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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.