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Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

How much can be said about Crawl, really? It’s so straightforward, such a to-the-point thriller, really all you need to know to decide whether it’s worth watching is the premise: a young adult woman (Kaya Scodelario) and her dad (Barry Pepper) are stranded by giant alligators in the crawlspace under a house during a Florida hurricane. And even though I usually avoid cornball thrillers, I saw that and I was like, “Sold!”

Well, okay, I didn’t exactly put it at the top of my priority list — this movie opened a month ago and I only saw it this week due to a lack of better options. But hey, when there’s nothing better around to see, it works great! Also, to be perfectly honest, I would absolutely recommend it to any person I know with lowbrow tastes. I don’t even say that derisively — plenty of lowbrow entertainment is worthy. And this director, Alexandre Aja, does it well. At least he did this one well; I haven’t seen anything else he’s done. The Hills Have Eyes? Piranha 3D? Don’t waste my time!

You might think I’m being a little inconsistent here. You might be right. But! As it happens, Jaws is among my all-time favorite movies, and this is essentially Jaws with alligators. Of course, Jaws is a masterpiece and Crawl is . . . not. The impressive thing about Crawl is how it manages not to be total trash either. Perhaps it needs to be seen to be believed, considering it basically mashes up the killer-animal-thriller genre with the natural disaster genre. Why didn’t they call this Hurrigator, anyway? I’ll tell you why: because it actually isn’t trash!

Sure, the script, by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, is slightly corny at times. For a movie of this sort, the corniness being only slight is a massive compliment, considering how very much worse it could have been. The story beats are well polished, and clocking in at a tight 87 minutes with impressively paced suspense throughout, this movie never even flirts with being boring. A $13.5 million budget is not exactly huge, and they spend it well, with special effects that won’t blow you away but are still impressive given their clear limitations.

For what it is and what it promises to be, Crawl has few particular flaws, and whatever flaws it has are minor. It’s a thriller that delivers on the thrills. I suppose it’s easy to have a “take it or leave it” approach to the subplot regarding the estrangement of this father and daughter due to his being an overbearing swim coach. But can you guess whether that swimming skill winds up coming in handy?

A good majority of the film features only these two characters — the names of the two actors who play them being the only ones above the title in the opening credits. Sporadically other characters come into play — most notably local law enforcement directing traffic or doing rescue work, and a trio of looters in a convenience store across the flooded street. You can go ahead and just regard all of these characters as expendable. A few of them meet some quite entertainingly gruesome fates. There’s a dog too, of course, and just don’t worry your pretty little head over him. That said, I did kind of wish this movie would buck convention and just end with the gators having actually eaten everyone. I would have loved that.

Instead, of course, Crawl follows a pretty tried and true formula. A movie can still be good while following a formula, though. With something like this, it’s basically the trappings that matter. How realistic it is doesn’t even matter. What matters is how well executed the story is onscreen, and that’s where Crawl surprises. I spent half this movie with my fingers over my eyes, and I also had a blast. What more do you need?

Overall: B+

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Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

You could barely say Sword of Trust had a script that was “written” — the cast was merely given a basic outline of the story, presumably with its pertinent plot points, and then they were left to improvise all the lines. That leaves this film more of a feat of editing than anything else, really. One wonders what other, completely different movies could have been cut together with the unused footage.

This approach is a departure for director Lynn Shelton, who has a history of sensitive handling of potentially problematic premises:Reebok Women's Realflex Athletic Lite MT Running shoesGant - Krista - 16579394G69 Humpday (2009); AVENBER Women Mid Calf Boots Slim Knitting Stretch Breathable Winter Thin High Heel Pointed Toe Slip-On Short Plush Rubber shoes (2012); Nine Seven Women's Suede Leather Pointed Toe Chunky Heel Handmade Glossy and Comfortable Spring Sandal shoes (2017). Shelton’s past films have generally been dramas, in some cases dramedies, but Sword of Trust, in which she hands off the task of dialogue to a quartet of skilled comic actors, is the first I have seen that is a straightforward comedy. Her other films have been serious stories with funny stuff in them; this one is a funny story with serious subtexts.

I won’t mislead, you, though — I would not call Sword of Trust “uproarious.” I would call it . . . consistently funny. Certainly a worthwhile amusement. You won’t be laughing your ass off, but you will find yourself entertained.

The main cast of four is mostly focused on Mel, the Birmingham, Alabama pawn shop owner played by Marc Maron, in his first lead role in a feature film. Maron’s and Shelton’s professional relationship has developed rather organically over the past few years, after she appeared on his WTF with Marc Maron podcast in 2015. She directed a couple episodes of his quasi-autobiographical show Maron in 2016; then directed his Too Real comedy special in 2017. Turns out, they work quite well together, as Sword of Trust best illustrates.

Seasoned comics have to be good at improvising, adapting material to sometimes unpredictable circumstances, and Maron is up to the task. The same goes for the others in the film with him: John Bass as Nathaniel, his gullible pawn shop employee; and Michaela Watkins and Jillian Bell as lesbian couple Mary and Cynthia, who come into the shop looking to sell a Civil War-era sword willed to Cynthia by her grandfather.

Where things get interesting is the personal letter written to Cynthia by her grandfather apparently during his last years when his mind was going, given all the details of the sword’s supposed story that he is inconsistent about; and the supposed “authenticating documents” accompanying it. The claim is that the documents “prove” the South actually won the Civil War, thereby increasing the artifact’s value.Kiara shoes Brown Suede Sandals with Ankle Strap - G703-CAM-CUOIOSexy Middle Heels Metal Rivets Motorcycle Boots Lace-Up Autumn Leather Martin Ankle Boots for Women

Never mind the preposterousness of such a claim. Are we all living in some alternate reality today where the Southern states are the poorest and least educated, then? But as Sword of Trust shows, rational thinking is never the purview of people with such beliefs, as Nathanial illustrates with his “convincing” evidence that the Earth is flat.

That aside, after some tentative approaches to each other, in the end Mel, Mary and Cynthia all decide to work together on selling the sword to the highest bidder. What follows is a sort of low-rent, American South version of “secret society” shenanigans, including a moving truck ride to an undisclosed location in the country to meet the buyer (played by a perfectly cast Dan Bakkedahl).

And although directed by Lynn Shelton and co-written by her and Mike O’Brien, Sword of Trust has Maron’s DNA all over it, starting with the entire score being credited to him, snippets of his blues guitar riffing just like those he does to close out his podcast episodes. They are a perfect match for this story, as it turns out. A lot of character details come lifted directly from his own life, as well: a Jewish guy originally from New Mexico; a recovering alcoholic now sober for many years. A minor subplot involves an ex girlfriend still struggling to stay off drugs who keeps coming around asking for loans, played by Shelton herself.VANELi Womens Dollie Closed Toe Ankle Fashion Boots, Tmgold Nabuck, Size 8.0Demonia Womens Venom-110 Ankle Boot

Movies so reliant on improvisation rarely work as well as Sword of Trust does. I find myself wondering who cut the trailer to this movie, because it is clearly not the same person who cut the movie itself. The trailer sets up expectations that are, if not exactly low, are midlevel at best. The film itself creates a solid story that features dialogue that doesn’t feel improvised. There is both a consistency and a depth to these characters that indicates a high level of talent and skill for all involved. It just works, in a way storytelling on an improv stage never does. That is arguably faint praise, but this is still a group of artists and entertainers at the top of their game.

Who would you trust with your sword?

Overall: B+

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Directing: A
Writing: A
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A

Here I am, writing a review of a movie about a massively well-known, globally respected novelist whose books I have never read. Not a single one of them.

What I can still tell you with authority is that the film, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, is excellent. Some might even call it perfection. If not perfection, then certainly revelatory. I don’t think I have ever watched a movie before that made me think, Why the fuck have I never read any of her books? We all have cultural blind spots; I won’t exactly feel bad about that. I will still acknowledge this is a big one for me.

Also: reading the work of a brilliant author is one thing. Getting to know her as a uniquely self-actualized person is quite another — so much as can be done in a two-hour run time, anyway. Morrison is a strikingly intelligent woman, clearly as sharp as she’s ever been, at her current age of 88 years. I wonder how much of that is just practice, decades of exercising the muscles of her intellect? She talks about how she is “smartest” in the early morning hours, and has little interest or ability in writing after noon. Keeping that up must be a great exercise. PAOLINA PEREZ Oxfords-shoes Womens Leather BlackMET RXL Bullock shoes in Spring Thicken Platform shoes Lace Casual shoes Lady Deep Mouth shoes

One need not have read her work to see how, when Toni Morrison leaves this earth, a great void will be left in her wake — and yet, in contrast to many other people for whom the same could be said, that void will be largely mitigated by her body of work, which is widely beloved (no pun intended).

Morrison, having sat down for multiple long interviews for this film, proves to be a dynamic screen presence. She only has to sit and speak, and she commands attention, all confidence, sincerity and warmth in equal measure, someone quick to express joy while at the same time capable of tapping into deep wells of pain. This is a woman who lacks humility only because she doesn’t need it. There is no particular arrogance in her demeanor; she simply sits comfortably in the knowledge of her skill and talent. She even says in an archived interview from the time of her 1993 win for the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature, “I’m a good writer.” It’s impossible to resent that level of ease of self. Would that more people learned from how she leads by example. The world would be full of happier people.OTBT Women's Sellwood Slip-On shoes Electric blueeCole Haan Womens Zerogrand Stitchlite Oxford Oxford

Watching this movie felt like having my mind cracked open. Admittedly, it did occur to me how naive it could be to allow such grandiose impressions of a person to be made by just one movie, which can easily be edited to make anyone seem in countless ways different than they actually are. Still, it’s easy to trust this impression. The singular energy emitted by Morrison onscreen is not easily faked, and many archival clips reveal it to have been consistent.

As for potential interest in her body of work examined by the film, there is something to be said for the notion of greater specificity evoking greater universality of feeling and empathy. Plenty of widely respected friends and associates are also interviewed (Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz, Russell Banks, Oprah Winfrey, and several others), they come from varied backgrounds, and Morrison’s unprecedented narrative focus on black women in fiction moved them all in equal measure.

And it’s not like I had never heard of Tori Morrison, mind you. I can still remember when the movie adaptation of the novel Beloved became Oprah Winfrey’s passion project in the late nineties, more than a decade after the book’s initial publication. I actually did see that movie, and I recall easily imagining how the novel was likely the better medium for such a story. A novel, by all accounts beautifully written, could never have the distraction of an actor far too famous to disappear into any role.

There is no doubt in my mind that Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am will delight fans of the novelist — who, I learned from this film, spent the years spanning the publication of her first few books also working full time as an editor at a publishing house, promoting the works of other black women (including the autobiography of Angela Davis), while also raising two sons on her own. Based on my personal experience, it’s just as affecting to those who have never read anything by her, and will render them eager to start. All I have left to decide is which of her novels I should begin with.High Heels Sandals Women Bride Ladies Girls Modern Design Buckle Classic Court shoes Stiletto Heel Pumps,EU46,Red,EU46XZ Women's shoes - Autumn and Winter Laces Martin Boots Heightening Warm Boots Flat Boots 35-43

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An extraordinary woman with an enduring talent.

Overall: A

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Directing: B-
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

It’s a curious exercise, watching a film that clearly expects sympathy for a rich man with ridiculously lavish spending habits.

Full disclosure, I’m not sure I even know who Roy Halston Frowick was before seeing this movie, which merely looked compelling to me when seeing the trailer. I could count on one hand the number of fashion designers I know by name. My fashion choices are limited to Christmas gifts from family, thrift stores, and bankrupt department store liquidation sales. Funny that one of those department stores currently rumored to be on the brink of bankruptcy, JCPenney, was once part of Halston’s first failed business venture, when he attempted to take his brand mainstream in the early eighties and it tarnished his brand with all other high-end fashion retailers.

In writer-director Frédérik Tcheng’s telling of the story of the Halston company being taken over after an acquisition by Esmark Inc., Tcheng brings in many people close to Halston to lament the plummeting amount of control over what had once been his own company. These include several models who once worked for him, a couple of his secretaries, his niece he hired to work for him, even his best friend Liza Minnelli. A couple of them mention an executive from International Playtex (also owned by Esmark) who was brought in to be a new managing director of Halston. One of the interview subjects literally refuses to say his name.Skechers Womens Ladies SK14146 Go Walk Exceed SneakersBtrada Women's Fashion Sneakers with Platform,Ladies Casual Wedge shoes,Stylish Sport shoes for Girls

Well, you know what? The guy’s name was Carl Epstein, and based on his interviews for this movie as well as the choices he made regarding Halston Enterprises at the time, I am a fan. Halston’s close friends and family clearly, and okay understandably, resent Epstein for being so intricately involved in Halston’s ultimate downfall. But so far as I can tell, Halston’s personal downfall was really his own doing. This was a man who was not used to anyone saying no to him, and the in comes someone who says, hey wait a minute, you can’t spend a hundred grand just to fly your entire staff to an event abroad, or have your dinners flown on a private jet from New York City to Montauk. Not when you’re not actually in a position to afford these things, anyway, and you’re not even the one truly in control of the company besides.

These things are just common sense. I don’t feel bad about some insanely rich fashion designer, who doesn’t realize his tastes ultimately far exceed his income, being told he can’t keep blowing through cash at the same rate anymore. This movie seems to think I should, and I beg to differ.

Therein lies the underlying issue with Halston, which honestly could have worked harder to make me sympathize with this guy. I have no doubt it actually could have been done. Halston was a gay man born in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1930s who died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of 57, on the day of that year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Surely that context informed how his personality developed, coming into riches and fame from humble beginnings and in the end having at least some level of struggle with substance abuse. Women's Bernie Mev, Lori Slide SandalAntaina Low Heel Black PU Metal Buckle Punk Chunky Lolita Platform Boots

I want to know more about that. And Tcheng touches on it, with a brief interlude showing a fascinating old clip of paranoid propaganda about homosexuals and showing negative-film footage (to protect identities) of gay men on a beach, doing literally nothing more salacious than being a little swishy. Footage of Halston included in this film reveals him to have been refined and sophisticated, and also a little effeminate. What was it like growing up for him? What did his parents, his siblings think about him when he was a child? What were his personal relationships like and how do they fit into his getting HIV, and when was he even diagnosed? Halston can’t be bothered with any of these questions, even though they would make for a far more compelling film.

Instead, the arc of the story here is mostly focused on Halston’s rise and fall as a superstar businessman with a taste for excess both in ridiculous business expenses and in entertainment, hanging out with Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor at Studio 54. And plenty of this actually is fascinating, if less personal. It’s just that Tcheng leaves so much out it’s difficult to get emotionally invested in an obsessive (and apparently sometimes bullying) member of the one percent struggling with becoming less rich.

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Overall: B-