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Friday, September 8, 2017

Movie Review: It Is Plenty Scary, But It Also Has Heart

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 3:52 PM

It ★★★★ Now playing Theodicy is a theological term that refers to the problem of evil as an active force in the world.  More specifically, it's an attempt to resolve the dilemma in many Western religions of how evil can exist in a universe supposedly created and governed by an all-powerful and benevolent God. It's a puzzler, all right. In the very excellent, very scary horror film It—based on Stephen King's famous novel—there's no ambiguity about the existence of evil. In the hard-luck town of Derry, Maine, the power of darkness manifests as a terrifying clown named Pennywise, a shapeshifting demonic...

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Movie Review: Though Brightened by Its Lead Actor, Patti Cake$ Is a Sub-8 Mile Hip-Hop Contrivance

Posted By on Fri, Sep 1, 2017 at 3:05 PM

Patti Cake$ ★½ Now playing As Chuck D sagely warned us, so many years ago: Don't believe the hype. Patti Cake$, the hip-hop drama that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, is getting a lot of frankly baffling hype as it rolls into theaters for a late-summer release. Fox Searchlight Pictures, the boutique imprint that has backed a long list of very good films over the years, including Birdman, Slumdog Millionaire, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, snapped it up at Sundance. But Patti Cake$ doesn't belong anywhere near that list, and it's...

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Movie Review: Ferguson Documentary Whose Streets? Portrays a Police Force and Judicial System Obsessed with the Idea of Black Criminality

Posted By on Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 2:35 PM

Whose Streets?★★★ Now playing Three years ago, Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot unarmed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, whom Wilson was attempting to apprehend for stealing a box of Swisher cigars from a convenience store. Following the police’s destruction of Brown’s memorial, a series of riots ensued that would play out in months of unrest, highlighting systematic police brutality against African Americans as one of the most pressing issues facing the country. Whose Streets?, the new documentary by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, tells the story of the Ferguson uprisings. It powerfully stages the issues roiling our historical...

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Twenty-One-Year-Old Finds a Welcoming Space at the Twenty-Two-Year-Old N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

Posted By on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 12:46 PM

North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival August 10–13, 2017 Carolina Theatre, Durham The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has been an institution at the Carolina Theatre in Durham for twenty-two years. Over the course of its history, the festival has grown exponentially in terms of submissions as well as the number of people in the audience, leading to its current status as one of the largest gay and lesbian film festivals in the Southeast. It's rare to find spaces that are focused on the celebration of queer people outside of the alcohol-drenched club and bar scene. I...

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie Review: Scary Nuns, Creepy Dolls, and Not a Few Plot Holes in The Conjuring Franchise's Latest Spawn, Annabelle: Creation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 4:33 PM

Annabelle: Creation ★★★½ Now playing On a recent library whim, I picked up an anthology of contemporary horror stories—nominees for the annual Bram Stoker Award for short fiction, I think it was. It was a very nice surprise, actually. Fans of the genre will be happy to hear that innovative and sophisticated horror is alive and well in that old-fashioned analog medium we call books. Annabelle: Creation, the latest installment in The Conjuring horror series, plays like a pleasant little short story, and by pleasant I mean eerie, disturbing, and occasionally gory. Technically a prequel to a spinoff, the movie...

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde Is More Like Dime-Store John le Carré than Joan Wick or Jane Bond

Posted By on Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 4:38 PM

Atomic Blonde★★★ Now playing There’s a futile fatalism floating around Atomic Blonde, set in 1989 during the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The East-versus-West spy game still carries life-or-death stakes, but it also feels propelled by a dutiful inertia, predestined to play out like the gunslingers in Once Upon a Time in the West squaring off for a final climactic duel before getting freight-trained by the march of capitalism. This contrast figures prominently in Antony Johnston’s 2012 source graphic novel, The Coldest City. Adapted for the screen by David Leitch (codirector of John Wick) and...

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: Like the Films of Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk Is Both Epic and Meditative

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 3:57 PM

Dunkirk ★★★½ Now playing The evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk in 1940 holds an iconic, solemn place in British culture. Any film made about this historical flashpoint will have a prewired emotional impact for English audiences, as movies about Pearl Harbor or 9/11 do for Americans. In Dunkirk, British director Christopher Nolan assumes, intentionally or otherwise, that viewers will arrive with the necessary contextual underpinnings already in place. It’s an English film for English people, so historical exposition is scarcer than usual. In its optimal format—Nolan, long an IMAX advocate, shot most of the film using 70mm IMAX...

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Movie Review: Luc Besson Breaks the Bank for the Visually Extravagant, Emotionally Empty Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 2:02 PM

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets★★½ Now playing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the latest sci-fi extravaganza from famed French director Luc Besson, aims to be the cinematic equivalent of a perfect dessert soufflé: rich and sugary-sweet yet light as air. With a budget of about $180 million, it’s said to be both the most expensive European film and the most expensive independent film ever made. Besson saturates every frame (or every gigabyte) with wacky aliens and design concepts, and every big action set piece zips along at a clip just shy of incomprehensible. In...

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes Isn't Kidding with That "Ape-Pocalypse Now" Joke

Posted By on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 5:02 PM

War for the Planet of the Apes ★★★★ Now playing The war for the planet of the apes is seemingly fought on two fronts. On one side is the troop of freedom-fighting primates still led by their hyper-intelligent leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis). On the other is an unseen but approaching human army, temporarily tasked with terminating one of their own, with extreme prejudice. In the middle is a colonel (Woody Harrelson) whose name tape reads McCullough, but who may as well be called Kurtz. The bald colonel speaks in messianic riddles, controlling his renegade paramilitary faction, named Alpha-Omega, through fear...

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

N.C.-Based Filmmaker Patrick Read Johnson, One of the First People to See Early Star Wars Footage, Relives the Magic Four Decades Later in 5-25-77

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 2:18 PM

5-25-77 Thursday, July 13, 7:30 p.m., $10 North Hills Stadium 14, Raleigh The wheels of Hollywood turn slowly, and the term “development hell” is regularly thrown around to explain why a project hasn’t become a finished film. But Patrick Read Johnson, a faculty member at the North Carolina School of the Arts, waited an especially long time to see his semi-autobiographical comedy 5-25-77, which screens at North Hills in Raleigh tonight, on the big screen. Its release comes thirteen years after he started filming. “Did I set out to make a film that would take thirteen years? No. Am...

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Movie Review: Despicable Me 3 Shows Signs of a Franchise Wearing Thin, but Your Kids Won't Mind, Because Minions!

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 3:58 PM

Despicable Me 3★★½ Now playing There's an old Hollywood story about Buster Keaton and animated movies. Apparently, the first time he saw cartoons on the silver screen, he nearly quit show business altogether. He immediately saw that he couldn't compete with the kind of physical comedy animation made possible. No matter how many elaborate stunts he invented, he could never simply ignore physics and gravity the way cartoons could. Another craftsman felled by technology. This story occurred to me early in Despicable Me 3, the latest installment of the reliable animated series starring Steve Carell as recovering super-villain Felonius Gru. Counting...

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Movie Review: All Eyez on Me Claims to Be Tupac Shakur's Untold Story, but You Could Cobble Most of It Together with YouTube Clips

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 3:20 PM

All Eyez on Me★★½ Now playing When I heard that legendary hip-hop artist and social activist Tupac Shakur was to be the subject of a biopic, following the box-office success of Straight Outta Compton, it seemed like Hollywood had finally realized that hip-hop could be at the forefront of cinema as well as of music. With the likes of 50 Cent, Biggie Smalls, and Eminem already having their own movies, I was ecstatic that Tupac’s story was coming to the silver screen. All Eyez on Me director Benny Boom had an impossible task: to tell “the untold story” of one...

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Movie Review: Letters from Baghdad's Experimental Approach Doesn't Entirely Work, but Its Subject, Gertrude Bell, Still Fascinates

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 1:32 PM

Letters from Baghdad★★★ ½ Chelsea Theatre, Chapel Hill Describable only as an experimental documentary, Letters from Baghdad tells the story of Gertrude Bell, the British government official, explorer, and occasional spy who helped draw the borders of modern-day Iraq in the years after the first world war. Bell is sometimes called the female Lawrence of Arabia, although this film argues she was much better at her job than T.E. Lawrence ever was. Bell was born into a wealthy British family, and her devotion to exotic travel made her useful to the officers of imperial Britain in the Middle East....

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Movie Review: Cars 3 Is a Smooth Ride Because It Runs on Cruise Control

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 10:05 AM

Cars 3 ★★★ Now playing The most perplexing part of Pixar’s Cars universe is that while anthropomorphized automobiles are the sole living creatures, they clearly inhabit a world that’s either parallel or subsequent to our own. It’s full of landmarks we know, from Route 66 to the Eiffel Tower. Cities exist and crops are grown, all for no discernible reason. The American flag even appears at one point. Recently, Cars creative director Jay Ward offered a wholly unofficial explanation: the franchise takes place in a near-future in which the autonomous cars we're developing now turned into something like the machines in...

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Movie Review: Megan Leavey Lavishes Love on the Bond of a Marine and Her Bomb-Sniffing Dog but Gives Short Shrift to Everything Else

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 1:19 PM

Megan Leavey★★★ Now playing Yeah, Megan Leavey feels like a fugitive from the Lifetime channel. But, with a singleminded focus on the bond between a Marine and her bomb-sniffing dog, its earnestness eventually tames its pat predictability. Leavey (Kate Mara) is a wayward twenty-something whose broken upbringing leads her to enlist in the Marine Corps. She’s an early screw-up there, too, until she finds the discipline she needs to convince a gunnery sergeant (Common) that she has the touch to become a K9 handler. Teamed with a pugnacious German Shepherd named Rex, Leavey is deployed for two tours in Iraq,...

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Movie Review: Family Apocalypse Survival Saga It Comes at Night Could Use a Dash of M. Night

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 4:20 PM

It Comes at Night★★★ Opening Friday, June 9 Leading with a cold open of patricide, followed by a suffocating bleakness that never relents, It Comes at Night doesn’t suffer from a lack of atmosphere. The latest thriller/horror picture distributed by A24 is a grim fairy tale set in a black forest, a milieu that drives the narrative more than plot or dialogue. It feels as if writer-director Trey Edward Shults (the critically acclaimed Krisha) has a high concept in his head that never fully makes it onto the screen. It’s a psychological parable that’s minimalist to the point of inertia. The...

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Movie Review: The Parallels of Ancient Mythology and Modern Superheroes Become Literal in Wonder Woman

Posted By on Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 4:18 PM

Wonder Woman★★★ ½ Now playing The long-overdue Wonder Woman film is an origin story that doesn’t shrink from the beauty or brawn of a hero in whom the parallels of ancient mythology and modern superhero fiction become literal. Diana (Gal Gadot), the precocious daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), is a princess of the superhuman Amazons. The all-female tribe, originally created by Zeus to protect mortals, eventually withdrew to the mystical "Paradise Island" of Themyscira to escape man’s wickedness. But mankind interrupts paradise when American soldier and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on Diana’s doorstep, during the First World War,...

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Swashbuckles Under Its Own Weight

Posted By on Fri, May 26, 2017 at 11:27 AM

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales★★ ½ Now playing In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Captain Jack Sparrow, the role that once earned Johnny Depp his first Oscar nomination, literally jumps a shark. It’s a ghost shark, but the metaphor couldn’t be more conspicuous. A little of the rakish Sparrow has always gone a long way, but in the latest films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, he's shifted to the center of the swashbuckling. In this fifth voyage, the inebriated pirate’s preening and trademark non sequiturs seem more hoary—he twice pleads for mercy...

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Movie Review: Alien: Covenant Gets Psychosexual In a Bloody, Baroque, Deeply Weird Story

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 2:20 PM

Alien: Covenant ★★★★ Now playing It's generally acknowledged that the creature in the Alien franchise is the scariest monster in all of science-fiction cinema. Based on original designs by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, it's a triumph of sinister design—a Freudian nightmare of biomechanical sex and death. Alien: Covenant, the latest installation by veteran sci-fi director Ridley Scott, burrows into the psychosexual roots of the monster to present a bloody, baroque, deeply weird story. A sequel to 2012's inscrutable misfire, Prometheus, the new film concerns yet another spaceship crew encountering yet another alien infestation. All the franchise elements are present: derelict...

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Movie Review: In King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guy Ritchie Gets Medieval on Our Collective Asses

Posted By on Fri, May 12, 2017 at 4:50 PM

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ★★★ Now playing In the would-be franchise starter King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, director Guy Ritchie gets medieval on our collective asses by twisting Arthurian legend into a British caper film. Hunky Charlie Hunnam is our hero, Jude Law is the baddie, and the future Knights of the Round Table are portrayed as a gang of streetwise fixers from the mean streets of Londinium circa 573 AD. Critics are slamming the movie as a ridiculous attempt to transpose an august mythology onto a laddish action picture. They're not wrong, but they're mad for...

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Film Review: The Rise and Fall of Liberty Asks What Is Lost in Durham’s Urban Renewal

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 10:23 AM

Walker Stone’s voice is gruff but flavorful, like the tobacco leaves that were once hauled into his auction warehouse in Durham to be sold to the tobacco companies that dotted downtown. “Durham was built on tobacco,” Stone says at the onset of The Rise and Fall of Liberty, a film by local documentary filmmaker Carol Thomson and a project of the Southern Documentary Fund. One only needs to walk Durham’s streets and landmarks to see the truth of Walker’s words. But Liberty tells the story behind—and literally inside—those familiar landmarks and raises questions about the consequences of unchecked economic...

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Movie Review: Land of Mine Is Both a Classic War Film and a Powerful Anti-War Statement

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 1:34 PM

Land of Mine ★★★★ Now playing In the final months of World War II, German forces buried more than 1.5 million landmines on the western beaches of Denmark. Germany believed that the Danish shore was one of the probable landing spots for an Allied invasion. After Germany's surrender, Danish officials commandeered four thousand German POWs to remove the landmines. By then, most of the original occupying forces were dead or gone. The final wave of German soldiers sent to Denmark were mostly teenagers—children, essentially—conscripted by Hitler in a cruel last gasp. This largely forgotten episode of World War II history...

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Movie Review: Animated Fable The Red Turtle Uses No Words, and No Words Do It Justice

Posted By on Tue, Apr 11, 2017 at 12:32 PM

The Red Turtle★★★★½ Now playing Dutch writer-director Michael Dudok de Wit’s first animated feature is quiet, mysterious, and breathtaking. It is almost entirely void of vocal language, other than the occasional emotive grunt. It complements silence with the audible twisting and turning of the tropics—leaves whistling in the wind, ocean waves washing onto the sand, unseen life bustling and breathing. The light bleeding off de Wit’s trademark watercolors render the island of The Red Turtle into some kind of spiritual being. When a nameless middle-aged man finds himself stranded on an island after his ship is swallowed by a storm,...

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Full Frame: Dina Is Earning Acclaim for Its Portrait of Love and Autism. But Is It Illuminating or Exploitative?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 1:36 PM

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: Dina ★★ Friday, April 7 Carolina Theatre, Durham It speaks to the high quality of Full Frame that the films in its perennial programming range in quality from “above average” to “transcendent.” Any chagrin is typically reserved for experimental submissions that might not suit the taste of some viewers or docs that delve into controversial subject matter. You certainly don’t see many missteps among the invited films—the ones not in competition but chosen due to the pedigree of the director or the film’s previous accolades. Foremost among the invited fare at Full Frame this year...

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Full Frame: All Skate, Everybody Skate Peeks Inside a Post-Office-Slash-Skating-Rink with a Five-Decade History on Topsail Island

Posted By on Sun, Apr 9, 2017 at 7:00 PM

We first meet Doris Jenkins onscreen at the Topsail Beach Skating Rink, standing behind a counter, flanked by a shelf of roller skates and an old record player. She wears a loose white T-shirt with her name airbrushed on the front in neon colors. You know, the kind of souvenir you get at the fair—or the beach. But at the rink she’s owned and operated for more than fifty years, this is a uniform for Jenkins. Durham filmmaker and Elon University professor Nicole Triche spent March through September of 2015 filming All Skate, Everybody Skate, a short documentary about the rink...

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Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

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Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Just saw this last night. Did Rubin say that being around the Avetts would make life "matter" or just that …

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