CB Podcast Ep. 106 – “Annihilation” Review

This week, the bros catch up with some recommendations in film and TV. Then, they end the podcast with an in-depth review of Alex Garland’s Annihilation.
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  • Hosts: Josiah Wampfler, Sam Wampfler & Jacob Wampfler
  • Produced by Josiah Wampfler
  • A Cinema Bros Network Podcast
  • Theme Music by Josiah Wampfler. Film clips used under fair use. All rights belong to their respective copyright holders
  • Music clips used under fair use. All rights belong to their respective copyright holders.
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Joe’s Top Films of 2016: 11-20

By Josiah Wampfler

20. OJ: Made in America


OJ: Made in America was the last edition to my list. It is a five-part, nearly 8 hour long documentary that aired on ESPN, so as you may imagine, there was plenty of debate around whether or not it qualifies as a film or TV series. In the end though, ESPN put it into the theaters to qualify for the Oscars and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has named it an Oscar nominated film, so I figured it was safe to put it on the list.

Directed by Ezra Edelman, OJ: Made in America is one of the most meticulously researched and complex documentaries ever made. It covers not only the famous trial of OJ Simpson, but also his rise to fame, the racial climate in which he came to stardom, and how that climate ended up impacting the trial itself, American culture and OJ’s life after the trial. And like some of the other films on this list, even though it is a film about a different time and place, it is an extremely prescient work that speaks to many of the same issues we are facing today. OJ: Made in America is long, but it is engaging, fascinating and extremely worth that time.

19. I Am Not Your Negro


“The story of the negro in America, is the story of America… It is not a pretty story.”

If there is a quote that perfectly sums up what Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro it is this one. Based on an unfinished manuscript by prolific writer James Baldwin entitled “Remember This House,” I Am Not Your Negro is a powerfully personal documentary. Throughout its runtime, Peck uses only Baldwin’s own words, both from the manuscript and from his other works as he reflects on the lives of three Civil Rights leaders (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.), discusses the root causes of racism in his time, considers the effects of racism on the oppressed and even engages in a bit of film criticism relating  to therepresentation of African-Americans on screen.

I Am Not Your Negro, narrated beautifully by an unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson, is a film that is supposed to make you uncomfortable, like Baldwin did in his own time. Yet, what makes it all the more uncomfortable is how true Baldwin’s words still ring today. And Peck highlights this as he uses both archival footage from Baldwin’s time and images from recent incidents of police violence against African-Americans and the protests that resulted. It is as if Baldwin is speaking directly to this new generation in 2017.

But, what makes I Am Not Your Negro truly powerful is that, in Baldwin’s reflection on these three Civil Rights leaders who had very different strategies and styles, he never hails one as the correct one. I Am Not Your Negro is not about what African-Americans can do better in their messaging or anything like that. As the title suggests, the film is speaking directly to America as a whole and the white population specifically. Toward the end of the film, Baldwin crystallizes this thesis in a statement, calling for the white population to ask itself “Why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place.” He continues, “Because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man. But if you think I’m a nigger, then you need it. And you have to find out why.” Baldwin’s words, though meant for an earlier audience ring far too true today as he calls for a moment of national self-reflection I think we still clearly need.

18. Don’t Breathe


I have a whole review for Don’t Breathe that you can check out here, so I’ll keep this brief.

Don’t Breathe is one of the most intense theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. My heart was racing the whole way through and was still going miles away from the theater as I raced home. It is a tightly constructed thriller that knows the meaning of planting and payoff. It has a stellar villain played by Stephen Lang and a great pair of actors in the leads. And, the cinematography is simply stunning. If you are down for an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride, then check out Don’t Breathe.

17. 10 Cloverfield Lane


From the very first frame of 10 Cloverfield Lane I knew I was in for something spectacular. The film starts completely wordless, Bear McCreary’s dread-inducing score underneath as Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle races around her apartment packing her things and driving away. Then, suddenly, the car crash with the film’s credits inter-cut within the deafening carnage. This is the moment I was introduced to the confidence of director Dan Tracthenberg.

10 Cloverfield Lane is like a masterclass for how to make a thriller. Throughout the film, Trachtenberg plays the audience’s expectations and emotions like a fiddle. From his terrifying introduction, we are never totally sure of John Goodman’s Howard, and that is completely by design. Just as Michelle, and Emmett (John Gallgher Jr.) to some degree, we are trying to read Howard’s true intentions and whether he is telling the truth. And even if you know of the Cloverfield alien connection, you still aren’t entirely sure. It had me on the edge of my seat the entire film.

Combine that with incredible performances by the cast (Goodman’s is downright Oscar-worthy), an insanely good score (see our top scores of 2016!), wonderfully inventive cinematography in a tight space and an insane final act and you have yourself an incredible thriller. If this is how all the new Clover-verse films are going to be, please take my money now!

16. Loving


Loving is one of the most beautiful films of the year. Its cinematography is not overly impressive, its score is subtle, but it is the characters and how the film treats those characters that is so beautiful. The story of the couple behind one of the most well-known Supreme Court cases in the United States is told not through a procedural courtroom drama, but as a humanistic tale of love, family and struggle. Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving are given their full humanity in this film.  The court case to end the miscegenation laws to which they were subjected takes a back seat to the true focus of the film: their love.

The film is completely carried by the performances of Edgerton and Negga and excels because of their quiet chemistry. Richard is a man of few words, yet Edgerton gives him a full emotional arc throughout the film by taking advantage of every look and gesture. Mildred is also quite reserved, but Negga gives her an incredible strength and a positive outlook that is simply infectious. Watching these two simply lay together on a couch is a pure delight, which is also what makes every injustice they face all the more heartbreaking and terrible.

Under Jeff Nichols direction, Loving is able to take incredible performances and give them a deserved home. Though the film is very different from his previous work in many ways, there is the same sense of anxiety hanging over his characters as they disobey the law of the land just by loving each other. And, growing up in the same type of southern town the film is set, Nichols has a very interesting perspective on racism that lends itself to the film. This is not a black and white journey of heroes and villains, but a complex tale about a simple couple just trying to love each other the best they could. It is this combination of simplicity and complexity that makes Loving such a joy to witness.


Jake’s Top Films of 2016: 11-20

By Jacob Wampfler

20. Morris from America


Some film critics might wonder if we really need more “coming of age” films.  I’ve wondered the same thing myself.  If new “coming of age” films achieve the originality of Morris from America, however, the sub-genre will be vibrant and full of life for years to come.

Director Chad Hartigan deftly handles touchy subjects in this refreshing tale of the “only two brothers in Heidelberg.”  Racial identity, racism, young sexuality, and father/son relationships are all carefully balanced amid the flow of seriously great rap tunes.  The music, itself, is a character in the film.  Morris (Markees Christmas) wants to be a rapper, an OG, but his father reminds him that originality only comes from the heart.  Curtis (in a career-best performance from Craig Robinson) explains to Morris that you can’t rap about what you haven’t done.  It’s a universal message for all of us to hear, and it makes Morris from America a heartfelt and poignant film for anyone to watch and love.

19. The Lobster


No amount of words can explain the complexity and absurdity of The Lobster.  It’s a sci-fi film with no special effects and no aliens.  It’s a love story by way of a scathing critique of human relationships and commitment.  It’s also a vehicle for two of the most interesting performances I have ever seen from both Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz as David and the shortsighted woman he loves from afar.  They are deadpan, monotone, and clueless, and they illustrate the film’s themes beautifully.  Yorgos Lanthimos and his script-writing partner also deserve recognition for creating the detailed world in which this film takes place.  Make no mistake, The Lobster is set in a dystopian future where singleness is outlawed.  It’s a brutal reminder of how societal norms can create outcasts, and it stands as one of the most unique film experiences of last year.   

18. 10 Cloverfield Lane


10 Cloverfield Lane set the bar high in staggering fashion for all thrillers that followed in 2016.  Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut finds him already a deft talent as he brings a fresh voice to this well-worn genre.  John Goodman is scary good as the man-in-the-bunker, Howard.  The viewer is always set on edge due to his ambiguous portrayal of either a very well-prepared Navy vet or a raging sociopath.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is given her biggest role to date in this film, and she does not disappoint.  I’ve seen her in multiple indie films, and I am supremely glad that she’s finally broken into the mainstream.  10 Cloverfield Lane is tense, chilling, and surprisingly thoughtful.  As such, it’s one of the best thrillers of last year.

17. Captain Fantastic


Captain Fantastic is one of the most unique entries of cinema from 2016.  It functions on a variety of levels – part family drama, part social commentary, part comedy – it’s hard to pin down precisely where this film fits.  It’s for these reasons that Captain Fantastic astonished me to no end and left a lasting impression on me when recalling the great films of last year.

The ensemble cast alone stands as a perfect testament to this film’s strength, anchored by a deeply committed performance from Viggo Mortensen as the family patriarch, Ben Cash.  He’s a fanatic and a recluse, and he raises his family as such.  However, Mortensen never plays this as a caricature.  There is striking nuance in this film, with the entire Cash clan.  At times you truly see things from their perspective.  At other times, you think they all might be more than just a little crazy.  Director Matt Ross delivered a great film with Captain Fantastic and I eagerly await his future projects.

16. La La Land


Last year was the year that shattered what I thought I knew about myself and film.  Animation and musicals are not what I would call  fun movie experiences in many respects.  Musicals especially are loathsome affairs for me, and it was no secret that I wasn’t giddy with joy to see La La Land.  As I watched, however, I was blown away.  Had I been wrong about musicals all along?

What drew me into to La La Land was it’s attention to filmmaking detail.  I loved Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, and his second outing sees him honing his craft further.  The one shots, the sweeping landscapes, and the dazzling colors all drew me in.  I even learned what a “whip pan” camera shot was after seeing this film! Chazelle is a director who clearly loves to create.  He wants to take the filmgoer on a journey, and he achieves that vision with precision and excellence.  Add some pretty great music on top of all that and you’ve got a film that will win some awards at the end of February.

Sam’s Top 20 Films of 2016: 11-20

By Sam Wampfler

20. Silence


Silence is the crowning achievement of Martin Scorsese’s impressive career. It is a visual masterpiece and every scene of this film is breathtaking. Andrew Garfield is also at the top of his game as the main Jesuit priest, Rodrigues. His struggles throughout the film with pride are heartbreaking.

One of the most inspired choices in the film is the almost complete lack of a score. It adds to the already tense mood and elevates the incredible dialogue, the best of which coming from Issei Ogata as the Inquisitor and Tadanobu Adani as the Interpreter. The way they both work to manipulate Garfield’s Rodrigues is hard to watch at times, but so entrancing. This is not a film I will probably ever watch again, but is an experience that I think everyone should have.

19. Southside With You


The presidential election was depressing and I definitely needed something to get my mind off of the results: Enter Southside With You. This film was delightful. It is a wonderful look into the first date of the Obamas that was so much more entertaining than I was expecting. It is particularly interesting because it shows the events of their date but also delves into their early political ideals and work in community planning. Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyer do an excellent job of portraying the future presidential couple. The way they transformed their voices was impressive and completely spot-on. This film may not be anything super innovative, but every second of it is lovely and supremely entertaining.

18. Kubo and the Two Strings


The first thing I noticed about Kubo and the Two Strings was it’s beautiful animation. Every strand of hair and every drop of water is animated so precisely; a truly impressive feat. The story is interesting and very unique and the voice actors do a wonderful job of expressing a vast array of emotion. Some of the voice actors, specifically Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron, transform their voices so well that I didn’t know until the credits that they were the ones portraying their characters. Art Parkinson as Kubo is extremely impressive for such a young voice actor. I always find it impressive when young actors portray such complex characters with only the use of their voice. Overall, this was a wonderful film that brought a surprisingly rich and beautiful world to life.

17. Jackie


Jackie is a stunning and beautiful film. The cinematography in this film is simply a wonder to behold. One of my favorite scenes, which seems so simple, is a scene of Jackie walking through the White House trying on different dresses and looking through different rooms. Through interesting camera angles and some intense close-ups of Jackie this scene becomes a work of art and also benefits from the filmmaker’s choice of music. They perfectly pair it with music from the musical Camelot which not only enhances the scene, but also reflects the overall themes of the film.

Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career as the titular Jackie. She completely embodies the character down to the way she carries herself and her flawless recreation of the first lady’s accent. Her performance truly elevates this film to a new level.

16. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


I am so glad we continue to get great Star Wars films. Rogue One, while not as high on my list as The Force Awakens, is still an amazing addition to a film series that I have always loved. It has one of the best ensemble casts of the franchise, with the obvious standout performance of Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso.  She continues the new Star Wars trend of strong female leads, which I think brings new direction and character to an already great franchise.

The special effects and cinematography in this film are simply stunning. There are shots in this film of the Death Star and other Empire ships that are awe-inspiring. The battle scenes, both on land and in space, are well thought out and perfectly executed.


Best Dialogue of 2016

Dialogue is probably one of the most important parts of a film. You can have incredible cinematography, great music, wonderful acting and a great story, but if the things that your characters are saying don’t seem believable or don’t make sense, it doesn’t matter. Good films have dialogue that seems like something a real person may say (or at least makes you suspend your disbelief). Great films have dialogue that you remember, whether because it is funny, moving or profound.

Below, is the Cinema Bros’ top 12 bits of dialogue in 2016 films. Last year was a great year in screenwriting, so hear is our ode to the best bits of that:

12.   Hail Caesar!

Screenwriters: Joel & Ethan Cohen


— Jake —

The Coen brothers are gifted screenwriters and Hail Caesar! showcases them at the top of their game. This exchange is only the beginning of a masterfully written scene in which Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), studio head for Capitol Pictures, seeks to bend the ears of four holy men on the portrayal of Jesus Christ in an upcoming biblical epic. Its wry humor and colloquial tone (“Does the depiction of Christ Jesus cut the mustard?”) are a hallmark of Coen films and makes Hail Caesar! another wonderful entry into their impressive filmography.

11.   The Edge of Seventeen

Screenwriter: Kelly Fremon Craig


— Sam —

This is the one line, fairly early in the film, that made me know that the movie I was watching was going to be immensely entertaining. The main character Nadine is reminiscing about her first meeting with her best friend, Krista. Nadine’s description of Krista as a “small old man” was perfect by itself but then she tacks on the fact that her breath smelled like Sweet Tarts. The fact that she remembered exactly how her friends breath smelled shows how much Krista means to her and also makes this line even more hilarious.

10.   Deadpool

Screenwriters: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick


— Sam —

The best part about this scene is the delivery by Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool is inside a wrecked vehicle and sticks his hands out in the air to “surrender” and the scene is played mostly through his hand gestures to a hilarious effect. Ryan Reynolds shows more character in his hands than some actors can show with their entire body. The best part about the dialogue is the “brown pants” bit. It’s basically just a subtle poop joke and the way that the villains don’t seem to understand it makes for an extremely funny scene.

9.   Jackie

Screenwriter: Noah Oppenheim


— Joe —

The entire screenplay to Jackie is like a masterclass in writing for film, which is impressive considering it is only Oppenheim’s third screenplay. But, this line in particular is what sealed the deal on the film’s greatness for me. As Jackie (Natalie Portman) speaks to a priest about the traumatic events she just endured, this line comes as a perfect summation of what she has been trying to accomplish throughout the film in securing her husbands legacy, a sad realization that her life with John was never meant to last and a poignant expression of modern myth-making and celebrity. The complexities of this one exchange perfectly mirror the complexities of the film as a whole.

8.   The Nice Guys

Screenwriters: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi


— Sam —

This hilarious bit of dialogue comes when the main character, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), takes his daughter and her friend to a bowling alley. Surrounded by screaming girls, he yells “Jesus Christ” and is promptly scolded for it by his daughter’s Christian friend. The exchange is hilarious due to the fact that it takes a common expression and completely subverts it. Holland’s response is completely unexpected on a first viewing. This is one of the best parts if this bit of dialogue and the script in general.

7.   Sing Street

Screenwriter: John Carney


— Joe —

Even though the main thrust of Sing Street is a young man forming a band to impress a girl, another important aspect of the film is relationships between men. You have the relationship between the main character, Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), and his band mates, the relationship with his father and the relationship with his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor). This last relationship is one of the most important relationships in the film and is largely comedic, but this bit of dialogue is the moment it takes a turn into the dramatic.

As Brendan realizes that his dreams have slipped away from him and his brother is grabbing those same dreams by the horns, he lets loose one of most heartbreaking monologues I heard last year. As a man with two older brothers, it made me think of the debts I owe both of them for allowing me to move in their “jet stream.” This, combined with the absolutely brilliant delivery by Jack Reynor made this one of the most emotional scenes I saw last year.

Cinema Bros “Loving” Review Roundup

“Loving” – A Married Man’s Perspective

By Jacob Wampfler

Immediately after my screening of Loving concluded, I texted my wife.  The text message read, “I love you.  I know I take for granted what we have together, far too often but…I love you.”  Loving was, for me, an introspective and emotional film that caused me to examine my own marriage and contemplate the unsettling reality of Richard and Mildred Loving’s story.  I have never been told that I cannot be with my wife.  I have never had my personal rights or space violated because I choose to love the woman to whom I am married.  Jeff Nichols and his powerful film convey the long-suffering triumph of two people who refused to stop fighting for one another.  And at the very center of that story lies a simple message summed up in the words of Richard Loving, “Tell the judge that I love my wife.”  This may be a film about a landmark Supreme Court decision.  But moreso, it’s about Mildred and Richard and their love for each other.

I had the opportunity to see this film in St. Louis at a small art-house theater I used to frequent when I lived in the area.  As the theater began to fill up for an almost sold-out showing, I looked around me to notice that the audience was populated with couples of all ages and demographics.  The one demographic that stood out to me most, however, were the interracial couples who had come to see Loving.  It struck me that these couples, during the time in which Loving took place, would not have been allowed to see a movie together in  many parts of our country.  As the film progressed and finally, as the credits rolled, I heard the emotional sound of sobbing throughout the theater.  As I walked out that night, I saw one interracial couple grasping hands together, leaning towards each other with tears streaming down their faces.  That image has imprinted itself in my memory…and this is why Loving is important filmmaking.

There is a recurring theme in Loving that has stuck with me since I saw the film about a month ago.  Richard Loving is a mason by trade.  He goes to work each day with his tools and lunch pail in hand.  In a lesser film, this could quickly become cliche.  However, Nichols uses this aspect of Richard’s life to communicate something magnificent.  Over and over again, we see Richard with trowel and mortar laying brick on top of brick.  At the beginning of the film, he tells Mildred he will build a house for her one day.  At the end of the film, he builds that house for her in their home-state of Virginia, the very place from which they had been exiled for their previously unlawful union.  Mildred and Richard didn’t help to change the Constitution of the United States overnight.  They did it slowly, painfully, and not without setback along the way.  Brick by brick, they built their love for another.  Brick by brick, they made history together.  Loving is a fitting testament to and celebration of Richard and Mildred Loving, and it is an essential film of our time.


The Relevance of “Loving” in Trump’s America

By Sam Wampfler

I knew, going into Loving, that it was going to be a difficult movie to watch. It is a film set in a time when our country not only had bigoted and hate filled ideas, but also had the legal means to act on those ideas in often times brutal and unforgiving ways. That being said, I greatly enjoyed Loving. The makers of this film did everything right.

The casting was phenomenal. The lead actors, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, played the roles of the tormented interracial couple perfectly. Negga especially was breathtaking. Her portrayal of Mildred Loving was strong and confident yet extremely caring. Even the minor roles in this movie were extremely important and perfectly acted. Nick Kroll, normally known for comedic antics, plays completely against type as the lawyer that initially takes on their case and Michael Shannon, as a man assigned to photograph the couple, adds new layers to some already emotional scenes.

Loving is also a very beautiful film. It is so beautiful that for the first half of the film I was so immersed in the visuals that I didn’t even realize how relevant the concepts of the film are to post-election America. Then at about half way through the film I realized just how screwed up America once was and just how screwed up we might become very soon.

The racist tendencies of our country have never disappeared and they never really will. As I mentioned before, the era that Loving is set in had no laws against the prejudiced actions of its citizens. Now that a man that could pass as one of the “villains” in Loving has been elected as president, it is very possible that we could end up with an America that looks far too much like the America we see in LovingThe growing prevalence of these completely racist beliefs in modern day America scares the crap out of me. The resurgence of open racist acts by some Americans days after the election definitely contribute to this fear. Hopefully my fears are unfounded.


“Loving” is the Rare Biopic That Is Both Accurate and Artful

By Josiah Wampfler

Biopics have become sort of a cliche, especially if they come out in the fall. Many follow the same types of plot beats, they are usually dripping in melodrama as they chase awards attention and, in general, I usually get pretty bored with a lot of them. Hacksaw Ridge and Sully earlier this fall were guilty of almost all of the biopic sins I mentioned. They were passable films, but they never really transcended the “genre” and overall I was just plain bored with them. Thankfully, 2016 has finally brought us a transcendent biopic in Loving: a film that manages to not only be true to its subjects, but also is told with an artistic eye.

Directed by Jeff Nichols, Loving tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who famously were the couple behind the supreme court case, Loving v. Virginia, that ended laws against interracial marriage throughout the country. Going into a film such as that, one may expect a typical courtroom drama that shows the harassment that both the lawyers and the Lovings faced. And while we do see much of the harassment the Lovings themselves faced, the courtroom is almost completely absent from the film. Nichols instead knew that the best version of this story would be to focus on what was truly important in it: the Lovings themselves.

As a result, Loving is a very subdued, quiet film that reflects the real people its characters are based upon. These weren’t revolutionaries like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King. Mildred Loving certainly helped a lot of other people in pushing their case to the ACLU, but in the end they were two people that loved each other that just wanted to be left alone to raise their family. And Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga do a spectacular job of portraying that. Edgerton’s Richard is a man of few words who is quite the reluctant participant in the whole ordeal. Negga’s Mildred on the other hand starts off quite timid, but as the film progresses she really takes charge and ends up being the really driving force in the relationship. And their chemistry together is absolutely palpable.

Now, Jeff Nichols, may not seem like the right man to tell a story like this, and even he has said he had his doubts at first. I mean, you wouldn’t think the white guy behind Mud and Take Shelter would be directing a biopic about the Lovings, but after seeing the film he made, I think there is no doubt he was the perfect person for the job. Not only does he take great care in getting the characters right, but he is exactly the type of sure-handed director that this story needed. He doesn’t get too flashy and he lets the characters really be the driving force behind the film. His obvious affinity for stories about huge anxiety inducing forces bearing down on people certainly helps the film as well, as he not only shows the obvious harassment the Lovings face, but the psychological torment they bare. And his experience of growing up in the south certainly comes through in the film, as he tackles the issue of race in quite complex ways that we don’t often see in films. There is even a brilliant conversation about white privilege in which Richard is made aware of the fact that he is the rare white man that has had a small glimpse into what black people at the time were facing.

The complexity Nichols brings to the film as well as his willingness to let character drive it is exactly what makes Loving a truly great biopic. In many ways, it is quite conventional, but Nichols always finds ways to either subvert convention or just do conventional things really really well. I think the moment in the film that really sums up the genius of it also happens to be where Nichols’ favorite actor, Michael Shannon, enters. His character, a photographer for LIFE magazine, comes by the house to take pictures of the Lovings. And while he is there, he is able to capture Mildred and Richard’s true selves as they eat and joke around the dinner table, wash dishes and finally, he snaps the most iconic shot of the couple: Richard lying his head on Mildred’s lap as they are perched on the couch laughing at the TV. Not only was this one of my favorite scenes, but it also represents everything the film is: a subtle look at the humanity of two people who loved each other very much.