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The Great Wall

Here is a guest post from Cameron Mooney, who I’m hoping will become a regular reviewer for the website. 

I have become ambivalent about international blockbusters in recent years. Much like any seventeen year old, a common feature of these films is high ambition and poor self control. Like the strange child produced in a marriage between the production design of Lawrence of Arabia and the campiness of Starship Troopers, The Great Wall is a film birthed into this blockbuster trend.

Matt Damon plays the European mercenary, William, (I should tell you that I had to look that name up because I don’t even think I ever heard it out loud) who travels to the Far East in search of the legendary black powder weapons. William and his trusty Spaniard sidekick, played by Pedro Pascal, end up getting captured by the grotesquely large garrison at the Great Wall of China. The heroes become embattled in the struggle between the valiant forces at the Great Wall and the monsters which threaten the destruction of China and the rest of the world.

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Posted in All Reviews, Guest Posts.

Logan

X-Men movies – the good ones, anyway – have almost always functioned as broad political/social metaphors. They’re about the minority – the “freak,” the outcast, the outsider. They’re about how society treats them, what that does to them as people, and how they respond. They’re about what kind of future we want, and what kind of future we’re actually building, sometimes in spite of what we want. In the midst of all that symbolism,  understandably the individual characters and their stories get lost – the X-Men themselves can feel interchangeable, even disposable. It doesn’t help that there have been so many of them in so many movies.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water opens with a West Texas bank robbery. The robbers know what they’re doing; it’s first thing in the morning, the bank is empty, and they make sure only to take small bills and leave behind ink bags and marked bills. One of them, though, isn’t exactly professional; he looks like he’s having a little too much fun, and might end up shooting somebody just for insulting him.

That would be Ben Foster. He’s fresh out of jail, and you get the feeling he’s more comfortable behind bars — he walks through the world with a kind of nervous energy, like he knows that at any time, something is bound to happen to land him back behind bars, and he’s just wondering what it is and when it’ll be.Chris Pine plays his brother; he’s definitely the smart one, and also the straight-laced one. He has planned a series of small bank robberies to raise money for a good reason. His logic is air-tight, and if everything were to go according to plan, you’d decide he was the good guy in all of this.  Of course, everything doesn’t go according to plan, and that leaves the question about good and bad, black and white, pretty open to interpretation.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Get Out

If “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” took a wrong turn, passed through Stepford, and found itself in a really dark place, what you’d have is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, “Get Out.”   Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) are at the meet-the-parents stage of their relationship, and what do you know, Rose’s parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford; Keener is especially good) are having a shin-dig at their place in the countryside. Chris is nervous, because Rose says he’s the first black man she’s ever dated, but Rose says don’t worry, my dad would have voted for Obama a third time, if possible.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Great Movies Roundtable: Swing Time

#89 on AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years – 10th Anniversary Edition is “Swing Time.”

Made in 1936, “Swing Time” is usually considered the best of the 9 film collaborations between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and thus, I think it’s on this list less because of the significance or quality of this particularly movie, and more because of the importance of the Astaire/Rogers partnership to Hollywood. The plot is a ridiculous mess, but that’s not really important.  Astaire plays Lucky, a very cheerful and decent gambling addict, who heads to New York City to make his fortune so he can marry his bride, only to fall in love with Penny the dancing instructor, and eventually realized he never wanted to marry that other girl anyway.

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, by Will Krischke, The Classic Movie Series.

A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton is at the center of all things. (We learned that in “Dr. Strange,” I think. Or maybe it was in “Only Lovers Left Alive;” I forget.) In “A Bigger Splash,” she is a rock star who looks like she peaked in the makeup-and-jumpsuits era of rock.  Now, much later, she is recovering from vocal cord surgery on an island in Italy, soaking up the sun, enjoying the silence, being tenderly cared for by her much younger lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenarts.) It looks like an ideal vacation, far from the madding crowd.

But then Harry shows up, unannounced, uninvited.  Harry, played with incredible energy and commitment by Ralph Fiennes in a standout performance, is her former producer and lover.  But he’s also incredibly charming and charismatic, great at getting his own way, and immediately lights up any room he’s in and turns every gathering into a party.  He also has no shame, no limits or boundaries, and no problem pissing people off or barging in where he isn’t welcome.  You forgive him his excesses, because he’s so much fun, but that gets old after a while, and nobody forgives Harry as easily and readily as Harry does.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Captain Fantastic

Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and Leslie Cash (Trin Miller) have raised their six kids as far away from the corrupting influence of modern society as they can.  They live in a cabin in the remote wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, where they hunt and grow their own food.  They read Dostoyevsky and Hawking by campfire light, and speak seven different languages. When it’s too dark to read, they pull out their hand-made musical instruments and have a hoedown. It looks like a pretty fantastic life.

It’s Swiss Family Robinson meets Walden, but all is not well in the woods.  “Captain Fantastic” opens with a tragic death, that sends the rest of the family on a road trip (in their dilapidated school bus, overhauled to be a camper/trailer/schoolroom) that will require them to admit their own weaknesses, and the limitations of their philosopher-king-deerslayer lifestyle.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

La La Land

Today we have a guest post from my friend Jennifer Johnson, who is a high school English teacher in Idaho and a lover of musicals.  

By Jennifer Johnson

I love musicals. Love them. I see every new musical thing a brave studio produces.

I was so looking forward to La La Land that I strong-armed a friend into braving bad weather in order to catch an early showing.

La La Land begins with a large ensemble number, utilizing a wide variety of singers and dancers. The ensemble presents a believable, multi-cultural spectrum of Los Angeles. It was lovely to experience a variety of faces and musical styles on the screen of a musical; my heart surged with hope that this modern musical would reposition the genre as an inclusive one. After that opening number, however, the human variety disappeared. This welcome variety of voices and bodies vanished. It seemed every African American actor was relegated to the role of jazz musician. The whiteness of La La Land struck me as a Rogers and Hammerstein-era blunder. It is not until the closing number that the full ensemble returns to close the show. Where were they? Why was the ensemble not dancing at the coffee shop? On the movie sets? At the parties? In the jazz clubs? Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are left to carry the dancing themselves, which also turns out to be a mistake.

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Posted in All Reviews, Guest Posts.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Somewhere in the New Zealand bush, Ricky Baker is lost, both literally and figuratively. He’s a foster kid who has bounced around plenty and is one mistake away from juvenile detention, who styles himself as a gangster, in a way similar to how Hudson Yang does on the TV show”Fresh Off the Boat” — both seem far too huggable to be taken seriously. He’s finally landed with a truly loving caretaker, and the first night he decides to run away into the vast wilderness behind the house. He makes it about 300 yards, before he lays down to take a little nap, and is awakened by Bella, his foster parent, who invites him back home for pancakes.

Things seem like they’re finally working out for little Ricky, but then tragedy strikes, and he’s off into the Bush again. Before long, he and gruff old survivor Hec (Sam Neil) are on the run from Child Welfare through the bush, in what becomes (rather implausibly) a nationwide manhunt involving SWAT teams, helicopters, and tanks. That’s all led by a Child Welfare worker (Rachel House) whose motto is “No Child Left Behind,” which roughly translates to “Every Child Suitably Punished for Annoying Me.”

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Split

I don’t want to say too much about M.Night Shyamalan’s comeback, because a) I covered that last year when I wrote about “The Visit,” and b) I’m still doing my best to forget the terrible movies he made between “Signs” and “The Visit.”  Let’s just say that his newest, “Split,” proves that “The Visit” wasn’t a fluke.  He’s back to making bloody good horror-lite flicks. Thank God.

“Split” is about a psycho named Kevin, played by James McAvoy, who kidnaps three teenage girls and has dark plans for them. We learn early on that this psycho has multiple personalities, or Disassociative Identity Disorder. (It should probably go without saying that the portrayal of a mental illness in a horror flick has almost no resemblance to reality, and has the potential to stigmatize real-life sufferers of that illness. Let’s all do each other a big favor and remember that, ok?)

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.