To me, A Taxi Driver feels like a culmination. Ever since the news of last year’s South Korean political scandal broke, I’ve been following the nation’s political chatter and goings-on with great interest. Assessing the impeachment of disgraced former president Park Geun-hye, the months-long peaceful protests against her that mobilized millions of citizens, and the presidential elections naturally led me to read all that I could about modern Korean history. As I explored further and further, I couldn’t help but think of my father, who grew up in Korea for most of his now 57 years. I remembered his stories about how he – as a university student – protested against the regimes of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan and also how he argued with his father regarding those presidents. I remembered him being distraught for days when former president Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide. I remembered all the times when I asked him for his opinion on various South Korean political figures and issues. Following the news coming out of my native country certainly put my father’s experiences and thoughts in perspective, but if there’s one thing that encapsulates all that I just described, it’s this heartfelt and polished picture.
Title: The Dark Tower | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 95 min | Theaters nationwide
One year ago, MediaBrewPub’s resident low-brow Andrew – a fanatic Stephen King fan – was amped for the film adaptations of The Dark Tower and It that were set for release the following year. He asked resident high-brow Jun if he’d like to read The Dark Tower series (which comprises 8 novels) and discuss them in the buildup to the movie. Jun agreed, and Andrew was kind enough to buy and send him copies of the first two books. Jun began reading, as did Andrew. One year later, days before The Dark Tower arrived in theaters last weekend, Andrew finished his third readthrough of the series. As for Jun? He was a single chapter into the second novel. Needless to say, they were prepared, and the two of them watched the movie on opening night. This edition of the High-Low Report commences on the following day. While they will venture into spoiler territory, spoiler tags have been added, so consider this a safe read if you haven’t seen the film.
Title: Detroit | Rated: R | Runtime: 143 min | Theaters nationwide
America is built on blood and skin. We don’t seem to have much trouble accepting the former (violence has and will always have a place in our nation), but the same can’t be said for the latter. As far as my American history education goes, my classes covered the essential facts about slavery and the Civil Rights movement and then skimmed over other race-centered topics like the Trail of Tears, the Mexican Repatriation, the internment of Japanese Americans, and so on. Sure, certain college courses delve into those, but there remains this impression that we Americans in general are ignorant of or simply don’t like to talk about how prominent of a role racism plays in our nation’s history. Couple that with the news of racism popping up on a daily basis now, and it’s clear that we must confront this ugly reality head-on by acknowledging it, educating ourselves, listening empathically, and actively amending where need be. Cinema can play a role in these processes, particularly when it comes to portraying events or people that we know little (if any) about. That’s where director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, the team behind The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, come in. Their latest venture Detroit, which tackles the Algiers Motel incident during the 1967 Detroit Riot (take a moment to ask yourself if you ever heard of it), is a bit narratively unbalanced and emotionally stunted, but there’s no denying its immersion and intensity.
Title: A Ghost Story | Rated: Not Rated | Runtime: 92 min | Theaters wide (expanding)
At first look, A Ghost Story is easy to write off because of its oddball concept, but writer-director David Lowery pulls it off and presents a stirring meditation on grief and loss. The film is a bit slow at the start with its long takes, but those sequences lay down the foundation for the potent emotional punches that come later. Lowery proves to be a storytelling master, conveying two perceptions of the passage of time with ease and even handling Spanish-spoken sequences without subtitles. When it comes to its themes, the film does get rather heavy-handed, as one character covers them in one monologue. Putting a sheet over an actor and essentially taking away his means of communicating is a risky endeavor, but Casey Affleck handily imparts helplessness and sorrow with the ghost’s stillness and slow, shuffling movements. Rooney Mara skillfully sustains her character’s emotions over an impressive period of time, in particular a single sequence where she almost eats an entire pie. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palmero’s images adopt a square format reminiscent of 16mm home movie, lending the film a personal touch. Daniel Hart’s score is haunting and poignant, as is the song “I Get Overwhelmed” by Dark Rooms. This is a remarkable surprise and a great piece of filmmaking.
Every few years, there comes a film that makes a trip to the theater an event, an experience. These films that I speak of aren’t necessarily the highest grossing movies at the box office, nor are they always the best of their given years. No, these are the films that demand we watch them not just at the theater, but in a certain way at the theater. These are the films that become less when we watch them on a phone, a tablet, a computer, a television, even a standard movie theater screen. Love it or hate it, Avatar is one such film. Gravity is another. In the case of these two films, the theatrical and 3-D experiences unlocked their true potential and elevated them. Enter filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who has sought to provide an unparalleled theatrical experience with his penchant for shooting on film and in the IMAX format. His ambitious World War II picture Dunkirk offers just that; in the IMAX 70mm format, its immersion and intensity are unmatched, though its coldness does hold emotional investment at bay.
Title: The Big Sick | Rated: R | Runtime: 120 min | Theaters nationwide
It takes a while for The Big Sick to find its footing, but when it does, this rom-com becomes quite charming and compelling. Written by husband-wife duo Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars) and Emily V. Gordon, the film is loosely based on their real-life romance. Ironically, the love story between Kumail and Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) is probably the least interesting storyline in the film, as the other two storylines – Kumail’s conflict with his traditional Pakistani Muslim family as well as his getting to know Emily’s parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) – is where the story draws much of its fun and emotions. However, the film doesn’t really focus on those storylines until approximately 40 minutes in, and up to that point, it’s incredibly bland and is an absolute slog to get through. Once the film shows more interactions between Kumail and his family and also introduces Beth and Terry, it settles into a nice, comfortable pace and sets up emotional punches that land with precision, leading to a great payoffs. The cast playing Kumail’s family is terrific, and the chemistry between Nanjiani, Hunter, and Romano is irresistible. When the film reaches its end, it proves to be an entertaining and thoughtful examination on family and the role culture plays in one’s life.
Title: War for the Planet of the Apes | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 140 min | Theaters nationwide
Back at the turn of this decade, the thought of rebooting the Planet of the Apes franchise admittedly didn’t seem all that exciting. While it is one of the more well-known movie series in the sci-fi genre, Tim Burton had already tried rebooting it back at the turn of this millennia, with the resulting film being received quite poorly; perhaps audiences decided they had enough of monkey business. Six years, 2 Apes films, and over $1 billion in box office grosses later, that certainly isn’t the case. Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are great, but what’s most impressive is the complex and emotional growth between them – call it an evolution, if you may. War of the Planet of the Apes is decidedly not a better picture than its Shakespearean predecessor, but it is an emotionally rich and epic entry that builds upon this rebooted series’ ideas, themes, and characters in an effective and thoughtful manner.
The summer blockbuster season rolls on, and accompanying it is another edition of the High-Low Report! Receiving an evaluation from the MediaBrewPub doctors today is none other than Spider-Man: Homecoming, the latest installment in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as well as the most recent attempt to bring the titular web-slinger to the big screen. Andrew and Jun are back, but they’re not just the low-brow and high-brow respectively today. See, Andrew is MBP’s resident Spider-Man fan, so we can expect a very personal and loving assessment from him, whereas Jun has grimly put on his critic’s cap. A heated exchange between these two should be on the cards tonight, folks. While they will venture into spoiler territory, spoiler tags have been added, so consider this a safe read if you haven’t seen the film.
Title: Baby Driver | Rated: R | Runtime: 113 min | Theaters nationwide
If it wasn’t obvious before, then it is now: filmmaker Edgar Wright is an innovator and – dare I say it – a genius in this art form. His films – particularly the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End) – demonstrate the personality of an unparalleled craftsman at work, and I can only refer you to Every Frame a Painting’s video essay to show how his knack for visual comedy is a breath of fresh air in the comedy genre. We’ve seen his capabilities on full display when it comes to mise-en-scène, but can we say the same for cinema’s audial properties? We can now; with Baby Driver, Wright proves that it’s possible to create a grand symphony out of a film.