Episode 7: The Indie Calm Before The Summer Storm

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for late April 2017.

You can also stream Episode 7 by clicking here.

On this episode, the roundtable includes:

– Colossal (starting at 1:42)
– Free Fire (at 10:02)
– The Lost City of Z (at 22:24)
– The Promise 
(at 38:12)
– The Discovery 
(at 47:33)

– This week, we reflect on the career of the Academy Award winning director of The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme. He passed away this week. (Starts at 57:37)

– Charles reviews T2: Trainspotting, the long-awaited sequel to the 1996 indie breakthrough. (Starts at 1:06:53).

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the April 28, 2017 episode.

THE CIRCLE (Movie Review)

** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for a sexual situation, brief strong language, and some thematic elements )
Released:  April 28, 2017
Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, Bill Paxton, Glenne Headly, Ellar Coltrane, John 

This circle is pretty square.

Despite as impressive a creative team as you could hope for, this Dave Eggers social media thriller has only one flaw, but it’s fatal and in the foundation: the script.

Based on Eggers’ novel and written for the screen by Eggers and director James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour), The Circle is a modern parable set in the titular tech powerhouse. It’s essentially Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, and every other social media platform combined. Or, more simply, it’s Silicon Valley all in one, on a single ginormous compound.

That campus and its culture run like a 21st Century cult, with every employee (along with the world, apparently) drinking The Circle’s digital kool-aid. Led by charismatic guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks, in quite possibly the best performance from a bad movie you’ll ever see), the worker bees laugh at his every quip and praise every idea he utters as they live too-perfect lives in their near-future bubble, all the while enforcing one-hundred percent job effectiveness through super polite passive aggression.

When out-of-work Mae (Emma Watson, Beauty and the Beast) catches a break and is hired to The Circle’s support staff, it’s not too long before she begins to see what apparently thousands of others never have: they’re all effectively brainwashed, walking around in a millennial Stepford stupor.

Honestly, everyone in this movie is more stupid than nearly everyone who will watch it.

The premise, and how it’s portrayed, is a bit shaky but easy enough to run with until the plot’s primary “what if” doubles down on the far-fetched. Eamon Bailey reveals a new tech camera so small, portable, and wireless that it can be placed covertly anywhere in the world and record whatever its owner sets its lens on. The device is called SeeChange (Those tech giants sure have a way with branding, don’t they? You know, like Dad jokes.)  and it has the power to eradicate privacy entirely, turning the entire planet into an international Truman Show.

And this is applauded.

How can an audience that lives in a world where Kellyanne Conway’s microwave camera was mercilessly mocked possibly take this movie seriously? It can’t.

But apparently in this version of reality, if something innovative is presented in a slick TED Talk style demonstration then people will buy anything. (Okay, maybe it’s not that far-fetched.)

Impressive though it may be, SeeChange is a civil liberty nightmare, but no one raises concerns over its negative, even illegal, implications. It’s pitched by Eamon in altruistic terms, promoting the ability to keep every oppressive dictator honest once and for all, or use the power of our interconnectivity to find criminals, lost loved ones, and more, all in record time.

Eamon plays to the idea that living without secrets is liberating. It’s a keen play because it happens to be true. Secrets are oppressive, but Eamon’s propaganda is ultimately a half-truth. Why? Because secrets and privacy are two different things. The former is deceptive and potentially destructive while the latter is necessary, even healthy. Eamon obscures that distinction, and everyone just smiles.

How Watson’s Mae ends up playing into this whole dynamic is a stretch, too. I suspected how her fast ascent would be credibly validated…only to see not be validated in the slightest. The only thing keeping this remotely grounded is Hanks himself, who is nothing short of brilliant as the high tech spider spinning his world wide web.

Hanks astutely applies his own natural charm and personal integrity to an against-type villain role. It’s intensely eerie, even unsettling. The poignant presence of the late Bill Paxton, who plays Mae’s MS-afflicted father with unshowy naturalism, also reminds us about the tragic loss of this too-often underappreciated actor.

Begging to be adapted by David Fincher, The Circle didn’t settle for a second-tier freelancer. Ponsoldt has helmed some of the best independent films of the past five years (The Spectacular Now and Smashed among them), and he assembles a first-rate cast with some slick production values.

But when this increasingly ridiculous plot machine – riddled with “you’ve got to be kidding me” melodrama – finally ends in an abrupt “that’s it?” moment, you’re left dumbfounded by the reality that a surefire smart thriller with relevant thought-provoking themes has just been inexplicably hacked.

COLOSSAL (Movie Review)

***1/2 out of ****
Rated R
(for strong language)
Released:  April 21, 2017 limited; April 28 wide
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-ray and DVD. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

Nacho Vigalondo is a Spanish filmmaker. His new film is Colossal, and now I want to see what this guy could do with a Marvel movie.

Wait.  No I don’t. The last thing anyone should want is for a director this clever, ingenious, and effective to get sucked up into a soulless corporate machine. If his perfectly realized little sci-fi indie is any indication, please, just let Nacho keep following whatever muses may strike him.

Colossal – about a New York woman who’s somehow psychically connected to a rampaging monster (a la Godzilla) in Seoul, South Korea – is like an accessible version of a Charlie Kaufman movie (Being John Malkovich, et al). That is to say it’s weird, but not weirdly told.

Like Kaufman, Vigalondo uses a bizarre, inspired premise as an allegory for something more substantial (while crafting his movie with impressive polish and vision, on a low budget). Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an out-of-work alcoholic party girl who’s been kicked out of her shared NYC apartment by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) because he can’t take any more of her mooching, not to mention her general self-destructive behavior.

She goes back to her small town and the abandoned house of her late parents where she reconnects with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend who now runs his dad’s bar. As they (along with the rest of the world) follow the mysterious and harrowing events of the Korean monster, Gloria realizes to her shock that the creature’s movements mirror hers exactly whenever it appears.

The implications of this, including the destruction that the monster leaves in its wake, is obviously an overwhelming burden for Gloria to handle.

The metaphor here is pretty obvious: the real-life Korean monster represents Gloria’s internal alcoholic monster, and the taming of both are inextricably linked. Yet thankfully, that on-the-nose concept doesn’t reflect a painfully obvious text, nor is it a lazy excuse for a too-clever B-movie to take itself more importantly than it should.

Instead, the parable expands and reveals layers that are much deeper than I was expecting, and through a story that goes places I couldn’t predict. If you’ve seen the trailer and thought (like me) that you’d been given nearly the entire plot, well, you haven’t.

To the extent the monster destroys the world around it, it’s because Gloria is carelessly destroying hers. To be able to visualize that wanton destruction on a mass scale is a provocative if fantastical wake-up call, and one that could make anyone reconsider their own vices anew.

What’s particularly insightful, and true, about the way Vigalondo plays with this metaphor is how the “monster” here really isn’t alcoholism. Addiction is merely a symptom of something with more insidious roots: jealousy, shame, anger, bitterness, loss and, especially, self-loathing.

I should stress that Colossal often works as a dark comedy within the sci-fi genre, so it’s not a self-serious indie that’s a slog to get through. On the contrary, it’s funny, beguiling, and fascinating.

Hathaway strikes a perfect, natural balance between the various tones Vigalondo blends, while also keeping her character earnest. Sudeikis utilizes his eminently likeable, casual charm but not as a reflexive fallback. As the script requires more of him through its twists, turns, and ratcheting tension, Sudeikis expands his range to meet the challenge.

Even though Colossal is working in metaphor, there’s also the fact that a literal story is being told here, with a narrative so strange that its outcome is hard to see. When Gloria finally realizes what the solution to this whole phenomenon must be, it’s so simple, so pure, so perfect that I’m shocked I couldn’t see it coming – all to the film’s credit, and to Nacho Vigalondo’s.

He also, wisely and poignantly, layers Gloria’s triumph with necessary sadness, tragedy, and heartbreak. No one comes out of addiction clean, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be conquered. Still, who knew exploring it could be this simultaneously honest and entertaining?



Episode 6: The Fast and the Smurfious

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for early April 2017.

You can also stream Episode 6 by clicking here.

On this episode, the roundtable includes:

  • Host Charles Elmore, producer of Videodrone Tulsa @918_Charles
  • Jason Black, President of the OFCC, is film critic for KJYO-FM in Oklahoma City and a contributor to I Heart Media.
  • Craig Sanger, Vice President of the OFCC, and film critic for KOKH TV Fox 25 in Oklahoma City, as well as WWLS-FM, KYIS-FM, and KATT-FM. @craigsanger
  • Jeff Huston, Secretary/Treasure of the OFCC, contributing film critic for The Tulsa Voice, and blogger at I Can’t Unsee That Movie@CantUnseeMovie

– The Fate of the Furious (starting at 1:36)
– Ghost in the Shell (at 12:50)
– The Boss Baby (at 26:15)
Song to Song 
(at 33:35)
– Gifted 
(at 38:22)
Smurfs: The Lost Village
(at 43:41)

– This week, our roundtable reflects on the 30th Anniversary of the Coen Brothers’ classic Raising Arizona. (Starts at 48:16)

– We wrap things up with quick looks at two new offerings on Netflix: the three-part documentary Five Came Back (starts at 1:04:50) and Win It All (at 1:08:25).

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the April 14, 2017 episode.

Official Trailer For CARS 3 Revs Up Familiar Sentiments (VIDEO)

After one darker, gritty looking teaser and another that highlighted the Next Generation, the first full official trailer for Cars 3 shows that Pixar hasn’t really changed the formula after all. Setting aside the high irony that Lightning McQueen’s moral quandary is that he’s sold out for merchandising riches (the very reason that Cars sequels even exist), Cars 3 looks like a return to form of the original after a flashy Grand Prix racing detour in Cars 2. Featuring the returning voices of Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub, new voices also along for the ride are Armie Hammer as the new hotshot Jackson Storm and Cristela Alonzo as trainer Cruz Ramirez. Cars 3 opens on June 16, 2017.

FREE FIRE (Movie Review)

** out of ****
Rated R
(for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references, and drug use)
Released:  April 21, 2017
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor

I feel like we’re forgetting what good filmmaking is supposed to look like.

The raves for Free Fire coming out of festivals in Toronto and Austin seem short-sighted, as if eager to discover and brand The Next Cool Thing, because this homage to 70s era pulp action cinema is barely an homage – or cinema. Its only virtue is to remind us just how gifted and special a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino is.

Making poor facsimiles of core genre staples isn’t enough when you have no idea what to do with them, and based on what writer/director Ben Wheatley has made here it seems he didn’t even take the time to watch and learn from the great films of his executive producer Martin Scorsese. With little style and faux charisma, Free Fire is an incoherent wannabe free-for-all.

This contained shoot-em-up crime drama is a genre exercise that shows just how out-of-shape its filmmaker is. Free Fire works only as a “wrong” example in a compare-and-contrast with Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs for any film professor looking for a good case study.

The simplicity of the idea is intriguing: when a couple of loose cannons can’t hold their tempers, an illegal gun sale goes horribly wrong at an abandoned manufacturing plant. An hour-long shoot-out ensues. It’s a solid basis for a movie that aspires to revel in style and take time to reveal layers, but neither is done here.

The complete lack of cinematic vision by Wheatley is shocking. There are no inspired variations on classic visual motifs or, for that matter, even carbon copies of ones. An overindulgence of close-ups makes for an uninteresting and confusing movie, spliced together by rapid editing that overcompensates for a shooting style that’s barely rudimentary. The aesthetic whole is grubby and slapdash, dying to be storyboarded.

In a movie like this, the location should be another character. Instead, all spatial clarity and atmospheric presence is ignored. This is what happens when you abandon medium and wide shots, and don’t intentionally motivate movement within a more expansive frame.

Due to the overuse of close-ups, a solid comprehension of the physical geography is lost on the viewer, as is the position of each character in relation to the others. This is a major flaw when trying to track a shootout. Understanding location, space, and distance is vital in building tension.

The characters are little more than stock archetypes, moved around like pawns. Most of the performances fail to transcend the caricatured cartoonyness of what’s provided on the page, a problem with the script more than the cast.

Even so, Cillian Murphy does particularly admirable work in taking this thin material seriously, and Sam Riley has the most fun as a lackey who’s a perpetual punching bag. We don’t really get to know any of these tortured souls, though; we just get to see them shout and shoot at each other.

The cast also lacks the battered wear-and-tear of Tarantino and Scorsese ensembles, as well as the existential bitterness. Instead, these characters look more like what they are: actors retrofitted with the right clothes, wigs, and whiskers but without the lived-in world-weary vibe of criminals from the underworld.

The script is all lingo and language but it never goes deeper with its characters or themes, nor does it experiment with linear time or overall form. Lazily, it even has its gun-blazing anti-heroes run out of bullets at inopportune but dramatically convenient times; you can predict when the chambers will be empty.

Worst of all, without any semblance of humanity or backstory, you don’t care who lives or dies, nor do you hold any interest in the eventual outcome.

Free Fire is a plot construct with profane dialogue and loads of gunplay, but never evokes anything that’s particularly memorable. More of a mild bunch than a wild one, this is just a collection of shaky footage frantically cut together that merely documents a flat screenplay. Brandishing an attitude that it doesn’t earn, Free Fire desperately wants to be everything it’s not.

Trailer For Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED Is Exactly, Darkly That (VIDEO)

Sofia Coppola is one of the world’s best living directors, and so whenever she makes a movie – regardless of what it’s about – it’s must-see viewing. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker (for her Lost In Translation screenplay) is back this summer with The Beguiled, an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Cullinan.

Set in Civil War era Virginia, it’s an atmospheric thriller about a small seminary for young women, led by headmistress Nicole Kidman, that must contend with the violent threat of a wounded Union Soldier played by Colin Farrell.

Co-starring Kirsten DunstElle FanningAngourie Rice, and Oona Laurence, The Beguiled opens in select cities on June 23rd, and expands wider on June 30th, following its world premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in May.