Since 2006, a rapidly escalating war between drug cartels and the Mexican government has ravaged Northern Mexico, resulting in 60,000 homicides. Many of these murders were committed in the city of Ciudad Juárez, the border town just across the river from El Paso, Texas. Does that number startle you? Let’s look at it from another angle. In 2007, 320 homicides were processed in Cuidad Juárez, a city with a population of approximately 1.5 million. That number skyrocketed to 3,622 in 2010. New York City, with a population of 19.5 million people, only reported 868 homicides in 2010 by comparison.
These numbers are startling, but understanding the severity of the problem is important to appreciating Narco Cultura, a documentary by photojournalist Shaul Schwarz that seeks to explore not only the impact of the drug cartels on Juárez and its inhabitants, but also the influence that the glamorized narco lifestyle has on pop culture in both Mexico and in the United States. Narco Cultura is brutal and unforgiving; graphic images are displayed starkly and without convenient cutaways, a fact that makes the message of the film all the more powerful. Still, due to the graphic nature of some of the footage, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it to potential viewers as a disclaimer. Read the rest of this entry »
When assessing the merits of a film, there are two lines one can take. Some films are to be judged on the strength of their technical prowess, in the quality of their narrative, on the cohesiveness of the cast, and on the stylistic choices employed by the director. Certainly, this is a valid way to rate a film, and in truth, it is probably the approach that I take most often in my analyses. However, it is also acceptable, and in some cases even preferred, to assess a film purely on the emotional responses it seeks to draw from its intended audience. In a lot of ways, my mind and my heart are at odds on how to rate the Kasi Lemmons holiday film Black Nativity.
Black Nativity is a love-letter reinterpretation of Langston Hughes’ classic musical, which itself is a retelling of the Nativity story using an all-black cast. Whereas the musical focuses primarily on a combination of faith, rousing gospel music, and African-inspired percussion, Kasi Lemmons’ film adaptation strives to blend these elements with a more modern tale filled with family melodrama and themes of poverty and crime. The attempt is incredibly ambitious, but the delivery is muddled and clunky, falling well short of what the director likely intended. Read the rest of this entry »
Note: Very, VERY minor spoilers are contained within this film review, although nothing that isn’t shown in the trailers or heavily implied by the context of the film. Still, disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer.
There really is no way around it; 12 Years a Slave is one of the most brutal, uncomfortable films I’ve seen in quite some time. This is by design. Director Steve McQueen aims to bring us a story of suffering and of helplessness in the pre-Civil War slave trading days, and boy, does he deliver.
The film follows Solomon Northrup, played expertly by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is a free black man living in upstate New York in the years prior to the Civil War. The film makes no illusions about him and his family having a status of equality within the Northern society, but compared to the scenarios Northrup finds himself in throughout the rest of the film, his life is about as ideal as could be imagined. After making a business deal with a pair of shifty men, Northrup finds himself drugged, kidnapped, and subsequently sold into slavery, where he spends the next 12 years of his life.
One of the natural reactions upon seeing a film is to try to uncover its deeper meaning. Sometimes, there is no depth, as is often the case with summer blockbusters or cheap scare horror flicks. Pure entertainment can be as rewarding and gratifying as a philosophical message. Other films try to impart a life lesson, usually one supported by the themes represented in the script, the stylistic choices of the director, and by the actions and dialogue delivered by the actors. Usually, this is a unified message leading to a crescendo of realization by the audience.
Then you have films like Ridley Scott’s ‘The Counselor,’ where there is no grand point, there is no lesson to be learned, and plot points merely happen for the sake of happening. Perhaps that is too harsh a critique to level against a film that I somewhat enjoyed, but I think it is important to get this point out of the way early. Some fans are going to love the stark simplicity of the story, while many audience members will be turned off by a film that is in many ways pointless. Perhaps it is a boring line for me to take, but I would say that both camps are right. Read the rest of this entry »
The 2013 remake of ‘Carrie’ starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore is a film that probably didn’t need to be made in the first place. After all, when attempting a remake of a film as well-regarded as the 1976 version of the film, it is the responsibility of the film-maker to bring enough vision, ingenuity, and freshness to the project to warrant its creation. Sadly, director Kimberly Peirce supplies none of the creativity I would have wanted to see from this remake, and instead creates a film that feels like it offers nothing more than a new coat of paint slapped on a film that didn’t need it. The familiar scenes feel too familiar, and the original sequences feel disjointed. It is almost as if the filmmakers don’t quite grasp why some of the elements worked in the original film, or which scenes would benefit from a revamp if subverted properly. Read the rest of this entry »
Fact: one in two marriages will end in divorce. Children of divorce often grow up torn between two homes, forced to grow up far more quickly than should ever be expected. Sometimes, these children feel as though something is missing, as though the sum of all of their parts do not equal a satisfying whole. Unfortunately, this same criticism could be leveled against ‘A.C.O.D,’ the 2013 comedy about the adult children of divorce directed by rookie director Stu Zicherman.
In ‘A.C.O.D.,’ Adam Scott is a seemingly well-adjusted man with a stable relationship and a steady career, despite the emotional baggage that he carries from his parents’ explosive divorce when he was nine years old. At first, Adam plays the role of uniter as he tries to bring his family together for his younger brother’s upcoming wedding. As the relationships between his family change, though, Adam discovers just how maladjusted he truly is. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Gravity’ is one of those films that absolutely screams for expectation management. In the days leading up to me seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s space mission disaster film, I was amazed at the number of positive reviews bombarding me from all angles. Critics are raving about it, all of my friends on Facebook are gushing about their experiences in the theater, and Rotten Tomatoes is boasting an impressive 97% critical fresh rating. Based on all of this glowing feedback, you’d almost think that ‘Gravity’ could also cure my gramma’s arthritis or make Crocs fashionable. As you prepare to screen the film for yourself, do yourself a favor: put all of these positive reviews on the back-burner and take in ‘Gravity’ with fresh eyes. This is a damn fine film, and failure to temper your expectations properly might rob yourself of a very rewarding cinematic experience. Read the rest of this entry »