Friday, April 18, 2014

Ballroom Confidential

There’s an inherent sweetness to watching the women in this documentary from director Brian Lilla (Patagonia Rising) learn their dance routines, and it has nothing to do with the quality of their performances. Rather, the sweetness comes from the stories they share with the camera when they aren’t dancing, stories about love, loss and life and how dancing has influenced every aspect of who they are and, perhaps more importantly, who they are becoming. The film stumbles a bit when it includes the stories of dance studio owner Caleb Young and choreographer Joe Mounts, not because their stories aren’t interesting on their own, but they just don’t stack up against what the ladies have to say. Seeing their final performance at the end of the film is a true celebration.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reel Zombies

The zombie film genre has become so watered down lately that you have to sift through a lot of junk to find anything even remotely interesting. Finding a film like this one from director Mike Masters makes the search worthwhile. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the film tells the story of a low budget film crew who decide to make the third film in their zombie trilogy using actual zombies. While there is a fair amount of splatter, most of which is well done, the real joy of the movie is watching the living cast and crew deal with the uncooperative zombies who, like temperamental undead divas, don’t always do what they’re told. The added bonus is that instead of storming off to their trailers when they aren’t happy, they simply chomp on whoever pisses them off.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

On the Job

In terms of an alibi, it’s almost foolproof. When the corrupt politicians want somebody killed in this Filipino crime thriller from director Erik Matti (The Arrival) they simply give a couple of convicts a day pass from their high security prison to do the dirty work for them. The simple beauty of the arrangement gets knocked for a loop when one of the political organizations best hit men, Mario 'Tatang' Maghari (Joel Torre), actually makes parole and becomes a liability. The cat-and-mouse game played by Benitez, his employers and his protégé Daniel Benitez (Gerald Anderson) gives the movie an edge that most crime thrillers don’t seem to care about these days, but even if there wasn’t any actual plot to be engaged by, Matti’s flair for action sequences would make the film worth watching. The fact that its as smart as it is exciting is a real bonus.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


It’s a story that may seem familiar – a lowly peasant is called upon to impersonate his king to avoid an assassination plot – but what director Chang-min Choo does with it is completely original. The film tells the story of the tyrannical King Gwanghae who, when an attempt on his life comes too close to succeeding, orders his trusted councilor Heo Kyun to find a royal body double. He hires Ha-seon, a low-life comic who makes his living lampooning the king in dive bars. His uncanny resemblance to his royal master, combined with his knack for mimicry, make him the perfect choice, but even his talents are stretched to the limit when the king actually dies and he has to truly fill his shoes. Like all such films, the key to this one is the lead performance and Byung-hun Lee does a masterful job.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Jormungand: The Complete First Season

Arms dealers and child soldiers can be a regular, tragic feature of the evening world news, so the idea of making an entertaining anime about the subject may seem, at the least, a matter of extremely bad taste. The makers of this superb series didn’t let a little questionable judgment stop them, though, and the result is a heck of a lot of fun. The series follows the story of Jonah, a child soldier who gets assigned to be the bodyguard for an international arms dealer named Koko. While he has a personal hatred for the profession and the people who are in it, Jonah tries to put his feelings aside and use the contacts he makes to investigate who sold the guns and who pulled the triggers that murdered his parents. Although he tries to stay aloof, Johan soon develops feelings for the woman he’s protecting, as well as the team of sharpshooters who make up her family. You will, too.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1

God Bless Lloyd Kaufman. While the rest of Hollywood chases its own tail looking for the next big thing, the genius behind Troma studios just keeps making Troma films like this one knowing that fans will love it and non-fans will…well, they should just stay away. In this, the fourth chapter of the Nuke “em high series, the toxic waste plant that changed teenagers into slimy cadavers in the first three movies has been replaced with an organic food processing plant that  is turning the green radioactive goop into ‘healthy’ lunches for the nearby school. It’s not much of a plot, but it’s enough to give Kaufman carte blanche to fill the screen with plenty of cheesy gore, gratuitous nudity and dark, dark comedy. In other words it’s a Troma film and, fans will agree, one of the best the studio has made in years.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Concrete Blondes

Directed by Nicholas Kalikow, this hugely entertaining caper flick follows the adventures of three young women and their attempts to get away with $3 million (Canadian) they ‘find’ in a seedy warehouse. If that description sounds a bit too vague, it’s only because nobody should give too much away when it comes to this twisted tale. The movie stars Carly Pope as Kris, a tax accountant with a dark past who is trying to lead a ‘normal’ life with her girlfriend Tara (Samaire Armstrong), a chef who can’t find anybody to hire her. Their life together is complicated by their roommate Sammi (Diora Baird), a woman who seemingly spends her days getting wasted and having sex with her underachieving boyfriend Karl (Brian Smith). The actors all do a good job, particularly Pope, and the script avoids the usual clichés by constantly reinventing itself. Kalikow depends a bit too much on a Tarantino-style switching of time and POV, but it doesn’t impede the film from its goal of entertaining all who see it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

As a follow-up to his Oscar-winning drama, Judgment at Nuremberg, director Stanley Kramer did a complete 180 degree artistic spin to create what is arguably the greatest three-hour slapstick comedy ever created. Looking at it now, a half century later, it’s still a good movie and you can appreciate the effort it must have taken for Kramer to reign in the enormous amount of comedic talent in his cast, both the lead characters and the numerous cameo appearances. But time hasn’t been kind to all the routines in the movie, and some of them are more enjoyable for the nostalgic feeling they give you from seeing the film as a kid than one may get from seeing them the first time. Watching Jonathan Winters destroy a gas station is still hilarious, but seeing Milton Berle be screamed at by Ethel Merman is more annoying than amusing. The special 197-minute extended version of the film included in the package takes things way too far, especially the way the flow of the film is interrupted where footage is missing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey

Joanna Lumley could probably sit at a desk and read a travel brochure for Greece and it would still be compelling thanks to her sultry, well-trained voice and irrepressible enthusiasm for discovery. Luckily, she’s the kind of hands-on travel show host who isn’t happy until she can make you feel the heat, smell the smells and hear the same sounds she does on her journeys. Lumley has a real gift for meeting people, which is a key to her travel shows. She may not be a great interviewer – you don’t really learn very much from the people she meets -- but she has a way of engaging people in everyday conversation that is far more enjoyable. She also has a self-deprecating sense of humor that gives the shows a special flair, like when she overcomes her fear of heights to climb some shaky scaffolding at the Parthenon just, as she tells us through the camera, because she loves us so much. The feeling is mutual.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

We Are What We Are

It’s a movie about cannibals. It’s a real shame if that is all you know about the new thriller form director Jim Mickle (Stake Land) because it will either keep you from seeing the movie (Ugh! How gross!) or set you expectation way too high (Yes! That’s gross!). The fact is that We Are What We Are is a gripping thriller with surprisingly less gore than you would expect (or fear) and a lot more chills and thrills than most so-called ‘horror’ movies supply. Sure, it’s about cannibals, but it’s also about family, faith, fear and overcoming that fear. The film stars Bill Sage as Frank Parker, the taciturn patriarch of a backwoods family with an unusual family tradition: Once a year they kill and butcher a passing stranger and make them into a stew. The reason they do it is much more believable, and therefore much scarier, than your usual horror movie explanations, and it’s best to let the movie reveal it to you than spoil it in a review.