REVIEWS

Venice 2019: Questioning the Truth of Art in 'The Burnt Orange Heresy'

The Burnt Orange Heresy

How much of the art world is bullshit? All of it? None of it? Some of it? At the beginning of the year, we had the funky art world satire Velvet Buzzsaw to make us wonder about the validity of art, and now at the end of the year we have The Burnt Orange Heresy. This film is much more serious, not at all a satire, with only a few drops of levity and much more drama. Along with heaps of philosophical discussion about art and what really matters and whether any of it is real, or if it's all just a bunch of bullshit yet everyone loves it anyway. The film opens with a thought-provoking presentation by the main character about the importance of criticism, which by the end also completely breaks down art criticism as a nonsensical job that can build up or tear down art that is truly separate (in its truth or purity or originality) than what others say about it.

Venice 2019: Katrin Gebbe's 'Pelican Blood' Brings Evil into the Home

Pelican Blood Review

Sometimes horror films don't have much horror, and sometimes dramas can be just as horrifying as horror films. Sometimes films defy labels and don't fit into any one genre. Pelican Blood is a good example of all of this, a film that presents itself as a challenging straight-forward drama about a woman adopting children. But there's something much more sinister going on within, and it reveals itself part of the way through. This film is the ultimate "and you thought your child was evil, wait until you see this one" joke, but it also has something beautiful to offer - an earnestness that separates it from all the other horror films that integrate similar concepts about evil children. Pelican Blood (originally titled Pelikanblut) is a German film from filmmaker Katrin Gebbe, and it's one of the most unique discoveries at the Venice Film Festival this year.

Venice 2019: Eliza Scanlen is Superb in Fresh & Funny 'Babyteeth' Film

Babyteeth Review

A sweet, heartfelt, smart tale of young first love. Babyteeth is the feature directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy, after making a number of shorts and TV series previously. The film earned a spot playing in the main competition line-up at the Venice Film Festival, and it damn well deserves that spot. Babyteeth is a major player, one of my favorite films of the festival. I can certainly admit that I loved it - easily the highlight of this second half of the festival for me. It's way better than I was expecting (watch the first trailer), with one of the best upbeat soundtracks of songs out of any film here. It's not exactly anything groundbreaking, but the way it's presented is so compelling and all the characters are wonderfully complex.

Venice 2019: The Power of Positivity in '45 Seconds of Laughter' Doc

45 Seconds of Laughter Review

Can laughter change the world? Can happiness save a life? Those are the kind of questions that might come to mind while watching this documentary, and at times, you could actually believe the answer is yes. 45 Seconds of Laughter is a doc film directed by actor Tim Robbins. He takes his acting group called The Actors Gang inside of a high security prison in California, running a week-long workshop where prisoners participate in a group in various theater / acting exercises. We've seen films like this before, and performing theater inside prisons isn't new, but it is always moving to watch. There's just something remarkably stirring about seeing prisoners, perpetually unhappy and angry, suddenly finding happiness and making tiny steps forward. It reminds us once again how the incredible power of positivity can be as a great force for change.

Venice 2019: Soderbergh's Ingenious Money Satire 'The Laundromat'

The Laundromat Review

Welcome to Steven Soderbergh's history class. Today we will be learning about the history of money, and how our obsession with it has gotten seriously out of hand. Steven Soderbergh's latest feature film, titled The Laundromat, is an ingenious social commentary based around the Panama Papers and the terrifying truths they revealed. Following in the footsteps of The Big Short, this fourth-wall-breaking comedy / drama / satire / educational film / cautionary tale features a brilliant script written by Scott Z. Burns (of The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects, The Mercy, The Report) that borrows heavily from Adam McKay's film in style and structure. It's essentially a film about the despicable men behind Mossack Fonseca, but it shows us a number of parables to remind us all just how much trickery, greed, corruption, and bullshit is out there.

Venice 2019: Todd Phillips' Demented 'Joker' Movie Doesn't Hold Back

Joker Movie Review

There will be before Joker. And there will be after Joker. Nothing will be the same after, we'll be living in a whole new world. That's not even hyperbole, just the truth. I don't know if the world is ready for this movie. Or maybe it is? We'll find out soon enough. There's no stopping it now. I can't believe it exists. But it does, and it's coming. And no matter if we're ready or not, it's going to make an impact. Director Todd Phillips' new take on the origin of the DC Comics villain known as "The Joker" just premiered at the Venice Film Festival and oh my goodness, it is crazy. It is GNARLY. It is audacious. It doesn't hold back. It's subversive, provocative, dark, demented, twisted, and terrifying. Joker will likely end up being one of the most divisive movies of the decade, with some people hating it with a passion, others heralding it as a bold masterpiece.

 Posted August 31 in Review, Venice 19 | Comments

Venice 2019: Haifaa Al-Mansour's 'The Perfect Candidate' is Inspiring

The Perfect Candidate Review

I'm happiest when I watch a great film. Not just a good one, but a really great one. Something that fills me with energy, that reminds me this is why I love going to film festivals. And I'm happy to report that the new film from Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (director of Wadjda, Mary Shelley, and Nappily Ever After previously), titled The Perfect Candidate, is indeed an outstanding film. After spending some time in Hollywood making a few films, Al-Mansour returns to her roots in Saudi Arabia to tells this story of a young woman in the country who discovers her voice. It's an inspiring & uplifting film that moves briskly and gives us a good story to follow. No matter where you're from, you can connect with and enjoy this film.

 Posted August 30 in Review, Venice 19 | Comments

Venice 2019: James Gray Goes on a Trip into Deep Space in 'Ad Astra'

Ad Astra Review

What is out there? What is waiting for us in the stars? James Gray's long-awaited sci-fi adventure Ad Astra has finally arrived. This time Gray takes us out into deep space on a journey with an astronaut named Roy McBride, set in the near future when we've colonized the Moon and Mars but have only just started to reach the edges of our own solar system. McBride is sent on a mission to find his missing father, hoping to figure out what's causing electrical storms wreaking havoc on Earth. This lonely, slow burn space movie is an awe-inspiring, magnificent journey into the stars. As a big time space geek, it ticks every last box. It's sensational to watch, meticulously realized and meditative, more melancholic than exciting but still a stellar experience.

Venice 2019: 'Marriage Story' is One of Noah Baumbach's Finest Films

Marriage Story

"I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with." (–Mary Ann Shaffer, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society") That feeling of being high on cinema is the feeling I had coming out of Marriage Story at the Venice Film Festival. Bliss. Goddamn I am totally floored by this film. Noah Baumbach has been making beautifully honest stories about families for years, but this one is extra special. It definitely does seem a bit personal, something he has been through himself, but he is able to transfer this honesty to the big screen and tell us an emotional story and show us how love remains, even after a divorce. Marriage Story is actually a Divorce Story, but instead of calling it that Baumbach made "a love story that reveals itself within the breakdown."

 Posted August 29 in Review, Venice 19 | Comments

Review: Survival Thriller 'Ready or Not' Packs Heat & Plays for Keeps

Ready or Not Review

Formed in 2011 by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, along with their executive producer Chad Villella, the filmmaking trio collectively known as "Radio Silence" has been working in the horror genre for nearly a decade. They made their initial debut in the 2012 horror anthology film, V/H/S, with the segment known as 10/31/98, in which a group of friends in search of a Halloween party stumbles upon an actual house of horrors. In 2014, the collective delivered their first feature, a found-footage take on Rosemary's Baby titled Devil's Due, before contributing two segments to the 2015 horror anthology film Southbound. Now, Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett are back in feature mode with the film Ready or Not, a black comedy thriller about an eccentric wealthy family bound by a deadly, time-honored tradition.

 Posted August 22 in Review | Comments

Review: 'Hobbs & Shaw' Delivers Big Tag-Team Action By the Truckload

Hobbs & Shaw

After eight movies so far, the Fast and the Furious franchise (which launched in 2001) gets its first spin-off as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (most recently in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Skyscraper) and Jason Statham (from the Crank movies and The Meg) reprise their roles (first introduced in Fast & Furious 6) as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde), from a screenplay by Drew Pearce (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Iron Man 3) and longtime Fast & Furious scribe Chris Morgan, the film delivers on the over-the-top action, on-the-nose scripting, and off-the-charts charisma that the series has been known for.

 Posted August 1 in Review | Comments

Review: Favreau's Photorealistic 'The Lion King' Movie Roars to Life

The Lion King Review

Co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, Disney’s 1994 animated movie The Lion King won Academy Awards for original score (Hans Zimmer) and the original song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (by Elton John & Tim Rice), as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. In 1997, the stage production made its Broadway debut, winning six Tony Awards; 22 years later, it still remains one of Broadway’s biggest hits, recently marking its 9,000th show. The beloved Disney classic also inspired two direct-to-video follow-ups – The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998), and The Lion King 1½ (2004) – and two television series, Timon and Pumbaa and The Lion Guard. Now, after the critical and financial success of 2016's The Jungle Book remake, director Jon Favreau is utilizing the same photorealistic computer animation technology to re-tell the story of The Lion King for contemporary audiences in an immersive way.

 Posted July 18 in Review | Comments

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