A Horrifying Education: MARTYRS

by     Posted Yesterday

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I’ll give this to my teachers: When they assigned torture porn, they didn’t do half-measures.

I knew of Martyrs by reputation, with the reputation being a mix of “One of the goriest films ever,” and “GAAAAAAHHHHH.”  And that got me excited because this was coming from die-hard horror fans; people who have seen the worst of the worst and they were still affected by this film.  I was ready to jump in with both feet by watching it in my darkened apartment right before going to bed.

Instead of making me afraid of possible nightmares, Martyrs helped me drift off to sleep by being so boring. [Spoilers and gory images ahead]

YOUNG ONES Review

by     Posted 5 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  Young Ones opens today in limited release.]

There are rare times when everything in a movie can work—its direction, performances, etc.—and yet the picture somehow comes up short. This is the problem with trying to judge movies piecemeal. For all of the different aspects that make up a picture, we have to evaluate it as a whole. Obviously, we can call attention to its outstanding aspects, but they have to lead, for better or worse, to some kind of impression. Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones is remarkable in how it does so much right, and yet it leaves the viewer completely cold. Its strengths are undeniable and its flaws are subtle, so subtle that they can be confusing as to how such a technically superb picture can be so ineffective.

CAMP X-RAY Review

by     Posted 5 days ago

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[Note: This is a re-post of my Camp X-Ray review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The movie opens in limited release this weekend.]

In Camp X-Ray, writer/director Peter Sattler attempts to chronicle life at Guantanamo Bay through the eyes of a young female private, played by Kristen Stewart.  It’s touchy subject matter for sure, and though Guantanamo Bay has been no stranger to controversy, there are plenty of avenues worth exploring.  While the film features a compelling central relationship between the aforementioned young private and a foreign detainee, it too often veers into melodrama or goes for the easy cliché, making for somewhat of a mixed bag.  Read my full review after the jump.

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA Review

by     Posted 5 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my The Tale of Princess Kaguya review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens today in limited release.  Please note that this review is for the original Japanese-language version, so there is no critique of the English-language dubbing or the voice acting.]

Studio Ghibli’s films have always embraced the connection between nature and magic, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya continues this tradition in fine form. Writer-director Isao Takahata, who also co-founded Studio Ghibli, breaks from the company’s familiar animation style to venture into a sumi-e look that perfectly suits the story’s celebration of nature’s simplicity and magnificence. Although Kaguya does become slightly redundant in highlighting its heroine’s values before the film indulges in an abrupt revelation, Takahata and Ghibli have still found fresh life in their classic themes.

FURY Review

by     Posted 6 days ago

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If “war is hell,” then every soldier is a sinner.  It would be nice to think that every American who fought in World War II was a saint, but we know that’s not the truth.  War makes monsters because it has to, and we have to live with that ugliness because it’s in service of defeating a greater evil.  Since we as Americans accept without question that Nazis are evil and deserved to be killed en masse, writer-director David Ayer turns the problem of morality towards American soldiers with his new movie, Fury.  Despite strong central performances from Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman, Ayer’s picture ultimately feels hollow as the spectacular action and stomach-churning violence never take us anywhere beyond what we already know: war is hell.

A Horrifying Education: SLEEPAWAY CAMP

by     Posted 9 days ago

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I don’t avoid any genre of cinema, but horror is my blind spot.  I have favorite horror films, but the genre is so rich and diverse, and I feel like I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface.  Thankfully, I’m now lucky enough to be working alongside two horror aficionados, Evan and Perri.  Since October means Halloween and therefore horror, we decided to do a four-entry feature where they would decide on four horror films I would have to watch and then report back with my thoughts.  They would then reply with why they chose the film, their thoughts on it, and the movie’s legacy.  Hopefully, if you’re as ignorant of horror films as I am, you’ll join in on the lesson.

Hit the jump for our thoughts on the first assignment, 1983′s Sleepaway Camp. [Note: To encourage discussion, the comments section can contain spoilers.]

WHIPLASH Review

by     Posted 12 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  Whiplash opens today in limited release.]

We know “greatness” demands sacrifice. It’s blood, sweat, and tears, and if you’re not willing to dish out all three constantly and consistently, then hey, you’re not worthy of your dream. Physical greatness–the greatness of athletes, for example–is easily quantifiable. But when that physicality is blended with musical expression, it becomes something more vague, complex, and fascinating. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash provides an intense and disturbing exploration of the primal drive to dominate and achieve greatness but at a horrific cost. Anchored by extraordinary performances from lead actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, Chazelle’s film never loses its brooding, unnerving energy even as it stumbles trying to find a fitting crescendo.

KILL THE MESSENGER Review

by     Posted 12 days ago

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I really admire investigative journalists.  They’re like detectives who works for all of us where it’s not about protecting one person, but looking out for society as a whole by trying to get at the truth and hold the guilty accountable for their actions.  However, too often we get bogged down in what’s salacious rather than what’s honest.  Director Michael Cuesta falls into the same trap with his new film, Kill the Messenger.  Although his movie (which is based on a true story) firmly sides with reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), the director seems distracted by Gary’s paranoia and government intrigue when the more interesting story is about how newspapers would prefer to sabotage each other rather than join the search for truth.

THE JUDGE Review

by     Posted 13 days ago

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David Dobkin previously directed broad comedies such as Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up, and now he’s moved to broad drama with his latest feature, The Judge, a movie that clumsily grasps at every heartstring you have.  It’s a soft-focus weepy that rarely elicits any emotion.  Instead, the film feels made to showcase Robert Downey Jr‘s acting ability by proving he can do more than play variations of Tony Stark.  While the movie succeeds in showing the actor’s range, it still feels indulgent as it piles on plotlines instead of keeping the focus on the chemistry between Downey and co-star Robert Duvall.

DRACULA UNTOLD Review

by     Posted 13 days ago

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For a movie with the title “Dracula Untold“, it’s a story that’s painfully vague.  We all know Bram Stoker’s classic monster.  Some may know that the character was loosely based on Prince Vlad the Impaler.  Director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless seemed content to keep it at that with a bit of an emphasis on Drac’s family and then mostly relying of CGI bats.  The film plays like a treatment rather than a real script.  It’s lean to the point of being anemic as Vlad’s transformation into Dracula doesn’t feel tragic but rather a slog towards the inevitable peppered with lame action and stock characters.  Dracula Untold proves some stories aren’t worth telling.

STRETCH Review

by     Posted 14 days ago

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One of the things I like about Joe Carnahan‘s films is that they filter drama and action through a working-class lens.  Narc is on the down-and-dirty streets; The Grey is about a group of oil drillers trying to survive in the wild; and even his blockbuster feature The A-Team sides with guys just trying to make a living.  The outlier is Smokin’ Aces, an ensemble piece that ranges from cartoonish to somber as assassins compete to take out an informant.  Carnahan’s latest feature, Stretch, attempts to blend the slapdash attitude of Smokin’ Aces with a grounded, working-class character.  The result is a movie that still manages to be endearing despite how often it tries to remind you of its weirdness.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 14 days ago

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 Blu-ray Review

Peter Parker can’t seem to catch a break. He’s constantly hunted by powerful villains, battling inner turmoil, and working through typical teenage angst, all while trying to solve the mystery of his parents’ death. Unfortunately, he has to add “surviving a mediocre Blu-Ray release” to his long list of life struggles.

In director Marc Webb’s second installment of the retooled franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker, A.K.A. Spider-Man (played astonishingly well by Andrew Garfield), once again finds himself struggling to maintain a balance in both this super-hero and alter ego lives.  Hit the jump for my The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Blu-ray review.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Digital HD Edition Is a Worthy Addition to Your Digital Catalog

by     Posted 16 days ago

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In the near future, our world will undergo two drastic changes: firstly, mutants will be hunted to near extinction, and secondly, everyone will download movies to watch in Digital HD.  The heroes of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past do their best to prevent that first change from happening, but the excellent audio/visual quality of the film’s digital edition will help to ensure that second change still takes place.  Let’s be honest, it’s for the best.  Boasting a clear, crisp picture that is indistinguishable from watching a Blu-ray, along with instant access to special features and behind-the-scenes bonuses, it’s quite apparent that Digital HD downloads are the way of the future.  Hit the jump for my X-Men: Days of Future Past review in this particularly convenient format.

NEIGHBORS Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 18 days ago

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Seth Rogen’s acting career took off fifteen years ago when he was cast in Freaks and Geeks, and over the last ten years he’s become a movie star.  And though he’s nowhere near finished, one gets the sense that if Rogen ever had a wild period, he’s past it (it seems his biggest public faux pas is making a film like The Guilt Trip).  He’s married, he’s a successful writer, producer, actor and director, and though he still has a bit of a baby face, he’s no longer capable of playing schlubby twenty-something losers, and it seems that he’s intentionally moving away from those types.  Neighbors, as directed by Nick Stoller, suggests that though Rogen still has some of that party animal in him, he’s also transitioned into being an adult both onscreen and off.  My Neighbors Blu-ray review follows after the jump.

GONE GIRL Review

by     Posted 20 days ago

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There’s nothing that makes us as emotionally blind as love.  Because we crave is so badly, we’re willing to distort reality and distort others so that they meet our needs.  And when the veil lifts and the truth is exposed, everything breaks apart.  Our emotions can surpass hate.  At least hate is outright rejection.  David Fincher‘s Gone Girl is a vicious, nasty, and bitingly funny look at anti-love.  It’s a dark, twisted, borderline celebration of how deluded people can be in what they demand of others be it morally, emotionally, or truthfully.  Perhaps Fincher’s most cold, pitiless, and acerbic movie to date, Gone Girl is not without its flaws, but even those flaws serve this bitter, captivating, knives-out picture of marriage as a violent crime.

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