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“Amazing Grace,” the 2018 movie about the two days spent recording Aretha Franklin’s bestselling live album of the same name, showed at the Hopkins Center for the Arts last weekend. The movie is a true feat, resurrecting footage taken at the event in 1972 but unavailable until now due to technical problems in which video failed to sync with the sound. Finally, in this incredible film, we are able to see the Queen of Soul perform her album “Amazing Grace” at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles.
Typically, disappointment has shaped my experience with horror movies. I watch them expecting to be scared and they wind up making me laugh more than some top-billed comedies. Incohesive plots, stupid characters and cliché twists are far too prevalent in most commercially successful horror films. I wish I could say this spring’s latest horror film, “Ma” was any different, but the most credit I can give the film is for its self-awareness — “Ma” knows just how campy it is.
We have all seen it: a huge sensation, a star burning brightly and boldly. But then, the star crashes down, never to resurface except in commercials for yogurt and the occasional magazine shot that boasts a collection of “Hollywood Has-Beens: Where Are They Now?” Beautiful poetry, films and plays have been written on the idea that there is an upper limit to the number of stars our world can worship and, thus, some must fall. But not Beyoncé. Never Beyoncé.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is without a doubt one of the most bizarre ideas for a mainstream, Hollywood family film that I’ve encountered in recent memory. To be clear, I’m not referring to the basic notion of adapting the hugely popular Japanese multi-media franchise into a live-action American film. “Pokémon” is so ubiquitous at this point that even if you’ve never really experienced it –— as is the case with me — you’ve almost certainly at least heard about it through cultural osmosis. Moreover, that ubiquity practically transformed into notoriety with the 2016 release of the augmented reality game “Pokémon Go,” of which, again, you’ve almost definitely heard.
The film “Gloria Bell,” written and directed by Sebastián Lelio and starring Julianne Moore as the eponymous main character, is a meandering slice-of-life film beautifully unfolding what can only be called a coming-of-age film, only later in life. Gloria, the titular protagonist, is divorced, has an ordinary job and entertains herself by dancing in various nightclubs across Los Angeles and having unextraordinary interactions with her adult son and daughter. All of a sudden, a new romance blossoms for Gloria when Arnold, portrayed by John Turturro, picks her up at a nightclub. The two spend the night together and, at first, the relationship seems over just as quickly as it started — infinitely unimportant to Gloria. Her life is interesting with or without a lover, laced with subtle and grand disappointments such as her son’s wife abandoning him and their son, her daughter’s relationship with a Swedish big wave surfer, her work best friend’s imminent firing and her own mother squandering all the money left by Gloria’s father. The film treats such events with mundanity, as they are, after all, just parts of life. When Arnold calls Gloria to invite her on a date, it is clear she has forgotten him as much as the audience has, since she is caught up in her own life. We see Gloria answer the phone and respond, softly puzzled, “No, I’m not mad. Why would I be mad?’ Her nonchalance demonstrates her own self-contentment in life, based on a self-worth not rooted in someone else’s love or approval.
At the beginning of this term, I noticed just how much stuff I had accumulated after several years of dorm life in a boarding school. I have used all of my closets and other storage spaces to the fullest, yet, I still have many books, jackets, random electronic devices and documents on the floor. Sometimes, I struggle to dig out the t-shirt I want to wear because my closet is literally full of clothes; other times I am tripped by the Amazon boxes on the ground or I cannot find the right cable among millions of cables all of which have become so intertwined that they may never be separated from each other. This is what a pair of filmmakers called the “Minimalists” refer to as “clutter.”
Reaching its 40th anniversary this year, “Alien,” directed by Ridley Scott, is widely regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi/fantasy films of all times. The film’s symbolism, grand setting, relatable extraterrestrial horror and the metaphysical questions it raises all contribute to a complex and thrilling viewing experience. Forty years since its release, the movie’s profound message still echoes with human identity and remains relevant today. As a devout “Alien” fan, I will review “Alien,” the first movie of the namesake series, but I will also provide a brief guide on the correct sequential order in which to watch the iconic movie franchise.
“Avengers: Endgame” is one of those odd films that everyone wants to talk about, but, in a sense, no one does. Fans fear that critics will spoil the experience for them, and critics fear the wrath of these fans, resulting in a cycle that does its very best to curtail any actual conversation about the film or its content. Thus, while I will certainly strive to avoid spoilers throughout this review, I always want to talk about some of the thematic and narrative implications of the film. To paraphrase video essayist Dan Olson, if you don’t want spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame,” don’t go see “Avengers: Endgame” because it is wall to wall with spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.”
In his essay “What is Digital Cinema?” media theorist Lev Manovich notes that cinema ultimately began with animation. Magic lanterns, phenakistoscopes, zootropes. They all relied, in a sense, on a form of hand-drawn animation. Whereas many of his fellow theorists posit that cinema is the “art of the index,” defined by its ability to record reality, Manovich contends that its very origins position cinema as “the art of motion.” Thus, for Manovich, the dominance of computer-generated imagery animation in “live-action” films in recent years is not some existential threat to the very essence of film but rather the medium returning to its roots.
It’s midterms week, I’m currently in season for my sport and I don’t have enough pairs of shorts for the good weather that’s finally arrived. Needless to say, I am stressed. To remedy this, I decided to do what any good student does and procrastinate by going to see a movie to take my mind off my work for a few hours. Fortunately for me, the Nugget was screening “Shazam!,” which proved to be the perfect two-hour distraction I was looking for.
In my review for HBO’s “The Inventor,” I wrote about the varying necessities of documentary art, focusing on the balance between pure recording and critical analysis. I acknowledged that some documentaries only require the deft eye of observance, while others, such as “The Inventor,” need an extra layer of insight and analysis to fully succeed. Todd Douglas Miller’s extraordinary new documentary “Apollo 11” succeeds with such simplicity as a documentary entirely composed of recorded moments and devoid of any analytical imposition. As such a work of art, it is a marvelous testament to the sheer power of observance, carried not by narrative or analysis but rather by the awe and wonder of what it captures on camera.
HBO’s new documentary “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” chronicles the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose company, Theranos, claimed to revolutionize the world of blood testing. Spurred by an intense desire for wealth and fame, Holmes devised a way to carry out complex blood tests — the sorts that usually require an uncomfortable venous draw — with only a drop of blood obtained through a finger prick. The problem she and her company encountered, though, was that they simply couldn’t get the process to work. Terrified of failure and obsessed with her own legend, Holmes lied and connived to keep Theranos afloat, deliberately misrepresenting the abilities of her company. “The Inventor” dutifully tracks these events with straightforward documentary reporting, but it fails to fully delve into the fascinating character of Elizabeth Holmes or her web of deceit, resulting in a film that lacks intrigue and coherence.
It’s been a while since I’ve been as excited to see a movie as I was to see “Us,” the new film directed, written and produced by Jordan Peele. Like millions of people, I was blown away by how unexpectedly good Peele’s 2017 film “Get Out” was, so I came in to “Us” with high expectations, looking for something just as thought-provoking and well-constructed. While I don’t think that “Us” has “Get Out” beat, I still think it’s a fantastic, smart film that should be watched by everyone looking to walk out of a movie theater all giddy — like you used to before everything became a reboot or a third sequel in a franchise. I enjoyed it so much that I gladly paid to see it twice this past weekend.
“Triple Frontier” dropped on Netflix earlier this month with little advertisement but has since exploded into an online sensation. However, I think that the film’s high ratings can be attributed to the hype from its attractive, star-studded cast rather than the quality of the film itself.
At this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered a reputation for tenacity when it comes to selecting unique directors whose prior work doesn’t always make them obvious candidates for mega-budget superhero extravaganzas. This strategy is noteworthy because it has paid off time and time again; the fact that Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler have recently managed to reinvigorate the franchise with “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Black Panther,” respectively, suggests that this strategy is extremely viable.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is the latest in the line of big budget, young adult sci-fi films to not do well critically or commercially. Following in the footsteps of the “Divergent” and “Maze Runner” trilogies, I felt like “Alita” tried too hard to recreate the success of “The Hunger Games.” While it might have worked in 2012, I think that today’s audiences are bored of the generic “chosen one” teenaged protagonist who must fight to overthrow a dystopian government, all while having to deal with a ham-fisted romantic subplot that does nothing but drag the plot down. That being said, I did enjoy this movie.
The Oscars may have come and gone, but I’m still not quite ready to embrace the new cinematic year. So, as a final send-off, it seems fitting to reflect on the best and worst films that 2018 had to offer. A couple of caveats before I begin, though: 1) Rather than organizing these films into a meaningless ranking, I’ve arranged them alphabetically. However, I have bolded the titles of the best film and the worst film of 2018 (in my humble opinion). 2) There are plenty of films from 2018 that I would have loved to see but haven’t gotten a chance to, largely due to accessibility issues. If you don’t see one of your favorite films from last year on this list, assume that I wanted to see it, didn’t get the chance to and would have included it on this list if I had. That last part is total wishful thinking, but it will keep everyone marginally happy. As a disclaimer, I did see all the Best Picture nominees.
After a two-decade career spent directing lighthearted comedy films with his brother Bobby, Peter Farrelly has struck out on his own to co-write and direct “Green Book,” a comedy-drama about the relationship between notable black pianist Dr. Don Shirley and his driver for a tour of the American South, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. The film is set in the 1960s and based on true events, with Vallelonga’s son Nick helping write the Oscar-nominated script. The film has since also been nominated for awards in lead and supporting actor, film editing and best picture. “Green Book” is a movie that seeks to capitalize on the feel-good nature of its triumphant story: that of a white man driving a black piano player through a deeply segregated America and finding friendship and support along the way. Admittedly, the film succeeds in its efforts to enthrall with this trope of race transcended through humanity, and it makes for a highly enjoyable film that nonetheless feels like a glossy magazine print, airbrushed and edited to cater to generalized enjoyment. Ultimately, “Green Book” takes a heart-warming story and ties it up in a neat little bow, resulting in a film that makes you smile and nothing more — it doesn’t challenge conventions or leave a lasting, meaningful impact.
Almost two years ago, I wrote an elated review of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning juggernaut “Moonlight,” extolling it as one of the century’s very best films. Looking back on that review, I wince a little at its naïveté and ignorance — an ignorance which I know can only be born out of the immensely privileged position I occupy. Nevertheless, my fundamental feelings about the film have not changed in the intervening time. Indeed, I’ve watched the film at least half-a-dozen times since I first saw it in theaters; it remains a masterful work, a revelation of astonishing filmmaking fused to a perfectly crafted narrative. As we enter the final year of the 2010s, I’m hard-pressed to imagine that there will be a better film released before this decade officially closes out.
Last Saturday, I went to watch the Hopkins Center’s screening of the collection of Oscar-nominated live-action short films without a clue of what I was getting into. I hadn’t looked up any of the films before my viewing, and in my innocence, I assumed that the brevity of the shorts meant they would toe the line between light-hearted and meaningful. They would not be too dark or bleak, I assured myself, before the lights went dim and the title card for the first short appeared on the screen.