(Following the text review is a video reaction shot just after the film’s Sundance 2014 premiere.)
In the case of an action movie like The Raid, I can’t fault anyone who wants to set plot aside and simply enjoy the action. With The Raid 2, that approach becomes impossible. Writer/director/editor Gareth Evans puts lofty goals fully on display in this sequel, which expands in every direction relative to the original. The action is bigger and more diverse, the story is more complex, and more emphasis is placed on dramatic performances even as the film’s physical demands intensify. Where the first was a tightly controlled action film that jettisoned all but the skeleton of a plot, this sequel is a huge crime tale featuring several criminal organizations competing for power, the police trying to catch up, and one young cop caught squarely in the middle.
Premiering the film at Sundance in a prime slot is a strange experiment of sorts. The Raid 2 isn’t a thing for general audiences; this is a hardcore genre movie. The swirl of Evans’ dramatic ambitions are punctuated by ultra-violent choreography, like a machine-gun snare drum tracked into a piece of classical music. It’s a tricky balancing act. The Raid 2 navigates the test awkwardly at best, because the story never connects as solidly as do the film’s thousand punches. Read More »
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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 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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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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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 »
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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A movie about the life of a film critic might sound a tad indulgent, but there’s never been another film critic with the influence and character of Roger Ebert. Almost anyone who’s ever seen a movie in the US (and many other countries) has heard his name or taken one of he and partner Gene Siskel’s patented “Two Thumbs Up” recommendations to the box office. As a young film fan, I remember scouring the TV Guide searching for the Sunday morning broadcasts of Siskel & Ebert, and devouring every episode. In particular, I’ll never forget an episode where Ebert dissected Quentin Tarantino’s camerawork in Pulp Fiction. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of film language. Ebert had that effect on a lot of people.
If Ebert opened up that world to people then Steve James‘ latest documentary Life Itself opens Ebert to the world. Based on Ebert’s autobiography of the same name, the film tells Ebert’s life story, yes, but it does so via the framework of our own love of the movies. Great care is taken to specifically illustrate not only how Ebert changed the face of film criticism, but how he helped us all discover our own passion for the movies.
Make no mistake though, this isn’t some simple love letter. Life Itself is a warts and all dissection as well as a beautiful tribute. Issues such as alcoholism, struggles with weight, ego and sex are all part of his story. This is a vast, entertaining and thought-provoking look at Ebert the man and Ebert the icon.
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With Mark Ruffalo moonlighting as a superhero these days, it’s easy to forget he’s one of the best actors currently working. Infinitely Polar Bear, written and directed by newcomer Maya Forbes, not only serves as a reminder of Ruffalo’s chops, it’s arguably his finest performance to date. He plays Cameron, a bipolar father of two, who is forced to solely care for the kids when his estranged wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) goes to graduate school hoping to improve the family’s financial situation.
So you’ve got a bipolar man, barely able to keep himself together, forced to take care of two young girls when their African-American mom goes away hoping to get a white-collar job… in 1978 Boston. Yes, Infinitely Polar Bear is weighty with issues of race, economics, and gender, but Forbes deals with them carefully and thoughtfully in a hilarious, heartwarming film. Read More »