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My Favorite Movies – Super Dark Times (2017)

14 Oct

By Tanner Smith


I first saw this film at a festival in Little Rock, Arkansas in May 2017. I didn’t know much about it, but I had free time and a free screening pass–so I went into the screening a little cold. I’m glad I did, because “Super Dark Times” is one of those chilling films that kept me on-edge throughout and still creeps me out upon repeated viewings.

It was also great that director Kevin Phillips was there to partake in a Q&A and discuss his vision of the film. (Afterwards, I got to shake hands with him in the theater lobby. Nice guy.) Even better is that the Indie Spirits nominated him for the Someone To Watch Award for the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards. I’ve watched this film many times over the past few years since its streaming release; I’ll gladly see what film this director will come up with next.

“Super Dark Times” is set in the mid-1990s, as evidenced by televised Clinton speeches, a mention of renting “True Lies” on videotape, and one gang of passive-aggressive jerkass teens and another group of ’90s teens hanging out together outside instead of staying inside and playing on their mobile devices. The latter group of teens are our main focuses (bullied by the former, who mostly smoke weed and are less ambitious than the others)–there’s Zach (Owen Campbell), the shy, awkward type; Josh (Charlie Tahan), Zach’s angry best friend; Charlie (Sawyer Barth), the younger kid who wants to fit in with the older boys; and most detestable, Daryl (Max Talisman), the loud, obnoxious friend that nobody likes because he never shuts up. The early scenes of the film are a highlight, as Zach and Josh spend their time chatting about the girls they like, riding their bikes through the neighborhood, and hanging out with Daryl and Charlie, even buying strange snacks at the gas station just to see how they taste. (I have to wonder what the “dried squid” they eat truly tastes like.)

These boys are basically Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman from “South Park”…except (and here’s where spoilers begin) Kenny isn’t the one who dies here; Cartman is.

Yep–Daryl dies tragically and horribly nearly a half-hour into the film, as the boys were playing with a katana sword belonging to Josh’s older brother (who is now in the Marines) and Daryl’s big mouth and aggressive behavior leads to an intense argument which results in Daryl’s accidental (and gruesome) death.

The scene is terrifying and brilliantly acted by the young principals. (Everyone’s panicked screaming is both convincing and haunting, but Charlie’s repeated exclamation of “WHAT DID YOU DO!!!” will always stay with me.) The world each of these boys live in has just been altered into something, well, “super dark,” and now they have to deal with it. Too scared to go to the police about the situation, they decide to bury Daryl’s body in the woods and leave it alone. (Side-note: Charlie, if we’re to see him as the film’s “Kenny,” actually stays out of things and avoids Josh and Zach so he doesn’t have to worry about anything–that’s a little funny to me.)

What follows that very night is one of the best scenes of the film, as Zach comes home to find his crush Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) waiting for him after his loving single mother (Amy Hargreaves) invited her in. This couldn’t come at a worse time for him as he’s clearly going through PTSD and just isn’t in the mood to take Allison’s advances as she seduces him in his own bedroom. Poor kid.

Btw, there is a film theory floating around online that Allison, who comes off as kind and sweet, knows about the death and cover-up and is also responsible for everything else that happens later in the film, like a manipulative puppet-master. Interesting theory, especially if she knows that both Zach and his best friend (Josh) have crushes on her and that helps elevate the tension later, but…I don’t buy it. Obvious joke is she’s not THAT kinda high-school-mean-girl.

Josh stays home from school the next day, gets into trouble when he goes back to school later, and doesn’t stay in contact with Zach, who takes it upon himself to make sure nothing about them seems suspicious as Daryl’s disappearance becomes news (though, very few classmates care about him being gone). Zach doesn’t have to worry about Charlie, who breaks himself off from Zach (“If anyone asks, we’re not friends”)–but Josh? Maybe a little bit.

Zach is having a tough time dealing with this himself, suffering from surreal and horrifying nightmares about the incident. These sequences are very “Donnie Darko” in execution, meaning very strange and memorable. (No wonder the trailer described the film as a mix of “Donnie Darko” and “Mean Creek.”) One is a result of taking Nyquil before bed; the other…well…I’ll just say it’s embarrassing to have it happen in class.

But back to Josh. Something inside of him snaps. It may have happened the day of the incident, but it was building up before then, as evidenced by his apparent anger towards the bullies in an earlier scene–it seems clear (to me, anyway) that whether Daryl’s death was an accident or not, Josh is now letting that anger take him over, causing him to go on an unassuming killing spree. And because Zach and Josh aren’t as close as they were (and because Zach is our key focus throughout the film), the mystery of Josh grows more disconcerting and dangerous, leading Zach (and us) to fear for other people’s lives.

The climax of “Super Dark Times” is deeply disturbing and chilling, as Zach races against time to get to Josh’s new victims before it’s too late, and former best friends Zach and Josh must confront each other. The film ends shortly after that, leaving Zach’s fate ambiguous–Allison bears the scars of the event, Josh gets arrested, and maybe even Charlie, who wanted to keep out of things the whole time, will be investigated, but what about Zach? I don’t know…but it’s interesting to think about.

And thus ends a deeply disturbing and “super dark” thriller/horror film that still, after many viewings, gets under my skin for all the right reasons. It’s not a dumb teen slasher film nor your typical psychological thriller–it works on many more different levels than that. On one level, it’s about how a romantic triangle can damage a friendship, especially when, on another level, the interests of one of the friends differ from the other’s (AND HOW!)–and on another level, it’s about how one behaves when things are at their bleakest.

One final thing I want to mention here is the performance of Charlie Tahan as Josh. He’s nothing short of brilliant, with a performance that has many levels all its own. Every time I watch this film, I always wonder what he might be thinking…

My Favorite Movies – 45RPM (2017)

10 Jun

By Tanner Smith

Wait…Juli Jackson’s “45RPM” was in film festivals starting 2013 and it wasn’t officially released until 2017?! Well, that just further proves a point I made in other posts–2017 was a darn good year for movies!

What are my absolute favorite movies (my top 5 desert-island movies, if you will)? War Eagle, Arkansas. Stand by Me. Back to the Future. Before Sunrise…..and Juli Jackson’s “45RPM.”

Now, let me just say right off the bat…it can definitely be argued that I have a personal bias towards this film because…well, I’ll get to it in a little bit.

“45RPM” is about an artist named Charlie, who gets a grant to create something new and unlike her previous painted works. But she doesn’t feel inspired to paint anything different because all she thinks about is a song she heard as a child–from her father’s Southern garage-rock band’s 45 LP, which she hasn’t heard since. She believes listening to the song again will help her see the image in her head more clearly, so she goes on a wild goose chase to a record store in Memphis–but it turns out to be a bust. But the store owner, Louie, also develops an interest for the record because his favorite obscure bluesman may have contributed to it way back when. So, Louie brings Charlie along on a road trip through Arkansas. They go to swap meets, garage sales, antique stores, wherever they can find clues that can lead them to a copy of the record if it even still exists.

I was very, very hesitant about calling “45RPM” one of my all-time personal favorite films for a long time. For one thing, I know the director. Juli Jackson, who wrote and directed the film, is an old friend/mentor of mine, and her story of making this film inspires me to this day.

For another, I know many of the actors in it, such as Candyce Hinkle, Johnnie Brannon, Jason Willeyy, Duane Jackson, and other Arkansas talents I’ve worked with since the making of this film.

And also, I’m IN the film! I play the emo laundromat employee who directs Charlie and Louie to another potential clue. (I’m only in it for a minute–filming that scene was one of the best days of my life.)

But I can’t help my feelings towards this wonderful film that I’m more than proud to have been a part of. The writing is excellent; the story is engaging; the two lead characters of Charlie and Louie are very appealing and brilliantly acted by Liza Burns and Jason Thompson; there’s a great feel for Arkansas throughout a great portion of the film (it still feels like home to me); I love that the soundtrack is mostly filled with Southern garage-rock singles; and…I can’t help it–I love, LOVE this movie!!

Every time I watch this film and I know my scene is coming (about an hour and 13 minutes in), I’m very tempted to skip ahead to the next scene. (It’s not my best work as an actor.) But I can’t–because it’s a reminder that I was part of this great film, even for a little while.

When posting about my favorite movies, I like to talk about my favorite scene of the movie in question. Well…for “45RPM,” I have three favorite scenes. One is a scene in which music aficionado Louie tries to communicate to artist Charlie why he doesn’t create his own music–the dialogue in this 3-minute segment is priceless. Another is a scene I loved reading in Juli’s screenplay–it involves a bridge, and that’s all I’ll say about it. And the third is an emotional final moment, filled with clarity and nostalgia.

There aren’t enough kind words I can say about this treasure of a film that I embrace wholeheartedly. And I consider it my personal mission to introduce any new people to it however I can. (One of my personal victories for me this year was getting a coworker of mine to watch it–after he did, he said he loved it, and I told him everything I knew about the making of it.)

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: I LOVE this movie!

“45RPM” is available on-demand.

My Favorite Movies – The Post (2017)

7 Jun

By Tanner Smith

Strangely, I didn’t get so into Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” when I first saw it in a theater. I admired it for telling a serious story about a free press at the right time, but I didn’t get much from it apart from that. I think I made the mistake of comparing it to Spotlight–probably a fair comparison, since it’s the Oscar-winning film that set a new standard for “journalism movies” and both films share the same co-writer (Josh Singer). But it’s not really fair to THIS movie.

I’m glad I watched it again on DVD–I noticed a lot more that I didn’t before and grew a new particular fondness for it. In fact…I can admit that I think I spoke too soon when I said Bridge of Spies was my favorite Spielberg film of the 2010s.

There are some doses of romanticized sentimentality and melodrama (plus everyone likes to make fun of the somewhat-forced moment in which Katherine Graham is applauded by a mostly-female crowd as a new heroic figure), but in a lesser movie, those would bother me. The historical accuracy and attention to detail of the early 1970s are spot-on (and the DVD extras help my case there), and the whole film feels like a 1970s dramatic thriller, like “The China Syndrome” or (the most obvious comparison) “All the President’s Men” (to which this film is seen as a prequel). This is director Steven Spielberg and his usual crew (which includes cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn) having a field day with this material. But they’re also telling a serious timely story at the same time, and Spielberg knew the importance of that. In fact, he halted pre-production on one project when he read screenwriter Liz Hannah’s Blacklist draft of “The Post” and immediately went to work on it. Within a year, he had a completed film released and ready for the Academy Awards (for which it was nominated for Best Picture).

That’s not to say Spielberg half-asses “The Post” at all. As I said, he gets a lot of the material spot-on–it’s just that as an added bonus, we get that special Spielbergian magic and edge to it. He cares very deeply about saying the right thing with the right film to be released at the right time. (That was the case with Munich, his take on the war on terror, and it’s the case here, in a film that has allusions to the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump.)

“The Post” is set in the early 1970s, but it spoke to audiences in 2017-2018 because it was based on the true story of the Washington Post exposing Pentagon secrets and starting a movement for what we now call “free press,” at a time (during the Nixon administration) when a paranoid President feared such a concept. (Oh how far we hadn’t come…) And that’s why I now admire this film for its journalistic courage and recognition of the power of the First Amendment. (…I’m obligated to say, “Kinda like ‘Spotlight.'”)

At the time, the Washington Post wasn’t taken too seriously–it was seen more as a nice little local newspaper compared to the high standards of the New York Times. But editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks), who treats journalism like a highly competitive game, won’t stand for that. Things change, however, when one of his reporters, Ben Bagdikian (wonderfully played by Bob Odenkirk), comes across the top-secret documents that prove how the Vietnam War was set up. Bagdikian lets Bradlee in on the secret and he of course decides to go for it and print everything for the Post. (This was my biggest problem upon initial viewing of this film, that Bradlee seemed more concerned about beating the Times to this story than getting the story out there–but the more I watch the film, the more I realize, “This is Ben Bradlee–of course he has a clearer agenda than that.”) The Times has already exposed many of the Pentagon Papers–but when Nixon orders the paper to stop, Bradlee sees this as a chance for the Post to take a stand and remind everyone what freedom of speech means.

Meryl Streep stars as Katharine (“Kay”) Graham, heiress and publisher for the Post. We see the real-life Katharine Graham as a journalistic icon now, but back when this movie is set, she had to prove herself. One of the more intriguing aspects of the film is how Graham has to handle herself with an all-male board of directors who didn’t take her seriously and didn’t hide the fact that they didn’t want her in the way, making her unsure of herself. It’s even more interesting that she’s a long-time friend of Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the Secretary of Defense who played a major role in America’s involvement with Vietnam–if she gives Bradlee the go-ahead to expose the papers, she’d be turning her back on a friend. (She was also friendly with other Washington insiders–we see her mingling with them at many cocktail parties.) Therein lies the conflict of what’s more important to her (plus the high probability that both she and Bradlee could go to jail for going to print with this), which leads to a conference phone call that is the most suspenseful moment in the film. What results will change Graham for the better.

There’s a lot going on in “The Post” and a lot at stake for the characters and for the country in general. Bradlee knows that there has to be a free press, other people are with him, many people don’t want to risk it due to their own sense of integrities, others want to cover their own asses. It takes an intelligent and sharply written screenplay from Hannah and Singer to keep us on-edge because Spielberg keeps invested with his direction–and it helps further inspire those who dare to expose truth, secrets, or both.

Another thing to admire about “The Post”–the amazing ensemble cast. Even though Streep and Hanks are front-and-center of this film, they are aided by an excellent supporting cast. Aside from Bob Odenkirk (who, in fact, I wanted to see more of upon initial viewing–guess that’s what subsequent viewings are for), there’s also Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Jesse Plemons, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross (hey it’s a “Mr. Show” reunion!), Michael Stuhlbarg–just to name a few! They’re all brilliant here and hold their own with Hanks and/or Streep.

My favorite was Odenkirk’s Bagdikian because he played the type of reporter who went on this particular scoop to obtain these documents because he was truly the heart and soul of Bradlee’s newsroom and mainly cared about setting forth the truth.

And that’s what “The Post” is about: exposing the truth…OK, it may take some liberties here and there (as all films do), but its central message is clear. I may have gotten it back then, but I underrated the way it was delivered. And it’s a mistake I won’t make again.

My Favorite Movies – Brigsby Bear (2017)

23 May

By Tanner Smith

Oh, how I wish I had seen this film in theaters in 2017.

Brigsby Bear is a WEIRD one to describe to people–so I usually start with, “It’s one of the most original films you’ll ever see!”

Or, “There is nothing quite like the feeling I have when I make movies with my friends. And this film captures that.”

Or, my mom’s personal favorite: “It’s dope as sh*t!” (which is a line from the movie)

Brigsby Bear is so creative that to try and summarize its plot would be difficult. (I’ve seen many overstuffed movies for which that WASN’T a good thing.) But I can describe what this film means to me personally.

The main character James (played by SNL’s Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote the film) is making a movie with his friends based on his hero since childhood (Brigsby Bear). They have very few resources, they get family and friends to contribute, they get a cop friend to steal props for them (don’t ask–it’s complicated), and they work together to make what they believe is an awesome piece of work.

I get it. Everything about that moment, in which they’re making their movie and hanging out together, I totally get. And what’s even better is this movie gets it too. What do I personally love more than making movies? Making movies with great people who want to make them with me.

If you haven’t seen this film, I won’t dare go into who exactly Brigsby is, how James ended up with him as a childhood idol, or what exactly James’ deal is and what led him to make this movie. Going into it blind is the best way to start out. And then seeing it again, you’ll get even more pleasure from it.

And fun fact: this is one of those movies I watched the most during Covid lockdown. I truly love this film.

Check out “Brigsby Bear.” It’s dope as sh*t!

My Favorite Movies – Call Me by Your Name (2017)

21 May

By Tanner Smith

WOW, 2017 was a great year for movies! Get Out, The Disaster Artist, It, The Big Sick, Lady Bird, Logan, Split, Last Flag Flying, War for the Planet of the Apes, Brad’s Status, Columbus, and The Meyerowitz Stories–and I’m going to also talk about “Brigsby Bear” and maybe “Ingrid Goes West” at some point. HOW did this happen??

I often wondered if Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name is truly one of my new favorites or simply a great film with some of my favorite moments in it. But I realize the moments make the movie, and they keep me coming back to it.

Also, the overall feel of the film keeps me coming back to it. This movie is set in summer 1983 and it truly feels like summertime, like the equivalent of a lazy summer afternoon where you either want to do nothing or try something new.

Side-note: I’ll analyze the atmosphere because I gave up trying to analyze the meaning of the flies that keep buzzing into the scene every now and then–honestly, with each viewing, I kind of forget they’re there (except for the one in the last shot–that’s unavoidable).

“Call Me by Your Name” is a film about finding hidden passions within one’s self, and nature can allow those things we keep deep within ourselves to shine through. Think about it—have you ever gone away somewhere like the woods or the boonies or an isolated country home and felt like you were inspired to pursue something special that you weren’t entirely sure about before? Well, in this film, the countryside of summer-1983 Northern Italy and the boredom surrounding it pushes the characters on their journey of self-discovery.

It’s even paced like a slow, worry-free summer day. Guadagnino is patient about showing us what the characters are going through while letting us take in the beautiful scenery & environment. There’s nothing to do in this location anyway (except to discuss philosophy, music, art, and such), so there’s nothing to hurry about either.

Now, what about the lovely moments that cause me to return to this film every now and then? Most of them have to do with music, particularly the placement of the wonderful songs by Sufjan Stevens–Futile Devices, Mystery of Love, and Visions of Gideon. The “Futile Devices” scene is beautifully shot and emotionally impactful, as Elio (Timothee Chalamet) waits and longs for for Oliver (Armie Hammer) one night–and the song is beautiful. And the final scene, featuring the song Visions of Gideon, is a one-take closeup of Elio as he contemplates what he had and what he will always remember–this scene is why Timothee Chalamet, one of the best young actors working today, got the Oscar nomination, and he plays it perfectly. (It’s also nice to see him give a quiet little nod to “Boyhood,” another favorite of mine, at the end of the take.)

And another favorite moment comes before that amazing final shot: a scene in which Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) tells his son that he knows what he and Oliver had experienced that summer, that he could have experienced something similar when he was Elio’s age, and that it’s important to learn and grow from it instead of move on too quickly. It’s a beautifully written and acted scene.

Overall, “Call Me by Your Name” is a moving, beautiful film about love, desire, and heartbreak–three things we can all relate to. Sometimes, it is a little slow, but I think taking it all in makes the experience all the more enthralling and the memorable moments all the more memorable. That’s why I call it one of my new favorites.

My Favorite Movies – More 2010s Films (That I Already Covered Before)

20 May

By Tanner Smith

For the “My Favorite Movies” series, I have a lot of films to write about…but some films from the past decade, I already talked about in my Looking Back at 2010s Films series. Because I love these movies so much, I should have more to say about them that I didn’t before–and when I do, I’ll make separate posts for each of them. But for now, here are the 2010s films I already covered before that I consider “new favorites”:

Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls
Before Midnight
Life Itself
Ruby Sparks
Inside Out
Get Out
Frances Ha
The Social Network
The Spectacular Now
Take Shelter
Midnight Special
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Fruitvale Station
Mad Max: Fury Road
Inside Llewyn Davis
Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War
Spider-Man: Homecoming
War for the Planet of the Apes
Big Hero 6
Kung Fu Panda 3
The Wind Rises
Attack the Block
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Boy Erased
Super Dark Times (mmm…actually, I might have more to say about that one in the future)
Gerald’s Game
Let Me In
The Visit
The Invitation
The Final Girls
Ouija: Origin of Evil
The Sacrament
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Way, Way Back
The Edge of Seventeen
The Kids are All Right
Everybody Wants Some!!
Short Term 12
Operation Avalanche
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I, Tonya
Miss Stevens
The End of the Tour
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Lean on Pete
True Grit
The Big Sick
It Follows
Safety Not Guaranteed
Sing Street
Mistress America
The Disaster Artist
Private Life
Love & Mercy
Green Room
Last Flag Flying
Love, Simon
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Cop Car
127 Hours
10 Cloverfield Lane
Blue Ruin
The Gift
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

And there are many other films from the 2010s that I will talk about (or talk more about) at some point (such as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “Begin Again,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and others)–and like I said, if I have more to say about each of these treasures, then I’ll say it–but until then, those are some of my personal favorite films of the 2010s.

And if you came into this series late, also check out my posts for other 2010s favorites such as Sleepwalk With Me, Don’t Think Twice, The Land of Steady Habits, Brad’s Status, 20th Century Women, Cedar Rapids, mid90s, Lady Bird, The Farewell, The Dirties, and Lights Out.

My Favorite Movies – Brad’s Status (2017)

18 May

By Tanner Smith

Funny thing–the first time I watched “Brad’s Status” was when I Redbox’d it over three years ago. I watched it with my fiancee Kelly. Neither of us cared for it that much. We both thought Ben Stiller’s bitter, resentful “Brad” should stop complaining already!!

Seriously, Brad has a pretty great life. He’s got a great wife, a great kid, a great house on a great (quiet) street, great great great… It’s only when he’s thinking about the bountiful wealth obtained by his college buddies that he thinks he’s hit bottom.

Both Kelly and I agreed upon watching the movie…that Brad needs to lighten up, get a little perspective, and realize how good he has it.

BUT let’s be honest–when we compare ourselves to others, no matter how comfortable we might be, we each think to ourselves…why aren’t I more satisfied? Why do THEY get these great things in life, but not ME?

Point being, and the reason I gave the film another shot (and ended up watching it enough times to realize it deserves a spot as one of my new favorite films)…is that it is so easy to look at this through a clearer perspective when we are not currently in that envious mindset.

“Brad’s Status,” written and directed by Mike White, stars Ben Stiller as Brad Sloan, who runs his own nonprofit that matches foundations with deserving beneficiaries. Brad is going through a midlife inner turmoil, when he just can’t stop thinking about how rich and successful his old friends have become. He lets us know this with some of the best chosen moments of voiceover narration in film history that let us into his thoughts (complete with the perfect music score that makes us feel as anxious as Brad). And this is happening on a weekend in which he accompanies his brilliant, socially awkward, musically talented 17-year-old son Troy (Austin Abrams) to check out potential colleges, leaving his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) at home. Time for some father-son bonding…and time for some jealousy when Brad considers Troy may grow up to be a rich, successful musician…or one of those street performers who will play for any amount of change.

See what I mean?? Brad’s got it bad. And thankfully, the movie doesn’t ignore his problem. The best scene in the movie, which helps Brad wake up a little bit, is when one of Troy’s friends, Ananya (Shazi Raja), asks Brad for some life advice and gets tired of what he has to rant about. She tells him dead-on that he has nothing to complain about.

Thank you, Ananya. Thank you for saying what Kelly and I have been thinking all along.

The rest of the movie, from that point on, very cleverly pulls the rug out from under us (and I won’t give away how it does). Brad starts to see the light and appreciate what he has rather than what he doesn’t…but maybe that’s just for now. For all we know, Brad could have another mental breakdown the following week.

But we do know this–it does happen…and it does pass.

The more I thought about it all (again, gaining a little more perspective), the more I admired what writer-director Mike White set out to accomplish with this moving comedy-drama. And he picked the perfect actor to play this complicated part: Ben Stiller.

“Brad’s Status” is definitely the most “Ben Stiller-est” Ben Stiller movie ever made. And Brad Sloan is the perfect role for Ben Stiller. In “The Meyerowitz Stories,” “While We’re Young,” “Greenberg,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and even the “Night at the Museum” movies, among others, we’ve noticed in the past decade just how good Stiller is at playing a neurotic who is hardly satisfied with where he is at his point in life. Stiller has played self-centered, passive-aggressive, humorously unhappy men who aren’t so easy to like but even harder to hate. And now we have Brad’s Status, which is probably the most aware of Stiller’s trademark niche.

But the point of “Brad’s Status,” in which the main character has a midlife crisis, is that this feeling does exist. And it passes. The ending is ambiguous, but there is a ray of hope that Brad will be fine with his status. With the aid of White’s insightful screenplay and direction, Stiller nails the role. Sometimes, he’s frustrating to watch (to the point where I want to look away). But even still, he’s always convincing and it’s not too difficult to understand why he thinks this way throughout the film.

He is what makes “Brad’s Status” an important study in how to cope with personal regrets. This guy may not be easy to like, but just remember—this could be us some day.

So…yeah, I love this movie. I didn’t love it when I was first saw it. But throughout the three years to follow, I’ve come around to seeing what made it special.

2017 was such a special year for movies that even when you’re not sure about a certain 2017 film, it’ll still grow on you! (And heads-up: there will be many 2017 films in this My Favorite Movies series! Lady Bird was only the beginning…)

My Favorite Movies – Lady Bird (2017)

24 Apr

By Tanner Smith

First thing I’ll say is I WANT TO SEE A MOVIE ABOUT THE FOOTBALL COACH CHARACTER FROM “LADY BIRD!” Or maybe a sitcom about a similar character: a high-school football coach who has to direct the school musical and puts his extreme all into it.

It’s a small role in this great film called “Lady Bird.” The coach, Father Walther (Bob Stephenson), has only about three scenes (one of which is my favorite scene in the whole film)–but when he shows up, it’s memorable.

In any other film, he’d be this disgruntled middle-aged dumb jock who doesn’t care about directing “The Tempest” for the school play and doesn’t take it seriously at all. But in “Lady Bird,” to hell with that noise! It turns out Father Walther gets just as excited about play rehearsals as he does about football plays! It’s hilarious and I can’t get enough of it–PLEASE give this character his own movie, I beg of you, Greta Gerwig!

The trope of a coach being thrown into something he’s not familiar with is an old one. But here, it’s given new life. And that describes the whole film itself.

“Lady Bird” is a comedy-drama film about a high-school teenager who comes of age in her senior year. See, right there, it doesn’t sound very fresh–it sounds like a bunch of other movies. I remember, the first time I saw (and loved) it, I tried describing to friends…and it just sounded like “The Edge of Seventeen” or “Mean Girls” or something. That’s when it hit me: writer-director Greta Gerwig breathed new life into a familiar concept.

Saoirse Ronan, one of the best actors working today, stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a bright but not very accomplished Catholic schoolgirl. She’s not very popular but she’s not an outcast either–the only one below her average status is her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein). Lady Bird lives in Sacramento but yearns for life in New York because she finds California boring. She and her mother (Laurie Metcalf) don’t get along–in fact, in the film’s surprising opening scene, they go from getting along to arguing in just a couple of seconds! Her father (Tracy Letts) finds it in his heart to help Lady Bird with East Coast college applications when her mother doesn’t totally like the idea. (She says it’s because they can’t afford tuition, but it’s also implied that what she means is she doesn’t want to be too far away from her daughter.)

I’m just laying out the basics of what life is like for Lady Bird in this movie. In just an hour-and-a-half, the film “Lady Bird” guides us through a full year in this girl’s life, as she argues with her mother sometimes, gets along with her other times, courts a cute boy (Lucas Hedges), meets another boy (Timothee Chalamet), makes friends with the popular girl (Odeya Rush), has a falling-out with Julie, gets back together, and on and on until the end of the film, in which she learns that not everything is about her and everything that she has known all the time is more special than she thought.

This leads to a heartwarming ending in which everything makes sense. It’s the end to a journey in which one hopes for something enlightening and it becomes something unexpected and yet still enlightening at the same time. And that’s all I’ll say about it–if you haven’t seen the film, please check it out.

Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed the film, is one of my favorite people in show business. She became one of my favorite actresses ever since “Frances Ha” in 2013, and I made sure to see everything she’s in from that point forward because she’s so charming and lively and quirky–not just in movies but in real life too, as shown in interviews. She’s also a great writer, as evidenced before with the Noah Baumbach-directed films “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America” (both of which she starred in). And I just had to see “Lady Bird” because it had Gerwig’s name on it as both writer AND director.

If I may quote from Richard Roeper’s review, “Please write and direct another 25 films, Greta Gerwig.”

I concur. Make as many as you can, Greta Gerwig–I will see it.

Gerwig followed up “Lady Bird” with a wonderful adaptation of “Little Women” in 2019…and I’ll get to that soon enough.

Back to the football coach. This guy’s just a freaking riot. I could watch that scene in which he’s delivering the play blocking a thousand times and not get tired of it and laugh every single time!

Top 20 Films of the 2010s–#9

20 Dec

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my countdown of my top 20 favorite films of the decade, here’s a recap: 20) Mad Max: Fury Road, 19) Fruitvale Station, 18) Hugo, 17) Parasite, 16) Spotlight, 15) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 14) Midnight Special, 13) Take Shelter, 12) The Spectacular Now, 11) The Social Network, 10) Frances Ha

9) GET OUT (2017)

Jordan Peele’s Get Out…man, do I love this movie!

When I first saw it in a theater in February 2017, I was blown away by this tense, enthralling, thought-provoking, flat-out entertaining allegorical horror film. It was one of the best, most unforgettable moviegoing experiences of my life–sitting in a theater, watching this crazy mystery unfold on the big screen, taking in every setup, wondering impatiently where it was going, wanting to know more, praying that the payoff wouldn’t disappoint, and even at one point whispering to the patron sitting next to me, “I am so close to running out of here screaming if I don’t get some answers right now!” It was that great mixture of uncomfortableness and entertainment that I don’t see much of in movies.

It was my favorite film of 2017, and I even included it in my Top 100 Favorite Movies list. My feelings towards it hasn’t changed in the slightest.

“Get Out” has everything I look for in mainstream entertainment–likable characters, neat atmosphere, social commentary, effective comic relief, and best of all, a feeling of nervousness as I wait on-edge for something you know is bound to happen…but I don’t know what’s going to happen or how or when. That it uses uncomfortable issues such as liberal guilt and jealous racism to craft its story and create a balance of comedy and terror makes for a film that is just brilliantly entertaining while also delivering a subtle social message.

And I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one to recognize its genius, as it since picked up so many accolades, including the Academy Awards (with four nominations, including Best Picture, and winning Best Original Screenplay which I applauded).

I also love to watch the reactions of those who are seeing it for the first time and discussing it with them afterwards. The scene in which our hero Chris (well-played by Daniel Kaluuya, who was nominated for his performance) has a strange encounter with the maid (Betty Gabriel) always delivers a reaction towards everyone I show it to–and even when I watch it again, I get a visceral reaction every time she inches closer to the camera (and Chris…and us): something along the lines of recoiling and exclaiming, “Don’t come near me!” It’s also great to see them absorb the answers to the questions that have been built up for a good chunk of the movie–it’s not what they expect and it’s wonderfully creative in how it’s all handled.

And for that reason, even though the film is almost three years old, I’m still reluctant to go into too much detail about it. I want people who haven’t seen “Get Out” to go into it just like I did and come out of it feeling…is “fulfilled” too strong a word?

I love this movie. I remember calling 2016 a great year for horror films–The Invitation, The VVitch, Ouija: Origin of Evil, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room, Lights Out, and Hush. Little did I know that just a couple months into 2017, I would realize all of those films were just preparing me for the best horror film of the decade.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

25 Nov

By Tanner Smith

With “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave us a lighthearted teenage coming-of-age story in which a charismatic high-school kid wants to become an Avenger and sets out to prove himself by becoming a neighborhood friendly Spider-Man. How did it turn out?

Well, as per my typical response to a really good Spider-Man movie (“Spider-Man 2,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”), I thought it was the best Spider-Man movie to come. The story of Spider-Man has always appealed to me, so I’m always looking for that one movie that not only does it right but also does it differently from the others.

In “Homecoming,” Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) is only 15-16 years old, so he still has a lot of growing up to do as Spider-Boy before he becomes Spider-Man. That itself is a journey I’m interested in, especially for the MCU, in which his mentor is not Uncle Ben but Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).

Neither Uncle Ben nor his murder are even mentioned in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” so we don’t really know what drives Peter to help people outside of Iron Man recruiting him for the events in “Captain America: Civil War” and Peter wanting to prove he can still do great things for the Avengers. The closest we get is a scene from “Civil War,” in which Tony asks Peter why he wants to be Spider-Man and Peter replies that he wants to “stand up for the little guy.”

The Avengers ghost Peter, who continues to call and check in, despite no one answering his calls unless he’s about to do something that’s going to look bad for everybody. So, he sets out to prove himself by investigating a series of strange robberies performed with alien technology left over from the attack in “The Avengers.” He tries to trace the source of the weapons and comes across a villain known as The Vulture (Michael Keaton), who is really a blue-collar worker who wants revenge for his job being ruined. Stark wants Peter to stay out of this because it’s too big for him, but Peter insists that he knows something he doesn’t and sticks to it.

Oh, and there’s a Homecoming dance his school is preparing for, and Peter wants to ask his classmate Liz (Laura Harrier) to go with him. Plus a house party run by bully Flash (Tony Revolori), who’s actually more dorky than Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) combined. Plus a field trip to Washington, D.C. that goes awry. Director Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) and his team of screenwriters have taken an MCU superhero movie and included a John Hughes teen formula into it, making for a fresh, funny, very enjoyable Marvel movie.

I mentioned in my original review that I really like Tony Stark’s progression as a character, since he’s made terrible mistakes as Iron Man in a few MCU movies prior before seeking to redeem himself in “Civil War” and then becoming Spider-Man’s mentor by basically warning him not to fall into the same traps he did. Every high-school coming-of-age story usually includes a mentor/student bond–here, it’s between Spider-Man and Iron Man. And it would only get more interesting and even heartbreakingly effective as the MCU would continue in the next two years.

Tom Holland is my favorite Peter Parker, Michael Keaton makes for an intriguing villain (especially when you learn his true identity), many of the side characters are likably goofy in their unique New York way, and when Peter has to rise to the challenge of becoming the hero he needs to be (rather than the hero he *wants* to be), it’s easy to root for him. So, I thoroughly enjoyed “Spider-Man: Homecoming” even more than “Spider-Man 2” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” simply because of how charming and likable it is.

But little did I know that something very special was waiting for me…and I’ll get to that awesomeness soon enough.