Wake Up!: Revisiting Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing Over 30 Years Later
by Wael Khairy on July 13, 2020 at 2:54 PM
On May 25, 2020, a video surfaced on the internet of George Floyd being choked to death by cops during an arrest in Minneapolis. His death caused global outrage, with chants of “I can’t breathe” heard from demonstrators everywhere. When I first watched the distressing footage, it filled me with anger, and frustration. It was sadly all too familiar. Anyone who has seen Spike Lee’s magnum opus, “Do the Right Thing,” will recall the similarities of this incident to the fate of Radio Raheem. In fact, shortly after the Floyd footage spread online, Lee himself released a short film called “3 Brothers,” in which he intercut scenes from his film with that of the arrests of George Floyd and Eric Garner. History is clearly repeating itself, and it appears little has changed when it comes to widespread police brutality. But if there’s one noticeable difference, it’s that today, everyone walks around with smartphones. With instant access to live streaming and video recording, the whole world is watching. The ripple effects are no longer constrained to riots in a single neighborhood; it has spread across the globe. After revisiting “Do the Right Thing,” I found that there’s a lot we can learn from the film today, particularly in how we analyze and dissect these horrific incidents. Usually all we see is the incident itself, but the real problem runs much deeper than that. The event itself is merely the aftermath of a much bigger and more problematic issue. Over 30 years later, Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” remains more relevant than ever. Lee’s filmography is composed of mostly independent films that address crucial contemporary issues such as racism, economic exploitation, police brutality, and multiculturalism. Despite the extensive political and social commentaries found in his work, Lee manages to both engage and appeal to popular audiences. Of all his work, "Do the Right Thing" is the most exemplary presentation of his seamless intertwining between unmistakable visual style and political philosophy. “Do the Right Thing” revolves around a single hot summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Although the neighborhood is predominantly Black, Lee quickly introduces the viewer to the diverse populace inhabiting the area. Lee does this through episodic slice-of-life moments within the neighborhood. We meet the Puerto Ricans, the Koreans operating the local supermarket, the Italian Americans running Sal’s Pizzeria, and the white cops roaming around the streets on patrol. At first, these so called introductory occurrences to the inner city ethnic groups seem random and unrelated to the bigger picture. It isn’t until after the climax that we learn the significance of the small interactions we witness in the film’s first half. “Do the Right Thing” takes place during a heat wave, and this heat stands for the racial tension within the neighborhood. With so many ethnic groups intermingling, inner-city life feels like an everyday struggle to maintain order; a clash of cultures is inevitable. The climatic incident occurs the moment that characters Buggin’ Out, Smiley, and Radio Raheem march into the pizzeria with a blaring boombox. The three protesting neighbors demand Sal include African Americans on the pizzeria’s wall of fame. A verbal exchange quickly escalates into a physical one. Soon after, the cops get involved, a Black man is strangled to death, and a riot breaks loose. The tension finally reaches its breaking point, and the pizzeria bursts in flames. The ramification of the film’s title arises the minute we try to figure out what exactly could have been done to avoid how this all unfolded. Instinctively, the viewer’s first reaction is to break down the fight preceding the riot itself. But where did it all go wrong? At what precise moment did things go too far? Is it the moment the three characters disturbed the peaceful easygoing Sal with an imposing demand? Or perhaps it’s when they turned up the volume on the boombox? Is it the second Sal spurts out the “n-word”? Or the instant a verbal exchange turned physical? The moment we narrow down the film’s answers to a 30-minute window, we unconsciously overlook the significance of the film’s subtly composed build-up. Throughout the majority of the film, Lee merely documents everyday life in a Black neighborhood in neorealist fashion. When connecting the dots between the climax and the seemingly random episodes that prelude it, everything comes full circle. To pinpoint the answer, we have to look beyond the actual incident. Lee presents perfectly likable characters, yet most of them are presented as sympathetically racist. The core of the problem is hidden within the problematic way ethnic groups perceive themselves and one another: it’s the way the three corner men judge the Koreans for stealing their jobs; it’s the gaze of patrolling police officers ever fixed on the Black community; it’s the Puerto Ricans group fending off Black bystanders; it’s the African Americans bullying the only white man living on their street. The problem is in how they all perceive one another. The clash at the end of “Do the Right Thing” is merely a window of opportunity for all of these characters to exercise and act on their views of “the other.” Lee presents the problem long before the actual boiling point, and in doing so we get the sense that racism is deeply rooted within society, and that the Black community is always at the receiving end of America's systematic inequality. For history to stop repeating itself, punishment for those who commit these atrocities is not enough, because the punishment only addresses the incident itself. As much as Lee was asking viewers to look at the environment that led to the death of Radio Raheem, we should look beyond the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of recorded footage, and ask ourselves "How did we get here?"
Something Deeper in Badass Immortal Heroes: Gina Prince-Bythewood and KiKi Layne on The Old Guard
by Nell Minow on July 13, 2020 at 2:52 PM
"The Old Guard" uses the characters' near-immortality to raise vital questions about purpose and meaning. It also has stunning action sequences and one of the most romantic declarations in movie history. In an interview, director Gina Prince-Bythewood and actor KiKi Layne, who plays Marine-turned-immortal Nile, talked about setting a fantasy concept in a lived-in world and the visual tribute to the story's origin as a graphic novel. In the middle of a very heightened action movie with supernatural themes, there is a stunning speech about love. GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD: It was in the graphic novel, and in the script. And when I got to it, I was both surprised and also moved and so connected to those characters; I thought it was a beautiful love story. I love the fact that these men, how they met is so amazing that their love has endured so long. It was past love and just became a soulful thing. That was really beautiful. And that speech regardless of who you are, I think anyone would love their significant other to say those words to them. So, I was moved by it and excited to be able to put that up on the screen, something that felt so different, especially in this genre. KiKi, you have a remarkable, very intense fight with Charlize Theron in an airplane. There's a lot of character in the middle of that action, the way your different fighting styles come together. KIKI LAYNE: It was crazy. That was the very first thing that we filmed. So, day one getting thrown right into it. On the day, I was very much like wait, really are we doing this? But looking back I’m grateful for it. It gave us such a great starting place and foundation for this action-packed movie with characters who are so complex and are struggling with so many things within themselves. That scene really laid out for where we were going to continue to take the scene, and take the film and take Andy and Nile's relationship. But it definitely required very different preparation for me, being in the gym more than I’ve ever been in the gym in my life. Working with weapons and stuff for the first time, I mean they threw it all at me, but it had to get done. I also loved your character's first scene, which shows us her intelligence and compassion as well as her skills. KL: Gina made it clear, before even getting on set, that she wanted the audience to really see something deeper in these characters beyond being the badass, immortal heroes. That scene was an opportunity to show that, and also to even help me as an artist building the arc for Nile of to have that type of compassion and that type of loyalty and that type of leadership. And now she's being asked to do this very different thing and have this different set of morals and ideas about what she believes is worth fighting for. It was a great setup for that, for me, as well. I thought it was a dope world. It was cool to see people who have been given this ability and are using it to save lives and to serve the greater humanity as our heroes do. But at the same time, they are struggling with these very human things, things that I really could recognize and understand. So even in approaching Nile, obviously, I don't know what it's like to die and come back to life and realize you're immortal. But I do know what it's like when life just throws a curveball at you, and just turns your whole world upside down and now you can't continue life as you have once known it. Sometimes there is a struggle that we face when something like that happens when you're not quite ready to move on to what has to be next for you. Seeing that type of stuff in a graphic novel, and seeing heroes struggling with that, that drew me all the way in. Gina, tell me about casting KiKi as Nile. GPB: I had been looking for a very long time for Nile and saw a lot of really great people, but something was missing. And then KiKi came in, and it's not hyperbole, five seconds into the audition I knew I was looking at Nile. And the audition piece it was two parts, but one of them was when she gets shot by Andy and coming back to life and the shock of that. It was just fascinating to see KiKi’s chops in that scene. I believed her, and she was playing the truth of it. And that's what I knew I needed for this film. I wanted to play the real grounded-ness of it, and that meant staying true to the moment. Despite the fantastical conceit, despite the fact she got shot in the head, and she's coming back to life. What is the reality? What would you really be feeling in that? And I felt all that in the audition, and that was incredibly exciting. And then I believed her as a Marine, and that was the one thing that I was missing from some others because that is a different type of person who can embody that. Not only a Marine, but also an innate warrior, someone who had that strength in there and could tap and access that. And KiKi had that, and then that dope vulnerability which makes us want to watch her, makes us care about her. And that combination, it was all lethal, and it shows up on the screen. So many people dream of the benefits of immortality but this movie has a melancholy tone. Have you ever fantasized about being immortal? And how would you handle it? GPB: Honestly, prior to this film, I absolutely thought it'd be cool to live forever. Just the courage that would give you the things you would do if you knew you couldn't die. But in reading the script, I realized it is about the tragedy of immortality, but it's also about the truth of it. What would it mean to outlive everybody that you loved and never be able to form relationships? Because you knew that you would outlive them or they would find out your secret. So, I wouldn't mind having it for a little amount of time, but after a while, I think I'd be like Andy where I'm done. KL: Same. I would say I don't think I ever thought I would love to be immortal. I think we've all thought, "Man if I had a little bit more time. What would I do if the average lifespan was a little longer and what would I accomplish?" But yes, definitely I wouldn't want immortality. Does adapting a graphic novel to film make it easier or harder? Does it serve as kind of a storyboard to get you started? Do you feel very constrained by that, or is that a good starting point? GPB: Seeing those panels is an interesting thing. It's also a bit of, "Oh my god, how am I going to do that?" Especially something like the kill floor. But I wanted to honor it. As you see in the film, my use of silhouette really is my connective to the storyboards, to Leandro Fernández's illustrations. They were so visual. It really did kind of jump up off the page. And I love the thought of these characters who are so much in the underground and the underbelly and living in the shadows; I felt that was a really good way to illustrate that. What makes a good bad guy in a movie like "The Old Guard"? GPB: I think the best villains are those that are complicated, where what they want isn't that far-fetched. And for [actor] Harry Melling and [screenwriter] Greg Rucka and I, our template really was Martin Shkreli and Mark Zuckerberg. These young guys who have way too much power and seem to lack some empathy, and seem to be willing to do a lot to control the world. Starting at a real character in a real place I think was really helpful for Harry. What have you been watching while we're all at home? KL: I've been kind of all over the place with what I’ve been watching. Most recently I watched "Da 5 Bloods," and I also watched "Avatar: The Last Airbender." GPB: I've been very fortunate, which sounds kind of weird, but I've been able to have finishing the film to focus on. So, I haven't kind of felt it that way that has really affected a lot of my friends. I've just been looking forward to being able to binge-watch things that I’ve missed. But one of them I saw, "Never Have I Ever," Mindy Kaling's show on Netflix, is so incredibly dope. I was sobbing in my car in a parking lot because I couldn't stop watching it and I had to run an errand, so I took my computer in the car—I mean that's how deep it was for me. And I'm looking forward to "I May Destroy You." I'm dying to see that.
Why Watch Hamilton Now: An Interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda
by Katherine Tulich on July 10, 2020 at 1:49 PM
With live theaters closed around the world, Disney+ moved up the release date of "Hamilton," the filmed version of the original Broadway cast, from October 2021 to July 2020. Ever since its first staging, the Tony Award-winning musical has resonated with audiences worldwide, but it feels more urgent than ever. Australian entertainment reporter Katherine Tulich spoke with the musical's creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with original cast members Leslie Odom Jr. and Renee Elise Goldsberry, for this exclusive report.
Book Excerpt: Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt's broken American Dreams
by The Editors on July 10, 2020 at 1:49 PM
The below is an excerpt from the new book Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt's broken American dreams, which is being released by Seventh Row Publishing on July 7. Reichardt's latest film, "First Cow," is now available on all digital platforms. Find out more about the ebook at, visit reichardtbook.com. When I saw Kelly Reichardt’s second feature, Old Joy (2006), for the first time some years ago, I was amazed at a sequence where the camera holds on the landscape rolling past a car window for minutes on end. I wasn’t bored; Reichardt’s films have the uncanny ability of calming the speed of my thoughts down to their own pace. She’s a minimalist filmmaker: characters rarely speak in Reichardt films, and when they do, every word and every trick of phrasing means something. But her films also give you room to breathe. They take their time to build detailed cinematic worlds that are dense with meaning. We started writing Roads to nowhere a year before we even saw Reichardt’s latest film, First Cow (2019). While this book has a significant focus on First Cow, as it’s one of Reichardt’s richest films to date, she has long been a filmmaker in full bloom. No other working filmmaker can say so much with so little. I was struck by stories I’d heard about Reichardt’s precision with dialogue: she carefully hones her screenplays and then insists the actors speak the lines as written, without missing a word. On the surface, hers are simple films telling simple stories, but there’s so much bubbling underneath that’s revealed through delicate wording or carefully composed frames. Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt’s broken American dreams is the most expansive book the Seventh Row team has written to date, because of the depth of Reichardt’s filmography, and because of the unprecedented access we had to her and her generous collaborators. Ours is certainly not the first book about Reichardt’s work, but it’s the first to offer a 360° look at how she works from the perspective of all her key collaborators. Existing books on Reichardt are generally academic collections with a narrowly auteurist lense. We wanted to create something different. Recognizing the collaborative nature of film production, Roads to nowhere is both the first book to dissect First Cow, and the first to explore Reichardt as a leader as well as an auteur. In Roads to nowhere, you will read a number of talented writers’ takes on each of Reichardt’s films, and then we will take you behind the scenes with the people who made those films and uncover exactly how they did it. The book’s centrepiece is a meditative interview with Reichardt herself, looking back on her career and her process. But more than that, this book is a visual feast, full of behind-the-scenes diagrams and polaroids provided by Blauvelt, first assistant director Chris Carroll, and camera assistant Jordan Green. A key part of the writing process was interviewing Reichardt’s collaborators — cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, costume designer April Napier, screenwriter Jon Raymond, and many more, from pre- to post-production. As we’ve found with our previous books about filmmakers, such as Tour of memories: The creative process behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir or Peterloo in process: A Mike Leigh collaboration, you can only truly understand how a director works by talking to the people who work around them. That’s especially true with Reichardt, who’s so heavily involved with every aspect of production: she writes or co-writes her screenplays, and she edits her own films. But her collaborators also highlight the invigorating, familial energy she cultivates on set and off. They describe working on a Reichardt film as a special experience, one that comes along rarely in a film career, because everyone is so committed to doing right by her vision. When I got to speak with the woman herself, it was under strange circumstances. We started prep for this book before the SARS CoV-2 pandemic sent the world into lockdown and prompted the release of First Cow to be postponed. While I briefly spoke with Reichardt a few times during the film’s hectic press tour, my final and longest chat with her was over Skype, from the comfort of our respective homes, in the odd calm after the whole world seemingly shut its doors. I asked her to reflect on her career and “the whole weird road” that led her to where she is today, making the movies she wants to make in the way she wants to make them. It was a pleasure to hear a seasoned, masterful filmmaker look back on the myriad ways she honed her skills and the many people who helped her along the way. It’s the kind of conversation that could have only happened during lockdown, when Reichardt had the time and space to reflect on past experiences, away from the all consuming mania of a press tour. That interview features as chapter 1 in this book. Together, these interviews and essays illuminate a filmography of intimate, personal stories about huge concepts and social structures. Reichardt’s films are predominantly set in the American West, particularly Oregon, despite the fact that she herself is from Miami. She’s not interested in telling stories about extraordinary people who defy all limits; her films are about normal Americans with everyday struggles who don’t get a triumphant ending. They are people who live in the shadow of the larger-than-life myths — of cowboys, colonisation, and masculine heroism — that the American West is built on. We called this book Roads to nowhere because Reichardt’s characters are often on a journey, either literal or emotional or both, to a “better place” that they never reach. She refuses to give her characters conclusive happy endings in a world where such things don’t really exist, especially for the marginalised Americans her films so often centre. Roads to nowhere will take you on a journey through Reichardt’s career and illuminate her singular filmography, whether you’re new to her work or already a fan The first two parts of the book will introduce or reintroduce you to her work and place it into context, before parts three and four delve into each of her films individually, with case studies devoted to analysing Certain Women (2016) and First Cow in depth. The last three parts are interview-focused. Through interviews with the production and post-production collaborators, as well as the actors, who worked with Reichardt on First Cow and past projects, we walk you through the making of a Kelly Reichardt film step by step. Get ready to gain a new appreciation of the work of one of America’s foremost auteurs through the words of writers who fell in love with her films and the filmmakers who created them. Orla Smith, Executive Editor of Seventh Row Find out more about the ebook at: reichardtbook.comRead an excerpt from the book here.Listen to the podcasts on Reichardt here. Get a Kelly Reichardt mug here.Read Seventh Row here. About Seventh Row: Seventh Row is an online Canadian Non-Profit publication that releases four highly-focused ebooks a year, each focusing on a film, director, or theme in cinema we’re passionate about. Through in-depth interviews and well-researched essays, we demystify the myriad technical choices behind films we love. Seventh Row is supported entirely by ebook sales, merchandise, book club memberships, and donations. Where to Find Seventh Row: Website: http://seventh-row.comPodcast: https://seventh-row.com/category/podcasts/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/SeventhRow Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheSeventhRow/ Instagram: https://instagram.com/SeventhRow Lockdown Film School:http://lockdownfilmschool.com
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
by Matt Zoller Seitz on July 10, 2020 at 1:48 PM
Bursting with humanity, grounded in humility, and in love with the poetry of faces, "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets" is a classic indie film that will irritate or mystify some viewers while inspiring evangelical fervor in others. The rating at the top of this review tells you where this writer stands. Set on closing day at The Roaring 20s, a Las Vegas dive bar with basement rec room decor, this gem from co-directors Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross is a reminder that good films can be made cheaply as long as they supply the audience with remarkable moments. This one consists of nothing else. An old intellectual boozehound with a craggy face and an ivory mane entreats a glamorous Black trans woman who's stepping out for a while to make sure to come back so he can sing a duet with her. "Don't threaten me!" she peals, and they both laugh. A Black Vietnam vet sits on a corner stool, lost in thought as conversation swirls around him; the camera zooms in slowly until it's close enough to see the trauma behind his eyes. The bartender, a bear of a man with a ZZ Top beard and shoulders wide enough for fully grown cats to sit on, takes a call on the house phone from a patron in the back who wants to know if he's ever going to get that beer he ordered. Later, that same prank phone caller—a skinny, older white guy with granny glasses, a long grey ponytail, and semicolon posture—dances with the vet to a Michael Jackson song. Another caller starts his conversation with the bartender by asking how he's doing (something nobody thinks to do) then asks he could please find Ira and tell him to stop drinking and go to work. I could keep adding to this list, but if I did, you'd be here longer than the running time of Eugene O'Neill's four-hour barroom epic The Iceman Cometh, a play that the Rosses have cited as a primary influence. There are bits and pieces of other works in here, too, notably "Trees Lounge"—the reigning US champion of dive-bar cinema, populated by Queens eccentrics and more than a few hardcore alcoholics—and "Big Night," which builds toward a closing night party at a struggling restaurant, and likewise carves out space to note fleeting epiphanies, such as a woman slouched over a table after a night of magnificent feasting who says, through tears, that her mother was a terrible cook. The style of "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets" mingles documentary cinema and improvisational drama with such ease that, after starting the film without reading about it first, I decided to resist the urge to find out which it was, so thoroughly convincing were the characters, the intricate soundtrack (which catches multiple conversations simultaneously, some occurring offscreen) and the fly-on-the-wall cinematography (also by the Rosses). It's a gift to be able to birth a moment into being just by finding the right camera subjects and letting them be themselves. Everyone involved with this production has that gift. Still, I guess I have to take a sidebar here and tell you about something that didn't bother me in the slightest, but that seems to have bothered a number of my fellow critics: the Rosses started out making documentaries and call this film a documentary as well, but it's the result of auditioning barflies around the country, choosing the ones they found most fascinating, then spending two 18-hour days in a New Orleans bar with them, feeding them situations and topics, watching them make drama from it, then cutting the results together with exterior shots of Las Vegas (shot through eerie filters that evoke the irradiated Vegas of "Blade Runner 2049.") Some of the performers have prior acting experience. Most don't. The movie doesn't identify which are which, and in most cases it's hard to tell. I've read reviews of "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets" that find something vaguely sinister in this blurring of fiction and fact, and question whether it was deceptive of the directors to label the result as nonfiction. I don't think the question matters much when you think about how many different international cinemas throughout the decades—particularly Italy after World War II, and Iran in the late 20th century—made art by blending reality and fiction. These films wove their narratives around nonprofessional performers (and sometimes a few professionals skilled enough to fake amateurism) playing a version of themselves. But if it did matter, I'd point to the many shots in the movie which plainly acknowledge that the only "reality" onscreen is the record of a filmmaking experiment. One scene starts with a closeup of a barfly looking into the camera before reminding himself that he wasn't supposed to do that. A handheld lateral tracking shot follows the bartender as he walks behind the bar, the camera operator is not only visible in the wide mirror behind him, but stays in the shot so long (in a variety of mirrored surfaces; no matter how many times the poor guy repositions, you can still see him) that it's impossible not to fixate on it. If the Rosses—who have been transparent about their production methods in interviews—were trying to fool anyone, they would have deleted those shots, and others like it. "Everything’s a fucking documentary," Bill Ross told The Guardian. "Some people perform plays in front of the camera. We’re going about it slightly differently." Whether or not this is, strictly speaking, a "documentary," it is certainly a movie that prizes documentary values: a record of a spontaneous occurrence. The framing is rough-and-tumble. You can tell it was a struggle to capture some of the wilder spontaneous moments without interrupting the performers' flow—and that, faced with the choice of destroying a scene's momentum and staying put and hoping for the best, they stayed put. The result finds beauty in simplicity. If you counted how many cuts there are in the film, you might not break three digits. But there are no ostentatious, Hollywood-slick shots—just instance after instance of the filmmakers finding the most interesting person in the room (who might or might not be the one doing the talking) and staying on them for a long time, to see what happens. The vet quiets everyone else down and says he wants to tell a joke that's really more of an aphorism about human nature, and a deep one at that, but his audience else gets hung up on his repeated mispronunciation of the word "few" (maybe result of dental issues or a speech impediment) and won't let it go. The camera stays on the vet the whole time, crystallizing a moment that everyone has experienced at one time or another: a sincere attempt to connect, derailed by listeners who keep fixating on some minor, meaningless element. The bartender and several patrons watch "Jeopardy!" on the corner television, failing to get a single answer right. "Fuck this game," the bartender says, prompting gales of laughter from the customers. "What are we watching this for, to feel stupider? Like I need to feel dumber today, I already gotta deal with you clowns! Alex Trebek, you son of a bitch—you got the answers right in front of you, man!" The camera stays in a static wide shot the entire time, letting you choose which character to look at, and heightening your awareness of how much these regulars have come to depend on each each other. Friendship is an intoxicant, too. Other times, the filmmakers' ability to concentrate—to really look and listen to their characters—cracks a moment open and releases deeper meanings. My favorite finds a drunk, drooling patron standing in the open doorway of The Roaring 20s as Michael, the intellectual barfly, urges him to go home. Most of the shot is obscured by an interior door frame and, more so, by the bartender's back and shoulders. Michael is squeezed into a v-shaped gap in the blackness, like he's part of a paper collage. Michael's sometimes-not-visible face, the drunk's disembodied voice, the bartender in the foreground, and the rectangle of merciless, blown-out sunlight backlighting the action combine, evoking primordial dread. It's as if one being is urging another to leave the womb, or give in to death's release, while we bear witness. The movie keeps doing this: finding a moment—small, big, happy, horrible—and staying in it until feels like it's time to move on. The filmmaking and performances are operating on the same wavelength. Performers and crew agreed to try something, then went to a bar and did it and filmed it. This commitment to a vision—not just a filmmaking vision, but a vision of life—gives the project a philosophical spine. The range of thoughts and emotions released by that vision is the reason the movie exists. That scene in the doorway is a metaphor for the film you're watching, and for everything. "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets" is about people who have come to think of their favorite watering hole as a place of refuge, and are so frightened by the certainty of losing it that they spend their final hours there pretending it's just another day. And isn't that what everyone does, each day of their lives? You go through one doorway and leave through another. You don't remember what came before. You can't know what comes after. And in between: days, hours, seconds. As Michael points out in a monologue, most people don't have a lot of control over what happens to them, even when they loudly insist that they do. Admitting this can be paralyzing at first. You move past it by realizing that what matters most is what happens while you go about your business in that in-between space. It's all a series of moments. The finest ones are centered on other people. And the greatest gift one person can give another is to appreciate them. This movie appreciates every person that passes in front of its lens. It throws spotlights on magic moments even when the people they're happening to don't know they're happening. It sees people's potential even if they've never capitalized on it. It sees their pain when they can't admit or describe it. It sees their struggle when they try to hide it. It's a documentary of compassion. Now playing in a virtual run through at Film at Lincoln Center, with a rollout to follow
by Brian Tallerico on July 10, 2020 at 1:48 PM
Tom Hanks continues his role as a WWII historian with “Greyhound,” an intense Aaron Schneider film that barely plays longer than an episode of the Hanks-produced HBO series “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.” At just over 80 minutes if you skip the end credits, fans of this war movie will be drawn to its lean, no-nonsense approach, one that employs more nautical terminology and shouted orders than character detail. For Hanks, who also wrote the film, all you need to know about Commander Ernest Krause is in what he did in service. Sure, Hanks the actor finds a way to inject a subtle glimmer of doubt or fear, but this is one of the most purposeful war movies ever made in how little it offers outside of the naval events that justify its existence. On the one hand, the direct approach is admirable in an era of bloated blockbusters, and there’s something about a simple story of well-told heroism that’s almost refreshing. However, Schneider can’t figure out how to elevate it beyond those minimal intentions, and “Greyhound” starts to become numbing in its tactics, a film whose simplicity feels more shallow than lean. And, yes, there is a difference. Hanks plays Krause, a career officer who was given command of a destroyer, the USS Keeling (its call sign was Greyhound), which led a convoy of 37 Allied ships across the Atlantic in early 1942. WWII historians know this section of history as the Battle of the Atlantic, a non-stop cat-and-mouse game between Allied ships and German U-boats that spanned the entirety of the war and cost thousands of lives. While Hollywood has produced a great number of films about the ground wars of Europe during World War II, less has been seen about what happened on the Atlantic Ocean, largely because the technical capabilities to really convey the tension of destroyers battling German submarines is relatively new. Perhaps this is what drew Hanks to adapt C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd—a sense that he could finally do so in a way that felt genuine. That last word is clearly the driving focus of both Hanks’ and Schneider’s approach. The character beats in “Greyhound,” including Krause praying over a breakfast provided by head chef Cleveland (Rob Morgan) or discussing strategy with second-in-command Charlie Cole (Stephen Graham), can’t add up to more than five minutes of screen time. The vast majority of “Greyhound” consists of Krause shouting orders about degrees and rudders and other things that will play to Naval historians way more than the average film watcher. The detail is clearly what drives "Greyhound," and there’s a sense that we haven’t really seen this kind of film before in that no order is skipped over in the screenwriting or editing—in fact, almost every order is repeated from Krause down through the chain of command. The historical accuracy of “Greyhound” makes it entertaining, but the filmmaking sometimes feels more like a lesson than entertainment. Schneider relies too heavily on his score to raise the stakes and the naval battles aren’t visually interesting enough given how much weight they have to carry. It’s refreshing of Hanks and Schneider to avoid jingoism, but the film's repetitive nature can make it feel distant. In a theater with the right sound system, “Greyhound” might have been more immersive, but it’s a project that seems destined to suffer by being shuffled off to Apple TV+, even for those with the best home sound system. Much has been made in the last few years about Tom Hanks jokingly being America’s Dad. He doesn’t have the same stories of bad on-set behavior as some of his colleagues, knows more about American history than most teachers, and even yells at people to wear masks. He was Mr. Rogers! And “Greyhound” certainly feels like a film tailor-made for dads of a certain generation—people who don’t want anything overly complicated or nuanced in their stories of heroism. It’s a classic story of someone who would never call himself a hero, but most certainly was one to those he protected on his convoy. There’s a moment late in "Greyhound" when the naval orders are done, and the human element of Krause’s mission comes cheering to life, nearly saving the film. Not only does Hanks the actor sell this beat with graceful beauty, but it’s really emblematic of the entire reason the project exists and much of Hanks’ career in history-based projects. For years now, Hanks has been reminding us that heroes don’t wear capes and almost never call themselves heroes. Even with the frustrating minimalism of “Greyhound,” it will be a comforting reminder in a time when it feels like we could all use a bit more heroism. And it will probably make you want to call your dad. Now playing on Apple TV+.
The Old Guard
by Odie Henderson on July 10, 2020 at 1:48 PM
Just as Ryan Coogler crafted “Black Panther” as an entry in his own directorial universe, Gina Prince-Bythewood casts her Netflix superhero film, “The Old Guard” in her own stylistic image. The director of “Love and Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” and “Beyond the Lights” enjoys scenes where her characters get all up in their feelings, and she invites you to climb in there with them. These are some introspective characters, a by-product of their having lived for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Several times, the camera lingers on their faces as they contemplate, or remember, the sadness of losing someone. The film sits patiently with these moments, putting the same level of importance on the characters and their emotions as it does on the action. A scene of Andy (Charlize Theron) savoring a piece of baklava carries the same weight as a scene of her cleaving a foe with a gigantic battle ax. Andy is the eldest member of an elite band of people who appear to be immortal. The opening scene features a flash-forward to their bullet-ridden bodies; a little later, we see them rising up fully healed after this slaughter, spitting out the bullets that have penetrated their faces as they mow down their opponents. This squad of four is about to be joined by a fifth member, Nile (KiKi Layne), a Marine stationed in Afghanistan whose slit throat suddenly heals itself. She is also plagued by nightmarish visions of other team members, a psychic link that, according to Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), only shuts down once they have all met. Until Nile showed up, Booker was the Guard’s youngest member, joining in 1812. Since “Mad Max: Fury Road” cemented Theron’s ability to weld her Oscar-winning acting skills onto the bodies of fierce warriors who kick ass, “The Old Guard” treats us to a great, plane-bound fight between Nile and Andy. The two showcase their battle credentials while Andy offers gruesome examples of Nile’s ability to heal. With Nile’s braided, natural hairdo and Andy’s Karen-style coif, their battle plays like an unintentional and vengeful commentary on those angry “can I speak to a manager” videos plaguing social media. What does feel intentional, however, is the inclusivity inherent in the depiction of the immortals, both in flashbacks and in its current timeline. They are played by a variety of different races and it never once feels forced or pandering. In addition to observing the humanity of its heroes, “The Old Guard” also employs Prince-Bythewood’s penchant for grandiose, melodramatic gestures that shouldn’t work at all yet play out masterfully. Think about Noni on that balcony in “Beyond the Lights,” or Monica setting the terms of the climactic game in “Love and Basketball.” Here, the moment occurs between Andy’s teammates Nicolo (Luca Marinelli) and Joe (Marwan Kenzari). By virtue of their shared immortality, these men have been together for hundreds of years. They are lovers whose “Meet Cute” occurred when they were constantly killing each other during the Crusades. After they’ve been captured by minions of our villain, the evil pharmaceutical dudebro, Merrick (Harry Melling), Joe’s concern for his fallen comrade is mocked with homophobic intent. “Is he your boyfriend?” his captor asks. Joe’s response with a declaration of love as shamelessly florid as it is heartfelt, putting that paltry moment of LGBTQ representation in “Avengers: Endgame” to shame. Writer Greg Rucka, who adapted the graphic novel he wrote with Leandro Fernandez, hits all the standard story beats of this genre. There’s the obvious exception to the immortality rule, an over-the top villain, the villain’s conflicted right hand man (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a very sad backstory of torment for Andy, a betrayal, a climactic rescue mission, and even a scene that sets up the sequel. But he and Prince-Bythewood always support these familiarities with their actors’ ability to depict how strongly bound together their characters are. There are numerous scenes where people just talk to each other, either to get exposition out of the way or to propel the story forward, and every time, we come away feeling as if we know these people. So when the torture-filled middle portion kicks in, there is genuine concern for our heroes. These scenes force us to question the terror of being condemned to a lifetime of gruesome medical experiments simply because you cannot shuffle off this mortal coil. Though it contains more dramatic sequences than most superhero movies, “The Old Guard” doesn’t scrimp on the good, old-fashioned violence. Combat scenes are filmed so you can see who’s doing what, and edited together for maximum carnage and effect by Prince-Bythewood’s usual editor, Terilyn A. Shropshire. Shropshire is a favorite of directors like Kasi Lemmons and, as seen in her work in the first episode of Ava DuVernay's “When They See Us,” she’s very good at alternating between intimate drama and the much wider scope of action, keeping both speeds in balance. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd and Tami Reiker is also quite good; their sequences at night and inside rooms have the same richness as their brightly lit outdoor shots of France and the desert. "The Old Guard” has the benefit of not carrying the strict, fan-driven baggage of the Marvel and DC movies. As a result, it may not get the attention it deserves. But this is an excellent example of what this type of film can be, one I hope will be studied by the much bigger-budgeted tentpoles you know and love. I can’t remember the last time I was actually pumped to see a sequel based on a “post-credits” teaser—to be honest, I never know what the hell is going on in most of them—but this one made me wish Netflix had switched me immediately to the next installment as the credits rolled. Now playing on Netflix.
by Sheila O'Malley on July 10, 2020 at 1:48 PM
"Palm Springs," directed by Max Barbakow (his feature film debut), is a very interesting and thought-provoking experience. It often made me laugh out loud. The cast—Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner—is so talented, so in the zone with the material that they crackle with unexpected character development, absurdity, flaws, humor. With all the humor, though, the film strikes an unexpectedly tender almost bittersweet chord, the humor shadowed by sorrow, loneliness, helplessness. "Palm Springs" works by stealth; it doesn't announce its tone in broad strokes. There's sleight of hand: judging from the opening sequence, when a bunch of people gather in Palm Springs for a wedding, you think this might be your run-of-the-mill party-out-of-town kooky-family-ensemble film. But "Palm Springs" is full of surprises. At the wedding, Nyles (Samberg) and his much younger girlfriend Misty (Hagner) hang out in the hotel room, and something is really off about Nyles from the start. He and Misty try to have sex, but he's bored out of his mind. He attends the wedding wearing a Hawaiian shirt, drinking cans of beer during the ceremony. He seems like a typical manboy, "acting out" under the influence of alcohol. Sarah (Milioti, excellent, vulnerable and guarded by turns) is the gloomy maid of honor, who knows her family considers her "a liability who drinks and fucks around too much." After all, her younger sister is so selfless she donated bone marrow for someone who needed it. How can a big sister compete with that? Nyles hits on Sarah, even though he's dating Misty, and the two stumble into the desert for impromptu sex on the boulders. And then ... things take a wild turn. It's revealed that Nyles is stuck in some kind of time loop, where he re-lives the same day over and over again, a la "Groundhog Day" (the lack of any verbal reference to "Groundhog Day" stands out. "Groundhog Day" and its concept is so well-known that if anyone actually got stuck in a loop in real life, they probably would say, "Wait a minute, am I in 'Groundhog Day' right now?") How the time loop operates is revealed slowly. Nyles has tried to kill himself repeatedly. No luck. He sleeps with everyone at the wedding on different occasions, including one of the groomsmen, just to get a little variety. It doesn't matter. He still wakes up in the same hotel room with Misty nagging him to get dressed. By the time Sarah enters the loop, Nyles has reached a carefree zone with his predicament. Life is now meaningless to him. Time is meaningless. He cannot change his destiny. The only thing to do is entertain himself by making huge drunken scenes at the wedding, just to see the shocked reactions. Sarah's response to being sucked into the loop, however, is not passive. She says to Nyles, "I don't want tomorrow to be today. I want tomorrow to be tomorrow." How this all plays out is one of the movie's special pleasures. Time loop stories have been told in endless variations. There's "Groundhog Day," of course. There's also the recent Netflix series "Russian Doll." "Edge of Tomorrow" is an extremely entertaining version of two characters stuck in a loop, adjusting their behavior as they make the same mistakes over and over again, trying to get things right. In the long-running CW series "Supernatural" (which I wrote about here in March), one of the episodes most beloved by fans is "Mystery Spot," "Groundhog Day"-inspired. "Palm Springs" doesn't so much borrow from these as careens off on its own track. You may think you know where it's going, but Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Siara keep it fresh, developing ideas in a constant state of flux. J.K. Simmons' role is difficult to talk about without spoilers, but he is one of the many "wrenches" thrown into what could have been a predictable story. Dale Dickey shows up as a biker chick in a bar, proving she is one of the most reliable and versatile character actresses in the business. The relationship between Nyles and Sarah develops in fits and starts. What started as a casual hook-up to escape their miserable lives, is forced into a sometimes-adversarial sometimes-close relationship. Feelings bubble up, but instead of being a welcome escape, they both are filled with melancholy and anxiety. Is it even worth it to get to know each other in this weirdo reality? Would this "thing" they have even exist back in the real world? In his script, Siara makes sure that both Nyles and Sarah get to be complex. They are both intelligent, flawed, lying to themselves, afraid of intense feeling. Their slow approach into something deeper unfolds in what can only be called an organic way. Samberg and Milioti deserve a lot of credit for this. The "trope" of two people who seemingly despise each other before magically falling in love has a long history. Consider Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant flinging vicious verbal barbs at one another in "His Girl Friday," all while being sucked into each others' orbit. The question is: "Who else could put up with either one of these people? They're perfect for each other." Falling in love is not what either Nyles or Sarah expected in their lives. After all, back in the real world, Nyles chose Misty, by all appearances a nightmare (Hagner is hilarious), and Sarah spends her time self-medicating and covering up her self-pity with a jaded exterior. "Palm Springs" is genuinely romantic, in a way that (sadly) feels old-fashioned (but isn't). People get bruised by past experiences in love, they barricade themselves off from hurt. This becomes a habit, and the habit then becomes your personality. "Wait until the right person comes along" assumes that people stay as open and vulnerable as they were when they were young. But when you've been knocked around by life, love is not necessarily a 100% positive experience. Love comes with other painful things attached: regret, fear, mistrust. "Palm Springs" explores it all. Now playing on Hulu.
by Monica Castillo on July 10, 2020 at 1:46 PM
Deep in a snow-covered forest in Japan, George (Theo James) is on a lonely mission to restart a decommissioned base. It is an unwelcoming concrete palace, as cold on the inside as the weather outside—like a spaceship plopped on another planet. As George returns from a brisk run, he greets the two robots he built for company and checks in with his curt boss, Simone (Rhona Mitra). He finds some comfort away from work talking to his dead wife, Julie (Stacy Martin), through the Archive, a “2001: A Space Odyssey”-looking monolith turned casket that allows the living to talk to the dead for a few more hours. Time is running out before she will go silent forever, and in his spare time, George works on his third prototype to house her personality for a chance at resurrection. Unfortunately, that brings out the jealousy in one of the other robots and the suspicions of the company behind Archive who don’t seem thrilled about George’s data breach to create his version of Frankenstein’s monster. Gavin Rothery’s “Archive” is a somewhat unwieldy sci-fi thriller to get into. The plot twists are many, and so are the cliches. In its attempt to create conflict, it dips into sexist tropes that diminish the story. Then, it unravels them with the last few minutes, and it’s those last few minutes that changed my perception. The question each viewer will have to answer for themselves is if can they get past the movie’s male fantasy aspect for that final reveal. Debut writer/director Rothery, who comes from the art department world, draws from various sci-fi movies to create the forlorn look of “Archive.” Its influences can be traced back to movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” or “Blade Runner” in the way it blends American characters against the backdrop of a Japanese restaurant and big light-up ads. Plus, some robot designs from “Star Wars” and “Metropolis” are thrown into a narrative mix of “Ex Machina” meets “Solaris.” The themes of those latter two movies are certainly prevalent. In a sense, George is a mad scientist trying to resurrect the dead through science and technology, going through several prototypes in the process for his perfect companion like in “Ex Machina.” The unforgettable wave of grief, ghost visitations from his wife and the movie’s inescapable sense of loneliness owes much to the Russian classic, “Solaris.” Here is where things get a little uncomfortable. George is mostly alone except for the three robotic prototypes he created to save his wife’s essence. The first attempt left him with a lumbering gentle giant much like a toddler who can’t speak. The second looks something like the ASIMO robot, and acts like a petulant child when his attentions move on to creating a more humanoid version, which of course, is smaller, skinnier, and more conventionally attractive. Sure, there’s a moment when George explains that it’s the third prototype’s brain power that convinced him she’s the one to carry his wife’s being. But it seems like a weird design flaw in the story not to create models like the one you’re looking for in the first place. There are other befuddling gaps in the script, including when an actor has to say this gem in a very serious manner: “I’m a risk assessor. I assess risks.” There’s also the issue that George christens them all sisters and tries to get them to unite for the purpose of bringing Jules back. They each have varying degrees of his wife in them somehow, so I guess that makes them sister wives. Definitely odd. And when the second prototype goes HAL 9000-levels of jealousy and tries to sabotage the whole experiment? It's predictable and tired. It has nothing to do with how apparently this Archive process was done against her consent or what it might mean to override a sentient feeling robot with dreams of its own (hello, “Blade Runner”!) with another entity. It’s more because she’s jealous and insecure, ready to destroy her competition even if the competition is related to her in some strange way. It’s also because some women have to tear each other down or lose themselves to prove their love, right to the point of self-destruction. Yet somehow, Rothery turns this all around in the last few minutes into something that left me genuinely stunned. With the help of cinematographer Laurie Rose, Rothery achieves an isolated and gloomy look without draining the color out of the screen. Instead, the red, yellow, and white lights of the facility, and the extensive art and production designs sell this ambitious film's illusions. There’s even a cool, if slightly creepy, montage of George bringing the robot to life that’s quite impressive. As the movie’s central character, James plays George with the utmost stoicism in the present day, making the flashback memories to happier times with his character’s wife a necessary addition. It gives him the emotional backstory his tightlipped character won’t speak of, and shows us just how much he’s lost and how he’ll stop at nothing to bring her back—even if it means creating Frankenstein’s jealous monster.
We Are Little Zombies
by Simon Abrams on July 10, 2020 at 1:46 PM
The best coming-of-age stories tend to dramatize without totally embracing their teenage or preteen subjects’ angst. At least that's how it seems to me right now as I think about “We Are Little Zombies,” a feel-good Japanese black comedy about four adolescent orphans who start a garage band after their parents die. “We Are Little Zombies” is, however, a little hard to describe: it’s not really about how music can transform and/or improve you. Or maybe it’s not just about that, since writer/director Makoto Nagahisa’s film is also sometimes a post-punk musical about authenticity and selling out, as well as a manic hangout comedy starring the Little Zombies, a quartet of young adults who are too young to drink or drive. “We Are Little Zombies” also isn’t just an entertaining, if grim, fantasy about teen angst as it’s experienced by a group of despondent Gen Zers who sometimes use, but don’t ultimately fit, the mold for success that’s been left behind by their Gen X and Millennial predecessors. Instead, “We Are Little Zombies” is a relentless, but emotionally well-balanced character study of Hikari (Keita Ninomiya) and his bandmates as they receive a series of transformative reality checks, and also perform post-millennial garage rock that sounds like a cross between post-shoegaze emo rock and video-game-style chiptunes. As you can imagine, “We Are Little Zombies” is something of an acquired taste: you have to want to spend time with these kids since they’re practically asking to be rejected at every turn. Their mopey, abrasive style of power-pop is also catchy, but obnoxious, and their jaded worldview is often literally framed by their addiction to outdated forms of technology, like Famicom video games and disposable cameras. The Little Zombies’ backstories aren’t much more lovable: Hikari’s rich father was a serial adulterer and his mom would have preferred to live completely alone; Shinpachi (Satoshi Mizuno) found his parents dead in a stir-fry-related gas explosion; and while Yuki (Mondo Okumura) was beaten regularly by both his dad and older brother, Ikuko (Sena Nakajima) is applauded by her father for bullying one of her classmates, since, according to his logic, that means she’s not being bullied herself. Also, because Hikari is addicted to retro video games, his story (and his band’s, by extension) is presented as a series of video game stages, each one with a “Scott Pilgrim”-esque chapter title. And Puccini’s “Un Bel di Vedremo” aria, from Madama Butterfly, is almost always playing on the movie’s soundtrack. These kids are sociopaths, is what I’m saying, and Nagahisa’s story accurately reflects that. Thankfully, Nagahisa never treats the Little Monsters or their shared pathologies as a sign of our times. Instead, Nagahisa presents their sprawling narrative—including their band’s rise and inevitable fall—as a series of encounters with other people who are also living lives that they feel have been, in one supporting character’s words, “chosen for them.” “We Are Little Zombies” is often the sort of effects-driven, hyper-stylized, episodic narrative that Danny Boyle and Sion Sono used to specialize in (especially “The Beach” and “Suicide Club,” respectively). Nagahisa uses a battery of audiovisual tricks and styles to show how warped the world feels according to these characters. For about an hour, the Little Zombies talk about their pre-orphan days and prepare for their exciting and strange new lives by arming themselves with some objects of sentimental value, like an electric bass or a stir fry wok. But ultimately, “We Are Little Monsters” is about what happens once you realize that you’re not in control of your life, because your personal rebellion’s success (and general well-being) depend on factors that are mostly out of your hands. I expect I’ll be thinking for a while about and admiring the little choices that Nagahisa makes throughout “We Are Little Monsters,” not because he’s already a great storyteller (this is his debut feature, after all), but because he’s thoughtful and ruthlessly impressive. Almost every scene feels like it was designed with a unique visual scheme and payoff in mind, and all feature some insight into Nagahisa’s characters. I’m especially fond of the scene where Hikari, during an on-camera promo video, is asked what his ultimate goal is. He responds with characteristic intensity, saying that he hopes to murder the bus driver who accidentally killed his parents while they were on an “All You Can Eat Strawberry Tour.” “Defeating him is my purpose in life,” Hikari says. “Maybe,” he adds without missing a beat, making that one word its own sentence. “We Are Little Zombies” is a keeper because it’s more about that “maybe” than what exactly is the matter with kids today. Now available in virtual cinemas.
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