In this episode, Ben and I continue our journey through Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list with a special Heartland Film Festival edition of our review series. We discuss two Hitchcock films on the list that were part of Heartland’s lineup of special drive-in screenings. First, we review 1954’s Rear Window and then follow it with 1958’s Vertigo.
Premise: Spike Lee documents the former Talking Heads frontman’s brilliant, timely 2019 Broadway show, based on his recent album and tour of the same name.
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.
Premise: A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.
Sofia Coppola’s films have, regrettably, been one of my biggest film blind spots of the 21st century. Until recently, when I watched her directorial debut (1999’s The Virgin Suicides), I had yet to see any of her films. Suicides revealed an auteur who could confidently write complicated characters in a unique and interesting way. Her latest film, On the Rocks, which is streaming now on Apple TV+, retains those same capabilities but slightly misses the mark on some crucial character work. The film reunites Coppola and Bill Murray, the star of her most successful film, Lost in Translation, for the first time since 2003 (save for a holiday special in 2015). Murray has built up a solid reputation as a comedian-turned-dramatic actor, and while his role here steers more towards comedic relief, he has clearly found a director who can utilize him properly while keeping him from going off the comedic deep end (again, I haven’t seen Lost in Translation, but he was nominated for an Oscar for the role).
Documentary Feature Directors: Ian Cheney, Martha Shane Producers: Ian Cheney, Martha Shane, Jennifer 8. Lee Executive Producers: Fred Benenson, Peter Friedland Cast: Rayouf Alhumedhi, Florencia Coelho, Daniela Guini, Carmen Barlow, Francis Mason
Premise: “Picture Character” explores the complex, conflict-prone, and often hilarious world of the creators, lovers, and arbiters of emoji, our world’s newest pictorial language. How do you create a global language on the fly? This film charts the evolution of emojis, and investigates what they may reveal about our increasingly technological world.
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.
Cast: Brian Tyree Henry, Sonequa Martin Green, Sunita Mani, Olivia Edward, Asia Kate Dillon
Premise: An introverted editor living a vertical life in his 2nd-floor apartment, always on deadline and in a rut. When Charles locks himself out of his building, he’s forced to go horizontal and confront the world he’s been avoiding in search of a way back inside.Continue reading →
Premise: At a birthday party in 1968 New York, a surprise guest and a drunken game leave seven gay friends reckoning with unspoken feelings and buried truths.
The LGBTQ community is at a crossroads in America in 2020. The Supreme Court may have legalized gay marriage years ago, along with a handful of other civil rights victories, but the current administration has been actively working to roll those protections back since day one, all in the name of “religious freedom”. Seen through this lens, it makes perfect sense why now is a good time for a new adaptation of The Boys in the Band, the Tony-winning Broadway show. This iteration, directed by Joe Mantello, even assembles the original cast from the 2018 stage revival, which was notable at the time for its all-out gay cast – a sign of how far society had come since the play’s inception. Continue reading →
Recorded September 22, 2020: In the latest installment of our Ebert’s Great Movies Review Series, our newly promoted recurring co-host Ben Sears joins me to discuss the classic horror/German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2020) and the Frederico Fellini film 8 ½ (1963) from Ebert’s “Great Movies” list. We also chat about the upcoming Heartland Film Festival.
Premise: A daughter helps her father prepare for the end of his life.
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. Continue reading →
Premise: Amy, an 11-year-old girl, joins a group of dancers named “the cuties” at school, and rapidly grows aware of her burgeoning femininity – upsetting her mother and her values in the process.
Perhaps you’ve already heard of Cuties because you saw it advertised on Netflix. Perhaps you heard of it through word of mouth. More likely, you’ve heard of it because of the controversy the film has stirred up which has caused it to be shared on social media and even, yes, Ted Cruz. But to really talk about Cuties is to talk about America’s political discourse in 2020. Continue reading →
Premise: Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
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. Continue reading →
In the latest installment of our Ebert’s Great Movies Review Series, our contributor and friend Ben Sears joins me to discuss the Yasujirō Ozu masterpiece Tokyo Story (1953) and Sidney Lumet’s prescient satire Network (1976) from Ebert’s “Great Movies” list. We also chat about Indy Film Fest, currently underway virtually, Ben’s thoughts on Yes, God, Yes and more.
Premise: After an innocent AOL chat turns racy, a Catholic teenager in the early 00s discovers masturbating and struggles to suppress her new urges in the face of eternal damnation.
Think back to your early high school days and how sex and sexuality felt ever-present in daily life. Then, if you weren’t already, imagine those same feelings in the setting of a Catholic school, where you’re taught to mostly repress or ignore those feelings. Sex outside of marriage is a sin. So is masturbation. What do you do when your body and society are telling you one thing and the church is telling you another? Oh, and if you go against what they’re teaching, you’ll spend the afterlife in eternal damnation. Continue reading →
In our inaugural Ebert’s Great Movies Review Series episode, our contributor and friend Ben Sears joins me to discuss the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933) and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) from Ebert’s “Great Movies” list. For Potpourri, we discuss the documentary The Painter and the Thief and the first handful of episodes from 13 Reasons Why’s final season.
Premise: Early in World War II, an inexperienced U.S. Navy captain must lead an Allied convoy being stalked by Nazi U-boat wolfpacks.
Throughout the running time of Greyhound, we learn more about Captain Ernie Krause’s (Tom Hanks) leadership skills, but shockingly little about his life outside the titular naval destroyer. The mission is simple: guide a fleet of Allied supply ships across the vast Atlantic Ocean, and sink as many Nazi U-boats as possible. The fleet remains unprotected from air cover for over 50 hours over the ocean, and this provides the ticking clock conceit to the film. Greyhound bears a striking similarity to last year’s 1917, in that there’s a clear endpoint objective at stake, and the characters we spend the most time with are frustratingly opaque. But whereas 1917 took time to reflect and add at least a little characterization between its video game-like checkpoints, Greyhound only stops and pauses for a scant few moments. Continue reading →
Chadwick Boseman's final performance underscores just how tremendous a loss his passing is. He and Viola Davis are both incredible and the dialogue and set design are of extraordinarily high quality as well. Incredible movie.
Jesus, what a beautiful and brilliant movie. Similar in spirit to Inside Out (also directed by Pete Docter) and Coco, Soul is a stunning rumination on humanity itself. Expertly studying and demystifying complex existential ideas and concepts, Soul arrives at heartfelt and uplifting conclusions about what makes life worth living and what it means to reconnect […]
Frances McDormand gives one of the best performances I've seen all year in this movie. The entire film is complex feelings laid out in a realistic, lived in world. Fern is an extremely captivating character. She's silently dealing with the loss of not only her husband, but her community as well. She seems to adopt the nomad lifestyle out of necessi […]
This doc is really well constructed through archival footage, recordings, newspapers, photographs, and displays of documents. The story it tells of Hoover and the FBI's efforts to discredit and undermine MLK and the civil rights movement is well-realized. Very solid documentary.
The calm anxiety that flows throughout this movie is impressive. The Assistant showcases the monotony of daily life for Jane while keeping the more dramatic elements in the background. It shows us how normalized abhorrent behavior is in this setting and the effect is fantastic. There's a scene between Julia Garner and Matthew MacFayden that is masterful […]
It's about what I expected. There's some whimsy to the story and Dev Patel does a fine job with a strong supporting cast. But I really wasn't captivated by the story. The more dramatic moments felt a bit hollow and unearned to me.