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Entries in Review (47)

Thursday
Jul022015

A Little Chaos

A Little Chaos
Directed by: Alan Rickman
Release Date: June 26th, 2015
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Actor/director Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos stars Kate Winslet as the widowed Sabine De Barra, who makes her living as a landscaper in 1682 Paris. Unorthodox and bold, she is carving out her own distinct style. She is interviewed by court landscape architect of King Louis XIV, André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), who needs help after being tasked by the King (Rickman also pulling directing duty) to create an outdoor ballroom for the Gardens of Versailles, complete with a cascade fountain.

Though reluctant at first, André is charmed by Sabine’s free-spiritedness and engineering prowess and brings her on board the project. Though she is met with some resistance because of her gender, she overcomes and finds favor with the royalty court, including the flamboyant Duke Philippe of Orleans (the amusing Stanley Tucci) and the King himself.

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Thursday
Jul022015

The Gunman

The Gunman
Directed by: Pierre Morel
Released on DVD/Blu-Ray: June 30th, 2015
Grade: 1.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

A good action movie works because the fun and thrills can suspend the audience’s disbelief of the genre’s inherent shortcomings. A good action movie can be intelligent without clubbing you over the head with a ham-handed message. A good action movie has an amiable tough-guy hero protagonist who saves the day.

The problem with The Gunman is that it’s tired and bland instead of fun and thrilling, with its impact also blunted by the presence of its hero and producer Sean Penn. The two-time Academy Award winner (Milk, Mystic River) is without a doubt a fine dramatic actor who chooses his roles very carefully for maximum intensity. That’s why it’s rather peculiar for him to step outside his usual template to do such an unspectacular action film.

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Thursday
Jul022015

The Familiar: Volume 1, One Rainy Day In May

The Familiar: Volume 1, One Rainy Day In May
Author/Publisher: Mark Z Danielewski/Pantheon
Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Meatballs
Reviewed by: Pawl Schwartz

Danielewski is a hard author for me to ignore. New, original, inventive, experimental, and highly visual, using the language of Comics and Film to spread words around the page like a verbal Jackson Pollock, throwing traditional formatting out of eight different windows to get there. I loved House of Leaves but have been disappointed in everything he has put out since that work because of one large glaring flaw: Danielewski’s formatting play and dense, beautiful language (especially in Only Revolutions) often serve as pseudo-intellectual window dressing for a very simple or very underdeveloped story, like a cake made of icing. I’ve often wondered if I was tricked by this on my first go-round with Danielewski in House of Leaves, but on re-read, I’ve come to the conclusion that House of Leaves is in fact good, just not as good as I thought it was. The experimental window dressing in House of Leaves informs the story for the most part, except for the fact that it allows the novel to come to no conclusion by cloaking even the narrative in a guise of “the mysterious unknown” that is the source of the horror of the ever-growing house.

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Thursday
Jul022015

Satin Island

Satin Island
Author/Publisher: Tom McCarthy/Knopf
Release Date: February 17th, 2015
Grade: 1 out of 5 Meatballs
Reviewed by: Pawl Schwartz

This is a book for those who revel in the abstract world of ideas. Both crunchy-philosophers reading Alan Watts and straight-laced academics reading Levi-Strauss or Slavoj Zizek. Satin Island is full of rare-gem aphorisms such as: “The first move for any strategy of cultural production… must be to liberate things — objects, situations, systems — into uselessness” or “A city has no “character”; it is a schizoid headspace, filled with the cacophony of contradiction.”

Satin Island starts out dry, seemingly to create a tricky gauntlet through which the reader must pass in order to prove their worthiness and appreciation for the meat of the book. All we get for the first 30 pages is anthropological jargon, from which we deduce that the main character U is writing a large study/theory on the whole world known as “The Great Report.” But U’s main job is writing these reports about a certain major corporation, of which he is in the direct employ of.

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Friday
May082015

Mortal Kombat X

Mortal Kombat X | PS4/PS3 & Xbox 360 (soon)/Xbox One
Released: April 14th, 2015
Developer/Publisher: NetherRealm/Warner Brothers
Grade: 5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Pawl Schwartz

It's hard to believe that many years ago this franchise actually survived a bloodless release on Super Nintendo. Simply view the screenshots for the slap happy level of carnage that Mortal Kombat X serves up. Medical students wouldn't be wrong to call a night with this game “studying musculature,” with all of the beautifully rendered X-ray moves.

If you have ever been addicted to a video game (and as a gamer reading this article, I assume that has happened to you, the same way any reader has experienced that crack-like "page turning effect" when reading a good book), you will be severely addicted to this game. It is as simple as that.

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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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