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Weekly Review

It’s been a few weeks since the last Weekly Review, as it tends to be but this week gets us back into the swing of things with a list of mostly new releases. Although I feel like I haven’t been to the theater in weeks (having only gone once last week) I had some reviews waiting in the wings for publication, including the excellent Ex Machina (in addition to an interview I did with director Alex Garland), an unexpectedly favorable assessment of social media horror Unfriended, a less favorable walkthrough of James Franco/Jonah Hill crime tale True Story and a gushing review of Noah Baumbach‘s latest hit While We’re Young. At home, I caught up on some studio screeners but haven’t watched anything as of yet this week (what with Game of Thrones back on and still trying to work my way through the surprisingly kickass Daredevil show.)

Also, I don’t often flat-out admit that I was wrong about something my first time through but having re-watched The Babadook, I don’t think I sung its praises nearly enough. I know it’s been heralded (alongside It Follows) as one of the best horror movies of recent years and upon this this second viewing and willing to board that train. My initial assessment didn’t keep it from my Top Ten Horror Movies of 2014 list but it didn’t climb the ranks as I would have it do now. I’m sorry Australia. With that out of the way, let me Weekly Review.

KILL ME THREE TIMES (2015)

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Cheeky, bloodstained Kill Me Three Times has been getting a bad rap around the critical scene (it sits at an undeserved 9% on Rotten Tomatoes as of writing this) but it isn’t “bad” so much as not as good as it should be. With Simon Pegg leading the cast against type as a mustached professional assassin, the whole bloody affair is filled with body bags, double crosses and attempts at black comedy that hit less frequently than Pegg’s comically off-type marksman. Kill Me Three Times is the kind of “everyone gets their hands dirty and then gets their comeuppances” crime saga that we’ve seen innumerable times before without anything too fresh mixed in. It’s almost as much fun as it should be but never quite as clever as it thinks or you might expect. With a fairly insubstantial narrative – regardless of how many corpses pile up – director Kriv Stenders struggles to make us care about any of the characters, nearly forcing us to root for bad guy Pegg. He deals with nonlinear storytelling to varying success with the events surrounding the paid “hit” get increasingly silly and miss their target fairly often. Again, not flat-out bad, just not anything special. (C)

WHITE GOD (2015)

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This Hungarian stray dog-uprising film will be hard to bear for any pup lover. That much is clear. But those willing to put in the hard minutes watching “impure” canines having their own canines filled down into killing daggers will find a nuanced tale reflecting larger societal issues. The saga starts when Lili’s mom leaves her and her dog Hagen with her distant, unsympathetic father, Daniel. When city officials demand they turn over the mutt or pay a fee, Daniel sets him free to Lil’s devastation.  White God separates itself from the pack by making uncommon narrative choices – the decision to focus on the dark metamorphosis of the dog rather than its owner after their separation, a sweet and sour story that’s unexpectedly dark and blood-soaked – and for that much alone is successful. It’s equally hard to bark at the many accomplishments of the dog trainers, as no CGI is used to accomplish its many pooch practical effects. Though its general arc in large part apes Apes (Rise of the) White God is a compelling portrait of societal underbelly and the effect of rejection that goes a good tug beyond the surface. (B-)

SONG OF THE SEA (2014)

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One of last year’s unfortunate animated Oscar losers, Song of the Sea can join the long line of those undeservingly snubbed in favor of the mild Marvel match-up Big Hero 6. Hailing from Ireland and featuring a painterly, impressionist visual palette, Song of the Sea recounts an ancient Celtic myth of a part-seal, sea-woman; the rare and heralded Selkie. On the night of Saoirse’s birth, her mother disappears into the sea, leaving behind a bathos-riddled husband (voiced perfectly by Brendan Gleeson), son Ben and her newborn child. Having never spoken a word, Saoirse falls ill when she’s forced to leave her home behind, prompting her and her brother on a quest to right the wrongs of their collective pasts,  allowing Saoirse to live up to her true birthright. Feast-level visual panache aside, Song of the Sea is an involving spiritual journey that adults will cherish as much as youngsters. Imbued with poignant messages, rich thematic tapestries and even richer aesthetic flourish, it’s a wonder (and a shame) that Song of the Sea has yet to garner the attention it rightly deserves. (A-)

BURN AFTER READING (2008)

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A disconcertingly snide entry into the Coen filmography, Burn After Reading is a cinematic rant about government mismanagement stuffed with deliciously offbeat caricatures and subtle comic beats. No, it’s not their most conservative effort to date – and they hardly try to mask their disdain for their subject matter – but it features moments of silently explosive comedy (John Malkovich‘s douchey pronunciation of “memoirs”, JK Simmons‘ abrupt, confused backroom hearings) and well as unanticipated soulful beats (most involving Richard Jenkins). And no sticks can be shaken at a cast this stacked. Only the Coens could force the reunion of dapper duo George Clooney and Brad Pitt and turn them into such sleek airheads. Burn After Reading isn’t near my favorite Coen bros – in large part due to its flushing-toilet narrative structure, its relative inconsequentialism and its general air of breezy irreverence – but let’s be clear, they don’t have a bad film between them. Calling it out for not being the best is like picking the ugliest out of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition lineup. It’s still sickeningly hot. (B-)

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