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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Noonday Witch, by Dayne Linford

21 Apr

At their weakest, horror movies can be boiled down to one or two “gotcha” elements, thematic or environmental springboards which carry the weight of the vulnerabilities and anxieties supposedly expressed in the piece. TVs in The Ring, showers in Psycho; at their strongest, however, theme and environment are one and the same – the shower in Psycho is not scary because showers are vulnerable and scary, though they are. The shower in Psycho is scary because Norman Bates is scary, and Norman Bates has a key, and a peephole, to that shower. He has a way into our intimate places, and can expose and exploit our secret vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, The Noonday Witch is not one of these movies, and it hopes that the terror of a heat-induced mental breakdown will be enough. If it’s not enough for Psycho, it’s not enough for anybody.

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Finding Oscar: Know Your Enemy, by David Bax

20 Apr

Despite the generic title of Ryan Suffern’s Finding Oscar, this documentary is far from anodyne. That much is made clear very early on, as we see multiple skeletons, some still wearing children’s clothing, exhumed from an unmarked mass grave while relatives stand around crying, 30 years of their worst fears being realized with every inch of bone that emerges from the dirt. This is a dark and visceral tale that Suffern is telling. It also turns out to be one jaw-dropping hell of a yarn.

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A Quiet Passion: Without Feathers, by Aaron Pinkston

20 Apr

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A Quiet Passion could be the title of most Terence Davies films, so it is particularly fun that the film called A Quiet Passion is, at least at times, an outlier for the filmmaker. Chronicling the adult life of poet Emily Dickinson (from what I can tell, the first film to take on her life), A Quiet Passion is a surprising blend of subject and filmmaker. Primarily known for deep and silently emotional dramas that tell the stories of simple people and British communities, Davies has been on a recent role with The Deep Blue Sea and Sunset Song (released last year). Emily Dickinson is a fantastic subject for Davies as a strong, independent and opinionated woman. A Quiet Passion’s comedic sensibility, however, seems like new territory.

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Citizen Jane: Battle for the City: Feet on the Ground, by David Bax

20 Apr

As a topic for a movie, “city planning” sounds almost comically dry and uninteresting. When faced with what it really means, though, especially at a time when humanity as a species is increasingly urbanized, almost nothing could be more vital. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Matt Tyrnauer’s crackling, vivacious new documentary, brings that vitality forward through most of twentieth century history, finally arriving at the doorstep of our present day.

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Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent: No Reservations, by David Bax

20 Apr

No small number of comparisons have been made between food and sex. Usually, though, these extend only as far as the sensual properties of both. In Lydia Tenaglia’s uneven but occasionally revelatory new documentary, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, the two things become connected at a pathological level, at least for the film’s subject, the renowned and mysterious chef of the title. In one of the earliest stories Tower shares, a formative experience with food—the delicate and meticulous cleaning, preparing and cooking of a freshly caught barracuda—is inextricably linked with his having been sexually molested at the age of six. Tower’s life is a bizarre and often compelling one but Tenaglia is ultimately undone by a desire to make it a more conventional, palatable one and to overlook Tower’s bullheaded egocentrism.

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Born in China: Lame Animals, by David Bax

20 Apr

Every year (or nearly every year), Disney releases a documentary about animals under their Disneynature imprint. These always hit theaters in April, timed to coincide with Earth Day. As an effort to raise and maintain global awareness of conservation issues and general interest in the natural world, it’s a commendable project. It’s just too bad these movies tend to stink. Lu Chuan’s Born in China is no exception.

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Free Fire: You Fill Up My Senses, by David Bax

19 Apr

Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire gets off to an unpromising start. Two 1970s Boston tough guys, Bernie and Stevo (Enzo Cilenti and Control’s Sam Riley), sit in a van trading 1970s Boston tough guy dialogue that sounds like it’s from a movie far below the eccentrically fun standard set by Wheatley’s previous work. “I see him again, he’s fucking dead.” That sort of thing. Eventually, though, a method to the mundanity reveals itself. Free Fire, though in every noticeable way a conventional crime film narrative, is actually a sort of experiment. Wheatley wants to see if he can take ten larger-than-life character archetypes, throw them into a large room and, starting at the end of the first act, tell a whole story that consists of little more than everyone shooting at each other. Like the gunmen and gunwoman in the movie, he doesn’t always hit his mark. But, by the end of it all, he’s made a lot of entertaining noise.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Devil’s Mistress, by Dayne Linford

18 Apr

Czech That Film is an annual traveling festival showcasing the best in contemporary Czech cinema in theaters around the U.S. A schedule of showings and events can be found here – www.czechthatfilm.com

Nazi movies are a dime a dozen and why not? World War Two is the historical event of the last century most of the world over, and, when the last big things in American history were the Civil War and the West, there was no shortage of westerns, either. Though, like with Westerns, the process of becoming a genre carries with it inevitable clichés, well-trodden paths and obvious drum beats. More importantly, it also carries the weight, so often elided in westerns, of working out your place in history, and history’s place in yourself. Perhaps there’s always a new Nazi film around the corner because we still haven’t exorcised the ghosts of that war, still haven’t resolved the great evil it embodied and unleashed upon the world. Not perhaps – certainly. At least, that’s certainly what lies behind the recent Czech film The Devil’s Mistress, currently being shown on a film tour of contemporary Czech cinema around the U.S. Though a fairly straightforward biopic of the silent film star Lida Baarová (Tatiana Pauhofová), Filip Renc’s film is only as it could be made in the Czech Republic – replete with the sense of doomed history, moral compromise, and the essential mysteries of motivation, love, and personal culpability.

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Home Video Hovel: Firestarter, by Tyler Smith

13 Apr

How anybody can adapt a noted novel by Stephen King, people it with respected actors like George C. Scott, Louise Fletcher, and Martin Sheen, and then churn out a movie so uneventful, so inconsequential as 1984’s Firestarter is a bigger mystery than anything that occurs in the film itself. But, of course, the moment we see the name Dino De Laurentiis pop up in the opening credits, we really shouldn’t be so surprised by the mediocre schlock that follows. A producer with an obvious love for dumb spectacle, De Laurentiis’ involvement with Firestarter pretty much guaranteed that whatever deep material might have been found in King’s original novel would be cast aside in favor of a bunch of stuff bursting into flame, again and again.

And again and again.

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Tommy’s Honour: I Dinnae Want Yer Life!, by David Bax

12 Apr

Golf, to those who agree with Mark Twain, may be nothing more than a way to spoil a good walk. However, in Tommy’s Honour, a stuffy new biopic from director Jason Connery, the game has something of the opposite effect. It only makes things more relentlessly pedestrian.

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