Harsh Texture

Film Reviews

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    • western
    | Dec. 3, 2018, 1:38 a.m.
    For the Coen Brothers' first film for a digital distribution service they deliver a minor pleasure. Anthology films are rarely the stuff of greatness, a limitation of the format. The Coens use six Western stories to frame stark depictions of intergenerational conflict. Neither the young nor the old are any holier than the other.
    • comedy
    • romance
    • superhero
    | Nov. 25, 2018, 4:20 p.m.
    For one brief sequence My Super Ex Girlfriend is revolutionary. Female puberty has long been the grist of horror films, from the Exorcist and Carrie, to Ginger Snaps. When seen from the gaze of primarily male storytellers, the ordeal is one of unavoidable tragedy. Female puberty in these stories either makes girl undergoing it into a beast or into a target. Superhero films, especially origin films are often metaphors for male puberty. Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America, and the Hulk all dealt with young men who became bigger, stronger, and faster. They weighed with the responsibility
    • action
    • comedy
    • horror
    | Nov. 25, 2018, 4:01 p.m.
    The victim of a concentrated smear campaign during its release, the Ghostbusters remake is fine entertainment, very eager to please and extremely deferential to the source material. The film does pull away from its roots in some notable ways though. Through the eyes of its new protagonists its world is less realistic and less forgiving than previous entries.
    • action
    • black comedy
    • fantasy
    | Nov. 10, 2018, 2:52 p.m.
    In John McTiernan and Arnold Schwarzenegger's second pairing, the sheer bloat of the feature suffocates its merits. What is sold as a wish fulfillment for a lonely boy who finds escape in action films curdles into bitter rebuke for the genre and its fans, wedded to a midlife crisis parable. Last Action Hero ultimately marked the beginning decline of action films.
    • biopic
    • crime
    | Nov. 4, 2018, 2:45 p.m.
    Spike Lee comes out swinging in his most successful feature in decades. Here two police officers work together to infiltrate a local KKK chapter. What would be straight hagiography for any other director instead invites a critical eye. Naivety here is just as dangerous as racism and the protagonists and their cause do not escape scrutiny.
    • action
    • drama
    • mindfuck
    | Oct. 14, 2018, 1:32 p.m.
    A disgraced former detective must wrestle with the darkness that grew in his daughter as he searches for her
    • documentary
    | Oct. 6, 2018, 6:27 p.m.
    80's American films, particularly the gaudy actioners of the period, were the fuel for a vibrant bootleg trade in communist Romania. A clandestine activity at its peak, this documentary relies on the accounts of those who grew up watching the grainy videos in private viewing parties.
    • action
    • crime
    • thriller
    | Sept. 15, 2018, 3:06 p.m.
    Another strong feature from Villeneuve, who once again conjures a nightmare world out of the familiar. An FBI agent is drafted into a extra legal war against Mexican drug cartels. Even if the twist is announced in the title, it still mars an otherwise effective genre thriller.
    • film noir
    | Sept. 9, 2018, 2:27 p.m.
    The Maltese Falcon is the first true Film Noir feature, and thus one of the most influential movies ever released. Aside from the great cast and strong direction, Falcon can paradoxically be enjoyed for just how many genre tenets it disregarded as well as established.
    • action
    • crime
    • thriller
    | Sept. 3, 2018, 4:27 p.m.
    Dheepan arrived at the right moment as a fully-formed look at the refugee experience in Europe as the migrant waves threatened European Union like nothing else in peace time. It follows at a battle scarred Tamil Tiger who assumes a new identity and family while searching for safety in France. Conflict again threatens his new existence and calls on him to act.
    • action
    | Aug. 26, 2018, 1:41 p.m.
    A surprisingly effective action film send up of the prison-industrial complex starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Did they know what kind of film they were making?
    • action
    • Science Fiction
    | Aug. 25, 2018, 3:11 p.m.
    Justin Lin leads the fifth or sixth revival of the Star Trek franchise, taking the reigns from JJ Abrams. His physics defying antics are deployed to mixed results, but the final product is strong genre entertainment
    • action
    • crime
    • superhero
    | Aug. 19, 2018, 4:09 p.m.
    Maybe not the strongest of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Batman Begins is the most carefully crafted. Its distinction as an "origin story" keeps it underrated and pleasant surprise to rediscover
    • documentary
    | July 15, 2018, 12:17 p.m.
    A sobering look at an FBI sting against a potential terrorist. Far from the Hollywood glamor, here the FBI pits a psychopath against a fairly tech-savvy islamic convert.
    • documentary
    | July 8, 2018, 11:43 a.m.
    The promise of six figure jobs at oil fields so desperate for labor they'll forgive all past transgressions draws desperate men to a small North Dakota town. Once there they quickly find that the reality of the situation is much more dire. Many are forced to live as the homeless while waiting for a job to materialize.
    • action
    • Science Fiction
    • thriller
    | June 30, 2018, 1:12 p.m.
    In the greatest example of VHS sci-fi, a cyborg assassin from the future relentlessly hunts the mother to-be of a resistance leader.
    • western
    | June 23, 2018, 11:38 a.m.
    John Wayne trades an ungrateful generation for the youth of tomorrow in a do-or-die cattle drive while being trailed by a gang of bandits.
    • action
    • horror
    • military
    • thriller
    | June 17, 2018, 2:08 p.m.
    The sins of endless, overseas war come to roost when a former comrade of the Peterson's fallen son visits their home and becomes a fixture in their life. This is as far into critique of military-culture The Guest is comfortable with but its enough to fashion an solid genre-horror/thriller.
    • drama
    | June 9, 2018, 9 p.m.
    The old man and his wife meticulously pack for their trip to Tokyo. They plan to spend time with every one of their adult children. Once arrived they find their children live in modest comfort, but have little time to spare for their parents. The old man and wife spend their trip waiting for events that never happen. It becomes immediately clear that the grown children are too busy with their own affairs to truly afford their parents any attention. So they send their parents to an affordable spa that turns out to be loud and boisterous. Eventually the
    • black comedy
    • mindfuck
    | June 3, 2018, 1:13 p.m.
    Luis Buñel's second to last film marries his frequent skewering of European elites with a fear of the modern world
    • crime
    • pre code
    | June 2, 2018, 9:59 p.m.
    A deliciously pre-code look at an inept police department targeted by the serial killer Mr. X, and the jewel thief wrongly accused of the crimes.
    • comedy
    | May 27, 2018, 12:33 p.m.
    In perhaps the purest distillation of a Miramax picture, a group of C-List actors will themselves into bigger careers in a film that highlights the mid 90's neo lounge culture.
    • action
    • superhero
    | May 20, 2018, 9:26 p.m.
    With Ant-Man, Marvel plays it safe. Journeyman Peyton Reed replaced Edgar Wright as director and any hope of edginess or hope of a new style went with him. The finished picture wound up being an especially direct representation of Marvel's favorite hobby horse: daddy issues.
    • drama
    • legal
    | May 13, 2018, 3:22 p.m.
    In 1982 you didn’t have to go to dystopian Australia to find a square jawed hero who learned to live again while pursuing a suicidal mission for greedy victims. Instead of mutant scavengers The Verdict gives the Catholic Church. Instead of the weak greedy hoarders, its the working class family of a woman left brain dead after negligence while delivering her baby. The Verdict certainly hasn’t remained in pop culture like the Road Warrior. It’s remembered primarily as one of the few films in the courtroom genre who try to present a realistic view of the process of
    • action
    • crime
    | May 12, 2018, 5:53 p.m.
    Two scenes best personify Johnny Mak’s “Long Arm of the Law”. In one the “O Gang” perform a hit in a crowded Hong Kong mall. They execute their mark and throw him off a skybridge. The body lands hard onto a skating rink below, and then springs into motion, darting through the crowd of skaters and ricocheting off the rink walls, a blood trail traces the trajectory of the body. Mak takes incredible glee in this sequence, using POV shots of the body separating the screaming crowd of skaters and multiple establishing shots just emphasize the full extent of
    • biopic
    • drama
    | May 6, 2018, 11:49 a.m.
    The Imitation Game serves many purposes, a biography of Alan Turing, a commentary on the cruel treatment of homosexuals in Britain throughout the twentieth century, the birthings of computing, and finally as a prestige picture for stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. It can’t be everything at once, unfortunately, and some of the conclusions reached in the closing credits seem a bit forced or unexplored. For instance some of the most dramatic actions taken by Turing’s squad, planning for the D-Day invasion for instance, are totally relegated to the credits. The assertion that cracking Enigma ended the European conflict
    • action
    • crime
    • thriller
    | May 5, 2018, 7:28 p.m.
    Every era had its superhumans. If we’re currently in the arc of the superheros, the 80’s had its impervious action heros, the mid twentieth century had its sharp shooting cowboys, and the dawning decades of the twentieth century had their master criminals and vigilantes. The Germans had Dr. Mabuse. The Americans had the Shadow. The French had their Fantomas, Lupin, and Judex. The particulars are often similar. The resourceful detective every bit the foil of the protagonist, the masked figure attacking the elite whether seeking justice or just their wealth. Judex is pure vigilante, operating in an
    • crime
    • neo noir
    | April 21, 2018, 4:19 p.m.
    Bill Duke directed Deep Cover as if he thought he’d never get to make another film. He adopts a number of stylish techniques; fancy wipes; and camera tricks. Every scene is an excuse to try out a new cinematic toy. Most of these fall flat, distracting rather than enhancing. At its heart Deep Cover wants to be a neo noir. Film Noir often dealt with normal people communing with the underworld. Deep Cover’s plot of a DEA undercover officer becoming seduced by the allure of drug culture isn’t too far a stretch. Duke throws in
    • drama
    | April 14, 2018, 3:35 p.m.
    Part of bargain in abandoning society in favor of the arts is supposed to be the widening of the self. Art is supposed to deepen thoughts about the human condition, to expose the partaker to greater threads of consciousness. The unstated flipside to this of course is that exposure to art will allow you to become inured to life without actually having to live it. This seems to be Greg’s bargain. He’s deeply immersed in cinema, and lets his counterparts in great film act out his greatest fears. Certainly none of his masturbation humor could ever be worse than
    • concert
    • documentary
    • musical
    | April 8, 2018, 12:24 p.m.
    Elvis and John Lennon loom over Hail Hail Rock and Roll like spectres. Chuck Berry may be the only other rock star of their pedigree and stature. The two pop up constantly when the interviewees search for a suitable comparison for Berry. Via archival footage John Lennon proclaims that if Rock ‘n Roll had another name it might be called “Chuck Berry”. Among the talking heads Hail Hail marshalls, there’s Berry’s contemporaries Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Jerry Lee Lewis. They all seem to shrink in Berry’s presence. All their dalliances as chart toppers on the forefront
    • documentary
    | April 1, 2018, 2:35 p.m.
    There’s no shortage of families that pull themselves out of American society. In media accounts they are often cast in a positive light: keeping their children out of public schooling that’s fundamentally flawed either due to its secular nature, or to save their children from mixing with undesirables. When these families pop up on TV they tend look similar: mid-western, protestant, white, well-spoken. At this point “home schooled children” don’t draw images of urban environments, public housing, child abuse, or near-total societal isolation. Fearful of the outside world, and eager to build his own family into an ideal society,
    • film noir
    • mystery
    | March 24, 2018, 3:51 p.m.
    Seldom did classic noir join Los Angeles seediness with Hollywood glamor in such great proportions. Blue Dahlia marks the sixth collaboration between Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Their rapport is so breezy and charmed that it almost makes you forget about the psychotic veterans, murders, shady dealings, and multiple identities lurking in plain view. This is a world where renting a hotel room is an invitation to robbery at gunpoint. Blue Dahlia achieves this by adding common noir touchstones to a murder mystery plot. Johnny (Ladd) returns home from the Pacific Theater along with two fellow soldiers.
    • film noir
    • spy
    | March 18, 2018, 2:20 p.m.
    A pickpocket comes into possession of a bit of espionage. Both the Communist spies and the American Law Enforcement track him down. The pickpocket isn’t particularly concerned about either party and frustrates them both while claiming to have only allegiance to money. There are always a few Richard Widmarks kicking around at any given time. A-List talent that only seems to find their way into passable features. After their career’s end their filmographies hardly tell the tale of how large they once were. I was drawn to Pickup on South Street because it was one
    • Science Fiction
    | March 4, 2018, 2:46 a.m.
    A fierce storm forces an emergency evacuation and cuts short the first manned mission to Mars. In the chaos, the crew abandons biologist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) believing he died. Watney survived though and immediately begins working to reestablish communications with NASA and to survive with limited resources in the harsh Martian climate. The Martian follows Gravity: hard sci-fi survival stories built around NASA and fronted by A-List actors. Coupled with smaller but still interesting pictures like Duncan Jones’s Moon and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, there appears to be a bit of a renaissance for
    • documentary
    • musical
    | Feb. 25, 2018, 7:14 p.m.
    Music documentaries have never been out of fashion. It's a reliable format that adopts an equally familiar template: open with a dynamic performance piece, then a series of talking heads gush over the as-yet introduced subject with all manner of hyperbole, finally the film contextualizes and proves the worth of the subject. In all the films released on musicians, none ever began with the subject physically assaulting the film crew until “Beware of Mr. Baker”. He’s just been told that other people will be interviewed about him to round out the feature. Baker responds by splitting open the
    • crime
    • drama
    | Feb. 25, 2018, 6:38 p.m.
    Carol Reed’s The Third Man held its central character, Harry Lime, like a privileged secret. There are no flashbacks just other characters' spoken recollections. Its a deeply nuanced route as every person is not just unreliable, but playing their own game. Their accounts of Harry Lime are at the same time selling their version of the man while sussing out the motivations of their audience. The Mask of Dimitrios, made five years prior to the Third Man shows the immediate flaws of using flashbacks to sell such a story. It was billed, and remembered, as one of Peter Lorre
    • superhero
    | Feb. 24, 2018, 12:33 p.m.
    One of the wonderful idiosyncrasies of the US culture is to find a direct ratio between profitability and artistic merit. This very same phenomenon led many to reflexively call Avatar a great work of art once it became the all time box office champ. Its the same impulse that leads to remembering the original Avengers as a great feature. The original Avengers was indeed a good film, but it’s virtues were in its likeability. It is the ultimate exemplar of the Marvel film. I bring this up because the tone of the reviews for Age of Ultron held
    • fantasy
    • mindfuck
    • musical
    | Feb. 18, 2018, 1:07 p.m.
    All of The Red Shoes seemed to build to the ballet sequence at its center. It arrived with force of a freight train and seem to shatter the staid reality of its narrative driving right into pure impressionistic filmmaking. It was a masterful sequence, one that the Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) seemed to be building toward throughout their careers. You can’t fault them for trying to stretch such a sequence into a full feature. Tales of Hoffman is even billed as a reunion of the Red Shoes principals, especially Moira Shearer. Described by Powell as
    • black comedy
    • drama
    • mindfuck
    | Feb. 11, 2018, 5:46 p.m.
    Looking to reestablish his career, Riggan Thomas stages a Broadway adaptation of John Cheever’s “What we Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Birdman documents the previews and opening night performance while Riggan is dogged by his most famous role. He is trying to escape the shadow of his public sphere successes as a franchise superhero, desperate to prove his acting chops and bask in the validation of his peers. There are perhaps only two fully fleshed characters in all of Birdman, Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Mike (Ed Norton). The latter is an actor with respect but
    • action
    • comedy
    | Feb. 3, 2018, 6:58 p.m.
    What a strange film this is! Beverly Hills Cop began its life as a Sylvester Stallone actioner. Stallone didn’t last long in the project (eventually he’d make Cobra as the film he wanted this to be) but the film still feels constructed for him in the opening sequences. Eddie Murphy is surrounded by a cast that doesn’t click at all. When Mikey (James Russo) embraces Axel Foley and professes a brotherly love, the acting is fine, but the two actors share no rapport. Paul Reiser’s tack on role never makes any sense within the context of a police station.
    • action
    • crime
    • thriller
    | Jan. 30, 2018, 4:15 p.m.
    Ah... to be trapped in a decades-long crime spiral. Violence increasing every day and the authorities are powerless to prevent it. Music teacher Andrew Norris returns to teaching after a brief absence, taking a job at an inner city school. He’s shocked to find metal detectors for the students and that his fellow faculty are carrying guns for protection. It’s soon clear that violence and lawlessness are endemic in the halls. Student gangs fight for real estate to deal drugs, while coddled by feckless school administrators and ignored by police who won’t act on any crime without a witness.
    • documentary
    • musical
    | Jan. 21, 2018, 4:08 p.m.
    “Seymour: An Introduction” concerns itself with Seymour Bernstein. A small man who eeks out a modest living in a one bedroom rent-controlled apartment in New York City through providing piano lessons. However for decades Seymour was one of the preeminent classical pianists of his generation. He toured the world, received rave reviews from the notoriously gruff critics of the day, and enjoyed the patronage of wealthy dowagers. He is the subject of Ethan Hawke’s first documentary feature. It's clear Hawke views his subject with a mix of awe and respect. Seymour’s interviews are filmed in comfortable quarters.
    • action
    • thriller
    | Jan. 14, 2018, 2:03 p.m.
    Perhaps the greatest television movie ever produced, which for the standards of the day meant the most cinematic. So much so that Duel demanded a theater release. For at least a decade as of this writing television has become the refuge of prestige projects, where serious filmmaking thrives and an exciting laboratory to experiment with narrative structure and form. In the days of Duel however, TV was at best a thankless stepping stone to film work. Dennis Weaver plays the lead and perhaps more difficult than fending off a homicidal truck driver he is tasked with carrying
    • drama
    • thriller
    | Jan. 7, 2018, 3:41 p.m.
    Films produced in the heat of a fraught political moment have little use for nuance. The good guys are pure and noble, the villains almost caricatures of evil. Soliloquies to the morals of the ideal society are often delivered in verse. The function is unapologetic propaganda. While this heart on the sleeve approach can play as corniness to those outside of the conflict and the moment, such expressions are still interesting in an anthropological sense. Which gods and heroes will the storytellers hold up as examples of this particular ideal society. Western film too produced many such films, particularly in
    • action
    • Science Fiction
    | Jan. 7, 2018, 3:22 p.m.
    Tom Cruise’s character Cage is a military spokesman, a draft dodger who found the best way to avoid combat was to enlist. He smugly puts a positive spin on five years worth of failed conflicts with an alien race that’s methodically captured much of Europe. After the humans miraculously win their first battle in Verdun, the military plans an all-out assault around a landing on the beaches of Normandy. How then to read Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow”? It’s tempting when dealing with an actor who’s actively shaped his films around his desired screen persona to
    • drama
    | Dec. 26, 2017, 2:14 p.m.
    With all due respect to Andrew (Miles Teller), the young drummer at the center of Whiplash, the next Charlie Parker probably won’t come out of a music conservatory. Charlie Parkers never seem to come out of such environments. No, the elite musicians that come out of such places are the people that can play Charlie Parker, and rehash the leavings of decades-gone giants. I’m not in touch with the workings of the modern New York jazz scene, but playing a good version of Caravan to a sparsely attended concert hall, no matter how prestigious, probably won’t affect
    • action
    | Dec. 17, 2017, 3:57 p.m.
    Matthew Vaughan’s Layer Cake was a pleasant diversion, destined to rise to the top of the $5 Walmart DVD bin. His Kick-Ass worked, but was a rare case of the parts being worth more than the whole. With “Kingsman” he gains full admittance as one of the premier action directors of this generation. First there’s a secretive organization, the Kingsman. Unaffiliated with any government or private enterprise, they spy out of philanthropy. Their agents are fearsome fighters though imbued with a wonderfully British sense of restraint. All of whom are impeccably dressed creatures of means.
    • horror
    • thriller
    | Nov. 26, 2017, 10:17 p.m.
    Wait Until Dark may be a conventional thriller and suspense picture if not for Alan Arkin as Roat. What kind of person puts on costumes to trick a blind woman? It’s not like Roat was unfamiliar with Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn). He’s staked out her basement apartment for days and learned her routine and that of her photographer husband. So confident in this when interviewing his potential accomplices for the first time, he meets them in Hendrix’s apartment. Though appearing to arrive late, Roat’s already planted a body in the closet. At first he registers as ridiculous,
    • documentary
    | Nov. 26, 2017, 1:10 a.m.
    Although the focus of this film is fairly explicit in its title what really stuck with me after walking out of the theater was the slight reggae act Lambsbread. That’s the group formed by a couple of the Hackney brothers after Death’s ill fated rebranding as the gospel rock “Fourth Movement”. This is a group I’m intimately familiar with. How many of our parents, aunts, and uncles wound up in a similar state? The last refuge for their dreams of rock stardom as a residency playing island-themed bars in furthest reaches of the suburbs. You can appreciate
    • documentary
    • musical
    | Nov. 19, 2017, 2 p.m.
    Normally posthumous bios exist to perpetuate myths, turning their subject into saints or demons. Mr. Dynamite pulls in the opposite direction. Almost a dozen of Brown’s associates work at stripping away the misconceptions and legends until we get an idea of the real man underneath. This may not have been possible during Brown’s lifetime. As the film makes clear, Brown’s life work was to recalibrate how the world viewed him. The means to this may have seemed subtle but were the product of meticulous discipline. He made sure his band always dressed in suits, even while traveling through the
    • horror
    • slasher
    | Nov. 18, 2017, 7:48 p.m.
    Slasher horror may have no more sympathetic villain than Billy. Forced to watch his parents brutally murdered by a criminal dressed as Santa Claus, he and his young brother grow up in a Catholic orphanage. The Mother Superior is iron-sided emotionally (and later physically), and tries to cure Billy of his natural disdain of Christmas with harsh punishments. As traumatized children in these films are wont to do, Billy grows to be a tall, well-muscled man. One of the well meaning nuns finds him a job in a toy store. All is well and good until Christmas
    • crime
    • low budget
    • thriller
    | Oct. 28, 2017, 9:56 p.m.
    While mute seamstress Thana (Zoe Lund) makes her way home, a burglar is breaking into her apartment. As if to reassure the audience, his fumbling through the belongings is intercut with shots of dead meat, neatly stacked in a supermarket that Thana peruses. On her way home, groceries in tow, Thana is pulled into an alley by a masked man (director Abel Ferrara, one upping Dario Argento). He slings Thana over a trash can and quickly rapes her, whispering creepy nothings in her ear. He promises they’ll see each other again as he runs off. <span
    • animation
    • fantasy
    | Oct. 14, 2017, 4:09 p.m.
    After the princess Anna is nearly killed by the ice-powers of her older sister Elsa, their father the king decides that Elsa must be kept from society. The castle gates are locked, and the royal family live in isolation. Memories of Elsa’s abilities are removed from Anna’s mind, and she reads her sister’s hermitude as bizarre. Meanwhile Elsa’s powers grow beyond her ability to suppress them. The daughters remain cut off from the outside world even after the king and queen perish while sailing in rough seas. On the occasion of Elsa’s twenty first birthday, she must
    • druggy
    • fantasy
    • gross out
    • horror
    • mindfuck
    | Oct. 7, 2017, 11:31 a.m.
    After her father surprises her by inviting his new fiance to their summer vacation, the daughter rebels. She instead writes to her long estranged spinster aunt and asks if she could visit. The aunt agrees enthusiastically, even allowing six of of her friends to join as well. It’s hard to find much precedent for Hausu. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead is an obvious point of comparison, although it was released four years later. They both share a delight in dismemberment, spraying multi colored bodily fluids, and omnipotent spirits who take great pleasure in torturing their captives slowly. But Raimi’s
    • comedy
    • horror
    • low budget
    • Science Fiction
    | Sept. 30, 2017, 6:16 p.m.
    After losing his minimum wage job, Otto (Emilio Estevez) is conned into helping Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) repossess a car. After getting the taste of the repo man life, Otto finds himself drawn to the profession. Meanwhile, a renegade scientist (Fox Harris) slips into town in a Chevy Malibu. In the trunk lies destructive evidence of extraterrestrial life. Repo Man’s most interesting comparison is probably Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Whereas the former was more a vehicle for Spielberg to test out big budget filmmaking and hone his voice, the latter runneth over with ideas
    • crime
    • horror
    | Sept. 24, 2017, 10:23 p.m.
    “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” chronicles the real life reign of a masked serial killer who stalked Texarkana in the days following the end of World War 2. Had the “Town that Dreaded Sundown” been released just two years later, it may have all been different. John Carpenter’s Halloween had yet to establish the slasher genre and its rules. Without this template, “Sundown” feels adrift. Part real life crime, part historical period piece, part slasher, part 70’s character driven drama. But while investing in all these themes at once, it manages to fail magnificently at the last point.
    • druggy
    • film noir
    • neo noir
    | Sept. 9, 2017, 3:44 p.m.
    Vintage private eye films were always wild stretches of logic. The PI connecting suspicious characters to dastardly deeds in the most convoluted fashion permitted by a 90 minute runtime. And they’d be right! Working off little more than intuition and first impressions they were able to deduce sordid histories and motives. They could keep track of who was sleeping with whom, and even the murderers of the minor characters. The true neo noirs starting in the late sixties threw out this tenet while showing a reverence for the other basics of the genre: the femme fatales, the
    • crime
    • film noir
    • neo noir
    • thriller
    | Sept. 3, 2017, 4:17 p.m.
    Chinatown wasn’t the first neo-noir, but it remains the strongest. It and many other films embraced the noir by challenging its central tenets. Jake Gittes matches wits with a femme fatale, he corners the guilty man and announces the particulars of the murder, but where Humphrey Bogart and Dick Powell succeeded, he failed. Blood Simple belongs to this tradition. After delivering a sage treatise on the nature of justice in Texas, M. Emmet Walsh is discovered trailing a pair of illicit lovers within the first five minutes of screen time. I think back on Bogart in The
    • comedy
    • crime
    • thriller
    | Aug. 26, 2017, 12:04 p.m.
    The white picket fences and horse ranches beckoned Sterling Hayden in the Asphalt Jungle. Salvation from the cruel grime of city life. Those picket fences and horse farms make a brief appearance in Blue Ruin. Although they show up in the middle of the feature, and instead of offering a glimpse of the promised land it’s only a brief peak at sanity. Dwight (Macon Blair) has a fresh corpse in the trunk, the second Cleland boy he’s killed since returning to his hometown to avenge the murder of his parents. The first was Wade Cleland. News of
    • action
    • superhero
    | Aug. 19, 2017, 3:37 p.m.
    At a certain point even formulas for success become just formulaic. Of all the metaphysical worries surrounding the plot of Doctor Strange, the production is clearly concerned with becoming just another Marvel movie. It doesn&rsquo;t help that Strange the character is noticeably similar to Iron Man, Tony Stark. Both learned to sublimate their egos and work for the greater good only after a life-threatening injury forced them to reevaluate their existence. They are even groomed similarly with matching goatees. The leading portion of Doctor Strange has to be yet another comic book origin story and its treated as almost
    • horror
    • low budget
    • slasher
    | Aug. 13, 2017, 4:58 p.m.
    In my youth, as a frequenter of mom and pop and national chain video stores, I thought I possessed the fine ability to sniff out a unworthy film simply from the box art. Sleepaway Camp always failed my test. The box illustration showed an adidas sneaker punctured by a butcher knife, the hallmark of a by the numbers slasher film. I was wrong, I now know. What should have clued me in was how year after year, decade after decade, across all the stores, there always sat a copy of Sleepaway Camp. Other horror and exploitation films came
    • comedy
    • crime
    • drama
    • pre code
    | Aug. 12, 2017, 4:09 p.m.
    The synopsis for Night Nurse hangs over it like a dense fog. Certainly it reads like a candidate for the bleakest film of any era: an unproven nurse is pitted against a thug chauffeur who sees a ways to riches through starving a couple of children to death and claiming their inheritance. The thug chauffeur? None other than Clark Gable looking more like Boris Karloff’s evil twin than Rhett Butler. But Night Nurse is an incredibly balanced film, indeed duality is a major theme throughout. Even if after years of “realistic” and “gritty” features, Hollywood still hews to morals
    • action
    | Aug. 6, 2017, 4:54 p.m.
    After a routine assassination, Jimmy Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) and young partner Louis (Jon Seda) gets betrayed by their handler. Instead of collecting a paycheck another hitman (Jason Momoa) lays in wait at the rendezvous point. He makes quick work of Louis but Jimmy escapes unharmed. The original hit caught the attention of an out of town officer, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang). Unlike the whole of the New Orleans police force, Kwon is able to immediately deduce Jimmy’s involvement. It’s takes a special kind of humility to be featured in a Sylvester Stallone movie. Normally buddy cop films
    • action
    • drama
    | Aug. 5, 2017, 10:57 a.m.
    Of all the business ruts to get stuck in, there’s a particular frustration with casting your lot with an organization that struggles with success. As a company distinguishes itself in the marketplace, everything around it continues to grow. More press, more employees, more customers, more parasites looking to milk a few dollars. The principles that led the organization in its earliest days are tested. Ownership paradoxically will need to cede control, its just not possible for a leader to perform all the tasks required. Eventually responsibilities are divided amongst a management class. This transition is often incredibly difficult for
    • horror
    | July 30, 2017, 2:14 p.m.
    “The Legend of Hell House” is so intent on getting its cast into the titular, haunted mansion, as quickly as possible that you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that it wanted to to get to the scares as soon as possible. Unfortunately, where the film wants to go is straight into melodrama. Assembling a tight cast in the “Hell House” so that they argue and bicker about each other’s mettle and fortitude. Their stated goal is to prove for a wealthy client that the afterlife exists, and given the spotted history of the cursed manor it is
    • horror
    | July 29, 2017, 8:28 p.m.
    When the moon gets full, the “Moon Killer” strikes. Strangling the victims with his strong hands and then using a surgeon’s scalpel to skin off portions of their flesh. All clues point the police and the press to the staff at Doctor Xavier’s (Lionel Atwill) Academy of Surgical Research. Doctor Xavier manages to get 48 hours from the police to allow him to ferret out the guilty party. He whisks his fellow doctors off to his cliffside manor to perform psychological experiments. If the authorities are too deferential toward Doctor Xavier, the press is not
    • action
    • drama
    • Science Fiction
    | July 22, 2017, 5:47 p.m.
    At its core Gravity is a classic survival fable. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is no astronaut, but NASA sends her into orbit as a matter of necessity. She’s the only person who can fix a key component on a telescope. While performing the repair, the detonation of a nearby satelite causes a debris field to leave Ryan stranded thousands of miles above the Earth. In describing his 1971 film, Get Carter, Mike Hodges remarked on his good fortune to have Michael Caine at his disposal. At last he was working with a real movie
    • comedy
    • western
    | July 16, 2017, 1:29 p.m.
    By 1971 the American Western was in a pathetic state. The genre’s chokehold on television was lessening, Gunsmoke and Bonanza had just a few years left in prime time. Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah exploded the whole traditional notion of a Western. The former opening the floodgates to knock-off Spaghetti flicks, and the latter introducing a gore and a moral hardness that seemed contrary to the whole attitude of the classic cowboy film. John Wayne, and Joel McCrea were pumping out formulaic Westerns, paeans to a bygone era that felt hopelessly out of touch with their time. The young
    • comedy
    • drama
    • fantasy
    | July 15, 2017, 7:47 p.m.
    Here’s a setup for a redemption arc: Jack (Jeff Bridges), a repugnant shock jock spews bile onto his faithful audience, berating them, harassing them. For his efforts he lives in a huge penthouse overlooking Manhattan and enjoys the company of an attractive model girlfriend. Soon though he gives the wrong advice to the wong caller, who uses their conversation as the pretext to take a shotgun into a restaurant and murder seven innocent people. The film skips ahead three years, Jack sulks in a video store. He’s technically an employee, but really is just leeching off the store
    • comedy
    • drama
    • fantasy
    • musical
    | July 4, 2017, 3:42 p.m.
    The runaway success of the Jazz Singer forces the latest Don Lockwood/Lina Lamont romance picture to switch to being a talkie in mid production. No one seems to know how to film sound, and the final product is laughed out of the preview screenings. Lockwood is convinced he can save the picture by turning it into a musical, but his biggest obstacle is his co-star’s weedy voice. Maybe Singin’ in the Rain is not the greatest film ever released, but it typifies the best of the studio system. It may not be filet, but its still steak,
    • crime
    • drama
    • mindfuck
    | July 1, 2017, 5:57 p.m.
    There isn’t a frame in Ploy that doesn’t feel like an intrusion. Characters are often alone and defensively silent in the frame. The camera rarely captures its subject in full. We see arms and legs, crumpled coats on disturbed sheets, but the faces and bodies often stay out of frame. Rather than panning or zooming to capture more of the scene, the camera stays static, seldomly moving from the partial compositions. The effect makes a member of the audience feel like their spying into the world of Wit and Dang through peepholes. Wit owns a restaurant in
    • crime
    | June 25, 2017, 2:28 p.m.
    It takes a great deal of effort for a production in Rome to not feature any ancient Roman buildings. All a director need do is turn the camera slightly to the right or the left and get rewarded with a shot of impressive architecture and fantastic sculpture. “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion” doesn’t want to belong to Caesar, Nero, or the Borgias though. It’s Mussolini’s echoes you’re supposed to hear in the jack-wingtipped stomp of its elite civil class. In this the film goes above and beyond. So well chosen are sets and costumes that even
  • Her
    • drama
    • Science Fiction
    | June 19, 2017, 1:53 p.m.
    Art in western society has always viewed technology as an omniscient menace. It follows that since computers far outstrip humans in a few narrow disciplines, that narrow inherent superiority begats real superiority and will in some way lead them to lay judgement on the human race. Chief among all such threats are the “thinking machine”. In films such as The Terminator and Wargames they use their processing powers to bring mankind to the brink of extinction. “Her” may belong in the sad western tradition, but it at least acknowledges that technology is now a central facet in
    • documentary
    • superhero
    | June 10, 2017, 4:41 p.m.
    I love the new era of micro documentaries. Seemingly everything of any significance gets a feature-length retrospective. My favorite among these act more as self promotion platforms and invitations for audience involvement. Even if they don’t work as films, I still feel invested in the outcome. After watching “Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth” I wished I had a club to book him. “Searching for Sugarman” of course incites a righteous rage to recover Sixto Rodriguez’s royalties. “Starring Adam West” frames its structure around the quest to get West’s career recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk
    • documentary
    • military
    | June 4, 2017, 10:21 p.m.
    The Unknown Known is a sequel of sorts to Errol Morris’s Fog of War. Both deal with disgraced secretaries of defense who oversaw failed wars that proved the limitations of US military might. In a way both films were about the invasion of Iraq starting in March 20th, 2003. The Fog of War was released on March 5th, 2003, but the lurch towards war with Iraq had been building since the Clinton administration. The film was structured as a series of lessons Robert McNamara learned over the course of an impressive career with an ignominious end.
    • action
    • Science Fiction
    | May 28, 2017, 2:53 p.m.
    Snowpiercer is promoted as a dystopia. That’s partially correct. More accurately, this a dystopian sci-fi in the vein of 80’s direct-to-video dystopian sci fi. These begin with a ridiculous premise and double down, heaping on more outrageous twists where a more self conscious film would try to justify its conceit. They build their cast from a rainbow of ethnicities, awkwardly assembled. Ultraviolence punctuates the plot, lest the wooden monologs drive away the intended audience. Snowpiercer’s true forebears are films like Trancers, Escape from New York, Eliminators, Day of the Dead, and The Terminator, not Metropolis or 1984. In one
    • comedy
    • crime
    • drama
    • southern
    | May 20, 2017, 5:15 p.m.
    The James Garner con man is an archetype unto itself. Affable, flintly, always working a scheme while working just as hard to avoid physical confrontation. Garner mostly plied his trade in Westerns and Film Noirs (or their stylistic descendants), self contained worlds with little bearing on our reality. The consequences of the gunfights, car chases, duels, and card games didn’t even carry over into subsequent episodes. Maverick and Jim Rockford made a point of avoiding minefields like American race relations. Not for bad reason, either. Race and slavery remain an enormously complicated topic even in the modern
    • action
    • Science Fiction
    | May 11, 2017, 10:32 p.m.
    The Marvel process is very familiar by now: hire critically acclaimed directors to add flavor to the scenes between the CGI battles. Hire as many best supporting actor nominees as possible, rounding out the cast with a winner or two for good measure. Center the film around a good looking guy starved until his abs show, and have everyone play it safe. Through these simple steps Marvel has become the premier studio of the day. They aim low--I seriously doubt any of these films will get awarded for their acting, direction, or screenplays--but the quality is so consistent at the
    • action
    • fantasy
    | May 7, 2017, 1:10 p.m.
    Dragonslayer begins with a view of magic that’s equal parts hookum and fantastic. A small party has arrived at the home of a sorcerer to plead for him to kill an especially ornery dragon. For decades their kingdom’s kept the dragon at bay by offering ritual sacrifice of a virgin maiden, the participant determined by a rigged lottery. After agreeing to hear their case, the sorcerer sends out his young apprentice to “warm up the crowd” and build up his entrance. The apprentice works an array of pots and metal slabs like the sound effects man for
    • comedy
    | April 30, 2017, 2:45 p.m.
    Laurel and Hardy have hundreds of shared screen credits, and such was the level of their quality that almost all are guaranteed to provide entertainment. Alas, being a fan of Laurel and Hardy is a game of slim pickings. Only a fraction of their work are available on DVD and streaming services. TCM will occasionally air some of the better known pictures, and even tack on some of their shorts on occasion. The Flying Deuces is available due to a 2014 restoration project. The plot finds the duo on a soundstage representing Paris, in the final days
    • drama
    • mindfuck
    | April 22, 2017, 12:46 p.m.
    The first discrete image is a man’s penis, its appearance underscored by the score. Then we launch into five minutes of non sequitur imagery, scenes of bloody gore interspersed with slapstick comedy. If there’s any theme that links these snippets together, its that all of the “actors” are aware, to various degrees, of the camera watching their actions. Finally we settle on a boy, rising from sleep in a completely barren room. His white blanket over the white mattress against white walls. He rubs his eyes and then looks right at us, right through the camera. Now we see the
    • horror
    | April 9, 2017, 2:55 p.m.
    Horror films are sold on their macabre imagery. Sometimes the degree of cringeworthiness is the sole selling point needed to entice the target audience. By this standard, Motel Hell delivers. Many films make their victims suffer, but here the torture stretches out for days. Their bodies mutilated in a way still unique even after the ensuing decades brought the torture porn of the 2000s. The final battle between the good and evil forces of the story involves a chainsaw duel where one of the participants wears a hog’s head as a mask. That right there is something you won’t
    • comedy
    • musical
    | April 2, 2017, 2:01 p.m.
    George Lucas is credited with kicking off the 50’s nostalgia movement with his American Graffiti. It was a vision of the last days of a golden era. Pristine, gorgeous cars, cruising round and round city centers packed with teens. Even if this was a setup for the gut-punch end title cards, in American Graffiti the good times were truly good. Hairspray arrived late to the party, four years after the American Graffiti derivative “Happy Days” mercifully ended, and when the nostalgia circuit was becoming a bit more cynical and jaundiced. Hairspray may smile just as wide as
    • drama
    • horror
    • thriller
    | March 27, 2017, 12:12 a.m.
    Secret chambers were once solely the purview of gothic castles. In the mystery thrillers of pre-WWII it was the mansions of the monied elites that hid a few extra rooms. Western society lost its taste for stories involving the damned aristocracy and the evil upper class. Monsters these days tend to come from the people, but the love for the clandestine villain’s lair remains strong. Now our everyman-monsters maintain villainous lairs every bit as fatal as those of their well-off ancestors, even if built on a budget from Home Depot materials. Lurking inside the cookie cutter, McMansion exteriors, modern monsters
    • crime
    • low budget
    | March 9, 2017, 11:37 p.m.
    With “Massacre Mafia Style” it’s not a question of whether the gun we see in the first act will be fired in the third. The film lives up to its billing immediately. After exchanging words with a receptionist two thugs enter the office of a wheelchair-bound man. They’re plain with their intentions: gagging the man, rolling him to a restroom and using a running urinal and exposed electrical wire to finish the deed. The act concluded, the two men draw their pistols. They walk back past the receptionist and calmly shoot her through the head. They turn their attentions
    • action
    • low budget
    • western
    | Feb. 25, 2017, 7:16 p.m.
    Ennio Morricone knows more about effectively building suspense than director Giulio Petroni in Death Rides a Horse. Where the camera lingers on a scene two beats too long, the score murmurs, pulses and chants in sort of futile compensation. It joins Superfly among the films where the score is the main saving grace. There’s a boy, Bill, who watched bandits shoot his father dead and then murder his mother and sister after a gang rape. He only sees the face of the leader, but glimpses tell tale clues for the others: a tattoo of four aces; a spur;
    • comedy
    • drama
    | Feb. 18, 2017, 5:32 p.m.
    None of the characters within struck me as acting as a direct surrogate for Wes Anderson, but its clear he shares a kinship with the staff of the Grand Budapest Hotel. The story is buried in four layers of flashbacks. A girl sits in a cemetery to read the masterpiece of an author beside his gravestone. It’s covered in keys. We then jump back into the mid-eighties where the elderly author recounts writing the novel. Almost immediately we go further back in time to the author’s mid-life in the mid twentieth century. He’s checked himself into the Grand
    • mindfuck
    • Science Fiction
    | Jan. 28, 2017, 5:33 p.m.
    We’ve moved past 2001. Every man, woman, and child carries a personal computing device with capabilities Stanley Kubrick could barely imagine. In geo politics too, the Soviet Union is long gone, nuclear war (thankfully) has remained a fools errand since WW2. In terms of film technique, CGI effects are available to even low budget films that could allow any wannabe Kubrick to create their own space environs. Yet 2001 remains, somehow, as important as ever. I think the key, despite all of the progress achieved in the real world, we’re no closer to perfection than
    • action
    | Jan. 5, 2017, 11:49 p.m.
    By 1985 Miami Vice was a year old, a runaway sensation that codified all of the 80’s action genre signifiers: pastel mood lighting; John Carpenter-patented propulsive soundtrack interrupted by the contemporary rock hit; urban neon landscapes; and a snarky, too tough to care leading star. This was a breezy, stylish world that lobotomized the paranoid 70’s thriller, and instead of a corrupt government bearing down on the hero, it was now career criminals made rich off of victimless-crime empires. Their biggest sin was confidently inhabiting a life of privilege that the hero could only intrude upon through the law.
    • comedy
    • drama
    | Dec. 10, 2016, 12:32 p.m.
    I first learned of Chef from a breathless article that claimed it got current technology right. After the moderate disappoint of “Her” in that regard, I was more than willing for a film to address tech even if its aims were much more modest. Don’t fall for the opening shot where a disemboweled pig is reduced to cuts of meat. The real key sequence involves an early conversation between Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) and his moppet son, Percy. Casper learns the ages-old dodge of “go ask your mother” as a means for fathers to shirk parental responsibility doesn’t
    • action
    • comedy
    • low budget
    • martial arts
    | Nov. 24, 2016, 4:16 p.m.
    Hollywood, as life, is never quite fair. The sure fire winners don’t always win. The talent that’s supposed to become huge stars don’t always graduate to their deserved level even if their work becomes appreciated in due time. If there’s a positive to be found, it’s in films like Blind Fury. Rutger Hauer’s performances in his early European output through American features like Blade Runner and Nighthawks proved he had the chops and the presence of a major Hollywood star, but none of these films panned out in their initial release. By the late eighties Hauer was relegated
    • horror
    | Nov. 2, 2016, 11:23 p.m.
    At times no one seems to hate a horror franchise more than the people tasked with producing the sequels. A successful horror movie is almost always spectacularly profitable given that the budgets are so low that they’re quick to recoup. That a successful movie be followed quickly with a sequel is the edict of the genre, all too often the original filmmakers become too expensive to maintain. Instead producers turn to scrubs and up and coming directors to churn out the sequels. Whatever the career ambitions of this lot, many chafe at regurgitating the bullet points from the earlier
    • horror
    • slasher
    | Nov. 1, 2016, 10:36 p.m.
    In 1978 it was enough to call Michael Myers pure evil. By the time of the inevitable sequel, the burden came to mythologize this monster. The 1980s had an obsession with satanic cults and pagan ritual. Paranoid suburbanites saw them in the dark corners of their own communities. John Carpenter’s script pegged this onto Michael Myers. Suddenly the man who spent 15 years mute in an insane asylum was versed in samhain and the ways of the druids. Carpenter may have been keeping in step with times or he may have been looking forward to Halloween 3: Season of
    • horror
    • slasher
    • thriller
    | Oct. 31, 2016, 10:17 p.m.
    What exactly makes a classic horror film? Does it have to be scary? Halloween is cited as the movie that kicked off the Slasher sub-genre that dominated horror for more than a decade. I recently sat in for a revival screening in a packed house. Obviously Halloween did something right. It was a massive hit in its original run and continued to grow its audience over that span, placing it in refined company regardless of the genre. I’ve listened to interviews from the initial screenings where theatergoers not yet familiar with the rules of slasher pictures yelled at
    • crime
    • mystery
    | Oct. 20, 2016, 10:48 p.m.
    There’s something about the allure of a great talent, a legitimately great talent. The people drawn to them either to worship or gawk at the novelty. Darryl Zero is such a man. The self proclaimed greatest private investigator in the world (as if there were a credible, objective, ranking) has sealed himself off from society, locked behind steel doors and computer terminals. The whole act is a dramatic act of validation. The only people who wind up in his orbit are clients must fight for his attentions with large sums of money, or Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) who handles
    • biopic
    • drama
    | Oct. 15, 2016, 12:13 p.m.
    For all we know, Bob Crane never told a lie in his life before starring in Hogan’s Heroes. When his wife confronts him about a clandestine collection of porno magazines, he stammers and hedges as though he’d never been accused of anything before. He doesn’t have the capacity to truly sell the lie, but through persistence manages to keep talking and defuse the argument. Played by Greg Kinnear, Bob Crane is a completely guileless, the cartoon portrait of a Eisenhower-era dad. As soon as the pilot for Hogan Heroes wraps he finds his relationship with women has changed
    • action
    • superhero
    | Oct. 10, 2016, 11:02 p.m.
    There were a few vocal members of the audience at my screening that took great umbrage with Robert Redford. To be fair his Secretary Pierce is a plot contraption who only delivers lengthy exposition coded in politician-speak. Nothing tests the patience of an action film’s audience more. If anything though Robert Redford brought this on himself. Like contemporary Warren Beatty, he was much too selective in choosing roles when a certifiable A-Lister. If you’ve spent the past two decades sporadically appearing in safe and forgettable films don’t expect audiences to come you. I’d love to see Redford role the
    • biopic
    • drama
    | Oct. 1, 2016, 4:02 p.m.
    There’s a narrative popular in establishment media, propagated by the stodgy old talking heads and their formulaic entertainment. Contrary to the designation “social networks”, these online platforms that disseminate content have a de-socializing effect on its users. That these platforms that are built around information sharing and messaging have an insidious isolating effect. In this telling, social networks have produced addicts, and coddled mass shooters. Whatever Mark Zukerberg’s true character, writer Sorkin is more interested in shaping him into a human representation of social media flaws. Jessie Eisenberg portrays a clipped bird: sweaty, nervous, and fundamentally antisocial. He is deeply
    • horror
    • low budget
    | Sept. 20, 2016, 10:47 p.m.
    American Horror films are often the most derivative of genres. For as long as there’s been film in theaters, horror has been treated as a low-risk, medium reward endeavour. It attracts opportunists and auteurs in equal measure. Even some of the leading lights, like John Carpenter and Sam Raimi, got into the genre hoping to use it as a quick stepping stone to other projects (westerns and comedies, respectively). The first Friday the 13th was created by a soap opera writer on the lam. Given a brief description of the plot, you could generally place a horror film
    • documentary
    | Sept. 15, 2016, 11:52 p.m.
    It was after the military broke up one of the sit ins by driving through the crowd with armored vehicles. The Square caught footage of a man staring ahead, his skull split and face bent. At that point I started to suspect the old saying, “history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce” doesn’t apply to the events of Tahrir Square. This is tragedy begetting tragedy. There’s certainly repetition. The protesters reach their limit with the establishment. They fill the square. Slogans, chants, and songs. The leader falls. The constituencies reassemble remaking the leadership out of the same