6 Reviews @hammertonail: “Baltimore Rising,” “David Bowie: The Last Five Years,” “Lady Bird,” “Naila and the Uprising,” “This Is Congo” and Criterion’s “Woman of the Year” Blu-ray

In the past 2 weeks, Hammer to Nail has published the following reviews of mine: Baltimore Rising (seen at DOC NYC), David Bowie: The Last Five Years (also seen at DOC NYC), Lady Bird,  Naila and the Uprising (also seen at DOC NYC), This Is Congo (also seen at DOC NYC) and Criterion’s new Blu-ray of Woman of the Year. Here are links to all 7 pieces:

Enjoy!

1 Film Festival Report + 4 Reviews @filmfesttoday: DOC NYC + “Justice League,” “Last Flag Flying,” “Murder on the Orient Express” & “The Square”

In the past 2 weeks, Film Festival Today published the following five articles of mine: a recap of the recent DOC NYC film festival and reviews of Justice LeagueLast Flag Flying, Murder on the Orient Express and The Square. Here are links to all 5 pieces:

Enjoy!

“Reel Talk” – with Chris Reed and Tim Gordon – on “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” and “Lady Bird”

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “Reel Talk” host, w/ Tim Gordon, President of WAFCA and Film Critic at the FilmGordon Website

Welcome to the first episode of the 2017-2018 season of Dragon Digital Media‘s Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed. We had to skip our usual September episode because our glorious director was on maternity leave. My guest this time was Tim Gordon, President of the Washington Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), film critic at the FilmGordon website, and creator of the new Lakefront Film Festival, which will launch in July of 2018, in Howard County, MD. We reviewed three new films: Thor: RagnarokThree Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, and Lady Bird.

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 all six episodes from last year (firstsecondthirdfourthfifth and sixth), plus all six from the previous 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 Reviews + 1 Film Festival Report: “The Departure” and “The Florida Project” @hammertonail + “Thor: Ragnarok” and Middleburg Film Festival @filmfesttoday

In the past 10 days, the following pieces of mine have posted: at Hammer to Nail, reviews of The Departure and The Florida Project; at Film Festival Today, a review of Thor: Ragnarok and a report on the 2017 Middleburg Film Festival. Here are links to all 7 pieces:

Enjoy!

“Wonderstruck” Underwhelms

Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes, 2017)*

How I wish I did not dislike this movie so much. Its intentions are good, and it features a strong performance from young newcomer Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress cast in a deaf role (something we don’t see very often), but such things do not a good film make, on their own, alas. Based on Brian Selznick’s 2011 half-text/half-graphic novel of the same title, Wonderstruck follows two parallel stories, the one in 1927, the other in 1977, each with a child at its center. In the book, the earlier story is the one told in pictures, while the more modern tale is related in text, a device which allows Selznick to interrupt the one with the other in dramatic fashion.

Unfortunately, director Todd Haynes (Carol), usually a reliable filmmaker, especially in the arena of production design, does nothing more interesting in the older scenes than film them in black & white, with sets that evoke no period mood at all, though Simmonds is quite fine on her own. The rest of the cast is uneven, and even the great Julianne Moore (Still Alice) barely rises above the trite emotions of the script … until the last act, when the movie suddenly comes alive – inspired by New York’s famed city diorama, in Queens – rising to magical heights of creative design. Where, one asks, was this inspiration, before? It almost makes up for the insipid mess of the earlier scenes, but not quite. I have admired Haynes’ work until now, and hope to again in the future, but I cannot endorse this one.

*[this review was previously published as part of coverage of the recent Middleburg Film Festival that I wrote for Film Festival Today.]

Is “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” Worth the Sacrifice? You Be the Judge, Jury and …

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

For the record, I loved The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous effort. Building on the tradition he had established in films like Alps and Dogtooth, he there brought his obsession with societies built on arcane systems of governance to glorious fruition in a mesmerizing tale anchored by a deliriously deadpan performance from Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths). Both Lanthimos and Farrell are back together again in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a movie that starts in a similar vein as its predecessor, the actor delivering lines in the same monotone as before, the camera tracking him in off-beat steadicam shots laden with cinematic meaning. Or not. As before, Lanthimos keeps us guessing, toying with our expectations of set-up and payoff. One thing is sure, however: the experience of watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer is deeply unpleasant. The question is: do we gain from it? Over a week after seeing the film, I’m still working on the answer.

This time around, Farrell plays Dr. Steven Murphy, a cardiologist married to a fellow doctor, Anna Murphy, played by the incomparable Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled). They have two kids, a boy and girl, and appear happily married, though quickly we are made to question their life together with the arrival of a mysterious teen boy, Martin, played by a very odd Barry Keoghan (’71). At first we think he is Steven’s son – perhaps from an affair – but when the riddle is solved the truth is even more disturbing. Steven has a score to settle, and the why and the how of his revenge is what eventually drives the plot. This being a Lanthimos film, there are rules to follow; ignore them and you die, though the reasons for everything are vague. Ultimately, the story boils down to this: what would you be prepared to do to save your family? What, or whom, would you sacrifice?

That’s a meaningful question. Put into practice, however, Steven’s response is difficult to stomach. I like that Lanthimos consistently pushes our buttons in a valiant attempt to provoke an emotional reaction, but I cannot say I enjoyed the experience of that reaction. The onscreen anguish of the characters may serve a narrative purpose, but it is something I can do without. Though brilliantly shot and cast, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, much like Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, released earlier this year, traffics in a kind of torture porn that risks losing itself in the act of self-flagellation. There is no denying its raw power, however. I may have been horrified, but I was not unmoved. Let’s leave it there, and you can judge whether the experience is worth it for you.