In Review: Western

In the remote Bulgarian countryside, not far from the Greek border, a German construction crew begrudgingly brings infrastructure to an isolated village. The cultural divide between invaders and natives, not to mention the additional looming forces of migrants and organized crime, becomes exacerbated by the ingratiation of a loner Meinhard into the fabric of the local community. With nothing back home to keep him, Meinhard finds peace and purpose in the tightly knit Bulgarian community, quickly stirring the ire and competition of his nationalist crew. Such is the complex and engaging genre deconstruction of Valeska Grisebach’s Western.


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In Review: Thoroughbreds

Playwright Cory Finley has a mild writing/directing film debut in Thoroughbreds, a teen anti-romp in upper class psychopathy. Two former friends, Amanda and Lily, are thrust together in awkward circumstances and the tension quickly devolves into a codependent antisocial bond. There’s an only fleeting sharpness to to the film’s edge, an obviousness to sly shrug it greets its punishments. You know, like murder and stuff.


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In Review: Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence has a new attempt at a franchise with Red Sparrow, a post-Cold War yarn of an injured Russian dancer named Dominika recruited to the spy game. Attempting to care for her handicapped mother she submits to become a Russian sparrow, undercover agents trained to manipulate with sexuality and also willful submissives to a punishing governmental agenda. Dominika falls for her first mark, an American agent Nate Nash (named as such in case you couldn’t already tell you’re really dealing with pulp, no doubt) played by Joel Edgerton – and perhaps finds her way out of subjugation. The entire enterprise is even more skeevy and derivative than it sounds.


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In Review!: “Mom And Dad”

The kids actually are all right; their parents are another story. Mom And Dad has the nuclear unit going atomic, but it’s less radioactive than mildly hazardous.

In this new horror-comedy from Crank writer/director Brian Taylor, a suburban slew of parents devolve into an unexplained fit of rage against their children. The violent id underneath affection, the part of every parent that despises their offspring, is unleashed for maximum destruction with the full brunt of any similar kind of stifled emotions behind white picket fences. Unfortunately, the film explores these themes gracelessly and without without the specificity to elevate the humor.


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The Best Films of 2017


2017 was another very special year at the movies for yours truly – especially with getting to attend TIFF for the first time, this was a “before and after” year if I ever had one. As the world finds new ways to be unbearable, filmmakers haven’t been a stronghold for reflecting that awfulness while reaffirming our human resolve. I can’t remember a year where a film’s compassion could be felt so acutely. As ever, the movies were both an escape and a mirror. The running themes in the year’s best films are the terrible times we live in writ large and a reactionary, hard-won empathy, as if the movies were speaking to one another – a salve for the burns, or kindred spirits in tearing things down to build them back up again. How can one say that it’s a downer for the movies when they count for more these days?

And yet the complaints persist that the year was a disappointment. If you argue that this was an underwhelming year for film, the counterpoint remains to simply see more movies. From the inescapability of Star Wars – The Last Jedi taking massive creative risks to delights under the radar like Princess Cyd, the rewards are everywhere whether you actively seek them out or you can’t seem to avoid them. Even Netflix has made some of the year’s best accessible to so many, even if it has blurred the lines of the TV vs. film divide.

Missing among my list below that were the most difficult to omit: the potency of Mudbound‘s character insight, the blasé gutsiness of Staying Vertical, the soul of A Fantastic Woman, the cozy/prickly ambition of Okja, and The Post‘s timely righteousness. Major players of the year that I have regrettably missed at this time include Phantom Thread, Loveless, The Breadwinner, and Félicité. Onto the top 15 films of the year…

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