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April 2015

Film Review - Lost River

LOST RIVER Christina Hendricks

Perhaps feeling inspired by recent acting choices, Ryan Gosling makes a leap to the director’s chair for “Lost River.” A mix of Harmony Korine and Dario Argento, the movie sets out to create a loosely defined screen nightmare, armed with abstract imagery and free-range performances. Definitely not a picture for the impatient, “Lost River” is distinct in its cinematic appetites, finding Gosling having a ball staging exotic horrors and surveying decayed small-town Michigan remains. Of lesser importance is storytelling, as the feature often eschews narrative drive entirely to fixate on wily behavior and stark punishment. It can be infuriating, but it’s also intriguingly surreal, launching Gosling’s helming career with a confident blast of mischief. Read the rest at

Film Review - Belle and Sebastian


The relationship between children and friendly animals is usually a solid foundation for a family movie, offering the target audience the fantasy of undying devotion from a pet, embarking on all types of adventures away from the prying eyes of adults. The French production “Belle and Sebastian” is adapted from the novel by Cecile Aubry, remaining rich with character and European with emotion as it tells the tale of a boy and his enormous dog. Beautifully filmed with attention to open air locations, “Belle and Sebastian” isn’t an overtly manipulative drama, instead trusting the inherent appeal of the titular characters and their fight to remain in each other’s company during the charged atmosphere of World War II. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Longest Ride


A film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel has become a yearly tradition, with “The Longest Ride” arriving as the 10th production to use the author’s universe of romance and tragedy as inspiration. Not that any of these pictures are particularly good, but they’ve found an audience (well, most of them), and one that’s maintained a voracious appetite for Sparks’s rigid formula. “The Longest Ride” features love, loss, and North Carolina, making it nearly impossible to stand out from the pack. It’s a paint-by-numbers affair with an absurdly manipulative third act, barely managing to bring the heat with its mismatched co-stars. Perhaps the Sparks-faithful won’t mind, but they certainly deserve better. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clouds of Sils Maria


Olivier Assayas is a challenging filmmaker, guiding a career that touched on multiple genres and tones, with his primary goal largely focused on creating unsettling cinema with a human perspective. “Clouds of Sils Maria” continues his psychological analysis, only this time he’s looking inward, studying the insecurities of an actress hit from all sides by doubt. While insular, touching on industry issues, “Clouds of Sils Maria” is one of the few Assayas efforts to keep the audience in sync with the story. Hardly obvious but awfully careful, the feature plays an unexpectedly straightforward game of hesitancy, allowing lead Juliette Binoche the freedom to attack the role with startling vulnerability. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hunting Ground


Kirby Dick has spent his career creating provocative documentaries. He explored the absurdity of the M.P.A.A. in “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” the silent horror of rape inside the U.S. military in “The Invisible War,” and the hypocrisy of politicians who promote anti-gay legislation in “Outrage.” And yet, somehow, “The Hunting Ground” feels like his most daring work. Even after confronting Washington and Hollywood, Dick finds a greater evil in college campuses around America, with “The Hunting Ground” highlighting a plague of sexual assaults that have swarmed venerated institutions -- a harrowing reality that seemingly no one, from cops to college officials, wants to confront head-on. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kill Me Three Times


“Kill Me Three Times” presents a puzzle of malicious intent and backstabbing, braiding together three perspectives surrounding an Australian crime. Murphy’s Law plays an important part in James McFarland’s screenplay, using relatively simple tasks of murder to help inspire a string of bad luck and bad news for a collection of characters all engaged in underhanded business. Spiced up with Coen Brothers-style sinister business and dark comedy, but largely skipping opportunities to dig into ghoulish behavior at top speed, “Kill Me Three Times” has the right idea, but it’s missing some crucial levels of escalation, often caught playing cute when it should be downright evil. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cut Bank


Midwestern noir gets another bloody workout with “Cut Bank,” which strives to siphon fumes from the Coen Brother hit, “Fargo,” reworking incidents of small town brutality and community paranoia into its own brew of wrongdoing. The end result shows periodic promise but falls a little short in terms of heated escalation, though efforts from a varied and accomplished cast help to generate an interesting tone of standoffishness and criminal awareness that gives “Cut Bank” some edge it otherwise avoids. Admirers of small-town gamesmanship when it comes to murder will likely be the most entertained, but even the most patient with Matt Shakman’s movie might find their attention wandering away while the film struggles to sustain suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Desert Dancer


Since it deals with the arts and the primal release of dance, it’s easy to forgive the broadness of “Desert Dancer.” It’s not a nuanced picture, but an arms-flailing identification of suffering and threat, taking audiences into the lion’s den of Iran in 2009, where political change was on the verge of becoming a reality, frightening those weaned on iron-fisted authority. Aiming to become a sensitive understanding of dancer Afshin Ghaffarian’s true story, “Desert Dancer” manages to find pockets of disturbance that matter, encouraging a few honest beats of distress that aren’t smashed by director Richard Raymond’s hammer-like interpretation of antagonism. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Goodbye to Language 3D


Jean-Luc Godard's "Goodbye to Language" is a film that defies explanation, and that appears to the point of the work. It's a swan dive into images, conflicts, and sound, loosely tied together with the story of a combative relationship and the adventures of a dog. It's philosophy and experimentation, light and dark, love and poop. Yes, bowel movements do factor into the flow of "Goodbye to Language," which takes on the weight of the world with Godard's finely-tuned esoteric vision, asking viewers to completely devour a cinematic experience that's not about interpretation, but complete and utter submission. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Late for Dinner


As a Man Out of Time movie, 1991's "Late for Dinner" aims more for sweetness than shock, though it certainly doesn't discount the value of a nice surprise. It's a strange time travel feature from director W.D. Richter, who previously helmed the eye-crossing cult comedy "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension," making an obvious effort to soften his touch with complex storytelling by taking on a screenplay (credited to Mark Andrus, "As Good as It Gets," "Georgia Rule") that's more emotional, surveying a tale of cryogenic reawakening and the sacrifice of time. The plot is obviously scrambled, with visible staples in place to hold the narrative together, but sincerity remains, helping to guide light comedy and warm dramatics to a welcome place of personal reunion, highlighting the picture's strengths with intimacy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tales of Terror


Well, there are certainly tales included in this feature, but I'm not convinced there's any terror. The legendary master of the penny-counting approach to filmmaking, Roger Corman made an incredible amount of movies during his directorial career. A sizable portion of them were devoted to the works of acclaimed writer Edgar Allan Poe, with Corman bringing the likes of "House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" to the big screen. 1962's "Tales of Terror" eschews the long-form adaptation challenge, wrapping three short stories up in an anthology effort, offering brief blasts of Poe for devotees while keeping Corman and screenwriter Richard Matheson on their toes as they oversee disparate stories of human undoing. While the macabre and the menacing were Poe's calling card, "Tales of Terror" doesn't offer much in the way of fright, finding the production unable to slip into scary mode with material that actually welcomes sustained chills. Heck, the picture even becomes a comedy at one point. Lowered expectations are in order with this endeavor, as wonderful cinematography, performances, and genre decoration await those willing to ignore the feature's frustratingly mild intensity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ned Rifle


It’s been a long time since Hal Hartley has made something that looked and sounded like a Hal Hartley movie. Experimentation has been his primary concern for the last 15 years of his career, and while artistic growth is always welcome, Hartley’s gifts remain rooted with his earliest work, which took a droll, artful look at the pressures of romance and connection in a troublesome world populated with lonely people. “Ned Rifle” is a return to form for the filmmaker, with this strange revenge story working as a final act to his “Henry Fool” trilogy and as an opportunity to revisit a few notable faces from Hartley’s body of work. It’s a class reunion with a side of intrigue, executed in a most Hartley-like manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Knights


“Last Knights” is a film that offers an extreme amount of exposition without truly explaining anything at all. It’s a confusing fantasy/adventure from Kazuaki Kiriya, the director of “Casshern,” who embraces the visual potential of gathering armies, tear-strewn sacrifices, and monstrous displays of power, yet doesn’t take the time to invite the audience into this familiar world. “Last Knights” does boast the participation of stars Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman, but it’s doubtful either actor was pulled into the production due to a secure script. The picture plays like a DTV effort, with a plodding pace and unadventurous dramatics between action sequences, better at wasting screentime than exploiting it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Superfast


Turning the “Fast and the Furious” franchise into a long-form parody isn’t exactly a difficult achievement. The Vin Diesel-starring series has already done the leg work, with each sequel growing progressively more absurd, filling seven films with borderline sci-fi events and broad characterizations. “Superfast” doesn’t care about sloppy seconds, committing to a satiric vision of roaring cars, dim-witted heroes, and physical humor. It’s the latest release from “Vampires Suck” and “Meet the Spartans” directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, and while it’s far from their worst picture, “Superfast” doesn’t exactly relax a longstanding opinion that the moviemakers are the least funny people in the funny business. Read the rest at


Film Review - Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief


Scientology is too immense of a subject for a single two-hour documentary to explore. It’s a religion with cult-like tendencies, and an entity that prides itself on secrecy, shunning the outside world. According to “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” fear is what drives the organization. Fear of exposure, with its myriad of oddities and destructive teachings revealing just how Scientology uses it power to keep its members in line. Director Alex Gibney doesn’t provide many answers, but his use of eyewitness accounts and insider footage is impressively shaped, generating an introductory understanding of church practices while rubbing fingertips over lasting scars, working to finally question an organization that’s resisted prying eyes for 60 years. Read the rest at

Film Review - Furious 7


As cookie cutter as the “Fast and the Furious” movies are, “Furious 7” certainly didn’t have an easy ride to the big screen. Losing star Paul Walker to a fatal car crash mid-filming slowed the momentum of production, with behind the scenes players scrambling to figure out how to finish the feature without one of its biggest draws involved. I’m happy to report that Walker’s send off is tasteful, downright sentimental for this steely saga, but the rest of “Furious 7” doesn’t share the same inspiration. Automobiles speed, glass shatters, muscles flex, and monologues are mumbled, leaving the latest chapter of the popular street racing saga looking much like the other ones. It turns out 2011’s “Fast Five” wasn’t a turning point for the series, just a wildly entertaining fluke. Read the rest at

Film Review - Woman in Gold


“Woman in Gold” is an audience-pleaser, and a highly effective one at that. It recounts the case of Maria Altmann, an elderly woman living in Los Angeles with claim to one of artist Gustav Klimt’s most famous paintings, engaging in a lengthy legal battle with Austria for its return. The case involved heated behind the scenes negotiations, substantial research, and, most pointedly, physical endurance, making it prime fodder for a big screen exploration. Director Simon Curtis (“My Week with Marilyn”) respects the sensitivity of the fight, but he’s not above staging a few moments of broad villainy, which include Nazi atrocities and impatient courtroom behavior. Despite surges in exaggeration, “Woman in Gold” captures the spirit of Altmann’s quest with efficiency, making for a satisfactory drama with deeply felt performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - An Honest Liar


Most documentaries about magic endeavor to reveal tricks and dissect personality, searching to understand what draws people to the performance art. “An Honest Liar” takes a slightly more superhero approach to the appreciation of a showman, recounting the life and times of James Randi, a.k.a. The Amazing Randi, a master magician and tireless seeker of the truth. He’s the Batman of his chosen profession, sick and tired of seeing the masses treated unfairly by charlatans, gearing up with intelligence, clear thinking, and an arsenal of tricks to help discredit popular psychics and faith healers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem


Recall all the great suspense efforts released throughout the previous year, and few come close to matching the tension of “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” All the more surprising, the entire picture takes place inside an Israeli courtroom, focusing on a handful of characters as they spend years of their lives figuring out the proper way to dissolve a ragingly dysfunctional marriage. Limited in scope but massive with screen tension, “Gett” is a frequently stunning examination of frustration and indignity, detailing a culture where marital separation for a woman requires a thick skin and superhuman legal fortitude. Read the rest at