“Beatriz at Dinner”: A Fish Out of Water Parable for Our Time

Dropping characters into higher social strata, then watching the chaos that ensues, can be both fun and enlightening.  The examples of Pygmalion, its musical adaptation My Fair Lady, Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning, and (my own favorites of the bunch) Jacque Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films come immediately to mind.  Beatriz at Dinner is the latest instance of this time-honored narrative device. Where all of the earlier examples couched their social skewering in comedy, Beatriz at Dinner’s urgent commentary is soaked... Read more

David Lowery’s “Ghost Story” Lures with Style, Though Its Substance Proves Tougher to Grasp

A Ghost Story demonstrates that inventive style can win the day, even if meaning and characterization are nearly as wispy as a half-seen specter. To wit, our two leads – Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara – are named in the credits as C and M, respectively.  It’s not even made clear if they’re married or in a long-term committed relationship.  We learn little that is concrete about them:  C is a musician who likes to stay put, while M is... Read more

My Video Chat with Dr. John Gartner, Founder of “Duty to Warn”

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of conversing with John Gartner, Ph.D., the founder of “Duty to Warn.”  Dr. Gartner reached out to me after last month’s Secular Cinephile article, in which I made my case that Trump’s grossly evident psychological impairment renders him unfit for the presidency. Once I got over my initial interview jitters, I greatly enjoyed our half-hour discussion, which can be viewed below and also found on Dr. Gartner’s “Duty to Warn” YouTube channel.  Our... Read more

High School Trauma as Edutainment: A Teenager’s and Her Dad’s Responses to “13 Reasons Why”

(Dad’s note:  I’m proud beyond words to share writing space this week with my daughter, Liz Spitznas.  Liz brings her own particular talents to this review.  As a high school senior, she was a winner of a health science writing competition both regionally and statewide, and heads to the national finals this week.  Liz will be starting college in the fall, and plans to apply her considerable intelligence and empathy to majoring in psychology, with a minor in English. I’ll... Read more

Horror Double Feature: “It Comes at Night” and “Raw”

Through the vagaries of the multiplex schedule, this was a creepy movie double feature weekend.  Of the two, It Comes at Night didn’t live up to the promise of its director’s first film, but Raw succeeded as an unsettling metaphor for youthful conformity.  (It Comes at Night is currently playing in American cinemas, while Raw is now available for home viewing.) I’ll save the best for last and start with It Comes at Night, the second feature by writer/director Trey... Read more

“Norman” and Richard Gere Aim for Understated, Verge on Soporific

Sadly, Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is one of those films that is far more interesting in conception than execution.  Since both its premise and characters possess great potential, this is doubly unfortunate. Writer and director Joseph Cedar – quite articulate in interviews – aimed for Norman to be a personality study and political commentary on the toxic nature of American-Israeli relations.  Regrettably, his success is only slight on both counts. His movie’s... Read more

On the Necessity and Perils of Declaring Trump Mentally Unfit for the Presidency

In normal times, I would stick to writing the movie reviews that appear weekly in this column.  But these are not normal times. Never in my five decades have I felt the same existential fear for the future of our republic, not to mention the safety of our entire globe.  Never has there been such a toxic stranglehold on our executive, legislative, and judicial branches by the reactionary wing of one political party, such that America substantially functions as a... Read more

“Alien: Covenant” Starts Promisingly, but Fails down the Stretch

Ridley Scott clearly wants to grapple with ultimate questions.  If only he could do it coherently in his films. His latest movie, Alien: Covenant, starts semi-promisingly in this respect.  In its prologue, David – the “synthetic” human from Prometheus – queries his maker Peter Weyland, “If you created me, who created you?”  Weyland responds that he’s dedicated himself to exploring this question, asserting that life is meaningless without an understanding of origins. I disagree with Weyland’s premise.  But, still, it’s... Read more

“Cries from Syria” Is an Illuminating, Gut-wrenching Masterclass in Current Events Filmmaking

Like many people, I struggle to situate daily headlines into a broader historical context.  In Syria, say, why is Putin allied with Assad?  What distinguishes the Free Syrian Army from ISIS?  What exactly are the Syrian refugees fleeing from? Evgeny Afineevsky’s superb documentary Cries from Syria, now available for home viewing on HBO, travels far in answering these questions and many more.  Cries from Syria is admirable in its clarity, offering a straightforward explication of events in that country since... Read more

“Colossal” Offers a Novel Take on the Monster Movie As Allegory

In cinematic history, the best monster movies have served up social allegory with their urban mayhem.  The original King Kong is a tragic metaphor for black experience in America; Godzilla embodied post-WW2 Japanese terror of nuclear devastation. Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo, in this thoughtful and strange film, takes monster movie allegorizing down novel pathways.  In Colossal, the creaturely destruction symbolizes individual psychological flaws more than large-scale societal concerns. Vigalondo’s film opens with Gloria (Anne Hathaway) blearily lurching back to her... Read more