Icarus File No. 4: Captive State (dir by Rupert Wyatt)


Does anyone remember Captive State?

Captive State came out in March and, before it was released, it seemed like it had the potential to be something special.  The trailer looked good.  The cast was impressive.  Perhaps even more importantly, the film was directed by Rupert Wyatt, who did such a good job with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.  Surely, if anyone had the talent to create a convincing film about life under an alien dictatorship, it would be Rupert Wyatt!

In fact, my only reason for concern had to do with when the film was being released.  March seemed like a very strange time to be releasing a big “event” film.  Don’t get me wrong.  A March release isn’t as bad as a January or even a February release.  I mean, unless your film is a romantic comedy, you definitely do not want it to be released in either one of those two months.  Those months are where studios dump their worst films so that they can die a quiet death.  March, on the other hand, is when the studio releases films that have the potential to be a success but which they’re still not expecting to set the world on fire.

Of course, there have been exceptions to that rule, as both Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel) and Jordan Peele (Get Out) can tell you.  So, as Captive State’s release date approached, we were left to wonder.  Would this be another case of a film being better than it’s release date or would this be just another forgettable but not terrible movie that the studio probably spent a bit too much money on?

Captive State, sadly, turned out to be more of a case of the latter than the former.

The film opens with Chicago being invaded in 2019.  Significantly, unlike other recent invasion films, this one doesn’t spend too much time on the invasion itself or Earth’s initial attempts to fight back.  Instead, it jumps forward eight years, to 2027.  The aliens are in control of Earth, though the aliens themselves claim to only be “legislators” who are governing the planet for our own good.  While the majority of Earthlings just seem to be resigned to accepting being conquered as their new normal, there are a few resistors.  There’s also quite a few collaborators.  The tricky part of life in 2027 is figuring out who you can and can not trust.

There’s a lot of characters in Captive State and, at times, it can be difficult to keep track of how everyone’s related and who is working for who.  However, that seems to be intentional on the film’s part.  Rather than telling a conventional tale of alien conquest, Captive State sets out to be a serious exploration of what life would be like for the people living under the thumb of not just an intergalactic dictatorship but actually any dictatorship.  The Legislators rule by fear.  The collaborators have their own individual reasons for collaborating but, now that they’ve declared which side they’re on, there’s no going back for them.  One way or another, they’ve sealed their fate.  The same can be said for those in the rebellion.  Meanwhile, most people are just trying to not get caught in the crossfire.

And the thing is …. you want the film to work.  It’s an intriguing idea and how can you not respect that fact that Wyatt wanted to try to do something a little bit different with his story of alien invasion?  But sadly, the film never works the way that you’re hoping it will.  The film tries to do a lot in just 109 minutes.  In fact, it probably tries to do too much and, as a result, there’s little time to get to know the characters, the majority of whom come across as being underwritten and with murky motivations.  Captive State hinges on the actions of a detective played by John Goodman but the film itself doesn’t seem to be sure of who Goodman’s supposed to be.  Hence, the film’s final twist seems to come out of nowhere.  It’s hard not to feel that the ideal way for Captive State to have told its story would have been as a 10-episode miniseries on HBO.  Trying to stuff all of this into under two hours of running time just doesn’t work.

And it’s a shame, that it doesn’t.  Ambition should never be faulted.  If only the results, in this case, lived up to the ambition.

Previous Icarus Files:

  1. Cloud Atlas
  2. Maximum Overdrive
  3. Glass

Film Review: Moonlight (dir by Barry Jenkins)


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I’m going to start this review of Moonlight by affirming something that you’ve either heard or, if you’ve seen the film, that you already know.

Moonlight is one of the best films of 2016.  Many critics have declared it to be the best.  When the Academy Award nominations are announced next month, Moonlight will receive several of them.  Barry Jenkins will not only be the fourth black filmmaker to be nominated for best director but he may very well be the first to win.  Personally, I would rate Arrival and Kubo and the Two Strings higher than Moonlight but I certainly won’t complain if Moonlight wins every Oscar that it’s nominated for.  It’s a powerful and personal film, one that might make you cry and will definitely make you think.  It sticks with you, from the brilliant opening to the powerful closing shot.  In a weak year for films, Moonlight stands one of the few legitimately great releases of 2016.

Moonlight is a film in three parts, all dealing with the life of Chiron.  Though he rarely speaks and often keeps his feelings hidden behind a wall of pain and deception, Chiron is one of the most fascinating characters that you’ll ever get to know.  Growing up in Miami, he seems to be destined to be forever on the outside.  In a country that protects whiteness and celebrates wealth, he’s black and he’s poor.  In a social environment that values being hard and demands an almost cartoonish masculinity, Chiron is sensitive and gay.

When we first meet Chiron, he’s a child nicknamed Little and he’s played by Alex Hibbert.  When we first see him, he’s fleeing both school bullies and a homelife that’s dominated by his abusive, crack-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris, giving a brave and raw performance that reminds you of just how wasted she was in the role of Moneypenny in SPECTRE).  The only positive influence in Chiron’s life is a Cuban drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali, who gives a performance of amazingly subtle power) and Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae).  Juan is the one who teaches Chiron how to swim.  He’s the one who tells Chiron that he can be more than he realizes.  Juan is the one who encourages Chiron to be himself, regardless of what the rest of the world demands that he be.  And yet, Juan is also the one who sells the drugs that are destroying Chiron’s mom.

We also see Chiron as an awkward and withdrawn teenager and this time, he’s played by Ashton Sanders.  Chiron struggles with his attraction to his best friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) and does his best to avoid a terrifying bully named Terrel (Patrick Decile).

And finally, we meet Chiron as a muscular and sometimes menacing adult and he’s now played by Trevante Rhodes.  It’s when we meet the adult Chiron that we suddenly understand why the film was structured the way that it was.  As intimidating and noncommunicative as adult Chiron may be, we know who he really is.  We know that he’s still the same kid who we first saw hiding inside an abandoned apartment.  When Chiron received an unexpected phone call from Kevin (now played, quite poignantly, by Andre Holland), he’s forced to confront who he truly is.  It leads to … well, I don’t know how to tell you what it leads to without spoiling the film for you.  I will say that the film ends with a haunting image, one that will stick with you long after the film ends.

Moonlight is a heartfelt and incredibly moving film, one that will challenge all of your preconceived notions and one that will stick with you long after you see it.  Brilliantly directed and acted, Moonlight is a film full of beautiful, haunting, and often dream-like images.  (Cinematographer James Laxton is almost as important to the film’s success as director/screenwriter Barry Jenkins.)  And you definitely should see it if you haven’t.

It’s one of the best of 2016.

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What If Awards Season Began And Lisa Totally Missed It? Here Are The Gotham Nominations!


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As proof of how busy I’ve been over the past few days, just consider this: On October 20th, awards season kicked off and I totally missed it!

That’s right.  On October 20th, the nominations for the 2016 Gotham Awards were announced.  The Gothams honor independent films and they actually have some pretty strict guidelines regarding what they consider to be independent.  So, a lot of this year’s potential Oscar nominees are not eligible for the Gotham Awards.

That said, over the past few years, the Gothams have slowly emerged as a somewhat helpful precursor.  While getting a Gotham nomination does not guarantee any film an Oscar nomination, it certainly doesn’t hurt.  That may especially be true this year as 2016 has, for the most part, not been the great cinematic year that 2015 was.  With no real favorites having yet to emerge, every precursor counts.

So, with that in mind and just a few days late, here are the Gotham nominations!

Best Feature

Certain Women
Kelly Reichardt, director; Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, producers (IFC Films)

Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater, director; Megan Ellison, Ginger Sledge, Richard Linklater, producers (Paramount Pictures)

Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan, director; Kimberly Steward, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, Kevin J. Walsh, producers (Amazon Studios)

Moonlight
Barry Jenkins, director; Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, producers (A24)

Paterson
Jim Jarmusch, director; Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan, producers (Amazon Studios)

Best Documentary

Cameraperson
Kirsten Johnson, director; Marilyn Ness, producer (Janus Films)

I Am Not Your Negro
Raoul Peck, director; Rémi Grellety, Raoul Peck, Hébert Peck, producers (Magnolia Pictures)

O.J.: Made in America
Ezra Edelman, director; Caroline Waterlow, Ezra Edelman, Tamara Rosenberg, Nina Krstic, Deirdre Fenton, Erin Leyden, producers (ESPN Films)

Tower
Keith Maitland, director; Keith Maitland, Megan Gilbride, Susan Thomson, producers (Kino Lorber, Independent Lens)

Weiner
Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg, directors and producers (Sundance Selects and Showtime Documentary Films)

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Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Robert Eggers for The Witch (A24)

Anna Rose Holmer for The Fits (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert for Swiss Army Man (A24)

Trey Edward Shults for Krisha (A24)

Richard Tanne for Southside with You (Roadside Attractions and Miramax)

Best Screenplay

Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan (CBS Films)

Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman (Amazon Studios)

Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan (Amazon Studios)

Moonlight, Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney; Screenplay by Barry Jenkins (A24)

Paterson, Jim Jarmusch (Amazon Studios)

Best Actor*

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea (Amazon Studios)

Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water (CBS Films)

Adam Driver in Paterson (Amazon Studios)

Joel Edgerton in Loving (Focus Features)

Craig Robinson in Morris from America (A24)

Best Actress*

Kate Beckinsale in Love & Friendship (Amazon Studios)

Annette Bening in 20th Century Women (A24)

Isabelle Huppert in Elle (Sony Pictures Classics)

Ruth Negga in Loving (Focus Features)

Natalie Portman in Jackie (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Breakthrough Actor*

Lily Gladstone in Certain Women (IFC Films)

Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea (Amazon Studios)

Royalty Hightower in The Fits (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Sasha Lane in American Honey (A24)

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch (A24)

* The 2016 Best Actor/Best Actress and Breakthrough Actor nominating panels also voted to award a special Gotham Jury Award for ensemble performance to Moonlight, “in which actors at all levels of experience give outstanding performances that speak eloquently to one another both within and across each chapter of the story.” The awards will go to actors Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monáe, Jaden Piner, Trevante Rhodes, and Ashton Sanders.

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(AWARDS SEASON HAS BEGUN!!!)