Don Shanahan reviews “The Lost City of Z,” “Free Fire,” “Mine,” “Win it All,” and “Gifted” on Every Movie Has a Lesson



The most crucial dramatic trait for films about exploration is a drawing a strong reaction to the unknown from the audience.  Whether it’s a historical story or a fantastical one of fiction, the film has to evoke awe, be that stirring swells of inspiration or jarring feelings of danger.  It has to move you, not bore you.  If a film can’t achieve that quickened pulse or heavy heart, it’s little better than a travelogue on cable television or a curriculum video they show soon-to-be-bored high school students in Social Studies class.


I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of bad gunshot wound acting in all ages of films.  It’s either hilariously drawn out with overacting or it’s unrealistically rapid in fatality.  The brutal facts of getting shot enough to cause death rarely check out in the movies.  That never stops filmmakers from trying new and creative ways to shoot people with varying degrees of entertainment success.  “Free Fire” is one such film daring to blast anything and everything with ammunition encased with twisted zeal.


From “127 Hours” and “Castaway” to the likes of “Buried and Moon” and dozens in between, isolated survival films have an immense draw.  Our self-preservation instincts kick in and we, as the audience, cannot help but hypothetically put ourselves in the same conundrum as the main character.  Often these films delve into the preciousness of the life and dabble in the “what does it all mean” direction to pull even more thought and emotion.  A few metaphors dipped in symbolism make for nice touches.  Regrettably, the peril grinder of “Mine” pounds its not-so-thinly-veiled metaphors repeatedly and insufferably into the ground.


Dare I say it, I think Joe Swanberg has turned a corner with “Win It All,” a new release available on Netflix.  Coherency has been the bane of mumblecore’s existence and, for at least one film, the celebrated Chicago filmmaker has found the right palatable proportions of his craft.  With “Win It All,” Swanberg stays true to the naturalistic everyday settings and improvisational dialogue that he thrives on and thankfully applies them to tighter narrative structure.


What saves these cliches from turning the beachfront tonic of “Gifted” entirely into syrupy grenadine is the steady guidance of director Marc Webb.  “Gifted” is a return to smaller domestic fare for the “(500) Days of Summer” filmmaker after steering two big budget “Amazing Spider-Man” films.  This is his ideal directorial speed.  Nothing tonally is laid on too thick, from Stuart Dryburgh’s lens to soak in the Savannah shooting locations to Rob Simonsen’s unobtrusive musical score.  Those and other artistic elements could have really overplayed the melodrama but did not.  The importance of “Gifted” was the stance of its message, and Webb kept it on point, earned the dramatic heft, and avoided full-on preaching.




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