Film Critic, Film Programmer, Film Lover, Nap Taker. In no particular order.

Tribeca 2014 Review: The Jury Has Reached a Verdict: ALEX OF VENICE is Guilty of Being Great

Life is hard, struggle is real. There should be a class in college that teaches about how life really works — lots of disappointment, heartbreak and starting over when you thought your life was set. This is perhaps the most personal kind of curveball life throws at you and for some people, it happens a lot. Life is hard, struggle is real. But you can change and you can heal your wounds and carry on. To quote the great Broken Social Scene, “All the time we get by trying to figure out our lives.” 

Alex of Venice stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the titular character, Alex, an attorney currently fighting to save the planet. She’s a tender heart who’s looking out for the Earth — as well as people years from now we will never meet, walking the same mountains as others did 100 years before. Preservation is where her heart beats. Alex lives with her 10-year-old son Dylan (Skylar Gaertner, who seems more grown up than most actors his age), her husband George (Chris Messina, who also directed the film), and her absent-minded, pot-smoking, free-spirited, washed-up actor father Robert (Don Johnson, in a knockout performance).

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Dallas International Film Festival 2014 Review: WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE

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[Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on Film Threat.]

Sue (Mackenzie Davis) and Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) gotta get out of this place. They’re both smart kids, but stuck in a bad town. A town where the sun don’t shine and the only thing to do is get into mischief and trouble. Good thing is that they both have been accepted to excellent colleges and it seems to be their ticket to freedom and a better life. They’re both incredibly smart and love to debate trivial things — there’s a great scene at the beginning of the film where they talk Whataburger’s biscuits and gravy, if the meal should be plural or just biscuit and gravy since it’s, well, just one biscuit being eaten. Their chatter is endearing.

Before they can head off to school, trouble in paradise smacks them right in the face. BJ (Logan Huffman), Sue’s kind of boyfriend, is a self-serving idiot who steals a lot of money from a bad man named Giff. Just about the only character development we get from BJ is that he’s a sonofabitch. Maybe he’s lonely — after all, he’s the only one of the three not going to college and will be stuck in this town everyone’s trying to leave — or maybe he’s losing his mind from boredom, but there’s no denying he’s a real piece of work.

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Movie Review: David Gordon Green’s JOE

[Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on Film Threat.]

“…be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” – Dalton, Road House

Joe is a special breed of a movie for Nicolas Cage, and perhaps the greatest performance of his career. He’s an ex-convict turn straight shooter living in a small town in Texas. During the day he manages a group of folks who poison dead trees so the bigger bosses can come in, chop them down, and plant new, fresh ones. While not working, Joe passes the time drinking and visiting a popular whorehouse. It’s OK though, none of this gets him in trouble (except for when the law harasses him for no good reason, or a guy with a menacing scar sometimes shoots at him for reasons unknown).

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Movie Review: Check-in to ‘THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL’ and Leave Profoundly Happy

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Note: This review was originally published on Film Threat. 

Welcome to the place where you can enjoy what matters most in life: laughter, love and adventure. A place where the most important thing is you. A place where anything can and will happen. Welcome to The Grand Budapest Hotel: An intimate and charming retreat with supreme comfort and guest-themed hospitality. 

There are a diverse number of people that guests will meet during their stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel. The friendly staff is led by concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), his trusty sidekick and Lobby Boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), the hotel’s baker and Zero’s girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), and at some point in the timeline, M. Jean (Jason Schwartzman). If guests get in any trouble while on vacation, Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) and his sidekicks will bail you out. If guests need a lawyer, look no further than Deputy Kovacs (the always marvelous Jeff Goldblum); and of course, the hotel management will always have your back, including M. Ivan (Bill Murray), M. Chuck (Owen Wilson) and more. I am leaving out a lot of names for the purpose of awe, and to reserve some surprises for when you visit The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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SXSW 2014 Review: ‘WOLF AT THE DOOR’ Huffs, Puffs, and Blows Sweet Love Goodbye

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Note: This review was originally published on Twitch

In the fairytale classic  the Three Little Pigs, — you guessed it — three little pigs set out in the world to find their fortune. Things come to an abrupt halt, however, when an asshole big bad wolf comes into the picture to destroy everything they’ve literally built for their lives. This is also the setting for A Wolf At The Door, an intense drama about haste decisions and the inevitable consequences that follow. 

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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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Sundance Review: Gregg Araki’s ‘White Bird In A Blizzard” Starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green & More

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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. 

By now, devoted cinephiles likely know what to expect going into a Gregg Araki movie: sex-crazed teens, an overabundance of nudity (sometimes pretty, sometimes not), a dream-like story wrapped snugly in a nightmare and a killer soundtrack. However, it would be lazy for someone to call it trash cinema—there’s a lot of feeling in his films (please watch “Mysterious Skin” now). Araki is a brilliant director who finds a great deal of meaning in stories of teenage angst and sexual desire, and is perhaps the finest example of coming-of-rage cinema. His latest film, “White Bird in a Blizzard,” is his most grownup film to date, but never deviates far from his comfort zone.

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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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