Posts tagged life lessons from films
MOVIE REVIEW: The 15:17 to Paris

That crucial third act would make a heck of a short film on its own.  If we could fast-forward to there, we would be in business.  Instead, we get the Eastwood hero worship vanity project parade.  Invisible yet incredibly overt, The 15:17 to Paris freely flies its flags of god-fearing conservative morals, manly superiority, unwavering courage, dreams of glory, and military brotherhood.  The content isn't lowered for Eastwood’s credibility, but the execution is, even if there is an audience for this sort of thing. 

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COLUMN: The 10 Best Films of 2017

The end of the year brings grading and reflection points for both the school teacher in me and the film critic.  Looking at the online Trapper Keeper portfolio called Every Movie has a Lesson, I published 126 full film reviews in 2017, topping last year’s 114 and setting a new high mark.  Here’s my definitive list of the "10 Best" films of 2017.  True to this website’s specialty, each film will be paired with its best life lesson.  Enjoy!

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MOVIE REVIEW: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour and Gary Oldman exhibit tremendous fight to match the vigor of the era.  The film builds its mounting prospects of calamity and clashes of dissension with polish and gumption, avoiding many of the dull notes normally saddling most other behind-the-war-room yak-fest.  The screenplay shrewdly skips laborious biographical notes and tautly fixates primarily on the two weeks of debate leading up to Operation Dynamo

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MOVIE REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s new film puts prickly in the pastoral glazing its country charm with absolute acid every chance it gets.  Part stern crime drama and part small-town chicanery, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri displays the next level of McDonagh’s talent and potential.  Always the sharp storyteller since his roots on the Irish stage, McDonagh’s writing prowess elevates a premise that would fall flat as pure farce in other hands

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MOVIE REVIEW: Justice League

Justice League comes across like attempted course correction done on that Etch-a-Sketch.  The artist, or artists in this case, are trying to retrace old paths and smooth over past missteps with redrawn swirls, lighter hues, and a fluffy cover-up we call comedy.  That effort on the cinematic Etch-a-Sketch indeed changes the initial picture, but only after unnecessarily tedious effort and some remaining messy results.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Lady Bird

In her solo feature directorial debut, Greta Gerwig has stepped in and pushed this cinematic species tremendously forward with the dramedy Lady Bird.  The film destroys any notion of the “manic pixie dream girl” fakery.  Lady Bird is a cornucopia woven with striking candor and filled with delightful oxymorons artfully composed to challenge taboos and stereotypes. Let’s give each oxymoron a life lesson and a paragraph or two along the way.

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SHORT FILM REVIEW: Not Yet

For a while now, I have long wondered how someone could bottle that signature Pixar-level lightness for dramatic heft and pour it into a live-action piece with the same welcome whimsy.  Pixar's animated feature films and shorts consistently have a special way with conveying humor within the most difficult emotions  I might have found the closest attempt yet in Chad Hamilton’s lovely short film Not Yet.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Loving Vincent

The filmmakers promised Loving Vincent to be nothing you’ve ever seen put to film and they were not lying.  The sheer artistry is miraculous where even folded shirts look as dramatic as emoting faces.  To call the biographical drama a work of art and astonishing technical achievement would be shameless understatements.  The best part of all is the massive wellspring of creativity was thankfully applied to an engaged narrative worthy of the artistry and the legend cast by Vincent Van Gogh

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MOVIE REVIEW: Chasing the Blues

Chasing the Blues is a dark comedy through and through.  Director Scott Smith and his co-writer Kevin Guifoile crafted an engaging yarn of hijinks and hilarity.  Their narrative might feel like something out of a Coen brothers rough draft, but this film sides with a far less gonzo approach that suits its shrewder stature.  Like the musical genre at its core, patient storytelling is at the forefront.  Could it use a stiffer punch or two?  Maybe, but then it wouldn’t be the blue and not everything has to be shock cinema.  Waiting for the payoff in this tidy 77-minute film is an easy and worthwhile short hike to climb.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Florida Project

The crucial emotional response The Florida Project demands of its viewers is empathy.  If you can’t find that, if you turn your nose, close your eyes, and refuse to accept that this kind of American lifestyle exists, you are missing the hard truths, the teachable moments, and the larger points being presented.  onvenient Hollywood endings don’t exist in the real life Baker’s film examines.  Applaud a film that dares to push that stark reality.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Our Souls at Night

Even from a different generation than the present day, you can’t get more Hollywood than Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.  Both are emeritus stars of Tinseltown royalty on multiple levels, respected and celebrated as award-winning performers, icons of style, sex symbols, and vigilant political personas off-screen.  To see the two of them together again, for the fifth time and the first time in 38 years in Our Souls at Night, is a revitalizing treat unto itself, but to see their shared film be staunchly non-Hollywood in stature is even more refreshing.

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SHORT FILM REVIEW: Loyalty or Betrayal

By design and in the name of essential effectiveness, a good short film has to cut to the chase.  Their tricks of cinematic shorthand in the exposition department are what make them entertaining.  When the micro-budgeted Loyalty and Betrayal opens on the imagery of a man on his bedroom floor putting a gun to his forehead, a chase has certainly been cut.  Writer/director Jonathan Vargas grabs us right there and locks our gaze.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Te Ata

Not all actors and actresses are motivated by fame and profit.  Some are in it for the performance and chance to share culture through an artistic medium.  Before the hey-day of cinema, one such actress captured the fascination of an audience higher than any Hollywood premiere and did so as an ostracized minority.  Better yourself with a slice of history to learn about Mary Frances Thompson, or, as she was called on stage, Te Ata.  

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Young Offenders

The banter and B.S. traded back and forth between Alex Murphy and Chris Walley is as hysterical as it is pleasurably uncouth.  It’s an absolute wonder to realize that The Young Offenders is mutually their first on-camera film roles.  Alex and Chris’s chemistry through sarcasm and shared shenanigans feels and looks effortless.  Flabbergasted energy blasts out of both of them and it’s a hoot to watch.  Seeing the two young actors operate these over-the-top losers with reckless abandon while still injecting a little coming-of-age heart for good measure, makes the film highly entertaining.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Emerald City

I know it’s the clickbait haven of Buzzfeed, but this list of jobs well-known celebrities had before they hit it big is pretty humbling and eye-opening at the same time.  Once the millions roll in and we see the red carpets and flash bulbs, we forget the lucky breaks and hard work it took to get there, and that for every one of those matinee idols a thousand never make it.  Upon seeing Emerald City at the 3rd annual Irish American Movie Hooley, I’ll gladly raise my glass in hopes that Colin Broderick’s minimum wage days are over.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Dunning Man

Inspired by true events, which will cause a fun double take as the film transpires, The Dunning Man is adapted from the published short stories of producer Kevin Fortuna.  Precariously, at times, balancing somewhere between an urban drama and paperback crime novel, the film presents a seedy slice of Atlantic City calmed by nostalgic scene transitions of vintage footage of the city in its decadent heyday.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Viceroy's House

The most superlative aspect of Viceroy’s House and its chronicle of national history for the countries of India and Pakistan is the personal passion behind the project.  Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice director Gurinder Chadha is the granddaughter of family displaced by the largest migration of people in recorded human history that occurred during the Partition of India of seventy years ago.  There is an undeniable core of importance and respect present in the film that shows the great care of Chadha and all involved.

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MEDIA APPEARANCE: Guest on the "Page 2 Screen" podcast talking 20 years of "L.A. Confidential"

 I joined Jeff York recently as his guest for a special 20th-anniversary 35mm screening of 1997's Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential at the storied Music Box Theatre as part of the Noir City Chicago Festival.  As an added treat, author James Ellroy was in the house to kick things off with an expletive-laden bang.  After the screening, he and I hunkered down in Frio Gelato near the theatre to share our admiration and examination of Curtis Hanson's masterpiece.

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