Anders Nelson

Associate Editor



"Earth" Might Not Be Doomed After All (Maybe) Review

PBS has a nature documentary virtually on lock at this point. A few cute animals, some slow motion, and a few helicopter shots of vast, unspoiled terra firma and you’ve basically got 6 hours of programming. Earth: A New Wild yields to this formula almost entirely (they don’t mess around: this thing has baby pandas in it. Pandas), but distinguishes itself by virtue of the potentially incurable optimism of its host Sanjayan Muttulingam, whose amazement with the outdoors and the things in it appears inexhaustible. It’s unlikely that he’ll change the way you look at the world, but he may provide some welcome respite from its dourness.

Sep
30
2015
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"Pioneer" Goes Boldly Where The 70s Went Before Review

Any film maker looking to revive the conspiracy thriller has their work cut out for them. The genre hit its peak after Watergate, when the idea that the powers that be were little more than crooks (at best) was both novel and shocking, but it's a little harder to rouse a nation in which a full 25% of the population believes that 9/11 was an inside job. It would, frankly, be far more shocking if the government weren't up to no good. Such a problem befalls Pioneer, a competently produced and acted thriller that nonetheless never quite thrills in the way you’d like for it to.

Sep
30
2015
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"Singles" Keeps Giving Reasons To Stay That Way Review

There was a time, surely, when Singles must have felt pretty fresh. It was keyed into a time and place that has all but been enshrined as one the late twentieth century's great creative meccas (early 90s Seattle), and its young creative talent (most notably Cameron Crowe, who was between Say Anything and Jerry Maguire) was working in a form that had not yet ripened into insufferable cliché. Just how well that will translate to the present will vary from viewer to viewer, but on the whole, Singles retains its virtues, if more so as a time capsule than as a romantic comedy.

Sep
12
2015
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Apparently The First "Pact" Didn't Keep Review

It's hard to know what kind of reaction The Pact II was going for. The moody lighting and gruesome subject matter suggest that at some point during its hour and a half run time, the film hopes that you will be scared, but it's clear pretty early on that writers/directors Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath aren't clear on just how to evoke such a feeling. They have all the ornaments down (serial killers, weird dreams), but when you put it all together, it doesn't feel like much.

Sep
12
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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"Auteur" Might Use A Pseudonym Next Time Review

The name “Charlie Buckwald” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but given the number of times it’s said aloud in Auteur in hushed tones of awe and mystery, you’d think they were talking about Keyser Soze. This may seem like a small issue, but it typifies a lot that’s wrong in Auteur, in which the film presupposes (or would seem to) some very dramatic effect that it misses wildly, leaving you wondering exactly what they were going for in the first place.  One would like to be generous and assume that this film was aiming for something smarter than what ultimately comes across, but it’s difficult to be sure.

Jun
29
2015
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"Echoes" Fades In The Distance Review

The title Echoes suggests empty space, in which voices long silenced might be preserved through the sheer lack of obstruction. The desert setting, with its wide, parched vistas, matches this ethos, but so too, unfortunately, does the screenplay, which never propels its action forward any faster than a meandering tortoise that might be seen in the background.  There’s something to be said for the commitment to spacey atmosphere, and the mysteries that may emerge from it, but writer/director Nils Timm’s command of it is never strong enough to give it any real effect, making Echoes fainter and fainter as it goes along.

Jun
29
2015
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No Rest For "The Overnighters" Review

The Overnighters, Jesse Moss's documentary feature, earned many comparisons to The Grapes Of Wrath upon release last year, and at first glance seems to merit them. Its portrait of impoverished Americans migrating to North Dakota in search of work recalls that novel and film's almost Biblical image of California as the land of milk and honey, and its central figure Jay Reinke seems cast in the part of its Christ figure Jim Casey. Reinke, however, is a far darker and more conflicted character than any of Steinbeck's migrants, and the sentences of his trials more ambiguous in their meaning.

Jun
06
2015
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The Surprise May Just "VANish" Review

VANish would have seemed at home at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, when the first wave of Tarantino imitators were shelling their wares to a studio system that couldn’t pay our fast enough. Of course, as history has taught us, that trend of fast-talking, gun-waving slacker criminals didn’t die out then, but it’s hard to imagine who exactly director Bryan Bockbrader thought he was going to shock. All of the characters play hard at getting the highest decibel intensity that they can, but even the actors seem to know that this schtick is long past its shelf life.

Jun
06
2015
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"Vice" Has its Virtues Review

Paul Thomas Anderson has never been shy about his influences. While on the press tour for Inherent Vice, the writer/director listed films as varied as The Big Sleep and Airplane as contributing to his approach (though everything from Dragnet to The Big Lebowski is visible to the discerning eye), and at various points during Vice’s 149-minute running time, they all glimmer briefly before circling around, like horses on a carousel (which may or may not be caught in a tornado). The mixture is not always consistent, but it is frequently electric, and with its sprawling cast of Angeleno squares, burnouts, activists, and noir archetypes (most of whom under some form of chemical influence), it weirdly reflects the cacophonous landscapes of 70s America. Indeed, for all his bold ventures into the past, Anderson has always felt most comfortable in the Watergate decade, free from the strictures of big statements, serious themes, or even coherent plotting. This may not be his best film, but it’s almost certainly his friendliest, in which he opens himself up to be something other than what we’ve come to expect.

May
27
2015
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Older Viewers May Find It Hard To See Gem's "Glow" Review

Cartoon Network's appeal has typically been so hip, self-aware, and sometimes downright weird that it's hard to know where something like Steven Universe fits in. Though clearly meant for a younger age group, it's still consistent with the channel's well-defined ironic nostalgia for the 1980s and affinity for Japanese animation, if not its frequently anarchic spirit. The fact that its meant for children, however, puts Universe in kind of an odd position, forcing its characters into plotlines that cry out for some kind of subversion, without ever being able to deliver.

Apr
01
2015
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"Heartbreak Hotel" Neither Rocks Nor Rolls Review

Heartbreak Hotel advertises itself as a “rock and roll fantasy”; had it truly been that, it might have been something special. Most everything that happens in Hotel defies belief to some degree, but little of it truly feels fantastic. One can hardly blame Chris Columbus (in only his second film as director) for becoming enamored by the mythos of Elvis Presley, but his approach to king of rock and roll, like so many of them, feels minor compared to the man himself, and his legacy reduced to little more than a drawl and some cheesy catchphrases.

Mar
24
2015
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"ABCs Of Death 2" No More Appropriate To Show A Classroom Than Its Predecessor Review

Those of you who have been waiting for indie horror’s response to Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies can rejoice with the release of The ABCs of Deathsequel. Just like the first, this one is a series of 26 short films, each suggested by a letter of the alphabet, and depicting at least one (you guessed it) death. Each of the segments had a different director at the helm, with a number of countries and forms represented.

Mar
20
2015
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"Rudderless" Steers A True But Narrow Course Review

Even if you've never heard of Rudderless, you're likely familiar with its narrative arc; man undergoes tragedy, drops out of life, finds redemption in creative pursuit. It's a central tenet of independent films that most wounds can be healed simply by quitting your corporate job and picking up an acoustic guitar, and in many cases, that may be the case. Rudderless, though (William H. Macy's directorial debut), takes on a level of grief that would appear insurmountable, and applies to it a level of gravity more appropriate to a nasty breakup than a family-leveling tragedy.

Mar
16
2015
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The "Boardwalk" Ends In Blood Review

After five seasons and eleven years of history, it's probably appropriate the Nucky Thompson's empire on the boardwalk vanishes as quickly as it does, but that doesn't make it any more satisfying. Hardly any talk of behind the scenes power struggles preceded this final season, but this truncated conclusion (this run is 8 episodes instead of the usual 12) still feels like a compromise. It's a shame, because what makes it to the screen is as strong as anything Boardwalk Empire has shown us before; cinematic, sad, and just the tiniest bit wistful for a brief, odd period in our past. But more than that, it marshalls its numerous storylines and characters back around to where we first began, suggesting that a show that was frequently accused of being little more than an opportunity to hang out in TV's most beautiful dollhouse actually knew what it was doing all this time.

Mar
11
2015
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Probably Not "Beyond The Edge"; Maybe Right Up To It Review

Sir Edmund Hillary's conquest of Mount Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay suggests a different era entirely, one in which the map still had soft edges and major scientific discovery still conferred some measure of celebrity. Small wonder, then that filmmakers Leanne Pooley and Matthew Metcalfe would want to retell that story (even if they have to give it a Mountain Dew-approved extreme sports title) and evoke the reverence that the accomplishment merits. Beyond The Edge is not lacking for reverence, but as with so many "great men" biopics, the presentation is considerably less exciting than the subject matter.

Feb
06
2015
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Some People Will Always "Running From Crazy" Review

Early in Running From Crazy, the Hemingway family (of Ernest and Mariel fame) is compared to the Kennedy clan, less for their stature in American culture than for the unending series of calamities that seems to befall them. It seems like a bold claim at first, but by the end of the film’s running time, the connection is more than justified. Beginning with patriarch Ernest’s suicide (the first of seven), the Hemingway legacy is one defined as much by depression and mental illness as it is by literary prominence.

Feb
06
2015
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It's Not Worth Going "Beneath" Review

There's not much that's outright bad  about Beneath, but as is so often the case with young film-makers, the absence of anything laugh-out-loud horrible doesn't always translate into something compellingly watchable. The "bottle" film is a nearly irresistible lure for the independent film-maker, what with the exceedingly low budget and promise of great returns (look no further than Buried), but the limited environment also presents challenges that are hard to equip for in film school (management of space, gradual acceleration of space). Though director Ben Ketai appears to make a valiant effort, he proves unequal to these challenges, and turns Beneath into something of a slog as a result.

Jan
29
2015
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"Hellion" Raises All Too Little Hell Review

Independent films seems to have relegated itself into 5 or 6 subdivisions, and somewhere between "man-child gets record store girlfriend" and "single location horror" is the rural family drama. It's as worthy a subject as any of its compatriots, but probably a lot trickier, as so many actors look at it as an opportunity to try on funny accents. There's no reason to think that Hellion was produced with anything but the best of intentions, but it fails to bring this world into focus, opting for the showy Oscar clip moment whenever things threaten to get too real.

Jan
29
2015
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"Ninja Turtles" On Something Less Than A Half Shell Review

If there's one thing that modern Hollywood doesn't know how to work with, it's weird. It can be off-putting, atonal, and just generally bizarre (though most of the time, it appears to be unintentional), but when it comes to taking an inherently strange concept and executing it with conviction, it's simply clueless, and nothing demonstrates that better than its attempt to revitalize decades-old properties. In the annals of comicdom, there may not be a weirder (successful) concept than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, nor one with a lower bar to clear for hitting that sweet spot between its original fans and their children. But when faced with a world that had turned about face since the last time the Turtles hit screens (in live-action), the powers that be did exactly what they did with Transformers and Robocop: chickened out, foregrounding the exceedingly boring characters while running away from its own appeal.

Jan
20
2015
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