Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2017

Review: "Call Me By Your Name"

Luca Guadagnino has become the J.D. Salinger of Italian cinema. I mean this in that he tells stories about affluent high society people, with lots of money and resources at their disposal, who still suffer from a failure to establish meaningful connections in their lives. Holden Caulfield felt such a void in Salinger's "The Catcher in The Rye." Similarly, Guadagnino's previous films I Am Love and A Bigger Splash followed protagonists (both played by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton) who were in a purgatory of disenchantment, the former for physical affection and the latter for desired privacy. Guadagnino is not a novelist but fortunately as a filmmaker he knows how to fill the page of the screen, usually with drop dead gorgeous locations and an impeccable ear for using music (remember Ralph Fiennesdancingto "Emotional Rescue" by The Rolling Stones?).

In his latest feature Call Me By Your Name Guadagnino presents to us another illustrious group of high class indiv…

Review: "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi"

There was something electric in the air when that first teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens premiered back in 2014. A sinister voice on the soundtrack asked, "There has been an awakening...have you felt it?" Then there was a barrage of clips teasing something familiar for Star Wars fans. That familiarity was the style and look of the original trilogy's western frontiers, with a kick of space cowboy bravado. It was void of the prequel trilogy's green screen approach and cutting edge technological risks (though I will defend those jubilant George Lucas entries til the end of time). Unfortunately, J.J. AbramsThe Force Awakens ended up being a pleasantly mild carbon copy of A New Hope, recycling tropes and story situations from that film as some gesture of assurance for a new generation of fans; if anything, it was setting up a dutiful cover song trilogy. So when it was revealed that writer/director Rian Johnson was going to helm Episode VIII, I …

Review: "The Post"

Much of what you'll read in the coming days about Steven Spielberg's supremely entertaining The Post will no doubt focus on how timely the film is in regards to the current administration in the White House, the freedom of the press (or lack thereof I should say), the ballooning of "fake news" and the dwindling presence of actual newspaper offices. All those parallelisms are valid, and were no doubt the primary themes screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight) set out to establish, but now that I've watched The Post twice I think there's something else being pulled into focus here. More on that later.

The year is 1971 and The Washington Post publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is on the eve of taking her newspaper company public. The paper has been in her family since the dawn of time, and following the passing of her husband (the paper's previous publisher) Kay's been tasked with securing the future of the business against the pressing rea…

Review: "The Shape of Water"

A big reason why Guillermo del Toro is so loved by cinephiles (myself included) is that his passion for cinema is evident in almost every frame of anything he makes. Whether it's the stunning cinematography that fills the screen canvas (usually in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as opposed to 2.35:1) with a treasure trove of production design details and movie homages, the memorable music scores (e.g. you can literally hum the score for Pan's Labyrinth) or the parable-like quality some of his stories have (Crimson Peak, Cronos), you know within the first five seconds that you are watching a Guillermo del Toro film. His signature screen voice is memorable. Other popular filmmakers with signature voices include Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Kathryn Bigelow. You know each of their cinematic screen voices because they are distinct -- and because those voices are real. They come from a place of deep affection, curiosity, pain, wonder, fear and conviction. It's why they endure as artists…

La Gran Tristeza: How "Coco" Is Everyone's Latina Grandma

Coco opened over Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States and I'll confess: I didn't rush out and see it. That's because Coco had already set an unrealistic expectation in my head. Prior to its U.S. release this latest venture from Pixar became the highest-grossing film in Mexican box office history (and it's also the setting for the film). Matt Zoller Seitz at had given it a four-star review calling it a "classic." The buzz on social media was already awarding Coco the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar and at the same time, in the arena of film criticism on Twitter, there was uproar over the lack of Latino and Latina film critics writing about it (resulting in the hashtag #FilmCriticismSoWhite).

In short, for me, Coco ballooned into a larger than life movie that it couldn't possibly live up to. Then came the weekend after Thanksgiving and I finally went and saw it. It was a Sunday matinee, with a decent audience size. The film was pre…

Review: "Wonder Wheel"

These days with almost hourly revelations of high-profile men -- albeit in the media industry or politics -- getting called out for sexual misconduct allegations, it's hard to ignore director Woody Allen's own controversial past (he married his stepdaughter) when gauging his new film Wonder Wheel. Of course, the idea is that we critique the work and not the artist. That is fair. And yet, in a stroke of cosmic cynicism, it turns out that Allen doesn't need any shade from his personal past to hurt the intended success of Wonder Wheel because the film is just plain ol' bad.

Wonder Wheel stars Academy Award winner Kate Winslet as Ginny, our disillusioned and itching-for-another-crisis heroine. Ginny, her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi, bless him) and her son Richie (Jack Gore) live in an apartment looking over the boardwalk of Coney Island. It's the 1950s. Summer is winding down, resulting in less attendance and therefore less money for our boardwalk inhabitants. Someone …

Watch: Christopher Plummer side by side with Kevin Spacey in "All The Money In The World"

When Ridley Scott made the announcement that he would be replacing all of Kevin Spacey's scenes with actor Christopher Plummer in his upcoming film All The Money In The World, the idea was pretty unbelievable and shocking. It's been less than a month since that news broke and Scott has made good on his word.

A new video spot promoting the high-profile film was just released and it offered us the first glimpse of Plummer as J. Paul Getty. Of course, I couldn't resist putting clips of Spacey and Plummer side by side to see the before and after visuals.

It makes the trailer's voiceover that much more haunting: "To be a Getty is an extraordinary thing...we *look* like you...but we're NOT like you..."

Review: "The Disaster Artist"

If you were to glance at the Instagram page for James Franco's The Disaster Artist, you would think it's another polished Judd Apatow comedy (who also appears in the film, in addition to Apatow-regular Seth Rogen). If you were to watch the trailer for The Disaster Artist, it looks like the latest art project in Franco's prolific filmography as a director. If you were to read media coverage of The Disaster Artist, some film writers and pundits would like you to believe that this is an actual dark horse for the Oscars. Now that it's been some time since I've seen the film, and have mulled over what the hell it categorically is, I can tell you that none of the above descriptions accurately paints the picture. It's a strange film, with some seriously cynical and unnerving undercurrents, starring some of the most likable and good-looking movie stars currently working. I don't know if it's going to achieve the affectionate success that its source material al…

Watch: The Blair Witch Facebook Live Project

A key component to the success of Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick's low budget indie horror smash hit The Blair Witch Project was that it was released in the summer of 1999 aka pre-social media. There was a cloak of mystery around this faux documentary, so much so that a good portion of moviegoers actually thought this was a real found footage film, therefore adding to the onscreen terror its protagonists endured during their doomed trip to the woods.

In today's moviegoing climate, there aren't too many movie secrets or surprises. We live in an embargo-fueled, spoiler-feared, film snob-Twitter era where everyone's an expert and pop cultural cynicism is at an all time high.

Coincidentally, we live in a time where a lot of online users are also content creators, and more specifically, video creators (or at least are video engagers and enthusiasts). We are a species that thrives on visual communication after all, so that makes sense. And with social media, our need to …

Review: "The Man Who Invented Christmas"

One of my favorite holiday films is Richard Donner's 1988 black comedy Scrooged starring Bill Murray. In that film, Murray's Frank Cross character is a modern incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens' classic novella "A Christmas Carol." Like its source material, Scrooged follows Cross on Christmas Eve as he's visited by three spirits who teach him life-changing lessons and ultimately help him turn a new leaf, ditching his cynical demeanor in exchange for a warmer heart (and what not). It's a testament to Dickens' prose that "A Christmas Carol" singlehandedly won over readers in Europe (and the Yankees across the Atlantic) enough to revitalize the Christmas holiday itself. The fact that movies still borrow inspiration from its pages shows the timelessness of its ideas and themes -- not to mention its structure of implicit time travel. And now comes The Man Who Invented Christmas, which gives us the behind the scenes story of &q…

Watch: "Rampage" Arcade Version

Chicago sure makes a gorgeous backdrop for sci-fi fare (Divergent, Jupiter Ascending) and big action spectacles from Hollywood (The Dark Knight, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), so it's no wonder that (arguably) the current biggest movie star in the world Dwayne Johnson has set his next sure-to-be blockbuster in the Windy City as well. Johnson's latest special effects extravaganza Rampage is based on the 1986 arcade game of the same name from Bally Midway. The game itself has gone through revamps over the years, appearing on platforms such as Atari and Sega Master System.

As I watched the first trailer for this live action adaptation, I marveled at how striking my beloved home city looked in several shots, but then I began to have a stasis of image association in my head. The flat 2D look of the original "Rampage" game struggled to surface in my conscience. So I did what I do best and I worked with the moving images in my latest video essay and rendered this new fil…

Watch: #MovieQuotesRedux

There are certain movie quotes that are instant classics. People quote them in their day-to-day conversations. Some are on t-shirts. Some are on coasters. Hell, there are even some that are immortalized as tattoos. That's the power of movies -- they connect to us.
Every so often, some movie quotes even become enveloped into the movie universe's own pop cultural Zeitgeist. For my latest video #MovieQuotesRedux I explored some of these quotes. You'll note that at the start of the video certain actors reinterpret their lines in later comedic films they star in but then I literally hit the stop button and then play some scenes where other actors are rendering these famous quotes in their own fashion.

Review: "Mudbound"

Dee Rees' Mudbound opens with a scene that is a figurative baptism of sorts. It's the 1940s and a torrential rain pours down on two brothers -- Henry and Jamie McAllan -- as they dig a grave for their late father on their Mississippi farm. After some time the younger brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) finds himself overwhelmed by the fast rising water in the grave he's standing in. Jamie's older brother Henry (Jason Clarke) is no longer in his field view at the top of the grave. It's cause for panic. The water is so harsh that Jamie is quickly victim to the muddy waters washing over him in defeat. Then, a beat later, a ladder appears and Henry lifts his drenched younger brother from the grave. Upon first viewing, the elemental forces at work here give subtle imagery to a resurrection of the body. But by the end of Mudbound, this scene takes on a deeper meaning for the reckoning of sins and a thirst for forgiveness. In short, Jamie is plunging himself into the rainy wa…

Watch: THE USUAL PLUMMERS (Christopher Plummer in “The Usual Suspects”)

In an unprecedented move yesterday, Ridley Scott announced that he will remove Kevin Spacey entirely from his upcoming film All the Money in the World, where Spacey played J. Paul Getty. The trailer for the film had already been released and it was supposed to play at AFI Fest next week. This is the latest fallout that has landed on Spacey since the recent allegations of his sexual assault towards several victims.

And what about the film? Scott said that Oscar winner Christopher Plummer will take over the role of Getty, leaving Scott only weeks to reshoot all of Spacey's scenes with Plummer before All the Money in the World's Christmas release date next month.

So with that cavalier spirit in mind, I thought I'd reimagine another one of Spacey's films (The Usual Suspects) with Plummer taking over the reigns. In my video "The Usual Plummers" Chazz Palminteri slowly realizes that it was Plummer -- not Spacey -- who was Keyser Söze all along...

Video Remix: Terence Stamp in Soderbergh's "The Kryptonian"

Steven Soderbergh is an envelope pusher. Always has been. He's also been a video essayist himself in the past. So I thought it'd be appropriate to do a little remix on one of my favorite entries in the Soderbergh canon, his 1999 Terence Stamp-starrer The Limey.

What I did here was reinterpret Stamp's character of Wilson as an older version of General Zod from Superman II. I used the final minutes from The Limey and Soderbergh's jump-cut flashback structure to incorporate moments from Zod's visit to Earth in that 1980 film. It gives the scene a different kind of resonance and reflection.

Watch for yourself.

Review: "Lady Bird"

There is a sequence about halfway through Noah Baumbach's 2012 film Frances Ha where its heroine Frances (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote Frances Ha) makes a trip home to Sacramento, California from the east coast for the holidays. During this section we get the sense that Frances is quietly happy to be home but she also suffers a mute desperation while reliving the origins of her youth. For example, her mom rushes her while she seeks privacy in the bathroom, she's obliged to sit through church services with her family and an entertainment excursion involves some thrifty clothes shopping for deals. Coincidentally, all of these settings and sequences serve as showcases for Gerwig's directorial debut Lady Bird (which she wrote as well). It's no wonder that this new film begins with a quote from Joan Didion: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
Starring two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan in the title role (although he…

Video Essay: "Doug Liman: Opening Moments"

It struck me while watching American Made a month or so ago that Doug Liman really cares about every moment in most of his movies. I mean this literally. In several of his directorial efforts he's started his films off with an energy or stylistic trait that's hard to ignore.

To shine a better light on this, I created this video essay that walks you through a handful of his films to convey an often overlooked feat that Liman does almost without effort. Take a look!

Surprise! New 45-Second TV Spot for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

We're taking a 45-second break from film reviews and video essays to share with you a happy surprise. During tonight's Game 7 of the World Series, a brand new TV spot for the much-anticipated Star Wars: Episode 8 - The Last Jedi hit screens everywhere. Rian Johnson wrote and directed this one, and considering how dope The Brothers Bloom and Looper are, this Star Wars installment looks promising.

Also, this is our new favorite GIF.

Review: "Thor: Ragnarok"

I'll go ahead and admit that I turned off the DVD for the first Thor film less than halfway through. So it's safe to say that I walked into this third installment with little to no excitement (and this is coming from someone who actually enjoyed 2012's The Avengers). It'll be to the relief of many Thor fans that Thor: Ragnarok maintains a welcome playfulness that more or less keeps it buzzing along for most of its running time. There are certainly some laughs to be had, but I don't know how I feel about a Marvel superhero movie depending on the DNA of a comedy as opposed to the DNA of an exciting and involving action epic. But that's an entirely different conversation for a different time.

Taking a cue from this year's far superior Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, ThorRagnarok banks on the nostalgic appeal of everything retro, from using Led Zeppelin's"Immigrant Song" as its musical theme to the art direction of the planet Sakaar, which look…

Video Remix: "Beetlejuice" and "A Ghost Story" Mashup Trailer

Since it's Halloween weekend I went ahead and reimagined Tim Burton's ghost-driven comedy classic Beetlejuice to the rhythm and style of David Lowery's singular and masterful drama A Ghost Story (one of the very best films of 2017, hands down). For those who've seen both films, the parallels are clear; ghosts covered in bed sheets, spirits wandering between worlds and a house that carries significant emotional weight and resonance.

I call this one A Ghost With The Most Story. Enjoy.
And for reference, here goes the original trailer for A Ghost Story.

Review: "The Killing of a Sacred Deer"

Yorgos Lanthimos must associate diners with closure and inner peace. The diner has been the setting for the final scenes in his two most recent outings a director, The Lobster and his newest film The Killing of Sacred Deer. Lobster told a bleak (and often painfully funny) postmodern fable about finding love, yet you could really feel that Lanthimos cared for his two protagonists (even though they both endured some life-changing sacrifices). On the other hand, I can't say that Lanthimos cares for anyone in Sacred Deer. But maybe that's the point.

Sacred Deer stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, as a textbook-happily-married-couple with two children (a young son and a teenage daughter) and a gorgeous mansion of a suburban home. Farrell's Steven Murphy is a doctor who spends a lot of his time at work, alongside his colleague Matthew (played by Bill Camp, who was superb in HBO's The Night Of) but even MORE time acting as a surrogate paternal figure for the off-putting Mar…

#FreeCinemaNow has a new look!

I started Free Cinema Now over six years ago and now that 2017 is quickly drawing to a close, I thought a makeover was in order. This blog will still feature content about the ever-changing new media landscape but it will also be a dedicated home to my upcoming video essays, mashups and remixes on cinema, along with exclusive film reviews by yours truly (unless otherwise noted).

On a side note, what's everyone going to watch for Halloween weekend? Leave your answers in the comments below!

- Nelson Carvajal

Video Remix: "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" Trailer (Ellie Goulding version)

Yorgos Lanthimos' new film The Killing of a Sacred Deer tells a pretty serious and morbid tale. (The film review will follow on this site.) The original trailer featured an eerie cover of Ellie Goulding's song "Burn" so I thought I'd lighten the mood a bit and remix it with the original -- and upbeat! -- number. Here goes the original trailer for comparison Happy Wednesday everyone. UPDATE: Ellie Goulding herself tweeted about this! Saw that last week- crazy... — Ellie Goulding (@elliegoulding) October 25, 2017

Video: Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, side by side Queen concert footage

Actor Rami Malek has some pretty big shoes to fill by playing Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bryan Singer's (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) upcoming biopic on the legendary rock band.

Recently some fan footage surfaced of the 2017 film production re-enacting Queen's iconic live performance at 1985's Live Aid. I went ahead and synced some of the behind the scenes fan footage to the concert clip so you can see just how much Malek emulates Mercury's onstage moves.

We'll have to wait and see how it all comes together when the film comes out December 25, 2018.

Stephen King’s IT: A Video Essay on Pennywise’s Introduction

It's been 27 years since we first met a screen version of Pennywise, the dancing clown from Stephen King's horror epic novel IT. In the 1990 film, it was Tim Curry who gave a mercurial and menacing turn as the nightmarish clown. To this day, there are hordes of fans who can swear to having their childhoods pretty much fucked by the sight of this unnerving villain.

This weekend at the box office a whole new moviegoing generation will be introduced to an updated screen version of Pennywise, this time played by Bill Skarsgård in the 2017 film adaptation.

And as with everything else worth investigating with cinema and the moving image, we must ask ourselves: How does the new imagery work for us? Does it work for us? Do we shortchange Skarsgård's performance because we have Curry's burned in our memories (or vice versa, for some younger viewers)?

I created this video essay (see below) to begin this discussion. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Terrence Malick's TO THE WONDER WOMAN

An old friend and colleague of mine from my days as an A.V. Club writing intern at The Onion newspaper (almost) ten years ago now recently wrote me a Facebook post with an ingenious trailer mashup idea: reconstructing the Wonder Woman into a Terrence Malick film.

Rory Jobst's note even had the mashup movie title ready to go:

So with that, I was off to the editing races. In the process of cutting the video together, I noticed some of the imagery from Patty Jenkins' 2017 Wonder Woman film was ironically Malick-ian in its poetic and elegiac visuals. Wonder Woman may be one of this summer's biggest blockbusters, but it sure as hell can make its way into an art-house theater on the heels of my latest mashup trailer!

And this is not the first time I've re-imagined Wonder Woman in the vision of a legendary film auteur. Three years ago, I created Wonder Woman Under The Influence, which was cut to the style of the trailer of John Cassavetes' 1974 drama A Woman Under The Inf…


Ray Kroc, the real life McDonald's businessman portrayed by Michael Keaton in The Founder and Daniel Plainview, the fictional oilman portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, share a lot of the blood-thirsty conviction that can be linked to chasing the eponymous American Dream. Although The Founder itself is nowhere near as significant as Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood from a filmmaking stance, it does share a similar heartbeat underneath its altogether safe direction by John Lee Hancock; as film critic and author Matt Zoller Seitz pointed out in his review of The Founder over at Roger Ebert: "This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”"

VIDEO ESSAY: Breaking The Fourth Wall: Jonathan Demme's "Real Cinema" -- In Memoriam

Jonathan Demme, the marvelous director of films like Philadelphia, Rachel Getting Married, Something Wild and The Silence of the Lambs, passed away this past Wednesday April 26, 2017.

An enduring quality of his films was his ability to skillfully break the fourth wall with his subjective camera (and frequent collaborator and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto) in such a way that felt natural and non-distracting. It was also effective in tapping into the emotions and psyches of the viewers; in the pop culture, for example, most moviegoers can only picture Hannibal Lecter intensely staring through the screen, as if his eyes were set to literally come out of the canvas. Essentially, there is a sense of urgency to these artistic choices that Demme has made with these point-of-view shots. They give his films an extra layer of life and vitality.

Most importantly, these shots help create an all-around empathy for the players on screen. When we see them, they see us.

There's magic in that.

VIDEO: Top 25 Films of 2016

While many were quick to dismiss 2016 as an altogether terrible year--largely due to the year rounding out with TV celeb Donald Trump as the President Elect--it wasn't a throwaway year for the movies. During a time of national unrest and uncertainty, the narratives that graced the silver screen beamed with characters, ideas and themes of unfettered hope...for better or for worse.

Whether it was the harsh lesson of growing up and having your heart broken (Café Society) or choosing to live a lie in exchange for short-term happiness (The Light Between Oceans), the individuals we followed in the cinema were the silver screen embodiment of our unabashed urges to make that jump, to take a leap of faith and step away from our secure existence and reach out to the unknown.

The most striking image of the year came in Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, when linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) approached a white void in the form of an alien wall inside of a UFO vessel -- an almost perfect double…