Second only perhaps to the prestige biopic, every filmmaker, actor, and other Hollywood hanger-on seeking the mantle of “serious artist” has turned his or head to the hellscape that was World War II. That specific trajectory assumes greater importance for those who established their names on popcorn-fueled blockbusters and action heroism. Even cinema’s mainstream iconoclasts have found reservoirs of inspiration in the European theater and “Natzi”-killing. The conflict proving that its predecessor had neither made the world completely safe for democracy nor ended all wars is tailor-made for silver screen appraisal. The villains were worse than any screenwriter could conjure. The settings crisscrossed continental Europe, North African deserts, the great oceans, and the deep blue skies. Is there any wonder that over 1300 movies have used its narrative to extract the best from the business?
Christopher Nolan takes this heritage seriously with his true magnum opus, “Dunkirk.” Very seriously. Just as his spiritual predecessor Steven Spielberg used the Second World War to break free of aliens and dinosaurs, Nolan invites us to witness his directorial prowess unburdened by comic book flash or CGI wizardry. And witness you should. “Dunkirk” is, hands down, the best genre entry since “Saving Private Ryan.” I might even wager that it’s better.
Leaflets raining down upon deserted streets announce that Germany has pushed Allied forces to the beaches of Dunkirk, France. By late May 1940, More >
You know the drill. Another year, another trip around the sun, and it’s all for THIS. We here at The Parsing Haus are doing it again, shined and primed for a long and robust jaw-aching feed at the swollen teat of decadent celebrity culture.
Join us on Sunday, February 26 for live coverage of the 2017 Academy Awards; bury your hungry snout in our trough of cinephiliac num-nums and popcorn and snark-dumplings and perfect little starfucker sundaes topped with delicious bon mots. It’s a feast. You’re welcome.
- Our live red carpet coverage starts ~2:30 pacific / ~5:30 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
- Our live Oscar coverage starts 4:00 pacific / 7:00 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
So tune in right here. It’s going to be choice.*
* – and don’t forget to refresh the page. On some browsers, the live blog software we use doesn’t auto-update. We’ll fix this someday, probably.
INT. LEGENDARY ENTERTAINMENT’S BURBANK OFFICES – 2014.
ZHANG YIMOU: Matt, thanks so much for coming by to talk about the new picture. You got the script, right?
MATT DAMON: Absolutely, Mr. Yimou, but I only had a chance to skim it. I recently finished shooting a movie called “The Martian.” It was a trip. My character grows poop potatoes and staves off insanity by cracking wise. I can only assume I’ll be fielding questions about whether the film is a comedy or drama for years to come.
YIMOU: Sounds confusing. Well, the head honchos at the studio thought you would be the perfect choice for a legend about the Great Wall of China. Mind you, this saga has no basis in local lore.
YIMOU POINTS TO THE MEN SEATED OFF TO THE SIDE, WHO WE NOW REALIZE ARE THE SCRIPT TEAM.
These three screenwriters and three additional storytellers get full credit!
DAMON: About the script. I have A LOT of questions . . . .
YIMOU: I’ll cut you off right there, Matt, ‘cause I already know where you’re heading. Ok, first, you are the star. Many Chinese actors will be cast, but they will be little more than necessary set pieces. That said, you won’t have to work very hard on this movie. Most of the lines that our narrative brain trust put to paper are three-word sentences. Maximum. What about your character William’s More >
We’re testing a new occasional format here at The Parsing Haus, the Doubleheader — pitting two fearless reviewers against one other in a steel cage showdown of bon mots and savvy! (Or not. Sometimes, we might even agree.) Here’s the deal: CLGJr and Haus both saw the upcoming film Patriots Day, both penned reviews, and only once they’d finished did each see the other’s. Behold, the result. Suffice to say we didn’t see eye to eye this time.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially designates the third Monday of every April as Patriots’ Day. (For some reason, its northern neighbors in Maine prefer the singular possessive.) Bostonians host their storied marathon on that same day each spring, as they have for almost 120 years. The morning of April 13, 2013—not unlike the early hours of September 11, 2001—was by all accounts unremarkable. And then tragedy struck. Bombs placed at two sites along the finish line detonated, killing three and horrifically injuring hundreds more. “Patriots Day” recounts those events and the weeklong investigation without the nuance, focus, and skill warranted. It’s bluntly a mess of a movie, a depressing and borderline exploitative endeavor.
The narrative, known to any sentient person, first crisscrosses the pre-Marathon preparations of an unwieldy stable of characters.
We then witness the bombing More >
We casually toss around the phrase “star of stage and screen,” but few thespians have earned both a Tony and an Oscar. (Never mind the Herculean EGOT.) By one count, only twelve men and women have ever competitively nabbed those twin honors. One such legend has filmed August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning 1983 play, the revival of which garnered several brass medallions in 2010. The actor is Denzel. The production is “Fences.” The result is the very definition of a mixed bag. I am happy to report, though, that the film’s central performances blaze despite the mise-en-scène nearly extinguishing its oxygen supply.
The third entry in Wilson’s famed Pittsburgh Cycle, “Fences” examines African-American life a full decade before Jim Crow’s de jure death. Wilson’s eye first delicately scans and then gawks with resolute disapproval upon the figure of Troy Maxson. Troy isn’t just a washed-up former Negro League ballplayer; he is nearly swimming in the bottles of gin he enjoys every Friday. At the production’s outset, he recounts past glories and current exploits with equal braggadocio. Troy’s primary audience numbers one, fellow garbage collector Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), but his words also lasso dutiful wife Rose (Viola Davis). Weekend tranquility dissolves once the children come calling. In succession, we meet the grown Lyons (Russell Hornsby) asking for a $20 loan and the teenaged Cody (Jovan Adepo) requesting permission to play football. The half-brothers share two More >
The opening number of “La La Land” is technically the Technicolor rendition of “Another Day of Sun,” the only ebullience ever captured on a rush hour clogged Los Angeles freeway. The single, swooping take is truly stunning. But it’s a classic bait and switch orchestrated by writer-director Damien Chazelle. The real prologue is the final eleven minutes of his previous effort, the astonishing “Whiplash,” also my choice for Best Picture in 2015. Watch them. You will see a wunderkind (Chazelle as Miles Teller) drawing blood from a punishing encomium to jazz and earning the approval of the critical class (the Fourth Estate as J.K. Simmons). The best way to show your gratitude—and stave off the sophomore slump—might be to glorify the hand that feeds you. “La La Land” is that monument to moviedom and, in the process, the most thoroughly entertaining film you will see in 2016.
Like Haus, I hesitate to categorize “La La Land” as a musical when a relatively meager six songs pepper the storyline. It’s also not a love letter to Hollywood. Chazelle has sent his coy mistress an impassioned ode to her most graceful period. He knows that the Boulevard breaks countless dreams, but he spins disillusionment into the stuff of movie magic. This time Emma Stone and those Bette Davis eyes stand in for the travails of artistic rejection. Her Mia leads a semi-charmed kind of life. When not sharing a cavernous apartment with three other aspiring starlets, she slings lattes at a studio lot More >
Boston doesn’t enjoy the same vaunted place in film history as its metro siblings New York and Los Angeles. Hell, even Chicago occupies more reel estate (trademark!), thanks to legends like John Hughes and Roger Ebert. These are the cities with Bright Lights, Bacchanalia, and Brat Packers. But the Hub has quietly been staking its claim for attention. “The Departed.” “Mystic River.” “Gone Baby Gone.” (We will not utter this title.) And the one to rule them all: “Good Will Hunting.” Matt Damon and Ben Affleck made Beantown sexy on the silver screen, won an Oscar for their writing efforts, and still have everyone asking about their preferences over red fruit.
Nevertheless, all of these movies seem to use Boston as a convenient plot device. Actors get to try on their best Southie timbre. Filmmakers can traffic in grittiness without expensive production design. Ok, fine. “Good Will Hunting” wouldn’t exist without two particular safety schools in Cambridge. Those institutions don’t compare to the role that Eastern Massachusetts plays in “Manchester by the Sea.” Kenneth Lonnergan’s third offering requires the setting. It suffuses every fiber of the 137-minute run time. Finally, someone has produced a picture worthy of the location, and it contains some of the year’s best performances.
Casey Affleck anchors the cast in a turn that might finally lay to rest the idea that his elder brother is the better actor. Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a middle-aged man-child who wears misfortune More >
“Verisimilitude.” It’s a classic SAT word, a ten-center as my Pops might say. But I need an even more affected term. “Simulacrum”? Bingo. It captures perfectly the experience of watching of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” the latest and downright bewildering picture from Ang Lee. The story is, at least in this adaptation, satire without laceration, social commentary with the fangs whittled down to nubs. Or I could be completely missing a genius move on Lee’s part. It’s actually taken me a long half-month think to be sure. (Sorry, you guys!)
Based on Ben Fountain’s extremely popular novel of the same name, “Billy Lynn” follows the titular hero on his return to the United States after a grueling tour in Iraq. The setting is intentionally rooted in rural Texas, that most sacrosanct ‘Murican locale. Billy (Joe Alwyn) is a member of the Bravos, a company that showed the world you don’t mess with the Army either. He’s perfected the thousand-yard stare and was probably raised on a diet of corn and brisket. Billy gained widespread renown for engaging the enemy in mano a mano combat after attempting to rescue his fallen superior, Shroom (Vin Diesel), using only a handgun. He is G.I. Joe incarnate.
We meet him first attending Shroom’s solemn funeral. The band of brothers includes familiar hotheads, sensitive types, and dreamers. They are led by a tough-as-nails-but-actually-dope leader Dime, a committed Garrett Hedlund. After rifles are fired and tears shed, the men prepare for More >
The events of the last week have cast a dark pall over the entertainment industry. We’ve seen truly cold opens and a despairing eulogy delivered by a reliably giddy late night host. Amidst the gloom, where is a guy supposed to turn for emotional balm? (Certainly not “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” the accidental whipping boy here at the Parsing Haus.) Now it might seem plain dumb to seek shelter in a wrenching piece of cinema. But when the film is as exceptional, as enthralling, and as essential as “Moonlight,” well, a little more heartbreak is completely worth the eventual sigh of catharsis.
Told in three chapters, each reflecting pivotal points in the protagonist’s journey, “Moonlight” astonishes at every turn. Those episodes bear the titles “Little,” “Chiron,” and “Black,” the middle one being his Christian name. The other two signify respective stages of stunted growth in Miami and adult development in Atlanta. When we meet Chiron as a young boy (an excellent Alex Hibbert), he is sullen beyond words. In fact, he barely utters any. That is, until a chance encounter with local narcotics dealer Juan (the ascendant Mahershala Ali) after Little is chased into a crack den by homophobic scamps. Juan embraces Little like the son he will never have. So, too, does Juan’s girlfriend Teresa as played by the triple threat Janelle Monáe. Their unwavering support bumps up starkly against the drug-addled abuse served up daily by his mother Paula (a fierce Naomie Harris). You don’t have More >
Netflix maintains a ridiculous number of specific genres for those nights when you want to (somewhat often) binge or (more likely) chill. Seriously, one site counts over 27. Thousand. (“Dark Canadian Dysfunctional-Family Dramas” sadly appears to be a null set.) I often find myself gravitating toward titles “Featuring a Strong Female Lead.” You can have your Jack Reachers and John Wicks—yah, I’m looking at you, Haus. I prefer the New Femme Wave with Emily Blunt (this and not that), Rooney Mara, and, sure, J-Law leading the pack. Comes now “Certain Women,” the product of a singular directorial mind and the strongest entry in her vastly underrated body of work.
That auteur is Kelly Reichardt. She writes and directs films as if on a mission to disprove any need for the Bechdel Test. In two of her previous outings, one woman (both played by Michelle Williams) stood front and center. Reichardt’s breakout films “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff” screened like Terrence Malick after spending twenty years reading The Feminine Mystique instead of releasing new movies. This time around, Reichardt multiplies the number of protagonists to match the power of her filmmaking skills.
“Certain Women” proceeds as three independent vignettes, each managing to overlap with the other with a shred of pretense. All of them take place in Big Sky country, but each serves a different slice of life there. Reichardt wisely paces her cinematic triptych. The opener, featuring the exasperated lawyer Laura More >