It’s (a full month into) a new year here at Front Row Central!
We have many new and exciting plans we can’t wait to share with you, the readers. But before we can really dive into 2017, starting with the dredges of the cold winter release schedule, there’s some housecleaning we need to do. It starts with getting some of the 2016 Movie Opinions™ we’ve been stockpiling out of the cupboard to make room for a fresh new stock of hot takes, new perspectives, and apathetic shrugs in the general direction of cinema. That’s right, FRC is cleaning house, so prepare for the catchily-named Big Mass of 2016 Movies We’ve Been Meaning To Get Around To (Including Several Oscar Nominees):
Ava DuVernay’s documentary is currently on Netflix and it is so pertinent, important, and accessible, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be watching it right now. Fire up the Netflix app on your streaming media device and watch it immediately. Have you seen it before? Watch it again. For those who may already be familiar with the information it presents, the manner in which it discusses these heavy topics – racism in America and mass incarceration – is masterful. This documentary can be appreciated for the sheer quality of its craft alone. For those unfamiliar with these topics, it provides an accessible framework with interviews from all over the political spectrum as it plays out the story of systemic racism in America, and how it manifests in the modern day. It will make you laugh, and it will move you to tears. It will make you angry and empower you, and leave a shining drop of hope in your heart. And, if you pay attention, it will make you a better citizen. 13TH earns its Oscar nomination and then some. DuVernay’s consummate skill makes this one of the best documentaries of our time, both delicate and unrepentantly honest with regard to its subject matter. - Ashley Herald
A Monster Calls
Once a year, my humanity is called into question, as a film comes along which is objectively good, but fails to connect with me on a personal and emotional level. Last year it was Room, this year it’s J.A. Boyona’s tale of a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) who seeks the assistance of a magical storytelling tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) while coping with the stress of watching his mother (Felicity Jones) die of cancer. However, A Monster Calls seems to like it that way, as it holds the audience at arm’s length until the third act, when its protagonist makes a confession to allow himself – and us – some catharsis. The film uses the monster’s stories as a framing device which allows it to play around with different interesting visual styles, but also makes the film feel unfortunately episodic. Ultimately, A Monster Calls is an interesting storytelling experiment which is easy to respect although difficult to really enjoy. And it seems to be fine with that. – Martin R. Schneider
This might be the funniest movie I saw in 2016, though I doubt that was its intention. Whether it’s Fassbender jumping around as an Assassin with an angsty romance, or Fassbender crying on a table next to Marion Cotillard as the camera zooms in on her extremely emotional nostrils, Assassin’s Creed insists on taking itself seriously. It is serious when Jeremy Irons says he will lose $3 billion if Fassbender doesn’t go back in the plot device claw, it is serious when Fassbender rips his shirt off and demands to go in the Animus NOW, and it is serious when Irons holds up a magic LED apple to steal all free will from the world. I don’t know how, but it remains serious throughout all of this. It is not the worst video game movie ever made, but one would hope a flick stuffed with award-winning actors could manage to jump over a slightly higher bar. Feel free to pick it up for a rental if you like CGI falcons. – AH
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter, taking place back when Dumbledore contemporary Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp for some reason) is the dark wizard everyone’s worried about. Enterprising magical animal lover Newt Scamander (Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne) puts on his quirky Doctor Who outfit and heads to America, where hijinks with cute beasties ensue. American witch and former auror Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) rescues Newt after his thieving platypus-mole obsessed with shiny things creates an adorable comedic sequence in a bank. Also, the leader of an ascetic witch-burning cult abuses several children and beats a teenaged boy (Ezra Miller) with a belt. Also somebody is straight up murdered in front of Newt as he is powerless to stop it. The first readers of the Harry Potter books have grown up, and apparently so has the franchise. It finds itself teetering between sweet animal sequences and grim depictions of violence. Confused? Me too. Fans of the franchise will probably enjoy it for its more tender moments, but don’t expect to feel particularly uplifted. – AH
When you’re America’s finest living actor, you’re allowed a vanity project or two. Here, Denzel Washington directs himself in a role he first bit into on Broadway in a 2010 revival: Troy Maxson, the prideful and beleaguered working-class protagonist of August Wilson’s Fences. Set in circa-1957 Pittsburgh, Fences gravitates around Troy while he spins yarns and waxes poetic in his backyard, much to the amusement and often frustration of his wife Rose (Viola Davis, also reprising the role from the 2010 stage revival) and his best friend Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson). The film focuses on Troy and the impact he bears on those around him, breaking only when Viola Davis forces Rose onto the main stage like a force of nature. Beyond Rose and Bono, Troy also pushes his arrogance and bitterness into relations with his two sons, his shell-shocked brother, and an unseen mistress.
Washington loves wrapping his voice around Wilson’s long and rambling monologues, all the while keeping the camera tight and secure inside and round the Maxon’s modest home. Most, though not all, of the movie takes place around the Maxon property, as Troy attempts to declare himself king of his own castle. We watch the king falter and fall though, and Washington sinks his teeth into every moment of Troy’s being, both the endearing and the loathsome ones. Fences is a very real, very human story, and a vehicle for powerhouse performances. It’s also nice that, at a time when the phrase “white working class” is tossed around like confetti, a film which chronicles the lives and existence of members of the black working class is around to garner attention. – MRS
(That’s it for Part 1 of the Front Row Central re-cap! Come back tomorrow when Joseph Wade joins us to take on movies like Hidden Figures, The Shallows, and The Purge: Election Year.)
Liked This? Share It!