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19 articles


Fury | Review

17 October 2014 2:00 PM, PDT

This Time, It’s War: Ayer’s Latest Depiction of Men Under Fire

At last leaving behind the pulpy, sometimes overly chewy cop action/dramas he’s been churning out, David Ayer returns with his most sobering film yet, Fury, reconstituting a title previously used famously by both Fritz Lang and Brian De Palma (both for very different purposes). His most homosocial film yet, Ayer delivers a sometimes grueling slog through the horrors of war, hardly shirking away from the excessive violence of the situation, even if the sexual depravities written off as necessary casualties transpire conveniently out of sight. Sometimes pretentious and sometimes straining a bit too hard for an extra degree of pathos, it’s nonetheless an arresting film that’s often unsettling and unpredictable.

Fury” is the nickname of the M4 Sherman tank commanded by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), emblazoned in white paint on the barrel. »

- Nicholas Bell

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The Golden Era | Review

17 October 2014 1:35 PM, PDT

A Complicated Life: Hui’s Sprawling Biopic as Malcontented as Its Subject

Hong Kong director Ann Hui’s extensive filmography has been largely unavailable, though she’s steadily been making films since 1979. Her 2011 film, A Simple Life, received raves and awards after premiering at the Venice Film Festival, and perhaps paved the way for this epically extensive biopic, The Golden Era, which explores the life of famed essayist and novelist Xiao Hong. Though the film has been tipped as Hong Kong’s entry for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar submission, Hui’s zeal to capture the often degrading circumstances of Hong’s short existence often overwhelms her own subject, so much so that Xiao Hong often feels like a supporting player to Hui’s historical depths.

Born in 1911 to a family of landowners in Manchuria, Xiao Hong (Tang Wei) breaks the fourth wall to relate the basics of her »

- Nicholas Bell

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Summer of Blood | Review

17 October 2014 10:30 AM, PDT

Hemogobble: Turkel’s Latest Assay into Misanthropy

Indie filmmaker Onor Turkel seems determined to remain hilariously unlikeable as his self-effacing, self-directed on-screen alter ego with his latest feature, Summer of Blood, a title which just so happens to formulate the acronym Sob. A pathetic, socially defunct scion of selfishness that recalls the comedic weirdness of performers such as Eric Wareheim or Tim Heidecker, Turkel’s protagonist is often impossible to like (even if we’re supposed to find him entertaining). Of course, the irony Turkel plays with here as he tinges his film with genre, is that he only becomes humane when he transforms into something inhuman.

Lumpy, unkempt and emotionally distant, we meet Eric Sparrow (Turkel) having dinner with longtime girlfriend Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman). She hands him a ring, which is meant to be a proposal, though she doesn’t quite receive the answer she’d been expecting, »

- Nicholas Bell

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Felony | Review

17 October 2014 9:00 AM, PDT

Patch of Blue: Saville’s Sophomore Film Lost in Endless Ellipses

For his first film since his 2007 feature debut Noise, Australian director Matthew Saville returns with Felony, which seems to be a labor of love for Joel Edgerton, who besides starring in the film also wrote and produced. Presenting us with a complicated moral conundrum, an intriguing introduction and sly triangle of dueling intentions garners some tension, but the film overstays its reach by the third act, which feels like a repetitive extension of the perspectives at hand. Hardly the banal cop drama its oblique title would imply, Saville’s film still lacks a certain finesse that would make this scenario have some sort of lasting impression.

Policeman Mal Toohey (Edgerton) parties a bit too hard one night after a significant raid on a drug lab, a bust that endangered his life. Driving home, he’s about five blocks away »

- Nicholas Bell

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The Tale of The Princess Kaguya | Review

16 October 2014 10:00 AM, PDT

Princess from the Moon: Takahata Bows with Feminist Spin on Fable

Following the news of Hayao Miyazaki’s possible retirement after the release of 2013’s The Wind Rises, Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata unleashes his own swansong with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Sadly, it was announced that its December release last year was not able to recoup its production budget, leading the famed studio to hint at closing its doors after other recent titles similarly underperformed. The news lends an even stronger taint of melancholy to Takahata’s gently emotional fable that subtly examines class and gender issues with all the painterly finesse of the classic tale it’s based upon.

An old bamboo cutter finds a small princess within a stalk of shining bamboo. Bringing the nymph sized creature home to his wife, it turns into an infant child that displays a rather rapid growth rate. »

- Nicholas Bell

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Default | Review

16 October 2014 10:00 AM, PDT

Piracy Politique: Brand Uses Topical Subject for Common Critique

Colombian born filmmaker Simon Brand cashes in on the current fascination with hijacking pirates for his latest film, Default, moving the action out of the water and onto a plane. Utilizing the aesthetic of the found footage genre, the perspective is almost exclusively from the camera of the news crew trapped in the hijacked plane. But rather than lending the film a tense, guerrilla style quality, this effect creates a rather visually unappealing, downright drab aesthetic. Moments of violence punctuate this rather overly talkative drama quite effectively, but it’s dismal, almost gimmicky cinematography cheapens the film.

A veteran news correspondent, Frank Saltzman (Greg Callahan), has just completed an assignment in the Seychelles. But after he boards a dilapidated, private plane with his crew, they are taken hostage by a quartet of terrorists led by the well-spoken Atlas (David Oyelowo). As »

- Nicholas Bell

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In the Basement | 2014 BFI London Film Festival Review

15 October 2014 11:00 AM, PDT

Dungeons, Nazis and Latex Babies: Seidl Puts Modern Cave Dwellers on Display

Paradise trilogy helmer Ulrich Seidl returns to docu form in what could easily be called a non commentary, no narrative, strictly observational look into an underground assortment of weird, carnie-type Austrian folk and the horrors they keep in their basements. Distinctive in its revelations about its subjects and steering clear of the notorious imprisonment cases that shocked Austrians and the world alike, In The Basement is an oddball entry, yet strangely alluring to be watched in awe, shock or marvelment. Why the helmer decided to feature these people is anyone’s guess.

First there’s the tuba player who reveals his massive collection of Nazi memorabilia and still refers to the police as ‘the Gestapo’. His brass band mates gather in his swastika-emblazoned basement to drink and discuss Hitler. Then there’s the woman who keeps a large doll collection in a cupboard, »

- Flossie Topping

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Diplomacy | Review

15 October 2014 10:00 AM, PDT

Paris is Burning: Schlondorff Continues Plumbing the Depths of WWII

Playwright Cyril Gely (who also wrote the play upon which Safy Nebbou’s 2010 film Dumas was based), adapts his own play, Diplomacy for Volker Schlondorff. Though the film isn’t far removed from its roots as a stage play, Schlondorff gets its energy from the performances of two French cinematic alums, often settling for the single chamber setting of their deliberation, infrequently stepping into the ravaged outdoors to show us the scuffling, frantic, wartorn desperation going on within the streets of Paris on the eve of liberation during WWII.

Volker Schlondorff, a titan that hails from the New German Wave, has been steadily working since then, though his recent works are often overlooked or ignored, still wallowing in the shadows of masterworks like The Tin Drum or The Lost Honor of Katharine Blum. Contemporaries like Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog »

- Nicholas Bell

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Housebound | Review

15 October 2014 9:00 AM, PDT

Home is Where the Horror Is: Johnson’s Ozzie Horror Tickles Rather Than Chills

Fans of Peter Jackson’s early works of zany, comedy horror will most likely revel in Gerard Johnstone’s debut, Housebound, as this sometimes feels like a distant cousin to 1992’s Dead Alive. Never very horrific in its haunted house cum hider in the house scenario that recalls Wes Craven’s most enjoyably camp film, The People Under the Stairs (1991), Johnstone gets a lot of mileage out of a pair of entertaining characterizations that tend to override its rather glum and inexpressive visual palette. Those that tend to shirk away from high doses of goofiness in their genre films will certainly find this a bit too saccharine, especially as it never registers any strength as either a horror film or effective comedy in its hybrid scenario.

After running into the law a few too many times, »

- Nicholas Bell

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Criterion Collection: The Vanishing | Blu-ray Review

14 October 2014 10:35 AM, PDT

Remastered just in time for Halloween, Criterion dusts off George Sluizer’s classic psychological thriller The Vanishing for a Blu-ray release. The Dutch-French co-production stands as the filmmaker’s most internationally renowned and enduring work, its sterling reputation still managing to overshadow Sluizer’s own ill-conceived English language remake from 1992 with a cast headlined by Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, and Sandra Bullock (plus a fresh faced Nancy Travis, a name that often gets neglected in flippant references to the production). With Sluizer’s passing in September of 2014, it’s an eerily timed re-release of his signature work.

A Dutch couple on a road trip, Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) run out of gasoline. A heated argument leads to reconciliation, and they properly refuel at a gas station rest stop packed with tourists due to the Tour de France. Saskia goes into the store to get drinks and never returns, »

- Nicholas Bell

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Criterion Collection: My Darling Clementine | Blu-ray Review

14 October 2014 9:35 AM, PDT

John Ford’s My Darling Clementine is a prime example of the Great American Western, embodying all that is good and right and just about this once dominant cinematic genre. Now available in a beautiful new hi-def burn by Criterion, this 70 year old horse opera gleams with new life and luster, preserving in minute detail the sweep and grandeur of Ford’s bedrock moralist visions. My Darling Clementine stands as a testament to Ford’s unique ability to balance the mundane with the monumental in perfectly proportioned tension; his laconic cowpokes equally imperiled by a parched, unforgiving wilderness and the dark designs of its human intruders.

While most scripts strive for reduction, My Darling Clementine is a case study in art of narrative inflation. The film takes a relatively minor incident in American history – a violent misunderstanding between two shady factions popularly known as The Shoot Out at Ok Corral »

- David Anderson

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Nothing Bad Can Happen | Blu-Ray Review

14 October 2014 9:00 AM, PDT

After scooping up the New Auteur Award at AFI Fest 2013, Nothing Bad Can Happen continued to garner a decidedly divisive response upon a limited theatrical release (which began after the Cannes premiere in 2013 Un Certain Regard Sidebar, where the jeers were as resounding as the guffaws, with director, cast, and Ucr President Thomas Vinterberg in attendance). At best a lurid conversation piece about despicable tendencies in human nature and at worst a hopelessly exploitative examination of based-on-a-true event terror, Gebbe’s film is a slippery slope of degradation with a heavy dose and conjecture and assumption.

Gebbe’s debut doesn’t quite reach the same levels of finesse as uncomfortably similar fare and often tries too hard to be shockingly provocative, sometimes at the expense of some narrative and character development. Nevertheless, Gebbe’s film never loses its choke-hold and will have you squirming uncomfortably until its final frames.

Tore »

- Nicholas Bell

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Salvador | Blu-ray Review

14 October 2014 7:15 AM, PDT

It’s been a long time since Oliver Stone made anything with as much punchy political grit as Salvador. As the first of two films (the other being Platoon) produced by John Daly (and released mind-bogglingly within months of each other in the spring of 1986) that reckoned with war and all of its cultivated cruelty, its recklessness and the underlying romanticism being ravaged from within. Stone’s film took up the, at that time, still active El Salvadoran peasant revolution and the Us funded murder and suppression of such an uprising, as its volatile subject, all through the eyes of a true-to-life conniving Hunter S. Thompson-esque photo journalist named Richard Boyle, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Stone and who’s on the ground experiences served as inspiration for the film. An Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, raw in its depiction of the ugliness »

- Jordan M. Smith

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The Goob | 2014 London BFI Film Festival Review

13 October 2014 11:30 AM, PDT

Goober is Great: Norfolk Sets the Scene for Myhill’s Debut

Rebellious youths riding motorbikes down dirt roads aside, while there are some similarities to Pawel Pawlikoski’s My Summer of Love and this Norfolk, England set story of a dim-witted teen nicknamed Goob, writer-director Guy Myhill strikes a verve of his own in this quixotic feature debut. With cinematographer Simon Tindall providing dreamy summertime shots of fields of wheat adding romanticism to the humdrumness of rural living and Luke Abbott’s unusual electronic soundtrack setting the film firmly in youth culture and contrasting the stillness of the small town’s atmosphere, The Goob announces the arrival of a new British talent worth keeping tabs on.

The first time we meet 16-year-old Goob (Liam Walpole) he is getting off a school bus in his underwear and running through fields while his classmates cheer on. This is the mood of the »

- Flossie Topping

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Teacher’s Pet; Stacy Martin Joins “The Childhood of a Leader”

13 October 2014 11:25 AM, PDT

After having worked in a supporting player capacity in Melancholia, Brady Corbet has turned to Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac for some creative persuasion in terms of casting some supporting players of his own. While there was a mention of this as of last week via the blogsphere, Screen Daily are the first to confirm the news that Stacy Martin will indeed star in The Childhood of a Leader — she will a French teacher to the film’s child protagonist which has yet to be revealed. The trade also reports that production has been pushed into the new year (January), but the biggest piece of news is that the legendary Scott Walker is composing an original soundtrack for the film.

Gist: Co-written by Mona Fastvold (The Sleepwalker) and Corbet, this is a chilling fable about the rise of fascism in the 20th Century tells the story of a young American »

- Eric Lavallee

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Birdman | Review

13 October 2014 10:00 AM, PDT

Bullets Over Broadway: Inarritu’s Vibrant, Exuberant Portrait Of Celebrity, Relevance, and Creative Passion

Not only is Birdman (or The Virtue of Ignorance) arguably the best film of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s impressive filmography (from a list that includes Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Biutiful), it’s one of the most invigorating and passionately rendered films you could hope to see in this or any other year.

Exploding with a vibrant, restless energy, it’s one of those films able to manage the tricky balancing act of melding a real life persona with an allegorical dress. At its base level concerning a has-been Hollywood icon desperately trying to get out of the mainstream rut he sank into years before with a creative comeback to showcase his talents, the parallels between Michael Keaton’s career as Batman and another faded star with an avian-suited superhero background are, obviously, readily discernable, lending »

- Nicholas Bell

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Young Ones | Review

13 October 2014 9:00 AM, PDT

Young at Heart: Paltrow’s Sci-Fi Western is All Dried Up

Dystopic draught heralds the end of times for the parable that serves as Jake Paltrow’s sophomore effort, Young Ones. A mash-up of classic Western and ambitious sci-fi, the whole is not the sum of its parts, fluctuating between flashes of stylized visual flourishes in the midst of a quickly withering narrative, Paltrow seems to squander the abundant opportunities laid out by the promising set-up. It’s this kernel of potential that makes the film seem even more of a disappointment, methodically churning into a stagnant trench of recycled Greek tragedy themes, a familial saga of vengeance, murder, and inheritance never coalescing into a comfortable stride.

In a world gone dry, surviving members of the human race do the best they can to eke out an existence. The oceans having evaporated long ago, families of farmers do what »

- Nicholas Bell

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Listen Up Philip | Review

13 October 2014 8:35 AM, PDT

Philip A. Dick: Perry’s Literary Minds Stuck In a Lonely Place

Following up his dark hearted homage to road trip cinema with 2011’s The Color Wheel, Alex Ross Perry’s third film, Listen Up Philip arrives with an equally unpleasant set of main characters as it explores the hyper intellectual worldview of self-important authors wallowing in their emotional ennui. But the self-involved narcissists occupying Perry’s arena also happen to be impressively fleshed out compelling characters that makes this triptych of their miserable emotional periods so engrossing. Sprawling, unkempt, and often unlikeable, it’s one of the most impressively written and astutely performed films you’ll see this year.

We meet Philip (Jason Schwartzman) as he meets up with an ex-girlfriend for lunch, basically to gloat over his looming success as an author, celebrating the publication of his first novel. An omniscient narrator (Eric Bogosnian) begins to guide us through Philip’s (and eventually, »

- Nicholas Bell

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Hockney | 2014 London BFI Film Festival Review

13 October 2014 8:00 AM, PDT

Eight Days a Week: Hockney Doc Shows Artist’s Colorful Life

Guiding auds through his career from his early days growing up in Bradford, to moving to Los Angeles in the sixties, influential British artist David Hockney’s life is laid bare in Randall Wright’s titular Hockney. Although there have been documentaries following Hockney before, recently Make Your Own Damn Art! (John Rodgers, 2013) and Waiting for Hockney (Billy Pappas, 2008), this is the first documentary to give a full picture of his upbringing, his influences and to interview the artist himself as well as his dearest friends. The result is an intimate portrait of an intriguing man, whose cheeky spirit and sense of fun hasn’t yet diminished, despite now living a relatively quiet life in Los Angeles.

Now 77-years-old, it’s obvious that Hockney enjoys his privacy, and doesn’t like having his life displayed in public as his art is. »

- Flossie Topping

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