About Jeremy Harmon

He is Jeremy Harmon aka Spirit of the Thing aka Harmonov. Once a Van Damme/action movie devotee, he now prefers to delve into small budget, independent and foreign films. Jeremy maintains that Slap Shot is the best movie ever. Follow him on Twitter @harmonov or read his new blog @ http://spiritofthething.wordpress.com/

Review: Dosed Makes the Case for Psychedelics in Addiction Treatment

As we have found ourselves in a national crisis over the opioid addiction over the last few years, there have been many exposés on the harrowing journeys people go through as they navigate addiction and try to recover. Obviously, this has been a losing battle for way too many people, especially as the drug landscape changes with substances like fentanyl being more widely introduced. In order to provide a tailor-made approach to addiction treatment, we perform a thorough assessment of each patient upon entering our 30-day drug rehab. This is done in order to assess their medical needs, possible co-occurring mental disorders, the severity of their addiction, family dynamics, and other pertinent information that can help our practitioners to personalize treatment to the patient’s needs.  Once the symptoms of withdrawal dissipate and the body returns to normal function, which usually takes around 5 to 7 days, then therapy can begin. The patient will participate in various therapeutic programs such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivation enhancement therapy, and holistic treatment methods. These programs take place in either a group or a one-on-one format. The best way to determine what insurance cover for residential rehab you might have, contact your health insurance provider and ask them what your copays and other potential costs are, how they decide what to cover, and the types of rx addiction treatment services your specific plan covers, such as inpatient, outpatient, and detox programs. Alternatively, you can contact us and we will help you to determine what you are covered for. The best-known methods of treating addiction, according to the latest research, is through a whole-patient approach to treatment that involves tailor-made treatment plans, behavioral therapy, the use of medication where needed, and strategies to prevent relapse.

Dosed brings us the story of Adrianne (only her first name is revealed), a heroin addict living in Vancouver, Canada. She has been struggling with heroin addiction for a long time – she mentions that she’s been an addict for 20 years, but I’m never really sure about that time frame. She uses daily and calls herself a trashcan addict because she’ll use anything she can get her hands on. Her friend, director Tyler Chandler, walks us through her story.

As someone who is at the end of her rope, Adrianne decides to try psilocybin as a way to stave off her opioid cravings and possibly set her on the road to full recovery. Chandler captures her “trip” on film and it looks like it has some promise. The problem is psychedelics, like all medicinal treatments, need to be supervised by a professional. As a prescribed methadone patient in addition to using street drugs, her situation is more dire than most.

This leads them to a team of people using iboga, a hallucinogen that comes from a root of plant that is grown in Gabon, Africa, and has been used in rituals there for hundreds of years. Iboga can be deadly if used improperly and not under proper supervision, so Adrianne has to submit to their rules and practices in order to take that journey.

This film is a really up close and very personal look at addiction. Chandler and Adrianne have known each other for years and you can see that relationship play out throughout the film. This snapshot is clearly not the norm of what an addict goes through to get clean. Adrianne has privilege where most do not – she has two parents who are engaged in helping her get clean, she clearly has the money not only to buy street drugs every day (there is a scene that shows her stash of empty heroin packets that number in the hundreds or even thousands) but also to go to the iboga treatment center for multiple weeks which is quite posh. While we get to see some of the horrors of what an addict goes through to get clean, Chandler shies away from showing the really hard stuff like the withdrawals and the psychological reckoning that comes with understanding why one is an addict. He dances around these, lightly touching on them, but there is no visceral depiction that might land harder. So in this sense, the viewer doesn’t get crucial access to Adrianne‘s story which is needed to fill out the whole picture.

However, the film does present a compelling case for the use of psychedelics in the treatment of addiction. It states that psychedelics are 10 times more effective in weaning people off of opioids than traditional pharmaceutical measures. As the planet struggles to deal with the opioid crisis, all measures should be on the table to combat it. The problem is that most countries across the globe have banned the use of psilocybin and iboga, so the full potential of its healing power has yet to really be explored. It’s something worth considering quite heavily after watching Adrianne‘s quest for sobriety.

This film was supposed to open in theaters today, but due to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent shuttering of theaters across the country. However, this film is now available to be viewed online through Vimeo at the following link starting at 7 pm.

In addition, he filmmakers have pledged to give 10% of each purchase, matched by Facebook, for a total of 20% towards coronavirus disaster relief. While this isn’t the easiest film to watch during a time when so many of us are feeling unsure about the global situation right now, it has a message that is worth hearing. As one problem grips the world today, it’s important to not forget that there are other issues that are costing people their lives as well.

Here’s the trailer:

I hope you are all staying safe, being smart about social distancing and being compassionate to your neighbors. Much love to you all from us here at Reel News Daily!

Review: ‘Standing Up, Falling Down’ a Bona Fide Winner

It seems strange that Ben Schwartz (of Jean-Ralphio Saperstein from Parks & Recreation fame) had two films that opened on back-to-back weekends and they couldn’t be more different. The first, the much maligned Sonic the Hedgehog opened HUGE and took home the box office crown the past two weekends. The other, Standing Up, Falling Down, opened to much less fanfare but is the far more interesting of the two.

The film gives us the story of Scott Rollins (Schwartz), a down on his luck comedian living in LA who gives up on his dream of making it big the comedy world and comes home to Long Island to reset his life. Of course, like many who set off in the way of Horatio Alger and head west, Scott hangs his head in shame as the prodigal son returns home broken. He’s greeted half-heartedly by his father (Kevin Dunn) and enthusiastically by his mother (Debra Monk) who is happy to have him home. Scott settles into his childhood room that appears no different than when he lived there as a child. Of course, the girl he left behind brokenhearted, Becky (Eloise Mumford), has since married and looms large in the whole scenario. Adrift and unsure of what to do with himself, he meets up with his friend Murph (Leonard Ouzts) at a bar and sees what his life would have been like if he played it like most do – wife, kids, house and all that comes with it. While in the bathroom, he runs into Marty (Billy Crystal), an alcoholic dermatologist who pisses in the sink then tells Scott he’s got a skin issue and he should come by his office to have it checked out.

After meeting up again at a wake, the two form a quick bond and open up to one another about the various things they’ve screwed up in their lives. Marty acts as a guide of sorts, helping Scott navigate the shit situation he’s steered himself into. Likewise, connecting with Scott helps Marty work through his own shit although it happens a little more circuitously.

What unfolds is not all that surprising, but it is a ride worth taking. I found myself incredibly invested in both characters. I know that if I had made a few different decisions in my life, I could easily have been Scott, aimlessly wandering hoping to latch onto that one thing that will make me whole. I’m sure we’ve all had those thoughts.

What really drives this film is the performances of both Schwartz and Crystal. Both have larger than life personalities that can be overwhelming (in a good way, of course). While I lament that there was no running over by a Lexus, Schwartz especially surprised me with his standout performance – subdued but charming and funny with spot on timing and delivery. I hope to see much more of this type of role for Schwartz. Crystal is a legend and he didn’t disappoint. Always able to balance humor and drama, he gives a performance that stands up with his best. Both actors were so relatable and they played perfectly off of one another that kudos are necessary to whomever cast them together.

This is a very satisfying film experience and well crafted by director Matt Ratner with a solid script written by Peter Hoare. Grace Gummer, Caitlin McGee, Nate Corddry and David Castañeda round out the great cast.

I would highly suggest catching this one if you can. It is still in theaters and available through various streaming sources.

Review: ‘Olympics Dreams’ Goes for the Gold

One of my two first sports memories from my childhood was the Miracle on Ice victory of the US Olympic Hockey Team defeating the Russian team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Ever since, it has been a quadrennial ritual of mine (and now my family’s) to watch with great intensity all of the drama that unfolds as champions from every nation in the world battle it out in their respective sports on the frozen slopes,rinks and tracks.

Olympic Dreams brings us to the world of the Winter Olympics in a way that has never really been seen before. It is the first film to ever be shot in the Olympic Village during an actual Olympics – the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While this games was not without it’s nail biting moments (reference the shootout gold medal victory of the US Women’s Hockey Team) Olympic Dreams brings a different type of drama, one much more subtle although no less impactful.

Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a cross country skier at her first Olympics and clearly is out of her element. She is adrift and alone in the Olympic Village, morose at a time when most 22-year olds would be living it up. Even though she is part of one of the largest delegation of athletes at the games, she awkwardly tries to connect to others without much success.

Away from the hustle and bustle that the athletes experience, we find 37-year old Ezra (Nick Kroll), a volunteer dentist from the US, who is equally adrift. Unsure of where to go and whom to see to get settled, Ezra, too, tries his best to fit in with the rarefied set of folks participating in Pyeongchang. He nervously admits to an athlete he’s giving a check up to that he and his fiancee are on a break as she doesn’t understand his desire to travel and experience new cultures and places. And as would have it in a film, he connects with Penelope while eating in the cafeteria setting up the arc of the rest of the film – two misfits meet…will they get together, or will they fuck it all up?

Penelope is isolated, not just being in South Korea so far from the US, but from her teammates, her coach who isn’t there with her and her family. She receives phone calls from her coach and father, but she is never at ease, emotional and clearly lost. She spent her entire childhood, training endlessly for this one shot missing out on so much to be at the Olympics, but in the end she’s alone. Hell, even her event, the 10km Freestyle, is 25-35 minutes of pure solitary hell. When she finishes, there are no fans, coaches or teammates there to greet like the other skiers with nothing but a personal best to show for it. She never got her Jessie Diggins moment. Was it really worth it? On the flipside, Ezra himself stuck in limbo between continents while his relationship is on hold, flounders in the same way that Penelope does. The budding relationship is akin to that of Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in Lost in Translation.

I was surprised by this film and was really taken with Pappas who also co-wrote the film with Kroll and husband/director Jeremy Teicher. Her embodiment of Penelope opened up a narrative of an Olympic athlete that I hadn’t seen nor really considered before. She herself is a former Olympic long distance runner and I have no doubt that’s why her performance felt so authentic and visceral. It’s hard to separate Kroll from his previous bombastic roles in shows like The League and Parks and Recreation so his performance didn’t carry the same weight as Pappas’. They vibed well together in their scenes, but I was left with asking, why him of all people when it is no secret that the Olympic Village is a hot bed of lascivious activity.

All of the behind the scenes shots that Teicher was able to incorporate into the film were also fantastic. The scale of the Olympics is so huge and his direction made them seem so much more accessible through these characters. The inclusion of Olympian skiers Morgan Schild and Gus Kenworthy was also a really nice touch.

This is a film I really enjoyed. It’s a great film for the Valentine’s Day weekend. Would this film win the gold? Maybe, maybe not, but I think it might make the medal stand.

Olympic Dreams opens today in select cities and is also available on demand.

Review: Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez Is Another Netflix Doc Win

It’s no secret that Netflix has been on fire it when it comes to original content these past few years. It’s said that Netflix spent over $15 billion on original content in 2019 and this year for the first time, Netflix-produced films garnered more Oscar nominations (24) than any other studio including Disney which owns nearly everything media-related in the world (take that, Mouse!). As the world’s favorite media streaming service, Netflix is hitting its stride at a time when more and more competition is trying to take a bite out of its market share.

One of the best parts of Netflix’s business model is that because they have millions of users paying a monthly fee to use their service, they have a constant stream of revenue coming in that allows them to take chances on their original content. Because of that, we are able to get content like Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. Netflix has produced some of the most highly acclaimed true crime series of the last few years in the critically acclaimed Making a Murderer, Evil Genius and their documentary about Amanda Knox. Killer Inside fits nicely alongside these series/films.

Following the demise of once heralded New England Patriots football star Aaron Hernandez, this series tries to put together how a rising football star and role model for the Latino community could be a cold blooded killer off the field. In 2013, Hernandez was arrested initially for the murder of his fiancee’s sister’s boyfriend Odin Lloyd. Over the 3+ hour three-part series, director Geno McDermott unpacks the confounding tale of how this all happened as best as possible. McDermott and the editing team do a masterful job of tracking back and forth in Hernandez’s timeline incorporating interviews with friends, former teammates, trial footage and jailhouse phone call audio from the various people with whom Hernandez spoke while in prison. For a story that twists and turns as much as this one does, they really do a masterful job grounding the viewer and not overloading us with too much or too little information.

Many of the details of this story are very familiar, not just to football fans but to the public at large. This case was a huge deal. It was played out in public and while it wasn’t OJ Simpson-like in scale, it was still a case in the public eye for multiple years. So giving new information or drilling down on points that weren’t already well known was McDermott‘s real challenge here. He did a great job moving both forward and backward in the timeline in particular to incorporate the bombshell news that Hernandez was implicated, later indicted and tried for two additional murders.

I do appreciate that this film tried its best to tackle the why – what caused a high-profile athlete playing for the best franchise in the sport who had yet to hit his peak only being 23 years old to bafflingly murder someone from his own inner circle…and in such a stupid manner that he was so easily caught? The film visits and revisits the claims that Hernandez was gay or bisexual throughout the film with a corroborating interview with his high school quarterback, Dennis Sansoucie, that they were lovers in high school. That shame of who he really was and that should it come out it would ruin him was posited as a possible motive. McDermott interestingly knits the story of former Patriot offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan who came out as gay after leaving the NFL throughout the series. His tale demonstrates the weight of what being gay in the macho culture of the NFL is like and what that can do to one’s psyche. It was an interesting take and sadly a perspective that is far too uncommon.

Near the end of the film, it’s revealed that Hernandez definitely had CTE, the degenerative disorder from repeated blows to head/concussions. This, too, was listed as a possible reason. The doctor who examined his brain said it was the worst case she’d ever seen for someone his age. His family life is probed thoroughly and shows that cracks the developed after the death of his father pushed him into hanging out with the wrong crowd at the wrong time in his life. All of these things combined may have been the cause of what pushed him to do the unthinkable for someone who was legitimately on the top of his own world. It’s something that will likely never be known as the true motive died with Aaron Hernandez. The series never comes off as preachy, pushing the viewer in any specific direction as to how this all happened and why.

This is a well-made series and it has a particularly poignant end with his last recorded phone call with his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins and his then 4-year old daughter, a sad end to a life that should have been different. I will give infinite credit to McDermott for not keeping Odin Lloyd, his family and likewise Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, the two victims of a murder for which Hernandez was ultimately acquitted, in the background. They deserved at least that.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez premieres today on Netflix.

Here’s the trailer:

I’m Baaaaaack….and Here’s My Top 50 of the Decade

Hello all! It’s been nigh on four years since I last dropped some knowledge on you here at Reel News Daily. I went off and got a Master’s degree, new job and all that, but have still been rocking films from all over the world. I’m happy to be back in the fold here at Reel News Daily and look forward to contributing more this year. Don’t you feel lucky?

So, I figured my phoenix rising from the ashes post should be something that might start a little conversation – my Top 50 films of the last decade. There were so many great films to choose from, which made this list very difficult. After two days of whittling it down and moving films around, I feel confident with what I decided on. I’m sure I missed a few of your favorites, but this is my list so you’ll just have to deal with it.

Here we go:

50) Shoplifters (2018) dir. by Hirokazu Koreeda
49) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) dir. by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
48) Gone Girl (2014) dir. by David Fincher
47) A Hidden Life (2019) dir. by Terrence Malick
46) Annihilation (2018) dir. by Alex Garland
45) Under the Skin (2013) dir. by Jonathan Glazer
44) Her (2013) dir. by Spike Jonze
43) The Favourite (2018) dir. by Yorgos Lanthimos
42) Take Shelter (2011) dir. by Jeff Nichols
41) Leviathan (2012) dir. by Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel
40) Upstream Color (2013) dir. by Shane Carruth
39) Death of Stalin (2017) dir. by Armando Iannucci
38) Columbus (2017) dir. Kogonada
37) Holy Motors (2012) dir. by Leos Carax
36) Shame (2011) dir. by Steve McQueen
35) Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010) dir. by Edgar Wright
34) Midnight in Paris (2011) dir. by Woody Allen
33) Stories We Tell (2012) dir. by Sarah Polley
32) Cold War (2018) dir. by Pawel Pawlikowski
31) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) dir. by George Miller
30) Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) dir. by Ethan & Joel Coen
29) The Look of Silence (2015) dir. by Joshua Oppenheimer
28) We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) dir. by Lynne Ramsay
27) BlacKkKlansman (2018) dir. by Spike Lee
26) First Reformed (2017) dir. by Paul Schrader
25) Carol (2015) dir. by Todd Haynes
24) Winter’s Bone (2010) dir. by Debra Granik
23) Citizenfour (2014) dir. by Laura Poitras
22) Animal Kingdom (2010) dir. by David Michôd
21) A Separation (2011) dir. by Asgar Farhadi
20) Meek’s Cutoff (2010) dir. by Kelly Reichardt
19) La La Land (2016) dir. by Damien Chazelle
18) Phantom Thread (2018) dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson
17) The Lobster (2015) dir. by Yorgos Lanthimos
16) Calvary (2014) dir. by John Michael McDonagh
15) Best of Enemies: Buckley Vs. Vidal (2015) dir. by Robert Morgan & Morgan Neville
14) Looper (2012) dir. by Rian Johnson
13) Frances Ha (2013) dir. by Noah Baumbach
12) Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) dir. by Benh Zeitlin
11) Lady Bird (2018) dir. by Greta Gerwig
10) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) dir. by Ana Lily Amirpour
9) Moonlight (2016) dir. by Barry Jenkins
8) Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) dir. by Jim Jarmusch
7) Zero Dark Thirty (2012) dir. by Kathryn Bigelow
6) The Tree of Life (2014) dir. by Terrence Malick
5) You Were Never Really Here (2017) dir. by Lynne Ramsay
4) Ex Machina (2014) dir. by Alex Garland
3) Melancholia (2011) dir. by Lars Von Trier
2) The Act of Killing (2012) dir. by Joshua Oppenheimer

1) The Master (2012) dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson

So there you have it. It was a tough job, but I was happy to do it. Here are a few that nearly made the list: Everybody Wants Some!! (underrated Richard Linklater that more people should watch), Tomas Alfredson’s slow burn spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Paul Thomas Anderson’s hippie noir adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. Admittedly, it was hard to weave many of the films from 2019 into the list as they’ll need to sit me a longer. I will say that Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story nearly edged their way on.

Here’s to hoping that the next ten years brings as many great films as the last ten have.

Review: Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts

oscar shorts 2016Here I am back it after a brief hiatus and I’m happy that this year I am fortunate enough to bring you coverage of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films. Over the next few days, I will roll out reviews in each of the categories – documentary, animation and live action. Since I’m the resident documentary cat around here at Reel News Daily, I thought I would start off in that category. These films cover a variety of important and emotional topics from honor killings in Pakistan to the affects of Agent Orange on the youth of Vietnam to the fallout of capital punishment on the family of the accused. These five films hit every emotional string that you can imagine and leave an impression long after the viewing has ended.

Body Team 12

oscar shorts 16 - body team 12Body Team 12, directed by David Darg (as well as produced by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame as well as actress Olivia Wilde), follows one of the teams charged with removing the bodies of the those who died during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia this past year. It is shown through the perspective of the only female member. Body Team 12 is a moving portrait of community members doing an incredibly difficult and dangerous job to do their part to help curb the epidemic. That said, there are some incredibly difficult parts in watching family members of the deceased deal with the loss of their loved ones. The shortest film in the bunch at just over 13 minutes, Body Team 12 is able to pack a narrative wallop that hits you right in the gut, which makes it no wonder that it was nominated for an Oscar in this category. This film will debut on HBO in March.

 

Chau, beyond the lines

oscar shorts 16 chauChau, beyond the lines is a moving film about Chau, a young man whose body is deformed from his parents having been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Because of the degree of care he needed, Chau was sent to a peace camp (an orphanage of sorts) where other children – some more, others less – affected by Agent Orange live and are taken care of by a group of state-funded nurses. Chau is an artist at heart and spends his time dedicating himself to honing his craft, which isn’t easy because of the deformities that have affected his hands and arms. Every year, Chau submits a piece to a national contest for young artists across the country, each believing and hoping that he can win and garner some attention on the merits of his art, not his disabilities. Make no bones about it, this one is a difficult watch, but well worth it. This is a story that shows that nearly 45 years after the end of the war in Vietnam, the price is still paid for the hostilities. Chau has an unbelievably positive outlook on life and begs us to all ask the question, “why can’t we do the same?” Written and directed by Courtney Marsh.

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

oscar shorts 16 - lanzmann posterAdam Benzine‘s short treatise on director Claude Lanzmann and the making of his seminal documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah. The director queries Lanzmann and others (including fellow documentarian Marcel Ophüls who calls Lanzmann a megalomaniac) about the struggles of making of the film as well as its impact. What can be sure is that Shoah is indeed a masterpiece and widely considered one of the best documentaries ever made. The 12 years that went into filming and editing this film took a toll on Lanzmann who was never the same after making it. From having to surreptitiously record conversations with former Nazis to getting beaten by some who found out his game to having to listen to the stories of those who survived concentration camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz, it’s no wonder. An incredilby affecting piece, Lanzmann is a person worthy of documenting, which makes sense since his life was devoted to the same thing. This film debuts on HBO in May.

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

oscar shorts 16 - girl in the riverDirected by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is by far the film that I found had to most effect on me in this category. After a few contextual shots of the city of Gujranwala, Pakistan (population 5 million), the film opens with Saba Qaiser in the emergency room of the hospital, getting her face stitched up from a gunshot wound. Saba had been attacked by her father and uncle in an effort to kill her for dishonoring their family by marrying someone of a social class they didn’t believe high enough and disobeying her father’s orders. The film opens with a statistic that nearly every year, 1,000 of the so-called honor killings take place in Pakistan despite being illegal. Saba was fortunate in some ways to survive this attack. Fortunate in that she lived, but unfortunate that she must now face the pressing question of whether she should forgive her father and uncle and let them free from jail where they can essentially attack her again if they please. She is adamant against forgiving them and even goes so far as to say they should be killed in a public market as an example to any others considering doing this. However, the reality is her mother and sisters face a lifetime of shame because of her deeds and with her father the sole breadwinner in the house, they would likely not be able to support themselves. A decision that is heavier than anything I can imagine. That Obaid-Chinoy was able to access Saba throughout the entire ordeal makes this film really quite stunning and heartbreaking all the same. If I had a vote for the Oscar, this one gets mine. This film will also debut on HBO in March.

The trailer for this film can be found here.

Last Day of Freedom

oscar shorts 16 - last day of freedomThe final nominee is Last Day of Freedom directed by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, is one of the more innovative films nominated in this category I’ve seen to date. It is animated, a kind of mixture of recreations a la Errol Morris with a something that resembles the style of Richard Linklater‘s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. The film allows Bill Babbitt to tell the story of his brother, Manny, a Vietnam vet who was arrested for murder and sentenced to death. The circumstances surrounding Manny‘s actions were colored by his PTSD and schizophrenia diagnosis, but somehow he still found himself on death row. Bill‘s account gives such a stark and emotional rendering of what it is like to live in the shadow of a loved one’s violent actions, that it wasn’t just the victim and their family who have suffered, but also the loved one’s of the perpetrator. Not only that, this films serves as a stark reminder, one that we seem to see all too many times these days, that justice is not always served.

 

By no means are these films uplifting as they all expose a piece of misery of that sticks with their subjects every single day. What they do do, as I think only documentaries can do, is shed light on subject matter that isn’t easy to face or confront and allow it to be seen in a way that is neither heavy-handed nor flippant. These films help us remind us that even at times when things are the shittiest, that humanity can still succeed. While I don’t have access to the many films that were submitted for this award, I can say that these films represent the documentary spirit well.

 

First Run Features’ “The New Rijksmuseum” Is Out Now on DVD

new rijksmuseum poster

Just in time for holiday shopping for those documentary lovers in your life, First Run Features have released their incredible documentary, The New Rijksmuseum. Feel free to re-read my review below to refresh your memory as to why this is worthy of adding to your collection. And for the next four days, all films are 50% off on First Run’s website.

Get there, people!

Review:

Just when I thought films about the inner workings of an art museum couldn’t get much better than Frederick Wiseman‘s National Gallery, along comes Oeke Hoogendijk‘s The New Rijskmuseum. Capturing the tumultuous journey of renovating the Rijskmuseum starting in 2003, I doubt the filmmakers, much less the administration of the venue knew that it would take 10 full years to complete the project. Think about that – one of the finest cultural institutions in the world, the home to many Rembrandts (including the famous The Night Watch) and four of only thirty-four of Johannes Vermeer‘s paintings in the world, was CLOSED, not open to the public, for 10 years.

The New Rijjksmuseum-paintings

Director Hoogendijk has unfettered access to the process which is carefully laid out at the outset of the film in a voiceover by Queen Beatrix from 2001:

The accessibility of our cultural heritage for a wide audience calls for changes in the museological establishment. Government funds have been made available for the large-scale renovation of the Rijskmuseum of Amsterdam

Under General Director Ronald De Leeuw, the Rijksmuseum begins its transformation, which was to to take initially 3 years and happen with a budget of 134 million euros. But as I always say, construction is the biggest racket out there and no project ever comes in on time or on budget. So what unfolds is not so much a comedy of errors, but a comedy of bureaucracy. The architects, Cruz y Ortiz from Spain, won the bidding/contest with their design for the new grand entrance, but their design comes under fire when the local cyclist union fights back against the plan because it limits the space and access to the cyclists of Amsterdam who have come to appreciate and rely on the access to the passage under the Rijskmuseum. At all angles, the city council equivalent shoot down the Rijjskmuseum’s plans and force the architects to change their design which is no small task.

The New Rijjksmuseum-renovation

As the film trundles along, interweaving shots of the renovation with musings by museum staff or footage of missed opportunities at auction in an effort to secure new works for the opening, Hoogendijk easily builds the suspense that this project may never finish and it is that premise that keeps us wholly engrossed. De Leeuw ends up quitting, tired of fighting with the Cyclist Union and Wim Pijbes takes his place bringing with him his own ideas of how the space should look despite what the designers and curators think unlocking another level of bureaucratic interference. But the the folks who don’t get to go behind the curtain of an institution like this to see how it ticks, what unfolds is incredibly fascinating. That the placement of 6 or 7 cannons to be displayed can cause such a contentious argument between the principles at the museum is exasperating, even for us viewers. That this undertaking was so incredibly massive to begin with that it isn’t hard to believe the time it took to complete.

The New Rijjksmuseum-renovation2

Hoogendijk’s camera penetrates this process in a way that really captures so much of the essence of the human spirit and its thirst for artistic inspiration. The film itself is reflective of this very notion. Over the course of ten years, I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of footage that was shot. To cull it down to a 2-hour film must have been a gargantuan task (although rumor has it there was a 4+ hour cut at one point…which I would watch without hesitation). That she was able to make this film as engrossing as it is is really a testament to how dialed in Hoogendijk was throughout this process.

While you might not think that a film about the renovation of an art museum in Holland would be interesting, I’m here to assure you that assumption would be incorrect. I would happily slate this documentary in my top five faves in that arena for the year so far.

https://vimeo.com/111525993

Review: Amy Berg’s “Janis: Little Girl Blue” Is a Well-Honed Tribute to Rock Legend Janis Joplin

Janis Little Girl Blue - poster

This year has been an incredibly interesting year for documentaries about women in music. First came Asif Kapadia‘s electric doc Amy about Amy Winehouse now we have Amy Berg‘s equally incredible doc Janis: Little Girl Blue. There is more in common between these two women than might meet the eye and they are really good companion pieces. Berg‘s cinematic territory for most of her career has focused on some pretty heavy shit – child molesting priests, innocent kids accused of horrific murder, mind-controlling polygamist church leaders and sex crimes perpetuated on children in Hollywood. While Janis Joplin‘s story has a fair amount of tough details, this film is something that many of her others are not, and frankly they couldn’t be because of the subject matter – celebratory. This is a film that, despite the shitty elements of her life, celebrates the legacy left behind by an incredibly dynamic woman and performer, one the represented the time in which she lived as well as any.

Photo of Janis JOPLIN

What Berg gives us is a fairly conventional documentary, flush with testimonials from the people that knew Joplin from her early days in Texas spanning to her time in San Francisco to her eventual blossoming into the female powerhouse voice of a generation. Her trials and tribulations as a young girl looking for that one thing that could make her stand out and get her out of small-town Texas on to something bigger occupy a great deal of this film, although Berg doesn’t skimp on the details when she began to hit it big, first with Big Brother and Holding Company and then when she went solo. And what we see is the incredibly vulnerable young woman who even at the height of her fame doubted whether she was worthy of it all. She sought refuge with different men, but also with illicit drugs and especially booze. The film builds to the inevitable end of Joplin‘s death at 27 (like so many incredible musicians of her own time, but incidentally the same as Winehouse).

Janis Little Girl Blue 2

Berg draws so perfectly from home video and archival interview footage to help Joplin speak for herself throughout the film. What may well be the truest stroke of genius in the film, though, is that Berg slowly but surely removes the talking head interviews throughout the film until we are left with just people speaking in voiceover, if any at all, with footage of Janis. Ultimately, Berg lets the footage act as Janis’ voice and this really captures the essence of what I expect she was all about. While I’ve stated that this is fairly conventional documentary with a linear telling of Joplin‘s tale, that doesn’t make it any less impactful. Another deft move was having Chan Marshall aka Cat Power narrate the film. Her voice is strikingly similar to Joplin‘s, and at times in the film, I couldn’t tell whether it was Marshall or Joplin speaking.

Janis-Little-Girl-Blue-21

My mother idolized Joplin and growing up, I learned what a powerhouse she was through her voice and her music. I honestly didn’t know much about her outside of that. Perhaps that’s how Janis would have wanted it, to let her music speak for her. Berg has put together a touching portrait that fills in the void that I, and many others, likely had in Joplin‘s story. This film in quite engaging and I think that it does Joplin justice. It stresses her importance to the music scene of the 60s and her lasting influence well beyond. I would be wholeheartedly surprised if this film doesn’t at least make the shortlist for the Oscars and I could certainly see it end up with a nomination. It’s that damn good.

This film hits theaters in New York today and premieres in LA on December 4. If you love music and the legacy left by one of the greats, you’ll run and see this one.

Get there, people.

Review: Alice Rohrwacher’s ‘The Wonders’ Is an Intriguing and Sometimes Bizarre Deep Dive into Family Dynamics

The Wonders_PosterIt’s been a while since I rapped at you all, so it’s nice to get back on the horse with a really interesting film. Alice Rohrwacher‘s The Wonders is as unique a film as I’ve seen this year, one in which we have all been overloaded with superheroes and super spies. It’s little films like these that occupy the nether regions of the cinematic universe that glue it all together.

The Wonders-5

The film follows a family of beekeepers in rural Italy trying to make an honest living and create something beautiful from the land they inhabit. The patriarch, Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), ostensibly runs the operation, but it’s really his talented daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) that is brains of the operation. She has a preternatural understanding of the bees and the honey harvesting operations, something her father seems to have to resent. Along with her sisters and a family friend, the family trundles along doing their best to build a strong business. Two things disrupt their lives and throw the world they know into upheaval – the family takes in Martin (Luis Huilca), a juvenile delinquent from Germany, and the interest of a television show looking for the best Countryside Wonders. Both promise much needed money to upgrade their operations and help provide a stronger base. However, Wolfgang doesn’t want to train the boy (that duty falls to Gelsomina) and he doesn’t want to whore out his family in an effort to win what equates to a reality TV show competition, something that is at odds with nearly everyone else in the family. As one might expect, the family dynamics shift and change and very few things go according to plan.

The Wonders-1

While it might not seem that a drama about beekeeping could hold one’s interest for the 105 minute running time of the film, I can assure you it does. Rohrwacher‘s bold choices in location as well as the incredible cinematography work of DP Hélène Louvart (who also shot Wim Wnders‘ incredible doc Pina) creates a singularly unique experience. The color palette mimics the feeling of the characters, the land they inhabit. You feel totally immersed in the experience of these characters because Rohrwacher orchestrates all of these components like a symphony.

The Wonders-3

One of my favorite parts of the film is when the family, who is swimming after a long day of tending hives comes across the TV show shooting promotional spots for their upcoming contest. The ethereal nature of the shoot (seen in the picture above) is compounded by the presence of Milly (Monica Bellucci, whom I would argue is at the top of the list of the most beautiful women on Earth). Her presence in every scene she appears in carries with it the most dreamlike feeling, one that experienced most of all by Gelsomina. This adds an entirely new level of depth to the film and to the characters experiences.

The Wonders-4

This is a really interesting film and one quite worthy of catching should you have the chance. This film is being distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories and The Match Factory, both top quality outfits. This film hit theaters on both coasts last week. Hopefully it will be expanding into your area soon.

Get there, people.

Review: Peter Anthony’s ‘The Man Who Saved the World” Is an Incredible Tribute to a Largely Unknown Hero

man who saved the world - posterMost people think that the 80s were a carefree time where synthesizer infused music, really terrible clothes and fast food reigned. What many forget is that we were still well entrenched in the death rattles of the Cold War. There was a lot of tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. Between Ronald Reagan‘s ridiculous sabre-rattling and reckless rhetoric and the constant shuffling of General Secretaries of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union (Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko all filled the role from November ’82 – March ’85), there was a lot of uncertainty and tensions were incredibly high and for many good reasons. When Nicholas Meyer‘s The Day After, which showed what the effects of nuclear war would be on American soil, aired on November 20, 1983, the conversation changed, at least for Americans who had only seen the after effects of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film was incredibly graphic it scared the shit out of me and it still holds up incredibly well. But as that part of our history faded, the notion that a nuclear attack could happen also faded. And this is where the story of Stanislav Petrov comes in to play.

man who saved the world - petrov

On September 26, 1983, when Petrov, a Lt. Col in the Russian army and specifically the Soviet Air Defense was on duty, an alert sounded for an incoming missile from the United States. As the officer in charge, Petrov had to decide whether or not the threat was real or if it was a malfunction of the system. Literally, the fate of the world rested in his hands – he had to decide whether or not to launch a counter offensive that would essentially begin, and effectively end, World War III with the punch of one button. In his wisdom, and without visual confirmation from his staff from satellite imagery, Petrov to issue the order to launch Russia’s nuclear arsenal. But when not one, not two but four more missiles were picked up by the tracking system, the decision became increasingly more difficult not to launch. But Petrov held strong to his convictions that an unprovoked attack from the United States had not occurred and lucky for ALL of us, his assertions were correct. Had he gotten caught up in the moment like any number of other Russian officer hungry for American blood, no one would be reading this, let alone the name of Petrov, as the Earth would have ended on that day.

man who daved the world - costner

Director Peter Anthony‘s approach to telling this story is quite compelling. He bounces back and forth from narrative, biopic-style storytelling to documentary footage of Petrov fleshing out the whole of his story, every sad and lonely last detail. For a man who actually saved the world from total annihilation and destruction, Petrov was largely denied the rightful thanks he so deserved. He lost his rank after the incident because he didn’t follow protocol, his wife died and he fell into alcohol, all while being estranged from his family who showed him no love which is what led him into the army to begin with. This is a gut wrenching story but one of such incredible importance that I’m glad it was finally told.

man who saved the world - cronkite

In watching this film, I couldn’t help but to think of Sting‘s song, “Russians”  and the line “do the Russians love their children too?” The Russians were so demonized by Reagan and his administration (and many of them before it), that it is probably hard for some of them to swallow Petrov‘s story. Peters did such a magnificent job in telling it in a way that I believe honored Petrov but pulled no punches in showing him as he is and the situations that surrounded him, either through the fictional narrative flourishes or through the tough documentary segments. Just when you feel you might lose your faith in humanity, a story like this comes along and restores at least a little of it. Petrov is no doubt a hero and worthy of any and all accolades. Perhaps the toughest part about this story is that the fate of our existence can really come down to the decision of one person supplied with bad information. Whether that person can make the choice that Petrov did is an entirely different story. I, for one, am glad it was Petrov who was at the helm on September 26, 1983.

This film opened in New York this past weekend and hits theaters in LA this coming weekend. As we creep closer to the Oscar fare hitting big screens, there is still time to catch a film as wonderful as this. This a story that is almost too unreal to be real.

Get there, people.

Retro Review: Savage Steve Holland’s Better Off Dead Turns 30 and Is Still Every Bit As Good (and Weird) as It Was Back in 1985

Better Off Dead poster - original

Better Off Dead recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary. The characters in this film have my co-pilots for so long, it’s hard to remember what it was like before Savage Steve Holland pulled them from the depths of his demented brain. This film is still a treat after 30 years and I don’t doubt that it will continue to be for the next 30. Happy belated birthday, Better Off Dead!

better off dead - lane

It’s hard to describe Better Off Dead to someone who didn’t grow up in the 80s and make it sound watchable. It sounds weird and depressing, which in many ways it is and it certainly was when it was released in 1985. But the endearing humor that is infused throughout and the performance of John Cusack, who I happily think tucked himself into the memories of the youth at the time as the archetypical “good guy” in movies. This is a role he played until his unfortunate decline after what I believe to be his last great film, High Fidelity. But we can save that discussion for another time. As for now, let’s concentrate our efforts on the task at hand…

Better Off Dead tells the tale of one Lane Meyer (John Cusack), a high school student who couldn’t be more in love with his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss). One need look no further than this picture:

Obsessed much?

To Lane, Beth is everything, so when she dumps him for the new kid in school who takes Lane’s spot on the ski team, the prickish and evil Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier), Lane literally doesn’t know what else to do except kill himself. He feels that, yes, he would be better off dead than to live without her (cue Elizabeth Daily). So Lane comes up with several different methods of killing himself throughout the movie (none ever succeeding, of course) as his life spirals into deeper and deeper into depression.

better off dead - lane meyer

Sounds like a fun movie, right? Well, it actually is. Each time Lane is about to take his own life, he thinks better of it and doesn’t commit that act. However, each time something inadvertently occurs that causes him to nearly die through no fault of his own. See what happens when Lane prepares to douse himself with some primer and light himself on fire:

Along the way, Lane is constantly encouraged (“buck up, little camper!”) by his only friend and the town’s residential drug lover, Charles De Mar (played so perfectly by Curtis Armstrong).  Quick to offer words of solace while vacuuming anything he can up his nose, Charles’ wisdom might be the only thing that keeps Lane going. He is without a doubt the finest part of the movie. Here’s a little sample of why:

Lane is a complete chicken shit in his “efforts” to win Beth back and they really never get off the ground. That is until he meets Monique (Diane Franklin), the French exchange student who lives with his gross neighbor Ricky Smith (Dan Schneider) and his mother (Laura Waterbury).

Well hog my hooter! You do speak English!She works with Lane on ways to get Beth back in his good graces – fixing up his Camaro, teaching him how to ski better so he can beat Stalin in a race down the feared K-12 mountain and in general how to be confident. However, as might be foreseen, Lane finally finds the one thing that will help him get over Beth…and this is Monique. After that the only thing he’s interested in is “language lessons” (wink, wink).

Now, go kick eez ass...

The scenery around this Lane’s narrative is what really gives this film life and color. From Taylor Negron‘s (RIP) slacker ass mailman:

to the Dr. Frankenstein/Hamburger/Everybody Wants Some scene:

from the absurdity of the paperboy Johnny Gasparini’s (Demian Slade) quest to collect his $2:

to the two Asian brothers who race Lane Meyer, one who speaks no English and the other who speaks only Howard Cosell (a reference likely lost on many of today’s youth):

this is one of the strangest movies about teenagers maybe ever made. And that it ever got made is all the more perplexing. If this were pitched today, no way anyone takes a chance on it. This movie is pure 80s gold with a killer soundtrack that features Howard JonesRupert Hine, and the aforementioned Elizabeth Daily (Dottie from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) prominently. And I will say that the usage of Rupert Hine‘s “Arrested By You” is one of the most underrated in 80s cinema, perfectly contextualized, matching the tone of the scene that it plays over. When Meyer breaks out his sax, we clearly see this is the precursor to Lloyd Dobler and his boombox from Say Anything and really the beginning of building the persona he was known for before Cusack started appearing in ridiculous action and horror flicks.

betteroffdead - parents

Better Off Dead still remains one of the most fun movies from when I was a kid. I still relish seeing Roy Stalin get his just desserts. I love watching Lane’s weird ass family as well as seeing him bloom from the meek loner to the guy who gets the girl in the end. It’s just a fantastically bizarre trip with a quality payoff.

Better Off Dead Placemat

So if you haven’t seen, get there. Some of the jokes and gags don’t necessarily translate well to today, but the film has an incredible sense of humor and a real heart, despite the dark nature of Lane’s mindset/circumstances.

Here’s the trailer:

Review: Nichols and Walker’s ‘Welcome to Leith’ Is an Incredibly Stunning and Rattling Film Capturing the Scariness of White Supremacists in All Their Ignorant and Gross Glory

welcome to leith - posterThe reason I like documentaries so much is that you can’t shy away from what is depicted on the screen, you can’t suspend your disbelief because it is happening or has really happened. Some docs are whimsical and can delight you with the beauties of life. Others, the exact opposite. Welcome to Leith happens to fall in the latter crowd, although don’t let that take away from how good this film is.

welcome to leith - filmmakers

Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher Walker are unbelievably able to situate themselves right in the middle of a shitstorm…in the middle of Nowhere, North Dakota (really, Leith). When Craig Cobb comes to town, he goes about unnoticed, busy snapping up pieces of property in the small town. To what end you might ask? Well, Cobb just so happens to be one of the foremost white supremacists in the country and he is doing his best to buy enough property to settle his racists buddies in town so that they can take over Leith politically by using their votes to oust the City Council and sitting Mayor Ryan Schock. And why would they do that, you ask again? So that they can set up what I later learned is called a PLE, or Pioneer Little Europe, or really just a town that is all white and non-Jew, non-Christian where they are free to propagate their ridiculous and, frankly, dangerous views.

welcome to leith swatteam

Nichols and Walker do such a wonderful of balancing the perspective of the concerned local townsfolk who don’t want anything to do with Cobb and his fellow bigots being in Leith with the viewpoint of Cobb and his cronies, sickening as it is. The directors are able to capture the growing concern for the citizens of Leith for their own safety as Cobb himself falls into more and more of an uncontrolled, hate-filled spiral. The interplay between the rights of the citizens of Leith and the rights of the racists to exist in town is fascinating to watch play out amid all of the legal wranglings by both sides to allow their ways of life to continue.

welcome to leith - armedpatrol

What the directors do best here is really letting Cobb and the other white supremacists featured hang themselves with their own words and actions. It is hard not to squirm each time Cobb and his cohort comes on screen spouting their hateful rhetoric. And perhaps the best thing is, they willingly contributed to this. The directors were able to use footage shot by the racists and weave it into the film, so in essence they co-directed portions of the film. The score that composers Brendan Canty and Tim Hecker created added a nice layer to the film. This film is quite scary (if you ask me) and the score really helps reiterate that, allowing the directors to not have to show tons more heavy handed interviews with Cobb and his little posse. I will say that the final shot of Cobb in this film is one of the most satisfying of any documentary I’ve ever seen and incredibly indicative of the how most Americans feel about racists and their fucked up agendas.

welcome to leith burningswastika

This is an endlessly enthralling, enraging and interesting film that really encapsulates the complexity of interpreting the First Amendment. Walker and Nichols have woven together a really important film that gives relatively equal balance to both arguments, something that I can’t imagine was an easy thing to do. The film is chock full of poignant moments (none as good as the reveal of Cobb‘s DNA profile) that show the extremes that both sides will go to protect their rights. While the subject matter is hard to digest in parts (because of the nature of it, not the lack of quality in how it is shown), the filmmakers do a dynamic job in getting the points of both parties across and that is why this film is so successful. I would firmly put this documentary beside K. Ryan JonesFall from Grace about the Westboro Baptist Church as a film that is able to take a subject that is really vomit-inducing about some really disgusting people and allow said disgusting people to do all the dirty work themselves. And as gross as I think Cobb and his lot are, it makes for fascinating cinema to watch them try to work the system and ultimately fail.

This film make its US theatrical debut tonight at the IFC Center in New York City. Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher Walker will be present at the 7:45 screening tonight and tomorrow. The film is being distributed by First Run Features.

Get there, people!

Here’s the trailer:

Review: Neil Labute’s ‘Dirty Weekend’ Is Less of a Gut Punch Than His Early Films to Its Detriment Yet Is Still Enjoyable

dirty weekend - poster

If you have ever seen Neil LaBute‘s first few films (In the Company of Men, Yours Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty and The Shape of Things), you will have learned to expect certain things from him – tons of flashy, quick dialogue, despicable characters and at least one crushing gut punch to set you spinning for hours after the film concludes. He was as fearless as any writer-director in Hollywood during that stretch and his films always had me intrigued. When he moved to more Hollywood-friendly fare in Possession, Lakeview Terrace and needless remakes of Death of a Funeral and The Wicker Man, he lost me. With Dirty Weekend, it seemed a return to form of sorts to the films of his that I love, ones that provoke reaction and thought.

Dirty-Weekend_Press_1 Tribeca

Dirty Weekend is a fairly simple film in its construction. Two work colleagues, Les (Matthew Broderick) and Natalie (Alice Eve), are re-routed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, en route to Dallas for a big presentation that could hold great things for the future of both at their current company if it comes off well. As with most business travelers, they are annoyed at the inconvenience of being stuck in small/big town when they both have so much riding on their work, but Les seems almost frantic as if something else is getting to him. When Les decides the two should split up so he can mysteriously “go into town”, buzzers start going off for Natalie, who decides to join him against his wishes. As they traverse the streets of Albuquerque, they both reveal hidden parts of their lives to one another.

Dirty-Weekend_Press_2 Tribeca

The reveal of these hidden aspects further pushes Les and Natalie jointly into a quest to help Les find someone he has met in Albuquerque before, the source of his jittery nature when he found out they landed there, armed only with a note written on a slip of paper, Zorro. Once there, Les finds who his looking for, or at least he thinks he does, and Natalie surprises with a discovery of her own.

Dirty-Weekend_Press_3 Tribeca

LaBute‘s background in theater is very evident in this film. The dialogue and the sparse locations would lend this story well to a stage. And in typical fashion, LaBute kills it with the dialogue, which never seems overwrought or out of character in the mouths of Les, Natalie and the very few other ancillary characters. Where this film lacks in comparison to his other earlier films of a similar ilk is it is missing that gut punch moment, that moment that forces you to make a judgment on the character (a really good example of this is Jason Patric‘s nausea-inducing takedown of Catherine Keener‘s character in Your Friends and Neighbors). The scenarios befalling both Les and Natalie seem a little too passé for a LaBute film and seem to fall a little too close to Fifty Shades of Grey-land in some respects and just as uninteresting. Where LaBute used to shock us, Dirty Weekend, which has all the promise of shocks, falls short in that respect. And the thing is, he has the perfect vessel in Broderick to deliver something along those lines. Broderick does deliver a fine performance, however, and is very convincing as the not-as-square-as-we-imagine businessman.

dirty weekend

It does well that LaBute allows Alice Eve to flex her acting muscles and not just be used as scenery (JJ Abrams and whoever made that shitty Sex and the City 2 tragedy, I’m talking to you). Her demeanor and delivery are spot on and I found her characterization of Natalie far more intriguing than anyone else in the film.

I think this filmed work at its most basic level – telling a story that piqued my interest. Could it have done it better? My opinion is yes. Perhaps I’m not allowing for LaBute to evolve as a filmmaker, not relying on those squeamish, cringe-inducing moments to carry the film. He could at least given us a Nurse Betty-like elbow drop, though. I enjoyed the performances and as always, the dialogue was spot on. For those who are unschooled in LaBute‘s work, this one may suit you better than veteran viewers.

Dirty Weekend hits theaters this weekend and is being distributed by the good folks at eOne Films.

September Movie Preview – 61 movies opening including 12 documentaries & 13 also on demand

September-Movie-Preview-Reel-News-DailyThere are an insane amount of movies releasing this September. There are 12 that are on the top of my watchlist. Which are on yours?

  1. 99 Homes
  2. About Ray
  3. Ashby
  4. Cooties
  5. Dragon Blade
  6. Finders Keepers
  7. Mississippi Grind
  8. Prophet’s Prey
  9. Sicario
  10. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
  11. Stonewall
  12. The Keeping Room

September 2nd

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Summary:

Produced by PBS, this is likely to be in a classic documentary style.


A Walk in the Woods

Summary:

Robert Redford tried to make a comeback last year with his solo effort, All Is Lost, but this time he teams up with Nick Nolte. Potential to be great.


September 4th

Before We Go – available to rent

Summary:

Chris Evans directs with the unpredictable and amazing Alice Eve. She also stars with Matthew Broderick in Dirty Weekend, out this same day.


Bloodsucking Bastards
Also on VOD

Summary:

Liz is reviewing – stay tuned!


Break Point

Summary:


Dirty-Weekend_Press_1 TribecaDirty Weekend
Tribeca Film Festival 2015, also on VOD

Summary:

This didn’t impress Liz or myself, but Jeremy is going to give it a try. Stay tuned for his review!


Dragon Blade

Also on VOD

Summary:

Adrien Brody, Jackie Chan and John Cusack. Swords, armor and anticipated over-acting.


My Voice, My Life

Documentary

Summary:



Number One Fan

Summary:


The Transporter Refueled

Summary:


Coming Home

Summary:

Welcome to Leith

Documentary

Summary:

Jeremy is reviewing – stay tuned!


chloe and theo stillChloe and Theo
Also on VOD

Summary:

Jordan is reviewing – stay tuned!


Steve Jobs-3Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Also on VOD
Documentary

Summary:

Liz and I will attended a special screening and Q&A with director Alex Gibney – stay tuned for their side-by-side reviews! Can you guess which is the iPhone user?


Wolf Totem


September 9th

The Visit

Summary:

Are you going to give M. Night another shot?


Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Summary:


September 11th

TIME OUT OF MIND NYFFTime Out of Mind

On demand September 18th
New York Film Festival 2014

Summary:


Sleeping with Other People
Tribeca Film Festival 2015

Summary:

Don’t even think about it – just see it. I raved about it here.


Breathe

Summary:

Mélanie Laurent directs. I’m there.


Goodnight Mommy

Summary:


Listening
also on VOD

Summary:


Meet the Patels

Documentary

Summary:


Paul Taylor Creative Domain

Documentary

Summary:


Triple 9

Summary:

TBD


90 Minutes in Heaven

Summary:


The Perfect Guy

Summary:


September 18th

Captive

Summary:



Cooties

Summary:


Pawn Sacrifice

Summary:



Kate Macer (Emily Blunt, right), Dave Jennings, (Victor Garber, center right), Phil Coopers (Hank Rogerson, center left) and Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya, left) in SICARIO. Photo Credit: Richard Foreman

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt, right), Dave Jennings, (Victor Garber, center right), Phil Coopers (Hank Rogerson, center left) and Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya, left) in SICARIO. Photo Credit: Richard Foreman

Sicario
Toronto International Film Festival 2015

Summary:

Emily Blunt once more kicking ass. Love it.


About Ray
Toronto International Film Festival 2015

Summary:


Black Mass-00001Black Mass

Summary:

You can catch the doc on Netflix right now here.


Everest

Summary:

This might be worth the extra moola for IMAX.


Katti Batti

Summary:


The New Girlfriend

Summary:


Prophet’s Prey

Documentary

Summary:

Amy Berg has wowed me with West of Memphis and Deliver Us From Evil, so I’m looking forward to this.


Uncle John
Also on VOD

Summary:


War Pigs

Summary:


Some Kind of Hate
Also on VOD

Summary:


Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer

Summary:


September 23rd

Pay the Ghost
Also on VOD

Summary:

Trailer TBA


September 24th

The Reflektor Tapes

Documentary, Toronto International Film Festival 2015

Summary:


September 25th

Finders Keepers

Documentary

Summary:


Mississippi Grind

Ben Mendelsohn is one of those actors that greatly elevates the movie without overshadowing it. CAN’T WAIT. (Insert joke from @harmonov about Ryan Reynolds)

Summary:


Stonewall

Summary:


Before I Wake

Summary:


The Green Inferno

Summary:


Misunderstood

Also on VOD, New York Film Festival 2014

Summary:


Mission to Lars

Documentary

Summary:


The Intern

Summary:


10 Days in a Madhouse

Summary:


99 Homes

Summary:


A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story

Documentary

Summary:


Ashby

Summary:

Ashby TrailerLife is about knowing how to take a hit. Brace yourself, Ashby opens in Select Theaters, On Demand and DIGITAL HD September 25th!

Posted by Ashby on Saturday, August 22, 2015


Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

Documentary

Summary:


Labyrinth of Lies

Summary:


The Keeping Room

Summary:


Before I Wake

Summary:


Hotel Transylvania 2

Summary:


Brand: A Second Coming

Documentary

Summary:

Could not find a trailer. This is not a good sign.


Wildlike

Summary:


September 30th

The Walk
New York Film Festival 2015

Summary:

Mark Your Calendars: Less Than One Week Until the Directed by Women Celebration Kicks Off

directed by women 2Next Tuesday, September 1, the Directed by Women worldwide viewing party will commence running until September 15. The focus of this event, from founder Barbara O’Leary, is to have “film lovers will gather together in their communities around the world for film screenings & guest filmmaker visits designed to focus attention on and offer appreciation for women film directors and their work.” Over the course of those fifteen days, people from Seattle to New York to Spain to Montreal to Houston to India will gather together to celebrate the great cinematic output of women directors. Brittany Friesner has curated a special screening series at the fantastic Indiana University Cinema that includes visits from Penelope Spheeris (Decline of Western Civilization Parts I-III and Wayne’s World), the New Negress Film Society‘s Ja’Tovia Gary and Stefani Saintonge as well as Hannah Fidell who will host a special screening of her new film, 6 Years.

The Directed by Women events tumblr page is chock full of opportunities that may well be happening in your area. However, don’t be dissuaded if there are no group screenings in your area. Feel free to watch create your own screenings for yourself or others that you know. Be sure to post, Tweet, Facebook, Tumblr the hell out of what you are viewing, sharing your experiences with these wonderful films. Be sure to use the #directedbywomen tag.

I, myself, will be taking this opportunity to revisit the films of Lynne Ramsay, Ben’s at Home directed by Mars Horodyski, the documentaries of Barbara Kopple, especially Harlan County USA and I may just sneak some of Agnès Varda or Chantal Akerman‘s work in for good measure. I have had Barbara Loden‘s Wanda on my shelf for some time, so what better time than now to check it out?

The point is join in however you want. Showcase the work of women directors you love and find interesting. The fact that there is one female director for every 15 male directors working in narrative film which is unacceptable.

So join in however you want and however you can. You’ve got 6 days to get prepped and ready. Get there, people!

 

Review: Sara Newens & Mina Son’s Documentary ‘Top Spin’ Is an Engaging Look Into the World of Competitive Table Tennis

top spin_posterLast year, I reviewed the documentary Touch the Wall about Olympian swimmers Kara Lynn Joyce and superstar Missy Franklin and really enjoyed it. I loved the journeys that were shown for both women as one tried to make a fourth Olympic team while the other tried to make her first. Swimming is a well recognized sport and those depicted in that film are familiar to a fairly wide audience all things considered. So when I began watching Sara Newens’ and Mina Son’s Top Spin about competitive table tennis/ping pong, I wasn’t sure what to expect as someone who doesn’t follow the sport. Hell, I didn’t even know that it was an Olympic sport until watching, However, the journeys of the films’ subjects, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang and Michael Landers were every bit as compelling as those of Joyce and Franklin, perhaps even moreso.

Top Spin-ariel_hsing_match

Newens and Son seem to have unfettered access to three subjects of the film. Hsing, Zhang and Landers are all three American teenagers vying for their one true dream – representing the United Stats at the 2012 Olympic games in London. All three, despite their young age, are the best in country, but they have a grueling process in which they have to compete in order to make the team. They first must win tournaments to qualify for the US team, each team consisting of four men and women. But that’s not it…they have to compete against the Canadian National Team to secure one of three spots granted to North America.

Top Spin-lily_zhang

Zhang and Hsing have cultivated quite a rivalry leading into the Olympic trials. Hsing has beaten her twice to claim the National Title, but even through this they are friends outside of the table. They root for one another because they can empathize with each others dreams. Both girls have very supportive families and both are allowed special schedules at school to allow for their training. Zhang only goes to school until noon each day so she can spend 5-6 hours/day training. Hsing‘s father devotes himself full-time to helping coach her and get her prepared for tournaments and the Olympics However, through all of this, the girls appear to maintain fairly normal lives, being with friends and doing things that most kids their age do. Zhang is far more successful in this arenathough. Hsing is shown hanging out with titans Warren Buffett (whom she calls Uncle Warren) and Bill Gates. She has a high profile, and rightfully so as the US Champion. You never get the creepy feeling about their parents and their motives like you do from something like Toddlers & Tiaras, where delusional parents clearly live vicariously through their young children. What we see here is a team effort on the part of the players and their parents. The win together, they lose together, they share in the joy and pain together.

Top Spin-michael_landers

Landers on the other hand is a different case. He is more of a rockstar than the two girls. He likes the limelight and is completely dedicated to his craft as a table tennis player. He doesn’t go to traditional school, but takes classes online at home to better accommodate his training regimen. We get glimpses that he still has somewhat of a social life, but not to the same degree as the two young ladies. He is being courted by major sponsors (he even gets his own Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal box) and his mother hints that if he makes the Olympics, that David Letterman is interested in bringing him on the show. He goes to the hip table tennis club Spin in New York City. All these things paint a different picture of Michael although he is no less a fierce competitor than Ariel or Lily. Michael is able to go to train in China where the best table tennis players in the world reside and who have taken 12 of 21 men’s gold medals,15 of 21 women’s gold medals both of the team gold medals awarded.

Top Spin-lily_zhang_match

This film trumpets the rigors of competitive table tennis and the heart and dedication of these three talented youths and their support networks. It is a film that is careful not to judge these kids and their parents who devote everything they can to help them achieve their dream. While some might see this dedication as over the top or overbearing, it’s clear that these kids are keeping perspective on their durability in what is a tough sport as well as future goals outside of the sport. Landers, who dedicated his entire youth to table tennis, has an easy time letting go of the sport and embracing what life has to offer after his run at the Olympics. With Ariel and Lily, we will have to wait and see because they are both younger than Michael. I would love to see a follow up to this film picking up where this one left off because I believe that there is more story to tell here.

Top Spin-ariel_hsing

With a running time just under 80 minutes, this film packs a tremendous amount about these three kids in. I never felt like one got more screen time than the other and that there tales were fleshed out enough that we really got a sense of who they are so kudos to the Newens and Son for that. Ariel, Lilly and Michael‘s stories are worth telling and frankly this is a refreshing look at kids competing in the highest levels of sports with all the tension and drama you might expect from a fiction film. I experienced their highs and lows, triumphs and defeats right along with them and when a film can place me asthe viewer in those situations, you know it’s successful.

While many people don’t know much about table tennis outside of the table they have in the basement, this film demystifies the appeal of the sport and the many facets of the game. I really enjoyed this film and was completely taken by these three teens. I would certainly recommend this film of the vast wasteland of films in theaters now. Get there, people!

For those of you fortunate enough to live in Los Angeles, this film has its world premiere today at the Laemmle Theaters and being distributed by First Run Features.

 

 

Review: Andrew Hinton & Johnny Burke’s Doc ‘Tashi and the Monk’ Pulls the Heartstrings in All the Right Ways

tashi - posterHBO has been in the documentary game for as long as I can remember. They’ve been bringing quality stories about a wide spectrum of subjects and people and tonight it premieres the new documentary short Tashi and the Monk, which is no less interesting than the great bulk of what they show.

tashi - monk and girl

After deciding to end his tenure as a Buddhist monk working in the United States, Lobsang Phutsok felt compelled to return to his native Nepal to help children in need, those who had no options. Upon his return he started Jhamtse Gatsal, what amounts to a commune where at risk children were not just taken in to be cared for but essentially adopted by Lobsang. Parents/grandparents/family members had to relinquish rights to the children in order for him to take them in, where he would he there proxy father. There, they would be fed, educated and prepared for a life bigger than any they could expect from their circumstances otherwise by the monk and his incredibly dedicated staff.

tashi - girl herself

The force that carries us through the film really is the titular Tashi Drolma, a troubled 5-year old girl whose mother had just died and whose alcoholic father can’t or won’t take care of her. She is the youngest of the children at Jhamtse Gatsal and is a willful young girl who starts out as a troublemaker. However, we witness her journey over the period of filming into a more integrated and happy young girl who makes friends and is taken under the wing of one of the older children there. She is the embodiment of all the good that occurs under Lobsang and the staff’s guidance.

tashi - kids

Try as he may, Lobsang isn’t able to take in all of the children that he’d like to or that need to. He heeds the advice of his overworked staff that should they take on more children, the ones currently in their care would not get what they need. This is a delicate balancing act and one that can have heartbreaking consequences, which are shown with as much compassion as any film can. These choices take their toll on Lobsang, but he never loses sight of the mission of Jhamtse Gatsal.

This is an incredibly uplifting film and one the shines a light on some really wonderful and amazing people. Beautifully filmed, capturing the beautiful scenery of Nepal and the Himalayas,it will tug on your heartstrings, but you’ll come out better for it. I promise.

This film premieres tonight on HBO at 8:00 EST. Be sure to check this one out.

Retro Review: Martha Coolidge’s ‘Real Genius’ Was Released 30 Years Ago Today and Remains one of the Great 80s Comedic Cinematic Treasures

real genius poster

When most people think of Val Kilmer‘s greatest performance, they usually default to his portrayal of of Doc Holliday in the uneven Tombstone. Don’t get me wrong, his performance as the gunslinger is impressive, but to me he has never been and never will be finer than he was as Chris Knight in Martha Coolidge‘s incredibly humorous and wonderful Real Genius.

real genius - ice is niceReal Genius is centered at Pacific Tech (loosely based on CalTech) where under the direction of Dr. Jerry Hathaway (the always bastard-y William Atherton), geniuses hone their skills, bringing fortune on both them and Dr. Hathaway. The narrative focuses mostly on two characters: Knight, resident brainiac who is about to graduate, and his new protégé, Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret), who happens to be a 15-year old and the first student ever admitted to Pacific Tech for the mid-Winter term.

real genius - mitchWhy was Mitch admitted to the university early, you ask? Well, it seems Dr. Hathaway is working in league with the military on a top secret project, one which employs a high-powered laser to vaporize single targets/people from outer space. Of course, the students aren’t privy to what Hathaway has been up to. When the military decides they need the project complete in 4 months, not 18, Hathaway brings in Mitch, his ace in the hole.

real genius - gangKnight doesn’t act like what most would expect from a genius. He is insubordinate, he is wild and all-together unpredictable. He and Mitch couldn’t be more opposite. A perfect example:

So it takes a while for them finally find a good footing, but they do and for the most part prosper. Like any good 80s movie, one villain isn’t enough. Not only do they have to deal with Hathaway, but also his toadie, Kent (Robert Prescott), who is jealous that Knight and Mitch get all of Hathaway’s attention despite the fact the he has done everything Hathaway has ever asked him to do. He’s the typical brown-nosing asshole that we all hated when we were in school.

real genius - kentIn keeping with a certain weirdness that crept over 80s teen comedies (a la Better Off Dead), this film wouldn’t be complete without the crazy genius recluse who lives in a closet, right? And that would be Lazlo Hollyfeld (the incredible Jon Gries), the gentle-souled former BMOC from Pacific Tech, who went underground after finding out that a product he invented was killing people. He also lives in Mitch and Chris’ closet. But never fear, he’s not some nut – he ends up being the last cog in the wheel that helps set everything straight in the end.

real genius - lazloWhen Kent sabotages the project finally tipping Knight over the edge, he has an epiphany and is able to solve the problem with the laser:

When Hollyfeld finds Knight, Mitch and their merry band of misfit geniuses including Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) and Ick (Mark Kamiyama) celebrating, and tells them what they’ve done, they band together to stop the military from testing the weapon all while exacting revenge on Kent and Hathaway.

Despite being every bit an 80s film, Real Genius was strangely prophetic. When you look at the Crossbow Project, which is the weapon that the guys build, it is basically a different version of the now famous and widely reviled drone program employed by our government and military. The Crossbow was undoubtedly born out of of Ronald Reagan‘s delusional Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) unveiled in 1983. So go figure, right?

This is one movie that I truly believe still stands tall given its age. The humor is as fresh and biting as when this film was released nearly 30 years ago (for the most part). Val Kilmer had just come off of a strong comedic performance in the Zucker Bros.’ Top Secret! and really shines in this film. From his delivery:

to his reactions:

to the offbeat:

…it’s just a a top notch performance. It’s a real shame he abandoned the more comedic roles and instead went for fare like Top Gun. Literally broke my heart when he was in that one.

And how can we ever forget probably the best line in the entire film delivered by Dr. Hathaway?:

PRICELESS and applicable on so many occasions in real life.

And like all 80s movies, the soundtrack is very important contributing immensely to the film. The usage of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” over the ending and credits is an absolutely perfect complement to the premise and the actions of Dr. Hathaway and the US government. Add to that the two incredible montages set to “I’m Falling” by The Comsat Angels and “Number One” by Chaz Jenkel and you have yet another example of the effective use of music to convey the feelings of the characters and add to the story. I just think that 80s movies had a better grasp of this concept. There was no equivalent of Rick Ross playing over a western like in Django Unchained and for the better.

While there are mediocre performances (Mitch?), the whole of the film is strong. Getting a rare glimpse inside the world of the young genius is quite fun and this film is positioned differently than other films like it from the same time, i.e. War Games and The Manhattan Project. While the pall of the Cold War is cast over the three of them, only Real Genius is able to make light of the situation and really empower the kids in the film. I tribute that to a great script from Neal Israel and Pat Proft (who co-wrote Tom Hanks’ Bachelor Party and Police Academy) and Peter Torokvei with really adept direction by Martha Coolidge. A winner on really every level. If you haven’t caught this one, do so at your leisure. It’s one that is not to be missed.

It’s a shame that this one has been relatively forgotten amidst so many of great 80s films. This one still resides at the top of my list.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Retro Review: Weird Science Joins the 30-Year Old Club and It’s Still as Funny as Ever

weird science - poster 1

Fewer films have ever made me laugh as hard as John HughesWeird Science. This film is a sign post of my childhood, one that carries tremendous meaning and nostalgia. While this one may not register on many folks’ radar as a top notch Hughes example, I happily rated it my favorite of his oeuvre back in 2013. That it came out in what might be considered the most 80s month of films in the entire decade (along with the original Fright Night, Real Genius, Teen Wolf, Better Off Dead and American Ninja) makes it all the better. So, it is with great pleasure that pleasure that I fête Weird Science as it turns 30 this year (released August 2, 1985), a fantastic example of 80s film hijinks replete with Hughes‘ ability to take something that is on the surface a typical male teen horn-dog film and give it some substance at the end. I am unashamed in my love for this film and I can happily report that even to this very day, Weird Science towers above the poor excuses for teen comedies of today.

weird science - openingThe story of the film, for you unfortunate louts who have yet to see it, is a somewhat standard territory for Hughes – two loveable losers, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall in his finest role) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), cast outs at their school long for nothing but to be cool. However, those dreams are consistently dashed again and again by the masses, especially Max (Robert Rusler) and Ian (a very young Robert Downey Jr.). That Gary and Wyatt are smitten with Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson, one of my all-time crushes), Max and Ian’s girlfriends certainly doesn’t help. So when Wyatt’s parents leave for the weekend, they decide to make a girl…actually make a girl, using Wyatt’s then high-tech computer set-up and know how, a sort of new wave Dr. Frankenstein. When it actually works and Lisa (the stunning Kelly LeBrock) materializes in Wyatt’s bedroom, the boys’ futures start to change for the better.

weird science - kellyBut as always, there are roadblocks. Wyatt’s older brother Chet, in what is arguably the best shithead older brother performance in film history graciously given to us by the incomparable Bill Paxton, is home from college to “watch over” the boys. He harasses and harangues them all while they and Lisa set about changing their fortunes over the course of one weekend. The key to this is not only was Lisa created to be incredibly beautiful (and trust me, in 1985 LeBrock was the pinnacle of beauty) but she also had special, witchcraft-like powers that allowed her certain license to create ideal situations in which Gary and Wyatt could prove themselves to their otherwise unsuspecting classmates. They do so in memorable fashion thus ingratiating themselves to said classmates and more importantly the apples of their eyes, Deb and Hilly.

weird science - chetThis is a month that will likely be a one-way Nostalgia Express for me. It’s fitting that it is starting out with Weird Science. I hold this film in the highest regard. While it may not be Hughes‘s “best” film, it certainly is my favorite of his. It may not have quite the same touching ending that both Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club have,but Weird Science earns its ending. It’s honest despite the preposterous nature of the events leading up to it and there is something that we can all likely identify with in Gary and Wyatt. And to me, any film that gives moviegoers a scene like the one where they go to a bar on the Southside of Chicago is complete and total magic. Check it out:

There are very few scenes that are as quotable as this one. That it’s just one among many in the film is a testament to the quality of Weird Science. And despite falling into the shadows of the acting world for a long while, Anthony Michael Hall gives one of the all-time great comedic performances in this film. I wish I could understand why he faded away like he did even though he has resurfaced in the past few years. The same could be said of Ilan Mitchell-Smith who was solid in The Wild Life and really encapsulated the character of Wyatt. This film is a true treasure and deserves mention alongside any comedy of the 80s and beyond.

This film has significant personal meaning to me as I got to see it with my brother and sister at the Rivoli Theatre in downtown Muncie, Indiana, when my parents were in court hammering each other over visitation rights post-divorce. This film was the perfect antidote to the trepidation my siblings and I felt that day. So to John Hughes, the cast of the film and anyone else who had anything to do with the making of this film, I thank you. It’s rare the one can point to one person and call them the voice of a generation, but I don’t doubt that anyone who came of age in the early to mid-80s couldn’t at least tip John Hughes as the most likely candidate.

Enjoy the tasty original trailer and if you have yet to watch this puppy, get there people:

Jeremy’s Review: Kim Seong-Hun’s ‘A Hard Day’ Is an Adrenaline-Fueled Thrill Ride Worthy of Your Attention

hard dayLet’s just say this – Korean film is on a roll. From the works of Chan Wook Park to Bong Joon Ho, South Korean is churning out some of the most inventive and interesting films since the turn of the millennium. Kim Seong-Hun‘s A Hard Day is definitely welcome in this same group. A white-knuckler for sure, A Hard Day doesn’t waste any time getting into the action, raising the pulse of the action steadily from the opening scene to the perfect last shot.  That it is able to sustain a level of high intensity for almost two hours is commendable, if not exhausting for the viewer. But it is highly rewarding. This is a film that many thrillers aspire to but rarely achieve.

hard day - ko 1

The story is simple – Detective Ko (Sun-kyun Lee) is in mourning for his mother, who has just passed. As he sits with his family as he receives a call that something has happened at the police station where he works that requires his attention. As he is driving to the station, he accidentally hits and kills a man in the road. This leaves him in a dilemma – does he turn himself in or does he cover it up? Take a guess which one he chooses. This decision continues to haunt him for the remainder of the film. When he gets to the office, he finds out that they have been raided by Internal Affairs for taking bribes and now his job is at risk…and he has a dead body in his trunk. He disposes of the body in a perfect way, which leads us to think that we haven’t seen or heard the last of it. When Ko gets a phone call from a man purporting to know that he has killed the pedestrian, a whole host of new problems open up for Ko pushing him (and his family) to the brink.

hard day - chase

This movie is so kinetic, so heart-pounding that you rarely get a chance to come up and breathe before Ko falls into one more twist that draws him (and us) back into some deeper shit.  Jin-woong Jo, who plays Ko’s formidable opponent Park, looks every bit of a villain. Park’s cunning and planning push Ko to stay on his toes and adapt quickly. So often villains telegraph their moves making it easy for the protagonist to succeed. Not in this film, though. Park is one step ahead of Ko at seemingly all times and just keeps coming back for more.

hard day - cho

While the ending sequence between Park and Ko dragged on for a bit too long, it had such a satisfying end and one that the film earned. The final shot of the film is just perfection. Credit goes to Seong-Hun‘s script throughout for really giving the viewer the proxy ride, via Ko, on this adventure. It’s one that you won’t easily shake for a while after it’s done. I could easily see this film getting an American remake (although I hope it doesn’t as it’s perfect as is) a la Scorsese‘s remake of Lau & Mak‘s Infernal Affairs. This is a film that American audiences crave as is evident that there have been three (THREE!!!!) films made in the Taken series and all three combined don’t give anywhere near the amount of thrills and suspense that A Hard Day gives.

hard day - ko 2

With respect to the great number of blockbuster films that have come out this summer, none that I’ve seen engaged me or thrilled me as much as A Hard Day. That said, you should RUN, not walk, to see this film if you get the chance. It has all you could want in an action film and more.

A Hard Day opens today at Village East Cinemas in New York with a national release to follow and is brought to you by the good people over at Kino Lorber.