@BaltimoreSun’s @RoughlySpeaking Podcast on Female Action Stars + Reviews of “The Mummy” and “My Cousin Rachel” @filmfesttoday

On Thursday, June 8, 2017,  Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” to discuss the new Wonder Woman and other female-centered action films, including the World War II classic Mrs. Miniver, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this month. Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!

Also this week, in addition to the review I published here on my blog (of It Comes at Night), I reviewed both The Mummy and My Cousin Rachel for Film Festival Today. Check them out at the links, below:

Minimalist “It Comes at Night” Showcases Directorial Brilliance Amidst Flawed Script

It Comes at Night (Trey Edward Shults, 2017)

There is much to recommend in director Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore effort (which follows his 2015 debut feature, Krisha). A master of the creepy, slow tracking shot married to eerie sound design, Shults creates an entire post-apocalyptic universe out of little more than sticks and stones, setting It Comes at Night in a lonely house in the woods, where the three surviving members of a family hide from marauders and disease. For two-thirds of the movie, Shults holds us in rapt attention despite the minimalism of the plot. And then, sadly, in the final act, he undoes much of the good that has come before, ignoring the carefully interwoven narrative threads in favor of an eruption of violence. Though disappointing, this failure of imagination does not entirely negate the promise of the earlier mise-en-scène.

Joel Edgerton (Loving) plays Paul, husband to Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, Selma) and father to Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., The Birth of a Nation). As the film begins, they are forced to shoot, then burn, Sarah’s father, victim of a plague that has swept the planet, or at least the small portion of it we see. It’s a highly contagious illness, leading to the rapid onset of skin lesions and respiratory failure. When we first meet our main characters, therefore, we see them through gas masks and gloves as they perform the grisly deed that leaves them all traumatized. Poor teenage Travis gains meager solace in the company of Stanley, his now-dead grandfather’s dog, and seems the most affected by the event and the family’s isolation. He wakes up in the middle of the night from disturbed dreams, and one of Shults’ great accomplishments is how he blends reality and fantasy so that we’re not always sure which is which. When a visitor arrives in the dark, knocking at the door, we wonder if it’s a projection of Travis’ nightmare or something/somebody worse.

That intruder turns out to be a simple man, Will (Christopher Abbott, Katie Says Goodbye), a survivor like the others, who mistakes the boarded-up house for a deserted building and is surprised to discover the enraged and protective Paul when he breaks down the door. Though Will loses that scuffle, Paul doesn’t kill him, and Will is able to explain that he has a family of his own, miles away, awaiting his return with water. Six is better than three, says Sarah, and so Paul, always wary, sets off with Will to fetch the latter’s wife and infant child. It’s an uneasy alliance that will be tested at regular intervals throughout, before the harsh conditions of this frightening future bear their ugly fruit.

Every single one of the actors delivers an intensely committed performance, though the film really belongs to Harrison, whose eyes hold great reserves of pain, and who looks on Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough, Dixieland) with more than just the longing of adolescent hormones: he desperately needs a friend. As the film builds to its climax, Shults explores the relationships that develop in the confined space of the house, keeping us guessing as to what may happen. Unfortunately, he tries a little too hard to lead us first one way and then the other, casting suspicions on certain characters that ultimately do not matter, given the conclusion. I, for one, resent the red herrings, especially given the otherwise brilliance of the tone and pacing. Still, as a meditation on the madness that besets the human animal when all seems lost – the true sickness is within the soul, rather than in the world at large – It Comes at Night offers plenty of cinematic pleasures (perhaps the wrong word in a film where bad things happen to good people) that reveal a directorial talent to watch in the years ahead.

Post-Fest Coverage of 2017 @MdFilmFestival @hammertonail (5 Interviews), Part 2 + Reviews of “Risk” and “Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation,” and of “Baywatch” @filmfesttoday

The second part of my coverage of the 2017 Maryland Film Festival, consisting of five interviews with filmmakers, has run over the past two weeks at Hammer to Nail. I have two more interviews pending, one that will have to wait until August when that particular film is released. Stay tuned. Hammer to Nail also ran two of my reviews of films now out online or in theaters. In addition, Film Festival Today ran my review of Baywatch. Here are links to all eight pieces:

Enjoy!

Post-Fest Coverage of 2017 @MdFilmFestival @filmfestoday (Overall Impressions) and @hammertonail (4 Reviews), Part 1

The Maryland Film Festival (MdFF), founded in 1999 by Festival Director Jed Dietz, just ran its 2017 iteration May 3-7, in Baltimore. With 11 blocks of short films – including the traditional opening-night program of five – plus 34 features, the festival brought its usual eclectic mix of documentary and fiction, international and national, and narrative-based and experimental selections to Charm City, with some crew or cast representative from most films on hand for the post-screening Q&A’s. This year, the festival debuted its new venue, a renovated historic theater in the heart of the city, which will now become a year-round hub of curated cinema events, including movie revivals and other, more indie, fare.

You can check out my two pre-fest pieces, at BmoreArt and The Baltimore Sun’s “Roughly Speaking” podcast, here. For my post-fest coverage, I have so far had 4 reviews (the total I will do) published at Hammer to Nail, and one comprehensive article about my overall impressions published at Film Festival Today. Check them out:

Enjoy! Stay tuned for my interviews with the filmmakers I met up with at the festival, coming soon …

“Reel Talk” – with Chris Reed and Linda DeLibero – on “Their Finest,” “The Circle” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “Reel Talk” host, w/ Linda DeLibero, Director of Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University and Co-Director of the Hopkins/MICA Film Center

Welcome to the fifth episode of the 2016-2017 season of Dragon Digital Media‘s Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed. My guest this time was Linda DeLibero, Director of Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University and Co-Director of the Hopkins/MICA Film Centre, who returned after a hiatus of over two years (she had been my first guest). We reviewed three new films: Their FinestThe Circle and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

In Howard County, Maryland, you can watch the show on Channel 41 (if you’re a Verizon customer) or Channel 96 (if you’re a Comcast customer), and you can watch it online from anywhere. You can also still catch the firstsecondthird and fourth episodes of this current season, plus all six from last year (firstsecondthirdfourthfifth and sixth), as well as the six episodes from my first season with Reel Talk (Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5Episode 6). Enjoy!

The fantastic Dragon Digital Media team did their usual superlative job putting this together, especially producer Karen Vadnais and director Danielle Maloney. We’ll be back at the start of May with another episode, so stay tuned. Until then, have fun at the movies!

3 @TribecaFilm Festival Reviews + “Below Her Mouth” @hammertonail

Over the past few weeks, I have covered three films (remotely) that played at the recent 2017 Tribeca Film Festival – The Endless, The Last Animals and A River Below – for Hammer to Nail, as well as the just-released erotic lesbian-themed drama Below Her Mouth (which premiered at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival). Here are links to the articles:

Enjoy!

Less Would Be More: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Overdoes Its Shtick, Though Still Entertains

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017)

I loved the original Guardians of the Galaxy. When it came out, in 2014, the creative forces at Marvel had yet to release films like Ant-Man (2015) and Deadpool (2016), and so Guardians had the field to itself as a breath of fresh air through the soon-to-be- overripe superhero genre (already quite ripe at the time). Starring an appealing cast of characters – three live and two computer-generated – the film offered peppy one-liners and clever action sequences, all set to a delightful 1970s soundtrack that was not just for fun, but also justified by the plot. With Chris Pratt (Jurassic World), Zoe Saldana (Infinitely Polar Bear) and Dave Bautista (The Man with the Iron Fists), as well as the voices of Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) and Vin Diesel (Riddick) – well, sort of Vin Diesel, who uttered but one line over and over again – all clearly having a marvelous time, it was hard not to join them in joyful mayhem as they saved the universe, earning themselves their titular collective sobriquet, and pushing the movie towards the top of the box-office chart that year.

And now they’re back, because once is never enough. If you recall, the plant-creature that is Groot (Diesel) sacrificed himself the last time, and so he returns now as adorable Baby Groot, having been replanted from a leftover branch (or some such genetic material). Otherwise, the other four are the same, though now the love that almost flourished between Gamora (Saldana) and Peter (Pratt) – a.k.a. Star-Lord – simmers closer to the surface, much to the amusement of Drax (Bautista), that burly, pensive madman who first showed up with “the Destroyer” tacked on to his name. When we meet them at the start, they are guarding (of course!) some powerful batteries for a race of people known as the Sovereigns (I think, not that it matters), who look as if they have all been covered in the gold paint used in the James Bond film Goldfinger. After defeating the horrifying (yet somehow simultaneously cute) creature that attacks, and earning the Sovereigns’ gratitude plus the prize of Gamora’s evil sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus) – on whose head there is a bounty, elsewhere – they are just preparing to take off when their fifth member, Rocket the Raccoon (Cooper), a compulsive thief, pockets some of the batteries, himself, suddenly making the Guardians the new enemies of the Sovereigns. These metallic humanoids then launch a chase which becomes the movie’s chief subplot.

The main story, however, centers on Peter’s reunion with his father. In Volume 1, we learned that Peter was the product of a union between an earthling and an extraterrestrial of some sort. Director James Gunn – who also helmed the first film – made his single best decision for the sequel in casting Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight) as Star-Lord, Sr. (not his real name, but I shall refrain from more spoilers). He and Pratt not only look like they belong in the same gene pool, but share many similar mannerisms. In Gunn’s single most uncanny-valley-like decision, the film opens with a prologue, set in 1980, in which a digitally youthified Russell frolics through a forest with his chosen one, pre-Peter. It’s amusing, but also a little creepy.

Not so the rest of the movie, which could use a little more genuine bite. Despite the stated high stakes (universe at risk, etc.), we always know our heroes will persevere. Paradoxically, the entire enterprise also feels as if everyone is trying too hard (though there is plenty of entertainment value to spare). Never has a laid-back vibe felt so sweaty. Bautista, in particular, crosses over into manic mode as he does double-duty as jokester and laugh track. Still, the music is good – Mix Tape #2 – and everyone still has their charisma. Oh, and did I mention that Sylvester Stallone (Creed) shows up for a surprise cameo? One could do worse. One could also do better.

The 2017 Maryland Film Festival Is Here, in Brand New Digs!

If it’s early May in Baltimore, it must be time for the Maryland Film Festival again. This year, the festival premieres its brand new venue, the renovated Parkway Theater, located on the southwest corner of Charles Street and North Avenue. Want to know what to see? You’re in luck! I wrote a piece in BmoreArt this week, and also participated in a podcast for Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” in which we discussed the festival (as well as the current movies Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Their Finest). Here are links to both pieces:

Enjoy!