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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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Blu-Ray Review: Fate Is the Hunter

May 26, 2014

directed by Ralph Nelson, 1964

fate is the hunter

A thick air of uncertainty looms large over Ralph Nelson’s Fate Is the Hunter (1964), a patient and methodical procedural whose Blu-Ray release eerily arrives on the heels of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. More than mirroring the current zeitgeist of escalating skepticism regarding severe aviation blunders, the contemporary through line that runs through Nelson’s film is its most admirable trait. With its curiously obscure title and disaster film label, Fate Is the Hunter is a low-key drama that more or less peaks after its opening ten minutes. Despite not being equipped with the high melodrama or moral introspection of something like Robert Zemeckis’ Flight (2012), Fate Is the Hunter remains an alluring experience despite its shortage of thrills.

Read full review at Movie Mezzanine

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Brick Mansions

April 25, 2014

directed by Camille Delamarre, 2014

Brick Mansions

While it’s almost impossible to find anything of memorable note tucked away in director Camille Delamarre’s Brick Mansions, it’s sometimes fun to bask in the plain absurdity of an action extravaganza that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Delamarre’s film does just that, upping the ante at every turn in regards to how illogical and silly it can actually be. For all of its video-game and parkour-inspired action sequences, the film is distinguished not only by the tinge of a blue-collar spirit exuded by the film’s stars, but also the wherewithal from its director to milk every ounce of brazen escapism out of Brick Mansions’s B-movie framework.

Full review at In Review Online

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Draft Day

April 15, 2014

directed by Ivan Reitman, 2014

Draft Day

By this point, it’s safe to surmise that the roles Kevin Costner will most likely be remembered for are those decades removed from where the 59-year-old actor stands now. Baseball classics such as Bull Durham (1988) and Field of Dreams (1989) will live on, while others like Tin Cup(1996) and For Love of the Game (1999) add to a career already carved out of playing the underdog. Now, up steps Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day, which represents a brief sojourn in the world of professional football for Costner and Reitman, a director best known for his ’80s commercial hits like the two Ghostbusters films and Twins.

With a seemingly uninhibited blessing from the National Football League, Draft Day is by all accounts the closest we’ve come to seeing what goes on behind the scenes of the largest moneymaker in professional sports. This is a world filled with built-in jargon, backdoor dealings, and a milieu reminiscent of the one depicted in Bennett Miller’s Moneyball (2011).  However, for as much as it routinely gets right, Draft Day is far from a model of authenticity. Lacking the similar sharpness, wit and drama of the environment it sets out to capture, Reitman’s film is safe, predictable, and ultimately weighed down by its thin characterizations and frequent stretches of implausibility. Only an ever-charismatic Costner gives the film flickers of a decipherable pulse; having always exuded a palpable sense of cool in his better roles, this reliable actor once again shows how earnestly believable he can be even when surrounded by such middling frivolity.

Read full review at In Review Online

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