There’s an intentional obscurity at the start of Mass, the debut feature from writer/director Fran Kranz, that instantly placed it amongst the most intriguing premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. We open on a church in a suburban town, meeting the volunteers as they set up a room in the basement for an impending meeting. Much attention is paid to the placement of the table, the positioning of the chairs, the proximity of a tissue box. We meet a social worker, clearly acting in the capacity of a liaison, who asks that the tissue box not be placed in the middle of the table — that would be weird. As long as it’s within reach. This much we can glean about Mass, after a simple Times New Roman title fades in on a black screen over dead silence: we’ll probably need tissues. But we’re not sure why, exactly, and yet we’re gripped all the same. The social worker moves the chairs from their even placement around the table, putting two on one side and two on the other.
Mass is no less interesting once the purpose of this meeting is revealed, but it’s a particularly refreshing opening in an age where most films assume an audience will lose interest if they’re not given all the facts up front. Every glance and seemingly-negligible line of dialogue becomes a potential clue, and it never approaches a feeling of purposeful obscurity or frustration. Before we reach that point we finally put the pieces in place: two sets of parents are meeting six years after a tragic school shooting in which one son killed the other.
Continue reading Mass (2021)
As a White Dude with a full deck of privilege and a shitload of unlearning to do when it comes to an effort at anti-racism, I acknowledge that there’s always going to be imperfection, at best, in my understanding of the Black Experience. Too many people like me use that as an excuse to not even try, of course, preferring the comfort of a bubble in which ignoring racism is hardly ever recognized in and of itself as a racist act. As a White Dude, part of me resides inextricably in this bubble regardless of my physical location. There’s quite an echo in here. And while I do recognize that ignoring racism is itself a contribution to racism — of course it is — I’m still undoubtedly one of those unthinking contributors. And admitting this puts me no closer to our aforementioned understanding. Nine out of ten attempts to place myself outside of the bubble are too weak to even perforate it, and the tenth is a noble failure.
Amongst those measures of not-enough is the discovery, experience, discussion and championing of Black Art. This is too easy and not impactful enough to be considered “putting in the work” for us White Dudes, or to count as allyship in any meaningful sense. So I’m gonna sound really, really desperate to make a grand point here when I turn heel to assert that it’s also not nothing, because not nothing is hardly the bar we should be striving to clear. But when discovering, experiencing, discussing and championing something as vital as Mangrove, even this most passive engagement can result in challenging questions of the sort that are typically drowned out in the din of the benighted bubble.
Continue reading Small Axe: Mangrove (2020)
As Breaking Bad approached conclusion in September 2013 someone asked me if I sympathized with Walt. I danced around the question because that’s the whole point, in a way, isn’t it? You see where Walt’s coming from, and yet he’s doing some bad shit, and yet it’s for a good reason, and yet maybe it’s also for a bad reason, and yet who’s to say what’s good or bad anyway, and yet how could you not think this is bad? And on and on. The morality of that series — shifting, malleable, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes trivial — isn’t intended to be “solved” by the end of Walt’s arc.
And in much the same manner the warring positions of Jimmy McGill and his older brother Chuck are both simultaneously completely understandable, at least at this point in Better Call Saul. “Nailed” continued to make this disagreement more and more explicit, a fact which itself follows an interesting trajectory over the course of the first two seasons. It was only in “Pimento“, last season’s penultimate episode, that we really discovered the animosity Chuck had for his younger brother.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 2.9 – “Nailed”
- Ryan Coogler, the young director behind the surprisingly good Creed and the devastatingly good Fruitvale Station, is apparently in talks to direct Marvel’s Black Panther movie. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Cooler’s a strong newcomer, so it might be a shame for Marvel to go all Edgar Wright on him.
- Ethan Hawke will join Clive Owen, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in Luc Besson’s Valerian, adapted from the epic sci-fi comic. We know next to nothing else about the film, but that’s quite a core cast.
- Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence won the International Documentary Association’s top honors last night, which was a surprise to few after Oppenheimer’s crushing The Act of Killing. Silence is currently on the 15-film contender’s list for this year’s Academy Awards, a list that unfortunately excluded the excellent (and currently streaming on Netflix) documentary The Wolfpack.
- We’re happy to announce that Motion State is hereby and forthwith declared a Force Awakens spoiler-free zone. If you’re not interested in going to your favorite website and seeing something like “Mark Hamill Breaks His Silence on the Fact that Luke is Evil Now and Also Han Dies” plastered all over the front page, well…get a new favorite website!
Continue reading Film & TV News: December 6
- Stephen Colbert and J.J. Abrams turned out in force (get it?) this past Saturday for the Montclair Film Festival kickoff fundraiser and buddy-buddy interview. Highlights included an audience prizewinner bluntly inquiring as to how many Ewoks J.J. could take in a fight, Colbert springing J.J.’s acting reel from Six Degrees of Separation on him, and the pair peering up into the fourth tier where I was seated and making remarks like “you’re in low orbit” and “my neck hurts”.
- Kenneth Branagh will be directing and starring in the long-in-the-works Murder on the Orient Express remake, which hopefully will be so many zillion times better than Shadow Recruit.
- Ready to feel old? Toy Story turned 20 years old yesterday. Yep. Thankfully, if you want to feel young again, you can just rewatch Toy Story.
Continue reading Film & TV News: November 23
Ah, Matt Jamison. He’s not the main character of The Leftovers. He’s not the one most directly affected by the Sudden Departure, nor is he the one who’s lived most nobly in its wake, nor is he a handsome shining studly hero with a constant grimace (see: Kevin Garvey; John Murphy). But anyone who’s seen last season’s “Two Boats and a Helicopter” knows that Matt Jamison was the most passionate character in the whole of the show, the most tragic, and now that we’ve had another Matt-centric episode in “No Room at the Inn” it’s safe to say that those characteristics carry over into the second season.
We’ll talk about the cyclical writing involved in Matt’s stories, but first: Christopher Eccleston. There’s a lot of strong acting in The Leftovers, with Kevin Carroll’s John Murphy being the particular standout in season two. Eccleston is the veteran to Carroll’s newcomer, but the scenes between the two of them in “No Room” absolutely crackle. And for the duration of the episode Eccleston exudes an easy sense of identification with his character; he’s so natural as Matt that if more people watched The Leftovers Eccleston might stop being “the guy from Doctor Who” and start being “the guy from The Leftovers“.
Continue reading The Leftovers 2.5 – “No Room at the Inn”
Last night The Leftovers rickrolled everyone. I can’t exactly put my finger on whether that makes me ecstatic or annoyed, but I’m quite sure it’s the former. More importantly, “Orange Sticker” got back to Storyline A of the second season after a brief detour with last week’s “Off Ramp“. The Murphy Family seems to be fully driving the show now, sort of an odd thing considering we weren’t even aware of their existence in The Leftovers for the entirety of the first season. But their presence was noticeably missed in “Off Ramp”, and the events in Jarden now seem to have the cosmic weight of significance while the Mapleton subplot is just that: sub.
And more important still is that Nora and Kevin entered into respective character arcs that will drive their own actions in the coming episodes. “Axis Mundi” and “A Matter of Geography” caught back up with the Misplaced Mapletonians (great band name), but “Sticker” really took the opportunity to push forward. The episode began with an overlap of the conclusion from both of those first two episodes, making this the third time we’ve seen the earth-shaking occurrence that seemed to pluck Evie Murphy from existence. Interesting that there’s so much overlap this season — come to think of it, we’ve spent less than two hours with the Murphys as we approach the midway point of the season — and yet it still feels consistently fresh. This time the earthquake and the aftermath is seen from Nora’s point of view.
Continue reading The Leftovers 2.4 – “Orange Sticker”
The episodic nature of a show like The Leftovers could be its downfall. Take Tommy and Laurie Garvey, the only two familiar faces in “Off Ramp”, and consider that a) we’ve seen a lot of their respective stories, from backstories to experiences at the moment of the Sudden Departure to their lives in the aftermath, and then consider b) that the episodes featuring them almost always seem like weaker entries. Why? Lost-style episodes on single characters aren’t inherently weak, and in fact “Two Boats and a Helicopter” (about Matt Jamison) and “Guest” (about his sister Nora) were two of the best episodes of the first season of Leftovers.
But Lost still had its dreaded Sun episodes, or its Shannon/Boone episodes, or a f*cking Rose & Bernard episode right in the middle of a major action arc, and that last example gets to the heart of the problem: some great characters just slow the action down. Tommy and Laurie always kind of did that in the first season, involved with their little cults of various ilks and mindsets, and we always had to cut away to get to them. Cutting away, of course, implies that the stuff we actually care about will be waiting when we get back. It’s not that Tommy or Laurie walked on screen and sucked the life out of the show, but even in their best moments the structure was such that you’d still be waiting to cut back.
Continue reading The Leftovers 2.3 – “Off Ramp”
Let’s state up front that “Axis Mundi” is a hell of a season premiere. It’s utterly disorienting in the best way possible, fresh and yet eerily familiar, pushing The Leftovers into uncharted territory. If the premiere boldly goes where no Leftovers has gone before, then “A Matter of Geography” is the return to Earth, the necessary where-are-they-now refresher that connects the seasons in a narrative sense.
It’s not anywhere near as strong as “Axis Mundi”, but “Geography” is still a highly emotional hour. There’s a niggling sense that the cliffhanger at the end of “Mundi” won’t be revisited for a few more weeks, as “Geography” takes us back to Mapleton and next week’s episode looks to be dealing with the New York town as well, reconnecting with Laurie and Tom Garvey. But there’s more than enough in “Geography” to touch on in the lead-up to that final scene, which mirrors the final scene from the premiere but adds a completely new dimension to it.
Continue reading The Leftovers 2.2 – “A Matter of Geography”
- Both the New York Film Festival and the New York Comic Con concluded this weekend. From the former, I’d like to give a sarcastic shout-out to the idiot who talks through the Closing Night premiere and is inevitably seated right next to me; from the latter, I’d like to give an actual shout-out to the girl dressed as Harley Quinn that I saw zipping through Grand Central. Nice mallet.
- Quentin Tarantino is cutting two versions of The Hateful Eight (rather than, you know, eight versions), one for 70mm and one for the rest of the peons to check out in digital. I really cannot for the life of me think of a good reason for this, other than because he’s Tarantino.
- Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Bob Balaban and Edward Norton will be voicing a pack of dogs for Wes Anderson’s next stop-motion animation film. Even if you’re not a huge Wes fan, that’s a pretty top-tier voice cast.
Continue reading Film & TV News: October 13