Reviews

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of five): ***

Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau's undeniably creepy if tonally uneven We Are What We Are (Somos los que hay) is on the one hand a melancholy dysfunctional family tale, and on the other hand, well... they'd like to eat it.

After their father perishes in a heap on a city sidewalk, the two sons, Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) and Julian (Alan Chávez*), help their haggard mother (Carmen Beato) with the family finances as well as the family appetite, despite not being especially equipped for either role. The most important thing? Continuing the family "ritual" -- the unpleasant task the patriarch done for them for years. Meanwhile, two curious cops, after seeing the coroner find a finger in the man's stomach, decide to investigate further -- at their own risk.

Blog entry 08/01/2011 - 11:51am

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of five): ****

A treasure-trove of fascinating information about media-shy/burned author Harper Lee, her landmark book To Kill a Mockingbird, the fine movie made from it (and much more: even Truman Capote has a major role here), HEY, BOO: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird should have the billion-odd fans of the book lining up to learn more about it -- and the woman who created it. "Landmark" because it enabled white America, north and south, to begin coming to terms with the country's major social problem, racial prejudice, the book remains a force for understanding and change. Further, it is probably one of the few "modern classics" taught in schools that does not always need to be force-fed.

Blog entry 07/19/2011 - 3:00pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of five): * * **

Over the opening credits of Satyajit Ray’s 1958 The Music Room (Jalsaghar), a chandelier drifts out of the darkness, slowly swaying into view like some luminescent deep sea creature. This chandelier, one of several that hang in the titular room, will come to symbolize the flickering (pre-electric) light of a way of life that is quickly disappearing.

The Music Room is a fin de siècle story along the lines of The Leopard or The Magnificent Ambersons, detailing the last member of a feudal dynasty’s slide into obscurity. When we first see Lord Roy (Bengali matinee idol Chhabi Biswas), he is alone on the roof of his decaying palace, lost in thought. A sparse exchange with his servant (Kali Sarkar) reveals that Lord Roy has no idea what month or season it is.<

Blog entry 07/19/2011 - 2:30pm

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of five): * * *

A coming-of-age (but not coming-out) movie that takes us back to a British all-girls school during the 1930s -- complete with requisite lesbianism, nude scenes, and a backward glance at the young ladies, fashions and automobiles of pre-WWII-- Cracks, the first full-length film from Jordan Scott (daughter of Ridley) is a ripe piece of cinema that is, fortunately, still a short distance from going bad. You can bite into its succulent fruit and enjoy the sweet taste, while realizing that, by tomorrow, it will have passed optimum status. But that's tomorrow. Why carp when we still have today?

Blog entry 07/19/2011 - 1:30pm

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of five): * * *

Max Manus: Man of War is a WWII epic based on a true story of Norwegian resistance fighter Max Manus. With a DVD release title and cover art that makes it sound like a comic book straight to video, the film from Bandidas directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Roennin looks good and is exciting enough to hold attention, especially for war history buffs, but the script doesn't break any especially new ground.

Max Manus opens with an obligatory and probably unnecessary "how we got here" WWII background montage before starting in a 1940 Finland snow-covered  battlefield then flashing back a few months earlier to when Germany has taken over Finland. Manus, our hero (played by Aksel Hennie), says "I was embarrassed to be from Finland." And thus we get the story of how Manus bravely became part of an unheralded resistance movement in his native country.

Blog entry 07/18/2011 - 3:16pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of five): * * * *

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives details the final days in the life of the eponymous character, who is dying of kidney disease. The film also features ape ghosts with glowing red eyes who stalk the forest in anticipation of Boonmee’s departed spirit.

The works of Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul have always straddled the mundane and the psychospiritual, often times within the same scene, but all of Weerasethakul’s preoccupations seem to meet their apex in Boonmee. The film is shaggier than its predecessor, Syndromes and a Century, returning to the swoony, free-form jungle idyll of Blissfully Yours and Tropical Maladay.

Blog entry 07/12/2011 - 2:45pm

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of five): * * * *

The Queen and her Corgis, Churchill and his bulldog, J.R. Ackerley and Tulip.  If that last one doesn't ring the bell, no matter: a gong may sound in perpetuity once you've seen the new animated film My Dog Tulip, the newest from husband-wife filmmaking team Paul and Sandra Fierlinger.  J.R Ackerly, a British literary editor and writer, had his book of the same title (a reminiscence about the relationship between him and his dog) published in 1956 in England and later here in America. Reissued by New York Review Books in its Classic Series, Tulip is currently that series' best-seller.

While all this may sound a bit like the Brit version of Marley and Me, be assured that it is not.  For one thing, Tulip is not a film for children. One of the first things to greet us on-screen are the book author Ackerley's words: "Unable to love each other, the English turn to dogs."  Sad, ironic, rather nastily funny -- and definitely not for kids. The story that unfolds thereafter tells of a quiet, highly intelligent and lonely man who has never had a committed relationship with another person.  Into his life comes the dog Tulip.

Blog entry 07/12/2011 - 12:54pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Ratings (out of 5): Chains **** ; Tormento **** ½ ; Nobody's Children **** ; The White Angel *** ½  ; SERIES ****

Chains (1949), the first film in Eclipse’s Raffaello Matarazzo set, begins simply enough: a stolen car breaks down and the thief, desperate to avoid apprehension, hides out at a mechanic’s garage. 388 minutes and four films later, 1955’s The White Angel closes the set with a standoff between a fearless nun and a group of ruthless female inmates who are holding an infant hostage.

These two scenes best illustrate the milieu of Director Raffaello Matarazzo, one of Italy’s most commercially successful filmmakers. Matarazzo’s films vacillate violently between the mundane and the histrionic, more than earning the set’s label: "Runaway Melodramas". Those who prefer subtlety in their storytelling have received fair warning.

Blog entry 06/30/2011 - 12:43pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of 5): **** 1/2 

It would be misleading (however accurate) to tout People on Sunday as a film from the makers of Detour, Sunset Boulevard, The Killers, and High Noon. Aside from technical grace, not too much about Sunday suggests the careers Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak, and Fred Zinnemann (respectively) would have following this early effort.

Shot over six weeks without a script (despite the credits’ claim otherwise), the film details the exploits of young people living in Weimar Republic-era Berlin. 

Blog entry 06/28/2011 - 3:53pm

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (ouf of 5): *** 

In American: The Bill Hicks Story, British filmmakers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas set out to tell the tale of the influential comedian who was underappreciated in his time and then taken from us too soon. The Texas-raised Hicks was a remarkable comic who dared tell truths in this country in a time (the 1980s and into the 90s) when a lot of Americans lived in a trance and didn't want to hear them told so bluntly--or at all. The film will probably be more of a revelation to the uninitiated than to longtime fans (such as myself), but fans of the cult comic will also find much to appreciate here.

Blog entry 06/28/2011 - 12:13pm

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