Guest Review: FENCES (2017)

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Directed By: Denzel Washington
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo
Runtime: 2 hrs 19 minutes

The cinema year gone by was extraordinary for the richness of offerings centred on the African-American experience. Several of these films share a world once fenced off, notably Moonlight (2016), Loving (2016), and Hidden Figures (2016). The quality of these films is remarkable and they reflect wider cultural changes that have been underway for some time. The adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences (2016) is another important contribution to this growing body of cinematic work. Its power comes from superb acting that weaves together a unique domestic narrative with themes of universal relevance.

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The sparse plot is framed around a set of domestic vignettes that are found in any family, regardless of colour. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a jovial, larger than life, might-have-been-famous baseball player who works at the dirty end of a garbage truck. Both his sporting ambitions and desire for promotion have been stymied by racial discrimination, so sport and work are recurring metaphors. His devoted and tolerant wife Rose (Viola Davis) is the peacemaker between Troy and his two sons.  Young Cory (Jovan Adepo) is keen to pursue his own sporting ambitions but is blocked by Troy. Older son Lyons is a musician who drops in every payday to ask Troy for money. Scenes of father and son conflict recur to the bitter end, punctuated by the impacts of Troy’s infidelity. A brain-damaged brother Gabe enters the stage regularly to speak non sequiturs with lyrical messages, like a court jester offering snippets of garbled wisdom. Troy desperately wants to assert masculine dignity but the world of the 1950s had no respect or place for people of his colour. Without respect he is just “a black man who has two strikes against you before you’re even born”. Life is stacked against men like Troy, but worse without a woman like Rose.

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It is easy to see this as a filmed play rather than a play adapted to film. The wide-frame setting turns Troy’s backyard into a place where he holds court within his kingdom, where fences are for keeping in and locking out.  The colour palette evokes an era of rich vibrant tones that reflect African-American heritage punctuated with rhythm and blues musical themes. Troy and Rose are the quintessential black American strugglers forgotten by history and ignored by the newly rising racial consciousness of the times. The generation that followed were promised better lives while they were left with the crumbs of the American dream, a dream that belonged to white people.

The two stars push their performances to the limit: Denzel doesn’t play but is angry, conflicted, unfulfilled; Viola is strong, altruistic, hopeful of a better life.  Their performance duet is a memorable tour-de-force. Troy has spent his life both building and fighting fences, but what he most craves comes too late. This film feels like live theatre with intimacy of characterisation and dense lyrical dialogue delivered with authenticity and depth. It is classic powerhouse drama.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘FENCES’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Runtime: 1 hr 56 minutes

It is hard to adequately describe the opening scenes of the psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals (2016) but you will not forget them quickly. Picture, if you will, images of completely naked and generously sized women writhing rhythmically to a heavy beat with various body parts moving simultaneously in different directions. They slowly progress in size, with lighting and makeup that makes them resemble what could be described as artistically grotesque burlesque, all with the opening credits still rolling in the background.

If you are still watching, you are being prepared for a film that explores a twilight world of sexual transgression. It may help to know beforehand that there are three criss-crossing plotlines and you can easily lose your sense of what is happening. Gallery director Susan (Amy Adams) is an insomniac with a crumbling marriage and a disinterested career. Spoilt by wealth, she can indulge her sense of emptiness and her regrets over having cruelly dumped her first husband whose modest career as a writer was never going to meet her aspirations. Having once labelled him a loser, out of the blue he sends her a manuscript for a book she cannot stop reading.

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The dramatization of the book is a gripping stand-alone thriller. Formulaic but brilliantly acted and filmed, it is about a family driving on a deserted road at night who encounter a carload of crazed thugs. The driver is helpless as his wife and daughter endure horrific crimes, and the story becomes the quest for revenge or justice depending on your moral viewpoint. As Susan reads the book it triggers flashbacks about her previous marriage for which a flame still burns, and she begins to sense that the story is a vengeful metaphor for her own emotional and moral weakness. While these twin narrative layers twist and turn, Susan also struggles with her shallow life in the pretentious present tense of the Los Angeles art world.

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The narrative framework of this film can feel like a tangled mess but it is not. It shifts from one layer to another without warning to create a fine balance between logic and confusion while creating a powerful montage of haunting scenes. The converging motifs of sleeplessness and night trawlers equate Susan’s culpability with those of murderous road stalkers and hint darkly that while some wrongs are beyond the law they are never beyond primal vengeance. The story of Nocturnal Animals is told through Susan’s eyes and with a top-quality support ensemble. The cinematography is striking and many scenes could be framed as artworks in Susan’s gallery. This is a challenging and engaging film that echoes the message be careful what you wish for.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘NOCTURNAL ANIMALS’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: RINGS (2017)

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Directed By: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Written By: David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman
Runtime: 1 hr 45 minutes

I get scared pretty easily. Because of this, a lot of people are surprised when I tell them how much I love horror, but I think that’s why I love it: it doesn’t take much to scare me, no matter how cheesy the movie, so it’s easy for me to become engrossed in it. One memorable exception to this is 2002’s The Ring. I saw it for the first time in middle school and was severely underwhelmed. Maybe it was because I had waited until it was on DVD to watch it, and all of my friends who had seen it in theaters months before had overhyped it. Maybe watching it in the safety of my brightly-lit living room took away from the terrifying atmosphere that would have been created in a big, dark auditorium. Maybe it’s just a non-scary, overrated horror movie. Either way, because I was so unimpressed by the original, I didn’t expect much from a sequel released fifteen years later.

Rings follows Julia (Matilda Lutz) as she tracks down her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) at his college after he stops responding to her calls. She discovers he has been participating in an experiment run by his professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), involving a mysterious video that causes its viewer to be killed by the ghost of a young girl named Samara after seven days. The only way to prevent this fate is to have someone else watch the video before the seven days are up. In an effort to break the chain, Julia and Holt embark on a journey into Samara’s dark, tragic past.

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Making a sequel to a movie that centers around an outdated piece of technology already sets Rings up for failure. The idea of a haunted VHS tape being scary in 2017 is pretty ridiculous- hell, even a haunted DVD or Blu-Ray would feel outdated, considering how many people stream video now. Granted, Gabriel adapts the VHS to a computer file for his research, but the idea that this VHS would have still been floating around after fifteen years instead of collecting dust somewhere is far-fetched even for a horror movie. Even if they had updated the story by putting the video online, my suspension of disbelief wouldn’t stretch so far that I would accept that something like that wouldn’t go viral, leading to a ridiculous amount of widely publicized mysterious deaths.

In addition to the problems with the video logistics, the plot in general feels kind of lazy. At first, it seems like it’s going to be a more scientific, analytical look at how this deadly video chain letter works, but that storyline is soon abandoned when Julia and Holt visit the town where Samara was buried in order to discover the significance of that location. The former could have been really interesting if it had been the focus of the film, but instead we end up with more of the same: exploring creepy old places full of the same creepy imagery. I can’t even really say if the acting was good, because the cast didn’t have much to work with.

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Even if you can overlook the problems with the plot, there is little visually impressive about this movie. Samara’s first appearance is completely CGI’d, which looks surprisingly bad for 2017 animation. The same reveal could have easily been done through practical effects, which would have been much creepier and less jarring than CGI. Most of the movie has the same overused blue tinge seen in countless horror movies, making it feel even more unoriginal. Many of the images used in the movie are directly recycled from the first film. There was one scene I really liked at the beginning of the movie, a wide shot where Gabriel is facing wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out at a storm, and the view outside the window briefly flickers to a scene from the video. It was beautifully shot and wonderfully creepy, and there were a couple other short scenes involving Julia being trapped in small, dark spaces that were genuinely suspenseful, but one good shot and a couple decent scenes aren’t enough to save the movie.

I don’t even know why this got a theatrical release. The entire feel of this movie is “direct to streaming/digital download.” If you’re easily scared and very bored, maybe check this out once it’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Otherwise, don’t waste your time or money.

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Have you seen ‘RINGS’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: The Space Between Us (2017)

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Directed By: Peter Chelsom
Written By: Allan Loeb (screenplay), Stewart Schill (story by)
Runtime: 2 hrs

The Space Between Us is a fun, sweet coming of age comedy that spoils its own success by trying to be a drama. The story follows Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), a boy born and raised on Mars on his first trip to Earth. Worried that he might not be allowed to stay on Earth, Gardner escapes the NASA compound and journeys across the country to find Tulsa (Britt Robertson) – a girl he met on the internet. Hijinks ensue. Teenage love is kindled. A road trip is had. It’s adorable. It’s funny. It’s sweet. It doesn’t work.

The Space Between Us suffers from dramatic shifts in tone from one scene to the next. The teenagers are in coming of age romantic comedy and the adults are in a family drama. The crossover between the two narratives falls flat constantly. Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), a wealthy Silicon Valley type, spends most of his time yelling unnecessarily and Kendra (Carla Gugino) was incessantly on the verge of tears or worrying in a motherly fashion. Obvious comedic moments were played detrimentally straight, like when the grownups think they’ve caught up with Tulsa and Gardner but it’s actually two completely different teenagers. That should be a funny moment, but girl (credited very accurately as “screaming girl”) is so terrified when Shepherd accosts her, that any humor is lost.

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The script itself was sloppy and full of contradictions with both itself and reality. For instance, we’re told multiple times that Tulsa cannot fly a plane but she can and does. Gardner, whose body is full of metal and magnets, makes it through an MRI unscathed. (I mean, technically this is at least sixteen years in the future, so suspension of disbelief or whatever, but it irked me because science fiction that ignores basic science is bad science fiction. Speaking of which, live-streaming video was viable from Mars to Earth from the moment the first mission touched down, which, yeah right.) There is a completely unnecessary reveal regarding Gardner’s father at the end of the movie. There is an explosion that only exists to use up leftover budget dollars. And so on.

Additionally, The Space Between Us does not deal with race or gender well. The cast leans very heavily in the white and male direction. The shaman character (played by Gil Birmingham) teeters on the edge of a racist stereotype. If the random, stoned white lady who introduces the kids to the shaman is any indication, that scene was probably even more problematic in a previous draft.

As far as gender goes, the movie had an annoying, if average, patriarchal lean. Women are mothers first and foremost. Gardner’s biological mother is only around long enough to give birth and die. Before she dies, though, the audience gets to hear a room of men talk amongst themselves about how “irresponsible” she was and then they decide, without ever looping her in on the conversation, what to do about her pregnancy. Kendra, an astronaut whose primary role is raising Gardner, winds up falling neatly into the stereotype of a woman who regrets putting career first. She and Gardner have a painfully bad conversation about motherhood and marriage.

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The strength of this movie is inarguably in the moments between Robertson and Butterfield. Robertson’s performance as a tenderhearted teenager who has learned to be guarded is emotionally charged, relatable, and funny. Butterfield struggles with a script that cannot quite decide if he has social skills or not. Ultimately he prevails as a charming, if kind of weird, kid. The flaws in his character (for example, a tendency to overreact to minor set-backs and an inconsistent level of social skills) are ultimately flaws with the script, not with Butterfield. Both actors breathe life into a below average script.

The movie is also redeemed in its cinematography. In many ways the movie can be seen as a love letter to the natural beauty of earth and the color with which humans surround themselves. Unfortunately, the editing did not live up to the cinematography, which sometimes minimized the visual impact of the movie.

The Space Between Us could have been great. It is beautifully shot, features lovely performances by Robertson and Butterfield, and is a ultimately a feel-good adventure story. It’s just too bad that not everyone who was signed onto the project got that memo.

hollyp


Have you seen ‘The Space Between Us’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)

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Directed/Written By: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Runtime: 2 hrs 17 minutes

Cinema portrayals of angry people are not usually enjoyable entertainment yet we are fascinated by films that dwell entirely on simmering angst. Manchester by the Sea (2016) is such a film. Perplexing, unsettling, yet engaging, it is a story without joy that is made bearable by outstanding performances and superb cinematography.

The plotline has a simple core narrative framed by frequent and abrupt flashbacks that gradually piece together a jigsaw-like story. We meet Lee (Casey Affleck) as a handyman and depressive loner whose temper blows over at little provocation. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that he lives in self-exile because of a horrible family tragedy he caused. He has become emotionally hollowed out and unable to relate to people. Suddenly his brother has a fatal heart attack and his will names Lee as executor and guardian of 16 year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). But to accept this responsibility, Lee must move back to the idyllic seaside town of Manchester by the Sea which is full of traumatic memories, including of his attempted suicide, his divorced wife, and people who are wary of him. He stays for the funeral, drinks heavily, lashes out physically, argues with his teenage nephew, and wants to cut and run. Gradually, he becomes emotionally re-connected with family and place through the experience of caring for the typically full-of-himself nephew. Lee’s traumatic past makes way for new beginnings, new relationships, and the hope of redemption.

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If you look for originality in storytelling, there is little of it here. Painful battles with inner demons is a cliché, and fighting several at once is simply a compound cliché not something new. Half of this film is spent on assembling the narrative jigsaw so we can understand what makes Lee the way he is, and the other half is spent on standard melodrama tropes about re-connecting by caring for someone else. However, it is the casting, characterisation, and cinematography that save this film from being just another story of angry people destabilised by tragedy. Casey Affleck does trauma and ambivalence very effectively. His bemused tolerance of his nephew’s demands and sexual exploits becomes the emotional scaffold that guides his calming from pot-boiling anger to resigned acceptance that life must go on. Lucas Hedges is the perfect foil for Casey Affleck, and both are helped by a strong support ensemble.

Brilliant acting by Affleck does not hide the film’s melodramatic predictability. But this slow essay on anger would be more unsettling were it not for its joyful filming. Trauma is calmed and un-likable characters forgiven when all are nestled against beautiful images of bobbing fishing vessels lapping the shores of charming Manchester by the Sea. The camerawork visually warms the film and helps bind its elements into an engaging story of loss and redemption.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘Manchester By The Sea’? Well, what did you think? 

Weekend Roundup + Quick thoughts on ‘The Founder’ (2017)

Hello all, happy last week of January! Well, it’s another hectic week… as some of you know if you read this post, I have my work cut out for me now that I’ve embarked on my first short film project!

Well, suffice to say I barely have time to blog these days, so sorry for my absence but I know this day would come. Thanks to my wonderful contributors to help keep FlixChatter going. Some of you might’ve noticed I’ve got some new guest reviewers, including CineMuse Films‘ Richard all the way from Down Under!

I did manage to fit in a few episodes of Black Mirror last week. It’s one of the most provocative scifi shows ever, yep even more thought-provoking than Westworld! It’s unsettling and quite bleak but it’s so intriguing you just gotta keep watching! I’ve got 5 more episodes to go on the third (last) season so far. Not sure if I’ll ever get around to blogging about it, but dayum, everyone should check out this show!

Anyway, I promise to still blog once a week, I’m still hoping to finish my review of Lion at some point. But today, here’s my quick thoughts on…

THE FOUNDER (2017)

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Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world. The movie opens with Keaton delivering a pitch directly to camera for a multi-mixer milkshake machine, and we see him going from one restaurant to another trying to sell it. He faces constant rejections, but one day, he learns that a restaurant in San Bernardino California just ordered six of those milkshake machines. Thinking that there might be an error, he ended up driving Route 66 to see that restaurant in person… owned by Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and his brother Dick (Nick Offerman).

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It’s quite intriguing to learn how this giant fast food company got its start, as the McDonalds gave Ray a tour through their super-efficient kitchen. I find myself amused by it all, how this small restaurant revolutionized the speedy service technique in the 50s. It’s also fascinating to watch Ray’s persuasive power once he set his mind to something. He ended up convincing the McDonalds into making him the franchise manager to expand the business to other states.

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Keaton is quite effective as the driven, ruthless, and callous salesman who saw an opportunity and snatched it, letting nothing stand in his way. Yet there’s a certain charm about him that somehow I still don’t completely hate him. Glad to see him getting more meaty roles post his Birdman comeback. Lynch and Offerman were quite memorable as the McDonalds, and it’s quite an understated performance from Offerman, apart from the one scene where he trained his workers as if his restaurant were a military basecamp!

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The film isn’t always engaging though, in fact it’s rather bland at times. For a movie about a fast food, the pacing could’ve been speedier. The performances are rather uneven as well. Keaton delivered quite a performance, but it’s a pity Laura Dern is wasted as Ray’s neglected wife. Still, it’s a pretty intriguing biopic about the dark, shady side of the American dream. Suffice to say, it didn’t make me want to eat at McDonald’s anytime soon.


So how was YOUR weekend? Seen anything good?

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Guest Review: Patriots Day (2017)

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Directed By: Peter Berg
Written By: Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer
Runtime: 2 hrs 13 minutes

Watching Patriots Day is a stressful experience, but not for the reasons I expected. I expected it to be hard to watch because it is a retelling of a violent moment in recent American history, but instead I was just horrified to find that the story of the Boston bombing had been turned into a thinly disguised propaganda piece.

Patriots Day targets two very specific groups of Americans and manipulates them from the beginning of the film to its end. These two groups are Bostonians and conservative white folks. In an effort to cater to Bostonians, the film has an early callout to Dunkin Donuts and there is a scene that features a delightfully brash police officer who verbally spars with the National Guard. There is also a running joke between a young husband and wife about how to pronounce words with a Boston accent. The film’s pandering to conservative white Americans is even more obvious, with moments like the one where Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) implies that Fox News might be more transparent than the US government and overlong scene at Sean Collier’s house when he drinks a beer, rough-houses with his roommates, and then sings a country song in the middle of his living room.

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Of course, just because a movie has a target audience, that doesn’t make it propaganda. What does make it propaganda is 1) it is historically inaccurate, 2) it has a clear agenda, and 3) it manipulates its audience.

Normally I am the first person to claim artists the right to creative license, but a historical piece that systematically populates its universe with real people is different. In Patriots Day, every bombing victim with a speaking part represents a real person and that person is interviewed in a sentimental mini-documentary at the end of the film. The filmmakers want the audience of Patriots Day to be impacted by the realness of the story they tell, even though there is misinformation littered throughout. One of the most notable instances of this is in Katherine Russell Tsarnaev (Melissa Benoist). The movie not only implies that she was aware and supportive of the bombing, but goes so far as to claim that she continues to be under investigation by the FBI, which, based on my research, is untrue.

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Patriots Day has a clear agenda: it aims to inspire fear. And, gosh darn it, it does that. It preys on ignorance about other cultures. One of the most dramatic examples of this was two scenes, played back to back. In the first, DesLauriers and Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), both white men and heroes of our story, deliver loving monologues to their wives. Immediately afterwards the film cuts to the Tsarnaev household, where Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Katherine get into a giant argument because Tamerlan purchased the wrong kind of milk for their child and does not want to fix his mistake. Patriots Day preys on very basic stereotypes about minorities in America as well. Whenever Dhokar’s friends are on screen, they are surrounded by drug paraphernalia and reciting a script that is over-inundated with swear words.

Finally, Patriots Day constantly manipulates its audience. Although there were many moments during the narrative film itself, the primary moment of manipulation was at the end. A mini-documentary featuring every victim portrayed in the film decries the violence of the day and describes Boston’s recovery as one that embraced the American ability to come together in solidarity and love. The speeches were beautiful, but the movie set them up in a way that felt too manipulative to be impactful. I left the theater feeling gross instead of inspired.

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The obvious propaganda of Patriots Day is made all the worse because, from a technical stand point, this is a good movie. The special effects are great. The editing choices are marvelous. The writing – when it’s not moralizing or blatantly catering to its target demographic – is laugh out loud funny, emotionally charged, and keeps the story running at a good pace. Most of the performances were great, with my personal highlights being Kevin Bacon as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, Jake Pickling as Officer Sean Collier, and Jimmy Yang as Dun Meng. However, a lot of the artistic choices that contribute to this movie being “good” also make it downright offensive. Sometimes it almost felt okay, but ultimately I don’t think I want to laugh at an anti-smoking joke at the tail-end of a real shootout that ended in a gruesome death. It’s distasteful to ask an audience to laugh at action movie one-liners when the story is real and fresh.

As an aside, Dhokar Tsarnaev’s character doesn’t make sense. Because Dhokar was notoriously very “American”, they couldn’t pigeon-hole him like they had Tamerlan (and I have a whole rant about the latent xenophobia that went into the creation of that character). The resulting mess was a character that swung dramatically between a prejudiced caricature of a Muslim terrorist and a second prejudiced caricature of a troubled, urban teenager. Neither stereotype fit, and they were completely contradictory. The lack of cohesion in Dhokar’s character led to completely baffling moments like when Dhokar makes fun of Dun’s accent – even though half his school friends are foreign students.

I can give the movie one star, because it is a fun action movie, but I want that admission couched solidly in my horror that anyone thought that it would be a good idea to make a “fun action movie” about the Boston Marathon bombing. I don’t think anyone should watch Patriots Day. It dishonors the victims, trivializes the serious, and despite its insistence to the contrary is, ultimately, un-American.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.


Have you seen ‘Patriots Day’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: JACKIE (2016)

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Directed By: Pablo Larraín
Written By: Noah Oppenheim
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Great Gerwig, John Hurt
Runtime: 1 hr 40 minutes

History and drama often make awkward bedfellows as you might find in the bio-pic Jackie (2016). The assassination of JFK is one of the defining moments of the 20th century and any dramatization of the immediate aftermath is a risky venture. History buffs may fault it and others may struggle with its melodramatic interpretation of Jaqueline Kennedy’s life-defining event. But look beyond the cinematic limitations and you find a complex portrait of a remarkable person who endured an unimaginable horror with rare strength and dignity.

The film’s starts with the motorcade in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated and ends with his funeral. The narrative is framed around a journalist’s interview conducted a week after the event and a confessional talk with a priest at the funeral. It uses their questions and comments to trigger flashbacks to the short JFK presidency, with dramatisations that craft together archival footage and historical photographs. The title of the film makes it clear that this is a portrait of Jackie (played by Natalie Portman) so her words, her emotions, and her actions are the primary focus. The film’s narrative tension comes entirely from the depiction of her inner world of private trauma and her struggles with the political and public reaction to the event.

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The most striking aspect of Portman’s portrayal is her ability to present several sides of the one persona as if she and Jackie shared multiple personalities. Once you recover from the distraction that Portman barely resembles Jaqueline Kennedy, she takes you on an emotional roller-coaster, from terror, anger, hate, confusion, mental vacillation and disorientation to calm resolve about her role in history. Throughout it all she remains committed to turning a tragedy into national mythology based on political heroism, the Kennedy legend, and the Camelot fairy tale. While there is a commendable support cast, this is a one-woman performance and Portman’s portrayal is a tour de force.

Some will find this film an unflattering interpretation of Jaqueline Kennedy while others will find that it helps them to sympathetically understand the person behind the mask. The film steers a fine line in avoiding judgement and it is Portman’s dramatic ability to step into Jackie’s soul and to capture her mental trauma that ultimately shines. No bio-pic is perfect and you need to overlook scenes where the film struggles with period authenticity. Set this aside and you will be rewarded with a memorable performance about an unforgettable event.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘JACKIE’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: SPLIT (2017)

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Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 1 hr 57 minutes

M. Night Shyamalan has struggled over the years to regain his early 2000’s glory. From a movie about trees compelling people commit suicide, to a horrible adaptation of a beloved animated series, several of his more recent films have been flops. His newest movie, however, has been attracting a lot of attention, and people are wondering if it might be a return to the tense, unique thrillers that originally made Shyamalan a household name. Does it deliver? In addition, can a movie with an antagonist whose defining characteristic is a legitimate mental disorder succeed without being offensive or painfully inaccurate?

In Split, three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Haley Lu Richardson as Claire, and Jessica Sula as Marcia) are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. Kevin currently has twenty-three personalities who are awaiting the arrival of a new, mysterious one who is simply called The Beast. The girls must figure out which personalities they can trust or manipulate to help them escape.

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While this film had its problems, it was still one of the better ones I’ve seen out of Shyamalan in quite a while. It starts out tense and is suspenseful the whole way through; at the risk of sounding cliché, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, watching the girls’ constant attempts at escape and tense interactions with Kevin’s multiple personalities. James McAvoy gave a fantastic performance, managing to portray nine different personalities without overdoing any of them in an attempt to make them distinct. The actresses playing the kidnapped teenagers gave great performances as well, especially Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of their work in the future.

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That said, this was far from a perfect movie. There were some moments where the tone felt a little confused, and I wasn’t sure if the audience was supposed to laugh or feel unnerved. Much of the exposition comes from Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), and the way it’s presented is pretty clunky. Then, of course, there is the portrayal of dissociative identity disorder. Is it insensitive or inaccurate? To answer that would spoil Shyamalan’s signature “twist,” so you’ll have to highlight this next part in order to see it [SPOILER ALERT] Based on the climax of the movie, it appears whatever Kevin suffers from isn’t dissociative identity disorder, but some sort of supernatural ability to not only be host to multiple personalities, but to change physically depending on the personality. When The Beast finally makes his appearance, Kevin’s muscles grow and his skin thickens, earning him near invincibility. He can easily climb walls and ceilings and receive multiple gunshots without being taken down. So because the antagonist doesn’t actually have this specific mental disorder, I can’t say it was portrayed insensitively, since technically it wasn’t what was being portrayed at all.

The twist doesn’t come out of nowhere- it’s hinted at during a session between Kevin and Dr. Fletcher- and, for people who are familiar with Shyamalan’s style, one could almost predict it from the plot summary alone (maybe not the exact details, but at least the general idea). As far as accuracy, Dr. Fletcher does discuss her research on physical changes in individuals with DID, some of which sounded pretty far-fetched, but upon further research (Google searches during my lunch break at work), I found that much of what she said in the movie is based on actual DID cases, so at least the little they did include regarding the actual disorder was mostly based in reality.

Split isn’t necessarily a major comeback for Shyamalan, but it’s still an interesting watch, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to see a solid acting performance

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Have you seen ‘SPLIT’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Martin Scorsese’ SILENCE (2016)

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To close out his trilogy of religious theme film that includes The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, Martin Scorsese has spent over 20 years on trying to bring his latest picture to the big screen. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo and technically a remake of a Japanese film that was directed by Masahiro Shinoda from the early 1970s, it’s his most passionate film and will test the patience of many of his devout fans.

After receiving a letter from Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), detailing his difficult times in Japan when he and other priests were trying to bring Christianity to that land in the 1600s. His two students Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) decided to make a trip from Portugal to the Far East in order to find out what happened to their mentor. Upon arriving in Japan, the young priests are exposed to a secret world of local Christians who has to keep their faith under wraps because it’s consider a crime to believe in Christ. Both Rodrigues and Garrpe need to stay in low profile to avoid being seen by the Japanese authority. But soon Rodrigues was captured by local shoguns and brought before Inoue (Issei Ogata), an inquisitor who insists the priest renounce his faith by stepping on bronze image of Jesus. Refusing to break as he searches for Ferreira, Rodrigues is exposed to many horrors and extended captivity, left with only his searching, questioning mind to keep him focused on God’s love.

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Clocking in at nearly 3 hours long, it may test the patience of some of the most devout Scorsese’s fans out there. The film does feel slow at times and about 20 minutes could’ve been cut out. But on an artistic level, it might be Scorsese’s best work since The Age of Innocence. It’s beautifully shot and he even decided to not use any music in any of the more dramatic scenes, in fact I don’t recall hearing any theme music in the entire film. Anyone expecting to see some kind of graphic violent sequences will be sorely disappointed. He wisely focuses on the emotional suffering of the characters as opposed to showing the tortures in graphic details.

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Performances by the actors were great; Garfield seems to be on a roll this year. He’s been asked to carry the entire film and I thought his performance was superb. Here’s a man who truly believe in his faith and yet he has to witness some of the most horrific things that people would ever do to one another. It’s an emotional performance that I don’t believe many young actors in his generation can achieve. Driver has a smaller role and he’s decent here as a priest who seems to be questioning the existence of God. Issei Ogata gave an interesting performance as the aging shogun, he’s truly believes in his mission to eradicate any western influences to his homeland. Yôsuke Kubozuka also was very good as the slimy character that betrayed Rodrigues several times yet asked for his forgiveness. Asano Tadanobu showed up later in the film as the interpreter and tried to convince Rodrigues to renounce his faith. Lastly, Neeson gave a kind of laid-back performance but I think it fits what his character went through.

This is a heavy film and Scorsese doesn’t bring his usual stylistics to the picture, remaining more observational, relying on editing to experience the journey. Filled with beautifully-shot sequences and great performances, it’s a film that deserves to be seen but I wouldn’t call it an entertaining one.

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So have you seen SILENCE? Well, what did you think?