2015 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Changing Reels Episode 28 – Creed

Ryan Coogler’s Creed, much like its protagonist Adonis Johnson Creed, strives to carve out its own path while dealing with the weight of his legacy.  The seventh film in the Rocky franchise, not only pays homage to the films in the series that came before it, but forges its own identity while carrying the torch for a whole new generation.  In this episode, we are joined by film critic Ryan McNeil to discuss why Creed ranks amongst the best boxing films in the last couple of decades.  We also take time to highlight our short film picks: Quand J’ai Remplacé Camille by Nathan Otaño, Rémy Clarke & Leïla Courtillon and Standing 8 by Michael Molina Minard.

Show notes:

If you like what you hear, or want to offer some constructive criticism, please take a moment to rate our show on iTunes!  If you have a comment on this episode, or want to suggest a film for us to discuss, feel free to contact us via twitter (@ChangingReelsAC), follow us on Facebook and reach out to us by email (Changing.Reels.AC@gmail.com).  You can also hear our show on SoundCloud or Stitcher!

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Changing Reels Episode 7 – The Midnight Swim

Sarah Adina Smith’s The Midnight Swim is not a film that can easily be summarized.  At its core it is a family drama about the connection between three half-sisters and their mother who has mysteriously gone missing.  However, it also features elements from the found footage genre, a wonderful musical number, a shawl that is downright creepy, and deep questions about the transcendent nature of death.  Needless to say there is a lot to chew on in this episode.   We also discuss our short films picks of the week:  Donato Sansone’s Journal Anime and Ben Brand’s Life is Beautiful.

Andrew’s note: shortly after Donato Sansone’s Journal Anime was featured on Short of the Week, and after Courtney and I were able to view and discuss it, all available versions of it online have been made private.  Sorry for the inconvenience, and for those still interested you can find the remnants of the initial post we discussed here.

Do you have a film that you would like hear us to discuss on the show? Want to share some thoughts on this episode? If so, you can reach us via twitter (@ChangingReelsAC) or by email (Changing.Reels.AC@gmail.com).  Also, you can subscribe to our show on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher!

Show notes:

  • 1:56 – Journal Anime by Donato Sansone
  • 11:28 – Life Is Beautiful by Ben Brand
  • 19:26 – The Midnight Swim by Sarah Adina Smith
  • We also discuss Kurt Halfyard’s interview with Sarah Adina Smith that can be found at Screen Anarchy.

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Denis Villeneuve Podcast: Sicario (2015)


Courtney Small of Cinema Axis joins Andrew in this final (for now) discussion about the movies of Denis Villeneuve with 2015's tremendous examination of sexism, race, and hegemonic white American power in Sicario.

Both the introduction and outro on the podcast come from composer Jóhann Jóhannsson for Sicario ("The Beast") and Prisoners ("Through Falling Snow").


Spike Lee: Chi-Raq (2015)

What to do in a city where gangs are caught in a perpetual cycle of violence?  Dolemides watches and narrates with bemused interest, noticing the strong-willed Lysistrata who's tired of her man Chi-Raq trading blood for blood.  Taking a cue from her comrades in Liberia, Lysistrata leads the women of Chicago on a sex strike until the men are willing to put down their pistols and talk peace.  Spike Lee directs Chi-Raq from a screenplay co-written by Spike and Kevin Wilmott, and stars Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Cusack.

It's making me insaneThe first 10 minutes or so of Chi-Raq had me thinking back to Red Hook Summer. That was another film where Spike Lee seemed suddenly reinvigorated, not necessarily mimicking the rhythm and editing of earlier classic efforts like Do the Right Thing, but echoing their energy. As one of the the long takes opening that film followed the central characters through Red Hook, Lee had again found a way to tap into a complex, living, breathing community in his fiction the way then-recent documentary entries had shifted to. I had the same sense during the opening of Chi-Raq, where Spike drops us into a club moments before a shooting, transposing various voices from social media and texts with some rapid cutting that embodies the strong connection between the musicians and the crowd.

The reason I keep going back to that opening sequence (among some others) is that I can't think of too many ways to discuss Chi-Raq that aren't anchored in the aesthetic dimensions of the movie. Like so many of Spike's later films, the majority of the discussions here seem culled from an article or two and massaged into the dialogue. He hasn't been unsuccessful in this, but he's failed to use the dramatic situation and characters to build up much additional insight around these basic well-known talking points and statistics. Awhile after the movie was over, I was left with the impression I'd spent two hours letting Spike read a well-researched New York Times article to me that I'd already read myself.

That's a shame considering that, as usual, he demonstrates such a unique command over every aspect of the film. The craft is so clearly on display here that it's hard to imagine this isn't exactly the film he wanted to make (the production itself seems to confirm that as well), which makes the scattershot inconsistency and general lack of depth confusing. There are a handful of scenes that have some real, lasting power—which I'm sure we'll get to—but so much of the movie is all over the place that those sequences didn't connect and build into anything significant for me. Even when the tone shifts to near-Abrahams & Zucker levels of goofy satire (a soldier being carted away in a straight jacket comically shaking his head and repeating "big booty big booty"), it can sometimes be really funny and effective—the problem is we're recalibrating in nearly every scene to the movie we're supposed to be watching.No peace no pussyIn a few ways, I'm right there with you in your response to Chi-Raq.  But in the most important ways I'm diametrically opposed.  If Chi-Raq dropped today, with none of Spike's previous films to reference, I'd feel a bit more like you do.  Since Chi-Raq follows a period of restless creativity when the same social and economic ills plague black Americans, I have to think of it as the energetic, optimistic, and pointed follow-up to Do the Right Thing.  In 1989, Spike saw a simmering pot of tensions ready to explode in any direction with black Americans needing to take over their economic lives.  In 2015 there's no such economic push, there are already rappers and gangsters living on the shadow economy, and without government stepping in and bringing widespread employment things aren't going to get better.

That's where I don't think you're too far off comparing Red Hook Summer, especially with Chi-Raq's spectacular opening.  Where Red Hook Summer, and Do the Right Thing, got knee-deep into the rhythm of daily life, Chi-Raq goes straight into a verse from the chorus, then a character beat, and right back into the chorus.  Spike always said he wanted to make a full musical and here he manages to do that without including many musical numbers thanks to the chorus / character structure.  With Chi-Raq everyone lives to the rhythm of the music in some way, be it from Angela Bassett's firm and self-assured rhymes, to Samuel L. Jackson's insightful MC work, and, in the most surprising development, John Cusack tearing up a sermon with more fire than I've ever seen from him.

Chi-Raq pivots on an act of violence too, much like Red Hook Summer with the priest confessing after he is attacked, and in Do the Right Thing with the murder of Radio Raheem.  Unlike those films, Chi-Raq is more concerned with the aftermath of the violence instead of the build up followed by the community reaction.  This is why the musical structure is beautifully employed even if it results in few musical numbers.  The violence of daily life is built right in with the dialogue, and expressed through the gunfire texts and the militia wardrobe Lysistrata clothes herself in.  It's a fable that acknowledges it's a fable, a happy ending that's probably not possible, as violence is so deep in their lives that it takes a miracle and the involvement of wealthy companies to solve all the problems.  Spike is more optimistic than normal here, celebrating Chicago in all its darkly colorful glory, and I was able to jump from scene to scene when I thought of the music of the dialogue as an extension of the violence.


The Hateful Eight (2015)

A storm's coming, and eight strangers stranded in a solitary cabin on the hill are about to have a rough night.  One among them is a killer, picking off these mercenaries and reformed criminals one by one.  If any of them is going to survive the night they'll need to figure this out fast, or succumb to the hatred of an unseen enemy.  Quentin Tarantino writes and directs The Hateful Eight, and stars Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Into the murderous subsurvienceTo even the most casual of readers, it’s clear I haven’t been updating as much as in the past.  There’s a bevy of reasons, but the most important is many movies just haven’t been interesting me.  The Oscars hemmed and hawed their way through my screen, I saw a few of the stragglers left, and the DVD slowly gathered dust as my attention waned.  What I thought would be a good cure for this valley was Quentin Tarantino’s latest, The Hateful Eight.

I’m not a Tarantino groupie, one of the few people bored by Pulp Fiction, and thought both Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds were terrible.  On the other side, Django Unchained was a magnificent change of pace and saw Tarantino turned some of the criticisms of his movies back on himself.  Tarantino the director-as-actor became a barely comprehensible huckster who gets himself blow up, all while Tarantino the director pointed at an alternate history where black performers dominated spaghetti westerns.  Django Unchained had its problems, most notably where Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda was concerned, but by criticizing himself Tarantino created one of his best films and my nominee for greatest scene of the 2010’s (so far).

The Hateful Eight began slow, gathered disdain through Tarantino’s typically spicy dialogue, and finally collapsed into a void of horrible as Tarantino indulged in all his worst impulses.  I suppose that’s better than forgettable, but the overt misogynistic, racial, and homophobic violence which forms the core of The Hateful Eight is barely preferable.  For those who think Tarantino cloaks himself in the veneer of an alt-filmmaker who uses his clout to write things so hateful they’d sink lesser directors, The Hateful Eight will offer little in the way of a counter-argument. It’s, in fact, so bad I may join them.