Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: Wake in Fright (1971)

* * * 1/2

Director: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Gary Bond

Sun-drenched and brutal, Wake in Fright is a primal scream of a movie that plays like a guided tour of hell. It's amazing that a film that feels so vivid and essential could come as close to being lost for all time as this one did, and a miracle of perseverance that it was ultimately rescued from such a fate, its negatives literally snatched from a bin marked "for destruction" and then painstakingly restored. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kenneth Cook, Wake in Fright is an unrelenting and deeply unsettling story of a man's degradation and self-destruction in the Australian outback - and not just because it famously contains footage of an actual kangaroo hunt (although that certainly helps in maintaining the overall atmosphere of despair and horror). Wake in Fright isn't for the faint of heart, but it's definitely a timeless classic.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: The Rewrite (2014)

* *

Director: Marc Lawrence
Starring: Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei

Early in The Rewrite the protagonist, a once celebrated Hollywood screenwriter who has fallen on hard times, complains that he can't sell any of his story ideas because all anyone wants to make are stories about female empowerment. Lord, please tell me where this crowded marketplace of movies about female empowerment are, because as far as I can tell it's white male protagonists as far as the eye can see. If you can ignore the fact that the film is premised on a problem (if a rise in the number of films about women can be seen as a problem) that simply does not exist, then The Rewrite is a pleasant enough diversion. It's somewhat sleepy overall and not nearly as much fun as previous Marc Lawrence/Hugh Grant collaborations Two Weeks Notice and Music and Lyrics (I have no idea about Did You Hear About the Morgans?), but it's decent enough for what it is.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

* * *

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Seth Rogan, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz

God bless Rose Byrne, comedy ninja. Bless everyone involved in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, really. While Neighbors absolutely did not require a sequel, telling as it did a complete story that ended in a way that seemed to genuinely close the book rather than open out into a new chapter, there was virtually no chance that a movie that cost $18 million to make and then raked in $150 million at the domestic box office alone was not going to get a follow up cash in. The timing of that cash in sucked, coming as it did during the summer of 2016, also known as the summer when every sequel that didn't feature Dory or several of the Avengers either failed to live up to expectations or flat out bombed, but as it turns out this is actually a pretty good movie. More importantly, it's a movie that actually wants to be about something and mostly succeeds, managing to do so while being fairly hilarious at that.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: Other People (2016)

* * *

Director: Chris Kelly
Starring: Jesse Plemmons, Molly Shannon

Other people always, somehow, have it better. Yet everyone is "other people" to someone, even the guy who is experiencing a crushing professional disappointment, the breakdown of a relationship, and the impending death of his mother. But try telling that to the guy. Chris Kelly's Other People, based partially on his own experience losing his mother to cancer, is about the year a man spends watching his mother succumb to a fatal illness. Parts of it are heartrending and, as it is in life, parts of it are funny; sometimes it's even both at the same time. In a general way, it plays out the way that a lot of stories where people come to terms with things play out, but there's just enough specificity in the details to make it feel more personal and more emotionally raw than your average family dramedy.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

21st Century Essentials: Wadjda (2013)

Director: Haifaa al-Mansour
Starring: Waad Mohammed
Country: Saudi Arabia/Germany/United Arab Emirates/Jordan/Netherlands/United States

What she wants is so simple that most children would take it for granted: a bicycle so that she can ride alongside her friend. But as a girl in Saudi Arabia, reminded on a daily basis that she’s not to be seen and not to be heard and not to call attention to herself, she might as well want to ride a unicorn to the moon. Hers is a life of restriction and limitation, though not necessarily a life defined by those things. Wadjda is a film that, in certain respects, is typical of its genre, a coming of age story about a slightly precocious pre-teen who has begun carving out an identity as an outsider and has to learn a difficult lesson or two in order to get to the next stage of growing up. What makes it less than typical, aside from the fact that it was helmed by the first Saudi woman to direct a feature length film and the first person to direct an entire feature in Saudi Arabia, is the way that it engages with culture to tell a story that is at once that of a single individual and that of a system of oppression that the individual exists within.