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Berlin Syndrome: Geh Nicht Hinein!, by David Bax

25 May

Between Cate Shortland’s harrowing new film Berlin Syndrome and 2015’s Victoria, there’s a new trope developing. Foreigners in Berlin who attend rooftop parties are certain to get into some kind of trouble. As least their plights continue to make for good movies.

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Abacus: Small Enough to Jail: The Richest Man in Town, by David Bax

18 May

Two years ago, Adam McKay gave us The Big Short, a furious, funny account of the causes of 2008’s financial crisis. After that sprawling account of how massively things went wrong due to institutionalized shortcuts and routine lies, we now get Steve James’ measured and unassuming documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a look at the only bank to face criminal charges in the aftermath. While nowhere near the high water marks James set with films like Hoop Dreams, Stevie and The Interrupters, Abacus is still a modest success on the level of James’ Head Games, another issue-driven documentary that never lets you forget the individual people at the story’s core.

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Paint It Black: My War, by David Bax

18 May

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From nearly the beginning of Amber Tamblyn’s Paint It Black, I had my guard up. Shots of the Echo Park Blvd. street sign and the cult famous happy foot/sad foot spinning podiatrist sign made me worry that I was in for a try-hard catalog of cool kid L.A. signifiers. Things nearly came to a peak when the protagonist, Josie (Alia Shawkat) answered the phone in her apartment and it was a hot pink, decorated, chunky plastic artifact of a landline. Shortly after this, though, it occurred to me that I may have been too harsh. At the very least, the phone thing was forgiven as I gained the realization that this was a period piece (probably sometime in the 1980s). That doesn’t explain why characters are seen drinking cocktails out of mason jars at a hip bar but the subtlety of the era is commendable. Once I’d relaxed, I eventually found myself under the sway of this messy but unique movie.

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Alien: Covenant: Safe Spaces, by Scott Nye

18 May

Alien: Covenant was not screened for critics in 3D (though it will be released that way), and for that I am grateful. Whereas Prometheus – one of the great modern 3D films – patiently explored space and depth in carefully-controlled shots meant to let the viewer consider the divine, Covenant is a much more intimate affair. The mix of camerawork style and resolution shows Ridley Scott in more unusual digital territory, giving up tight control in favor of chaos. If only the film had been so bold. Its intimacy is limited to the body and what surrounds it. It nearly shuts out all the pretentious tussles with man’s search for purpose that so frustrated many in Prometheus. Those moviegoers will be delighted to hear that Covenant is more focused, more sensible, and contains a whole lot more action. However, I have rarely found “focused and sensible”, while admirable in a person, to be as compelling in art, least of all a horror movie.
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Snatched: Loose Grip, by David Bax

12 May

Jonathan Levine’s Snatched rushes at breakneck speed through its first 30 or 40 minutes, getting all of its characters and situations into place for the plot proper to kick in. Fortunately, this is executed via a series of funny vignettes that prove once again what a sharp comedic performer star Amy Schumer is; especially noteworthy are a couple of back to back scenes of her character, Emily, first getting fired (for doing more shopping than working at the store where she’s meant to be a salesperson) and then immediately getting dumped (by her rising star rocker boyfriend who leaves no doubts about his aspirations for more “pussy”). Plus, given the endless, slapdash affair that was Schumer’s last vehicle, Trainwreck, some narrative expedience is welcome. Snatched is not likely to linger long in anyone’s memory but it’s a competent and reliably funny diversion that will painlessly kill 90 minutes on Mother’s Day.

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Paris Can Wait: Je Souhaite, by David Bax

11 May

Having been married to a successful and well known filmmaker for over half a century, Eleanor Coppola, director of the new film Paris Can Wait, certainly knows her lead protagonist well. Anne (Diane Lane) is the wife of Michael (Alec Baldwin), a major movie producer. Coppola displays a clear familiarity with the way Anne’s social life is dictated by her husband’s work but also with the comfortable, luxurious life she leads. Some may balk at Paris Can Wait’s fusillade of extravagances but Coppola is aware enough to acknowledge how special they are while Lane balances Anne’s enjoyment of and familiarity with creature comforts.

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Chuck: Gonna Fly Now, by Sarah Brinks

4 May

You know subject of the film Chuck, Chuck Wepner, even if you have never heard of him. He’s the real-life inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Wepner went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975 and is a local legend in Bayonne, New Jersey. I am on the record for not liking boxing movies… but I think I should be more accurate and simply say I don’t like boxing. The few boxing scenes in the film were certainly my least favorite but more interestingly, Chuck is the story of the rise and fall of a local sports celebrity.

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Remix, by Tyler Smith

2 May

I was not a big fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. While many people praised its offbeat tone and crazy characters, the whole thing seemed surprisingly conventional to me, especially when one considers director James Gunn’s previous work. The film certainly had the distinction of changing the way superhero movies would be marketed, using classic rock and witty banter to show that these films could have a sense of humor about themselves, but that hardly redeems it (in fact, it might actually condemn it all the more). So, as I walked into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I was trepidatious. It seemed to me that Marvel would have a hard time not doubling down on the successful elements of the first film and simply serving up more of the same. Thankfully, the studio seemed to see the success of the first film as license to allow James Gunn to cut loose and tell a truly unique story, realized with some genuinely gorgeous visuals and several exciting action (and comedy) sequences.

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Independent Film Festival of Boston 2017: Chuck, by Sarah Brinks

2 May

You know subject of the film Chuck, Chuck Wepner, even if you have never heard of him. He’s the real-life inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Wepner went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975 and is a local legend in Bayonne, New Jersey. I am on the record for not liking boxing movies… but I think I should be more accurate and simply say I don’t like boxing. The few boxing scenes in the film were certainly my least favorite but more interestingly, Chuck is the story of the rise and fall of a local sports celebrity.

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COLCOA 2017: Heaven Will Wait, by David Bax

1 May

The COLCOA (City of Lights, City of Angels) French Film Festival is a week of French film premieres in Hollywood.

In the opening scene of Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s Heaven Will Wait, a support group of French parents whose daughters have become radicalized Islamic jihadists discuss how they lost their children to a world they don’t understand. There were signs missed and signs ignored. The danger of dismissing a teen phase is that it’s not a phase to them. It’s an intriguing start to an exploration of an incomprehensible but all too real phenomenon. Unfortunately, Mention-Schaar isn’t interested in going much deeper.

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