Sundance Film Review: The Tale (dir by Jennifer Fox)


With this year’s Sundance Film Festival getting underway in Colorado, I’m going to be spending the next two weeks looking at some films that caused a stir at previous Sundances.  Today, I’m taking a look at 2018’s The Tale.

The Tale is all about memory.

Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) is, as her mother (Ellen Burstyn) often reminds her, nearly fifty years old and childless.  She’s been engaged to the sensitive Martin (Common) for three years but she’s in no hurry to get married.  As for children — well, she decided a long time ago that she didn’t want to have children.  Jennifer is a documentarian and a teacher.  She not only records real life but she also teaches others how to do the same thing.  She makes films that, in the decades to come, will be used by future students of history who want to know what it was like to live in the late 20th and early 21st Century.  And yet, it’s her own history that Jennifer has never come to terms with.

When her mother comes across a school essay that a 13 year-old Jennifer once wrote about her relationship with her riding instructor, Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki), and her running coach, Bill (Jason Ritter), Jennifer dismisses her concerns.  As Jennifer explains it to Martin, her mother is just upset because Jennifer once had a boyfriend who was “older.”  Of course, that older boyfriend was in his 40s.  What’s obvious to everyone but Jennifer is that her coach took advantage of and raped her.  Jennifer, however, refuses to accept that.  She refers to the coach as being her “lover” and, more than a few times, she attempts to dismiss the whole topic by shrugging and saying, “It was the 70s.”

It’s not that Jennifer doesn’t realize the truth about what actually happened.  Laura Dern gives a fiercely intelligent performance as Jennifer, one that slowly and deliberately peels away at the layers of defensive protection that Jennifer has spent the past 35 years developing.  Jennifer knows what happened but she’s allowed her memory to cloud the reality of it, largely because that’s the only way that she could deal with the aftereffects of Bill’s sexual abuse.  When Jennifer thinks back to the summer that she spent with Mrs. G and Bill, she first sees herself as she was when she was 15 years old, curious and headstrong.  It’s only when Jennifer looks at a photograph that was taken that summer that she sees starts to see herself as she really was, an introverted and vulnerable 13 year-old (played by Isabelle Nelisse) who was groomed and abused by two predators.

As Jennifer investigates her past and finally begins to understand what really happened over the course of that summer, her memories begin to change.  Hazily-remembered conversations take on new meaning and she begins to understand that terrible truth between the looks that were often exchanged between Bill and Mrs. G.  At times, the older Jennifer finds herself interrogating her memories of Bill, Mrs. G, and even her younger self.  She demands to know how they could have done what they did and their answers leave you wondering whether you’re hearing what they would really say or if your just hearing what Jennifer would hope they would say.  When Jennifer talks to others who were around that summer, she’s shocked to learn that she wasn’t the only one who Bill abused and her insistence that she was Bill’s lover (as opposed to his victim) sounds more and more hollow.  When Jennifer finally does track down some of her abusers, you wonder if their somewhat confused reactions are due to guilt or if it’s possible that there were so many victims that they don’t even remember what they did to Jenny Fox.  And if they do remember, they seem to be either horrifically ignorant or curelly unconcerned about the consequences of their actions.

It’s a brave and powerful film, one that is made all the more disturbing by the fact that director and screenwriter Jennifer Fox is telling her own story.   At least year’s Sundance Film Festival, it premiered to acclaim and controversy.  There was also some surprise when, instead of securing a theatrical release, the film was instead sold to HBO.  At the time, there was a lot of concern that the film’s power would somehow be diluted as a result of playing on television as opposed to a big screen.  However, in hindsight, the small screen — with its unavoidable vulnerability — was the perfect place for this uncompromising and emotionally raw film.

The Tale is not an easy film to watch but it is an important one.  It’s a film for anyone who has ever struggled to come to terms with the past.  It’s both a reminder that you’re not alone and a warning to not ignore or laugh off your suspicions.  It’s also a good example of the type of film that probably would never have been discovered if not for Sundance.  There’s a lot of legitimate criticism that one can direct towards the Sundance Film Festival but occasionally, it does do what it’s supposed to do.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Alita: Battle Angel, Mid 90s, Love Gilda, Final Score, Hunter Killer, Iron Fist


Welcome to this week’s trailer round-up!

What do you get when you combine a script co-written by James Cameron with the direction of Robert Rodriguez?  We’ll find out when Alita: Battle Angel is released into theaters on December 21st!

A24’s latest period piece, Mid90s, will be released into theaters on October 19th.  This film is the directorial debut of Jonah Hill and, judging from the trailer, his film has got the 90s down.

SNL comedienne Gilda Radner gets a much deserved tribute in Love, Gilda.  This documentary will be in theaters on September 21st.

Judging from the trailer, Final Score looks like it might be the best action film of 1992.  It’s Die Hard in a stadium.  The Eurotrash villains take 35,000 football hooligans hostage but everyone’s too much into the match to notice.  At first, I thought this trailer had to be a parody.

Speaking of things that seem like parodies but are actually meant to be taken seriously, Hunter Killer is a real movie starring two real Oscar winners.  Keep an eye out for Gary Oldman and Common in theaters on October 26th.

Finally, proving that not even bad reviews can keep a Marvel hero down, Netflix’s Iron Fist returns for a second season on September 7th.

 

 

 

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Megan Leavey (dir by Gabriela Cowperthwaite)


One of the best (and, in my opinion, overlooked) films of 2017 was Megan Leavey.

Based on a true story, Megan Leavey tells the true story of … well, Megan Leavey.  When the film starts, Megan (played, in one of the best performances of 2017, by Kate Mara) is living a somewhat directionless life in upstate New York.  Her parents are divorced and she’s closer to her father (Bradley Whitford) even though she has more contact (and shares a much more strained relationship) with her mother (Edie Falco).  Speaking as a child of divorce, the scenes of Megan trying to navigate the mine field between her parents rang painfully true at times. I spent the entire movie waiting for Megan and her parents to have some sort of big moment where, in typical artificial movie fashion, all conflicts would be solved and everything would suddenly be okay.  To the film’s credit, that moment never comes.

Instead, Megan enlists in the Marines.  She finds herself assigned as a Military Police K9 handler.  What that means is that Megan finds herself in Iraq, working with a dog named Rex.  Rex’s job is to sniff out explosives and other threats.  One wrong move by either Megan or Rex will result in not only their deaths but also the deaths of everyone around them.  Remember how tense some of the scenes in The Hurt Locker were?  Well, that’s nothing compared to the intensity of the bomb-sniffing scenes in Megan Leavey.  After all, in The Hurt Locker, we only had Jeremy Renner to worry about.  Megan Leavey, however, features a truly adorable dog.

When Megan returns home from serving two tours in Iraq, she struggles with PTSD and the adjustment to civilian life.  Rex is assigned to a different handler and continues his duties, leaving Megan without the one creature that she felt she could trust.  And again, Megan Leavey deserves a lot of credit for not offering up any easy or pat solutions for Megan’s difficulties to adjusting to life back in the States.  It’s too honest a film and has too much respect for it audience to cheapen its narrative with easy or manipulative sentiment.

When Rex develops facial paralysis, he is retired from active duty.  With the help of her U.S. Senator, Megan adopted Rex and gave him a home until he passed away in 2012.  That senator was Chuck Schumer and thankfully, Megan Leavey resisted the temptation to cast Chuck Schumer as himself.  Instead, when Megan approaches her Senator on the Capitol steps, the senator is played by a professional-looking character actor who looks and sounds absolutely nothing like Chuck Schumer.  By making this simple casting decision, the film keeps the focus off of the politicians and on Megan and Rex, where it belongs.

Did Megan Leavey make me cry?  You better believe it did.  However, it earned every one of these tears.  This is a wonderfully sweet and moving film, one that works largely because it refuses to overemphasize the sentimental aspects of the story.  Instead, Megan Leavey always remains rooted in reality.  It’s a gritty film about a dog and a soldier who survived being sent to one of the most dangerous places n the world.  It’s the story of how Rex saved Megan’s life and how Megan returned the favor by saving Rex’s.  It’s a sweet, straight forward story that can be appreciated even by people, like me, who prefer cats.

John Wick: Chapter 2 Cordially Invites All to A Party In Rome


In 2015, a little film from Lionsgate came out during that time between the summer blockbuster and the awards seasons. It’s sort of the time of the cinematic year when a film is not good enough to be a blockbuster and not enough pedigree to be seen as awards-worthy.

This film was John Wick and it starred Keanu Reeves. It was also directed by two filmmakers more well-known for choreographing fights and action scenes than a full feature film.

John Wick had the last laugh as it surpassed everyone’s expectations to become one of the best action films of recent memory. It helped resurrect Keanu Reeves as a bonafide action star once again.

At this year’s New York Comic-Con the first teaser trailer for the second chapter of the John Wick story dropped to the howling delights of all attending.

We still have to wait until 2017 for John Wick: Chapter 2, but until then let’s stare in awe at John Wick doing what he does best.

Suicide Squad Drops By the MTV Movie Awards


Suicide Squad

Let’s get this out of the way and just say that Warner Bros. executives and major shareholders are none too pleased by the reception from both critics and the general audience when it comes to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not a very good start to their planned DC Extended Universe. While fanboys from both DC and Marvel have been going at it for weeks now, there’s at least some bright spot ahead for DC in their summer tentpole release Suicide Squad.

Even with rumors of extended reshoots to add more levity and fun to balance out public’s perception that the DC films are too dour and dark (grimdark even), Suicide Squad still remains one of the more anticipated films of the summer.

During this year’s MTV Movie Awards, DC and Warner Brothers released the newest trailer for what they’re hoping will sell the DCEU to the audience what Batman v. Superman could not and that’s a fun comic book film that understands dark and serious doesn’t have to mean not fun.

Suicide Squad is set for an August 5, 2016 release date.

Comic-Con’s First Look At The Suicide Squad


SuicideSquad

“If anything goes wrong we blame them. We have built-in deniability.” — Amanda Waller

When will studios finally realize that showing any video reel, trailer or teaser at Comic-Con’s Hall H will inevitably be leaked if no official release has been made. It’s the nature of the internet and has become a sort of ritual each summer when Comic-Con rolls around. Some studios have been better with whetting the appetite of fans by giving those who can’t make Hall H with something to see. Others seem intent on trying to control what comes out of Hall H. It’s almost as if they’re saying “sucks to be you” if one couldn’t attend Comic-Con and get a seat in Hall H.

This year it seems Warner Brothers is that studio that’s trying to stamp out all the leaked footage shown at this year’s Hall H during their industry panel. It was a panel that was seen as the best thing about the Hall H gatherings. They did the right thing about releasing the latest trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to the public and not just keeping it for the Hall H crowd. Yet, they whiffed big time by not doing the same for the Suicide Squad trailer (or first look as some call it).

Inevitably some in Hall H were kind enough to turn on their smartphones and video a rough and grainy look at the trailer which was then uploaded onto the internet. This was the first look a majority of comic-book and film fans got of Suicide Squad. Not a good look, but fans were playing this leaked footage nonstop. So, taking a page out of Marvel Studios PR playbook after the first Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer leaked in a very non-HD version, Warner Bros. has finally surrendered and released an HD-version of the Suicide Squad trailer.

All is right with the world.

And here are the NAACP Image Award Nominations!


Dear White People

And continuing our awards wrap-up, here are the 2014 NAACP Image Award nominations!

(h/t to awardswatch)

MOTION PICTURE
Outstanding Motion Picture
• “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)
• “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
• “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
• Chadwick Boseman – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• David Oyelowo – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Denzel Washington – “The Equalizer” (Columbia Pictures)
• Idris Elba – “No Good Deed” (Screen Gems)
• Nate Parker – “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
• Gugu Mbatha-Raw – “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• Quvenzhané Wallis – “Annie” (Columbia Pictures)
• Taraji P. Henson – “No Good Deed” (Screen Gems)
• Tessa Thompson – “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
• Viola Davis – “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” (The Weinstein Company)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
• André Holland – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Cedric the Entertainer – “Top Five” (Paramount Pictures)
• Common – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Danny Glover – “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)
• Wendell Pierce – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
• Carmen Ejogo – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Jill Scott – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• Octavia Spencer – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• Oprah Winfrey – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Viola Davis – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture
• “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
• “Half of a Yellow Sun” (monterey media inc.)
• “JIMI: All Is By My Side” (XLrator Media)
• “Life of a King” (Animus Films/Serena Films)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture
• Chris Rock – “Top Five” (Paramount Pictures)
• Justin Simien – “Dear White People” (Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate)
• Margaret Nagle – “The Good Lie” (Alcon Entertainment)
• Misan Sagay – “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• Richard Wenk – “The Equalizer” (Columbia Pictures)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture
• Amma Asante – “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• Antoine Fuqua – “The Equalizer” (Columbia Pictures)
• Ava DuVernay – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Gina Prince-Bythewood – “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)
• John Ridley – “JIMI: All Is By My Side” (XLrator Media)

TELEVISION
Outstanding Comedy Series
• “Black-ish” (ABC)
• “House of Lies” (Showtime)
• “Key & Peele” (Comedy Central)
• “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• “Real Husbands of Hollywood” (BET)

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
• Andre Braugher – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (FOX)
• Anthony Anderson – “‘Black-ish” (ABC)
• Don Cheadle – “House of Lies” (Showtime)
• Keegan-Michael Key – “Key & Peele” (Comedy Central)
• Kevin Hart – “Real Husbands of Hollywood” (BET)

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
• Mindy Kaling – “The Mindy Project” (FOX)
• Niecy Nash – “The Soul Man” (TV Land)
• Tracee Ellis Ross – “Black-ish” (ABC)
• Uzo Aduba – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Wendy Raquel Robinson – “The Game” (BET)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
• Boris Kodjoe – “Real Husbands of Hollywood” (BET)
• Glynn Turman – “House of Lies” (Showtime)
• Laurence Fishburne – “Black-ish” (ABC)
• Marcus Scribner – “Black-ish” (ABC)
• Terry Crews – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (FOX)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
• Adrienne C. Moore – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Laverne Cox – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Lorraine Toussaint – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Sofia Vergara – “Modern Family” (ABC)
• Yara Shahidi – “black-ish” (ABC)

Outstanding Drama Series
• “Being Mary Jane” (BET)
• “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC)
• “House of Cards” (Netflix)
• “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
• “Scandal” (ABC)

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
• LL Cool J – “NCIS: LA” (CBS)
• Omar Epps – “Resurrection” (ABC)
• Omari Hardwick – “Being Mary Jane” (BET)
• Shemar Moore – “Criminal Minds” (CBS)
• Taye Diggs – “Murder in the First” (TNT)

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
• Gabrielle Union – “Being Mary Jane” (BET)
• Kerry Washington – “Scandal” (ABC)
• Nicole Beharie – “Sleepy Hollow” (FOX)
• Octavia Spencer – “Red Band Society” (FOX)
• Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
• Alfred Enoch – “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
• Courtney B. Vance – “Masters of Sex” (Showtime)
• Guillermo Diaz – “Scandal” (ABC)
• Jeffrey Wright – “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)
• Joe Morton – “Scandal” (ABC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
• Aja Naomi King – “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
• Alfre Woodard – “State of Affairs” (NBC)
• Chandra Wilson – “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC)
• Jada Pinkett Smith – “Gotham” (FOX)
• Khandi Alexander – “Scandal” (ABC)

Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series
• Aisha Muharrar – “Parks and Recreation” – Ann & Chris (NBC)
• Brigette Munoz-Liebowitz – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – Road Trip (FOX)
• Mindy Kaling – “The Mindy Project” – Danny and Mindy (FOX)
• Regina Hicks – “Instant Mom” – A Kids’s Choice (Nickelodeon and Nick@Nite)
• Sara Hess – “Orange is the New Black” – It Was the Change (Netflix)

Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series
• Erika Green Swafford – “How to Get Away with Murder” – Let’s Get To Scooping
(ABC)
• Mara Brock Akil – “Being Mary Jane” – Uber Love (BET)
• Warren Leight, Julie Martin – “Law & Order: SVU” – American Disgrace (NBC)
• Zahir McGhee – “Scandal” – Mama Said Knock You Out (ABC)
• Zoanne Clack – “Grey’s Anatomy” – You Be Illin’ (ABC)

Outstanding Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
• “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (Lifetime Networks)
• “American Horror Story: Freak Show” (FX)
• “Drumline: A New Beat” (VH1)
• “The Gabby Douglas Story” (Lifetime Networks)
• “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)

Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
• Blair Underwood – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)
• Charles S. Dutton – “Comeback Dad” (UP Entertainment)
• Larenz Tate – “Gun Hill” (BET)
• Mekhi Phifer – “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (Lifetime Networks)
• Ving Rhames – “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (Lifetime Networks)

Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
• Angela Bassett – “American Horror Story: Freak Show” (FX)
• Cicely Tyson – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)
• Keke Palmer – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)
• Regina King – “The Gabby Douglas Story” (Lifetime Networks)
• Vanessa Williams – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)

Key & Peele