Last week, Film Festival Today ran my coverage of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, in 2 parts: Part 1 on VR, Part 2 on Movies (and 1 episodic). See links below:
On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 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 Oscar nominations announced earlier that day. Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!
Then, the next day, my podcast on documentaries – The Fog of Truth – released its fourth episode (also available on iTunes and Stitcher). This latest was on Theo Anthony’s Rat Film and Erik Ljung’s The Blood Is at the Doorstep. Hope you enjoy this one, as well!
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:
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:
It’s that time of year again, as it was in 2014 and 2015, when I took my first and second trips, respectively, to the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, TX. As I did last year, I have traveled with a group of Stevenson University Film & Moving Image students, pictured below.
This year, however, I am not just attending as a professor and blogger, but as an official member of the press, writing for Hammer to Nail during the festival, and preparing post-fest coverage for Dan Rodricks’ “Roughly Speaking” Baltimore Sun podcast and for Bmoreart. What this means is that I pre-watched 10 films before the festival began, and am interviewing those filmmakers (directors and cast) plus a few more whose films I am watching on the ground. That leaves me with less time (for now) to see movies live, but I have still seen a few. What follows is a list of those films, with brief capsule reviews, plus links to the reviews that have already been posted, as of this writing, on Hammer to Nail. The interviews will take longer to appear on that site, as first someone (that would be me) has to transcribe and condense them . . .
Let’s start with the Hammer to Nail reviews that have been posted, so far:
And now here are my thoughts on the few films I have seen since my arrival in Austin, which will not get their own review at Hammer to Nail:
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)
New Zealander Taika Waititi (co-director, What We Do in the Shadows) has made a film that is extremely entertaining in its first 15 minutes, but which completely loses its way after that. Like the young boy at its center, the script needs a a firm adult hand to guide it towards coherence. That hand is stuck in adolescent hyperactivity, however, and so much of the good will of the opening quickly dissipates in the chaos that follows. Which is too bad, as both Julian Dennison – as Ricky Baker, a rebellious tween kid brought to a lonely farmstead foster home as a last resort – and Sam Neill (Backtrack) – as the ornery father figure left to care for him – are good, with an easy and funny rapport. As the hijinks in the bush go on, Waititi cannot seem to manage the mix of comedy and tragedy that works so brilliantly at the start. The film has appeal, but not enough to sustain it through its latter half.
Susan Glatzer’s debut documentary takes a look at the popularity of swing dancing since the 1980s, when, according the film, the long-neglected (but never forgotten) dance style began it’s slow return. One of Glatzer’s talking-head interviewees points to the 1990s “trifecta” (as she calls it) of Swing Kids (1993), Swingers (1996) and the Gap Khaki commercial (1998) as the turning point in swing’s revival, kicking it into high gear. Whether you care about this history or not, there’s a lot of great dancing on display, and the film is made with a certain pep that keeps it going, even when its narrative falters. For this is the kind of movie where the filmmaking is not as engaging as the subject matter. Glazer’s – and her subjects’ – hearts are fully in this endeavor, so I feel like a heel being so critical, but there is something profoundly irritating to me about history being told by its participants – of course, partisan to their cause – than by actual historians. In other words, a few actual experts – rather than enthusiasts – would give the film greater heft. Glatzer also sets up a a false dichotomy of work vs. play, where almost everyone in the film seems to hate their day jobs, sneering at those who don’t wish to dance – and be free! – as they do. Still, there’s enough here of interest for a qualified recommendation. Do with that what you will.
And Punching the Clown (Gregori Viens, 2016)
Singer/comedian (and singing comedian) Henry Phillips plays a fictionalized version of himself in this follow-up/sequel to director Gregori Viens’ 2009 Punching the Clown. The events of that previous film (which I haven’t seen) are alluded to here, but this is more or less a stand-alone story, requiring no prior knowledge of Phillips or his sad-sack misadventures. Instead, all one needs is a desire to laugh and a tolerance for comedies of embarrassment. Phillips is an engaging on-screen presence – even if not all of his jokes resonate with me (I get tired of his constant borderline-sexist tales of woeful relationships) – and the gags outside of the stand-up routines are very funny. With great support work from Tig Notaro (Tig), her real-life partner Stephanie Allynne (In a World…), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Sarah Silverman (Take This Waltz), among others, And Punching the Clown is a frequently delightful riff and failure and success . . . and failure.
Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller, 2016)
Now that I have been through the hellish experience that is Hardcore Henry, I look back to my (positive) reaction to its trailer and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Why did I imagine that this would be anything other than one continuous bloodbath with a completely incomprehensible story? While it’s true that the opening 10 to 20 (I can no longer recall) minutes of the film have a certain (fascist) exuberance to them, after that what plot there is descends into mind-numbing repetition of one gruesome (and graphic) killing after another. Shot entirely from the first-person point of view of its titular character, Hardcore Henry mimics the aesthetics of many a first-person-perspective video game, a tactic not without interest as a cinematic exercise, but not enough to sustain the movie for its 90-minute length. Unless, of course, all you want to do is kill, kill, and kill, in which case, welcome to your own private nirvana.
Stay tuned for more SXSW film news throughout the week.
Today, 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,” where we discussed the just-announced 2016 Oscar nominations, giving our opinion on what we agreed with and what we didn’t (here are my own lists of the best films, the best acting, and the best artistic and technical work of 2015). We also talked about the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has, once again, mostly ignored people of color in its choices.
Here is the link. I come on at around 11 minutes.
You can also subscribe to receive these podcasts automatically (instructions at the bottom of the link’s page).
So no reviews of new films this week, though I may go and see Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq this weekend. I did, however, publish an essay on Hammer to Nail two days ago, on the 2014 film Dear White People, in light of the recent college campus protests about race and my own (negative) reaction to the hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. Check it out to understand the strange amalgamation of photos, above.
[NOTE: Missed the show? Check out the podcast!]
Join host Dan Rodricks and me, Midday film critic Christopher Llewellyn Reed – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – on Friday, May 15 – the day another franchise releases a new film, Mad Max: Fury Road – at 1pm, as we discuss the changing nature of moving-image entertainment. Which films do you like to watch in theaters? Do you even still go out to the movies? What television/cable/streaming series do you like to watch, and why? Tune in to hear what we have to say, and add your own voice to the conversation by listening live and emailing your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling in at 410-662-8780 (locally), or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309. If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the show on-line. If all else fails, you can always download the podcast afterwards, either via iTunes or the Midday page.