New in Theaters Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
18Jul/180

How It Ends (2018)

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Disaster strikes on the west coast and is felt throughout the United States.  Will and Tom must put aside their hostility for one another to traverse the American landscape to save Will's girlfriend, and Tom's daughter, Sam.  David M. Rosenthal directs How It Ends from the screenplay written by Brooks McLaren which stars Theo James and Forest Whitaker.

After I finished watching How It Ends, I went searching for the poster and - once discovered - let out a big laugh.  The poster shows Will (Theo James) looking like an action hero with a bit of flare from the sun in the foreground and a transparent Tom (Forest Whitaker) looking somber in the background.  Its visual message is muddled and even after finishing How It Ends I have to wonder what the poster's creators were trying to communicate.  Is Tom an evil haunting Will, the man overseeing Will, some compatriot, or the one Will is trying to rescue?

Brook McLaren's screenplay answers, "All of the above," and David M. Rosenthal's direction responds, "Why not?"

Thus, How It Ends comes into existence with little clue about its identity as it strives to be multiple films at once and not succeeding at a blessed one of them.  Some of that has to do with how thinly stretched the apocalyptic content is if you have the barest knowledge of American weather patterns.  More of that has to do with James' lead performance that isn't exciting enough to call bland.  Then there's Whitaker, a professional and master of his field no matter where he shows up, throwing himself full speed into whatever emotional tone is required of him at the moment.

11May/180

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives (2018)

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Hari Kondabolu discusses the modern capitalist hell of airports, his love of mangoes, and ineffectual liberalism in this standup comedy special.

Warn Your Relatives is currently available on Netflix.

To get an idea of how dense Hari Kondabolu's Warn Your Relatives is - make sure you keep the opening visual gag in mind until damn near the end of the special.  Kondabolu arrives at the venue with a toy crown atop his head and a bicycle driver that looks like Shia LaBeouf after a perm.  On a surface level, it's just another example of a comedian taking the piss out of themselves and good for a smile.  With a bit of history, it's an inversion of the British oppression of India and sets up an amazing punchline about what accent Kondabolu's uninterested in hearing under duress.

If you only know Kondabolu from his appearances on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell or his standup bits then you'll enjoy the special.  The bigger appeal for me lay in the beautiful talk he had with bell hooks in 2016.  There are genuinely tender moments in that conversation where Kondabolu and bell hooks connect over a shared weariness about their status in the United States along with the comforts of their respective faiths.  That's the Kondabolu I saw in Warn Your Relatives, and that's exactly why all of this special has superglued itself to my brain.

23Apr/180

Pass Over (2018)

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Moses and Kitch, stuck on the corner, start imagining what their paradise would be if not for the realities of life keeping them where they are.  Spike Lee directs Pass Over, a theatrical production with collaborating director Danya Taymor, with the screenplay written by Antoinette Nwandu, and stars Jon Michael Hill and Julian Parker.

Every few years, Spike Lee takes time away from his own work to collaborate with the creative team of a theatrical production to bring it to the cinema.  My favorite Spike films are in this vein, from the nervy excitement of Freak to the heartbreaking creativity of Passing Strange.  They're as much a creative exorcism as they are a focused realignment, freeing Spike from multiple duties to place his faith in the theatrical talent and bring the closed-off world of the stage to the screen.  Pass Over is not as entertaining as Freak or Passing Strange, but vibrates with uncertainty and pain on a level similar to A Huey P. Newton Story.

The wordsmith behind Pass Over is Antoinette Nwandu, a name I was not familiar with prior to Pass Over and now realize I have much to learn from.  She's a passionate and powerful speaker which is reflected perfectly in the dialogue of Pass Over as the lightly reserved Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) wait for something - anything - to free them from the corner.  Their waiting might be familiar to anyone who has seen Waiting For Godot but the affect taps into a tension I feel sitting in restaurants, going to the theater, or buying groceries.  The tension that at any point someone who feels my life is theirs to do as they see fit can snuff out my existence on this planet.

18Apr/180

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Humanity has been ravaged by deadly creatures who hunt via sound and whoever remains live their lives in quiet routine.  The Abbott family, reeling from the loss of their youngest child, prepares for the birth of the newest addition by taking as many sound-dampening precautions as possible.  God laughs, and the Abbotts must respond to the threat facing their home.  John Krasinski directs A Quiet Place, with the screenplay written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski, and stars Millicent Simmonds, John Krasinski, and Emily Blunt.

The power of diversity and representation in cinema doesn't come from hitting a quota or an excuse to use different aesthetics.  It comes from the ability to tell different stories, focus on unexplored dimensions of established tropes, and let those who haven't had the opportunity to play with the big toys show what they can do.

Director and star John Krasinski is not a deaf performer but filmed A Quiet Place with a big creative rule - if the deaf performers or mentors have an idea then figure out how to implement it.  Krasinski, following this guideline with costar Millicent Simmonds and backstage mentor Douglas Ridloff, crafts a horror film that is absolutely thrilling from start to finish with a world that feels more lived-in than dramas taking place in "real" cities.  I'm not a fan of talking about whether something is believable or not but I'm all about verisimilitude, and A Quiet Place has the appearance of truth even with its otherworldly skeletal microphone beasts.

19Mar/180

Annihilation (2018)

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Lena goes about her routine, teaching classes while rejecting the advances of a fellow professor and trying to move forward with her life.  When her long absent husband, Kane, returns to their home she is left with questions to match her elation.  Soon, she'll become intertwined with the investigation that left Kane a shell of who he was, and enters a mysterious zone where her worst fears are given life.  Alex Garland wrote the screenplay for and directs Annihilation, which stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.

Depression is the greatest human paradox.  It stains as it drive bits of itself further out, slowly tainting every facet of your life.  But it continues pulling itself apart, reaching toward who knows what, and will not be satiated until everything in existence feels its touch to begin its own inexorable journey toward oblivion.  Up into space, into each other, into the fragrances and sights that give life meaning.  The pain comes not in knowing that you're facing the total annihilation of yourself, but the pieces that you thought gave meaning to others unfortunate enough to know you will eventually drag them down to your pain.

There have been successful expressions of depression in science-fiction, most notably the traumatic healing of Upstream Color and the egoist's self-destructive hope all will feel how you suffer in Melancholia. I can't think of another film that visualizes the paradox of depression as perfectly as Annihilation.  Lena (Natalie Portman) sees "the shimmer", an ever-expanding expanse bordered with hypnotic colored oils merging and pulling apart as it stretches off into the air.  It exists with clear boundaries, but its expanse seems to have no limit.  The colors do not reflect on Lena's face, instead brightening her features with an unnatural strength that recalls the lighting of daytime soap operas.  Inside the shimmer awaits not the varied texture of human melodrama, just a harsh spotlight on yourself, and no one is prepared for what that might bring.