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REVIEW: The Tomorrow Man Is a Bit Stale

About three years ago, a mediocre action flick made it to Canadian cinemas for no discernible reason. It was called Precious Cargo and featured noted muscle-head Mark-Paul Gosselaar. The former Saved by the Bell star had to go head-to-head against a villainous Bruce Willis, noticeably bored out of his mind. The movie was perfunctory and ended with a collection of bloopers (none of them funny), weird for a thriller. At least Willis got his paycheck.

What has Precious Cargo got to do with The Tomorrow Man? Both are labors of love by people too attached to material that’s not nearly as good as they believe it to be. If nothing else, there is a modicum of humanism in The Tomorrow Man thoroughly absent from the Gosselaar-Willis “romp”.

Written, directed and shot by Noble Jones —who has done videos for Taylor Swift and OneRepublic— The Tomorrow Man is the kind of movie you would take your parents to. At the center of the film is Ed (John Lithgow), a lonely retiree that spends his time in chatrooms and his money on a bomb shelter. Ed is not deranged but he is rigid and prone to rants (so, close). Continue reading “REVIEW: The Tomorrow Man Is a Bit Stale”

Sunday Matinee: The Burglar

Nat Harbin (Dan Duryea) sees a newsreel that tells how a spiritualist named Sister Sarah (Phoebe Mackay) has inherited a priceless necklace. Nat sends Gladden (Jayne Mansfield) to case the joint and pose as an admirer.

Gladden tells the gang where the necklace is and Sister Sarah’s evening habits. They plan a heist to steal the necklace.
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Sunday Matinee: Drive A Crooked Road

Richard Quine was an actor who starred in variety of movies from the 1930s and 40s. He moved into directing movies in the 1950s. His first films were musicals and he collaborated with screenwriter Blake Edwards with a couple of them.

In 1954 the two shifted gears and made a gritty film noir film Drive A Crooked Road.
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REVIEW: The Biggest Little Farm Is Hipster Heaven

It’s an all too common pipedream: Trading the rat race for the simpler life, one in which you cultivate your own food, grow your own eggs and work your patch of land from sunrise to sundown. Nobody follows through because, as delightful as it sounds, we know farming is a lot harder than this hipster visualization of heaven. Heck, I can’t even grow basil on my balcony.

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles seven years in the life of a couple who actually did it. Inspired by their rescue dog —too loud for apartment living— John and Molly Chester traded their L.A. apartment for 200 all-but-abandoned acres not far from the city. It wasn’t a blind bet: John turned this move into a project open to investors and people who want to learn how to farm.

With the support of a “farming guru”, John and Molly go through every stage of the process. From generating soil to animal husbandry. Sooner than later they discover the number of factors involved in having a successful farm is too high to have them under control, but also that the solution to most challenges lies in the interaction between existing components. The most difficult task is not a practical one, but to overcome the disillusionment of their earnest intent. There is only so many pests one can eradicate.

For someone with zero farming knowledge, The Biggest Little Farm is fascinating. John Chester, who doubles as director and cinematographer, manages to cram seven years of ebbs and flows into one coherent package, without depriving the audience of the small joys and heartbreaks of country life. It even dispenses some pearls of wisdom, like the advantages of taking a step back and solving a problem with existing resources, as opposed to introducing a new variable.

One issue that’s never tackled is the sustainability of the farm. We see the Chesters pivot constantly to maintain a prosperous biodiversity, but whether the project is profitable or not, we’re never told. Similarly, the presence of investors is mentioned in the beginning and never again. It doesn’t detract from the experience, but it would be useful to know if this is just a hipster camp or an example worth replicating. Three prairie dogs that probably wouldn’t be welcome at the farm (out of five).

The Biggest Little Farm opens tomorrow Friday 31st at the Rainbow (Studio 7).

Sunday Matinee: Arabian Adventure

In the 1970s, producer John Dark and director Kevin Connor made a series of lower budget fantasy films. Most of the films were in the lost world category with the first three being adaptions of Edgar Rice Burroughs works.

The last two were original stories, Warlords of Atlantis in 1978 and the last was this 1979 adventure film, Arabian Adventure.
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REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover

Given all the revenue Disney is generating by turning animated classics as live-action features, it’s very unlikely the House of Mouse will stop doing it any time soon. Even the so-so Dumbo made over 340 million dollars worldwide.

While I would prefer Disney to take risks as opposed to mine the back catalogue, there is some joy to be found in these remakes: The breeziness of Cinderella, the underlying melancholy of Pete’s Dragon, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in The Jungle Book. The one thing you won’t find: Freshness. These movies have been fussed over within an inch of their lives. They are expected to hit all four demographic quadrants and please everybody. Not hair is out of place and most scenes seem airless.

Aladdin has problems but at least is light on its feet, thanks to director Guy Ritchie’s anything-goes approach and Will Smith leaning hard on his charm. Continue reading “REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover”

REVIEW: High Life, Dubious Rewards

I first saw High Life last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. It made no impact on me. How much so? Am I so jaded a thoughtful study about human nature doesn’t even register? I had to see it again because I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I wasn’t sure if it was the movie to blame or the fact I was sleep-deprived after a week of watching three to four features a day (plus a couple of parties).

Surprise. It was the movie.

I would be the first one to advocate for more 2001 or Solaris-type films, but High Life is somehow more unwilling to explain itself. Continue reading “REVIEW: High Life, Dubious Rewards”

Sunday Matinee: Nightfall

At a bus stop a man named Jim (Aldo Ray) gives a light to a man named Ben (James Gregory). Ben leaves on a bus and Jim goes to a bar where he meets Marie (Anne Bancroft), a model who borrows five dollars from Jim.

They make a date and Marie gives Jim her name and address. Jim runs into two men John (Brian Keith) and Red (Rudy Bond). They want their money – $350,000 and Jim claims he doesn’t know where it is.
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DVD REVIEW: The Discomfort of Dragged Across Concrete

There was a period during the 70’s in which nihilistic, misogynistic violence was a box office draw. One could argue not much has changed, but if you have seen movies by Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs), Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) or Michael Winner (Death Wish), you know there is something uniquely nasty about these flicks: A disregard for every perceived minority, naked belief in white privilege and a sense that violence is necessary to preserve the status quo are the predominant characteristics.

It would be easy to discard these movies if they weren’t as captivating as they are. Narratively sound, these 70’s action thrillers were misguided, but had a clarity of purpose that’s lacking in today’s cinema. Watching them today, there’s something sickly refreshing about a feature that hasn’t endured three rounds of sanitization by the way of focus groups and executive notes.

Enter S. Craig Zahler.

Early on a horror specialist (I was a champion of the terrifying Asylum Blackout), Zahler has evolved into the single representative of this trend at work today. Not a single one of his movies (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99) has had a significative theatrical release, yet if you’ve seen them, they’re probably engraved in your brain.

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REVIEW: Girls of the Sun, Doing It for Themselves

While the devastation in Syria is the most covered aspect of the ISIS offensive in the Middle East, the Kurdistan has suffered enormously at hands of the terrorist organization. Following the systematic killing of the male population, an increasing number of Kurdish women has joined the resistance, despite the fact the top rank treats them as cannon fodder.

Girls of the Sun follows the story of Bahar (a terrific Golshifteh Farahani, Patterson), a lawyer-turned-freedom fighter for whom personal trauma is the fuel that makes her a fearsome warrior. Her travails are covered by Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a journalist modeled after Marie Colvin for whom objectivity has long stopped being feasible.

While an undoubtedly compelling story, the film is broad and relies heavily in sentimentality, coming short often . Director Eva Husson does succeed at conjuring some stunning visuals, but the final outcome feels disjointed.

To no fault of its own, Girls of the Sun could have benefited from not having the (official) Marie Colvin movie A Private War in such close proximity . Still, the Kurdistan deserves more attention and the film sheds an unforgiving light on this underreported humanitarian tragedy. Three prairie dogs.

Girls of the Sun opens Friday, May 3rd, at the Rainbow Theatre.

Sunday Matinee: My Name Is Julia Ross

The Criterion Channel debuted this week and it’s an amazing streaming service. It’s everything that I want from a streaming service. Classic cinema, behind the scenes features and so much more. My watch list has enough to keep me busy for the next three years.

While the service is home to Criterion’s stable of cinema they also have special films available for limited time. This month’s is Columbia’s film noir collection. 11 dark and gritty film noirs to watch. I’ve watched the first on the list My Name Is Julia Ross.
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Sunday Matinee: Last Hurrah For Chivalry

Before we get into this week’s Sunday Matinee, Shazam opened this weekend and from the sounds of it has done pretty good for itself. It’s been quite a while since the original Captain Marvel has graced the big screen and here’s my old post about his first adventures.

The Criterion Channel will soon be here, actually tomorrow April 8th and this was their last week of their free movie of the week to charter subscribers. This week’s movies were the 1979 John Woo kung fu film Last Hurrah for Chivalry and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Today’s Sunday Matinee is the early John Woo.
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Sunday Matinee: Detour

As Criterion counts down to it’s April 8 launch of their new streaming service this week’s movie of the week happens to be an old Sunday Matinee, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen so I’m going back a week to last week’s movie of the week the excellent 1945 film noir Detour.

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer the follows poor piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is a disheveled burned out looking person. He gets dropped off at a diner where he hears a particular song. He flashes back to how he got to where he is.
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REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers

It’s no news to anybody Tim Burton’s films are hit or miss. I happen to appreciate some of his less celebrated work (Mars Attacks, Dark Shadows) and have no patience for some of his big hits (Alice in Wonderland, Big Fish). Dumbo sits somewhere in the middle, two thirds a sentimental triumph, one third an undercooked heist that would be more at home in a Michael Bay movie.

A more “realistic” take on the 1941 Disney classic, this Dumbo doesn’t have anthropomorphized animals (although all of them cameo or are referenced to, even those controversial crows). The story is driven by humans, specifically the Farrier family. The father, Holt (Colin Farrell), has returned from the war maimed and his spirit shattered. His kids have been forced to mature earlier than they should, while sheltered by the circus community. The three of them reconnect over a baby elephant with freakishly large ears.

Dumbo goes from pariah to main attraction the moment he starts using his ears to take flight. The act attracts the attention of a circus mogul (Michael Keaton), who claims to be an artist at heart, but turns out to be another greedy capitalist who Zuckerbergs everybody. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers”

Sunday Matinee: God Told Me To

Writer/director Larry Cohen passed away this weekend at the age of 77. Cohen started his career writing for television in the 1960s before moving on to directing movies in the 1970s.

He directed such blaxploitation films as Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem in the early 1970s before moving on to b-horror movies. In 1974 he made the excellent but cheesy It’s Alive. He would make two sequels to the series. He also directed the very entertaining Q.
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Sunday Matinee: Wanda

This week’s Criterion Collection streaming film is the 1970 film from writer/director/star Barbara Loden, Wanda.

Loden was an actress who worked in TV and film in the 1950s and 1960s. She was a cast regular on The Ernie Kovacs Show in 1956 and she starred in director Elia Kazan’s 1960 film Wild River and 1961’s Splendor in the Grass. She married Kazan in 1967 and while on vacation a mutual friend, Harry Schuster, offered Loden $100,000 to make her own movie. She wrote the script and couldn’t find a director including her own husband so she directed the film herself as well as starring in it. She made the film for $115,000 and while the movie did receive praise and it won Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival in 1970, it was never given a wide theatrical release in North America.
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REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call

Writer’s note: Much like with the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel has found pushback from the darkest, redest corners of the Internet. I wouldn’t normally be troubled by trolls or James Woods (I know, same thing), but some may bunch together less-than-glowing reviews with the rambles of individuals that feel threatened by Brie Larson’s activism or the idea of a feminist superhero. My critique is focused on the film exclusively and external considerations have no weight in my analysis.


Captain Marvel has a tall order to fill: It must bridge the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War with Avengers: Endgame and has to establish a hero not only capable of going head-to-head with Thanos, but also lead the super-team into a post Iron-Man era.

I’m here to tell you the film does complete the task, but doesn’t excel at it. Captain Marvel is a functional popcorn flick without much of an identity outside being proudly feminist. It’s surprisingly drab-looking for a Marvel Studios movie and the action sequences are perfunctory at best. The performances –not the plot– carry the film, a rarity for this universe. Continue reading “REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call”