Telling a good love story on the big screen is a challenge of originality in 2017. The trite and cliche rom-com narrative is over burdened with expectation and is running on empty, and the year’s best rom-coms have relied heavily on shattering the formula (even “The Big Sick,” the most typical of romantic comedy of the year, is also one that challenges stereotypes and confronts nuanced culture clashes). It’s no surprise then that the documentary form has answered the call and offered up one of the most surprising and thoughtful romantic comedies of the year in “Dina.”
Admittedly, we paused when we found out Todd Haynes (a Playlist favorite) was adapting a YA novel, but sometimes you just gotta have faith. Haynes, after all, has rarely let us down, and, more often, he has blown us away. While some consider him to be a provocative, subversive filmmaker, labeling him as such misses so much of the beauty and nuance that he invests in his wildly tender and luscious films. In truth he is one of the most balanced and rounded filmmakers working today and any new film from him is one we eagerly await. And “Wonderstruck” is no different. While it doesn’t hit the highs of his magnificent “Carol” (our 4th favorite movie of 2015), our B+ review out of Cannes said, “Haynes has made a lovely wish-fulfillment movie, and you do not have to believe it, to be struck by wonder.” Plus, this trailer has done nothing but whet our appetite for his latest.
It had been a long four years after “Bright Star” waiting for Campion to return, but when “Top Of The Lake” finally came, it was obviously worth the wait. The seven-episode first season, which premiered at Sundance in a single seven-hour showing (there was a lunch break), is exactly the slow-burn sort of mystery we expected from the director: the twists and turns serving only to reveal and revel in the nuanced relationships at its core. Campion’s show weaves a complex, thoughtful set of narratives between an even more complex set of characters, each of whom is carefully drawn and beautifully realized. “Top Of The Lake” is packed with colorful, recognizable people that we all live among (with some obvious exceptions) struggling to do the right thing in a broken world, one where accidents define us as much as — if not more — than the choices we make. By its finale, Campion’s series has transformed into something grand and soulful, a moving exploration of the dynamics between strong, whole women and the toxic, masculine world they’re bucking against. And, while “Top Of The Lake” is by no means as gracious or damning as some of Campion’s other work, it is an achievement for its sense of harmony and for how badly it left us wanting this much-deserved second season.
Few artists have made a claim for so drastically altering the shape of their medium than Cecil Beaton, the fashion photographer turned war photographer turned royal photographer turned costume and production designer, who arguably forever reshaped the concept of possibility in the static image. Beaton faced his share of adversity and controversy, rubbed shoulders with the biggest stars and the Queen herself, and generally lived the sort of bohemian life that artists dream of. And while he is best known for the iconic images that he captured of the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Beaton himself was a fascinating, lively character who imprinted himself on the lives of anyone whose orbit he entered. And all of this is the life that “Love, Cecil” aims to — and mostly succeeds in — capturing, despite taking such an openly adoring stance. The rest…
There is a world that exists that is hard to fathom, which today, in our vastly connected digital age, where our social media feeds are inundated with photos from Syria and Venezuela, is itself hard to comprehend. In part, because we have all seen the imagery of war — shocking photos and footage are nearly commonplace and working to dull us into desensitization. And because we perceive war as a thing that ends, as a tragedy to be overcome, as something that is not simply a way of life. Similarly, there abounds images of abject poverty and hunger, starving children whose forms and bodies we know well enough to conjure without reference. The rest…
The first season of “Stranger Things” was a true surprise. Netflix’s surplus of content makes it easy for a show to sneak up out of nowhere, and while most are middling, some, like this Spielbergian, ‘80s throwback are home runs. A gleeful homage to nearly every sci-fi adventure from that nostalgic decade, “Stranger Things” also managed to carve out its own space, offering up nuanced and well-rounded characters of all stripes and a genuinely startling narrative (not to mention the elder Jean-Ralphio meme that should never die). Certainly, a number of webs were left tangled at the close of season one (Eleven!), but, at this point, it’s hard to imagine that season two can muster the same novel creativity and compact narrative structure. Still, whatever the case may be, odds are “Stranger Things” season two is going to be some of the better hours of TV this fall.
From the demented mind of S. Craig Zahler, the writer/director of “Bone Tomahawk” — 2015’s most memorable (read: scarring) film — “Brawl In Cell Block 99” has our interest peaked for more reasons than one. The first of which being that Zahler took on a well-worn genre with “Bone Tomahawk” and twisted it into something utterly unsettling and mesmerizing, and the prison survival flick is certainly in need of some new blood (pun intended). Second, Zahler managed to craft some truly inspired characters for Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins for his previous film, so there’s hope he can give Vaughn and Johnson something better to do than their typical, tired roles — like bashing people’s heads in. Then there’s the fact that TIFF’s Midnight Madness programmer called the movie “absolutely deranged.” What’s left to say?