THE LEARNING TREE Review – ***½

Southeast Kansas on film for the win. (Source)

Southeast Kansas on film for the win. (Source)

(Apologies if this review is a little scattered. I meant it to be a journal entry and it ended up reaching the length of a full review.)

Not many films have been made in the corner of America I grew up in. But one very talented man, Gordon Parks, was born and raised not half an hour from my hometown, and 40-some years later returned to make a film there. My mother, in her capacity as a news reporter, covered a couple of events at the Gordon Parks Museum, and was even able to meet him. On at least one of these trips, my father went along, and spoke to Parks; reputedly, he said that, although he liked Shaft, he preferred The Learning Tree.

That makes sense, since The Learning Tree was based on his novel, which in turn was based on his youth in southeast Kansas. I had known about both for some years–in fact, on one of my mother’s trips to the museum, I went along, and saw Kyle Johnson–the star of the film, playing Parks’ surrogate–talk about his memories of the film. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall any specifics.) We also saw a clip of the film, covering the opening scenes where the teenage protagonist, caught in a storm, finds himself taking shelter with Big Mabel (Carol Lamond). I was informed that she seduces Newt in this scene; I think, because the clip was pan-and-scan (the original film being shot in ‘Scope), it was hard to tell what was happening…and the gauzy, stylized approach to the sequence didn’t help.

Anyway, a decade or so later, I finally sat down to see the whole thing.

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THE TRIBE Review – ****

The more common poster is borderline NSFW, but I actually just preferred the artistry of this one. (Source)

The more common poster is borderline NSFW, but I actually just preferred the artistry of this one. (Source)

The logline alone commands the attention: a Ukrainian drama, told entirely in sign language, without music or even subtitles. That it deals with the lawlessness lurking beneath the surface of a school for the deaf makes it essentially another troubled-youth film with the by-now expected sex and violence on top of the corrupted-innocence storyline. So we have, essentially, a very old story told in a very new way.

And, almost despite itself, it more or less works. The stylistic choices make the story hard to follow at times, and the ugliness on display will certainly push many viewers away. But despite all this, once I adjusted to The Tribe‘s rhythms, I found myself thoroughly compelled. Even as I recognized the predictable elements of the story and questioned its logic, my attention was held to the very end. It’s not a great film, but the form, courtesy of director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, greatly elevates the content.

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JURASSIC WORLD Review – ***½

You can't deny the primal appeal of a man riding a motorcycle whilst flanked by velociraptors. Just look at the box-office. (Source)

You can’t deny the primal appeal of Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle whilst flanked by velociraptors. Just look at the box-office. (Source)

I hadn’t planned on writing a full review of Jurassic World, but having seen it a second time, and having seen it become one of the highest-grossing films of all time (third, in fact, unadjusted for inflation–Furious 7 and Age of Ultron are #5 and #6 respectively), I decided to give it a go. Surely, the biggest hit of the year has to be worth analyzing, right?

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ALOHA Review – *½

I'm not sure what this poster is saying, other than there are white people and we're in Hawaii. But this sure as shit isn't The Descendants. (Source)

I’m not sure what this poster is saying, other than there are white people and we’re in Hawaii. But this sure as shit isn’t The Descendants. (Source)

I knew from the trailer that Aloha would be a pretty pathetic excuse for a film–any film that highlights one of its worst jokes (the hysterically dated Flava Flav reference) and then drops that joke from the final film doesn’t have its head in the right place, and neither did Cameron Crowe, whose writing and direction are objectively bad and subjectively sad–the man who won an Oscar for writing Almost Famous and coined two of the most recognizable film quotes in Jerry Maguire has come to this, a film which makes no sense and offers less entertainment.

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SPECTRE Trailer/Thoughts

You know I’m a huge Bond fan, and even though I found Skyfall more problematic than most, I still found it a worthy addition to the series. So a new Bond film from Sam Mendes, with an even stronger cast (Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista), and promising the return of the great SPecial Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terror, Revenge and Extortion, should naturally be one of my most anticipated films of the year.

But this trailer leaves me cold. Continue reading

INSIDE OUT Review – ****½

"Congratulations, San Francisco, you've ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians...and now YOU!"

“Congratulations, San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians…and now YOU!”

As of this writing, Inside Out and Jurassic World have been duking it out for three weekends, and Inside Out finally seems to have topped Jurassic World this past weekend, robbing it of the title of the highest-grossing film never to win a weekend. Not that it matters; Inside Out will be hugely profitable and has earned Pixar its best reviews since Toy Story 3.

And yet, were it not for the disappointment of the intervening three films (though I think Brave is severely underrated), I think Inside Out‘s reviews would be a shade less rapturous. It’s a delightful film, of course, with an incredibly fertile premise, wonderful animation, incredible voice acting, and a healthy mixture of laughter and tears. But for my money, it falls just a little short of Pixar’s old heights.

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