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Blu-Ray Review: Divergent

August 19, 2014

directed by Neil Burger, 2013

divergent

The post-Twilight era’s spawning of female empowerment is thankfully here to stay for the foreseeable future, but takes an unsurprising backseat to formula and perfunctory filmmaking in Divergent, the latest young adult series hoping to hit it big. Director Neil Burger (Limitless) conjures up an ill-advised and glossy slickness that renders Divergent a heavily artificial and disposable slog. Sadly, female wish-fulfillment is the name of the game here, as the film’s futuristic dystopian society is just a common placeholder for the rote trappings already existing within the genre. For now, here sits another slouching and mindless first entry of a franchise void of proper stakes and characterizations, one that should fare very well at the MTV Movie Awards in the coming years.

Read full review at Movie Mezzanine

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Into the Storm

August 11, 2014

directed by Steven Quale, 2013

into the storm

Boasting an underwhelming itinerary of destruction for 89 minutes, Steven Quale’s Into the Storm is the latest entry in the seemingly never-ending found-footage genre. Existing primarily for a culture obsessed with personal documentation and YouTube (not to mention ostensibly serving as a change-of-pace breather from Marvel overload), Into the Storm is an erratic disaster yarn lacking in visceral thrills and dynamic set-piece creativity. Certainly, it pales in comparison to its obvious point of comparison, Jan de Bont’s 1996 Hollywood action spectacle Twister. Often more overwhelmingly silly than terrifying, Into the Storm, as a piece of entertainment, shoots itself in the foot with an off-putting penchant for falsely manufactured drama and cardboard characters.

Read full review at In Review Online

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Calvary

August 2, 2014

directed by John Michael McDonagh, 2013

Calvary

With his 2011 film The Guard, writer/director John Michael McDonagh demonstrated a black-comic sensibility that didn’t stray too far from that of his playwright/filmmaker brother Martin, he of In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012). His thematic interests are also strikingly similar to his brother’s, especially the possibility of redemption within an environment ridden with sin and temptation. If John Michael’s ambitious new film Calvary is any indication, though, has a long way to go before he matches Martin’s deftness of storytelling and depth of characterization.

Read full review at In Review Online

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Borgman

July 9, 2014

directed by Alex van Warmerdam, 2013

borgman-film

An odd and malevolent spell is cast over complacent suburban life in Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam’s latest. Borgman is a home invasion thriller about a bearded vagrant who takes on the mold of evil incarnate, with plans of invoking pitiless ruin upon a family of five who find themselves embedded in his cross-hairs. With a descriptor like ‘home invasion thriller,’ one might instantly refer to images of forced entry and stock brutality; the subversion and style seen here is the opposite, however, as the film develops slowly with its own signature and literal brand of poison and decay which spill out with mixed results. With its opening upside-down title card which quickly shapes itself into legibility, Borgman almost immediately announces itself as an unforgiving and lopsided affair. An ominous quote reading, “And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks,” precedes a smash cut close-up of a barking dog, both dual signifiers of the calibrated menace sprinkled all throughout the film.

Read full review at Sound on Sight

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Heli

June 13, 2014

directed by Amat Escalante, 2013

Heli

Opening with a bloodied and taped-up young man laying alongside a dead corpse in the back of a moving truck, Heli wastes little time thrusting the viewer into its vicious portrait of violence and vengeance. Functioning primarily as yet another unflinching look at the crookedness of modern-day Mexico and the escalating collateral damage left behind by the country’s hellish drug trade, Amat Escalante’s (Los bastardoslatest film is a brutal art-house provocation more interested in images of suffering than positing its transgressions as anything more than shock value. It was for this film that Escalante won the Best Director prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, his win coming only a year after fellow native Carlos Reygadas won the same award for Post Tenebras Lux, a similarly themed and much-better film about patriarchy and random acts of violence in Mexico.

Read full review at In Review Online

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Ping Pong Summer

June 6, 2014

directed by Michael Tully, 2014

Ping Pong Summer

As an attempt to seemingly pack every piece of 1980s iconography and nostalgia imaginable into a 90-minute film, Michael Tully’s Ping Pong Summer finds itself reigning supreme. However, here’s a film that wants to have its cake and eat it too, hardly warranting a trip down memory lane as its onslaught of period details and inserts are unconvincingly stretched out to resemble a feature-length film. Clearly taking its underdog cues from something like The Karate Kid and consistently riffing on coming-of-age vacation comedies of past and present rather than existing as its own organic endeavor, Ping Pong Summer suffers from an awkward identity crisis that it never comes close to solving.

Read full review at In Review Online

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We Are the Best!

May 30, 2014

directed by Lukas Moodysson, 2013

We Are the Best!

Punk-rock advocacy takes unique form in Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best!, a lively document of friendship and budding artistic passion in early 1980s Stockholm, and a clear change of pace for a director whose prior films took on the mold of far-more-overwrought dramas. Trading in punishing and preachy for sweet and adorable, Moodysson more than scales back the melodrama in his latest film, contrasting significantly from Lilya 4-Ever’s disturbing look at teenage prostitution and Mammoth’s Iñárritu-esque view of globalization and the human condition.

Take one look at the film’s featured poster of its three female leads and you might think you know the approach this film will take—notions that are likely to be quickly put to rest as the film shows general disinterest in coming-of-age tropes and “big” moments. Written by Moodysson and based on the actual experiences of his wife, Coco, as documented in her graphic novel Never Goodnight,We Are the Best! is decorated in youthful spirit but surprisingly shies away from nostalgia. Delightfully playing against expectations with its surplus of hangout sessions and general sense of peering in on adulthood from the outside looking in, Moodysson proves to be an easy conjurer of empathy for the warm-hearted youths that populate his film.

Read full review at In Review Online

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