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China the New Hollywood? And with Superhero Movies?!

THE ELECTRIC STATE, a graphic novel by Simon Stålenhag, soon to be a major motion picture.

China is the new Hollywood. Who knew? Big studio director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) left Hollywood in favor of China years ago. Indeed, China is the world’s fastest-growing movie market. That said, China is poised to deliver its own blockbuster. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, much depends upon the Russo Brothers. Never heard of them? Well, you’ve definitely heard of the movies they’ve directed for Marvel. You know, some of the ones starring Captain America and the whole merry crew of Avengers. They are currently completing the next installment, “Avengers: Infinity War,” due for release on April 27, 2018.

Abra, Odessa Young, Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse appear in Assassination Nation by Sam Levinson, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The Russo brothers have recently joined with Agbo, a production company backed by China’s largest private film company, Huayi Brothers Media Corp. The goal is for Agbo to make its own superhero movies and/or related blockbuster movies. However, just because you could bankroll a successful superhero movie doesn’t mean you have the golden touch. There’s a whole graveyard of clunker superhero movies backed by buckets of money. But Agbo has cherry picked from the best. They also have the writers from the next Avengers movie working on projects. And there have been some very interesting developments.

Directors Joe Russo, left, and brother Anthony Russo at a press event last year at Durham Cathedral in England, a location for their forthcoming ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ slated for release in April. PHOTO: MIRRORPIX/COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION

The most exciting project is an adaptation of “The Electric State,” a science-fiction graphic novel the brothers see as having franchise potential, directed by Andy Muschietti, best known for last year’s “It.”

Another exciting prospect, in conjunction with the new independent distributor Neon, is a $10 million buy for distribution rights to “Assassination Nation,” a teen-girl revenge thriller that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

So, China is the New Hollywood? Well, not exactly but definitely on the right track.

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Movie Review: BLACK PANTHER

BLACK PANTHER

Marvel Comics, and Marvel Studios, has a solid track record for keeping in step with the zeitgeist, sometimes with uncanny relevance. “Black Panther” arrives in theaters not a moment too soon. What gives this movie added significance is clear as day and it wears that role well with wit and grace. You know, the original Black Panther comic book came out at a fractured time such as we experience today. The first appearance of the character was in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) in the Silver Age of comic books. Fast forward to the present, and Black Panther is needed more than ever. Just look at this week’s TIME magazine with Chadwick Boseman gracing the cover. Yes, this is a significant movie now projected to take in about $165 million for the opening weekend.

You certainly don’t have to be a loyal geek follower of all things to do with Wakanda. You don’t need to already know about the origin story involving a magical meteor composed of the miracle element vibranium (more powerful than uranium) that collided thousands of years ago with the remote settlement of Wakanda and energized it into a super civilization. But now you know this. And it gets cooler. The story of Wakanda is a story of isolationism in reverse. As far as the outside world is concerned, Wakanda is one of the poorest countries in the world but, in fact, it is hiding the most sophisticated technology in the world. A monumental struggle plays out as rival forces fight for Wakanda’s destiny: will it guard or share its resources with the rest of humanity?

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman plays the role of the noble new king, the legendary Black Panther, easing his way beyond the borders of Wakanda. There are outsiders who have made off with chunks of vibranium and that threatens not only Wakanda but the whole planet. Then you add to the mix a ferocious challenger to the Black Panther’s crown and you have all the action you could hope to enjoy in one of these Marvel Comics epics.

Right up there with the action is a whole lot of heart. If you’re looking for an uplifting story, with compelling character-driven twists and turns, this is it. When you stop and think about it, Black Panther is reaching out to audiences on a similar genuine level as last year’s Wonder Woman. Both of these origin stories are wonderful comic book fantasy but also grounded with a hefty helping of food for thought, addressing heartbreaking struggle in the real world. That struggle continues, no doubt, and the burden is lifted just a bit, even if only for the length of a movie, if only for one child. The fact is that this movie will do quite a lot of people some good.

BLACK PANTHER

I will throw in a tiny tad of a spoiler. This isn’t really taking anything away but I just wanted to report back to you that the whole audience I was part of dutifully waited through the credits since we’ve all grown to rely upon some Marvel extras after the main show. And there are two so don’t leave too soon. Let’s just say there is a little more right at the end and then there’s the quick teaser at the very, very end. And I’ll just say here that it involves another nerdy fact: one of the materials used to construct Captain America’s shield is vibranium. It’s important to know that moving forward. Enough said.

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Superhero Movies Face No Kryptonite as They Soar into 2018

A great year ahead for superhero movies.

Author: Anna Galich

When it comes to fighting for the share of a film audience, the battleground is extremely tough. However, amidst the blockbusters, period pieces, and Oscar fodder, one genre has risen above all others and against all odds reigned supreme both in terms of commercial success and cultural reception. That’s right, superhero movies provide us with some of the most lucrative and successful films in recent years, and their star is only going to continue to rise. But what does the future hold for superhero films? And will the current trajectory ever slow down?

Super Success

2017 was a good year for superhero flicks. According to Box Office Mojo Wonder Woman grossed $412,563,408, and was the 3rd highest grossing film of the year, while Thor: Ragnarok achieved $312,641,320 and 7th place, and Justice League closed out the Top 10. The success shows that superhero movies are still drawing in the public and achieving box office targets. As long as the targets are being met, the studios will still continue to produce films about superheroes. The first female-led superhero movie bolstered the position for DC, with Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman being highly praised – and with that success comes a possible new subgenre for countless other female superheroes who may have been overlooked over the years.

Hope for the Future

2018 looks to continue the rise of the superhero movie genre, with Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Ant-Man and the Wasp providing sequels of previously successful films. Based on the eponymous villain, Venom will offer an alternate view of the Spider-Man series – which itself received a revamp in 2017, replacing Andrew Garfield with Tom Holland for the Spider-Man Homecoming origin story. Revamps are common in the genre and actually in fitting with the comic books they are based on, which regularly kill off characters, such as when Spider-Man was killed in 2012 only to be revived again. The trick the studios have to pull is to stick to the genre’s roots while finding new and exciting ways to explore superhero backstories and mythos.

Fresh Meat

But with the regurgitation of heroes in sequel after sequel (Iron Man and Captain America both have 3 films each, with appearances in crossovers and the everyone-involved Avengers films), and the retelling of the same story (Spider-Man has had 3 different actors; Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland in only 15 fifteen years), there leaves little space for new superheroes to change the genre up. However, one hero, whose exploits were documented in the 1986 movie Highlander, is in the pipeline for a remake. The remake will introduce newer fans to the character, who already has a fan base and in niche areas even appeared as a popular game on the homepage of Betway Casino, featured as an online slot game. The game features content from the classic franchise and can give you a sense of how popular the movie (directed by Chad Stahleski of John Wick fame) will be.

Superhero movie franchises abound.

Franchise and Fans

The superhero movie continues to see a positive return at the box office due to the franchise nature of the genre. The films are based on premises, not plots, which are conducive to expanded arcs, backstories, and fleshed out worlds of characters long forgotten in comic books. As many are based on comic books, which have established audiences, and come from a genre, which also has dedicated fans, studios are more likely to produce superhero movies due to the likelihood of a higher turnout. The established fan base could explain why so many superhero films are given the green light, but easy fans wouldn’t account for the genuine financial success the films achieve.

Marvel vs DC

The Marvel vs DC battle, which dominates the comic world, and has begun to dominate the world of cinema, is another factor that keeps superhero films alive. If only one franchise existed, filmmakers could grow complacent and produce subpar stories knowing people will watch them. The healthy competition and so-called battle the companies are involved in helps keep each franchise fresh in order to stay ahead of the competition. With DC’s release of the Wonder Woman film, Marvel are already considering further exploring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in her own feature. The character starred in many of her own comics, which explored the backstory revealed in Age of Ultron. The opening of major action movies to female leads provides a wealth of avenues that the superhero films can go down – just don’t mention Halle Berry’s 2004 flop as Catwoman!

The Comic Book Industry

The superhero genre of films also helps keep the comic book industry alive. By introducing fans to a character, they can then delve into the entire back catalogue of that character, and everything they have done before. Given that many started in the 1950s, fans potentially have a large amount of material to sift through, helping to build the franchise effect that keeps audiences interested film after film.

The superhero genre, after years of hard work and failed attempts, has finally solidified itself as the head of the box office and a creator of sure-fire hits. The future of the genre looks bright, and filmmakers have to just decide which aspect to focus on. While flops can still occur, the unwavering success of the last spate of films shows just how successful the genre actually can be.

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Filed under Comics, Commentary, Guest Column, movies, superhero movies, Superheroes, Superman

Oscars 2018: Why ‘Get Out’ Could Win for Best Picture

After a startling presentation mix-up for the best picture award, Barry Jenkins, at the mic, and the Moonlight cast accept the award at the Oscars on Sunday.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Not so long ago, the Academy Awards had to contend with the #OscarsSoWhite movement with its goal of greater diversity in movies. And, some may argue, that led to “Moonlight” winning for Best Picture in 2017. Now, we also have the #MeToo and the #TimesUp movements that all add up to the public demand for change from the status quo. In that spirit, to have “Get Out” win for Best Picture this year, would definitely further steer the Oscars on a more enlightened path. The Oscars ceremony this year is on Sunday, March 4, 2018 with predictions on the winners taking in all the factors.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in the throes of an existential crisis.

If all movies are cut from the same cloth and we keep to the old and wrong ways, then serious problem remain. That said, any movie will ultimately need to be judged by the quality of its content. In the new era that is unfolding before us, we really can have it all. A good part of what makes “Get Out” an exceptional movie is how it subverts your expectations no matter your background or race. The viewer can empathize with a person thrust into meeting their lover’s parents. We all have our advantages and disadvantages, whether they are real or only perceived as such.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. There are specifics to this story. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is African American and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), is Caucasian. From the moment Chris and Rose arrive at her parent’s home, it is emphasized in the extreme how race doesn’t matter but, in truth, it matters all too much–even to a life-threatening level. Everyone Chis comes into contact at this family gathering makes it painfully clear something is very wrong. This pushes Chris into an intense existential crisis.

Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton

For a new generation that believes it has seen it all, writer/director Jordan Peele brings something new. And this is not to say that we make a wholesale dismal of generations of moviemaking. No, what people are clamoring for now is a collective correction. When “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” came out in 1967, and presented viewers with a mixed race couple, it helped to stir a much needed discussion on race. Peele is able tap into that same energy. People are asking to tear down the old gods and build on all the good we have achieved. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “Get Out” are part of a continuum of moviemaking at its best.

“Get Out”

At least both of these movies were nominated. It’s interesting to note that Sidney Poitier was not nominated for Best Actor for his pivotal role. However, Daniel Kaluuya is up for Best Actor this year. Step by step, we continue to make progress. We are just asking to pick up the pace. This is certainly not lost on Jordan Peele. “Get Out” came out in 2017, on the 50th anniversary of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” a big studio movie of its time, a little more polite and a lot more circumspect than we will tolerate today.

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Movie Review: THE POST

Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham

The Washington Post is in an awkward spot as one of the objects of disdain for Donald Trump. However, the Trump White House requested copies of “The Post” and 20th Century Fox has obliged. So, despite the bad blood, apparently, the Donald is curious. And, if he should see it, he’ll discover that The Washington Post knows how to handle itself. Compelling stuff but the heavy-duty serious subject matter may bore Big Don. Besides, it won’t work for him if he’s rooting for Tricky Dick Nixon. For the rest of us, this movie about newspapers and freedom of the press is quite compelling.

We don’t really have spoilers to worry about too much. The Washington Post is inextricably linked in history with the Nixon White House, The Pentagon Papers, the paper’s owner and publisher Katharine Graham, and the paper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee. It’s all the peculiar facts that add up to show the courage involved for Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and especially for Graham (Meryl Streep). The tension resides in the nerve-racking decisions leading up to whether or not to publish material the government deems too sensitive for public, and political, consumption. The key word here is “political,” as the information in The Pentagon Papers was a political bombshell–but never put American lives in danger, as the Nixon White House claimed. In fact, it would save lives as it helped to put a stop to the war in Vietnam.

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee

“The Post” is a perfect companion piece to Alan J. Pakula’s 1976, “All the President’s Men.” Director Steven Spielberg would certainly be mindful of comparisons. But the screenplay, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, is on a decidedly different track. This is more of a character study and not so much a political thriller. That said, it certainly shares some of the same energy. As much as Hoffman, Redford, and Robards commanded the screen, so too does Streep and Hanks.

June 21, 1971: Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham leave U.S. District Court in Washington.

You can also make a favorable comparison with Adam McKay’s 2015 “The Big Short,” another movie that neatly presents a myriad of facts in an easily digestible form. Both movies are about confronting deception at an outrageous level. In one, the public has been duped into falling victim to Wall Street greed. In the other, the public has been duped into feeding the military industrial complex with the lives of its sons. The Pentagon Papers were, at their core, a study in failure intended for scholars at some future time. To have this study released to the public while the war was raging, was unthinkable. It uncovered deception at a massive scale going from Truman to Nixon. In order to publish, The Washington Post had to be willing to defy the courts’ understanding at the time that this act would amount to treason. To publish was an easy enough task for Bradlee to commit to. But for Graham, it was a gamble that put the very paper at risk of extinction.

Finally, “The Post” is an even closer companion piece to Spielberg’s own 2012 “Lincoln.” This all perfectly dovetails with Spielberg’s films of America at war as well as his biopics of American leaders in crisis. Katharine Graham is the pivotal character going against the status quo and conventional wisdom. Why can’t she just lay down and accept the Nixon White House’s demands, right? Streep gives a memorable performance that tenderly follows Graham’s journey from tentative caretaker of a vulnerable family business to a confident leader at a national, as well as an international level. For Hanks, he takes Bradlee from a man born confident to a man more modest and empathetic. Both must and do rise to the challenge of a White House that perceives the American free press as an enemy of the state. Sound familiar? Do you really think Donald Trump has watched this–as well as processed it?

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Filed under Academy Awards, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars, Steven Spielberg, Vietnam War

Movie Review: THE CONDO (2015)

THE CONDO (2015)

Sometimes you just need a good hook to get you around to seeing a movie. Take 2015’s “The Condo,” a light comedy from Gravitas Ventures that is now available on Video on Demand. There is a lot of good energy here and it begins with leading actor Baron Jay. In fact, check out the interview link below where Jay provides some insights on making it in the industry. This is our gateway. There is something about Jay, his spirit, his humanity–that makes you want to stay with him and see his work.

And right below this is THE CONDO movie trailer:

The premise: Four married guys find themselves with a condo that they turn into a bachelor pad. This may remind some of you of the Billy Wilder classic, “The Apartment.” Well, that was on the mind of Baron Jay and inspired him to commission Bill Marroni to write the script, who directed Jay’s first feature film, “Safe House.” What this movie does best is to showcase a lot of solid emerging talent. It’s a vehicle that serves well everyone involved: Produced by Baron Jay and Michael Joseph for Baron Jay Film Group; directed by horror genre veteran James Cullen Bressack (Bethany); and written by Bill Marroni and Bill Dumas.

Baron Jay and Jackie Moore in THE CONDO

Something like this, if done right, makes the most of the opportunity to experiment. There are some recurring themes that get a chance to be developed. The cast is led by Trae Ireland (#FromJennifer), Jackie Moore (Pernicious), Baron Jay (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), Michael Joseph (Restoration), Tracy “Stresh” Mcnulty (Emma’s Chance), Chris Sapone, Aria London, and Johanna Rae (Psychos). Baron Jay commands the screen as a hapless realtor and lover. Trae Ireland is a cocky stand-up comedian with dwindling reasons to laugh. And Jackie Moore is a surprise hit as a sexy man-eater suffering from multiple personality disorder.

Jackie Moore in THE CONDO

So, while rough around the edges, “The Condo” is a fun view. If you are a fan of improv comedy, that’s a helpful way of looking at this: lots of talent trying out different things. Overall, I come back to Baron Jay, the ringmaster for this project. As he advises aspiring actors and filmmakers: if you’re tired of knocking on doors, then create something of your own. For those of you out there with those sort of dreams, this is especially of interest. That said, there is an effortless, even masterful, quality from the lead actors. I look forward to seeing where everyone goes with their movie careers.

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Movie Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017)

The destiny of Rey, and the Rebel Alliance, hangs in the balance.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has arrived! I saw it last night and I was quite entertained. This was a late night show complete with long line and excitement in the air. I will make a deal with you. I won’t spoil anything that isn’t already in the trailer–this is a movie about finding one’s destiny. You could say that about most movies. And there is the big conflict going on, of course, over what Rey (Daisy Ridley) should do with her life. Should she follow the light or the dark? Well, no one needs to feel obligated to do what they “should” do, right? Therein lies the deeper conflict. By all counts, Rey is, and this is no secret, the last Jedi. Who can help her with this? Ah, that is what this movie is all about and it does a fine job with that premise.

I will tell you that I went into this movie in the spirit of a true Star Wars fan–I was dutifully ready to be amazed. I was not to leave my seat. I was definitely not to check my phone. I was not to smack loudly on any edibles–if I even dared to indulge in cinema snacks. The woman seated next to me did have these plastic-wrapped treats she noisily noshed on and she DID check her phone, which is outrageous. And some people were not riveted to their seats and took bathroom breaks or whatever–more checking of phones? There seemed to be a jittery vibe going on. And that is the biggest challenge the Star Wars franchise has to contend with: can it keep you amazed? The answer is more of a so-so attitude. This Star Wars movie has its share of self-deprecating jokes to lighten the mood–which is fine as that is a staple for these big tent events–but perhaps there was just a tad too much–even if the Disney team is supposed to have perfected the delicately-balanced recipe for mass entertainment.

Star Wars delivers both art and action. Maybe a little more art than action–but that’s okay!

So, how much did Disney spend to buy out George Lucas? Enough to run a space colony on the moon, right? Well, then, we all deserve to be amazed! Again, I come back to the so-so vibe going on. The audience was there because this is an event. The movie was there because this is a huge investment. Writer-director-mastermind Rian Johnson is there to pull off another J.J. Abrams rabbit-out-of-a-hat-trick. This is, in its own way, a noble effort–not be dismissed. Is it possible today to really pull off an old-fashioned trick like this that gets an audience genuinely thrilled? For one thing, the audience has shifted, in its interests and attitude, since the first Star Wars in fundamental ways: less patient, wiser, snarkier–there wasn’t even any snark in 1977! To do the rabbit trick today, you need to scale back and dial down.

Some of the very best moments in this Star Wars movie are when everything goes into radio silence. For a crowd-pleaser, you don’t necessarily want to get too arthouse on the public. This is not “2001: A Space Odyssey,” although, given the wide demographic for Star Wars, you have plenty of wiggle room to enter into artistic mode. Truth to told, everyone hungers for some art with their action. Anyway, there are a number of these moments of radio silence as Rey deals with the profound obstacles on her journey of self-discovery as well as when we get to the nitty gritty conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. And it is beautifully done. I don’t care if some people got it and some chose to munch away on snacks or sneak a look at their phone for the millionth time. The Star Wars franchise, all of these franchises, know that’s part of the game and some will play it well while others will fall short. All in all, the results from this latest Star Wars are well played.

The whole cast delivers the goods, to be sure. For instance, I cannot image this without Adam Driver just as much as I cannot image this without Mark Hamill. Now, these two actors are very different, no doubt. Driver as an actor, we can mostly agree, runs circles around Hamill but Hamill is a special case. He has some acting chops. For this movie, he has all the acting chops he could possibly need. He comes to this role honoring something amounting to a sacred trust. Overall, he is a pleasure to see on the screen as the reluctant and conflicted legend, the great Luke Skywalker. What should he do at this point in his life? What is his greater purpose? He is admirably up to the challenge of this pivotal role. The same can certainly be said of Carrie Fisher. Hamill, ultimately, carries a good bit of this story as he is caught in the destiny triangle between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). By the time we’re getting down to these three revealing their true selves, no one is munching or checking their Facebook.

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Movie Review: HANGMAN

HANGMAN

A good crime story is about seeing all the elements in a set of circumstances falling into place one by one. “Hangman” fits the bill as it proves to be a competent thriller. This has Al Pacino, a personal favorite. The lead, however, edges a bit closer to Karl Urban, who commands the screen with a measured presence. There are enough chills and thrills to this for me to recommend it. I would not put it up there with anything iconic like, say, “Silence of the Lambs,” but it is well-crafted. I don’t especially seek out serial killer thrillers. I do understand their popularity so I remain open-minded to the genre. In this case, like the title suggests, this is a crowd-pleaser. And, for at least one particular scene, it did keep me on the edge of my seat.

Again, keep in mind that the great Al Pacino plays Ray Archer, a homicide detective here. Pacino brings some very compelling moments to this movie. His authority gives everything on the screen legitimacy. He makes the gritty that much more gritty. And he’s definitely a thoughtful and generous actor who brings out the best in his co-stars, Karl Urban and Brittany Snow. Urban plays Will Ruiney, the detective still grieving over the mysterious murder of his wife. Snow plays Christi Davies, the embedded reporter in what rapidly becomes the greatest case ever confronted by Archer and Ruiney. Pacino also inspires other key players: Sarah Shahi as Capt. Watson; Joe Anderson as Hangman; and Sloane Warren as Dr. Abby Westlin.

If you’re a fan of police procedurals, especially of the CSI variety, there is plenty to like here. I thought the scenes in the morgue were well above average. Sloane Warren steals the show as the coroner, Dr. Abby Westlin. She turns out to be an old pal of Archer who, by the way, has come out of retirement for this big case. It seems as if every bit of her background is put to use. There is another scene, as things are heating up, where Westlin’s skills of deduction lead everyone closer to finding the killer. And that is essential since this killer is killing people as casually as a game of hangman.

As an ensemble cast, Pacino, Urban, and Snow work quite well together. Their characters make sense and naturally grow as the plot develops. This is directed by Johnny Martin, with a script from Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger. It is currently available for viewing through Google. While this is not exactly going to put you in the holiday mood, it may hit the spot when seeking a change of pace in your movie viewing this month. Who knew “Krampus” would do so well, right? Think of this as sort of a “Krampus” crime thriller.

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Filed under Crime Fiction, Movie Reviews, movies

Netflix Movie Review: ‘To The Bone’

Lily Collins in “To The Bone”

If you subscribe to Netflix, you have seen or may plan to see “To The Bone.” As a major movie with a prominent star performer, the pressure is on to strike an authentic chord on the theme of eating disorders. One key factor in all this is that, if someone with an eating disorder is viewing this, they will know better than anyone else if only lip service is being paid or if something real is being said. Anyone in crisis wants to experience something real. Those who are loved ones, are certainly eager to understand and to help, but, in the end, it is always going to be up to that person who is struggling to find his or her own way out. What a movie like “To The Bone” does well is not to pretend to have all the answers. The movie is not there to magically solve anything. At best, the movie is there to open a window into a world, offer some perspective, offer up a look but make no claim to providing the ultimate solution. In all this, “To the Bone” succeeds.

Ellen (Lily Collins) is a 20-year-old anorexic girl who believes she has her eating disorder under control. She does not seem to want to listen to anyone’s advice on what and how to eat and yet she does not seem to completely close the door either. In a word, Lilly Collins gives a performance that is powerful. No doubt, she commands the screen with her gentle presence. Make no mistake, “To The Bone” is the sort of movie that matters. If one could only see every individual viewer reaction, it would light up the night sky. Collins is authentic. And writer/director Marti Noxon gives us an authentic screenplay and movie. It’s done by evoking that spontaneous feeling of sink or swim: giving the character room to fail so that she can summon the strength to turn the corner of her own free will.

This is a story all about free will. Eating disorders are a form of addiction, a way to control. Recovery is about finding a way out but it ultimately won’t work if the person in crisis is not in the driver’s seat. This movie works with all of this in mind. What we see is a series of stops, starts, falls, and attempts to get back up. The pace is slow because there is no magical cure to instantly bring one back from the brink. That said, we end up coming right back to the main character of Ellen in an intriguing cyclical fashion. Family tries to help. A charismatic therapist (Keanu Reeves) steps in with a tough love approach. There’s even a blossoming romance with a new boyfriend (Alex Sharp). But, in the end, we keep coming back to Ellen, alone–and yet not alone, processing things bit by bit.

Part of Ellen’s backstory involves her posting drawings about her anorexia on Tumblr that end up going viral. Not only that, one anorexic female fan of Ellen’s art kills herself. Her parents send Ellen the suicide note. It is a perfect example of how there are no easy answers, no one simple explanation to why this or that happens. It is in that spirit that this movie shines.

However, if there is a problem attached to this movie, it is simply that eating disorders are not simple matters nor is anything involving them. The obvious difficulty in making a movie about this subject is inherent in the process: Lily Collins had to undergo a severe, and life-threatening, weight loss. Sure, one can say it was a highly monitored process and the actor and the director took every precaution. Ultimately, there is no easy explanation to the ethics involved. On the one hand, the movie succeeds in opening a window. On the other hand, it opens up other issues about what such a movie owes its audience. Well, the movie is on Netflix for all to see so that train has left the station. Viewers will need to make their own call. The good news is that the movie itself does have something real to say.

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Filed under Anorexia, Eating Disorders, Movie Reviews, movies, Netflix

Movie Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!

My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?

Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.

Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne

There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.

Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.

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