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My Scientology Movie: Clearly Comical, by David Bax

8 Mar

Made around the same time as Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (to which it inevitably must be compared) but only being released stateside now, John Dower’s My Scientology Movie seems at first as if it can only be a footnote to Gibney’s behemoth. Despite its lighter tone and shorter running time, though, it reveals itself to be a necessary companion instead. Where Gibney chronicled the history and the shocking facts of Scientology and its nefarious practices, Dower and onscreen investigator/presenter Louis Theroux investigate the psychological transformation of being in and, hopefully, surviving the church.

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Logan: Lone Wolf, by Tyler Smith

2 Mar

It’s hard to know exactly where to start with James Mangold’s Logan, the latest and possibly last film to feature Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. On one level, it’s a bold and unflinching character study, with an honest, vulnerable performance at its center. On another level, however, it is a run-of-the-mill action movie with an ever-so-slight superhero twist. The film reminds me of any number of modern thrillers featuring Liam Neeson, in which an older man with a violent past must tear through an army of opponents in order to protect an innocent. Only when the film allows Hugh Jackman the space to really inhabit the character does the film become something truly special. If only the film around those moments were more inspired, Logan could have been a superhero film on par with The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2. Unfortunately, it often comes close to superhero greatness but ultimately falls just short, working much better as a character study.

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Donald Cried: Cold Shoulder, by Andrew Benjamin

1 Mar

There seems to be a trend with indie/mumblecore type movies currently: there is a protagonist who has some of social awkwardness who is paired up with a “normie” and the two have to coexist for the duration of the movie. It is a throwback in some ways to the buddy comedies of the past like Abbott and Costello, Crosby and Hope, Laurel and Hardy. What those movies did though was make the awkwardness affable between the straight man and the socially awkward character. Donald Cried doesn’t do this unfortunately.

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I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore: Fake News, by David Bax

23 Feb

Given its premiere at Sundance the weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration and its consequently relatable title, Macon Blair’s directorial debut I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore ought to offer some much-needed catharsis with its violent revenge storyline. Unfortunately, it only manages to confirm its protagonist’s assertion that “Everyone is an asshole” and then cynically suggest that anyone who isn’t may have to become one to survive.

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Dying Laughing: Just a Bit, by David Bax

23 Feb

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Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood’s Dying Laughing gets off to a dubious start, with its panoply of stand-up comedian interviewees gushing in awestruck, hushed tones about their art and its craft. It sets up an expectation of a bald hagiography of the form without analysis or criticism. Eventually, it settles into some more fertile grounds and ultimately satisfies. Still, it leaves you wondering what its worth is, exactly, in a time when we have so many good and in-depth podcasts on the subject.

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Bitter Harvest: Tough to Swallow, by Alexander Miller

23 Feb

Bitter Harvest centers on Stalin’s initiated famine that killed millions of Soviet Ukrainians while he was advancing his communist reign in this systematic form of starvation was known as the Holodomor. This is the backdrop for an epic melodrama where two childhood lovers Yuri (Max Irons) and Natalka (Samantha Barks) endure the Holodomor and oppressive Stalinist reign. They fight for survival, joining liberation forces, always guided by their lifelong connection.

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The Great Wall: Clash of the Titans, by David Bax

16 Feb

Like its horde of monster villains that only awaken to attack China every 60 years, Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall is slow to come to life. The opening scenes, in which a band of pan-European mercenaries led by Irishman William (Matt Damon) and Spaniard Tovar (Pedro Pascal) ride through the Northern Chinese countryside, evading capture and seeking to steal the secret of gunpowder in order to sell it back home, are plodding and hokey, with dialogue marked by exchanges that were clearly reverse engineered from the quips (“I’ve been left for dead twice. It was bad luck.” “For who?” “The people who left me.”) Once William and Tovar arrive at the Wall itself, though, some color and life begin to flow into the movie. This trend will continue; any scene that features no Chinese characters (Willem Dafoe also appears) is comparatively dull and drab. Perhap Zhang is tugging back at the problematic “white savior” conventions of the screenplay by reminding us that the only reason the Europeans (or the audience) are present is because of the Chinese setting and characters. Still, the first major battle sequence is the movie’s least thrilling, consisting largely of noisy effects shots alternating with shots of people reacting to them, like a chintzy episode of Charmed. But it’s in these same scenes that we are introduced to the “Nameless Order,” The Great Wall’s fictitious military legion tasked with repelling the army of beasts. The more time we get to spend with them, their innovative battle tactics and their byzantine hierarchy, the more the movie starts to have fun, kicking off a snowball effect in which each set-piece outdoes the last, building to an implausibly rollicking finale.

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Lovesong: Strings Attached, by David Bax

16 Feb

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When we see the word “love” in the context of a movie title, we’re conditioned to assume it means the romantic type. With her yearning and perfectly pitched Lovesong, director So-yong Kim challenges that reflex by blurring the line between friends and lovers.

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The 2017 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts: No Small Stories, by Alexander Miller

10 Feb

The Oscar-nominated documentary shorts begin their theatrical tour today.

Documentaries are a misleading genre; by definition said genre should be the most simple area of interest to investigate, but documentaries are anything but. Let’s forego the obligatory listing of every subgenre and acknowledge that consolidated documentary filmmaking is something of a feat in and of itself, and in concert with the academies proclivity toward “most of” as a qualifier for “best of” there’s a socio-political urgency with every selection and, given the current state of world affairs, a little more insight regarding these curious times.

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The LEGO Batman Movie: Out of Darkness, by Rudie Obias

10 Feb

The LEGO Batman Movie is the first spin-off from The LEGO Movie, the surprise hit animated film from 2014. As in the latter, the former takes a satiric spin on Batman and a majority of the DC Comics universe with appearances from practically every villain from the Dark Knight’s history, even The Condiment King, who was a throwaway joke from Batman: The Animated Series. The LEGO Batman Movie has just about everything a Batman fan could ever want in a movie, while it also has a lot of heart and genuine character moments that are missing from the current DC Extended Universe films from director Zack Snyder and screenwriter/producer David S. Goyer.

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