Perhaps no one ever thought about it, but this was a prime time for a film to really take the fight to D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent epic The Birth of a Nation. Griffith’s most recognized picture – which screened at the White House in front of President Woodrow Wilson – bears a controversial and mixed legacy; though rightfully lauded for its innovations in filmmaking techniques, it’s also rightfully criticized for its vile, racist story. Over 100 years have passed, and during this time, we’ve witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, the election of the nation’s first African-American president, and the rise of Black Lives Matter, to name a few. Now, actor/writer/director/producer Nate Parker has taken that very film’s name and delightfully subverted it with his own feature … which too has mired in controversy that threatens to overwhelm it. Chances are, you’ve likely come across many an article and op-ed about the film and the circumstances surrounding it. The resulting conversation has brought into question whether art can be separated from the artist, and whether our principles should outweigh our engagement with art. Parker’s The Birth of a Nation is difficult to assess, and to be completely honest, I’m having trouble writing this. But write I shall, and as you read further, you may find that this isn’t so much a review as much as it is a collection of thoughts about how the film engaged me and how I responded to it.
This side of the 20th century has seen a noticeable rise in films based on recent events and tragedies. After all, United 93 and World Trade Center released not even five years after the September 11 attacks, and Captain Phillips came four years after the Maersk Alabama hijacking. Filmmaker Peter Berg is part of this trend as well, as he has two such films in this year alone: Deepwater Horizon, depicting the 2010 explosion on the titular drilling rig, and Patriots Day, recounting the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The former arrived in theaters this past weekend, and while its portrayal of events is limited to a fault, it does make for a terrifying and visceral disaster film.
An auteur has returned home. It’s been three years since his Hollywood debut with The Last Stand and six years since his last Korean feature I Saw the Devil, and South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon is once again making movies in his native land. His latest feature, The Age of Shadows, may mark a return to form; it has, after all, been chosen as the nation’s submission for next year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. There’s no denying the breathtaking level of craft and entertainment in this espionage drama, even if its storytelling grasp does fall short of its reach.
Title: The Magnificent Seven | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 132 min | Theaters nationwide
The arrival of the fall season brings you another edition of the High-Low Report! Today, Andrew’s easy-to-please tendencies and Jun’s sophisticated palate go head to head over the recent western action flick, The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, which is itself a remake of Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic. In fact, Andrew and Jun have decided to tackle the other two films as well since they watched both recently, so you’re in for treat. Will they butt heads or will they harmoniously agree? WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Like it or not, Edward Snowden isn’t going away anytime soon. Over three years have passed since the former contractor for the U.S. government leaked classified information from the NSA (National Security Agency), but his actions still generate discussions and influence policies when it comes to matters of government secrecy, mass surveillance, national security, and information privacy. Opinions on him vary, and his name has popped up quite a few times as of late. He’s a divisive figure, and it shouldn’t be surprising that filmmaker Oliver Stone – who is no stranger to covering controversy – has developed a film about the whistleblower. The result, Snowden, is a slick picture that may not engage as much as it could, but it does somewhat educate and explain why its subject is such an important figure today.
Not all amazing true stories translate into amazing films. In most cases, that comes down to the filmmakers’ storytelling decisions; think of how Lone Survivor and American Sniper respectively replaces and excises the most compelling parts of their material, or how The Walk stifles its narrative flow with jarring narration and breaks in the fourth wall. In some cases, the story is by design not fit to be made into a feature film. That just may be the case with Sully, which covers the 2009 emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Clint Eastwood’s latest film clumsily attempts to build out from the Miracle on the Hudson and is unable to justify its own existence.
The key to good melodrama lies in balance. As compelling as the subject matter can be, if you pile sentimentality upon sentimentality without interspersing them with scenes of calm, then you merely have a collection of moments. Without those scenes, the story cannot breathe, and the moments don’t feel earned. Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance – who helmed Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines – is no stranger to melodrama and knows how to handle such material, so it’s quite puzzling how his latest feature, The Light Between Oceans, suffocates with its sentimentality.