7/12/2019

Blu-ray Review: The Loveless (1981)


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In his first lead role, Willem Dafoe's biker ex-con Vance vroom vrooms his way into a sleepy southern stopover town as the de facto leader of the pack.

A film that feels like it came from the same part of the solar system as David Lynch, The Loveless plays as though producer Roger Corman hired Douglas Sirk to direct a Noir remake of The Wild One as penned by a lost member of the Beat Generation.

Set in the late 1950s yet filtered through a lens of postmodernism, what sets the film apart from its overwhelmingly masculine influences is its rampant female gaze which seeps through the leather and chrome — sometimes sneakily, sometimes not — courtesy of Monty Montgomery's Loveless co-writer and co-director Kathryn Bigelow.


Bigelow's graduate thesis film at Columbia, The Loveless is the first of what, for the filmmaker, would evolve into a decades long fascination with telling the stories of men — from the vampires and surfers in Near Dark and Point Break to The Hurt Locker's military bomb squad — who dominate their terrain by moving through life in packs.

To penetrate the film's tight-knit group of bikers whose bond was forged when they did time together back in Detroit, Bigelow uses a technique she would return to as a screenwriter in Near Dark. Bypassing the character who throws knives and shoots guns like a stereotypical alpha male in favor of the charismatic, enigmatic outsider among the band of outsiders who's slightly out of step with the rest, Bigelow fixates on the man who's the real alpha because he thinks for himself.

Introducing us to Vance as he combs his hair and buckles his belt as if to make sure he looks the part before he gets back on his bike and rolls into town, despite his bedroom eyed posturing and swagger, Vance is a man who does one thing while we hear another. Describing himself as "ragged, beyond torn up," Vance's tough exterior is quickly compromised by his starkly poetic sensibility as evidenced in the film's opening voice-over narration.


Predicting he'll be "no man's friend today," and using a lighter instead of his crew's choice of matches throughout, in Vance we see a conflicted soul who figures that if they're going to burn, it's better to do it fast.

Bursting with pheromones that cut right through the smell of gasoline and tobacco, lingering in the humid Georgia air and following him wherever he goes, Willem Dafoe's lead might believe he's "going to hell in a bread basket," but befitting of the genre, he soon meets a seductive girl (Marin Kanter) who swears that she could send him "to heaven." The fact that she says this in the passenger seat of her beautiful red Chevrolet Corvette while he is at the wheel is the only encouragement he needs to take her up on her offer before The Loveless takes the first of a few dark turns.

A largely plotless endeavor overall, Bigelow and Montgomery's film is heavy with mood and ambiance (and as such, it nicely prepares Montgomery for a future producing David Lynch's Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart).


Still, whether it's in the way that Vance is predominantly framed by himself or the way that the filmmakers emphasizes the loneliness of a nearly empty room by lensing it from far away, more is said with the movie's careful composition than in its sometimes awkward Beat speak. With On the Road style lines like, "We go nowhere. Fast," the dialogue occasionally calls enough attention to itself that it disrupt the otherwise hypnotic spell that the film casts on its viewers.

Chronicling what happens when a group of Beatnik bikers take an unwelcome pit stop in a closed-minded town, The Loveless is inherently focused on the divide between us vs. them. From terse words to loaded stares, it doesn't take us long to realize that everything the townspeople fear about Vance's crew is everything they represent — namely, freedom and sex.


Epitomized by the characters' bikes and the film's dialogue, freedom is there for all to see from the very first frame. But when it comes to sex, although The Loveless is as turned on as its characters are, it subverts its sexual desire in a myriad of ways.

While a character's eye-line is a dead giveaway of where their mind is at (as evidenced in a notorious men's room scene), the filmmakers get in on the fun with the camera itself. Mischievously experimenting with angles and perspective throughout the work, The Loveless heavily utilizes its female gaze to turn its men into eye candy.

Lingering on the leather jacket clad, shirtless, glistening abs of Phillip Kimbrough's Hurley, cinematographer Doyle Smith zooms in awfully close to several bikers' silver belt buckles before the shot eventually cuts or the camera oh-so-slowly tilts up. Wondering if it is truly the bike that drives them or if sex is the real fuel they need, when Robert Goron's Davis bids another character to "come close to me," for knife target practice in the lustful Loveless, it sounds like another "send you to heaven" come on.


Using "people as iconography," as Willem Dafoe shares in a new behind-the-scenes featurette, we learn that Bigelow and Montgomery frequently sought out cast members because they had the right look, undoubtedly to convey the right feeling they needed without exposition. And while Loveless may have been slow to catch on in the United States, elsewhere the picture's implied — read between the shots — sexuality aroused fans as much as the film itself. After a midnight screening of The Loveless in London, the film became a smash hit with gay audiences and, as Dafoe reveals, played there for years.

Still a personal favorite of many of the original cast members, it's a treat to watch them share great making-of stories on the spotless new Blu-ray transfer, including Dafoe who confesses that he lied about knowing how to ride a motorcycle to get the job before brushing up on the basic shifting patterns at the public library.


Featuring a great soundtrack care of musician Robert Gordon, who stars in The Loveless as Vance's right hand man Davis, although it's sure to attract viewers who can appreciate the subtext and symbolism as well as its many influences, it's safe to say the film is not for everyone.

Clocking in at a mere eighty-two minutes, the degree to which its running time feels longer depends upon one's patience. Also important is just how much we're able to acclimate to not only the film's nontraditional approach to storytelling but its slower pace as well, which gets teased out even more due to the length between cuts.

Feeling slightly stagy at times, most notably in the film's ending which, despite circling back to an earlier conversation, comes off as a heavy-handed coda to a chaotic sequence, The Loveless has a much stronger build than finish. Still, devotees of not only Bigelow and Dafoe, but also those well versed in art and classic film are sure to find much to feast their eyes upon, including an endless supply of lustful looks and smoke, belt buckles and chrome, and of course, leather and testosterone.

So, baby, vroom, vroom.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review - Escape Plan: The Extractors (2019)


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Swinging for the fences while trying not to snack on the scenery, as a B-movie villain who jovially rattles off creepy anecdotes to intimidate his hostages at a moment's notice, Devon Sawa commands our attention in Escape Plan: The Extractors (aka Escape Plan 3).

As it turns out, however, he's one of only a few bright spots in this otherwise bland, paint-by-numbers actioner. Borrowing from the Game of Thrones playbook, The Extractors is shot in so much darkness that you'll probably wonder — as you squint along — if you either forgot to pay your electric bill or there's something's wrong with your TV.


But just when we think we've seen enough to know we're not going to miss much if we hit eject, Sawa and fellow new cast member Jin Zhang show up to change our mind. As the Sylvester Stallone franchise's newest dastardly villain and kick-ass hero respectively, Sawa and Zhang are so entertaining that viewers will probably wish they'd been tapped to play the leads in a new (and hopefully much better) action movie.

Like a silent, black-and-white movie from the 1920s where a kidnapped woman is left helplessly tied to the railroad tracks, Extractors' entire plot — what little there is of it — revolves around not one but two damsels in distress.

Called to action after a Chinese technology mogul's daughter is kidnapped and a flash drive with his name on it is found at the scene of the crime, Stallone's security (and escape) expert Ray Breslin prepares to go on the hunt to bring her back from an abandoned old Latvian prison where she's being held.


Raising the stakes by making her captor none other than Breslin's corrupt ex-partner's son (Sawa) — who grabbed her more to kick off the long game of revenge than collect a ransom — the film's screenwriters try to give it more emotional heft by visiting their favorite creative well again.

Not content with just one lady in waiting, The Extractors rinses and repeats the film's plot as Stallone's onscreen girlfriend (played by a tragically underutilized Jaime King) gets abducted and thrown in the Latvian pokey known as the Devil's Station as well.

While Dave Bautista has an absolute blast blowing stuff up and fighting his stunt double (which in Hollywood, I'm sure counts as some sort of action star on-the-job therapy), from a wasted King and a blink-and-you-missed it return by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson to a one note turn by Stallone, the rest of the franchise's previous stars just seem bored.


To inject the series — which was a huge hit in China — with a much needed shot of adrenaline, Stallone recruited dynamic Chinese star Jin Zhang, who bursts onto the screen and takes down a number of Breslin's co-workers with the aid of an umbrella. Fortunately, the two men aren't rivals for long. After the battle is over, Zhang's Shen teams up with Breslin because it seems that damsel in distress number one is his girlfriend.

Having multiplied the same plot point by Breslin and employed it twice, as director and co-writer John Herzfeld's film continues, we discover that that's one time and one damsel too many when the otherwise terrific Zhang and Harry Shun Jr. get kicked to the curb in the disappointing movie's largely lifeless second half.


And shockingly, although Stallone comes alive in a brutal — and from what I gather unchoreographed — actual fight with Devon Sawa that left both men bloody and battered, as written, Extractors might've worked better if Zhang had been promoted to the lead, Sawa and Bautista were left in the mix, and Stallone and King played an even smaller role.

As a lifelong Stallone fan, that's a hard truth to write, although it's probably not as hard as Zhang knocking down human obstacles with his trusty umbrella or Sawa exclaiming that he loves the sound of prison bars locking up for the night with the same glee that a child has after watching their first Stallone movie fight.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Trespassers (2018)


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AKA: Hell Is Where the Home Is

In this ambitious work of home invasion horror based upon Jean-Paul Sartre's existential play No Exit, the action is set not in a single room in hell but a deserted rental property in SoCal where "you can check out any time you'd like but you can never leave"* … especially not when there are masked men with machetes waiting outside.

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that's taken a toll on their marriage, Sarah (Angela Trimbur) and her husband Joseph (Zach Avery) arrive at the modern home they've rented, ready to meet up with her wild high school best friend Estelle (Janel Parrish) and Estelle's boyfriend Victor (Jonathan Howard).

The type of guy that goes on vacation with his girlfriend and within the first five minutes, asks a guy he's never met if he wants to go check out some strip clubs, Victor might not have much of a filter but we learn on night two that what he does have is street sense.


Telling the others not to open the door when a stranger comes knocking after dark, after the bespectacled woman with car trouble (played by Fairuza Balk) says she needs to come in and use the phone, his antennae immediately goes up. Announcing that he wishes they could go back in time "five minutes and leave the f***ing door closed," Victor's concerns get ignored, perhaps less because of any point he's trying to make than no one else wanting to admit that a guy like Victor might be right.

And right, we gather, is precisely what he is when Balk wanders in, eavesdrops, offers weird unsolicited advice like, "sometimes you can't stop what's coming," and seems to be in no hurry to leave, especially not after she tells whoever she calls on the phone that she's waiting, "here with her four lovely new friends."


Remembering the eerie opener, in which a group of masked men with machetes abduct the homeowners and dispatch them outdoors, we know whatever is coming for the four won't be good.

Emotions running on high — fueled by the stress of the situation and Victor's drugs — long before the inevitable weapon-wielding tormentors show up, they begin to torment one another as long-held secrets and pent-up anger come tumbling out.

An unorthodox work of horror, with so much interpersonal drama going on, the success of Trespassers depends upon how invested we are in the characters overall. Though elevated by its affable cast — most notably the excellent Parrish and Howard who brings the film considerably to life — with so little backstory revealed or time spent developing their characters as people, we don't really know who they are (or care much at all). Not involved enough to give any serious thought to who breaks or makes up throughout, as we watch the leads fight, we feel like we're eavesdropping Fairuza Balk style.


Nonetheless ratcheting up the intensity enough to deliver a slam-bang final act, one of the things I admired most about Corey Deshon's script is that a moral quandary following a frenzied confrontation is what ultimately kicks it into high gear. Raising a (suitably) existential question of what you can live with and how you define right and wrong, while it doesn't marinate over the moment long because — in a horror movie especially — every action causes an equal or opposite reaction and violence begets violence, it's still a refreshing way to disrupt a formula we know by heart. Slightly above average in that respect, unfortunately one clever twist doesn't make up for its ho-hum first half.

With genre working to its advantage, director Orson Oblowitz's Trespassers is the type of film that should play better streaming than on the big screen because, as a home invasion scarer, it makes you look over your shoulder enough that you'll be eager to recommend it to others and/or share it with a friend. And once Trespassers really commits to Sartre's idea that "hell is other people" based on our tendency to think after and not before we do something, everything from the film's cast to its pacing becomes compellingly frantic and machete level sharp.


* "Hotel California," by The Eagles

Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Three Peaks (2017)


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You know how it goes. You meet someone and you get a crush. You start dating, you find out they have kids, and suddenly your attraction to them moves beyond all the superficial stuff. You see them together and get a glimpse at what real life with them might look like instead of the best behavior version of you both that you put on for dates.

You meet the kid(s) and hope they're as crazy about you as you are about them. You begin spending time at their house — it's easier, after all, for them — and maybe move in. Things go well at first. Every night's a slumber party until the power games start and then suddenly it's not. They take up residence in your bed and your relationship suffers as they test your limits in a mildly annoying way that could escalate if you lose your cool and handle it wrong. You're on icy terrain and you start to slip. It's harder for you if you fall; if it ends, you lose at least two and they're only out one.

And while for you it means a break-up, in Three Peaks, it could cost Aaron (Alexander Fehling) much more — a limb perhaps or maybe his life. Wanting to remedy this problem and find better footing before an avalanche, Aaron takes Lea (Bérénice Bejo), his beautiful girlfriend of two years and her eight-year-old son Tristan (Arian Montgomery) on vacation to the Italian Dolomites.


Patiently teaching Tristan to hold his breath and swim in an opening scene that comes full circle in Three Peaks later on, shortly after they journey up to a cabin nearer to the peaks, Aaron begins to feel like they've forged a stronger connection. However, when Tristan goes from calling Aaron dad — which in itself weirdly freaks out his mom — to talking to his actual dad nonstop on a cell phone he's given him in secret, we realize that Aaron's breakthrough with the boy is short lived.

Emotions ping-ponging all over the place, though the two have their moments, Tristan acts out, habitually sleeping in their bed to usurp his mom for himself (and kill any chance for romance) before seeing what happens when he grabs Aaron's hand saw and places it across the man's arm.

An unsettling and provocative domestic thriller — hot off the festival circuit — in cinematographer turned writer-director Jan Zabeil's sophomore feature film, he drops us right into the heart of the discomfort to make us an honorary member of this small makeshift family.


Empathizing the most with Aaron, it's through his eyes that we see most of the conversations between Lea and her son as well as Tristan's manipulation of his mother play out. In a critical scene that speaks volumes for its honesty no matter how much it might hurt, Aaron tells the woman he loves that there are moments when he feels so close to Tristan and others where he feels like the boy's suffocating Lea and wishes he that he wasn't there at all.

Needless to say, it's a two way street. And while this sentiment is undoubtedly shared by the boy too young to articulate it in any of the three languages that he speaks, Zabeil also lets it reverberate off of the awesome yet daunting landscape of the Dolomites that — much like a new member of the family — lets you get only so close to it before it pushes you away.

A favorite technique of the filmmaker, Jan Zabeil previously employed nature as a vital backdrop in his acclaimed 2011 debut effort, The River Used to Be a Man. Addressing this in a director's statement in the Peaks press notes, he reveals his love of using the external to symbolize internal emotions and shares his belief that "away from the securities of the civilized world, my characters become less deliberate, more emotionally truthful and are likely to lose control over their actions."


Making the metaphorical link to the environment a dangerously literal one in Peaks, this is precisely what happens in the film's third act when Zabeil moves what had thus far been a domestic drama firmly into nail-biting thriller territory. It's a gamble that works well initially but doesn't quite pay off. While the emotional build-up was always going to erupt, even after Three Peaks takes its first deadly turn (sans hand saw), Zabeil seems hesitant to go along, waiting until the desperate final minutes of the film to fully commit to the new, darkly suspenseful tone.

Nonetheless a highly compelling endeavor, Three Peaks boasts superb cinematography by talented lensman Axel Schneppat and knock-out turns by newcomer Montgomery as Tristan and Fehling as Aaron. Unfortunately, as her character hems and haws and changes her mind almost as much as her young son, it saddles the usually impressive Bérénice Bejo with an underdeveloped role.

Still mostly effective, the work is sure to keep you riveted … even if it might just scare you off the next potential mate you meet with kids as, no matter how many times you've lived the first part of this plotline before, trust me, when it comes to Three Peaks, you don't know how this story goes.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

6/28/2019

Film Movement Blu-ray Review: Heroes Shed No Tears (1986)


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Imagine starring in a movie so dangerous that it sends you to the hospital twice in one day. You tell yourself you can't quit because you started acting in your thirties and it's your first crack at a decent lead part so now you're more determined than ever to make the film count. Pushing yourself to the limit, you keep running and keep fighting despite live rounds of machine gunfire going off all around you that burns so hot it scars. And that's when you learn that the studio's decided to shelve the film for two years because they just don't think you're a big enough star.

Now imagine you're a well respected, lower rung director who finally gets the chance to make something besides a farce. Although it's not the gangster picture you've been dreaming of crafting for years, you persuade yourself that a war movie is the next best thing. Diving in to make what you consider your "first real film," you rewrite the script and inject it with a surge of emotion. The studio decides however to lead it astray. Seasoning the film with gratuitous nudity and sex, the new material is so against your principles that you refuse to to be involved and eventually, the absurd scenes are helmed by someone else. Miles away from the movie you hoped it would be, although it thankfully frees you up from your contract with the studio, the final cut is so upsetting that you refuse to ever watch the movie again, let alone discuss it.

Not just a game of What Ifs, there are names behind the respective hypotheticals; it's the story of Heroes Shed No Tears, or more specifically, the two men who worked on the picture and took its new title to heart in the form of leading man Eddy Ko and director John Woo.


Pulled off the dusty shelf at Golden Harvest studio in a rush after the smash success of Woo's subsequent effort A Better Tomorrow (which helped put Hong Kong filmmaking on the international map), Heroes Shed No Tears debuted in theaters four weeks after Tomorrow. Riding the cresting wave of Woo mania, although Tears had been shot under the name of Sunset Warrior, it was quickly given a more action oriented title, most likely with Heroes the victor because, as Asian film authority Grady Hendrix has pointed out, it started with the same Chinese character that A Better Tomorrow did when displayed on a marquee.

Working with a cast and crew that included members who spoke at least three languages that Woo did not — necessitating him to use gestures to convey to his Japanese cameraman the type of shots that he wanted — Heroes is an exploitative trashapalooza of over-the-top violence and laughably ridiculous sex awkwardly thrown into the mix.

It's also a major step down in quality for fans of the director's best work from the era as evidenced in A Better Tomorrow or the cult favorite The Killer. However, for patient viewers, there's enough here that you can still see flickers of the type of poetic filmmaking and cinematic storytelling that would soon become synonymous with his name as Heroes foreshadows the masterpieces he would make in the future.


A men on a mission movie, the film follows a group of specially recruited commandos — led by a crackerjack Eddy Ko — who've been hired by the Thai government. Sent to go after a drug lord (Lam Ching Ying) operating out of the Golden Triangle of Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand, which is responsible for 75% of the illicit drug trade around the globe, the operation goes sideways and Ko's Chan Chung ends up taking the kingpin hostage as they travel through the countryside and try to outrun another horrific group. After an attack at his home nearly took the life of his sister-in-law and young son, Chan Chung brings them along for their own protection, making the war on drugs all the more personal.

By adding in these emotional elements and especially in building up the relationship between Ko and his son — who communicate with one another during times of crisis with only their eyes like a visual Morse Code — Woo ensures that we keep watching long after we've been exposed to multiple scenes sure to make our eyes to roll. In fact, the father-son relationship is a strong one, not only because it sets up the film's strongest character arc but it's also a precursor to countless movies he would make that center on a bond or "love story" between two men.


Heavily reliant however on ultraviolence and gore, Heroes feels more like the product of '60s Hammer horror and Spaghetti Westerns mixed with '70s Blaxploitation than it does a traditional war picture. Using slow motion and montage effectively to punctuate a devastating standoff or shocking death, audiences can see Woo experimenting with daring visual technique as he develops his own individual filmmaking arsenal. And to its credit, Heroes is filled with flourishes and effects that Woo would fine tune as he moved into the '90s with Hard Boiled and eventually crossed the pond to make his American debut with Hard Target.

Yet as intriguing as Heroes is for longtime fans of the director (like yours truly), there's a reason why Woo hasn't seen the film in over thirty years that goes well beyond his reputation as a perfectionist who's never satisfied with his own work. Frankly, it's just not that good. Worth watching once, if only on a scholarly level for Woo devotees, although it's easy to get caught up in the plot involving Chung's son, when contrasted with moments of extreme carnage, the amped up emotions in the film's final act give off an air of Mystery Science Theater 3000 worthy camp.


Released onto North American Blu-ray for the first time as part of Film Movement's Classics label, Heroes Shed No Tears has been given a barbed wire sharp 2K restoration that cleans up any remaining traces of live M16 gunfire left in the frame. Of particular interest to film buffs, this edition features an eye-opening interview with Eddy Ko as well as a dynamic Heroes essay by Asian film expert Grady Hendrix that is wonderfully informative.

A movie you're honestly better off renting than owning, much like the film served as a stepping stone for Woo to make stronger fare, hopefully the release of Heroes will inspire Film Movement to seek out other Hong Kong movies that fans definitely won't want to leave on the shelf. And who knows, they could always replicate Golden Harvest's favorite 1986 Woo double feature, thereby making us forget about the lackluster Heroes of today while releasing a brand new restoration of the currently out-of-print A Better Tomorrow.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

6/21/2019

Blu-ray Review: Between the Lines (1977)


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Ignoring the instructions to arrive with two scenes prepared like everyone else, when Jeff Goldblum auditioned for Joan Micklin Silver's Between the Lines, he had the entire script up his sleeve. Not content to merely act out the scenes involving Max, the rock critic that he would go onto play in the film, Goldblum went through the rest of Fred Barron's screenplay, commenting on the rest of the characters as a combination of himself and Max. Impressing Micklin Silver with ease, the filmmaker let him know at once that he had the role.

A great anecdote included in an interview with Micklin Silver on this brand new 2K restored Blu-ray release, Goldblum's bold choice might have won him the part of Max but it fits the filmmaker's approach to the movie as well.


American Graffiti set at an alternative weekly newspaper in Boston, Micklin Silver's episodic comedy Between the Lines moves freely between the characters as friends, lovers, and above all creative professionals navigate deadlines, job opportunities, and romance (or lack thereof) while the rest offer their opinions and advice, whether solicited or not.

A terrific hang out movie where the people in the frame routinely usurp the plot just for being there, Lines marked Micklin Silver's return to feature filmmaking following her acclaimed Hester Street debut and a stellar adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's story Bernice Bobs Her Hair crafted for PBS.

With a knack for the material given both the authenticity of the script from Boston alternative newspaper veteran Fred Barron as well as the filmmaker's background as a reporter for The Village Voice, Between the Lines takes us to work and then loses us in the surroundings.


Sitting in on cramped editorial meetings, pleas for raises, and near fights between the advertising salesman and editor, we feel like we're about to get caught eavesdropping during a slightly heightened but otherwise real week in the life that doesn't end at the office as we join the staffers after hours to their bars and homes.

From an employee hawking papers during morning traffic — complete with a different come-on for each car — to the on-again, off-again romance between reporter Harry (John Heard) and photographer Abbie (Lindsay Crouse), Micklin Silver's obvious affection for the film's characters fills each scene of her comedic ensemble piece with wit and warmth.


With so many spinning plates and bowling pins thrown into the air for our amusement, however, there are times when we lose our focus on the circus overall. Caught up in the plight of Laura (Gwen Welles), a reporter who's never sure if she wants to leave the man (Stephen Collins) in her life or not along with other minor players such as Bruno Kirby's aspiring investigative journalist, we wish we could stay with characters a little longer to learn more. Quickly paced and handsomely shot, however, it's such a fun big chill (made before The Big Chill) that when Micklin Silver's circus moves on to the next attraction, we happily go along.

Featuring songs by Steven Van Zandt, the 1977 film might have inspired a short-lived TV series but it's as overlooked today as the vital independent filmmaker at its helm. A light piece of entertainment, Micklin Silver's work looks and feels just as vibrant in 2019 thanks to this flawless restoration. And while there's no doubting its appeal overall, writers in particular are sure to gravitate to this portrait of freelancers, reporters, editors, and authors we either are or probably know, commenting on the goings-on as we read Between the Lines from scene to scene like Jeff Goldblum.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: Crypto (2019)


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Having written a compliance report that ruffled feathers on Wall Street, anti money laundering officer Martin (Beau Knapp) is sent back home to Elba, New York like a kid who acts out at summer camp.

Not bothering to change out of his department store suit the entire time he's home — or even when he goes hiking with Alexis Bledel — it's no surprise that his sudden return to audit a local bank rubs people in as wrong of a way as his report.


Confronted by his tough, veteran big brother (a strong Luke Hemsworth) who later picks a bar fight with him, Martin has enough to deal with on the home front even before cryptocurrency, the Russian mob, and money laundering are added to the mix.

A film that seems like screenwriters Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio — working from a story by Jeffrey Ingber — tried to squeeze as many buzzwords as they could into the otherwise oddly passive movie's plot, Crypto is a family drama, a cyber thriller, and a crime film unconvincingly rolled into one. With at least three different storylines wrestling to see which one gets to take the lead, aside from knowing that our lead will always be in a suit for no reason whatsoever, we never quite know which version of Crypto we're going to get from one scene to the next.


Still, after a weird introduction to the mob through a campy, sexually aggressive art gallery owner who seems to have wandered over from a David Lynch set, the film settles into a nice groove for awhile.

Playing like a watered down, abridged version of the John Grisham movie The Firm to the point that we almost want to call Martin Mitch McDeere (I mean he's got the suit and all), just when it starts to get interesting, Crypto veers off once again.

And while the Grisham approach might've served director John Stalberg Jr.'s film well enough if it'd been carried throughout, the film's A-list talent objects by hitting the screen and changing our mind with a vengeance.


As Martin's proud father hoping to save his struggling farm and son (Hemsworth), Kurt Russell turns in a terrific if all too brief supporting performance that makes you wish they would've focused on Martin's family tree and dropped the poorly developed Russian mob subplot once and for all.

Trying to tie it all together with yet another idea involving cryptocurrency and Martin's convenient hacker friend, by the time we reach its increasingly illogical third act, the sleepily directed Crypto has all but fallen apart.

The only upside? Luckily, Martin's suit holds up.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

6/14/2019

Movie Review: American Woman (2018)


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"You're not fat, sweetie, you're stuck in a rut."

Rather than wish for things to go back to the way they used to be, in American Woman's opening scene, Deb (Sienna Miller) tells her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreria) to make the most of the way things are.

Two single women who both had a baby in their teens, Deb and Bridge are the type of mother and daughter whose similarities transcend DNA, who not only relate to each other better as friends but like most friends, give each other the kind of advice that they themselves might actually need to hear.


And that's decidedly the case with Deb whom we watch flail around in her own rut as she goes on a date with a married man to a seedy motel and accepts that she's being used for his entertainment.

Essentially announcing the film's theme, these lines penned by screenwriter Brad Ingelsby reverberate in our minds shortly after once again when Bridget fails to return home from her own date and Deb tries to keep standing amid the aftershocks of life's cruelest earthquake.

Left to raise her young grandson after a search for the Pennsylvania teen yields no results, American Woman follows Deb's journey over an eleven year period as she navigates ruts in work, life, and love, decides when she's had enough, and searches for a break in her daughter's case.


Using anamorphic lenses to widen the cramped rooms of the on location shoot, cinematographer John Matheison and director Jake Scott utilize a "you are here" approach to place us in the crowded homes occupied by Deb and her supportive, saintly sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks) who live directly across the street from one another.

Set on a cul-de-sac, which again plays into the idea of a rut and makes the audience hope that Deb will be able to escape a life of dead ends, the emotionally harrowing character driven effort has less in common with twenty-first century filmmaking and instead feels like a work of 1970s Cassavetes style homage.


From the loss of her daughter to domestic abuse, while we're with Sienna Miller the whole way in a tour de force performance on par with Factory Girl and Interview, the litmus testing American Woman suffers at times from the same affliction that Niki Caro's North Country did in its need to pile on rather than build up our main character.
 
Playing less like fully earned moments of drama than moments of torture porn, Woman is done few favors by the film's episodic structure which rewards the pain and sprinkles in moments of advancement in Deb's life as a mere afterthought.


Spending more time on peripheral jerks we barely understand than focusing on Miller, Hendricks or a terrific Amy Madigan and Will Sasso (as the women's mother and Katherine's husband respectively), just when it begins to introduce us to new characters, we're greeted with a shocking incident and a narrative slam of the door.

Disappearing from sight almost as quickly as they hit the screen, by the time Aaron Paul's Chris appears as an attentive new suitor for a tired-of-men Deb, we've already begun to say goodbye, which is a damn shame when we're treated with actors of this caliber.


And in fact, similar to the outcome of Jake Scott's previous picture Welcome to the Rileys with James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, and Melissa Leo, it's the strength of the cast and their commitment to championing everyday American lives in the face of turmoil that keeps us engaged whenever Woman falters.

A powerful script nonetheless from the Out of the Furnace screenwriter and one that would perhaps fare better on the stage, while it's easy to accept it the way things are as far as the performances are concerned, as an overall film, Scott's American Woman never quite manages to get out of its rut.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.