Middle of Nowhere – 97 min, drama

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Emayatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere

It’s not easy to get a film about the interior life of a black woman made. In 2003 director Ava DuVernay, best known for her stunning 2014 Martin Luther King film Selma, wrote a script about a young med student putting her life on hold when her husband is incarcerated for weapons dealing. At the time DuVernay was a Hollywood publicist, working on the Laurence Fishburne/Derek Luke action film Biker Boyz. While on set she got to know the director, Reggie Bythewood and his wife Gina Prince-Bythewood (director of Beyond the Lights). They read her script and wanted to produce it. “So we went out and we attached Sanaa Lathan and Idris Elba and shopped it in the traditional way that you did in 2003 when you were in black Hollywood. You’d go to the studios and it was, ‘Oh, wow, great script, but we don’t make movies about the interior life of black women. If you want to make that, make that, and then we might be interested in an acquisition, right?’ That’s what we heard everywhere. Gina and Reggie were great. They got me into these rooms. The bottom line was the rooms. They weren’t ready then, and they still ain’t ready now for this type of story.” (Nekisa Cooper Filmmaker, 11/1/12) Continue reading

Chicken Run – 84 min, comedy

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“It’s The Great Escape… with chickens.”

The pitch meeting for Chicken Run must have been rather out of the ordinary, but by the time the directors, Nick Park and Peter Lord of the Bristol based Aardman Animations Studio, sat down to lunch with DreamWorks founder Steven Spielberg in 1997, they had six Oscar nominations between them, resulting in three Best Animated Short Oscars for Wallace and Gromit director Nick Park. That kind of hardware comes with a certain amount of leverage, plus they were lucky – Spielberg owned chickens. “We hit it off really well. Our first meeting with Spielberg was in a restaurant eating chicken, talking about chickens,” Nick Park recalled when the film was released three years later in June of 2000. (Paul Fischer Dark Horizons, 6/23/00) Continue reading

Laura – 88 min, thriller

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Gene Tierney and Vincent Price as Laura and Shelby Carpenter in ‘Laura’, directed by Otto Preminger.

When discussing Film Noir it never takes long for the term femme fatale to come up. The idea of a woman who through duplicity and self-interest destroys the men who love her has always held particular sway in the genre, and one might think that the titular Laura in Otto Preminger’s 1944 film fits the archetype. But what makes Laura so special is that actually she is a woman surrounded by fatal men. Men so fatal in fact, that when the movie opens she is already dead. It is a bold thing to kill off your main character as soon as the opening credits finish rolling, and Gene Tierney, who was cast as Laura, quipped in her autobiography: “Who wants to play a painting?” (TCM, Laura Article) in reference to the large portrait looming over the living room of Laura’s fashionable New York City apartment. Still it is the flesh and blood woman, rather than her ghostly portrait, that in the end the movie is concerned with. Continue reading

Exit Through the Gift Shop – 87 min, documentary

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Sometimes a film can subvert expectations that you didn’t even know you had going in. The first time I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop I thought that I was a pretty blank slate. All I knew was that it was a documentary about Banksy, and quite frankly at that point I wasn’t all that sure of who Banksy was, but from the first few seconds of the opening credits all expectations were upended. Here was a documentary, ostensibly about graffiti, opening with the smooth lounge-inflected voice of Richard Hawley, whose song “Tonight the Streets are Ours” so perfectly complimented the ebullient footage of street artists at their nocturnal rituals that you never question how radical the selection is. Banksy’s work is about the unexpected; the serendipity of turning a corner to find something beautiful, or challenging, or funny in the mundane mix of city-walls and pavements. Exit Through the Gift Shop is no different, but what Banksy found was Thierry Guetta. Continue reading

Your Sister’s Sister – 90 min, comedy

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Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt in Your Sister’s Sister

Your Sister’s Sister is a gentle romantic comedy, an exploration of grief, and a loving tribute to siblings. Jack, played with genial melancholy by Mark Duplass, is not doing well in the year following his brother Tom’s death, after hitting rock bottom his best friend and Tom’s sometime girlfriend Iris (Emily Blunt, warm and sardonic) prescribes a solitary retreat at her family’s cabin on Puget Sound, there he meets Iris’ half-sister Hannah (a charismatic, prickly Rosemarie DeWitt) licking her wounds after being left by her girlfriend of seven years. The plot that follows wouldn’t be out of place in a modern screwball comedy, but instead of spiraling out of control it is reeled back in with restraint and naturalism.

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