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Ben’s Column: Let Them All Talk (2020) – Review

The title of director Stephen Soderbergh’s latest film feels less like a thematic summation and more like a way to describe Soderbergh’s method of approaching his subject matter. Filmed almost entirely aboard a cruise ship as it makes its way from New York to Southampton, the script reportedly consisted of minimal outlines from scene to scene, and the actors were left to improvise the rest. Soderbergh, who has made a habit lately of experimenting behind the scenes by filming entire movies on iPhones, may have finally found a gimmick that meshes successfully with his sensibilities. Of course, a film with no script can only be buoyed by the performances of its cast, and Let Them All Talk is brimming with talented actors.

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Ben’s Column: Sound of Metal (2020) – Review

Darius Marder makes subtle decisions that make Sound of Metal feel fresh and humanistic. The most noticeable of those decisions is the incredible sound design. Rather than portraying Ruben’s hearing loss with the same dulling of noises, each iteration we get inside Ruben’s head sounds slightly different, devolving in sound quality as his hearing ability does. After Ruben’s diagnosis, he visits a retreat for the hearing impaired – a resolution that requires some heavy coaxing from his girlfriend and bandmate, Lou (Olivia Cooke). The retreat home is run by Joe (Paul Raci), a Vietnam veteran who lost his hearing in the war and can read Ruben’s lips. Joe breaks Ruben in with a heavy dose of tough love, but Raci still makes Joe a likeable character.

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Ben’s Column: David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020) – Review

How does David Byrne follow-up Stop Making Sense, the concert documentary that birthed an entire genre, even if it’s had 36 years to marinate? As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many of the elements that make Sense such a delight – the boundless joy and energy of everyone onstage, the production value, the musicality – are on display here, and it feels like Byrne hasn’t missed a step in the intervening years. And yet, it’s the moments between the music that sets American Utopia apart from its predecessor. Sense was simply a documentation of a band’s place in time, while Utopia has more on its mind, as Byrne tries to make sense of his place in the world. Sure, Talking Heads had larger ideas on display and made some grand statements with their lyrics, but Sense never aspired to be more than a concert documentary.

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Ben’s Column: On The Rocks (2020) – Review

Rashida Jones turns in a great performance, but I kept wondering how exactly her character had grown by the end of the film. What does Laura learn about herself by going through these adventures? What does she learn about her father that she didn’t already know? The conclusion wraps up nicely, and it’s played effectively by both Jones and Wayans, but I found myself wondering where the couple goes from there.

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HIFF2020: Ben’s Column – Molto Bella (2020)

Molto Bella takes a tried-and-true premise – a forlorn poet travels abroad where he meets the girl of his dreams, who’s also running from something – and doesn’t really do anything unique with it. The cinematography and the use of locations are great (but when you’re shooting in the Italian countryside, how can it not be?). The chemistry between Paul T.O. Petersen and Andrea von Kampen – as Hal the poet and Josie the folk singer, respectively – is palpable, even when their acting styles feel a little stiff.

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HIFF2020: Ben’s Column – Picture Character (2020)

It’s hard to imagine modern daily conversations without the ever-present emoji. What emerged after the technological takeover of smartphones as a way to express a wide variety of emotions in a simplistic manner quickly spread outside our phones and became inescapable. Socks, pillows, Happy Meal toys, and bumper stickers are only a sliver of the countless products available that have cashed in on the emoji craze in recent years, with no end in sight. Emojis have largely been viewed as a force for good in the world (we can now order pizza with one simple pizza emoji sent via text message). The “face with tears of joy” emoji was named as Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2015. They’ve even withstood the release of The Emoji Movie in 2017.

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Ben’s Column: The Boys In The Band (2020) – Review

All too often today, we’re more willing to click a button and share a headline or a meme of something we already agree or disagree with in order to affirm our own stance, rather than doing the hard work of understanding the heart of the matter. Sharing memes or news stories that spread the outrage of Cuties without actually knowing the content of the film in question is akin to buying a Ford Pinto because your neighbor just bought one.

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Ben’s Column: Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020) – Review

It’s not often that a film can be simultaneously considered a documentary, a drama, and a comedy, but director Kirsten Johnson somehow manages to achieve that feat with Dick Johnson Is Dead. Movies can be used as a director’s way to put their own personal ideas and experiences out into the world: Truffaut channeled his early adolescence in The 400 Blows; Fellini expressed his struggles with the creative process with 8 ½; and Spike Lee used his experiences with racial injustice for Do the Right Thing. Johnson’s latest is not only a loving tribute to her father, but an examination of the grieving process, even when the aggrieved is still alive.

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Ben’s Column: Cuties (2020) – Review

All too often today, we’re more willing to click a button and share a headline or a meme of something we already agree or disagree with in order to affirm our own stance, rather than doing the hard work of understanding the heart of the matter. Sharing memes or news stories that spread the outrage of Cuties without actually knowing the content of the film in question is akin to buying a Ford Pinto because your neighbor just bought one.

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Ben’s Column: Tenet (2020) – Non-Spoiler Review

Tenet feels like the kind of movie Christopher Nolan has been building towards from the beginning of his career – at least on a surface level. It’s easy to spot some of the elements he’s pulling from, elements that have helped to define his aesthetic as a filmmaker: you of course have the incredible mind-bending visuals like in Inception and Interstellar, the action sequences from the Batman trilogy, the third act reveal from The Prestige, the perplexing chronology of events like in Memento and Dunkirk, and the complicated romantic entanglements of The Dark Knight, to name a few. Typically when a filmmaker cribs the best of himself to be put into one film, the result is an unbridled success, but Tenet just can’t make all of its puzzle pieces into an enlightening picture.

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Ben’s Column: Yes, God Yes (2020) Review

Yes, God, Yes is not an outright teen sex comedy; it’s much more nuanced because its ultimate goal is more than just seeing its protagonist get laid. At a lean 78 minutes, the film just wants Alice to gain a better understanding of herself and her sexuality. Funny but critical, biting but not mean-spirited, Yes, God, Yes is a promising work for all involved.