‘Sorry to Bother You’ Apologizes for Nothing

Boots Riley has asked critics not to spoil his movie, so this is me telling you that I won’t. But if you want to experience Sorry to Bother You in all its glory, I would recommend coming back to this review (and others) after your first go-round.

In a quieter moment within the off-the-wall final act of Sorry to Bother You, artist Detroit (Tessa Thompson) stares up at a giant, vulgar statue, erected haphazardly in the night, that shows sarong-wearing CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) fucking an animal. The statue is lovely in its awfulness, with comically inaccurate proportions and a flimsiness that suggests it might be made of papier-mache. As a crowd gathers to admire the monstrosity, one woman asks, “But what does it mean?” To which Detroit responds, “Maybe the artist is being literal.”

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Tessa Thompson in ‘Sorry to Bother You’ © Annapurna Pictures

While nothing more than a small, satisfying in-joke in the context of the onscreen action, this line is the closest Sorry to Bother You gets to a thesis statement. Like the protest statue, the film is loud, declarative and unsubtle, delightfully surreal yet demanding to be seen for what it is—and like Detroit suggests, that might just be the point. Continue reading “‘Sorry to Bother You’ Apologizes for Nothing”

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ Isn’t Just an Invitation, But a Call to Action

“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved, and capable of loving.” It’s statements like these – sweeping, painfully earnest, and deeply resonant – that characterize Morgan Neville’s latest documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The film follows the life of the late Fred Rogers, host and showrunner of the influential children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, yet it’s not so much about Fred Rogers the man as it is about the philosophy he birthed and tried his hardest to live by through his work. Neville knows, as all documentarians should, that the best way into a person’s life is through the world they build for others. By taking this approach, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? evades all the myth-making and sentimentality that once seemed inevitable in reflecting on the life of someone as venerated and impossibly good as Rogers, resulting instead in a film overflowing with true emotion and poignant, necessary lessons for the American future.

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Fred Rogers and Francois Clemmons in ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ © Tremolo Productions

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‘On Chesil Beach’ is a Misguided, Narrow-Minded Tale of Sexual Complexity

As a recent college graduate in a serious monogamous relationship, I was incredibly wary of On Chesil Beach before stepping foot in the theater. Would the story of young love turned sour be too affecting, too real? Could I sleep that night? Saoirse read me like an open book in Lady Bird, a favorite that recently made me weep (once more) on a commercial airline, and I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for that kind of emotional beating again just a week later. Luckily for me, On Chesil Beach can’t hold a flickering candle to the emotional realities of Lady Bird or Atonement, a much more successful adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel. Stilted, flat and infuriatingly narrow-minded, On Chesil Beach takes its supposedly heartbreaking, interior-focused source material and runs with it in the opposite direction, resulting in a film that’s as unsatisfying as its subjects’ sex life. Although Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle give everything they’ve got, wigs and all, to Dominic Cooke’s directorial debut, their performances aren’t enough to save this wilting period piece from itself.

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Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle in ‘On Chesil Beach’ © BBC Films

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Cannes 2018 Review: ‘Burning’

After an eight-year hiatus from directing, Lee Chang-dong has returned with Burning, a simmering mystery and social commentary on the growing income inequality in South Korea—among other, insurmountably large issues.

The film loosely borrows from Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” but its richly literate script is like a book all its own, bouncing from soliloquies on mortality and dissatisfaction to scenes of tribal dancing, emotional sex, intense violence and silent contemplation. While the film occasionally stretches to connect these disparate elements—and struggles to keep the characters’ dense musings from sounding like words on a page—Burning is ultimately much greater than the sum of its parts, and all tedium is forgotten by its haunting conclusion.

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Jun Jong-seo in ‘Burning’

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IFFBoston ’18 Review: ‘First Reformed’

After the dark and dismal days of ‘The Canyons’ and ‘The Dying of the Light,’ writer-director Paul Schrader is back in a big way. “Return to form” may be the biggest cliché in film criticism, but I’m hard pressed to find a more apt description for ‘First Reformed.’ The religious drama, starring a superb Ethan Hawke as a small town chaplain living a solitary life following the death of his son, takes everything that makes ‘Taxi Driver’ and Schrader’s other work so fantastic—the psychological complexity, calculated risk-taking, and darkly humorous tension—and catapults it into a 21st century narrative with immediate, real-world consequence.

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Ethan Hawke in “First Reformed” © A24

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IFFBoston ’18 Review: ‘Hot Summer Nights’

High school summer breaks are a lot like Lana del Rey albums: romantic and bittersweet when you wistfully look back on them, but tedious when you’re in the middle of one.

With a title that recalls lyrics from del Rey’s Great Gatsby ballad “Young and Beautiful,” Hot Summer Nights is interested in the former interpretation, offering a rearview mirror perspective on a life-changing summer of 1991 full of sex, drugs, crime and betrayal. Although its an undeniably bold and stylish debut from writer-director Elijah Bynum, Hot Summer Nights, like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and everything Lana del Rey has ever written, struggles to break through the confusion of its own excess. It’s a fun vehicle for strong performances by Timothée Chalamet and Maika Monroe, but what, exactly, is it trying to say?

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Timothée Chalamet in “Hot Summer Nights” © A24

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IFFBoston ’18 Review: ‘Eighth Grade’

Midway through Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, our 13-year-old heroine Kayla (Elsie Fischer) is invited to a birthday pool party by the mother of classmate Kennedy, despite the too-cool girl’s protestations. Of all the stress-inducing phrases in the English language, “pool party” may be the most casually cruel. Kayla, kind and bright but self-conscious and friendless, is visibly terrified by the idea of having to don a swimsuit and play games with people who don’t even register that she exists. On the day of the party, Kayla paces around Kennedy’s bathroom, breathing heavily and barely suppressing a panic attack.

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Elsie Fischer in “Eighth Grade” © A24

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