July 29, 2014

On August 9, Winston-Salem’s film series OUT at the Movies will celebrate ten years of bringing LGBT films to the Triad with a screening of one of the most charming coming of age films I’ve ever seen.

Listen for my segment on The Way He Looks on Triad Arts Weekend on Friday, August 1, during the one o’clock hour, but get your tickets for the movie now!

You won’t regret seeing this lovely, Brazilian movie, which will be preceded by the Swedish short A Last Farewell, a film that offers a nice contrast to The Way He Looks in tone and theme but that is also worth watching.

Go to the OUT at the Movies site for ticket info.

The Way He Looks


Netflix Rises

July 28, 2014

Miss my Triad Arts Weekend segment on Orange is the New Black and House of Cards? Check it out online (scroll down to the “Behind the Scenes” segment) and let me know how you view the original series.



July 27, 2014

The feature documentary Kidnapped for Christ has screened at film festivals I’ve attended but not at times I could catch it, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to see it now on-demand on Showtime.

The filmmaking is uneven, but the topic is important.

The film follows several teenagers who are enrolled by their parents (often without their knowledge) in a behavior modification school in the Dominican Republic where the tactics and conditions are brutal. The goal for one of the main characters is to make him “ex-gay” and for others to break them of willfulness or engaging in other behaviors their parents have deemed inappropriate or sinful. Students are typically labeled “troubled” teens. And, perhaps some of them are, but there is no credible treatment offered at the outrageously priced facility in the documentary.

It is clear from watching the film that such “schools,” many of which are located in the United States, should fall under government regulation and/or official accreditation bodies. Of course, schools like this would most definitely fail under even the most limited scrutiny.

Kidnapped for Christ fills an important role in shining a light on a despicable practice; it is these schools that are “troubled.”

Kidnapped for Christ


July 24, 2014

I am ambivalent about Vicious. Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi are fun, of course, but the format is tired and (sometimes) tiresome. Getting the couple out of the living room and kitchen and into a club in a recent episode (and sharing some tenderness) was an improvement, however.



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