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Stray Dog | Review

14 hours ago

Still Learning New Tricks: Hall Heals Via Empathy & Remembrance

Much less cinematically invigorating than Akira Kurosawa’s noir of the same name and miles away from Tsai Ming-Liang’s formally daring, similarly titled Stray Dogs, director Debra Granik‘s follow-up to Winter’s Bone sees her tread into non-fiction filmmaking with stoic patriotism and cross cultural unity on her mind. Stray Dog genially tells the story of Ronnie ‘Stray Dog’ Hall, a burly Vietnam vet whose self styled rough rider image recalls the leather clad Hell’s Angels whose overbearing rage caused chaos in Gimme Shelter, yet the former marine, still wrestling with Ptsd, has let that anger dissolve, replacing it instead with an empathetic hand out for those still suffering from war.

Granik’s film begins with Hall and his gang of biker buddies cruising down the highway, their preferred venue for idyllic meditation. On their roaring hogs »

- Jordan M. Smith

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Jackie & Ryan | Review

1 July 2015 11:00 AM, PDT

Ballad of the Sad Doublet: Mann’s Warm, Simplistic Tale of Lonely Hearts

Recalling an era of simple, but warmly rendered studio features fitted specifically for their romantic lead properties, Ami Canaan Mann’s sophomore film Jackie & Ryan is indeed as plain as its aseptic title would indicate. A portrait of Middle American woes that could have easily been set in the Depression era, Mann’s straight laced storytelling makes for a surprisingly pleasant venture, even as top lined by a pair of dubious leads. But as warmly rendered as the film happens to be, it’s doubtful whether anything will remain very memorable once the credits roll.

Modern day drifter Ryan (Ben Barnes) is an aspiring folk singer, hopping around the country by train, the happy-go-lucky sort who seems to be engaged with life exactly as he wants to be. He stops off in Ogden, Utah, and while performing one day, »

- Nicholas Bell

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Magic Mike: Xxl | Review

1 July 2015 10:30 AM, PDT

Live Hard, Sell Hard: Jacobs’ Fluffer Sequel Has One Track Mind

Considering the interest and financial success of 2012’s Magic Mike, it’s no surprise to see its shimmery abdominal muscles make a robust return with a bigger, broader, and unapologetically upbeat sequel, Magic Mike: Xxl. With original director Steven Soderbergh still undergoing his self-imposed retirement from ‘film’ directing (he returns as cinematographer here), assistant director Gregory Jacobs takes the reins. Previously helming two indie features himself, Jacobs takes on a glorious calling card here, seemingly with the intentions of simply giving core audiences (heterosexual women, gay men) what they want, a fun ride uncompromised by finicky doses of reality or seriousness.

It’s been three years since Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of his vainglorious life as a respected stripper, now struggling to maintain a failing relationship as he builds his own furniture company. Out of the blue »

- Nicholas Bell

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Stung | Review

1 July 2015 10:00 AM, PDT

Spirit of the Wasp’s Nest: Diez’s Debut a Schlocky Creature Feature

African killer bees were once a common threat in disaster themed American cinema of the 1970s, reaching a penultimate plateau of ridiculousness with Irwin Allen’s famous 1978 celebrity packed stink bomb, The Swarm. Their aggressive cousins, mutant wasps, get a chance at bat in Stung, the directorial debut of Benni Diez. Previously a visual effects supervisor, whose most notable credit was Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), Diez utilizes his particular skillset to notable effect in his first feature. Unfortunately, some striking special effects are the only details saving the picture from being a complete waste of its audience’s time.

Julia (Jessica Cook) has recently had to take over control of her father’s catering business following his untimely death. She’s unsure if she’s up to snuff, relaying her fears to lone employee Paul (Matt »

- Nicholas Bell

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Hard to Be a God | Blu-ray Review

30 June 2015 10:00 AM, PDT

As far as the immersive powers of cinematic spectacle go, it’s doubtful any will come close to rivaling the achievements of Russian auteur Aleksei German, a figure many have hailed as the post important director in his country following Tarkovsky. And yet, he is still largely unknown, at least in comparison to the worldly renown of his comparable peers. Over his five decades as a filmmaker, German only produced five films, a perfectionist whose later works far outshine the fastidiousness displayed in the comparable methods of someone like Stanley Kubrick.

Obtaining a serviceable print of his titles often proves difficult (though the tenacious may yet unearth bootleg copies here and there), which hasn’t helped audiences acclimate to his idiosyncratic style. Passing away while working on the finishing touches of his last film, Hard to Be a God, a sci-fi epic taken as representative of the director’s work, »

- Nicholas Bell

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The Happiness of the Katakuris | Blu-ray Review

30 June 2015 7:00 AM, PDT

Takashi Miike‘s The Happiness of the Katakuris begins with a woman probing a freshly delivered bowl of soup only to fish out a miniature angel/gargoyle/teletubby? whose presence seems to instigate the onscreen conversion of the world into claymation before tearing out the poor woman’s uvula and tossing it into the air to float away like a heart-shaped balloon. This is a film that, even in an oeuvre that includes works as disparate as gross out shocker Visitor Q and the kid friendly The Great Yokai War, is pure unpredictable insanity that baffles as much as it entertains. Essentially a horror comedy musical, Miike’s genre mashing farce is loosely based on Kim Jee-woon’s The Quiet Family, in which a family owns a remotely located bed and breakfast whose customers always happen to die during their stay, yet takes that simple premise to its outermost extremes in the silliest of ways. »

- Jordan M. Smith

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A Cannes Opener: 2016 Cannes Film Festival Predictions

29 June 2015 9:30 AM, PDT

A furious slew of titles in the works would seem to prophesize a robust main competition slate for Cannes 2016. Though our initial list will eventually be pruned down as the year progresses (Berlin may snag something in here, especially if their 2016 lineup looks anything like their landmark selection from this past January), we’re confident that we will be seeing another round of heavy hitting auteurs unveiling their latest bits on the Croisette.

Absent from the main competition in 2015 were the Romanians (Muntean and Porumboiu were assigned to Un Certain Regard) and any trace of Latin filmmakers. The 2016 edition looks to make up for lost ground. For the Romanians, a couple heavy hitting titans from the New Wave will be ready. Cristi Puiu, who previously won Ucr in 2005 with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu should hopefully be getting a competition invite for Sierra Nevada. Meanwhile, previous Palme d’Or winner »

- Nicholas Bell

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