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Thursday
Sep282017

Hype! (1996)

Doug Pray’s Hype! is as close to a real-time look at the Seattle grunge scene as you’re likely to find. Bookended by vignettes from a culture still reeling from a media whirlwind in 1996 (when the film was released), Pray tracks a genre that was invented, monetized, and destroyed in the relative blink of an eye. This isn’t just a documentary about Pearl Jam and Nirvana; it’s a look at the bands, critics, and promoters key to creating a musical movement that made rock stars out of emerging artists who did nothing but decry fame—while others, who’d honed their craft for decades, struggled to gain attention outside their once low-key community. Pray opens and closes his film with footage of Washington timber being chopped down and hauled away to make mass-consumer goods, leaving sad stumps and gray skies in their place. They came for the trees first, then the art.

Thursday
Sep282017

Signature Move (2017)

Jennifer Reeder’s Signature Move is an enjoyable yet frustrating triumph of performance over substance. Co-writer Fawzia Mirza stars as Zaynab, a closeted attorney who puts up her Muslim mother, Parveen (Shabana Azmi), following the death of her father. In the same week that Zaynab begins taking wrestling lessons from a former champion luchadora, she also meets Alma (Sari Sanchez), a Hispanic book store owner who is, herself, the daughter of a former champion luchadora (not the same one). I was disappointed that Reeder sidestepped some meaty cultural questions in favor of a basic-cable love story, circa 2005 (Parveen’s zero-hour acceptance of her daughter’s sexuality is as rushed as it unbelievable). This might be forgivable if the writing were at least funny or insightful beyond what audiences should expect from the premise. Luckily, the principle cast’s vulnerability and charisma make up for a greater artistic signature that doesn’t quite feel hand-written.

Tuesday
Sep262017

Home Again (2017)

Forget popcorn; my favorite movie treat is buttery, delicious irony. Last Saturday was date night and, at first glance, Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s Home Again (which I can’t stop calling “Coming Home”), was custom-built for these rare occasions. It’s pure escapist fantasy, featuring a likeable movie star/protagonist (Reese Witherspoon) navigating a post-separation fling with a younger guy (Pico Alexander) against a series of cozy, sun-kissed backdrops, all created in Pier One’s image. Stop your eye-rolling and ditch the chick-flick checklist:deep (deep) down, Home Again contains a better movie about three idealistic millennial filmmakers obsessed with old Hollywood, and their run-ins with clueless development execs. Zippy tangents like these, plus “Halloween” Dean Cundey’s luscious, too-good-for-this-fluff cinematography, make the film appreciable on unexpected levels that belie its cotton candy marketing campaign. I kinda loved this movie, for all the wrong reasons. My wife hated it, for all the right ones. That’s irony, extra salt.

Friday
Sep222017

The Tiger Hunter (2017)

Lena Khan’s The Tiger Hunter is a deceptively complex comedy about an Indian immigrant (Danny Pudi) angling for a prestigious American engineering job, which he hopes will help him win his lifelong crush’s (Karen David) hand in marriage. Anyone who’s ever watched TV or movies will recognize most of the story beats, but Khan, co-writer Sameer Asad Gardezi, and their wonderful cast inject the film with such earnest, infectious energy that the plot becomes a tertiary concern. The Tiger Hunter can be enjoyed by the whole family, but it’s not a “kids’ film”. Rather, it’s a gateway to cultural empathy, and a reminder of what makes America so attractive that people with advanced degrees would travel thousands of miles to work as draftsmen, cab drivers, and dog walkers—all for the promise of a shot at something greater. This is a sweet, funny, and powerful movie about self-determination, community, and love.

Tuesday
Sep192017

mother! (2017)

Lost in all the delirious chatter about mother!’s religious and ecological metaphors; unsettling graphic violence; and Lynchian narrative fuckery is the possibility that writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s studio-backed flop is actually a star-studded, multi-million-dollar act of contrition for being an obsessive asshole. Which is to say, a true artist. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence gets the poster, the press, the prestige—but Javier Bardem is the main character here, playing Aronofsky as a frustrated also-ran of a poet who confines himself and his wife to a remote countryside fixer-upper in pursuit of inspiration. The creepy estate with the dusty rooms and bleeding floors soon plays host to strange visitors, a baby, and the apocalypse—all of which must be survived by a harried wife who ranks at least third on her husband’s list of affections. Mother! is as subjective, insightful, and withering an examination of the creative mind as you’re likely to see. Apology accepted.