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

REVIEW: A Walk Among the Tombstones

by Andy Crump

From a distance, A Walk Among the Tombstones looks an awful lot like “generic Liam Neeson actioner #1,075″, but that’s only a half-accurate first impression. Oh, Neeson grumbles and sneers, dispassionate to the world around him and ambivalent about his mortality, a stereotypical hard-boiled badass; he’s seen it all, and he cares little about anything that doesn’t tie into the storm cloud of veiled ennui that hovers over him for the bulk of the movie. He also takes his morning coffee with two shots of whiskey, which is either a nod to his law enforcement background or his national heritage. (Maybe both.)

Here, though, Neeson is less the beater and more the beaten, trading in on his special set of skills to find out what it’s like to be on the other end of an ass-kicking. We’re not in Bryan Mills’ house anymore; welcome to the world of Matthew Scudder, the grizzled protagonist in author Lawrence Block’s long-running series of grim, New York-set crime novels. You won’t see Neeson whip out any slick martial artistry or marksman tricks to wreak ruthless vengeance on a whole coterie of Euro thugs. You’ll instead see Neeson slip on a pool of blood, fall down some stairs, and make an ass of himself.

And it’s way more effective than it has any right to be.

Grade: B

Click here to read the rest of Andy’s review.

REVIEW: Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt? 

by Sean Burns

Millionaire CEO and poker champ John Agliaro’s 20-year struggle to bring Ayn Rand’s doorstop-sized Objectivist Bible to the big screen came to an unceremonious end this past weekend, with the side-splitting third and final installment raking in a gasp-inducing $1,906 per theatre. (Breaking it down for the current average ticket price of $8.33, with most cinemas running a film anywhere between 12 and 15 times over a 3-day period, this works out to a charitable estimate of fewer than 20 patrons attending any given show.) So I guess the Free Market has spoken?

For the blessedly uninitiated, Rand’s 1,168-page novel is the favorite book of many young sociopaths you meet in business schools. Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged posits a hysterically overwrought nightmare dystopia in which government regulation has crippled the economy. Shadowy politicians conspire with corrupt union leaders to bleed corporations of their precious profits, with “parasites,” “looters,” and “moochers” living off the hard-earned wealth of the noble 1%. In this time of crisis, America’s captains of industry have had it up to here with poisonous concepts like “charity” and “altruism.” Inspired by a mysterious figure named John Galt, they sabotage their companies, trashing the country’s infrastructure before disappearing altogether. Basically, it’s all about a bunch of rich crybabies who don’t want to share their toys so they break them and go home.

My dear friend, the late, great libertarian talk show host David Brudnoy used to describe Rand as “an unfortunate phase most people outgrow.” But Agliaro certainly hasn’t, throwing mountains of bad money after good with his increasingly unprofitable (and increasingly hilarious) adaptations of Little Objectivist Aynnie’s magnum opus. Burning with messianic zeal, the movies have gone through three directors and three sets of actors on the long road to this riotous finale.

Grade: F

Click here for Sean’s full negative review

REVIEW: The Zero Theorem Waltzes Through Disconnection

by Andy Crump

The Zero Theorem‘s first 20 minutes or so are an endurance test. If you can withstand the film’s introductory sensory assault, then you can reasonably withstand the rest of it. But the ride remains jarring even when the edges smooth on Terry Gilliam’s latest tale of wacky, low-tech future shock. Entire scenes go by without a word of explanation given to contextualize his hyper-colorful, thoroughly grimy reflection of our web-crazed modern society; by the time Christoph Waltz and David Thewlis discuss “crunching entities” for the umpteenth time, you may feel like you’re in over your head.

But that’s just Terry being Terry. Monty Python’s token Yank has always preferred to unleash his cinema in torrents; hand-holding isn’t really his style. A typical Gilliam movie will airdrop its audience smack dab in the middle of a world that feels familiar beneath the surface, but with a metric ton of surface to drill through. This is as true of The Zero Theorem as Brazil, or 12 Monkeys, or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, perhaps more so. After the film’s striking, lilting opening image, it kicks into high gear with an unrelenting buildup of inexplicable oddity: Christoph Waltz codes naked at his home computer, answering his ringing phone with excitement that dissolves into disappointment. City streets are veritably haunted by blaring ads that actively harangue passerby. It’s loud, it’s abrasive, it’s discomfiting, and it’s all too much.

Grade: B+

Click here for the rest of Andy’s review.

REVIEW: The Guest 

by Dan Schindel

A low-budget groove. A synthy soundtrack. Garish purple titling in a splattery font. A love of just-as-splattery violence. The Guest is, from head to toe, a throwback to cult ‘80s cinema. You can practically picture writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard (of last year’s You’re Next) scuttling up to daddy John Carpenter and eagerly showing him their doodles, hoping that he’ll tell them how great they look and give them the best spot on the fridge. Their movie is good for some cheap thrills, and will probably satisfy fans whose nostalgia it seeks to tweak, but I couldn’t jibe with it.

Grade: C

Click here for the rest of Dan’s review.

6 Passion Projects That Beat the Odds

by Jake Pitre

Belle and Sebastian leader Stuart Murdoch wrote and directed God Help the Girl, an incredibly charming indie musical that has just hit theaters and VOD. This film was a passion project of his that had been in some state of development for at least ten years, as an idea that came to him while running, then an album released under the same name in 2009, and now the film. He and his producers had trouble casting and financing, but finally it all came together; his baby has been born, and the result is a delightful film that stands as one of the year’s best.

Many passion projects aren’t so lucky. The obsession can become so overwhelming that there’s no way for a clear vision to come through, or perhaps the film becomes so self-indulgent so as to be suffocating. The list of failed passion projects (or in these cases, maybe vanity projects is more appropriate) is long: George Lucas’ Red Tails, John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth, Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, that damn Zach Braff Kickstarter movie. We can only hope the best for Terry Gilliam’sThe Man Who Killed Don Quixote

But sometimes, as with God Help the Girl, the time and effort pays off. Here are six passion projects that managed to succeed by using vigor and earnestness, and not being engorged by ego.

Click here for Jake’s full list

The Best of TIFF 2014

by Movie Mezzanine Staff

After two weeks of wall-to-wall movies, writing, late nights, coffee, deadlines, and sleep deprivation, the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close. Thankfully, right before our writers on the ground collapsed from exhaustion, they wrote about 9 quality films, the créme de la créme of what they consumed at TIFF. These are the films to keep an eye out for as they find distribution and begin playing at a theater near you. To read more about the festivities, check out our extensive coverage here.

Click here for the full list of Movie Mezzanine’s favorite films from the Toronto International Film Festival

TIFF REVIEW: Electric Boogaloo - Shooting Nostalgia Out of a Cannon

by Odie Henderson

The hexagonal Cannon Group logo should be familiar to anyone who wasted their 80’s-era adolescence at the movie theater. Its appearance onscreen became so ubiquitous in Reagan-era America that the mere sight of it evoked memories of an old friend coming to visit. Except the Cannon Group logo was that batshit crazy friend you hung out with despite better judgment, the one that brought trouble and mayhem wherever he went. Common sense bid you the capacity to run away, to avoid at all costs, and yet, there you were every weekend to see what deviltry your buddy got into onscreen.

At least that’s how it was for me. I started going to the movies without adult supervision in 1980, the same year that Cannon released The Apple. Part of the triumvirate of “what the hell?” disco movies of 1980 (Xanadu and Can’t Stop the Music were the others), it’s the only one I didn’t see until I got a copy on VHS years later. It was directed by the late Menahem Golan who, along with his cousin Yoram Globus, bought the Cannon Group from British backers and turned it into the beloved bad studio it became in its heyday. The little kid I was in the 70’s had American International Pictures and New World Pictures to cut his teeth on; those were movie choices, made beyond my control, by the folks who took me. With a mixture of horror and delight, I humbly state that I chose every Cannon Group movie my evil, trash-loving heart witnessed.

I don’t think director Mark Hartley had the same experience I had with Cannon, but the documentary he made about the studio shows he’s done his homework. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films gets its first two words from the greatest sequel title ever to grace a screen, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Grade: B-

Click here for the rest of Odie’s review.

TIFF REVIEW: Clouds of Sils Maria is Oddly Worth Remembering, But Not Watching

by Morad Moazami

If there is any merit to Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria it’s that it serves the memory in a finer way than it does the eye. Asked to take on a revival of the play that made her famous as a youth, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) must take on the role opposite to that which she played in her past. Having once played the role of Sigrid, she has now been asked to assume the role of Helena, the older woman who Sigrid, by strength of her seduction, tempts and drives to suicide. Together with her trustworthy assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart), Enders finds hermitage in the home of the play’s deceased author, and sets out to shoulder Helena’s plight, and through it, comes to the brink of understanding herself. Though boasting of a fascinating plot, Clouds of Sils Maria is primarily a film of ideas. Assayas’ 124-minute pondering over the manifestation of art in life yearns not just for reflectiveness, but also beauty and nobility, and it flounders precisely due to these latter qualities that make the film a laborious and overdone experience.

Click here for the rest of Morad’s review.