There's A "Riot" Goin' On Review

It'd be interesting to pinpoint exactly when the term "problem film" went out of vogue. Once a thriving subgenre due to their controversial subject matter and thrifty production value, films like Riot in Cell Block 11 have no real historical antecedent, at least not on the same kind of platform, and not as part of an identifiable genre. In that context, Riot is actually quite remarkable: an unrelentingly and unmistakably political film unbeholden to the two-party dichotomy that never sacrifices the need for action that presumably got it made in the first place. An early work of Don Siegel's, this film has the sort of energetic verve that he would later display in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dirty Harry, but it lacks their ambiguity, and the ability to support multiple interpretations; that may well be an asset. Like the best 'problem films', it is less an opening to discussion than a call to arms, and less a finger-pointing polemic than a warning to all who are wise enough to listen.

Aug
29
2014
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Storm The Beach With "Overlord" Review

An event as important as the D-Day invasion of France could be so traumatic as to send psychic shockwaves both backwards and forwards in time, sending those afflicted both on and off the battlefield visions of its destruction long before it occurs. At least, that appears to be thesis of Overlord, a surreal film that gives equal screen-time to scripted sequences of a man called up in defense of queen and country and authentic documentary footage of the war. Overlord's D-Day is a waking nightmare seen most clearly through the mind's eye (and most obtusely when actually occurring), jarringly intercut into the main action, almost as if it threatens to cut into and overwhelm the present. But when it actually arrives and its most awful predictions fulfilled, the dream continues, outlasting those who dreamed it.

Aug
25
2014
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"Operation Petticoat" A Victory In The War On Progress Review

Newly available on Blu-ray, Operation Petticoat stars two of Hollywood’s ultimate leading men, Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, in a madcap, candy-colored comedy about two very different officers on a battered submarine in the Pacific during World War II, and what happens when five female Army nurses come aboard. Directed by Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther, among many others), it was released in 1959 and showcases two of the biggest stars in the history of cinema at their brightest and most boisterous--even if the story itself leaves something to be desired.

Aug
22
2014
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There's So Much More To "Raid" This Time Around Review

Two years ago, an Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption blew my mind with 101 minutes of incredible fighting framed with a simple plot. A police raid of an apartment complex goes terribly wrong, and a few good cops need to fight their way out, taking out highly-trained criminals and crooked cops along the way. The Raid 2: Berandal takes everything from The Raid: Redemption and makes it bigger, including its running time which clocks in at 150 minutes. Does the raw, gritty power of the original film still work in a 2½ hour film, or did writer/director Gareth Evans overextend his reach?

Aug
22
2014
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Bechir Makes This A "Bridge" Worth Crossing Review

I'm sorry if I didn't exercise empathy.

A body is left on the bridge that crosses the border between Mexico and the United States, half in one country and half in the other. Here's the twist: one body, two people. It sounds like the beginning of a brain-teaser, but it's just the start of The Bridge (2013-), an FX adaptation of the Danish/Swedish mystery by the same name (you know, except in Danish/Swedish). After a gentle jurisdiction tussle, American detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger)--hey, Bridge, Cross, I just got that--and Mexican cop Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) have to partner up to find the killer or killers. In thirteen episodes, an elaborate, almost novelistic world is developed with cartels, cops, corruption, drugs, human trafficking, and good ol' fashioned murder like they wanted to do The Wire (2002-08) in one season. Well, it ain't The Wire, but it's perfectly engaging.

Aug
22
2014
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Some Of The Best Things Are Still "Made In America" Review

Made in America documents the Philadelphia concert festival of the same name that brought together a variety of musical talent to celebrate making music in America (sponsored by Budweiser, of course). The documentary was produced and directed by Ron Howard and exec produced by Jay Z (who dropped the hyphen, which is a topic that deserves its own documentary), the informal host for the event. The focus of the film is on the American struggle, specifically in the recent economic downturn.

Aug
21
2014
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It's Hard Work Dealing With "Boredom" Review

In the documentary Boredom, “comedic” Canadian documentarian Albert Nerenberg delves into a full study of the concept and condition of boredom. Known for similar documentaries—Laughology, Stupidity—Nerenberg seems to be the ideal filmmaker to tackle such an unexplored topic. This hour-long doc brings some fascinating insight into the debilitating state of boredom.

Boredom results from a combination of three things: an unstimulating environment, a repetitious activity, and the need for constant vigilance of the repetitious activity in an unstimulating environment. But while you may think that boredom results from inactivity in brain usage, it turns out that boredom actually occurs from an over-stimulated mind. In fact, when bored, the brain is moving so fast that it distorts the concept time—hence that feeling that time is going even slower when you’re bored.

Aug
20
2014
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Near The End Of The "Boardwalk" Review

Boardwalk Empire tends to work best when its focus is expanded from Atlantic City power broker Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi) to the cabal of miscreants and sociopaths that he surrounds himself with. Nothing against Buscemi or Thompson as a character, but where clear precedents like Tony Soprano brought the world into their orbit with their sheer force of their personality, Thompson's always been content to sidle into the background, his machinations invisible to all but those operating at his level. For the first time, Boardwalk seems to recognize that, handing over virtual co-lead status to Chalky (Michael K. Williams), Eli (Shea Whigham), and Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), as well as expanding its illicit operations to more colorful locations. As a result, the show's fourth season is handily the strongest since its second (still the high water mark), and an effective set-up to its fifth and final and the birth of the modern mafia as we came to know it.

Aug
20
2014
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Whose "Hearts And Minds" Were Really Lost In The Jungles Of Vietnam? Review

To fully recognize the impact that Hearts And Minds had on the American populace when it was released in 1974, one has to recognize just how much hadn't been said about Vietnam, a context that the film itself is acutely aware. In between the grainy atrocities and the Presidential statements that later proved to be demonstrably false, there are clips of old war movies that Hollywood used to put out on a weekly basis, full of handsome, clean-shaven soldiers charging soundstage dunes to tune of mighty bugles. The contrast couldn't be more obvious (or heavy-handed), but it's helpful to modern viewers for whom the impact of Hearts has been dulled by years of imitation. There had not yet been an Apocalypse Now or a Platoon; there might not even have been a montage of helicopters taking off from rice paddies set to "All Along The Watchtower". With that in mind, Hearts is a revealing look at just how many questions the American populace hadn't asked themselves, even if it is no longer a benchmark for edifying documentaries.

Aug
17
2014
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"Scanners" Continues To Blow Minds Review

Finally, a film that answers the question "can a popular gif be turned into a feature film"? Even for those who have seen it before, Scanners is less remembered than its indelible image of a man's head exploding like one of Gallagher's watermelons. It was an auspicious introduction to Canadian auteur David Cronenberg for American audiences, and it actually represented the appeal of the film rather well. The premise of Scanners is only so unique (with its secret societies and mutant powers, it feels like a dress rehearsal for one of the X-Men films), but Cronenberg is nothing if not a distinctive film-maker, and he has never been afraid to risk being ridiculous in order to get the effect that he wanted. At times, Scanners is indeed ridiculous (no more so than when people’s heads start exploding), but it is never less than engaging, and it serves as engaging portent of wounds yet to burst.

Aug
17
2014
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