REVIEW: The Equalizer

by Daniel Carlson

The Equalizer is many things — grotesquely violent, relentlessly grim, proudly empty-headed — but maybe its most notable aspect is the way it messily jams its influences together in an unsuccessful attempt to become a good movie by trying to look and sound like better movies that came before it. When someone dies in The Equalizer (which happens quite a bit), the soundtrack throbs with ugly bwam sounds pulled from The Dark Knight. When stone-faced hero Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) sizes up a pack of enemies, he uses the same kind of hyper-stylized, overcranked, step-through-time planning method employed by both Guy Ritchie’s and the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes. McCall is also fond of assembling homemade traps and weapons culled from home invasion movies. It’s not just that the film grows dumber as it proceeds; it’s that director Antoine Fuqua almost seems to take pride in stapling together a rough assemblage of appropriations.

Grade: D-

Click here for the rest of Daniel’s review

REVIEW: Hector and the Search for Happiness

by Monica Castillo

What makes people happy? If you want a pleasant enough film to neatly present a response to the age-old complex question that isn’t answered with the number 42, look to Hector and the Search for Happiness. Hector (Simon Pegg) is a frazzled psychiatrist worn down by his patients’ middle-class problems of his patients and about to collapse into a mid-life crisis when he realizes he’s not sure if he’s happy himself. Doesn’t he know what real suffering is? How could he possibly be unhappy when there are truly terrible things going on in the world? The grand idea occurs to him to finally take that big mid-life crisis adventure and find out what happiness means. We are all fortunately spared the purchase of a new sports car.

Grade: C

Click here for the rest of Monica’s review.

REVIEW: The Boxtrolls

by Tomris Laffly

“We are revolting children, living in revolting times”, Tim Minchin’s lyrics go in one of Matilda The Musical’s most entrancing songs, which captures the true spirit of Roald Dahl’s imagination, which seeds the justifiably dark but ultimately hopeful depths of a certain juvenile mind. This sentence and its originating mindset could well be residing in many of Laika Entertainment’s fascinating stop-motion animations, where neglected children –the seeming underdogs- must not only survive and cope with ridiculously self-absorbed, non-caring adults; but they must teach the apathetic bunch of them a lesson or two by any means necessary. Following the success of the masterfully creepyCoraline (adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel), and the spirited wonder ParaNorman, the Laika creators give voice to children who are bound to revolt against indifferent adults once more with The Boxtrolls, a fresh story with a big heart (adapted from Adam Snow’s novel “Here Be Monsters!”), set in a sinisterly eerie, dystopian time and place, Laika-style.

Grade: A

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REVIEW: Lilting

by Tomris Laffly

Grief is often a foreign, alienating concept, even to those who’ve previously experienced it. Every loss is unique, and each aftermath is a formerly unexplored terrain. In writer/director Hong Khaou’s quiet, yet confident and instantly affecting debut feature Lilting, the fish-out-of-water state of a grieving person is further amplified and multiplied with its protagonist being a non-English-speaking Cambodian-Chinese immigrant in England, as she tries to cope with the unexpected death of her son. Lilting is as personal a film as can be, exploring love, loss, and the sometimes unspoken language of the delicacies of the human condition.

Grade: A-

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REVIEW: The Two Faces of January

by Mallory Andrews

There’s something refreshing about new movies that rehash classic genres without feeling the need to have a clever spin on the tried-and-true formula. As far as thrillers go, The Two Faces of January may lack in flashy gimmicks or post-modern twists, but has solid storytelling and character acting in spades. First-time director Hossein Amini draws favourably from Hitchcock and European crime capers for this stylish, sun-soaked take on Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel.

Grade: B+

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by Kevin Ketchum

Isn’t it rather adorable how many self-proclaimed “men’s rights activists” go on about how women are trying to create a society without men at all, as if men were really needed for anything in the first place? It’s almost as if Peter Strickland, director of Berberian Sound Studio, read about these nincompoops and decided to answer that question. How would women get along without men? Perfectly fine, at least if The Duke of Burgundy has anything to say about it. While that may not be the central thesis of Strickland’s film, it’s a fascinating choice to have the story take place in some sort of vague alternate universe where men don’t seem to exist at all. Instead, The Duke of Burgundy is far more concerned with relationships, and how we communicate with one another in them. How far will we go to make our lovers happy, and what are we willing to do when that trust is betrayed?

Grade: A-

Click here for Kevin’s full review

REVIEW: Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

by Andy Crump

If there’s one thing Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart isn’t short on, it’s imagination. The film, produced by Luc Besson, France’s mad scientist of commercial filmmaking, is a lovingly madcap bricolage of ideas run rampant; it borrows from countless genres, niches, and platforms, resulting in a movie that feels intrinsically literary as well as inexorably bound to the medium of cinema. In one moment, the movie evokes the invention and wizardry of George Méliès. In another, Jack the Ripper appears to croon a musical number and menace the film’s eponymous character before vanishing and being forgotten.

Up and down, zigzag, loop-de-loop; Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a visual amusement park ride after Tim Burton’s own heart (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Roald Dahl’s), a movie so all over the place that it often leaves you dazzled and wanting for breath. But the sheer volume of ingenuity and creativity allows the film to handily dodge the feeling of assembly-line plasticity that plagues so many modern animated children’s films. Better to be exhausted than bored, after all, and if Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a bit scrappy in places, it will never, ever allow you to be bored.

Grade: B

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by Kevin Ketchum

After an impressive reception at TIFF, Jonas Govaerts’ Cub landed at Fantastic Fest with great anticipation, with a premise that most would think would be obvious to try, but has been done seldom. A boy scout troop goes on a camping trip, and finds themselves the victims of someone, or something, stalking them in the woods. Layers of mystery begin to reveal themselves and nothing is quite as it seems, challenging the psyches of everyone involved. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, this attempt at a 70s slasher film homage indicates that we really need to have a talk about this recent genre trend in cinema. What no one seems to understand is that those films had a specific mood and craft to them, and Cub is the kind of imitation that is devoid of any of the suspense, subtext, or story that made the films it apes so special.

Grade: D+

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REVIEW: Pride 

by Dan Schindel

The best thing that can be said about Pride, and this really is a compliment, is that it’s one of the least offensive mainstream movies about queer people and issues that’s yet been made. While most of the cast and above-the-line crew is straight, it probably (read: almost certainly) helped that writer Stephen Beresford is gay. Imagine how Dallas Buyers Club would have turned out if a single person with some direct experience of its subject matter had been involved. The winner of this year’s Cannes’ Queer Palm, Pride seems poised to become 2014’s “it” gay film.

Grade: C+

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FANTASTIC FEST REVIEW: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

by Kevin Ketchum

Within a year, two titans of animated filmmaking have decided to bring their long-storied careers to a close. Last year, Studio Ghibli co-founder and animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki bowed out with The Wind Rises, a heartbreaking tale of an artist’s dreams being poisoned by war. Now, the other genius at Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata, has brought out his first film in 15 years, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which also looks to be the Grave of the Fireflies director’s curtain call.

Grade: A

Click here for Kevin’s full rave of the latest Studio Ghibli film

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Smith)

by Jake Mulligan & Sean Burns

Editor’s note: With the release of TUSK today, Boston film critics Sean Burns and Jake Mulligan thought it would be interesting to reflect on the films Kevin Smith. What follows is a candid conversation.

Jake Mulligan: We need to talk about Kevin Smith. The other day, you texted me about his new film: “Even the positive reviews of that movie make it sound unbearable.” It got me thinking about the fact that we simply don’t get excited about “the new Kevin Smith movie” anymore (“we” referring to you and I, as well as to the mythical “online community of moviegoers” that we all construct via our social-media feeds).

Sean Burns: It’s tough to talk about Kevin Smith films without getting personal, in part because he seems to take these kind of things so personally himself, but mostly I think because for my particular generation he was “our guy.” I was nineteen years old when Clerks came out and it’s still impossible to overstate the joy of identification I felt while sitting in New York City’s stuffiest art-house cinema (the dreaded Angelika) and seeing characters just like my old friends and I up there on the big screen. The suburban ennui, the academic discussions of Star Wars and pornography, the non-stop masturbation jokes—these were “my people,” and Clerks felt like the closest thing I’d ever seen to my own life in a movie. (Hell, not only did I work in a video store, I worked in a video store where Kevin Smith bought LaserDiscs.)

Click here for Jake and Sean’s full conversation on Kevin Smith

Mean Girls and Bad Boys: The Messy Gender Politics of Grease In 5 Songs

by Kyle Turner

Grease is the word. Its first iteration was as a stage musical, conceived by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, first appearing on stage in Chicago in 1971, and then on Broadway in 1972. With book, music, and lyrics by Jacobs and Warren, the two tackled teenage life in its raunchy, dirty, often distressing reality. It’s not totally unlike West Side Story, but with a footing grounded more in the environment and culture of the teens, focusing on Danny Zucko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson’s (Olivia Newton-John) turbulent relationship. Most of the songs were written for the original stage production, though, in the 1978 film directed by Randal Kleiser, some contemporary songs can be heard (like “Blue Moon” and “Hound Dog”). In “Summer Nights”, “You’re the One I That I Want”, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”, “Greased Lightning”, and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” the film reveals its muddy, complicated gender dynamics. What Jacobs and Warren did, that seems to have been forgotten since its controversial debut, is examine the various toxic elements of high school life, with the kind of morals that feel as if they’ve never gone away.

Click here for Kyle’s full analysis

Netflix Weekend 9/19: Fantastic Fest Edition

by Kevin Ketchum

This week we’ll be highlighting three films that premiered at Fantastic Fest, to give you all a bit of an idea of what the prominent Austin-based film festival is all about. Those three films are There Will Be BloodLet the Right One In, and I Saw the Devil. Each of these films represents some aspect or another of what makes Fantastic Fest so weird and unique.

Click here for Kevin’s full overview of Netflix Instant films.

Blu-Ray Review: The Innocents

by Jake Cole

A British horror movie adapted from a great American author by another noted American writer, The Innocents stands out from its contemporaries before you view even a single foot of film. That the source material in question is Henry James’ insoluble The Turn of the Screw, and that Truman Capote infuses the material with an erotic, Southern Gothic bent only further isolates it tonally and stylistically.

Film: A
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: A-

Click here for Jake’s full blu-ray review.

REVIEW: The Maze Runner

by Corey Atad

At what point are we allowed to be offended by the continued content-ification of blockbuster movies? When even the most competently made of childish action entertainment, like the new YA adaptation, The Maze Runner, leaves audiences groaning at the admission that the preceding 110 minutes have been little more than a vehicle for three or five more films, can we bemoan the state of things? It’s not that The Maze Runner represents anything like “the death of cinema,” but it crosses the Rubicon into utter exhaustion. All the more depressing that the film itself is mostly very good.

Grade: B-

Click here for the rest of Corey’s review