words on the internet

i'm will dennis. these are my movie reviews and thoughts. i don't proofread before publishing so forgive the editing or lack thereof


A beautiful analogy for the American experience even though you likely didn’t have one quite like the one we see on screen. It’s a movie about the American dream and how its promise often comes up short, but you realize that even though you’re miserable we’re all miserable together.

We have our American girl, Star, leaving a bad situation to be free – travel with a group of friends, make money, see the world (or at least some of the ugly middle parts of the US).

She realizes that the workplace isn’t as rosy as she hoped, with lying, deceit, and self interest being the only rules by which people play. Eventually she embraces these ideals herself and finds success doing so.

By the end of the film the “freedom” of the new opportunity doesn’t feel entirely so free anymore. There’s risk to leaving – financial and physical, but maybe most importantly: emotional. Once you’re a part of a system and a community, even though it’s flawed, it’s very hard to leave.

AMERICAN HONEY provides an amazing comment on the lock-in of the American system – are we “free” or is this version of communal suffering simply the best we have to choose from? There’s freedom – the road trip analogy in the case of the film – but there’s really no escape. Being free simultaneously means you’re left alone if you don’t adhere to the rules.

Krystal – the leader of the magazine selling tribe – delivers most of the framework and logic for how and why the group operates, if her own motivations aren’t entirely clear (a downside of the film). She threatens to out you if you don’t play by the rules, considers you lucky to be a part of the group, emphasizes the importance of capitalism, and has a unapologetic sexiness about her. If that isn’t a metaphor for America I don’t know what is.

Further underscoring the feeling of being “trapped” in this fake freedom is the 4:3 aspect ratio, making the van and conflicts feel additionally claustrophobic – a brilliant contrast to the open spaces long roads. Even in the great wide open these kids are trapped in this life.

Are they traveling the country or do they simply have nowhere else to go? By the end of the movie it’s clearly the latter.

Star is a charismatic lead, if one dimensional and often making the uneducated decisions we wish she wouldn’t. She make she the decisions your parents warn you about, and perhaps that make sense as her parents are absent scumbags. One of the brilliant story telling choices in the film is putting Star into situations where the worst is possible but it doesn’t happen. “She could be raped or killed!” you’re thinking as she dips her toe into prostitution. That thought is all you need to make the scene dramatic and tense. The filmmakers understand the audience will assume the worst, so the avoidance of telling a more melodramatic version (where she gets beaten or raped – both fair within this universe) is actually more daunting and powerful. It’s the vulnerability that strikes a true chord.

I didn’t fully buy into the relationship between Jake and Star – maybe that was the point. But when they were fighting or making love (some amazing love making scenes – very real in the grass with jerky gonzo style camera movements) I didn’t really care what the outcome would be. Our we meant to think their connection was more lust than love or was it ineffective storytelling? I think the ambiguity was intended but it would have served for them to connect about something deeper than money or Jake’s bag of stolen jewelry.

Star’s role as the attractor of all things animal – both animals and humans – serves to humanize her and make her likable. Some people just seem to attract the wild and try to care for it and she falls into that camp. There also was a ridiculous, over the top scene where a bear yells in her face then wanders off but I mean fuck it why not. Cinema!

The cinematography was close up, yellow, saturated, shallow focus, and often felt documentary-esque. An interesting mixed bag that made the film feel grounded and raw, but still cinematic and striking. A tough line to walk but one that they managed mostly with success.

The music was low-brow-rap-pop (not a genre, i know) – but essentially songs that are more for their catch phrases and beats than their ideas. Brilliant choice considering the overall message of the film is that America is just one big bag of cheetos and we’re just living in it.

Walking out of the movie I was a fan, but after unpacking it a bit more I think it’s a brilliant effort.

Great world building, ambitious themes, and unique story telling. That’s good movie making. If this long and rambling post is any indication it’s thought provoking to boot.



An all in drama that could have risked being syrupy or over dramatic and was tonally perfect.

He’s a janitor who’s responsible for his kids death in a fire then his brother dies which makes him return home to where he lived when the tragedy occurred. It’s dark subject matter that instead of coming across as morbid becomes an exploration of the human experience and emotional survival.

The result is a feeling of survival and triumph of life over grief. Nothing is perfect or notably better in terms of circumstances, but rather the tools for coping with the circumstances are shaper.

That’s the story we’re told and it’s a really good one.

Equal parts touching, sad, and funny – this flick works. The runtime of 2:15 doesn’t feel slow and is necessary to fully capture the emotional arc and growth of the characters.

The cinematographer is gorgeous – restrained in movement, well composed frames, a touch over exposed and over saturated led to gorgeous dreaming-or-not vibes without feeling at all stylized.

The story structure is brilliant also – rather than having us slog through a linear progression of the misery of Lee, we’re given consistent flashbacks to his relationship with his brother and wife and the loss of his kids. It breaks us from the dry events (visiting lawyer and funeral home) while underscoring and heightening the complexity of Lees situation.

Acting was perfect. Cast perfect. They were believable and their words –  and often the pregnant pauses between them – were captivating and entertaining and endearing and realistic. A hard combo.

One of the best edited films I’ve seen. Managing the tone (making it severe without depressing), the humor, the pregnant pauses in conversations, the flashbacks, and the gorgeous scenic insert. It felt methodical and spacious without feeling slow. Brilliant.

Loved this one.


Great modern day bank heist movie set against the gorgeous and grimy West Texas prairie.

Loved Ben Foster as the loose cannon criminal though bought less Chris Pines as his straight-edge-but-mastermind brother – maybe he was too pretty?

Jeff Bridges is always fun even if his growl is unintelligible half the time.

The scenic landscapes were great and the characters were unique and charismatic. Overall liked the story with a subtext of ‘the banks are killing America.’

The cinematography – while beautiful at times – felt a bit off to me. The exposure and colors seemed a bit harsh or imbalanced at times, but most vexing was unmotivated camera moves. I love a flow dolly in, but big dramatic dolly moves when the characters are having a conversation are distracting and unwarranted. It makes it seem like the filmmakers aren’t confident in the dialogue (and rightfully so, some of the dialogue feels a bit on the nose – like TV sitcom style “zingers”).

Fun energy and felt like a fresh take on bank heist, where our protagonists have specific goals – one’s in it for the outcome and one’s in it for the ride.

The shootout at the end was gripping and felt original – a stand off where everyone loses. Whether or not Ben Foster’s character would have made that choice is an open question – but portraying it as they did forces the audience to question ‘going out in a blaze’ not by circumstance but by choice. It’s something we see on the news everyday and as been normalized through exposure, if not fully understood.

Rich movie that was just shy of phenomenal – but still very very good.

NARCOS – SEASON 2 (2016)

Fun ride. You don’t really walk away with any key insights or perspective on the human condition, other than sometimes ambition for ambition’s sake is what drives people.

Other strong themes are that there’s always another bad guy around the corner and that even if you want to succeed, you may actually be enjoying the journey more than the success it eventually brings.

Some great integration of archival footage, in the last episode especially, with the DEA agent posing with Escobar’s body.

This season felt like a lot of ‘here’s a tip, follow it, shoot out, kill some bad guys, repeat.’ Felt a little linear – fun, for sure – but a little too linear.

I would have liked to see more of agent Murphy’s family life towards the end because he seemed to be a bit of a warm body towards the end without much development.

The end of the season became a quieter look at Pablo Escobar and his family, which was welcomed and interested. The acting from Pablo Escobar was constantly gripping and so believable.

They set up the show for a very explicit 3rd season – following the Cali cartel with agent Pena – but without Pablo’s acting I’m unsure if it will be as gripping. Pablo was a man amongst boys – so do we really want to see the boys play?

Maybe the look into the Cali cartel will be more sophisticated and oriented around money laundering and finance, which could be a refreshing change to the bomb and kill approach of Escobar.

If they take that approach, which I bet they do, I’m in. I think Murphy and Pena are charismatic enough to keep driving this thing forward.

GONE GIRL (2014)

So dark. So twisty. So fun.

Second time watching this one – threw it on in the background as I was doing some work and cleaning.

The major stand out is the number of twists and how well they’re executed. They happen quicker than you expect and as a result the rabbit hole is deeper than you expect.

We’re learning just how bad these characters are and to what lengths they’ll go.

The more I watch great movies and shows the more I find that point of view is the key to great storytelling. Managing who knows what and when – for both the audience and the characters – can be the difference between average and excellent storytelling.

In GONE GIRL we start with the unreliable narrator then back to real time – as we shift our allegiances shift as well.

The role of the media as a character in this film is brilliant – our opinion is manipulated in much the same way the media manipulates the public’s perception. The media is either villain or friend – depending on if you agree with them.

Brilliant and fun and dark. A good comment on media and the idea of normalcy in relationships – is it what we really want?

STRANGER THINGS (Series, 2016)

Great for moments. The production design is flawless. However, it felt like it should have been a movie.

There was a lot of Winona Ryder upset and a lot of walking around in the woods and exploring. Not enough plot to justify 8 episodes. Very luxurious filmmaking and definitely delightful at times but feels like they took a great 2 hour movie and pulled it from both ends.

The main issue is that we didn’t learn a tremendous amount more about the characters or the world as the story progress.

We know we have a telekenetic girl, a monster, multiple dimensions, and a corrupt government agency early on. Feel there we don’t learn a ton more about their motives other than some 3rd party predictable “testing on expanding the human psyche to create a weapon.”

I’m not fully sure what the box in the woods was at the end that Hopper dropped the egos off for – I suppose Eleven is in the upside down world fighting the demagorgue and protecting the real world?

The ending was nice with Will having flashbacks to the upside down world and still having the “snake” in his system – raises a few interesting questions of how he’ll recover in the future.

WHERE ARE BARBS PARENTS? She died. Nancy was upset. Moving on haha. Nothing to see here. They could have been incorporated to heighten the tragedy of the situation and balance out the happiness of getting Will back.

I suppose Hopper is now sort of the gatekeeper between the upside down and the real world? I suppose that’s all we can take away from the mysterious car ride with the “bad men.”

Glad I watched it but wish it was denser.


It’s all about point of view. Something that underwhelmed me about STRANGER THINGS was the lack of clear boundaries around point of view. It was omniscient and restrained, a combination that I find very frustrating as a viewer – it feels like you’re being withheld from the story rather than following along with it.

THE NIGHT OF manages perspective wonderfully. You’re along with Nas during the night of the murder and are exposed to what he’s exposed to. You don’t know if he killed her because he doesn’t know if he killed her. No one knows if he killed her – it’s brilliant. In this way the audience is taken on an intellectually honest journey through the minutia of the criminal justice system. The facts, evidence, and behavior of Nas all became crucial breadcrumbs for deciding for yourself – did he or you’d he have killed her?

He starts as a very innocent “good” kid and progresses into a harder, darker person. Is that the prison system or has the hardened interior been there all along? Was his fights in school indicators of things to come or simply post-911 defense?

These types of questions keep the show consistently compelling and engaging through it’s slow, but intense, pace.

The character development is brilliant with amazing acting and characters who each are trying to do their jobs righteously by the best efforts. There’s no good vs bad – just everyone trying to figure out what the truth is. It’s a refreshing presentation of what feels like a more realistic presentation of the criminal justice system.

Defense attorney’s aren’t scum, and the DA isn’t the knight – everyone has a conscious and is trying to do right by themselves and the accused.

There’s enough drama to keep it from getting dry as well – mostly related to the prison life – murders, suicides, drug smuggling, lawyers who overstep – that felt not entirely fresh but excited and visceral nonetheless.

John Stone is an amazing character – his constant battle with excema and allergies provides a light hearted but still tender subplot that adds depth to his persona and a nice escape from the severity of the prosecution. His sacrifice of his own comfort of the preservation of the cat is an touching way to end the series and underscores the theme of love vs suffering and sacrifice for the greater good – but perhaps most importantly that life is unfair, but fuck it move along – as John eloquently says to Naz in the bodega.

An excellent, beautiful exploration of the fallibility of humans despite their best intentions.

Cinematically I found myself quite often struck but the beauty of the compositions. Racking focus and shallow focus were used quite often as well – occasionally brilliantly and occasionally in a way I found distracting. The cool dark pallate combined with the composition and focus – as well as purely artistic framing from time to time – kept the show feeling dramatic, moody, and claustrophobic.

It’s the kind of show I wish didn’t have to end (it’s a limited series) but maybe it’s best that it does because the result is something very tightly structured and wound. The introduction of a more likely suspect in the final episode offers some potential for another series or a continuation – but the best part is is that it offered key motivation for the DA to pass on further prosecuting Naz.

There’s also some compelling and under-told views into the repercussions of having a family member convicted of murder or being a defense attorney for a high profile murder(er). It’s the sacrifices we make for the ones we love and for what we feel is right (back to the beautiful cat ending). I

Great great storytelling, photography, and editing – in particular the pacing.

I just finished and want to watch it again.


Gorgeous. Long. Lots of make up.

The epic required 3 different train rides to finish but once you get the hang of the pacing it’s not boring. It feels a bit like you’re watching several episodes of a TV show back to back.

The visuals and scale of the production are impressive even by today’s standards. The compositions are consistently breathtaking and colorful – at times looking like impressionistic paintings more than stills of a movie. Stunning and aspirational.

The scale of the effects and shots is similarly stunning. Hundreds of men on horseback racing across the desert towards a train that’s been blown off its tracks. All along the backdrop of amazing Jordanian desert. The ambition of both the story and the production for the time period are impressive.

Without having looked at the budget I’d imagine it’s one of the most expensive for it’s time.

The make up on Peter O’Toole and others was often distracting – perhaps the 1080p was to blame but also that eye liner just seemed a bit much.

The ideas explored justified the scale of the production – global politics, global agendas, man’s thirst for blood, man’s loss of innocence, the media’s role in building heroes and shaping the narrative around war, and the lust for something noble and greater for yourself. Lawrence corrupts along the way to his worthy goal of giving the Arab’s their own nation and the goal itself crumbles under its own ambition.

It seems a bit racist put against the backdrop of today, with the white man leading the brown man to their revolution – the offensive bit that without him they would be left in the desert to their own arguments (which is how it essentially concludes).

Peter O’Toole’s performance was captivating and perhaps a bit much, but he masterfully moves from aloof and carefree to tortured and jaded while remaining mysterious and entertaining along the way.

The best movies seem to explore the epic emotional journey of a man or woman against the backdrop of an equally epic external journey. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA does just that and watching the impact of his external success on his internal psyche is equal parts wonderful and traffic.

We learn that his passion and vigor and aggression, while leading him to conquer, do not give him the full skill set of a leader, which is made evidently clear by his lack of care for the Turkish prisoners of war. He has the passion and the intent but not the follow through. Tragic but an honest message – so many who we see as great and do great things are really missing key parts of their humanity.

An impressive epic in every sense of the word. While I’m not likely to rewatch given its length, the beauty of the composition already makes me miss the desert.


Classic noir. Femme fatale. Dark lighting. Deception and backstabbing. Salty dialogue. A narrator. And a criminal that’s foiled by a cruel twist of fate.

THE KILLING was recommended to me and after looking it up I was surprised to see it was written and directed by Kubrick. It stayed well within the constraints of noir and other films of the period (as far as I can tell) so you don’t really see him flex his stylistic muscles.

It’s a fun watch where the dialogue and banter often takes center stage, and the plot often comes off as superfluously complex. It takes robbing a racetrack and seems to make it seem bigger than it is. We get a lot of backstory to the crooks and a lot of their underlying motivations (to screw each other out of the money, occasionally) but I think a more linear plot could have served the movie better.

The heist itself is satisfying, with a few members of the group failing at their roles, leading to a good amount of suspense and tension.

My favorite moment of the film is when the lead robber is forced to check his bag onto the airplane. We see it loaded onto a luggage cart, which is soon toppled by a loose dog on the runway. The briefcase topples, opens, and all $2 million flutters into the wind. The crook has no choice but to make a hasty exit and is caught by police on the way out.

Cruel twist of fate and emphasizing the message that crime never pays.

Even though it felt like they had tried to cram too much complexity into a relatively simple story, it was still a fun watch with some great moments.


A classic I’ve been long overdue seeing. Doesn’t age perfectly but ages very very well (1942 is old!!).

It’s dramatic, complex, emotionally, and dense. There are classic man vs the world, man vs man (or woman), and man vs himself through out. Not just with the protagonist but with most supporting characters as well. The result is a rich story underscoring an already well paced plot.

What makes this film masterful is that all the characters different motivations interweave, relate, and complicate each other. Saving the free world from the Nazis is tightly woven into the success or failure of the various relationships in the film. In that way the relationships themselves have more weight – they’re not just “B” plots but rather subplots of the A story – or arguably the A story themselves.

Additionally impressive and a characteristic of older movies is the specific dialogue. Every word seems to be carefully thought out, every retort sharp, and all banter chock full of jokes and subtext. It seems like more modern moses err on the side of naturalism and forfeit the cleverness of great dialogue in exchange. While arguably less emotional, the entertainment value more than makes up for it. A complicated but well executed tight rope of dialogue can be as satisfying as a great twist of the plot. The more modern BRICK took the “noir” approach to dialogue and was so much richer as a result.

What makes CASABLANCA so successful is the sense that people’s difficult decisions are at the core of the plot and story. Because they’re difficult and the humans responsible are complex, and realistically so, how the story unfolds is dramatic and suspenseful.

The simple storytelling device of putting a character in a situation where either choice is the right one leads to such tight and effective drama. Too often I focus on plot and circumstance to drive story when I should more often consider providing characters with a difficult choice then letting them unravel from there.

I also appreciated how limited the set was. While not simple, most of the action takes place in Rick’s Cafe Americain (which has such a badass neon sign). There are luxurious shots throughout the large space, but overall the locations are limited.

Always worth mentioning when the medium shines through, as it does in the flashback sequences where Rick and Ilsa are in Paris on a obviously-projected background. Having said that, for 1942 the film seems modern and dynamic. Lots of tracking shots.

Also impossible not to notice the super-soft, almost blurry close ups that seem like a completely different lighting set up from the wides and mediums. I don’t know if that’s a style choice or just necessary to get the right look (or increase the drama of the close up).

A rich film with amazing global and interpersonal issues that’s boiled down to a human drama with high high stakes. An ironic ending that’s unexpected while highly believable and showing some significant change in our protagonist.

The central thematic question of weighing your own self interest versus the greater good is timeless and so well highlighted.

It’s understandable while CASABLANCA is a cornerstone of cinema.