Apr
17

Hour of the Wolf Movie Review: UNDER THE SKIN

Not even Scarlett Johansson is sure of what she sees in UNDER THE SKIN.

Not even Scarlett Johansson is sure of what she sees in UNDER THE SKIN.

“I reeeeeally want you to review UNDER THE SKIN for HOUR OF THE WOLF,” Jim Freund said to me a couple of weeks ago. That was good, because I reeeeeeally wanted to review UNDER THE SKIN, but constraints — both on time and finances — meant that I needed a good reason to get to it. Since we were committed to reviewing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER — an okay film, but not really more than that — on the CINEFANTASTIQUE SPOTLIGHT the week UNDER THE SKIN was debuting, Jim’s advocacy was just the motivation I required.

So let it be noted, in case you had any doubt, that this confirms Jim Freund’s status as a fighter on the side of the angels. I’ve had a cautious relationship with UNDER THE SKIN director Jonathan Glazer — I felt SEXY BEAST was good but overrated, and BIRTH was… odd — but there’s no such caution here. In telling the tale of an alien predator who takes the form of Scarlett Johansson and stalks the highways of Scotland, Glazer seems to have found the perfect stage for his restrained approach to storytelling. After having to sit through the dreary slog that was OCULUS, seeing something this daring, this entrancing, was just what I needed to restore my own, personal “Sense of Wonder.” Click on the player to hear my review.

LISTEN TO HOUR OF THE WOLF EVERY
THURSDAY MORNING AT 1:30 AM
ON WBAI 99.5FM IN NEW YORK CITY
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Apr
14

The Cinefantastique Spotlight: OCULUS

This scene, featuring stars Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan, appears NOWHERE in OCULUS.

This scene, featuring stars Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan, appears NOWHERE in OCULUS.

How frustrating is it when a film has all the stuff it needs — promising premise, good production values, decent cast, director who can twist filmic reality in imaginative ways — and just… doesn’t … grab… you? Pretty damn frustrating, it turns out. OCULUS tells the tale of an orphaned brother and sister who reunite as adults to destroy the mirror that turned their father into a homicidal maniac, yet despite casting DOCTOR WHO’s Karen Gillan in the lead, finding unique ways of styling flashback sequences so that past impinges on present and vice versa, and stuffing its scenario full of such spooky stuff as hostile, spectral presences, mind-bending hallucinations, and a guest walk-on by the Weeping Angels, the whole winds up decidedly less than the sum of its parts.

The Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons get together to express their fascination about a film that has so much and falls so short, and to try to figure out what prevents this latest Blumhouse (or as it’s now being called, BH Productions) release from rising to its potential. Click on the player to hear the show.

Apr
10

Hour of the Wolf Movie Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

The Winter Soldier is well-represented, if not exactly front-and-center, in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

The Winter Soldier is well-represented, if not exactly front-and-center, in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

Well, they can’t all be NOAH, but then again, they all don’t need to be VAMPIRE ACADEMY, either. On the spectrum of the Marvel Comics franchise films, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER doesn’t reach the cinematic heights of the Raimi SPIDER-MANs (oh, okay, the first two SPIDER-MANs) or Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, but doesn’t crater out anywhere near the THOR or (shudder) FANTASTIC FOUR efforts. Filing my review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF, I was happy (relieved, even) to note the not inconsiderable pleasures of this new chapter in the chronicles of America’s most patriotic superhero, even if I also feel duty-bound point out the ways it could have been better. Click on the player to hear the review.

Apr
07

The Cinefantastique Spotlight: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Chris Evans faces down foes that only a genetically-altered super soldier could vanquish in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

Chris Evans faces down foes that only a genetically-altered super soldier could vanquish in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

And so commences the Marvel Onslaught of 2014. Four movies, three studios, and more opportunities for the true believers to nudge each other knowingly when Stan Lee makes his expected cameos, even though your great-great-grandmother could probably recognize him by now. That said, there are far worse ways to kick off this flood than CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, a well-mounted, surprisingly well-acted (hey, you’ve got Sam Jackson and Robert Redford in there), and all-around entertaining actioner that finds the stalwart Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) facing a test to his WWII-bred notions of right and wrong as he finds himself suddenly at cross-purposes to his masters at S.H.I.E.L.D and confronting a formidable assassin called the Winter Soldier.

The Cinefantastique Spotlight crew of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons are no little grateful that THE WINTER SOLDIER goes down as easy as it does, but are in accord that there were ways it could have been much better. We compare notes in this latest episode — click on the player to hear the show.

Apr
03

Hour of the Wolf Movie Review: NOAH

Noah (2014)I take a few moments at the beginning of this week’s segment for WBAI 99.5FM’s Hour of the Wolf to address host Jim Freund’s calling me out for my pronunciation of the word “erudite” during last week’s review of DIVERGENT. Nothing contentious, mind, just a clarification.

Then, it’s time to let the flood commence. A literal flood, yes, since we’re talking about Darren Aronofsky’s new epic fantasy film, NOAH . But also a flood of praise, since this mix of visionary filmmaking and insightful drama, courtesy of Aronofsky’s iconoclastic instincts, takes mainstream film to places where most big-budget releases fear to tread. Click on the player to hear the review.

LISTEN TO HOUR OF THE WOLF EVERY
THURSDAY MORNING AT 1:30 AM
ON WBAI 99.5FM IN NEW YORK CITY
AND LIKE THE SHOW ON FACEBOOK

Mar
31

The Cinefantastique Spotlight: Noah

The strengths of Darren Aronofsky's NOAH go beyond mere spectacle.

The strengths of Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH go beyond mere spectacle.

Sooner or later, it had to happen. Three months into 2014, we finally move beyond the execrable and the mediocre, to something imaginative, exciting, and just flat-out worthy of praise. NOAH allows director Darren Arnofosky to apply his characteristically iconoclastic vision to the classic Bible tale, transforming the historic setting into a fantastic world where fallen angels walk the earth in the form of lumbering rock monsters, technology has advanced enough for bear traps and projectile weapons, and the humble, pious man charged with ferrying the world’s beasts and birds safely through the watery manifestation of the Lord’s wrath becomes, courtesy of Russell Crowe’s performance and Aranofsky’s incisive read of the material, a conflicted hero tasked with determining how much of God’s judgement the Creator expects him to fulfill by his own hand.

Theofantastique.com’s John W. Morehead joins Spotlight regulars Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they discuss Aranofsky’s visionary approach to the story, explore what the film has to say about the nature and demands of faith, and look into the political controversies the film has stirred up. Click on the player to hear the show.

Mar
27

Hour of the Wolf Movie Review: DIVERGENT

Shailene Woodley undergoes a symbolic representation of the plot of DIVERGENT.

Shailene Woodley undergoes a symbolic representation of the plot of DIVERGENT.

As I approach the start of my second year as house movie critic for Jim Freund’s superlative, free-form science fiction and fantasy radio show, Hour of the Wolf (every Thursday morning at 1:30 AM on WBAI 99.5FM here in NYC), I feel not unlike Tris (Shailene Woodley), the teenage protagonist of the dystopic science fiction action film, DIVERGENT: facing my future with a mixture of deep apprehension and grim determination. In my favor: my situation is set in a relatively rational reality, whereas the world of DIVERGENT makes not a whit of sense. Which, just by coincidence, forms the central focus of my review. Click on the player to hear the show, and like Hour of the Wolf on Facebook.

 

 

Mar
24

The Cinefantastique Spotlight: DIVERGENT

Shailene Woodley has to confront the challenges of being DIVERGENT.

Shailene Woodley has to confront the challenges of being DIVERGENT.

In the future, humanity will achieve peace and prosperity by being divided into five factions. When you’re sixteen, you get tested to see which faction you belong in, and that determines your station in life for the rest of your existence. Unless you decide to join another faction, which you’re totally free to do. But if you discover that your not really fit for your chosen faction — which is what the testing showed to begin with — tough noogies, because you can’t go back once you’ve chosen, and have to become an outcast and can’t work anywhere, because that’s an efficient use of manpower. Unless, of course, you’re one of the people who contain aspects worthy of several factions, because we all know such a multi-talented person is a really rare commodity. You’re then dubbed a Divergent, and you’re fully screwed, because… people don’t like a show-off?

No, the premise of DIVERGENT doesn’t make much sense, and will only give you headache the longer you think about it. So the Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons — aided and abetted by beabetterbooktalker.com’s Andrea Lipinski for a little literary credibility — try to get around the conceptual roadblocks to determine whether this teen-oriented, dystopic science fiction action film at least passes muster as fun entertainment. Some clear the hurdle, some (such as the person writing this intro) keep tripping on the bar. Click on the player to hear the show.

Mar
14

Review: TEENAGE

Jitterbug dance contest at the Shrine Auditorium in Southern CA, 1939. From TEENAGE.

Jitterbug dance contest at the Shrine Auditorium in Southern CA, 1939. From TEENAGE.

It is the privilege of teenagers to think that they are the first to confront the world with their quest for meaning, their need to belong. It is perhaps the curse of modern thinking to presume the notion of the teenager sprung fully-formed from the ashes of World War II.  There’s no shortage of films — fictional and non- — that explore the post-war rise of teens as a social, cultural, and economic force. But for all the boomers, hippies, gen-X’ers, gen-Y’ers, etc, etc. that have already been documented,  there were in fact generations preceding, generations who, with the advent of the twentieth century, the abolition of child labor, and the spread of popular culture through movies, radio, and records, helped demarcate this hitherto undefined stage of life and learning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mar
05

Temple of Bad: KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR

It's crime-fighting robot versus diarrhea monster in KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR. Which one will win? And, more importantly, do you really want to know?

It’s crime-fighting robot versus diarrhea monster in KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR. Which one will win? And, more importantly, do you really want to know?

Well, here’s a ticklish situation: Is KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR a bad film, or a good film trying to be bad, or a film so good at being bad that it’s actually bad? Japanese director Noboru Iguchi — the man who previously brought you such nuanced classics as ZOMBIE ASS: TOILET OF THE DEAD and the “F is for Fart” segment of THE ABCS OF DEATH — here tones down his predilection for raunchiness in order to adapt a 70′s tokusatsu TV classic about Secret Police agent Yutaka Daimon and his karate-fightin’ robot/motorcycle Zaborgar as they wage war on the fearsome, world-conquering Dr. Akunomiya and his not-completely credible henchpeople. Not that things are totally restrained, what with an attack by a giant, incontinent ant-man, weird (really weird) robot sex, and a widowed male scientist so dedicated to his sons that he breast-feeds them (yeah: ew). Throw in a mid-film ellipsis that flings the narrative twenty-five years into the future and has a now-aged Daimon re-engaging with the his arch-enemies, and you’ve got one of the weirdest, and most divisive, films explored here at the Temple of Bad.

Come join ToB participants Andrea Lipinski, Kevin Lauderdale, new regular Orenthal V. Hawkins, and Dan Persons, as they discuss whether all this is bad, brilliant, or conclusive evidence that the whole of Japanese society is seriously in need of psychotherapy.

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