Pete’s Dragon

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Depending on who you ask, the summer movie season in 2016 has either been par for the course as far as this time of year goes, or just a series of colossal disappointments with one or two bright spots. My guess is that people in the latter camp would probably only be paying close attention to this year’s blockbuster outings, while mostly ignoring anything that never made it to the multiplexes. But for anyone willing to pay attention to things other than the latest pieces of nerd garbage, there’s been quite a few worthwhile offerings from the indie/foreign language sections of summer film, including but not limited to: Love & Friendship, The Neon Demon, Les Innocentes, Captain Fantastic, and many more.

But it’d be truly hard to deny that as far as the larger scaled mainstream offerings go, yes it has been a rather dry summer in that department. Apart from Captain America: Civil War and maybe Star Trek: Beyond (which I was personally mixed to positive towards) there haven’t been too many noteworthy offerings of spectacle-driven escapism. But in the final weeks of summer at the box office, here comes Disney once again to save the day, with a pleasantly surprising remake of one of their more obscure films, Pete’s Dragon, a remake that has much better reasons to exist – from an artistic standpoint at least – than something more beloved like Cinderella or the upcoming live action re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast (yes, because there was *so much* left to improve upon from the animated version…).

Plot-wise, aside from central idea of a boy living alone in the woods with his friendly dragon companion, the two versions of Pete’s Dragon don’t have a whole lot in common, and this one is all the better for it. Instead, this one has more in common with last year’s awards darling Room than it does the original it’s adapted from. The central conceit here is still that a young boy is on his own with a dragon, but this version places a lot more emphasis on the titular Pete getting reacquainted with the outside world after six years of living essentially on his own in the woods. The way that it takes the bare bones elements of the original and updates them into a brand new story should be the go-to template for every remake that comes out these days, and while many don’t seem to be willing to take that sort of chance, Pete’s Dragon benefits greatly from choosing to go in a whole new direction with its premise and characters.

One significant aspect of Pete’s Dragon that sets is apart from most modern day family entertainment is the tone. Compared to most other media current aimed at younger audiences these days, both in live action and animated form, this film takes a refreshingly slower and more understated approach to the subject matter. It isn’t in a hurry to get to the next comical and over-the-top setpiece or chase sequence. The atmosphere established herein is more comforting and soulful than what children these days are probably used to these days – not unlike the last Disney live action effort, Steven Spielberg’s The BFG.

In that respect, it functions less as a straight-up remake of the original film, and more like a live action Studio Ghibli outing, with its earnest, light-hearted tone that’s eventually interrupted by some rousing, well-earned emotional beats towards the final act. It never panders directly to its target audience, nor does it inappropriately wink and nod to all the parents in the theater; it simply maintains a consistent tonality throughout the whole thing. Coupled with all around solid performances from the cast, be it from veterans like Robert Redford to newer child actors like Oakes Fegley, and you’ve got yourself one of the better live action Disney flicks from the past couple of years.

Alas, while there’s a lot that Pete’s Dragon does right and/or very well, a few missteps here and there are usually inevitable for a production of this magnitude from a studio as gigantic as Disney, so while the film is very good for what it’s trying to be, it isn’t perfect. The first and foremost of these problems comes in the form of a pretty recently adopted cliche in 21st century family films, and it’s the problem of giving any animal character the basic traits and characteristics of a dog; think Bullseye in the Toy Story films or fellow dragon Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon. It’s not a fatal flaw in this film and for the most part it works ok, especially considering Elliot’s more cutesy and friendly character design. But it still merits mentioning that this otherwise fresh and original children’s tale still falls back on such a common and noticeable Hollywood cliche.

Pete’s Dragon is a real treat, and an exemplary piece of modern family entertainment. The experience of watching this film so soon after a confused mess like Suicide Squad is like the equivalent of taking a much needed antacid pill after a serious bout of heartburn. It takes one of Disney’s lesser known (and lesser quality) classic era efforts and breathes fresh life into it.

The fact that this superior remake is arriving in theaters just one week before the remake of Ben-Hur (a universally beloved, Oscar winning epic that still holds up now-a-days) is equal parts amusing and sadly telling of the current state of remake culture still rampant in Hollywood these days. Let’s just hope in the future more are of the caliber of this one; and if this summer’s parade of lackluster, disappointing blockbusters has you down in the dumps, give Pete’s Dragon one last shot to lighten your summer movie-going season.

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Jafar Panahi’s Taxi

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Before we get into the meat of this review, first a bit of context needs to be addressed: director Jafar Panahi was (and in many ways, still is) one of the most prominent figures in the Iranian New Wave cinematic movement, along with the recently deceased Abbas Kiarostami. After spending his entire career making films with noticeably progressive political slants, as well as pointed criticisms of the Iranian government and their cultural standards, Panahi was arrested in early 2010 and sentenced to – among other charges – a 20 year ban from making any films, or doing anything remotely film-related, such as screenwriting or giving interviews. But despite this, Panahi has already made *three* quasi-documentary style films whilst under house arrest, each with the very limited resources at his disposal and only his creativity and filmmaking prowess to guide him. The first of these was called This is Not a Film and was released in 2011 to heaps of critical and cultural praise. The most recent of his micro-budget outings was released last year and goes by a few titles, but for the remainder of this review will be referred to simply as Taxi.

Not unlike certain films by Jafar Panahi’s mentor Abbas Kiarostami (most notably Taste of Cherry and Ten),Taxi seeks to be “a portrait of the Iranian capitol of Tehran” (those from the words of the filmmakers themselves) and does so by the most minimal of means, technologically speaking. The film follows a day in the life of Mr. Panahi, who is forced to drive a taxi cab in order to make ends meet during his filmmaking ban (whether this is based on fact or exaggerated for the sake of creating drama is left open ended), and during the course of this day he encounters a parade of colorful civilians entering and exiting the backseat of his cab.

As is the case in the majority of Iranian cinema from the past couple of decades, not much happens in the way of a forward moving plot or story, yet the entire film is still as watchable as anything with hundreds of times its budget, which is as much of a testament to the filmmaking prowess of Jafar Panahi as anything. Even stripped of all creative resources and left with nothing but a digital camera at his disposal, he still creates one of the most engaging and accessible (depending on who you ask) films of the decade. Unbelievable.

One of the most immediately striking aspect of Taxi is pretty clearly the way in which it’s made, that being the uber-low budget form. And within these extremely limited means, heaps of social commentary and narrative experimentation are found. That, and the way it manages to humanize Iranian citizens and its culture as a whole is simply unprecedented. Just as the case was with all of Panahi’s previous features, both pre-filmmaking ban and afterwards, modern Iranian society isn’t stereotypically portrayed as a gaggle of helpless, beleaguered victims of a repressive governmental regime, like those viewing things from a more Western perspective might be expecting. But rather, they’re seen as average, everyday working class citizens, each dealing with their own set of daily struggles, similar to that of most common people all over the globe; discontentment with a job, bonding with family members, etc. If simply depicting a portrait of an Iranian lifestyle is all the Jafar Panahi was going for with this film, then he succeeded mightily in achieving that.

With the recent passing of the aforementioned Abbas Kiarostami, now would seem like as opportune a time as ever to get into Iranian cinema – and for my money, Taxi is as good a place to start as any. With literally a fraction of the budget, it does more to improve and push forward the cinematic form than the latest $200 million Hollywood effects extravaganza. It’s also a masterclass in generating empathy through film and works wonders in humanizing the working class in Iran, especially for a more Western viewing audience. This certainly one cinematic experiment not to be missed, at least not by those who claim to be true fans of the art-form.

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The Shallows

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Rumor has it that for years after Die Hard premiered and completely shattered how the action genre was perceived both culturally and within the film industry, every action movie pitch for the next half a decade was “Die Hard in -*insert vague location and/or setting here* “. Fast forward a few decades later, andGravity has had a similar effect on the genre and the industry at large. So now we have “Gravity but on Mars (The Martian) or in the wilderness (The Revenant)!” Which brings us to The Shallows, which could be seen as Gravity, but set in the ocean. With the inclusion of a shark as the primary antagonist, one might assume that this film draws automatic comparisons to Jaws, but another film I’ve heard that this bears more kinship with is the 2004 thriller Open Water. But seeing as how I haven’t seen that, I’ll be ignoring it altogether for the purposes of this review and just focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of The Shallows within its own parameters.

The plot has… uh… Blake Lively, and she’s a surfer… and she’s on a beach near the ocean… and a shark is there too I guess… then stuff happens from there. But to be fair, for all there seems there isn’t to the plot, The Shallows does a decent enough job of keeping the pace up throughout the runtime and doesn’t overstay its welcome whilst clocking in at less than an hour and a half long. And like the aforementioned solo-survival flicks such as Die Hard or Gravity, the whole enterprise would fall pretty flat without a compelling lead performer – and fortunately Blake Lively in this film is more than up to this task. Over the course of her career, Lively has transcended being more than just a mere pretty face and has taken on a number of roles where she can really show off her acting chops (most notably in last year’s underrated The Age of Adeline). Additionally, the film maintains a fairly consistent tone of dread and suspense throughout, and because of its quick pace and short length, doesn’t ever really drag or contain any superfluous fluff to pad out the running time.

While I indicated beforehand that The Shallows is relatively short on the filler and keeps to its central plot-line all the way through, it does so perhaps to a fault. While Blake Lively’s central heroine is fully fleshed out as a three-dimensional character, nobody else in the film really registers as such. This isn’t necessarily a crucial part to the film, seeing as how it’s more or less a one person show, but most of the supporting players come across as broad character tropes rather than identifiable people who could’ve offered more insight and background to the protagonist, other than being a series of talking heads for her to play off of.

With this being a summer release from a major Hollywood studio, it should be expected that certain plot conveniences and contrivances might appear during the film in order to make the plot move along smoother and whatnot, which I fully accept… but do they have to be so distracting and avoidable? I can suspend my disbelief enough to ignore plenty of things, but when I’m constantly questioning why this shark would bother trying to eat Blake Lively of all people instead a rotting, defenseless whale carcass just a few clicks away, then it bears mentioning. Which is to say nothing of the occasionally dodgy CGI effects for the shark. I’ve tried to avoid bringing up Jaws as much as possible in this review, but there’s still a lot that film can teach us in terms of the whole “less is more” notion. Still relevant, even 40+ years later.

The Shallows is a perfectly serviceable midsummer diversion. It won’t change your life or anything, but it features a solid central performance by Blake Lively, and is ultimately good enough for what it is; you’ll most certainly get your money’s worth if you know what you’re getting into. It’s a refreshingly lean, small-scaled thrill ride in a summer season filled with overstuffed, bloated effects extravaganzas. And FYC Steven Seagull for Best Supporting Actor. Make it happen, Academy.

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Warcraft

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After years of films based on video games turning out poorly and getting negative reception all around because of their trying to distance themselves from their source material too hard, here’s one with curiously the opposite affliction: getting drug through the mud because it’s *too* slavishly faithful to the series from whence it came.

Such is the case with Warcraft, the first stab at adapting the immensely popular video game franchise of the same name from Blizzard Entertainment into cinematic form. And lo, modern geek cinema finally has its answer to David Lynch’s Dune: a well-meaning, all around competently constructed genre epic that stumbled quite a bit in some of the most important areas of filmmaking: primarily narrative coherence and solid characterizations. But coming from a purely non-fan’s perspective (apart from being firmly acquainted with South Park’s affectionate and brilliant homage to the popular game franchise) this film in a lot of ways feels like another token fantasy epic living in the post Lord of the RingsGame of Thrones world of high concept fantasy storytelling. Warcraft aims high – admirably so – for the heart and success of those giants in its first run at a theatrical project, but winds up landing more on the side of a lesser Harry Potter sequel, albeit still not without its individual charms.

Story-wise, there isn’t much to chew on that we haven’t already seen dozens of times already, but for those really chomping at the bit to know just how this all goes down, the film tells conjoining tales of both Orcs (yes Orcs – spelled and pronounced the same way as the *other* big fantasy franchise) and humans in a distant fantasy world both confronted with a dark magic that threatens to destroy both of them indiscriminately if not wielded properly and by the right people. By far the best thing about this film is the Orcs: both their character designs and the performances from the assembled cast, with each one having a truly felt presence within the world of the film, heroes and villains alike.

Particularly noteworthy is Toby Kebbell as Durotan, a motion capture performance that registers the most of all the characters in the film, and whom the screenplay affords the most depth and back-story to – a trait not extended to his human counterparts, but more on that later. Also helping the proceedings is a thumping, bass-heavy musical score from Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djwadi. And however the film ultimately turned out, there’s a clear sense that director Duncan Jones (formerly known for lower-budget sci-fi outings like Moon and Source Code) truly cared about this project without coming across as a mere director-for-hire, and was able to give the whole layout and design of the film a relatively genuine, lived-in feel, amidst all the size and scope a $200 million effects budget can render. But this transparent affection for the source material is less apparent when getting into not so good stuff.

Well, if the Orc characters were clearly the best thing in the film – and make no mistake, they are – then conversely, the human characters are several steps below them, both in terms of narrative development and overall engagement within the story. Whatever the resources in this fantasy realm may be, there is certainly no shortage of interchangeable, generic white male leads and their equally forgettable roles within the larger story. It doesn’t help matters much that the ruler of the human kingdom and the lead knight character look almost identical in a lot of respects, but their characters also aren’t fleshed out strongly enough as to make them feel distinctive from one another. And while a lot of the heavier fantastical elements in the film are relatively digestible and easy to accept once you’re adjusted to the setting, there’s just something about the way the wizard characters were written and performed that just feels extra goofy and unintentionally campy – at least, not in the earnest manner that the Orc side-stories are tonally handled. The wishy-washy effects work and Ben Foster’s puzzling performance don’t do much to help either.

Then there’s the plot, which admittedly made sense on a moment to moment basis, but which on the whole still comes across as feeling jumbled and rehashed. And given all the world building details and franchise lore that needed to be crammed into this one film in order to make for a satisfying viewing experience, is it any shock that at a measly two hours, the whole enterprise feels just a tad undercooked and rushed? Well, more than a tad, but you get the picture. The writing is at times far too exposition heavy, whereas Lord of the Rings, for example, got all of its backstory and world history over with in a less than 10 minute intro, then let the characters (and by extension, the audience) discover what’s left out there progressively throughout the rest of the series. No doubt Warcraft has that in store for us later on, but the here and now of the screenplay isn’t as well handled.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Warcraft will please fans of the video game, as well as people who find lots of enjoyment in high-concept fantasy franchises in general. It’s just too bad that Duncan Jones and company didn’t think to make the material appealing to those who might not be as familiar with the series beforehand. While this certainly isn’t the utter disaster certain critical outcries might have you believe, it registers as more of a mixed bag than anything else, though I could see it emerging as a future camp/cult classic in the years to come. Not without its virtues, but ultimately a middling experience for the uninitiated.

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X-Men: Apocalypse

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Being the longest running superhero franchise in recent memory, the X-Men series has seen the superhero sub-genre at both its highest and lowest points. It was there when comic book films were really just starting out and discovering themselves both tonally and aesthetically, along with Raimi’s Spider-Man films. And it was also there during the dark ages of dreck like The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But the X-series now continues to thrive whilst we’re still in the golden age of the comic book film. And following what was probably the most beloved entry in the series to date (I myself am partial to director Bryan Singer’s earlier X2: X-Men United, but Days of Future Past is pretty damn good as well), this latest entry – titled X-Men: Apocalypse – had quite a bit to live up to. While it ultimately doesn’t reach the heights of certain earlier X-Men films and bungles a bit of the potential set up in the first half, there’s still enough here to recommend for even most casual of film-goers.

The plot this time around sees our mutant antiheroes being pitted against what is believed to be the first mutant to ever walk the earth; an ancient being known as En Sabah Nur, who was trapped in a tomb at the end of his reign in ancient Egypt and laid in slumber until being awoken by plot-convenient cult members in the 1980’s. Once awoken, he recruits the most powerful mutants he can find in order to fulfill his grand scheme of (…any guesses?…) achieving world domination through causing global destruction and mass genocide of the human race. Because… comic book villain logic dictates it must be so.

One of the most appealing aspects of the X-Men film series has always been the ensemble cast, and fortunately X-Men: Apocalypse lives up to its potential here, at least for the most part. Returning cast members like James McAvoy as Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto don’t have much of anything new to do but as per usual give it their all and give their characters a reliable sense of gravitas. But the highlights of the casting herein are seeing formerly grown-up characters appearing as their younger selves, with Sophie Turner appearing as a young Jean Grey and Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, among other “brand new” additions to the cast. Also worth mentioning is Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, who once again has the most purely entertaining highlight in the entire film, perhaps even surpassing his bit part in Days of Future Past. I usually don’t say stuff like this, but it very well might be worth the price of admission just for seeing that one sequence alone, and those who’ve already seen the film will immediately know what I’m talking about.

Despite my having praised the ensemble earlier, I must now make a few caveats and point out the two outliers; firstly let’s deal with Jennifer Lawrence. Arguably the most famous and beloved actress under the age of thirty at the moment, she is a rare populist sensation with the actual talent to back it up (her Oscar was well deserved in this reviewer’s opinion), but holy shit did she not care at all that she was in this film. Seeing such an otherwise versatile and talented actress practically sleepwalk her way through what’s now three films into this freshly rebooted franchise is a truly remarkable spectacle for sure, but it makes any of the scenes she’s in very hard to take seriously, especially when she’s playing opposite people who are giving it their all.

I’m not convinced that when Apocalypse is choking Mystique in the final confrontation, she wasn’t just falling asleep, instead of slipping out of consciousness. And speaking of Oscar Isaac’s main baddie, all that’s really there to say with him is… “meh”. He serves his function well within the story and provides a much needed adversary to unite the X-Men. But as a standalone presence, he barely registers, which is disappointing considering the endlessly charismatic actor chosen to portray him. Plus, it’s really hard to take him seriously when Quicksilver is slapping him around like ragdoll in the final act.

With so many films in the X-Men series, it might be easy for non-fans to get lost amidst the continuity and not necessarily be able to tell each individual film apart; one way for each entry in the series to feel distinctive is to have a memorable villain to set it apart from the rest, and unfortunately Apocalypse falls short in this department. While I’ve already discussed Oscar Isaac’s acting, it also bears mentioning that his character’s function in the story and overall goal is flimsy to boot.

In fact, most of the plot in general feels pretty superfluous. The film works best when the characters are just hanging around and getting reacquainted with the audience in the first act (Jean and Cyclops’ budding romance, Apocalypse recruiting the four horsemen, Magneto’s tragic double life, etc). But when main plot finally kicks into gear at about an hour in, the story takes center stage over the assembled cast and one begins to notice how derivative of the past (read: actually good) films in the series this becomes, to say nothing of an absolutely pointless belated detour with an old fan favorite whose presence I hesitate to mention, despite a brief hint in the final trailer. Also, after Days of Future Past made so much progress with both the characters and story on a purely dramatic level, having yet another token “blow up world” plot just feels like major step backwards. The film also introduces some interesting historical Egyptian plot elements which are pretty much abandoned by the second act. Maybe it’s just the clashing off my childhood tastes being just too good to be true, but the possibility of seeing X-Men vs. The Mummy just sounded too awesome to ignore.

At the end of the day, X-Men: Apocalypse is worth seeing (warts and all) if it seems up your alley, but unfortunately doesn’t amount to a satisfying whole. It’s yet another film in a long line of recent Hollywood blockbusters that have a strong start but move towards a weak and unsatisfactory resolution, most likely due to unnecessary studio intervention compromising the vision of those behind the scenes (see alsoTomorrowland and Spectre for other recent examples). Hopefully the inevitable follow-up can stick the landing better, and fingers crossed for a more competent reboot of the Dark Phoenix saga.

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Money Monster

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Imagine, if you will, a screenplay written by Bernie Sanders (a scathing, bleeding heart indictment of greed and income inequality in modern America), directed by Hilary Clinton (presented in the most safe, generic presentation possible), and aimed at Donald Trump supporters (with its message spelled out as blatantly and with as little subtlety or nuance as humanly possible), and you’d have a pretty decent idea of what Money Monster is like. A well-meaning, nicely acted, and competently made but ultimately overwrought and heavy-handed message film more interested in pointing out the problem rather than offering up any appreciable solutions – or at least any that make sense and are actually possible in today’s world.

The setup is as follows: George Clooney plays a financial wiz with his own talk-show – from which the title of the film derives – who gives his audience members stock advice on a financial network. On one particular taping, the show takes a sudden turn for the unexpected when an armed gunman walks in on the proceedings and hijacks the entire program, planting a live bomb on Clooney and demanding that anyone tuning in listen to his plights – and from there things only get crazier and sillier as the film goes on. Julie Roberts co-stars as the director of the program and Jack O’Connell plays the gunman, in a more lowly sympathetic fashion rather than as a mere one-dimensional lunatic. And as far as acting goes, the main trio all fare well enough. Clooney and Roberts coast on their predictably consistent charm, providing gravitas even when the film is at its most unbelievable, but it’s O’Connell who gets the meatiest role here, once again turning in a pretty solid acting turn in some B-grade Hollywood cheese undeserving of his merits.

For all of Money Monster‘s aspirations of being a claustrophobic single-location thriller, it veers off into constant sideplots with reckless frequency. While the main plot centering in the television set manages to maintain interest throughout, the film for some reason constantly cuts away from the A-plot to this series of unnecessary subplots all the way until the end, and none of them really amount to much, other than padding out the runtime to feature length. Whereas the film starts out as a mostly effective potboiler trapped in one setting, that illusion is shattered each time it cuts away literally all across the globe, seeking to build up a banal mystery plot that has the most predictable of outcomes, and not just for those who had it ruined for them in the trailer. But things really come to a screeching halt in the third act where, without giving anything away, the proceedings begin to border on being satirical as the inevitable conclusion draws near; a tonal shift which might’ve actually worked, were it not immediately undercut by a forced tragic finish to the whole shindig. An admirable attempt at weight, but it’s just not pulled off well enough to stick the landing.

Arguably the most important component to this film is the underling message and how it’s being conveyed, which Money Monster unfortunately bungles for the most part. The film seeks to tackle similar subject matter to the recent awards favorite The Big Short, but does so without the self-deprecating sense of humor or stylistic energy to elevate it above an angry Youtube rant wrapped in a thinly veiled “single location” thriller plot. It’s great that you’re on the right (in this case, meaning correct) side of a certain political issue, but what else? Simply pointing out that there’s a problem and even identifying it is a fine start, but what matters most is where do you go from there? These are questions Money Monster simply doesn’t want to answer; or more damning, isn’t even capable of answering. Audience empathy can only carry you so far (in this case, the beginning of the second act), but there needs to be more meat to the story than just a half-assed attempt at politicizing your way into the viewers’ collective hearts. And it’s even more lazily handled when every major conflict herein comes down to a third-act reveal that it’s all the product of simply one bad guy doing one bad thing, all of which seems to be solved when he eats an admittedly well-deserved knuckle sandwich in the final reel.

At the end of the day, Money Monster is a pretty harmless diversion. The cast brings a certain level of credibility to the proceedings and when the film manages to stay on topic with the main plot it can get fairly interesting. But it’s so watered down with needless side stories and explaining its message in the most forced and direct manner that it squanders a lot of the potential. Yes, it sucks that billionaires all over the country are constantly screwing over the vast majority of everyday working-class citizens because of their own selfishness and greed. Tell me something I don’t already know.

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Far From Heaven

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Prior to last year’s lesbian romance Carol (another film that tackled taboo subject matter in a period setting whilst making an homage to the classic era melodrama director Douglas Sirk), director Todd Haynes first did so many years beforehand and with much greater success in the highly underrated Far from Heaven. More of a directly pointed update from the template laid by All That Heaven Allows than a general callback to the filmmaking sensibilities of the 1950’s, it takes on both subjects of interracial relationships and homosexual repression in ways that would’ve been unthinkable in the time period the film is set in. It offers all of these themes while wrapped up in a rather handsome spectacle, and remains Haynes’ strongest directorial outing thus far.

The film takes place in 1950’s suburban Connecticut and centers around a housewife named Cathy Whitaker (played wonderfully by Julianne Moore). On the surface, she appears to have the idyllic female lifestyle at the time; loving husband Frank (Dennis Quaid, in one of his best roles to date), two darling children, and a bountiful circle of friends all content with being stuck in the exact same scenario. But her meager small-town existence is soon upended when she befriends her African American gardener, a soft spoken and humble man named Raymond, played by State Farm commercial alumni Dennis Haysbert. While the two of them see no harm in engaging in a little fling on the side – especially when Cathy discovered that her hubby is a closeted homosexual that’s been seeing younger men on the side – their surrounding social groups don’t feel the same way, and everything begins to unravel around the pair, affecting both their lives in similarly destructive fashions.

From a purely visual standpoint, Far from Heaven is completely dazzling. Todd Haynes recalls the brilliant, vibrant Technicolor of Douglas Sirk’s heyday and evokes a bygone era of classical melodrama, made complete with a luscious and subtly melancholic score by Elmer Bernstein. Props to director of photography Edward Lachman (who Haynes also collaborated with on Carol) for enriching every frame of this film with a distinctive, but never distracting color palette adding both a richness to the proceedings, but also delving into another level of the self-referential “melodrama” elements at hand.

Apart from the more immediate pleasures of the pitch-perfect visuals and soundscape, Far from Heavenalso expands upon thematic elements that the likes of Douglas Sirk could have only ever hinted at over the course of their entire careers. All of this would be very well on its own, but modern deconstructions of the troubled societal norms of decades past have been commonplace in our culture for quite some time. What makes Far from Heaven special in this regard is the level of empathy and compassion offered towards the characters and their situations. The characters aren’t just props to get across some heavy-handed moral about tolerance and acceptance that a 21st century audience (hopefully) already agrees with – they’re real people dealing with real issues, and their struggles resonate a lot more due to the marriage of strong screenwriting and a talented ensemble cast, which allows for each major character to register as a real human being, and not mere plot devices existing only to deliver a message.

On the whole, Far from Heaven is an essential and criminally overlooked masterpiece of early 21st century filmmaking. As a pure cinematic exercise it fares extraordinarily well, but luckily it transcends mere empty homage and stands tall as a beautifully made and enormously moving experience. Plus, if a certain orange-haired, highly intolerant businessman wins the United States Presidency this coming November (God forbid), then expect its message of racial tolerance and equality to reach new heights of relevance and timeliness.

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