Weekly Review

Weekly Review is a place where I, your Silver Screen Riot editor in chief Matt Oakes, recap the week, providing a coverage overview of the past 7 days as well as shorter review segments on previously releases films or new releases I caught at home (usually by studio-distributed screeners).

It’s been a minute since our last visit, time well spent in New York City and the Seattle sunshine. Although summer is officially underway here, so too is the Seattle International Film Festival. And though I’ve ratcheted down my attendance from year’s past, I’ve still spent plenty a shiny afternoon in a dark theater or pinky-extended hotel room talking to directors, actors and even a (*gasp*) composer. SIFF being what it is, I’m sitting on reviews of Love & Mercy, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Unexpected, Mr. Holmes and the excellent demon horror The Hallow.

In wide release, I took down the supremely received Mad Max: Fury Road – I’ll direct you to Chris’ review for full thoughts on the matter – in addition to the surprisingly gleeful Pitch Perfect 2. At home, I’ve still made time to catch up with the original Mad Max trilogy – which I podcasted about over at InSession Film – swallow some Bong Joon-ho for Mother’s Day and feed my mind with a pair of documentaries. All this installment and more on Weekly Review.


The birds and the bees dispatch from a thicket of old lady hair in this classic emo-rock, counter-culture cult classic. Harold – a depressive teen with an overbearing and yet frightfully distant maternal figure – dreams up inventive ways to feign suicide until he encounters a car-jackin’, booze-swillin’ inconspicuous grandma with no reservations and no speed limits. I’ve a fondness for Harold and Maude curated by years of frequent revisits and though delightful and insightful, it does pale in comparison to contemporary cumming-of-age tale The Graduate. Not that one ought to compare the two necessarily but for some reason I can just never help it. Cat Stevens soundtrack is unabashedly perfect though. (B+)

MOTHER (2009)

Bong Joon-ho
’s fourth feature is predictably excellent, layered with energy and mystery and filled with a type of genre-defying narrative looseness that allows it to go just about anywhere at any time and exist as so many things at once. Mother tells the tale of a mom’s desperate search to redeem her slow-witted son who’s been framed for a murder she’s convinced he didn’t commit. Like Joon-ho’s earlier Memories of Murder, the film depicts the two sides of South Korean law as one and the same. The police force is dubious at best and, more likely than naught, riddled with corruption. Familiarity with his earlier work casts Mother in even more vivid, surrealistically satirical light, regardless of how humorless its core intentions remain. And this is Joon-ho’s greatest asset – he doesn’t force himself to choose one side or the other. He can have his great black comedy alongside cripplingly potent dramatic movements. From a distance, his filmography looks divided between crime sagas and genre films but for those actually looking, his chief concern remains human partaking in the inhumane and Mother is a damn fine example of that. And it has one of the best endings to a movie since Darren Aronofsky‘s Pi. (A-)


A cheery, pitchy retelling of that ever-recylced high school underdog story, Pitch Perfect imagines a world in which listening to acapella isn’t tantamount to torture. A punky Anna Kendrick plays a reclusive wanna-be DJ who joins up with the spunky Bellas, who’ve recently fallen from their high horse via a public puking incident. When the comedy works, it tends to be side-splitting – particularly when Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are firing off their verbal guns – casting a growing, glowing cloud over the admittedly dumb trappings of what should be such a cliched slice of cinema. An impromptu sing-off battle just needs a spoonful of sardonic commentary to make the medicine go down smoothly and Pitch Perfect finds a good mix of the two in its formula. It’s not mixed by a perfect chemist, but Jason Moore does well enough.  (B-)


I’ll give credit to filmmaker Brett Morgen for defying expectation with Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Rather than dish the cold hards on Cobain’s dour rise to stardom, he points his camera into the man’s interworking by showcasing his unrestricted access to Cobain’s personal journal entries, pieces of artwork and stunningly animated accounts of Kurt’s young life. The result is about as unsettling and tragic as one would imagine – with xylophone covers of Nirvana tracks adding further laters to the haunting atmosphere – and features a trove of previously unreleased home video footage that will be sure to make the hardest of fans squeal. All evidence points to a man teetering on a dangerous edge for his whole life, primed for the white light with both barrels cocked. And though Morgen offers up the broad strokes of Kurt’s hellish plot through life, I’m not sure that doodles and scribblings really help me understand who the man inside the music actually is. And for that, I left feeling a little unfulfilled. Especially when the asking price is over two hours. (C+)

FED UP (2014)

As I posted on Twitter after viewing, Fed Up ought to be required viewing for all Americans who eat food. Find yourself included in that group? Then yes, this includes you. Almost more importantly, this is a documentary that should be force fed to politicians, in addition to school principals. Targeting the obesity epidemic in our country (and, to lesser degree, around the world) Fed Up (which can also be interpreted as F-ed Up) tells the story of how our food became, well, “food” and how our declining health has gone hand-in-hand with this government-approved transformation. Fed Up provides disturbing data points as well as heartbreaking testimonials from real live chubby kids, posing the question, “If a foreign party were targeting our children and profiteering off their declining health, wouldn’t we declare war on them?” And yet, we allow the food industry to wage war on children through distressingly ubiquitous ad campaigns paired with their addictive, misleading products. The doc is eye-opening and haunting but still provides feasible solutions that we as a nation should, and must, strive for. It’s available on Netflix and should be shared aggressively. (A)

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Weekly Review

This week held the beginning of SIFF (at least for us press folk) which means I’ve started watching movies that I can’t yet talk about, including Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy. In theaters, I saw a little movie called The Avengers: Age of Ultron (though I’m not sure that anyone will really be talking about that one) as well as Jack Black/James Marsden “comedy” The D Train (more on that this week). In lesser news, I reviewed Russell Crowe‘s chintzy directorial debut The Water Diviner. For those looking for a good read that doesn’t exclusively pertain to the movies, I’d direct you to my interview with Nick Kroll of Adult Beginners, The Kroll Show and The League.

Though it’s been two weeks since this last weekly installment (isn’t that always the case?) we’ve had a chance to make our way through Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, a 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee, a strange Sundance sequel, an undersung science fiction flair up and a blood-stained cult flick. On the smaller screen, I’m down to pretty much only watching Game of Thrones on a weekly basis and I’ve been as impressed as ever with the season at hand. All this and more on Weekly Review.


Ryan Gosling
‘s directorial debut shamelessly mimics the bright lights and brighter violence of Nicholas Winding Refn to dramatically lesser effect. Gosling’s wandering, minimalist narrative is slippery at best (the line between misogyny and feminism is frightfully blurred) and downright dumb at worst. It tells of a dark familial property struggle beset on all sides by inhumanly demonic forces with little subtly and even less sense. The result is a purposefully hallucinatory but egregiously substanceless affair. Gosling’s characters are shades of humans – often too hollow or meaninglessly brooding to deliver any actual impact -whereas his overarching feminist conceit seems truly lost in the woods here. Before Christina Hendrick finds herself encased in human-sized action figure bubble wrap with Ben Mendelshon raving about assaulting her against her will, the film had already lost its footing, and its soul. You’re left questioning whether stuff like this is just the accidental icing on top of an ill-footed attempt or a substance even more sinister. (D)


An elderly crate-maker and tangerine farmer provides sanctuary for two wounded soldiers, each on different sides of a war. Though its easy enough to prognosticate that the two sides’ seeming irreconcilable differences will melt like snowfall in the spring, director Zaza Urushadze has an ace in the hole in star Lembit Ulfsak who plays the congenial fruit-farmer-cum-near-philosopher. Though it goes down a recognizable path, Ulfsak forces you to consider the intricacies in the stepping stones along the way. Though Tangerines will likely be remembered most for edging out (even more deserving) Force Majeure of its Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination, it itself is a bit of a force to be reckoned and one with a powerful, if familiar, punch. (B-)

UNCLE KENT 2 (2015)

No one has seen Joe Swanberg’s Uncle Kent which makes a sequel ripe for the picking in Todd Rohal’s idiosyncratic and masturbatory (both metaphorically and literally (there is a five minute masturbation sequence)) oddball follow-up. The pitch for Uncle Kent 2 – an in-joke that somehow found a budget, a production team and 83 minutes of film – is a hard sell to an independent film fan (let alone any casual moviegoers) as it features Ken Osborne playing a version of himself obsessed with making the sequel that we are indeed watching. Its existential trippiness could carve its own kind small chink for niche audiences of stoners and the like, although this is the kind of arthouse faux-mockumentary that will go over most’s heads and might prove full-blown adversarial for those looking for your run-of-the-mill movie experience. That being said, I give Osborne and company credit for breaking expectation and really going for something bizarre and indifferent to the tastes of the rabble. Also it has a five minute masturbation scene. (C)


Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s third (or second if you discount The Beach) collaboration, Sunshine is a thinking man’s sci-fi film; the smaller, smarter cousin-in-law to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Featuring an enviable (and reputably diverse) cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Mark Strong, Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Bryne and Mr. U.S.A. himself, Chris Evans, Sunshine tells the tale of humanity’s last ditch effort to restart our dying sun by launching a nuclear bomb into its core. Disregard the inherent silliness such a premise could conjure to find a tale of intergalactic manifest destiny and cabin fever madness that transcends the likes of lesser science fiction fare. Sunshine is a great precursor to Garland’s brilliant Ex Machina and yet another impressive platform for Boyle to show off his multi-faceted skill set. Most of all though, it’s a interesting, engaging watch for genre fans. (B+)

MS. 45 (1981)

Drafthouse’s 1981 cult flick has been called the ultimate rape revenge movie and it doesn’t disappoint on that front. Abel Ferrara’s unapologetic portrait of feminine oppression at its breaking point isn’t coy about its intent, offering up an unblinking view of the dangerous side of sexuality in telling the tale of a mute seamstress (Zoë Tamerlis) violated not once but twice on the same day. Pushed past her breaking point, her thirst for revenge becomes quickly insatiable and her rage grows blind and singularly directed at those of the opposite sex. Ferrara’s use of violence is blunt and to the point with Tamerlis playing a sometimes disappointingly one-note angel of vengeance. This low-budg production has some laughable bad effects amidst its effectively chilling executions, earning its right as a cult film, though not one of my favorites. (C+)

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Weekly Review 77: KILL, WHITE, SONG, BURN

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.


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)

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-)


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-)


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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Weekly Review
This week had a lot of hustle and bustle to it with a new apartment and a new puppy in the mix so my time consuming film was somewhat limited. Having already caught Furious 7 at SXSW, I didn’t post any new reviews this week though did catch two solid screenings – While We’re Young and Ex Machina – that I’ll post about later this week. Aside from that, I finished watching The Jinx on HBO – and though it’s caught some flack for its “gotcha” journalism tactics, I found it wholly compelling and enjoyed it immensely – as well as some new It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia over at FXX and finally those accounted for below, including a new doc that’s getting a lot of attention as well as a few classics that I had new Blu-Rays of. So with only three on the docket, let’s Weekly Review.


Ever since South Park ousted Scientology in their 2005 episode “Trapped in the Closet” – the episode contained an animated segment recounting scientology’s great secret doctrine of life”, with the all-caps sentence “THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE”  plastered over it – the religion took on an almost jocular status. If prolific documentarian Alex Gibney dispels any untruths in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, it’s that Scientology is in the least bit funny; the horrors behind this religion as cult are gut-wrenchingly tragic to hear unfurled, particularly in the case of “Spanky” Taylor; and to see families torn apart, privatized secret police employed in intelligence gathering missions and vast smear campaigns – one such plotted against Nicole Kidman to turn her children against her – all enacted under the guise of a “self-help system” is a terrible, appalling irony. Gibney gathers a plethora of accounts from ex-Scientologists and rather than focusing on the wacky fundaments of their belief, he hones in on the very real, and very distressing, systematic emotional abuse and manipulation that haunt current and former members. If there were ever a louder cry for help to the IRS on film, I’ve not seen it. #revoketaxstatusnow (B)


John Hughes
‘ sophomoric feature has for decades been called one of the best coming of age stories and for good reason. Hughes’ seminal tale of teenage rebellion showed his voice as that of a man mature enough to poignantly reflect on his own high school experience without schmaltz and cloying nostalgia and yet still young enough at heart to really tap into the zeitgeist of ’80s teenagedom. Hailed for essentially giving birth to the Brat Pack – the kings and queens of 80s teen movies – The Breakfast Club was originally supposed to pull a Before Sunset and reunite the gang every ten years but cripplingly poor repartee between Hughes and star Judd Nelson made such a reuniting nigh impossible. Which is a shame because these characters really do seem to have something to say, even in their slightly transcendent trope vocabulary. But alas, The Breakfast Club marked the second and, surprisingly, final time Hughes and Molly Ringwald worked together (as a director-starlet duo) and such a sequel – or series of sequels – was never to be. (B+)


Charlton Heston
‘s ape-rebukin’ overacting. Noticeably bad ADR dubbing. Awesomely clunky (by today’s standards) makeup FX – that still earned John Chambers an Honorary Academy Award. Jerry Goldsmith‘s iconic (and also Oscar nominated) score that so directly and so clearly inspired Michael Giacchino‘s work on Lost (amongst a plethora of others.) A franchise builder that is more a moral play than an action film. Planet of the Apes has it all. It’s an epically odd science fictioner that deals in moral outrage and philosophical treatises on animal rights just as much or more-so than it does in the set pieces and action spectacles of traditional blockbusters. With an astounding visual language made possible by vast, on-location shoots and meticulous monkey makeup, Planet of the Apes really does feel other-wordly, even if we were on ol’ planet Earth all along. (A-)

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Weekly Review
To recap, the rules of Weekly Review have dictated that this is where I review films that I’ve seen for the first time at home (a rule that has been a sliding scale in terms of my following it) but has mostly now been expanded to include older films that I’ve seen in the theater (your Shinings and Seven Samurais) as well as screeners of upcoming releases that I saw at home – because if you’re not seeing it in theaters, you’re not really seeing it at all. A few of this week’s crops slightly challenge the status quo – one, a release of a 1981 film that never really saw a true theatrical release that I caught at a film festival in a packed (and appropriately rambunctious) screening and another classic that I recently talked about on InSession Film. I’ve seen Pulp Fiction a thousand times (exaggerated figure) but still think it’s worth passing along a few words on. Similairly, I saw one of my all time favs, Raiders of the Lost Ark, on the big screen for the first time (go Cinerama!) so that had to get its own few words. And finally, it’s been three weeks since the last addition so I’m pretty much breaking all the rules and regs but that’s the way it goes in the wild, wild west that is Weekly Review..


Fable horror Absentia twists a classic wive’s tale into new shapes and sizes. Produced with a paltry budget of 70 grand, Mike Flanagan‘s eerie husband absentee horror tells the story of a wife whose spouse has been missing for seven years. With her sister recently back in her life after a stint in recap of the narcotic variety, clues to where he might have gone begin to reveal themselves as she puts the final touches on paperwork declaring him dead in absentia. Impressive for its slight budget with fine performances from Katie Parker, Courtney Bell and Morgan Peter Brown, Absentia still fails to make enough interesting moves along its path to keep you fully interested, regardless of the nifty conclusion it caps off with. In a squeeze, it’s not a wasted Netflix session though your choosing could be more inspired. (C)


A finer piece of cinema may there never be, Pulp Fiction is a definitive game changer for late-20st century cinema. Hailed as inventive for an insurmountable plethora of reasons – independent cinema’s first real hefty international cume, Tarantino’s novel use of nonlinear storytelling, investment in character, violence and intelligence that made the film accessible and “cool” for all ages ands backgrounds – Pulp Fiction doesn’t let up more than 20 years after its making and its cinematic staying power has but grown exponentially. There may be no greater deconstruction of the gangster on film than Jules and Vincent in their opening moments riffing on culture shock and foot fetishes. (A+)

TRUE LIES (1994)


At the height of his starring power, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an American James Bond (nonetheless with a thick Austrian accent) in one of James Cameron‘s more toned down action flicks. Though it may be dialed down by Cameron standards, the action in True Lies is simply bonkers, with the last hour or so of the movie spilling from one city-rending potential disaster to the next. And yet, it all works wonderfully and comes together to showcase one of the finer examples of Cameron’s keen eye for spectacle while serving as a reminder of why Arnie was once such a superstar. I mean, before the Furious 7 crew were driving super cars across Dubai skyscrapers, the guy almost jumped a horse between his own cityscape. (B+)

ROAR (1981)

When the programmers of SXSW announced that a re-release of 1981’s Roar was the Super Secret Screening that had people waiting hours in line for, the disappointment in the air was palpable. Low expectations or not, Roar was a visceral delight of the highest order – an absolutely batty passion project that employed hundreds of wild big cats to batter, maul and gore over 70 cast and crew members working on the film. The movie itself is a jocular horror to behold – a family comes to Africa to reunite with their father who’s taken up with the lions and tigers and leopards (oh my!) to find feral felines literally everywhere and no daddy in sight – but watching actors fend off these killers cats while delivering their Disney knock-off lines makes for some truly amazing cinema of the most guffaw-able niche variety. Like The Room, Roar is a movie you must watch with friends, slightly buzzed that is guaranteed to make you roar with laughter, shock and utter amazement as to how in the hell anyone allowed this thing to be made. (A-)



Arguably the best adventure movie of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the world to Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford, hot off of Star Wars, makes the man in the hat iconic from his very first frame – he’s sexy, dangerous and loosely moral. Indy is in many ways an approximation of the hallowed relics he seeks – a living antique of Nazi-era misadventures and WWII heroism – and there has never been any Hollywood icon quite like him. From Steven Spielberg‘s lasting directorial work – the boulder, the visual shadow play, the awesomely weird physical comedy – to John Williams‘ signature score – who doesn’t whistle Indy’s theme song when exploring ancient ruins? – to FX work that still holds up to this day – exploding melted head FTW – Raiders of the Lost Ark is my go-to for breezy nostalgia of epic proportions. This thing is so good and so timeless that it belongs in a museum. (A+)



Gary Gardner wastes very little time setting the stage for The Nymphets, a dark odyssey into the exploits of a drunken night out with some underaged vixens. And at only an hour and fifteen minutes, it’s for the best that he does not. Joe (Kip Pardue) meets female friends Brittany (Annabelle  Dexter-Jones) and Allyson (Jordan Lane Price) when a bouncer refuses them entry into a club and decides to take the potentially statutory femme fatales back to his place for some drinks and late night fun. The film is bristling with energy – topped out by Dexter-Jones and Price’s giggly but sexually wiggly performances – and definitely has a teasing nature to it, one that Gardner exploits for its full potential, even if it kind of ends up going nowhere fast. As Joe reveals that he’s willing to go the distance to bed these PYTs, Gardner unveils man’s harrowing aptitude for masochism in his dastardly pursuit of sweet release. A SXSW Midnighter with real bite, The Nymphets is a one-and-done ride to the brink and back, slight though it may ultimately be. (B-)


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Weekly Review 74: MAPS, FRENCH, DEATH

Weekly Review

When it rains, it pours and this last week (much like the Seattle weather) held very little rain. A casual week at the theater held a screening of the tragically misunderstood Chappie as well as gripping British war film ’71 (review later this week.) At home, I consumed some new Cronenberg in the form of Maps to the Stars and a fledgling William Friedkin crime drama – The French Connection. Capping off my run at the Seattle Cinerama’s Fists and Fury Festival, I caught Bruce Lee‘s “final” unfinished film Game of Death. Web screenings have been flooding my inbox in preparation for SXSW so I’ve also had to dive head first into those, but more on that later. For all you who follow from here, there be Weekly Review.


With Maps to the Stars, Canadian experimentalist maestro David Cronenberg extends his middle digit to the Hollywood lifestyle and its fuddy-duddy inhabitants without much nuance, or style for that matter. The film deals in stark shades of excess, featuring a cadre of Hollywood cliches – the burnouts, the up-and-comers, the desperate wannabe stars – stumbling into or out of fame. Cronenberg’s characters are about as deep as those supporting figures in Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama’s stock and just as poisonous. The whole Hollywood’s a cesspool commentary is nothing new with Bruce Wagner’s faltering script feeling at least two decades out of date. Solid performances from the likes of Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird and Olivia Williams help to keep Maps afloat, as does Cronenberg’s knack for dark excess, but it’s too little too late in a film that is as fundamentally confused about its identity as an aspiring Hollywood starlet on her knees at some producer’s house and is, in many instances, just about as desperate. (C-)


Armed with a snub-nosed revolver and a bowler cap, Gene Hackman‘s Jimmy Doyle is a nigh misanthropic narc cop who roughs and tumbles in the darkened back alleys of NYC with partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) in tow. Doyle is a dick of a previous era – a shoot first, sneer later lawman – and Hackman is near iconic in the role. The Exorcist‘s William Friedkin directs with steady panache, including a pulse-pounding subway chase sequence that is framed just perfectly. Composer Don Ellis though brings the whole thing home with his absolutely sinister score, pulsating and scraping like it itself is possessed. The conceit – Doyle and Russo stumble upon a smuggling ring associated with New York-based French foreign nationals – isn’t anything all that new or special but Friedkin’s inverted take on the crime drama gives the material more intrigue. (B)


To call Game of Death Bruce Lee‘s final movie isn’t entirely true, considering that he only completed 12 minutes of usable footage before he died. The remainder – stitched together from other unused Lee material, additional material filmed with not one but two separate stand ins and a truly despicable scene that actually takes place at Lee’s actual funeral – is a wholly laughable, arguably meta kung fu flub-up. Released five years after Lee’s death, Game of Death tells the story of a martial-artist-cum-actor whose success has him sought after by a shady organization. Said organization is quick to unleash henchmen upon Lee (or rather, his body doubles) in scenes that are so comically senseless and gravity-defying that you can’t stop the flow of giggles. It’s a true shame because the final three-level battle features some of Lee’s finest high-flying action yet, particularly in a whip-cracking nun chucks scene. (C-)


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Weekly Review
A not-so-eventful week in the theater meant I had some time to consume some serious film this week at home. Hitting wide release this past weekend were the aggressively underwhelming Focus and The Lazarus Effect. I also caught screenings of Disney’s new Cinderella and Wild Tales but can’t yet talk about them beyond alluding to the fact that I enjoyed them both. At home, I took in some top-notch erotica, an Oscar-nominated documentary, a David Lynch mindf*ck, a faltering, gimmicky horror and a classic in the theater. All in this issue of Weekly Review.



On the tail of Fifty Shades of Grey, any onscreen erotica would seem elevated by proxy. But Peter Strickland‘s The Duke of Burgundy succeeds not only by compassion but by its own ubiquitous merit. Sensual, erotic and mesmerizing, Strickland’s sensational sensual sexploration is the anti-Fifty Shades of Grey for its fair treatment of the dominant-submissive lifestyle, its apt character development and singular cinematic flair. The score from Canadian group Cat’s Eye is a hot water bottle of sound, blanketing Strickland’s carefully hypnotic visuals with a beautiful but uneasy sonicscape. Performances from Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna help sell the drama as Strickland’s script amplifies their emotional connection in increasing clarity as the minutes tick onward, mining the depths of sexuality and love in this tonally unique yet totally relatable bond to striking, poignant effect. (B+)

VIRUNGA (2014)


Netflix‘s first horseshoe toss into the Academy Awards game might not have been a dead ringer but it scored a nomination and was a dark house for the win behind Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour. Virunga tracks the harrowing political situation unfolding in the Congo’s Virunga National Park. One of the last homes of the mountain gorilla and a sanctuary for those animals orphaned or injured, Virunga has been a hotspot of rebel conflict in large part due to British Corporation Soco International exploiting the situation for its oil. Documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel exposes the extent of the corruption in wire-wearing scenes of hot tension though partially fails to connect all the yarn on the cork board. But von Einsiedel’s film thrives in the beauty of Virunga and its gentle warriors, the selfless park rangers, willing to put their lives on the line to defend it. (B-)



David Lynch
‘s vision of Hollywood starlets and duplicitous murder has been a source of debate, study and speculation for more than a decade. To think that I could add anything to the discussion would be presumptuous (even for me) so I won’t try to get into the heavy themes so much as express my enjoyment of the flick. Naomi Watt‘s gives half of a brilliant performance with Laura Harring matching her step-for-step as a distraught amnesiac with a purse full of money and a blue key. Mulholland Drive is deeply surrealistic and narratively wishy-washy adding up to a pocket full of “Whaaaa”. Meaning, this is not your grandma’s expressionism. Dark, cryptic, episodic and engrossing, Mulholland Drive is Lynch’s puzzle without a key and, for better or worse, it’s truly something to behold. (A-)


The assembling of the heroes has become such a narrative standard that it arrives on our modern day screens unquestioned and without much fanfare. Akira Kurosawa did it first in Seven Samurai. Imagine a world before the misfit heroes joining together for a singular cause. You can’t, can you? Kurosawa also introduced the idea of the central hero embarking on a mission unrelated to the central narrative before they launched into the meat of the story, a trope that has been duplicated in everything from James Bond to Indiana Jones to The Dark Knight. The effect of Seven Samurai is so vast and so all-encompassing that it’s hard to imagine what film would look like today without it. In fact, Seven Samurai is such a cultural cornerstone that just today, Antoine Fuqua announced that he would be remaking Magnificent Seven (the 1960 Western remake of Samurai) with Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt. Even without its extensive butterfly effect on film culture en masse, Kurosawa’s landmark film is an epic to behold, especially on 35mm in Seattle’s Cinerama Theater (now one of the most advanced, hi-tech theaters in the world.) At 202 minutes, Seven Samurai invests time in characters worth investing in, offering a meaty narrative that builds its cast in the first act and then sets them to war in the second (complete with intermission). Takashi Shimura gives a masterful performance as Kambei, the elder leader of a ragtag team of ronins, banded together to stave bandits off from a village of peasants and his final moments in the film are as effective and affecting as any Oscar-nominated performance this year. (A)


Elijah Wood
continues a string of experimental, misconceived, poorly written horror thrillers. Maniac saw the entire film from Wood’s POV to ill-effect, Grand Piano sat him in one location and forced him to stab at black and white keys lest an explosion make a fortune go poof and 2014 Sundance premiere Cooties had a bunch of TV actors try their hand at grander schemes. It didn’t work. The grand scheme here all takes place within Wood’s laptop with Nacho Vigalondo‘s “camerawork” prying between various computer windows. A hacker conceit comes to head with a kidnapping plot with Wood racing to save actress Jill Goddard (porn star Sasha Grey) from a malicious internet hacker with devious intents. The proceedings are as bad as you might expect from such a premise with the dull “in screen” gimmick running its course quickly and leaving the piss-poor writing and cruddy acting on full, embarrassing display. It seems that even with her new acting career, Sasha Grey has found a whole new glory hole. (D)

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Weekly Review

My oh my, has it been a busy week. With the Oscars dominating most of my watching hours over the course of the past few weeks, last week had too little Weekly Review material to post and so all that material was pushed back. At home, I revisited Birdman, Whiplash and Gone Girl, three of my favorite films of last year and found that my love for the first two has only intensified while my feelings for Gone Girl have ever-so-slightly quelled. I still really like it but would definitely notch it lower in my year’s end rankings if there were such thing as a do-over in life.

The theater held screenings of the punishing Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Disney’s running Mexicans underdog story McFarland, USA, and the absolutely hysterical vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows but I managed to discover an absolute wonder at home with Girlhood, nowing playing in select theaters including Seattle’s SIFF Uptown. All that and more to come, this time on Weekly Review.


A perfect example of a movie that thinks its playing with a full house and winds up with two dinky pairs, The Gambler is a trump card short of being any good. In a role that he dropped an unnecessary forty pounds to play, Mark Wahlberg does the part of douchey gambler justice though the despicable nature of his selfish, implosive character is more likely to curl audience members’ patience than attract them and win over their empathy. As a pitiable genius/offspring of old-world money, Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett gets in over his head with gambling debts just to sample the many flavors of chaos. Only once someone he truly cares about/respects life is put on the line does he even attempt to get his head out of the proverbial toilet bowl. This supplies The Gambler some screwy, cigar-chewing, money-loaning antagonists but also flaunts its fundamental and fatal flaw: it’s hard to root for a guy who’s jamming at his own self-destruct button. (C)


For my money, there’s two Ryan Reynolds: the studio lackey – a big ball of ham too willing to play fetch – and the actor – the deeply buried thespian who’s fitfully reared his head in Reynold’s past. Buried underground, Reynolds can be quite brilliant. In The Voices, the snark is gone, the sarcasm has said sayonara and in its place, Reynold’s outlook reflects a damaged, tender psychopath battling dark desires with an urgently comic tinge. Urged on by his evil anthropomorphized cat (he of the pesky, titular voices), Jerry falls into a little bit of a killing spree and the resulting internal turmoil is both laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking. Director Marjane Satrapi‘s atmosphere is brightly foreboding and yet often psychedelic and humming with dark humor. She allows Reynolds to shine a crazy shade of diamond in this weird, off-kilter murder comedy sure to be enjoyed by fans of Dexter and Barton Fink. (B)


Last night, we saw Boyhood lose the Oscar and if all goes according to the law of averages, 2015’s losers will have to include Girlhood. Unfortunately, it won’t likely even be in the conversation. Girlhood, despite being an all-around phenomenal look at a girl hood living in a hood going through girlhood, digs much deeper than the premise of Boyhood in terms of its cultural breadth. Céline Sciamma‘s portrait of the hard knocks in the dead-end district of Parisian projects breathes life into corners that don’t often get their moment in the spotlight and for it is both illuminating and heartbreaking. Girlhood follows Marieme’s 16th year of life as she contents with low grades at school, an abusive brother, a troop of new, older, “badder” friends and, ultimately, the prospect of taking the easy route. Sciamma’s tale is rousing and pure – accented by her fine-tuned ear for musical numbers (including a near-breathtaking sequence to Rihanna’s “Diamonds”) – and most certainly one that’ll undeservedly be seen by far too few patrons. Do yourself a favor and find this diamond in the rough. (A-)


I’ll admit that I hate-watched my way through all of Friday Night Lights‘ five season run. That’s not to say that I “hated” the show, it just happened to make me roll my eyes and scoff at the screen with its middle America values and blatant close-mindedness more than any other show that I watched in its entirety. Assuming it was time to finally check out where it all came from (and take in another Billy Bob Thornton performance), I turned to the 2004 flick that inspired it all, to mixed results. The film itself charters no new territory and is surprisingly congruous to the television show in terms of its storyline. It’s not that that was a surprise so much as the story works so much better stretched out over the course of an entire season. Billy Bob’s good in the role, though lacks the complexity of Kyle Chandler’s Coach Eric Taylor. Ultimately, it’s a minorly fine film that just lacks much oomph, especially in light of the series that followed it.  (C)


I’d heard stirrings of the College Humor produced comedy Coffee Town starring It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton from quite a few sources and when a screener I needed to watch was bugging out, decided to pop it on HBO for a viewing. First things first, the comedy itself is offensive and off-colored, including unfunny AIDS jokes and “retard fights”. So if you’re easy jarred by this brand of low-brow humor, you’re advised to steer clear because there’s not much else here. Howerton proves that he doesn’t have to play the churlish playboy as he’s given much more of an everyman role here and does fine with the material – though I’m not convinced that it’s quite the role his CV needs to make a convincing Hollywood case. As Will, Howerton bands together with immature friend Chad (Steve Little) and unscrupulous cop Gino (Ben Schwartz) to rob their local coffee shop to prevent it from being converted into a hip bistro. What these boys do for their coffee. The one saving grace of this largely dead-in-the-water comedy is Josh Groban, playing a d-bag barista and proving once and for all that Opera singers can indeed play bit parts in low-budget comedies. (D+)

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Weekly Review

(Note: this was written before Sundance coverage but I’ve waiting on posting it because we’ve had more than enough material than needed. Return to normal post.) 2014 is over. It’s done. In the rearview. We’ve officially put the cap on it with our 100 Best Films of 2014 so that means it’s 1000% kaput. That means I can finally return to old movies. And boy what a collection I’ve stumbled into this week. From 1979 to 2000 (…and an overrated newly released Oscar contender), this collection of brilliance is one film away from being one of the most stacked episodes of Weekly Review in a long time.


I cannot think of an endeavor more French than a depressed woman walking around talking to various peers about a challenging subject. This year’s celebrated French depress-fest stars Marion Cottilard as an recently laid off employee, going door-to-door to co-workers to ask them to jettison their bonuses in order to fund her next year’s salary. It’s endlessly repetitive – a series of A-to-B-to-C conversations that derivative very little from one another – and seems to ape the philosophical stylings of Sidney Lumet‘s genius 12 Angry Men while missing the point of what makes that film so entrancing. Featuring depression, bakeries and suicide attempts, Two Days, One Night is marked by a fine performance from Cottilard even if it’s a bit of an international chore to watch. (C-)



A stirring, emotionally solid and yet enthusiastically funny drama from a top-of-his-game Steven Soderberg, Erin Brockovich is more than just an adroit starring vehicle for Julia Roberts – it’s a soaring accomplishment in its own right. That’s not to discount Roberts work though, who – as a crass, driven single mother – takes the narrative by the horn and rides it with a brand of leading lady bravura that is all too rare. As much a character study as it is a tale of legal David and Goliath, Brockovich is a delicately told, generously funny tale of a small fish wandering into a big pond. It’s an underdog story with heart and wit that shines from sensitive, exacting direction. (A-)

STAND BY ME (1986)


Dear 1980’s Rob Reiner, you rock. From Princess Bride to This is Spinal Tap!, When Harry Met Sally to Stand By Me, 80’s Reiner knew how to hedge sentimentality in with genuine, challenging emotion and loads of smart, real moments of comedy. The tubby guy who would eventually direct old timer’s flicks The Bucket List and And So It Goes doesn’t understand that division but young Reiner did. And he rocked. Stand By Me features a super-duper 80s cast including Corey Feldman, River Phoenix, Jerry O”Connell, Wil Wheaton and Keifer Sutherland as members of two motley crews hunting down train tracks for the body of a dead boy. The coming-of-age tale is handled with grace and skill, offering timeless one-liners amidst a genuinely empathic examination of youthful friendship and just what we lose when we let those bonds evaporate. (B+)

MAD MAX (1979)


Two things surprised me about Mad Max (a film I’ve long meant to watch and have just never gotten around to): its overall lack of “post-apocalypse” feel – it took a good while before I understood the notion that this was a dangerous society on the brink of collapse – and just how strange it all was. The former caught me off guard because I had always pictured Mel Gibson‘s Aussie breakout franchise to be set in a sandy wasteland filled with skulls and low on fuel. The later – its strangeness – was a pleasant surprise and is really what makes the film pop. Though Gibson reveals some of the rage-filled potency that would go on to make him such an international star, it’s Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter that really steals the scenes. Even when a touch unfocused, Mad Max is a wildly original concept – even by today’s standards – that creates a rich, lived in world occupied by thrashing vehicles and motorcycle scumbags. I’ve heard Road Warrior is the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise and am now eagerly waiting to scarf it up next. (B)



Terrible name aside, Glengarry Glen Ross is a brilliant actor’s showcase that harkens back to Sidney Lumet‘s golden age.  Housing a number of tour de force performances – how Jack Lemmon did not receive a personalized Oscar for this, I have no clue – and intellectually soaring from David Mamet‘s adaptation of his own Tony-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross turns working class woes into a breed of timeless poetry – both incredibly pertinent upon its release and now. And likely to be just as timely and biting in the future. It’s a film about desperately holding onto what you’ve got and finding the fight in yourself, achieved through dog-toothed tête-à-tête conversations that Aaron Sorkin wished he would have written. Having both my respect and adoration, Glengary Glen Ross is so much more than just a pinnacle of theatrical adaptations – it’s a goddamn masterpiece in its own right. (A+)

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Weekly Review 67: ALICE, SNIPER, THEOREM

Weekly Review

In the few moments of downtime, I’ve managed to churn and burn through a shortlist of 2014 Must Sees including Still Alice – for which Julianne Moore will win an Oscar – American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s dutifully told biopic on prolific sniper Chris Kyle – and Terry Gilliam‘s weirdo-fest The Zero Theorem. So hurry, hurry, super scurry, cuz it’s Weekly Review.


A rather down-the-middle illness drama, Still Alice offers Julianne Moore the opportunity to showboat her skillz and saunter away with an Oscar. Her performance is the stuff of typical award fare – resilient with flourishes of weepy breakdowns – even when the film itself is cloyingly melodramatic, not above the pay grade of made-for-TV cinema. Not bad so much as bland and conventional, Still Alice takes on Alzheimer’s disease with a unwavering chin and occasionally delicate grace, supplying a fair share of sympathy for its characters and their situations even when it admittedly takes too many swings at its audience’s tear ducts. A cut above Hallmark, but not by a wide margin. (C)


Watching a screener of American Sniper on my XBox One was a dangerous game of brinkmanship. All that separated me from an online melee of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was a simple press of the home button. After all, Clint Eastwood‘s passable but derivative biopic is essentially watching a professional play Call of Duty. Played masterfully by a bulked-up Bradley Cooper, Chris Kyle’s whole mantra could be boiled down to a call of duty – he joins the war effort because 9/11 and… ‘Murica! – but Eastwood fails to get into the nitty gritty of what makes the man tick. While a biopic that thoughtfully examined and picked apart Kyle’s hero status would have been infinitely more interesting, Eastwood’s latest is at the very least a powerful starring vehicle for Cooper. (C+)


Terry Gilliam
‘s films have always been an acid trip but The Zero Theorem walks us deep into an unrelenting, unforgiving K-hole and lets go. Named for the formula which computer scientist cum tortured protagonist  Qohen Leth (a shaved bald Christoph Waltz) seeks desperately to solve, The Zero Theorem postulates a dystopian future that’s brimming with window dressings and a few spectacular bits of CGI cinematography that’s undeniably short on substantive DNA. The should-be timely piece adds up to Gilliam’s wandering take on technology but exactly what he’s trying to say gets as jumbled up as the film’s neural nets, blood red jumpsuits and Matt Damons in snowy, wall-street wigs. (C-)

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