Category Archives: In Theaters

Moonlight (2016)

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There was a moment in my life when I realized a bully was just a person reacting to their own insecurity. Understanding that someone could respond to their personal weakness by exposing and abusing it in others was a shock, an epiphany that shifted my world. Red-faced bluster started to look like fear, strength became suspect, self-doubt revealed dignity. Moonlight is a film that examines the weakness and dignity of a gay black man in the poor, powerful streets of Miami, and the bullies building walls around him. It navigates the volatile waters of masculinity and sexuality, black culture, addiction, love and hate, blending them into something familiar and awful.

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Doctor Strange (2016)

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It’s important to understand that what Marvel Studios is doing right now is unprecedented. They just released Doctor Strange, their fourteenth film in a connected series with concrete plans for eight more, a bunker full of characters at their disposal, and money coming in. Movie franchises aren’t new — the first James Bond came out in 1963 — but this is something else: A strictly interconnected universe, with complex character arcs over multiple films, and unparalleled visual set pieces. And because this is unprecedented, Marvel Studios has yet to realize that the frequency and quality of their films have spoiled the audience. It’s how a film like Doctor Strange, one that introduces a character efficiently, hits all the necessary beats with plenty of humorous interjections, and pairs the story to astonishing, unprecedented visual sequences, can only be pretty good.

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Anomalisa (2015)

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If there’s a vanguard of comic insecurity, Charlie Kaufman is leading it. In the seven films he’s thus far written (and more recently, directed), Kaufman’s characters are often overwhelmed, crippled by an oil/water mix of ego and self doubt. It’s important to maintain the distinction between an author and his voices, but with Kaufman it’s just lip service — he is deeply embedded in his work. In the stop-motion animated Anomalisa, this penchant for gluttonous self-examination produces Michael Stone, a man of misanthropy and mania. Or, in other words, a man.

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The Birth of a Nation (2016)

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Whether for art or commerce, making a film is a team sport. The undertaking insists that many minds and many hands work many hours in concert. Still, some films are far more the product of an individual’s tireless effort. Nate Parker wrote, directed and stars in The Birth of a Nation, the story of Nat Turner and his 48-hour slave rebellion. It exists more because of him than anyone else, save Nat Turner.

Nate Parker was also accused of rape in 1999, a controversy that has become intrinsically tied to his film and the conversation surrounding it. In answering a question that is both new and terribly old, each of us must decide whether or not the artist’s (alleged) transgressions should swallow his work. Though many would like this to be a universal assessment, it is inevitably personal. And in making this determination, it’s important to remember that not only can an artist’s work surpass the artist, but in fact, it should.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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Ralph Fiennes hasn’t been given many chances to act silly. Even his lighter roles end up heavy, which is why his filmography is built on Schindler’s Lists and English Patients. It begs the question of how Wes Anderson landed on Fiennes for his M. Gustave, whose kooky concierge is the comedic axis of the film? — a question answered promptly with a hundred minutes of Fiennes’ inexhaustible talent and charm. This may be Anderson’s purest comedy to date, which says any number of things about the director — he’s lightening up, he’s more interested in genre, he understands how hilarious Willem Dafoe will look with a false, canine-heavy underbite. The Grand Budapest Hotel is another minutely detailed, masterfully constructed film from Wes Anderson, and a reminder that he’s almost certainly the most meticulous director working today.

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The Monuments Men (2014)

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It’s often a good thing when a director settles into his own style, when he reaches a degree of comfort with his voice as a storyteller. It means he can spend less time obsessing over style choices and more time considering what lies at the center of the stories he’s chosen to tell. Not so George Clooney. In Leatherheads and Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney revealed a proclivity towards the atmosphere of Old Hollywood–Old America even. He also showed a modicum of nuance in the way he presented it. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men finds him exploring this inclination more single-mindedly and fruitlessly than ever before.

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American Hustle (2013)

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I just don’t have much to say about American Hustle. Not for lack of trying, but the film hasn’t given me much to think about since I saw it a week ago. It’s a perfectly okay movie built on a mildly interesting true story that has a few things to say about the follies of greed, and includes a pair of knockout performances. But more than all that, and first, it’s a film that reminds you how utterly flaky Academy voters can be.

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