco (who makes an appearance) films. Whatever, it was light, at times stupid, but entertaining and I was never bored. But there was a moment in the film in which Mackie's character has, let's say, a romantic encounter with a semi-rabid white woman (Ilana Glazer) in a stinky public restroom. Fine, she is a silly character. But I looked around the rest of the film and there are very few women of color on the streets, the subway, or even at the Nutcracker Ball. In New York City, where we can find diversity everywhere? It's funny how Ansari's NYC is so different from writer/director Jonathan Levine's...

Coincidentally, the only women of color in THE NIGHT BEFORE are Chris's (Mackie) mom, played by the ever immaculate Lorraine Toussaint, and Mindy Kaling, who's also been criticized for the lack of diversity on her now Hulu series, The Mindy Project. By the way, Kaling's character hooks up with Franco's character (who quite honestly is only mildly interested in her). I say this all to say that the lack of women of color as love interests highlight a persistent problem by which I can only assume that Hollywood simply does not see women of color as believable love interests unless they are playing prostitute or vixens. I mean, Chris was the only character out of his crew in THE NIGHT BEFORE that did not have a love interest--except one that ate out of the garbage and was kind of a psychopath. Seriously, Hollywood? Meanwhile, Isaac and Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) have fairly healthy romantic scenarios.

I like to think that the casting directors just went with the best actress for the roles (and for what it's worth, they're solid performances), but Hollywood doesn't have the best track record in creating a fair playing field as far as diversity goes. So, this gets a side eye.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Awards Watch: The Endlessly Creepy Austrian Horror, GOODNIGHT MOMMY

I swear, if I wasn't running late for my second event of the night, I would have stood up in the theater and did a long slow clap after watching the Austrian horror, GOODNIGHT MOMMY. Not only because it was great (and deeply disturbing), but because I think I have been so deprived of good films that this one came as such a needed welcome. Seriously, it is the only "awards worthy" film so far this season that is actually worthy of an award. (Yeah, I said it).

GOODNIGHT MOMMY came out a few months ago in the U.S., so you've probably already heard that is not what it presents itself to be. In fact, it is way, way more demented. Unlike too many modern mainstream horror films, this one takes time for the audience to get to know each of the characters and their surroundings, building an unsettling intensity the whole time. What we know right from the beginning is that Lukas and Elias are 9-year-old twin boys who spend most of their days roughhousing and running around their spacious yard --and as far away from their now unrecognizable mother whose face is completely hidden behind layers of bandages. Unusual personality shifts like completely ignoring one of the twins, locking them in their room, and generally being both physically and emotionally distant toward them lead Lukas and Elias to believe that their real mother has been replaced by some evil proxy. And so, they react accordingly.

While it doesn't spark endless conversations like, say, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night or Babadook, there is something special about GOODNIGHT MOMMY in that it has an compelling enough plot that doesn't rely as much on socio-political commentary as it does genuine eeriness and rage--classic horror devices. Writer/director team Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz are exquisite at building and sustaining intensity throughout the film, which you never know which direction it will take. Showing a mastery in creating moody atmosphere in even the smallest of rooms, both filmmakers seem to understand that the audience may guess the crazy ending beforehand. But you're still squirming in your seat as you watch the increasingly creepy events unfold.

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

Watch the trailer:

Up-and-Comer Stephan James Steps Into the Giant Shoes of Jesse Owens in the First Trailer for RACE

Anytime Hollywood cares to consider someone less famous for an iconic role, I just want to turn to all those naysayers who think non-marquis names don't sell tickets and say "HI, HATER." I mean, let's not even get started on the uber success of Straight Outta Compton, whose only big name is Paul Giamatti.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I saw the trailer for RACE, the upcoming biopic on track Olympian Jesse Owens. Stephan James, whose biggest role has been as John Lewis in Selma, steps into the giant shoes of a legend. I just hope that the film is enough to usher in the next great African-American movie star. I must admit, the fact that the writer team behind Frankie & Alice penned this screenplay is of major concern...

Also, is anyone else annoyed that the studio couldn't come up with a better, less generic title, than Race?

More on the film below:

Based on the incredible true story of Jesse Owens, the legendary athletic superstar whose quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy. “Race” is an enthralling film about courage, determination, tolerance, and friendship, and an inspiring drama about one man’s fight to become an Olympic legend.

Watch the trailer:

RACE hits theaters nationwide February 19, 2016.

Monday, November 23, 2015

3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS Highlights the Disturbing Ties Between Racism and Self-Denial

Like most films that highlight the recurring tragedy of unarmed black men killed by the hands of the law and other entitled individuals, filmmaker Marc Silver's 3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS is both sad and infuriating. It focuses on the 2014 trial of Michael Dunn for the murder of 17-year-old African-American high school student Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, for playing loud music at a gas station. While the documentary itself merely gives the audience a bird's eye view of the courtroom narrative, it punctuates the point that is too often forgotten in these cases: It is Dunn who is on trial here, not Davis.

Davis's character is not as much interrogated as it is revealed to inform the case. Whereas Dunn's character is scrutinized and dissected for the same reason. Most importantly, the question perpetuated throughout is who was Dunn on the night of the murder and was that a change from who he typically is. I keep coming back to the phrase "self-denial," which was repeated a lot during the film as it refers to the idea that Dunn was always a hateful racist and didn't realize it until this particular situation arose. To hear Dunn talk about his own character on the stand, through a shaky voice and teary eyes, one would believe that he was as shocked by his actions as, well, Davis probably was. Even scarier, he believed he was actually the victim.

Of course, as the details are unfolded in 3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS, the terrifying side of Dunn is also exposed--through both the surprising testimony of his girlfriend and his own. Juxtaposed with the trial scenes are Davis's parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, whose grief lends itself to the sadly familiar outcry of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS, whose title refers to the method and the amount of time it took for Davis to be taken from this earth, is a brutal reminder that some stories don't need to be dramatized to be compelling. The fact that they happened at all is enough to move an audience to tears and helpless frustration.

Rating: B+

Watch the trailer:

3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS will premiere on HBO November 23 at 9PM EST/PST.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Somebody is Knocking Off all the Pretty People in the First Trailer for ZOOLANDER 2

I find the concept funnier than the the actual trailer for ZOOLANDER 2. Take from that what you will, but it appears that in this universe a meanie villain (aka Will Ferrell in a crazy wig) is killing off all the pretty people in the world...yet Penélope Cruz is completely unscathed and Justin Bieber is a dangerous target. Seriously, did I get that right? *insert cartoonish villain laugh here*

I guess I am laughing more at the film than with it. So...yeah.

Check it out:

ZOOLANDER 2 is in theaters February 12.

Richard Linklater's Next Film Sounds Really Unremarkable

Come on, Richard Linklater. You can't follow something has subtly profound as Boyhood with...some silly movie about group of college kids having fun without adults for the first times ever. Like, is that all?

Let me stop. Because I am sure most of you remember that when I first read about Boyhood, I was hella underwhelmed about that too and it ended up being the bee's knees. So, I guess it's a crap shoot. But, I don't know, I just kinda wanted the guy who helmed the best film last year (yeah, I still stand by this) to follow it up with something special. The new film, titled Everybody Wants Some (seriously), has been announced as the opening film for next year's SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas next March. So regardless of what I feel about the film, SXSW is apparently really hyped about it.

We'll see. Goodness knows Linklater is pretty good at turning a film that sounds awful on paper into a modern masterpiece.

Here's a longer description:

Set in the world of 1980s college life, Everybody Wants Some is a comedy, directed and written by Richard Linklater, that follows a group of college baseball players as they navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood. Get ready for the best weekend ever

Paramount Pictures will release the film on April 15, 2016.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It's Coming...Ridley Scott's ALIEN: COVENANT, Gets a Title Treatment

Prepare for two years of sneak previews, video clips and promo images from Ridley Scott's much talked about second installment of his prequel trilogy, ALIEN COVENANT. I just hope that by the time it arrives on October 6, 2017, we haven't seen all the great parts of the film already. 

But really, can we talk about how Prometheus, the 2012 predecessor didn't need a sequel? I didn't realize Scott had planned to do this as a trilogy, but the more I think about it the more unnecessary it needs. Why a prequel trilogy? Isn't a prequel just supposed to be one film? I mean, I liked Prometheus (and I realize I am in the minority there), but this just seems like a vanity project at this point. 

Don't get me wrong, though: I'll still watch it. :)

Check out the synopsis:

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in ALIEN with ALIEN: COVENANT, the second chapter in a prequel trilogy that began with PROMETHEUS -- and connects directly to Scott’s 1979 seminal work of science fiction. Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world -- whose sole inhabitant is the "synthetic" David (Michael Fassbender), survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

At least Fassbender will be in it, and the effects I'm sure will be great. Thoughts?

Awards Watch: Snapshot Review of FROM FROM THE MADDING CROWD

Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts in Far From the Madding Crowd

I really don't set out to be a contrarian. I want to love all the "Oscar-worthy" films people have been buzzing about for the last few weeks. But the truth is, I can't. And I won't. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is...decent, if you're into the whole British woman in romantic turmoil costume drama. I found that genre far more interesting with Belle, but here not so much.

Carey Mulligan, an actress who I am beginning to think is more intriguing than the roles she's given, stars here as Bathsheba Everdene, a British feminist before the word was even defined, who turned down not one, not two, but three suitors to focus on her work instead--and became somewhat of a hero in the process. Her story, adapted from Thomas Hardy's novel of the same name, doesn't really carry as much heft as, say, Hilary Swank's role in The Homesman, because it primarily explores her feminism through her disengagement with men--which isn't a compelling storyline. The film needed more about her vision as a working woman, but that kept getting interrupted by the men in and our of her life. I understand that her decision to find her independence, and freely sing songs that include lyrics like "...let no man steal your time..." is considered groundbreaking and defiant for its time, but the way her narrative has been told here is just so blah. It's not as impactful as it should have been. In fact, it's just plain lazy at times.

But I will say that the cinematography is lovely. The rest is just extremely forgettable.

Rating: C (** out of *****)

Watch the trailer:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Awards Watch: MISTRESS AMERICA And The Problem With Millenial Plight Stories

I realize that watching a 20-something hipster have a quarter life meltdown for two hours might be entertaining for some, but I still cannot get into it. Like, at all. And Greta Gerwig has built an entire career off it. To be fair, I like her. Like, I like watching her on screen, and I think she is an engaging actress. But I just don't find any of her characters as interesting. In fact, I'm pretty sure if I ever were to meet any of her characters I'd slap her in the face like Cher did to Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck roll my eyes so hard they'd fall out of my head.

But, you know, to each her own.

I mean, how many movies could you endure with lines like "I'll probably end up doing something depressing and young?"This is, by the way, a direct quote from MISTRESS AMERICA, yet another awards contender that folks are hyping up for no reason. (Sidebar: Oscar season better start getting good and soon, if not it should just go ahead and be canceled). The film's premise falls right in line with other Gerwig films: a flighty, 20-something young woman in New York City struggles to get her life started amid her own self-sabotage. This time, Gerwig plays Brooke, an artist in her own mind who is more than eager to take in her slightly more level-headed future stepsister Tracy (Lola Kirke) as her instant BFF (because of course). The two partake in shenanigans and beer 'til the sun comes up and Brooke finally gets her "a-ha" moment, to Tracy's disadvantage.

It's just...what is that word the kids are always saying? Oh that's right, basicMISTRESS AMERICA is so derivative and underwhelming that it just goes to show how much we're in a creative deficit this award season that this film is even being considered. Ugh.

I'm sure there are plenty of folks who see Gerwig's collective opus as one that resonates with increasingly directionless millenials, and those I ask one thing: Will you remember this film one year from now? I'm going to take a gander and say no, not only because of its lack of substance but also because its core audience doesn't have the attention span to retain such a fleeting film that seems to caricaturize them more than sympathize with them. Like every other trend, this too shall pass.

Rating: D (* out of *****)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thank Gawd This is the Final Installment of The Divergent Series

I'm not even going to comment anymore on how dumb this looks, so here is the trailer for THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT, now with more Naomi Watts and Jeff Daniels (which should make it better, but it doesn't):

Oh, and here's the synopsis:

The third installment of the blockbuster Divergent series franchise, ALLEGIANT takes Tris [Shailene Woodley] and Four [Theo James] into a new world, far more dangerous than ever before.

After the earth-shattering revelations of INSURGENT, Tris must escape with Four and go beyond the wall enclosing Chicago. For the first time ever, they will leave the only city and family they have ever known. Once outside, old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless with the revelation of shocking new truths. Tris and Four must quickly decide who they can trust as a ruthless battle ignites beyond the walls of Chicago which threatens all of humanity. In order to survive, Tris will be forced to make impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice and love.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

F**ked Into Submission? A Look Back at Sunday's Episode of THE AFFAIR

So, did any of you watch Sunday's episode of Showtime's THE AFFAIR? Because...I am feeling a kind of way about it. I mean, don't get me wrong: I still love the show, and I think how the writers are slowly peeling away the layers of Helen's (Maura Tierney) storyline is brilliant. And Noah (Dominic West) and Alison's (Ruth Wilson) imperfect romance remains a compelling foundation an increasingly compelling series. Buuuuut did anyone else blink really hard when Noah snatched Alison from her yoga retreat thingy, threw her up against a nearby tree and f**ked her forcibly--all because he was frustrated that she was dragging her feet about rekindling their relationship after he had been away being a family man in another town for SIX WEEKS?

Like, seriously dude? I have so many four-letter words for you, I don't even know how to begin. Truthfully, much of Noah and Alison's relationship has depended on 1) sex, 2) thrills, and 3) connection (in that order). So, graphic sex scenes between the two of them has become status quo on the show (whereas any sex scenes between Noah and Helen were always so...dutiful). But it's more the series of events leading up to Sunday's scene in question that has given me much, much pause.

Has Noah been manipulating Alison this whole time, causing the dissolution of both their marriages? Does he only love her because he feels he's the only thing that matters in her life, and when he's not he finds a way to control the situation so that he is? The scary thing is, Alison has allowed this to happen (or maybe she hasn't realized it?). She has all but completely submitted herself to Noah--save for her ultimately fruitless step toward independence by escaping on a spiritual retreat with her eerily kumbaya mother (played by Deirdre O'Connell). It has become clearer than ever that Noah has the upper hand here, at least from his point of view anyway. Alison's POV (the shifting perspectives is a recurring tactic on the series) was nowhere to be found on Sunday night. In fact, Alison is slowly becoming a mere catalyst for all the other characters on the show.

But getting back to *the scene*, I am starting to think that Noah and Alison are equally f**ked up individuals who both get off on masochism, because Alison didn't exactly put up a fight when Noah shoved her against a tree. I think they both see themselves as victims of their own construction, and even get a thrill out of it. So what does their f**ked-upness mean for the new storyline revealed on Sunday? I'm sure we'll soon find out.

Check out THE AFFAIR Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Series You Need To Be Talking About: MASTER OF NONE

Can I just tell you how happy I am that we are all now talking about Aziz Ansari? I feel like I was out here on my own for the last few years, even have been telling folks to read his hilariously important book, Modern Romance--whose romantic observations are incorporated in the comedian's breakthrough Netflix original series, MASTER OF NONE. With this new series, is it safe to say that Ansari has now arrived? I hope so.

MASTER OF NONE is the type of series I have been waiting to happen, an observational comedy told from the perspective of an Indian American that doesn't go out of its way to have a politically correct agenda, but doesn't ignore the fact that it has the responsibility to tell an honest story. The series, inspired by Ansari's own experiences as an Indian American actor in New York City, follows his onscreen persona, Dev, as he navigates romance, Hollywood, and being a first generation American. Through his daily conversations and encounters with supportive friends, seemingly "perfect for him" white girlfriend Rachel (Noël Wells), traditional parents, and prejudiced casting agents, we get to see a particular point of view that is missing from the small screen. Actually, this type of character exists on neither the small or big screens. It took a non-traditional medium (in this case, an online streaming service) to give us one of the most progressive stories onscreen (surprise, surprise).

Not only does MASTER OF NONE score big in the diversity department with an Indian American lead, supported by a black lesbian friend (Lena Waithe), a white male buddy (Eric Wareheim), and several other similarly diverse talent (including Condola Rashad, Danielle Brooks and Claire Danes), Ansari (who serves as the co-creator, writer and director of a few episodes) manages to include commentary on sexism, Hollywood stereotypes, and dating in the digital age. In other words, it is the show you never knew you always wanted. And it doesn't just talk about something like sexism from a female character's point of view. In fact, it is Rachel who points out to Dev an instance of sexism in one of the episodes, which he initially disputes than realizes the error of his thinking. This type of self-awareness is something that is too often missing in other episodic television. Ansari, like the many self-deprecating comediennes today, is more than willing to demonstrating the flaws in his own alter ego, just as much as he is open to identifying the flaws in a system as discriminatory as Hollywood. He even goes as far as to project something that is a less talked about factor: the lack of an advocate in the Indian American community.

While MASTER OF NONE explores political commentary, it is a true New York City sitcom that fully embraces the neuroses of dating in a big city, during an age in which traditional communication (and sometimes any communication) is considered old school, as well as the social faux pas to which any 20- or 30-something can easily relate.

Hilarious, smart and amazingly binge-worthy, MASTER OF NONE needs to be added to your Netflix streaming queue immediately, if not sooner.

Watch the trailer:

P.S. Listen to more chatter about MASTER OF NONE on Sunday's episode of our podcast, "Cinema in Noir." 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Award Season Watch: A Critical Look at TANGERINE

I remain unimpressed with the films that folks are hyping up this awards season. Granted, I still have more to see, but I am not even interested in most the films that are being talked about. As Michael Kors would say on Project Runway, I am supremely underwhelmed. And TANGERINE is yet another example.

I know, this probably comes out of left field as literally everyone has been saying how great and earth-shattering this film is. Producers Mark and Jay Duplass have even pushed this for Academy Awards consideration, which is where I draw the line. Here's the thing: it's one of the few buzzy films that features two transgender leads and a narrative that manages to barely retain your attention with a clear beginning, middle and end. That's it. I'm actually getting even more infuriated about this as I type this. Listen, I would totally support a film with LGBT leads if it was also good. I feel like it's getting by on what's being interpreted as progressive or politically correct (it's not), and not on any actual merit. TANGERINE is sorely lacking in character development as well as a compelling story. 

Let me explain. Actually, here's the IMDB description of the film pretty much sums it up: "A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart." This is in fact exactly what the movie is about, and nothing more. Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a jilted prostitute, and her BFF and fellow working girl Alexandra (Mya Taylor) have a rather uneventful day railroaded by Sin-Dee's obsession with finding her pimp after Mya tells her he slept with another woman. Yup, you read that right: a prostitute is upset (actually incensed) that her pimp (with whom she feels she's in a monogamous relationship) has been cheating on her so she goes on a tear through Hollywood looking for him. Aside from the ridiculousness of that description, I have a problem with this film being hailed above so many films with LGBT characters and leads. Like, seriously? Sin-Dee and Alexandra aren't even three-dimensional characters. They're caricatures whose little bit of nuance is tacked on about 10 minutes before the film ends. That's unacceptable. This is what's passing as Oscar worthy these days? Come on, people.

While I do admit that there are randomly funny moments in the film, and dialogue that highlight its only fleshed out theme of friendship (Rodriguez and Taylor have great chemistry), I can't take the rest of the film seriously. There are actual scenes in the film that look like they were ripped right out of a Jerry Springer episode. I want to see these two actresses in other, better films--even if it's just to erase TANGERINE out of my head. They deserve better. 

Rating: D+ (** out of *****)

Watch the trailer:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Gerard Butler Tries to Save London in the Unwanted Sequel to OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN

I'm not gonna lie, I checked out midway through watching this new trailer for LONDON HAS FALLEN, the unwanted and unnecessary sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (remember that dud?). This film looks like the same exact concept of its predecessor, just in the U.K. Lots of explosions tough guys running around with guns and...Gerard Butler (about whom I've cared nothing for, like, the last seven years). All that to say, my interest in this film is pretty low.


The sequel to the worldwide smash hit “Olympus Has Fallen,” a non-stop, suspenseful action thriller that delivers high-octane excitement through a heightened sense of authenticity. The visceral intensity springs from a timely premise: after the British Prime Minister passes away, his funeral becomes a target of a terrorist organization to destroy some of the world’s most powerful leaders, devastate the British capital, and unleash a terrifying vision of the future. The only hope of stopping it rests on the shoulders of the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) and his formidable Secret Service head (Gerard Butler), and an English MI-6 agent (Charlotte Riley) who rightly trusts no one. Morgan Freeman also stars as the Vice President of the United States.

Gawd, the "American who saves the day" routine is so played out. But, here we are again:

LONDON HAS FALLEN hits theaters March 4, 2016. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

That Michael Bay Benghazi Film is Real, and the Trailer Has Arrived

I wouldn't say that I am a Michael Bay "apologist," but let's just say that I may have watched Bad Boys at least 90 times, and maaaaybe I watch The Rock every time it comes on TV. That doesn't mean I am all gun-ho to see the director tackle something as serious and delicate as the Benghazi crisis in 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI. It can't be a good sign that you can fit the entire plot of the film on the poster. Surely, this can only come out cartoony, loud and just really pointless. But by all means, Michael Bay, godspeed.

Watch the trailer:

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI is slated to hit theaters January 15. 

So, About the Trailer for Spike Lee's CHI-RAQ...

Yeah, so...I don't know what to even say about the trailer for Spike Lee's latest joint, CHI-RAQ, It just looks like he's trying to say a whole lot here, and not really managing to say anything much at all--which is the very opposite of any great Spike Lee film.

But maybe this is just a really bad trailer for a great film, featuring a lot of random stars including John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Teyonah Parris, Dave Chappelle, Nick Cannon and many more. I don't know, I want to have high hopes for it. But I remember Red Hook Summer, so I won't be allowed to be tricked again.


Chi-Raq is a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes. After the murder of a child by a stray bullet, a group of women led by Lysistrata organize against the on-going violence in Chicago’s Southside creating a movement that challenges the nature of race, sex and violence in America and around the world.

Thoughts? Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions will release CHI-RAQ in theaters December 4. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Love, Conversation, and Travel: Jamie Chung Headlines a New Interracial Romcom

A few weeks ago I engaged in a pretty serious impromptu Twitter chat when I mentioned that it was rare that I see a female character of color the romantic interest of a white male character on screen. After lots of tweets back and forth, I've realized that the small screen has been quite progressive in this type of relationship, but the big screen, well, let's just say that yet again it has a looong way to go to catch up with the reality of the world today.

Enter this interesting trailer for ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG, the upcoming romantic comedy starring Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg as love interests in story indicative to that of Richard Linklater's Before films in that it seems to play with time, conversation and romance.

Naturally, I am intrigued. Check out the synopsis:

Written and directed by Emily Ting, ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG is a sparkling romance that stars Ruby (Jamie Chung), as a Chinese American toy designer from LA visiting Hong Kong for the first time on business. Finding herself stranded, she meets Josh (Bryan Greenberg), an American expat who shows her the city. Meandering through nighttime streets pulsing with energy and possibility, they fall into a winding and carefree conversation, buoyed by an undeniable attraction. As effervescent as a perfect first date, Emily Ting's charming directorial debut takes full advantage of the chemistry of its leads, the playfulness of their exchanges, and the magical landscape that is Hong Kong at night.

ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG opens in theaters and on demand starting February 12.

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