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October 2013

Blu-ray Review - Night Train to Terror


How does one make a weird horror film weirder? Include footage from three abandoned suspense pictures, tying it all together with a wraparound story feature God, Satan, and a group of new wave rockers from the 1980s jamming inside a locomotive. "Night Train to Terror" is a pleasingly bonkers creation that doesn't even pretend to make sense, instead providing genre maniacs with random images of violence, torment, and nudity as it winds through four different stories of doom. The 1985 effort is a madhouse of ghoulish delights, boosted by performance sincerity that turns a horribly dated musical number into a jubilant lighthouse for a profoundly confused endeavor. It's coarse, gruesome, and clearly created to relieve the financial pressure of someone tied to the production, but it certainly isn't a boring movie. Watching "Night Train to Terror" feels like sitting through a horror film festival with a heavy finger resting on the fast-forward button, zooming to all the grisly goodies before it's on to the next sinister story. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Laurence Anyways


There's a stunning lack of trust running through "Laurence Anyways," and it cripples what should be a searing portrait of self-worth. Writer/director Xavier Dolan doesn't lead the feature through its dramatic entanglements, he pushes it, spending the nearly three-hour run time slapping symbolism and overwrought stylistics on the viewer, eschewing subtlety to beat simple emotional concepts into the ground, unaware that the audience doesn't need much to grasp the primal scream burning within the lead character. "Laurence Anyways" is a beautiful expression of a challenging life mummified by a filmmaker who could learn a thing or two about the editing process, demanding an eternity to articulate universal needs. For every sublime moment the movie has to offer, there's a cinematic dead zone of indulgence that wipes it away, generating a frustrating, occasionally intolerable sit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jodorowsky's Dune


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

The eccentric creator of cult smashes “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” had another obsession in his life: Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi/fantasy book, “Dune.” Of course, Alejandro Jodorowsky had never actually read the novel when, in 1975, he began plans to tackle one of the most sophisticated narratives around, but that little detail wasn’t about to stop a most determined, passionate filmmaker from bringing the labyrinthine story to the screen. A lack of studio funding eventually killed the project, which is resuscitated to a certain degree in “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” a sublime documentary that asks the renowned helmer, proud artist, and part-time madman to walk the audience through his vision for the greatest cinematic epic that never came to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - Grand Piano


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

Eugenio Mira’s “Grand Piano” is a miraculous thriller, if only because it manages to find suspense out of man forced to participate in an orchestral concert while being threatened by a sniper. Yes, we’ve finally reached that point when it comes to screen chills. However, Mira and screenwriter Damien Chazelle play most of the right notes in this unusual feature, turning on the Hitchcock afterburners to bring this limited concept to life. Ultimately disposable, “Grand Piano” remains an enormous amount of fun, taking the audience on a bizarre ride of panic and performance while working through the fury of virtuoso finger work. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gravity

GRAVITY Sandra Bullock George Clooney

“Gravity” is a film that will be discussed for years to come. It’s a cinematic feast, redefining the use of visual effects, sound design, and cinematography to tell an ambitious story that reaches beyond planetary confines to explore life in space, and how the human survival instinct responds to an alien environment. Impressively large-scale yet intimately emotional, “Gravity” treads familiar ground in terms of an adventurous pile-on of catastrophe, but the details of the feature are extraordinary, unlike anything put on screen before. It’s an astronaut experience that delivers an exquisite you-are-there head rush, making it one of the most technically sophisticated pictures of the last decade. “Gravity” is not easily flushed from the system after a viewing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Runner, Runner


“Runner, Runner” should be a tale of survival, but it longs to be a celebration of heroism. It’s a confused film with a slick presentation that emphasizes underworld luxuries, with cash, ego, and easy women its primary currency. Who knows if any of it is rooted in fact, but the mistake director Brad Furman makes is forgetting to supply a reason to care about the movie’s outcome. It’s a flashy feature with chewy performances and a string of temptations, yet “Runner, Runner” is one-note in terms of suspense, with a screwball perspective that fails to distinguish why one character is evil and another is saintly. Considering this effort comes from the screenwriters of “Rounders,” an exquisite poker picture, the diluted game of chance depicted here is alarmingly subpar. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kids Police


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

There’s such potential in the premise of the Japanese comedy “Kids Police,” but there’s also initial fear that the production won’t know what to do with it. A supercop adventure featuring child actors, the picture rides a thin line between parody and professionalism, attempting to work out a routine that plays up the oddity of the story and the excitement of the genre. It’s a goofy film with a few big laughs to sustain the merriment, but director Yuichi Fukuda doesn’t know when to quit, bloating the effort up to 100 minutes, which is far too long to sustain the merriment “Kids Police” seems interested in sharing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Detective Downs


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

“Detective Downs” is a Norwegian feature that has a curious hook, following the investigative efforts of a man with Downs syndrome who tries to escape the stillness of his life through puzzle solving, using a unique method. What appears from the outside as possible exploitation is in fact a crushingly human picture with credible noir influences, guided softly by director Bard Breien, who enjoys the oddness of the premise while celebrating the presence of star Svein Andre Hofso, who delivers exceptional work as the sleuth. Mildly comedic, unexpectedly sexual, and fantastically entertaining, “Detective Downs” is a tonally secure gem. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cheap Thrills


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

“Cheap Thrills” is a sick and twisted film, ideal for a sick and twisted age. It asks the eternal question: how far would you go for a pile of cash? Would you hurt somebody? Would you hurt yourself? It’s a tempting quandary in a slow but satisfying dark comedy that hits all the required notes of shock and disgust before finding a surprisingly fulfilling ending. Credit director E.L. Katz and screenwriters David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga for sticking to their guns, plunging deep into the illness of these characters as they accept and deliver humiliation and pain, treating the results as a party favor until it reaches the point of no return. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Milo

BAD MILO Gillian Jacobs

Most films flirt with an anal fixation, shooting off flatulence jokes and assorted rear-end reminders that reveal a stunning lack of creativity in the comedy department. “Bad Milo” is about intestinal distress, forgoing cheap gags to focus entirely on the pressures of digestive woes, making it the rare movie that kinda, sorta requires tense moments of bathroom straining and fecal matter-flecked shenanigans. Imagine a Troma production with a little more money to spend and a few familiar faces, and there’s “Bad Milo.” It’s ugly but amusing, ideal for those who enjoy a grislier side to their silliness, satisfactorily imagined by co-writer/director Jacob Vaughn. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dracula

DRACULA Dario Argento

Dario Argento isn’t the director he once was. With cult classics such as “Deep Red” and “Suspiria,” Argento built a powerful brand name in horror circles, displaying his gift for stylish execution with his macabre imagination for murder. These days, it’s difficult to find anything inspiring about his work, with recent output “Giallo” and “The Card Player” showing faint flashes of life, but coming off labored, with the helmer trying to revisit his past successes without the same creative tools (I do possess a fondness for 2007’s “The Mother of Tears”). “Dracula” is perhaps his weakest effort to date, a flaccid retelling of Bram Stoker’s immortal tale of monstrous obsession, reduced here to a filmed community theater rehearsal with Full Sail freshman visual effects. Read the rest at

Film Review - Parkland

PARKLAND Paul Giamatti

This November marks the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas, Texas, making “Parkland” one of the many endeavors to reexamine the tragedy while national attention returns. It’s a shame the picture isn’t a more enlightening effort, as it explores a few unique viewpoints concerning the death of the president rarely inspected onscreen. History buffs might readily embrace the details, but as drama, “Parkland” is unexpectedly overwrought, hoping to mourn the unthinkable loss all over again when the material cries out for a calm, collected procedural approach that best exposes the sheer confusion that greeted the Secret Service, average citizens, and hospital staff that day. Read the rest at

Film Review - All is Bright

ALL IS BRIGHT Paul Giamatti Paul Rudd

The title “All is Bright” is, of course, ironic. There’s nothing cheerful about the picture, the first from director Phil Morrison since 2005’s “Junebug,” wallowing in a dark mood of remorse and frustration that occasionally coughs up a scene of comedy or heartening introspection. It’s filmmaking at its loosest, more observational than dramatic, and despite a few moments that display a refreshing sense of purpose, “All is Bright” is content to lie back and stew in its depression. The intent is clear, but it hardly makes for compelling cinema, despite the best efforts of stars Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd to work over the feeble material with necessary commitment to the bruised qualities of their characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Plush

PLUSH Emily Browning

“Plush” opens with a scene where a woman, strapped helplessly to a chair, is buried intentionally by a dumpster full of rocks. The moment of confusion and pain perfectly sums up what it’s like to watch “Plush.” The latest from inexplicably employable director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight,” “Red Riding Hood”), the movie is a hodgepodge of sexual kink and horror, blended with musical performances to create a hip atmosphere of artistry that younger audiences will likely reject at first glance. Phony, ugly, and nonsensical, “Plush” doesn’t have a single interesting idea to share, wallowing in excess and stupidity, paying more attention to the thickness of eyeliner than the complexity of its mystery. Read the rest at