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We Survived (and Even Enjoyed) the New Sharknado. Here's How to Prep for the Next One

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Near the beginning of Sharknado 2: The Second One, a portly man wearing tighty-whities with "naked cowboy" printed across the rear strums a guitar on the streets of New York. He is only a passing caricature, but he unwittingly serves as a metaphor for the whole movie, in which absurdity makes sweet love to things that kind of scare us a little. It does take giddy disregard for reality to fully appreciate thousands of flesh-hungry sharks raining from the sky. Indeed, the premise behind Sharknado sounds like something my younger brother and I dreamed up in 1995 after consuming half a box of ice cream sandwiches, two liters of Mountain Dew, and a pack of candy cigarettes during a thunderstorm. The best part: Sharknado doesn't even attempt to offer a s »


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James Brown Killed Dumb Biopics: Why the Messy Get On Up Gets It Right

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

James Brown stripped pop to its rhythmic essentials: the groove and the grunt, the bridge, and the scream. Tate Taylor’s Get On Up likewise reduces James Brown — and the biopic form — to all that matters most. Here are the highs of the man’s life, both artistic and recreational. More importantly, here’s his presence. Taylor invites us to thrill to Chadwick Boseman’s Brown onstage, to cringe at him off it, to laugh with and at him, to hate and admire him, and to kind of feel as if we have some idea of where he’s coming from. But the movie — written by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth — never lies to us that we can fully understand him. That’s a breakthrough for commercial filmmaking. It’s »


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James Brown Biopic Get On Up Does The Godfather Proud

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

He couldn't have known it at the time, but James Brown's debut recording and first chart hit — made in 1956 with the Famous Flames — is a question that contains its own answer. The lyrics to "Please, Please, Please" speak, pretty obviously, of sexual desire. But Brown's voice is so hungry that a hundred compliant girls could never satisfy him. It's spectacular, raw, and regal, a kind of human sacrifice in vocal form. The song's ambition goes beyond that of just getting the girl — that's the easy part, especially if you can sing like James Brown.

Sung by a young black man who was born in a shack in South Carolina, whose parents abandoned him when he was small, who by age 17 had already done jail time — a harsh enough story that wasn't even the worst »

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Necrophilia and Gross-Out Realism Abound in James Franco's Child of God

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

If director/co-writer James Franco had retitled his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 1973 novel Child of God to A Man's Love for a Corpse, he'd have a more honest film on his hands — not to mention a purposefully campy one. Even if he'd aimed a little higher, to keep in line with McCarthy's unendingly portentous prose, and come up with something like A Yowling Man Didst Defile Her, there'd still be a twinkle of humor in the project. But no such luck. Franco, his co-collaborator, Vince Jolivette, and star Scott Haze appear to regard this outlandish outcast-against-the-world saga with utmost solemnity. As it stands, Child of God is brazenly, outstandingly bad, as vague, pretentious, and pointless as its sorry title. But it's certainly memorable, ful »


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In the Charming Happy Christmas, Anna Kendrick Is the Best at Being the Worst

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Uncomfortable-silence auteur Joe Swanberg has made a career of testing how much falseness you can strip out and still have a movie. What if people on-screen talked like people off it, and they spent as much time looking at phones and laptops as you do, and if their moments of realization — this is the person I love! — work out about as well as the ones your friends dish about over drinks?

Now, with star-led hits like last year's Drinking Buddies and the new Happy Christmas, Swanberg is attempting something more challenging still: testing whether a movie with so much real life in it can still move a crowd. Drinking Buddies soared, but for all its beer-burped non sequiturs, it was powered by beautiful stars sparking up against one another, t »


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Double Indemnity Returns to the Big Screen at Film Forum

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The spiffy, suave James M. Cainbased mega-noir that spawned a billion scheming-bitch thrillers, this expert night of the Hollywood soul is such a genre axiom it practically scans like a mid-'40s shopper's catalogue for noiristes: fedoras; venetian blinds; cigarettes; leaking bullet wound; treacherous blonde; serious-as-cancer slang banter; dumb, doomed men everywhere you turn.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray become unforgettable, delicious clichés the minute they cock their eyebrows at one another in and around Billy Wilder's shadowy L.A. interiors. But this film was also the moment, as the war still raged, when noir had its first real stiffy, basking in the cold-blooded algebra of two amoral bastards plotting the death of an innocent jerk — and as we all watch »


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Slugterra: Return of the Elementals Is a Just a Longer Episode

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Johnny Darrell's animated Slugterra: Return of the Elementals is a 63-minute episode of the Disney Xd series Slugterra, and little besides.

It makes no attempt to distinguish itself as a feature film, going so far as to recycle the show's opening credits and tacking on "Return of the Elementals" as an episode title. (This is presumably no problem for the preteen boys Slugterra is marketed toward, though it's an interesting contrast with last year's feature film My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, which respected its preteen-girl target demographic enough to be an actual movie and not just a retread of its source series.) After the opening credits and flashback-heavy exposition, series protagonist Eli (Sam Vincent) and his team of heroes must find the f »


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In War Story, a Photo Journalist Lives in the Aftermath

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

American photojournalist Lee (Catherine Keener) barely speaks during the first third of War Story, and when she does, it's to demand that she be left alone.

She turns her room at a small Sicilian hotel into a bunker, ignoring pleas to return home and refusing treatment for her physical injuries. Obviously traumatized and emotionally fragile, Lee is also stubborn, testy, and imperious. She may have been taken captive in Libya, but she is unwilling to play the victim.

So much of War Story relies on capturing Keener's expressions and body language, which reveal more than her cryptic answers to inquiries from a former mentor (Ben Kingsley). Lee thrives in the immediacy of war zones, with her photographs imposing order on the chaos, and cinematographer Reed Mo »


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Rabindranath Tagore Struggles to Do Justice to His Many Accomplishments

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Picture a high school civics teacher with a great love for Ken Burns and access to people like Prince Charles and the Dalai Lama — but no ability to ask them interesting questions — making his first documentary on a laptop's built-in software.

That should give you some sense of what Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet of Eternity is like. Often credited as the father of modern Indian literature, Tagore was also a songwriter, statesman, and educator. This film struggles to do justice to his many accomplishments, shortchanging his artistry. He may be best known to American cinephiles for the two Satyajit Ray films based on his novels, Charulata and The Home and The World. But Tagore's fiction is barely mentioned in this documentary, which is far more concerned »


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The Strange Little Cat Captures the Half-Secrets of Family Life

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The words "student film" can strike terror in the bravest of hearts, but fear not The Strange Little Cat.

Made by filmmaker Ramon Zürcher while he was still attending the German Film and Television Academy, this odd little wonder captures the delicate textures and shadowy half-secrets of family life, mapping them out in a mosaic of fragmented dialogue and half-poetic, half-prosaic images.

A brother and sister (Luk Pfaff and Anjorka Strechel) have come home to their family's Berlin flat for a visit. Their much younger sister Clara (Mia Kasalo), a self-possessed elf, practices her nascent writing skills by drawing up a shopping list; an uncle (Armin Marewski) shows up to fix the washing machine; their mother (Jenny Schily) busies herself about the kitchen, re »


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Klaus Kinski Remains the Best Reason to See A Bullet for the General

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

While Klaus Kinski is not the star of Zapata-themed spaghetti western A Bullet for the General, screening as part of Anthology Film Archives' Kinski retrospective, his performance as religious zealot El Santo stands out in his prolific filmography.

Unlike the sadistic killers Kinski played in Westerns like For a Few Dollars More and The Great Silence, Kinski's character personifies the Zapata subgenre's typical mistrust of revolutionary idealism. But unfortunately, as this is a cynical conversion narrative, Santo, a devout believer in class warfare (he rants about serving God by killing the rich), doesn't receive the most screen time. Instead, the focus is on baby-faced American assassin Bill Tate (Lou Castel), who joins up with the outlaws and gets bandit »


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Makeup Effects are the Real Star in the Gory Cabin Fever: Patient Zero

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

For peek-between-the-fingers moments, it's hard to top a sex scene lubricated by the revolting promise of a flesh — eating virus.

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero-the third installment and prequel of the series that began with Eli Roth's 2002 woodland gorefest — delivers its share of anticipated gross-outs, which director Kaare Andrews presents with a sly, often lipless, grin.

The fun begins as four old friends charter a boat to drop them off for a bachelor-party trip to a remote Caribbean island, supposedly deserted. Unfortunately, the north side of the island is home to a secret disease-research facility, currently under quarantine, thanks to Porter (Sean Astin), an unaffected carrier of a deadly virus, who's dead set on escaping. (Symptoms include jellie »


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The Almost Man Shows That the Man-Child is Alive and Well

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The man-child is alive and immature in Norway, according to The Almost Man, a deadpan portrait of 35-year-old Henrik's (Henrik Rafaelsen) incessantly awkward reactions to forthcoming responsibility.

With his girlfriend, Tone (Janne Heltberg Haarseth), pregnant with their first child, Henrik behaves like a teenager, as when he and Tone hilariously pretend to have an argument in the grocery store about abortion and infidelity. Viewing his protagonist with wry detachment, director Martin Lund pitches this character study between awkward comedy and uncomfortable pathos.

To his credit, even as his material begins spiraling into less amusing territory, Lund alleviates the growing gloom with goofball levity, most winningly in a scene in which Henrik's ribald pals seren »


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Rich Hill Offers a Compassionate Look at the Intricacies of American Poverty

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The directors of Rich Hill, cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo, didn't pick the rural Missouri town at random.

Their family hails from Rich Hill, where their grandparents (a teacher and grocer/mailman) were widely known. The remarkable ease their documentary subjects display reflects the trust Tragos (Be Good, Smile Pretty) and Palermo engendered, and their Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner shows obvious affection for this economically depressed community.

They capture many extraordinarily candid moments, but Rich Hill does not add up to more than a series of vignettes. What it offers is a compassionate look at the intricacies of American poverty, where joblessness is only one factor.

The teens in Rich Hill</ »


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1993's What About Me Promises Nostalgia for the Dirtier, Dodgier Old Days of the Lower East Side

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Committed to a preservation-minded, grassroots-activism agenda, the second annual MoRUS Film Festival (August 1 through 9, at various East Village venues, presented by the Museum of the Reclaimed Urban Space) focuses on "Women of the Lower East Side."

The series opens at Anthology Film Archives with 1993's What About Me, writer-director Rachel Amodeo's broke-ass tragicomedy of desperation, now an essential, seedily romantic snapshot of Tompkins Square Park's pre-gentrified, tent-city wilderness.

New York doll Lisa (Amodeo) is suddenly homeless and helpless after her aunt drops dead, as tastelessly informed by a landlord (cult staple Rockets Redglare) who then rapes and evicts her. Wandering the claustrophobically shot, 16mm black-and-white streets, Lisa is alter »


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4 Minute Mile Is For Fans of Any Sports Underdog Movie

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

"You've got something deep inside you, and you've got to face that fear," an ex-track coach (Richard Jenkins) tells his pupil (Kelly Blatz) in 4 Minute Mile. "Otherwise you'll turn out to be me — and you don't want that. But if you do face that fear, it'll change your life."

Ham-fisted dialogue dominates this picture, with characters expressing central plot points in a manner that makes hammering a nail seem subtle. This isn't the film's only problem — 4 Minute Mile is cobbled together with every sports underdog cliché imaginable. There's the talented youth (Drew) from a troubled background striving for a better life with his skill (running); an older brother (Cam Gigandet) who's mixed up with the wrong crowd; a poor, helpless mother (Kim Basing »


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Louder Than Words's Brand of Cheap Uplift Will Only Breed Cynicism

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Louder Than Words features pretty people, pretty architecture, and pretty shots of nature, all of which seems a bit tone-deaf in a film built around a young girl's death from rabies.

A purportedly inspirational tale based on a true story, it makes The Fault In Our Stars look as raw as a Dardenne brothers film. While camping, Maria (Olivia Steele-Falconer) is bitten by a bat, although she doesn't even notice it at the time. A few days later, she dies in the hospital. Her parents, suburban Connecticut real estate developers John (David Duchovny) and Brenda (Hope Davis), take their grief and turn it into action by devising a plan for a more humane children's hospital, to be named after Maria.

Director Anthony Fabian seems well aware that he's dealing with mad »


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Alex Gibney's Doc Finding Fela Celebrates the Musician

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Perhaps fitting for a celebration of a musician whose polyrhythmic extravaganzas tended to run 20-plus minutes, Alex Gibney's doc Finding Fela takes a while to get started. The opening scenes focus on rehearsals for Broadway's Fela!, and in the early going, Gibney shows us more footage of stage-Fela Sahr Ngaujah than of the Afro-pop pioneer himself — an odd choice but not a tragic one, since the too-short musical performances of both prove thrilling and hypnotic.

A pair of talking-head notables offers what play as apologies for the haphazard structure of Gibney's film: Bill T. Jones, the Broadway show's choreographer and co-author of its book, admits that the theater reduced the complex Fela to just two dimensions, and we see him and Ngaujah hashing over how »


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Brendan Gleeson Forces Us to Care About His Catholic Priest in Calvary

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

In Calvary, Brendan Gleeson plays a Catholic priest who plods through a rustic Irish village that's more brutal than beautiful. With his beard grown long and his hair draped over his ears, Gleeson, an imposing, barrel-chested actor, resembles an ancient mammoth, and it's quickly clear that his parishioners wish he were extinct.

When the ordinary sinners of Father James' parish cross his path down at the pub, they can't decide whether to insult him or confess. One local, however, decides to go further. Calvary opens with the father in his confessional, where a mysterious stranger tells him that, from the age of 7 to 12, he was raped by a priest. Now he desires Old Testament retribution.

In exactly one week, he wants innocent Father James to meet him on the »


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Guardians of the Galaxy: Beware the Movie That's Too Much Fun

29 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Beware the movie that's Fun! with a capital F, the one populated with seemingly unpretentious characters that say adorable, clever things, the one that presents each off-kilter joke as if it were a porcelain curio, the one that boasts a comfort-food soundtrack of songs you've always liked but perhaps haven't heard in a while. On the plus side, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, adapted from the Marvel comic book series of the same name, has a sense of humor about itself: Even when characters strut around dropping hefty expository bundles like "Ronan is destroying Xanderian outposts throughout the galaxy!" they do so with a wink. But by the end, you'll have been winked at so much you may think you've been staring at a strobe light for nearly two hours. Guardians of the Galax »


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