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Entries in film (31)

Tuesday
Feb022016

Pleasure. Love.

Pleasure. Love.
Directed by: Huang Yao
Released on: Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

In Huang Yao's Pleasure. Love. people in their 30s essentially have love (and career) worked out and it is up to them to impart that wisdom on their younger counterparts so they may in turn bestow such wisdom and assurance on future lovers. 

Two stories with overlapping narratives, the first one, "Pleasure" is the more interesting and developed one. Nan (Daizhen Ying) has moved to Beijing, China, to go to school, but he is soon expelled due to lack of payment. This leads to a job selling books on the street (how novel), which pays so little he is threatened with eviction (a distracting, underdeveloped subplot). One night he meets Yajie (Nan Yu). Gorgeous, middle class, older and more mature, only in cinema land would a painfully awkward guy like Nan get a woman Yajie's caliber.

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Thursday
Sep172015

Pixels

Pixels
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Released on DVD/Blu-Ray: October 27th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Given that this year is the 20th anniversary of the comedy classic Billy Madison, a lot has been recently written or said about not only about the legacy of that film, but also of the career of Adam Sandler. The general consensus, at least among my peers, is that his first few films — namely the aforementioned Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore — stand among the best comedies of its time, but his output has since become uninspired and unfunny.

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Tuesday
Sep152015

Coming Home

Coming Home (Gui lai)
Directed by: Yimou Zhang
Released on: September 9th, 2015 [LIMITED]
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Taking vulgar, ideological populism to its extreme, China's Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s imprisoned thousands of intellectuals who were perceived as "counter-revolutionary" effete bourgeois elements who were trying to bring back capitalism to China.

This Cultural Revolution measure, along with thousands of other counterproductive ones, tore families and lives apart. Based on the ending of Geling Yan's novel, The Criminal Lu Yanshi, the latest film by Yimou Zhang (Ju Dou; To Live; House of the Flying Daggers) cast two of China's finest actors to relay a story about two people who were sacrificed in the name of ideological purity.

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Tuesday
Sep152015

Dragon Blade

Dragon Blade
Directed by: Daniel Lee
Released on: September 4th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Gosh darn it. It is such a big production; it means so well; it stars Jackie Chan -- who is so cool; and it has two likable American actors: Adrien Brody and John Cusack. Yet Dragon Blade barely passes the entertainment mustard.

Inspired by, yet hardly accurately based on, historical events, writer-director-production designer Daniel Lee's film sets itself in 50 B.C. along the Silk Road. A significant road for trade between the Occident and the Orient, the protection of the road is headed by Huo An (Chan). A passionate, reasonable, and preferably peaceful man, Huo and his troop protect the land through negotiation and equality -- only resorting to violence when all other means have been resisted by members of the 36 warring nations roaming and occupying the northwestern territory.

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Monday
Apr272015

Gemma Bovery

Gemma Bovery
Director: Anne Fontaine
Screening: April 2015 at COLCOA Film Festival
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Rather than another adaptation of Madame Bovary, co-writer and director Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery is a light lit-crit cinematic reinterpretation of Gustave Flaubert's great novel. 

After years in the publishing business, Martin Joubert (Fabrice Lucchini) has returned to the Northern France town of Normandy (the name of which works better as a play on words in English than in French). Martin may still be a voracious reader, but he now runs his deceased father's bakery. Martin is a natural at baking and seems happiest at work. At home, he has a nice wife, Valérie (Isabelle Candelier), plus a teenage son, Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) who does not share his father's love of reading.

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Monday
Apr272015

True Story

True Story
Director: Rupert Gold
Released on: April 17th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Micheal Finkel (Jonah Hill) is in a bad way. He has just embellished and contrived a story for the New York Times and NYT has found out. Now a journalistic pariah (whose lack of integrity nowhere reaches the lows of Bill O'Reilly), Finkel has retreated to Montana with his girlfriend, Jill Barker (Felicity Jones), where he suffers rejection after rejection to write another piece. 
 
If things were not bad enough for Finkel — at his own fingers, mind you — an accused killer out an Oregon has been using his name as an alias. Who needs publicity like that? Well, Finkel might. 

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Monday
Apr062015

An Honest Liar

An Honest Liar
Directors: Tyler Measom & Justin Weinstein
Released: March 6th, 2015 [LIMITED]/DVD TBA
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Last year writer-director Woody Allen released the feature film, Magic in the Moonlight. The film tells the story of Stanley (Colin Firth), a master illusionist who sets out to debunk the psychic powers of Sophie (Emma Stone), only to become duped himself in the process — yet fall in love with the considerably younger woman (typical), and presumably live happily ever after.

While the film has its moments, Magic in the Moonlight is ultimately predictable, reactionary and incredulous. And, like every single Allen film since his 1992 Husbands and Wives (one of his five masterpieces — along with Annie Hall, Manhattan, Zelig, and Crimes and Misdemeanors), does not merit a second viewing. (Some of the recent films by Allen — once one of America's greatest "auteurs" — do not even merit a first viewing.)

Considerably more liberating, engaging, entertaining and less predictable (unless you already know the film's subject well), yet similar in content, comes Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein's documentary, An Honest Liar.

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Monday
Feb232015

Things of the Aimless Wanderer

Things of the Aimless Wanderer
Director: Kivu Ruhorahoza
Released on: January 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / TBA 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

It does not take long to realize Kivu Ruhorahoza's Things of the Aimless Wanderer is something special. Well, different at least.

Set in North Rwanda, Things of the Aimless Wanderer begins with somewhat of a prologue where an Rwandan warrior (Ramadhan Bizimana) stalks a lonely white dude (Justin Mulliken) wandering the jungle. While wandering the jungle, whitey encounters a young, topless Rwandan woman (Grace Nikuze). There is a gaze off between the three characters.

Cut to early 21st century and "A girl has disappeared."

Told in three different yet related stories Ruhorahoza calls "a working hypothesis," the disappearance of the girl (or, rather, a young woman) offers up three scenarios involving sex, murder and shame. Using the same actors — plus a narrator (Matt Ray Brown) who speaks for the white journalist — the smaller stories are rather about bigger issues about the culture of Rwanda changing and expanding and how Rwandans are adapting to it (an allegory of sorts some may say). Except we are not getting a direct viewpoint from Rwandans but vis-a-vis what Ruhorahoza imagines what an American (or perhaps any white westerner) would see if he or she lived among the anxious Rwandans.

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Monday
Feb232015

Cronies

Cronies
Director: Michael Larnell
Released on: Janury 25th, 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / TBA 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther 

Louis (George Sample III) and Jack (Zurich Bucker) go way back. Childhood friends, these two share the kind of special bond that no two kids should ever have to share. But the years have gone by, and while Louis seems to have matured — at least a little — Jack is as angry and edgy as ever.

Accordingly, Louis currently prefers the company of Andrew (Brian Kowalski), a kid from the other side of the 'hood but no less slothful and youthful than Louis or Jack. "Andy," however, is a lot more mellow than Jack.

Until the day of the (mostly) black and white "Cronies" takes place, Jack had never heard or met Andrew. This is in part due to the fact that if Louis had mentioned Andrew, the mistrustful Jack would have annoyed Louis with questions fueled by insecurity and masked by anger.

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Monday
Feb232015

Chorus

Chorus
Director: François Delisle
Released on: January 23rd, 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / March 2015 [Canada]
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Shot in black and white and mostly during Canadian winter months, the look of Chorus is as dreary as its tale of woe.

A man named Jean-Pierre (Luc Senay) walks into an interrogation room and sits down across from a police official named Hervé (Didier Lucien). He does not want a lawyer. The overweight, slouching (toward Gomorrah) criminal is there to admit to another crime he committed. It happened ten years ago and it involves an 8-year-old boy who was not very good at sports, had lost his bike key and broke the cardinal rule about getting into a car with strangers.

As Jean-Pierre continues his story, a sense of dread seeps in. This is a story which cannot end well. But, before Jean-Pierre is done telling his story, writer-director-cinematographer-editor Francois Delisle's film cuts away to the film's two protagonists, a couple filled with existential dread. Except the couple are no longer together.

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