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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Review: Sing Street (2016)

* * *

Director: John Carney
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton

Boy and Girl meet, they fall in love, and music is made. You could argue that that's also the plot of two of John Carney's previous films, Once and Begin Again, and you would be right, but that doesn't mean that all three films are the same, or even really all that similar. Over the course of those three films Carney has played around a lot with style and with Sing Street delivers something that falls somewhere between the unadorned realism of Once and the polish of a Hollywood musical. It's a delightful and even sometimes moving film that crosses the gritty kitchen sink drama with the glamour of music videos, back during a time when music videos were considered a new and exciting art form and actually got airplay. With so much original music to its credit, fully expect to see Sing Street pop up over and again as awards season rolls around and the contenders for Best Original Song start getting whittled down.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

21st Century Essentials: Two Days, One Night (2014)

Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard
Country: Belgium/France/Italy

The idea of capitalism is sold to us, in part, as a system of self-determination, as a system whereby your destiny is only limited by the bounds of your imagination and your perseverance. The basis of the “American dream” is the notion that no matter who you are and no matter where you’re from, you can attain success as long as you’re willing to put the work in. For some people this is true and circumstances align in such a way that they are able to become self-made successes. For most others, however, the experience of capitalism isn’t much different from any other system, in that it ensures that the wealthy and powerful remain so, and insofar as it creates a “dog eat dog” mentality within the labor force that ensures division and stagnation in terms of upward mobility. This is increasingly true as income inequality becomes greater and greater and those enjoying the spoils of success demand bigger slices of the proverbial pie and then turn to the people at the bottom of the hierarchy and tell them that there’s only a limited amount left and certainly not enough for everyone. The fact is, the poorer you are, the less you have the luxury of choice. You might be presented with a situation where doing one thing is “morally right” but so economically impossible as to be unthinkable. In their 2014 film Two Days, One Night, the Dardenne brothers tell a story that turns on such a choice, a moral quandary put to people living on the fringes of the economy and for whom making the wrong choice will mean slipping into financial oblivion. Like all their films it is observational rather than judgmental, and it is so deeply engaging that you will be riveted from beginning to end.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday's Top 5... Omissions from the BBC's Greatest Films of the 21st Century

On Tuesday the BBC released its list of the 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century. Why they've complied such a list in August of 2016 is something of a mystery, but it's a pretty decent list (their choice for #1 is impeccable). There are, however, some surprising (and frustrating) omissions:

#5: A Dearth of Documentaries

100 films (it's actually 102, as there's a 3-way tie for the last spot) and they could only find room for 2 documentaries. Those documentaries (The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell) are great, but the past 16 years have had a wealth of great documentaries that could have been included. Off the top of my head: My Winnipeg, The Look of Silence, Grizzly Man, The Fog of War, How to Survive a Plague, Searching for Sugar Man, The Queen of Versailles, Bowling for Columbine, Man on Wire, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Amy. Room couldn't have been made for a couple of these films?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

* * *

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant

There's something to be said for the no stakes drama. Like anything else, when done right, it offers its own particular pleasures, even if those pleasures are short-term and the film itself is destined to fade away from your consciousness rather than stick. Florence Foster Jenkins is pretty much exactly the movie you expect it to be: a handsomely assembled period piece, anchored by a typically effortless seeming performance from Meryl Streep (the kind that makes it so easy to take her for granted as an actress), that goes down easy and doesn't present much in the way of a challenge. If you were to describe it as a simple movie about a nice lady who thinks she can sing but actually can't, you wouldn't be wrong. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention how charming it is, how funny, and how sweet. It's not groundbreaking, but it's genuinely entertaining.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summer Not-Busters: Reign of Fire (2002)

Director: Rob Bowman
Starring: Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey
Domestic Box Office: $43,061,982

Sometimes a movie (or any work of art, really) is going to fail to find its audience no matter what. That isn't necessarily a reflection of how good or bad it is - there are good movies that make money and bad movies that make money, and there are good movies that don't make money and bad movies that don't make money - but more a reflection of how in or out of step it is with where popular culture is at in that particular moment of time. A film's success has as much to do with the timing of its release as with its actual content, which is a roundabout way of saying that I wonder if Reign of Fire might have actually become a hit if it had been made for this summer instead of the summer of 2002. Right off the bat it would get points for originality - which was not much of a factor in the summer of 2002, which had a release slate with a positively restrained number of sequels and remakes/reboots, but was made up largely of properties that were either wholly original or adaptations that were seeing the screen for the first time - and then you factor in that it stars Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey, both of whom are more popular now than they were in 2002. Then consider how thoroughly pop culture has embraced post-apocalyptic stories in the last decade, and give the film a couple of extra points for how the popularity of Game of Thrones, Godzilla, and Jurassic World might make audiences more open-minded to a film about dragons, and I think you might have at least a modest hit. Would it deserve to be a hit? Well, that's another question entirely.