REVIEW: Ayla [2018]

“You still see her sometimes, don’t you?” It doesn’t matter that it’s been thirty years since Elton’s (Nicholas Wilder) sister died at age four. He still sees her in the corner of his eyes, the shadows, and his mind. This sense of longing has taken hold of his actions many times throughout his life as evidenced by the scars on his forearms—a pattern of self-violence for which his mother Susan (Dee Wallace) and younger brother James (D’Angelo Midili) are keenly aware. But the hope is that those days are behind…

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REVIEW: 大鱼海棠 [Dayu haitang] [Big Fish & Begonia] [2016]

“Without happiness, what’s the meaning of longevity?” In 2004, directors Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang created a Flash animation for an online contest. From there they would expand it into a feature length film steeped in Chinese supernatural legend. And despite some funding snags over its twelve-year production schedule, 大鱼海棠 [Dayu haitang] [Big Fish & Begonia] would ultimately turn its approximately five million-dollar budget (in today’s US dollars) into just shy of one hundred million at the Chinese box office. It’s no surprise then that it would make its way…

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REVIEW: Fourplay [2018]

“We are victims of our own faults” It starts with the mixture of excitement and fear the result of a positive pregnancy test delivers before quickly moving into an impromptu hallway dance that ends with a crash of glass and a smack across the face. I’m not sure a better beginning to Dean Matthew Ronalds‘ Fourplay would be possible as this sort of escalation of emotion and temper courses through the whole like a live wire of volatility threatening to derail what should be a joyous brunch between friends. In…

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REVIEW: Ready Player One [2018]

“Ninjas don’t hug” You can’t help but drown within the pop culture vacuum of Ernest Cline‘s Ready Player One while reading. He throws references left and right—most often for no other reason than to namedrop as though he’s racking up geek-cred points within a nonexistent game. There becomes such an influx of information that you begin to see just how flimsy and redundant the plot behind the superficial artifice is in its reworking of common dystopian tropes utilized to bestselling success in the YA world. It’s a thin veil similar…

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REVIEW: The Death of Stalin [2017]

“I can’t remember who’s alive and who isn’t” The Russians may have taken umbrage with British director Armando Iannucci‘s The Death of Stalin—a tale of backstabbing governmental hilarity—but their successful quest to ban it domestically is a case of “doth protest too much.” The Soviet Union allied with Hitler’s Nazi regime before joining the winning side and Stalin was very much an enemy of my enemy type of compromise. So while some may have glossed over his many atrocities because he once posed for a photograph with Roosevelt and Churchill,…

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REVIEW: Aala Kaf Ifrit [Beauty and the Dogs] [2017]

“What law forbids a human being from seeing a doctor?” Fear should never be underestimated as a means for oppression or motivation because there are few emotions more potent. This is why totalitarian regimes use it as a weapon to silence those who dare find the courage to stand up for their rights. They sow fear into the masses, using it to gather support for new laws pretending to protect citizens that actually just insulate those in the position to make them. And if a rebellion somehow proves successful, adjustment…

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REVIEW: Unsane [2018]

“Your life slips away from you, you know?” The tagline to Steven Soderbergh‘s Unsane reads as follows: “Is she or isn’t she?” Its context stems from Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) being presented as an unreliable narrator. She’s picked up her life and moved it from Boston to Pennsylvania to escape the troubles of her past—namely a stalker whose lack of boundaries instilled enough fear to make her see him in places he wasn’t. We understand this struggle is real due to a one-night stand ending with her scream after the…

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REVIEW: Medicine for Melancholy [2009]

“It’s funny cause it’s not funny” We meet Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Joanne (Tracey Heggins) without any context beyond the obvious fact that they slept together the night before. They’ve awakened in someone else’s bed, eventually taking turns in the bathroom to brush their teeth with their fingers. She seems embarrassed, covering up and staying quiet as he awkwardly tries to drum up conversation and get to know this person with which he just shared a one-night stand. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Doesn’t taking her to breakfast and…

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REVIEW: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench [2010]

“Tell me what you think” I must have missed something. How does Damien Chazelle‘s debut feature Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench warrant any praise besides its context within La La Land‘s history? I say this as a Chazelle fan too. I think Whiplash was one of the best works of the decade and La La Land a resonant contemporary musical deserving of its acclaim despite those who dismiss it as overrated having a point. But their predecessor about a man and woman who break-up and go their separate…

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REVIEW: Love, Simon [2018]

“You’re still you” There have been crazier premises for coming-of-age romantic comedies than having the lead fall in love via email with someone they’re afraid they’ll never meet. Unrequited love is nothing new to the genre and neither is an escalating series of mishaps and intentionally misleading manipulation on behalf of the lead towards his best friends to keep that love secret. But despite these familiarities, director Greg Berlanti and his talented cast of funny and emotive actors finds a way to make it resonate. The relationships onscreen—good or bad,…

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