"The Road Within" Leads Past Some Dark Places Review

Road trip movies seem to always involve eccentric, unusual characters that would probably drive you crazy if you actually had to spend hours confined inside a tiny vehicle with them; however, in the context of a 90-minute film, these people often come across less annoying and more like charming, manic pixie dream boys and girls. The Road Within, a remake of the 2010 German film Vincent Wants to Sea, takes those tropes a few steps further; its vehicle is filled with dysfunctional characters who aren’t just quirky, but plagued with mental and neurological disorders. (You know, people dealing with actual problems, as opposed to just poetic musings.) Yet despite casting three talented young actors who throw themselves heart and soul into their characters and deliver performances so raw that they’re practically bloody, writer-director Gren Wells’ dark comedy-drama rarely ever veers out of already well-tread territory.

Aug
25
2015
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A Lot Was Left Behind In "Vietnam" Review

A 2015 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature, Last Days in Vietnam chronicles the turbulent final moments of the Vietnam War as the North Vietnamese Army rolled towards Saigon in spring of 1975. At that time, the United States had essentially withdrawn from the country, leaving behind only a few diplomats and the bare minimum of a military presence. These remaining Americans knew that any South Vietnamese who were known to have worked with them--including their tailors, launderers and cooks--were in grave danger from the impending invasion. In addition, many of them had wives, mistresses and children who were Vietnamese; they did not want to leave their families behind in any potential evacuation. Torn between their duties as soldiers and doing what was right, a small group decided to do whatever possible to get as many South Vietnamese out of the country before it was too late.

Aug
25
2015
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Some Things Are Better Left Between "Lovers" Review

Your path is already chosen.

After spending the 1970's in television, Roland Joffé burst onto the scene with back-to-back critical hits with The Killing Fields (1984) (winning three Oscars from seven nominations) and The Mission (1986) (winning one Oscar from seven nominations)--a sophomore slump anyone might be proud of. Both films set in exotic locals during a periods of socio-political upheaval and both are marvelous. Then things go quiet, critically speaking, with incredible speed. Last I caught up with Joffé was There Be Dragons (2011) set during the Spanish Civil War--seemingly tailor-made for triumph--but failing to provide much of an impression of that little-covered topic because of his dedication to a oft-formulated love story. His latest outing is The Lovers (2015), which IMDB incredibly claims was released theatrically, about an exotic location during a period of socio-political upheaval that is, as the title may suggest, overshadowed by a oft-formulated love story.

Aug
25
2015
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"Ancient Aliens": Yup, Season 7. You Read That Right. Review

Ancient astronaut theorists believe...

What damned nonsense is this? One presumes that the lunatics or opportunist hacks who frequent Ancient Aliens (2009-) have so little regard for themselves that their fees are comfortably in budget, allowing for another season to come out on blu ray. One such "expert" was described in subtitle as an AM radio host. I don't know where my anger comes from, possibly outer space--I'm sure we could find an ancient astronaut theorist to confirm it--but it is real. I can't get Roman Holiday (1953) or Gallipoli (1981) on blu ray, but I can get the last three seasons of Ancient Aliens in any assortment of high definition collections. What might you be invited to enjoy in this luckiest of seasons? Could I entice you with a false dichotomy? How about a hasty conclusion? One ancient astronaut theorist talks about Superman with equally un-subjunctive language and demeanor.

Aug
25
2015
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"X-Men: Days of Future Past": Where Continuity Went "Rogue" Review

It's hard not to wonder what the X-Men franchise might have been had Bryan Singer not left following X2: X-Men United (reportedly, due to his frosty relationship with 20th Century Fox). His much-hailed return, Days of Future Past, is far stronger than any of the films produced in his absence (the less said about the Brett Ratner-helmed X3: The Last Stand, the better), but it is still suggestive of the confusion that plagued the series after his first two films. While many characters are now familiar, others feel shortchanged (particularly those who only appear in the future segments), and the apocalyptic prologue, while strikingly visualized, would have immensely benefited from set-up in a prior film; essentially, it'd all feel stronger if there was a better sense of how they got from there to here. The "Rogue Cut", with an additional 12 minutes of footage, would seem like an opportunity to correct that, but unfortunately it does not.

Aug
22
2015
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"If You Build It" Doesn't Quite Construct the Story it Intended Review

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” So spoke the great Vermonter and philosopher, Professor and Doctor John Dewey. At its core, If You Build It is about that universal truth.

The story does not lack for authentic human drama. The school superintendent, Dr. Chip Zullinger, of bitterly impoverished Bertie County, North Carolina, takes a chance in a failing area and brings two innovative, untraditional new educators to his high school. Designer Emily Pilloton and architect Matt Miller arrive with heady dreams of revitalizing an area on its knees and set up a shop class, entitled “Studio H,” for ten high school juniors, with the objective of teaching design, and then actually building the students’ project – a Farmer’s Market for the town. Not long after, Zullinger is fired by a frustratingly inept school board stuck in old, broken ways, and Matt and Emily lose their funding. Staying on and living lean thanks to limited grants and maxed out credit cards, they keep stepping forward, never giving ground as they break ground on a build that changes everyone’s lives and an entire town.

Aug
20
2015
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The Charming "Danny Collins" Deserved More Time in the Spotlight Review

Charming. That’s the one word to describe Dan Fogelman’s brand of filmmaking. With a background that includes penning Cars, Fred Claus, and Tangled, his more recent, and perhaps breakthrough turn was as scribe of the, yes, charming Crazy, Stupid, Love. With a career altering performance from Steve Carell and a supporting cast that toted great turns by Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone, with a little Kevin Bacon tossed in the starpower salad, Crazy, Stupid, Love deftly mixed midlife drama with heart-melting sincerity, all overpowered by good laughs throughout. Charming.

With Danny Collins, Fogelman makes his directorial debut with a cast fit for awards season and a project that is, well, you get it.

Aug
20
2015
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Beautiful Scenery and Evolution Abound on "Mutant Planet" Review

Creationists beware, there’s a phenomenal show about our planet out there, and it’s all about evolution! Mutant Planet launched in 2010 and returned in 2014 with a second stunning season of mesmerizing visuals and mind-blowing discoveries. Forget about farm tours with goats and cows, and, if you can, ignore that squirrel on the park bench and all the cats and dogs in our domestic lives. Sure they’re fun and miracles of evolution as well, but this show focuses on the critters and creatures that are uncommon and largely unknown to us in our isolated daily lives.

Aug
20
2015
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"Tooken" is a Missed Opportunity for a "Taken" Spoof Review

Young Hollywood royalty Josh Asher directs Tooken, a generic gross-out, pun-filled, raunchy romp of a spoof of the surprisingly successful, slam-bang action-driven, albeit formulaic Taken movies. Asher’s dad was the creator of the highly beloved 8-season ‘60s comedy series Betwitched, but to assume that the father’s wholesome humor and hijinks have passed down to the son would be an error.

Aug
20
2015
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You Owe it to Yourself to Check Out the Superb Sci-Fi Flick "Ex Machina" Review

A lot of noise has been made this year over how fans of Science Fiction should go see some of the larger studio-produced Sci-Fi flicks like Jupiter Ascending and Chappie if they want to see more "original" science fiction films in theaters in the future. The idea was that it didn’t matter if Jupiter Ascending and Chappie were quite disappointing efforts, and they were, they deserved your money if you ever wanted more films like them. It’s an argument equivalent to a hostage situation, and it was ridiculous. You shouldn’t support bad films in the hopes that the studio will throw some good ones your way down the road. Instead, you should pay to see excellent movies like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, because doing so will be rewarding for you - and it will be. Plus, you get to see one of the more beautifully filmed sci-fi movies in a while that boasts both great acting (by Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac), and a stimulating take on the classic premise of the inherent unknowns of artificial intelligence.

Aug
19
2015
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