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Entries in John Esther (58)

Friday
Oct162015

The Assassin

The Assassin
Directed by: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Released on: October 16th, 2015 [LIMITED]
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Set during the first decade of 9th-century China, the latest film by director/co-writer Hou Hsaio-Hsien (Three Times; Raise the Red Balloon) tells the story of a woman who cannot seem to follow orders and kill her target.

Once destined for a life of privilege, Yinniang Nie (Qi Shu) was kidnapped at the age of 10 by a decorated general and raised by a Princess-nun, Jiaxin (Fang-Yi Sheu). Jiaxin taught the discarded girl martial arts.

Thirteen years later — where the eventually-colored film commences in black and white — Yinniang is now a trained assassin ordered to kill corrupt officials during the final years of the Tang Dynasty (06/618-06/907).

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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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Tuesday
Sep012015

The Second Mother

The Second Mother
Directed by: Anna Muylaert
Released on: August 28th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

In one of the nice neighborhoods of São Paulo, an upper-middle class family lives a life of monotonous order where everyone knows her or his place.

The official matriarch of the family, Bárbara (Karine Teles), seems to be of some importance to the fashion world. It is never exactly disclosed what she does, but we know it keeps her away from home during the week. Her husband, Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli), was once an artist, but now just hangs around the house all day. He inherited money from his hardworking father so why labor? Their son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), is a teenage kid with all the advantages and none of the discipline to carve much of an identity for himself. He likes to swim and smoke pot.

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Monday
Aug242015

Digging for Fire

Digging for Fire
Director: Joe Swanberg
Released on: August 21st, 2015
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Lee (Rosemarie Dewitt), her husband, Tim (co-writer Jake Johnson), and their 3-year-old son, Jude (Jude Swanberg), have just arrived at a swank Hollywood Hills home, courtesy of one of Lee's clients.

While walking the grounds, Tim discovers a bone and a gun halfway buried in the dirt. He calls the cops, but the operator "with an attitude" says there is nothing they can do without more "evidence" (a suspicious response, but okay). Tim wants to excavate the grounds further to find proof of misdeeds. Lee thinks it is a bad idea. Tim concedes to Lee.

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Monday
Aug242015

Top Spin

Top Spin
Director: Sara Newens, Mina T. Son
Released on: August 21st, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther 

For many Americans, playing table tennis, AKA ping pong, has been an enduring pastime over the years. The difference, however, between recreational fun and those striving for Olympic play is a lot longer than the length of a ping pong table and a lot harder than the speed of a smash hit.

Proving the sport can take on a greater level of skill and commitment than the typical American will see in her or his lifetime, Mina T. Son and Sara Newens' documentary, Top Spin, sheds lights on the great game of table tennis through its three highly likable and highly skilled subjects. These intelligent, well adjusted American kids are not just good, they are seeking a spot at the 2012 London Olympics.  

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Monday
Aug242015

Grandma

Grandma
Director: Paul Weitz
Released on: August 21st, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

One of the most audacious American films of the year is finally here. I am writing about writer-director Paul Weitz's Grandma. 

A considerable hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the 80-minute Grandma tells the story of Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), a woman navigating her life after her longtime lover has passed away. Afraid to ever get close to another lover again, Elle cruelly, somewhat abruptly, ends her four-month relationship with Olivia (Judy Greer). 

That same day, Elle's granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner) shows up at Elle's doorsteps unannounced. Sage is pregnant and needs the money to terminate the pregnancy and terminate it that day — no waiting periods in California. 

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Monday
Aug102015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Director: Marielle Heller
Released on: August 7th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

San Francisco, California, 1976. The kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst is the news story du jour. It is a time of permissibility. The radical politics of the 1960s are gone. Noxious disco, swapping couples, and cocaine are in full swing.

In one particular home in The City by the Bay, 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is looking for love and loins in the wrong places. A budding artist, she draws a gigantic woman who rules the streets of San Francisco (brought to “life” by animator Sara Gunnarsdottir.) Minnie has dreams, desires, woes and whimsy, which she records in her diary. She also has the desire to sleep with “The handsomest man in the world,” Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Monroe, however, is a lot older than Minnie.

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Thursday
Jun182015

One Cut, One Life

One Cut, One Life
Directors: Ed Pincus, Lucia Small
Released: May 15th, 2015 [LIMITED]
Grade: 3 of of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

After the notable documentarian Ed Pincus was diagnosed with a terminal illness (compounded by other illnesses), he reunited with collaborator Lucia Small (The Axe in the Attic) to create a final first-person nonfiction film, One Cut, One Life.

Told by two different, but not too different, points of view, along with the sporadic disapproval of Ed's wife, Jane, One Cut, One Life offers a grand farewell to one of cinema's most important filmmakers and the wife, friend and filmmaker he left behind.

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Tuesday
Jun092015

Spy

Spy
Director: Paul Feig
Released: June 5th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

In her best lead role yet, Melissa McCarthy is Agent Susan Cooper, a computer whiz who gives super support to the best of undercover agents, Bradley Fine (Jude Law), from behind her desk. Susan not only gives the super spy support, she romantically pines for him as well. Bradley loves Susan, too, but in a strictly professional and platonic way. Poor Susan.

As fate would have it, however, Bradley fails in his next mission and it is up to Susan to save the day. On the surface, Susan is not the obvious choice for the mission, but that is what makes her the best choice. Nobody in the criminal world will recognize her.

Starting off her European sojourn, Susan is sent to France, in an attempt to track down the mastermind criminal, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a vicious killer with a nuclear bomb who is not beyond putting people down permanently or with a direct insult to her or his face — mostly Susan's face (and fashion sense).

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