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FREAKS (2019)
"Best seen cold (what movie isn't?), but still a nifty sci-fi thriller."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As much as I do like previews even beyond the way that they give one a heads-up that certain movies even exist, there's a real delight to be found in going into certain movies cold. The one for "Freaks", for instance, probably needs to show as much as it does in order to draw its potential audience in, especially in an environment when similar-sounding but much larger things have huge studios behind them to suck up all of the oxygen in the room, but I'm glad I didn't see it until after I saw the movie. I kind of figured it eventually had to go a certain way, but it was thrilling to never be sure which way the movie would jump." (more)
"Capable and smart as you'd expect."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Gavin Hood hasn't dedicated his entire directorial career to making films about the crimes and compromises behind the twenty-first century's Middle Eastern wars, but at three and counting, he's probably done more dramatic features on the subject than all but a few. If they ever become history people look back on rather than things that are still going on, those films will at the very least be an interesting set of commentary on the times as a group, even if some (like "Official Secrets") are better as commentary than thrilling narrative." (more)
"Floating to freedom is harder than it looks."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "When I first saw the description of "Balloon", I pegged it as a light family adventure, likely because the idea of fleeing a repressive society in a homemade hot-air balloon sounds fanciful, and the film didn't have enough red-flag content for the local ratings board to give it anything but the least restrictive rating. Of course, evading the Stasi while attempting to escape East Germany was no small matter, and that makes this movie a serious, no-nonsense thriller even if it doesn't have any harsh language or graphic violence. It's something of a throwback in that way, but that works for it." (more)
"The things people will sacrifice for an ugly McMansion."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Satanic Panic" is horror comedy for people who know the genre and can poke fun without being entirely flip about it - it has a loopy premise on which the filmmakers hang a lot of jokes, but the people involved know this doesn't work if everybody involved is taking it for granted. It manages to avoid being cynical despite that being the default mode for both horror and this kind of satire." (more)
"Karaoke girl's own story."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2019: Justin Chon made a pretty terrific movie a couple years back whose confrontational title ("Gook") and black-and-white photography may have helped make people reluctant to buy a ticket. This time out, the color is right in the more welcoming title, but in a lot of ways the heart of the film is the same - sibling issues, Korean-American family obligation, assimilation - and the story he crafts from those ideas is still compelling." (more)
"Tears (And Rips And Bites) Of A Clown"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "There is a running joke throughout “It Chapter Two” in which virtually everyone that wildly successful author Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) encounters—ranging from childhood friends to his actress wife to the director making a major movie out of one of them (played by Peter Bogdanovich, making that possibly the most fantastical and unbelievable detail in the entire film)—tells him that they love his stories but think that he is not particularly good when it comes to endings. This element was presumably conceived as a winking nod to genre fans who have seen so many horror movies over the years that have expertly drawn viewers into their stories over the years but have let them down when it comes to wrapping those tales up. Unfortunately, just because it—or “It Chapter Two, as the case may be—is able to diagnose that affliction does not make it immune to it and as a result, this continuation of the epic-length screen adaptation of Stephen King’s mammoth-sized 1986 bestseller winds up succumbing to that very same problem. Having effectively lured moviegoers in—the first installment, released in 2017, went on to become the highest-grossing (no pun intended) horror film of all time—the filmmakers have no clear or coherent idea of how to wrap things up and take so long (170 minutes) to do so that even fans of the first film may find themselves coming out of this one feeling exhaustion rather than terror." (more)
"The changes in the business aren't a game."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2019: There's been a lot of recent talk online about the potential death of physical media for movies as I begin to flesh the capsule I wrote the night I watched this out, but that's not much of a coincidence; that talk started the moment Netflix announced the "Watch Instantly" option and hasn't slowed down since. "Not for Resale" covers how that same dynamic is at play in the world of games, from the point of view of the proprietors of video game shops, but it's worth a look even for those of us whose most recent game system purchase is a Sega Dreamcast; this medium is different from others in many ways, but in others it's just a few steps ahead." (more)
"Creates a genuine modern grindhouse feel."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... ""Killerman" opens with a nifty quote about money laundering (that the illegal drug business generates a hundred billion in revenues, and the difficulty of pushing 26 million pounds of cash through a teller's window), and a fun sequence of a money launderer transforming a banker's box full of c-notes into cashier's checks difficult to trace back to a criminal enterprise, before starting to do other things, then goes in another direction again for the finale. It's not a bait-and-switch, exactly, but maybe filmmaker Malik Bader could have spent more time with half of his intriguing set-ups and saved the others for another movie." (more)
"A massive all-ages hit in China that's not that tricky to translate."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "If I were a ten-year-old Chinese kid, there's a good chance I'd be absolutely nuts for this movie, as seems to have happened back in its native land, where it was the biggest home-grown movie of the summer. It's got a lot of the ingredients to transcend many cultural barriers - big action, monsters, and wacky comedy - and is within shouting distance of top-tier animation, something imports from China haven't always achieved. It's busy and frantic, but kids often go for that." (more)
"Is this the best pizza in America?"
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2019: Gorman Bechard's film about the famous "apizza" restaurants of New Haven, Connecticut could have taken the path of following how pizza came to America, took its first steps of evolution into its most ubiquitous forms in that city, and then spread from there, but instead it stays hyper-local and specialized. It's the kind of movie that, from a commercial perspective, initially seems like it won't travel at all and is kind of an act of madness. Those movies are kinds of great, though, a drill-down that maybe doesn't increase general knowledge but feels like half specific insight and half gleefully useless (but delightful) trivia." (more)

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