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53 reviews in total 
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22 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Provocative Documentary, 3 February 2015

The concept behind Michael Madsen's documentary is its greatest asset. Rather than interviewing scholars on events that occurred in the past, Madsen gathers a slew of interviewees to discuss a scenario that has never happened. How would mankind react with our first encounter with an alien life form? While it may sound absurd, Madsen introduces audiences to college professors, scientists, government officials and military personnel who have all had these types of conversations before an event like this has manifested. The majority of the project consist of questions being delivered such as, "Why are you here?" "Do you know good vs. evil?" and "Are we mentally prepared?" As a fan of science-fiction cinema, the thought of alien life on Earth has crossed my mind countless times, but to actually witness plans being formulated for such an event is like nothing I have ever witnessed. Would we reveal our own violent nature to our visitors or keep it a secret for as long as possible? Madsen takes a simple idea and makes us all want to believe something could be out there and, if it ever decides to pay a visit, makes us question our preparation skills. -Jimmy Martin

16 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Effective Performances, 3 February 2015

Audiences are first introduced to Michael Glatze (James Franco) as he chastises a young gay teenager and declares moral individuals choose heterosexuality and God. However, this was not always the case with Mr. Glatze. Rewind the story a decade and we find Michael living happily in San Francisco with his partner Bennett (Zachary Quinto) as he works as the Managing Editor of XY Magazine, a popular gay lifestyle publication. Glatze encouraged gay communities to identify with their sexuality, but after a medical scare revolving around his potential heart condition, Glatze begins his journey exploring Christianity and abandoning his former beliefs and lifestyle. Franco beautifully portrays an obviously confused individual questioning his own mortality and willing to risk everything he's built his life around. Quinto offers the supporting shoulder as he is forced to move forward into an uncertain future with the love of his life. Director Justin Kelly effectively leads audiences though the life of a confused individual who abandons one life for another while outsiders both ridicule and praise his challenging choice. -Jimmy Martin

The Witch (2015)
188 out of 247 people found the following review useful:
Gut-Wrenching Tension, 3 February 2015

Period pieces don't often serve as the backdrops for horror, which is actually a real shame. Consider The Witch, a story about a banished Puritan family trying to sustain itself on the edge of an ominous forest inhabited by a gruesome witch. The faithful representation of one of the most creepy time periods in American history makes all the difference here. The family's dealings with the supernatural terror in the woods push their spiritual and physical endurance to the breaking point. Robert Eggers pulls no punches and makes no apologies in this film. The Witch's scenes are steeped in primal dread, and each actor makes the audience feel the seams come apart as paranoia and mistrust begin to take their toll. While Game of Thrones alumni Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie offer brilliantly raw performances as the family's mother and father, it's the film's younger actors—Harvey Scrimshaw and Anya Taylor-Joy—who really shine. Scrimshaw captures the nuanced turmoil of being an adolescent male in a strictly religious family. As the oldest daughter who is blamed for the witch's malevolent deeds against the family, Anya Taylor-Joy shows a surprising amount of risk and range in her performance. The film swings for the fences on all fronts. The performances are explosive, the tension is gut-wrenching, and the settings are nightmarish. To the horror films of 2015, the gauntlet has officially been thrown down. –Alex Springer

17 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
Unique and Great Performances, 3 February 2015

Don Verdean Sundance Film Festival Director: Jared Hess Since the sleeper success of 2004's Napoleon Dynamite, Jared and Jerusha Hess have had an interesting track record. Regardless of how their work is received by audiences and critics, they have maintained a cinematic style that is, to say the least, unique. Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell) is a biblical scholar and archaeologist who has built his career on excavating and preserving artifacts from the good book —the film's opening scene features an antiquated documentary in which Verdean tracks down the shears that Delilah used to cut Samson's hair. After his career slows down, he, his Israeli fixer Boaz (Jemaine Clement), and his research assistant Carol (Amy Ryan) agree to a contract with Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride) to track down more artifacts in order to keep his congregation from joining that of Pastor Fontaine (Will Forte), a former Satanist turned Christian. As pressures mount, Verdean begins to compromise his standards in pursuit of "filthy lucre," as Boaz puts it. From an acting perspective, the performances are great. Rockwell and Clement have great comedic chemistry, and Amy Ryan grounds the film with her genuine sincerity. That being said, there is still something indulgent in this film— almost like team Hess has packed it full of inside jokes that only resonate with themselves. It might be time for them to come out and play with the rest of us. –Alex Springer

11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Great Film, 31 January 2015

From 1965 to 1989, the country of Romania was under the ruthless dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu and his Communist regime. While the Romanian people struggled under their political restraints, a few upstarts started passing around dubbed VHS copies of Western films. Through the gatherings that resulted from these clandestine cinema clubs, the Romanian people learned about the world outside of their country's oppressive borders. The films that were so widely released and distributed in the United States and Western Europe became small relics of freedom and hope to the Romanian people who brought them illegally into their homes. Through interviews with those who were on the front lines of this quiet rebellion—along with a loving tribute to Irina Nistor, the woman who translated and dubbed literally thousands of these movies despite the political danger—Chuck Norris vs. Communism reaffirms the power that stories have in people's lives. And this reaffirmation also comes the implication that all of this illegal movie watching was a direct influence on the regime's downfall in 1989—a little bit hard to swallow considering all of the other factors at play within the Romanian Revolution. Also, considering the film is named after Chuck Norris, it was surprising to see so little coverage of his cinematic oeuvre (such as it is). Regardless, it's a charming little doc for those of us who believe that movies can be a sanctuary in our darkest moments. –Alex Springer

Glassland (2014)
10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Love Without Sex, Crime Without Violence, 31 January 2015

Glassland is both a love story without sex, and a crime story without violence—a decided anomaly among just about every other film about life in an Irish slum. The love is between an overworked cabdriver named John (Jack Reynor) and Jean (Toni Collette), his alcoholic mother. As Jean drinks herself closer and closer to the grave, John's desperation to get his mother into a rehabilitation clinic despite their poverty leads him to question his own moral boundaries. Glassland is a melancholy, understated look at the combination of poverty and self-destruction that is so common in our society. Collette delivers a performance that jumps back and forth between snarling addict and penitent matriarch, and Reynor captures the pain and frustration of seeing a loved one spiral out of control. Despite the powerful performances by the film's actors, the film suffers from pacing issues that occasionally derail the film's momentum and muddle the narrative. Regardless, Glassland is a refreshingly modest take on issues that are typically addressed with more gratuitous filmmaking. –Alex Springer

55 out of 70 people found the following review useful:
Not Just Marketable, But Good Too, 30 January 2015

It would be easy to criticize the fact that Me & Earl & the Dying Girl appears to have been genetically engineered to be a summer box office moneymaker (Fox Searchlight and Indian Paintbrush have already snatched up the rights for a record- breaking $12 million). It's an adaptation of a young adult novel about adolescent friendship in the midst of terminal illness, which is hot in Hollywood right now thanks to The Fault in Our Stars. Basically, I went in to this film wanting to despise it for its utter marketability. Upon seeing it, however, I was reminded that movies can be commercially successful and good at the same time—and that's okay. The film chronicles the senior year of Greg (Thomas Mann), his friend Earl (R.J. Cyler), and Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Though all of the teen dramedy tropes are present—awkward parents, the teacher who gets it, the exploration of high school cliques—the excellent supporting cast keeps the narrative fresh. Greg's parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) add an eccentric jolt of parental weirdness to their scenes, and The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal takes archetypal cool teacher role into some original territory with his tattoos and battle- scholar vibe. While I found myself wanting more in regards to Rachel's character, the film's treatment of her friendship with Greg is both darkly funny and realistically somber. This is one movie that it's safe to see regardless of its soon-to-be huge commercial appeal. –Alex Springer

Slow West (2015)
66 out of 79 people found the following review useful:
Aptly Named and Surreal, 30 January 2015

In what may be one of the most aptly-named films at this year's festival, Slow West is in no hurry to tell the story of Scotsman Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his continent-spanning quest to find Rose (Caren Pistorius), the long-lost love from his hometown. Things get complicated when a desperado named Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) decides to accompany Cavendish on his journey—possibly to cash in on a bounty that hangs over Rose's head. Taking a cue from neo-westerns like Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, Slow West uses the chaotic landscape of the American frontier as an allegorical exploration of love and death. There is something surreal about seeing the old west interpreted through the lens of New Zealand where the film was shot, and it added to the story's dreamlike tone. The immensely watchable Fassbender exudes some serious Han Solo vibes as he guides Cavendish through the unforgiving wilderness while trying to act like he doesn't give a crap. McPhee's boyish, innocent appearance is ideal for a character whose belief in true love has guided him so far into the lions' den. While the film's ending is sure to polarize audiences, it was a ballsy way to emphasize the point that the frontier was an ecosystem all its own, indiscriminately filling some hearts with purpose and others with bullets.

10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Well Done, 29 January 2015

There's no need to travel more than 6,000 miles to Datong, Shanxi to know that the life of a politician is mostly filled with accusations, confrontations, and pure misery. However, the life of Mayor Geng Yanbo is much more stressful than your average American politician since his plan to relocate 500,000 citizens in the name of cleaning out his town (the most polluted city in China due to coal-mining) is met with much hostility. Director Hao Zhou paints a portrait of an individual who appears to want to serve his community with the best of intentions. But moving 30% of the city's population is bound to spark a resistance, especially when there are already issues with the newly constructed housing projects. Along with tracking multiple stray dogs trotting through heaps of garbage, Zhou provides the opposition an opportunity to share their stories and one can only wince at the heartbreaking loss many of these victims are facing. Yanbo may believe you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, but how many eggs have to be broken before the omelet is doing more damage than good. In regards to this case, T.S. Eliot's quote is quite fitting with, "Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions." -Jimmy Martin

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Leaves You Wanting More, 29 January 2015

In an attempt to have foreign-born teenagers become reacquainted with their native culture, the South Korean government developed a summer camp program complete with lessons in language, calligraphy and martial arts (to name a few). Based on a true story, director Benson Lee introduces us to the 1986 class of misfits comprised of the punk (Justin Chon), the princess (Jessika Van), the ladies man (Esteban Ahn), the conservative (Teo Yoo), and the racist military brat (Albert Kong), all of whom are under the guidance and supervision of Mr. Kim (In-Pyo Cha). As the students drink, sneak off campus, fight with opposing schools, and fall in love, they all face their inner demons and discover what it means to be Korean. Lee gives a revitalized version of "Meatballs" with heart and soul, and the 80s soundtrack is one of the best compilations I have heard from a movie in years. The standout comedic performance comes from Ahn's Sergio from Mexico, but it's Chon's bad boy with a heart of gold that leaves you wanting more. While the government eventually shut the program down due to the rowdiness, here's hoping we'll get a chance to see the class of 1987 next year! -Jimmy Martin

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