The reason that horror and humor tend to go hand-in-hand is because good jokes and good thrills are both based on the same concept: timing. Jordan Peele is not someone who you would think would write a good horror film, after all he’s spent three years on Key & Peele making light of the horror genre. Instead that experience has given Peele an understanding of how to use timing to make an audience uncomfortable in just the right ways, proving that comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin, and Peele shows a knack for both in Get Out. In this film Peele shows not only an excellent sense of timing, but also how to write a great story that smartly plays into an audience’s expectations and uses them to its advantage. It also succeeds as an incisive and brilliant examination of race relations in America in a way that few films of any kind are daring enough to attempt.
“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?” Such is the ultimate line in the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Silence. Scorsese has spent about twenty-five years trying to make Silence since reading Shusaku Endo’s novel, and it’s clear why with some knowledge about Scorsese and his career. Martin Scorsese has professed in interviews that prior to becoming a filmmaker he contemplated a career in the priesthood, and even after going to film school internalized the messages of Christ and his teachings. Since then Scorsese has professed to having crises of faith as a lapsed Catholic, and it emanates through each film that he does. Each in their own way deals with the idea of faith in the face of obstacles, or people who ponder if their bad deeds will ever catch up to them. It’s what connects a film like Taxi Driver in which a Vietnam War veteran hopes that divine intervention will clean the filth off of the streets of New York with a film like Wolf of Wall Street in which a career conman is eventually forced to reap what he sows in the form of imprisonment. It’s a subject that Scorsese has been trying to put on film for decades, and at last he has done so in its clearest form.
In the 1960’s there was such a palpable air of progress in the United States, the sense that so many great things were just beyond the horizon. This feeling existed despite the fact that there were dangerous things ahead in 1961, like the Vietnam War, the disruptions that plagued the year 1968, and so many other things. But the decade started off on a hopeful note as President Kennedy took office and the Civil Rights movement was on the march, the slow and steady march of progress. We’ve seen many stories on the big screen of the more high-profile steps in the Civil Rights movement like the Selma march or the fight for the Civil Rights Act in the past couple of years in films like Selma and All the Way, both excellent. Hidden Figures takes place in a part of the movement that has not yet been put on screen, but one that is still very essential to tell. The part of the movement that didn’t take place on the big public streets of America’s major cities, but in offices and working spaces where women like Katherine Johnson made progress. It just so happens that her story takes place in NASA at the height of the Space Race.
Matt Ross has made a good career for himself on the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley, as tech CEO Gavin Belson. Now he takes to the big screen for his fourth film as a director and by far his most well-known of his films so far in Captain Fantastic. Ross not only directed but wrote the movie as well, and deserves credit for making much of the film work as well as bringing together a wonderful acting ensemble of many ages. The film follows an unusual premise as Ben Cash, played by Viggo Mortensen, leads his six children in “training” deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest to survive in the wilderness, become child-geniuses, and to have the same disdain for American capitalism that drove him and his wife Leslie to leave civilization. Continue reading “Captain Fantastic”
It has been ten years since John Carney first graced our movie screens with his original musical film Once, a beautiful story about two musicians living in Dublin. The meager Sundance premiere became a critical darling and eventual Oscar-winner for the song “Falling Slowly.” Nine years and more movies later, Carney has created another new musical, Sing Street, full of heart, hope, and humor. Sing Street is also a Sundance darling, although it hasn’t been making the kind of waves that Once did, which is a darn shame. Sing Street is a wonderful movie that again makes use of Carney’s ability to depict the plight of urban, working-class Dubliners with music and style. The main difference here is that Once uses a contemporary setting and music, while Sing Street is set in 1980’s Dublin and uses 1980’s music in the style of Duran Duran and Depeche Mode.
Every year around November or December we get a slew of “Oscar-bait” movies that are released by the likes of The Weinstein Company to try and use melodrama, period locations, and heartwarming stories to win acclaim. That may sound very acrimonious but I assure you I love it when films like The King’s Speech or Lincoln or Selma come along and transcend their genre for the benefit of us all. The Weinsteins’ latest bet is on the heartwarming story of Saroo Brierley, a young Indian-Australian man who begins to have recollections of his past in India when he was separated from his family and their Indian village. He found himself among the poor and destitute of 1980’s Calcutta, then an orphanage, and finally in the loving arms of an Australian couple determined to make a home for him across the ocean.
When my dad asked me a couple of weeks ago which I thought was better, La La Land or Singin’ in the Rain, I told him that I didn’t know cause I’d never seen Singin’ in the Rain before. We decided to watch it together and it helped me truly understand why the film is deemed by so many as not only one of the great movie musicals but one of the great movies to come out of Hollywood. I’ve let it stir in my mind a little and after watching a video last night that said that Justin Hurwitz, the composer for the music in La La Land had said music recorded on the same sound stage that was used for this movie, and the passing of its star Debbie Reynolds, I felt the need to put my thoughts on paper, so to speak. What’s so interesting is that while the two films are deeply connected through references, ideas, and structure, La La Land is truly full of original music while Singin’ in the Rain was formed from a number of older songs that MGM already owned and decided to bring back. The result was a film that came out in 1952 but was set in the late 1920s at the time when motion pictures were transitioning to sound.
Just like with Moonlight, I saw this movie over a month ago but am only reviewing it now due to time constraints. Nonetheless, like Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea has remained in my memory not as much with the haunting imagery, beautiful music, and perfect composition of Moonlight, but thanks to equally-stellar acting, fully-drawn characters, and an excellent script by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. Much like with Moonlight, I had never heard of the writer-director until this film jumped wholeheartedly into the spotlight after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Now having arrived in many local theaters after a November 18th limited release, I am fortunate enough to say that it is a grueling experience to watch but a wholly rewarding one that surprised me with its humor and its humanity.
Moonlight is adapted from a never-produced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama. Why the play wasn’t produced I am not sure, nor at this point do I care to know. All I can say is that I am glad that it wasn’t so that there is nothing I can compare it to in the way that people often do when a produced play is adapted for the screen like 2013’s August: Osage County. I am even more glad because what is put to screen is one of the most delicately crafted, well-made, and subtle works of film that I have seen all year, if not ever. Whatever material was left in the stage play I can say ought to be disregarded, as what’s left is as brilliant, as deep, and as purposeful as any work of stage or screen can hope to be.
When I first heard that Damien Chazelle’s third feature film was an original musical I was a mix of both skeptical and ecstatic. Chazelle’s second film Whiplash remains one of my favorite films to have been released during my lifetime, so the bar was certainly high for his next film. I have to admit that I haven’t really been a fan of Ryan Gosling until recently and I loved Emma Stone in Birdman but I still wasn’t sure about her as a leading player. On top of all that this just seemed like the kind of movie that doesn’t get made anymore. I mean, an original musical? Preposterous! Nowadays the taste of film musical lovers like me are satiated by the likes of Into the Woods and Les Miserables which are by no means poorly-made but certainly arrive with a certain lethargy because musical fans know it’ll be bastardized or general audiences just may not accept it. It’s with this in mind that I slowly anticipated the arrival of La La Land throughout this year as a ray of hope for the genre. Not only was I not disappointed, but I was both blown away and left breathless as I left the theater by the breath of fresh air that is La La Land.