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

Tag: movie


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.

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.