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"The Lovely House"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "“Shirley” tells the story of an innocent young woman who is manipulated by a couple of deceitful men into becoming the caretaker of a woman who may not technically be a witch but who is definitely an alcoholic, in the throes of some form of mental illness and is looked upon with a combination of suspicion and fear by the rest of the small town where she resides. Unexpectedly, the woman and her charge find some degree of common ground but that may not be enough to prevent the younger couple to succumb to the same sort of malignancy that has affect the relationship of the older pair as the four live together amidst a rambling old farmhouse that is practically a character in its own right. Oh yeah, at least a couple of these characters are also haunted to some extent by the spirit of a young woman who disappeared from town a couple of years earlier and who has not been heard from ever since. Those of you with a pronounced literary bent might even think that the premise suggests the work of Shirley Jackson, the author of such acclaimed works as “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” In fact, not only does the Shirley of the title refer to Jackson herself but she is one of the key characters, though the film as a whole is closer to one of those oddball historical fantasias that Ken Russell used to crank out back in the day than anything resembling a standard-issue biopic." (more)
"Man Oh Man, Those Canadians Are Weird."
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "If you have read my stuff on even a semi-regular basis—not that I am recommending that under any circumstances—you will know that I have never been one to shy away from cinematic excursions into the strange, the inexplicable and, when the occasion arises, the downright outre. However, every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so strange that even I am not sure how to respond to it. Such a film is “Dreamland,” a genuine head-scratcher from Canada that is so determinedly odd in so many ways that I don’t know if I could say with any degree of confidence what the filmmakers were going for in the first place, much less whether or not it truly succeeded in those efforts. In my defense, I am not sure that the filmmakers themselves could honestly answer those questions either. This is not to say that the film is bad, mind you, but it is certainly not the kind of thing where you will come away from it thinking “How many times have I seen that before?”" (more)
"Tsai Chin is less lucky than just plain good here."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It's not a trick that works every time, or even the thought process that most filmmakers are using, but you'll probably get something interesting by taking a story that has been done a lot and then adding twenty years or so to the main character's age. Sure, it may seem like suicide commercially, but you'll wind up with a terrific character actor in the lead, new challenges and solutions in the story, and the chance for nifty juxtapositions. It makes for one of the more intriguing bag-of-money movies to come out in a while." (more)
"Night Skies"
5 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "In the last few weeks, I have seen a number of genre films—including current box-office champ “The Wretched”—that struck me as projects that might have worked perfectly as an episode of an anthology show like “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits” but wound up losing something along the way in the effort to stretch things out enough to make them into features. In the case of “The Vast of Night” (premiering on Amazon Prime), it takes that a step further by presenting itself as an episode of “Paradox Theater,” an ersatz anthology show whose opening, in which a narrator speaking in clipped cadences informs us that “you are entering a realm between clandestine and forgotten,” will certainly sound familiar to many viewers. The irony is that while those other films did not quite work because they were telling stories that might have been more effective in a shorter format, this one is a creatively audacious and smashingly entertaining throwback to everything from those aforementioned shows to the wild creations of the late, great Arch Oboler—the producer who chilled radio audiences with exquisitely designed sonic landscapes that convinced listeners that they were hearing people pulled inside out by a fog or the sounds of a giant chicken heart destroying the world—that finds debuting director Andrew Patterson working wonders with what I can only presume was a micro-sized budget." (more)
"Not Exactly Supreme"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "The omnipresent television commercials for “The High Note” suggest that it is going to be a film centering on a veteran pop star who has been coasting on her past hits and legacy for years and who comes to a crossroads where she has to decide whether she is going to record her first album of new material in over a decade—a potentially risky move from a commercial standpoint—or take on an extended Las Vegas residency that would have her churning out the same old hits night after night—a highly lucrative deal but one that would essentially signal her complete creative standstill. I don’t know about you but that sounds like a potentially fascinating movie that could possibly offer up some real insight into the creative process and how celebrated artists wrestle with the question of trying new things as opposed to giving the audience more of what they already like. To make things more intriguing, the singer is played by Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of Diana, and while she clearly landed the role based on her own considerable talents, her presence adds an additional layer of frisson to the premise that probably would not be there if another actress got the part. And yet, anyone intrigued by the possibilities suggested by those commercials are going to be hugely disappointed when they see it for themselves and learns that most of them have been kicked to the side in order to make room for a narrative thrust and characters that are far less interesting and which transform the film into a cup of extremely weak tea that has been steeped in cliches and which pays lips service to female empowerment without actually having any notable thoughts on the subject as it heads to one of the more embarrassing wrap-ups in recent memory." (more)
"Big, entertaining, somewhat hollow."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... ""The Taking of Tiger Mountain" was one of the first films in China's recent wave of military action blockbusters, and it's got most of the issues of the ones that have followed, primarily that it has exactly the amount of nuance one would expect of a big-budget movie whose makers know that it must pass through a fairly strict censor board. This one's at least got Tsui Hark at the helm, and he's probably got more experience making this sort of effects-laden movie than anybody else in China, and even more making entertaining action/adventure." (more)
"Get Them To The Greeks"
5 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "If you had come up to me ten years ago and asked me to pick the one new film that would inspire the most unexpectedly durable and artistically satisfying franchise of the ensuing decade, I am not entirely sure which one I would have picked—in an era that gave us the likes of “MacGruber,” “Marmaduke” and that Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe, who could possibly pick just one? I am fairly certain, however, that I would not have picked Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” for that honor. This is not to say that I did not like the film—like many, I was delighted with the largely improvised chronicle of comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, touring the finest restaurants of Northern England while engaging in a constant game of one-upmanship punctuated with astoundingly detailed impersonations of actors more famous than them. However, comedies, as a rule, don’t really lend themselves well to sequels, let alone franchises, because all the inspired jokes have pretty much been used up the first time around and there is little left to do but repeat those familiar gags. (If you saw the entire “Hangover” series, you know what I mean. And yet, Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon would return for “The Trip to Italy” (2014) and “The Trip to Spain” and while the basic outlines for those film would not deviate from the original, that concept proved to be a durable launching point for hilarious new improvisations and impersonations while occasionally moving, however subtly, into deeper and more thoughtful waters. Now comes “The Trip to Greece,” which all involved are claiming will be the last one and indeed, there is a sense of finality that hangs out on the edges this time around, though it is likely that you will be too busy laughing to notice until it takes center stage for its surprisingly affecting conclusion." (more)
"Yet another satirical, bureaucratic dark future."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As fusions of post-apocalyptic devastation and bureaucratic intransigence go, "Night God" is certainly arresting to look at and utterly committed to a level few films manage. It's also a reminder that, for however much truth there may be in this sort of vision of the future, it can be monotonous and ineffective once a viewer realizes that the cynicism is relatively unshakable. At a certain point, you don't add much by saying everything is a mess in the way that it has always been a mess and always will be, and how many ways can you say that?." (more)
ALICE (2019)
"A genuinely delightful discovery."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... ""Alice" - whether referring to the film's title or its main character - is a lot of different things over the course of the film's running time, and what's really impressive is how well it manages to be all of them. Filmmaker Josephine Mackerras takes an idea that could be the plot of a sex comedy or a scathing critique, does a bit of both, and gets from one to the other in the smart way that acknowledges that all this stuff happens together." (more)
"Why are we doing this, again?"
2 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It's a rare film that's improvised or shot in sequence, and there's almost no way that "On a Magical Night" is one of them. Nevertheless, to watch it is to get the impression of someone having an idea, running with it, getting distracted, forgetting how all this works, and just winding up in a place that makes no damn sense whatsoever. And, sure, this isn't a movie one goes into with any sort of expectation of logical consistency, but this movie just completely loses track of what makes it work." (more)

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