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Home Video Hovel: Joe Bullet, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi

14 Mar

In the 1970’s, blaxploitation films were a dime a dozen. Covering such diverse topics as gangsters, kung fu, and vampiric comedy, these low-budget flicks combined sex and violence to give audiences around the world a perspective not catered to by the milquetoast output of holiday. Although at first glance, Joe Bullet appears unremarkable, this South African film was banned in 1973 after only two theatrical screenings by the apartheid government in part due to its all-black cast. It remained unseen until a print in someone’s garage was digitally restored by Gravel Road Distribution Group and sent on the film festival circuit in 2014. This DVD release comes from The Film Detective.

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Kong: Skull Island: It Was Banality Killed the Beast, by Rudie Obias

10 Mar

Since the gigantic success of Godzilla in May 2014, audiences around the world were hungry for more monster movies starring larger-than-life beasts. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures (the studio and production company behind the movie starring the King of the Monsters) obliged and announced Kong: Skull Island a few months later during San Diego Comic-Con. The new monster movie is more of a re-telling of the iconic 1933 film King Kong than a sequel, prequel, or strict remake, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts injects new life into Kong. It’s refreshing and fun, but doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

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The Ottoman Lieutenant: Salute Your Shorts, by Alexander Miller

8 Mar

There’s an unwritten rule, or at least I’d like to think so, that what we consider to be bad movies are a part of a different conversation than the so-bad-they’re-good camp. We understand that even the worst of the blockbuster clunkers have some redeeming virtues under the layers of crap; Ben Affleck was a decent Batman and, according to the Academy, Suicide Squad had good makeup effects. But sifting through the dusty antiquated ashes of The Ottoman Lieutenant all that was left were hazy superficialities and a story that’s a series of lethargic dead-ends. It’s evident The Ottoman Lieutenant is reaching for old-fashioned romanticism a la Casablanca or Passage to Marseille but it only succeeds in evoking a counterfeit reflection of its forebears.

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My Scientology Movie: Clearly Comical, by David Bax

8 Mar

Made around the same time as Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (to which it inevitably must be compared) but only being released stateside now, John Dower’s My Scientology Movie seems at first as if it can only be a footnote to Gibney’s behemoth. Despite its lighter tone and shorter running time, though, it reveals itself to be a necessary companion instead. Where Gibney chronicled the history and the shocking facts of Scientology and its nefarious practices, Dower and onscreen investigator/presenter Louis Theroux investigate the psychological transformation of being in and, hopefully, surviving the church.

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Home Video Hovel: No Retreat, No Surrender, by Craig Schroeder

6 Mar

Though the Blu-ray box art (put out by Kino Lorber), as well as the IMDb log line, would have you believe No Retreat, No Surrender is a movie about a young karate enthusiast (Kurt McKinney) going mano a mano with a Russian Jean Claude Van Damme, that is not quite the case. Other than an opening sequence, where McKinney and Van Damme share a furtive glance, JCVD (nor the evil-Russian storyline that he’s embroiled in) appear again until the sixty-seven minute mark of an eighty-four minute film. A categorical failure that it is cringe-inducingly earnest and astonishingly dull, No Retreat, No Surrender was never going to be remembered as anything but a joke but unfortunately—even judged against the generous parameters of trash cinema fandom—it doesn’t have a punchline.

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Logan: Lone Wolf, by Tyler Smith

2 Mar

It’s hard to know exactly where to start with James Mangold’s Logan, the latest and possibly last film to feature Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. On one level, it’s a bold and unflinching character study, with an honest, vulnerable performance at its center. On another level, however, it is a run-of-the-mill action movie with an ever-so-slight superhero twist. The film reminds me of any number of modern thrillers featuring Liam Neeson, in which an older man with a violent past must tear through an army of opponents in order to protect an innocent. Only when the film allows Hugh Jackman the space to really inhabit the character does the film become something truly special. If only the film around those moments were more inspired, Logan could have been a superhero film on par with The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2. Unfortunately, it often comes close to superhero greatness but ultimately falls just short, working much better as a character study.

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Donald Cried: Cold Shoulder, by Andrew Benjamin

1 Mar

There seems to be a trend with indie/mumblecore type movies currently: there is a protagonist who has some of social awkwardness who is paired up with a “normie” and the two have to coexist for the duration of the movie. It is a throwback in some ways to the buddy comedies of the past like Abbott and Costello, Crosby and Hope, Laurel and Hardy. What those movies did though was make the awkwardness affable between the straight man and the socially awkward character. Donald Cried doesn’t do this unfortunately.

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I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore: Fake News, by David Bax

23 Feb

Given its premiere at Sundance the weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration and its consequently relatable title, Macon Blair’s directorial debut I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore ought to offer some much-needed catharsis with its violent revenge storyline. Unfortunately, it only manages to confirm its protagonist’s assertion that “Everyone is an asshole” and then cynically suggest that anyone who isn’t may have to become one to survive.

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Dying Laughing: Just a Bit, by David Bax

23 Feb

dying-laughing-2016-kevin-hart

Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood’s Dying Laughing gets off to a dubious start, with its panoply of stand-up comedian interviewees gushing in awestruck, hushed tones about their art and its craft. It sets up an expectation of a bald hagiography of the form without analysis or criticism. Eventually, it settles into some more fertile grounds and ultimately satisfies. Still, it leaves you wondering what its worth is, exactly, in a time when we have so many good and in-depth podcasts on the subject.

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Bitter Harvest: Tough to Swallow, by Alexander Miller

23 Feb

Bitter Harvest centers on Stalin’s initiated famine that killed millions of Soviet Ukrainians while he was advancing his communist reign in this systematic form of starvation was known as the Holodomor. This is the backdrop for an epic melodrama where two childhood lovers Yuri (Max Irons) and Natalka (Samantha Barks) endure the Holodomor and oppressive Stalinist reign. They fight for survival, joining liberation forces, always guided by their lifelong connection.

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