Media Matters Archive

Three Identical Strangers

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July 27, 2018 Matthew Kauffman Smith

The age-old psychology debate of nature versus nurture has been studied and argued for years, but it’s not super splashy. No Hollywood exec is asking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to star in an action thriller where he must choose between his friends Nurture and Nature—all while saving a burning building. As far as I know, Nature vs. Nurture: The Musical isn’t coming to Broadway anytime soon. The new documentary Three Identical Strangers, however, plays out like a compelling mystery, leaving the viewers to believe nature wins—only to turn that whole theory on its head in the second half of the […]

Leave No Trace

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July 20, 2018 Gordon Houser

One rule of good storytelling is that less is more. One of the things that makes Leave No Trace so effective is not just the story it tells but what it leaves out. Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), are living in a Forest Park, a nature preserve near Portland, Oregon. They find food, collect rainwater, and sleep in a tent. They also do drills to practice hiding from anyone looking for them. We’re not told why they are there or what they are afraid of. We learn that Will is a veteran, likely suffering from […]

First Reformed

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July 13, 2018 Vic Thiessen

When I was growing up, many of the films I watched made some reference to faith or the church because both played a central, or at least regular, role in the lives of most Americans. But for decades now, films about faith, the church, or both have been few and far between, and when faith is portrayed, it is often viewed negatively, or at best is portrayed as naive. So when a critically acclaimed film comes along that not only takes faith seriously but portrays both its positive and negative aspects, I take special notice. It’s not surprising that such […]

World Cup Soccer

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June 29, 2018 Matthew Kauffman Smith

Everyone loves a good event now and again. That’s why people who don’t even know where Ireland is dress in green every March 17. That’s why people go to Super Bowl parties even if they don’t know which teams are playing. And that’s why I pretend I know how to cook international cuisine when it’s time for the World Cup. For whatever reason, I like themes. Back in college, I held countdowns on the campus radio station featuring, for instance, the top 31 songs about vegetation and foliage. Now, as the main cook in the household, I also like theme cooking. It’s […]

The Expanse

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June 22, 2018 Michelle D. Sinclair

Unlike many far-future shows or movies, The Expanse is believable to a harrowing degree. There are no Vulcans, or lightsabers, or even aliens with strange protrusions from their heads. Instead, you have a premise and a plot that seem ripped straight from our past tendencies, projected into a future landscape as fascinating as it is terrible. Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey and set in the 23rd century, the series presents a future where humanity has colonized the inner part of the solar system, with stations located as far out as Jupiter’s moons. Even some […]

Disobedience

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June 15, 2018 Vic Thiessen

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio recently won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for A Fantastic Woman, the story of a transgender woman in Chile. It was one of my favorite films of 2017. Disobedience, which Lelio directed and cowrote, is Lelio’s first English-language film. It feels very different from A Fantastic Woman, though it also showcases Lelio’s ability to elicit masterful performances from his actors, allowing the characters to speak as loudly with their expressions as with their words. Disobedience tells the story of Ronit (Rachel Weisz), Esti (Rachel McAdams), and Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), the closest of friends […]

Solo: A Star Wars Story

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June 8, 2018 Carmen Andres

By: Carmen Andres I can barely remember my life without Star Wars. As a kid, I daydreamed about using Jedi powers to do everything from my chores to defending the galaxy. As an adult, when the prequels started coming out, I secured opening night tickets for my husband and myself each time. When our own children got old enough to watch the films, we treated it like a rite of passage—and each new film that comes out is a family event. Solo: A Star Wars Story comes closest to the fun and adventurous feel of the original trilogy—something I didn’t […]

What Are We Doing Here?

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June 1, 2018 Gordon Houser

By Gordon Houser “What Are We Doing Here?” is the title of one of the 15 essays in Marilynne Robinson’s new book, What Are We Doing Here? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 USD), and while it addresses a specific audience that includes many literature teachers, it also serves as a major theme of the book, addressed to all of us. Although Robinson is known more as a novelist (Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, Lila), this is her sixth book of nonfiction. It collects mostly lectures she’s given in the last few years. In the preface, she notes that these essays reflect “matters of […]

Lean on Pete

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May 25, 2018 Matthew Kauffman Smith

By Matthew Kauffman Smith Kids and animals. That’s a combination that moviemakers and advertisers alike gravitate to time and again. Cute sells. Flipper was the first movie I saw, and The Black Stallion might have been my second. Benji may have been my third. Even before I became a father, I enjoyed Because of Winn-Dixie and My Dog Skip. As a father, I have endured/enjoyed my share of animal movies.  Lean on Pete is the latest movie about a human and animal bond, but it elevates the narrative to a whole new level. The new movie from writer/director Andrew Haigh […]

The Power of Art

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May 4, 2018 Gordon Houser

By Gordon Houser A delightful French film, Faces Places, directed by Agnès Varda and JR, is a documentary from 2017 that appeared on many critics’ top 10 lists, and it would have appeared on mine, had I seen it in time. Varda, 89, is a well-known director (she was part of the French New Wave in the early 1960s), and JR, 33, is a photographer known for placing large photos on buildings. The two travel through rural France and create portraits of people they come across, then paste them onto surrounding buildings. These are regular people, not celebrities.   The […]