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Film Critic, Film Programmer, Film Lover, Nap Taker. Usually Hungry.

Movie Review: ‘Blue Ruin’

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[Editor’s Note: This review was originally written and posted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.]

Revenge is a dish best served with a knife, a crossbow and semi-automatic rifles in Jeremy Saulnier’s bloody and brilliant sophomore feature, Blue Ruin.

When Blue Ruin opens, a drifter named Dwight (Mason Blair) is coasting through life on a beach. He’s dirty, living on a steady diet of trashcan food, and his face looks as if it’s never felt a clean shave. He breaks into houses just to take a bath, however his presence shows he’s not a bad or harmful man — he’s just trying to survive. Things aren’t so bad, this bum has built a home and life for himself at a place where things are simple and uncomplicated.

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Movie Review: ‘THE VISITOR’ Returns From 1979 to Peck Out Your Eyes and Make You Like It

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Good vs. evil! Abortion! Potty-mouthed asshole children! Frank Nero as Jesus? Frank Nero as Jesus! Shelly Winters power-slaps! How to fight off bullies on the ice skating rink! Lance Henrikson getting his ass kicked by a plastic falcon! This is The Visitor, a super low budget horror film from 1979.

There’s a lot of fun going on in The Visitor, but I really couldn’t tell you what it’s about. It’s a bizarre circus of magic and mayhem, and stars Sam Peckinpah (director of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and The Wild Bunch), Lance Henriksen (Aliens), Glenn Ford (Clark Kent’s dad in Superman 1979), Franco Nero (Django) Shelley Winters (The Poseidon Adventure, Lolita, Night of the Hunter) and John Huston (The Maltese Falcon) as people of good and bad higher power trying to get inside the head of and brainwash an 8-year-old girl with telekinesis powers and an attitude that will put any Hollywood diva to shame. Things will go one of two ways: 1) good or 2) the opposite of good.

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AFTERNOON DELIGHT Captures the Challenges of Seeking Love, Happiness, and Peace

Poor Rachel (Kathryn Hahn). Although she’s married to the man of her dreams, Jeff (Josh Radnor), leads a really nice lifestyle, and has a healthy son, she’s bored as hell as a stay-at-home housewife. Her friends are starting to suck, because they all have day jobs and/or do normal mom things. And Jeff never wants to have sex. They high five in passing more often than they copulate, and Jeff even has an unspoken “no sex tonight” safe phrase when they’re going to bed.

In an attempt to spice up their sex life, she, along with Jeff and some of their friends, go to a strip club. Here’s where it gets, well, a bit odd. After getting a lap dance from a young stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple), Rachel’s curiosity and boredom get the best of her, and she takes it upon herself to help McKenna out of her current unhealthy lifestyle. Things will go one of two ways: 1) Genius. 2) Stupidly bad.

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(Source: twitchfilm.com)

Sundance Review: ‘Rudderless’ Is A Remarkable Directorial Debut From William H. Macy

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Note: This review was originally written and posted for Indiewire’s The Playlist. Please click on this link and support their site. 

So let it be known throughout the land: William H. Macy has balls of steel. In addition to juggling a busy, successful film and television career, he’s taken on a new role—filmmaker. His first feature film, “Rudderless,” is a poignant story that explores finding happiness in the midst of loss and pain. And you know what? It’s really damn good.

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Sundance 2014 Review: Roger Ebert Doc ‘Life Itself’ A Profoundly Moving Story About One Of Cinema’s Greatest Superheroes

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Note: This review was originally written and posted for Indiewire’s The Playlist. Please click on this link and support their site. 

Without question, Roger Ebert is the most recognizable figure in American film criticism, possibly even international criticism, and deservingly so. Ebert helped curious minds alive today better understand movies and what they were trying to say, moving past the obvious and always finding something deeper. “Life Itself” is based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name, but the film goes far beyond the book’s last page. This documentary actually started shooting months before Ebert knew he was going to die, and the bulk of the focus is on his many relentless and rigorous battles to stay alive, as well as highs and lows in his life — there’s no soft-pedalling here. One very admirable trait about Ebert — when he learned he was going to die, and very soon, he wanted the show to go on.

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Sundance 2014 Review: Blue Ruin

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Revenge is a dish best served with a knife, a crossbow and semi-automatic rifles in Jeremy Saulnier’s bloody and brilliant sophomore feature, Blue Ruin.

When Blue Ruin opens, a drifter named Dwight (Mason Blair) is coasting through life on a beach. He’s dirty, living on a steady diet of trashcan food, and his face looks as if it’s never felt a clean shave. He breaks into houses just to take a bath, however his presence shows he’s not a bad or harmful man — he’s just trying to survive. Things aren’t so bad, this bum has built a home and life for himself at a place where things are simple and uncomplicated.

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Sundance 2014 Capsule Review: Whiplash, or The Most Unconventional David Vs. Goliath Story in Years

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If Miles Teller doesn’t become a superstar, I’m leaving Earth. At the young age of 26, with less than five roles completed, he’s already become the quintessential man: blowing away critics, fans, and movie lovers everywhere with his charismatic smooth delivery. Last year he carved his place in Hollywood with an incredible performance in The Spectacular Now. Sure, he’s had parts in a few teen comedies aimed for a teen audience, but when the role demands it, he has shown the world he can project maturity with fresh vibrant sincerity. Once again, Teller has commanded the screen with fierce determination in Damien Chazelle’s second feature, Whiplash.

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MOVIE REVIEW: WRONG COPS, THE FILTHIEST DIRTY COP MOVIE YOU WILL EVER SEE

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Dumb is a word you use as a kid, but it’s the only way to describe Quentin Dupieux’s latest, WRONG COPS. (Especially compared to his insanely brilliant RUBBER, and the wacky and loveable WRONG.)

BAD LIEUTENANT. TRAINING DAY. THE DEPARTED. RAMPART. SERPICO. The list of dirty cop movies is quite lengthy.  There are even shows like RENO 911! with incredibly moronic cops doing incredibly moronic things, but it’s incredibly funny. WRONG COPS is trash cinema full of dirty cops doing weird, moronic, and dirty things all at the same time. Its goal is to make you laugh at things you’re not supposed to laugh at and perhaps make you question what the fuck you are watching, but falls flat on its ugly face. It’s “weird for the sake of being weird,” if you will. Dupieux worked backwards with this film from his previous work. Again, to really bring it home, it’s dumb.

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Movie Review: RAZE Raises Hell, Bashes in Skulls, and Shows Doug Jones Without Makeup (Worth Noting)

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Zoë Bell is a face you may not recognize at first glance, but you’ve seen her in some your favorite movies. Her most notable performance was as Uma Thurman’s stunt double in the KILL BILL franchise - she was the one doing all the cool shit. She was also the girl on top of the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T — with no wires, just pure adrenaline — during the insane chase scene in Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF. Besides her stint in that, she’s never really had her day in the sun (we are going to pretend BITCH SLAP never, ever happened)

RAZE is a solid action film with bell as a strong lead. She gets to shine as a badass and beat the hell out of everything that gets in her way. She she also shows she can actually act without having to throw a fist — give her some lines of melancholic dialogue and I guarantee she can deliver it better than Arnold Schwarzenegger and all those tough guys out there.

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Movies You’ve Never Seen But Should: TV JUNKIE

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This year — based on the suggestion of my pal Nathan Rabin — I watched a documentary from 2006 that that I’ve never heard of called TV JUNKIE. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (in 2006) and won the Special Jury Prize for documentary (and was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize). Then it disappeared after the festival ended. Until now.

I’m not sure why this never got a proper theatrical or DVD release - it’s one of the most compelling documentaries I’ve ever seen in my life. It was never sold to a film distributor and was shelved until the digital age made it slightly easier to get the film out into the world. 

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New on Blu: Criterion Collection’s GREY GARDENS

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                    Sleek new cover by artist Shayne Christiansen

GREY GARDENS is an American classic. So much, years later it spawned a fiction feature film adaption starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, a a full-length musical on Broadway, multiple plays loosely based on the main subjects of GREY GARDENS, and many popular models you’ve fantasized about at some point in your life dressed as them on the runway. Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale (who I’m going to refer to as Mama Beale) became the world’s most famous counterculture icons, and all by accident. This is an incredible documentary about two women who who don’t pretend to be great - whether the cameras are rolling or not. 

If I were watching GREY GARDENS and a friend walked with no context of what I was happening on screen, he/she could easily pass it off as a horror film; Edith and Mama Beale live in a 28 room mansion in the East Hamptons. Sounds like heaven, right? The only (very large) difference is this mansion is plagued with fleas (a fucking shit ton of them),  an unhealthy amount of (stray?) cats, raccoons in the attic that the Beales feed with full loafs of bread mixed with cat food, and whatever you may find in a filthy broken down home that hasn’t kept up its maintenance or has been cleaned in probably, well, ever. This place because so unsanitary, in fact, the town tried to get them evicted —  and almost won — but they got help and cleaned up just enough to convince whatever health people that their living conditions could be managed (it never was). 

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New on Blu: THE WOLVERINE

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Looks like someone decided to take the Wolverine spin-off series seriously. The second installment in the Wolverine franchise - so eloquently called The Wolverine - is a huge improvement from its predecessor, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And when I say huge improvement, I mean that it’s watchable and doesn’t suck.

In this installment, Wolvy™ flies to Japan to say sayōnara to a friend he saved long ago (at the bombing of Nagasaki, to be exact), but finds trouble with ninjas who do hands-free cartwheels (awesome) and a giant steel samurai robot (double awesome). Sounds corny as I read that last sentence, but I promise 1) it’s not, and 2) I really just wanted to find a place to add hands-free cartwheeling ninjas and this is where it fit best - deal with it.

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Movie Review: MAN OF STEEL

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Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay), David S. Goyer (story)
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Lawrence Fishburne

I want to preface by saying that Christopher Reeves’ Superman was my hero growing up. But I didn’t realize it until much later that it was actually Reeves who was my hero. He made me believe a man could fly. Growing up with not many friends, the SUPERMAN franchise were my escape from every day life. I could related to Reeves’ Clark Kent, who was a complete goon and had a tough time being understood. And of course what kid doesn’t love watching their favorite person fly and save the world? I could really write an essay on how much the these films saved my childhood, but I don’t want you to get bored and fly away.

So let’s talk about MAN OF STEEL.

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Movie Review: PINCUS

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Writer/Director: David Fenster
Producer: Phil Lord
Cast: Paul Fenster, Dietmar Franusch, Christi Idavoy
Synopsis: A story centered on a young guy who ineptly runs the family construction business by day and begrudgingly acts as caretaker for his father by night.

A movie doesn’t need flashy effects, big stars, and morals to make it good. Yes, we go to the cinema to escape from our everyday slump, but it’s nice to watch a film crafted on a raw level, using wit instead of talking robots and explosions, someone going through real pain versus an actor pretending, and skipping the feel good ending where the protagonist goes through some life-changing experience blah, blah, blah. There are movies that are filled with sorrow yet leave us with a feeling of hope. This is what you will take away from PINCUS, a heartfelt story of selfishness stomped by the power of love. [Cue Huey Lewis and the News.]

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Capsule Review: ONLY GOD FORGIVES, But Not For This Movie

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Writer/Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Official Synopsis: Julian (Ryan Gosling), a respected figure in the criminal underworld of Bangkok, runs a Thai boxing club and smuggling ring with his brother Billy. Billy is suddenly murdered and their crime lord matriarch, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives from London to bring back the body. When Jenna forces Julian to settle the score with his brother’s killers, Julian finds himself in the ultimate showdown.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES: The most fartistic movie of the year.

The only thing going for it is potty mouthed Kristin Scott Thomas, who obliterates her innocence we’ve all grown to know. (Good for her.)

There’s a great scene, which you can see in the trailer, where Gosling’s Julian calmly asks his foe, “Wanna fight?” This is probably one of the coolest and most talked about lines before the film even released. But, the fight scene following is hollow, pointless, and not as exciting as writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn could have and should have made it.

But let’s get one thing clear, Refn is the master at stylized violence and colorful photography - it’s what makes his avant-garde style so great and unmatched. But ONLY GOD FORGIVES was too over the top - a love letter by Refn, for Refn.