American Honey (2016)

American Honey /Andrea Arnold / 2016 / twostar

Active Ingredients: Real people; Small moments of connection
Side Effects: Runtime; Repetitive narrative


With its fringy naturalism, American Honey presents a unique snapshot of contemporary youth and culture, but its impact as pathos and drama will depend on the tolerance of its audience. One woman’s travel of self-discovery could be another’s roadtrip that refuses to end.

British director Andrea Arnold has been known for sensitive, gritty realism (Fish Tank) and stormy emotional turbulence (Wuthering Heights), and though these modes may seem opposed, they combine in American Honey. The film, cast largely with non-professional actors and photographed in real locations around the country, follows a hardscrabble teenaged girl, Star (Sasha Lane) who impulsively joins a gang of other poor, directionless youths to travel the midwest in a van. Their stated goal is to peddle magazines for a shifty impresario (much like an older version of themselves), but work seems secondary to partying, drinking, singing along to hip-hop and socializing in truck stops and seedy motels. Read more…

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (2016)

Voyage of Time: The IMAX ExperienceTerrence Malick / 2016 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Childlike wonder; painterly images; poetic inquiry
Side Effects: Truncated feel


Terrence Malick’s paean to existence, Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, begins with an incantation, an invitation to its watcher. “Dear Child,” it begins. “Today you’re going to watch a movie that shows the story of the universe. From the birth of stars, to modern cities glowing in the night.”

That the film is explicitly addressed to Child is no accident. Whether it speaks to a literal boy or girl, like the ones we see in the film’s opening minutes; the ever-inquisitive inner child within all of us; or the child of the universe that is every living thing is irrelevant. All are one, all yoked together in the unfathomable miracle of existence. Read more…

“The Witch” and the Perversion of Spirituality

Robert Eggers’ striking debut The Witch is still one of the year’s very best films months after its release. With its creepy period specificity and effective tension that never cheats, the film is a bona fide instant horror classic. And October is a perfect time to revisit the film, or check it out for the first time. My original review can be found here, but this spoiler-filled post explores more of The Witch‘s themes of Satanism as an inversion of Christianity, and a perversion of spiritual ecstasy. Read more…

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather / Francis Ford Coppola / 1972 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Duvall and Cazale; Themes of ambition and corruption
Side Effects: Michael’s sudden turn towards the Family

One of the most interesting aspects of The Godfather—whose mammoth reputation threatens to swallow whole a work that is still compelling, alive and occasionally troubling is its stylistic positioning as a classical work in a modern cinematic landscape. Its nostalgic auburn hues, novelistic scope and stately compositions must have felt nearly old-fashioned in a time of “easy riders and raging bulls.” Read more…

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Everybody Wants Some!! / Richard Linklater / 2016 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Fun, convivial vibe; Cast of characters; Subtlety of insights
Side Effects: Loose structure makes for some awkward rhythms

Nobody makes films like Richard Linklater: warm, rambling, laconic, inviting, and just mellow, man. He has a knack for disarming the viewer in the most unassuming way. There’s no showy gimmicks or ostentatious style, just a naturalistic rhythm and a structure that quietly flies in the face of rigid narrative convention.

Case in point is Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater’s “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. It’s a loose ensemble film with no stakes, little incident and even less conflict. It’s about a freshman (Blake Jenner) joining a baseball team in the first few days of college in 1980. He gets to know the guys, goes to some parties, listens to some sweet tunes, meets some girls and muses, with no real sense of urgency or purpose, on the kind of person he wants to become. Read more…

Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special / Jeff Nichols / 2016 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Humanistic tone; Michael Shannon; Emotional undercurrents
Side Effects: Those same emotional moments sacrificed to momentum

Much has been made of Midnight Special‘s comparisons to a specific breed of old-fashioned, family-centered sci-fi films such as E.T., Close Encounters, and John Carpenter’s Starman. It’s true, director Jeff Nichols had these films in mind while crafting his own humane work about the wonderment of experiences beyond our understanding. But these comparisons fail to account for a significant difference in tone. Here, the wonder is fraught with worry, the adventure overshadowed by danger and desperation. Midnight Special isn’t exactly somber, but its tone exposes its concern with we imperfect beings here on Earth, and not simply a romantic Beyond. Read more…

Where to Start With… Apichatpong Weerasethakul

[Diving into a new cinematic topic can be daunting. This series provides some suggestions on where to begin exploring a director’s body of work, a genre, style or theme. The three suggested films serve as a brief introduction; they’re not complete or authoritative, but will in some way be representative of the topic and hopeful inspire you to watch more, outlined in recommended further viewing.]

Apichatpong Weerasethakul—affectionately called simply Joe by writers in the West—is a modern Thai filmmaker, video artist and installation artist. He gained acclaim and exposure in contemporary international art house circles for his 2007 film Syndromes and a Century, and became an even bigger critical success after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for 2010’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Apichatpong’s films can be oblique, and yes, difficult for the uninitiated, but there’s real warmth and boundless life to discover in his unique worlds. Read more…