Author: Nathanael Hood

Salt and Fire is a Baffling and Unfocused Mess

Overview: After being kidnapped while on assignment in South America, U.N. ecologist Laura finds herself stranded with two blind children in the middle of a desert on the verge of thermal catastrophe. XLrator Media; 2016; Not Rated; 98 minutes. Lost in Translation: One of my favorite stories about the making of Claudio Fragasso’s accidental camp masterpiece Troll 2 (1990) involves the disconnect between its English-speaking American cast and its Italian-speaking crew. Apparently, the script (written by Fragasso’s wife Rosella Drudi) received a rather blunt-force translation into English. When it came time to shoot, Fragasso insisted that the actors perform...

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For Here or to Go? Isn’t As Well-Thought As It Is Well-Timed

Overview: Faced with the realization that his visa to work in the US will soon expire, an Indian-born tech entrepreneur struggles to re-align his life in America. Many Cups of Chai Films; 2015; Not Rated; 105 minutes. Wish in One Hand…: “Life doesn’t run on guarantees, it runs on hope.” So goes the opening line of narration in Rucha Humnabadkar’s debut feature film For Here or to Go? But hope does little to pay the bills, and even less to assuage America’s immigration department. Vivek Pandit (Ali Fazal) learned this the hard way. After living and working in Silicon...

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Dig Two Graves Hits Bottom

Overview: After her brother dies in a tragic accident, Jacqueline (Jake) Mather considers a Faustian deal to get him back. Area 23a; 2014; Not Rated; 85 minutes. That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man: Somebody needs to check on Ted Levine. I think he’s slowly transforming into Jeff Bridges. He spends the entirety of Hunter Adams’s Dig Two Graves growling into his beard, muttering like he’s got a chunk of chaw in his cheeks. His character, Sheriff Waterhouse, wiles away the last years of his career serving as the sheriff of a small town out in yonder woods by puttering...

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Brimstone Delivers On Its Fiery Promise

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 worldview, it is punishingly, inexhaustibly bleak. Here is a film where innocent men, women, and children are murdered in cold blood; where abused wives are driven to public suicide; where young women are sold into sex slavery by strangers; where little girls are whipped to a bloody pulp...

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The Last Laugh Flirts With Hyperbolic Absurdity

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; 2016; Not Rated; 88 minutes. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One…: Didja hear the joke about the Holocaust survivor who won the lottery? So, an old concentration camp survivor buys a lottery ticket and wins $200 million. A reporter comes up and asks him: “What are you going to do with the money?” The...

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Ghost in the Shell Is A Watershed Moment In Anime History

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; Rated R; 83 minutes. Where the Devil’s In: During the second or third watch of Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, you start to notice odd, delightful details that you’d missed the first time. Details like how despite the film taking place in a futuristic universe where people can swap their brains into robot bodies, transmit their...

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

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. But with Drifter, von Hoffman has given us a film that can literally be summarized in one sentence: two brothers get trapped in a post-apocalyptic town in the desert; get attacked by hillbilly cannibals. There isn’t much more to Drifter, a film that foregrounds style and intensity in the place of coherency and...

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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 on Rome, the capital...

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Chapter & Verse Is Indulgent Viewing

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 curmudgeonly James Agee. Before he established himself as one of America’s greatest novelists with his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Death in the Family (1957), he made waves as a film critic working for numerous publications, most notably for Time and The Nation. One of the harshest film critics to ever wield a pen, the...

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A Patch of Fog Backtracks Into Predictability

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. Entitled A Patch of Fog, it was based on a traumatic childhood incident where he got lost for 4½ hours in the backstreets of Belfast when an impenetrable fog descended on the city. The book brought him instant literary success, a prestigious teaching position, and a regular guest-spot on a TV program...

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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...

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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...

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Kill Ratio Is A Charmless Slog

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 production company of zero budget shlock titles may be gone, but its spirit lives on in the digital age thanks to XLrator Meda. Specializing in direct-to-video cheese, the studio seems completely at home with its library of character actor vehicles (Zoë Bell in Josh C. Waller’s Camino [2015]; Henry...

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Run the Tide Struggles to Find a Point

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 Perfect World (1993) the night before I watched his feature debut Run the Tide. Both center on young boys getting shanghaied into illegal road-trips by older men. But whereas the duo in A Perfect World are an escaped convict and a chance hostage, Run the Tide features two brothers, Reymund and...

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Tree Man Greets a Few Familiar Faces

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 outside of Philadelphia, my father and sister had a yearly ritual. Every Thanksgiving Eve they would catch a train to New York City, watch the big balloons inflate for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and walk the streets until morning. They would always invite me, but I never went. I simply didn’t...

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