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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tales From the Black List: Dirty Grandpa (2016)


Director: Dan Mazer
Starring: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron

Released every year since 2005, the "Black List" is a list of the most widely liked unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. It's not a "best" list, per say, but rather a list of the screenplays that have garnered favorable reactions from the most people in the film industry. Among the films to make the list are Best Picture winners Spotlight, Argo, The King's Speech, and Slumdog Millionaire, as well as Best Picture nominees Django Unchained, The Social Network, There Will Be Blood, Juno, and The Queen, among others, and at least one Black List screenplay has been Oscar nominated every year since 2006. So, it's a fairly prestigious list that has included some of the films considered, and awarded as, the best of the best by the industry. It is also, however, a list that has included such ill-received films as Wild Hogs (14% on Rotten Tomatoes), Our Brand Is Crisis (35%), That's My Boy (20%), The Last Witch Hunter (16%), and Sex Tape (17%). So they certainly aren't all winners, which goes a long way to explaining how a film like Dirty Grandpa could have made the list despite being completely awful.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: Zoolander 2 (2016)

* 1/2

Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz

As a wise man once said, "Sometimes dead is better." Sometimes, even if a movie is really funny, and even if it has gone on to become one of the defining pieces of pop culture of its era, its quotes instantly recognizable, its protagonist iconic, it's best to just leave it in that cultural moment and be happy with what you've got. Some movies are perfect just as they are, their endings the perfect cap to their stories, and even if those movies grow in popularity as the years go on, finding and expanding their audience, it's best to just let things be rather than try to recreate the magic more than a decade after the fact, when tastes have changed and the finger is no longer quite on the pulse. Anchorman is a great comedy. Anchorman: The Legend Continues? That's only okay. Zoolander is a perfectly funny movie. Zoolander 2? Hot garbage. Bad Santa better hope the third time's the charm.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: The Tribe (2014)

* * * *

Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi
Starring: Grigoriy Fesenko

Movies started as a medium without voices. Not without sound, necessarily, as most films had at least a musical score to assist in setting the mood of the action on screen, and not without words, either, as intertitles were used to help move the stories along, but without the sound of the characters' voices. But even in the days of silent films there were filmmakers who used intertitles sparingly and were content to let the images do the talking for themselves. Once the movies started talking, we started to rely increasingly on dialogue to provide us with the sign posts to help guide us through a narrative, so the idea of a movie that doesn't use words at all may seem daunting, or even like an endurance test. Myroslav Slaboshptyskyi's The Tribe is a film set at a school for the deaf in which the dialogue occurs only through Ukrainian Sign Language, none of which is subtitled. To watch it requires that you fill in a certain amount of blanks in order to keep up with it, but Slaboshptyskyi is so good at conveying the story through images that The Tribe is a deeply rich and engrossing viewing experience even if you can't grasp everything that's happening down to its last nuance.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

21st Century Essentials: Beyond the Hills (2012)

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur
Country: Romania

It’s no small feat to tell an even-handed account of a religious community that kills a young woman while in the process of trying to perform an exorcism on her, but that’s exactly what Cristian Mungiu does with Beyond the Hills. A villain would not be hard to find in this kind of story, but Mungiu avoids taking the easy road, taking a complex view that underscores how misguided and dangerous strict adherence to a narrow worldview can be and finding a way to have some degree of compassion for everyone involved. Knowing that what unfolds is based on an actual incident that occurred in 2005, and which was fictionalized in the novels “Deadly Confession” and “Judges’ Book” by Tatiana Niculescu Bran, which together form the basis of the film’s screenplay, Beyond the Hills can be a difficult watch, but it’s a deeply engrossing film that sticks with you.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ten Years Later... Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford

Few filmmakers have been as tireless as Clint Eastwood, having directed 35 feature films in the last 45 years and easily qualifying as having made one of the most successful transitions from actor to director. In that time he's made some great movies, but he's never been as ambitious as he was when he decided to tackle the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima over the course of two films in order to explore the perspective from each side of the conflict. At the time of its production Flags of Our Fathers must have seemed like a sure thing - so sure that the studio was willing to shell out the extra money to make Letters from Iwo Jima even though that film, regardless of quality, was bound to lose money in the domestic market by virtue of not being in English and not being about the American side of the conflict - a film that would hit that sweet spot where prestige meets profit. Yet when all was said and done, Flags of Our Fathers only ended up with 2 Oscar nominations (to Letters from Iwo Jima's 4) and would fail rather badly at the box office, bringing in only $33 million domestically and $65 million worldwide against a budget of $90 million and becoming one of Eastwood's least financially successful films as a director. In hindsight, it's easy to understand why that happened; although it has some of the hallmarks of the patriotism stirring, "rah rah" kind of war movie, it's doing something a lot more complicated than that and a lot more critical.