Ads 468x60px

Get Social with 'Reel Talk'

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

10 Films To Look Out For at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

We are deep in the throes of the 2016-2017 award season, with qualifying films still slated to be released in theaters, but the Sundance Film Festival is already looking ahead at what could be in the running for next year with its announcement of the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary Competitions, the World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions, and the NEXT section. Straddling political dramas, family dramas, dramedies, exposés, documentaries and more (including its newly instated climate programming, which explores the changing climate conditions across the globe), featuring both well-known and still-to-be-known actors, the festival is gearing up to unveil an impressive lineup.

I've gone through the list and narrowed it down to ten films I'll be stalking from here until the festival kicks off on January 19:


BURNING SANDS, U.S.A. / World Premiere
Director: Gerard McMurray
Screenwriters: Christine Berg, Gerard McMurray) 
Synopsis: Deep into a fraternity's Hell Week, a favored pledge is torn between honoring a code of silence or standing up against the intensifying violence of underground hazing. 
Cast: Trevor Jackson, Alfre Woodard, Steve Harris, Tosin Cole, DeRon Horton, Trevante Rhodes 

CROWN HEIGHTS, U.S.A. / World Premiere
Director and screenwriter: Matt Ruskin
Synopsis: When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin's innocence. Adapted from This American Life, this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice. 
Cast: Keith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom. 

INGRID GOES WEST, U.S.A. / World Premiere
Director: Matt Spicer
Screenwriters: Matt Spicer, David Branson Smith
Synopsis: A young woman becomes obsessed with an Instagram lifestyle blogger and moves to Los Angeles to try and befriend her in real life. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen

NOVITIATE, U.S.A. / World Premiere
Director and screenwriter: Maggie Betts
Synopsis: In the early 1960s, during the Vatican II era, a young woman training to become a nun struggles with issues of faith, sexuality and the changing church. Cast: Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Morgan Saylor

WALKING OUT, U.S.A. / World Premiere
Directors and screenwriters: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith
Synopsis: A father and son struggle to connect on any level until a brutal encounter with a predator in the heart of the wilderness leaves them both seriously injured. If they are to survive, the boy must carry his father to safety. 
Cast: Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter, Lily Gladstone


CASTING JONBENET, U.S.A., Australia / World Premiere
Director: Kitty Green
Synopsis: The unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world’s most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections and performances were elicited from the Ramsey’s Colorado hometown community, creating a bold work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired


Director: Catherine Bainbridge
Synopsis: This powerful documentary about the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history—featuring some of the greatest music stars of our time—exposes a critical missing chapter, revealing how indigenous musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives and, through their contributions, influenced popular culture

WINNIE,  France / World Premiere
Director: Pascale Lamche
Synopsis: While her husband served a life sentence, paradoxically kept safe and morally uncontaminated, Winnie Mandela rode the raw violence of apartheid, fighting on the front line and underground. This is the untold story of the mysterious forces that combined to take her down, labeling him a saint, her, a sinner


A GHOST STORY,  U.S.A. / World Premiere
Director and screenwriter: David Lowery
Synopsis: This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts. Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke

GOOK,  U.S.A. / World Premiere
Director and screenwriter: Justin Chon
Synopsis: Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women's shoe store, have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla. On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend their store—and contemplate the meaning of family, their personal dreams and the future. 
Cast: Justin Chon, Simone Baker, David So, Curtiss Cook Jr., Sang Chon, Ben Munoz

For the full list of films screening in these sections at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, visit their website. The Festival hosts screenings in Park City, Salt Lake City and at Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah January 19-29.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

JACKIE: Can a Cinematic Portrait Really Do Its Subject Justice When It Only Captures a Singular Moment?

Ladies and gents, we seem to be living in an era of the non-biopic. And I'm not exactly sure how to feel about that. On the one hand, I am okay with Hollywood taking liberties with true-life stories. Not every biography is worthy of a big screen movie, and yes, some of them need to be enhanced to make them worth our while. I'm fine with that. But what I'm not okay with are films presented as character biopics when they really just capture said character in the midst of a singular crisis--painting neither an authentic characterization nor a thorough one.

Which brings me to the most recent egregious perpetrator, Pablo Larraín's JACKIE. A movie that is as brilliant as it is frustrating, JACKIE portrays one of the most revered First Ladies in American history,  Jacqueline Kennedy, but strictly at the moment that she's navigating the aftermath of her husband John F. Kennedy's assassination. Don't get me wrong: Natalie Portman delivers a fabulous performance that exudes a blend of poise and despair--two things most of consider when we think of Jackie, particularly in the midst of what is considered one of the most significant American political stories on record. And together with Peter Saarsgard's equally explosive portrayal of Bobby Kennedy, we get a glimpse of White House drama that uncovers how both Bobby and Jackie felt on John's decisions on civil rights and the Cuban Missile Crisis (the latter which he "may or may not have made up in order to give himself something to solve").

But throughout the whole film I couldn't help but wonder who Jackie really was. You know, the real Jackie. I'd imagine that whatever her actual character was was exacerbated by the horrible tragedy that enveloped her--which propels this entire narrative. But then, why call it Jackie? Why not something that more accurately encapsulates what we're actually talking about here? And never mind the fact that we now have a movie that supposedly reveals the real Jackie Kennedy but only through the gaze of her husband's death. That seems like cheating to me.

I still have as many questions about her now that I did before I saw the film. But the film does a very interesting thing in which it thoughtfully suggests that everything we think we know about Jackie is only on account on what she presented to us. Juxtaposing the events surrounding the assassination with a more current press interview she had with a journalist (Billy Crudup) hoping for an in-depth profile, we see a slightly more intimate portrayal that shows her actually crying, talking about her first two children who died very young, and -gasp!-smoking. But then she retracts each of these action and statements, striking them from his record and our perception.

So, I don't really know who Jackie was. And Noah Oppenheim's (The Maze Runner, Allegiant) screenplay is at once frustrating as it is deliberately coy. This is a woman who seemingly took great pains to not only protect her own image but also preserve her husband's image. And even then the latter eclipses her own profile. She basically becomes known for her strength surrounding her husband's death and her efforts to retain his legacy. That's still not a real profile of her.

At the core of this relentlessly mysterious and controlled portrait lies two great performances that are exceptional for opposite reasons: Portman's performance has just the right level of coy and intelligence that is absolutely spellbinding. And Saarsgaard's performance is a startlingly cold, arrogant, and calculated depiction that leaves you wanting more. (Not to mention, Greta Gerwig's sobering turn as Jackie's Social Secretary, Nancy Tuckerman, is a welcome surprise from an actress we're used to seeing in more flighty roles).

While Larraín's Neruda is a more inspired political portrait (though also not without its flaws), I'm sure the American iconography of JACKIE will prevail when award season really revs up. We'll have to wait and see.

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

JACKIE is in select theaters Friday, December 2. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is a Gorgeous Coming-of-Age Horror You're Not Likely to Forget

Oh, how I love this age we're living in in which women characters on the big and small screens are allowed to be inappropriate, messy, b**chy, and sexual. It just further illuminates the myriad complexities women embody, painting a more thorough profile of inclusive feminism. But even while Hollywood has been consistently pushing these boundaries in more recent years, few films have explored morbid sensuality through the gaze of a woman better than writer/director Nicolas Pesce's THE EYES OF MY MOTHER.

Part provocative horror and part WTF-is-this, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER tells the story of Francisca, a young woman (Kika Magalhaes) living on a humble Portuguese farm who has been fascinated with death from a very early age. Her unusual enchantment, influenced by her surgeon mother (Diana Agostini) who introduces her as a little girl to the art of removing eyeballs from dead animals, has desensitized her to death, leading her to a life of intense solitude. It isn't until she reaches adulthood, marked by a horrible tragedy, that she begins to yearn for human connection--at any cost.

At the hands of a less inspired filmmaker, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER would have surely been reduced to yet another silly iteration of the Addams Family-meets-The Beverly Hillbillies fish-out-of-water trope. (It's important to note here that I love both these series immensely, but THE EYES OF MY MOTHER they are not). Instead, Pesce delivers a haunting coming-of-age, semi-goth drama that presents Francisca as a three-dimensional villain who's more The Girl from A Girl Who Walks Home Alone at Night than Wednesday Addams. But very much alive, living in the countryside, and illuminated by Zach Kuperstein's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Magalhaes consumes each scene ready to burst from sheer isolation, so much so that even when she's sharing a scene with the few people Francisca has put in her path, you still feel her overwhelming loneliness and sad desperation. Crafty yet naive, confident yet deeply mournful, Magalhaes's singular portrayal is so seductive that you almost forget that you're rooting for a sociopath. Almost.

So what happens when a woman comes of age, develops sexual urges and a fierce maternal instinct, after being socially barricaded on a farm all her life? When you've grown up surrounded by death and decay, how do you react when it takes someone you love? Does it matter? And if so, how do you show that? With THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, Pesce explores the nature of human instinct and arrested development in a way that is uncomfortable to watch yet immersive just the same. It becomes increasingly clear that none of the characters, including our protoganist Francisca, realize that they are trapped in a horror narrative until it's too late. That's what makes it all the more bone-chilling.

Rating: A (***** out of *****)

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER opens theatrically this Friday. December 2. Watch the trailer:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reviewing the Independent Spirit Award Nominations With a List of Superlatives

Eeek! The Film Independent Spirit Awards announced their nominations for the most extraordinary work in independent film today! This is the award I look forward to most every year because it is the one that has been most consistent in celebrating cinematic narratives that highlight a variety of cultures, generations, and characters that too often fall outside the confines of the Hollywood standard. And not because it's trendy to do so.

Before I get to the full list, I want to shout out some of my faves and appropriately show my outrage over the more offensive selections by compiling them as a list of superlatives. Here goes:


Mark my words: This will not be the only time you see Moonlight, Jackie, and Manchester By the Sea on a nominations list (in this case, for best feature). The buzz for each of these has been tremendous. But note, only the first two are actually quality (I'll share my full review of Jackie on the site next week). The third one is best described as #baitblandness (coined by my friend and fellow black girl critic, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon). Manchester By the Sea is just about the most Oscar-y movie you'll see this year, which is truly sad. It...zzzzzz. Sorry, I fell asleep just thinking about it.  


Another sleeping pill is the stuck-in-the-middle-of-nowhere drama, Certain Women, which I see is nominated twice--for director Kelly Reichardt and supporting actress Lily Gladstone. I'll say this, though: the film itself is a serious drag that is more frustrating than poignant. Yet, Gladstone is a real treat to watch. 


Loving, Christineand Hell or High Water are two of the best films I've seen this year, and I am STOKED to see them both represented here in several categories: Jeff Nichols (best director), Ruth Negga (best female lead), best screenplay (Hell or High Water), best first screenplay (Christine), Ben Foster (best supporting male), best editing (Hell or High Water). But where's the love for Joel Edgerton, who was able to provide such character depth to a real-life person who was virtually unknown to all but his wife? And-ohmygod--nothing for Rebecca Hall, whose performance is asa sad as it is triumphant in Christine? Disrespectful.


The best first feature nomination for The Fits made me smile, because I believe it truly represents the essence of the award in that it celebrates the work of a first time feature filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer and encourages her to create more. Is The Fits perfect? No, but it is inspired enough (far more inspired than fellow nominee, The Witch) to make you interested to see whatever Holmer does next. And that's kinda the point. 


The same goes for Viggo Mortensen's nomination for his performance in Captain Fantastic, a quirky little drama I imagine is far too "out there" for mainstream award attention. Goodness knows Mortensen is long overdue for some shine. 


Meanwhile, Elle continues to be a hot topic of discussion in the film community, and I see its star, Isabelle Huppert, is recognized for best female lead. I remain among those unimpressed with this film. In addition to my full review here on the site, I got into a great debate with Tim League about the film. 


And you know I think 13th, I Am Not Your Negro, and O.J.: Made in America are just the bee's knees, so I am happy to see Film Independent agree with me. Lastly, this cinematography nod for twisted thriller, The Eyes of My Mother (another one I'll review on the site next week) is so, so, so, well deserved. 

Okay, I'm done. For now, anyway. See the full nominations list below:

Best Feature

American Honey
Manchester by the Sea

Best Director

Andrea Arnold (American Honey)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Pablo Larrain (Jackie)
Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women)
Jeff Nichols (Loving)

Best Screenplay

Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women
Little Men
Hell or High Water

Best First Feature

The Childhood of a Leader
The Fits
Other People
Swiss Army Man
The Witch

Best First Screenplay

The Witch
Other People
Jean of the Joneses

Best Male Lead

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
David Harewood (Free in Deed)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Jesse Plemons (Other People)
Tim Roth (Chronic)

Best Female Lead

Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Sasha Lane (American Honey)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best Supporting Male

Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash)
Ben Foster (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Shia LaBeouf (American Honey)
Craig Robinson (Morris From America)

Best Supporting Female

Edwina Findley (Free in Deed)
Paulina Garcia (Little Men)
Lily Gladstone (Certain Women)
Riley Keough (American Honey)
Molly Shannon (Other People)

Best Documentary

I Am Not Your Negro
O.J.: Made in America
Under the Sun

Best International Film

My Golden Days
Toni Erdmann
Under the Shadow

Best Cinematography

Free in Deed
Eyes of My Mother
American Honey

Best Editing

Swiss Army Man
Manchester by the Sea
Hell or High Water

John Cassavetes Award (Best Feature Under $500,000)

Free in Deed
Hunter Gatherer
Spa Night

Robert Altman Award (Best Ensemble)


Piaget Producers Award

Lisa Kjerulff
Jordana Mollick
Melody C. Roscher
Craig Shilowich

Someone to Watch Award

Andrew Ahn (Spa Night)
Claire Carre (Embers)
Anna Rose Holmer (The Fits)
Ingrid Jungermann (Women Who Kill)

Truer Than Fiction Award

Kristi Jacobson (Solitary)
Sara Jordenö (Kiki)
Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow)

The 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards will be held February 25 and broadcast live on IFC at 2p/5e. Share your thoughts on the nominations below.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Look at Some of the Finest Documentaries of 2016 (So Far)

I know we're still early in award season (and there are many last minute contenders still to come), but I think it's safe to say that documentaries are killing the game this year. Yet sadly, there's only ever one specific full length documentary category per major award. Meanwhile, there's about 9,786 non-documentary awards.

Put this on record, though: Documentarians are doing some of the best journalism we've seen in years. And getting the least amount of credit for it.

But I digress. This is not supposed to be a rant. In fact, I want to celebrate all the wonderful docs I've seen so far that deserve recognition. Here's what the documentay report card looks like so far:

Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Review: A long overdue cinematic narrative exploring the unfortunate epidemic of sexual assault against young women in high school and college, Audrie & Daisy explores how we discuss the issue, factors unique to millenials (cyberbullying, etc). and its emotional aftemath. The film studies two recent cases involving Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old California student whose assault and subsequent harassment from her peers led her to commit suicide, and Daisy Coleman, a 14-year-old Missouri student whose assault led to several attempts at her own life, years of therapy, and severe reclusiveness. In each case, the film also highlights the patriarchal perception--from both men and women-- of "easy teenage girls" lack of accountability, and the role of the media.

Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenwriters: Spencer Averick, Ava DuVernay
Review: Movie maverick DuVernay presents an explosive narrative explaining how today's mass incarceration of men of color represents a new form of slavery in the United States. A film especially timely as we approach a Donald Trump presidency, DuVernay underscores the blatant yet rarely discussed clause within the 13th amendment of the Constitution that abolishes slavery, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted. Through interviews with activists like Angela Davis, archival footage documenting victims (including the Central Park Five, who are still fighting their wrongful incarceration), interwoven with clips of political leaders--past and present--mishandling and/or supporting mass incarceration, 13th tells an urgent narrative  that deserves to be addressed.

Director: Ezra Edelman
Review: Don't let the more than 7.5-hour long run time deter you. O.J. Made in America is the most engrossing documentary of the year so far. Capturing the socio-political landscape of its early 1990s Los Angeles setting, punctuated by the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots, Edelman (the son of renowned activist Marian Wright Edelman) simultaneously tells the story of race that we're still living today. But beyond that, which The People vs. O.J. Simpson also did very well earlier this year, O.J.: Made in America is meticulously researched, painting a frightening yet devastating portrayal of Simpson, and interviewing every essential player in Simpson's narrative--down to helicopter Zoey Tur, who documented Simpson's white bronco highway chase (and also covered the riots at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central) to Simpson's pre-murder trial friends, prosecutor Marcia Clark, author/activist Walter Mosley, and Simpson's accomplices in the 2008 burglary that ultimately led him in jail for 33 years. In doing so, Edelman creates an excruciating story of brutality, civil rights, white heroism, invincibility, and duality.  

Director: Raoul Peck
Review: If you're looking for the most poignant examination of what it's like to be black in America today, yesterday, and every day, then you absolutely need to check out this film. Though it explores the old letters and unpublished manuscripts of poet/author/activist James Baldwin, who died in 1987, this film serves as a crucial call for action over issues that have festered in our society for decades. Peck's thoughtful use of archival footage of Baldwin speaking in interviews and lectures, navigating overwhelmingly white spaces, juxtaposed with similarly today's identical issues, reminds us that Baldwin's words were and will always be relevant. Full review in an earlier post.

Honorary Mention:

Director: Amy Berg
Review: It wasn't released this year in theaters (2015, actually), but Janis: Little Girl Blue is a memorable portrait of one of music's greatest icons--in her own words. Further proving that every beloved legend's story should get a documentary treatment, this film highlights the complexities and inner conflict with which fiery feminist Janis Joplin was wrestling throughout her life, leading up to her premature death at age 27 in 1970. Through the narration of her own personal letters, we hear a deep sadness stemming from childhood reflecting a lack of self-acceptance and a mistrust of her own greatness, which led her down a spiral of drug addiction. What's also interesting is its contribution to the conversation of black musicians in rock. Despite the selective memory of those who consider the rock and roll genre a white musician's game, Joplin herself credits unsung icons like Odetta, Bessie Smith, Otis Redding, and Billie Holliday for helping her find her voice as an artist. That's right: one of the greatest musicians ever was inspired by black talent. Tattoo that fact into your head.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

More Proof that Hell Hath No Fury Like a Man Scorned: A Review of NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

It's sometimes hard to tell where reality begins and where the fever dream ends in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. And I suppose that's intentional from writer/director Tom Ford (A Single Man), who's as known for his extravagantly stylized sets as he is his gutting screenplays. But in this new film, an emotionally brutal thriller adapted from Austin Wright's book, Tony and Susan, there is nothing ambiguous about its message. Plain and simple: it's about revenge in its most vicious form--heartbreaking, precious, manipulative, and beautiful.

Given its cunning execution, many may wrongfully assume that the perpetrator of such thorough yet spiteful malice would be a heartbroken woman a la Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction or Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. But actually, it is the male lead character (impressively portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) who's nursing a wound so deep in his heart that he's exacted an exquisite plan to inflict a level of emotional pain on his former sweetheart (a transformative Amy Adams) to which only he could relate. In doing so, Ford forces us to consider our own gender biases when it comes to how we regard psychological crimes of passion--and who gets to be the victim.

Adams plays Susan, whose evolution from a rebellious young Texas dreamer and artist to a predictable wealthy art gallery owner, "a realist" (to quote her) unhappily married to a man best described as a hot rich Ken doll (Armie Hammer), has incited equal amounts of regret and achievement. Her hyper structured new life is interrupted when she receives a package in the mail from her former love from 19 years prior, Edward (Gyllenhaal), the one she dropped like a bad habit, containing a copy of his new novel that includes a dedication to her. Eager to delve into what she suspects is the novel he had struggled to write while they were together, Susan quickly discovers that her once sensitive lover has turned into a blackhearted man when characters in his savage novel bear shocking resemblance to the two of them...and their unborn child. Down to the red hair.

As Susan exhaustively tears through each page of the manuscript, she soon learns the devastating fate of her fictional inspiration--and that this isn't the elegant love letter she anticipated, but a revenge fantasy. The one who got away, the one she once considered too idealistic for her increasing cynicism, has completely gone to the dark side. And she brought him to this point.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Pshaw, hell hath no fury like a man scorned. Obviously.

With NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, Ford shatters common romance tropes like second chances and serendipity, and explores the roles classicism, suppression, and rage play in destroying those ideals. The sharply designed set highlighting Susan's world is in deep contrast to the dangerous Texas highway in Edward's man-made nightmare. While both don't actually belong in the spaces they occupy, they seek comfort in the authority they both allow them. And Adams is striking to watch as a woman who receives a rude awakening after it's too late, while Gyllenhaal propels the narrative with an explosive performance as essentially two characters--one which drives the motives of the other.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wild dog portrayal of Aaron Taylor-Johnson as one of Edward's fictional villains, and Michael Shannon as his wild card sheriff. Collectively, each performance draws us deeper into the depths of Edward's fury. What every great psychological thriller does--cast its audience of victims in its own twisted fantasy.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is in theaters in select cities November 18.

It extends to additional cities November 23, and will be in theaters nationwide December 9.

Rating: A (***** out of *****)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On Blue Collar Narratives, White Male Angst, and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

From the moment MANCHESTER BY THE SEA begins, with Casey Affleck as a plumber digging the s**t out of a client's toilet, it's hard to tell where the narrative is going to go. But you take comfort in seeing the Oscar nominee (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) with his signature slouch and unaffected smirk because, well, you think if anything he will be enough of a reason to watch.

Luckily, the entire cast brings their A-game--including Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and C.J. Wilson. But the film itself just putt putts along with no real destination. And its non-linear narrative doesn't help. Affleck plays Lee, who finds his menial life uprooted when his brother suddenly passes away. Upon reentering his suburban Massachusetts hometown of Manchester, his devastating past--the death of his three children and the dissolution of his marriage--comes backs to torture him once more. To make matters even more strained, he learns that his brother appointed him as the guardian of 15-year-old son, Patrick (Hedges). Thus sets off the narrative, and the reluctant relationship between a grieving father and his soon-to-be adult nephew.

As much as I appreciate male vulnerability on the big screen, the delivery here is exhausting. Never mind that the score is all over the place and never fits the tone of any particular scene. And that Hollywood insists on telling the same Boston area narrative of a blue collar white man who looks like the poster child for Trump America (despite Massachusetts being a predominantly Democratic state). I'm just...fatigued. Particularly as a Boston native--and a black woman--I know for a fact that there are more narratives set in this area that Hollywood continually ignores.

The predictability and tropes aside, the performances really are the standout. With Blue Valentine, Shutter Island, and now this role as Lee's ex, Randi, Williams has quickly become the go-to actress to play the young distraught mother. Though she has minimal screen time, she's in it long enough to drop a bunch of f-bombs as a tough young mom then quickly deteriorate into a broken shell of woman who looks far older than her years. Her swollen emotions only exacerbate Lee's already sorrowful visit. And Affleck is as always dependable, facing the challenge of portraying a man who's buried his emotions so deep that every line he utters has the potential to turn into rage. Hedges has great chemistry with Affleck, embodying typical teenage crises triggered by tragedy that forces Lee to break out of his internalizing before he's ready to do so.

But still, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan's MANCHESTER BY THE SEA made me leave the theater feeling empty. It's meditation on grief and internal agony is fine enough yet neither groundbreaking nor interesting to watch. In fact, it could easily be filed away as just another white male angst narrative.

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

Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions will release MANCHESTER BY THE SEA in theaters November 18.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Critical Review of DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, 25 Years Later

I can't be the only one who finds themselves in an awkward position of having to write the one negative review about a movie that's considered to be a classic. I like to believe (and know this to sometimes be the case) that there are people who actually dislike some of these beloved films, but are afraid to come out as a dissenter. Welp, I'm not one of those people.

It's been 25 years since DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST became the first American feature film directed by an African-American woman to ever receive a theatrical release--which is amazing, monumental even. Even more astounding is its cinematography--part erratic, part profound, and seamlessly bears the burden of carrying the emotions of the narrative. It is a natural consumption of beauty, sisterhood, despair, and hope. For that very reason, it would have made a terrific silent film. 

Before I explain why, you should know a little more about its plot if you're unfamiliar:

DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is a portrait of the women in Peazant family, who belong to the creole Gullah culture- former slaves living in the coastal Carolinas who have been able to preserve much of their African cultural heritage. As they prepare to migrate, leaving their land and legacy for the promise of the North, conflict and struggles rise to the surface. It unfolds over the course of their final picnic in their current home; saturating the audience with impressionistic colors, African symbolism, Geechee-Gullah rituals, cooking, dialect, and the sound of field cries, all expressing the complex resonances of the Lowcountry lifestyle. DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is a post-slavery narrative about cultural memory, notions of home and belonging, and conflicts of Black female identity, a lost cultural connector between Charles Burnett's KILLER OF SHEEP and Beyonce's Lemonade.

On paper, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST has all the elements of a film that could seep into your skin and dwell there. Exploring timeless themes including cultural identity, trauma, and cultural inheritance, it resonates on a whole new level today as we continue to interrogate racial injustices stemming from slavery. Through its cinematography alone, we see the effects of devastation, the desperate need for human connection, and beauty in spite of degradation. 

But as important as this film sounds (and in many ways, is), the dialogue is just so choppy, so inadequate that it reduces its impact. Even the performances, delivered by an array of talent who time (and frankly, Hollywood) has forgotten, couldn't overcome the messy, melodramatic presentation of the screenplay. It sadly takes you out of the story, and in so doing mitigates the portrayals of the characters, as well as Dash--who, as the first black woman filmmaker with a feature release at the time, redefined who gets to tell whose story. That's indeed profound, but the final product, well, isn't as groundbreaking.  And that disappointment is so real.

Do you like or dislike DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST? Let's talk about it in the comments box below.

DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST will be re-released in theaters November 18.

Watch the trailer:

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trailer Watch: The GHOST IN THE SHELL Train Has Left the Station

So, to be fair, the new trailer for THE GHOST IN THE SHELL looks badass, Like, really badass. But, not so badass that it makes me forget that the lead character--the film's carrier of badassery--is a popular Japanese manga comic book series heroine played in this film adaptation by...Scarlett Johansson, seemingly the only white character in the film. Nice try, though. A for effort.

I'm not going to revisit my rant from a few months ago (if you'd like to check it out, here's that blog post), but know that I am still salty about all of this.

Here's the synopsis again:

Based on the internationally-acclaimed sci-fi property, “GHOST IN THE SHELL” follows Major, a special ops, one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid, who leads the elite task force Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka Robotic’s advancements in cyber technology.
I am just going to leave this trailer here with you:

GHOST IN THE SHELL opens in theaters March 31, 2017.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

It's Time for Reunion TV to Go Away, for Good

I'll be the first to admit that I watched every single episode of Gilmore Girls with my mom and was heartbroken even after its satisfying ending. I miss the lovable Sookie, the fast-talking mother-daughter Lorelais and their uncomfortable Sunday dinners at the grandparents' mansion. Not to mention a pre-Supernatural Jared Padalecki and Scott Patterson as mommy Lorelai's main squeeze. But, I have zero interest in watching the reunion series. Why dig up an old show to potentially ruin it with a half-baked reboot? Don't we have enough great shows to watch on TV right now that we don't have to make a desperate attempt to revive old ones? I mean, isn't that TV Land is for? 

So no, I can't bother to get excited for the  Gilmore Girls 2.0 (despite its sentimental trailer). And for that matter, I'm not here for a Full(er) HouseArrested DevelopmentGirlfriends, or any other reunion show. Leave that kind of garbage to The Real Housewives of [insert whatever city you want here]. That's where that level of "entertainment" belongs. 

Share This Post
Blogger Templates