The Dallas Movie Screening Group

This is the homepage of the Dallas Movie Screening Group. To join our mailing list you must sign up at our group page on Yahoo. You will then be connected to receive notices on how to find passes to the local screenings in the DFW area. It's up to you to pickup or sign up for passes. You can also barter, trade or just giveaway passes you don't want, need or share with other members of the group. Please read the instructions on the Yahoo page very carefully before posting. This group is closely moderated so that your mail box is not full of spam or other unnecessary mail. We appreciate everyone's consideration and cooperation.

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Website and Group Contact: dalscreenings@gmail.com

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Bumblebee




All of America should rejoice. Why? You ask. Because of a “Transformers”-related movie that does not suck or stink to high heaven.

I give part of that credit to Michael Bay, or the lack thereof. His name is not at the top for once, since with “Bumblebee,” he is involved with just a producer credit.

The director, Travis Knight actually brings some credibility to the proceedings since he has already made a real Oscar-nominated movie that did not leave a stench in the mire, with the release of 2016’s Oscar-nominated “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a tale that was actually nominated in the Best Animated Feature category of things.

The main star in this one, save for “Bumblebee” is Hailee Steinfeld, the Oscar nominated star of the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” in 2010. Even as a twelve-year-old girl in that tale, one can see that she was beyond her years as a top-notch performer.

Despite her age, (22 as of this writing) Steinfeld is still able to pull off the whole despondent teenager thing. In “Bumblebee,” Steinfeld’s part is Charlie Watson, that of a corny dog vendor on the local beach in California. Fate steps in when she finds a rundown car in the junkyard she usually digs through everyday after her job at the restaurant.

Her Charlie Watson persona deals with the daily grind of going to school, living for the weekend and just taking it as the cliché goes “one day at a time”.

Part of the proceedings also involve Jon Cena’s army colonel, Agent Burns, who even notes that the robots are a bunch of connivers, since they are called Decepticons. Cena, like Hulk Hogan, as well as Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock, has made a nifty post wrestling transition to the movie world, leaving behind any of the caricature parts of the wrestling industry.

“Bumblebee”, also takes advantage of the pre-cell phone days of middle 80s America. The movie also contains nods to “The Breakfast Club” (Bumblebee watches it on an old VHS videotape player). He also spits out a couple of tapes with ridiculous pop rock ballads.

Also involved in the story are Pamela Adlon as Charlie’s mother who borrows her car to take the family’s dog to the vet.

Also returning to do voice work is Peter Cullen, who has voiced Autobot leader Optimus Prime in all of the other “Transformers” movie entries, starting with 2007’s “The Transformers” leading all the way through 2014’s “Age of Extinction” as well as 2017’s “The Last Knight.”

The main bonus with “Bumblebee” is that there is not an abundance of locations being blown up. As a director, Knight knows how to spin a tale where everything does not adhere to “Snap, Crackle and Pop.”

What I can say and will say is that this entry is by far the best entry in the entire series. I liked it as well as respected it, but I’m sorry, I can’t give it any higher than a B- on my A-F scale.

Grade: B-
(Review by Ricky Miller)


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Mary Poppins Returns






Director: Rob Marshall Studio: Disney

Review: Mary Poppins Returns

It’s finally here, after 54 years since the perennial Mary Poppins came out in 1964 which won five Oscars out of 13 nominations. Forget about Jurassic Park, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Avengers, and any existing live-action franchises. The world has Mary Poppins again. Rob Marshall, who helm the famous film Chicago in 2002, takes the leading role as the director of this beloved musical that takes the grown-ups and children to the magical world of Cherry Tree Lane in London. Featuring the stars of Emily Blunt in her titular role, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, and the legendary Dick Van Dyke.

In this sequel, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to Cherry Tree Lane to help the Banks family after a family tragedy that has brought themselves into a financial situation. With the help of Mary Poppins, the Banks children and the rest of the family all set out for the magical adventure around London and their imaginations, as well as finding what hope can be served as importance of the family.

Written by P.L. Travers to whom Walt Disney tried to obtain the rights from desperately, the story fits well like the original film, even when animated sequence is included. Back in the history between the conversion with Travers and Disney and the production of the original Mary Poppins, Travers disliked the idea of including the animated sequence since she wanted to the film to be completely live-action and no animation can be used. Her plan somewhat backfired when the animation was meant to be used for that sequence, enraging Walt Disney for doing that. Despite the dilemma, the film really become a crown jewel.

Director Rob Marshall brings the gorgeous, colorful production design on the sets, well-done animation sequences, a whimsical sense of humor, as well as provide colorful costumes that match its length from the original film. This result in an enjoyment bucket of recycled romp that even children love to see it coming. The musical numbers and composition provided by composer Marc Shaiman are outstanding that serves as equivalent to the Sherman brothers’ music pieces.

Mary Poppins, who served as a nanny for Jane and Michael Banks, now serves as a nanny for the children of now-grown Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw). Actress Emily Blunt gets a cheery-pitched role as the nanny who makes a perfect match for Julie Andrews who starred in this titular role form the original film, reviving the generation for both Jane and Michael Banks. Just like the original film, Mary Poppins returns to deliver a heaping dose of joy and childlike wonder. It’s still a spoonful of sugar and it’s still going to be sweet. Though, the one thing Mary Poppins can make everything possible. The answer is, of course, magic!

Supporting actor Lin-Manuel Miranda who played as Jack, the lamplighter and a former apprentice of Dick Van Dyke’s character years earlier, have done a great job providing a nice, jolly role that serves a familiarity of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert character in the original film.

What is funnier is Meryl Streep’s character as Topsy who produces a funniest, yet entertaining musical number for the Banks’ children for their amusement. Not to mention the cast of Banks’ children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) for making a great fitting role for the story’s dynamics and the musical numbers.

Also returning is the legendary Dick Van Dyke who played as the bank chairman Mr. Dawes Jr. (the son of Mr. Dawes Sr. who Van Dyke also portrayed). It is amazing how Van Dyke show up by surprise that led the audience to scream and shout joyfully for his return. What can be a great wake-up call is the two cameos coming from the actress Angela Lansbury (Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast) and Karen Dotrice who portrayed as Jane Banks in the original film.

Thanks to the two animation divisions: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, the animation sequences and the backgrounds are perfectly captured every moment for the Blunt’s character and the three child cast for Banks’ children. However, the usages of special effects seems it bit too much, therefore over-boarding the animation sequence. It seems like the magic has worn off when it comes to special effects and CGI usages.

In regards, Mary Poppins Returns is the greatest film that reaches the title of being one of the top ten films of 2018. I can say this, it could be Oscar-worthy despite the critics’ reviews and massive usage of special effects as it may have a slight chance to being nominated. Come and see it if you ever grew up with Mary Poppins, let your childhood revive to its former glory, and remember the days you hit hard on watching these wonderful musicals. I will guarantee Mary Poppins Returns never seem to disappoint you. You will love it, trust me. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Running time: 130 minutes

GRADE: A-
(Review by Henry Pham)





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Welcome to Marwen






Director: Robert Zemeckis Studio: Universal/DreamWorks

Review: Welcome to Marwen

Based on the documentary film featuring the artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp, Director Robert Zemeckis, known for introducing the motion-capture technique, made it all possible of crafting a film with a massive special effects, motion capture, and CGI just like how he did for his movies Back to The Future, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Polar Express. I’m not a war-movie person, I just want to see how the film goes well with Zemeckis doing the steady storytelling with motion-capture from the actors.

In this film, Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell, The Office) becomes a victim of sexual assault, which leads him having no memories to remember his adult life. When he constructs a miniature replica version of World War II for his photo shooting and his art show, he must capture every image to make a good work of art and recover his memories.

Here, I get to see Steve Carell as the main center of the film along with the supporting actresses Diane Kruger (as a town’s witch of Marwen), Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie, and Leslie Zemeckis. Steve Carell really out done it when it comes with comedy, recalling The Office, as well as making romantic sceneries which fits the story dynamics. Carell’s character really smooths the balancing onscreen appearances between his character and his toy-performing counterpart. The supporting cast done a good job as well as the composer and Zemeckis’s frequent collaborator Alan Sivestri who provides a similar textures from Back to The Future and Forrest Gump.

However, there are three things I didn’t enjoy in this film. First, the overuse of CGI and special effects as an advantage for an action-adventure film. Second, Leslie Mann’s performance seems to be overwhelming for a romantic-turned friend for Carell’s character which nearly takes away the duo’s character developments for the story’s dynamics. I guess happiness can’t be solved until the very end. And lastly, Diane Kruger’s performance makes it all too scary for a female role in this film and lack of positive inputs like happiness, sorrow, love and glory.

Compare to the 2008’s Get Smart, also starring with Carell, the action-packed elements are just written in as a reference point to all the shenanigans that occur like the Nazis and Dwayne Johnson’s Agent 23 character. It is a bit lengthy, clocking to 116 minutes, but once you watching this, it just goes with the flow. Get Smart was not a great movie by any account. I have thoughts about giving that film a C or D-grade.

What is great is I had met Steve Carell after the Q&A of this film in Dallas, TX. He is such a cool and funny guy any film or director could ever have when it comes to comedy and character personality.

Overall, Welcome to Marwen is okay, though it’s a little bit off on the storytelling and the usages of special effects that strongly holds the position for a film tool instead of focusing on the Carell’s and Mann’s character. I mean the director does a good job of keeping the pace and momentum of structuring the storylines, but needs improvement on several other character’s developments for better depth, better focus, and suitable amusement. Though, it did provide the viewers an ordinary escape from a satisfied grin on the face.

By recalling Deadpool’s words “Life is an endless series of trainwrecks with only brief commercial-like breaks of happiness.” Running time: 116 minutes



GRADE: C+
(Review by Henry Pham)


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Swing Kids




At the Geoje prison camp during the Korean War in 1951, the new American Commander wants to bring more western culture to the Communist North Korean prisoners. He brings movies and holds dances with a live band. Women from the nearby village come in to dance with the men and practice their English. To create a press event he assigns Sgt. Jackson who once had aspirations for Broadway to create a troupe of dancers. This South Korean musical drama film directed by Kang Hyeong-cheol was based on the Korean musical Rho Ki-soo. The film is subtitled in both English and Korean. There is some razzle-dazzle dancing, political intrigue, bigotry, and a racially diverse group who bond over tap dancing. And a fantastic soundtrack of eclectic tunes that will get the feet moving.

Ro Ki-soo played by K-pop idol Do Kyung-soo (a.k.a. “D.O.”) is a North Korean POW who arrives at the camp being given props and respect as his brother Ki-jin is a war hero. He stumbles into the dance hall after raiding the supplies of beer and dances free form before he gets beat up.
The lights go out and the place catches fire. Ki-soo is assigned to fix the damage. He watches as Sgt. Jackson (Jared Grimes) holds rehearsals to form a dance group to perform at the Christmas party for the international press guests. There is Kang Byung-sam (Oh Jung-se) who shows off a traditional wind dance and is trying to find his wife who he hopes to find if the troupe takes their act to the road. Xiao Fang (Kim Min-Ho), a portly Chinese soldier who is a gifted dancer but has angina when he dances for too long. Yang Pan-rae (Park Hye-su) who was one of the village women paid to dance with the men offers her translating service to Jackson and ends up dancing too.

Ki-soo challenges Jackson to a dance off on the condition that if he loses Ki-soo will join the troupe. Soon Ki-soo is obsessed with tap. He hears beats all around the camp and his feet can't stop moving. Before the war Ki-soo was supposed to join a Russian dance company and he learned a few things. The artist inside is released learning to tap. The dance parts of this movie are pretty awe-inspiring. Do Kyung-soo takes his K-pop idol skills from his group EXO to great advantage. If the rest of the movie was all great dancing it would still be good. But the drama kicks in when a communist instigator comes in and stirs the prisoners up for being so complacent with their western keepers. Ki-soo is conflicted by his need to dance and his need to stay true to his communist programming.

The broad comedy moments keep things light and entertaining. Then the second half of the movie gets bogged down by the American guards bullying their North Korean charges, the South Koreans willing to stone a young woman accused of being a North Korean sympathizer, the American Commander(Ross Kettle) treating his POW aide with stereotypical blinders. The dance is what keeps this movie going. The relationship of the dancers as they begin to consider themselves a family is the heart of the story. It's unfortunate, yet probably inevitable that the emotional ending was the only way to finish.
(Review by reesa)




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Aquaman





Director: James Wan Studio: Warner Bros.

“Aquaman” swims, but sinks!


I may love the films that take place under the sea like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo, but Aquaman contains both underwater and above-water adventures with shocking, yet surprising twists to it. What makes James Wan the king of the Aquaman production is that he throws the astonishing amounts of action sequences with a little heavy duty of bouncing the CGI usages back on board. Back then, Batman v Superman become a critical disaster, but Aquaman soars up in the water. Aquaman features the returning star Jason Momoa who gets his own solo film as the titular character after appearing in Batman v Superman and Justice League. IN addition, the film includes the supporting cast of Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Temuera Morrison, and Nicole Kidman.

In the film, I get to see Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), raised from the lighthouse and become the heir to the throne of Kingdom of Atlantis, steps forward to battle his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who plans to take over the seven kingdoms under the sea against the human world on surface. He later adopts the name of Aquaman and does whatever it takes to survive the sea and end the sea domination for good.

Let me say, I enjoy parts of the plot, but the plot and the story structures seems messy. These two are very complicated, yet predicable to see how the story of Aquaman really fits in for the film’s main course for the audience and DC fans. There are many entertaining ways to keep the film as great with surprising explosions, bizarre moments in the sea, the chemistry of Momoa’s Aquaman and Heard’s Mera character, and Nicole Kidman’s performance at the beginning and end. I also love how Momoa bringing an inside joke of Disney’s Pinocchio just to add comedy and points to it as well as the Star Wars-alike battle which gives the film more praising feel to it.

The director really outdone it with some good character development on Momoa and Heard, parts of the plotlines that fits the two characters’ flow, and providing comedy for the characters. The music and the composition from Rupert Gregson-Williams are just as stunning just like 2017’s Wonder Woman which he also composed. I sort of love the visuals and parts of the CGI usages. However, the massive usages of CGI really sink down in the bottom of the try-hard dead zone. These two things have focused more than the character developments of Momoa, Heard, Kidman, Abdul-Mateen, and Wilson. I also found that the time length of the film is just as boring and easily conflicted for the time being.

I gotta hand it to him, Jason Momoa did such a great job keeping up with his character performance just the same as Gal Gadot keep her character performance really well and intense in 2017’s Wonder Woman. Momoa and Gadot both got some meatier roles to face certain challenges and a bigger fish to fry when it comes to saving the world. Don’t forget about Amber Heard who bears a resemblance of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. She seems to have a great chemistry with Momoa character and becomes the theme of exposition for parts of the story structures. Though, I disliked the actor Otis Dhanji, who played as the teenage version of Arthur Curry, as he is too cringey and cheesy for the part that gives me a confusing look. Although parts of the cast are good, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who plays the villain Black Manta really made his character over ambiguous, but on the inside, he keeps his act as a villain for the better sake.

Also returning is the actor Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) who portrays the supporting role of Nuidis Vulko, the advisor of the Atlantis and the mentor to Arthur Curry. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly love Dafoe’s performance in Aquaman comparing to Disney-Pixar’s Finding Nemo which Dafoe also starred in as the lead fish named Gill in the dentist. His Nuidis Vulko performance is almost brings the similarity from 2002’s Spider-Man, his first superhero film, where he played Norman Osborn/Green Goblin.

As I aforementioned, Aquaman is an ok movie. Though Aquaman may not swim up to greater heights like 2017’s Wonder Woman, but it certainly does show bits of improvement than the garbage Batman v Superman and Justice League. Momoa really takes every inch on the surface and space as well as running several miles out in the ocean for a less-deceitful charm. The observable tone of adventure is marvelous. The entire cast is great but really deserves better than the tempest of CGI. If you want to just have a good and silly time at the movies, you can do no worse than this. It would been a hard pass to watch it. Running time: 143 minutes



GRADE: C+

(Review by Henry Pham)




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Welcome to Marwen





The movie opens with an ace WWII pilot crash landing in Belgium. The sequence feels a little off then his boots which are on fire reveal feet that are more plastic than flesh. When the pilot stumbles upon a car accident, he finds a pair of heels in a suitcase which he wears and wears well until he is ambushed by Nazi soldiers who ridicule his fashion choice and beat him up. He's rescued by Barbie type dolls that inhabit the town of Marwen. Welcome to the imaginary world created by Mark Hogancamp, who once was an aspiring artist, but due to a hate crime he had suffered physical and mental injuries. Unable to use his hands properly, he has taken up photographing his action figures in the art installation in his yard depicting the small Belgium village.

Inspired by Jeff Malmberg's 2010 documentary Marwencol, the "based on the true story" of Hogencamp's journey is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who co-wrote the script with Caroline Thompson. Obviously there is a lot of creative license taken but Steve Carell's gives a brilliant performance as the traumatized Mark who can't seem to separate his reality with his fantasy world. He talks to the dolls as an exstention of his personality. Each of the dolls represent a person from his life. The realistic animated faces transform to Janelle Monáe as Julie his friend from rehab, Gwendoline Christie as Anna his visiting nurse, Leslie Zemeckis as Suzette, Mark's favorite actress, Eiza González as Caralala, the cook at the bar where he work part-time, and Merritt Wever as Roberta who works at the hobby store and has a soft spot for Mark. Everyone in town knows about Mark and he is treated kindly being a fixture in town where he pulls his model jeep with his dolls in it all over the place. It isn't until Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves in across the street that Mark's worlds begin to ravel. He creates a love interest for his alter ego in the form of the red headed Nicol. You figure out pretty quickly that the Nazi's represent the gang that attacked him that fateful night.

Mark suffers from severe PTSD. We don't find out until almost half way through the movie that he lost all the memories of his life before the attack. He only discovers his drawing books and a closet full of womens shoes that lets him in as to who he was before. He appreciates the essence of women he tells Nicole. He takes anti depressants to help keep him focused, but he's doing more than the required 1 dose a day. He even has a doll that represents his addiction called Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger) the Belgium witch of Marwen.

The sentencing for the gang is coming up and it's also the first night of his art show at a NYC art gallery. His attack had made him famous as word of his photographs created an interest. Confronting the men who almost killed him and showing up at the art gallery if far beyond his comfort zone. By creating the romance of his dolls, he begins to confuse the two in his own reality. The rushed conclusion doesn't seem to explore why his use of dolls is a good and approved therapy for him. Technically it's interesting to see how the dolls imitate life. You understand and sympathize with Mark, and hope that one day he would be little more grounded.
(Review by reesa)



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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

North Texas Film Critics Announce the Best of 2018





NORTH TEXAS FILM CRITICS NAME “GREEN BOOK” AS BEST PICTURE OF 2018


The North Texas Film Critics Association voted the biographical dramedy GREEN BOOK as best film of 2018, according to the results of its annual critics’ poll. Completing the list of the top 9 films of the year were: ROMA (2), THE FAVOURITE (3), BLACKkKLANSMAN (4), FIRST MAN (5), BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (6), EIGHTH GRADE (7), VICE (8) and A STAR IS BORN (9).

For Best Actor, the association named Rami Malek for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Runners-up included Viggo Mortensen for GREEN BOOK (2), Christian Bale for VICE (3), Ryan Gosling for FIRST MAN (4) and John David Washington for BLACKkKLANSMAN (5).

Toni Collette was voted Best Actress for HEREDITY. Next in the voting were Olivia Colman for THE FAVOURITE (2), Rosamund Pike for A PRIVATE WAR (3), Viola Davis for WIDOWS (4) and Melissa McCarthy for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (5).

In the Best Supporting Actor category, the winner was Mahershala Ali for GREEN BOOK. He was followed by Michael B. Jordan for BLACK PANTHER (2), Adam Driver for BLACKkKLANSMAN (3), Timothée Chalamet for BEAUTIFUL BOY (4) and Sam Elliott for A STAR IS BORN (5).

For Best Supporting Actress, the association named Emma Stone for THE FAVOURITE. Runners-up included Claire Foy for FIRST MAN (2), Elizabeth Debicki for WIDOWS (3), Rachel Weisz for THE FAVOURITE (4) and Tessa Thompson for CREED II (5).

Alfonso Cuarón was voted Best Director for ROMA. Next in the voting were Peter Farrelly for GREEN BOOK (2), Spike Lee for BLACKkKLANSMAN (3), Yorgos Lanthimos for THE FAVOURITE (4) and Damien Chazelle for FIRST MAN (5).

The association voted ROMA (Mexico) as the Best Foreign Language Film of the year. Runners-up were COLD WAR (Poland) (2), BURNING (South Korea) (3), SHOPLIFTERS (Japan) (4), and NEVER LOOK AWAY (Germany) (5).

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? won for Best Documentary over FREE SOLO (2), SHIRKERS (3), THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (4) and RGB (5).

ISLE OF DOGS was named the Best Animated Film of 2018, over INCREDIBLES 2 (2), and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (3).

The award for Best Cinematography went to Alfonso Cuarón for ROMA, followed by Linus Sandgren for FIRST MAN (2), Chayse Irvin for BLACKkKLANSMAN (3), Rachel Morrison for BLACK PANTHER (4) and Newton Thomas Sigel for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (5).

Elsie Fisher was awarded BEST NEWCOMER for EIGHTH GRADE.

The association also voted BLACK PANTHER as the winner of the 2nd annual Gary Murray Award, named for the late NTFCA president. The honor will be bestowed annually to the BEST ENSEMBLE.

The North Texas Film Critics Association consists of 15 broadcast, print and online journalists from throughout the North Texas area. Visit us at www.northtexasfilmcritics.com or follow us on Facebook. Contact Susan Kandell at dabronx101@gmail or 214.878.2700 for more information.

SUMMARY OF AWARD WINNERS

2018 North Texas Film Critics Association
(Choices listed in order of votes received)

BEST PICTURE
Winner: GREEN BOOK
Runners-up: ROMA; THE FAVOURITE; BLACKkKLANSMAN; FIRST MAN; BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY; EIGHTH GRADE; VICE and A STAR IS BORN

BEST ACTOR
Winner: Rami Malek, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Runners-up: Viggo Mortensen, GREEN BOOK; Christian Bale, VICE; Ryan Gosling, FIRST MAN; John David Washington, BLACKkKLANSMAN

BEST ACTRESS
Winner: Toni Collette, HEREDITY
Runners-up: Olivia Colman, THE FAVOURITE; Rosamund Pike, A PRIVATE WAR; Viola Davis, WIDOWS; Melissa McCarthy, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Winner: Mahershala Ali, GREEN BOOK
Runners-up: Michael B. Jordan, BLACK PANTHER; Adam Driver, BLACKkKLANSMAN; Timothée Chalamet, BEAUTIFUL BOY; Sam Elliott, A STAR IS BORN

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Winner: Emma Stone, THE FAVOURITE
Runners-up: Claire Foy, FIRST MAN; Elizabeth Debicki, WIDOWS; Rachel Weisz, THE FAVOURITE; Tessa Thompson, CREED II

BEST DIRECTOR
Winner: Alfonso Cuarón, Best Director for ROMA
Runners-up: Peter Farrelly, GREEN BOOK; Spike Lee, BLACKkKLANSMAN; Yorgos Lanthimos, THE FAVOURITE; Damien Chazelle, FIRST MAN

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Winner: ROMA (Mexico)
Runners-up: COLD WAR (Poland); BURNING (South Korea); SHOPLIFTERS, (Japan); NEVER LOOK AWAY (Germany)

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Winner: WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
Runners-up: FREE SOLO; SHIRKERS; THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS; RGB

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Winner: ISLE OF DOGS
Runners-up: INCREDIBLES 2; SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Winner: Alfonso Cuarón, ROMA
Runner-ups: Linus Sandgren, FIRST MAN; Chayse Irvin, BLACKkKLANSMAN; Rachel Morrison, BLACK PANTHER; Newton Thomas Sigel, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY


BEST NEWCOMER
Winner: Elsie Fisher was awarded Best Newcomer for EIGHTH GRADE.

GARY MURRAY AWARD
(Best Ensemble)
Winner: BLACK PANTHER





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Shoplifters





SHOPLIFTERS
**** (out of ****)

It has been said that the key to good filmmaking is tone management. If such a thing is true, then writer/director/editor Hirokazu Kore-eda has exhibited great filmmaking with Shoplifters, a family drama that exceptionally balances observational realism, interpersonal tension, and gutting truths about the secrets we keep close to the chest. If you’re looking closely, then, you might realize that that means the film contains essentially everything that a great film needs to be great. This one has those things in spades, and it also provides an immaculate ensemble of characters equally as capable of compassion as of pain.

The Shibatas are a family at the tipping point of complete poverty, living in Tokyo and barely getting by. The father, Osamu (Lily Franky), has had to miss work on a construction site after breaking his ankle. His wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), works at a launderette, where she nabs things she finds in the pockets of the garments sent for cleaning. Her sister, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), works as a stripper in a peep show, performing for men as lonely as she. The family also has a young son, Shota (Kairi Jō), and a matriarch in Osamu’s mother, Hatsue (the late Kirin Kiki, in a towering final performance), who regularly visits Aki’s parents to ask for money.

Immediately, it is clear that Kore-eda has developed a keen sense of place in this film. Life on the margins of economic ruin has clearly taken its toll on this family, considering the dire straits they are in following Osamu’s accident. Fundamentally important is any lack of judgment on Kore-eda’s part. He has not devised this story, a refreshingly humanistic and occasionally hopeful one, in order to look down upon this family as they combat their circumstances in a way that might suggest the filmmaker feels similarly about the families of real life. Nor, however, does he shy away from the morally questionable extremes of their attempts to escape poverty.

This is particularly important, given the implications of the film’s title: Osamu and Shota spend their days shoplifting necessities from the local market and various convenience stores, developing a system of discretion and secretiveness that – we discover quickly – works like a charm. Shota, armed with a backpack, is the one who makes it out with the goods. Osamu, shielded by the appearance of genuinely shopping, puts items in a basket that he leaves in the store, under the guise of a patron who has decided to leave those items. The gambit nearly always works here, though two major events change the dynamic and stakes of this set-up considerably.

The first, less obvious one is that, at the end of a shopping spree, the father and son happen upon a young girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), cold and alone on the back porch of a shabby house, covered in scratches and bruising. They decide, after deliberation that sees the man in favor of taking care of her and the boy nervous about the authorities or the parents discovering their actions, to take her in. Here as well, Kore-eda trusts the audience to make up their minds about the morality of the choice. Meanwhile, the disappearance of the girl from the porch causes a stir in their small town: Her parents, known for their abuse of each other and neglect of the girl, are investigated for the girl’s possible murder.

The second, more devastating one is Hatsue’s exit from the story and, perhaps to an even greater degree, how Kore-eda investigates this family’s response to the event. The details won’t be gotten into here, but let us only say that it eventually leads to a series of revelations – not only about the place of Yuri and another child in this family, but about how this family came to be in the first place – that are each staggering in their cavernous depths of implications and cruel, harsh truths. The final word of spoken dialogue is particularly devastating, and then the silent denouement is truly beautiful. Shoplifters is an absolute marvel of tone management, of humanistic storytelling, of empathetic filmmaking, of thematic observance, and of immaculate performances.
(Review by Joel Copling)



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Anna and the Apocalypse






As both a writer and at-large film critic, I have written in the past that I am not a fan of the straight horror genre at all, but “Anna and the Apocalypse” is a silly horror/zombie musical comedy.

I can respect what some filmmakers try to do, but when it comes to horror, such as Eli Roth’s “Hostel” entries, or any number of the ridiculous and forgettable “Saw” flicks, I just look at the cover art and say with a shrug, “not on my watch list.”

“Anna and the Apocalypse” is kind of a throwback to the slightly overrated “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” (1975), a story about a stranded recently married couple Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad, (Barry Bostwick) who meet Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania. Reason being, Frank is a scientist, who loves to do various things and tamper into oddities galore in his research, which includes just belting out ludicrous song and dance numbers along the way.

I admire that “Anna” was shot on location in Port Glasgow, Scotland, UK. It does not have that fake drama stage backdrop that I disliked in Rob Reiner’s “The Princess Bride” (1987).

With “Anna and the Apocalypse,” this tale is set in the not so sleepy town of Little Haven, a place in the middle of countryside England. An outbreak of sorts encapsulates the entire town and sends the entire community into a tailspin.

Anna deals with life and her plutonic best friend, John (Malcolm Cumming), who sometimes accompanies her on the music side of things.

Also thrown into the mix are Ella Hunt of the Oscar-winning “Les Misérables (2012), who has a lead all her own in the aforementioned.

There are a variety of denizens, including Sarah Swire’s Steph, who has the last running and operational car left in Little Haven. Also included are the dating couple of Nick (Ben Wiggins) and Lisa (Marli Siu), who always seem to be locking lips any chance they can get. Also along the ride are a group of various soccer hooligans who just enjoy taking out the undead in a frivolous manner (i.e.: running them over with shopping carts).

A surprising part of this production is to see the name of Orion pictures associated with this enjoyable tale. For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and later, they released Oliver Stone’s multiple Oscar-winner “Platoon” in 1986, followed by Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves” in 1990. Lest we not forget Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. It was the first movie since “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975 to make a clean sweep in the Oscar race.

Also fun to watch was the school’s despicable teacher, Savage, who likes the fact zombies are essentially thinning the herd as it were.

Honestly, I put this one in the “meh” category of recent viewing habits. It was fun for a brief spell, but to me it is not a return-to-watch-it-again movie, something I recently did with “Suspiria,” because I found that tale as intriguing as all get out.

If you want to just have a good and silly time at the movies, you could do no worse than catching “Anna and the Apocalypse.”

Grade: C+
(Review by Ricky Miller)




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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Movies Scheduled for the Week of Dec 16 - Dec 22



One more week til Christmas, kids! Lots of movies scheduled, all competing for an audience. Then zilch so far for the next two weeks. Good time to catch up with what you missed, spend time with friends and family, eat like no tomorrow. Wake up fat and sassy next year.

As usual if there is something missing, please let us all know and where to get passes. After all the whole idea for this group is to share free screenings in the DFW area.


Dec 16 - Dec 22

Mon - Dec 17

Bumblebee - 6:30 pm - AMC Northpark
Bumblebee - 7:00 pm - Studio Movie Grill Northwest Hwy
Mary Poppins - 7:00 pm - Angelika Dallas
Mary Poppins - 7:30 pm - Cinemark 17
Vice - 7:30 pm - Alamo Lake Highlands

Tues - Dec 18

Aquaman - 7:00 pm - AMC Northpark
Aquaman - 7:00 pm - Cinemark 17
Escape Room - 7:30 pm - AMC Northpark
On the Basis of Sex - 7:30 pm - Angelika Dallas

Wed - Dec 19

Second Act - 7:00 pm - Angelika Dallas
Shoplifters - 7:00 pm - Magnolia
Escape Room - 7:30 pm - AMC Northpark
Welcome to Marwen - 7:30 pm - Angelika Dallas





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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse




Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman Studio: Columbia

Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

This maybe the first time I ever seen Spider-Man being animated in this upcoming animated feature. And no, I’m not talking about the 1994 animated series, I’m talking about how this beloved animated film that features not only Spider-Man, but also Miles Morales who lay eyes on the actions and witness of Spider-Man as well as the team of Spider-heroes from a different dimension. The LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have brought this whole Spider-Man idea to Sony in 2014 as the film’s producers and know if the idea really works, the answer is a simple “yes.”

This film centers a young man named Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) who is bitten by a spider and gains spider-webbing super strengths. He also encounters several chaos happening in the city as well as bumping into Spider-Men and Spider-Women whom he eventually teamed up to save the universe.

There is a major turning point in the story: The character development of Miles Morales that carries the structure of the film. Even though Venom was already released which performed badly to public despite earning over $800 million at the box office, the world still needs another Spider-Man film.

I’m a devotee to animated films [predominately] as well as comic-book films like 2012’s The Avengers and 2018’s Black Panther. For those who love comic books and Spider-Man, Miles Morales became a rousing success as a spin-off character who finds life meaningful after greeting and receiving advices from the team of Spider-heroes consisting of Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) in a Anime style, and legendary Nicholas Cage as Noir version of Spider-Man. Not only them, but also Morales’s parents (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) which become the center of the story’s dynamics.

The directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman did such a fantastic job of keeping the pace of storytelling, the plot, and forming the line of diversity actors in the film. The animation really shines it all like magic. The comedy and the sound effects are well used for a slow or fast paced-action. I also enjoy the cartoon gags from Looney Tunes which are perennial. The different looks and aspects on those Spider-heroes are such a beautiful, smart move to gather more attention viewpoint. The music coming from Daniel Pemberton (2015’s Steve Jobs, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) sounded very well and fitting for an action-packed film. Let’s not forget about Stan Lee’s cameo showing up in the film.

However, I have some troubles from Into the Spider-Verse due to lack the character developments on the Spider-Men, Spider-Women and the villains. There isn’t enough explanation why both of them didn’t come along way since they both meet each other onscreen together. It definitely sounds confusing and really got myself off course when it comes to social relationships. In addition, my dislike also includes the filmmakers using little too much action sequences as an advantage of an action-animated film, comparing to any Anime films.


GRADE: B+

(Review by Henry Pham)




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Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse









(Review by Chase Lee)





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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I Miss You When I See You




Hong Kong’s independent filmmaker and one of the city’s few out LGBT directors, Simon Chung, creates a story that explores the loneliness and depression brought on by unrequited love in a world where same sex relations are considered illegal. The bleak digital cinematographic style enhances the masculine dynamic of the characters. It's a quiet and lonely journey as two young men must accept and embrace their true selves.

Jamie (Bryant Mak) and Kevin (Jun Li) were friends in school but they haven't seen each other in 10 years. Jamie who was visiting an uncle in Melborne, goes to Sydney to see Kevin who is living in a halfway house for people are recovering from serious depression. They haven't seen each other in 10 years. It's a tentative and awkward meeting, yet Kevin decides to accept Jamie's invitation to return to Hong Kong. Jamie wasn't exactly ready when Kevin asks if he could stay with him until he gets work and his own place. Jamie's girlfriend Elaine (Candy Cheung) is suspicious of Kevin. Whatever estranged the two friends hangs over them as the story highlights some flashbacks from their school days. Jamie was the more outgoing and had lots of friends, while Kevin was an outcast. Still they developed a close friendship. Jamie works for a tutoring company and gets Kevin a job. He invites him to gathering with his friends, but he still feels uncomfortable. At one point Jamie asks Kevin why he came back. Kevin confesses that he thought about Jamie all the time. But Jamie says he can't live in the past.

Kevin endures adjusting to the fast paced city life while also comes to terms with his own sexuality. Jamie who by all appearances seems to be the more stable one is fighting his feelings. He even shows up at his girlfriend's workplace trying to purpose which goes badly. Jamie criticizes Kevin's friendship with one of his tutor students. Eventually Kevin starts using a Tinder type phone app to set up hook ups. In a society where same-sex partners can be arrested for immoral behavior it's understandable why they are both reluctant to give in to their true natures and denying their emotional connections. Simon Chung effectively charts their struggles while empathizing with Kevin and Jamie. The final scene is full of hope and surrender.
(Review by reesa)


DVD Release:
12/18/18
Available on VOD: 12/11/18
iTunes
Amazon Prime Video
Google Play
Vudu
FandangoNOW



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Minding the Gap







Minding the Gap, a documentary from first-time director Bing Liu, is, on its surface, a film about skateboarding. It begins by following a group of young men as they go around the city of Rockford, Illinois on their boards. The scenes, fantastically photographed by Liu, using his camera to gracefully follow the boarders down the street, set a mellow tone that’s soon ripped apart. As the film progresses, this surface level story fades into the background, unveiling a more upsetting, intimate, and introspective work.



Chosen as the documentary’s subjects are Kiere Johnson, Zack Mulligan, and the film’s creator Bing Liu. Johnson is in his late teens while Mulligan and Liu are in their twenties. These guys are clearly serious skateboarders. Liu’s camera shows off their moves and skills (Liu is mostly unseen since he works the camera) as they skate in designated skate parks as well as sidewalks, parking lots, and mostly empty city streets. The boarders use whatever they can find access to as their equipment; Liu uses close-ups of these makeshift skateboarding ramps and pipes to showcase the city instead of the typical cityscape shots. Just what is it that propels them to devote so much of their time to this pursuit? Through the subject’s interviews it becomes obvious that Minding the Gap is going to be a heavier work than the first scenes imply as the darker, heavier issues lurking around them begin to arise, suggesting more to their drive to skateboard than meets the eye.



Mulligan is a father-to-be with his girlfriend Nina. The two seem happy about it, but one has to wonder where the money to raise the kid is going to come from. There are frequent time jumps throughout the documentary, a device Liu uses to his advantage here to skip over Nina’s pregnancy, moving the story forward to right after the baby, Elliott, has been born. As Mulligan puts it, “having a child causes you to grow up fast.” The couple soon find themselves fighting and bickering about work, money, and taking care of the child. Mulligan also reveals his troubled relationship with his father. The footage about his relationship with his girlfriend starts to suggest that he will follow in his father’s footsteps. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Johnson is also from a troubled background. His parents separated when he was young and he was sent to live with his abusive father, who has recently died at the start of the shooting of this documentary. Johnson has since moved in with his mother and older brother. Early on, he comments to Liu that he’s never felt close with his family. Filmmaker Liu is also revealed to be from a troubled home. When he was younger, his mother remarried to a violent, abusive man, who hurt both Liu and his mother. Early interviews with his half-brother and a skate shop owner start to give the audience a clue about his past.



Some of these events are obscured by the presentation. Early on it feels like the people being interviewed are purposefully being vague. We get the idea that there is an issue, but it doesn’t always become clear until much later what that issue is. Liu’s abuse by his step-father is the most ambiguous. It’s not until he interviews his mother later in the documentary that his troubled past becomes obvious. Johnson’s interviews can feel equally vague at times. The intention is probably to get the audience invested in the subjects before putting all the information out there for them to process. Mulligan’s story is clearer as his relationship with his girlfriend tumbles before the camera. She tells Liu in one of her interviews that Mulligan hits her. An explanation she reluctantly gives to explain her screaming death threats to Mulligan, which Liu is shown hearing in a recording shared by Mulligan’s roommate during an earlier scene. Liu refuses to accept things at face value, one of the documentary’s strengths. He always makes sure to show things from all sides to give an unbiased view of the events, even going so far as to have someone film his face as he interviews his own mother – an interview he knew would be painful for both.



I often found myself wondering how truthful the events and emotions were in this documentary (I should mention that I’m not typically fond of documentaries). I’d imagine the subject’s behavior was affected by the presence of a camera crew. Were some things contrived or re-enacted for a more emotional story? How were these people acting when the cameras weren’t rolling? The footage of the guys skateboarding in the city streets also bothered me. Were these streets closed off while they did this? Was someone watching to make sure no cars were coming? This all seems irresponsible and kept taking me out of the moment while watching.



Ultimately, Liu’s film reveals how he and his subjects use skateboarding as a release to escape from the harshness of reality (an idea I imagine most people can relate to). The documentary feels like a therapeutic exercise for the subjects. The three men, and Nina, are shown as they grow, or don’t, over the course of time presented to the viewers and as they finally begin to come to terms with the rougher, less ideal elements of their lives and personalities.
(Review by Bret Oswald)





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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Movies Scheduled for the Week of Dec 9 - Dec 15


I have no idea why I didn't post the calendar for last week. I hope everyone was able to get the passes they needed. Sometimes you just have to wait if you miss the first notice. We have lots of website screening sponsors offering screening passes. Don't try to rip those passes from people who made an effort and were lucky to get them quickly.

Only 16 shopping days til Christmas. Which means parking at the mall is probably going to be problematic. Please keep that in mind and a adjust your travel time to account for circling the parking lot stalking leaving patrons. That's why it's killing me to not be able to transverse from the Angelika to Northpark on Tuesday in time to see Mortal Engines. bummed.

Love this time of year, so many movies, so little time.

December 9 - December 15

Mon - Dec 10

Aquaman - 7:30 pm - AMC Northpark

Tue - Dec 11

Once Upon a Deadpool - 5:00 pm - Angelika Dallas
Mortal Engines - 7:30 pm - AMC Northpark
They Shall Not Grow Old - 7:30 pm - Angelika Dallas

Wed - Dec 12

Welcome to Marwen - 7:00 pm - Angelika Dallas
Escape Room - 7:30 pm - AMC Northpark

Thu - Dec 13

Second Act - 7:30 pm - AMC Northpark




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Anna and the Apocalypse




Just imagine the TV show Glee with high school kids singing and dancing in the hallways then add hoards of zombies. This is pretty much what this new film directed by John McPhail and written by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry, based on the 2010 BAFTA-winning short Zombie Musical, is all about. Set in a small Scottish town called Little Haven during Christmas, it follows the plucky Ella Hunt as Anna as she becomes the warrior zombie killer while the world seems to be coming to an end all around her.

Like all teens who are unsure of themselves and facing an unknown future, Anna has decided to forgo University to travel to Australia. She breaks it to her widowed dad who is not supportive of the idea. The news on the car radio talks about a pandemic lethal virus threat, but since they are arguing on the way to school, they shut it off. In fact like all self involved teens they are only worried about their classes and personal relationships. Their angst is covered in the first song called No Such Thing as a Hollywood Ending. Anna is not attending the annual school Christmas show to work at the bowling alley with her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming). John wants to be more than just buddies with Anna, but she avoids it by reasserting they are the best of friends.

The next morning, Anna wakes refreshed and full of life as she head out of her house with headphones and hoodie while singing and dancing about the beautiful day. Completely oblivious to the mayhem and carnage happening all around here. Sort of like Shaun of the Dead here. She meets up with John in the park when a snowman lumbers toward them. Unsure and scared, Anna decapitates the snowman with a teeter-totter. Because everyone knows thanks to zombies movies, the only way to stop them is to get them in the head. Their phones are not getting wifi so they head to the bowling alley where Steph North, a lesbian outcast (Sarah Swire) and Chris Wise (Christopher Leveaux), the boyfriend of Anna's best friend Lisa) are hiding. They discover people are posting selfies with zombies on social media. Because unfortunately that's exactly what young people would do. They learn that some survivors are holding up at the school after the Christmas show. They have heard the army will be coming to help rescue them. The tyrannical headmaster Arthur Kaye (Paul Kaye) doesn't want to lose control of his captive audience and lets the zombies in.

The fight to head to the school is helped by Anna's arrogant ex BF Nick (Ben Wiggins) and his gang. Anna wants to find her dad Tony (Mark Benton) the school janitor, Chris wants to find Lisa (Marli Siu) and his grandma, and Steph wants to get her car keys taken by the headmaster. The final journey of course leaves several characters behind and Anna finds a strength and confidence in herself with the aid of a bloody candy cane decoration. This is definitely destined to become a cult classic.
(Review by reesa)


Dallas Movie Screenings had a chance to meet with Ella Hunt at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars. She spoke to us of her start in community theater where she had the good fortune to be seen by an agent who told her mother that she should go into acting. Being athletic and having singing skills helped secure her in her role as Anna. She loved filming in Scotland having been from a small town when she was younger. Hopefully we will see more of Ms Hunt.





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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Roma







Reel Time with Joel and Chase

Passion and Beauty Fuel This Personal Journey for Alfonso Cuarón



Title: Roma

Rating: R for Graphic Nudity, Some Disturbing Images, and Language

Run Time: 2hr & 15mins



Joel’s Review

**** (out of ****)

The opening shot is a static one: We look at a stretch of tile floor as the title and credits play over it. Then there is the sound of splashing water, and eventually, the water, sudsy with soap, enters the frame. Someone is washing this stretch of tile, which – we find out – is part of the floor of a garage, and while we eventually turn away from that tile to find the person who is cleaning it, this opening shot sets the tone and pace of Roma in tangible, lingering ways. With this extended shot of our protagonist cleaning this floor, on which so much happens over the course of his story, writer/director/cinematographer/co-editor Alfonso Cuarón is establishing a necessary patience.

First, there is the length of the shot, as well as the events of the following series of shots, in which Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, great in a striking and auspicious debut performance) finishes cleaning the garage floor and diligently goes about the rest of the house to do other chores – pulling the sheets off beds to wash them, later turning lights off and on depending upon what needs to be lit or darkened at night, etc. She and Adela (Nancy García García) are the two maids and, more often than not, babysitters on staff for Sofía (Marina de Tavira), Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), and their four children – Toño (Diego Cortina Autrey), Paco (Carlos Peralta), Pepe (Marco Graf), and Sofi (Daniela Demesa).

This is Mexico City in the early 1970s, captured by Cuarón in luminous, black-and-white photography that is often comprised of long takes of great complexity, and this family for whom Cleo works is a broken one. Antonio leaves his wife and children early into the narrative, claiming that research for work is taking him to Quebec. This leaves Sofía to figure things out for her children, though she often arrives home late from her job, teaching biochemistry at a nearby university. Cleo slowly becomes these children’s de facto mother, though she develops her own identity along the way.

She loves movies, and Cuarón gives us a stunning shot from behind Cleo and her date that, like many compositions here, is enough to make one hold his or her breath. She is, we can guess, barely out of her teenage years, which means that company spent with Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) is often rather discreetly company spent in the nude and in bed. This has predictable consequences, as Cleo discovers that she is pregnant and Fermín flees all responsibility to join a group of aspiring martial artists to introduce a bit of order in a life that, he feels, has become chaotic.

Cuarón isn’t out to tell a traditionally structured story, though. What the filmmaker has provided is an exceptionally delicate and compassionate series of stream-of-consciousness observations that find Cleo in sometimes desperate situations: A family sojourn to a shooting gallery at a forest estate ends with much of the forest on fire. Cleo visits the OB/GYN unit of a hospital just as a small earthquake provides complications for everyone, and later, her labor begins as El Halconazo (a massacre of demonstrating students by soldiers in the Mexican army in June 1971) happens outside a furniture shop.

The sting of tragedy is everywhere one turns in Roma, but by shooting the action in black-and-white and by taking an observational approach with his camera (which often simply makes turns somewhere between 180 and 360 degrees as it observes the characters’ actions), Cuarón distances himself from the opportunity to turn this material into a cheap melodrama. The pieces are there in the story, particularly in a climactic scene set on the beach that nearly turns to tragedy. In lesser hands, such a scene, which ultimately provides emotional closure for Cleo following unthinkable loss, could be construed as an excuse to provide trite characterization. Things are complex in this world, which – with all its chaos and comfort – is undoubtedly the real one.





Chase’s Review



(Review by Chase Lee)



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The House That Jack Built





The House That Jack Built premiered out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year where it caused quite a stir. Director Lars von Trier is known for releasing brutal and difficult movies, so reports from Cannes of walk outs and boos following the screening painted the image of a film that would be equally hard and as uncomfortable a viewing experience as his earlier work.



The core of the movie is Matt Dillon’s fantastic performance as the film’s psychopathic lead – Jack, a serial killer. The viewer observes five of the “incidents” that shaped Jack as he discusses them with an unseen man named Verge (Bruno Ganz). At first, Jack attempts to blend in to society, practicing putting on a false façade in front of the mirror to fool those around him. Over the course of the movie, he becomes increasingly more daring in his actions as killing’s therapeutic release becomes less fulfilling to his inner demons. Jack is shown more than once to be an audacious killer. He murders in the bright of day, on public roads, or in houses with open blinds before sloppily taking the bodies to a building that he owns which hosts a large walk-in freezer. Often, his trail ends up being covered by acts of God. Acts he then tests by taunting the police, sending photos to reporters, and bringing a body back to the scene of a crime – by walking in front of rows of occupied apartments. Does this guy want to get caught?



There are other familiar faces present in the movie. Uma Thurman plays Woman 1, Jack’s victim in the first described incident. It isn’t revealed if she is Jack’s first murder or one of his first. Her insistence that Jack assist her in fixing her broken jack followed by her constant pestering and rude commentary once he acquiesces to giving her a ride make one wonder if his interactions with her were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Would he have still become this monster if he hadn’t stopped to help her or was killing her on his mind when he initially stopped? Other victims include Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Riley Keough, whose names you might not recognize but whose faces you probably will.



Director Lars von Trier successfully manages to combine aspects of 1970’s exploitation cinema with art-house ideology. The movie fittingly takes place in the 70s, when many infamous serial killers were active. Like the exploitation flicks of that time period, von Trier’s film focuses on the depravity of the main character through an examination of his thought process and by observing a few of his many heinous acts. The House that Jack Built brings to mind movies such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, though it’s far removed from the exploitative nature of those two movies. The film’s harsher aspects, which are most likely causing the uproar with cinema-goers, have been included in other movies, in much more graphic presentations (see the two before mentioned titles, director Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, or one of the hundreds of genre films from that time period), so the uproar over the material is hard to grasp and feels exaggerated. Maybe a lot of the controversy from Cannes is due to the fact that it was shown to an audience of people not expecting to so bluntly see the grimier side of cinema.



Taking a cue from his previous work, von Trier approaches the material for The House that Jack Built in the same fashion he took with Nymphomaniac. In that film, a woman explains to a man several sexual exploits that have happened throughout her life which he then relates to banal things such as fishing. Throughout and after each of the five incidents shown in The House that Jack Built, Jack relates his murders, which he views as his artwork, to what he thinks of as great art or to specific artists. Throwing in the viewers face the phrase beauty is in the eye of the beholder. At what point does this idea stop applying? Verge acts as Jack’s guide, questioning his motives and explanations as he relates his tableaus to works of architects, musicians, painters, and eventually dictators.



Von Trier saves the more artsy elements for the films finale. The ending is filled with the beautiful slow motion photography that was unleashed from the beginning in movies like Anti-Christ and Melancholia. As much as I’d like to describe some of this, I’ll restrain myself. Too much analysis or commentary on this film would veer into spoiler territory. Part of the “fun” in watching a movie like this is dissecting it yourself and discussing it with others after viewing it. As in his other films, von Trier throws in visual cues that are meant to be metaphorical. Though, like the brazen protagonist, The House that Jack Built is more forthcoming with its comparisons and imagery.



Besides the before mentioned Nymphomaniac (surprisingly given its length and subject), The House that Jack Built is easily the most accessible of von Trier’s work. The flow of the movie is excellent. There is a great balance between its straight-forward narrative moments with its introspective analysis before unleashing the enigmatic epilogue. The epilogue raises its own set of questions, but I won’t go into that. The House that Jack Built uses the shaky cam approach often as von Trier did in his 2011 movie Melancholia. Here the technique is used more sparingly and less distractedly, though it’s appropriate for both films to highlight the inner turmoil of the leads. Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself laughing at some of the horrific things unfolding on screen. The film was intended to be humorous as much as it was intended to shock.



The House that Jack Built continues to ride a wave of controversy following the screening on November 28 of von Trier’s director’s cut. The MPAA has decided to make a fuss over the movie distributor’s, IFC, failure to acquire the appropriate waiver to show the unrated version in theaters and for releasing it so close to the film’s R-rated release, December 14. They claim that this action undermines the effectiveness of the group and diminishes the trust of the parents who use the ratings. Does that even sound like a logical argument to anyone after the movie I’ve just described? Who would take their child to see this movie?
(Review by Bret Oswald)



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Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle




This is not the animated version of the All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling like the previous Disney movies. There are no songs and happy beasts dancing in the jungle. This live action film utilizes motion capture to bring the animals to life. Who knows better about motion capture than Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings, Planet of the Apes) at the helm with a script by Callie Kloves. It's a dark and more adult version of the story of a young boy raised by wolves. Beautiful to behold, but definitely not recommended for younger children.

Rohan Chand was 10 years old at the time of filming as the young Mowgli. As a baby his parents were killed by Shere Khan the Bengal tiger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and left alone. He's rescued by Bagheera the Black panther (Christian Bale) who brings him to the wolf pack. The Indian wolf pack lead by Akela (Peter Mullan) agrees to keep the man cub sensing that there is something special about the young boy who shows no fear. Andy Serkis as Baloo the Himalayan brown bear teaches the young pups the rules of the jungle. They all have to be ready for the ultimate test that will make them hunting members of the pack. Mowgli suffers from the bullying from some of the young wolves except for Bhoots (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who has a bad leg. Neither can be as fast since Mowgli is hampered by having to run on all fours. Fortunately Baloo shows him how to take advantage of his human form by climbing trees and jumping from branches. He discovers the scary monkey people and connects with the mythical elephant.

Mowgli often watches the human village. Bagheera knows that eventually the man cub may have to return to his own kind. Especially since Khan wants to take over the jungle and eat the boy. Khan has been killing the villagers cows thereby putting the pack in danger from human hunters. Khan is not the only one that becomes a threat to Mowgli. There is the giant python Kaa (Cate Blanchett), the hyena Tabaqui (Tom Hollander) and even a human hunter (Matthew Rhys). The young man cub has to grow up pretty quickly and find out how he fits into this world of humans and animals.

There are somewhat disturbing moments that may not be appropriate for the young ones. Like Mowgli under water holding his breath while watching Khan washing his bloody muzzle. The fighting of the wolves trying to dethrone Akela. The Monkey people attacking Bagheera and Baloo when Mowgli is captured. And the hunter's taxidermy table. Since this is on Netflix, one should preview the film before hand before letting the kids watch.

Rohan Chand breathes life into the young Mowgli. His eyes express the wonder of the world around him trying to understand the contradictions of the jungle rules and the human world. There should be a follow up to this story.
(Review by reesa)



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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

El Angel




Director Luis Ortega’s film El Angel tells the story of Carlos Puch. Puch, named “The Angel of Death” by the media due to his pretty-boy looks, is one of Argentina’s most infamous criminals, currently serving a life sentence. Ortega co-writes, with Sergio Olguín and Rodolfo Palacios, a fictionalized account of Pugh’s criminal activity leading up to his arrest and imprisonment.



The opening scene finds Carlos (Lorenzo Ferro) breaking into a house in 1970’s Buenos Aires. He calmly roams the rooms searching for things to steal before turning on a radio and dancing around the living room. Ortega gives the audience a glimpse inside Carlos’s psyche with this episode, revealing Carlos to be carefree, indifferent, and off-kilter. As he leaves, he steals a motorcycle and rides home. When questioned by his mother about the bike, he nonchalantly waves the question off. His parents (Cecilia Roth and Luis Gnecco) are not amused by him continually borrowing things from friends and tell him to stop. Neither parent realizes where nor how he is actually getting these items. The Pughs are straight-laced and hard-working. Throughout the movie, Mr. Pugh is shown to be a stern man quickly becoming discontent with his son’s behavior while Mrs. Pugh is shown to become increasingly more upset by it.



After starting a new school, Carlos meets Ramón Peralta (Chino Darín), in one of his classes; the two become friends after a brief confrontation. A confrontation that is possibly flirtatious on Carlos’s part. Carlos gives Ramón a lighter he’s stolen and brags of his thievery. The boasting ends up being a good twist of fate for Carlos because Ramón and his father, José (Daniel Fanego), are also crooks with Ramón’s mother, Ana (Mercedes Morán), in on their jobs. The Peraltas are easy going and free-spirited (José is introduced in a revealing close-up while cleaning a gun on the couch in his underwear) and more in line with Carlos’s view on life. The family takes Carlos under their wings after he proves his skills to them by robbing a gun shop, a sequence that further clarifies his reckless behavior. Instead of casing the joint as he was supposed to, Carlos takes almost every single gun in the store then returns for the bullets. Together, Carlos and Ramón embark on a life of crime. One thing eventually leads to another and Carlos shoots a man during a robbery. An accident, met with his usual indifference, which serves as a gateway to other murders.



Lorenzo Ferro is fitting as Carlos, made up to look effeminate and androgynous. He gives a performance that showcases the young man’s unhinged nature while still portraying the cold, uncaring emotion of a sociopath. Chino Darín is also good as Ramón, who sets his eyes on getting out of crime and into the limelight, much to his parents’ chagrin. Sexual tension is thick between the two, becoming most apparent during a jewelry store robbery where Carlos tries on a pair of earrings and the two mug in front of a mirror with their guns, drawing thoughts of Bonnie and Clyde. The roles of the parents are finely acted with Cecilia Roth standing out as the distraught mother.



The cinematography is good minus a few distracting moments. At times motion looks odd, like frames have been dropped or the camera hasn’t properly captured the action, probably some random digital anomaly from the equipment used. Other than those fleeting moments, the camera work is great. There are a few well timed tracking shots and the framing is always well done. Cinematographer Julián Apezteguia includes some grotesque close ups throughout, the before mentioned shot of José and a shot of Ana sensually wiping a layer of water from Carlos’s lips as she comes on to him. These shots act to further develop both characters and their inappropriate relationship with Carlos.



This movie isn’t without its share of problems, mainly pacing. The film gets off to a good start but begins to fizzle out before reaching the end. Nothing specific comes to mind, but the final 30 or 40 minutes had more than a few scenes that felt like they went on too long. Some of this is from the inclusion of sub-plots that don’t go anywhere and moments that don’t fit with what’s previously been shown. A scene toward the end shows Carlos crying although he’s shown almost no emotion, other than giddy excitement and lust, the rest of the movie. This introspective moment is out of place with how the character has been portrayed up to this point.



Ortega’s film, despite its problems, is one of the better movies to be released this year. Although Argentina has selected El Angel as their official selection for Best Foreign Film at the next Oscar ceremony, the movie has been released unrated meaning that publicity for it is next to zero.
(Review by Bret Oswald)





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Obamaland




OBAMALAND
zero stars (out of ****)


In the year 2040, Barack Obama (Chris James, adopting the tone and inflection of the real man, then leaning too heavily into both) is entering the 34th year of his Presidency for Life, and the nation over which he presides, once known as America, has radically shifted. The idealistic change that was once his campaign platform and poster-ready slogan has become something resembling a dictatorship, although he boasts to everyone, far and wide, that it isn’t a dictatorship. His ideology, feared to be socialist by the political right, is about to become a literal weapon against those who refuse to distribute everything equally.

This is the comic premise of Obamaland, a political satire steeped in science fiction that takes its name from the new one for America. Director Greg Bergman’s screenplay goes too far with that premise, though, in various ways, and whether it was intentional or not, the undeniable feeling elicited from the filmmaker’s treatment of this material is that it was borne from the political ideology it apparently seems to mock. There doesn’t seem to be the remotest sense of understanding the modern world, the ideas behind the birtherist conspiracy theories that certain public figures pushed in public venues, or even storytelling.

The hero of the story is Tinder Tucker (Isaac Anderson), who discovers that his girlfriend has come out as genderqueer, pansexual, and form-positive. Horrified by their newly realized gender identity and sexual orientation – yet, conversely, accepting of his friend Ebony’s (John McLaughlin) “ethno-gender reassignment” from white man to black woman – he goes on a journey of self-reflection. Along the way, he falls in with the Trumpublikans, a group of political dissidents who protested Obama’s refusal to abdicate the commander-in-chief position to Donald Trump in November 2016.

The Trumpublikans idolize and worship a white, virginal woman known as “The Great Hope White” (Christina Leidel). She is something of a legend or a myth to most of this persuasion, but some unknown influence inspires her to come out of hiding. Growing closer to Tinder – and, in one scene, propositioning him for sex by telling him, “I want your genitals inserted into my genitals,” as one does before a little sexy time – Hope rallies a legion of troops for some sort of battle to end Obama’s tyranny once and for all. In case you are following closely, yes, the aggressive and violent militia are the heroic ones here.

Meanwhile, the film’s view of everyone else barrels through any line of good taste. Obama and his nearly all-black advisors (most of whom are in Black Panther garb), with the exception of a groaning skeleton in the place of Nancy Pelosi (one of the handful of jokes that even come close to working), are barely seen outside of a context that establishes them as mustache-twirling villains. The citizens of Obamaland are sort of ultra-Millennials, patronizing a coffee shop that asks if white customers want to “check their privilege” for an “Obama buck” (just one example of the bizarre view of the culture right now that instantly dates anything the movie is trying to say).

This is an embarrassing failure of nerve, courage, conviction, and the simple rules of filmmaking and storytelling. The comic aspects are childish and inane, largely established at the expense of marginalized people (in particular, people of color, who are broad stereotypes, and the queer community at large, who are all seen as rather terrifying and alien). There is no other level to Obamaland, though, and if the film is embarrassing on that simple level, it should tell you how it is as a collective experience, too. Here is satire without focus, purpose, good taste, or common sense.
(Review by Joel Copling)




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