Captain Fantastic is a heart-warming film that forces the viewer to consider the faults of modern society and the benefits to living an alternative lifestyle. Written and directed by Matt Ross, the film was a hit at Sundance this year, and rightly so. While it is frequently damning to American culture, it also has a lot to say about the value of compromise, discourse, and self-reflection. Most impressively, it is a movie that revels in the existence of the morally gray, a trait that is rare for a two-hour long feature film. Captain Fantastic really impressed me, and it’s a film that is best discussed from start to finish, so full [spoilers] ahead.
Swiss Army Man was perhaps the most polarizing film of Sundance. There are stories of how people walked out of its premiere screening, and it’s easy to see why. Depending on expectations, this film could be a kinetic masterpiece or an extended fart joke. Personally, I think the film is the former. This movie is completely insane, and I believe that “The Daniels” (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) are the next Neveldine and Taylor, but with a stronger eye for the cinematic. My opinion is that this movie is best if you go into it completely fresh, but unfortunately the trailer gives away a number of surprises. If you haven’t seen anything, I recommend stopping here and just seeing the film; however, I’ll do my best to keep spoilers to what’s in the trailer for the first portion of this review. (more…)
“Wiener-Dog tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading a certain kind of comfort and joy.” This is the description given to Wiener-Dog when it played Sundance, and while technically true, anyone familiar with Todd Solondz’s work will suspect something a bit more cynical is afoot. The film does not disappoint, presenting a pitch-black dark comedy comprised of four disparate tales about the human condition loosely connected by one displaced dachshund. This movie is not for everyone. It’s cynical and mean-spirited, and it features animal abuse, which can be particularly hard to stomach. However, I found the movie hilarious and want to talk about each of the four sections, including the ending. [Spoilers] ahead. (more…)
Unlike most films of its genre, ‘The Witch’ gets its scares from being quietly unsettling rather than relying on jump scares and surprises for its audience. The movie is marketed as a horror film, and rightly so; many of the images and situations are deeply disturbing. Surprisingly though, the film is also one of the most realistic period pieces I’ve seen in years. I’ll be diving into later plot details of ‘The Witch,’ so [spoilers] ahead. (more…)
“Buzzard” follows Marty Jackitansky, a misanthrope and small-time scam artist, as he cheats any system he can while avoiding being caught in the act. The director, Joel Potrykus, makes no attempt to take a moral position on Marty’s scams, instead letting the movie serve as a study of Jackitansky’s character and the minor horrors he inflicts.
The film shares a number of similarities with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter,” a 2015 release about a Japanese woman who pursues the insurance money lost at the end of Fargo. Both feature outcasts who don’t fit in with their peers. Both are extremely bored and disinterested with their lives, and are willing to give everything up and sacrifice their comfort in exchange for freedom. And both feature strange, surreal endings that really punctuate their themes.
“Buzzard’s” ending in particular really reshapes how the audience remembers the entirety of the film, and leaves a lot to be interpreted and explained. Needless to say, [spoilers] ahead for “Buzzard.”
Summer blockbuster season begins with two mega-budget colon-sporting action franchise sequels that couldn’t be more different. Mad Max: Fury Road serves as a throwback to the insanity of action movies of the 80’s, while Avengers: Age of Ultron is firmly rooted in contemporary blockbuster filmmaking. While I can recommend both movies, for my money Fury Road is far and away the more interesting of the two. Mad Max succeeds on so many levels, and it really highlights the shortcomings of Avengers, and by extension, many modern action films. Mild [spoilers] for both films from here on.
At what point has Artificial Intelligence become advanced enough to be considered life? Is it once it passes for human? Once it has emotions, wants and needs? Once it’s self-aware?
This is one of several core questions behind Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina. The film is a surprisingly intimate sci-fi drama in which Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a computer programmer at a Google stand-in. Caleb is invited to the isolated estate of tech-billionaire-genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) under the pretense of having won a week-long retreat. Once there, he discovers that the true purpose behind the invitation is far more interesting. In addition to boozing it up with his boss, Caleb is tasked with evaluating an advanced A.I. of Nathan’s creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander). In a series of sessions, he must test her humanity in an updated version of the Turing test. The film is extremely tightly written. Its relatively modest budget is used to the fullest extent, and like any good sci-fi film, Ex Machina uses the sci-fi genre to generate discussion on modern concerns. [Spoilers] from here on.
David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” is a monster movie in which a girl finds that, after a strange sexual encounter, she is forever followed by a menacing and unstoppable creature. If you can stomach horror movies, I highly recommend this one. Horror as a genre is at its best when it’s serving as a metaphor, tapping into some “real” terror beneath all the supernatural. “It Follows” is no exception, tapping into the inherent fears many young people share about the act of sex. Specifically, the movie does an excellent job of tackling the “grayer” areas of sexual assault and its lasting effects in a way that I’ve never seen. Spoilers from here on. (more…)