Calvary

The opening scene of John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary is a frightening juxtaposition that perfectly sets the tone for what’s to come. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is taking confession from a mysterious man who admits to being molested by a priest as a child. Not this specific priest, though, another one, and to get revenge he tells Father James he’s going to kill him for no good reason. In an instant, McDonagh has sucked the audience in.

Much like McDonagh and Gleeson’s previous film The Guard, Calvary is wholly original. It blends elements of mystery, a detective story and comedy with lots of philosophical ruminations. As Father James spends what might be his final week alive dealing with the townspeople, one of which is his would-be murderer, he tries to solve the riddle by delving into their problems (alcoholism, depression, adultery, etc) through his Catholic beliefs. The result is an ambitious, slow-burn drama with dynamite performances from top to bottom that just misses the mark because it’s trying to do too much. Read More »

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TheBatteredBastardsofBaseball

Everyone knows Kurt Russell as one of his generation’s most recognizable and badass actors. Some might even know that he was once a professional athlete. What most people don’t know, however, is that Russell’s father, Bing Russell, was even more eclectic. A famous actor in his own right, the elder Russell eventually used his Hollywood fame to start an independent minor league baseball team called the Portland Mavericks.

That incredible story acts as the epicenter of The Battered Bastards of Baseball, a documentary that premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Co-directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way (Two of Bing Russell’s grandsons), it’s a fascinating and fun look at one of baseball’s hidden and heartwarming stories. Read More »

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The Signal is the kind of science fiction movie that I love — intense, mysterious, original and extremely ambitious. What is The Signal? It’s a puzzle that keeps you guessing and working to figure it out.

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Life After Beth

Most everyone has been through a breakup that took place for a reason, but still left at least one person pining for a chance to do things over. Life After Beth seems as if it wants to be a zombie-filled fable exploring that situation. Dane DeHaan is Zach, whose relationship with Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies along with her. But Zach gets a second chance with Beth when she returns home, seemingly alive — only to find that she is quickly losing whatever shreds of humanity she had left.

Not only does Life After Beth offer a confused and somewhat gross take on relationships, it wastes a great comic cast (Matthew Gray Gubler, Cheryl Hines, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, and Anna Kendrick) with comedy that is as sloppy as splattered brains. Read More »

Obvious Child star Jenny Slate

Obvious Child is a charming romantic dramedy about love and abortion in New York City. The humor feels like a mix of the crudeness and sharp teeth of Sarah Silverman’s comedy and the grounded snappiness of Lena Dunham’s Girls. At center stage is comedian Jenny Slate, with one of the breakthrough performances of this year’s fest.

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wetlands_promo1

There’s one really good reason to see the German film Wetlands, and her name is Carla Juri. She’s a firecracker; I keep hearing people refer to her as “the German Greta Gerwig,” and the comparison is easy to see. But Juri has her own skills and appeal, and her performance is the most watchable one I’ve seen so far at Sundance this year.

That’s saying something, as the subject matter of Wetlands can be… off-putting. The story hinges on — and there’s no delicate way to put this — an anal fissure suffered by Juri’s character Helen during a grooming session gone wrong. Helen is a young woman who has an unusually deep body consciousness; she’s more intimately in touch with her body than any young woman in a recent film. While she’s a prat clearly damaged by her parents’ divorce, Helen is still a promising, even inspiring character. By the end, however, Wetlands throws away her potential in favor of a too-familiar quirky love story.
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Cooties cast

If the idea of a bunch of zombie kids disemboweling their teachers sounds like fun, Cooties is the movie for you. Elijah Wood stars as Clint, a substitute teacher who ends up at the wrong school on the wrong day. He’s joined by Allison Pill, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad and Leigh Whannell, all of whom play teachers tasked with trying to stop a quickly spreading virus that turns kids into rabid flesh eaters.

Whannell, best known for the Saw and Insidious franchises, also co-wrote the film and it pops with hilarious one-liners and disgusting violence. The second act slows down the action considerably, however, and some of the plot holes are massive, but that doesn’t take away too much from the good provided by first time directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. Read More »

Boyhood

Richard Linklater has truly created something special with his new film Boyhood –  a remarkable, beautiful, cinematic achievement, like nothing you have ever seen before. Filmed over short periods from 2002 to 2013, the film chronicles a family over the course of 12 years, with the actors reprising their roles through the progression of time.

At the center of the story is Mason (Ellar Salmon), who with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), makes the journey from childhood to adulthood. As the film begins, we see that they are living with their single mother (Patricia Arquette) and that their father (Ethan Hawke) has long since left the family. The film takes us through their evolving relationship with their mother and father over many years, moves, and life changes.

I don’t want to give away many specifics or plot points, and keep this as more of a reaction than review. After the jump you can read more or watch a video blog I recorded after the screening with Russ Fischer.

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