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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ida

Before she can take her vows to become a nun, Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is told by her mother superior to go out into the world and seek out the last remaining member of her family, an aunt named Wanda (Agata Kulesza) to make sure there is nothing holding her back from devoting her life to the church. What follows for Ida is a series of adventures and revelations that make her truly question every aspect of her life, from her roots to her religion. Although the film can be frustrating to watch, especially in the choices made to often frame the background and not the characters in it, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love) has crafted a daring look into family dynamics – race, religion, nature and nurture – that takes the audience on a compelling journey that’s bound to stay with them for a long, long time. Kudos to both actresses for their bold performances.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Eraserhead

David Lynch’s big screen debut stunned audiences when it was released in theaters back in 1977. It wasn’t just that they didn’t understand what the story was about; the experience of sitting through it made them so uncomfortable that they never wanted to think of it again once they left the theatre, which is a shame because this is a film worth thinking about. Thanks to this new edition from Criterion, that’s just what you can do. Not only is the movie itself in pristine condition, but the Blu-ray set is filled with extras, including a hefty tome of critical essays and analysis, to get you started. But what’s the movie about? On the surface, it’s the story of a printer named Henry Spencer (John Nance) who, after spending a night with his girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Stewart), discovers he is about to become a father to a…well, to a something. Visually stunning, with gorgeous cinematography by Herbert Cardwell and Frederick Elmes, the movie hasn’t lost any of its power to confuse, confound and agitate it’s audience, which is part of the beauty of watching it again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Xingu

Bored with their relatively easy lives, three brothers disguise themselves as peons (Brazilian slang for poor laborers) and join a 1940s government operation to map and explore the uncharted wilderness of the rain forest. What starts as a lark soon turns into a cause as the brothers meet, then become friends with the natives who, if the government has their way, will soon be relocated and indoctrinated into becoming ‘civilized.’ Directed by Cao Hamburger (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation) the film manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of cause movies like this by giving us three lead characters well developed enough to stand on their own. He also gives the natives of the story plenty of their own camera time to be more than figureheads for the brothers to fight for. The film falters a bit when it doesn’t call the brothers out on their not so humane behavior -- one brother is exiled for sleeping with a native girl, and 20 minutes later the brother who kicked him out is doing the same thing with no consequences – but such inconsistencies can be forgiven for a film that has its heart in the right place like this one does.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Borgman

This chilling cinematic nightmare from writer/director Alex van Warmerdam (The Last Days of Emma Blank) tells the story of an odd little vagrant named Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) who worms his way into the house, and the lives, of a snobby upper crust suburban Dutch family.  Although he is definitely strange, and strangely charismatic, Borgman seems harmless enough until his friends start showing up at the house and things start going incredibly badly for the family. The story of a stranger biting the hand of the family that feeds him has been told many times before, but almost none of those other films are quite as terrifying as this one is primarily because of Bijvoet. His performance is so cold and calculating, so bereft of human emotion, that you feel both attracted and repelled by what he does, and it’s impossible not to watch him do it. The rest of the cast is good, although none are given as much to do as Bijvoet – they are there to support him as he creates one of the finest villains caught on film in years.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Panic Roon

Freshly divorced from her rich bastard of a husband, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) decides to spend a chunk of her ex’s money buying a fancy West Side mansion for her and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) to live in. The fact that their new home comes with its own iron and concrete bunker just off the master bedroom seems more of a conversation piece than anything they’ll ever need until a trio of armed men break in to rob them. The film plods along for the first half, giving director David Fincher (Fight Club) plenty of time to delve into his bag of cinematic trickery to fill the screen with interesting, if a bit self indulgent shots. The heat gets turned up once the crooks start fighting among each other over the best way to get the mom and her daughter out of the panic room, thanks in large part to some fine performance from Forrest Whitaker and Jared Leto, as well as some truly demented work from country singer/actor Dwight Yoakam. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Father Brown: Season One

At times it feels a bit too much like the producers of this series had some sort of British Mystery checklist that they keep going to throughout each episode: Tea party… check ... upper class snobs and lower class ‘good’ people … check … bumbling coppers … check. It’s almost enough to make you stop watching because you’re sure all their heavy handed clues are leading you in one direction. But hang on. This isn’t the series you are expecting, particularly when the lead is played by the delightful Mark Williams, best known now as Arthur Weasley, Ron’s dad from all those Harry Potter movies. It’s a finely tuned performance, all smiles and charm when it comes to setting up the case, but Williams gives the father a bit of a bite when push comes to shove that can be downright exciting. The cases are generally well plotted, leaving plenty of clues along the way to keep you guessing whodunit. Only don’t be too embarrassed when you find out you’re wrong in the end.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Doctor Who: Deep Breath

The fact that they showed this episode of the long running British television series in movie theaters  -- to sell-out crowds dressed in all their Doctor Who finery – will give you some indication on just how wildly anticipated the arrival of the twelfth doctor was by fans. Was it worth all the hype? Definitely. Given the fierce popularity of the two men preceding him – David Tennant and Matt Smith – the new Doctor, played by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, had some pretty huge shoes to fill. The joy of watching Deep Breath is that he doesn’t really seem concerned at the Doctors who came before him: Capaldi steps out of the Tardis as his own man the first time we see him and takes over the screen from that moment on. The script has plenty of references for him to help make the transition easy for those in denial, particularly the presence of Clara (Jenna Coleman) to add continuity (and a bit of confusion), but it isn’t too long into the episode before Capaldi stands on his own and becomes The Doctor. The story, about mechanized people trying to make themselves more human by taking body parts from living people, is a cracker, too.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bee People

Without bees, life as we know it on planet Earth would be impossible. That’s a scientific fact, but instead of banging us over the head with a gloom and doom scenario telling us how bad mankind has treated the bees of this world, this fun – and funny – documentary from director David G. Knappe focuses on the people who are doing something about it. Not scientists, mind you, but regular people who raise their own bees. What does it take to be a beekeeper, you ask? If these people are any indication, you have to be a little bit nuts, but in a good way. The film follows, among others, Gregg McMahan, Colorado's own 'Bee Guru' and Tony 'Bees' Planakis, NYPD's go to beekeeper as they go through their daily routine of not only tending their own hives, but rescuing wild bees who have built nests where nobody wants them. The way they refer to the bees as ‘girls’ gets a bit old (and a bit weird) after a while, but there’s a generous spirit to the film that makes it a lot of fun. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Midnight Special

‘Eclectic’ hardly covers the line-up presented in this six-DVD set; after all, it’s hard to think now that people who tuned in to The Midnight Special to see Aerosmith or Alice Cooper were happy to find Harry Chapin or John Denver on their television sets. But that was sort of the beauty of this long running show: You never knew what you were going to get beyond a live performance by some of the biggest and best musicians in the business. Since it made its debut in 1973 (at one o’clock in the morning) and lasted throughout the 70s and well into the 80s, you know that hairstyles and fashion trends are going to be just as interesting as the music being played, and if you wonder what some of the musicians were thinking when they put those clothes on, there are plenty of extras included in the package with the musicians themselves explaining it all. The quality of the shows is surprisingly good, as are the majority of the performances, whether you think you like the band playing or not. It’s all a bit of a time trip, to be sure, but one worth taking, even if you weren’t there when the shows first aired.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Words and Pictures

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what if you are a poet who can’t write or an artist who can’t paint? How much is the finished product worth then? Although on the surface, this film from director Fred Schepisi (Last Call) seems to be about the value of the image versus the value of the printed word, you only have too scratch a bit to see it’s a story  about two lost souls struggling to find their muses and instead, finding each other. It’s a bit heavy handed, in story terms, but the fine performances from Clive Owens and Juliette Binoche make it work. Millions of words have been written about onscreen chemistry between actors, but nobody can tell you why some romantic pairings work and some don’t. In this case, it works very well. You appreciate the difficult journey the pair has to make to get to each other, but you are also rooting for them every step of the way. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Curse of Oak Island

A tale of pirates, the Knights Templar, buried treasure, secret booby traps, and a curse of death – what else can you ask for? How about the added pleasure of two rich brothers, Rick and Marty Lagina, who will stop at nothing to uncover the mystery behind (or beneath) this isolated island off the coast of Nova Scotia? It’s not your typical reality show, meaning there are not a lot of heightened emotions from the brothers fighting for more time on screen. It’s far more honest than that, and therefore more believable and, ultimately, more enjoyable. Do they solve the mystery? We’re not going to tell, but take our advice and watch the show in daily installments, even if you are tempted to marathon it through to the end. The wait is worth it. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hal - The Movie

Can a robot replace a human, not just physically but on an emotional level, too? That’s the compelling question asked in this gorgeous new anime movie from director Ryoutarou Makihara, and the answer may surprise you. The film tells the story of a robot that is asked to replace Hal, a young man who died in an accident, to help Kurumi, Hal's girlfriend, move on in life. As part of the process of earning Kurumi’s trust, and perhaps love, the robot Hal starts to learn that the flesh and blood person he’s supposed to replace wasn’t a good person in the first place. The robot tries to right the wrongs of Hal’s past in an effort to be a better “person,” but he quickly learns that there are some cuts that leave scars that are just too deep to be bandaged over. The story is well told, and Makihara paces it extremely effectively. The voice cast is strong, too, as is the beautiful artwork used to tell the tale. All in all, Hal is as beautiful a romance as you can find on film these days.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Aces High

A young man caught up in the excitement of war – at least the war he’s read about in the papers – enlists and becomes a flyer for the RAF. It isn’t long, of course, before the reality of flying, fighting and dying in battle squashes his dewy-eyed dreams and he’s forced to face his fears head on. Directed by Jack Gold (The Medusa Touch), the film is filled with just about every war movie cliché you can imagine, but it never really feels dull or dated thanks to some strong acting and thrilling aerial fight scenes. Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) stars as the war weary flight commander who can’t get into the cockpit until he’s had a few cocktails and it’s a relief to see a stock part like this played with humanity rather than gruff machismo. Christopher Plummer is also good as the old man of the squad whose bad leg keeps him from flying with his men. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Transformers Beast Machines: The Complete Series

Like every other show in the Transformer’s animated universe, there’s a lot of overly complicated plot layered in every episode of this cartoon series, and if you aren’t familiar with any of the shows that have come before it, you may start to feel lost soon after the opening credits start rolling. The fact that the computer generated animation isn’t that well done, either, may have you reaching for the stop button before the first commercial break. Relax. Give it a chance. While it may not be cutting edge, graphically speaking, this show is edgy enough to be entertaining. In the series, the Beast Wars are over and the Maximals (a Transformer/animal hybrid) return to their home planet of Cybertron to find the planet empty of their loved ones and patrolled by menacing Vehicon drones. (We said it was overly complicated.) What happens over the course of the next 26 episodes is, thankfully, simply a lot of fun.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Musketeers

The advantage of telling the epic story of the Three Musketeers over the course of a series like this instead of cramming it into a two hour movie (as has been done several times before) is that it gives the storytellers time to really develop the individual characters in the tale. In fact, at times this BBC series seems to take a bit too much time developing the characters, mainly because it keeps interrupting the stories with a lot of poorly filmed swordfights, but the cumulative effect of watching the entire season is well worth it. An early standout in the cast is the performance of Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor Who) as Cardinal Richelieu, a man so involved in setting up palace intrigues that you hardly notice the French cardinal has a Scottish accent. Santiago Cabrera plays Aramis well, too, particularly once he sets his seductive eyes on the queen (Alexandra Dowling).

Sunday, February 8, 2015

High School Confidential

Cool cats and hot chicks get involved with the local reefer dealer and it isn’t too long before their happy high school days end in deadly tragedy. Yes, it’s all a bit melodramatic and the lesson the story is trying to tell is passed along with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the forehead, but that’s part of what makes watching this 1958 exploitation film such a gas. Russ Tamblyn is a hoot as tough guy Tony Baker, a transfer student looking to score, and Jan Sterling is the perfect foil for him playing the part of the high school guidance councilor who thinks he can be a better man. On the less believable, but still highly enjoyable, side is the scenery chewing of Mamie Van Doren as Tony’s oversexed mom and Diane Jergens as the marijuana addict Joan. Heck, the movie even has Jerry lee Lewis on the back of a flat bed truck singing the theme song for the opening credits. It all adds up to one crazy ride.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jackpot

Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) is having a really bad day, starting when he wakes up beneath a dead fat hooker in a sex shop, covered in blood and holding a shotgun, surrounded by dead bodies with the police standing over him, their guns drawn, ready to arrest him. Hard to believe that just a few hours ago, he’d won a multi-million dollar jackpot in a soccer pool. Discovering just how Oscar got under the dead fat hooker in the first place is the wild ride that writer/director Magnus Martens takes the audience on in this hugely entertaining movie that blends blood and buffoonery in some new and exciting ways. The cast is all very good, especially Hellum as the man who some very bad things happen to (again and again), and Henrik Mestad as the detective trying to piece Oscar’s unbelievable, but true, story together.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vengeance Is Mine

Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) is a thief and a killer. We know that because we see him be arrested and hear him confess at the start of the film. But this exciting story, from director Shôhei Imamura (The Pornographers) isn’t about who did it, but why. Why did Enokizu kill all those people? The answers, as Imamura presents them, are not easy to understand. The disturbing feeling you get as the story progresses that maybe he’s really just a bad man at heart is one that will haunt you long after the film ends. Imamura tells the story in a way that can hardly be termed chronological, given the way the plot jumps around from event to event, past to present and back again, but the cumulative effect of watching the story told this way builds in your mind exponentially. Thirty five years after it first shocked audiences, the film still thrills.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Deadbeat

Canadian comic actor Tyler Labine has been bumping around the edges of stardom for close to 20 years now, mainly showing up as comic relief in other people’s films and often ending up the only thing you remember from those films. So it’s nice to see him get a series of his own and the young funnyman certainly makes the most of it. In the show, Labine plays Kevin Pacalioglu, a spiritual medium who gets hire to investigate paranormal problems. The twist is that Kevin takes the cases to help the ghosts and not the people they are haunting. Sure, it gets a bit silly at times, but Labine has the comic energy to sell even the strangest tales the writers come up with. He also plays well with the others in  the cast, especially Brandon T. Jackson who plays his drug dealer, Roofie.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

75 Years of WWII

Using a blend of personal accounts and archival footage, this two-disc set from the History Channel does an excellent job of taking the audience out of their comfort zone for a close, and often disturbing, look at the horrors of war. D-Day in HD takes up half the set and it’s worth it. It’s one thing to watch the invasion in a movie, even if it’s as graphic a film as Saving Private Ryan, but it’s a lot more intense to hear a survivor of the invasion talk about how the air was filled with bullets, smoke and flying body parts as he desperately runs from the ocean to the beach. The two sea battle stories -- Bloody Santa Cruz recounting the vicious combat in the South Pacific in which the USS Hornet was lost and Enterprise Versus Japan detailing the battle when the USS Enterprise sends the Japanese Imperial Navy to a watery grave – are equally intense. The final chapter, Ultimate World War II Weapons, isn’t as frenetic as the others, but just as fascinating. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

President Wolfman

There isn’t an original frame of film in the entire movie because President Wolfman is created entirely out of recycled stock and public domain film footage culled from more than one hundred grainy government instructional shorts, classroom education movies, vintage stag reels and features that have fallen out of copyright. So don’t worry if the continuity is off, or if the characters suddenly get played by different actors or if the dialogue doesn’t exactly match the mouths of the people saying it. Just sit back, relax and enjoy what writer/director Mike Davis has created from the scraps he collected – a fun horror/comedy about the Leader of the Free World an his penchant  for becoming very hairy, and rather violent, when the moon is full. Dean Stockwell is very entertaining as the president, especially since he never really made the movie he’s in. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Forbidden Girl

Despite the warnings of his evangelical pastor father, a young man falls in love with a girl. On the night they are to consummate their passion, a demon shows up and steals the girl away. Of course, nobody believes the boy when he explains what happened, so he’s sent to an insane asylum. Years later, he’s released, gets a job as a tutor at a spooky old house and discovers that the girl he lost is alive and not too well. While the story gets a bit too complicated for its own good at times, director Till Hastreiter (The Breeder) has such a strong visual style that you don’t care. Peter Gadiot gives a good performance as the young love struck man, Toby, and Jytte-Merle Böhrnsen is absolutely captivating as the Forbidden Girl – you completely understand why the boy goes through all he does for her. The best thing in the movie, though, may be the work of Klaus Tange as Mortimer, the spooky blonde henchman who lives to protect the forbidden girl from guys like Toby. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Young Justice: Season 1

It sounds like a bad idea, a series starring the sidekicks of the better known DC superheroes, but the show itself is a lot of fun and certainly well done enough to stand on its own. It starts with the team trying to join the original Justice League, only to discover that Batman, Superman and the others don’t really think they are ready to solve crimes and save the world on their own. So the first few episodes are all about the Young Justice team proving them wrong, which is entertaining but not nearly as much fun as when the show settles down into its own groove and the young heroes start taking on personalities of their own. The snappy banter between them especially Kid Flash and Robin, is a lot of fun, and the voice work is top shelf, too, especially Danica McKellar as M'gann M'orzz and Nolan North as Connor Kent. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

14 War Stories

Using the diaries, letters, postcards and telegrams of the people who actually lived through the war, this fascinating film, directed by Jan Peter, does a brilliant job of personalizing the conflict on both sides of the battle lines. While the stories of the men who actually fought in the war are interesting, it is the stories of the non-combatants – the women and children left behind whose battle, though not always as bloody or deadly as a soldiers’-- was just as devastating. The blend of archival footage and historical reenactments is smooth enough to be convincing, which is key to keeping the audience enthralled as the stories move along. And the bonus feature, combining interviews with the filmmakers and some terrific behind-the-scenes footage, only deepens the experience of watching these stories unfold. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

37 Days: The Road to World War I

If you ask any with a modicum of historical knowledge how World War I started, they will tell you it all began with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Maybe if they are showing off, they can tell you it happened in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. And if it’s a Final Jeopardy question about who pulled the trigger, those who have done their homework will say, Who is Gavrilo Princip? But is that really all it took to send the entire world spiraling off to war? Not according to his film from director Justin Hardy which takes you behind the scenes to get a better understanding on how the many little decisions that lead up to the launching of total war were made by the people in power. It’s hard to keep your jaw from dropping as you listen to top British officials calmly talk about what they stand to gain if they decide to get involved, while the German officials in the film practically foam at the mouth for a chance to try out their new weapons on human targets. It took a little over a month for these talking heads to turn a single shot into the cause they were looking for, and it’s a countdown the world would come to regret.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Boy Jack

For those who enjoy a more straightforward dramatic approach to their war movies, this drama from director Brian Kirk fits the bill nicely. It’s the story of writer Rudyard Kipling (David Haig, who wrote the screenplay based on his original play) and his struggle to get his nearsighted son Jack (Daniel Radcliffe) a place in the army at the outset of WWI. The patriotic fever that forces him to risk his son’s life causes immeasurable harm to Kipling’s private life, as he must battle his wife and daughter (played by Kim Cattrall and Carey Mulligan) and defend the choice to send his child off to war, a choice even he eventually realizes will break his heart. The story is strong and the film is well-shot, but it is the terrific acting that makes My Boy Jack so compelling. Cattrall, best known for her comic sexual romps playing Samantha Jones in Sex and the City, is fascinating playing Kipling’s American wife, as is the ethereal Mulligan as his daughter. Radcliffe is outstanding as Jack, showing us the journey a young man takes from the Huzzah! rowdiness of camaraderie before a shot is fired to the shocking reality of war fought in the trenches in a completely compelling and original way. Topping the wonderful cast is, of course, Haig as Kipling, in a powerhouse performance that captures the heart and soul of a people as they launch themselves into war.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rosemary’s Baby

Zoe Saldan stars as Rosemary Woodhouse in this terrific version of the tale of a young woman who is unwittingly made a bargaining chip in a pact with the devil himself. In exchange for bringing her struggling writer husband Guy (Patrick J. Adams) fortune and fame, Rosemary will serve as the vessel for Satan’s child. Even though it is spread out over four parts (and close to three hours), the TV mini-series maintains a constant state of tension as we follow Rosemary through her pregnancy. As the neighbors who broker the deal, Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs are the perfect blend of charming and chilling which is the key to making Rosemary’s seduction believable. As the husband, Adams is far less effective, giving a rather wooden performance that is never convincing, either as a loving husband in the beginning or as the evil jerk who pimps out his wife to Satan. The best thing about the show, though, is Saldana’s performance, particularly towards the end after Rosemary discovers what she is carrying inside her belly. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

William Shatner’s Get a Life

If you are looking for an extended version of the Saturday Night Live skit where Shatner tells the people at a Star Trek convention to ‘get a life,’ then you need to look someplace else. This strangely moving documentary follows Shatner as he tries to honestly understand why people so deeply love the TV series he starred in. At times, his quest takes him down some roads that are definitely better less traveled, like the time he spends sitting with someone from the Joseph Campbell School of Mythology (or something like that) and tries to make a case for Star Trek being today’s equivalent of the myths of the Greek gods. The time he spends simply interviewing the fans, though, are honest and heartfelt. You come away from the film with a better understanding behind their devotion, which is what it is all about. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Boredom

If the idea of watching a documentary about boredom…well, bores you, then director Albert Nerenberg (Laughology, Stupidity) has the answer in the bonus material – an accelerated version of the film which is 13 minutes shorter than the feature but has all the same material (it just plays a wee bit faster). Either way, the end result of watching is a fascinating glimpse into what boredom really is, how and why we become bored, why boredom can so easily turn to violence, and, best of all, what we can do to keep from being bored in the first place. The film also makes a great case for making changes in the American education system and taking boredom out of the classroom, changes that are as simple as letting the children get up from their desks every once in awhile and letting them be children. Nerenberg has carved a career for himself making interesting and exciting films about the seemingly most inane subjects, and it’s a career worth following.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Low Winter Sun

It starts with the brutal murder of a cop, a murder committed by two of his fellow officers, and then slowly spirals into one of the most fascinating procedural shows of the past 20 years. The fact that it is set in Detroit, a city as corrupt and decaying as the morals of the characters, makes for the perfect background. British actor Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) is brilliant as the detective assigned to solve the murder, an ironic twist of the take since we know he was one of the detectives involved in the homicide. Lennie James (Columbiana) is equally effective as the other cop with blood on his hands; watching him squirm s his partner investigates the case is one of the thrilling delight of the series. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sex Pistols – The TV Tapes

Today, the music made by these British punks, music that shook the rock world to its core, sounds almost quaint, certainly not offensive at all. As this fascinating documentary reminds us, though, The Sex Pistols were once the antitheist of virtually everything the music industry – and the average music fan -- stood for. The film is a collage of TV interviews the band did over their few short years of fame, giving us an almost undiluted view of what they were like and what the world thought of them. When an interviewer asks lead singer Johnny Rotten who he admires as a singer his one word answer – nobody – still sounds like the first shot of a war against everything. The movie and the members of The Sex Pistols are a great reminder to the young music fans of today that punk isn’t something you buy off the shelves of the Hot Topic store in the local mall. It’s an attitude that could – and almost did – change the world.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bitten: The Complete First season

Werewolves, vampires, witches and other assorted creatures have become the staple of teen TV dramas over the past couple of years, to the point where the creatures, not to mention the actors who play them and the stories being told, feel interchangeable. Maybe that’s why this Canadian series feels so fresh --- it’s not the old supernatural song and dance you’ve seen before. Or maybe it’s the better than expected special effects that make the transformation scenes look entertaining, if not always believable. Ok, maybe it’s just the idea of watching lead actress Laura Vandervoort week after week that’s got us hooked, but hooked we are on this story of a young woman/wolf (Vandervoort) trying to make a life for herself outside the family pack. You will be too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Top Gear 21

In the first episode, the three gear heads who host the show – Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – gleefully try to show that the compact cars of their youth can be as exciting as the high performance cars they usually drive on the show by racing them through the aisles of a grocery store. In the next episode, they pay a heartfelt tribute to the British soldiers who gave their lives fighting in Afghanistan by showing how the army has improved their vehicles to make them safer over the course of the war. Those two episodes alone show why Top Gear has been on TV in England, America and around the world for so long: It’s a brilliant mix of hilarity and honest emotion. Sure, it’s hard to understand them when they start to talk too geeky about cars, but you can cut them some slack, especially when you see the joy on their faces when they get behind the wheel. As always, the guests stars taking a spin in their reasonably priced car is a who’s who list of showbiz celebrities, ranging from actor Tom Hiddleston (Thor) to musician James Blunt. They look as happy as the three hosts, living a dream of driving fast around a track. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bicycling With Moliere

Fabrice Luchini  and Lambert Wilson star in this delightful tale of two estranged actors who get together to try and stage a new production of the Moliere classic play The Misanthrope. Gauthier Valence (Wilson), the far more successful of the two thanks to his fame for playing a doctor on a popular doctor drama, wants to hire his old friend Serge Tanneur (Luchini) to play his sidekick in the production, but Serge has different ideas, even though he hasn’t actually acted in decades. The two ultimately decide to swap roles during the actual run of the show, so they spend the rehearsal time they have trading lines – and criticisms – with each other.  If you know the play, the film is probably a lot more satisfying since writer/director Philippe Le Guay simply assumes you know why every line the two actors read is important. If you aren’t familiar with Moliere, though, you can sit back and enjoy the two actors as they verbally fence with each other about the play, art, their lives and anything else they can imagine.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Anna

Somewhere in the not-too-distant future, according to his film from Spanish director Jorge Dorado, there will be a special squad of investigators known as memory detectives who can literally enter a person’s mind and witness whatever crime they committed or were a victim to. The price such an operative pays, though, can be steep as we learn when we meet a memory detective named John Washington (Mark Strong) who hasn’t fully recovered from the stroke he suffered from investigating a murder case. On the brink of financial ruin, Washington takes what is supposed to be an easy case – getting a teenage girl to eat – to try and get back on his feet. The case is far more complicated than anyone (especially the audience) imagined and the memory detective is soon fighting for his sanity and his life. The story is complex, but well told, and the acting top notch, especially Strong and young Taissa Farmiga as the girl who refuses to eat. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Red Data Girl

Lovely to look at, but a bit of a drag to sit through (thanks to the show’s glacial pacing), this anime from director Toshiya Shinohara is steeped in a general creepiness that makes even the dullest episodes captivating to watch. The story follows 15-year-old Izumiko Suzuhara, a shy high school student who has an extremely tough time fitting in with the modern world. It’s not just the fact that she was raised at a secluded monastery and has virtually no social skills; the modern world – cell phones, computers and the like, seems to blow a fuse whenever she goes near them. Luckily, there’s a young man named Miyuki Sagara, a former childhood friend, to help her make her way throughout the school day. The creepy factor cranks up as we learn that Izumiko is being groomed to become last vessel of the goddess Himegami.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Lego Movie

Usually when a ‘family’ film tries to shoot for a wider audience, it either adds a bunch of ‘wink-wink’ jokes for the parents to enjoy (keeping fingers crossed that the kids in the audience don’t get it) or it tries to deliver a message  so the adults won’t feel so bad about being dragged to it in the first place. The people responsible for The Lego Movie took a very different approach: they just made a movie that is truly fun to anybody of any age. In fact, it’s only towards the end when the movie breaks into the real world to tack on its message that it falls flat. When it stays in the rainbow colored world of little plastic bricks, it is, as the catchy song reminds you, awesome. Watching this story of an average guy finding away to save the world will also spark your imagination in unexpected ways. You may never actually get down on the floor and try an build something with a set of Legos, but you’ll walk away with a better sense of the joy Lego fans have when they do. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ernest & Celestine

Nominated for a 2014 Best Animated Feature Film of the Year Academy Award, this delightful story from directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner tells the story of an unlikely friendship that develops between a grumpy bear named Ernest and a tiny mouse named Celestine. It’s based on a series of books by Gabrielle Vincent, and its true weirdness is a fantastic reminder of how children’s imaginations are far more fertile than we give them credit for. A friendship between a bear and a mouse is almost ‘normal’ compared to the subplot of why the mice need to steal the bears’ teeth in the first place. This is that rare kind of film that is so enchanting to look at that you could happily watch it with the sound off and still be entertained by the story. Of course if you did that, then you’d miss the excellent voice work of the likes of Forest Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy and the legendary Lauren Bacall.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hearts and Minds

This Oscar-winning documentary from director Peter Davis literally shook the world when it first shown at the Cannes International Critics' Week in 1974, almost a full year before the fall of Saigon and the end of the war it was investigating. Some of the images in the film, like a young girl running naked down the street, her body burned with napalm, or the graphic assassination of a man shot through the  head, have been with us for generations and still have the ability to shock and appall the viewer. Watching it now, though, some 40 years after its release, the experience feels a bit watered down, especially if you were of an age to see it way back when. Sure, it’s still disturbing to listen to a US Army General tell people that Asian people value life less than Americans do (with the none-too-subtle subtext that it’s OK to kill them), but today’s audience is far more cynical. They almost expect their leaders to be corrupt, unfeeling jerks like General Westmoreland. The fact that such cynicism is a direct result of our experience in Vietnam echoes throughout your viewing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Ringer

A comedy starring Jackass Johnny Knoxville as a guy faking a mental handicap so he can cheat in and win the Special Olympics? Produced by the Farrelly brothers (Dumb & Dumber)?  There has to be a special place in hell put aside for them for even daring to make such a movie, right? Wrong. While the story may sound outrageous, the movie itself is actually much more sweet and funny than you’d expect; it's probably the ‘nicest’ comedy the brothers have ever made. Knoxville gives a good performance as the guy who does the wrong thing for some very good reasons, and the cast – a mix of actors and Special Olympic athletes – do a fine job of supporting him. Katherine Heigl is the weak point in the film as the bland and blonde love interest, but her forgettableness is balanced nicely by a hilariously inappropriate appearance by Brian Cox.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Klondike

This enormously entertaining Discovery Channel mini-series boasts an impressive cast, including such iconic actors as Sam Shepard and Tom Roth, but it’s the performance of Abbie Cornish that steals the show. Acting against type – she’s usually cast for her good looks more than her talent in lackluster fiilms like Limitless and Sucker Punch – Cornish plays Belinda Mulrooney, a tough frontier woman out to make her fortune providing for the prospectors and other wealth seekers who have risked it all for a chance to become rich in the Alaskan wilderness. It’s a bold performance; the kind that makes everybody else on screen with her step up or get out of the way. Richard Madden, playing opposite of her as a young prospector/potential business partner/lover, is more than up for the challenge.

Date a Live: Complete Series

Thirty years ago, a disaster known as a spacequake obliterated the center of Eurasia without warning, leaving 150 million corpses in its wake. The cause of it all, a scantily clad babe called a Spirit from another planet. The only way to fight back (at least in this cuckoo anime)? Train a high school guy named Shido Itsuka how to seduce the Spirit so we can find out what her kind want with the planet and, more importantly, how to stop them. Part action anime and part dating sim, this series from director Keitaro Montonaga suffers from an identity crisis of not knowing just what it wants to be, often falling back on cleavage  and panty shots to distract viewers whenever the story stalls or gets too unbelievable. Thankfully, things move along at such a rapid pace you don’t have time to worry too much what it’s all about, Just sit back, relax and watch young Shido do his thang.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Alan Partridge

When their local radio station is taken over by a big corporation, the DJs think their biggest problem is whether or not they’ll keep their jobs. Then DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) decides he’d rather go out fighting, grabs a shotgun and barricades himself in the booth. It’s up to his coworker, Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) to talk him out of killing hostages in the name of free radio. A bit thin on plot, this film from director Declan Lowney, best known for his work on long-running British TV shows like Father Ted and Little Britain, works for one simple reason – Coogan. He’s been playing the character of Alan Partridge for almost two decades now, but he approaches this big screen adaptation without any sort of cynicism, making it as fresh and funny as when he first appeared as Partridge on The Day Today in 1994. He also plays it broad enough so people who have never heard of Alan Partridge – or even Steve Coogan – can join in the fun.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Attack on Titan

Directed by Tetsurō Araki (Death Note, High School of the Dead) this visually stunning and emotionally draining series focuses on the struggle humanity has to survive after its 100 years of peace is destroyed when the  ‘impregnable’ stone walls they live hidden behind are shattered by giant humanoid monsters called Titans. What starts out as familiar feeling story of young people banding together to face a common enemy – like you can find in just about every generic giant robot anime – quickly becomes something else, something much more meaningful, as the story moves away from the heroics of the battles to focus on the toll each battle takes on the individual humans involved. There is plenty of back-story added to the tale, but none of it feels like filler or fluff: They all have an emotional resonance that haunts each episode of the series. Sure, you could watch it just for the cool – and bloody – fights, but there’s so much more going on that you’ll want to watch it again and again.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Neverlake

You have to give director Riccardo Paoletti credit: The guy knows how to put creepy up on the big screen. Just about every frame of his movie practically drips with tension and malevolence. Unfortunately, he’s not as strong at telling the tale behind all the emotions he is creating. The film tells the story of a young girl named Jenny (Daisy Keeping) who spends her vacation from boarding school visiting her estranged dad in a small Italian village. Her efforts to get to know him there go practically unnoticed – her dad’s too busy with some sort of work to pay her much attention – so Jenny explores the surrounding countryside, discovering a strange old hospital/orphanage filled with some extremely strange kids. It’s a nice set-up for a horror flick, but it quickly unravels as we discover the secret behind her dad’s behavior, the kids at the hospital and whatever it is that lives under the lake. The end result will confuse and disappoint you, but you will still have nightmares about the creepy trip the movie takes you on to get there.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Black Out

A guy wakes up one morning with a vicious hangover and absolutely no idea how he got to bed, what he did the night before or who the guy next to him is, how he got there or who shot the guy point blank in the face. In other words, it’s the start of a very bad day for Jos Vreeswijk (Raymond Thiry), and it will only get increasingly worse as he travels around the seedier streets of Amsterdam trying to piece together what the heck happened. And, in the guiding hands of director Arne Toonen, it’s a trip you won’t want to miss. On the surface, Black Out, has all the markings of a classic noir thriller, only it’s shot in bright colors and  is filled with zany (but always believable) characters. Oh yeah…and it’s laugh-out-loud funny, especially if you like your comedy served up very black.