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Entries in Review (53)

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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Wednesday
Jul152015

Self/less

Self/less
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Release Date: July 10th, 2015
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Tarsem Singh first caught my eye as the director of the dazzling music video of REM’s “Losing My Religion” and I was excited to see him break into Hollywood with his 2000 sci-fi debut, The Cell. That film’s plot, about a psychologist who uses advanced technology to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer, wasn't as good as it must have sounded on paper, but the movie was watchable because of Tarsem’s spectacular and disturbing visuals.

His latest film, Self/less, covers similar territory in terms of exploring man’s psyche and its relationship to the body. It concerns Damian Hale, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, a ruthless New York tycoon who is close to dying from terminal cancer. Of course a filthy rich son-of-a-bitch would want to live forever, so he decides to try a new procedure called “shedding,” where his mind will be transplanted from his dying body into a younger body (Ryan Reynolds) grown fresh in a lab.

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Wednesday
Jul152015

Black Sea

Black Sea
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Released on DVD/Blu-Ray: May 5th, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Black Sea stars the always impeccable Jude Law as Captain Robinson, a salvager who has spent most of his life working on a sub away from home, losing his wife and son as a result. When he is let go by his employers, he feels betrayed. Desperate for a payday and hoping to reclaim what he surrendered in his life, he takes a risky job commanding a submarine to the bottom of the Black Sea.

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Wednesday
Jul152015

Dope

Dope
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa
Released on: June 19th, 2015
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Dope is a vibrant coming-of-age story about Malcolm (Shamiek Moore) and his pals Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel) set in the Bottoms, a rough section of Inglewood, California. They find escape by immersing themselves in the hip-hop of the 1990s and by playing in a punk rock band called Awreeoh. Within their neighborhood, they are outcasts. They are looked at suspiciously because of their lack of gang affiliation and are bullied for doing “white shit” like applying for college. Malcolm hopes that getting into Harvard University will be his way out of the Bottoms.

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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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