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Showing posts from December, 2017

Watch: "It’s A Wonderful Hitchcock"

Video Essayist Philip Brubaker has released his latest moving image work It's A Wonderful Hitchcock, a tantalizing reimagining of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Brubaker expounds on his piece at Vimeo:

"Alfred Hitchcock's unmistakable cinematic stamp is the inspiration for this re-imagining of It's A Wonderful Life. Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo serves as the key ingredient to bring out the tension, anxiety and anguish of Frank Capra's film. Allusions to other Hitchcock films arise when this Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart is recut to feel like an offering from the Master of Suspense."

The result is a fascinating rendering that challenges our predetermined image association with Capra's film. The key crossover element here is Stewart, who stars in both Vertigo and It's A Wonderful Life.

Brubaker here speaks to the larger dialogue of Video Essayists challenging the vault of moving images, meaning that as viewers are pr…

Review: "All The Money In The World"

When Sony Pictures decided to abruptly pull their latest film All the Money in the World from AFI Fest in November, people were surprised. Then when director Ridley Scott announced he planned to replace the film's star Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer a mere month before its scheduled Christmas release date, people were downright shocked. And now, in the most impressive of ways, Scott actually pulled this last minute reshoot off in only nine days!

But what about the film itself? Outside of all this behind the scenes drama, is it any good? I’ll give you the short answer: Yes.

All the Money in the World is based on the later years of real life American industrialist J. Paul Getty (Plummer), who went a long way from his Minnesota roots to become—at the time—the richest private citizen who had ever lived (which with inflation today would be close $9 billion). The central plot focuses on an infamous and publicly-followed incident where one of Getty’s grandsons (played by Charlie P…

Watch: Film School Rejects and Sight & Sound Magazine's Best Video Essays of 2017

For cinephiles, December is filled with year-end best lists of films and more specifically, overlooked moving image content. As the video essay form continues to grow in popularity, more and more online media outlets continue to highlight and engage with the high volume of video works churned out by cine-essayists. Over the last couple of weeks both Film School Rejects and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound International Film Magazine revealed their picks for the best video essays of 2017.

In regards to Sight & Sound, I was honored to be included among the video essay practitioners and scholars who submitted their favorite video essays from this last year; I was even more honored to learn that my fellow peers in that same poll picked some of my own video works on their personal lists. In addition, two other video works of mine were included in the Film School Rejects list as well. With the enthusiasm behind video essays today, I can't help but acknowledge the …

Review: "I, Tonya"

On one level, Craig Gillespie has grown into a director with an agreeable work ethic. Specifically, I mean that in how he adapts his sensibilities into whatever project he is working on, for better or worse. The first film I saw of his was Lars and the Real Girl during the 43rd Chicago International Film Festival. Gillespie was there for the post-screening Q&A where he mentioned his background in commercial work before transitioning to feature films. Lars was an assured piece of filmmaking; quiet, introspective and smartly laced with delicate humor. I looked forward to seeing how the Gillespie film canon would grow. Unexpectedly, the next film Gillespie made was the remake of the 1980s horror comedy Fright Night, starring Colin Farrell. It in no way shared anything close to the special subtle drama of Lars (although I admit I enjoyed Fright Night on a superficial level, mainly because of my soft spot for vampire films). Since Fright Night, Gillespie switched gears again and did t…

Review: "Downsizing"

Earlier this week I was reading about how President Donald J. Trump shockingly removed climate change from the list of global threats in the latest rendering of his administration's national security strategy. "Fake News" has reached critical mass, it would seem. As 2017 comes to a close, and the axis of the Earth and human existence spins wildly closer to extinction, along comes this imperfect, well-meaning, occasionally hilarious, and ultimately touching motion picture from Oscar-winner Alexander Payne. The film is Downsizing and it stars the face of the American white male: Matt Damon. Whatever public relations shit storm Damon may find himself in during the days leading up to the film's release shouldn't detract from what really is a golden and quietly surprising performance. This is good work by the former Will Hunting.

Downsizing takes place in the near future where a group of Norwegian scientists have successfully created a procedure that shrinks people do…

Watch: A conversation with Catherine Grant at Videographic Film Studies Now

One of the leaders on the forefront of studying and articulating the moving image, Catherine Grant's impressive and serious work both in the academic and the publishing realms has been invaluable to the greater visual essay canon for the last several years. Her site Film Studies For Free is an invaluable resource for video essay curation and education, while her online publication [in]Transition has been a successful Herculean feat of visual essay content aggregation, assignment and analysis.

Earlier this year University of Reading professor John Gibbs sat down with Grant for the Videographic Film Studies Nowworkshop and filmed this nearly hour-long conversation that is a must-watch for video essay creators and enthusiasts.

Trailer Alert: "Sicario 2: Soldado"

When Sicario came out in 2015, it ended up being my pick for the best film of that year. It surprised me even. I walked in expecting a decent thriller about the war on the drug cartel but what I watched was something much more cerebral, carnal and contemporary in spirit. The screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (who directed this year's fantastic Wind River) presented a story that was surprising and engrossing. It became a prestige action picture, if you will.

Sicario was also that rare critical darling of being both an R-rated drama and a commercial success. So, now we have the sequel Sicario 2: Soldado. There are several key players not returning for this film: Director Denis Villeneuve, Cinematographer Roger Deakins and co-stars Emily Blunt and Daniel Kaluuya (who also starred in this year's hit Get Out).

Although the omission of such talent can be a red flag, the sequel does bring back an impressive core: actors Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, plus Sheridan as screenwriter again…

Watch: What if Guillermo del Toro directed "Lady In The Water"?

Guillermo del Toro's latest film The Shape of Water (my review) is currently cleaning up with accolades and guild nominations during this awards season. Shape of Water is essentially a love story, with the unique spin being that one of the players is an amphibian who learns to communicate through sign language. After reflecting upon the film during the weeks since I first saw it, I started thinking about a forgotten film from the 2000s, M. Night Shyamalan's much-maligned Lady in the Water. The unexpected similarities between Shyamalan's bedtime story and del Toro's film were hard to ignore.

Both films feature protagonists who are custodians with communication disabilities. In Shape, Sally Hawkins is a janitor at a government laboratory and a mute. In Lady, Paul Giamatti is an apartment building superintendent with a bad stutter. They both live lives of solace (Hawkins lives above an old movie theatre and Giamatti lives alone in a tiny pool house). Their love interests …

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 RogerEbert.com 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…