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A Delicate Balance Blu-ray Review: A Caustic Bore

A cinematic adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play performed by award-winning actors shouldn't be this dull.
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In the mid 1970s, producer Ely Landau created a subscription-based film series that attempted to recreate a theater experience at the movies. He called it "The American Film Theater." He used 500 or so movie theaters to sell subscriptions to a series of films, all of which were cinematic adaptations of renowned plays. They were to be translated to film but with a complete faithfulness to the original play script. He hired critically acclaimed directors and actors to make the films, which were only shown four times in the specific theaters. Subscriptions for each season were sold by mail-order. It

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Blu-ray Review: A Delightful Continuation of the Franchise

In addition to the laughs, the story has heart and works for the whole family.
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I try to be open-minded about movies before I see them, but like Osgood Fielding III said in Some Like It Hot, “nobody's perfect,” so in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I was a huge skeptic when I first heard that a LEGO movie was being made. It just seemed like a calculated corporate decision by the studio to maximize merchandising by bringing a two-hour toy catalog to life. And while there was certainly merchandising to be had, it turned out that the filmmakers had created an entertaining, inventive comedy with impressive visuals and a story with

The Image Book Blu-ray Review: Godard Expresses the Hell of the Contemporary World

A hypnotizing and provocative film essay of a world reaching oblivion from one of cinema's most radical filmmakers.
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Have you ever watched a film and wondered what's actually in the images you're seeing? Have you every looked at the world around you and asked yourself, "How did we get here?" Well, legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard does just that with his 2018 immersive film collage, The Image Book, where he, with his celebrated and also polarizing iconoclasticism, brings the viewer deeper into the cinema process and the difficult world we live in. Godard takes and pieces together fragments and clips from some of the greatest films ever made; digitally alters, bleaches, and washes them, all in the name

Eyes of Laura Mars Blu-ray Review: Fashion Can Be Deadly

A great example of late-'70s urban cinema, Eyes of Laura Mars is an involving thriller, taking advantage of its New York City and New Jersey locations.
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In 1978 hairdresser-turned movie mogul Jon Peters bought a murder-mystery screenplay, Eyes of Laura Mars, for his then-girlfriend, Barbra Streisand. She turned it down. She thought the screenplay about a photographer who stages controversial, sexy, violent fashion shoots (a la Helmut Newton) was a bit much for her, but she did agree to sing the film's theme song, "Prisoner." The elaborate photo sessions in the film featuring lingerie- and evening dress-clad models (including Darlanne Fluegel) staged in front of car wrecks in the middle of Columbus Circle that are attributed to Laura were taken by Newton and commercial director Rebecca

Her Smell Movie Review: Elisabeth Moss Roars with Greatness

Elisabeth Moss is next-level amazing as a troubled rock star.
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If there are performances from leading ladies this year more brazen and committed than Elisabeth Moss’ in Her Smell, then it’s going to be a Best Actress field for the ages. As a cruel and self-destructive rock star, Moss delivers a performance that provides shades of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. While the film as a whole is exemplary, it’s Moss’s performance that single handedly makes it one of the year’s best. Her Smell is essentially five short vignettes that make up a singular narrative. Initially, in the first few sequences, Becky is essentially presented as a

The Kid Who Would Be King Blu-ray Review: Merlin's Beard, Kids Should Like It

Younger movie goers will like that most of the action and story focuses on its young actors.
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The Kid Who Would Be King is a modern take on the King Arthur legend. Directed by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), based on an idea that he had as a kid, the film wants to have fun with its source material, and be sure that you will, too. Fans of Arthurian legend will appreciate all the references to the original story: Excalibur, the Sword in the Stone; the Lady of the Lake, the rivalry between Merlin and Morgana, etc. Younger moviegoers will like that most of the action and story focuses on its young actors. Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis,

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray Review: Sad Retread from a Master

This rote sci-fi horror thriller from a former master has some good ideas that it does nothing with.
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The hero of John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is introduced asleep and handcuffed to a train. It seems like an apt metaphor for the entire film itself - tired, uninspired, and forced to move forward on a rail. Unsurprisingly, it was while making this film that John Carpenter decided he had better things to do than make movies he didn't like, and he mostly turned his back on the film industry since, with only three projects directed by him in the nine years following, and none since 2011's The Ward. John Carpenter's films have always had firm grasps on the

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki Blu-ray Review: Return of the King, or Don Quixote?

The legendary anime director emerges from retirement once again, with a documentary crew in tow exploring whether he's still the master or just chasing an old man's folly.
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Workaholic anime legend Hayao Miyazaki has “retired” so many times after completing difficult films that each announcement is met with a great deal of public bemusement. However, after the completion of his last feature film in 2013, The Wind Rises, and the virtual shuttering of his Studio Ghibli production offices, it appeared like his retirement might have a better-than-average chance of success. This documentary opens in that fallow period after his latest retirement, as he whiles away his days puttering around his house and bemoaning his increasing age. It’s an odd choice of timeframe for a documentary, until Miyazaki suddenly

Pasolini Movie Review: An Ambitious Biopic with a Brilliantly Refined Willem Dafoe Performance

An exemplary biopic that features a rather understated gusto.
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Pasolini seems like it has similar DNA to the work of Lars von Trier. It features grainy, Dogme-style cinematography along with voiceover narration from Willem Dafoe who’s a frequent von Trier collaborator. In addition, its cynical main character mirrors the often melancholic outlook of the pictures in von Trier’s filmography. That being said, the biggest differences are that Pasolini has a shorter length at 84 minutes and it is based on a real-life subject as opposed to von Trier’s mainly fictionalized work. When it comes to the film’s length, it does fit into the storyline since it takes place during

Charlie Says Movie Review: The Manson Family from the Girls' Point of View

The film chronicles their descent from hippie teenagers to cold-blooded murderers brainwashed by Charles Manson.
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This take on the Manson family and the gruesome 1969 murders of Sharon Tate, Rosemary and Leo LaBianca, and others focuses on the young women who committed the murders, not cult leader Manson. Traditionally, the Manson girls are portrayed as brainless, bloodthirsty robots programmed by Charlie, without much backstory. Charlie Says explores the process that turned the girls from confused runaways to murderers. The male characters (except for Manson) aren’t given much camera time. Matt Smith portrays Manson as a charmastic manipulator weaving his way into the girls’ psyches, as he coerces them into doing his biding. The girls are

The Skin of the Teeth Movie Review: A Rare Queer Horror Flick Done with Effort and Intent

Despite from narrative flaws, The Skin of the Teeth is a terrifically inviting and rather progressive thriller.
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If there are any fallacies within the horror genre that people like to bring up, it’s the never-ending set of plot cliches. Ranging from characters making stupid decisions to knowing who will live or die, there are a fair amount of machinations that are constantly subjected to criticism. However, one thing that should be a point of criticism is its poor to near lack of queer representation. Usually, gay horror characters are either portrayed as psychosexual villains or are just completely nonexistent. The latest psychological thriller The Skin of the Teeth proves to be a rare exception, though. In addition,

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'In Fabric' is Terrifically Sewn Together

An atmospheric horror-comedy with classic schlock value.
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Pardon the pun, but In Fabric feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as classic giallo fare. The emphasis on color along with the euphoric sound design recall what feels like a forgotten era within the horror genre. Even the opening sequence makes watching the film in theaters seem like a retro screening. As a film, In Fabric isn’t entirely stitched together properly. However, it’s still applaudable thanks to its craftsmanship as well as its unorthodox premise. The story involves a dress that curses and leaves an imprint on anyone who tries it on. Its victims include a single

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: Julianne Nicholson is Pitch Perfect in the Wonderfully Distorted 'Initials S.G.'

Julianne Nicholson is the bright spot of this already worthy genre bender.
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What happens when you put soccer, romance, a dead body, music, and porn into one movie? You get Initials S.G., a rather bold dark comedy about two broken people yearning for some adventure. The best way to describe Initials S.G. is that it’s wonderfully chaotic and while some will feel it swings for the fences a little too much, its genre bending efforts are still quite applaudable. Sergio (Diego Peretti) is a porn actor who’s obsessed with the music of Serge Gainsbourg and is a little down on his luck. So much so that he hopes for the Argentinian soccer

Blaze (2018) Blu-ray Review: Hits the Right Notes

A musical biopic that avoids the typical beats of the genre.
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You may not know the name Blaze Foley, and that’s OK. A lot of other people - myself included - had never heard of the late singer-songwriter until Ethan Hawke decided to bring his story to the big screen. And while he may not have the same name recognition as someone like Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard, some popular songs by those artists and others were initially sung and/or written by Foley. It’s doubtful that Foley will become a household name now with this movie, but those unaware of his musical prowess can now experience the true story of the

Road to Morocco (Special Edition) Blu-ray Review: Third Time's a Charm

Not only as entertaining as the previous films in the series, it's arguably the most entertaining.
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Kino Lorber Studio Classics has added to their roster Special Edition Blu-ray releases of the first four Road pictures starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour, making the first six of the seven movies now available from them. Road to Morocco (1943) is the third in the series and not only sees the return of the acting trio but screenwriters Frank Butler and Don Hartman with an original screenplay and Anthony Quinn back playing their nemesis. Director David Butler joins them for his only time as the franchise returns to the African continent. A freighter explodes off the coast

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Charlie Says' is an Insightful Look Into a Heart of Darkness

An incredibly well-acted yet harrowing account of one of America's most infamous crime sprees.
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Director Mary Harron may be famous for the 2000 pitch black satire American Psycho. But now, she has helmed a project about a real-life american psycho, Charles Manson. However, it’s more about the point of view of the three women that have served him: Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie van Houten, and Susan Atkins. Neither judgmental nor sentimental, Charlie Says is a nonchalant yet incredibly effective telling of one of America’s most infamous crime sprees. Admittedly, there isn’t much graphic violence shown but the nature of the murders is already quite apparent. Also, the film is mostly about the three Manson girls

The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire Blu-ray Review: Confusing and Dull

This giallo/poliziotteschi has too much confusing plot and not enough style to be interesting to anyone but fans of the genres.
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Following the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Italian cinema was awash in lurid crime stories with baroque titles featuring one animal or another. The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire came out about one year after Argento’s quintessential giallo, and it's clearly aping some of that films tropes while also blending in Poliziotteschi crime elements. It has a masked killer, graphic violence, and lurid sexuality, but it's told in a much more conventional way without the typical giallo camera flourishes and wild color schemes. It is much more centered on the crime, catching the killer,

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: Sasheer Zamata Successfully Carries 'The Weekend,' An Ingenious Rom Com

A breezy romantic comedy that features great acting and bent cliches.
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After helming the decently made disability tearjerker Everything, Everything, Stella Meghie not only does something completely different but a slight reinvigoration of the genre it falls into. The romantic comedy The Weekend illustrates the familiar struggles of getting over your ex but in a way that is rather multifaceted in terms of its character focus. In addition, it juggles its various characterizations over the course of under 90 minutes. Over the course of one weekend, stand-up comic Zadie (Sasheer Zamata) stays with her ex Bradford (Tone Bell) at a resort run by her mother (Kym Whitley). However, things get complicated

At the Drive-In DVD Review: A Compelling David vs. Goliath Story

The manager of rural Pennsylvania a drive-in and a few young film fanatics struggle to keep the theater in business by showing 35mm prints of retro films.
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Director Alexander Monelli originally intended the documentary At the Drive In to focus on the near-extinct drive-in movie theatre industry in the U.S. After meeting the crew at Mahoning Drive-In in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, he discovered that the Mahoning’s story offered enough material for a film on its own. We meet Jeff Mattox, the drive-in’s manager and projectionist, who has worked in the theatre-exhibition industry for most of his life, during the fim's first scene, as he opens up the concession stand/projection room. He still runs 35mm prints on a behemoth, analog projector, since he can’t afford the industry-mandated $50,000 digital

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: Zoey Deutch is a Force of Nature in 'Buffaloed'

Zoey Deutch is pure dynamite as a fast talking anti-heroine in this biting black comedy.
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Zoey Deutch is one of those performers who should have a bigger movie star career yet hasn't quite taken off. Even though she's been in big studio films, the films she's appeared in haven't served her talents very well. In addition, her latest film Buffaloed proves that she's ready to reach leading-lady status since she is an absolute force of nature. She's a force as a producer on the film and of course, as a performer. In Buffaloed, Deutch plays Peg, an overly ambitious girl from a working-class part of Buffalo who lives with her loving mother (Judy Greer) and

Terra Formars Blu-ray Review: Miike Can Do Better

Takashi Miike's sci-fi adventure on Mars should have stayed on Earth a little longer.
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Japanese director Takashi Miike is probably best known for his ultra-violent splatter films like Ichi the Killer and Audition. Or perhaps for his deviant, bizarre films such as Visitor Q (featuring incest, rape, and something known as lactation sex) or MPD Psycho (about a detective with multiple-personality disorder working on a case in which the killer makes flower pots out of severed heads). But with over 100 films to his name, he’s made films in nearly every genre including westerns, samurai flicks, and even a family film or two. Not all of them are great, in fact quite a few

Tell It to the Bees Movie Review: Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger Carry Uneven Romance

Despite an uneven narrative, Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger still allow Tell It To The Bees to buzz.
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Tell It to the Bees may be about a romance between two women who defy the conservative community they reside in. However, this is far from another Disobedience. But rather than compare the two films since they're completely unrelated, it’s best to delve into how Tell It to the Bees manages to be a noteworthy depiction of lesbian love. Even if it doesn't make much buzz, it still never stings. Where the film falters, though, is how it's unclear who has the chief vantage point. The love between both Dr. Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) and Lydia (Holliday Grainger) may be

Strip Nude for Your Killer Blu-ray Review: Keep Your Clothes On

Salacious 1970s giallo is quite dull despite being packed full of sex and violence.
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There are certain expectations that come with genre films. What is a genre except a set of criteria that help define different types of films? Once in a while, a film will come along that is so inventive, so creative that it breaks free of a genre’s expectations which then sets the standard for all films in that genre that come after it. When a film is so inventive, it sometimes creates its own subgenre. Afterwards, many subsequent films try to imitate the first film's success with diminishing returns. Eventually what was inventive becomes cliche and films can slip into

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Flawless' Brilliantly Offers a Profound Story About Self-Acceptance

A bold yet sincere coming-of-age story about learning to love yourself.
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Typically, films about high school students deal with conflicts like trying to fit in or the outcasts overcoming the villainous popular clique. However, the Israeli film Flawless chooses to slightly break free from the traditional narrative found within such films. Instead of being about trying to be popular, Flawless is more about learning to love who you are on the outside. One reason high school can be a harsh place is because teenagers tend to feel insecure about the way they look. For instance, best friends Keshet (Noam Lugasy) and Tigist (Netsanet Zenaneh Mekonen) are insecure to the point where

Fantômas Three Film Collection Blu-ray Review: Tres Silly

Trilogy of very silly spy films from France features one of the country's most famous characters.
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Fantômas was originally first created in 1911 by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. He appeared in some 43 stories over a period of about 50 years. He is one of the most famous fictional characters in France. He’s appeared in multiple movie, television, and comic-book adaptations and has influenced countless works in the century since he first appeared on the page. In the 1960s, a trilogy of films was released starring Jean Marais as Fantômas and directed by André Hunebelle. They were France’s answer to the success of the James Bond films. Kino Lorber has just released the trilogy in

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Lucky Grandma' Hits the Jackpot

A master class performance from Tsai Chin is the film's luckiest charm.
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There are moments in life where we feel our luck runs out completely. However, for Grandma Wang (Tsai Chin), it feels like she never has much luck. Even though she has a loving family, she still lives a life of solitude. She does take a trip to the casino so she can maybe get rich. However, after one losing game, she loses every chip that she won. When the camera focuses on Grandma’s saddened face after that doomed match, it’s clear that she’s had enough with her rotten luck. She’s a woman who’s fed up with the misfortune that seems

Scared Stiff Blu-ray Review: Bored Silly

Low-budget 1980s horror flick waits until the end to get interesting, but by then it is too late.
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A little free critical advice to anyone planning to make a low-budget horror film: don’t put all of your money, your scares, and inventiveness into the last twenty minutes of the movie. You might think you need to have a grand finale so that your audience leaves the theatre with a bang, but if they are bored for the first half, they might not stick around to see what crazy stuff you can throw at them in the end. Richard Friedman (the auteur behind such classics as Doom Asylum and various episodes of Silk Stalkings and Baywatch Nights) did not

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki Blu-ray Review: Master Filmmaker's New Challenge

An intimate look at Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's return from retirement to make a short CGI film.
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Hayao Miyazaki has announced his retirement several times throughout his career, but in 2013 it looked like he meant it. Studio Ghibli, the anime studio formed by Hayao and his mentor/producer/competitor Isao Takahata, where he made classics like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke, closed the doors of its production office, and disbanded the staff. Miyazaki was apparently done, leaving behind him a legacy of quality that's unrivaled in most of filmmaking, let alone animated films. But the recent announcement that both Hayao and his son Goro Miyazaki are producing feature films with the studio has made it

The Brain (1988) Blu-ray Review: Giant Brain Eats Man

A ridiculous, fun '80s horror sci-fi flick about a man-eating alien brain with hypnotic powers.
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There are levels to shlock. And inside many a terrible movie, there are seeds of interest and enjoyment. The Brain is, by most metrics, a terrible movie. Mediocre acting, a rather inert story, a screenplay that does not add up. But it has, at least for its first hour before it runs out of ideas, an assured craziness that makes it worth a watch. It is not a subtle film - we see the titular Brain in the first couple of shots, sitting in a vat of unidentifiable goo. Then we get the traditional horror movie opener: the shock death

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Luce' is a Well-Acted and Necessarily Searing Racial Drama

A psychological thriller with razor-sharp political context and an incredible ensemble.
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One amazing thing about the drama Luce is that practically every character is hard to pin down. Despite the film dealing with the topic of race and facets within that topic, there’s no real good or bad guy. Even characters with the best intentions have something secret to hide. As a result of its grand ambiguity, Luce is wonderfully labyrinthian and will hopefully ignite some thoughtful conversations by the time the credits roll. Luce Hodge (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is the model student at his high school. He’s the class valedictorian, captain of his debate team, and a star athlete on

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