Author: Nathanael Hood

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

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 critics could get combat pay. From a purely emotional level, it’s one of the most devastating, heartbreaking films of 2016, easily ranking up there with Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th. It first showed here in America at the Tribeca Film Festival....

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Killbillies is Shameful

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. Out of curiosity I checked to see what the original Slovenian title of Tomaz Gorkic’s new horror film was before it got dragged to this side of the Atlantic: Idila, which approximately translates to Idyll. I suppose that title was meant to be ironic since there is very little...

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American Pastoral Offers an Inchoate Adaptation

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 adapting Philip Roth’s American Pastoral for his directorial debut, Ewan McGregor demonstrates either extreme foolishness, extreme arrogance, or complete ignorance of the complexities of the subject matter. Roth’s sprawling novel attempted nothing less than an autopsy of the American Dream following the tumultuous Sixties as illustrated by the destruction of Seymour “Swede” Levov, the favorite son of Newark’s Jewish...

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Shin Godzilla May Be the Best Godzilla Since the First

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...

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The Ornithologist Is an Allegorical Failure

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 into João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist, I threw up my hands and stopped trying to make sense of what was going on. I decided that from there on out I would greet whatever happened with a resigned “sure, why not?” A duo of Chinese pilgrims seeking the shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua capture and hogtie the titular...

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