Category Archives: Reviews

Seventy Thousand Blows to the Head. All Denied.

“God did not want us to play football,” says Bennet Omalu as played by Will Smith in the new film Concussion. The problem of concussions in American football clearly deserves more attention and this film about the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) aims to provide it. Although a forensic pathologist discovering brain damage in former football players doesn’t make for the most riveting plot, Concussion keeps the viewer engaged with this important issue through the telling of Dr. Omalu’s compelling life story.

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The Suicide Squad Trailer is Insane

The fact that this trailer is for the same comic franchise that brought us the horrendous Batman v. Superman trailer a few months ago is frankly astonishing. Seriously, Warner Brothers, pay attention. This is how you do a trailer. It beautifully establishes the tone of the film while not giving away much of the plot. Tone is especially important with a movie like Suicide Squad. After all, there are a lot of directions a movie about murderous maniacs saving the world could take. But based on the use of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (which is perfectly timed with the action on screen) and on the jokes interspersed throughout the trailer, it appears the film will have a Guardians-esque humorous quality but with a more gritty and intense bent, relatively similar to its comic book source material. As far as plot, the trailer really only tells us that a nebulous authority (maybe the government, maybe the police) puts together this team of homicidal and unlikely heroes to save society from some threat, possibly the Joker. Our glimpses of the Joker are tantalizingly brief. Jared Leto has pretty big shoes to fill — and not just because he’s playing a clown. Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the character is arguably the best portrayal, not just of the Joker, but of any superhero villain on the big screen (see the Buffer podcast tribute to the Joker by Kurt Thiemann). Since it’s unlikely Leto could live up to Ledger in a mere trailer, it’s for the best that we don’t see too much of him here. For those who have said DC is just trying to copy Marvel’s cinematic success but without putting in the work, this is the movie that could change your mind. Suicide Squad promises to be quite different from any of its predecessors in the superhero genre, primarily because it doesn’t have any heroes, at least not any good ones.

Grade: P

A movie with no heroes may save the DC cinematic universe.

 

Also check out Kurt’s podcast to learn more about Heath Ledger’s delightfully chaotic portrayal of the Joker.

The Joker’s Ordered Chaos

The Danish Girl: Beautiful, Yes, But Utterly Lost

What makes a film “Oscar bait”? At a time when transgenderism is a media buzzword and biographical films about unsung heroes are a cinema staple, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl seems to tick all the boxes. The story about 1920s Danish painters Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegenar (Alicia Vikander), the former of whom was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, seems tailored to be a critics’ favorite. Yet even as The Danish Girl presents itself as a serious film about serious themes, it has been dismissed as “awards bait” even before its release—good enough for the Academy, but not good enough to be great. Something, despite the big names and polished presentation, does not add up.

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The Girl on Fire Burns No Longer

It feels like just yesterday when I first watched the “Girl on Fire,” Katniss Everdeen, arrive on a black, fearsome chariot, expressionless and, well, in flames. For three years, Jennifer Lawrence maintained this image, but even the most beautiful of fires must be extinguished. Among the ashes is the last installment of The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part 2, marking the curtain call for the dystopian world known as Panem. And I have to be honest: a tiny part of me is going to miss it . . . slightly.

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Transcendent

A show whose politics are as progressive as Transparent always confronts the potential for indulgence. The showrunners’ own progressiveness can blind them. They can fall into a self-congratulatory hole, where once they dare to be politically savvy, they don’t bother to dare anymore. But Transparent, whose subject matter really is as progressive as they come, never stops daring. Rather than offering flat characters solely defined by their marginalization, we are given real people who struggle with their identity and who, like all of us, often feel unfulfilled, question themselves, and fear the future.

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Reunited And It Feels…Just Alright

Midway through the movie, I realized that Sisters, the newest collaboration from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, was not made for me. My first hint should have been the movie theater crowded with women in their 40s and 50s. While the Generation Xers cracked up at 80’s reference after reference, I—the only person under 40 in the theater—was left out. Sisters will be a great family movie night rental with parents, but for the college kiddos hoping for another Girl’s Night In addition to the repertoire, you will be disappointed.

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Go Long on the Big Short

Adam McKay’s The Big Short opens with an image of a Salomon Brothers’ bond trading floor in the late seventies. At that time in history, the voiceover explains, working at the bond department of a bank was “downright comatose.” Bankers were no different from accountants. That perception drastically changes with the invention of the mortgage-backed security, a financial innovation that renders bonds sexy. The images on the screen fast-forward thirty years, and suddenly, we see people lining up at a job fair during the 2008 economic crisis. The boring trading floors of the seventies somehow precipitated a financial catastrophe. The voiceover asks, how did this happen? How did a bunch of stodgy traders cause a global meltdown? And what, in heck, is a mortgage-backed security?

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Russell Takes a Joy Ride

While anticipating its release back in November, I awarded Joy’s trailer an uninspiring D on our P/D/F scale. Following the success of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, I assumed that lackluster promotional content must have done a poor job of portraying yet another winning effort by Mr. David O. Russell. Unfortunately, it seems I was quite mistaken.

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Unbreakable, Yet Unexceptional

Before seeing Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant, I had to look up the word “revenant.” According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, it means “a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.” This dictionary entry succinctly sets the stage for the film: The Revenant centers around Hugh Glass—an explorer, tradesman, and military man played by the ever-popular and Academy Award-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio—and his incredible survival in the harsh wilderness of the Midwest after being mauled by a grizzly bear and subsequently abandoned by his troops. The film also features British actor Tom Hardy, who plays John Fitzgerald, the dishonorable and cruel member of Glass’ platoon who abandons Glass. While the film succeeds in highlighting the tenacity of the human spirit and the unforgiving environment of the American landscape, it unfortunately suffers from a rigid storyline, a muddled use of Glass’ memories, and, for much of the film, a surprising lack of suspense.

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Diving Into “Dark Waters”

“The past three seasons have been very dark,” they said. “For this season, we’ll use a lighter tone,” they said. They lied. Working on the fourth season of Arrow, the writers and executive producers decided to sprinkle the show with less doom and gloom than in previous seasons. Not only did they have these self-imposed restrictions (or delusions), but they also had to create a plot captivating enough to let their audience forget the overhyped and utterly lackluster third season, with its glamorous promise of a great villain and its failure to deliver on that promise. Yet, with these high hurdles in place, nothing stopped them from creating the mesmerizing midseason finale, “Dark Waters,” and boy did I forget season three! Continue reading Diving Into “Dark Waters”