Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

The critical consensus to the newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s whodunit is that it’s style over substance. That seems a little odd, considering the source material for Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most well regarded murder mysteries of all time, by arguably the greatest mystery writer of all time. There is, to be sure, plenty of style. The film’s director, Kenneth Branagh – who also portrays the story’s world-famous detective, Hercule Poirot – went out of his way to stage a lavish production. The movie, which takes place on the eponymous first-class passenger train, revels in its aristocratic decadence.

At the same time, the substance of Orient Express – Poirot’s sifting of clues to find a killer among the passengers – is engaging, especially for someone unfamiliar with the story, as I was.

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Loving Vincent

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Loving Vincent

What’s more important to know about Vincent van Gogh ­– the man art historians consider the father of modern painting – how he lived, or the circumstances of his death? That’s the question the visually stunning new film Loving Vincent tries to answer. If that’s all you’re thinking about after seeing the film, though, you’ve missed the point. That’s why it’s forgivable that the movie’s story is the weakest thing about it. The way the story is told, though, is unforgettable. Every frame of Loving Vincent was oil-painted by hand. It took a team of 125 painters two years to complete. The movie is a beautiful exception to the rule “form follows function.”

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

It would be reductive of me to call Yorgos Lanthimos the new Stanley Kubrick. The Greek director responsible for the provocative films Dogtooth, Alps, and my initiation into his twisted imagination, The Lobster, is nothing if not a unique talent. Still, there are certain undeniable Kubrickian flourishes in his new film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Chief among them are a penchant for inserting nihilistic black comedy in otherwise bleak subject matter, and his facility with patient, beautiful camera movement and framing. Sacred Deer is one of the most challenging, most disturbing films I’ve seen this year.

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The Florida Project

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The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s new film, The Florida Project, is a video essay on empathy. It’s a moving, funny, and heartbreaking depiction of the poverty many Americans struggle with while living in the richest country on earth. It shows the resilience of children to make the best of any situation. It also feels incredibly authentic.

The movie shows us one summer in the lives of guests at The Magic Castle extended-stay hotel. In particular, we see the world through the eyes of Moonee, a precocious 6-year-old girl, and her friends. Moonee and her unemployed mom, Halley, are unfailingly referred to as guests by hotel management because calling them what they really are, residents, would give them legal rights the hotel’s owners can’t afford, and the Florida government won’t allow.

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Blade Runner 2049

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Blade Runner 2049

When the original Blade Runner was released in the summer of 1982, it did respectable business at the box office. It wasn’t a smash like Star Wars, but it wasn’t a complete disaster, either. Mostly, it left a lot of people (critics and general moviegoers alike) scratching their heads. This slow paced, philosophical movie was sold as an action/adventure. The production design was meticulous, with dazzling special effects that still look great 35 years later. As critics began praising the movie after repeated viewings, Blade Runner also found a sizable cult following through home video release (a relatively new phenomenon itself at the time).

Director Denis Villeneuve, a filmmaker who has listed Blade Runner as a major influence on his own work, is imagining this intoxicating world anew in the sequel, Blade Runner 2049. The question is, since its predecessor’s vision is now the rule rather than the exception, will it have the same impact as the original?

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

When it comes to movies about rich, eccentric, dysfunctional (and white, you can’t forget white) families, one director comes instantly to mind: Wes Anderson. He’s exceptional at exploring broken family dynamics in pictures like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Anderson’s sometime collaborator, Noah Baumbach, has plumbed the same depths of familial dysfunction, most notably in The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding. The two have worked together in some capacity on Anderson’s Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Baumbach’s Squid.

Baumbach has returned to this familiar subject matter for his new film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), but to a decidedly mixed effect. The movie feels too reminiscent of Anderson’s masterful Tenenbaums, but with none of the emotional connection to the characters, and only a hint of that movie’s wistfulness.

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Battle of the Sexes

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Battle of the Sexes

It’s hard to miss the parallels between the tennis match at the center of Battle of the Sexes and our most recent presidential election. The similarities go much deeper than the one event, in fact. Sexes acts as a depressing reminder that despite the progresses we’ve made in the last 40+ years in regard to gender equality and LGBTQ rights, the old cliché remains as true as ever: the more things change, the more they stay the same. This realization is made all the more bittersweet because it’s wrapped up in a crowd-pleasing confection of a movie. The directing team, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, gave us the feel-good Little Miss Sunshine as their feature debut, after all.

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Theater Collecting: The Brattle Theater, Cambridge, MA

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Theater Collecting: The Brattle Theater, Cambridge, MA

I don't do an excessive amount of traveling (time, money, blah, blah, blah), but when I do, I like to see a movie in a unique or interesting theater in the city I'm visiting. I'm not talking about one of the soulless multiplexes like AMC or Cinemark. I can get that experience anywhere, and I try to avoid that even when I'm home.  I just got back from an amazing trip to Boston and Maine, and I have collected another theater.

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mother!

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mother!

If you want to find the most polarizing film of 2017, look no further than Darren Aronofsky’s baroque experiment in psychological horror, mother! (which after this point, I’ll refer to simply as Mother). This is a movie that’s impact I suspect will diminish on a second viewing. Unlocking the secret at Mother’s core, which will probably come at a slightly different point for just about everyone seeing it, robs it of some of its power. Aronofsky has made pure allegory here, using an extreme dream-logic aesthetic that is nothing if not simultaneously hypnotic and terrifying.

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It (2017)

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It (2017)

If Stranger Things is an original story that taps into every sci-fi/horror touchstone from the youth of people my age (mid-to-late 30s), then It is one of those touchstones remade with the same sensibility. This is the hard R version of Stranger Things; the one you don’t take the kids to see to get them into what you loved when you were a kid. Maybe you do, though, if you’re the kind of awesome parents mine were, parents who let your kids watch pretty much whatever they want. Thanks, mom and dad.

It is based on Stephen King’s popular – and gargantuan – 1986 novel. The book, and the 1990 TV miniseries adaptation, both play on baby boomer nostalgia. The story is split between two different time frames, following seven people as kids in the late 1950s, and 30 years later as adults. This new version has been updated for the Gen X/Millennial set. The part of the story that follows the characters as kids, which the movie focuses on exclusively, is set in 1989. Thus, we see a Gremlins poster featured prominently on one character’s bedroom wall.

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Good Time

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Good Time

Good Time is as much about its setting, New York City, as it is its characters or plot. As someone who’s never been, I still have a relationship with it, albeit one forged through the images and aesthetics of the movies. In my mind, it’s a city that is constantly in motion. As a child, I took the slogan “The City That Never Sleeps” quite literally. Good Time brings that (perhaps fictional) place, and its frenetic characters, to crackling life. It’s evokes films from a bygone era of Big Apple movie making. Images from titles as disparate as Taxi Driver, After Hours, Tootsie, and even My Dinner with Andre swirled in my head as the gritty expanse of Good Time’s version of New York opened up before me.

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The Trip to Spain

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The Trip to Spain

How many of us tolerate some of our friends rather than enjoy them? I’m certainly guilty of it. It’s an odd quirk of human behavior. None of us are perfect, so the ever-shifting equation of friendship is always a balance between the benefits of someone’s company versus how grating their worst traits are. Sometimes the equation gets out of balance, and we are either slow to notice, or we rationalize it because, hey, we’re not perfect either.

In a way, that dynamic is at the core of The Trip series of films, and it’s a dynamic that includes the audience. In 2010, director Michael Winterbottom got together with actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to continue the collaboration the three started in 2005 with the marvelous picture Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

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Brigsby Bear

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Brigsby Bear

There are sounds that many (though definitely not all) people in my generation aren’t only familiar with, but that bring back a sudden and intoxicating rush of nostalgia. People of a certain age who are also movie/tv show junkies – like myself – get wistful when they hear them. They are the sounds of a VHS tape being pushed into a VCR; the little clicks and electronic hums as the machine seats and prepares the tape for play; that odd wavery quality of the picture and sound when the tracking goes wonky.

The movie Brigsby Bear, and the makers behind it, tap into that nostalgia in an incredibly potent way. This is a movie that feels like it was made for me. Dave McCary, the director, and Kyle Mooney, the star and co-writer, are both five years younger than I am. They were probably just as obsessed as I was with taping things on cable, watching copious amounts of movies on VHS, and using two VCRs to edit together homemade movies.

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Short-Film Review- The Survivor: A Tale from the Nearscape

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Short-Film Review- The Survivor: A Tale from the Nearscape

Effective world building is one of the hardest things to do in movies, especially in science fiction. So many layers have to come together to encourage the audience to suspend their disbelief and enter the fictional world of the filmmaker's imagination. The new short film by director Christopher Carson Emmons, The Survivor: A Tale from the Nearscape, never really builds a world that feels wholly real, but it's not for lack of trying. 

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Dunkirk

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Dunkirk

“More than 900 little ships came from Britain [to Dunkirk], evacuated the British and French forces and ferried them across the Channel to safety. They were able to rescue thousands of troops over the course of several days. This is often reported as an example of wartime British bravery and comradeship. 

What is rarely talked about is the fact that many troops in the French Army were from Africa, and the little ships refused to take the Black soldiers. They left them on the beaches for the Germans to capture, and many ended up in Auschwitz. Senegalese director Sembene Ousmane mentions this in his film Camp Thioroye, which is based on the true story of a massacre of African soldiers by the French Army during the war.” - From the website ancestralenergies.blogspot.com

The inconvenient facts described above lay the groundwork for the most damning criticism of Christopher Nolan’s otherwise thrilling new film Dunkirk. How much more complex and challenging of an experience could Nolan have presented by simply making a noticeable percentage of the troops desperately trying to get aboard the rescue ships ones of color? Soldiers from India, Senegal, and Morocco (to name but a few) fought in the war to end fascism as part of the British and French empires.

Instead, Nolan and his casting team made the film a 99.9% white affair. That’s not cause enough to junk the picture. On the contrary, there is a lot to praise (which I’ll get to soon) about Dunkirk.

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Ingrid Goes West

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Ingrid Goes West

The most insidious thing about social media is that it’s made us all marketing and branding managers. The brand, of course, is us. Every carefully curated tweet and Instagram post has turned us all into little mini-celebrities. Whether you have a hundred, a thousand, or a million followers, it’s easy to fall into a never-ending cycle of posts that keep the likes and retweets coming.

Ingrid Goes West captures that feeling, as well as the dark side of our Instacelebrity world. It’s Taxi Driver for the modern age. In that movie, the mentally unstable Travis Bickle – played with crazed determination by Robert De Niro – decides to assassinate a presidential candidate to get the attention of the woman with whom he’s obsessed. Today, there’s no need to go that far. We’re all celebrities now; our current president’s popularity is measured more by retweets than policy successes, after all.

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A Ghost Story

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A Ghost Story

There are few better experiences on this earth than being changed by a piece of art. It eventually wears off; that’s part of what makes it so special. The fact that it doesn’t last makes you appreciate all the more how rare and wondrous an occurrence it is. That’s just what happened to me with A Ghost Story. This is a transcendent film, amazing and unique. It’s a quiet examination of loss and grief, but on a cosmic scale.

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War for the Planet of the Apes

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War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes chronicles more than the struggle for species supremacy. This is the latest film in Fox’s popular franchise depicting a world where apes evolved from men. It gives us an internal war, one which rages within our hero, the ape Caesar. In War, we see a very personal loss, plus the ravages of constant battle, take its toll on the weary leader who was willing to go to great lengths for peace. The brutality that he and his kind face sparks a descent into rage and a thirst for vengeance in Caesar that is both uncharacteristic, yet completely understandable. This film is the culmination of a meticulously crafted character arc; it’s at once mournful and dark, but rich and satisfying. One near fatal tonal misstep aside, every aspect of filmmaking comes together in War to conclude the tragedy of Caesar in grand style.

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The Big Sick

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The Big Sick

The Big Sick isn’t just the best romantic comedy since Annie Hall, it’s also trying to teach us how to live in the fractured world in which we find ourselves. Okay, maybe not. It’s probably just trying to be a heartfelt, funny, and entertaining depiction of how star and cowriter Kumail Nanjiani met and fell in love with his real-life wife, Emily Gordon. But inspiration is where you find it, as the saying goes, and The Big Sick offers up a wealth of it. This movie is full-to-bursting with ideas on unconditional love, grace, connecting with people not only, but especially, when it’s hard, and how we can all work together to make life a little easier for our fellow humans. Oh yeah, and it’s also incredibly funny.

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Okja

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Okja

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho is a master at blending opposing tones (see 2016’s Snowpiercer if you doubt me). That’s exactly what he does in his newest film, Okja. Half broad, outrageous comedy and half heart-rending, stomach-turning drama, Okja is beautifully executed.

Setting the tone of a movie is a big part of the magic of cinema. So many people contribute to the production – from actors to set decorators, cinematographers to sound mixers – working together to create a living, breathing world that draws us in. The director is at the center of it all, acting as the conductor, bringing order to the chaos that could result from hundreds of people focusing solely on their own jobs. And Bong Joon-ho is an amazing conductor.

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