July 18, 2014

It’s good. It would be better ten minutes shorter, but I say that about most movies I see.

I think the reason so many people think it’s a great film has less to do with the movie itself than relief that, if formulaic at times, it is watchable, which is more than can be said for a lot of big time, Hollywood dreck.

There are also certain cultural resonances that – while a bit reductive – certainly speak to broad patterns of historical and contemporary conflict.

You have a few good apes and a few good people willing to meet in the middle. There are some bad apes and some bad people on opposite poles unable to trust and ready to fight. Then, there are a lot of people who will follow the leader who seems the strongest or, more typically, who fade into the background.

Sound familiar? The cycle continues around the world. It’s more complex than this, of course, but the broad patterns and polarization are recognizable.

One thing I adore about this film is the moss in the opening sequence! Gets my vote for best moss in a movie since…well…maybe ever…



July 10, 2014

This is definitely a must-see for movie buffs.

Life Itself is Steve James’s insightful and inspiring look at the life of beloved movie critic Roger Ebert, and large swaths of the film are a delicious romp for cinephiles.

There are a lot of moving parts here.

The documentary covers Ebert’s early life, including the beginning of his newspaper days, his role in democratizing film criticism, his rocky ascendency to the dual (dualing!) thrones (one shared by Gene Siskel) of television’s top movie critics, his personal struggles quelled by sobriety and happy marriage, and his final battle with cancer.

Most fascinating to me are peeks into his writing process (could have gone a bit deeper here), glimpses of the historical context of the emergence of film criticism and ways that technology has influenced the craft, his combative partnership with Gene Siskel (fascinating), and stories about how Ebert has influenced the careers of filmmakers, represented in the film mainly by Martin Scorsese, Ava DuVernay, and Winston-Salem’s own Ramin Bahrani.

Ebert was a complicated man, and Life Itself shows him at his best and (perhaps) at his worst, which makes the film crackle with dramatic intensity at times.

I also appreciate James’s treatment of the love story of Ebert and his wife Chaz, which is revealed mostly in little moments, yet their connection towers as the grounding force after sobriety that gives him peace and a new type of purpose forged through family connections.

There are places where some of the stories – especially those shared by cronies from the early days – get a little long in the tooth and some of the questioning about Chicago detracts from more central narrative themes, though it is easy to see how these stories of place resonate with James, who has his own deep connections to the city.

And, while the observational sequences depicting Ebert’s resolve and impetus to work despite health setbacks near the end of his life are important for context, some of them impinge on the pacing of the film and feel, at times, a bit redundant.

The fact that some streamlining would have helped the flow of the film does not diminish the importance of Life Itself and should not dissuade viewers from taking a look.

I love the movies, I love Roger Ebert, and I love this new film by Steve James.

Life Itself


July 9, 2014

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson adapted the script for We Are The Best! with his wife Coco Moodysson from her graphic novel. The result is one of the sweetest coming of age stories I have seen in quite awhile.

Three 13-year-old girls struggle with identity and find a different outlet than their bubblegum and fluffy-haired peers when they decide to form a punk band. The story is set in Stockholm in the early 1980s, but the themes are sure to resonate with a broad audience because of the ubiquity of teenage angst – who really felt like he or she fit in as a teenager? certainly not me – as well as the painful authenticity of conflicts that arise among friends over parents, over shared objects of affection, and over religion and art.

While watching, I couldn’t help but think of another coming of age movie I’ve long admired, Catherine Hardwicke’s exceptionally fine film Thirteen (with Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, and Nikki Reed).

Both are affecting films, but We Are The Best! depicts a gentler journey into adolescence than Thirteen. This is not a criticism. There is room for both the jarring and the gentle among these stories.

One thing that appeals to me about both films, in addition to telling stories about ordinary girls navigating the difficult teenage waters, is the style. I have a predilection for little stories, slice of life films that feel real and unfold like daily life with some “waiting” mixed into the “hurry up.”

Aristotle may have declared episodic narrative structures the worst, but when finely rendered, this is the form that feels the most natural to me and, that being the case, the most instructive and pleasing with a lasting effect…when finely rendered.

We Are The Best


July 8, 2014

I ran out of things to see in the small town where I am hanging out for a few days, so I finally made it to Jersey Boys.

My verdict? Washed out, watered down, and warmed over.

Don’t know about the stage version — never saw it — but the movie might be worth catching on TCM on a lazy afternoon in 2025 or whenever it hits “classic” status.

The Jersey Boys

Let Freedom Ring

July 7, 2014

Check out my latest post on my Huffington Post blog, and let freedom ring all summer and beyond!


July 7, 2014

I thought about going to see the new Transformers movie today, but there are other ways for me to spend over 2.5 hours that I can’t get back.


June 29, 2014

I finally made myself see it. Soon, it will be displaced by other summer titles, and I knew that if I wanted to see it on the big screen, time was of the essence.

Why did I go? Someone I respect urged me to see the movie because of the writing, and I resisted because of Tom Cruise.

So, the story is fresh and clever, and the direction and editing complement the narrative and keep the story moving. As always, I admire Emily Blunt, who brings an authentic intensity to every role I’ve seen her play, and the supporting actors are well-cast.

The sticking point for me is still Tom Cruise. I don’t think I’ve really liked him in a film since Born on the Fourth of July (fitting to remember that this week) and Magnolia.

I wish someone else had played Cage in Edge of Tomorrow…almost anyone, actually…


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