First Reformed (2017) Paul Schrader


First Reformed (2017*)
Written and directed by Paul Schrader
Produced by Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Victoria Hill, Gary Hamilton, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray
Music by Brian Williams (Lustmord)
Cinematography by Alexander Dynan
Edited by Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.
Distributed by A24
Bow Tie Cinemas Harbour 9, Annapolis, MD (1:53)

*released on the festival circuit in 2017; in wide release May 2018

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed opens with a long shot of a modest church, one we sense has been painted white for generation after generation, a building flanked by patches of snow amidst a darkened earthy landscape. The camera lingers a few moments as each shot draws us nearer to the church’s doors while Brian Williams’s unobtrusive score carries the weight of looming tension. If we didn’t know better, we might think we’re being prepared for a horror movie. Perhaps we are.

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The Post (2017) Steven Spielberg


The Post (2017)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Amy Pascal
Written by Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Music by John Williams
Cinematography by Janusz Kamiński
Edited by Michael Kahn, Sarah Broshar
DreamWorks Pictures, 20th Century Fox
Annapolis Bow Tie Harbour 9 (1:58)

One should never learn one’s history from the cinema, at least that’s what we’ve heard over and over ever since cameras first began documenting any era other than our own. Accurate historical narratives and pure entertainment simply have a difficult time co-existing. In most cases (unless we’re talking about documentaries – another discussion for another time), something’s got to give. Not only does Steven Spielberg’s The Post both entertain and give us a history lesson, it also invites (if not demands) us to examine our own times and situations in light of it. I’m not sure any film could tackle all three of those aspects and come out a winner in each category, but Spielberg gives it his best shot. The question is, is that shot good enough?

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The Shape of Water (2017) Guillermo del Toro


The Shape of Water (2017)
Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography by Dan Laustsen
Edited by Sidney Wolinsky
Production design by Paul D. Austerberry
Art Direction by Nigel Churcher
Set Decoration by Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau
Other credits
Fox Searchlight
Annapolis Bow Tie Harbor 9 (2:03)

Like Guillermo del Toro, I was too young to have seen the original release of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), but I imagine that something of the magic those audiences felt translated to the emotions I experienced watching The Shape of Water, a film obviously influenced by the Jack Arnold monster/horror classic. Arnold touches on the concept of “otherness” in the 1954 original, but del Toro – with the advantage of having more freedom to explore such themes in 2017 – takes the viewer on a journey not just through the “otherness” of a human/monster relationship, but other journeys that venture out to far-reaching areas of – and perhaps beyond – humanity.

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Lady Bird (2017) Greta Gerwig


Lady Bird (2017)
Written and directed by Greta Gerwig
Produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neil
Cinematography by Sam Levy
Edited by Nick Houy
BowTie Harbor 9, Annapolis, MD (1:33)

On the surface, Lady Bird seems like a movie I shouldn’t relate to in any way. It’s about a high school senior (Remember, I’m in my 50s) at a Catholic school (I’m Protestant) in California (I’m from Mississippi) in 2002 (I graduated in the 80s). Plus, she’s a girl; I’m a guy. We have literally not one thing in common.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) Martin McDonagh


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh
Produced by Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, Martin McDonagh
Cinematography by Ben Davis
Music by Carter Burwell
Edited by Jon Gregory
Bow Tie Harbor 9, Annapolis, MD (1:55)

“Anger begets anger.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about the movies that get nominated for awards, probably because we’re in the thick of awards season right now. Although I no longer watch awards shows and don’t consider them a valid indicator of a movie’s value, I find myself thinking about them more than I probably should. I sometimes wonder how many films are nominated due to the fact that they’re well-crafted works of art and how many are nominated due to their being timely, regardless of their artistic merit. No doubt some films are both. Both Get Out and Mudbound, for instance, deal with racism (certainly a timely topic) in very different ways, and yet both of those films are quite good. Yet Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri not only deals with racism, it also addresses justice and miscarriages of justice, police brutality, vigilanteism, divorce, broken homes, small town life, small thinking, and more. Does the film contain too many themes for the finished product to be effective? I thought so during the film’s first hour. But during the second?

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Gold Star (2016) Victoria Negri


Gold Star (2016)
Written and directed by Victoria Negri
Produced by Effie Fradelos, Katie Maguire, Jose Del Carmen Martinez, Victoria Negri, Carlos Oller, Zachary Silverstein, Ellyn Vander Wyden, Greg White
Edited by Chris Steele-Nicholson
Cinematography by Saro Varjabedian
Music by Ben Levin

In the opening shot of Gold Star we see a young woman running, but we’re not sure why. Her breathing is labored and the camera captures her only from the neck up, so we’re immediately asking questions: Is she exercising? Evading someone? Some thing?

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TCM Big Screen Classics: North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock

n-nw-optimized-0e7b9ffc07feeb03ff7190c62513066aNorth by Northwest (1959)
Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Ernest Lehman
Cinematography by Robert Burks
Music by Bernard Herrmann
TCM/Fathom Events, Bowie Regal Cinemas, Bowie, MD (2:16)

The first time I saw North by Northwest was in my college dorm room on a 12-inch screen. I’ve probably seen it at least ten or twelve times since then, but yesterday I saw it in a theater on a big screen (thanks to TCM and Fathom Events) as it was meant to be seen, and boy, did it make a difference. I noticed things I’d never noticed before and was completely caught off-guard by aspects of the film that become apparent only by seeing it in its original format.

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La La Land (2016) Damien Chazelle


La La Land (2016)
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
Produced by Fred Berger and thirteen others
Cinematography by Linus Sandgren
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Regal Waugh Chapel Stadium 12 & IMAX (2:08)

People ask me all the time why I don’t like musicals. I tell them it’s mostly because I spent years of my life playing trumpet in pit orchestras for little theater gigs, in college out of obligation to a music fraternity, and later to pick up some extra money. Of course little theater is far removed from Broadway, but I like professionally-produced live musicals even less than amateur productions. Movie musicals are a different matter and while La La Land certainly qualifies as a “musical,” I think of it as something more. The film has also been called a “love letter to” L.A., nostalgia, classic musical-dance numbers, and much more. Those elements are certainly present in La La Land, but I believe none of them is the point of the film. Then what is?

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