Screened Out – Fences

By : Stephen Miller
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Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo, Stephen Henderson

If we’re to believe his stories, Troy Maxson could’ve been one of the greatest American baseball players ever. Unfortunately, he was born to early, and he had to play the Negro League, while white players stirred people’s praise. Sports segregation laws stole Troy’s glory from him.

By the 1950s, Troy is an old, bitter Pittsburg garbage man. So, he can only watch as younger men capture fame and break down racial bias. Sure, Troy has a dutiful wife, a loyal best friend, and a son who only wants his father’s approval and love.

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Screened Out – Hacksaw Ridge

By : Stephen Miller
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Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington

Continuing my coverage of the Oscar-nominated…

Let us forget for a moment that director Mel Gibson hates “Jews” and other minorities. Let’s talk about his oeuvre as a whole. Wow, Mel sure LOVES his violent films where one moral person stands against prevailing culture. Braveheart, Apocalypto, and especially The Passion of the Christ – all thoroughly bloody and with a martyr as the hero.

Hacksaw Ridge continues that. In fact, this might be the bloodiest, goriest WWII ever made (putting the first minute of Saving Private Ryan to shame). And yet right in the center is an unflappable hero standing up against the world for what he believes in.

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Screened Out – Moonlight

By : Stephen Miller
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Alex R. Hibbert, Naomi Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monaé, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Trevante Rhodes

The small and gritty Moonlight is a film that every LGBT and ally should see. Because it’s an eye-opener. This movie utilizes three periods in a life to tell the story of a poor, young, black man trying to negotiate his sexuality in the drug-infested streets of Miami. Because of this, Moonlight is that gorgeous type of film that shows us the universal struggles by being very specific to its characters, their lives, and their personal battles.

Everything is suffused with a painful sense of realism.

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Screened Out – Manchester by the Sea

By : Stephen Miller
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Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, C.J. Wilson

It’s an extraordinarily rare gift when a film is so beautifully, so honestly acted. Tragic things may happen – and a heaping lot of tragedy strikes Manchester by the Sea. Yet the film fills us with joy.

We watch damaged humans do silly and honest things. And then we say to ourselves, “Ah, yes, that’s exactly what would happen.”

There’s no doubt that Manchester deserves its Oscar nominations for picture, director, writer, actor, supporting actor, and supporting actress.

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Screened Out – The Founder

By : Stephen Miller
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Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini

I have friends who are boycotting The Founder – the movie about American businessman Ray Kroc – because they hate McDonalds and all it stands for. That’s sort of like boycotting Schindler’s List because you think the Holocaust was bad.

McDonalds isn’t making any money off of this lightly comic flick about their less-than-reputable owner. And it’s not like Micky D’s is going to offer Happy Meal toys and collectible cups based on The Founder.

Although, now I’ve typed that, I wish they would.

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Screened Out – Live by Night

By : Stephen Miller
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Ben Affleck, Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson

It’s difficult to imagine anyone would want to watch Live by Night twice. In the middle, I found I didn’t want to watch it even once. I checked my watch four times.

Oh, sure, the sepia tones were pretty for a little while. Then all the tans started to remind me of tepid, badly cooked oatmeal – lumpy and dull, like this flick.

By dull, I mean this is a stereotypical 1930s crime film, abetted by being ponderous and meandering. The characters are also boringly beige; the lead character is completely indecipherable. The only good news is that it’s easy to nitpick minor flaws while you’re waiting for something interesting to happen.

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Screened Out – Hidden Figures

By : Stephen Miller
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Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons

The three black women at the center of this true story broke new ground. This biopic itself doesn’t.

Instead, Hidden Figures tells its tale with standard structure, arcs, and pacing. But it does it so well! The acting is phenomenal, the scenes are tight and relevant, the photography is sumptuous, and the art direction is joyous. This means the movie is simply a pleasure to watch.

So what if the plot never sends us into orbit. It’s still a well-made film.

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Screened Out – A Monster Calls

By : Stephen Miller
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Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, voice of Liam Neeson

Though there are certainly arresting, memorable moments, it’s difficult to understand who A Monster Calls is for. It’s certainly not a film I could imagine anyone wanting to watch repeatedly.

Conor, an English child (MacDougall), is witnessing his mother (Jones) slowly, painfully succumb to cancer. As a result, his grief leaves him damaged, unable to cope with a steely grandmother (Weaver), a mostly absent dad (Kebbell), and a few psychopathic bullies.

A Monster Calls is a special effects dream. It’s also a dark, dense, overwhelmingly depressing fairy tale with no moral. “Jump in the car, kiddies! We’re going to the movies! Be prepared to bawl your eyes out!”

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Screened Out – Lion

By : Stephen Miller
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Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar

Many serious cinema fans turn their noses at more emotional films. They want to see art devoid of manipulation, and they distrust anything that pushes buttons.

Let’s not go into the fact that all art is made to elicit reaction.

Because most of us love to go to the movie to feel. We marvel at the artists’ ability to work together to create empathy, rage, joy, and sadness in the hearts of even the most petrified of audiences.

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Screened Out – La La Land

By : Stephen Miller
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Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Do-It-Yourself indie films and high-polish Hollywood musicals don’t seem to fit together. And if fact, there are some brief points in La La Land that don’t quite sing. Yet, as a whole, this small, modern throwback to Hollywood’s heyday is delightful. It reminds us that miracles can still happen, even in the simplest films.

And it doesn’t hurt that La La Land has the imitable and immutable charm of Gosling and Stone together in another love story (after the cute Crazy Stupid Love and the duller Gangster Land). Their singing may be a little windy and wispy – no full-throated Merman-like belting here. However, their chemistry is undeniable.

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Screened Out – Arrival

By : Stephen Miller
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Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker

If the careful, beautiful film Arrival finds a wide audience, it says more people want well-made intellectual mind-benders. This is smart science fiction, built for deep discussion. Finally, it shows us something about the power of learning someone else’s language.

Is that courage to explore completely foreign viewpoints something Americans need to hear right now, where anyone “alien” to us is considered a threat? I’ll leave that decision up to you.

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Screened Out – Dr. Strange

By : Stephen Miller
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Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen

Movies area visual medium, and few movies take full, beautiful advantage of that like Dr. Strange. It’s a spacy, hallucinogenic head-trip worthy of repeated viewing just to take it all in. This new Marvel comic movie also boasts some great actors truly committing to their characters.

However, what it lacks – and it seems a shame to complain about this in a comic book movie – is real emotional punch. When an arrogant man loses his career and, quite possibly, the love of his life, we should feel more. We should feel his devastation. Though this man searches for redemption in the spiritual arts, Dr. Strange doesn’t really have a lot of spirit.

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