Recent Viewing: Films
Published on September 12, 2013 by Sara Foss

Elysium (2013) ***

Conviction (2010) ***

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) ***1/2

Blue Jasmine (2013) **

Bandit Queen (1994) ***

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2002) ***1/2

Computer Chess (2013) ***1/2

The Expendables (2010) ***

No One Knows About Persian Cats (2009) ***

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) ***1/2

The World's End (2013) ***1/2

Film Capsules
Published on September 3, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write short reviews of "Computer Chess," "Cowboy Bebop" and "Gadjo Dilo."

All of which are worth seeing!

Click here to learn more.

Watching "Blue Jasmine"
Published on August 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Woody Allen movie "Blue Jasmine."

Here's an excerpt:

"The audience at the 'Blue Jasmine' screening that I attended really seemed to enjoy the film, Woody Allen’s latest. Some people broke into applause, and I could hear appreciative laughter.

I found these reactions baffling, because 'Blue Jasmine' triggered almost no emotional response in me. As films go, I thought it was diverting enough, but a failure at some basic level. Which is why I think it’s worth noting how everybody else seemed to feel about the film. If it sounds interesting to you, go see it. When it comes to 'Blue Jasmine,' my opinion is obviously not shared by the majority of moviegoers.

For the most part, I’ve liked Woody Allen’s more recent films; 'Midnight in Paris' was my favorite film of 2011. In general, I think critics have been too hard on Allen’s later films, and I was fully prepared to sing the praises of 'Blue Jasmine.' Trouble is, I just didn’t like it very much.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "Elysium"
Published on August 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new sci-fi film "Elysium."

Here's an excerpt:

"I really loved 'Elysium' for the first half hour or so.

'This is great!' I remember thinking. 'All those naysaying critics were wrong!'

But my enthusiasm had waned by the end of the film. Which isn’t to say that 'Elysium' isn’t a good movie, or that it isn’t worth seeing. It is! It just doesn’t live up to its early promise, or the high standards set by director Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 debut feature, 'District 9,' which I loved. Much like the summer’s other big tentpole movies, 'Elysium' has moments of brilliance, but not enough of them to qualify as a great film.

Like 'District 9,' 'Elyisum' is an allegory, set in a futuristic urban hellscape that’s not so very different from the world we live in today. But where 'District 9' offered a tightly focused take on apartheid, 'Elysium' is overflowing with issues: drones, extrajudicial killing, immigration, income inequality, lack of access to health care, and environmental degradation. The film’s surfeit of ideas is one of the things I liked about it, especially after watching 'Pacific Rim,' which suffers from a dearth of ideas. But 'Elysium' doesn’t necessarily flesh out any of its ideas, barreling towards its conclusion at a frenetic pace and devolving into a chaotic shoot-out and fist-fight toward the end. I think it’s the 25th film I’ve seen this summer in which the hero and archvillian duke it out on an elevated platform, punching each other in the face and hurling each other into railings and walls, despite having the most amazing technology at their disposal."

Click here to read more.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on August 19, 2013 by Sara Foss

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) ***1/2

Pacific Rim (2013) **1/2

The Order of Myths (2008) ****

Buried (2010) **1/2

Rolling Thunder (1977) ***1/2

Interstella 5555 (2003) ***

Fruitvale Station (2013) ***1/2

Magic of Spell (1986) ***

Rosetta (1999) ***1/2

Gadjo Dilo (1997) ***1/2

Reprise (2006) ***

Watching "Dark Shadows," the TV show
Published on August 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the TV show "Dark Shadows," a cult classic.

Here's an excerpt:

I haven’t seen the 2012 Tim Burton film 'Dark Shadows.'

But I’ve been watching the cult TV show that inspired it.

The original 'Dark Shadows' aired from 1966 to 1971, and was initially a fairly traditional soap opera. But about a year into its run, creator Dan Curtis introduced a vampire character, Barnabas Collins, and the show transformed into something far more interesting: a supernatural Gothic soap opera. I opted to skip the first season and watch the second, and it was a good decision: Whenever Barnabas Collins (wonderfully played by Jonathan Frid) is onscreen, the show is riveting.

'Dark Shadows' is set in the fictional coastal Maine town of Collinsport, and largely takes place in the mansion inhabited by the Collins family. The show is told from the point of view of Victoria Winters, a young woman employed as a governess by Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, who has not left the mansion in 18 years. The household routine is disrupted when Barnabas arrives, having been released from his coffin and claiming to be a long-lost cousin, and takes up residence in an unused building on the estate.

'Dark Shadows' is very much a soap opera, and I quickly learned that it doesn’t lend itself to binge-watching the way more sophisticated and cinematic contemporary shows such as 'The Sopranos' and 'Mad Men' do. But when viewed one or two episodes at a time, it can be pretty entertaining. It’s atmospheric, unabashedly melodramatic, romantic and spooky. In season 2, which I’m watching right now, Barnabas has kidnapped local waitress Maggie Evans, bitten her and attempted to brainwash her into thinking she is his long-lost love, Josette. When Maggie briefly escapes and is glimpsed by her father as a fluttering, ghost-like presence outside the window, it’s a startling, beautiful and disturbing moment.

Click here to read the whole thing.


Do Drive-Ins Have a Future?
Published on August 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Here's a good AP story looking at how the digital era threatens the survival of the country's 350 drive-in movie theaters.

Watching "Fruitvale Station"
Published on August 14, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the powerful new movie "Fruitvale Station."

Here's an excerpt:

"I was a little wary of 'Fruitvale Station.'

The buzz was very strong, but a lot of people seemed to be responding to the film not as a piece of cinema, but as a teachable moment. 'Fruitvale Station' tells the true story of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a transit cop in San Francisco in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, and I wondered whether people were embracing the film because it was important, rather than good. But I shouldn’t have worried. 'Fruitvale Station' is one of the best films of the year.

What’s amazing is how enjoyable 'Fruitvale Station' is, considering its downbeat ending. The film opens with real cellphone footage of Grant’s shooting, which caused at least one moviegoer to gasp during the screening of the film that I attended, and then transitions to a domestic scene featuring Oscar (Michael B. Jordan), his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and their young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal). The moment is fraught with tension — Sophina is angry because Oscar has cheated on her — but reaches a gentle resolution when Tatiana, unable to sleep, climbs in bed with her parents. Seemingly unimportant, this scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, which follows Oscar around during his final hours.

Over the next 85 minutes or so, we get to know Oscar. We learn that he recently got out of prison and is trying to go straight; however, he just lost his job at a grocery store as a result of chronic lateness and loses his cool when the store owner won’t rehire him. We watch him chat up a pretty woman at the deli counter, and wonder whether he meant what he said when he assured Sophina that he had stopped cheating on her, and we see how shaken up he is when a speeding driver kills a dog. Most of all, we see that he loves his daughter, his girlfriend and his mom (Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar for 'The Help'), and that they love him. We understand that he is not a saint, but we like him, because he seems to have a good heart. The film is so observant, funny and full of life that we forget that Oscar is doomed.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "Pacific Rim"
Published on August 7, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Guillermo del Toro film "Pacific Rim."

Here's an excerpt:

"The other night I watched the 1989 movie 'Godzilla vs. Biollante,' and was extremely entertained.

The 17th film in the Godzilla series, 'Godzilla vs. Biollante' has its share of cheesy B-movie moments, and the plot sometimes lapses into complete incoherence, but overall it’s a fun, thought-provoking ride, with spectacular fight scenes between Godzilla and Biollante, a killer plant created by combining the DNA from Godzilla with the DNA from roses. This is the sort of go-for-broke lunacy that I find irresistible.

I was hoping for a similar level of go-for-broke lunacy from the new Guillermo del Toro film 'Pacific Rim,' a science-fiction spectacle that pays tribute to classic Japanese giant monsters, known as kaiju, such as Gamera, Mothra and, of course, Godzilla. And at first I thought the film would live up to my expectations. It opens with breathless scenes showing Earth besieged by an alien threat from beneath the sea, and countries joining forces to battle the creatures that emerge from the oceans using Jaegers — transformer-like machines controlled by two pilots whose minds fuse together in battle, allowing them to share memories and thoughts. I loved this prologue, with its combination of battle imagery, sensationalistic news reports and human drama. But then the rest of the film gets under way, and it can’t quite match the dizzy joy of the first 10 or 15 minutes."

Click here to read more.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on August 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

Ugetsu (1953) ****

Miami Connection (1987) ***1/2

Man of Steel (2013) ***

The Halloween Tree (1993) ***1/2

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) *** (with some reservations)

Crimewave (1986) ***1/2

Drive (2011) ***1/2

Twenty Feet From Stardom (2013) ***

Gabbeh (1997) ***1/2

Stone (2010) **1/2

The Observers (2012) ***1/2

Our Man Flint (1966) ***1/2

Marwencol (2010) ***

Melancholia (2011) ***

The Conjuring (2013) ***

Shirin (2008) ***1/2

A Band Called Death (2012) ***


Watching "The Conjuring"
Published on July 30, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new horror movie "The Conjuring."

Here's an excerpt:

"I don’t scare easily, at least not at the movies, and I didn’t find the new horror film 'The Conjuring' especially scary, despite all the hype about how terrifying it is.

But as a period piece, domestic drama, thriller and insightful depiction of an unusual profession — paranormal investigation — I found the film pretty compelling. This is a well-crafted, deeply involving movie that, in an age of irony and horror-comedy, is distinguished by a heartfelt sincerity. Unlike most horror films, 'The Conjuring' doesn’t have a gratuitous bone in its body. You might not believe in the supernatural, but 'The Conjuring' certainly does, and the film’s earnestness makes it surprisingly easy to buy into the idea that demonic possession is a real threat to the American way of life.

Supposedly based-on-true events, 'The Conjuring' concerns real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), a married couple who believe they were brought together by God to help people plagued by evil spirits. Lorraine is a gifted clairvoyant who finds their work important, but taxing; Ed would like her to take a break, but she refuses. After giving a lecture, the couple is approached by Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor). Perron, her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters are convinced that the old farmhouse they recently moved into is haunted; they hear footsteps at odd hours, birds fly into the side of the house and die, their clocks always stop at the same time — 3:07 — and one of the daughters is attacked by a hateful spirit who resembles an old woman. The Warrens are skeptical, but agree to visit the house. As soon as they set foot on the property, they sense that something is very wrong and agree to collect evidence to present to the Vatican so that an exorcism can be performed, if necessary."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "Twenty Feet From Stardom"
Published on July 16, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom."

Here's an excerpt:

"During my vacation, my dad and I worked on a crossword puzzle together in which one of the clues was 'hit song by The Crystals.' I’m not too familiar with the oeuvre of The Crystals, but eventually I figured it out: the hit pop song 'He’s a Rebel.' After watching the new documentary 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' I’ve decided that the crossword puzzle needs to be corrected. The lead vocals for 'He’s a Rebel' were actually provided by a woman named Darlene Love.

Love is one of the many backup singers featured in 'Twenty Feet From Stardom,' an entertaining documentary that shines the spotlight on some of the greatest, yet largely unheralded, backup singers of all time. I confess: Even though I love music, I’d never really given backup singers much thought. Which was clearly a mistake. Without backup singers, many of the greatest songs in rock history simply wouldn’t be that great. '20 Feet From Stardom' did something I didn’t think was possible: It made me hear classics such as the Rolling Stones’ 'Gimme Shelter,' David Bowie’s 'Young Americans' and even Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 'Sweet Home Alabama' in a completely new way.

In addition to featuring great music, 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' also offers a sharp critique of race and the music industry without beating viewers over the head. We can see that these little-known backup singers with terrific voices are mostly African-American women: Merry Clayton, who sang with Ray Charles and Elvis Presley and is best known for her duet with Mick Jagger on 'Gimme Shelter,' Tata Vega, who has sung with Stevie Wonder and Elton John, Lisa Fischer, who tours with the Rolling Stones and Sting, Judith Hill, who was set to go on tour with Michael Jackson when he died and is now trying to make it as a soloist, and, of course, Love."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Thoughts on "Cannibal Holocaust"
Published on July 11, 2013 by Sara Foss
There's a new cult film series in town, and I've been meaning to support it. But I wasn't able to make their first two screenings, for the Frank Zappa film "200 Motels" and the Indonesian horror film "Mystics of Bali." And when I heard that their third screening was the notorious Italian grindhouse film "Cannibal Holocaust," my heart sank a little. There are a lot of films I want to see, and "Cannibal Holocaust" wasn't one of them.
However, as the screening date drew closer, I grew more intrigued. A movie like "Cannibal Holocaust" is sort of like a dare for a person like me, and I figured that if I was capable of sitting through "The Human Centipede," "The Last House on the Left" and other violent, morally dubious films, then I could probably make it through "Cannibal Holocaust." Although I understand the logic of the film blogger the Self-Styled Siren when she writes, "The people who boast about how they can sit through anything, do they believe someone greets you at the Pearly Gates to say 'Dude, you made it through 'Cannibal Holocaust!' Here's your door prize!'"

In any case, I've now watched "Cannibal Holocaust," and it's a tough movie to evaluate. People rightly object to the scenes of animals being killed, often gruesomely; there's no excuse to slaughter monkeys and turtles when making a film, unless you're filming a documentary. And the scene involving the capture and butchering of a turtle is really hard to take. Weirdly, this scene could be defensible - if the turtle wasn't really being killed, director Ruggero Deodato didn't linger over the killing for so long, seemingly reveling in the some of the grossest scenes of viscera ever put on screen. After all, people exploring the remote jungle have to eat.


Watching "Man of Steel"
Published on July 9, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "Man of Steel."

Here's an excerpt:

"If we didn’t already have the 'Iron Man' films, 'The Avengers,' and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, 'Man of Steel' might be regarded as one of the greatest superhero films ever.

But the fact that it’s just the latest in a long line of films about a beloved comic book character, retrofitted for these angsty post-9/11 times, makes it difficult to evaluate the new Superman film.

Yes, it has eye-popping, state-of-the-art visual effects. Yes, it pays homage to the source material while also finding subtle ways to subvert it. Yes, it’s dark and brooding. But so what? At this point, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a superhero movie that’s eye-popping and revisionist and dark and brooding. Almost all of the newer superhero films share these qualities. In trying to reinvent superhero films for a new age, Nolan and his contemporaries have created a template and formula that is starting to feel stale.

That said, 'Man of Steel' is a pretty good film — better, in my opinion, than Nolan’s Batman films. Sure, the film concludes with the sort of spectacular and ultimately numbing scenes of fighting and destruction that you can find in any superhero film, but the build-up is genuinely interesting, and director Zack Snyder’s take on the mythology surrounding Superman is thought-provoking and appropriately epic. When this film focuses on character and story, it’s highly entertaining. When it becomes just another 'let’s fight until the death' film, it begins to lose steam."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on July 2, 2013 by Sara Foss

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) ***1/2

Soul Kitchen (2009) ***

Rashomon (1950) ***1/2

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) ***

Before Midnight (2013) ****

Me and Orson Welles (2008) ***

Lola (1961) ***1/2

Fish Tank (2009) ***1/2

The House on Sorority Row (1983) ***

Much Ado About Nothing (2013) ***1/2


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