Of ‘Goat’ and Toxic Masculinity

goat_movie_2016-320x320“Goat” is so far from what you’d expect from a Jonas Brother movie that calling it a Jonas Brother movie misses the boat. It is true that it stars Nick Jonas. But given that he delivers a considered, nuanced performance as someone besides himself, and given that this adaptation of Brad Land’s 2004 eponymous memoir is about as far from a pop-star vehicle as an American indie about white men can get, let’s dispense with any biases you may bring to this film. I had to, and I’m glad I did.

Ironically, this is about a fraternity, which easily could qualify it as a boys-will-be-boys lark a la “Animal House” or “Neighbors.” Directed by Andrew Neel, “Goat” is a more serious venture – one that tackles the sadism of this all-American institution with a refreshing candor.

The film begins with a blurred close-up of a mass of shirtless frat brothers bounding up and down and howling in a primal scream drowned out by a wordless, ambient Arjan Miranda composition. It is a shot that summons the ecstasy of a primitive tribe. Continue Reading →

‘Queen of Katwe,’ Queen of September

queen“Queen of Katwe” begins with a few bars of “African music” – the sort of Disneyfied fare that is so insultingly generic that I burst out laughing before sobering up fast. It’d be a crying shame, I thought, if chess champion Phiona Mutesi got reduced to the “inspirational people of color” clichés that even now Hollywood hasn’t learned to sidestep. I needn’t have worried. Though this adaptation of ESPN reporter Tim Crothers’s eponymous nonfiction book certainly dips heavily into the inspirational sports playbook, it offers a depth and earned joy that makes Ugandan women its subject rather than its object. Chalk it up to the fact that, though this indeed hails from Disney, it is one of the most female-forward and people of color-led major studio productions ever to come down the pike. Continue Reading →

The Swoony Incongruities of ‘The Dressmaker’

tilly“The Dressmaker” is the first feature in twenty years by Australia’s Jocelyn Moorhouse, whose career is a hodge-podge that doesn’t quite hold up to critical scrutiny. Yet, like much of the director’s fare – most notably “How to Make an American Quilt” and “Proof” (the 1991 film with Russell Crowe, not the dour Gwynnie 2005 vehicle) – this adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s eponymous 2000 novel offers much more satisfaction than many films that are easier to admire.

The inimitable Kate Winslet stars as the titular character, and it’s a role she was born to play. As Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, she’s returned to Dungatar, Australia, in the mid-1950s after years in Paris where she’s been working as a haute couture dress designer. Clad in a skin-tight sheath, aviator pumps, and a red-lipsticked snit, she offers the loveliest of contrasts to her dusty, claustrophobically tiny home village, where one seems to know what to do with her, least of all her mum Mad Molly (Judy Davis), who claims not to recognize the girl. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy