A simple, unwritten rule of this organization holds that a "request" from the editor shall not go un-granted. For the uninitiated, the editor is a fearsome figure: "dictate" or "directive" or "command one would use in training a canine" might be more accurate in context. So when word came down that the editor would like/insists upon a year-end review of entertainments not taken in-theater, I was, of course, more than happy to comply.
BABY COBRA. With the proliferation of stable streaming platforms, cash-rich production and distribution organs, and an unprecedented number of eyes on screens, online services have fostered a golden age of stand-up comedy. In 2016 we saw the release of new Netflix specials by David Cross and Patton Oswalt, both veterans by now, go-to guys for a certain type of fan. Each produced an hour of pointed, engaging material, but the one I keep returning to, perhaps my favorite entertainment of the year, bar none, is Ali Wong's Baby Cobra, also on Netflix. Wong, seven-and-a-half months pregnant, presents a wildly profane, perfectly timed, starkly self-aware hour examining her ambitions (and lack thereof), promiscuity, marriage, racism and hatred of office bathrooms. She's tiny and fearless and dominates the stage with a presence that is unlike anyone else's. This special alone could be considered a formidable body of work but hopefully it only indicates the beginning of a formidable career. (My wife doesn't love stand-up like I do but I have rarely seen her laugh so hard.)
HORACE AND PETE. Louis C.K.'s FX series Louie, representing the man's singular sense of absurdist-realism, won a bunch of awards and is on indefinite hiatus. In the meantime, C.K. was secretly putting together Horace and Pete, a devastating tragedy somewhat in the style of early television drama. Personally financed and released through C.K's website, Horace and Pete explores the lives of Horace (C.K.) and Pete (Steve Buscemi), proprietors of a hole-in-the-wall bar. Shot on a soundstage with multiple cameras, the 10-episode series has some of the nervous energy of a stage play, overlaid with the intentionality, the lightning in a bottle distillation of live television done exceptionally well. It features writing of an intimacy and clarity unparalleled this year, and the ensemble (also featuring Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange and a host of others in standout cameos) could reasonably be called perfect. The $31 you will spend on this is not only an investment in a work of art; it might actually help the artist recoup what he spent making it for us.
O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA. ESPN's curated series 30 for 30 has produced a number of fascinating short-form sports documentaries but I did not expect it to foster an eight-hour treatise on race in America that may well rank among the best movies ever made. Ezra Edelman's O.J.: Made in America played on television in five parts, saw a limited theatrical release to qualify for awards consideration and is available on the Hulu streaming service. Using an ornately detailed portrait of Simpson as its initial focal point, Made in America then widens its perspective, delicately laying in background about race, the criminal justice system, celebrity and violence. The end result is an eminently watchable analysis of a famous man, a famous trial, and a great swath of 20th century American culture. Profoundly frustrating, satisfying and disturbing all at once, it exists among those rare documentaries that are so well assembled, so deeply researched and focused, that they seem to have simply emerged fully formed.
DEPALMA, also a documentary but by any other measure completely dissimilar, examines the director's canon through the course of a conversation. DePalma speaks plainly and with great clarity about his own movies, addressing directors Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach, who remain unseen behind the camera. I've criticized DePalma's movies, some of which I still maintain are over-praised. But I have to admit, especially with this simply and effectively presented survey as evidence, that he is a curious, inventive, versatile storyteller for whom everything must be in service of the story. I can get with that. And while I still might think that Scarface is derailed by its overbearing soundtrack, or that the Odessa Steps sequence in The Untouchables is a bit much, I now have a greater understanding appreciation of each the work of a master craftsman.
GREEN ROOM. Just as DePalma was released theatrically in other corners and is available via Amazon Prime, so, too, was Green Room, the latest horror-thriller from Jeremy Saulnier. His breakout indie feature, Blue Ruin (2013) suffers slightly from a surfeit of accolades but it does deserve credit for carrying off a bloody vengeance tale with style, gravity and no budget. The success and attention of that movie landed Saulnier in a rare position: enough money and freedom to make the movie he wanted, not enough to make him anybody's liability. Green Room capitalizes on the visual promise and authentic violence of Blue Ruin, but refines the storytelling and pacing. When musicians The Ain't Rights find their fledgling tour running out of gas, they seize on the opportunity to play a hardcore club in the woods of Oregon. Of course, the club is a white supremacist stronghold and the band sees something they shouldn't have, which forces them into a tense, vicious fight for their lives. Anton Yelchin (R.I.P) and Imogen Poots star opposite a stern, sinister Patrick Stewart.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ARRIVAL. Denis Villeneuve's movie about scholars and soldiers coping with visiting aliens is exquisitely crafted and acted. Starring Amy Adams. PG13. 116m. MINOR.
ASSASSIN'S CREED. Michael Fassbender stars as a con who's forced to channel his hit-man ancestors in this video game adaptation. PG13. 115m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
CHRISTINE. Based on the grim on-air suicide of a Florida TV news reporter (Rebecca Hall). R. 119m. MINIPLEX.
COLLATERAL BEAUTY. Will Smith plays a grieving man writing to Love, Death and Fate in this mess of sentimentality and quasi-philosophy. PG13. 97m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FENCES. Denzel Washington directs and stars as a father raising a family amid the tumult and racism of the 1950s. PG13. 139m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HANDMAIDEN. A young woman on the grift in Japanese-occupied Korea poses as a servant and gets involved with the woman she's supposed to con. Starring Tae-ri Kim. NR. 144m. MINIPLEX.
HARRY AND SNOWMAN. Documentary about a man who turns a busted farm horse into a champion show jumper. NR. 84m. MINIPLEX.
LION. A man tries to find his long-lost home and family in India. PG13. 118m. BROADWAY.
THE LOVE WITCH. Arcata-filmed retro comedy-horror with a witch looking for love in all the wrong potions. PG13. 120m. MINIPLEX.
LOVING. Ruth Negga and Will Dalton star as the married couple who took Virginia's anti-miscegenation law to the Supreme Court in 1967. PG13. 123m. MINOR.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. A man with a past (Casey Affleck, fittingly) returns to his hometown to look after his dead brother's kid. With Michelle Williams. R. 137m. MINOR.
MOANA. A young navigator (Auli'I Cravalho) enlists the reluctant aid of a demigod (Dwayne Johnson) to save her home in this Disney animated feature. PG. 113m. BROADWAY.
MOONLIGHT. Small, powerful moments yield hope in this three-part coming-of-age-and-beyond story. Starring Mahershala Ali. PG13. 111m. MINOR.
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY. Like those parties, a raucous beginning, loose middle and mushy end. R. 105m. BROADWAY.
PASSENGERS. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt play space travelers who wake too early in the flight and find themselves in trouble. PG13. 130m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. This Death Star-era prequel features character complexity, a stellar cast, impeccably choreographed battles, good jokes and the best droid yet. PG13. 113m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SING. A koala trying to save his theater holds a singing competition with a menagerie of hopefuls in this animated musical. PG. 108m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.
WHY HIM? Bryan Cranston plays a father out to oust his daughter's (Zoey Deutch) wildly inappropriate boyfriend (James Franco). R. 111m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill