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Friday
Jun232017

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

To better understand the art of filmmaking, Roger Ebert created what Howard Higman called “Cinema Interruptus”. He and some dedicated film lovers (sometimes students, sometimes festival audiences) dissected great movies scene by scene, studying how composition, lighting, and movement affect the viewing experience in ways both obvious and subliminal. These seminars could last as long as two hours per day for one week—per film. I would love to replicate that idea with Transformers: The Last Knight (though I’d have to find a substitute word for “Cinema”). In his fifth outing with the Hasbro toy franchise, Bay incorporates Arthurian legend into an already dense and contradictory history of robot-v-robot-v-mankind combat. Yet not even Merlin’s sword can summon a single, coherent sequence of events from the mercilessly weightless two-and-a-half-hour run time. With this film, Bay achieves art via transcendent incompetence. The Last Knight must be studied, so as not to be repeated.

Thursday
Jun222017

The Bad Batch (2017)

The Bad Batch may look like a cookie-cutter, post-apocalypse movie. It's anything but. Let's start with the fact that there was never an apocalypse in its timeline. So what, you might ask, leads to the chaos, cannibalism, and collapse of human decency that writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour seers into her sophomore feature's every moment? I'll leave that for you to discover. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled and your ears perked, even as the studio logos pop up: Amirpour’s critique of the extremes to which so-called polite society will contort in order to protect itself from “the other” is rich, dense, and deadly serious. It's also a showcase for mushroom-gobbling visuals that almost match the twisted images the filmmaker’s ideas will tattoo on your brain. The Bad Batch could take place two sand dunes over from Fury Road’s fiery, metal-smashing Hell—were it not about an Armageddon already in progress.

Monday
Jun192017

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

During “vampire chic’s” brief pop resurgence a few years ago, there were a handful of alternatives to Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, if you knew where to look. At the movies, Daybreakers and Only Lovers Left Alive reminded us of the subgenre’s inherent blood and brains. On TV, True Blood gave the vapors to audiences whose idea of cinematic third base was watching Taylor Lautner go shirtless. Gnawing at the fringes was A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour’s black-and-white Farsi fantasy about the relationship between dreamy-eyed grifter Arash (Arash Marandi) and the sullen, nameless bloodsucker (Sheila Vand) who stalks his town. Alternately goofy, gruesome, loathsome, and lovely, Amirpour’s feature debut examines the prison of the moment through the prism of eternity—packing more visual and dramatic intrigue into two hours than an entire soap or saga, and offering a wild children-of-the-night story for people who aren’t children.

Thursday
Jun152017

Cars 3 (2017)

Wanna hear a secret? Of this summer’s two feminism-fueled blockbusters, Cars 3 is the superior model. Director Brian Fee and a screenwriting pit crew look past Cars 2’s violent, Mater-centric spy antics, and return the series to its G-rated roots—without sacrificing Pixar’s unique brand of life lessons that are applicable to adults and kids in equal measure. When a cocky, state-of-the-art racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) threatens to erase seasoned champion Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) legacy, Lightning teams up with no-nonsense female trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to stage a comeback. Don’t dismiss the dreaded second sequel as a CGI Rocky IV clone. This is Cristela’s story as much as it is Lightning’s, an empowering and heartfelt lesson in overt bigotry, as well as the soft, insidious, dream-killing ideas that limit societal advancement. Through perseverance and teamwork, Cruz changes hearts and minds, beginning with her own. No superpowers required.

Tuesday
Jun132017

Band Aid (2017)

Band Aid is the best kind of bait-and-switch indie comedy. Its cute premise and primetime-TV cast could just entice mainstream moviegoers into discovering that writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones' unique, vital voice obliterates the conventional rom-com characterizations they've been spoon-fed for decades. Lister-Jones and Adam Pally star as Anna and Ben, two thirty-something, married artists struggling with career ruts, romantic complacency, and another issue I won't spoil. The only way to survive their constant arguments, they learn, is to infuse them with rhythm and rhyme. Aided by an eccentric neighbor/drummer (Fred Armisen), the couple begins performing in public and soon becomes a club-scene sensation. Because Band Aid is not really about a band, Lister-Jones spares us the predictably happy (or predictably sad) plot points and resolutions, focusing instead on rich, honest words and surprisingly brutal performances--resulting in a sharp, tragicomic film that lets neither its characters nor its audience off the hook.