The title of Sam Blair and Joe Martin's documentary Keep Quiet comes from an interview they conduct with a survivor of the Auschwitz death machine. She returned to her Hungarian home after the war, and found that the titular maxim was the best thing for her and her remaining family in a country that Adolph Eichmann said, at his trial, contained the most exuberant collaborators in rounding up Jews. She so closely stuck to her rules that her grandson, Csanad Szegedi, would help found a successful anti-Semitic fascist party in Hungary. Szegedi would live well into adulthood before he would take notice of the serial number tattoo on his grandmother's forearm. Keep Quiet is a bracing film with a foot in the present and a foot in the past, a reminder that the latter always informs the former. It's also a fascinatingly relevant picture of right-wing extremism, of the coded language and skillful, noxious messaging that continues to tap into the body politic's worst impulses.
In The Lost City of Z, well-regarded American director James Gray takes a page from legendary German director Werner Herzog. There's a fair amount of Fitzcarraldo in Gray's jungle-trekking protagonist Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), though Gray takes a far kinder view than Herzog towards the purpose of the onscreen mission. Where Herzog's favored lead, Klaus Kinski, was impossible to believe as a pure-hearted character and therefore was never cast as one, Gray's choice of Hunnam gives him a straightforward hero trekking towards his own glory and plugging away at the small-minded beliefs of his fellows. The Lost City of Z loses something in that uncomplicating, but still leaves the viewer with plenty to chew on. In this decades-spanning adventure, Gray weaves a dense tale of obsession, regret, and pride under the umbrella of imperialism.
Jordan Peele made his name as part of a comedy team known for sending up the interactions between black and white people, for finding the absurdities and inanities in what the latter expects from the former. Code-switching seemed to factor into every episode of Key and Peele, something the biracial Peele surely had to contend with as a child and as an adult. Peele brings that sensibility to Get Out, a Polanski-esque instant horror classic. The best horror films often contend with social commentary, and Get Out is no exception, taking the implicit envy white people have for black culture to an extreme conclusion. That the breakout critical and commercial hit of 2017 is also scathing and intelligent makes for a hopeful statement on the potentially increasing sophistication of the movie-going public.
Raw is one of those films that engenders visceral reactions in its viewers. Its showings have apparently resulted in the paramedics being called in after audience members have fainted. Even the trailer dares the viewer to look away. As the latest entry into the company of the French Extremity genre, along with gorefests like Martyrs and Gaspar Noe's nightmare landscapes, Raw deserves its grotesque reputation, but it is not solely going for cheap thrills. Julia Ducournau's intense but heady film is a feast for the eyes, as oddly beautiful and entrancing as a story about a sheltered veterinary student's cannibalistic awakening could possibly be. Ducournau throws down a challenge to stomach her work and an invitation to experience it. Both are worth accepting.
Hugh Jackman's portrayed Logan, otherwise known as Wolverine, in nine films dating back seventeen years. Over that period, the X-Men films featuring Jackman have been all over the map, spanning from the execrable to the entertaining. However, he's never been at the center of a film like Logan, his final bravura outing in the role. While the X-Men films keep getting bigger, with larger casts and greater destruction, the stand-alone Wolverine films keep getting smaller as the casts constrict and there's a turn toward the internal. That focus bears substantial fruit in Logan, by far the best X-Men film in the extended franchise, and one of the best superhero films in the present era that Wolverine and the X-Men arguably kicked off.
My Life As a Zucchini is a perfect example of the 'sad kids are sad' subgenre of films, a subgenre that consistently work on me. There's no better place for this than an orphanage, where Claude Barras' stop-motion film is set. However, this is no misery porn. My Life As a Zucchini might focus on adorably-animated children recovering from abuse or abandonment, but it's also a tribute to resiliency, to the ability of the young human mind to incorporate the bad into its gray matter but nevertheless seek out the joyful at every opportunity. The French have a long tradition of bittersweet films about childhood, spanning from Francois Truffaut to writer Celine Sciamma's other work, and Barras' beautiful tale fits squarely in that tradition.
Far more than the toyetic corporate mess that was expected, 2014's The LEGO Movie surprised with its high rate of humor and emotion in its storyline. Did the iconic Danish company sell a lot of LEGO sets derived from the movie? Of course they did, but based on the original and inventive work of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, The LEGO Movie managed to be about story first and commerce second, or at least fool the viewer into believing that. Of the many strong components of The LEGO Movie, few were as memorable as Will Arnett's voicing of Batman. Playing the superhero as a self-satisfied bro dining out on his past trauma, Arnett, Lord, and Miller punctured the overly-serious tone of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy while still clearly admiring the character as a bad-ass cool guy. With the LEGO Batman Movie, Lord and Miller switch over to producing, but those who stepped into writing and directing share the same sense of the character, ably balancing his pathos with his inherent silliness.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.