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Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Courageous Choices
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Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Courageous Choices

Gunshots and car chases don’t usually produce beauty. There may be touching scenes mixed in with the action – a child being saved or true loves being reunited – but these moments are mere respites rather than standalone products; the transition from relentlessness to the careful attention required for true beauty is simply too hard.

Mission Impossible: Fallout grappled with the quandary of a human life’s value: should individuals be disposable if that disposability saves a greater number of lives? If it’s really a certainty like press this button and kill a single person or press this other button and kill millions, the answer seems obvious. Life, though, is devoid of this level of certainty. Continue reading

Song to Song – Universal Needs
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Song to Song – Universal Needs

I need to rewatch Song to Song.

That thought filled my head as the film concluded. Song to Song was beautiful, immersive, intimate, moving, and yes, a little weird, in ways that few films are. Those facts alone are not enough to compel a rewatch. This one is: Song to Song contained themes that provided me that feeling that fuller absorption would teach something important about life.

So I rewatched and yup, that feeling was accurate.  Continue reading

The Way, Way Back – Solving Loneliness
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The Way, Way Back – Solving Loneliness

First get a handle on safety, hunger and health. Then deal with loneliness.

Because if you can solve loneliness after knocking out the first three, what more do you really need? “Love” you may say. “Meaning” you may say. “Purpose” you may say.

I say those are just manifestations of anti-loneliness. Take love for instance. Take a single moment. If you really, truly feel loved in that moment, can you feel lonely? I say “no.” Continue reading

Molly’s Game – Integrity is for Anyone
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Molly’s Game – Integrity is for Anyone

Endless entertainment is derived from watching people do things we wish we could do. In sports, it’s the physical things. In celebrity, it’s the aesthetic things. In art, it’s the creative things. And in business, it’s the bold things.

To the relief of viewers, an element of this wishing is guilt-free; one may long to jump like Lebron James, but it’s easy to console oneself with the correct logic that ‘Bron ‘Bron was bestowed with special gifts at birth that almost nobody else possesses. Continue reading

Bending the Arc – The Vitality of Emotional Decisions
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Bending the Arc – The Vitality of Emotional Decisions

Emotional decision-making (EDM) has become a pejorative in an era of efficiency and logic; in the quest for optimal, there is little room for something amorphous like “emotion.”

So we ridicule those, including ourselves, who make emotional decisions. As if possessed by a demon, we explain away errors with gosh I’m sorry that I wasn’t thinking – I was just being emotional. We react like these emotions aren’t “me,” and since they aren’t “me,” there is no control. Let’s be clear: this type of thinking and decision-making is worthy of condemnation. Continue reading

Call Me by Your Name – Pain > Nothing
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Call Me by Your Name – Pain > Nothing

English teachers everywhere rejoice! Somebody has fully absorbed the lesson of show, don’t tell. And that somebody is director Luca Guadagnino and the original writer André Aciman of Call Me by Your Name. 

Teenagers, and to a lesser extent all humans, occupy two competing spaces simultaneously. At once they want to discuss and figure out their extreme emotional states. At the same time, though, they want to project confidence and thus avoid vulnerable topics. To adult observers, this confidence is often seen as the thin veneer it is. Since these observations aren’t usually shared, the gap between how a teenager views himself and how the world views him can be quite large. Again, this is true for people of all ages, but teenagers are living with such unprecedented feelings that the peaks and valleys are greater than they will probably ever be. Continue reading

Coco – Why Family Matters
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Coco – Why Family Matters

Give us the colors (see below), the charm and a nicely packaged ending from a Pixar studio that is known for delivering important messages dressed down as kid’s films, and it’s so easy to get sucked in. Coco just said something meaningful about family.  Continue reading

Spider-Man: Homecoming – The Strong Logic Behind the Endless Run of Superhero Movies
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Spider-Man: Homecoming – The Strong Logic Behind the Endless Run of Superhero Movies

In certain respects, writing a love song is harder than writing a song about trash collection. So much has already been said about love that there’s a vanishingly small chance of saying or doing something truly original. This invites a level of expectation – love songs give me goosebumps – and comparison – that song was good, but not as good as that other love song – that challenges the most talented of artists. Continue reading

The Florida Project – The Truth About Disney Endings
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The Florida Project – The Truth About Disney Endings

Mooney was the funniest character I’ve encountered in 2017. For the first half of The Floria Project I laughed in every scene. That’s really not an exaggeration. Mooney so confidently captured the whimsical innocence of childhood summers that her lawlessness was charming instead of disturbing. Unfortunately, that would not last (see CRY below). Continue reading

The Big Sick – Stand for Something
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The Big Sick – Stand for Something

There he is. The most racist, despicable man you can imagine. You want to say something. You have to say something.

Instead, you wait to act and continue eavesdropping on his conversation:  “You will break up with him immediately. I never want to see you with him ever again. I give you a lot of freedom Catherine, but bringing a black boy around here is unacceptable.” Continue reading

Operator – It’s Fair to Question
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Operator – It’s Fair to Question

There are things other people know that you will never be able to truly know. This reality suggests caution, even silence, for any unknowers considering challenges to the knowers.

But we can’t help ourselves. You see that co-worker hobbling a little less than you imagine someone with a broken ankle should be hobbling, and your mind races to theorize that the “broken ankle” is a lame excuse to get out of work.

If you express these feelings publicly, you’ll surely be met with what appears to be an impenetrable defense: “You can’t know how I feel. I’m in so much pain. You’d never understand.” Continue reading

The Seeker – Peace Through Acceptance
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The Seeker – Peace Through Acceptance

They say the first part of solving a problem is identifying it. Unfortunately, “they” are proving to be quite incorrect when it comes to everyday mental struggle.

There is no shortage of people who accurately and eloquently enumerate the ways in which the voices-in-your-head lead to stress. Here’s the band Cloud Cult, the creators behind The Seeker, enumerating these ways in “Room Full of People in Your Head”: Continue reading

Spring Breakers – Escaping Escapism
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Spring Breakers – Escaping Escapism

Barring some sort of apocalypse, the day is coming when virtual reality will be more compelling than reality; when you only ever exit a fake world for food and sleep.

This already happens in a lesser form as millions of people spend millions of hours locked inside the current iteration of video games.

This seems bad. Certainly to the adults who beseech their children to “go get some fresh air,” and even to the gamers who experience social consequences from the habit. If given the choice between success in the “real world” and success in a video game, I can’t imagine many would choose the latter. Continue reading

Moonlight – Where Have All The Fathers Gone?
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Moonlight – Where Have All The Fathers Gone?

Focus on what’s controllable. It’s good advice for life. It’s also good advice for artists hoping to stir inspiration in an audience.

That’s why so much art that covers the great disparity between blacks and whites in America focuses on drugs, crime, education and discrimination (DCED). The audience simultaneously feels terrible about the situation while being led to believe it’s not entirely hopeless. Inspiration hits as one’s thoughts are consumed with all the ways the situation can be less terrible.  Drug policy can be changed. Mandatory minimums can be adjusted. We can pour more money into inner-city schools and staff them with talented teachers. Yea. Yea. Yea. And we can all be more aware of our racial biases and shift them. Continue reading

One and Not Done – Debates That Shouldn’t Exist
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One and Not Done – Debates That Shouldn’t Exist

There are debates that persist because smart, well-intentioned people exist on both sides. These debates are useful in a world that strives to progress.

Then there are the debates that persist because one side cares more about institutions than freedom and will fight against logic just to preserve power. These debates are most annoying because no debate should be necessary – we already know the correct answer. Continue reading

Arrival – Full Comprehension Not Necessary
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Arrival – Full Comprehension Not Necessary

THINK

Art in its best form makes you work. In this form the work is joy-filled, even if obtaining answers is hard. Even if obtaining concrete answers never actually happens.

Lesser forms of art will still create work, but it only inspires annoyance and frustration.

Ending up on the right side of this delicate balance is a storyteller’s great challenge. Success is found by building trust with an audience. Just as trusting that a better diet will yield a better figure motivates one to put in diet “work,” if an audience trusts that thinking hard about a movie will result in a worthwhile payoff, movie “work” is worth pursuing. Continue reading

Logan – Moral Incompetence
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Logan – Moral Incompetence

I totally get why someone would choose to kill 1000 innocent lives instead of the life of a single loved one. But at the earliest opportunity, that someone should be killed.

Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men in Logan are this morally compromised someone. I get why they aren’t presented as evil, but could we get just a little gray area? Even as Professor X injures hundreds in Las Vegas due to a mind that has been correctly classified as a WMD? Why, again, are we cheering for these mutants? If only there was an Uncle Ben appearance to remind them what comes with great power.
Continue reading

Becoming Warren Buffett – Being Better Than Jesus
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Becoming Warren Buffett – Being Better Than Jesus

Jesus is problematic for many reasons. One of those reasons is that they didn’t stop at “Jesus.” By adding “Christ,” by intentionally making him a human deity, falling short of his standard became entirely defensible. Where there are few substantial excuses for failing to live up to a role model of similar likeness, a sibling for instance, there are endless excuses for failing to live up to a god. Continue reading

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Searching for Bobby Fischer

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 CRY

It’s hard to imagine that any parent wouldn’t want it to happen. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard when it actually does happen – when a child becomes smarter, stronger, faster and/or better than the parent. Continue reading

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

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CRY

It’s nice to not be fed some unrealistic redemption story. Some people can’t get over death. Some people can’t get over unconscionable mistakes. But given films like Manchester by the Sea as the alternative to a Disney ending, it’s easy to see why most filmmakers choose the Disney route. Continue reading

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

   

THINK

Star Wars films aren’t supposed to make you think. That’s the beauty of them – the greatest question in each film is who will win the battle of good v evil? You could argue that good won in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi and Continue reading

La La Land

La La Land

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THINK

It was there for the taking. Greatness and chasing dreams are topics worthy of nearly endless thought, and given that La La Land was about these very topics, a THINK was all but assured.

Then it never happened. Yes, the acting was great. Yes, it was all a lot of fun. No, La La Land didn’t offer new takes on “trying to make it” or even offer a different perspective from what is so often conveyed in these types of movies: just work harder and you’ll succeed. Continue reading

The Edge of Seventeen

The Edge of Seventeen

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LAUGH

The Edge of Seventeen  falls far short of the standard set by recent coming-of-age stories that were actually enjoyable.

Did it still bring some laughs? Yea, yea it did. But don’t give any of that credit to the protagonist Nadine who was a realistic portrayal of an annoying, unlikable high schooler – annoying, unlikable high schoolers aren’t funny. Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge

  

THINK

Sometimes the way you view a movie depends on factors other than the quality of the film itself. Like a reboot that didn’t live up to its predecessor (see Ghostbusters) or a director who was accused of a crime years before his film is released and it tanks because of that (see Birth of a Nation). It’s hard to watch Tom Cruise now and not think he’s crazy, or see an old film with suble racist undertones and not look at it different in today’s social climate. I try my best to look at a film for what’s on screen, but I do have predilections for certain directors, and – surprisingly – one that I always give the benefit of the doubt is Mel Gibson. Surprisingly because I’m Jewish and he’s said some nasty things about my culture, but like any movie fan, I believe in comeback stories. Continue reading

Demolition

Demolition

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THINK

While some may find certain plot devices in Demolition as striving too hard to say something grand, they all seemed quite realistic to me, and the film, in fact, accomplished a certain grandness as a result.

There simply shouldn’t be a “realistic” response to death. It’s relatively rare, unpredictable and enormously significant – getting “reps” dealing with it are some of the hardest and least desirable reps to obtain. Continue reading

Fantastic Lies

Fantastic Lies

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THINK

The sneaky contender for the most outrageous political comment of the year comes not from any of the current suspects (i.e. everyone running for President), but rather from someone supporting one of those “progressive” suspects with the most anti-progressive message possible:

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
Continue reading

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane

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 CRY

We knew from the beginning that thinking, laughing and crying could not fully capture the vastness of human emotion. For the most part, though, movies have fit quite snugly into the intentionally broad categories. This is not one of those times. Continue reading

The Big Short

The Big Short

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THINK

We humans would never want to admit it, but there is a powerful internal craving that guides our actions in direct contradiction to our stated desires.

Freedom is great. Independence is great. Authority is bad. From the earliest of ages, these are the types of simplistic overarching philosophies which encounter very little disagreement.

The kids who rebelled against teachers and parents (i.e. authority) were the cool kids. And even those who did follow orders were still encouraged to always “think outside the box.”

This hierarchy – where dependency is clearly at the bottom – is only further reinforced with age. After all, “being your own boss” is seen as the pinnacle of work setups. Continue reading

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

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THINK

Inspiring wonder is worth something. By making someone say, “How is that possible?” you broaden that person’s belief about what is possible; when possibility is expanded, growth ensues. And when enough individuals in a society possess a growth mindset, the probability of an exciting future increases.

The young Frank Walker succinctly made this point at the start of Tomorrowland, and the rest of the film followed from this core point. Continue reading

Spotlight

Spotlight

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THINK

Inertia is so powerful. The status quo is so powerful. Somewhat obviously, the more entrenched both of these forces are, the harder it is to change. In a certain way, those arguing against a large government are fighting against this reality. In no uncertain way, those arguing for the lean startup culture as opposed to huge corporations are aware of how frighteningly immune big things are to evolution.

Considering that we are living on a dynamic planet inhabited by dynamic individuals, we need our institutions, governments and our corporations to be adaptable. Continue reading

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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THINK

An hour before watching Me and Earl and the Dying Girl I was at a high school pep rally. Sitting in the stands watching the pep rally’s disorganization unfold, I was thrust into full-on nostalgia/reflection mode. So I was perfectly primed for this film which was about high school students.

It has to be considered one of the most fruitless endeavors we all attempt. Just hang around high school for a day and you’ll see it happen: people with perspective trying to give others that same perspective. Continue reading

Dope

Dope

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THINK

I have a suspicion I just can’t shake; a suspicion that the generic and cartoonish aspects of this film (i.e. almost the entire middle section) were somehow a brilliantly strategic way to emphasize the thesis.

Dope did contain a genuinely thought-provoking thesis worthy of emphasis. It was encapsulated in a useful thought-exercise: if trying to judge whether a garment is fake, you don’t actually examine the garment, you merely examine the person wearing it. Continue reading

We Are Blood

We Are Blood

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CRY

It’s become fairly common for a little pre-movie muscle flexing at modern theaters. The sound system will run through some tricks before revealing that you are in the presence of Dolby or THX or some other hyper-modern sound equipment. The IMAX theaters are usually the best, but even those flexes rarely elicit much response from the audience. Continue reading

The End of Tour

The End of Tour

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THINK

The End of Tour seemed to be filled with so many important conversations. Strangely, most of them didn’t deliver for me. I am familiar with many of David Foster Wallace’s (DFW) philosophies so that could explain it. I still enjoyed hearing them, I just wasn’t forced to think.

Television and humility came the closest. Continue reading

Inside Out

Inside Out

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THINK

I recently became partially convinced that I would never really be sad. Sometimes I’ve even longed for tragedy to strike just so I could test this theory. I’m still waiting since nothing really bad has ever happened to me. Part of this is the truth of my privileged life and part of it is my ability to avoid perpetual states of self-pity. I have come to view this as a gift, a gift which I was given through the luck of genes and environment. Continue reading