Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: Elephant (2003)

* * * *

Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Kristen Hicks, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen

Gus Van Sant's Elephant is a film about the ordinariness that surrounds tragedy, how days that end marked by horror can still begin in typical fashion, the change occurring suddenly and altering everything forever. Released only four years after the Columbine massacre and centering on a school shooting that bears more than a passing resemblance to that event, the film inspired some heated reactions at the time of its release, with critic Todd McCarthy (then with Variety) denouncing the film as "pointless at best and irresponsible at worst." But though Elephant is a movie about a violent event, it presents that violence in a matter of fact way, without glorifying it, and without trying to explain the actions of the killers or even necessarily to understand why things like this happen. There's no understanding something like this, so Elephant merely acts as a witness - distanced, unemotional, observing events as they play out rather than attempting to guide them. In hindsight that's probably why the film inspired such intense reaction: answers are comforting; bald recounting of tragic events are not.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: Selma (2014)

* * * *

Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo

Having now seen Selma, I am genuinely baffled as to how it is that there are people walking away from the film concerned about whether or not Lyndon B. Johnson is portrayed fairly. If that is your main takeaway, then I'm sorry but not only have you missed the point of this film entirely but in certain respects you've also proved the point of this movie by tacitly admitting that you're only willing to engage with it by way of a "white savior" narrative. If you're concerned about Johnson's legacy, then by all means come out of this film outraged at what has become of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but if your concern is that Johnson is depicted as a politician who was willing to confront the issue of racial inequality but only wanted to do so at a time when it would be less politically inconvenient for him, then please give your head a shake and maybe ask yourself why that matters so much. The movie isn't about Johnson, after all, but about the experience of the people most intensely affected by racial inequality and how, only fifty short years ago, they were still being forced to fight for their simple right to human dignity, let alone the ability to exercise their right to vote. That despite how powerful, moving, and artful this film is, so much of the discussion it has provoked seems to center around how Johnson is portrayed pretty much says it all regarding how far we have not come as a society when it comes to issues of racism, particularly at the institutional level.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Appropriate Behavior (2015)

* * * 1/2

Director: Desiree Akhavan
Starring: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson

Don't let the horrifically generic title fool you, Desiree Akhavan's feature debut Appropriate Behavior is a sharp and funny comedy that manages to feel fresh even as it cribs from the almost 40-year-old Annie Hall. A film about a bisexual Iranian (which, in and of itself, is revolutionary in a minor way) living in New York and struggling to get over a breakup with her girlfriend, Appropriate Behavior is a well-observed comedy about the specific kind of mid-20s narcissism which dictates that every feeling must be worked up into a the most dramatic feeling ever because otherwise you might lose everyone's attention - even your own. Appropriate Behavior may not be a movie that will speak to everyone, but it has something that a lot of movies seem to lack these days: a voice.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Screen Actors Guild Winners

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: Birdman

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Motion Picture: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Motion Picture: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture: Unbroken

Ten Years Later... the 77th Academy Award Nominees

On this day in 2005

It has been suggested that a waiting period of at least ten years should be imposed before rewarding the "best" in film in any given year. Doing so would remove the hype element that dominates the proceedings and often declares certain films frontrunners before they've even been screened, which has the effect of setting expectations too high and of creating a sense of backlash before a film even hits theaters, and it would also give the films a chance to age and see how they hold up. So, with that in mind, I'm switching things up a bit with Ten Years Later... and looking at the Oscar nominees for the 2004 film year, focusing primarily on the nominees of the "big six" categories.