REVIEWS

Annecy 2018: 'On Happiness Road' is a Lovely Story About Happiness

On Happiness Road

One important lesson we all learn in life is that happiness is an endless pursuit. There's no such thing as a permanent state of happiness. But this is a hard lesson to learn, and something that takes years to discover, through trial & error, experience, and understanding. On Happiness Road is a lovely little animated film that addresses this very idea, taking us on a journey through past and present in the life of one woman from Taiwan. On Happiness Road is an autobiographical film made by Taiwanese animator/filmmaker Hsin-Yin Sung that is about her pursuit of happiness, and learning what exactly that means, how to get there, and that happiness is not forever, and is not something you can just obtain. It's a very deeply personal film, but also a very meaningful and enjoyable, with a light touch that makes it that much more captivating to watch.

 Posted June 17 in Animation, Annecy, Review | Comments

Annecy 2018: 'Seder-Masochism' is Animated Judaism Musical Hilarity

Seder-Masochism Review

What have I stumbled upon?! What is this genius work of cinema?! Seder-Masochism is the new film by filmmaker Nina Paley (of Sita Sings the Blues previously) and it's totally amazing, brilliant, and hilarious. It's very hard to describe the film, but I will try. Seder-Masochism is an animated exploration of Judaism, featuring Moses and a few other characters singing and dancing to various pre-existing songs (of all kinds). I could almost describe this as fun animated YouTube short extended to a full-length feature, but it deserves more credit than that. It's also a personal film for Nina, as she interviews her father about her upbringing and his views on Judaism, while taking us on a journey into the history of Moses and the Book of Exodus.

 Posted June 15 in Animation, Annecy, Review | Comments

Annecy 2018: 'Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires' is Absurdly Superb

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires

It's not often that someone makes an R-rated animated movie. And when one does get made, they're usually not too good, either over-the-top or just nasty. Every once in a while, one comes along that totally blows the the lid off of everything and becomes a huge hit, shaking things up and proving there's an audience for this. Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, directed by Michael Mort and made by an independent stop-motion studio in Wales called Animortal, is one of these insane movies that is sure to become an instant cult classic. We really haven't seen an all-out, R-rated animated movie packed with this much absurdity and ridiculous humor since Team America: World Police (in 2004!). Get ready for this one. Scratch that, there's nothing you can do to prepare yourself - except maybe watching Big Trouble in Little China on VHS before.

 Posted June 12 in Animation, Annecy, Review | Comments

Review: Leigh Whannell's 'Upgrade' Is a Kick-Ass Experience Through & Through

Upgrade Review

We are well into the 2018 summer movie season, and it's a good time to step away from the extraordinary heroes, superhuman villains, and dangerous technology that generally make up the blockbuster fare seeing release. Instead we'll be discussing Upgrade, a film about, well, an extraordinary hero, some superhuman villains, and dangerous technology but on a shoestring budget by comparison with the gigantic franchises inundating multiplexes. As if the cost of a film has no bearing on quality (spoiler: it never does), Upgrade is an absolute blast of an action/sci-fi picture, an uproariously entertaining experience that delivers break-neck excitement and morbid humor with a heaping dose of caution. In a nutshell, it's the perfect, and a welcome, experience for fans of blockbuster films who are looking for something outside the franchise box.

 Posted June 11 in Review, Sci-Fi | Comments

Review: Ari Aster's Horror Film 'Hereditary' is Unsettling & Inescapable

Hereditary Review

One in five Americans experiences some form of mental illness, with one in 25 suffering severe illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or dissociative identity disorder (DID). For years, the horror genre has exploited these psychiatric disorders for shock value, perpetuating myths and stereotypes along the way. Movies like Psycho, Halloween, and Silence of the Lambs use mental illness as the motivation for the antagonist's violent behavior. More recently, films like The Taking of Deborah Logan and The Visit have used neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's as a conduit for evil deeds. With Hereditary, A24's new horror film, writer/director Ari Aster explores the darkest depths of mental illness and familial tragedy to create a profoundly disquieting moviegoing experience that stays with you long after the closing credits.

 Posted June 6 in Horror, Review | Comments

Cannes 2018: Romain Gavras' 'The World is Yours' is Ludicrously Fun

The World is Yours

There are not that many comedies that play at the Cannes Film Festival every year, only a few good ones slip in. The World is Yours, titled Le monde est à toi in French, is the latest feature film made by acclaimed music video director Romain Gavras. The film is a comedy about a small-time drug dealer from Paris who as aspirations to get out of the drug world once and for all, and settle down selling Mr. Freeze ice pops in Morocco. The biggest thing in his way - his own mother, who actually is one of the top gangsters in the city, and still has a steady hand on all of his money. This film plays like Snatch meets Spring Breakers with some serious French attitude, a mobster "coming-of-age" for the new age that is so much ludicrous fun. It's about time Gavras breaks out and gets the attention he deserves as a talented, always-fresh filmmaker with spunk.

 Posted May 27 in Cannes 18, Review | Comments

Review: Ron Howard's 'Solo' is a Blast of the Familiar for Star Wars Fans

Solo: A Star Wars Story

In many ways 2018 is both the best and worst period of time to be a fan of the Star Wars franchise. On one hand, with Disney and the Kathleen Kennedy-led Lucasfilm in charge of the slate of new films, there are more stories set in the tumultuous galaxy being told than ever before. On the flipside, the notion of burnout with all these Star Wars films can be felt to say nothing of the turbulent manner in which many fans find themselves. There is more conflict among the fan-base than there ever was under George Lucas' control, the catalyst of which stems from Lucasfilm's concept of going back and forth between stories set in the main Skywalker saga, and extra standalone stories set elsewhere in the time and place of the Star Wars galaxy.

 Posted May 27 in Review, Star Wars | Comments

Review: 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' is a Fun, Fast-Paced Space Adventure

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

The "Star Wars Expanded Universe" – Lucasfilm's stockpile of officially licensed books, comics, video games, television series, spin-off films, and other media created outside of the official canon – began with the 1978 novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Written by Alan Dean Foster, the direct sequel to George Lucas's original 1977 film drew inspiration from early drafts of the script. In 1979, author Brian Daley expanded the universe further with Han Solo at Stars' End, the first in a trilogy of Solo-centric adventures (which would later be turned into comic books). For over 35 years, the EU gave Star Wars fans what they wanted most – more Star Wars – even if the stories and character developments weren't considered canon by the creator.

 Posted May 23 in Review, Sci-Fi, Star Wars | Comments

Cannes 2018: Gaspar Noé's Dance-Horror 'Climax' is Pure Artistic Joy

Gaspar Noé's Climax

Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, there are one or two films that I see at the right time and right place for me to suddenly get that visceral feeling where I'm screaming inside about "holy shit I'm at the Cannes Film Festival!!!!!" This year, watching Gaspar Noé's latest film Climax gave me that feeling, and it was sublime to experience. Noé's return to Cannes with his latest work came with an immense amount of hype and expectations and buzz, but he's actually made his least controversial film to date. It's half a dance film, half a drug-trip horror film and that's pretty much it, but it's pure artistic joy and cinematic expression. It's the kind of film you can only properly experience on the big screen, not because it really needs a big screen, but because it's the epitome of what great cinema is - the vibrant art and unique magic of visual storytelling.

 Posted May 22 in Cannes 18, Review | Comments

Cannes 2018: Ceylan's 'The Wild Pear Tree' is Profound, Existential Art

The Wild Pear Tree Review

Why do I keep doing this? Why do I write reviews, why do I write about films? Why do I even watch films? What is the point of pursuing a creative life when you know that maybe there's nothing waiting for you at the end - no fame, no fortune, no glory. Why? My favorite films are those that challenge me and stimulate me intellectually, that ask big questions and stoke discussions about existence and society and humanity. The Wild Pear Tree, originally titled Ahlat Agaci in Turkish, is the latest film to do this. It's the very last film to premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and they saved the best for last. Acclaimed Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a master of words. His dialogue is incomparable, on a whole other level. And he continues to prove this with each and every film he makes. His latest film is one of his best yet, an existential examination of his own fears while taking us on a journey about life focusing on a father and son.

 Posted May 20 in Cannes 18, Review | Comments

Cannes 2018: Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' is Satisfying Dog Vengeance

Dogman Review

Show me a movie with dogs being treated with love and compassion, and it's already a favorite. I admit that I'm a bit biased and therefore I probably love this film more than I should, but then again, it's a great film. Dogman is the latest feature from acclaimed Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone (of Gomorrah, Tale of Tales) and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year. The film is not as profound as Garrone's past work, but it is as engaging and still satisfying in its own ways, making it a worthy and admirable cinematic story anyway. Dogman is inspired by a true story of a dog groomer from a small town in Italy who fought back against a thug in the Italian drug underworld, and still kept his dignity (for the most part) while at it.

 Posted May 18 in Cannes 18, Review | Comments

Review: 'Deadpool 2' is More of the Same & That's Mostly a Good Thing

Deadpool 2 Review

After playing an ill-conceived faux-Deadpool in 2008’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds spent years petitioning 20th Century Fox to give the beloved Marvel character the raunchy, irreverent big-screen treatment he deserves. He succeeded. In February 2016, Tim Miller's Deadpool debuted with the biggest R-rated opening of all time. It would go on to become the highest-grossing R-rated film in history with a global box office of more than $750 million in total. A hit with both moviegoers and critics alike, Deadpool's massive success made a sequel inevitable, but does Deadpool 2 live up to the enormous expectations of its rabid fan base, or does it do to sequel cinema what Limp Bizkit did to music in the late '90s?

 Posted May 16 in Marvel, Review | Comments

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