Brimstone Delivers O...

Overview: Hounded by an evil preacher, mute midwife Liz struggles to keep her family safe in the wilds of the Old West. Momentum Pictures; 2016; Not Rated; 148 minutes. A Word of Warning: Martin Koolhoven’s Brimstone is one of the bleakest films I’ve seen in some time. In tone, content, and...

The Last Laugh Flirt...

Overview: Documentarian Ferne Pearlstein interviews numerous comedians, historians, and genocide survivors to answer two simple questions. One: Is it right to make jokes about the Holocaust, even as a coping mechanism? Two: If the answer is yes, who gets to make them? Journeyman Pictures;...

Ghost in the Shell Is A Watershed Moment In Anime History Mar14

Ghost in the Shell I...

Overview: In a futuristic, cyberpunk world where humanity has become interconnected through the net, a team of public-security officers seek an elusive hacker known as the Puppetmaster who can hack into people’s brains, erase their memories, and control them. Anchor Bay Entertainment; 1995;...

Drifter Manages to Take All The Fun Out of Post-Apocalyptic Cannibals Mar01

Drifter Manages to T...

Overview: Two brothers find themselves trapped in a decrepit town populated by cannibals. XLrator Media; 2016; Not Yet Rated; 86 minutes.  How Thoughtful: I suppose I should thank Chris von Hoffmann. Recapping the plot is always the most tedious, uninvolved, and boring part of film criticism....

Criterion Discovery: Roma

Background: Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical Roma (Spine #848) is a cluttered, messy affair that nevertheless contains sequences of intense, visceral power. This is Fellini’s twelfth film in the Criterion Collection: Amarcord (Spine #4), Nights of Cabiria (Spine #49), And the Ship Sails On (Spine #50), Variety Lights (Spine #81), 8½ (Spine #140), Juliet of the Spirits (Spine #149), The White Sheik (Spine #189), La Strada (Spine #219), I vitelloni (Spine #246), La dolce vita (Spine #733), Satyricon (Spine #747). Story: A loose, nonlinear procession of reminiscences and allegories, Roma sees director Federico Fellini turn his camera...

Chapter & Verse Is Indulgent Viewing Feb03

Chapter & Verse...

Overview: A recently paroled ex-gang member struggles to re-acclimate himself into society after serving eight years in prison. Paladin; 2015; Not Rated; 97 minutes. Tough Crowd, Tough Crowd…: One of the film critics I find myself returning to over and over again for inspiration is the...

A Patch of Fog Backtracks Into Predictability Jan26

A Patch of Fog Backt...

Overview: After he’s caught shoplifting by an obsessive security guard, a famous writer finds himself pulled into a maniacal and possibly deadly forced friendship. XLrator Media; 2015; Not Rated; 92 minutes. Caught in the Act: Almost 25 years ago, Sandy Duffy released his first and only book....

Netflix Hidden Gem #92: Autohead

Autohead (2016) Director: Rohit Mittal Genre: Drama Amit Verma Films/Stalker Films Synopsis: A group of documentarians get more than they bargained for when their cinéma vérité subject—an auto rickshaw driver in Mumbai—reveals a side of himself that’s darker and more horrific than they could have ever imagined. Overview: We expected the first murder in Rohit Mittal’s Autohead. We’ve seen Narayan (Deepak Sampat)—a rural immigrant to Mumbai who’s making a pathetic living as an auto rickshaw driver by day and a pimp by night—deal with tough customers. We’ve seen older ladies stiff him his fares, old men browbeat him for taking wrong...

Netflix Hidden Gem # 89: Always

Always (1989) Director: Steven Spielberg Genre: Fantasy Universal Pictures Synopsis: After dying in an accident, aerial firefighter Pete Sandich is enlisted to become the guardian angel of his replacement pilot, Ted Baker, a man who happens to also be in love with his old girlfriend Dorinda Durston. Overview: Perhaps because he tends to wear his influences on his sleeve, it’s always tempting to read Steven Spielberg’s films as his attempts to homage or re-interpret the filmmakers and movies of his youth. Jaws (1975) was his version of a 50s low-budget creature feature; Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) his 30s film serial; Empire of the Sun...

Kill Ratio Is A Charmless Slog Dec14

Kill Ratio Is A Char...

Overview: After getting caught in the crossfire of an Eastern European coup, it’s up to one ex-CIA agent to defeat the bad guys and save democracy. XLrator Media; 2016; Not Yet Rated; 86 minutes. A Brief Word About Trash Cinema: …And people say Cannon Films died in the 90s. The infamous...

Run the Tide Struggles to Find a Point Dec05

Run the Tide Struggl...

Overview: When their abusive, junkie mother is released from prison, a young man named Ray kidnaps his younger brother for a road trip to Santa Cruz. Orion Pictures; 2016; Rated PG-13; 100 minutes. Oops: It was director Soham Mehta’s bad luck that I watched Clint Eastwood’s masterful A...

Tree Man Greets a Few Familiar Faces Nov28

Tree Man Greets a Fe...

Overview: An exploration of “Tree People,” or the small community of Christmas tree salespeople who populate the streets of New York City around Christmastime. XLrator Media; 2016; Not Rated; 82 minutes. A Rambling Aside: For the twelve or so years my family lived in Bucks County, right...

National Bird Views the Drone Program From a Whistleblower’s Perspective Nov23

National Bird Views ...

Overview: A chilling, disturbing look into the realities of America’s secret drone war in the Middle East that examines the lives of three whistleblowers. FilmRise; 2016; Not Rated; 92 minutes. The Perfect Wrong Time: Sonia Kennebeck’s National Bird is one of those films that makes me wish we...

Killbillies is Shameful Nov04

Killbillies is Shame...

Overview: The members of a modeling shoot get captured by a group of Slovenian hillbillies who want to use their brain juices to make moonshine. Artsploitation Films; 2016; Not Rated; 83 minutes. What’s in a Name?: So . . . Killbillies. That certainly is a title that begs to be remembered....

American Pastoral Offers an Inchoate Adaptation Nov01

American Pastoral Of...

Overview: Based on Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, American Pastoral charts the downfall of all-american hero Swede Levov as his daughter Merry gets caught up in radical politics and terrorism during the 1960s. Lionsgate; 2016; Rated R; 108 minutes. Too Much to Chew: In...

Shin Godzilla May Be the Best Godzilla Since the First Oct20

Shin Godzilla May Be the Best Godzilla Since the F...

Overview: The King of Monsters returns in this thrilling update to the Godzilla franchise that doubles as a glimpse into the troubled yet resilient soul of twenty-first century Japan. Funimation Films; 2016; Not Rated; 120 minutes. The Fourth Time’s the Charm?: After the thunderous, unexpected success of Legendary Pictures’ 2014 Godzilla, it was only a matter of time until the Japanese followed suit. After all, Japan had always taken a smug pride in how the West had never quite gotten their national icon right—see the unceremonious curb-stomping of Roland Emmerich’s “Zilla” in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). But then unthinkable happened. The...

The Ornithologist Is an Allegorical Failure Oct17

The Ornithologist Is...

Overview: After getting stranded in the wilderness following a kayaking accident, an ornithologist named Fernando experiences a series of bizarre, mystical encounters that lead to his religious awakening. Seeking Distributor; 2016; Not Rated; 117 minutes. Sure, Why Not?: About thirty minutes...

Doomed!: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four Oct14

Doomed!: The Untold ...

Overview: An exhaustive examination of the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the conception, production, and sudden shelving of Oley Sassone’ low-budget cinematic adaptation of Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four. Uncork’d Entertainment; 2015; Not Rated; 85 minutes. Setting the Record...

Tower Dares An Emotional Connection Oct12

Tower Dares An Emotional Connection

Overview: Combining archival footage and rotoscope animation, Keith Maitland’s TOWER is a bold documentary on the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin. Kino Lorber; 2016; Not Rated; 82 minutes. A National Sickness: Orlando. San Bernardino. Sandy Hook. Aurora. Virginia Tech. Columbine. These names resonant deep within the American psyche, each synonymous with one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings. These attacks may not be unique among First World Countries, but they are unmatched in their frequency. Other countries look at our record of inaction and legislative indifference towards these attacks with thinly veiled...

The Vessel is an Achingly Beautiful Portrait of Religious Community Sep16

The Vessel is an Achingly Beautiful Portrait of Re...

Overview: After a near death experience, a unwilling young man becomes venerated as a living saint by a community savaged ten years earlier by a tsunami which killed 46 children. Outsider Pictures; 2016; Rated PG-13; 86 minutes. Paralytic Grief and Miracles: The small seaside village in Julio Quintana’s The Vessel refuses to move on. Ten years after a tidal wave destroyed the elementary school, killing all of the community’s children, the women still wear black. An unspoken rule binds them together: whoever breaks ranks first and wears a different color will be labeled the worst mother of the bunch. The local priest Father Douglas (Martin...

Criterion Discovery: The Story of the Last Chrysan...

Background The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Spine #832) is one of the earliest triumphs of legendary Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi. It’s his fourth film in the main collection, his eighth overall: Ugetsu (Spine #309), Sansho the Bailiff (Spine #386), The Life of Oharu (Spine #664); Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Women of the Night, Street of Shame (Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi’s Fallen Women). Story Set in Meiji era Japan, the film follows the doomed love between Kikunosuke Onoe (Shôtarô Hanayagi), the spoiled adopted son of a famous Tokyo Kabuki actor, and Otoku (Kakuko Mori), his father’s wet-nurse. When Kikunosuke, known...