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Dunkirk: See it Big, by Rudie Obias

22 Jul

The newest film from Christopher Nolan is quite an experience. More than anything, Dunkirk is an intense and visceral film that puts the viewer in the middle of World War II as British and French soldiers attempt to escape from the German Army who recently occupied the country. The film is almost experimental in the way it unfolds and presented on the big screen — and I do emphasize the word “big.”

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A Thousand Stories Too, by Josh Long

19 Jul

Science fiction film is in a bit of a strange place in the 2010s. Star Wars is back. Star Trek is back. Even Blade Runner is back. The majority of high-profile sci-fi fare banks on nostalgia, while remaining (intentionally or not) mired in a mise en scène redefined by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Outliers that buck the pattern are risky – the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending was a critical disaster and squeaked by on a narrow worldwide profit margin.

And now, here comes Luc Besson. He’s returning to his “space opera” a la The Fifth Element, but he’s not rebooting his former work. He does base his story on comic books, but on a Franco-Belgian collaboration that is likely unfamiliar to most English speaking audiences (even though Valérian and Laureline has been around since the 1960s). So is the visionary director back to revitalize the genre, and introduce a new and exciting universe to audiences? Sort of.

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Girls Trip: Blow You Away, by David Bax

19 Jul

Despite all of the debauchery that takes place on screen, perhaps the most shocking thing about Malcolm D. Lee’s Girls Trip is that it’s a major studio comedy that actually wants you to care about its characters. It may not delve too deep but it doesn’t need to. Once it sets up the relatable emotional status of its leads–good, old friends who haven’t gotten together in years and have slowly changed out of each other’s sight–it has built a human foundation that makes the madness to come even funnier. And Girls Trip is funny as hell.

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Il Boom: Beggars and Thieves, by David Bax

19 Jul

Vittorio De Sica’s best known work is Bicycle Thieves, about a working man on an increasingly desperate quest to maintain his livelihood and his ability to provide for his family in a society where even those who manage to get by do so with razor-thin margins. Fifteen years later, De Sica made Il Boom, which tells a similar story. This time, though, it’s a satire and our “hero” is someone we’re allowed—even encouraged—to laugh at.

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Landline: Tell Me Why I Love You Like I Do, by Josh Long

19 Jul

In 2014, writer/director Gillian Robespierre hit the scene with her feature debut, Obvious Child. This year we’re treated to her follow-up, Landline, also starring comedienne Jenny Slate. While the former film deals with one woman’s personal development, the latter explores family dynamics and the kind of dysfunction that can lie beneath the surface of a seemingly “normal” family. Set in the 1990s, a decade familiar to the teen years of both Robespierre and Slate, the new film examines the challenges of a middle-class family changing in unexpected ways.

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War for the Planet of the Apes: A Beautiful Quagmire, by Tyler Smith

13 Jul

Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the latest in the recent Apes series, is a marvel of special effects. Even in the modern age, when CG images are commonplace, audiences can mostly still tell when something isn’t quite tangible. Perhaps its a blurred edge or movement that seems a bit too fluid. In this film, however, the computer-generated apes are so deeply textured that it often feels like we can just reach out and touch their matted hair. It could be that the realism of these effects are due in part to the performances that they are paired with. War for the Planet of the Apes features a number of well-developed characters, played with powerful understatement by Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, and several others. The overall impact of all of this is a summer movie that feels much more grounded than the standard blockbuster. And yet with all of this going for it, I still found myself slightly dissatisfied by the scope of the film. This is a film that features armies attacking one another, large explosions, riveting battles, and even an avalanche. So why does the film wind up feeling so… small?

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The Big Sick: The American Coma, by David Bax

13 Jul

Specificity is key to what makes Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick such an unqualified success and easily the best romantic comedy since Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child. This isn’t (or at least isn’t primarily) an issue-driven movie in which a Muslim Pakistani American dates a white girl, even though our president’s anti-Muslim stances and attempted policies have made the film more poignant than was likely intended. No, this is a movie about a man who is Muslim and Pakistani and also a stand-up comic who loves cult horror movies like The Abominable Dr. Phibes and who starts to date a white girl who is also a college student who hopes to become a therapist. It’s also incredibly sweet and funny as hell.

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Endless Poetry: Portrait of the Artist, by Andrew Benjamin

12 Jul

When Alejandro Jodorowsky makes a film, it’s like an event. He so rarely makes movies and when he does, it seems like they take forever to make it into a theater. As soon as you sit in the theater and see “An Alejandro Jodorowsky Film” you know you’re in for an experience like no other. Endless Poetry is another fantastic entry in the eclectic filmmaker’s repertoire and it’s one of his best.

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A Ghost Story: Good Grief, by David Bax

6 Jul

With its central figure, a ghost straight out of a Charlie Brown cartoon (bedsheet, eyeholes, rounded-off head), and the 1.37:1 aspect ratio of its frame, David Lowery’s majestic and meditative new film, A Ghost Story, sometimes comes across as a bit of a throwback. I’m sure, though, that Lowery would prefer the term “timeless.” In the totality of his vision, he gives us an hour and a half or so not to grapple with the eternal but to embrace it. Stretching off in every direction as far as the mind’s eye can comprehend, we see that the human experience always has been and always will be filled with constant death and sadness but also, and in equal measure should we so choose, with beauty and transcendence.

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The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography: Scratch the Surface, by David Bax

30 Jun

Elsa Dorfman has photographed a number of famous people in her time, from the Beat poets (most notably and most often her good friend Allen Ginsberg) to Bob Dylan to later musicians like Steven Tyler and Jonathan Richman. Yet, as good as those pictures are, they will not be her legacy. She will, especially if Errol Morris’ new documentary The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography anything to say about it, be remembered for the decades she spent taking beautiful, straightforward individual and family portraits in a rare and notable format. Morris, in pointing a camera at her the same way she did and the same way he has done many times before, explores as much about himself as he does his subject.

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