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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Calvary (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson

In the opening scene of John Michael McDonagh's Calvary a man enters the confessional and informs the film's protagonist, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), that he's going to murder him the following Sunday. It isn't because James has done anything wrong; on the contrary it's precisely because he's a "good" priest that the man is going to take his life. Killing a bad priest would accomplish nothing, he reasons, but killing a good priest would send a message - besides, the specific priest who abused him is already dead. Calvary then follows James for the next seven days as he has encounters with various people in the village, some of whom may be the man who intends to kill him, all of whom have mortality on their mind, though none are marching towards their ends with as much certainty as James. While films about topics as heated as the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals are, perhaps, destined to be divisive, McDonagh's carefully crafted drama handles the subject with intelligence and sensitivity.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hollywood Book Club: Clark Gable: Tormented Star

This book is garbage. Even by the astonishingly low standards of trashy celebrity biographies, Clark Gable: Tormented Star stands out as particularly seedy and exceedingly worthless. This isn't a biography. It's a work of fan fiction which imagines that all the stars of yesteryear, but particularly the men, were only ever incidentally heterosexual, padded out with multi-page synopses of several of Clark Gable's films. The best thing I can say about the book is that, even with all that padding, it's a slim volume that runs to only 259 pages in paperback form, so at least it doesn't waste too much of your time. But, rest assured, that even though it won't waste "too much" of your time, it will waste your time, unless you like your books full of errors so brazen that they practically jump off the page and smack you in the face.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: Locke (2014)

* * *

Director: Steven Knight
Starring: Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy is an incredibly magnetic actor. Very few could do what he does so successfully in Locke, where he remains the only person on screen for all 84 of the film's minutes and renders a performance as subtle as it is powerful. This film about a man whose entire life slowly implodes as he drives from Birmingham to London practically demands overacting just to fill the void where other characters would usually be, but Hardy and director Steven Knight are confident enough to let a low key performance guide the ship. That said, I'm not sure whether the film ever fully transcends its premise in order to feel like a story in its own right as opposed to an exercise in strict minimalism, but it definitely can't be denied that Hardy gives an exceptionally strong performance.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

21st Century Essentials: Rebelle (2012)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Kim Nguyen
Starring: Rachel Mwanza, Serge Kanyinda
Country: Canada

Childhood is a precious commodity in Rebelle (also known as War Witch), lasting barely a dozen years for the film’s protagonist before it is demolished completely, thrusting her into a way of life that most adults wouldn’t have the fortitude to survive. Throughout the film she is telling her story to her child, not yet born, as a means of explaining how she has been brought to this point and why she might not be capable of loving him or her once she’s given birth. This may sound depressing but Rebelle, though a hard film in many ways, does not dwell in pathos and instead brims with life even as it surrounds its protagonist with death. This is a story about war, but it’s also a story about love, survival and, amazingly, hope.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday's Top 5... My Most Anticipated Movies of the Fall

#5: Dear White People

I've been looking forward to this comedy since the reviews started coming out of Sundance, so it really can't come out soon enough for me. Whether the film lives up to the promise of its trailer remains to be seen, but even if it only turns out to be half as funny and sharp as the trailer, it'll still have the edge over the vast majority of comedies that have come out so far this year.