Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Edge of Seventeen

High school is that time in one's life where everyone claims it'll change you. What they neglect to tell you is that it's seldom for the better. (And anyone who's recently survived those hellish four years can testify to that.)

Kelly Fremon Craig's The Edge of Seventeen is one of those rare films that capture teenage angst at its worst. From precarious infatuations to family feuds, it shows how the peak of one's youth has its share of ups and downs. (And boy, this'll bring back memories -- good and bad -- of those days.)

Starring in The Edge of Seventeen is Hailee Steinfeld, who made her big break several years ago in True Grit. Her career between the two films has been sporadic and not often her abilities were used probably to their fullest. But Craig manages to do just that.

But The Edge of Seventeen isn't just Steinfeld's show. There's also solid supporting work from Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick. Special mention, however, goes out to Hayden Szeto. (See, Hollywood? It is literally not that hard to have some diversity.)

The Edge of Seventeen is the kind of picture John Hughes wish he made. (It's true.) Steinfeld reminds her audiences how she wowed them six years prior with her Oscar-nominated work in True Grit. And here's hoping that both she and Craig have successful careers in store for them.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Arrival

It's nigh impossible to write about Denis Villeneuve's Arrival without giving away any crucial details about the film's premise. Yes, it's a fascinating film to watch (everyone has sung their praises many times over the last few weeks) but is it as faultless as others claim it is? Not really.

In stark contrast to some of Villeneuve's previous films like Prisoners and Enemy, Arrival has perhaps the first time since who knows when that a well-written female character is in a film by him. (And yes, this includes Sicario.) But even then there's flaws within the execution.

That's not to say Amy Adams wasn't right for the part. She's very good, no denying that. But perhaps an actress who's done their fair share of meatier roles probably would've been a better choice. (Speaking of which, Adams needs to find parts that have more meat to them.)

But what of Arrival itself? Indeed it has borrowed elements from Close Encounters of the Third Kind but overall its story seems to think it's smarter than it actually is. What at first seems to appear clever is actually half-executed in its attempts. And the more one thinks it over, the more convoluted its ideas become.

Arrival may seem initially to be the very thing needed in these trying times but in reality it's nothing more than your usual sci-fi yarn: focusing solely on what's happening on American soil, using a flimsy allegory to reference current events, and overall having an eyeroll-worthy conclusion. In all honesty, Villeneuve should probably start thinking about a different strategy for future films.

My Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Denial

What causes us as a society to behave the way we do? Do we get taught such beliefs through the nature we're brought up in or do we learn them on our own free will? And, most importantly, when should such opinions be spoken about to a mixed audience?

In light of recent events, Mick Jackson's Denial becomes worryingly prevalent in its depiction of hatred. (And its events take place not that long ago either.) Again, what causes someone to think such dark thoughts?

The primary focus of Denial is whether or not the Holocaust actually happened. (Not even kidding.) Despite insurmountable evidence (including those who survived such a monstrous ordeal), David Irving (a truly despicable Timothy Spall) is practically frothing at the mouth to prove such an atrocity never occurred. What's worse, some other might agree with him.

What's shown in Denial -- its portrayal of seething hatred -- is more frightening in light of the recent US election. How much prejudice has made headlines since the events of November 8, 2016? If there's one thing we as a society need to do, it's to find a sense of peace and equality amongst our species rather than contempt and discrimination.

Denial is good, thanks primarily to David Hare's script. The work from Rachel Weisz, Spall and Tom Wilkinson is also good, likewise with the supporting cast. (If only this wasn't released during a time of re-emerging hatred...)

My Rating: ****

The Dark Corner

Henry Hathaway's The Dark Corner seems to follow the familiar elements of film noir: lead character trying to escape criminal past, supporting characters with deceptive natures, things of that sort. But how does it weigh in with the greats of the genre?

The Dark Corner wasn't Hathaway's lone venture into film noir. (He would later go on to make the likes of Kiss of Death and Niagara.) As he shows here, he utilizes noir elements like shadows and backstabbing. But how well does he do it.

Admittedly Mark Stevens as the male lead feels somewhat off, lacking the charisma so needed for a genre like film noir. (Perhaps someone like Robert Mitchum would've been a better choice.) But having film noir regular Clifton Webb among the cast makes up for it somewhat. (As does having Lucille Ball as the leading lady.)

In a time where returning soldiers felt disillusioned by the world that physically and mentally destroyed them, they sought out those who shared the same jaded perspective as them. And The Dark Corner provided such a temporary sanctuary for these broken men. They saw an escape from a world not knowing how to heal them,

The Dark Corner isn't among the greats of the genre but it is good. Yes, Hathaway would hit his stride more with his later noirs but he did show his audiences what to expect from future titles. (And to be fair, there was a lot of noir being churned out that year.)

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Angel Face

After years of being under the thumb of the studio system, you could tell in some of his films that Otto Preminger wanted to break free. Indeed in the years to come he would regularly push the envelope with what the Hays Code would allow. But his films under the system don't become irrelevant, not in the least.

One such title from that time was Angel Face. Though not as well-known as Preminger's other famed noir Laura, it's still proof that noir was where he was his best. After all, he seemed to better grasp the psychology aspect of the genre.

Like Laura, Angel Face explores obsession but this one shows a more unhealthy depiction of it. When we first meet Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons), it's clear that there's something off about her. And as Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) learns the hard way, it's best if one doesn't get close to her.

Of course having Mitchum is film noir is practically to be expected but it's Simmons who's an inspired bit of casting. No longer is she the proper English lady she played time and time again throughout her career. If only Hollywood gave her a chance by letting her play the femme fatale more often.

Angel Face is proof that Preminger was the premier back then for dark material. (He most definitely didn't give a damn what censors thought of his work; he wanted to shock his audience in a way different from Hitchcock.) He may be a mostly forgotten name nowadays but when you see a film by Preminger, it's very seldom one that'll be forgotten easily.

My Rating: ****

Friday, November 18, 2016

Doctor Strange

Imagine if you will a role played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays a man who doesn't shy away from bragging about his intellect (and earning a few adversaries in the process), displaying an insatiable hunger to learn more. Now which role was being described: his star-making turn on Sherlock or the titular character of Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange?

Admittedly there's a strong possibility that Cumberbatch was cast in Doctor Strange because of Sherlock. (There is the occasional allusion to the show throughout the film.) Yes, he is good at playing the arrogant genius, no doubt about that. (He got an Oscar nomination for such a role after all.) But does it warrant the whitewashing?

Oh, it's worth mentioning that said whitewashing isn't just with Cumberbatch's role but also with Tilda Swinton's. Yes, they are both good in their respective roles but does that excuse the refusal of casting actors of color in favor of two white British actors? Of course not. (And let's not begin with Marvel's bad track record with female characters.)

But enough of those discrepancies; let's focus on the positive from Doctor Strange. The humor throughout is touch different than previous Marvel entries, being more slapstick in some scenes. And those visual effects, holy smokes. This is one of those rare comic book movies where 3-D is a must. (Eat your heart out, Inception.)

Doctor Strange has some glaring mistakes here and there (mostly with some of the casting) but overall it's thoroughly entertaining. (Sounds hypocritical but it's the truth.) Coming from someone who doesn't think much of the superhero craze from recent years, this is a title you should see.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Moonlight

There are these works that suddenly become more relevant in light of certain events. Most times those works are sought out following the deaths of their creators. But what of those titles that become much needed in tough times?

Barry Jenkins' Moonlight easily qualifies as one such film. After what both the black and LGBT+ communities have endured just this year alone, it's nice to see something that embraces both of them rather than ridicule them. In short, we need this film now.

Moonlight is also a breath of fresh air from other films of the LGBT+ subgenre. Apart from Pariah a few years prior, it's been a type of fiction that's been mostly monochromatic (read: white) from Hollywood. (At least television has been willing to depict interracial same-sex relationships.) We still have much to do before fiction becomes more accessible to the masses.

What Moonlight also shows is something most contemporary media tends to eschew: humanizing the black community. After who knows how many news articles branding victims of police brutality as "thugs", it's practically a breath of fresh air to see this. Jenkins does the complete opposite of what Hollywood regularly; he avoids the most blatant of stereotypes.

Moonlight is quiet in its brilliance, not needing the big dramatic speech to drive its point home. Jenkins presents a film that can be as universal as any generic film with white lead actors. (You know it's true.)

My Rating: *****

Christine

We never know what's going on in someone else's life. We may think we know the stresses they're encountering but even then the whole truth hasn't been revealed. What makes some people tick?

Antonio Campos' Christine (no association to the Stephen King work of the same name) is such a work to explore one's frame of mind. Based on events in Christine Chubbuck's (Rebecca Hall) final days, it's an unnerving glimpse into how far one will push themselves into self-destruction. But to what extent?

Chubbuck may not be that well-known of a name like Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite but to those in Sarasota, Florida, she was well-liked. But as shown in Christine, she has a bad habit of pushing herself as well as pushing others away from her. It's a constant struggle for her.

And Hall, who's generally underused in most of the projects she's in, gives her best work to date in Christine. She shows how conflicting Chubbuck's personality is: she craves affection but maintains a detached demeanor, she wants to make herself known but refuses to learn anything new for the job. Very rarely do we get female characters this layered and complex.

Christine is a captivating character study on this oft-forgotten woman. (Sometimes they don't always need to lead remarkable lives to be remembered years later.) And through Hall's stunning work, we get a dark glimpse into one's broken psyche. (Hopefully she'll get better offers because of this.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Steel Helmet

There are two types of war films: the ones more reliant on bloodshed and the ones more reliant on morality. Obviously it's those in the category that tend to stand out more to audiences, what with how the soldiers behave under duress. There's always been a morbid fascination towards living in fear for one's life.

Unsurprisingly there was a large flux of such works in the years after World War II, many of them penned by those who lived to tell their tales. One such name was Samuel Fuller, and it was his third film The Steel Helmet that put him on the cinematic map.

As would do with later films like Pickup on South Street and The Naked Kiss, Fuller shows with The Steel Helmet a good deal of grit. There's no denying there was a shift in storytelling following the end of World War II, and Fuller proved so as the Korean War raged on. He didn't want to make a sappy picture.

Similarly, much like his magnum opus The Big Red One, Fuller avoids all forms of bullshit for The Steel Helmet. (It's a war movie, damn it, not a soap opera.) He -- as well as several of the film's actors -- knew firsthand what war was like; they sure as hell don't want to sugarcoat their experiences.

The Steel Helmet makes for a solid character study as well as a war film. (What better way to show one's true colors than by putting them in a life or death situation?) It also showed Hollywood what to expect from Fuller, someone who actively tried to change the game. (He did.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Candidate

There's no denying that this current election has been all sorts of insane. Honestly, it's a race between someone who has a background in politics and someone whose rise to infamy started with some good ol' nepotism. But would you believe that a satire from over forty years ago practically predicted all of this?

That satire, by the way, is Michael Ritchie's The Candidate. (Worth mentioning that its writer Jeremy Larner is still around to witness democracy fall to pieces.) And bear in mind the same year this was released, Watergate happened.

What makes The Candidate work is that Larner (who justly won an Oscar for the script) knows what he's writing about. (He started as speechwriter when Eugene McCarthy ran for office in 1968.) Larner imbues moments from the real-life campaign trail he was a part of to the fictional one he penned. And yes, it's just as chaotic as it sounds.

Indeed there have been more convoluted presidential races before this current one but it's what shown in The Candidate that makes the election so damn eerie. Again, it involves someone with little to no political knowledge up against someone who's been in politics for years, and they have a chance at winning. (If that's not frightening, nothing is.)

Yes, it's a satire through and through but The Candidate is nowadays ominous. The fact that several politicians have cited it as an influence says everything right there. (And if that closing line isn't on a certain level of prophecy, again nothing is.)

My Rating: ****1/2