Then Playing — Gideon’s Army; They Drive By Night; Five Feet Apart

Gideon’s Army (Dawn Porter, 2013). This documentary examines the grueling, perpetually disheartening work undertaken by public defenders, vital contributors to the principle of equal justice that are severely undervalued. The prevailing storytelling scheme of the day calls for picking a … Continue reading Then Playing — Gideon’s Army; They Drive By Night; Five Feet Apart

Dominik, Howard, Junger, Miller, Wolchok

Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016). And so we’ve reached the point in the superhero era of cinema that allows for a caustically deconstructionist take on the genre to become one of the biggest hits of the year. There might be no better methodology for tracing the chronology of the genre’s takeover than measuring the comparative impact of Mystery Men (a dud in 1999) to Kick-Ass (a solid hit in 2010) to Deadpool (a sensation in 2016). Technically, Ryan Reynolds first played Wade Wilson in the dismal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, release in 2009. Besides the smirking countenance of the actor, that iteration … Continue reading Dominik, Howard, Junger, Miller, Wolchok

Bernstein with Hooker, Chaplin, Friedkin, Lowery, Taylor

Terminator: Genisys (Alan Taylor, 2015). The reeling lesson of the just completed summer box office season is that the recycled repetition of brand-driven moviemaking may finally be sputtering its last. The ideal case study as to why arrived one year earlier. Arriving six years after the previous attempt at franchise revivification, Terminator: Genisys shows precisely how hollow the endeavor can be. The film trots out a procession of touchstones — familiar lines, restaged scenes, echoed character beats — without a hint of a central vision or an ounce of soul. Director Alan Taylor brings that same sluggish blandness that made … Continue reading Bernstein with Hooker, Chaplin, Friedkin, Lowery, Taylor

Carey, Harvey, Hill, Maloof and Siskel, Shepard

Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962). The film begins with a car crash, the vehicle careening off a cliff into the murky drink. Though the authorities are unable to find the vehicle’s female occupant (Candace Hilligoss), she eventually emerges, carrying no memory of how she survived. She proceeds with her plan, traveling to Utah for a job as a church organist. From there, writer-director Harvey, along with co-screenwriter John Clifford, comes up with downright ingenious ways to build scenes with unsettling layers with an obviously meager budget. The movie is ticklishly amusing given some of its more dated elements and amateurish … Continue reading Carey, Harvey, Hill, Maloof and Siskel, Shepard

Garland, Howard, Mangold, Ross, Taylor

Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015). Novelist and screenwriter Garland makes his directorial debut with this smart, chilly science fiction film about a reclusive tech magnate (Oscar Isaac) who flies up an employee (Domhnall Gleeson), supposedly selected at random, to help him test out some remarkable new artificial intelligence he’s created. Complicating the test subjects reactions is the little detail that the A.I. has been loaded into an android with a notably lovely female form and visage (Alicia Vikander). Garland builds his script with almost malicious psychological cunning, fomenting uncertainty as to whether the genius inventor is a simmering madman or … Continue reading Garland, Howard, Mangold, Ross, Taylor

Bendjelloul, Bobin, Boone, Lee, Stiller

Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin, 2014). Once the cinematic franchise is revived, the next task is to prove it can be prolonged and maintained. Muppets Most Wanted is agreeable but oddly inconsequential. Lacking the fanboy passion that Jason Segel seemed to inject into The Muppets all by his lonesome, this new installment is drab and prone to drifting. The plot manages to evoke The Great Muppet Caper, the original Muppet sequel, while also playing around with a mistaken identity gimmick that takes full advantage of the pliability of the characters’ identity. Yes, it’s amusing at times, and the celebrity “guest stars” are … Continue reading Bendjelloul, Bobin, Boone, Lee, Stiller

Burton, Limon, Melfi, Segal, Tyldum

The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum, 2014). One of the great frustrations of the Oscar season was watching Selma and, to a lesser degree, American Sniper battered by criticism over supposedly terrible transgressions in their depiction of historical record while The Imitation Game, the “true life” story receiving the phoniest treatment among the Oscar contenders, sailed along unperturbed. The story of Alan Turing’s secret, indispensable contributions to the Allied effort in World War II is fully deserving of big-screen veneration, just as his own government’s cruel retribution against him a decade later because his “lifestyle” was considered illegal is the stuff of … Continue reading Burton, Limon, Melfi, Segal, Tyldum

Ford, Hancock, Huston, McDonagh, Robespierre

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948). Huston’s famed exploration of greed tainting a slapdash partnership of aspiration gold miners in the Mexican mountains is so deviously ingenious that the director booming cackle virtually echoes through the most feverish scenes. The best Tim Holt can do as the most upstanding, straightforward member of the trio is stay upright against the buffeting winds of Humphrey Bogart, all sweaty paranoia and flash fire intensity, and Walter Huston, delivering a just Oscar-awarded turn as the weather-beaten old-timer whose the one member of the party who’s not a neophyte. The film is … Continue reading Ford, Hancock, Huston, McDonagh, Robespierre