Dunkirk / **** ½

dunkirk-posterFor the second time in a row, I find myself reviewing a movie that undoubtedly has flaws on a character level, and yet is a movie that I find myself recommending solely on the technical merits of the filmmaking. Last time, it was Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, where the film leaned on archetypes in favor of stylish, musical style and editing. But now comes Christopher Nolan’s visceral, intense Dunkirk, which focuses on the experience of those living through the Dunkirk evacuation in frightening, relentless detail, eschewing all but the barest character beats. And while a lack of almost any character depth would be an issue in almost every other film, Dunkirk makes it work, simply by virtue of focusing on the experience of the war as a whole, and making that the story of the film.

Unfolding in an unconventional three-part structure (more on that in a moment), Dunkirk follows the evacuation on three fronts: land (represented by the soldiers waiting to get home), sea (following the English citizens sailing their private crafts to the beach), and air (I. This case, a pair of RAF pilots running interference against the bombers constantly straying the beach and the boats). There’s little dialogue to the film; our main soldiers barely speak, our pilots are largely restricted to mission talk, and the only characters we somewhat get to know are our three primary civilians, a father and son accompanied by a close family friend. Instead, Nolan throws us into the action early and fast, letting the characters be defined by their action – and just as importantly, their reactions, as they cope with the danger around them. For the beach-stranded soldiers, that’s relentless German strafing of guns and bombs; for the boatsmen, it’s the constant and worrying presence of those same bombers, and the worry of the stranded men they find along the way; and for the pilots, it’s the worry that they may look behind them to find themselves in the gunsights of an enemy fighter.

As he did in Inception, Nolan plays the three threads against each other, letting the tension build in each simultaneously and cutting among them to keep the dread and unease building without pause. Instead of keeping that to the climax, though, Nolan pretty much juggles tension and dread through the entire film, with only one notable pause along the way that I can think of. Meanwhile, bombs are dropping, men are dying, ships are sinking, and there’s hardly a moment to catch your breath. The end effect is equal parts nerve-wracking, exhausting, and incredibly effective – rarely has a film managed to make audiences feel the dread of war so constantly without giving them an easy out.

That goes double if you’re lucky enough to see the film in 70mm as Nolan intended. Often using every bit of the massive frame, Nolan immerses you into this world, particularly in the aerial combat sequences that emphasize the space and the distance at all times, or an early overhead shot of the pier, beach, and water in an incredible tableau that drives home the scope and horrible beauty of all of this. Even more effective, though, is the deafening and relentless sound of the IMAX system, whose overwhelming and brutal roar reminds you that war isn’t exactly a quiet affair.

So, yes, on every technical and filmmaking level, Dunkirk is a knockout. But in other ways, it has some deep, critical flaws that keep it from being the masterpiece it could have been. The biggest is the lack of character work; while it’s understandable that the film focuses on the experience of war and the nature of these battles, there’s a sense that we care about these people because they’re human, not because we know them. And while there’s something interesting about that – that it doesn’t matter why you’re in the war, you deserve to be saved – it makes the film drier and colder than it could have been otherwise.

But the bigger issue to me is that three-part structure, which borrows another conceit from Inception – namely, that each part takes place over a different period of time, and only gradually does the film reveal the points at which they connect. It’s a showy gimmick, but one that never benefits the film; indeed, all we tend to think when we see those connections is about the film, not about the story. In other words, they end up taking you out of the film more than immersing you in it. It doesn’t help either that the film doesn’t make this time dilation particularly clear; even though each part is labeled “one week,” “one day,” or “one hour,” there’s no explanation of what that means, and I heard several people still not understanding the connection after the film ended. (To be fair, I don’t know that I would have gotten it worth having known about the idea before seeing it.) The result feels more like Nolan showing off than it does something for the benefit of the film, and the confusion and disorientation it brings detracts from the experience.

And yet, for all of those flaws – and they’re not insignificant ones – I still find myself recommending Dunkirk as a theatrical experience, and doubly so for 70mm. In some ways, it reminded me of my feelings about the film Avatar, a deeply flawed and simplistic film that I found myself realizing the flaws of throughout, and yet found myself incredibly swept up in as a theatrical experience. I don’t know that Dunkirk will ever play as well on a small screen as it does on the 70mm IMAX, or even just a good theater. But I can say that, even while I recognized its issues , I can’t deny the exhilaration, tension, and cumulative impact of the film as a experience, nor could I ever say that it’s not powerful, incredible viewing, taken all in all.

IMDb

Baby Driver / **** ½

baby-driver-posterI frequently cite Roger Ebert’s famous quote, in which he argued that “a movie is not about what it is about; it’s about how it goes about it.” That rule informs so much of my opinions about Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, because if all you focused on with Baby Driver was the story, you’d be pretty let down. This is a heist movie, and pretty much every character in it is an archetype, at best – the Good Kid, the Crazy Psycho, the Femme Fatale, the Good Girl, etc., even down to that famous One Last Job. What unfolds, by and large, is what you expect, with few true surprises or shocks.

And yet, I’d be lying if I said any of that mattered that much, because Baby Driver is so wonderfully stylish and well-executed that I forgive pretty much all of those flaws. Because, yes, it’s a heist movie, or even a car chase movie…but it’s also one that basically turns the genre into a musical, with every gunshot, punch, swerve, brake, and accident timed out to the beat of the constant soundtrack, and the energy never flagging. And it’s hard not to get swept up into the fun of that, even before you realize that Wright isn’t just doing it in his action sequences – it’s his dialogue, his solo walks, his briefings, all of it. (Even better is an early-film tracking shot where the graffiti and passerby all sync up the music quietly, without ever drawing attention to themselves.)

So, yes, Baby Driver has some issues. Almost nobody surpasses their archetype in their role (though I think Jon Hamm does better than most), and Jamie Foxx’s character is particularly underserved by the film, bringing evil and violence for their own sake in a role that could use some fleshing out. (And yes, it’s a heist film, which is a genre that uses archetypes as a rule, but these are pretty flatly presented ones.) Even our hero and his love interest don’t really exist much beyond the confines of the plot or their roles in the big picture, and that’s a bit of a letdown. And yet, every time Baby gets behind the wheel of a car, or the laundry in a laundromat spins in time with the beat, or Wright times all of his pieces so masterfully that you can’t help but just giggle in happiness, all of my complaints washed away. Yes, Baby Driver is all style, no substance…but when the style is this well-done and this entertaining, I’m pretty okay with that.

IMDb

Spider-Man: Homecoming / ****

ono08hbmbenyI am, at best, an agnostic towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and that may be generous. I’ve skipped most of the entries in the MCU, and by and large, the ones I’ve seen have been fine, but forgettable – in other words, they’re boring, empty calories. Yes, there have been highlights – the weirdness that James Gunn brought to the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Shane Black’s surprisingly subversive plotting in Iron Man 3 – but for the most part, I haven’t even been able to motivate myself to watch more than a couple of them. And making it all worse is watching interesting, talented directors and actors being sucked into a world where everything comes out as the same generic, homogenized product.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, I wasn’t that excited about Spider-Man: Homecoming, even before you take into account the needlessness of another reboot. And yet, what I was excited about was the chance to take my son to a superhero movie, because one of the things that the MCU has done is pitch so hard for an older audience that it’s forgotten to be there for kids, who can’t always deal with big, apocalyptic battles or constant double entendres (especially if your kids already get anxious easily). But with its high school setting and wisecracking character, I got the vibe that this might be the perfect one to take a ten-year-old boy to go see in theaters.

And I’m glad I did – not only for him (he loved it), but because I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up really enjoying it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming does a lot right, but one of the most welcome changes is the lowering of stakes and the resulting focus on more personal connections. The film’s villain, played by the always welcome Michael Keaton, isn’t interested in taking over the world, or killing people, or destroying a universe. He wants to provide for his family, and little else matters to him. What that means is a villain without some big, grandiose plot – no giant glowing columns of energy; even more to the point, no attacks on civilians at all – but instead, a human being, and a sympathetic one. Yes, Keaton is the film’s villain, but he’s likable, and more importantly, he’s understandable. He’s terrified for his family and their lives – and those are stakes that can matter to us.

Similarly, with its focus on high-school life and Peter Parker’s inexperience and age, Homecoming makes its themes more interesting than “responsibility” or “power” or “justice”. Instead, it’s the story of a kid who wants to be taken seriously, who wants to figure out his place in the world and to be special. That’s prime material for a superhero story, and Homecoming makes it work, making it echo through every part of the film, from Parker’s high school life to the combat sequences. And when things like “responsibility” do come up in the film, the movie has a way of making them sneak up on you, playing with the risks of super-powers more effectively than most, and reminding us how they can do a lot – and that works in a lot of ways.

But best of all, Homecoming echoes the best lesson from Logan: the best superhero films realize that “superhero” isn’t a genre in of itself, but an element. Where Logan was a Western injected with superhero DNA, Homecoming feels like a high school film – one of those where a nerdy kid gets the chance to prove himself as something more, only using superhero material to elevate it all. And what that results in is something that feels like an actual movie, not just an extended trailer for a film yet to come.

Mind you, there’s still some of my usual Marvel grumbles – for instance, the way that at least two different characters are clearly there only as placeholders for greater roles to come, or a general lack of interesting style of any sort. But by and large, the film overcomes its MCU obligations nicely, handling them with humor and wit (see the clever method of recapping Civil War as the film opens, or even better, the final credits scene), or else making them vague but solid subtext (the villain gets his start cleaning up battle sites from the earlier films). And instead of worrying about spending too much time about what’s to come or what may happen (or, for that matter, on telling a story about Peter’s uncle that we’ve heard too much), the film can focus on being its own satisfying, engaging story. And really, that’s what I wanted from a superhero movie in the first place. Yes, some style would be nice…but in the meantime, I’ll settle for fun with an emphasis on character and world.

IMDb

Rogue One / ****

rogueone_onesheetaI’m naturally skeptical of the whole “extended universe” of Star Wars. It’s nothing really against Star Wars, which I like pretty well – I’m not an obsessive fan, but I’ve enjoyed the movies on the whole. But it’s not like the original extended universe of Star Wars was particularly great – need we remind everyone of the whole “Chewbacca was crushed by a moon” debacle? And now, with everything borrowing from Marvel’s “shared cinematic universe” thing, everything has to be a franchise, ideally without ever feeling too risky or interesting.

And yet, there’s a lot that’s promising about Rogue One, even though it’s an undeniably flawed movie. There’s the fact that, tonally, the movie feels legitimately different from the other Star Wars movies. Yes, it’s an adventure film, but there’s a different feel to it all, most notably in the ending. It feels like a movie made up of Han Solos, for lack of a better term; it’s a collection of selfish rogues, caught up in this story almost against their better judgment or rationale.

Better than that, though, is Rogue One‘s approach to action, which feels far richer and more ambitious than much that we’ve seen in any of the other Star Wars films. It’s not just that there’s no lightsabers deployed here; the action feels bigger and broader, turning into the first time we’ve seen a true “war” in the Star Wars films. And in Gareth Edwards’ hands, there’s a sense of dread in the scope that we haven’t seen. Just as Gareth slowly doled out the glimpses of Godzilla in his film, Edwards makes great use of the Imperial elements of his battles, whether it’s the terrifying reveal of the Walkers or the dreadful looming of the Death Star. And that doesn’t even get into the instantly iconic scene near the end of the film that finally underlines something that’s been an undercurrent for the whole series.

This all makes Rogue One sound great, and to be honest, whenever Rogue One is letting action loose, it’s phenomenal. But a movie has to have a script and a plot, and that’s where Rogue One falls down. In many ways, Rogue One is a heist movie; it’s about the theft of the Death Star plans that set the first film into motion, and the film’s climax is all about that heist. But any heist has to have a coming together of the crew, and Rogue One‘s motley cast, while enjoyable, never really comes to life more than as archetypes and sketches. Motivations feel rushed at times, most notably in the case of Felicity Jones’s lead role, which feels like she decided to join the Rebellion offstage between scenes. (That’s better than Forrest Whitaker’s non-role, which feels like a blatant nod for some tie-in novel somewhere.) We know who these characters are a little, but not much, and it’s hard to be too invested in their fates when they feel a bit tossed in. It all ends up feeling like a functional script, and not much more, and one that hopes that the director can paper over the holes.

The result isn’t a great film, really. But it’s a promising start for these spin-off films, in that it shows that there’s a chance for these stories to be their own thing – not just more Star Wars, but a chance to find some of their own personality and style. Rogue One isn’t quite there yet, but in its action and style, it’s a step in the right direction, with enough action and fun to keep fans happy.

IMDb

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) / *****

i_am_not_your_negro_xlgI’ll confess, up front, to being largely unaware of James Baldwin before watching I Am Not Your Negro, a fascinating and powerful documentary by Raoul Peck. Oh, of course I knew the three major names around which Baldwin’s unfinished book – which forms the basis for this documentary – revolves; I knew how the dichotomy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X is used for so many to represent the polar opposite approaches to race relations in America. And of course, I knew the tragedy of Medgar Evers, and the pain that followed.

But Baldwin was unfamiliar to me, and after watching I Am Not Your Negro, I regret that very much. Anchored entirely by Baldwin’s words – sometimes recorded as he spoke, but generally narrated by Samuel L. Jackson in a world-weary, exhausted tone whose power never diminishes – the documentary takes, as its starting point, Baldwin’s unfinished novel about those three iconic figures in American race relations. But in Peck’s skilled hands, I Am Not Your Negro becomes something else, like listening to Baldwin talk about his life, his observations, and his feelings on America for an hour and half. And given that Baldwin is incredibly insightful, intelligent, compelling, and effective as a speaker, that’s a pretty incredible way to spend an hour and a half of time. Indeed, there’s little way to come away from I Am Not Your Negro unimpressed with Baldwin’s thoughtful approach to the world, and the accuracy of so much of what he says.

Nor does it hurt that so much applies still today. Peck skillfully ties Baldwin’s words to modern events, using images of Ferguson, Obama, Trayvon Martin, and other modern touchstones to draw the connections more obviously when needed. Other times, he’s willing to sit back and let the audience realize the connections for themselves; for instance, when you hear another academic lecturing Baldwin on being so “obsessed” with color, you can’t help but feel echoes of every “All Lives Matter” activist who’s ever spoken.

But Baldwin is fascinating, no matter what he’s talking about. From commentary on pop culture and films to politics, from his first meeting with Malcolm X to his memories of the day Martin Luther King was assassinated, Baldwin’s prose and voice are inimitable, evoking emotion and senses for things I’ve never experienced, and conveying far more effectively than I could have imagined his ideas. He’s matched, it must be said, by Jackson’s incredible narration; while Jackson is known for his bluster and anger, his quiet, weary voice here speaks wonders, immersing you in Baldwin’s contemplative, thoughtful prose and evoking the pain that he so often writes of.

But more than anything else, I Am Not Your Negro is a great film for the way it addresses directly, without flinching, issues of race in this country – issues that we’re still dealing with, and still running away from. Baldwin is never less than honest, and his perceptions are so accurate as to be painful. “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America,” he says at one point, “and it is not a pretty story.” That is a painfully accurate quote, and one that makes this film and its words every bit as important and trenchant as they were when they were first written. I Am Not Your Negro will hurt you, will make you question yourself, will make you think, and will make you feel empathy for people you truly may be unable to understand – and for those reasons, and so many more, it’s the kind of film that I wish I could force people to watch.

IMDb

It Comes at Night / **** ½

it_comes_at_night_xlgLast year, at the Chattanooga Film Festival, I caught a phenomenal film named Krisha, written and directed by a newcomer named Trey Edward Shults. Telling the story of a family’s Thanksgiving that gets crashed by a long absent relative, it was a searing piece of drama, filmed with a natural talent that blew me away and telling an emotionally powerful story in an exceptional way. In short, it was one of those debut features that leaves you knowing that you just saw the birth of a new talent, and someone worth keeping an eye on.

Now comes Shults’s second film, It Comes at Night, which offers up no end of surprises, even before you actually see the film. For one, I wouldn’t have expected Shults to make the jump to bigger budget, wide release films so quickly; even more surprising, though, is the fact that Shults has left behind domestic drama for the tougher genre of horror. That’s a tough genre, and while Krisha was undeniably tense and emotionally fraught, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a horror film from Shults.

What I got, though, was superb, marrying the “family under pressure to the breaking point” themes of Krisha with the paranoia and isolation of Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, and using shadows and silence to phenomenal effect. It Comes at Night is the story of a family who’ve isolated themselves in a cabin in the woods; while the specifics of what’s happened to the rest of the world never become entirely clear, it’s obvious that a disease has wiped out much of the population, and left the rest fending for themselves. But when the family gets discovered, questions of trust and loyalty come into play, and the characters are forced to deal with a simple question: how far do you go to protect your loved ones?

Shults’s strengths as a writer and director are evident from the get-go here, especially as regards the performances, which are uniformly excellent, with nary a missed step in the batch. Joel Edgerton is one of the only “names” you might recognize, but he’s rarely been better, getting a role that befits his masculine practicality and gruffness. And Kelvin Harrison, Jr., the film’s de facto lead (as much as there is one), uses his youth to phenomenal effect, internalizing the horrors around him as he attempts to make his peace with the violent world he’s forced to live in, and figure out his own moral compass.

But as great as the performances are, what really floored me here was Shults’s command of mood and tone. This feels like a low- to mid-budget film; the scares are few, with more reliance on an atmosphere of dread and unease than on jump scares. More than that, Shults keeps us in the head of his characters more than we realize, leaving us questioning people’s motivations and understanding the stakes at any given moment. The result is maybe more of a psychological thriller than a true horror film, but the lines are blurred, and the film’s use of night and darkness leave no doubt as to where its genre roots lay. And it’s in keeping with Shults’s independent-film roots all the way to the film’s ending, which is destined to leave some mainstream audiences grumbling and unhappy, but which floored me pretty well.

It Comes at Night is going to be one of those cult horror films soon, one held up alongside The Witch and The Babadook and others as a reminder of how the decade was home to a rich new burst of creative, interesting horror movies. And more than that, it’s a sign that Shults is a talent to be watched; with his first two films, he’s hit two home runs. You better believe I’ll be there for attempt #3.

IMDb

Documentary Day

tickledBy now, you’re probably aware of some of the story behind Tickled, the fascinating, bizarre documentary from David Farrier and Dylan Reeve. How Farrier, a journalist with a penchant for offbeat stories, got tipped off to a series of videos of an underground “competitive tickling” competition. How Farrier started looking for interviews, only to get far more blowback and pressure than would seem logical for the situation. How Farrier and Dylan Reeve began investigating the situation, only to realize that there’s a much bigger – and stranger – story behind these videos. But even knowing some of that won’t prepare you for how gripping Tickled really is as a piece of investigative journalism, as Farrier and Reeve move step by step through this insane story that starts with what are clearly fetish videos, but end up in a world where money can let you get away with anything. Tickled struggles a bit along the way; without giving too much away (although there’s little here that’s truly out of nowhere, it’s still best to watch things slowly unfold), this ultimately becomes an effort to find someone who has no interest in being found, which leaves the documentary with a hole to be filled. (The long section where the film tries to present the tickling fetish as something far weirder than it is is a prime example of that, and easily the film’s weakest point.) That leads to a bit of a fizzling end to the documentary, which is why I’m so glad that HBO has released a short follow up, The Tickle King, which follows what’s happened since the film’s release, including confrontations at film festivals, legal threats, and more. It’s a far more satisfying conclusion to the film, even if it leaves out the most recent – and most final – update to the story (which happened in March). But watching them back to back makes for a riveting, bizarre experience, and a wonderful piece of storytelling that immerses you bit by bit into a strange world of fake identities, blackmail, bluster, and more. Even though there are some issues, and the better film would cut out some of Tickled and replace it with the end of The Tickle King, the pairing makes for a riveting night’s viewing that leaves you pondering the strangeness of human nature. Rating: ****

large_2iu7m8zs5fha4ct3c55ah38bc5sWhat I expected from Nick Broomfield’s Tales from the Grim Sleeper was another piece of investigative journalism. This was the story of a serial killer who preyed on South Central, a largely African-American community in Los Angeles, for nearly 25 years. And as such, what I expected was that the film would open with the early murders, then follow the case as it unfolded up until the arrest. Instead, Tales of the Grim Sleeper opens with the arrest of Lonnie Franklin, a largely beloved local man, and then investigates the obvious question: how did this take 25 years? And what does a revelation like this – that a local institution could be capable of possibly more than a hundred murdered women – do to the neighborhood around him? Director Nick Broomfield mainly stays out of the way for much of Tales‘ running time, instead letting the inhabitants of South Central – Lonnie’s friends, the activists, but also the prostitutes, the crackheads, the criminals – tell their stories largely uninterrupted. What emerges is a film that accurately reflects its title: this is tales from the world of the Grim Sleeper, a world where the murder of prostitutes were dismissed with the acronym NHI: No Humans Involved. It’s a world where black women didn’t feel safe going to the police to ask for help, and a world where the Los Angeles police didn’t feel the need to alert the community to the threat living among it, nor to investigate the evidence given by the lone survivor of the attacks…not until 20 more years (and countless more victims) had passed. Tales of the Grim Sleeper is a haunting, heartbreaking film, one that exhibits endless empathy for its interviewees. There is no judgment for their bad choices, be they crack or prostitution or both; instead, the film constantly reminds us that no matter what people have done, they don’t deserve to have been killed in such a horrific way. More than that, it’s a film that makes it impossible to ignore the racial double standard at work with the Los Angeles police, and forces us to grapple with the ways in which that double standard cost the lives of so many women. And most hauntingly, it shows us what it must be like to have to come to terms with the fact that we may never truly know the people around us, and what it would be like to deal with the revelation that someone you knew and cared for could be so violent. Tales of the Grim Sleeper is a haunting, powerful piece of filmmaking, one that’s far more about the world that allowed this man to prey on women and the damage he left behind than it is the man himself – and is all the more powerful for that choice. Rating: *****

weiner-posterIf you’re at all interested in the political process, or the role of the media in that process, or in the line between public and private lives, I can’t recommend Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s fascinating, uncomfortable documentary Weiner, which follows infamous former New York congressman Anthony Weiner as he makes an ill-fated attempt to run for mayor of New York City. Knowing how Weiner turns out – that a new sex scandal will break midway through the election, dooming his chances – doesn’t take away in the least from the fascination of Weiner, which attempts to take a “fly on the wall” approach to Weiner’s campaign and marriage; instead, it makes the campaign all the more excruciating, as we wait for this bomb to explode, destroying all of this work. Weiner does a phenomenal job of staying neutral in its reporting, and the result is fascinating, showing Weiner both as a savvy, intelligent politician and a capricious hothead who’s unable to think sometimes before he acts. In other words, we get both the sense of how great of a leader Weiner could have been, but also why he’s completely unelectable. The film never judges Weiner for his actions, allowing him to explain how little they have to do with his public persona or his platforms, while never flinching from the face of Weiner’s long-suffering wife Huma Abedin, whose strained, placid face reflects the pain she’s in all too often. Whether Weiner should be judged for the actions of his private life, whether the media’s focus on those issues prevented the real problems from being addressed, whether Weiner deserved to be constantly raked over the coals for his actions – the film raises all of these questions, but leaves them to the viewer to decide for themselves. Instead, it shows Weiner as a human being, letting us see both the energetic, avid politician and the conflicted, wounded private individual – and even the blurring of the lines between those two that so often hurts his marriage. Weiner is fascinating as a snapshot of a political landscape where private and public lines blur, as a snapshot of the modern political machine and how it reacts to scandals, and as a humanizing portrait of a flawed human being. All in all, a fantastic watch. Rating: **** ½

9e436d15140d704796d42283497ed5275ff2edf7John Huston’s Let There Be Light first came onto my radar after the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, when he cited it as a major influence on that film. It wasn’t all that familiar to me, and once I started looking into it, I understood why. A surprisingly controversial documentary, Let There Be Light was Huston’s effort to capture the realities of PTSD at a time when that phenomena was little understood or even acknowledged. By modern standards, Let There Be Light is a little slow-paced; more than that, it definitely feels of a piece with a lot of the World War II propaganda documentaries that we’ve seen over time, only with a different focus. And yet, none of that detracts from the power of this footage, which simply sits and observes these men as they attempt to come to terms with their experiences. Some have developed twitches or stutters; some have psychologically-induced amnesia; one has even developed psychosomatic paralysis. And over the course of the brief running time, Huston walks us through some of the therapies being implemented, from hypnosis to talk therapy sessions. It’s a calm, non-judgmental film, one that simply depicts these men’s psychic wounds and their efforts to heal. And yet, the government repressed the film for years, worried that it would lead to decreases in morale or a reluctance to enlist. But what’s evident from watching this film is that Let There Be Light is an important piece of work, a way of showing people that war doesn’t just destroy people physically; it takes a toll on the mind, and those wounds are no less deadly. It’s a remarkable, and even an important, piece of film that has earned its place in the pantheon of military documentaries, even if it feels a little slow and overstated by modern standards. Rating: ****

IMDB: Tickled | The Tickle King | Tales of the Grim Sleeper | Weiner | Let There Be Light