Reviews

The DVD Wrapup: Through the Looking Glass, Café Society, Our Kind of Terror, Buying Democracy and more

If, as was the case in the 1970-80s, such writers and directors as Paul Mazursky, Michael Ritchie, Neil Simon, Herbert Ross, Elaine May, Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, Francis Veber, and Larry Gelbart were still competing for the same adult audiences, Woody Allen wouldn’t stand so alone in the American filmmaking firmament. Neither would his detractors feel as if they have to make excuses for buying tickets to see his annual film.

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The DVD Wrapup: Infiltrator, Blood Father, Violent Cop, Sherpa, Les Cowboys, Hills Have Eyes and more

If it weren’t for the likelihood that American audiences already know as much about Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel as they’ll ever care to learn, Brad Furman’s compelling drug-war drama, The Infiltrator, might have managed to break even at the box office. Instead, fine performances by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) and Diane Kruger (“The Bridge”), as undercover U.S. Customs agents Robert Mazur and Kathy Ertz, will pretty much go for naught.

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The DVD Wrapup: Innocents, Swiss Army Man, Purge: Election Year, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Wailing, Homestretch and more

The silence and shame that accompanies the infant’s birth would suggest that the nun had been impregnated by the devil – or, perhaps, the Holy Ghost — and no word of it should leave the convent’s walls.

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The DVD Wrapup: Blood Simple, Cat People, Shallows, Neon Demon, Sirk X 2, Warcraft, Kamikaze ’89 and more

Before Blood Simple hit the festival circuit in September, 1984, at Deauville and Toronto, it’s safe to say that Joel and Ethan Coen couldn’t get arrested in this town. On the advice of Sam Raimi, they knocked on doors in Los Angeles, New York, the Twin Cities and Austin, hats in hand, trying to interest someone, anyone in checking out their two-minute teaser for the film. It’s what filmmakers did in the days before Kickstarter. Any money they raised went straight to their headquarters in Texas, where a cinema community was in its infancy and a few dollars went a long way.

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The DVD Wrapup: Free State of Jones, Beauty & Beast, Bettie Page, Pele and more

At 139 minutes, Gary Ross’s frequently exhilarating, sometimes grueling Free State of Jones dramatizes one of the most unlikely and virtually unknown – outside Mississippi, anyway – chapters in Civil War history. Unlike Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave and the recent re-adaptation of “Roots,” viewers averse to sadistic violence and racial epithets weren’t required to gird their loins for what was to come.

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The DVD Weekend: Popstar, Civil War, Bigger Splash, King Jack, Standing Tall, Marguerite, Marauders, Tower Records, Vaxxed, Raising Cain and more

It’s possible that Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer — collectively known as Lonely Island – wrote their occasionally very funny music mockumentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, thinking it could re-create the commercial, critical and pop-cultural success accorded This Is Spinal Tap. If so, they probably should have set their sights on someone less prone to self-parody than the ever-ridiculous Justin Bieber, who is more worthy of a three-minute sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” The great thing about Rob Reiner’s 1984 comedy was that viewers couldn’t always be sure when the band was making fun of heavy metal music, the musicians themselves, their fans or the industry. They still can’t. It isn’t unusual to hear a cut from Spinal Tap’s fictional “Smell the Glove” album on SiriusXM’s Underground Garage channel, played alongside the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, the Ramones and Patti Smith. Any memory of the songs on the Popstar soundtrack vaporizes within minutes of hearing them.

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The DVD Wrapup: Now You See Me, Bodyguard, Tale of Tales, Equals, Genius, Hockney, Lamb, Night Manager, South Park and more

An audience’s communal willingness to suspend disbelief while watching an illusionist perform live is a far more entertaining exercise than suspending disbelief in the service of a large-budget, effects-dependent movie, if only because a trick might occasionally go haywire or a normally docile tiger could unexpectedly attack its handler. We exist at a time in cinematic history when blunders and missteps are freely shown during the closing credits of a feature or as part of a DVD’s bonus package. The industry’s dependency on green screen and CGI technology, to achieve economic and creative goals, has become so commonplace that it’s possible to long for the days when stuntmen made us believe that A-list stars routinely risked everything to make us laugh, cry or tingle with excitement. The conceit behind Now You See Me and Now You See Me 2 requires us to accept the unlikely, if thoroughly appealing premise that a quartet of superstar magicians could combines their individual talents to play Robin Hood or save the world from powerful forces beyond our control.

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Wilmington on DVD: Everybody Wants Some!!

Youth is wasted on the young. Maybe. But it definitely wasn‘t squandered on Richard Linklater, that wondrously humane American filmmaker (Austin, Texas-raised auteur of the “Before” Trilogy and Boyhood), who, in his best work, uses his own youth to potently amuse us and brilliantly illuminate the worlds we share.

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Review-ish: Ghostbusters (2016, non-spoiler)

Perhaps Ghostbusters won’t define your childhood. But I don’t think anyone on the team was after that. A good summer laugh at the movies? Absolutely.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Back in the 1970s, when the paradigms for shows like this were being set down — by Roger Corman and other ballsy independent producers — this kind of picture would have been a low- budget job, and it probably would have been better for it. If they were going to spend more money on The Purge: Election Year, they might at least have played around more with the idea of an entire nation plunged into chaos.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Shallows

The Shallows is a genuinely scary movie thriller that spooks you because, in a way, it seems so real — this tense, taut movie manage to get by without ghosts, monsters, supernatural maniacs or The Devil, indeed without almost anything that absolutely couldn’t happen (maybe) in the real world. Like Jaws, it’s the white-knuckle, full-throttle story of a battle between human vs. shark: a visually voluptuous thriller, set in a mostly deserted stretch of Australian coast, about a great white shark that traps a young surfer and medical student on an ocean-bound rock and buoy only about 200 yards from shore — a deserted beach near an ocean that is mostly empty except for that trapped girl and that toothy shark and one other creature we‘ll introduce later. (You’ll like him.)

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The DVD Wrapup: Knight of Cups, Greek Wedding 2, Wondrous Boccaccio, Anesthesia and more

Knight of Cups couldn’t have been made by anyone less contemplative or obsessed with the dialectics of beauty than Malick. Before capturing the attention of the film world with the visually stunning and deeply moving Badlands and Days of Heaven, he apprenticed under some of the industry’s savviest professionals. His stellar education in the humanities would only come to the fore, however, after three individual hiatuses, totaling 32 years.

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Wilmington on Movies: Central Intelligence

Central Intelligence surprises you — or surprised me, at any rate.

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Wilmington on Movies: Genius

Thomas Wolfe was an American literary phenomenon: a North Carolina-born novelist and prodigy who hoped to write books of Shakespearean verbal grandeur, of Tolstoyan dramatic scope and Dickensian humanity, and to live a life to fit those vast ambitions. He’s also an artist who tends to be ignored or underrated these days. A pity, because whenever you read one of his huge novels (especially “Look Homeward Angel” and “Of Time and the River”), his talent and his mixed but munificent literary gifts flame right off the page at you.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Conjuring 2

People who like scary ghost horror movies, from Frankenstein to The Haunting, probably are partial, at least a little, to that awesome, icky sensation of being plunged into sucking swamps of cinematic dread, then rescued (maybe spuriously, maybe not) at the very last possible millisecond—a sensation you may feel quite a few times in The Conjuring 2.

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Wilmington on Movies: Alice Through the Looking Glass

This new movie’s flaws seem to me less ruinous, its strengths less negligible, and its effect more enjoyable than naysayers have allowed. That doesn’t mean that you should rush out and see it, simply that the people involved did a better job than they have been credited.

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The DVD Wrapup: Theeb, Naked Island, Witch, Maurice Pialat, Cop Rock and more

There are times when Naji Abu Nowar’s terrific World War I adventure, Theeb, feels very much like Lawrence of Arabia writ small. Less than half as long, it tells a similarly exciting story from the point of view of Bedouin tribesmen who attach themselves to a British Army officer assigned to blow up an Ottoman railroad in the heart of the desert. Because Theeb is essentially a coming-of-age story, it betrays no secrets to reveal that the officer rather quickly becomes a non-factor in the drama, leaving only what he left behind to drive the narrative

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The DVD Wrapup: Mustang, Where to Invade Next, Patty Duke, In a Lonely Place and more

Nominated for a 2015 Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film category, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s and co-screenwriter Alice Winocour’s heart-breaking coming-of-age drama, Mustang, describes what happens in a country, Turkey, where the dreams and hopes of too many girls are crushed at the onset of puberty.

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The DVD Wrapup: Agnes Varda, Macbeth, Coming Home, Finding Gaston and more

At 87, the much celebrated European filmmaker Agnès Varda doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Aligned with the French New Wave, her early work not only pre-dated the movement and but also influenced its more identifiable practitioners. If she isn’t as well-known as André Bazin, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and her future husband, Jacques Demy, it’s because of her desire to make films that didn’t focus on established traditions or classical standards. So it took longer for American audiences to warm to her singular vision and experimentation. Being a woman in an industry dominated by men couldn’t have helped her chances for commercial success, either. Varda also has remained active as a creator of stylized documentaries, a judge at prestigious festivals and frequent recipient of honorary awards. Cinelicious Pics has done the arthouse crowd a huge favor by releasing a double feature of rarely seen films Varda made concurrently with Jane Birkin in the mid-1980s: Jane B. Par Agnès V. and Kung-Fu Master.

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The DVD Wrapup: Danish Girl, Boy, Intruders, Beautiful When Angry, Iron Sheik and more

The Danish Girl is an intelligent and absolutely gorgeous movie. If neither the book nor the movie bear much resemblance to the historical facts, the film’s interwar European settings, set design and period costumes are splendidly rendered and the lead characters’ paintings are very easy on the eyes.

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Reviews

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“Last night’s Oscar bizarreness was not just bizarre but bizarre in a way that is typical of this entirely bizarre time. The rhythm of the yes-they-won-oh-my-God-no-they-didn’t event, with La La Land replaced by Moonlight as Best Picture, was weirdly like that of… Election Night. First, a more or less expected, if “safe,” result was on its way—though Hillary Clinton never got all the way to the stage, so to speak, the result did seem safely in hand at 7pm., according to the polling—and the expected and safe people were ready to deliver their touching but obviously polished pieces. Then the sudden confusion and visible near-panic of people running around in the backgroun, with the same slightly horrified spirit that one felt on Election Night as shocking results began emerging from exurban counties in Florida. Then, yes—can this be happening?—the revised and unexpected result.

“In this case, obviously, the result was positive to all but the poor La La Land producers, with their earnest and spouse-approved speeches already delivered. Moonlight was no Donald Trump of cinema, and obviously a popular favorite. But the rhythm of the night was disconcertingly the same, and the sheer improbability of the happenstance scarily alike. Nothing like this has remotely happened before. This wasn’t just a minor kerfuffle. This was a major malfunction. Trump cannot be President. People don’t say “Grab ’em by the pussy” and get elected President. Can’t happen. In the same way, while there have been Oscar controversies before—tie votes and rejected trophies—never before has there been an occasion when the entirely wrong movie was given the award, the speeches delivered, and then another movie put in its place. That doesn’t happen. Ever.

“And so both of these bizarre events put one in mind of a simple but arresting thesis: that we are living in the Matrix, and something has gone wrong with the controllers. This idea was, I’m told, put forward first and most forcibly by the NYU philosopher David Chalmers: what is happening lately, he says, is proof that we are living in a computer simulation and that something has recently gone haywire within it. The people or machines or aliens who are supposed to be running our lives are having some kind of breakdown. There’s a glitch, and we are in it. There may be not merely a glitch in the Matrix. There may be a Loki, a prankster, suddenly running it.”
~ Adam Gopnik

“I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,” President Trump said. “It was a little sad. It took away from the glamour of the Oscars. It didn’t feel like a very glamorous evening. I’ve been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing, and then to end that way was sad.”
~ Trump Offers Breitbart Exclusive On His Thinking About Oscar