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Bill Chambers
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***/**** starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane screenplay by Derek Kolstad and Shay Hatten and Chris Collins & Marc Abrams directed by Chad Stahelski by Walter Chaw As the novelty wanes and the universe expands, the John Wick franchise becomes less fleet, though its pleasures, when they arrive, have lost little of their joy. I think of these films, three of them now, as describing the arc of the great Hollywood Musical actors, the Fred Astaires and Gene Kellys, the Liza Minellis and Ginger Rogers and Judy Garlands, who would enliven whatever inanimate book in which they were mired with their irrepressible stagecraft and charisma whenever the spotlight caught them. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (hereafter John Wick 3), in other words, is a slog of mythology linking galvanizing action sequences that are meticulously choreographed, unapologetically brutal, and graceful in every way the picture's story and dialogue are not. They're so good, really, that it hardly matters what the movie's about--so good that it's fair to wonder why they're working so hard at trying to pull coherence out of this premise instead of just offering vague excuses to arm the graceful, lanky, morose hero and drop... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Film Freak Central
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Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version **/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B- starring Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Laura Dern screenplay by Frank Baldwin, based on the novel Kraftidioten by Kim Fupz Aakeson directed by Hans Petter Moland by Walter Chaw Cold Pursuit features the umpteenth iteration of Liam Neeson's angry white-vengeance avatar and its familiarity drags down Hans Petter Moland's English-language remake of his own In Order of Disappearance, as does the baggage Neeson's carrying around after revealing on the film's press junket that he once stalked the streets of Belfast, hoping a black man would start a fight with him so he could bludgeon him to death. When a white man "confesses" to being racist without initiating a conversation about his path to understanding the innate bias that would have him instantly equate the deeds of one black man with the character of all black men--not to mention instantly turn a woman's victimization and tragedy into a story of his own crisis and redemption--what he's actually doing is providing a racist/sexist dog whistle for thousands of similarly-blinkered white men to say "but for the grace of God" and, "who among us?" Except... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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Clive Barker's Hellraiser (a.k.a. Hellraiser) (1987) **/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras A starring Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Ashley Laurence written and directed by Clive Barker Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) ***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A starring Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman screenplay by Peter Atkins directed by Tony Randel Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) */**** Image B Sound B Extras B starring Terry Farrell, Doug Bradley, Paula Marshall, Ashley Laurence written by Peter Atkins directed by Anthony Hickox by Walter Chaw Pinhead (Doug Bradley) looks menacing, but he's actually just a leather-daddy who seems reluctant, most of the time, to do what other people think is in his job description. There's a scene at the end of the first Hellraiser, the only one written and directed by creator Clive Barker, where Pinhead and his good-time boys and girls ("Cenobites," if you must, an appropriation of another term for "monk") are about to tear heroic Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) apart when she asks for a chance to explain something. Pinhead patiently hears her out. In the sequel, as she's running away, rather than hooking her in place with their literal hooks on chains, Pinhead... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***½/**** directed by Tiago Hespanha Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Bill Chambers Despite its occasional stop/start rhythm, Campo is a consistently hypnotic audiovisual essay that ventures onto the Herzogian turf of Alcochete, Portugal's Field Firing Range, called "Campo" for short after the Portuguese word for "field." At 7,539 hectares (i.e., around 47 miles), it's Europe's largest military base--so large that there's room for livestock, including a herd of sheep, to graze on its grass, mostly undisturbed. A series of vignettes alternates drills and wildlife, though these juxtapositions aren't quite that uniform, and oftentimes humans are present in the animal sequences, where they're cooperative and not a blight. (A beekeeper closely monitors a hive to make sure his bees aren't losing their radar like they have been all over the world.) Some scenes smudge the lines of fiction as indicated by this being a training facility, such as when medics labour to stop the bleeding of an allegedly wounded trainee who says, coughing up blood (for effect?), "When my father hears about this, he'll shoot himself." One camera angle, so peculiar... Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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½*/**** starring Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Alexander Skarsgård screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah directed by Jonathan Levine by Walter Chaw Long Shot sort of wants to be There's Something About Mary and sort of wants to be Broadcast News but mostly it's a Legal Eagles/Switching Channels '80s adult programmer that is deeply embarrassing and often difficult to watch. The fact that we don't make a lot of movies like this anymore, if indeed we ever did, should be indication enough that it's harder than it looks. Long Shot is "Veep" without edge, intelligence, relevance. It takes aim at Fox News and manages to nail the misogyny in a broad, improv-troupe way while failing to capture what it is about the network that has led us to the precipice of the end of the Republic. Yes, no kidding. Long Shot doesn't have anything to say about politics beyond the polite broadsides you hear at middle-school debate tournaments, and though it introduces a vile Rupert Murdoch-inspired media mogul intent on disrupting the American election process, it misses every opportunity to land a blow against him. It's like taking a swing at the ocean as you're falling out... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***½/**** directed by Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Angelo Muredda Born out of student journalist Waad al-Kateab's first-person video diary of the early days of the uprising against the Assad regime in Aleppo, For Sama is a startling document of how everything from parenting to the concept of home to the myriad forms of political resistance available to the young and idealistic is rendered uncanny by life under wartime. Co-directed by al-Kateab and Edward Watts, the film is both a daring work of frontline reportage and an appropriately anxious time-capsule message left to be discovered at some later date by al-Kateab's daughter, who is born during the conflict and whose future is ever-threatened by the precarious political status of her parents in the besieged city. For Sama is arguably most effective as a formal testament to the horrors of watching one's home become the site of makeshift hospitals and ruins as the siege turns civilian protesters, many of them students and their families, into casualties of war. Al-Kateab is a perceptive and canny observer, capturing the... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2019 at Film Freak Central
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS **/**** starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella screenplay by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff directed by Oliver Stone LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE *½/**** screenplay by John Orloff and Emil Stern, based on the novel Guardians of Ga'Hoole by Kathryn Lasky directed by Zack Snyder by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Oliver Stone has a penchant for writing himself into living history, and normally, it's quite fascinating. By making movies about historical events whose ramifications have not yet fully materialized, he engages in a battle of wits with the unfamiliar. He tries to understand what's unfolding at this very moment, constantly on the lookout for something resembling closure. From that perspective, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (hereafter Wall Street 2) suffers from Stone's familiarity with the subject. Having already made a movie about the chaos of the free market, he knows exactly what he wants to say from the outset. Our boy Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) spent the Clinton years behind bars, leaving his personal life in shambles. Beloved son Rudy has died of a drug overdose, and hitherto-unmentioned daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) is--irony of ironies!--a lefty blogger... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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*/**** starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly screenplay by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein, based on the book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo directed by Ken Kwapis by Ian Pugh It starts off as a puerile game of "Six Degrees of Separation" and just goes downhill from there: Janine (Jennifer Connelly) is married to Ben (Bradley Cooper), who's attracted to Anna (Scarlett Johansson), who has an awkward relationship with Conor (Kevin Connolly), who went on a date with Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), who gets dating advice from Alex (Justin Long), who killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. There are about five more movie stars inhabiting He's Just Not That Into You, but one would be hard-pressed to recall their characters' names without consulting the IMDb, and that's pretty much all there is to them. (The combined talents of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Aniston result in a force so monumentally bland that it's either not surprising or very surprising that no casting director ever thought of it before.) My colleague Walter Chaw once wrote that you'll never refer to the characters in Crash by anything other than their broadest... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2019 at Film Freak Central
LAND OF THE LOST ½*/**** starring Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone screenplay by Chris Henchy & Dennis McNicholas, based on the television series by Sid & Marty Krofft directed by Brad Silberling THE HANGOVER **/**** starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor screenplay by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore directed by Todd Phillips by Ian Pugh I'd estimate there are around a hundred reasons why Brad Silberling's big-screen adaptation of Sid & Marty Krofft's "Land of the Lost" is awful, but none of them are more infuriating than the fact that it panders to its core hipster audience by being a great big nostalgic turd with an ironic bow on top. Have you watched the series recently and cracked self-satisfied jokes about how drugs were its primary influence? If so, then this film is for you. Do you like movies that try as hard as possible to resemble shitty episodic television from yesteryear? Then you've probably seen Land of the Lost twice already and rationalized it as something that won't win awards but at least manages to pass the time. That's certainly the mentality driving this unfortunate theme-park ride: the film would prefer that you... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2019 at Film Freak Central
THE UNTOUCHABLES: SEASON 1, VOLUME 1 Image B+ Sound B Extras D+ "The Empty Chair," "Ma Barker and Her Boys," "The George 'Bugs' Moran Story," "The Jake Lingle Killings," "Ain't We Got Fun," "Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll," "Mexican Stake-Out," "The Artichoke King," "The Tri-State Gang," "The Dutch Schultz Story," "You Can't Pick the Number," "The Underground Railway," "Syndicate Sanctuary," "The Noise of Death" THE SCARFACE MOB ***/**** Image A- Sound B Extras D+ starring Robert Stack, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Nichols, Pat Crowley written by Paul Monash, based on the novel The Untouchables by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley directed by Phil Karlson by Ian Pugh I love Brian De Palma's The Untouchables precisely for the self-consciously fictionalized varnish that curiously seems to have earned it disdain among the director's devotees. Apart from its romantic, "pure cinema" thrills, however, its Hollywood gloss is the perfect complement to De Palma's penchant for effortlessly transforming assaults on the body into assaults on the mind: an undercurrent of violence constantly threatens to erupt and destroy the gentle exterior of a make-believe 1930s Utopia dictated by fedoras and pinstripe suits. No such undercurrent exists in the original 1959-63 Robert Stack television series on which the... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***/**** directed by James Jones, Olivier Sarbil Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Bill Chambers A co-production of ARTE France and PBS's "Frontline", On the President's Orders covers a period of relative calm in Duterte's Philippine Drug War, which saw a death toll of 3,000 suspected drug pushers in its first year. In an effort to curtail the amount of bloodshed on both sides, Jemar Modequillo is installed as the new police chief in Manila's Caloocan district, the epicentre of the country's drug-related violence, and sets to work remolding the trigger-happy "wankers" under his command into a constabulary that patrols the seediest streets in search of alleged suspects to haul off to a seriously overpopulated jail. As we see, there is little distinction made between dealers and users (who typically aren't motivated enough to sell drugs), and a profound lack of empathy for addicts in general among members of law enforcement. "Drug users are a nuisance for society. Unless you get rid of a pest, it will get bigger," says the prison warden, Agustin, who gets his jollies out of hurting... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***/**** directed by Ingrid Veninger Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Angelo Muredda On the surface, Ingrid Veninger's first documentary feature The World or Nothing seems a departure from her scrappy, micro-budget semi-autobiographical work to date. A slice-of-life portrait of Rupert and Rubildo Ridinza, late twenty-something twins trying to make it big in Barcelona as YouTube celebrities without losing their connection to the family they left behind in Cuba, the film seems distant from early projects that starred members of Veninger's family, their characters typically displaced on European trips that test and form them. Though Veninger's latest follows a different family unit at a somewhat safer distance, it shares her earlier work's flinty but genial sensibility, as well as its thematic preoccupation with outsider artists engaged in the sometimes-indelicate art of self-promotion. The twins' hope for internet fame rests on their energetic dance and music videos published under the charmingly low-rent monicker Sensación Gemela, or "twin sensation." Veninger's graceful tracking shots respectfully observe the brothers' Gatsby-esque self-determination and lithe, weirdly doubled forms as they amble through the streets of Barcelona setting... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**½/**** directed by Claudia Sparrow Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Bill Chambers Shot with a little of that Jennifer Baichwal flair for Martian landscapes, Maxima is an almost tediously straightforward yet galvanizing précis of one Peruvian woman's struggle to keep the bulldozers away from her homestead. Having ransacked a huge patch of the Andes for its gold, the Yanacocha mining company wants to spread their tentacles as far as the Tragadero Grande, where Máxima Acuña has lived since purchasing the territory in 1994. In 1995, Yanacocha zoned for their proposed Conga Expansion Project in a deal that falsely included Tragadero Grande, and in 2011, Máxima was arrested for squatting on her own land following a violent confrontation with the police that left her battered and bruised and without a roof over her head, since the cops demolished her hut. Refusing to be cowed, Máxima accepted that the alternative to handing over her deed in the wake of this incident would be a years-long legal battle that still hasn't been settled by the end of the film, making all of her... Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**½/**** directed by Laurie Lynd Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Angelo Muredda "Everyone was praying it was going to be something we could give up," editor and interviewee Michael Denneny says in a sobering moment in Laurie Lynd's Killing Patient Zero, which offers a moving if somewhat scattershot account of the collision between sexual liberation, panic, and state indifference in the early days of the AIDS crisis while fleshing out the life of so-called "patient zero," Gaétan Dugas. Based on Richard McKay's book on Dugas, a French-Canadian flight attendant remembered here for his charisma and frankness about his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was pathologized as an illness in North America, Lynd's film is most effective as a reparative intervention into its subject's cruel afterlife as the media's favoured scapegoat in false summaries of the early transmission of HIV. Yet the documentary's emotional impact is dulled by Lynd's vestigial gestures to the source text (from which McKay awkwardly reads via a teleprompter), his overly familiar style (which cribs its score from The Social Network and its interview setup from... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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***/**** directed by Karen Stokkendal Poulsen Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details. by Bill Chambers It's telling that the reality of Myanmar as a kind of Hell on Earth has subverted Hollywood's couple attempts to set a white-saviour narrative there (John Boorman's Beyond Rangoon and Sylvester Stallone's Rambo), and Karen Stokkendal Poulsen's illuminating On the Inside of a Military Dictatorship shows how hopeful roads out of that Hell have come to dead ends. On the surface a pro forma mix of talking heads, archival footage, and a little bit of scenic tourism, the piece distinguishes itself with its high-profile interview subjects and a structure that gives certain ironies their due for those only passingly familiar with the country's history. (Like me.) From 1962 until 2011, the once and future Burma was under military rule, having violently resisted a brief democratic uprising in the late-'80s led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was subsequently imprisoned in her home for close to two decades. But with strict sanctions placed on all its prominent generals in the U.S. and Europe, the military decided to rehabilitate... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**½/**** starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely directed by Anthony and Joe Russo by Walter Chaw Marvel has a gender and diversity problem and it tries to address this, in real-time, in Avengers: Endgame, the last of their "Broadway Melody" cavalcade-of-stars studio extravaganzas (or so they say). In the end, though, it's still a solemn pageant of white saviours and their Christ-like sacrifices. The interesting thing about this storyline is that it explores both Christ the martyr and Christ the family man; there's enough blue-eyed soulfulness here to present both paths of the Choose Your Own Judeo-Christian Epic. By doing so, there's something for literally everyone in the film's target audience of men of a certain age and predilection to get emotional about. Yes, the tragedy of masculinity is to be misunderstood: we, Captain Americas (Chris Evans), all, shod in the clothes of Sisyphus and, in this iteration, literal God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who gets a dad bod, a bad case of alcoholism, and enough self-immolating insecurity and self-loathing to make legions of mediocre men misty-eyed in recognition. It's true, all of it, but underneath this disgusting... Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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****/**** starring Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Amber Heard written and directed by Alex Ross Perry by Walter Chaw "When I needed it, no one ever put a hand on my back and told me it was gonna be alright." This is Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) on stage at a performance by her band, Something She, and she's two hours late, as it happens--as is her habit and her custom. All she does is inflict pain, her mother (Virginia Madsen) tells her; Becky, a black vortex of drama, tells her mom to lay off the drama. It's a practice of narcissists to project their toxic behaviour on the people around them, but Becky, who acts very badly indeed, isn't the only bad actor. Her mom has a manila envelope full of something Becky's long-absent father wants Becky to see and the mother bringing it to her daughter at this moment, knowing her daughter is explosively unstable, is a form of narcissism, too. It's the person in your life who wants you to process your experience in the same way they process theirs--emotional bullies engaged in the tyranny of the weak. Becky's bandmates are at once enablers of her behaviour... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version The VVitch ****/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Nelson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw written and directed by Robert Eggers by Walter Chaw Robert Eggers's The Witch details a young woman's coming-of-age as a thing of wonder and, to her Puritanical community, an incalculable and infernal threat. It has analogs in any number of films dealing with female sexuality, unlocking avenues for critical dissection. It parallels Osgood Perkins's extraordinary February (a.k.a. The Blackcoat's Daughter), rhyming it in not just tone but denouement, too, as young girls dance with the devil literally and metaphorically, and find it good. It parallels Jaromil Jireš's Valerie and Her Week of Wonders in its tale of budding sex and the surreal phantasmagoria that explodes in the imagination around such a thing. It parallels Park Chan-wook's Stoker, which shares a scene of illicit bliss and similarly decodes the incestuous loathing coiled in the belly of Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. Speaking of Hitchcock, The Witch parallels The Birds, where the intrusion of a woman's heat makes things odd. There's a moment in The Birds where heroine Melanie Daniels is confronted by a... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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Just in time for the first photographic evidence of a black hole, Claire Denis's High Life opens in Canada this week alongside Max Minghella's directorial debut, Teen Spirit. We--that is, Angelo Muredda and yours truly, respectively--covered them at last year's TIFF. Also hitting an unspecified number of screens this weekend in advance of its VOD debut is David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake, which made Walter Chaw's Top 50 of 2018 back when we thought a leaked rip was as official a release as we were going to get. Lots more to come post-Easter.-Ed. Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version **½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B starring Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist screenplay by Stephen King, based on his novel directed by Mary Lambert "Machado would have traded every word, every poem, every verse he ever wrote for one more hour with his beloved. And that is because when it comes to grief, the normal rules of exchange do not apply, because grief transcends value. A man would give entire nations to lift grief off his heart, and yet you cannot buy anything with grief. Because grief is worthless." -Jefe (Rubén Blades), The Counselor by Bill Chambers A VICE UK review of the recent Happy Death Day 2U came in for a shellacking on social media because of a click-baity tweet suggesting it was the "first" slasher movie about grief, a claim that only demonstrated a lack of expertise while making a sacrificial lamb of Happy Death Day 2U (which scarcely benefited from the bad-faith attention). Neither the headline nor the subheader of the review itself is as boldly specious, but there in the body of the piece is this: "Christopher Landon's latest, Happy Death Day... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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by Bill Chambers Recently cited as one of the "100 Podcasts Worth Listening to" at VULTURE, Australian Blake Howard's "One Heat Minute" has seen Howard and a panoply of guests doing the lord's work of dissecting Michael Mann's Heat one minute at a time since August, 2017. It was my honour to join him for minute #139, in which the police check Chris Shiherlis's fake ID after his wife Charlene signals him that the coast isn't clear--although Blake isn't a stickler and our conversation turned out to be far more wide-ranging than that. Just a heads-up if you want to hear me ramble on about Michael Mann, a pet topic of mine. (Or if you ever wanted to hear someone compare Heat to Love Actually.) Our own Walter Chaw will also be appearing on an upcoming episode, and I can't wait to listen; stay tuned. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2019 at Film Freak Central
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+ starring Christopher Showerman, Thomas Haden Church, Julie Benz, Christina Pickles screenplay by Jordan Moffet directed by David Grossman by Bill Chambers "Me new George. Studio too cheap to hire Brendan Fraser." That's Chris Showerman's first line in the title role of George of the Jungle 2, a sequel that, for better or worse, immediately conjures the spirit of Jay Ward's pomo '60s cartoons on which Disney has based an unlikely live-action franchise. Upon discovering that this second instalment was in the offing, I reacted pretty much the way I had to news of the first film: in recoil, since I'm almost as sick of Hollywood trying to will Brendan Fraser to stardom as I am of movies being made out of TV shows--let alone the wisdom that the novelty of seeing the small-screen translated for the big-screen is enough for two dips into the well. (Viva Rock Vegas, anyone?) But while I managed to avoid George of the Jungle altogether, the gods conspired to unite me with its direct-to-video successor; thus, as was the case with Inspector Gadget 2, I can't tell you how George of the Jungle 2 fares against the original,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2019 at Film Freak Central
**/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras B+ starring John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Cromwell, James Woods screenplay by Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman, based on the novel by Nelson DeMille directed by Simon West by Bill Chambers The General's Daughter is prettified trash, a sulphur-coloured pulp movie of dubious ambitions. Undeniably effective in fits and starts, this adaptation of Nelson DeMille's popular novel dies when it succumbs to the lurid urges of a too-visceral director. The nude body of Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson) has been discovered strangled to death on an army base in Georgia. Elisabeth's father, vice-presidential hopeful General Joseph Campbell (!) (James Cromwell), summons beefy army cop Paul Brennan (John Travolta), an acquaintance of the deceased, to close the case before the FBI moves in--and before the media gets wind of the situation. Working with ex-girlfriend Sarah "Sun" Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), Paul quickly uncovers the secrets of the late captain's double-life as a dominatrix. The picture's energy level rises substantially once Paul questions Robert Moore (James Woods), Elisabeth's mentor in the field of psychological warfare. The two exchange words that could only have come from a screenwriter's pen, but delivering stylized banter is what Travolta excels at--have... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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**/**** starring Alec Baldwin, Emilio Estevez, Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling written and directed by Emilio Estevez by Alice Stoehr "They're on the wrong side of the law for all the right reasons," runs the tagline for Wisdom (1986), Emilio Estevez's directorial debut. The star of Repo Man and The Breakfast Club was in his mid-twenties when he cast himself opposite then-fiancée Demi Moore, the two of them playing Robin Hood figures on a crime spree. In the decades since, he's had a patchy career as a filmmaker, garnering few awards and little acclaim for one passion project after another. Reviewing the period drama Bobby in 2006, critic A.O. Scott wrote that Estevez "sets himself a large and honorable task. It is important to appreciate this in spite of his movie's evident shortcomings." The same applies to The Public, in which Estevez stars as Stuart Goodson, a Cincinnati librarian fretting over the ethics of his job. One winter night, his branch's homeless clientele stages a sit-in over the city's lack of shelters, and as the police and press get involved, the library becomes a political battleground. Estevez's ambitions are transparent: This is a Capraesque fable for our troubled times, with Stuart... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2019 at Film Freak Central
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*½/**** starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, John Lithgow screenplay by Jeff Buhler, based on the novel by Stephen King directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The best adaptations understand the totality of an author's work, while the worst try to drag something kicking and screaming from one medium into another, largely incompatible, medium. The famous Frank Zappa quote--writing about music is like dancing about architecture--applies, except that it is possible to dance about architecture if you're a brilliant dancer and understand the essence of the architecture you're taking as inspiration. I think Zappa knew that, being Zappa. I like to believe he actually meant that it's possible, but hard. Stephen King's Pet Sematary is exceptional. I reread it for the first time in thirty-three years before watching the new adaptation from co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. I remember, as a child of thirteen, the visceral fear of those last twenty pages or so (and the hot sex scene); now I'll remember it for the extraordinarily observant and sensitive portrayal of grief and loneliness in the novel's first couple-hundred pages. Indeed, the first sentence, talking about how men sometimes meet... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2019 at Film Freak Central