AFI DOCS Highlight Life, Death and Industries Struggling to Survive

The American Film Institute (AFI)—launched by Lyndon Johnson in 1967 to "enrich and nurture the art of film in America"—is probably best known today for its list of the Top 100 American films (issued back in 2007) or its annual list of the year’s best films. But for those of us who live near the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Md., AFI has become one of the great champions of nonfiction filmmaking.Having rebranded its Silverdocs festival a few years ago as AFI DOCS, the institute showc … [Read more...]

The Neon Demon Doesn’t Know When to Quit

A review of The Neon Demon, directed by Nicolas Winding RefnRemember Drive, the stylish 2011 film about a stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who falls for a woman whose husband is in prison? Driven by a moody electronic score from composer Cliff Martinez, the 2011 film was moving but was also marked by outbursts of violence that weren’t easy to shake.Refn followed Drive two years later with another project starring Gosling. Provocatively titled Only God Forgives, it again played the Cannes Film F … [Read more...]

Sunset Song Sure Is Something to See

Review of Sunset Song, Directed by Terrence DaviesChristian audiences have long asked for moral stories undergirded by strong, Biblical values. The impulse for such stories has given rise to an industry of Christian films aimed at evangelical audiences and built around explicit gospel pitches. As art, the films have largely failed, in part because the message is presented at the expense of artful storytelling.That’s why audiences interested in tales with moral themes are so often drawn to o … [Read more...]

The Meddler: Interview with Lorene Scafaria

Review of The Meddler, Directed by Lorene ScafariaOn one level, “The Meddler” is simply a warm-hearted indie comedy about a meddling widow. For writer and director Lorene Scafaria, however, it is the product of one of the most difficult experiences of her life. The film is a fictionalized autobiography based heavily on her own experience of losing her father and the family struggles that follow. But while “The Meddler” starts from a place of loss and alienation - the passing of a father and a h … [Read more...]

Last Days in the Desert offers portrait of Jesus the man

Review of Last Days in the Desert, Directed by Rodrigo GarcíaSPOILERSIf there’s one thing writer and director Rodrigo García’s “Last Days in the Desert” is not, it’s preachy. Simple in scope and setting, the film tells an extra-biblical story of Jesus’s encounter with an isolated family during his 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness. Here we find a portrait of Jesus as man qua man – probably too much of a man for most Christians’ tastes. This Jesus (played compellingly by … [Read more...]

Jazz Biopic Battle Goes to Baker

Reviews of Born to Be Blue, Directed by Robert Budreau, and Miles Ahead, Directed by Don CheadleIn the late 1980s, I used my transition to college as an excuse to explore music beyond the heavy metal and hard rock of my teens.Jazz reissues on CD were about to become a booming sector of the music market, and having played trumpet earlier in life, I wanted to explore the genre. When I mentioned my need of guidance to a music-store clerk, he directed me to a then-new Chet Baker double-CD, … [Read more...]

Miles Ahead paints a complex but uninspiring portrait

 Review of Miles Ahead, Directed by Don Cheadle Miles Ahead is a biopic predicated on an important assumption: it assumes that the audience already likes Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) and has a profound respect and admiration for him as an artist. Set during his fabled five-year absence from the music scene (and from public life, for that matter), the film, written and directed by Cheadle, offers a window into Miles Davis the man. Through this window we see Miles in a two-day … [Read more...]

With ‘Knight of Cups,’ Have We Already Seen the Best Film of 2016?

Review of Knight of Cups, Directed by Terrence Malick“I think [Christian Bale is] really playing Everyman. We all get lost. …[Director Terrence Malick has] always found importance in people that are suffering, and I think that’s part of the spiritual side of him. I think this film is very spiritual.”—Jack Fisk, Production Designer, Knight of Cups, in conversation with Michael Sragow for Film Comment“I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul … [Read more...]

Eddie the Eagle takes flight, but doesn’t quite soar

Review of Eddie the Eagle, Directed by Dexter FletcherEddie the Eagle tells the story of “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton), the British Olympic ski-jumper of the 1988 Calgary games who fulfilled his lifelong dream of competing in the Olympic games. As is the case with many biopics, the story is heavily fictionalized. It is the film’s retelling of the story of Eddie the Eagle that I aim to critique here.As a character, you can’t help but love Eddie – the nerdy, chaste, teetotaler who always … [Read more...]

The Gods of Egypt aren’t that impressive

 Review of Gods of Egypt, Directed by Alex Proyas Myth can be powerful, wondrous, beautiful, and insightful, but not when it feels like a videogame set in a universe where hieroglyphs meet all the gratuitous glitz and glamour of Trump Tower. The “gods” of Egypt in this world literally bleed gold. They have interchangeable power-ups and abilities like perfect vision, flight, and demon-repelling bracelets, which can be activated, seemingly, at the flip of a switch. And they sp … [Read more...]