5/16/2019

Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray Review: Summer Stock (1950)


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Coming right after Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's groundbreaking experiments with jump cuts and location shooting in On the Town, the last thing that actor, dancer, choreographer, and director Kelly wanted to do in 1950 was make the same old-fashioned Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland style "let's put on a show" musicals that MGM had produced with assembly line efficiency a decade earlier.

But with Mickey Rooney no longer the box office titan he was back in his Andy Hardy days and Kelly's friend and former co-star Judy Garland going through one of the most difficult personal and professional periods of her life, Kelly happily signed onto Summer Stock alongside director Charles Walters to support the actress.


Although producer Joe Pasternak tried to convince Louis B. Mayer to cut his losses and shut down production as Summer ballooned toward an eventual six months shoot, much like Kelly and Walters, Mayer held fast out of loyalty to the woman who had made their studio synonymous with its most successful genre.

And it's a wise decision indeed as, from the film's breathtaking first shot which travels from the exterior of a farmhouse on up into Garland's second floor bedroom where she belts a song to her most famous Stock number "Get Happy," (which has been paid homage to countless times over the years), Summer is much better than its reputation would have you believe.


A delightful yet admittedly thinly plotted trifle, the film finds Garland's headstrong Jane Falbury struggling to keep her late father's failing farm afloat.

When Jane's spoiled kid sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven) arrives with an entire theater troupe in tow headed up by boyfriend Joe Ross (Kelly), Jane forms an uneasy alliance with the group by agreeing to let them stage their musical in her barn if they'll help out around the farm.

Filling her songs with startling emotion, Garland's vocals are heightened all the more by veteran cinematographer Robert Planck's floating camera that — in one mesmerizing shot — swirls around a romantically conflicted Garland only to reveal Kelly sitting nearby in a scene sure to appeal to fans of Russell Metty's work on Douglas Sirk's 1954 masterpiece Magnificent Obsession.


And it's the surprisingly lush visuals that command a great deal of our attention in this vibrant new Blu-ray transfer from the Warner Archive Collection, which serves up animated shorts and shortcuts to all of the film's songs right from the menu.

Yet while the film is known as a labor of love for Garland, in the end, it's the innovative Kelly that makes Summer Stock one of my favorite underrated musicals.

Unable to shoot with his costar as often as expected as she struggled both onscreen and off, Kelly worked on a handful of numbers sure to make jaws drop, starting with the physically demanding group tap number "Dig-Dig-Dig Dig for Your Dinner," which showcases his athleticism and ups the film's energy level when it needs it the most.


However, it's in one of the star's best solo efforts, "You, Wonderful You," which finds the dancer doubling as his own choreographer and creating the beat of the song — which will eventually ease into the background —  with only the sounds of his tap shoes, a creaky board, and a discarded newspaper onstage to guide him.

A great wistful Gene Kelly number, "You" is a reprise of an earlier scene with Garland. Beginning casually, much like his performance of "Singin' in the Rain," "You" eases into an awe inspiring middle section where it's clear to see how much joy he's getting out of blowing everyone's minds before he adds in a sentimental Chaplinesque close.


Yet although Kelly's "You, Wonderful You," number might look laid back, it required a painstaking search from the prop department to find a certain set of newspapers published several years earlier to achieve the precise sound and tear needed for perfectionist Kelly's musical execution.

Featuring fun supporting turns by Phil Silvers, Eddie Bracken, and Marjorie Main, while the last act of Summer Stock forgoes the plot by devolving into another great collection of mini numbers for its predictable big show finale, it's easy to overlook the contrivances when you have Kelly and Garland ready to keep things "Wonderful" and "Happy" in two of the strongest musical numbers of their careers.



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: Photograph (2019)


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Lasting roughly as long as it takes for street vendor photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to snap and sell pictures of tourists at the Gateway of India, there's a tentative seven note refrain that plays throughout award-winning filmmaker Ritesh Bantra's Photograph.

Heard whenever our protagonist is about to put his heart and ego on the line to risk making a human connection, as just one subtly symbolic touch in a film that's full of them, the delicate sound of those seven keys highlights onscreen what seems to be the writer-director's favorite theme off-screen as well.


Another lovely ode to our need for companionship in an increasingly far-flung, lonely, and chaotic world, Photograph marks Batra's return to India after two English language forays following the breakout success of his smash hit, The Lunchbox.

When Rafi's dominant grandmother Dadi (the scene-stealing Farrukh Jaffar) lays the grandmother of all guilt trips on the hardworking middle-aged man by refusing to take her medicine because he has yet to get engaged, he decides the fastest way to remedy the situation is to invent a fictional fiancée.

Hoping to put an end to Dadi's concerns which have spread throughout the streets of Mumbai, he encloses proof of his attachment in the form of a gushing letter as well as a photo he'd taken of a beautiful young woman who'd posed for the picture on a whim but rushed off before she could collect it and pay. Unfortunately, just as his best friend and the audience predicted, Rafi's lie is put to the test when he gets word that Dadi is coming to meet the couple right away.


Managing to track down the woman he'd dubbed Noorie after a Bollywood heroine from a song that had been playing nearby, it's only when Rafi tries to work up the courage to speak to the shy, studious, middle class twenty-something we know as Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) that composer Peter Raeburn's seven note query kicks into gear.

Settling into something more melodic once she agrees to pose as Noorie, the strangers embark upon a courtship that, much like Raeburn's notes, starts tentatively before their friendship strengthens and the two begin to bond — meeting up on a daily basis — with or without Dadi in tow.

And although the old romcom trope of a fake fiancée is usually played for laughs in America, Batra opts for realism in his Mumbai set love story, letting us into the lives of the characters away from one another to focus not only on their similarities and differences but most importantly the effect that they have on each other when apart.


Centered on a relationship we fear might be as fleeting as a photograph taken by a stranger that reminds us of that one perfect day (or piano notes striving to build to a song that isn't there), Batra's film is as hopefully yearning as it is melancholic and bittersweet.

Hindered by a rushed, staccato final act and some clunky edits, while it isn't as narratively successful or as palatable as The Lunchbox, it's still a moving look at two introverted strangers who strike a chord by accident and strive to stay in tune.



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.

DVD Review: American Exit (2019)


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Say what you will about Dane Cook — if you've seen Mr. Brooks where he managed to not only hold his own but actually steal a few scenes away from Kevin Costner — you know that with the right role and the right material, this guy can act.

And while we never buy him as an influential art dealer, Cook is quite good in a key scene late into American Exit where he takes his estranged son to his late mother's favorite place to paint and delivers a heartfelt monologue about art and life that's so strong, it's probably why he accepted the role in the first place.

I say "probably" because at some point he would have had to have read the rest of the script, which somehow takes a premise involving the theft of a million dollar painting originally stolen by the Nazis in WWII and uses it as a mere two minute long inciting incident for a half-baked melodrama.


Heist wise, watching Cook pull one over on his shady boss Anton (Udo Kier) is about as exciting as watching a kid try to steal a candy bar from a gas station. And while there's no gas station in sight, a kid is indeed involved as, before he boosts the painting, Cook's Charlie does the same to his teenage son.

A father at the end of his rope — plagued with crippling health problems and debt — in writer-directors Tim McCann and Ingo Vollkammer's Exit, after Charlie picks up Leo (Levi Miller) at school without his ex's permission, he uses him as a distraction with Anton before heading south on a road to nowhere.

Neither thrilling as a genre movie nor compelling as a drama, the film veers wildly from one moment to the next, unsure of not only what it wants to be but also who its main characters are. Asked to swing for the fences, within his first thirty minutes of screen time Miller inexplicably moves from hating his father on behalf of his mother to getting excited about thrift store clothing to insulting strangers to asking Charlie if he can drive with little to no warning.


It's so ridiculously uneven, it's like they told the kid to watch Three Faces of Eve about three hundred times in preparation for a character revelation that is never expressed on the screen. Although undoubtedly used to help drive not the car this time but the aimless film forward, the histrionic hoops that Miller is asked to jump through are so annoying that as a viewer, you actually get to a point where you wish Charlie would just leave the kid on the side of the road.

Trying his best to bond with his son amid the chaos (and what we quickly gather is his own failing health), the screenwriters build a fascinating backstory in Charlie's past centering on his own relationship with his parents and his ex that would've made a far more interesting tale than the one we see here.

Interrupting any attempt at dramatic momentum in a series of cliched mini showdowns with Anton and his fellow art goons, although Cook fares better than Miller (who deserves hazard pay for playing a new role at the drop of a hat), Exit continues its series of starts and stops for the rest of its eighty-six minute running time.

Unable to change lanes for longer than a few minutes at a time, sadly by the time we reach Cook's moving speech, most viewers will have already longed for a real exit and turned the damn thing off.


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.

5/03/2019

Film Movement Movie Review: Rafiki (2018)


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Senses and nerve endings heightened, when you fall in love, the world glows brighter, energy burns hotter, Earth spins faster on its axis, and songs sound like they were written especially for you.

A discovery process that lets you see not only someone else but also yourself mirrored back to you with laser-like focus, like a drum that goes off deep within your chest, love resonates long after the beat has been struck, mixing with the environment like paint still drying on the canvas to create something at once both familiar and new.


And this is precisely the feeling that writer-director Wanuri Kahiu captures in her jubilant Kenyan coming-of-age romance Rafiki, which floods the viewer's senses with a celebration of color, cheer, and song in the "fun, fierce, frivolous" style of what the filmmakers dubs Afrobubblegum, which has also become the name of her company.

Black Orpheus by way of Monsoon Wedding with a little of Do the Right Thing seasoned throughout its neighborhood scenes, based on Monica Arac de Nyeko's short story Jumbula Tree, Kahiu's Rafiki, which was initially banned in its native Kenya, is centered on the headstrong young woman, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia).


Dedicating her days to hanging out with her best friend, who declares his intentions by stating that she'll make a good wife (even while he hooks up with other girls) and his circle of friends who treat her as one of the boys, Kena suddenly finds herself drawn to Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), the alluring daughter of her father's political rival.

First spending time together tentatively after Kena catches Ziki and her friends pulling down her father's campaign posters, soon, away from the influence and watchful eye of their friends and family in their tight-knit Nairobi neighborhood, the young women dare each other to do something more with their lives than just go from good Kenyan girls to good Kenyan wives as expected.


Pulled together like a magnet by an undeniable attraction they're not initially sure what to do about — especially in a country where homosexuality is against the law — as lingering looks grows into something more and a romance develops, Kena and Ziki’s burgeoning relationship is threatened by the oppressive homophobia surrounding them.

An upbeat story nonetheless, at its core Rafiki is a sweet-natured romance about finding out exactly who you are and what you're capable of while simultaneously falling in love.


Bold and beautiful, with a keen sense of time and place, Kahiu has created something truly special with Rafiki, which despite its very straightforward plot and limited character development (perhaps stemming from its origins as a short story), serves its audience both as a terrific film as well as a reminder to the home country Kahiu cherishes that love is love.

A truly feminist work, Rafiki is as anchored by female talent on its pop song heavy soundtrack as it is via the behind-the-scenes crew who helped bring the first Kenyan film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival to life.


From the way Kahiu plays with splashes of color and texture to give her picture an ethereal pastel hue as a nod to Ziki's hair to Rafiki's overall ambitious world-building which drops us right into the neighborhood of Slopes and treats us like a resident, the film announces an exciting voice in world cinema for us to keep an eye on.

Successfully suing the government by arguing that banning the film infringed upon her freedom of expression, in a smash week-long engagement, Rafiki played to packed houses and managed to outgross huge Hollywood hits like Black Panther.


Exceedingly well-acted in a thoroughly naturalistic style, although it ends a moment too soon to adequately pay off on its otherwise moving build-up, it's a minor misstep in an otherwise powerful movie.

Perfectly capturing the heightened sensory state of falling in love — and world be damned — Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki is as vivacious as it is courageous.


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.

Film Movement Movie Review: The Charmer (2017)


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For Tony Manera (John Travolta) in John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever, it's all about the suit. Transforming him from a blue collar worker by day to a disco god of the night with a simple wardrobe change, the suit is the thing that gives Tony the power, courage, and bravado of a superhero on the prowl.

Having taken on the same recognizable status as James Dean's red jacket in Rebel Without a Cause and Marilyn Monroe's floaty white dress from The Seven Year Itch, admittedly, the suit worn by Esmail (Ardalan Esmaili) in Milad Alami's feature filmmaking debut The Charmer will never be as iconic as the suit that John Travolta wore four decades earlier in Fever.


However, it's the only one the Iranian immigrant has and it fits him well both literally and figuratively. Making the already bedroom eyed man even more attractive, it also gives Esmail the confidence he needs to go out on the hunt in pursuit of women and a better life the same way Tony did, even if sex in Saturday Night was a perk and not a transactional down payment on his future as it is for Esmail.

Wearing that suit not to cross Saturday's Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan but in order to stay in Denmark by finding a mate to give him legal residency, the suit sets Esmail up — like an emotionally present gigolo — for what Leona Naess called in her hit 2000 song a "Charm Attack."


And, having been dumped by his latest girlfriend for going so fast that he'd moved into her place without being asked, this sort of morale boost is exactly what our main character needs when we first encounter Esmail at the beginning of Alami's topical, superlative character study The Charmer.

Played and especially framed like an existential Noir, not only does most of the film's action take place at night but Alami's cinematographer Sophia Olsson also makes great use of glass and barriers to give Esmail an introspective outsider aura that wouldn't be out of place in an Edward Hopper painting or a scene helmed by Michael Mann.


Yet, dazzling as it is, this approach is made all the more riveting by Swedish and Iranian actor Ardalan Esmaili's haunting, emotionally naked performance that manages to hit you right in the gut, whether or not he's in his character's trusty suit.

Moving from woman to woman over a series of nights that all start to blur together as one, the film passes no overt judgment on its lead character’s actions, nor the ones by the various women he encounters who approach him with expectations of their own.


However, when he meets Sara (Soho Rezanejad), a beautiful woman from his homeland who immediately sizes him up and warns him not to dare hit on her Danish friend, Esmail switches off the suit inspired autopilot and lets himself get swept up by this woman who invites him into the home she shares with her mother, which is like a gateway back to Iran.

Additionally, Esmail finds himself sought out by a mysterious man who at first glance seems like a typical pick-up artist before he reveals his own link to the hard-working immigrant.


Balancing his nights playing the sexual long game with days filled with short-term jobs to send money home to his family, soon Esmail's past mistakes threaten to catch up with him in this wildly compelling film.

Sneaking up on viewers, while it takes a few scenes to fall into its rhythm, the multi-layered picture is so thematically rich that I found myself thinking about it days later.


Perfect for post film discussion — political and otherwise — The Charmer, which was released by Film Movement, is now available both on DVD as well as its streaming subscription channel Film Movement Plus, Esmail's suit not included.


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.

4/19/2019

Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray Review: The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)


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If you're looking for mermaids, go fish... or rather don't as Rod Taylor learns the hard way when he catches Doris Day’s Jennifer Nelson by the tail in the opening scene of their 1966 follow-up to the wackadoo sex comedy Do Not Disturb, made just one year before.

But if you're searching for proof that everything old is new again, look no further than the Blu-ray release of the convoluted Cold War spy comedy The Glass Bottom Boat, which — in a timelier than ever plotline — finds America's sweetheart accused of working as a Russian spy.


An eccentric widow, faux mermaid for her father's tourism business, and campus tour guide at NASA’s Catalina Island Aerospace Research Laboratory, Nelson's habit of tricking her dog Vladimir into exercising by calling her home throughout the day and letting the ring is misconstrued as sending her "Soviet handler" a coded message.

Frequently pushing the audience’s suspension-of-disbelief close to or past the breaking point, Day vehicles have always thrived on sitcom style misunderstandings but Boat takes the practice to an epic new level.


Mixing veteran scribe Everett Freeman's jam-packed high concept script together with animator, gag-man, and frequent Jerry Lewis collaborator turned filmmaker Frank Tashlin's style of direction transforms The Glass Bottom Boat into the uniquest of Day films: a veritable live-action cartoon.

Featuring a red room and a blue room as well as costumes and sets of every shade in between, the Tashlin emphasis on animation and color significance is at the forefront of Glass and its hues look better than ever in 1080 pixels on this Warner Bros. Archive Collection Blu-ray release.


Bolstered by the leftover chemistry from their previous project together, with Rod Taylor's research head Bruce Templeton meeting memorably cute not once but twice with Day's Nelson, although it dabbles in multiple genres, Boat is anchored by the burgeoning romance between the two main characters right from the start, which leaves the director plenty of time to play.

Bursting with chase scenes, slapstick, pratfalls, and sight gags galore thanks to the backdrop of scientific research and inventions (not to mention zany combinations of a few courtesy of Tashlin, whose big break came writing gags for the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball), while Glass flies by quickly as it moves from one comedic bit and another, it loses some of its cohesive charm along the way.


Sacrificing a little of the human connection between not only the leads but the leads and the audience as well in order to squeeze in the next gag, Tashlin's film starts to spin out of his control in an overlong party sequence which fuses together the film's second and third act.

Yet while Boat doesn't always flow — a problem that is magnified on the manufactured on demand Blu-ray which jumps instantly from one chapter to the next as if a few transitional frames disappeared from the transfer — it still remains one of Day's wildest outings and an otherwise entertaining hodgepodge of romance, physical comedy, spy movie action, and song.



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: The Aspern Papers (2018)


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With three generations of Redgraves linked to three productions of The Aspern Papers, by this point you could say that bringing the gothically romantic Henry James tale to life is officially a Redgrave thing.

Originally published in 1888 and in three parts no less, the novella — inspired by the letters that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley penned for his wife Mary Shelley's step-sister, Claire Clairmont, which Claire kept until her death — was first brought to the stage by Michael Redgrave in 1959.


Later revived in 1984 in an award-winning production starring Michael's daughter Vanessa Redgrave (opposite Christopher Reeve who acted alongside her in a big-screen Merchant Ivory version of Henry James's The Bostonians also in ‘84), now more than thirty years later, Redgrave gets the chance to bring Papers to life once again.

Changing with the times by taking on a new role in this effort from first time feature filmmaker Julien Landais, which, produced by James Ivory is based on a French scenic adaptation by Jean Pavans, in 2018’s The Aspern Papers Vanessa Redgrave passes the torch to daughter Joely Richardson who slides into her old part.


A sudsy drama about an obsessive American editor, the film stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Morton Vint who — using whatever guise and lies are necessary — travels to Venice to track down the letters of his literary idol Jeffrey Aspern.

Posing as a man on holiday, he rents a room from Redgrave's Clairmont inspired Juliana Bordereau and sets out to win over the woman's sheltered, spinster niece Miss Tina (Richardson).


While ordinarily Rhys Meyers can play the role of a seducer in his sleep and make you believe it, he's visibly uncomfortable in Aspern, turning in a performance that's half Lestat from Interview With the Vampire and half Elvis Presley, whom he portrayed to well-deserved acclaim in a 2005 television miniseries. And although yes, I'm aware that he also played Dracula recently on the small screen perhaps, as with Aspern, the less said about that the better.


As disinterested as it is overly strong, Aspern's acting is a mess to say the least and indicative of a much bigger problem, which is the film itself. For in his uncertainty throughout, Rhys Meyers is far from alone.

All three of the film's performances feel like they belong in three entirely different James adaptations. While Redgrave easily dominates as a cross between Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond and Film Noir era Joan Crawford, Richardson tiptoes quietly around the others, playing her part as though she'd just stepped onstage in The Glass Menagerie.


Filled with clunky, heavy-handed narration and odd moments of Eyes Wide Shut homage that belong in a fragrance ad (which makes sense considering the director's background helming fashion shorts, commercials, and music videos), although the Venetian backdrop is stunning and thespians will relish the opportunity to see the Redgrave family command a scene, this is easily the worst Henry James adaptation I have ever seen.

Unsure just what exactly it is that he wants to say, Landais seems much more interested in using the characters — namely Vint — as a jumping off point to explore his own ideas and identity.


And although it's apparent that Landais is a visual thinker with some kind of story to tell, it's easy to deduce within the first few monologues by the Redgraves who know it best that The Aspern Papers isn't it.


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: We Die Young (2019)


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Swapping out Pulp Fiction's handling of Ezekiel 25:17 with the Shylock's Act 1, Scene 3 speech from Merchant of Venice, writer-director Lior Geller's crime movie We Die Young kicks things off like a cinematic cover band looking for new ways to play old hits.

And while it lays this approach on pretty heavily from its informative (if wildly over-the-top) opening voice-over sequence which recalls both Casino and City of God up through the violence that erupts amid a holy celebration in its Godfather style denouement, hang in there long enough and you just might be surprised by how well Young works overall.


Retooling what appears to be the same basic plot of Geller’s award-winning 2007 Israeli short Roads, the filmmaker transfers its story about an ex-soldier's involvement in a fourteen-year-old drug runner's quest to keep his ten year old brother from following in his footsteps to the MS-13 filled streets of Washington D.C.

Haunted by his experiences in Afghanistan, which have left him wounded both physically without the ability to speak and mentally with nightmares, an Oxy habit, and PTSD, Jean-Claude Van Damme's Daniel spends his days working as a neighborhood mechanic just trying to get by.


Finding himself falling back on his old training when he catches sight of Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) and his younger brother Miguel (Nicholas Sean Johnny) being hunted by the upper echelons of MS-13, he puts everything on the line to get the boys away from the gang and on their way to safety.

Produced by its star Jean-Claude Van Damme, We Die Young gives the actor his best role since 2008's JCVD. Reminiscent of Martin Campbell's underrated 2017 effort The Foreigner, which features a similarly stellar turn by JCVD contemporary Jackie Chan as a humbled man who, wearied by life, decides to act rather than be pushed by the wayside, while Young is easily the B-movie here, the two have so much in common (both onscreen and off) that they work even better together as a double feature.


Underplaying that cocky charisma that fueled some of the movies of his early '90s heyday by relying instead on his strength as an actor (again like Chan in The Foreigner) although the film's breakneck pacing leaves little time to develop its characters, Van Damme lends a sense of gravitas to Daniel that helps give Young a moment to catch its breath.

Similarly excellent in another role that deserves more than just a few expository speeches here and there to literally tell the viewer who he is, how he's connected to the boys, and what that means, The Umbrella Academy's David Castañeda shines as Rincon, the "First Word" or head of the gang.


Trying to give his own beloved younger sibling — his disabled sister — a better life away from the streets of D.C. by preparing for her wedding, just like the complicated Daniel, Rincon is proof that Geller isn't content to paint everyone as simply good or evil with the same brush used in the classic westerns which gave birth to gangster fare.

Linking the two sides together courtesy of an out-of-options Lucas, unfortunately there's no way to pay off on all of the supporting players and subplots that Geller hoped to create in a ninety-two minute running time.


While perhaps Roads would be better served adapted yet again as a TV miniseries — particularly to offer more of the Latin American characters greater depth and give the film's many moral and ethical quandaries time to expound upon — miles better than a mere copycat tapestry of contemporary crime movie classics, Young is elevated by well-staged action sequences and one hell of a turn by Van Damme.


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.