Movie Review

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Oceana, West Virginia used to thrive via the coal mining industry. It was a town where you could leave your door open to your house overnight and wake up knowing you were safe. Then things changed as the coal business began to decline. In response, the town eventually became the epicenter for Oxycontin abuse, resulting in a population largely of addicts. As doctors over-prescribed the drug, an industry was born when the only viable way to make money outside of the coal industry was to deal Oxy. Director Sean Dunne’s visceral documentary Oxyana, what many have nicknamed the town, is composed of a series of interviews with Oceana inhabitants – the overwhelming majority of them addicted to Oxy – and it doesn’t shy away from anything. Addicts of all ages are filmed snorting and injecting Oxy, they are filmed getting high, they are filmed coming down. They’re filmed smoking cigarettes inches away from their babies’ faces. They’re filmed smoking while pregnant. You might want to look away, but you can’t.

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PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

Note: Andrew Robinson’s review originally ran during TIFF 2012, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Derek Cianfrance‘s The Place Beyond the Pines is broken up into three chapters. We open with Luke (Ryan Gosling) coming back into town with the circus and finding out that he has a son. He decides to stick around, but since he’s unable to make a living to support his family, he begins robbing banks using his skills as a professional motor bike rider. The narrative is then handed over to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a police officer heading into politics and struggling with family matters. The film takes its time in making sure that we get a good grasp on each character as there’s very little overlap in screen time between each. The reckless rise of Gosling’s bank robbing spree and the troubled rise of Cooper’s political/social standing in the world parallel one another beautifully. What the film truly discusses is what someone is willing to do selflessly for others. While, morally, Cooper and Gosling’s acts are complete opposites of each other, their motivations start out in the same place, the intention to provide for their family. Luke’s robbing banks was never about himself; he never wants to take credit for them, reflecting his clear shame. Cross’s actions are one of motivations head-butting his own desires, even at the expense of his son’s affection.

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Editor’s note: This review originally ran during Cannes 2012, but we’re re-running it as the film’s limited theatrical release begins this weekend. Those expecting Matteo Garrone to follow up 2008’s excellent Gomorrah with another authentic new world crime drama might be surprised to hear that his latest project replaces the seedy criminal underworld for a thoroughly modern exploration of the current fascination with reality TV and its particular brand of disposable fame. In Reality, we follow the tragi-comic story of Luciano (Aniello Arena), a Neapolitan fishmonger with aspirations to find his fortune on the Italian version of Big Brother at the behest of his family who see him as a star and inspired by the success of former housemate Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante). We also follow his subsequent delusional breakdown. Reality is effectively Garrone’s take on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, replacing the golden ticket with the chance to make it into the Big Brother House and instead of giving Charlie his fantastical pay-off, tricking him and trapping him in a perpetual hunt through Wonka bars for his one big shot. Offered an irresistible glimpse at what the prize would mean for his future, and intoxicated with the modern Fame Disease, Luciano quickly turns from charming family man to an obsessive, paranoid reclusive, convinced that the casting team of Big Brother are testing him for selection long after the show has started.

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Broken City Trailer

Broken City seemingly has all of the ingredients to be one of those action/dramas that is so cheesy it delivers – there’s Mark Wahlberg being tough, there’s Russell Crowe with a horrendous spray tan and a Donald Trump-lite combover, there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones with an equally horrendous spray tan, and there’s director Allen Hughes, who has some street cred as one half of The Hughes Brothers directing team. And corrupt politician dramas are usually fairly entertaining, right? Not so much here. Broken City, instead, is largely a misfire. The film’s plot meanders and leaves many open threads, likely the result of re-edits, and none of the characters are particularly likable. There’s just so much a balls out Russell Crowe performance can save a movie, and shockingly enough, Crowe doesn’t even have all that much screen time. The film opens with Wahlberg’s NYC Detective Billy Taggert shooting someone in the head in a NYC housing project, Bolton Village – he has a beard, so clearly, he is coded as being troubled. He is tried (now beardless), since his self-defense plea is questionable at best. There is evidence that surfaces that can put him away, but Republican-seeming Mayor Nicolas Hostetler (Crowe) decides to keep that evidence for his own eventual gain, allowing Taggart to go free, albeit without his job.

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Ben Wheatley‘s Sightseers is the ultimate dark comedy. It puts the most audacious visuals in front of you and dares you not to laugh at them. In the film, Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) take a week out caravanning across the English country-side. Little does she know, he’s a murdering psychopath with a short temper. Eventually, the two are traveling from one landmark to another killing anyone who pisses them off. Earlier this year, Bobcat Goldthwait similar God Bless America received a lukewarm response from critics. This feels like a less overbearing version of that film. While most instances of violence come from things that aggravate our protagonists, the murder spree doesn’t come out of some sense of entitlement. Chris and Tina kill just because they prefer that person dead, for their own gratification and to better enjoy their holiday. It’s not to improve the world around them. The film derives some great comedic moments from the bookends holding scenes together. Chris kills a man for telling him and Tina to clean up a piece of excrement, which is followed by them asking themselves, “Isn’t the country lovely?” The film revels in how easily Tina and Chris can justify their murders and brush them off as a part of their holiday.

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In Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami explored two people casually discussing their lives, revealing a surprising amount of information about themselves. The same format is taken here as Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a working girl who’s studying in Japan, is sent on an engagement with Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), a former professor. The film begins in a bar with Akiko off screen on the phone talking to her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who’s concerned and curious about what’s going on with her. Slowly we see Hikoshi step into the picture, her booker, who spends the next ten minutes talking her into taking the engagement.

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We all love Monty Python (if you don’t, just pretend you know what I’m talking about and keep going). And by that standard, anything with the name in the title must be gloriously brilliant. It’s going to break comedic ground by its ability to comment on the highest level of societal discussion. At the same time, it’s going to be the silliest piece of nonsense you’ve ever found yourself gut-splitting, on the floor, laughing at — while crying, as well. A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, however, is not a Monty Python film. It is an act of self-indulgent nostalgia by a group of men who love their colleague. In 1986, three years before his death from cancer, Graham Chapman decided to conduct an experiment by taping an audio book that would serve as a fictional telling of his life. It seems that filmmakers Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett got ahold of these tapes and thought it would be a grand idea to rally a few of the Python gang together to fill in some gaps and turn it into this odd animated feature.

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Seven Psychopaths

A film begins with its script. So when a screenwriter is poised with creating a script for a film entitled Seven Psychopaths and is unable to get past page one (for various reasons), it’s obvious we have a conundrum on our hands. Marty (Colin Farrell) has found himself, drunk more times than not, staring at a blank notepad still trying to figure out who the seven psychopaths are. As the story goes on, he encounters a series of psychopaths all surrounding a dog kidnapping scheme that Hans (Christopher Walken) and Billy (Sam Rockwell) are running. Billy has picked up a Shih Tzu dog that happens to belong to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who happens to be a raving psychopath who heads up some sort of mob or something. While this film sets itself up (marketing-wise) as a crazy comedy about this slew of characters, it really isn’t. It’s more about the process of writing, with a lot of blood and guts involved. The film enjoys the use of shocking comedic violence in a way that allows its characters to get a laugh through their situations and reactions more than just through their catchy one-liners. There are some jokes in this movie that are so deeply embedded in character reveals that it’s made for multiple viewings.

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Rust and Bone follows the character of Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) as he tries to make his way through life as best he can. We first see him with his son, Sam (Armand Verdure), on a train, collecting scrap food from receptacles. They’re heading towards his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), who he’s planning to stay with for a while. He ends up getting a job with a security company and has a chance encounter with a woman, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), who trains whales at a water park. There is an accident at the park, and Stephanie ends up losing her legs. The film takes us through Alain’s experiences as he sees all of these relationships through. Alain is a character of much contrivance. He comes off mostly as a drifter with little to his name. His inability to pity Stephanie is what benefits her as we watch her recovery, but at the same time we see him have the same approach to how he handles his relationship with his sister and his five-year-old son. His response to anything he can’t quite control is to lash out at it, with scenes of him shouting and punishing his child. In one moment we see him throw his son across the room, and the child ends up hitting his head on a table. We see so many moments in which he’s being loving and compassionate, but in times when things aren’t good he almost can’t manage to keep being loving.

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Whatever happened to brevity? Xavier Dolan‘s latest project – the transgender-infused romantic melodrama Laurence Anyways that was chosen as part of this year’s secondary Un Certain Regard competition in Cannes – weighs in at a comfort-busting two hours and thirty nine minutes. That, in any context, is too long. But, perhaps the plot might offer redemption, and make for an engrossing enough experience to make time less of an issue? It all appeared very promising – a decade spent in the company of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), who makes the bold and brave decision to change his sex, and his girlfriend Frederique (Suzanne Clement) who must come to terms with exactly what that decision must mean. Over the ten years the pair refind each other as Laurence advances on his personal journey of discovery, making this sort of like When Harry Became Sally, if you’re looking for a provocative, self-indulgent pop reference.

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In Lawless, John Hillcoat has almost crafted the perfect modern Western, infusing more explicitly the gangster genre elements that always occur in the genre, but never quite so explicitly. The film follows the Bondurant brothers – Jack (Shia Labeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) – rise as the most famous bootleggers in sun-dried Prohibition-era Virginia, and the government’s attempts to stop them. The government’s chief agent is Guy Pearce‘s Charlie Rakes, a flamboyant looking, but profoundly villainous Special Deputy, let off his leash when the Bondurants, lead by Hardy’s powerhouse Forrest refuse to pay a monthly toll on their illegal activities. While it may sound like an all guns-blazing, epic Prohibition-era Western, the story, adapted well from Matt Bondurant‘s historical novel by Nick Cave (who also once again offers a superlative score) focuses on human stories to add poignancy and depth to the more explosive sequences.

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As we get further and further out from The Twilight Saga’s initial success, it starts to feel like more and more of a stretch to accuse everything featuring young women and vampires of being a cash grab meant to capitalize on the mainstream’s fascination with Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. And yet, other than as a cash in on Twilight, I can honestly think of no other reason why a movie as miserable as The Moth Diaries would exist. A tale about the repressed sexuality of an all girls boarding school and how bottled up feelings bubble to the surface once a vampire is introduced into the mix, director Mary Harron’s adaptation of the Rachel Klein novel of the same name fails on almost every level imaginable. Initially my instincts were to blame that on Klein’s novel – which I haven’t read – because Harron had already proven herself a capable adapter of literary works with her 2000 film American Psycho; but, on further inspection, the excuse of less than serviceable source material failed to explain the film’s made for (crappy) TV look, the incapable actors that fill its supporting roles, or its scatter-shot, disjointed pacing. No, The Moth Diaries has to be a case of everyone involved firing on absolutely no cylinders.

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Casa de mi Padre

To Say Will Ferrell is an incredibly polarizing figure in comedy is to just point out something all our mothers already knew. Is he a comedy genius, or a man-sized enfant terrible? Is he one step ahead of us, or are we justified shaking our heads at his absurdity? This is the constant tango most movie-goers partake in when setting foot into one of his new films, never knowing for sure if Ferrell is going to leave us sated or enraged. While we all have our favorite (or not so favorite) Ferrell offerings, his newest film Casa De Mi Padre is so full of heart and balls that it is almost impossible to not see it taking a cult favorite status amongst film lovers. Set on a Mexican ranch with a nearly entire Spanish speaking cast, the film explores the tumultuous relationship between brothers Armando (Ferrell) and Raul Alvarez (Diego Luna) as they try to protect their family’s land from the looming threat of drug lord Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). Raul is the prodigal son whose return brings joy to his father Miguel Ernesto (Pedro Armendariz Jr.) with the news of a wedding to his new fiancé Sonia (Mexican pop sensation Genesis Rodriguez) but also a sense of change for Armando, who is less than trusting of his brother’s new riches (spoiler alert, he dabbles in the illegal). Unlike the typical idiot savants Ferrell normally plays, Armando reveals himself to be quite intelligent and forward thinking. His love of his […]

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Watching Like Crazy was a frustrating experience for me. The whole time I was watching the film, I felt as if I should have been enjoying it much more than I actually was. Visually, the film is both intimate and gorgeous, kind of like watching a home movie if your dad was a virtuoso filmmaker. The performances are all strong, from top to bottom. But despite all of the obvious talent on the screen, I just couldn’t find myself connecting to the story or the characters as they were crafted. Maybe I’m not much of a romantic, but I found the relationship woes of the main characters Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) to be less than compelling. In fact, they were pretty frustrating to get through. Who were these kids and why should I care that they treat their personal lives like the most important things in the world? We’re not so much introduced to Jacob and Anna as we watch as they’re introduced to each other. The film opens with their meeting in a college course in which Anna is a student and Jacob a teacher’s aid, followed by Anna’s bold decision to leave a note declaring her infatuation under Jacob’s windshield wiper, and the stilted conversation and stolen glances of their first date. The getting-to-know-you sequence is cute, but it doesn’t last long. Soon we’re informed through montage (we’re informed of a lot of things through montage in this film) that the two kids are now very […]

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When I first heard that a new version of The Three Musketeers was being made by Paul W.S. Anderson I initially thought that he was a bad choice for the material, that he would just end up making something ridiculous. Now that I’ve actually seen the movie, I’m certain that he was a bad choice for the material, because he did in fact make something ridiculous. You know this story by now, it’s been around for like 175 years or something, so too much plot summary probably isn’t necessary. There are three famous Musketeers, the king’s personal soldiers, Athos (Matthew MacFayden), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans). They used to be big time, but now they’re out of a job because a corrupt Cardinal (Christoph Waltz) is taking control of France and instituting his personal guard as the new power in the nation. Also there’s a young chap name D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who has traveled to Paris to become a Musketeer, but he finds the place in disarray. Backstabbings and power plays commence. But let’s get back to how bad most everything in this movie is. The most egregious of all the offenses this new Three Musketeers commits is the punishment it doles out to its characters in the form of horrible dialogue. Never have you come across a script with more hackneyed, generic movie clichés than this. Everything that comes out of the characters’ mouths is clunky and unnatural. It feels like the movie went through absolutely zero […]

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The opening shot of The Beaver is of a pool on a sunny day. A body drifts through the frame, slowly, on a raft. It’s Mel Gibson doing his best impression of a starship and The Beaver doing its best impression of Star Wars. It’s kind of a foreboding image. Walter Black isn’t doing so well. He’s depressed. But, more than that, he’s depressed to the point where he has completely checked out on his job and family. He has somehow reached such a hopeless state that he has sat passively and watched his once great toy company fall into financial straits, and his once loving family become isolated from one another. We are never explicitly told what has led to Walter’s current state, but The Beaver is mostly a film that focuses on the present moment. The past exists here as a ghost, haunting the characters and coloring their actions, but only half remembered and never spoken of. The big gimmick of the film, if you haven’t seen any of the advertising, is that Gibson’s character begins to deal with his inner turmoil by speaking through a plush beaver puppet and using a voice that sounds like Michael Caine in a bar fight. Much of the film details the phases of Walter’s beaver experiment; the initial shock, the turnaround when The Beaver starts helping Walter get his life back together, and then the darker stuff that comes as his mental state degrades again. If you saw only the ads, […]

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After an entire decade of nonstop irony during the 90s I felt like I was already done with snarky references to 80s pop culture. Then once VH1 systematically mined the decade, year by year, for every possible comment and quip that an army of B list comedians could come up with for I Love the 80s, I was certain that the book on the subject had been closed. At least until last year when we got the mediocre Hot Tub Time Machine, which went for every cheap 80s joke in the book, and suddenly the door was once again open to make fun of the decade of excess. I dreaded watching Take Me Home Tonight. I could not watch all of the same jokes regurgitated, yet again. How happy was I then, when this didn’t turn out to be that sort of movie at all? Super happy. Take Me Home Tonight has less in common with comedies like the aforementioned hot tub movie or something like Sandler’s The Wedding Singer and more in common with movies about young people from another decade like American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused. It bathes itself in an 80s aesthetic, but it doesn’t ever shine a spotlight on the trends and tropes in order to exploit them for laughs. This isn’t so much a comedy about the 80s as it is a comedy set in the 80s. The trailers really do it no favors, so don’t walk into it with a bad attitude like […]

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Coroner

Finally dredged from the depths of cinematic hell, the classic Roger Corman-produced Humanoids from the Deep is finally back on to DVD (and even Blu-ray!) courtesy of the fine folks at Shout! Factory as part of their Roger Corman Cult Collection. One of the earliest films to deal with genetic modification, the film follows the denizens of a small town who come under siege from mutated, humanoid salmon monsters (no joke) after a cannery company’s experiments with growth hormone pollute the local waters. While tensions over the cannery on land result in fist fights, a massive swarm of humanoids play a different kind of game – the rape, murder, eat game. What follows is an awesome spectacle of exploitation cinema, which are somewhat wrongly called B-Movies these days.

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Neil Miller

Review: Towelhead

Features By Neil Miller on September 12, 2008 | Comments (2)

Alan Ball goes back to his American Beauty form with a story of a young girl’s struggle to understand her own sexual obsessions.

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The Coroner\

We just can’t get enough Rhona Mitra, but is it possible that “Doomsday” delivers the blood and violence we expect with a woman who is out and out a badder chick than Rhona!? Prepare to meet Viper.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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