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Monday, July 29, 2013

BROTHERS HYPNOTIC Review: Sound + Vision Series

Photo by James Mooney
2013, 86 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

This film showed as part of the Sound + Vision series through the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Brothers Hypnotic is a pretty good documentary that's focused around a fascinating subject, but is too long and inconsequential to leave a lasting impact.  Brothers Hypnotic follows a group of brothers who form the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.  The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (HBE from now on) prides themselves on being a group completely independent of big music corporations.  Their dad is the famed jazz musician Phil Cohran, and he was the one who taught the boys to play music.  The HBE started on the streets but gradually moved their way up.  Brothers Hypnotic tells their story.

As a piece of documentary filmmaking, Brothers Hypnotic isn't great.  While obviously cheaply shot, it sometimes looks too cheaply shot.  The audio also should be better during some concert scenes.  I realize budgets are tight and this was made by a non-professional filmmaker, but if you are going to make a film, especially a concert film, make it at least sound good.  

The film also runs far too long, even at 86 minutes.  86 minutes is pretty standard for a documentary and the HBE certainly has enough material to sustain multiple docs, but director Reuben Atlas doesn't make the film electrifying enough or deep enough to sustain interest.  Music films need to be electrifying and exciting.  This isn't either.  It is interesting, but doesn't have that extra spark.  The movie has a lot of momentum in the first half, but really slows in the second half.

That being said, the HBE is a fascinating group and their energy and material keep the movie afloat.  They are a group of self-made men who have an unconventional background (for example, many are from different mothers) and were just recently featured on the soundtrack to The Hunger Games.  Each brother is shown and explored, however briefly.  The brothers are a diverse group of men and hearing their complex story was very interesting.  Atlas was very, very lucky he had such open, exciting subjects because his filmmaking skills will not keep a movie afloat in their current state.  He needs to improve a lot before trying his hand at creating a bigger, more important documentary.  

Overall, Brothers Hypnotic is a pretty good, not great film that tells an inspirational story.  With a better director, this movie would have been phenomenal.  But, it is merely good.  However, not the kind of "good" that I'd recommend you pay money for.


NYFF Opening Night Film Announced!

The following is a press release from the Film Society of Lincoln Center:

NYFF51 Logo LOCKUP orange  copy


the World Premiere of Paul Greengrass’s CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
as the Opening Night Gala selection 

New York, NY, July 29, 2013 - The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today that Paul Greengrass’s CAPTAIN PHILLIPS will make its World Premiere as the Opening Night Gala presentation for the upcoming 51st New York Film Festival (September 27 – October 13). Starring two-time Academy Award® winner and 2009 Film Society Chaplin Award honoree Tom Hanks in the title role, the film is Academy Award®-nominated director Paul Greengrass’s multi-layered examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates.

NYFF’s Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair, Kent Jones said, “CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a riveting experience. At this point in his working life, Paul Greengrass has become a master of immersive reality-based narratives set along geopolitical fault lines – in this case, the 2009 seizure of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship by four Somali pirates. I’m excited that this tough, tense, real-life thriller, capped by the remarkable performances of Tom Hanks and four brilliant first-time Somali actors (Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman and Mahat M. Ali), is opening the 51st edition of the festival.”

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is—through Greengrass’s distinctive lens—simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization.  The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama’s commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks), and his Somali counterpart, Muse (Barkhad Abdi).  Set on an incontrovertible collision course off the coast of Somalia, both men will find themselves paying the human toll for economic forces outside of their control. From a screenplay by Billy Ray, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is based upon the book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. The film is produced by Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, and Michael De Luca. The Sony Pictures release is due in theaters October 11.

The screening will mark Greengrass’s return to NYFF following his film BLOODY SUNDAY in 2002.

“It is a pleasure to welcome back Paul Greengrass to the New York FIlm Festival with the world premiere of his gripping drama CAPTAIN PHILLIPS," said. Rose Kuo, the Executive Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. "Tom Hanks is terrific at capturing the vulnerability, terror and heroism of the harrowing journey of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS."

FilmLinc Daily Managing Editor Brian Brooks spoke with Greengrass about CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, the film’s selection for NYFF’s Opening Night Gala and looking ahead to the debut of the film. That interview can be found at 

The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring top films from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Jones also includes: Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Cinematheque Programming; Gavin Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Film Comment; Amy Taubin, Contributing Editor, Film Comment and Sight and Sound; and Marian Masone, FSLC Associate Director of Programming.

General Public tickets will be availableSeptember 8th. Subscription Packages and VIP Passes for the New York Film Festival are on sale now to Film Society Members. There also will be an opportunity for Members to purchase single screening tickets in advance of the General Public. For more information about becoming a Film Society Member More ticket information for the New York Film Festival will be available mid-August

New York Film Festival Opening Night Films

1963    The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, Mexico)
1964    Hamlet (Grigori Kozintsev, USSR)
1965    Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
1966    Loves of a Blonde (Milos Forman, Czechoslovakia)
1967    The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/Algeria)
1968    Capricious Summer (Jiri Menzel, Czechoslovakia)
1969    Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Paul Mazursky, US)
1970    The Wild Child (François Truffaut, France)
1971    The Debut (Gleb Panfilov, Soviet Union)
1972    Chloe in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer, France)
1973    Day for Night (François Truffaut, France)
1974    Don't Cry With Your Mouth Full (Pascal Thomas, France)
1975    Conversation Piece (Luchino Visconti, Italy)
1976    Small Change (François Truffaut, France)
1977    One Sings, The Other Doesn't (Agnès Varda, France)
1978    A Wedding (Robert Altman, US)
1979    Luna (Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy/US)
1980    Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme, US)
1981    Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson, UK)
1982    Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany)
1983    The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, US)
1984    Country (Richard Pearce, US)
1985    Ran (Akira Kurosawa, Japan)
1986    Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, US)
1987    Dark Eyes (Nikita Mikhalkov, Soviet Union)
1988    Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
1989    Too Beautiful For You (Bertrand Blier, France)
1990    Miller's Crossing (Joel Coen, US)
1991    The Double Life of Veronique (Krysztof Kieslowski, Poland/France)
1992    Olivier Olivier (Agnieszka Holland, France)
1993    Short Cuts (Robert Altman, US)
1994    Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, US)
1995    Shanghai Triad (Zhang Yimou, China)
1996    Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, UK)
1997    The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, US)
1998    Celebrity (Woody Allen, US)
1999    All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
2000    Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
2001    Va Savoir (Jacques Rivette, France)
2002    About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, US)
2003    Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, US)
2004    Look At Me (Agnès Jaoui, France)
2005    Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney, US)
2006    The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK)
2007    The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, US)
2008    The Class (Laurent Cantet, France)
2009    Wild Grass (Alain Resnais, France)
2010    The Social Network (David Fincher, US)
2011    Carnage (Roman Polanski, France/Poland)
2012    Life of Pi (Ang Lee, US)

Founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center works to recognize and support new directors, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility and understanding of film. Among its yearly programming of film festivals, film series and special events, the Film Society presents two film festivals in particular that annually attract global attention: the New York Film Festival, which will soon present its 51st edition, and New Directors/New Films which, since its founding in 1972, has been produced in collaboration with MoMA. The Film Society also publishes the award-winning Film Comment Magazine, and for over three decades has given an annual award—now named “The Chaplin Award”—to a major figure in world cinema. Past recipients of this award include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier, and most recently – Barbra Streisand. FSLC presents its year-round calendar of programming, panels, lectures, educational and transmedia programs and specialty film releases at the famous Walter Reade Theater and the state-of-the-art Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from Royal Bank of Canada, Jaeger-LeCoultre, American Airlines, The New York Times, Stonehenge Partners, Stella Artois, illy café, the Kobal Collection, Trump International Hotel & Tower New York, the National Endowment for the Arts and New York State Council on the Arts. For more information, visit and follow #filmlinc on Twitter.For more information, visit and follow #filmlinc on Twitter.

Friday, July 26, 2013

THE SERVANT: Classic Film Review

Dirk Bogarde (in mirror) and James Fox in Joseph Losey's THE SERVANT (1963).
Courtesy Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal.
Playing 7/26-8/1

1963, 115 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Now showing at Film Forum in NYC for its 50th Anniversary in a beautiful restored print, Joseph Losey's The Servant is a wickedly smart and perfectly outrageous film about a rich man (James Fox) who hires a manservant (Dirk Bogarde) to serve him.  However, the servant has an agenda.

The Servant defies being placed in a single genre.  Is it a drama?  Yes.  Comedy?  Yes, and a very dark one.  Surreal thriller?  Yes, in a way.  The film was written by acclaimed screenwriter and playwright Harold Pinter.  Realizing the outrageous potential in a film like this, Pinter gives the film a genre change about half-way or three-quarters of the way through that makes the film interesting and bizarre.  With this film, Pinter and crew explore class.  The film shows that class is just a label.  Classes can be manipulated and in this film about power and its relationship to class, they are.

Even with all of the genre changes, the film's tonal balance never feels off.  The comedy is hilarious and dark, the drama is smart and, at times, powerful, and the thriller aspects are bizarrely wonderful.  Dirk Bogarde and James Fox's performances are stellar and adapt to each tonal shift.  Bogarde stands out above all others, though.  He is very believable, likable, despicable, and campy.  The campy aspects fit the film perfectly.  Bogarde never overdoes it, but still manages to chew the scenery.  The scenery-chewing fits his character.  Bogarde is in his element.

On top of everything, this is a magnificently shot and designed film.  Many shots are unconventionally framed and the production design and lighting are evocative and add texture and atmosphere to the film.  The camera movements are fluid and expertly executed and the last shot is very memorable

Before seeing The Servant tonight, I had never seen it, and I first heard of it just last week when at Film Forum.  Knowing nothing about it, I went in blind and what I got was a huge surprise.  No way could I have ever expected a film so smart and intellectual, yet so entertaining.  This movie works on so many levels and is quite the achievement.  The first half does have a few slower spots, but these build to the second half which must be seen to be believed.

Overall, The Servant is a near-masterpiece that should be viewed immediately.  Now that I have put it on your radar (if it wasn't before), you have no excuse not to watch it.  I'd recommend going to Film Forum if you live in or near NYC because their restored print is nearly flawless.  It is crisp and clean and really makes the film look as good as possible.  




 Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

2013, 84 minutes
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use

Review by Joshua Handler

Winner of the 2013 Sundance U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, Fruitvale Station is a heartbreaking film that tells the true story of the last day of Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordon), an man shot and killed by police at Fruitvale Station on January 1, 2009.  This film marks the feature film debut of Ryan Coogler and believe me, this is not the last you'll hear from him.  It is his direction of Fruitvale Station that makes the film what it is.

Fruitvale Station opens with a real cell phone video of Oscar Grant's shooting and the film ends shortly after.  The portion in between shows what happened on Grant's last day on Earth and is basically a set-up for the climactic scene which lasts about 20 minutes.  At first, I was unimpressed by the build-up section.  There is nothing really special about it, save for the fantastic acting (more on that later).  However, once Grant, his girlfriend, and friends are on the BART train and the announcer says that the next stop is Fruitvale Station, my stomach dropped because I knew what was about to happen. All of what had come before was there to connect the audience emotionally to the film and help us to know the characters.  The climactic scene of Fruitvale Station is what makes it the film that it is.  Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordon create this sequence with such passion and forceful power that it is hard not to be desvastated.  Coogler gradually cranks up the tension before the devastating fatal gunshot.  The fact that he shows the audience that Grant will be dead by the end of the film makes it even more anxiety-inducing watching this scene.  Knowing the ending sometimes makes films more tense because you are waiting for the horrifying conclusion to come.  Watching the shooting scene in this film was one of the most powerful and saddest scenes I've ever seen.  The entire theater, myself included, was outraged and shocked (some people reacted loudly to it).  To watch this man be shot unjustly was really emotional.  While Coogler's style isn't subtle, it does not need to be with material such as this.

Michael B. Jordon's performance as Oscar was brilliant and will surely be remembered around awards season.  He creates a three-dimensional portrait of a flawed, yet inherently good, man with charm and ease.  He is the other reason why the climax has the impact it has.  Jordan's face is very expressive and because Coogler focuses on it during the Fruitvale Station scene, it becomes even more powerful.  Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) is Oscar's mother and delivers a strong performance.  Melonie Diaz plays Oscar's girlfriend.  I hope to see her in more films, as her performance is heartbreaking, especially when she has to carry much of the film's conclusion.

Overall, Fruitvale Station is an exceptional film that stands out because of its brilliant direction and commanding lead performance.  While not as good as last year's Sundance-winner Beasts of the Southern WildFruitvale Station packs a punch like few others.  I was wrecked by the end of this movie.  People will likely respond very well to this movie and should go see it, as this is a really important story to tell.


Thursday, July 25, 2013


Courtesy of Variance Films 
2013, 107 minutes
Rated R for strong violence, drug content and language

Review by Joshua Handler

Johnnie To's Drug War is a film that is not on most people's radars but absolutely should be.  The film tells the story of a Chinese drug cartel boss who must become an informant for the police to avoid being put to death for his crimes.  The film is so incredibly intense and well-made that it shows that crime films don't need a lot of action to make it exciting.  That does not mean that this movie isn't violent, though.  It is.

Director To knows that silence is what creates tension and uses this brilliantly during the film's few action scenes.  The film has a brutal climactic shootout.  During this scene, he could have used cheesy music and/or big explosions to create excitement and thrills.  He is too smart for that, though.  To decides to use silence with minimal music and slick camerawork instead and it works marvelously.

Drug War is an exceedingly well-made film.  The cinematography is beautiful and reminiscent of a John Woo actioner without all of the chaos.  I will say, though, that it was occasionally hard to tell who was shooting who during the action scenes.  The script is very tight and clever.  The film is convoluted, but not too hard to follow, and there are some twists, but not too many.  In short, this film tells a really good story really well.  From the minute the film started, I was hooked.  It takes no time to get into it.  Drug War kept my attention from minute 1 to minute 107.  As mentioned, the occasional action scene is magnificent.

Something that really distinguishes Drug War from many other films that come out of the region is its sense of realism.  The story is relatively realistic and there are few to no logic holes.  Nothing in this movie made me roll my eyes.  This is a very different kind of film from John Woo's classic action extravaganzas like Hard Boiled (one of the best action movies ever made, though).  The realism and the unrelenting brutality and pessimism portrayed in the film are very refreshing.  The ending is superb and unexpected.

The acting from the entire cast is rock-solid.

Overall, Drug War is an entertaining and nicely-crafted piece of crime filmmaking.  It is 100 times better than almost every other crime/action/thriller that's in theaters now and should certainly be enjoyed by those that go to see it.  I enjoyed myself while watching the film.  Filmmakers take note: a good story helps make a good action movie.  Action should be used to move plot forward, not replace it.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson in DRINKING BUDDIES, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
2013, 90 minutes
Rated R for language throughout

Review by Joshua Handler

Drinking Buddies is one of this year's surprise gems.  It is a film of modest ambitions, but one with a huge amount of charm and heart.  Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston are the four principal actors and all turn in some of their best performances, especially considering all of them improvised every scene of the film.  The film follows Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson), two co-workers at a Chicago brewery who are best friends and would be a great couple if they were not both in relationships, as they cautiously walk the line between friends and lovers.

Olivia Wilde gives a performance that, while not serious like many typical Oscar contenders, would get awards attention in a perfect world.  She is immensely likable and relatable and crafts a three-dimensional portrait of Kate.  In this film, Wilde is very much like that close friend who is smart and business-savvy, yet always there to talk and hang out.  I was disappointed every time a scene with her ended and a scene without her showed up.

Jake Johnson turns in a performance to match Wilde's.  His easy charm and quick wit make his performance a winner.  Everything that I said about Wilde's performance applies to Johnson's.  Sparks fly in his scenes with Wilde.  Their chemistry is really believable and because of this, their scenes together drive the film.

I can't say that I feel great after most movies I see, but I can honestly say that I felt great when Drinking Buddies was over and enjoyed every minute.  Every single scene was needed to drive the film forward or develop characters, and all scenes were engaging.  Having the actors improvise their dialogue was a stroke of genius by writer/director Joe Swanberg.  To cap off the film is a wordless final scene that is brilliantly-executed and brings the film to a funny, yet realistic close.  The entire movie felt very realistic.  Nothing was contrived.

Overall, Drinking Buddies is a delight.  It isn't anything groundbreaking, but it is one of the better films I've seen recently because it's so enjoyable.  Watching it felt like hanging out with a couple of friends for 90 minutes.  I can't think of anything better than that.

Drinking Buddies is available on VOD now and will be released theatrically on August 23.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

L'AVVENTURA: Classic Film Review

Courtesy of Janus Films
1960, 143 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made by many film scholars and historians.  I suspect that the film may have been groundbreaking in its day, but the film, when viewed today isn't as fascinating.  I may need to rewatch the film, as I was very tired when I saw it last night, but I really did not get much out of watching the film other than some beautiful cinematography and music, and some really wonderful scenes.  This was 143 minutes that felt like an eternity.

Thanks to Film Forum, one of the best theaters in New York City, I was able to see the film restored and presented in 35 mm.  There is something beautiful and comforting about 35 mm.  The imperfections of the image show and everything has a silvery, smooth feel to it, unlike digital images which have pixels and look too perfect.  Maybe I feel this way because I grew up with 35 mm projection, but I just thought that it looked fantastic and complemented the beautiful shot composition perfectly.  My one issue with this print is that the subtitles are very hard to read, as they are white on a black-and-white film.

If anything, L'Avventura is gorgeously shot.  Each shot is immaculately composed and framed.  The camera doesn't move very much allowing the viewer to savor each image.  Antonioni did an excellent job at making me feel the desolation of everything in the film.  The landscapes are desolate, as are the people's emotions.

Desolation and emotional isolation are very interesting themes, but Antonioni takes far too long to develop anything.  I know the point of the film is to be unfocused and Antonioni wanted to let the story meander, but it meanders too much.  Antonioni does pull some clever narrative tricks in L'Avventura, but his storyline is too unfocused to make them have any real impact.  The film is far too long at 143 minutes.

Overall, L'Avventura is an interesting film marred by its meandering story and overlong running time.  I will, however, definitely give the film another chance some time soon, as I was intrigued enough by it that I'd like to see it again and study it.


Monday, July 22, 2013


Left to right: Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, Max Casella as Eddie, Bobby Cannavale as Chili and Sally Hawkins as Ginger
Photo by Merrick Morton © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

2013, 98 minutes
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content

Review by Joshua Handler

I will start by saying that Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen's best films in recent memory.  Much of this is due to his excellent screenplay, but the majority of the film's success lies with Cate Blanchett's astounding performance.  The film follows a formerly rich New York housewife, Jasmine (Blanchett), who moves in with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco.  As she stays longer and longer with Ginger in this lower class lifestyle, she begins to crumble.

The first half of the film is very similar to A Streetcar Named Desire.  It follows it so closely that I was worried that it was going to be almost a direct copy.  Then Woody, not Williams, kicks in and the story goes right off into Woody Allen territory, not Streetcar territory, which makes the story far more interesting.  What sets this film apart from Allen's other recent films story-wise is its unpredictability and penetrating psychological study of Jasmine.  This is Allen's first character study in a very long time and it is refreshing to see him in this mode.  Blue Jasmine is Allen in top form.

The screenplay is much darker than his other recent ones.  While there are definitely some elements of comedy, this is a serious film.  That doesn't mean that it isn't a delight to watch, though.  When the credits started and the usual jazz music began to play, I was already delighted.  For Allen devotees like myself, it is comforting to sit in a theater and see the same kind of credits sequence with the same kind of music start to play after seeing it so many times in his other films.  It's like coming back to a movie home.

Cate Blanchett gives what is one of the best performances of her career to date.  That's saying something, as she is one of the best actresses working today.  Blanchett lives and breathes Jasmine.  She is masterful at portraying a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Jasmine is happy when living the high life in New York.  She's surrounded by rich people and nice things.  Yet that is a very fragile existence because as soon as things start to go sour, Jasmine begins to break and slowly crumbles as the film goes on.  Blanchett is unlikable and absolutely frightening.  This is an interesting role for her, as she normally plays confident characters such as Queen Elizabeth I and Katherine Hepburn.  Her performance in this film furthers my belief that Blanchett is one of the finest actresses working today.  If this does not earn her a Best Actress nomination, I'll be shocked.  The supporting cast includes Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Alec Baldwin, and others.  They all turn in fine performances, but this is Blanchett's show.

Overall, Blue Jasmine is almost on par with classic Woody.  It is a beautifully-crafted and acted movie that should please both Allen devotees and the average viewer or non-fan.  While it is very much an Allen film, it is different in the sense that the film is dark and the lead character isn't obsessed with many of Allen's obsessions like sex and death.  Jasmine is the whole show.  I loved this movie from start to finish.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

SHORT TERM 12 Review

Courtesy of Cinedigm 

2013, 96 minutes
Rated R for language and brief sexuality

Review by Joshua Handler

NOTE: For the record, I am not getting paid by Rooftop Films to write this.  I honestly believe in their film series and love attending their screenings.  I was able to review this film through the Rooftop Films Summer 2013 Series, which features early screenings of hot new independent films straight from the early year festival circuit.  This screening was held on the rooftop of the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn and featured an intro and Q&A with the cast and crew.  Tickets for the upcoming films can be purchased here.  It is a truly unique film series.  Their events make for a great, and cheap at $13, night out in NYC.  There was an after-party with free drinks served that I did not attend.  Please support Rooftop Films and go to their events.  They are among the best film events in NYC.  

Short Term 12 epitomizes the what I love so much about American independent cinema.  The film won the SXSW Grand Jury Award and Audience Award and was written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.  Short Term 12 tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson), a woman who works as a supervisor in a foster care facility, Short Term 12, and must juggle dealing with her own struggles and those of the teens she's caring for.

This is a movie that rides on its honest screenplay and emotional performances.  Brie Larson is brilliant as the caring, yet emotionally closed-off Grace.  Her performance comes from somewhere that few actors have the ability to access.  Grace is a broken soul kept sane by the lives she tries to change.  Larson shows Grace's highs and lows and creates a portrait of a loving woman unable to come to terms with her past.  The maturity and honesty of this performance shocked and awed me.  

As Mason, Grace's boyfriend, John Gallagher, Jr. gives a performance to match Larson's.  Mason wears his heart on his sleeve and works at Short Term 12 with Grace.  Gallagher creates a character with generosity and warmth to spare.  In a party scene (I am intentionally being vague so as not to spoil plot details), Mason makes a toast to some people that he loves and who made him who he is.  This very short, yet incredibly powerful scene packs such a punch because of Gallagher.  The gratitude and love that he shows through his character is beautiful.

As Jayden, the newest teen to come to Short Term 12, Kaitlyn Dever is awe-inspiring.  Jayden and Grace share similar stories and throughout Jayden's stay at Short Term 12, she and Grace connect.  Dever's performance is raw and realistic.  Dever doesn't play Jayden as the stereotypical abused teen that cuts and Cretton didn't write her that way.  She plays her as a real human being that just needs to be loved.  This is a performance that shows maturity way beyond Dever's years.

Cretton's screenplay is a wonder.  With a distinct lack of clichés, Cretton crafts a screenplay that is courageous and colorful.  His characters are all three-dimensional and likable.  The greatest strengths of the screenplay are its honesty and its reliance on small moments' power.  Short Term 12 explores not only the main characters, but the supporting ones (i.e. the kids at Short Term 12) as well.  Each kid is fascinating and by the end I came to care for all of them.  Cretton doesn't sugarcoat anything.  Each kid has gone through something terrible and Cretton explores their situation with the utmost honesty.  Cretton never manipulates the audience with cheap emotion or easy payoff.  To get to the uplifting finale, we go through some really rough patches, as the characters do.

Cretton lets little moments shine and carry much of the film's power.  A look, a gesture, or a simple act of kindness packs a punch.  The subtlety of the film is refreshing.

Short Term 12 broke my heart, but by the end, I feel like I was walking on air.  It is a special movie that is very alive.  It is guided by a director who believes passionately in his material and has a wonderful artistic voice.  Do not be surprised it Larson gets awards buzz later this year.  She is magnificent.  So is the film.

Short Term 12 will be released in theaters on August 23.


Saturday, July 20, 2013


Wiley Wiggins as Martin Beuscher and Patrick Riester as Peter Bishton in COMPUTER CHESS, a film by Andrew Bujalski.Credit: Kino Lorber, Inc.

2013, 92 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize (awarded to films dealing with science or technology) at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Computer Chess is a dryly funny film about programmers participating in a computer chess tournament three decades ago.  Shot in black and white with a video tube-camera, Computer Chess is an inventive, clever piece of filmmaking that will not be to everyone's taste, but will surely reward those up for it.

The film is a comment on our relationship with technology.  We, as a society, strive to create technology that surpasses our intellect.  In Computer Chess, the characters are trying to create a computer program that can beat a human at chess.  The film shows how our want to create smarter computers sprung from a concept as simple as this.  We continue to make smarter computers.  When will we create something so smart that it can outsmart us?  

Computer Chess also serves as a comment on the state of the world today.  The programmers in the film spend all of their days at the competition programming.  Everything is limited, yet limitless.  The physical space, activity variety, and human interactions are limited, but there is no limit to what the programmers can do with their computers.  Not much has changed from then to now.  Physical space has been shrunk now and intellectual space has expanded.  Writer/director Andrew Bujalski shows us the start of the technological revolution with the simple story of programmers trying to make a better computer chess program.

The film has a very dry sense of humor that is bizarre and clever.  Its use of surreal imagery also adds to the humor.  Sometimes the surrealism and dryness is taken farther than it should be, making the movie a little too confounding, but it is nice to see something this different and original.  

Each character is distinct and amusing, but they are all lifeless, another comment on the programmers and society as a whole.  By trying to put so much life into the lifeless computer, the programmers lose some of their own spark.  Real human interactions are painful for them.  Their life is in their computer.  This is ironic because that life is being poured into making a better mathematical equation, something that is artificial and limited.

Overall, Computer Chess is an original, clever film that is worth seeing, even if it gets too weird for its own good.  If there's one thing I can say, you'll have never seen anything like it.  



Courtesy of IFC Midnight
2013, 90 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Grabbers is a new Irish horror comedy from director Jon Wright that was actually quite a bit better than it should have been.  The film tells the story of what happens when a drunken cop (Richard Coyle) and a straight-laced cop (Ruth Bradley) team up on a small Irish island and tentacled alien beings attack.  The film throws in some nice plot elements and it gets crazier and funnier as it goes on (you'll see what I mean).

Grabbers benefits greatly from a solid script by Kevin Lehane and really good, energetic performances.  The story, while structurally nothing special, definitely has some unique twists and keeps everything light-hearted and fun.  The dialogue is also very funny.  Ruth Bradley and Richard Coyle have fantastic chemistry and turn in very good performances, a rarity for a horror film.  While each of their characters has unlikable characteristics, they make them human and charming.  They are very fun to watch onscreen and are completely game for what the film asks them to do.  The supporting cast is also strong.

What I responded to most, though, was just how much fun Grabbers was.  No, it is not Shaun of the Dead or Attack the Block, but it wasn't trying to be.  It is its own film and that is perfectly alright.  This is a modest movie that never takes itself too seriously and will prove to be a fun night out.  There are a few suspenseful bits, but Grabbers is more funny than anything else.  

Overall, Grabbers is yet another solid horror film from IFC Midnight, who has put out such quality films as Berberian Sound Studio, Maniac, and Room 237.  It is not a masterpiece of filmmaking, but is certainly worth watching.  It is amazing how far good performances go.  Coyle and Bradley really carry this film through to the end.  It is also refreshing to see a monster movie with something original to it.  Grabbers is a winner.


Thursday, July 18, 2013


James Cromwell as Craig and Genevieve Bujold as Irene in STILL MINE. 
Photo Credit: Ken Woroner / Samuel Goldwyn Films
2013, 103 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief sensuality/partial nudity

Review by Joshua Handler

Still Mine is a lovely little film written and directed by Michael McGowan.  It stars James Cromwell and Genèvieve Bujold.  The film tells the true story of Craig Morrison, an elderly man who decides to build a new house for him and his wife after she gets dementia.  However, a town official is less than pleased with this plan and tries to stop Craig from building the house.  

James Cromwell's performance is what makes this movie as poignant and beautiful as it is.  Time and time again Cromwell has proven himself to be a master of subtlety in supporting roles in such films as Babe, The Artist, and L.A. Confidential.  Never has he led a film, though.  His performance as Craig is astounding.  Cromwell portrays Craig as a kind, stubborn, determined, and very loving man who would do anything for his wife.  In some scenes, no words are spoken and everything is conveyed through Cromwell's expressive face.  When Craig's wife is in the hospital in part of the movie, it is the first time they've not been together in many years.  We see Craig lying in bed as he reaches over to grab hold of his wife's pillow.  He misses her.  Cromwell turns this into the most powerful scene of the film without words.  It hurts to look into his eyes because of the pain and sadness brewing behind them.  This performance will easily go down as one of his best, if not his best.

While Still Mine does boast a fantastic lead performance, it is still also a very good piece of filmmaking.  Yes, there are some parts that are a tad too sentimental, but the film is never exploitative or insincere.  Craig's story is inspirational, yet writer/director McGowan never tries to milk the story for emotion.  He wisely leaves that up to his actors.  This is a quiet movie that slowly creeps up on you and has some scenes that will move you to tears.      

McGowan made another smart decision by focusing the movie on Craig, not the dementia.  Still Mine does not turn into another disease-of-the-week Lifetime movie.  This movie is about Craig, and the dementia serves a subplot.  This could have been a heartbreaker had the dementia come to the forefront, but by keeping it back, McGowan allows everything else to develop.

Overall, Still Mine is a really great movie.  It is easy to watch and quite enjoyable, but it is James Cromwell's performance that makes it completely worth it.  I was very impressed by this movie and it showed me that there are still people out there who are smart enough to make a movie like this subtle and affecting.  


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Lili Taylor in THE CONJURING
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

2013, 112 minutes
Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror

Review by Joshua Handler

Reportedly too scary for the MPAA to grant this movie a PG-13, James Wan's The Conjuring sure is terrifying, but is held back from greatness by a fairly generic script.  But, only calling out this movie's faults would give the impression that this is not a good horror film.  It is.  James Wan (Saw, Insidious) does a very good job directing this movie, realizing that silence and suggestion are far scarier than gore.  If you look at the most effective horror movies of the past like Jaws, Psycho, and Halloween, or even a great new horror film like Paranormal Activity, they all rely on suggestion and slow build-ups of tension.  In an obvious homage to films like these, Wan creates a horror film that is actually scary.  People should take note of how he creates suspense.

The film is "based on the true story" of a couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their family who move into a possessed house and eventually call paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) to come in and rid the house of the demon.

The suspense sequences in The Conjuring are sustained and very drawn out, putting the audience on edge before finally letting everything loose.  Wan relies heavily on simple household sounds like door slams or floorboards creaking to generate scares.  This works frighteningly well, as his timing is spot-on.  That being said, we have all seen tricks like these used before.  There is very little that we haven't seen.  In essence, this is just a really well-made haunted house movie.  I am very excited to see what Wan does next, as he proves with The Conjuring that he has the directing chops to pull off a really good horror movie.  A little more restraint could have been used with this movie (in some sequences the camera just cannot stop moving frenetically in all directions), but I was thoroughly impressed by the way Wan handled this material.  The cinematography by John R. Leonetti is also very good.

The exposition scenes in this movie are uninteresting, as is the overall story.  Without Wan's superb direction, this movie would have been generic and uninteresting.  There is little mystery and intrigue.  All of the drive comes from the suspense sequences. 

The acting in The Conjuring is surprisingly strong.  The cast all turn in solid performances, particularly Farmiga.  Farmiga has an otherworldly presence to her that is at times simultaneously eerie and calming.  I am always impressed by Farmiga and would love to see her in more movies.  Taylor's performance is also quite strong.  It is rare to find good acting in a horror movie and it was thus a breath of fresh air to find it here.

The lack of logic lapses in The Conjuring is refreshing.  Most horror movies that I've seen over the past few years have had some dumb logic lapses, yet The Conjuring doesn't, which makes the movie more believable and less irritating than other horror movies. 

Overall, The Conjuring may not be as original as it could have been, but it is incredibly scary and will be intense enough to cause some heart attacks.  Wan's understanding of this material is impressive.  This movie should prove to be a massive success with audiences everywhere.  I love a good horror movie, yet am not normally impressed by many of the ones released.  The Conjuring, though, did the trick.



Photo courtesy of RADIUS-TWC

2013, 90 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content and language

Review by Joshua Handler

This was a hell of a movie.  I have never seen anything like it before and many (not me) will hope to never see anything like it again.  From writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn, best known for directing 2011's Drive, comes this bizarre, grisly-violent film about a man who owns a Thai boxing club in Thailand as a cover for a drug smuggling operation (Ryan Gosling) and is asked by his overpowering mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to avenge the death of his brother.  

Above all, this movie is stunning to look at.  The cinematography by Larry Smith (Bronson, The Guard) is gorgeous and crisp.  Not one shot is less than perfectly framed and lit.  The brightly-colored scenes are often eerie.  The neon lighting evokes a hellish feel.  Much of this film focuses on Gosling's character, Julian, seeing visions of a devil-like character and nightmarish acts occurring around him, and the lighting furthers this mood.  One particular scene is thrilling beyond comprehension.  It is a shoot-out in a restaurant.  The camera moves faster than usual and follows the shooters and subsequently follows two people on a foot-chase.  This sequence is nerve-wracking and exciting.

Cliff Martinez's (Drive, Contagion) score is electrifying.  The electronic sounds enhance the nightmarish feel of the film.  This should, but will likely not, be an Oscar contender.

To paraphrase the press notes for this film, as Drive was Refn's take on the American crime film, Only God Forgives is Refn's take on the Asian martial arts film.  While it does have some scenes of martial arts, much of the film is action-free.  That is not to say Only God Forgives isn't violent.  It is bloody and grisly, but the violence occurs so frequently that it doesn't have the shock of Drive's isolated scenes of graphic violence.  Asian martial arts pictures like 1973's Enter the Dragon focused not so much on style as action.  Refn takes a little action and mixes it with heavy stylization and an Oedipal theme to create something all his own.  This movie is far more existential than any Asian martial arts film.

Ryan Gosling does very little in this movie.  This is Kristin Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm's film.  Scott Thomas plays Crystal, Julian's mother.  She is an evil woman who has Julian wrapped around her finger, and Crystal and Julian's relationship has some very suggestive undertones.  Scott Thomas is not an actress known for playing characters like Crystal, but she is a revelation here.  Her performance is forceful and she commands the screen every time she's on.  Pansringarm plays the devil-like policeman, Chang.  He oozes evil.  He is menacing, yet is not outrageous.  Pansringarm plays Chang with considerable subtlety.

I was completely hypnotized by Only God Forgives.  Many have, and will, complain that this movie is a prime example of style over substance.  It is.  There is no denying it.  It is also a bit pretentious.  Yet, there is so much to explore in it that it should not be written off.  Much of the character motivation and their complexities are suggested rather than shown.  This is a movie of suggestion and restraint.      

Overall, Only God Forgives will not be to everyone's taste, but for those looking for something a little dark, twisted, slow-paced, and wild, this will be the movie for you.  This movie makes Drive look commercial, which to some will be great, and to others terrible.  I really thought this was something special and would love to see it again (and probably will soon) to further analyze it and dig deeper into it.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

VIOLA Review

Laura Paredes (Laura), Agustina Muñoz (Cecilia) y Gabi Saidón (Gabi) in Matías Piñeiro's VIOLA
Courtesy of Cinema Guild

2013, 65 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Viola is a peculiar little film by Matías Piñeiro and is a reworking of sorts of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.  This movie never clicked with me.  It isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination (I think many will be quite charmed by it), but I just didn't like it.  There was a second short film, "Rosalinda" showing after Viola, but I had absolutely no interest in staying for it, as I figured that time would be better spent writing you all this and other reviews than sitting in that theater.  

The way the story is presented makes it very hard to follow and decipher.  The story is not complex.  There is complexity beneath the surface, but on the surface it is simple.  There was something about it, though, that was disorienting to me and I will admit I had a hard time with it and was frustrated.  I cannot describe why it was disorienting.  The movie just came and went and before I could ponder why it didn't work for me, it was over.

The acting is all-around excellent, particularly in the scenes when Shakespearian dialogue is spoken.  In one scene, two actresses are rehearsing and their dialogue keeps repeating.  It is elliptical.  As the lines are repeated over and over, sometimes in different manners, it becomes more and more intense.  This was a subtly erotic scene that was played masterfully.  The actresses really had command of the Shakespearian dialogue and made it their own.

Overall, I just never connected to this movie.  I didn't hate it, but didn't like it.  I would definitely recommend that you see it, though, as you may find it a complete delight, as many have.  I believe the overall frustration I had with the narrative may make me revisit it sometime soon, as it is quick at 65 minutes.  I feel as if I missed something, and can therefore not really slam this movie without another viewing.  There was never a moment that was slow.  Most movies I dislike seem to last an eternity, but this didn't and props to director Piñeiro for keeping his film short. 



Tilikum in a scene from BLACKFISH, a Magnolia Pictures release.
 Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

2013, 82 minutes
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images

Review by Joshua Handler

Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Blackfish is a jaw-dropper.  It is concise, disturbing, relentless, and vital.  The film is soul-crushing.  It's that effective.  Blackfish is an exposé of Sea World and shows the side of it that most are likely oblivious to.  A trainer was killed by a killer whale at Sea World a few years ago and Sea World blamed the accident on the trainer.  Blackfish looks beyond that lie and into what caused the death.  What is presented in this documentary may make you lose faith in humanity and will make you never go back to Sea World (or any park that exploits marine animals) again (as you shouldn't).

Blackfish works on every level.  It reaches a level of near-perfection that few documentaries reach.  Cowperthwaite has a wealth of eyewitness footage of events described and some powerful interviews by former Sea World trainers, whale hunters, a former sea park owner, etc. (Sea World declined to be interviewed on many occasions according to the film).  

The film starts with interviews with former Sea World trainers talking about how they got their start training and what drew them to it.  After about 10 minutes of calmness, the rug is pulled and we get a glimpse into what really happens before Sea World gets their orcas and what happens when in captivity at Sea World.  Orcas are separated from their parents and mistreated after arriving at Sea World.  The amount of lies that Sea World throws at its visitors every day is astounding and Cowperthwaite explores this in great detail.  It is a park built entirely on lies and the suffering of animals that are in some ways smarter and more complex emotionally than humans.

Blackfish is paced beautifully, and while disturbing, is never so in-your-face that it becomes unwatchable.  It features some heart-wrenching scenes, before briefly letting up to allow everything to sink in.  The movie starts innocently and evenly-paced enough before exploding.  When Cowperthwaite pulls the rug out and reveals all of the lies and deception, the movie's pace picks up rapidly, racing towards the finish.  This movie is not one second too long.

Blackfish deals in human emotions.  It doesn't simply look at the animals and beg for our pity.  The film allows us to connect to them on an emotional level, which was a brilliant move.  It brings the viewer onto the level of the animal, something most documentaries don't do.  

What makes Cowperthwaite's film stand out above all is the fact that it is a great piece of filmmaking, not just a great documentary.  It is marvelously-crafted and tells a very important story in a brief running time.  It does not simply report.  The best recent documentaries like Bible Quiz and Stories We Tell tell stories.  They don't just report.  I can watch the news for a report.

Overall, Blackfish is that rare documentary that is a masterpiece, not unlike Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, which was released earlier this year.  It is passionate, unique, fascinating, well-researched, and essential.  Sea World and parks of its kind need to be taken down and Blackfish provides a pretty compelling argument as to why.


Monday, July 15, 2013


A button that should be familiar to anyone who uses the internet- but a button we’re trained to click on without thinking about it.  
Courtesy of Variance Films/Hyrax Films

2013, 79 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Terms and Conditions May Apply is a brisk, yet informative documentary about Internet privacy.  How private is everything that we post on the Internet?  Not private at all is the answer this documentary gives.  Terms and Conditions first examines what people agree to once they click "agree" on a privacy policy or on a terms and conditions page, then moves into how your information on social networks, emails, cell phones, etc. is being accessed by the government.

What makes Terms work is its short length and fast pace.  The movie does not stop throwing out information, and what it does throw out is well-researched and all to serve a point.  This movie goes on no side tangents and never lags, a rarity for documentaries.  The filmmakers obviously are passionate about their subject and stay focused.  

Terms is thought-provoking and slightly paranoia-inducing.  What this movie basically says is that nothing you do is private.  This is a terrifying “Big Brother”-ish idea and the fact that what this movie shows is happening is more than slightly disturbing.

Something that I really appreciated about Terms and Conditions May Apply was that whenever it switched to a different interview, it would tell the audience who was speaking, even if that person had been onscreen before.  I watch so many documentaries per year and when they constantly introduce new subjects and switch between them, I frequently forget who is who because they don’t identify them more than once.  By telling me who everyone was each time they appeared, I never forgot who was who, making the movie much easier to follow.

Overall, Terms and Conditions May Apply may not be the most in-depth documentary ever, but it is very interesting and the perfect length, a rarity for documentaries, as even the best ones typically outstay their welcome by 5-10 minutes.  This is an important movie for people to see in this age of social media and digital technology.  The ending is quite revealing (and disturbing in its own subtle way) too.