Anna and the Apocalypse


Ok, so nobody wanted to go see Anna and the Apocalypse with me, so I went to this British zombie teen musical by myself. Yes, you read that right: British. Zombie. Teen. Musical. Quite a mixture. (Maybe I get now why nobody wanted to see it with me). But I was intrigued by the wonderful trailer I saw for the movie, so I had to go, but I really had no idea what to expect. And what I got was an fresh and spirited take on some massively familiar genres—and ones you don’t often see together. So, let’s break it down:

Anna and the Apocalypse is set in a small town in England at Christmastime. At first I thought it would be like Shaun of the Dead, another British zombie movie that’s REALLY British, but there’s really nothing that makes Anna and the Apocalypse stand out as specifically British, other than the dismal and dreary weather. There also is a weird mish-mosh of accents among the main characters: British, Irish, Scottish, American—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just added to the already-weird dynamic of this movie.

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Green Book

Participant Media

In 2016, Andrew Garfield starred in—and was nominated for Best Actor for—a movie called Hacksaw Ridge. It told the little-known story of Army medic Desmond Doss, who fought in some of the most brutal battles of World War II while refusing to carry or fire a gun. That same year, there was another film called Hidden Figures, which told the true story of the team of female African-American mathematicians at NASA, whose contributions to the space program were unheralded for so many decades, even though, without them, America most likely would never have stepped foot on the moon, let alone even flown successfully into space.

I’ll tell you, those two movies really blew me away. Neither of them were great movies, in the realm of cinematic achievement, but what they were was fascinating. They told true stories that were practically unknown to the vast majority of Americans, and, like the true story that was told in 12 Years a Slave, the stories that are both true and interesting are sometimes the best kind of movie. Truth is, after all, much stranger — and more interesting — than fiction.

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I didn’t know how to start talking about Roma, the new film from Oscar-winning writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. At first, I wanted to talk about the power of the personal—how the story is a personal homage to Cuarón’s youth, a memory poem of sorts. Inspiration is another angle to take in looking at the movie as a whole, as Cuarón was clearly inspired by the real-life nanny he had a child and wanted to make a movie about her and her life. Then I thought about the larger themes of the movie, about how every life is significant, how people and events touch our lives and impact us in ways we don’t expect, how love manifests itself in so many different ways.

But then I realized: Roma isn’t a movie to talk about. It has themes, it has a story, it has dialogue and characters, but the movie is about a place and time and a total immersion in them. The last time I had this visceral a reaction to the visual experience of a movie was, well, Gravity, which just happened to be Cuarón’s last film (for which he won an Oscar for Best Director). Roma couldn’t be further away from Gravity, but what they do share is the filmmaker’s passion and talent for putting an audience right where he wants them to be. Gravity was outer space, Roma is Mexico City in 1971.

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Nicholas Hoult: A Long-Overdue Appreciation

As I was posting my review for The Favourite, I realized that I totally left out praise of Nicholas Hoult, who is fantastic in the movie. I couldn’t believe I had neglected him, but, then again, I feel the entire filmgoing world has neglected Hoult and his prodigious talent for years. So, instead of going back and editing my review, I decided to write this appreciation for an actor who runs under everyone’s radar, but deserves all the attention and glory. If you don’t know Nicholas Hoult yet, you should. Here’s why.

Nicholas Hoult has been acting professionally since he was 7. I first noticed him when he was 13 and co-starred with Hugh Grant and Toni Collette in About a Boy. Remember, that weird looking kid? Yeah, that’s who I’m talking about. Now, hear me out. Hoult went from this:

to this:

That’s right. That’s Hoult the next time I saw him, in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, when he was 20. Not only did the weird kid grow up to be exceedingly handsome, but he grew to become a legitimately excellent actor. Not only was he really good in the brief role in A Single Man, but he then went on to several other impressive performances that stood out for me:

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The Favourite

Fox Searchlight

The classics exist for a reason. Sometimes the best screenplays are the ones that take a familiar story and put a spin on it, making it unique, original and imaginative. Even stories that are familiar AND based on a true story can be made to be imaginative and clever at the hands of a good writer. Let’s just be honest: a good writer can make anything old new again.

Deborah Davis had never written a produced screenplay before. Tony McNamara is a writer whose entire career had been writing for Australian television. So why should we care about Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara? Because they have written one of the best screenplays of 2018, and if you love snappy and vicious dialogue and inventive, clever, ribald and saucy new ways to tell a familiar story, you will love their movie, The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

And I don’t even know if the writing is the best thing about The Favourite. The direction is energetic and inventive, the production design is absolutely gorgeous, the costumes are magnificent and the acting, well, the acting is devastatingly good. And, on top of all that, The Favourite has found a way to make a movie set in 18th century England relevant to Americans in the 2018—I dare you to not find subtext here.

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22 July


There was this really good movie last year called In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts). It was a German film, from director Faith Akin and starring Diane Kruger in a performance I wish more people had talked about. The movie was about a terrorist explosion that kills the family of the character played by Kruger. I thought it was going to be about how a woman copes with such an event, but the movie turned out to be that plus so much more, including an inside look inside the German legal system, which was fascinating. What I first thought would be a movie about living in today’s world under the constant threat of terrorism turned out to be a courtroom drama mixed with one woman’s thirst for vengeance.

I bring up In the Fade because the new Paul Greengrass movie, 22 July, currently available on Netflix, reminded me of it in so many ways. 22 July is based on the actual events of July 22, 2011 in Norway. On that day, a single terrorist set off an explosion in downtown Oslo, which killed 8, and then drove one and a half hours to the small island of Utoya, where he then gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, before being taken into custody by police. A total of 77 people died that day at the hands of a lone attacker, the worst single day in Norway since World War II. The number of deaths surpasses even the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The event sent shockwaves throughout the world not just for the number of dead, but for the location. Norway was not on anyone’s radar for something like this to happen, so it was shocking.

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Beautiful Boy

Amazon Studios

I confess, I do not know much about addiction. The little I do know comes mostly from movies and the excellent A&E docu-series Intervention, which is, itself, quite addictive. What I have learned from watching Intervention is to be grateful that addiction hasn’t touched my family or anyone I love to such an extent to be life-threatening and that the horrors of it are sometimes beyond comprehension. From the ripple effect it causes to the complicated roller-coaster road to recovery, addiction affects everyone differently, yet, at the same time, contains enough common threads to make every addiction story relatable to anyone who has been touched by the disease, which is probably why addiction, like love, lends itself so well to dramatic storytelling. There are a million stories to tell, and they are all dramatic, heartbreaking and, hopefully, redeeming. That’s what good drama should be.

Beautiful Boy is a new movie about addiction. And it is dramatic and heartbreaking. But it is also strangely detached. Instead of being wholly involved in the narrative, the audience is more a witness to it. Like the lookie-loos on the freeway who just can’t stop looking at an accident, I found myself incredibly curious, but from a distance. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t affected by it, I just wasn’t shattered by it, which is probably a good thing. Director and co-screenwriter Felix van Groeningen and his co-screenwriter Luke Davies (based on the books “Beautiful Boy” and “Tweak” by David and Nic Sheff) do a really great job at telling the true story of one family’s battle with addiction while avoiding pitfalls of over-sentimentality, melodrama and melancholia, three elements that have doomed more than one addiction tale. Instead, Beautiful Boy take a matter-of-fact and practical approach to its subject, perhaps reducing the emotional effect, but allowing the head and heart to have a clear-eyed vision of what is happening to this family. This thoughtful and logical approach to such an emotional subject allowed me to engage more with the “what would you do if this were your child” part of the story, which, in my mind, is the most emotionally devastating of all.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Annapurna Pictures

Joel and Ethan Coen (who, full transparency, are my all-time favorite filmmakers) have made a career making offbeat movies in offbeat settings with offbeat characters. They are known for the bizarre (Raising Arizona), the deeply contextual (Barton Fink), the dark (No Country for Old Men), the pointless (The Big Lebowski), the silly (Hail, Caesar!) and the deep (A Serious Man), but, mainly, they are known for movies that blend elements. Drama, comedy, western, musical, thriller, horror, heist, fantasy and action are all genres that the Coens have mastered—sometimes all within the same movie. So, it would make total sense that they would create an anthology movie, because if you look at each Coen movie as a fully-realized novel, then the only literary world they still need to conquer would be that of the short story. An anthology film would allow the Coens to blend all the elements into one two-hour experience. And that’s exactly what they’ve done with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

There haven’t been many successful anthology movies. I struggle to come up with an anthology movie that even registered on the critical or commercial radar. The ones I can think of are Cloud Atlas, Four Rooms, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Coffee and Cigarettes and Night on Earth. Some consider Pulp Fiction an anthology movie, but, for me, it has much more connective tissue to be considered completely separate stories. But The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is six completely independent stories, the one thing they have in common is their setting: the Old West. And, boy, does that setting serve the Coens.

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Twentieth Century Fox

It was only a matter of time before Steve McQueen went mainstream. It is the natural progression for directors to have to prove themselves—start small, earn critical acclaim for one or two independent movies and someone will give you more money to make something bigger. McQueen had been considered an indie king after the critical success of his first two movies, Hunger and Shame, two movies that were as far outside the mainstream as you could get (they didn’t even earn $5 million COMBINED) but were critical darlings. The critical success led to a slightly larger budget with his third film, 12 Years a Slave, which had the heart of an independent movie but the legs and financial backing of a serious Oscar contender, which resulted in Best Picture. Winning the big prize opened McQueen’s window. He was handed the golden key, he could make anything he wanted now. No more weird little movies that nobody wanted to see.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Fox Searchlight

I consider myself a writer. I may only be a writer of a modest movie blog, but the essence remains the same. No matter the outlet or the subject, the struggle, as they say, is still real. I still force deadlines upon myself, have standards I set for myself and often find myself staring at a blinking cursor on a blank computer screen, begging inspiration to hit. And when it does, and I have filled said screen with hundreds of words, I still find myself sometimes going back and reading what I wrote and been so appalled by the verbal flop sweat that has spewed out that I challenge the speed of the backspace button to the computer equivalent of the 5-second rule: if I can delete it fast enough, I can pretend I was never capable of producing such drivel. Such is the lonely and self-critical existence of the writer: no matter how famous, prolific or widely read, the torture remains.

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