REVIEW: The Biggest Little Farm Is Hipster Heaven

It’s an all too common pipedream: Trading the rat race for the simpler life, one in which you cultivate your own food, grow your own eggs and work your patch of land from sunrise to sundown. Nobody follows through because, as delightful as it sounds, we know farming is a lot harder than this hipster visualization of heaven. Heck, I can’t even grow basil on my balcony.

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles seven years in the life of a couple who actually did it. Inspired by their rescue dog —too loud for apartment living— John and Molly Chester traded their L.A. apartment for 200 all-but-abandoned acres not far from the city. It wasn’t a blind bet: John turned this move into a project open to investors and people who want to learn how to farm. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Biggest Little Farm Is Hipster Heaven”

REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover

 

Given all the revenue Disney is generating by turning animated classics as live-action features, it’s very unlikely the House of Mouse will stop doing it any time soon. Even the so-so Dumbo made over 340 million dollars worldwide.

While I would prefer Disney to take risks as opposed to mine the back catalogue, there is some joy to be found in these remakes: The breeziness of Cinderella, the underlying melancholy of Pete’s Dragon, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in The Jungle Book. The one thing you won’t find: Freshness. These movies have been fussed over within an inch of their lives. They are expected to hit all four demographic quadrants and please everybody. Not hair is out of place and most scenes seem airless.

Aladdin has problems but at least is light on its feet, thanks to director Guy Ritchie’s anything-goes approach and Will Smith leaning hard on his charm. Continue reading “REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover”

REVIEW: Hail Satan? Makes a Strong Case for Paganism

It’s not a good sign for the Christian right when admitted Satanists come across as more likeable and reasonable than they do. I’m not even talking about those Westboro Baptist Church freaks, but zealots advocating for the reunification of church and state.

Hail Satan? is not your standard doc denouncing satanic practices as it was so fashionable a couple of decades ago. The film instead focuses on recent challenges to freedom of religion in the United States.

The institution at the center of the movie is the Satanic Temple, a fast growing movement close to reaching all continents, but struggling with their success. Imagine trying to shape an organization founded on anarchic principles. Interestingly, the members interviewed for the documentary don’t believe in Satan. They are anti-religion: Black mass is not an invocation, but a repudiation of traditional rituals. Continue reading “REVIEW: Hail Satan? Makes a Strong Case for Paganism”

DVD REVIEW: The Discomfort of Dragged Across Concrete

There was a period during the 70’s in which nihilistic, misogynistic violence was a box office draw. One could argue not much has changed, but if you have seen movies by Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs), Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) or Michael Winner (Death Wish), you know there is something uniquely nasty about these flicks: A disregard for every perceived minority, naked belief in white privilege and a sense that violence is necessary to preserve the status quo are the predominant characteristics.

It would be easy to discard these movies if they weren’t as captivating as they are. Narratively sound, these 70’s action thrillers were misguided, but had a clarity of purpose that’s lacking in today’s cinema. Watching them today, there’s something sickly refreshing about a feature that hasn’t endured three rounds of sanitization by the way of focus groups and executive notes.

Enter S. Craig Zahler.

Early on a horror specialist (I was a champion of the terrifying Asylum Blackout), Zahler has evolved into the single representative of this trend at work today. Not a single one of his movies (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99) has had a significative theatrical release, yet if you’ve seen them, they’re probably engraved in your brain. Continue reading “DVD REVIEW: The Discomfort of Dragged Across Concrete”

REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers

It’s no news to anybody Tim Burton’s films are hit or miss. I happen to appreciate some of his less celebrated work (Mars Attacks, Dark Shadows) and have no patience for some of his big hits (Alice in Wonderland, Big Fish). Dumbo sits somewhere in the middle, two thirds a sentimental triumph, one third an undercooked heist that would be more at home in a Michael Bay movie.

A more “realistic” take on the 1941 Disney classic, this Dumbo doesn’t have anthropomorphized animals (although all of them cameo or are referenced to, even those controversial crows). The story is driven by humans, specifically the Farrier family. The father, Holt (Colin Farrell), has returned from the war maimed and his spirit shattered. His kids have been forced to mature earlier than they should, while sheltered by the circus community. The three of them reconnect over a baby elephant with freakishly large ears.

Dumbo goes from pariah to main attraction the moment he starts using his ears to take flight. The act attracts the attention of a circus mogul (Michael Keaton), who claims to be an artist at heart, but turns out to be another greedy capitalist who Zuckerbergs everybody. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers”

REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call

Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel uses public transportation.

Writer’s note: Much like with the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel has found pushback from the darkest, redest corners of the Internet. I wouldn’t normally be troubled by trolls or James Woods (I know, same thing), but some may bunch together less-than-glowing reviews with the rambles of individuals that feel threatened by Brie Larson’s activism or the idea of a feminist superhero. My critique is focused on the film exclusively and external considerations have no weight in my analysis.


Captain Marvel has a tall order to fill: It must bridge the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War with Avengers: Endgame and has to establish a hero not only capable of going head-to-head with Thanos, but also lead the super-team into a post Iron-Man era.

I’m here to tell you the film does complete the task, but doesn’t excel at it. Captain Marvel is a functional popcorn flick without much of an identity outside being proudly feminist. It’s surprisingly drab-looking for a Marvel Studios movie and the action sequences are perfunctory at best. The performances –not the plot– carry the film, a rarity for this universe. Continue reading “REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call”

REVIEW: Climax Takes a While to Get There

While one of the great provocateurs of modern cinema, Gaspar Noé is not known for his consistency. His most recent work (Love, Enter the Void) doesn’t hold a candle to the truly searing Irreversible and I Stand Alone, but shows a willingness to evolve and an ease with the camera bound to pay off, sooner or later.

Noé comes damn close to get his act together in Climax. It’s not without problems –it feels like a short stretched to feature length– but the setup is one for the ages and features moments of true brilliance.

Allegedly based on real events (as per Noé), the film takes place in the course of one evening at a dance school party in the middle of nowhere. Small dramas and petty conflicts become amplified when someone spikes the sangria with acid (I usually spike it with gin, but to each its own). Unable to escape or contact the outside world, psychosis takes over and the students’ limber bodies take serious punishment. Continue reading “REVIEW: Climax Takes a While to Get There”

Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar

Mads Mikkelsen is Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser in Polar.

Odds are you will come across a number of articles comparing Polar to John Wick. Pay no attention to them. Sure, they both revolve around (relatively) honorable hired guns whose employers turn against them, but the similarities end there. One loves dogs, the other one… you’ll find out.

Based on the graphic novel by Victor Santos, Polar revolves around Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelsen). An accomplished hitman, Vizla is looking forward to his retirement, just days away. His plans come undone when the corporation that employs him would rather take him than pay him severance. The assassin doesn’t take the attempts on his life kindly and plans to take his grievances to the top.

If John Wick mopes the entire movie, the Black Kaiser is not above enjoying hard liquor or a roll in the hay, even if his companion has murder in her mind. He does however have a couple of regrets that reverberate throughout the film. Continue reading “Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar”

REVIEW: At Eternity’s Gate Dives Into Van Gogh’s Psyche

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate.

Granted, there is no shortage of Vincent van Gogh’s biopics. Just last year audiences were treated to the gorgeous, underwhelmingly written Loving VincentAt Eternity’s Gate takes a different approach, one focused on Vincent’s drive, as opposed to his mental health. Of course the signposts are there, but the movie makes a noticeable effort to keep the assorted tragedies that befell Vincent at bay.

As per At Eternity’s Gate, Vincent (Willem Dafoe) was a man ahead of his time. This is not necessarily a good thing when you are a starving artist and impressionism is all the rage. Following advice by Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), Van Gogh trades the increasingly toxic Parisian scene for the tranquility of Arles in the South of France.

While the painter clashes constantly with the town dwellers, the period is particularly prolific. During his time there, Van Gogh produces “Bedroom in Arles”, “The Night Café”, and a number of self-portraits. Unfortunately, his ongoing quarrels with friends and neighbours and his “break-up” with Gauguin send him on a downward spiral. Utter loneliness plays a bigger part on Van Gogh’s fate than any other factor, including mental unrest.

Director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) depicts Van Gogh as a delicate soul that’s easily rattled. Likely because of his background as a plastic artist, Schnabel succeeds at capturing the drive that kept Van Gogh going, despite the scorn of the general public and indifference of his peers. The filmmaker’s obvious regard for his subject is manifest throughout, to the point of keeping the self-mutilation bit off-screen (in fairness, the ear thing has become an obnoxious trope).

While 25 years older than the painter when he died, Willem Dafoe is perfect for the part, the right mix of helpless and mercurial. Less fortunate is the casting of baby-faced Rupert Friend as Van Gogh’s barely younger brother. Schnabel brings back actors from his previous films for supporting roles, but the one who fares the best is a new hire: Mads Mikkelsen as the priest who runs the asylum where Van Gogh is committed. Compassionate and all, he doesn’t think much of the artist’s work and lets him know it. A rare moment of levity in a film carrying a heavy heart. 3.5/5 planets.

At Eternity’s Gate is now playing at the Roxy Theatre.

Ralph Breaks the Internet, from the Inside

Vanellope von Schweetz and the Disney princesses.

Among the many qualities of the Wreck It Ralph sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, the attention to detail is at the top, alongside an age-appropriate message against co-dependence. The film places the leads –the titular Ralph and Sugar Rush’s champion Vanellope von Schweetz– in the world wide web. The hectic vastness of the internet is impressively represented, both the seemingly infinite number of offerings and corresponding visitors.

For a year and a half, animator Benson Shum worked mostly on the Ralph character (allowing him to ‘act’ and ‘emote’), but also participated on the rest: “Even if it’s a background character, you want to animate it as well as the front ones.” Vanellope presents additional challenges, as she glitches and pops up at a different side of the screen within a second: “We have to anticipate her movements. There is a lot of thought into how we get her from this side of the screen to that side. We have a tool that makes glitch lines, pixilation in between.” Continue reading “Ralph Breaks the Internet, from the Inside”