written by: Rick Clark, Jerry Harrison, Julie Janata, Martin Shore & Zac Stanford
produced by: Marin Shore, Cody Dickinson, Brett Leonard, John Beug, Lawrence Mitchell & Dan Sameha
directed by: Martin Shore
runtime: 95 min.
U.S. release date: September 12, 2014 & September 26, 2014 (limited)
There’s been a handful of recent music documentaries focusing on a variety of subjects: bands most people have never heard of (“A Band Called Death”), nostalgic music recorded in a particular studio (“Sound City”) and geographic locations known for producing some amazing music (“Muscle Shoals”). Those movies satisfied in-the-know fans by delivering respectful, introspective and entertaining films and 2.) introducing those unfamiliar viewers to great American music. Any musician from those documentaries will admit that the music from the Mississippi Delta, be it blues, soul or country, has been highly influential to musicians and performers of all ages for decades. “Take Me to the River” celebrates the music of that area as well as the rich history of music from Memphis, featuring legends pairing up with some young(er) blood.
written by: Kevin Smith
produced by: William D. Johnson, Sam Englehardt, Shannon McIntosh & David Greathouse
directed by: Kevin Smith
rating: R (for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content)
runtime: 102 min.
U.S. release date: September 19, 2014 (limited)
I didn’t stay for the end credits like I usually do, Kevin Smith’s latest film, “Tusk”. If I had I would’ve seen a clip of the writer/director explaining how the idea of a man transformed into a walrus by his kidnapper derived from an episode of his SModcast in which he and his co-host Scott Mosier discussed a classified ad that offered a free living situation to a lodger on the condition that he/she dress up in a walrus suit. Smith left it up to his Twitter followers to determine whether or not this ad was a set-up worthy of a movie adaptation. I wish they had said it wasn’t worthy, but Smith’s loyal followers are many. I also wish a good friend of Smith’s would’ve smacked him upside the head with a dose of reality, since this is not a good idea for a movie, which is one of the reasons why I bolted out of the theater as soon as it was over.
written by: Pat Rushin
produced by: Nicolas Chartier and Dean Zanuck
directed by: Terry Gilliam
rating: R (for language and some sexuality/nudity)
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: August 19, 2014 (VOD, iTunes & Amazon) and September 19, 2014 (limited)
With “The Zero Theorem”, his first film since 2009’s “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”, Terry Gilliam returns to an iteration of the near-future world he’s known for, in films like “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys”. In fact, the director’s latest offering is said to be a conclusion of sorts to his dystopian trilogy, filled with the same anxious and paranoid tone where a protagonist struggles in a structured environment dominated by either a authoritarian society or domineering corporate entity. While it’s a welcome return for fans of Gilliam’s perspective in this sci-fi subgenre, I had a slight feeling of trepidation going into “The Zero Theorum”, wondering if the visually enticing director is regurgitating previous themes and ideas.
written by: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
produced by: Wyck H. Godfrey and Marty Bowen
directed by: John Boone
rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language)
runtime: 126 min.
U.S. release date: June 6, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray release date: September 16, 2014
More than its attempts to stir reflection on what it means to live and what it means to die, “The Fault In Our Stars” left me contemplating film criticism. Like most critics I suspect, I have a process. While I watch, observations collect in one mental pile, possible phrases in another, and eventually, the back of my mind has a checklist of successes and failures. It almost becomes like math: subtract what didn’t work from what did, and if the film’s still in good shape by the end I’ll stamp it with a good letter grade at the bottom of the review. But this is a curious circumstance, since, no matter how many flaws I could detect, and it quickly becomes apparent there is a bounty of them, there was little doubt I felt exactly what the film wanted me to at any given moment. Despite my best intentions to sit impervious to its not so invisible tricks, “The Fault In Our Stars” won. I choked up. More than once.
And if I’m being really honest, the number is above the number of fingers I have on one hand. What director Josh Boone made wasn’t a film; it’s a finely tuned manipulative machine, primed with ruthless efficiency to elicit powerful response of leaking emotion.
This is the latest of 2014’s young adult adaptations, and the second built as a starring vehicle for the beautiful star of ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of an American Teenager”, Shailene Woodley. Adapted from a book of the same name from acclaimed and impressively internet friendly author John Green, “The Fault In Our Stars” falls in the well-explored genre of “sick-lit”, where characters confront real life tragedy instead of, as The Gaurdian puts it, “dragons, wizards, and vampire romances.”
Woodley plays a sixteen year old girl named Hazel Grace Lancaster, who at an early age was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It spread to her lungs, and to breathe she’s forced her to carry around a portable oxygen tank like a ball and chain. Although she has warm support by her parents (played by “True Blood” star Sam Trammell and Laura Dern), her life is fairly contained. Solitary. At the request of her persistently caring mother, the kind we would be lucky to have, she puts an end to her seclusion and joins a support group. It’s there the romance we were promised in the trailers sparks, where she bumps into a boy named Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) and the second their eyes meet they’re on a predictable path of love.
written by: Jim Jarmusch
produced by: Jeremy Thomas and Reinhard Brundig
directed by: Jim Jarmusch
rating: R (for language and brief nudity)
runtime: 123 min.
U.S. release date: April 11, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray release date: September 9, 2014
The streets are empty. A threatening haze descends over a once great city now abandoned. Buildings are in a state of disrepair and disarray, and almost no one is to be seen. You’ve moved off the grid in self-imposed seclusion. It was to stay safe, and you don’t want to be found. Your house has its own power source using technology well beyond the capabilities of today. It is virtually impossible to trace you, and yet, undesirable figures knock at your door. You call them zombies. These are the symptoms of the post-apocalyptic narrative, only, there was no big meteor. There wasn’t zombie outbreak and North Korea didn’t launch nuclear missiles. There was a catastrophe, but it wasn’t an alien attack.
This ghoulish and largely vacant city isn’t from Mad Max, but is actually a contemporary American city. It’s Detroit, as it stands right this second. Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, “Only Lovers are Left Alive” uses the United States economic crisis as a platform for a post-apocalyptic landscape, combining political commentary with the fixings of genre. This is how Jarmusch made most of the film: he genre mashes to find flavors yet unfound by other artists. Largely, his experiments are a success.
Jarmusch’s latest film explores genre, love, and decline, and he does it through elegant symbol and potent metaphor. The example in the opening paragraph is one of the film’s most creative. It’s also a film about claustrophobic rooms and the cheerless pessimists that live inside them. The extraordinary style weeps mood and melancholy, but also sex. The camera is tight, and the story is focused.
For most of the film, we sit with only two characters, and they don’t talk much. Their names are Adam and Eve, and it isn’t long before we realize they aren’t human. They’re vampires. And they’re in love. “Avengers” star Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, a recluse rock star, who’s always in tight black jeans and a black shirt. His jet black hair is long, messy, and covers half his face. He sulks and makes rock music that he won’t let anyone hear. If a figure could be sexier than Tom Hiddleston as a morose rock star, it’s Tilda Swinton playing his wife. She radiates every film frame that includes her. They are transient entities — phantoms — coasting through life untethered from everything but each other. The story — if it can indeed be called a story — begins with Adam and Eve on opposite ends of the globe, and they slowly reunite.
Like Jarmusch’s other films, notably “Broken Flowers” and “Dead Man”, there’s a barebones narrative. Characters spend most of the running time wandering aimlessly from room to room and place to place, and what little comes to pass is incidental to both Adam and Eve. Similar to Bill Murray’s performance as Don Johnston in “Broken Flowers”, both Hiddleston and Swinton under-emote, and, also like Murray’s performance, sometimes to hilarious results.
Jarmusch has been called a more extreme Wes Anderson, which is to say they have a similar penchant for deadpan humor intermixed with points of genuine sadness. The same tonal map is used by both filmmakers, but Jarmusch extends the boundaries of that map to greater extremes. Compared to Anderson’s films, humor is more deadpan, and moments of sadness are less dramatic. This style is a playhouse for skilled actors (and thus the spectrum of talent both filmmakers freely have access to), with them able to perform in ways unusual to both them and viewers. As a result, the cast give excellent performances of striking sensitivity, and the film is worth it for them alone.
written by: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
produced by: Christine Vachon, Declan Baldwin and Pamela Koffler
directed by: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
rating: R (for some sexuality and language)
runtime: 88 min.
U.S. release date September 06, 2013 (TIFF), August 29, 2014 and September 05, 2014 (limited)
There’s no trace of Robin of Locksley in “The Last of Robin Hood”. It’s a title merely to get your attention. If you want to see Robin Hood in his twilight years, you’d do best to check out Sean Connery in 1976’s “Robin and Marion”. This somewhat boring melodrama focuses on the last couple of years in the life of actor Errol Flynn, the controversial lothario who, in his late forties took on a 15 year-old girl as his paramour. If that sounds kind of skeevy, well it is, and as much as writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland try to romanticize the relationship, the aura of uneasiness permeates the entire picture.
written by: Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek
produced by: Beau St. Clair, Pierce Brosnan and Sriram Das
directed by: Roger Donaldson
rating: R (for strong violence including a sexual assualt, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use)
runtime: 108 min.
U.S. release date: August 27, 2014
Dropping a Pierce Brosnan spy thriller during the last days of August does not bode well for anyone encouraged by the thought of the actor getting back into the genre. The trailer and TV spots hope you’ll get excited at the sight of Brosnan back, but there is this element of them trying to sell it as Old Man Bond. Considering the time of year it’s hitting theaters and the fact that Relativity Media hasn’t really had a huge marketing push behind it (the lame posters don’t help), it’s understandable how one might approach “The November Man” with a certain amount of trepidation. So, maybe because my expectations were put aside, I found this somewhat flawed film to be quite an engaging and kind of unpredictable feature. Surprise surprise.