Dean review

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a successful young(ish) creative type hits the film festival circuit with a semi-autobiographical dramedy about a somewhat less successful young(ish) creative type who struggles to pull his life together, grow up, and move on. That’s the very familiar premise of comedian Demetri Martin‘s directorial debut Dean, which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Fortunately, Dean‘s got a few fresher tricks up its sleeve that justify retracing this very familiar pattern.

One is that Dean is less about the precious ennui that all young(ish) creative types seem to suffer from in indie dramedies, than it is about the strange and complicated and even ugly process of grief. Another is a gently played subplot about Dean’s father (played by Kevin Kline). And the third and perhaps most important are the many wry cartoons Martin uses to emphasize and comment on Dean’s mental and emotional state.  Read More »

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THE JUNGLE BOOK

Between Sean Parker’s Screening Room and AMC’s tentatively proposed (and quickly discarded) texting-allowed policy, we’ve seen a lot of debate in recent weeks about the sanctity (or lack thereof) of the theatrical experience. Cinephiles will swear up and down that a pristine movie theater is the only proper way to enjoy a movie — and I tend to agree — but the truth is that for a lot of moviegoers, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Why fork over $100 for tickets and popcorn and a babysitter, put up with screaming kids and sticky floors, when you can just rent something from the comfort of your own couch? So what if you’re missing out on 3D and giant screens and surround sound?

Jon Favreau‘s The Jungle Book is the answer to that “so what.” It’s a technical achievement on par with Avatar and Life of Pi, the kind of cutting-edge stunner that actually justifies all the extra premiums and hassles associated with 3D and the theater experience in general. If you’re planning to see this movie at all, see it in 3D while it’s still in theaters. The film’s heart and humor will still be intact when it reaches home video, and thank goodness for that, but the magic of its special effects is on another level altogether.  Read More »

Sing Street Review

Note: We originally ran this review during the Sundance Film Festival. We’re republishing it today as the movie hits theaters this weekend.

When you come to the Sundance Film Festival, you can’t wait to fall in love with a movie. As a sucker for coming-of-age movies, I’m always looking for one that really makes me run the gamut of emotions, and if it also has a hellacious soundtrack, fantastic breakout performances, and a glamorous reference to Back to the Future, then that’s even better. That’s why Sing Street, from Once and Begin Again director John Carney, is marvelous, delightful and just plain great. Read my full Sing Street review after the jump. Read More »

Demolition trailer

I was a big fan of Jean-Marc Vallée‘s last film Wild, which featured Reese Witherspoon playing the real-life author Cheryl Strayed and taking on a physically impossible task as a means of working out issues in her personal life. When I heard Vallée would be directing a similar film with Jake Gyllenhaal, I was excited at what new aspects of the human spirit the movie might illuminate.

Demolition (out today in theaters) has many of the same virtues of Wild, only with a male protagonist. Both films are shot beautifully and have some of the best editing I’ve seen, using cuts in footage not just to convey the passage of time, but also to establish mood, and to explain a character’s mindset. On a technical, they are exceptionally executed.

Unfortunately, I found Demolition ultimately amounted to less than the sum of its parts. Hit the jump for my brief video review.

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters this Friday, an event film that my 10-year-old self wanted but could never have imagined would actually happen. So what did I think of the movie? What did I like? What did I have problems with? After the jump you can read my spoiler-free reaction to the film. So if you’ve seen the trailers, feel free to proceed without any worry of plot points, twists, or reveals being spoiled.

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Everything We Saw at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival

sxsw 2016 reviews

Few film festivals offer the breadth and variety of SXSW and this year was no exception. During my eight days there, I saw gentle comedies, brutal horror movies, fascinating dramas produced on shoestring budgets, inventive documentaries and even an R-rated animated film about talking food. It was one helluva week.

Here is everything that I watched, including the (often very good!) movies that didn’t get full reviews.

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pet review

You know the drill, horror fans. A Creepy Stalker Type becomes obsessed with an Innocent Young Woman. He follows her, learns everything about her, and abducts her. And then the real horror begins. And you can predict the beats as they come, right on cue, one right after another.

Pet knows you know these beats. It knows that you think it’s a certain kind of movie and it lulls you into complacency. Yeah, you’ve seen this before. But you haven’t, because Pet zigs when you expect it to zag and takes a sharp left turn into a deep well of pitch black crazy when you least expect it. Pet is another grotesque “captive woman” movie, but it’s so much smarter and cleverer than your average horror flick. It blindsides you. It earns its nasty moments.

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tower review

On August 1, 1966, a gunman climbed the tower at the University of Texas in Austin and opened fire with a high-powered rifle. After 96 minutes, the sniper was dead, but so were 16 of his victims. Dozens more were wounded. A nation looked on in shock. And it was just the harbinger of more violence to come in the ensuing decades.

Tower is director Keith Maitland‘s beat-for-beat retelling of what went down during those 96 minutes and an examination of the aftermath, exploring how the events of that day changed those who were there and set the stage for an America where school shootings are so common that no one bats an eye when they occur. It’s a sobering, even stirring, film. And it’s partially animated.

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 in a valley of violence review

The first thing you notice about In a Valley of Violence is that it doesn’t feel like a typical Ti West film. His trademark slow-burn menace is nowhere to be found and his low-key comedy, which he used to punctuate tension in films like The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, has undergone a transformation. This is the first West film that isn’t the cinematic equivalent of being placed in a pot of water and not realizing that the water is boiling until it’s too late – it’s broader, more straightforward, and, on paper, a fairly typical revenge western.

Until’s it’s not. In a Valley of Violence is one weird movie, an experience that grabs your attention with its eccentricities before losing you with its lack of focus. It’s not a deadeye pistol shot from a gunslinger, but a wild shot from a scattergun. Yeah, it still hits its target, but you wish the aim was a little more true.

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