Author: Julian Towers

New on Amazon Prime Instant Streaming: Paterson Gets Almost Everything Right

Originally published on October 11, 2016. Paterson is now available on Amazon Prime’s instant streaming service. Overview:  Jim Jarmusch’s latest film gives us a week in the life of a poet. Amazon Studios; 2016; Rated R; 113 minutes. Disaster Strikes: I nearly missed my first New York Film Festival press screening this morning. I hadn’t yet picked up my badge, so the goal had been to budget an hour of time (the screening started at 8:30 ) to stop by the press and industry office to retrieve it (as I would soon find out, this would not be necessary. The...

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30 Years Later, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Hasn’t Lost a Bit of Buzz

The house anecdote about Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror masterstroke, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is that it was so terrifying, viewers left the theater thinking they’d just seen the goriest film ever made; a full-body submersion into blood, guts, and other assorted human viscera. The punchline, of course, is that Hooper had actually shown next to nothing, instead using quick cuts and frantic camerawork to engage the audience’s collective imagination, whipping them up into a hysterical frenzy. It’s not a stretch to guess that the film these impressionable viewers thought they saw might look a little bit like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. One of...

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Jesus Suffered, But Ben-Hur is Painless

Overview: Another cinematic retelling of the classic Christian allegory. Paramount Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; 2016; Rated PG-13; 123 minutes. A Pointless Pedigree: William Wyler’s Ben-Hur is not a masterpiece. I’m not entirely sure how or when that designation came about, but it’s a false one. Rather, the film is a big, silly epic that stages two all-time action set-pieces, contains a hint of homosexual subtext, and features an amusingly committed Charlton Heston performance, but whose greatest achievement is simply going three-and-a-half-hours without becoming boring. Still, it won eleven Oscars—a useless metric of quality, but one that only two other films share. Naturally, any...

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Hell or High Water Is Mysterious & Nerve-Wracking In Equal Measure

Overview: Two small town brothers become bank robbers to save the family farm in West Texas only to find the law hot on their tail. CBS Films; 2016; Rated R; 102 minutes.    New Country for Old Genre: You’re a waitress… Okay, so technically you’re that actress from Eastbound and Down, but today you’re playing a waitress. It’s a slow day. A crummy diner— not as bad as that one down south; only thing they serve is T-bone with a side of green beans. Still, it’s a slow day, a crummy diner, and every day in this crummy dinner is slow anyway....

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Indignation is a Perfect Adaptation of Imperfect Material

Overview: A Jewish student leaves New Jersey to attend school in Ohio, where he meets a young lady and confronts the dean of the school. Summit Entertainment/Roadside Attractions; 2016; Rated R; 110 Minutes. Julian and Philip, in a Tree, K-i-s-s-i-n-g: Pop quiz, hotshot: Who’s the greatest living american writer? Cormac McCarthy? Great, sure, and intense, but can you bring him home to your mother? Michael Chabon? Only if you hate any sentence shorter than 100 words. Thomas Pynchon? He could die, and it would be at least seven months before any of us knew about it. Toni Morison? I’m...

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Don’t Think Twice Has the Notes but Not the Music of Improv

Overview: Five New York improv comics find their problems magnified when one of their own hits it big. The Film Arcade; 2016; Rated R; 92 minutes. Yes…: About ten minutes into my most anticipated film of the summer, Mike Birbiglia’s improv-world comedy, Don’t Think Twice, I had something approaching a panic attack. “This isn’t right,” I thought, “I should be the ideal audience for this. Improv is in my blood, for chrissakes. Why does this all feel so wrong?” Maybe because it gets so much right. And it’s true, Mike Birbiglia has definitely done improv; he’s got the basic skeleton...

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Microbe & Gasoline Knows Exactly What It’s Doing

Overview: Fed up with the frustrations of school, home, and crappy punk rock bands, a pair of friends build a very strange car and, just, drive away. Screen Media Films; 2016; Rated R; 105 minutes. Feels on Wheels: Microbe & Gasoline is a film built around an image almost dangerously fragile: two lonely, put-upon fourteen year old boys riding around the rural hills of France in a motorized garden shed. Executed imperfectly, it’s a conceit that could have completely sunk any connection to these characters as something other than caffeinated stand-ins for the indomitability of the human spirit yada yada...

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Netflix Hidden Gem #78: Come Drink With Me

Come Drink With Me Director: King Hu Genre: Thriller Shaw Brothers Studio Synopsis: When the Governor’s son is kidnapped and held for ransom by a fierce, sociopathic gang of criminals, his constable sister endeavors to rescue him. Along the way she encounters a very strange beggar whose quest might just overlap with hers. Overview: David Fincher once famously said that he doesn’t believe “there are a million ways to shoot a scene.” Rather, that “there are two, maybe. And the other one is wrong.” It’s a sentiment that legendary kung-fu director King Hu might very well have agreed with. Every...

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Viral Infects a Teen-Pic With Dollops of Zombie Blood

Overview: When the world is thrown into chaos by an infectious disease, two California sisters barricade themselves inside their house to wait out the forthcoming apocalypse. Dimension Films; 2016; Rated R; 85 minutes. Prolific Schmohlific: This week, directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost released two films. One brilliantly charted the strange, overnight blossoming of a high-school wallflower into a veritable mischief-athlete cum performance-artist. Her friends’ reactions—a spectrum ranging from spite to derision—lent her journey a strange weight, one that this writer found deeply affecting. For their part, Schulman and Joost directed the heck out of the film; their daredevil...

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Tallulah Is A Sundance Movie

Overview: After being dumped by her boyfriend, a homeless drifter moves in with his mother, kidnapping an abused baby along the way. Netflix; 2016; Not Rated; 111 minutes. Sometimes You Sundance: Pretty early into Tallulah, I smacked my head harder than I had all year. Allison Janney’s writer character, who’s going through a divorce, heads off to a reading of her new book. By having her run into two old friends/exposition sounding boards on the street, it’s revealed to the audience what she’s written about: stability and the family unit. She’s an expert on marriage stuck in a marriage...

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Netflix Hidden Gem #77: The Mend

The Mend Director: John Magary Genre: Comedy/Drama Moxie Pictures Synopsis: Mat and Alan, estranged brothers, reunite just before Alan leaves for a vacation with his girlfriend. When he returns sooner than expected without his girlfriend, Alan finds Mat and his family have moved into his apartment. Overview: What makes for a great directorial debut? Before successive features can ossify a style into a recognizable brand, how does the up-and-comer distinguish themselves from the horde? Making a solidly good film certainly isn’t enough. While something like The Shawshank Redemption is clearly a decent film, it’s difficult to believe that even its...

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Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is an Enjoyably Deceptive Fantasy

Overview: Two hard-partying bros are forced to get their act together for their younger sister’s upcoming wedding and take dates, but the two women who agree to go aren’t as clean-cut as they seem. 20th Century Fox; 2016; Rated R; 98 Minutes.  A Prickly Myth: What kind of studio raunch-fest begins with the words “based on a true story?” It’s a question that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates finger-diddles around with for most of its agreeably swift runtime, practically forcing the audience to squint in search of the ostensibly real people behind all the calcified cartoon madness. And while...

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Train To Busan is a Delightfully Pessimistic Ride

Overview: When a zombie virus takes over Korea, a recently divorced father has to learn the meaning of moral propriety if he wants to keep his daughter safe. Next Entertainment World; 2016; Not Rated; 118 minutes. Survival of the Jerkiest: At the core of every zombie text, there lies a central unspoken conflict: “Insidious self-interest vs. reckless altruism.” Put simply, “Do I escape and let this person die, or do I risk my own life to save another’s?” It’s a dilemma so potent that the video game developer Telltale recently created an adaptation of the TV show The Walking Dead...

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