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Recognizing “Epic” Mumblecore

The 97-minute, 2016 film Free of Thought ends with John hunched over a sink in a dimly-lit kitchen. Through a doorframe, we see our protagonist doing the dishes and hear him whistling to himself: a quiet, unassuming moment almost all can relate to. What makes this particular, ostensibly-mundane scene so striking are the circumstances that led up to it. The film starts in Melbourne, Australia, where John is in a relationship with Mel. But by the film’s closing moments, John has become a habitual stoner, messily broke up with Mel and migrated to Montreal, Canada.

Ashley Bell and Lek Chailert among elephants in Love & Bananas.

‘Love & Bananas’ is Emotional, but that’s About It

Love & Bananas, at times, feels like a souped-up vlog. At other moments, it makes you want to run out of the theater and go hug an elephant. Unfortunately, the nearest zoo is 40 miles away from campus, which makes that a tad difficult.
The documentary follows actress Ashley Bell and elephant conservationist Lek Chailert on their mission to rescue a 70-year-old elephant, Noi Na, from a trekking camp. Bell’s narration introduces the audience to the largely unknown plight of Asian elephants. She, with Chailert’s assistance, details the horrors of human abuse toward the massive, yet gentle, creatures.

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Sorry to Bother You Excites Despite Being Scattered

Sorry to Bother You presents a uniquely absurd story about finding meaning in a racially and economically unjust world. What appears on the surface as biting satire transforms into a thrilling but radical sci-fi about our rights as workers and as humans. Centered in an alternate-reality present day Oakland, Sorry to Bother You tells the story of Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who after discovering the key to telemarketing success rockets up the corporate ladder and is swallowed into a world of corporate greed. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson)  and his friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) attempt to organize the telemarketers Cassius once worked with and protest against the corporation Worry-Free, which specializes in providing modern-day slave labor to other companies. The movie opens with Cassius landing his much-needed job in telemarketing and being told to just “stick to the script.” For the first half of the film, characters seem to follow this role, as we move through the daily life of Cassius and his coworkers in their attempts to get by.

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A Star is Born Shines Dully

Right off the bat I’ll save you a Google — that really is Bradley Cooper singing. Damn son. I mean of course Lady Gaga can sing; she’s Lady Gaga, but . . .

Venom (Tom Hardy) in the Venom film, directed by Ruben Fleischer.

Venom Is a Messy Web

Sony’s Venom can best be described as an exemplification of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The superhero genre is simultaneously at the peak of its powers with a whopping 10 films set to be released in 2019, yet for many, the genre has become hackneyed and contrite, offering predictable and contrived storylines that do not take risks. Everything about Venom, from its comic-accurate presentation of its titular character, the Lovecraft-ian horror influences, to its mocking tagline (“The world has enough superheroes”) demonstrated to viewers that it wanted to be more Logan than Guardians of the Galaxy: a thought-provoking genre film that set out to do more than merely entertain. And while the world may have enough superheroes, Venom only augments that argument by its existence rather than subverting it with what it could offer. To its credit, this debut film of Spider-Man’s cannibalistic and violent arch nemesis (note: the wall-crawler himself is nowhere to be found in this flick) lives up to its name: it is not the “cure” that it so clearly poised itself as to the banality of current superhero films but instead the very poison that made readers want to settle for the present state of the genre. Sadly, despite the richness of the character’s backstory in the comics, the film tries so hard to convince its viewers and itself that it is not a superhero movie that it ends up not really being much of a movie at all.

Courtesy of Toho

The Night is Short, Walk On Girl Is Absurdly Fun

A carp-stealing tornado, an underwear thief, the god of the used book market, the sophist dance and erotic woodblock art: all in one epic night. The Night Is Short: Walk On Girl, which won the Japan Academy prize for Animation of the year in 2017, is unlike any film you have ever seen. It follows two students, known only as “the senpai” (meaning “the senior”) and “the black-haired girl,” on two separate, intertwining adventures that take place over the course of one surreal night in Kyoto. The senpai, who is hopelessly in love with our heroine, chases after the black-haired girl, who is always one step — or several — ahead of him. The movie opens at a party at which both of our main characters are in attendance.

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Sierra Burgess is a Loser is a Loser

Being a teenager is hard. But making a movie about being a teenager is even harder. Sierra Burgess is a Loser is Netflix’s latest attempt at creating creating a coming-of-age romantic comedy, a genre they are desperately trying to break into. Sierra Burgess falls solidly middle ground compared to their other recent efforts. It’s certainly not nearly as bad as Netflix’s summer hit The Kissing Booth — an absolutely awful 110 minutes of my life that I will never get back.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The Predator Doesn’t Live Up to Its Name

In an early sequence of The Predator, government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) facetiously debate about the titular creature’s Earth-given name. Dr. Casey believes the beast should be christened to the more appropriate moniker of “sports hunter,” given the fact that the creature likes to toy with its prey before finally killing it. To this, Traeger quips “we took a vote… and predator’s cooler right?” His surrounding entourage immediately erupts in unanimous affirmation and Casey sighs, accepting this shallow verdict for the sake of quiet. For such a chaotically and sloppily arranged film, this sole moment of introspection took me by surprise. I imagine a permutation of this very conversation played out between director Shane Black and execs of 20th Century Fox while the former pitched his story.