Spark: A Space Tail, written and directed by Aaron Woodley (with additional written material by Adam Rotstein, Robert Reece and Doug Hadders), has been a mystery to me. I didn’t know what to make of the film. It premiered nearly a year ago at the Toronto Animation Arts festival. There were no advance reviews, and only a nebulous plot synopsis. All I knew was that it was a Canadian-Korean production from ToonBox and Redrover, the same people who brought us The Nut Job.
If you were to invest just under a thousand dollars in Netflix stock when they went public in 2002, if you loyally or stubbornly held on to those stocks and invested another thousand dollars when shares hit their low that same year, today you would have a return on your investment of 20,361.42 percent. Your under $2,000 would be worth over $400,000. You’d probably have watched a lot of movies and you’d definitely be rich. From a website offering 925 movies available for snail-mail rental, to an online streaming service, to producing and debuting original content, Netflix has scorned its skeptics and outperformed its competitors. Imperial Dreams, released on Feb.
20th Century Women, a film which chronicles the lives of three women and a teenage boy growing up in Southern California in the changing political climate of the 1970s, has been garnering buzz since its debut at the New York Film Festival in October. However, its release in theaters this January has cemented its spot as an Oscar season favorite. In the film, Dorothea (Annette Bening) is the aging single mother of the young teenage Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann); when she finds herself drifting apart from her son, Dorothea decides to enlist the help of two women, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning), to help raise Jamie. But make no mistake: 20th Century Women is no simple coming-of-age story. True, director Mike Mills crafts an honest, powerful film about growing up—but he emphasizes that this growth does not begin and end during adolescence.
Despite the recent standout successes of films like Spotlight, La La Land and Moonlight, the past several years have been dark times for cinema. Last summer, droves of Americans willingly spent a collective $176 million to see a movie titled Ant-Man, not because of any particular affection for either ants or the second-tier superhero who obtains their powers, but because we were compelled to do so as a part of Walt Disney Studios’ master plan. See, a standalone film about a man who can shrink himself to the size of an ant probably wouldn’t do so well, regardless of how unassuming and charming the actor playing him was (and Paul Rudd is about as unassuming and charming as they come). But a film about a man who can shrink himself to the size of an ant that happens to be part of a larger so-called “cinematic universe”? Instant blockbuster.
I am by no means a space history buff. That said, I believe I know some very basic stuff: Alan Shepard was the first American into space, John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men on the moon. Importantly, I know that none of those men died on their respective missions. Very basic stuff. So the fact that Hidden Figures had me on the edge of my seat wondering if John Glenn would survive re-entry into the atmosphere is a real testament to the film.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in December 2015, to say that it had to live up to high expectations would be a tremendous understatement. A decade had passed since the last live-action Star Wars movie was released, and the trailers had promoted the film as an exciting new take on the galaxy far, far away while also promising plenty of nostalgic moments, evidenced by the inclusion of John William’s iconic soundtrack and appearances from Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2. Although The Force Awakens was by no means a bad film, time and nostalgia made audiences and critics willing to forgive its more egregious flaws: mainly that it was a recapitulation of the Star Wars: A New Hope’s storyline albeit with superior special effects. However, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story does not benefit from the same circumstances that surrounded The Force Awakens. The familiar glow of a lightsaber or an incredulous rendition of “I’ve got bad feeling about this” are not enough to satisfy fans anymore.
Confirmation is a timely exploration of gender, race and power, based on the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce). However,the movie is not really about Thomas — it follows Anita Hill (Kerry Washington), who shares her experiences as his advisor and assistant, and was subjected to sexual harassment by him. A historical drama at the genre’s best, Confirmation presents the proceedings mostly factually, although leaning to the side of Anita Hill. The bias doesn’t seem to get in the way of fact, and allows an important story to be told. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas share many characteristics.
The episodic structure of Certain Women falls closer on the spectrum of ensemble pieces to the dark, flaccid mirth of a film like Weiner Dog from earlier this year rather than the rapturous display of interconnectedness of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. However, this is not to say that Certain Women is a bad film. Rather, it is a film composed of three distinct parts — all whose plots intersect in very minor, trivial ways within the same state of Montana — that inherits a problem endemic to “multiple storylines” of this sort: some of the storylines are just much more interesting than others. The film commences with what is probably the weakest of the film’s three stories. A lawyer in Livingston, Montana, performed sufficiently by Laura Dern, is dealing with a disgruntled client attempting to sue his former employer, who later returns to his former workplace and holds a security guard there hostage.
From documentaries to animated flicks to art films to crime thrillers, the Arts & Entertainment writers’ picks for the year’s top films reflect the diversity of excellent movies this year. 10. Weiner
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg easily could have made a documentary that simply condemned former Representative Anthony Weiner. Yet, Weiner begins on a high note: the Anthony Weiner who appears at the beginning of the documentary is rejuvenated, remorseful about his sexting scandals and ready to fight in New York City’s mayoral race. The positive image doesn’t last long as Weiner, once again, descends into lying and defensiveness as more sexting allegations surface. Kriegman and Steinberg expertly elevate Weiner from an entertaining to a thoroughly thought-provoking movie by catching the moments when Weiner and the people around him reflect on his self-destruction.
Athina Rachel Tsangari’s film Chevalier, showing at Cornell Cinema this Friday, understates its oddities and creates a hauntingly realistic picture of humanity. The film draws from various and strange inspirations which result in a Frankenstein-esque human species. But, it remains non-committal. Just like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein directly condemns neither the monster nor his creation, Tsangari only subtly questions specific behaviors, habits and desires. Chevalier disguises itself as the story of six friends on a luxury fishing trip.