Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Dragon InnToo often lost in the hype surrounding anniversary re-releases and 4K restorations of classic films is whether these movies still maintain a contemporary entertainment value or are they of interest only to cinephiles and film school students. So far in 2015, we have seen the 75th anniversary release of The Maltese Falcon and a return to theaters of the 1954 classic, On The Waterfront. Not only are these two movies among the most influential in film history, both remain riveting cinema and still hold the power to enthrall a mainstream audience. (more…)

The DarknessMom’s an alcoholic. Dad’s an adulterer. Sis is bulimic. And little brother is autistic.

Meet the Taylors!

If only it were a comedy, but, alas, those are the tormented members of the family in director Greg Mclean’s career altering mess of a would-be horror movie, The Darkness. Aficionados of the shock-and-slash genre will remember Mclean’s previous work in Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2 with respect and affection. In Mick Taylor, the sadistic killer/torturer of the Australian Outback, Mclean created an iconic monster that terrorized foreign backpackers who were unfortunate enough to cross his path. Throw another European on the barbie, mate! (more…)

High-RiseQ: How many times do you see a movie before you review it?

A: With few exceptions, one viewing is all I get before I pull the trigger. And, with even fewer exceptions, one viewing is generally all I need. And by that, I do not mean that I know all there is to know after a single screening. Rather, it’s unlikely that my basic opinion will change from that initial reaction. One notable exception is The Dark Knight. I’m not sure what it was, but my response after seeing it was, “Meh.” I’ve seen it twice since then and have been awestruck both times. Not sure if it my expectations were too high or if I was just having a bad day, but that’s one time when my first impression was not worth a damn. I really enjoyed Map to the Stars the first time I saw it and decided to use it as a critical experiment. I waited a week and then saw it again before writing a review. The additional viewing provided some nuance, particularly regarding performances, but had little effect on my overall evaluation. Otherwise, too many movies and too little time limits me to one shot per flick. (more…)

ALOYSFor many, full immersion into a film festival – that is, seeing between 30 and 40 films in the course of less than two weeks – does not seem a pleasurable or meaningful way to spend one’s life, or even one’s vacation. Considering that in 2014, the average number of movie tickets sold per person in the U.S. for the year was 3.7, the idea of seeing that many films in a day is mind boggling for many. Other than an intense love of film, another explanation exists for why someone would travel 11 hours over two flights to a foreign country, spend 12 nights alone in a hotel, only to watch three or four movies per day – which is the thumbnail itinerary for this critic’s February trip to Germany for Berlinale. Invariably, over the course of the festival, at least a hidden treasure emerges, one film, maybe two, that might otherwise go unnoticed or unreleased internationally.  At the 2015 Berlinale, Austrian films Homesick and The Last Summer of the Rich were two gems on display that have been seen only sporadically since their premieres.

At the 2016 Berlinale, Aloys, a Swiss feature that defies categorization, but might be best be described as a post-modern detective flick in which an Asperger Sam Spade goes off in search of himself, was the prize that made the trip worthwhile. (more…)

201611761_2_IMG_FIX_700x700“Timely” was a popular adjective to describe the film La route d’Istanbul (Road to Istanbul) at its world premiere in the Panorama section of the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival. “Recommended” or even “necessary” may now be more appropriate in light of the horrific terror attacks in Brussels of March 22.

This French/Belgian production is a small, intensely personal examination of a terrible global phenomenon: the radicalization of young Westerners and indoctrination into terrorist organizations such as ISIL. To suggest that the film has something to offer as we grapple once again with the consequences of another devastating outrage is not intended to elevate cinema as a solution for the world’s problems nor is it meant to imply that this movie, in particular, offers an answer to the question of how best to stop further attacks. Perhaps, though, La route d’Istanbul can contribute to a greater understanding of what we are confronting. (more…)

ShelleyThere is a theory that horror films reflect social anxities and that the type of monster in the movie corresponds to a specific and prevalent fear of the moment. Under this theory, zombies are a fantastical manifestation of angst over invaders, foreigners, immigration or globalization. Vampires reflect the potentially dangerous results of sexual encounters – venereal disease, herpes, HIV/AIDS. Werewolves or a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde changeling reflect the duality of man and the beast within that can result in an individual falling prey to an uncontrollable rage.

And then there is Frankenstein, which since the Mary Shelley novel first appeared in 1818 under the title Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, has served as a metaphor for a society’s unease with scientific advances encroaching on what had previously been associated with religion.  (more…)

10 Cloverfield LaneThe only risk audiences rushing to see 10 Cloverfield Lane face are overinflated expectations from a brilliant guerrilla marketing campaign and sterling initial reviews (Rotten Tomatoes currently has a tally of 90% favorable). And, yes, there is the matter of the title which may lead some to believe this is a sequel to the 2008 monster movie, Cloverfield, which was a Godzilla found footage flick produced by JJ. Abrams. It’s not a sequel per se, although Abrams has said that this film, which he also produced, belongs in “the same universe.”

Forget about that for now. You don’t need to have seen the other film to fully enjoy this one, and, besides, the latest one is just a helluva lot better. In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane is just about the best genre movie you’re likely to see this year. Right down to the batshit crazy third act, 10 Cloverfield Lane is pure drive-in fun.  (more…)

CreepyOften, the greatest threat to the success of a thriller is an insistence on providing answers in the second half of the movie to the questions that have been skillfully raised in the first half. Not knowing is invariably more suspenseful than having your suspicions confirmed. Such is the case with the new Japanese film Creepy that had its world premiere in Berlin in February. For the first hour, the movie successfully navigates between two distinct storylines, but when the plots begin to converge, the entire effort unravels. The last half hour of this too long film (130 minutes) is a chore to get through. Director Kyoshi Kurosawa, best known for J horror standards including Pulse, Loft, and The Cure, takes too long to get where we know he’s going and then doesn’t seem to have a very good idea of what to do once he gets there. (more…)

TrivisaThere is a notable lack of overt sentiment in the Hong Kong action thriller, Trivisa, but just below the surface of this intriguing film, there is an ache. Trivisa is a bittersweet valentine to the heyday of the hardboiled Hong Kong crime flicks of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Strikingly, the movie does not attribute the decline of the genre to the growing regional influence of Hollywood films that assimilated the themes and talent of Hong Kong action cinema, but squarely targets the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997 as the end of an era. (more…)

Maggie's PlanMaybe this one works with Amy Schumer in the lead.

And you slide Bill Hader over from best guy friend to goofball sperm donor.

Certainly, it would help if you give Maya Rudolph considerably more to do.

And definitely the odds improve if you show Julianne Moore the door.

But as it stands, Maggie’s Plan, a would-be romantic comedy, fails on both counts – it’s neither sweet nor funny. The movie wants so badly to be a New York City/Manhattan/Center of the Hipster Universe/Cool Kids Only Need Apply edgy, indie happening, but it misses by a mile and winds up as a atonal mess in which the comics beats are stepped on by stressful scenes of working women scrambling to raise their children or someone else’s children or both. (more…)