New in Theaters Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
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.

25Feb/180

Mute (2018)

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Leo silently wanders around Berlin, working his bartender position and stealing moments with his girlfriend.  After she disappears, Leo begins an investigation that will lead him into a conspiracy so complicated the participants barely understand their roles.  Duncan Jones wrote the screenplay for and directs Mute, and stars Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux.

Upfront - Mute is terrible.  Duncan Jones' return to science-fiction is arguably legendary in how bad it is.  There are so many threads of interest muddled because of poor acting, borderline incomprehensible dialogue, or pacing so glacial I could watch it to cool down in the summer.  That's before the homoerotic maybe murderers, maybe not, played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux manage to strike two entirely different nervy tones that are at odds with each other and the plodding pace of the rest of Mute.

...and yet.  It's not often a science-fiction film comes along that makes me think of John Cassavetes' infamously difficult 1976 film The Killing of a Chinese BookieMute shares that film's daring approach, practically betting that I wouldn't stay awake for the entirety of its length or stay engaged in this futuristic Amish noir-tinged science-fiction investigation.  Jones misfired with Mute but the extent of that misfire and what bits remain fascinating up until the end will fuel conversation for months to come.

15Feb/180

Darkest Hour (2017)

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The beaches are in peril.  Nazi Germany is on the march, beginning Hitler's conquest of Europe, and Parliament sits divided on how to respond.  The only way forward is compromise, setting the stage for Winston Churchill to fly or falter under the pressure of his appointment to Prime Minister.  Joe Wright directs Darkest Hour, with the screenplay written by Anthony McCarten, and stars Gary Oldman and Kirstin Scott Thomas.

Darkest Hour plays like a riff on one of England's oldest traditions, pulling out a production of Shakespeare's Henry V when the country is facing hard times.  Only in Darkest Hour, the mighty leader is a compromise slob who can barely string coherent sentences together in his barely restrained bloodlust who is appointed by the shadowy upper-crust needing a potential fall guy.  Rare is the motion picture that combines disdain for the upper class, astonishment that governments survive long enough to do any kind of good, and still manage to be a fully rousing experience.

I have some hesitation in giving it a full recommendation because Darkest Hour repeats some arguments that enrage me.  Chief among them is the idea that leaders come to us via divine providence and their flaws are what give them strength.  Director Joe Wright anticipates this somewhat, making the bulk of these arguments come from the exquisite Kirstin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill.  When she intones that Winston's lack of grace builds him up, it's hard not to hear echoes of those who defend Donald Trump's similar (to put it charitably) awful viewpoints.  Yet, Thomas says these lines with a hint of humored reservation, and Gary Oldman's near-slobbering take on Winston does little to make the line ring true.