Category Archives: Film and Television

The Beguiled: A Pastel Remake

A wounded Union soldier is sheltered at a girls’ boarding school in rural Virginia during the American Civil War, igniting pent-up passions and jealousy in this pale imitation of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic, itself based on the 1966 Southern Gothic novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The Beguiled (2017), written and directed by Sofia Coppola, is a remake no one asked for, visually beautiful but emotionally monochrome.

John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is a corporal in the 66th New York and wounded in the leg while fighting somewhere in Virginia in the summer of 1864. He stumbles through the wilderness and collapses. Amy (Oona Laurence), a young student at the nearby Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, discovers him and takes him back to the neglected school.

Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) stitches Corporal McBurney’s wound and allows him to stay long enough to recover. Meanwhile, he attracts the attention of the other young ladies of the house, Alicia (Elle Fanning), Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke), Emily (Emma Howard), and especially their teacher, Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst).

McBurney is passive but emotionally manipulative. He pledges his love for Edwina, but after catching him in flagrante delicto with Alicia, she accidentally pushes him down the stairs, which opens his wound and breaks his leg. Miss Martha amputates his limb below the knee to prevent infection. McBurney flies into a rage when he sees what she has done, gratuitously injures Amy’s pet turtle, and terrorizes the girls with a revolver.

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First Impressions of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I braved jet lag and the bitter cold last night to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi in a theater, as I have for all three Disney Star Wars releases (okay, one was at the Baghdad Embassy and the other in Florida, so it wasn’t too cold those other times). I should have known it was a bad sign when Disney entrusted a director with a handful of films under his belt, Rian Johnson, to not only direct the film but also write it. Honestly, I thought this was the worst of the Disney Star Wars films. Here are some of my first impressions.

  • The pointless and silly exposition was so annoying I almost walked out of the theater. Something would happen, and then a character would turn to another character and describe what just happened. How dumb does Rian Johnson think his audience is?
  • Just when I thought they were going to take the series in a completely new direction, they bring it back to the same damn thing. Again.
  • In the opening battle, the First Order sends out a handful of TIE Fighters to confront the Resistance bombers while their Star Destroyers sit there and do nothing.
  • I’m glad Disney decided to fix its messed up galactic politics from The Force Awakens, but do the good guys have to be rebels in order to be the good guys? They do this because we naturally root for the underdog, but surely there are other ways to create a good vs. evil plot line. Wouldn’t it be interesting, for instance, if the First Order and New Republic had to work together against a powerful external enemy?
  • Speaking of which, I’m not happy with the way Disney took the entire post-Return of the Jedi timeline and extended universe developed in comics, novels, and video games and just threw it in the trash.
  • The subplot of the gambling planet is pointless, and Finn and Rose Tico are morons. They’re running out of time, but waste so much of it just wandering around, concerned with freeing a bunch of animals. Then, after escaping captivity, instead of trying to find the guy they came to find, they run off with a sketchy character they randomly met in jail who of course ultimately sells them out.
  • The scene where Rey jumps into the “Dark Side” cave is pointless and doesn’t contribute to the plot or story in any meaningful way.
  • Why does the Resistance leadership refuse to listen to Poe Dameron, a loyal and longtime member, or answer his questions, while they allow a former storm trooper with questionable loyalty, Finn, to discuss plans with Leia Organa and pretty much do whatever he wants?
  • Continuing the trend from Rogue One, this felt like watching a video game with the way everything was so contrived. “In order to do X we need to find Y,” and “We have to hit this weapon in exactly this one way to destroy it.”

Ultimately, The Last Jedi was so disappointing. I know it’s gotten good reviews, but I just don’t see why. It’s literally the exact same thing we’ve seen in every Star Wars movie with only a slight variation. It teases you several times into thinking it’s finally going to break new ground, but ultimately ends up in the exact same place. I’m no longer excited to watch the upcoming sequel because I probably already have.

Goon: A Heartfelt Sports Comedy

A down-and-out bouncer discovers he has a talent for dolling out beatings in the hockey rink in Goon (2011), a surprising independent Canadian sports comedy film written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse. Aside from being well made, Goon features a solid, nuanced performance by Seann William Scott.

Despite dismal box office returns, Goon is almost universally praised by critics. It currently has a rating of 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I overlooked it many times, because although Seann William Scott has had funny side roles in some of my favorite comedies, I just couldn’t imagine him as a leading man. I was so wrong. In Goon, Scott proves he is a competent actor capable of breaking out of the fratbro trope.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a tough but polite simpleton, is working a dead end job as a bouncer. His friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel), hosts a public access hockey call-in show. One night at an Orangetown Assassins minor league game, Doug gets into a fight with a player and the Assassins coach invites him to join the team as their “enforcer.” When his skills on the ice improve, he’s recruited to play for the Halifax Highlanders and protect their star player, Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin), who is slow to recover from a brutal knockdown.

Along the way, he falls in love with Eva (Alison Pill), an adorkable hockey fan who sleeps around with hockey players, but is in a relationship, and discovers he might one day have to confront Ross “the Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), who was responsible for knocking out Xavier LaFlamme. Will he get the girl and defeat his rival?

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The Nice Guys: Film Noir for the Disco Era

An unlikely duo must team up to find a missing girl before a secret cabal has her murdered in The Nice Guys (2016), a comedic crime drama written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi and directed by Shane Black. Set in 1977 Los Angeles, The Nice Guys is a film noir for the disco era, but wasn’t originally written as a period piece. Thankfully, the writers decided to rework the concept and what resulted was one of the best films of 2016.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a muscle-for-hire who Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) pays to dissuade private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) from looking for her. March, an alcoholic who lives with his preteen daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), believes Amelia is somehow connected to the death of porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Misty’s aunt, Mrs. Glenn (Lois Smith), hired March to investigate Misty’s death because she believed Misty might still be alive.

When two anonymous men (Beau Knapp and Keith David) show up at Jackson Healy’s apartment to press him for details on Amelia’s whereabouts, he decides to pay March to help him locate Amelia before they do. Together, they discover Amelia and Misty were connected to an underground adult film allegedly exposing a conspiracy on the part of auto manufacturers to suppress the catalytic converter. Several people involved in the movie turned up dead.

Things get really complicated when Amelia’s mother, Judith (Kim Basinger), a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, pays March and Healy to find her daughter. When Amelia literally falls into their laps, she accuses her mother of being part of the conspiracy. March and Healy slowly put the pieces together, but will they rescue her and the last remaining film reel in time to expose the truth?

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Ingrid Goes West

A social-media obsessed woman with borderline personality disorder moves to Los Angeles to insert herself into another woman’s life, severely disrupting the lives of everyone she encounters in this dark comedy by debut writer-director Matt Spicer. Ingrid Goes West (2017) has a lot to say about contemporary American society, but despite being shot and promoted as a comedy, there’s really nothing funny about it.

Its humor comes from Aubrey Plaza‘s performance as Ingrid Thorburn, the unfortunate young woman just looking for a best friend. Her portrayal is awkward, charming, and at times frightening. But even though we’re invited to laugh at her fumbled personal interactions, there are no jokes or one-liners. This lack of overt-comedy is not a deficit.

As the film opens, a distraught Ingrid maces a bride for not inviting her to the wedding and is committed to a mental hospital. Upon release, she sees Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) in a magazine and begins following her on Instagram. Ingrid comments on a photo and Taylor replies, inviting her to check it out next time she’s in LA. Coincidentally, Ingrid’s mother dies, leaving her with a $60,000 inheritance. Ingrid uses that money to move to LA and rent a house from aspiring screenwriter and Batman fanboy Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.).

Once in LA, Ingrid remakes her personality and appearance in Taylor’s image and plots to insert herself in the woman’s life, going so far as to kidnap her and her husband Ezra’s (Wyatt Russell) dog so she can return it. Ingrid and Taylor become friends, but their relationship is complicated by the appearance of Taylor’s drug-addict brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), and fashion blogger Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff), who begin to monopolize Taylor’s time.

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The Autopsy of Jane Doe

A coroner and his son attempt to solve the mystery of how a seemingly unscathed woman’s corpse ended up in a murdered family’s basement in this psychological-horror film from Norwegian director André Øvredal. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) doesn’t have a complicated story, but is creepy and compelling enough to rise above its peers.

Coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) run a routine practice in a small town morgue, but the discovery of the pale, lifeless body of a black-haired woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) in a murdered family’s basement changes all that. Austin has plans to take his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) to the movies, but something doesn’t feel right when the sheriff wheels in a fresh corpse from a crime scene, so he postpones the date.

As Tommy and Austin begin the autopsy on the mysterious woman, they uncover clues to how she died. All her injuries are internal, and they discover evidence that she’s much, much older than she appears. The more they cut into her, however, the more unsettling events begin to manifest around the morgue. Something unseen traps and pursues them, with predictable results.

It’s eventually revealed Jane Doe was a witch who was brutally tortured and magically bound in a prison of her own flesh in seventeenth-century New England. She inflicted torment on everyone who had custody of her body, so it was shuttled around until ending up in the morgue, where only Tommy and Austin had the tools and expertise to solve the mystery.

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The Secret Scripture: A Romantic Irish Tale

An elderly woman with an enigmatic past pines her days away in an asylum, until a doctor begins investigating her case and ultimately gives them both a second chance at life in The Secret Scripture (2016). It is a romantic tale filmed on location in Ireland and is one of those films audiences seemed to like but critics panned. Beautiful cinematography and emotional depth masks an otherwise ridiculous plot.

The Secret Scripture is based on a novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry, author of A Long Long Way (2005). It was released in Canada and the U.K. in 2016 but came to the U.S. in October of this year. It was adapted for the screen and directed by Jim Sheridan, who also directed My Left Foot (1989) and The Boxer (1997). Both Sebastian Barry and Jim Sheridan were born in Dublin and have focused their careers on highlighting the Irish experience.

The film centers on Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave), an elderly woman in a mental institution who allegedly murdered her child. Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana) comes to evaluate Rose to see if she is sane enough to live on her own, because the institution is being remodeled into a spa. Dr. Grene becomes fascinated with her life story after discovering a journal she’s kept, written on the pages of a Bible.

As a young woman, Rose (Rooney Mara) lives in Belfast with her sweetheart, Michael McNulty (Jack Reynor). He leaves to join the British air force during World War 2. She moves to the Irish countryside to escape the German bombing raids, only to run afoul of local conventions. After being exiled from her aunt’s cafe to an isolated cottage, Michael just so happens to be shot down in her backyard and she hides him from Irish partisans.

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My High School Years in Film: 1996

I thought it would be fun to do an overview of movies that came out while I was in high school. The first video covers August to December 1996, when I entered high school as a freshman at Maine West in Des Plaines, Illinois. Yeah, it’s blatant nostalgia, even though the ’90s was a lousy decade to be a teenager. What were your favorite films from the late ’90s?