Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

The Duke of Burgundy

This is definitely not a film for everyone. It is a very arty, beautifully shot story of a lesbian couple who enjoy a rich dominant/submissive sex life. But it is no Fifty Shades of Grey wannabe. Instead it is a surreal, sensual meditation on a loving relationship and lengths people will go to for the ones they love.

American Sniper

War is hell. So is this intensely polarizing movie. You either love American Sniper or hate it. I was one of the latter. Adapted from a biography of the same name, it is the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) who became a hero to many for being our most lethal sniper and killing the most Iraqis. My problem with the film is how the whole situation is portrayed as entirely black and white. Kyle and the Americans are the good guys, and every single Iraqi is evil. I am sure to the men and women who fought there, that was the perfect rationalization for what they did, but as storytelling goes, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Inherent Vice

I have liked Paul Thomas Anderson’s films a lot in the past (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood,) and Inherent Vice has a lot of the elements he is known for — a great ensemble cast, intertwining story lines, a sense of the world being off kilter. But in this case, it just never seems to come together. By the end of two and a half hours, you are as befuddled as the pothead protagonist, all the while thinking that it has to ultimately make sense. My suspicion is that adapting this (or any other) Thomas Pynchon novel seemed like a great challenge, since no one has done it before. But I think this film should serve as a cautionary tale for future screenwriters who think they’ll be the one who gets it right.

The Interview

If you have a adolescent nephew, this is the perfect flick to share. It is full of dumb laughs and mostly harmless hijinks (unless you happen to be Kim Jong-un.) And it is funny. I laughed quite a bit, between cringes over silly bathroom humor. And as my teenage nephew noted at the end, “It was better than The Hobbit.” (Yep, we saw that too, and the consensus was that it was the weakest of the trilogy.) It does help that we watched The Interview at home on a nice big screen, not paying theater prices, and our expectations were pretty low to start with. But as dumb movies go, it doesn’t suck.

Force Majeure

There is a lot of buzz around Force Majeure, a Swedish relationship drama. They LOVED it at Cannes, it is Sweden’s Oscar entry, and the Foreign Press has just nominated it as best foreign language film. But the question to me is, does it appeal more to European audiences than Americans? I liked it and I think it is a well-done film with a compelling question at its center, but best film?

Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

As a photography major in college, I studied all the “famous” photographers and their “important” images. But what we did not see were photographers of color and their important images. Did they not exist or were they just not in the canon? The eye-opening documentary Through a Lens Darkly tackles that question and looks at the rich and largely ignored history of black photographers in America. It also takes on the notion of identity that we draw from photos and the distortions that African-Americans have had to endure since the beginning of photo-technology. The film is based on the book “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present,” by Deborah Willis, which must be the most exhaustive study of black photographers, images of African-Americans, and the use of photographs as propaganda in both positive and negative ways as a vehicle for social change. Fortunately director Thomas Allen Harris doesn’t go too far into the academic arguments. He smartly begins from a personal viewpoint, using the photographic traditions of his own family as a jumping off point.

Citizenfour

In January of 2013, filmmaker Laura Poitras began receiving emails from a mysterious person who only identified himself as “citizenfour” and who had information about US government surveillance on a scale unheard of in history. A few months later, after a number of encrypted email exchanges, Poitras headed to Hong Kong along with journalist Glenn Greenwald to meet the sender. The rest is history. Waiting for them in a hotel room was Edward Snowden who would hand them evidence of massive citizen surveillance and data mining by the NSA and other government agencies, and would expose our global cyber-spy program. Once it was made public by Greenwald in a series of articles published in The Guardian, it created an international storm of controversy. Was Snowden a whistleblower or a traitor?

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything is an unusual love story. It is adapted from the autobiography of Jane Wilde, physicist Stephen Hawking’s first wife, who met him while he was working on his thesis about time at Cambridge in the early 60s. Despite finding that he had a motor neuron disease (ALS, as in the ice bucket challenge) that the doctors predicted would kill him within two years (it didn’t,) the two married, had several children, and attempted to lead a “normal life,” that is if one of the most brilliant people on earth who cannot speak or move without aid can be said to ever have a normal life. The film covers about 15 years time as he becomes world renowned and as their marriage disintegrates. No doubt Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables) will be getting some Oscar love for his physical transformation into the wheelchair bound Hawking. It is a great performance in a good film.

Rosewater

Jon Stewart’s crossover from host of a hit satirical news show to feature film writer/director was slightly surprising on the face of it. But once you get into Rosewater, you see why this true story was so personal to him. In 2009, Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, donning a silly undercover spy persona, conducted a mock interview in Tehran with Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari for a segment about the country’s elections, which Iranian-born Bahari had returned home to cover. A short time later that interview was actually used against him when he was arrested and charged with spying for the CIA. “Why this man claim to be a spy if he is not a spy?” his interrogator asks in the film. “Why would a spy have a television show?” Bahari answers incredulously. And this was the rabbit hole he fell down — an absurdist nightmare with no room for reality or truth.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman has no competition, because there is nothing remotely like it out there. It is a semi-fantasy, dark comedy with an amazing cast and a highly imaginative script. Michael Keaton has never been better, and in this role he shows off a kind of raw emotive talent that I would not have guessed he possessed. Playing Riggan, a former mega-star who was known for his role as the immensely popular superhero Birdman a couple of decades back, he has come down to earth and is trying to make a name for himself again, only this time with a Broadway play that he wrote, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” He is directing it and starring in it as well. And he may just be losing his mind.