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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Just How Manipulative is THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS?

For what it's worth, THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS has all the makings of a sappy, melodramatic romance. And at times, there's enough syrup piled on to induce diabetes in the entire audience. But then again, there's something so utterly soulful about it that it almost plays like its own melody--a gut-wrenching opera about love and heartbreak that you can picture just the same with vintage black and white cinematography. How tragic.

Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender play Mr. and Mrs. Isabel and Tom Sherbourne, a couple seemingly destined for tragedy from the onset. Tom, a taciturn, wayward and newly named lighthouse keeper, numb from his time in World War I, catches even himself by surprise by falling in love with Isabel, an emphatic young woman suffering from personal trauma in her own way. While their love for each other is pure and undeniable, their overwhelming desire to fill a void in their individual heartaches would eventually become their downfall.

Isabel and Tom are desperately in love and are gearing up for parenthood in their secluded western Australia abode (that also just so happens to be prone to dangerous hurricanes), until the day their unborn child dies inside the womb--devastating the couple, particularly Isabel.  Their second miscarriage sends them further reeling into emotional paralysis. But when an opportunity to become parents unexpectedly presents itself, Isabel clings to it--despite how immoral and fleeting it might be.

To say that THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS is manipulative is really just another way of admitting that it emotionally affects you, because there's really no way around that. I mean, the movie is about a couple so wrought with their own personal tragedy that they resort to knowingly being the cause of emotional pain for someone else (played by the eternal scene-stealer, Rachel Weisz)--resulting then in two emotionally wrecked parties with a confused, innocent child caught between them.

Okay, so there is a lot packed into this single narrative, and maybe it's designed to make you feel a certain way (that way being utterly distraught and down to your last tissue by the ending credits). But there's nothing truly that far fetched that happens in this story that should make you feel swindled. And really, the wonderful performances from Vikander and Fassbender (along with Weisz) make the movie worth the price of admission. From lesser actors, the story would have definitely become the worst Nicholas Sparks film adaptation ever. But they make you feel for them, even when they're making poor life decisions that you know will end miserably.

Did you see THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Rating: B+

Monday, August 29, 2016

How Are You *Really* Feeling About This BRIDGET JONES'S BABY Movie?

Ever since the tasteless Variety piece that suggested Renée Zellweger's alleged plastic surgery is a detriment to her acting ability--lighting a fire under PC cultural critics everywhere--the conversation shifted from the fact that there's an unwanted sequel to Bridget Jones's Diary to Zellweger's being unjustifiable prey to misogynistic male writers. And while it's an important topic to discuss in an open forum like social media, it's gotten hard to tell whether folks are actually interested in BRIDGET JONES'S BABY. Will the PC police watch it just to support Zellweger's face or are we actually looking forward to the movie? Like, seriously.

I'll go first. I'm not really checking for this movie, despite being a fan of Zellweger's work (though I'm really only talking about Jerry Maguire and Empire Records here). And I never really cared for the Bridget Jones series. Patrick Dempsey and Colin Firth vying for the paternity of their beloved unborn child as the main premise? I'll pass. But, you know, those are psyched about this, please enjoy on my behalf.

I'll do you one even better. Universal Pictures just released a few new images from the film, to further whet your appetite. Check 'em out:

And here's the synopsis: 

Oscar® winners Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth are joined by Patrick Dempsey for the next chapter of the world's favorite singleton in Bridget Jones's Baby. Directed by Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones's Diary), the new film in the beloved comedy series based on creator Helen Fielding's heroine finds Bridget unexpectedly expecting.

After breaking up with Mark Darcy (Firth), Bridget Jones's (Zellweger) "happily ever after" hasn't quite gone according to plan. Fortysomething and single again, she decides to focus on her job as top news producer and surround herself with old friends and new. For once, Bridget has everything completely under control. What could possibly go wrong?

Then her love life takes a turn and Bridget meets a dashing American named Jack (Dempsey), the suitor who is everything Mr. Darcy is not. In an unlikely twist she finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch...she can only be fifty percent sure of the identity of her baby's father. 

Be honest. Are you excited to watch BRIDGET JONES'S BABY? It hits theaters September 16. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Trailer Watch: Dev Patel Headlines the Upcoming Drama, LION, Inspired by a True Story

With just under a decade of acting in front of the camera under his belt, Dev Patel has been teetering on the edge of Hollywood superstardom for far too long, despite his talent and endless charm--best exhibited in the Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire

But still, I always thought we had yet to see his most astounding work. Which is why I was excited when I watched the trailer for his upcoming film, LION. Not only is Patel headlining the film, but he seems to be stealing scenes from Hollywood heavyweights Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara. But don't be fooled, judging by the trailer, this is a quintessentially cultural narrative about a young man of color looking to regain his identity after being adopted by a white Australian couple.


Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of Kilometers across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

Check out the trailer:

What say you? LION comes to theaters in November. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

NYFF Most Anticipated: Films Starring James Baldwin, Cynthia Nixon, Gael García Bernal, Michelle Williams and More

It's official! I'll be covering the 54th annual New York Film Festival this year, and I am beyond excited. The festival, which will take place September 30 through October 16, will feature a gloriously wide range of films that highlight promising new narratives and reintroduce new audiences to classic stories.

Of course, I've already checked out the slate and made a list of which new films I am most anticipating. Check it out:


Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds 
Directed by Alexis Bloom & Fisher Stevens
USA, 2016, DCP, 96m
Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds are now the best of friends (they live steps away from each other in their Beverly Hills compound) and the very definition of Hollywood royalty. But unlike today’s newly minted celebrities, they are both open books. After six decades of screen and stage stardom; a couple of disastrous marriages and assorted financial ups and downs for Reynolds; and, for Fisher, well-publicized drug addiction, bipolar disorder, and deity status (see: Star Wars), neither has anything left to hide. Bright Lights is an affectionate, often hilarious, and unexpectedly moving valentine to the mother-daughter act to end all mother-daughter acts. An HBO Documentary Films release.

I Am Not Your Negro
Directed by
Raoul Peck
USA/France/Belgium/Switzerland, 2016, DCP, 93m
Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck has taken the 30 completed pages of James Baldwin’s final, unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, in which the author went about the painful task of remembering his three fallen friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and crafted an elegantly precise and bracing film essay. Peck’s film, about the unholy agglomeration of myths, institutionalized practices both legal and illegal, and displaced white terror that have long perpetuated the tragic state of race in America, is anchored by the presence of Baldwin himself in images and words, read beautifully by Samuel L. Jackson in hushed, burning tones.

Hamilton’s America
Directed by
Alex Horwitz
USA, 2016, DCP, 84m
World Premiere
Lin-Manuel Miranda takes us inside the making of his groundbreaking American musical Hamilton, winner of eleven Tonys, as well as the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award. We follow Miranda, his collaborators, and key members of the original cast on their exploration of the history that inspired the show, visiting locations from Valley Forge to the West Wing. We also track the show's journey, from the moment Miranda thrilled the Obamas at the White House in 2009 to the first year of its blockbuster run on Broadway. A PBS Great Performances documentary. Horwitz and special guests to appear in person.

Film Comment Presents:
A Quiet Passion
Directed by
Terence Davies
U.K./Belgium, 2016, DCP, 125m
Swiftly following his glorious Sunset Song, the great British director Terence Davies turns his attention to 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson and ends up with perhaps an even greater triumph. A revelatory Cynthia Nixon embodies Dickinson with a titanic intelligence always threatening to burst forth from behind a polite facade, while Davies creates a formally audacious rendering of her life, from teenage skepticism to lonely death, using her poems (and a touch of Charles Ives) as soundtrack accompaniment. Both sides of Davies’s enormous talent—his witty, Wildean sense of humor and his frightening vision of life’s grim realities—are on full display in this consuming depiction of a creative inner world. Terence Davies and Cynthia Nixon to appear in person.

Opening Night
The 13th
Directed by
Ava DuVernay
USA, 2016
World Premiere
The title of Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing documentary refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis. A Netflix original documentary.

20th Century Women
Directed by
Mike Mills
USA, 2016
World Premiere
Mike Mills’s texturally and behaviorally rich new comedy seems to keep redefining itself as it goes along, creating a moving group portrait of particular people in a particular place (Santa Barbara) at a particular moment in the 20th century (1979), one lovingly attended detail at a time. The great Annette Bening, in one of her very best performances, is Dorothea, a single mother raising her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), in a sprawling bohemian house, which is shared by an itinerant carpenter (Billy Crudup) and a punk artist with a Bowie haircut (Greta Gerwig) and frequented by Jamie’s rebellious friend Julie (Elle Fanning). 20th Century Women is warm, funny, and a work of passionate artistry. An A24 Release.

Certain Women
Directed by
Kelly Reichardt
USA, 2016, 107m
The seventh feature by Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff), a lean triptych of subtly intersecting lives in Montana, is a work of no-nonsense eloquence. Adapting short stories by Maile Meloy, Certain Women follows a lawyer (Laura Dern) navigating an increasingly volatile relationship with a disgruntled client; a couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) in a marriage laden with micro-aggression and doubt, trying to persuade an old man (Rene Auberjonois) to sell his unused sandstone; and a young ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) fixated on a new-in-town night school teacher (Kristen Stewart). Shooting on 16mm, Reichardt creates understated, uncannily intimate dramas nestled within a clear-eyed depiction of the modern American West. An IFC Films release.

Directed by
Paul Verhoeven
France/Germany/Belgium, 2016, 131m
French with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Paul Verhoeven’s first feature in a decade—and his first in French—ranks among his most incendiary, improbable concoctions: a wry, almost-screwball comedy of manners about a woman who responds to a rape by refusing the mantle of victimhood. As the film opens, Parisian heroine Michèle (a brilliant Isabelle Huppert) is brutally violated in her kitchen by a hooded intruder. Rather than report the crime, Michèle, the CEO of a video game company and daughter of a notorious mass murderer, calmly sweeps up the mess and proceeds to engage her assailant in a dangerous game of domination and submission in which her motivations remain a constant source of mystery, humor, and tension. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Directed by
Pedro Almodóvar
Spain, 2016, 99m
Spanish with English subtitles
Pedro Almodóvar explores his favorite themes of love, sexuality, guilt, and destiny through the poignant story of Julieta, played to perfection by Emma Suárez (younger) and Adriana Ugarte (middle-aged), over the course of a 30-year timespan. Just as she is about to leave Madrid forever, the seemingly content Julieta has a chance encounter that stirs up sorrowful memories of the daughter who brutally abandoned her when she turned eighteen. Drawing on numerous film historical references, from Hitchcock to the director’s own earlier Movida era work, Almodóvar’s twentieth feature, adapted from three short stories by Alice Munro (“Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence”), is a haunting drama that oscillates between disenchanted darkness and visual opulence. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Manchester by the Sea
Directed by
Kenneth Lonergan
USA, 2016, 137m
Casey Affleck is formidable as the volatile, deeply troubled Lee Chandler, a Boston-based handyman called back to his hometown on the Massachusetts North Shore after the sudden death of his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), who has left behind a teenage son (Lucas Hedges). This loss and the return to his old stomping grounds summon Lee’s memories of an earlier, even more devastating tragedy. In his third film as a director, following You Can Count on Me (2000) and Margaret (2011), Kenneth Lonergan, with the help of a remarkable cast, unflinchingly explores grief, hope, and love, giving us a film that is funny, sharply observed, intimately detailed yet grand in emotional scale. An Amazon Studios Release.

Directed by
Barry Jenkins
USA, 2016, 110m
Barry Jenkins more than fulfills the promise of his 2008 romantic two-hander Medicine for Melancholy in this three-part narrative spanning the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of a gay African-American man who survives Miami’s drug-plagued inner city, finding love in unexpected places and the possibility of change within himself. Moonlight offers a powerful sense of place and a wealth of unpredictable characters, featuring a fantastic ensemble cast including André Holland, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali—delivering performances filled with inner conflict and aching desires that cut straight to the heart. An A24 release.
Reel Talk Online write-up

Directed by
Pablo Larraín
Chile/Argentina/France/Spain, 2016, 107m
Spanish and French with English subtitles
Pablo Larraín’s exciting, surprising, and colorful new film is not a biopic but, as the director himself puts it, a “Nerudean” portrait of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s years of flight and exile after his 1948 denunciation of his government’s leadership. Larraín’s heady blend of fact and fancy (the latter embodied in an invented character, straight out of detective fiction, played by Gael García Bernal) is many things at once: a loving, kaleidoscopic recreation of a particular historical moment; a comical cat-and-mouse game; and a pocket epic. Featuring Luis Gnecco, a dead ringer for the poet and a formidable actor, alongside a terrific cast. A release of The Orchard.

Personal Shopper
Directed by
Olivier Assayas
France, 2016, 105m
French and English with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Kristen Stewart is the medium, in more ways than one, for this sophisticated genre exploration from director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria). As a fashion assistant whose twin brother has died, leaving her bereft and longing for messages from the other side, Stewart is fragile and enigmatic—and nearly always on-screen. From an opening sequence in a haunted house with an intricately constructed soundtrack to a high-tension, cat-and-mouse game on a trip from Paris to London and back set entirely to text messaging, Personal Shopper brings the psychological and supernatural thriller into the digital age. An IFC Films release.
Yep, I'm hyped. Hit me up if you're going to be there too, so we can do a meet-up. And if you'd like more information about the New York Film Festival, visit To learn more about NYFF tickets, including a complete list of on-sale dates, prices, discount options, and our rush and standby policies, click here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Horrifying RINGS Trailer Emerges: Samara Returns, Still Pissed

This was one of my most anticipated horror films at the top of this year, but I worried that it would either never be released or be really, really terrible. Well, as it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The RINGS trailer is actually here, and it actually looks really good.

Yes, it's a sequel. And not just a sequel but a sequel of an American remake of the horrifying Japanese horror, Ringu. So, we're likely pretty far removed at this point. And yet, the characters are still watching a video (upgraded from an old school VHS tape to a freaky-looking YouTube clip for modern times) that is known to kill you. Ah, horror movies.

Full synopsis:

A new chapter in the beloved RING horror franchise. A young woman becomes worried about her boyfriend when he explores a dark subculture surrounding a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after he has viewed it. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend and in doing so makes a horrifying discovery: there is a “movie within the movie” that no one has ever seen before…

Franchise villain Samara apparently has more unfinished business to resolve. This won't end well. Watch the creepy new trailer:

RINGS is in theaters October 28. I'm hyped. 

Come All Ye Foolish Hearts, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling Have Got a Movie For You

Hollywood's second favorite fake couple (behind Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, of course) are back at it again in what could be their smartest, or their cheesiest, collaboration yet. LA LA LAND reunites Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as sweethearts living and loving in the City of Angels. Oh, and it's a rather syrupy-looking musical, directed by the guy who brought us the tender story of a student drummer who gets berated by his teacher on a daily basis in Whiplash, writer/director Damien Chazelle. This should be interesting.


Written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Damien Chazelle, LA LA LAND tells the story of Mia [Emma Stone], an aspiring actress, and Sebastian [Ryan Gosling], a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.

Watch the trailer:

Excited? LA LA LAND is slated to hit theaters December 16.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Badass Mom Alert: Halle Berry Goes Full-On TAKEN in a New Film

Well, you can tell someone's been watching hours of Liam Neeson in Taken. Seriously, the only thing missing in this trailer for KIDNAP is Halle Berry saying, "I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you."

And I'm not entirely mad at that. I'd like to see a woman play a badass mom who will stop at nothing to get her kidnapped son back. Is Berry the woman to play this character? Eh, we'll have to see. Lord knows the Oscar winner really needs a hit film. I'm still rooting for you Halle; it's just getting harder to do so these days...

Check out the trailer:

KIDNAP hits theaters everywhere this winter. Thoughts?

Monday, August 22, 2016

SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU is What Romance Looks Like in the #BlackLivesMatter Era

In the summer of 2012, I went on a date with a guy I met on an online dating site. It was months after the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida and the racial tension across America was at the top of nearly everyone's mind--including my date's. We had messaged back and forth about it on the dating site, and that conversation continued when we finally met each other face to face. While the date went horribly awry--for unrelated reasons--there's a certain validation that comes with meeting someone who can relate to the same struggles you endure. It's like a little nod that confirms you're not alone.

Enter SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU, which is like if Medicine for Melancholy hooked up with Love Jones and made a baby. The film highlights the first date between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when they were both associates at the same corporate law firm back in 1989. Michelle (Tika Sumpter) is an associate with the firm, and Barack (Parker Sawyers) is a summer intern, so, being the classy lady that she is, she politely declined his romantic advances. That is, until he tricks her into going to a “community work event” that turned out to be an all-day date, which is when the film opens up. It’s the dead of summer in Chicago, nearly three years since the first episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show aired, three years after the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl, the same year Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” (which we hear at the top of the film) took the Billboard charts by storm, yet also the same year the city saw a dramatic increase of handgun homicides—many of the victims being young men of color. It’s a tumultuous era in which to set a black romance story, but writer/director Richard Tanne, who meticulously detailed facts right out of the Obamas’ own account—proving that despite turmoil, black people still found space in their hearts for love.

Like the conversation during my own date, which initially rested in a sweet spot of #BlackLivesMatter and generic get-to-know-you rhetoric like “What do you like to do for fun?”, the dialogue between Michelle and Barack gradually led to reflections on the alarming rate of black homicide in the area, being the only person of color (and, for Michelle, the only woman of color) in the workplace, and the dichotomy of feeling overwhelmed yet ambitious when it comes to solving problems in the black community.

In SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU, we’re not watching the president and first lady. We’re watching their younger, slightly more hopeful counterparts meeting each other for the first time and confronting injustices through conversation and reciprocated acknowledgment. It’s the ultimate turn-on for blerds: the educated young man and rising lawyer doesn’t woo the woman with roses and a candlelight dinner. He takes her to a forum of frustrated community members of which he concludes with a powerful speech that encourages his audience to reframe their perspectives in order to launch a constructive plan to get their needs met. Swoooon, amirite? #SocialJusticeNerdsUnite

The comfortable realization of meeting their counterpoint is best represented in two scenes in the film: when Barack and Michelle are chatting over drinks and she pointedly asks him a question that’s been on her mind ever since she got word that Barack had dated a number of white women before her. “Which do you prefer—dating black women or dating white women?” (Sumpter perfectly dons Michelle’s natural straightforwardness). He takes a long pause before he answers (Sawyers, being sure to capture Barack’s signature respite), telling her about his previous long-term girlfriend, who was white, “I was tired of feeling like an outsider.” At this moment, it’s not just about finding another black person with whom he can commiserate; it’s about discovering the person he is and the person he wants to become. It’s also about the affirmation he feels knowing that the person with whom he wants to take this journey is sitting in front of him. 

Another moment presents a disagreement between Barack and Michelle when he presumes that she is not happy with being silent at her job as injustices she is passionate continue to elude her white superiors. Michelle, ever the dogmatic one, is a corporate soldier, but Barack hits a nerve when he suggests she’s more “woke” than she’s letting on. It’s when Michelle also realizes that Barack could be the one to complement her weaknesses and eliminate insecurities that until then she’s kept buried.

In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU is a smart way to usher in a new wave of black romantic films that are as meaningful as they are tender. Sumpter and Sawyers have beautifully captured all the smallest details about the larger than life, real-life characters they portray. And Tanne, with his feature directorial debut, eloquently recreates the time period and the setting, which serves as its own character in this constantly relevant narrative.

SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU is in theaters Friday. 

Rating: A-

Friday, August 19, 2016

John Cho To Headline Buzzworthy Director :: kogonada's Feature Debut

The first thing you should know is, that is not a typo in the headline. :: kogonada, an innovative short film director, known for videos that analyze the content, form, and structure of films and television series and set to make his feature debut soon, spells his name beginning with two colons. Artists.

He's so good, in fact, that he's lined up an impressive cast, with John Cho as a headliner co-starring alongside Parker Posey, Michelle Forbes, and Rory Culkin in COLUMBUS, a drama that, according to the Sperlative Films and Depth of Field press release today, "revolves around a man and young woman from opposite sides of the world, each mourning the potential loss of a parent.”

More from the release:

John Cho plays JIN, estranged son of a prominent architectural critic, who suddenly finds himself in the middle of nowhere. Haley Lu Richardson plays CASEY, daughter of a recovering addict, who finds solace in the architecture that surrounds her. Parker Posey plays ELEANOR, former student and intimate of JIN's father. Michelle Forbes plays MARIA, a recovering addict and single mother of Casey. Rory Caulkin plays GABE, Casey's part-time confidant and bookish friend.

This has serious potential, and I am so glad to see John Cho defying all laws of Hollywood bias and quickly becoming a sought-after, in-demand actor like he so deserves. Parker Posey is one of my all-time faves, so I am stoked to see what the two will bring together with Culkin (a hugely underrated actor in his own right).

:: kogonada said he was inspired to do COLUMBUS after reading an article in The New York Times about Columbus, Indiana and its modern architecture. "I was deeply intrigued. After visiting the town, I felt an immediate sense for a film that would take place there, which would implicitly explore the promise of modernism (an ongoing quest for me)."

I am very intrigued. An original film helmed by an Asian-American director and starring an Asian-American male lead. I'm in.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE GET DOWN is a Bit of a Letdown, But Jaden Smith is a Highlight

Now before you start throwing rocks at me, you should know that I have always been fascinated by Jaden Smith's career. And I don't mean that in a snarky, sarcastic way; I'm being sincere. He's one of the few Hollywood heirs who didn't grow up to become messy tabloid fodder, which is sadly a huge accomplishment in today's modern era. True, his faux philosophical rhetoric on social media can easily be subjected to ridicule, but he seems genuine in how he presents himself. He's even got a nod from Variety Magazine, listing him among young Hollywood stars to watch. Not to mention, his roles (despite his rather meh acting approach) have always surprised me--in a good way.  

Which brings me to THE GET DOWN, the latest Netflix original series that presumably highlights the birth of hip-hop in the the Bronx, New York. I say "presumably" because in its six-episode run (part 1 of an unknown amount), it could be better described as a drama that happens to take place during that time period--when disco was about to have another comeback and Grandmaster Flash and his crew were mixing hip-hop beats on a shoestring budget. The characters come alive with the help of the amazing costumes and soundtrack, as well as the solid young cast led by Justice Smith and Shameik Moore (who play Ezekiel and Shaolin Fantastic, respectively)--young inner city prodigies trying to rise up from their surroundings using the power of music to bring attention to the issues that matter to them most. 

Like every project from Baz Luhrmann (co-writer/co-director and the person on whom the media seems to be focusing most, though Grandmaster Flash and award-wining filmmaker Nelson George are also behind it), THE GET DOWN is airy, and seems to purposely dodge every opportunity to provide substance to the story. Which is a shame, especially seeming as I'm sure many would see this as a niche (read: black) narrative that has a specific audience. That said, it needs to work twice as hard to grab audiences within these six episodes in order to sustain them. It doesn't. In fact, it takes a long while to actually get to the meat of the plot (hip-hop politics, socio-economic policy in New York City, social justice, etc)--all of which compounds the circumstances that bring these characters together. It just barely scratches this surface as it slowly meanders into young love, marriage infidelity, and dirty politics subplots. 

Then the story breaks off into what could actually be a really interesting storyline for Smith, who plays Marcus "Dizzee" Kipling, the most solitary, soft-spoken member of Ezekiel and Fantastic's crew, when he experiments with pill-popping artists/lovers at a nightclub and gets his cherry popped--both by trying drugs for the first time and getting kissed by another young man among the group. It's a moment that is slowed down intentionally, giving us time to really take in all of what's happening here: a young black man, definitely a blerd, on the verge of artistic superstardom coming into his own. And Smith plays it so effectively--with a hint of fear and naiveté mixed with bravado (because he's a rap dude, you know?). 

But alas, the moment doesn't last. It's actually not even mentioned again. Though, it does come toward the conclusion of this part of the series, so hopefully it won't be the last we'll see of this storyline. For starters, we really need more representation of gender fluidity and LGBT characters of color on the big and small screens. And blerds like Dizzee, who fit outside the mainstream, are also lacking onscreen. 

While the rest of THE GET DOWN struggles to find its footing outside the performances, Dizzee is a refreshing character to see. Let's just hope that Netflix doesn't let us down.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why I'm Cautiously Optimistic About Guillermo del Toro's "Otherworldly" New Film Set In The Cold War Era

Is it just me or do Guillermo del Toro movies lately always a super intriguing premise, then end up being aesthetically beautiful pieces of garbage by the time we actually see the whole thing? I mean, do you recall Crimson Peak or Pacific Rim (minus its hot man beef)? Guys, this is from the same guy who brought us the magnificent Pan's Labyrinth back in 2006. WHAT is going on here? 

Here we are again, with his new fantasy/sci-fi film, THE SHAPE OF WATER, which sounds kind of brilliant. It actually sounds like it could be a companion piece to Pan's (wishful thinking, I know). Here's a teeny bit more about it from the Fox Searchlight press release issued Monday:

THE SHAPE OF WATER is an other-worldly story, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963. A mysterious and magical journey from Guillermo del Toro.

And the cast is tremendous (Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins-oh my!), though it could use a lot more cultural diversity--something of which del Toro is generally much more conscious.

I'm going to be cautiously optimistic about this one, mostly because I know that del Toro can be great--and this has the potential to be GREAT. Let's bow our heads and pray about it, guys. 

Principal photography began in Toronto, Canada yesterday.

I'll keep you posted as I learn more. What do you think about the project so far?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Black Women Brilliance on the Big Screen: Watch the Trailer for HIDDEN FIGURES

The above image from HIDDEN FIGURES, an upcoming film about the awesome black women who were behind one of the greatest operations in NASA history back in 1962, is pretty much the personification of black joy--something we don't see played out often enough on the big screen. Another thing that is sorely lacking in film: black women brilliance. And this is precisely why this movie has catapulted to the top of my to-watch list.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and singer Janelle Monae (who actually holds her own in the new trailer below) all brought a smile to my face as they clearly have agency in their own stories, in a Hollywood film no less that is directed by a non-black filmmaker (Theodore Melfi, St. Vincent), who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Allison Schroeder, who's also not black. That said, I'm really interested to see the final product.


HIDDEN FIGURES is the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)-brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation's confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.

Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, and Jim Parsons round out the impressive cast. Watch the trailer:

HIDDEN FIGURES hits theaters on January 13, 2017.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY Director Stages an Eagerly Awaited Return with the Coming-of-Age Drama, MOONLIGHT

If you haven't seen Barry Jenkins's 2008 drama, Medicine for Melancholy, then drop what you're doing and go watch it right this instant. Seriously, it is mandatory viewing, a tender film that follows a Bay Area romance in the midst of a tumultuous socioeconomic time. Like many great black indie directors, the modest number of credits--and the large gaps of time between films--listed on Jenkins's IMDB profile are more an indication of the biases in Hollywood than their talent. And Jenkins is no exception to that unfortunate circumstance. 

But eight years after Medicine, Jenkins has returned with yet another drama that looks like it has the potential to be every bit as "groundbreaking" as the press release reads. MOONLIGHT, to be distributed by A24, is a coming-of-age story about a young black man (in three different stages of his life) grappling with his sexuality. Naomie Harris and the man who's everywhere right now, Mahershala Ali, play supporting characters in a film whose trailer alone looks to highlight the multidimensional humanity of an underrepresented character in Hollywood cinema. 

From the A24 press release:

MOONLIGHT is the tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality.

Anchored by astonishing performances and the singular vision of filmmaker Barry Jenkins, MOONLIGHT is a groundbreaking exploration of masculinity—a sensual, intoxicating piece of cinema that uncovers deep truths about the moments that define us, the people who shape us most, and the ache of love that can last a lifetime.

Watch the trailer:

I'm intrigued. It's Barry Jenkins, so my expectations are sky high. What do you think?

MOONLIGHT opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles October 21. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

4 Things I Thought As I Watched the New Clips from the Boxing Drama, HANDS OF STONE

You may recall my first post about Edgar Ramirez facing off against R&B superstar Usher Raymond in the Roberto Duran boxing drama, HANDS OF STONE. In short, I had some concerns.

Today The Weinstein Compay released two more clips from the film: one is a clip of Usher as the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard and the other is a featurette of Ramirez on his physical and mental transformation to become Panamanian boxer Duran. Rather than giving you a full review of the clips, I thought I'd just share my reaction play by play as I watched both videos:

1. Robert DeNiro gets to relive his cinematic boxing glory days (albeit vicariously), playing legendary trainer Ray Arcel.
2. Jurnee Smollett is waaaaay too good to be playing Usher's love interest. Judging by the thinness of her characterization in the clip, he really could have pulled any one of the female extras from his music videos for this. I can only hope Smollett has more to do than this shows.
3. Usher just isn't a great actor. Let's face it: he hasn't really grown much as an actor at all since The Faculty back in 1998.
4. Why isn't Edgar Ramirez in more things? I have no other comment here.

To recap, here's the synopsis of the film:

HANDS OF STONE follows the life of Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez), the Panamanian fighter who made his professional debut in 1968 as a 16 year-old and retired in 2002 at the age of 50. In June 1980, he defeated Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) to capture the WBC welterweight title, but shocked the boxing world by returning to his corner in their November rematch, famously saying the words "no mas" (no more.)

HANDS OF STONE is in theaters August 26.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

On the Wonders of Youth, the Boundaries of Coming of Age, and THE LITTLE PRINCE

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to grow up. I couldn't wait to escape the tyrannical rule of parenthood and the ever constraining boundaries of school life, and become an adult--so I could do anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, and however I pleased.

Then, I grew up, and I realized that that time that I so desperately wanted to run away from was the most liberating time of my life thus far. I learned the hard way that adulthood, what was once so precious and idealistic to me, had become an imprisonment of monotony, regulations, and limitations--some of my own pragmatic making and others that just come with the territory. But the worst part of it all is, as I continue to grow older, I forget to cherish the ability to wonder, uninhibited, which came easily to me as a child.

That's what's so special about THE LITTLE PRINCE. the new animated film debuting on Netflix and in theaters Friday, does more than remind us how fleeting childhood is; it gives us the power to sustain some of those very same feelings of hope, wonder, and opportunity that often dissipate as we get older. A little girl (voiced by MacKenzie Foy) has only one vital responsibility at this stage in her life: get into Werth Academie, a prestigious school for gifted kids trained for continued success through adulthood and studious, clock-watching desk careers. Her mom (voiced by Rachel McAdams) has it all figured out, as she's meticulously mapped out her daughter's journey for her and has it displayed on her wall so that she is never led astray.

It all sounds like a foolproof plan--enthusiastically approved by her young daughter--until the little girl's curiosity for her eccentric, very amateur aviator neighbor (voiced by Jeff Bridges) pulls her away from her designated duties. and opens her mind to the wondrous world of a little prince (voiced by Riley Osborne) who literally gets to reside on the moon, dream without limits, and meet several interesting characters along the way--including the aviator himself. Coincidentally, the story of the little prince is told through the illustrations and narration of the aviator himself, whose personal connection to the narrative keeps his spirit youthful, fun, and happy. And this is just the boost the little girl needs to help her appreciate the boundlessness of her own youth--despite how stressful it's been constructed to seem.

With THE LITTLE PRINCE, director Mark Osborne, along with screenwriters Irena Brignull (The Boxtrolls) and Bob Perischetti, have created a pretty solid case advocating for the equal importance of life experience with academic experience. Their protagonist, a young child taught to possess the ambition of someone well beyond her age, gave herself the freedom to finally immerse herself in the potential of life--enough to want to grasp it forever. There's an exuberance to film, even when the storytellers are highlighting the grey, uniformed walls of adulthood. The contrast between those scenes and the vibrancy of the little girl's extraordinary journey to follow in the footsteps of the aviator's own muse is nothing short of magical.

But what is perhaps most refreshing about THE LITTLE PRINCE is that, despite its title, it features a young girl flying a plane, Amelia Earhart-style, saving lives--one adult drone at a time--and coming of age on her own terms. We need more movies like this--for children and adults.

Rating: A

Watch the trailer:

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