A decade of Marshall and the Movies.

28 07 2019

“I have no idea where this inspired idea will take me,” a 16-year-old Marshall wrote on his first day of blogging, “but I know that the first thing that write will somehow come full circle.” This is not the end, to be clear. In fact, hopefully, this is far from the end. But nothing like a big milestone to inspire a lot of introspection, self-congratulation and gratitude, right?

Writing this blog changed my life. Maybe even saved it, if we want to get dramatic. The person who started writing this blog is forever a part of me, but in a ways, the 26-year-old Marshall who’s banging out this post feels like an entirely different person. So, if you’ll excuse the potential pretentiousness, I want to write in a kind of third-person omniscient narrator voice about this person who now seems so foreign to me but is also so dear.

“I have trouble getting things started,” he typed at 11:47:50 P.M. on Monday, July 27, 2009. “I don’t know where or when this will end, but it starts now.” He couldn’t know that he’d log over 1,500 movie reviews and 2,500 posts on the site. He couldn’t know that it would be a crucial selling point (perhaps) in interviews for scholastic and professional opportunities. He couldn’t know that the act of sharing his passion with others rather than keeping it to himself out of shame and fear would radically change how others saw him – and open up new opportunities for authentic, meaningful connection.

He couldn’t know that someday, he’d still be writing about movies, just exceedingly less and less on this site he started. (The “American Hustle” banner art ought to give away the last time the layout was seriously examined.) He couldn’t know that the passion project he worked on after finishing homework, during lunch breaks at work and (every so often) in class would open up an avenue for professionalization and monetization.

He couldn’t know that a childhood hero like Roger Ebert would compliment him. That he’d be interviewing some of the filmmakers behind some of his favorite films. (That he’d even want to talk to the guy who played Edward Cullen in the “Twilight” movies – remember, this was 2009!) That he’d be accredited to attend some of the world’s greatest film festivals. That his word would carry enough weight that a studio would put it in trailer and marketing collateral.

He knew he’d love combining his passions of film and writing, but he couldn’t know just how much that love would ripple out and affect everything else in his life. He just had the idea to start something, a Julie Powell-inspired burst of inspiration that his thoughts mattered and were worth sharing. 26-year-old Marshall thanks 16-year-old Marshall for this every day. It wasn’t always easy, but we made it somewhere neither of us thought was possible.

To everyone who humored me, especially in the early days when this seemed like more of a self-indulgent waste of time than anything else (and who’s to stay it still isn’t, honestly?), I owe you beyond anything you could ever imagine. To feel like my words and ideas had some merit meant so much to that teenager who felt small and alone. This also applies to anyone I’ve ever connected with online through movies as well and maybe hasn’t even met me in real life or has no idea about the person behind the words!

I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how much longer this will go. That’s not any indication that I’m hesitating, by the way, just an admission that perhaps I’m not quite so different as the 16-year-old who banged out that first post over his MacBook a decade ago. But 26-year-old me has so much more than that – confidence, experience; community, self-reliance; support, trust.

If you’re reading this, you’ve played a part in making that possible. This accomplishment belongs to you, too. I hope you know the impact you have on people, including me, and that you continue to use that impact to make the world around you a brighter place. Be it through supporting others or believing in yourself, your affirmations have power. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing about movies for 10 years, it’s that there is a world of people out there who are full of passion. Many of these people I’ve come to know share this spark for film, but I’ve also come to realize that being your most authentic self can help inspire others to be theirs as well. I promise you that there’s someone out there who shares your very particular brand of zeal for something. Let others know, and you’ll find your people.

That’s all I’ve got for now, as most of you really just come here for me talking about the movies! But on this milestone occasion, I hope you’ll spare me waxing a little sentimental and personal. (And I know this site is getting a little rusty from lack of use. I promise I’ll start making it back here more … some day!)

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Top 10 of 2018 (My 10th Top 10)

31 12 2018

My goodness, have I really been doing these for 10 years now? I know I play the gobsmacked card at just about every one of these milestones, but when you take a step back and think about how time moves both quickly and imperceptibly, it has the power to bowl you over.

It’s so interesting to look back at my various top 10 lists and see how my top choices reflect how I’ve changed since writing this blog. There was my anxiety about being a loner in high school (“Up in the Air,” “Black Swan“), the awakening of a political consciousness as I watched cinema respond to the Great Recession in real time (“Win Win,” “The Queen of Versailles“), a freakout about identity after a semester abroad revealed a new side of myself (“American Hustle“) and the desire for deep connection and feeling in a dark world (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Call Me by Your Name“). Oh, and there was also a period where I fully believe I chose inarguable masterpieces (“The Immigrant” in 2014, “Inside Out” in 2015).

Who knows how I’ll feel looking back at this crop of choices down the line? I can’t worry about it now or think like that, though. As I can now see, learning more about these movies has also led to me learning more about myself. One unifying theme I picked out of the 2018 list is that six are roughly 90 minutes or less, and none are over two hours long. I watched 173 new releases in 2018 and spent over 875 hours watching movies during the year (thanks, Letterboxd, for that frightening statistic). Making that time count and not wasting it apparently counts for a lot with me these days!

A final note for longtime readers of Marshall and the Movies – namely, friends and family – I’m sure you’ve noticed that I am posting less and less on the blog these days. My work has primarily shifted to doing freelance writing on other websites so I can make a little bit of money off my words. I don’t regret this pivot, but I do wish that I’d done a better job about communicating that change to people who mostly come here (and to the Facebook page) looking for those takes. So, in 2019, I resolve to be better about sharing my work to my first real audience.

Thank you all, as always, for your time and support. No matter how your 2018 went, I hope your 2019 is filled with joy and splendor, be it cinematic or real.

So, without further ado, my 10 favorite films of 2018…

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Everything I Wrote from #TIFF18

17 09 2018

TIFFI’ve now pretty much filed everything from my time at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival! I was grateful to have the opportunity to attend again this year, now with a full badge, and write about some excellent films. I might have more to say about some of these titles later on Marshall and the Movies, but for now, here’s a collection of links to my published pieces from the festival. Many thanks to the editors who commissioned all this work and made the trip possible.

Now, after penning 24,000 words in two weeks, it’s time for me to catch up on some sleep…

Slashfilm

The Streamer’s Guide to the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival: What Non-Festgoers Can Watch at Home

‘Monsters and Men’ is an Uneven but Potent Drama About Police Violence [TIFF]

‘Beautiful Boy’ Provides a Moving Showcase for Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell [TIFF]

‘Ben Is Back’ Haunts As It Shows the Ripple Effect of Addiction [TIFF]

‘Climax’ Review: Gaspar Noé’s Latest Dances Deliriously Toward Death [TIFF]

‘mid90s’ Review: Jonah Hill’s Directorial Debut is a Masterful Coming-of-Age Tale [TIFF]

‘Everybody Knows’ Review: Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz Lead a Thrilling, If Impersonal, Kidnapping Drama [TIFF]

‘Gloria Bell’ Review: Julianne Moore Charms in a Fun but Melancholy Romance [TIFF]

‘Assassination Nation’ Review: A Fascinating Tale of Online Justice Falters in Its Second Half [TIFF]

‘What They Had’ Review: Michael Shannon Dominates a Pleasant, If Unremarkable, Debut Feature [TIFF]

‘Boy Erased’ Review: Lucas Hedges Devastates in Conversion Therapy Drama [TIFF]

‘Maya’ Review: Mia Hansen-Løve Falters Slightly With Familiar Drama [TIFF]

‘The Hummingbird Project’ Review: An Engaging Financial Thriller Stops Just Short of Greatness [TIFF]

‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ Review: Melissa McCarthy Gets More Real Than Ever as a Legendary Fake [TIFF]

‘Teen Spirit’ Review: Max Minghella’s Directorial Debut Lacks Pop [TIFF]

‘Dogman’ Review: A Morality Tale We Deserve [TIFF]

‘Peterloo’ Review: A Different Kind of Historical Epic [TIFF]

‘Non-Fiction’ Review: Olivier Assayas’ Latest Film is a Droll Delight [TIFF]

‘Birds of Passage’ Review: A Thrilling and Refreshing Take on the Drug Trade [TIFF]

Crooked Marquee

TIFF Report: The Addiction Obsession

TIFF Report: Political, Not Polemical

Vague Visages

TIFF 2018: Embracing the Oxymoronic – A Review of Jacques Audiard’s ‘The Sisters Brothers’

TIFF 2018: One Small Step – A Review of Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’

TIFF 2018: Interview With ‘Dogman’ Actor Marcello Fonte

Decider

Thomas Mann on Growing Up in Netflix’s ‘The Land of Steady Habits’

Slant

Interview: Jacques Audiard on the Making of The Sisters Brothers





REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

1 08 2018

At some point during the seemingly interminable carousel of trailers prior to “Avengers: Infinity War,” a thought occurred to me: I should probably do a quick Google to see if there’s any information I need to know before the movie starts. I’d done the legwork of seeing the previous installments (“Thor: The Dark World” excepted because everyone tells me I didn’t miss much), but they linger in my system like a flat, lukewarm draft beer in a plastic cup. As Marvel click-chasing as the Internet is these days, there was plenty of service journalism on page one to fill me in.

The more I read, the more I saw information about infinity stones. What they were, who had them, what happened the last time we saw one. I’m not such a passive viewer that I had no concept of these whatsoever, but, to be honest, I had stopped giving them much thought a few years back. Infinity stones were like excess information from a high school history lecture – you have some vague sense that these tidbits might show up on the final but not enough to scare you into paying full attention.

Imagine showing up for the final and having it be only those bits of knowledge you considered superfluous. That’s “Avengers: Infinity War.”

The analogy actually doesn’t fully compute because it puts far too much responsibility on me, the audience member, for keeping up. Over the past five years, after correctly sensing the audience could sense Marvel’s formula, head honcho Kevin Feige implemented a new strategy to avoid brand complacency. He brought in accomplished directors with a real sense of style and personality – no offense to Favreau, Johnston and others who can clearly helm a solid studio action flick. A handful of rising talents got the chance to play with a massive toolbox to make largely personal films on nine-figure budgets. Better yet, they essentially got to treat these infinity stones like MacGuffins, items whose actual substance matters little since they serve to move the plot and provide a goal for the hero.

Think about these films from late phase two and early phase three, as the canonically-minded Marvel fans would say. James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films aren’t memorable because of their quest for Power Stone; they’ve endured because of the joyous rush of a stilted man-child who gets to live out his Han Solo fantasies to the tunes of his banging ’80s mix-tape. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” has far more interesting things to say about black identity, heritage and responsibility than it does about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taika Waititi was still playing into the future of the studio’s master plan, yet he got to toss out much of what had been done with the God of Thunder in “Thor: Ragnarok” and cast him like the offbeat protagonists of his Kiwi comedies to find humor and heart where there had previously been little.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a feature length “Well, actually…” from Marvel. The Russo Brothers are here to deliver the bad news that those infinity stones were actually the only thing that mattered the whole time. Silly you for thinking the studio cared about things like artistry and personality!

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REVIEW: Lean on Pete

29 07 2018

As I hit “publish” on this piece, “Lean on Pete,” one of 2018’s best releases, is available to stream on Amazon Prime. You should do so as soon as possible, provided your heart is open to being broken in the most artful and least sensational of ways.

The film stuck with me from the first time I saw it at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. There, in my review for Slashfilm, I wrote:

Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is a social realist drama of the highest order, combining the gentle pastoral touch of David Lynch’s The Straight Story with a probing sympathy for individuals on the edge of society recalling the best of the Dardenne brothers. There’s no armchair sociology here, just rich character observation steeped in a spirit of compassion. Haigh never veers into grandstanding “issues movie” territory or troubled youth drama. It’s just the story of an adolescent boy in need of the tiniest bit of permanence and security.

Without the slightest whiff of personification or anthropomorphism, a bond develops between Charley [the teenaged protagonist] and Lean on Pete [the titular horse], unlike the usual cinematic connection between boy and animal. The horse does not exist to teach Charley some lesson about himself or life. He’s an extension of Charley himself, an object onto which he can project some of the greatest aspirations he holds for an uncertain future. When he’s with Lean on Pete, Plummer’s smile is radiant enough to power all the stadium lights at the racetrack, which makes the slow disappearance of that grin even more devastating.”

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Here we are. Year 9.

28 07 2018

“I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that […] one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing, and much to do with life. And life, by definition, is not an intrusion.”

– Sarah Ruhl, “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write”

I could go back and count, but just having a number probably won’t make the point as well as my next phrase will: I’ve barely written on Marshall and the Movies in the last year. Less so than any year in the history of the site, which, as of today, is nine years. If writing this blog followed the same rules as the presidency, I’d be term limited by now. (That is NUTS to me.)

The past year has held arguably the most monumental changes in my life, probably ranking up there with … well, starting this site, for one! I’ve now been residing in New York for eight months and have been ramping up both my moviegoing activity and freelance writing as a result. (You can read a lot about that here.) I’ve left Marshall and the Movies, my original baby, on the back-burner as I reconnect with old friends, make new ones and explore all that this city has to offer. To be clear, I have absolutely NO INTENTION of ceasing activity here or shutting the site down. (One year short of a decade, are you kidding me?)

I’m trying to make it a priority to start writing here again, in part because I can toy around in it like a sandbox before attempting similar feats in pieces sent off to professional editors. I love writing this site and often feel like jotting down my thoughts here after seeing a movie is the only way to complete my experience of processing it. While my initial goal of reviewing every movie I’ve seen that’s been released since summer 2009 when I started this blog seems unattainable now (losing a year will do that to you), I do want to regain some ground.

Even though I’m not always updating this site, know that the passion for cinema still burns deep inside me. You can find information and updates from me on the following sites in lieu of posts here, in case you’re really dying to know what I’m watching and thinking:

Facebook

Twitter

Letterboxd

Portfolio site (literally everything I’m writing elsewhere, always kept up to date)

As always, thank you all for continuing to support, encourage and read. There would be a site without you – just being honest – but it would not be nearly as fun or useful. Your readership makes this something besides a vanity project or a selfish hobby! It probably still is those things, but at least you give me some reassurance that it serves as something more.

Anyways, here’s Greta Gerwig telling me she’s happy I moved to New York, a major peak in my life, because how else was I supposed to end this post?





REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp

9 07 2018

There’s been a recent trend in the last five years or so in superhero filmmaking where directors feel the need to say their movie is cut from a different cloth. It’s not only a blockbuster, it’s just dressed up like one. Whether it was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” as a ’70s-style paranoid thriller or (my personal favorite) James Mangold’s “Logan” as “an Ozu film with mutants,” the implication is that being a superhero movie on its face is shameful – or not enough.

This long-winded intro is just a set up to say that Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” finds success by being something besides a Marvel, only that something is a type of film that actually meshes quite well with a super suit. It’s a Paul Rudd movie! The star, who also shares a co-writing credit on the film, infuses his charming, witty energy into all facets of the project. Before the self-aware smugness of “Deadpool” and the commercially-motivated universe building of “The Avengers,” comic book movies could be like this. (You know, eons ago … like 2008 with the first “Iron Man.”)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is wonderfully self-contained, driven less by the need to connect to some grand five-picture arc and more by the immediate concerns of the story. Rudd’s Scott Lang wants to be cleared from his house arrest following the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” yet the urgent call of duty with Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp threatens to undo years of his patience in exile. As with many of these films, the real joy is in their group banter – especially whenever Scott lacks the knowledge or information that his counterparts possess.

Reed ditches some of the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”-style cheekiness about size and scale that dominated the first “Ant-Man,” which might have been a holdover from Edgar Wright’s involvement with the series. The film compensates for the loss of that humor with more Rudd being Rudd, a welcome thing be it a Marvel movie or a David Wain romp. While it might not be enough to completely overcome a lackluster villain, relatively generic fight scenes, and total underuse of Michelle Pfeiffer, it’s still better than watching Marvel’s carousel of white guys named Chris play tough and moody. B