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A few weeks ago, my editors acquiesced to my request to drop the numerical ratings system in my reviews. I felt the ratings were becoming increasingly arbitrary. Not just arbitrary in the sense that one number is a rather weightless way of expressing an opinion, but also in the sense that the distinction between “good” and “bad” cinema was becoming more and more blurry to me. Thanks to some of my film studies courses, I began to appreciate how limiting these categories were. Of course, I wouldn’t write film criticism week after week if I didn’t feel that discussing the quality of films had some value. I’ve come to realize that the way I define “quality” is somewhat complicated.
On Saturday night, I trekked down to the labyrinthine nether-realm that is the Nugget Theater to see “Marshall.” Ten minutes before, I had left the Hopkins Center for the Arts’ screening of Taylor Sheridan’s problematic, complicated yet engaging “Wind River,” which played to a mostly packed theater. In contrast, I watched “Marshall” with a grand total of two other people. To everyone who could have filled those extra seats but didn’t: Y’all missed out.
In last week’s review of “The Snowman,” I encouraged readers to skip that dreadfully dull film and instead watch “Battle of the Sexes.” As it happens, I saw the two films over a week ago, and the contrast could not have been greater. When I walked out of “The Snowman,” my head was reeling with confusion. When I walked out of “Battle of the Sexes,” I felt buoyed, eager to return home and research the real-life story that had inspired the film. This is one of the year’s best films and the more I think about it, the fonder I grow — which is significant considering I was already fond of it when I walked out of the Nugget Theater.
I watched “Detroit” over a week ago, and I’m still not quite sure what to say. It is, without a doubt, the hardest film I’ve ever had to review. In retrospect, this is not a shock — director Kathryn Bigelow has shown a steadfast willingness to tackle controversial topics in her previous two films, “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Similarly, “Detroit” is based on the Algiers Motel Incident, although the film acknowledges that Mark Boal’s tense screenplay takes certain factual liberties due to conflicting or incomplete testimonies about what actually occurred in the 1967 incident of police brutality against three black teenagers. Thus, the plot details described in this review will be based purely on the events as the film describes them; if you want to know more about the real-life incident, I highly recommend looking it up.
In my review of “Arrival,” I wished director Denis Villeneuve luck for his next endeavor, a sequel to my favorite film of all time: Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.” To be clear from the outset, the original “Blade Runner” is far from perfect. It is a flawed masterpiece, as influential as it is imperfect. And that’s probably why I love it. It is a slow, poetic and evocative film that never asked for or needed a sequel. But here we are 35 years later and “Blade Runner 2049” actually exists. Is it as good as the first film? Of course not, but I didn’t really expect it to be. Is it, at least, a worthy successor? By and large, I think so.
In many ways, “Dunkirk” is the film Christopher Nolan was meant to make. This is not to say that it’s his best film, though it is certainly among the best. While watching the film, one senses that it is the payoff for all his efforts to simultaneously become commercially successful and critically beloved over the last 20 years. After watching “Inception,” which is undoubtedly the most Nolan-esque of all the Nolan films, I feared that the director had reached his pinnacle. His unique and thrilling combination of labyrinthine narratives, philosophical themes and nuanced characters seemed to have been pushed to its limit. After reaching the top of Mt. Everest, there simply was no other peak to summit. His next two features reflected this fact; “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Interstellar” are both decent films that fall short of greatness because they are so overstuffed. Nolan’s ambition, previously his greatest asset, was slowly becoming his primary weakness. Until “Dunkirk.”
Darren Aronofsky and I have a complicated relationship. Well, to be more accurate, his films and I have a charged, complex and often fraught relationship. The common thread among his previous six films is the ability of each to elicit a distinct emotional response from me. “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan” are masterpieces of modern tragedy, while “The Wrestler” is a solid, if unremarkable, film. On the other end of the spectrum, I found “Pi” to be a touch underwhelming and I absolutely loathe both “The Fountain” and “Noah.” Based on those precedents, I really had no idea what to expect from “mother!” other than the fact that it would inevitably provoke a strong reaction. And it most certainly did.
If you were to hold a gun to my head and demand that I produce a list of my all-time favorite films, “Pan’s Labyrinth” would make it into the top five one way or another. I mention this because when early reviews for Guillermo Del Toro’s newest film, “The Shape of Water,” declared it the director’s best work since “Pan’s Labyrinth,” I was both optimistic and skeptical. To be clear, I make the comparison to “Pan’s Labyrinth” not because I wish to put “The Shape of Water” at an unreasonable disadvantage, but because the two films have so much in common.
When the original “Twin Peaks” aired over 25 years ago, it was a TV show about a mystery. With its revival this year in the form of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” the show itself has become a mystery.
In this era of sequels, reboots and remakes, who would have thought that “Trainspotting” would get a second chance to shine. To be sure, the original is a cult classic and generally considered one of the greatest British films ever made, but it has a fairly self-contained story that doesn’t invite further continuation. Yet through some miracle that I will not pretend to understand, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge have managed to return over 20 years later to make a sequel that happens to be one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year.
Diane, 11:30 a.m., May 21. In a few hours “Twin Peaks” will debut a third season after a 25-year absence, now as “Twin Peaks: The Return.” It would be an understatement to say that I am tense with anticipation.
Honestly, I should have known how much I would dislike “Table 19” just by looking at its film poster, which is designed to look like an Instagram post. And, like most people who are internally 80 years old and gigantic curmudgeons, I have never once in my life used Instagram, nor do I ever plan to. Simply stated, “Table 19” is made for a crowd of which I am not a member. While I will try to keep that in mind for this review, I’d also counterargue that art shouldn’t just resonate with a very limited intended audience.
“The Lost City of Z” is one of the most confounding cinematic experiences I’ve had in some time. I was never bored by it, but I was also never really enthralled. I was awed by the gorgeous cinematography yet simultaneously frustrated by the odd filmmaking choices. I was frequently intrigued but never fully invested. In these respects, “The Lost City of Z” is rather like a Russian nesting doll — intricately crafted but hollow at its center.
In 2011, shortly after the resignation of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian surgeon Bassem Youssef created a satirical web series in an attempt to heal his country through comedy. Shortly thereafter he transitioned to TV and hosted “Al-Bernameg,” a news satire show that was modeled after “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and ran for three seasons. The Egyptian government, led by then-recently elected Mohamed Morsi, issued a warrant for Youssef’s arrest in 2013, accusing him of mocking Morsi and Islam.
“The Leftovers” may currently be in the middle of its third and final season, yet I find it no easier to describe the show now than I did when it first started. In fact, I’ve rewritten this particular review more than any other because it’s nigh impossible to explain the hypnotic power of this show.
“Gifted” will be the third consecutive film that I’ve given a negative rating. I want to make it absolutely clear that I don’t enjoy that fact in the slightest.
Like the film I reviewed last week, “Ghost in the Shell” is a live-action remake of an animated classic. Though, unlike “Beauty and the Beast,” I’ve never seen the original “Ghost in the Shell.” However, a good film should be able to stand on its own without prior knowledge of its source material. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that any problems I have with this remake may be resolved or non-existent in the original anime.
Walt Disney Studios’ new live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” is undoubtedly one of the year’s most anticipated films. Yet as I walked out of the Nugget Theater on Friday, I felt frustrated, not overjoyed.
Many film reviewers, myself included, would argue that we are currently in the midst of a “golden age” of superhero cinema. Marvel Studios floods our theaters with critical and commercial successes and although DC Entertainment may currently be floundering in comparison, it recently rode high on the success of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy.”
I did not plan on reviewing “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” but after the Nugget Theater decided at the last minute not to play “Logan” and after the Hopkins Center’s screening of “Kedi” was sold out, I realized it was just about the only option left to me. Much of the reason I didn’t want to review “Fantastic Beasts” was because I didn’t want to write the negative review that I was sure would come.