Predestination - Movie Review by Eric Forthun


Starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Freya Stafford, and Madeleine West

Directed by The Spierig Brothers


Rated R

Run Time: 97 minutes

Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller


Opens January 9th (exclusively at FilmBar)


By Eric Forthun of Cinematic Shadows


Predestination has a fascinating premise backed by a breakthrough performance by Sarah Snook. The film uses lofty ambition and undeniable emotional power even if its reach far exceeds its grasp; I forgive faulty ambition when it's this well-intentioned. The Spierig Brothers act as writers and directors here, returning after a five-year break to work with Ethan Hawke again to follow up their last collaboration (Daybreakers). That film was a futuristic vampire saga with a strong set-up and a bloody, somewhat satisfying conclusion; Predestination is such a strikingly different film both in terms of thematic developments and narrative ambition that it feels like a giant leap forward in their repertoire. They've created a world marked by social injustice, heartbreaking romance, and time travel, an unique mixture that works wonders on a trippy, confusing, but never lifeless world.

The story centers on a Temporal Agent known as The Bartender (Ethan Hawke), a man who has constantly searched for a criminal known as the "Fizzle Bomber" through time but can never seem to stop him. The laws of these agents are fascinating, mostly marked by ensuring that past, present, and future do not interfere and that nothing disrupts the fabric of the creation of the law enforcement group in which he presides. While working one night, he meets Jane (Sarah Snook), a mysterious woman that spends much of the first half of the film doling out her backstory as she explains her upbringing as a young woman that never seemed to fit in, and the one time that she truly felt in love before her heart was broken. There's tragedy in her story, and the Bartender recognizes that. He offers her the opportunity to travel through time, particularly with the opportunity to kill the man that wronged her. In her story, he may have found out who the Fizzle Bomber has been all along.

There's a lot of subtlety in her backstory, with Snook owning her role and bringing to life what acts as a two-actor film for most of the story. Her and Hawke play off of one another incredibly well, with the cinematography emphasizing the duality of their characters and the growing bond that they form over her story's progression. The elements of time travel in the story are mostly wonky and confusing until the film's final moments; only then does one of the biggest, strangest twists I've ever seen in film come along and level the playing field of the narrative. Despite most of the story being muddled and somewhat incomprehensible at various points, I never felt disengaged from the core of the film. I always connected with the characters and found their journey compelling; the rules begin to surface and infuse the narrative with passion. It's pretty phenomenal when 2015 can start off with one of the strangest and most unique visions I've seen in years, and even if all of its inconsistencies build in the middle, it remains an entertaining landscape.


The Early Bird Gets the Discounted Pass!

PFF 2015 Metropolis NOVEMBERWe may be a couple of months out from the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival, but you can purchase your passes to the Festival right now at a discounted price. We call it our Early Bird Sale, and you can take advantage of these great prices today:

VIP $250 $169.18
Festival $125 $85.08
Flex Pass $40 $27.90

Prices include service charges.

But don't wait! These prices will only be valid through JANUARY 7, 2015.

Click on the button below to purchase your early bird passes, and we will see you at the Festival!

[button link="" type="big" color="red" newwindow="yes"] PFF 2015 EARLY BIRD PASSES[/button]

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Movie Review by Michael Clawson

TMNTTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  

Starring Megan Fox, William Fichtner, Will Arnett and Johnny Knoxville

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman


From Paramount Pictures

Rated PG-13

101 minutes


Releases on August 8th, 2014


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume



Late in the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie, the knife-bedazzled villain Shredder says, “Tonight I dine on turtle soup.” Funny, because that’s exactly what I was thinking.


In one of the most block-headed reboots to come out of Hollywood’s trendy Reboot-a-Thon, the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles further perpetuates the principle of diminishing returns when it comes to re-imagining every design that was on your bed sheets when you were 7 years old. Recall how the original movies were silly fun and, yes, heaps full of stupid. Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles) vacuum all the color, visual gags and life from the franchise and supplant it with grit, haze and shadows.


No one is going to try and convince you the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was quality cinema. It was early ’90s counterculture (“Cowabunga, dudes”) wrapped up in a blank check to the pizza industry. It was kitsch and camp, rubber-faced costumes and pre-X-Games skateboard stunts. It was the kind of movie that pre-teen You loved, but if you were to watch it today be kinda embarrassed about. But the movie had pluck, and the plot and characters made sense. (I can’t believe I’m defending those movies.)


In the reboot, the plot is about as subtle as stomping through rain puddles in a minefield. It opens on Megan Fox as a journalist — the movie’s first big joke. Fox is April O’Neil, a reporter at a New York City television station who says during a live broadcast, in Times Square no less, “Hey guys, I’m here in New York City …” Because all the viewers thought she was in Sheboygan, and she cleared that right up. The journalism stuff is all unintentionally hilarious, including a clueless editor played by Whoopi Goldberg, April’s fact-free brand of reporting, and poor Will Arnett who keeps using the phrase “put it to bed” totally unaware that it’s an actual news term that means the opposite of what he’s talking about.


April, the daughter of a dead scientist who experimented on turtles, gets a hunch about masked vigilantes trolling the Foot Clan, the city’s pesky paramilitary gang that operates in the shadows. She follows her make-believe leads until she finds the actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, hulking human-turtle hybrids with large prehistoric shells and color-coordinated masks. There is sword-swinging Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), the leader; Raphael, the rebellious outcast; Michelangelo, the jokester and pizza fiend; and Donatello, the IT turtle who wears nerd glasses and a large headset array on his face.


The turtles are designed beefier and sturdier than the earlier movies. They’re given lots of sewer-scavenged accessories — a bamboo chestplate, recycled sunglasses, do-rags, shell necklaces and, because whatever, a rocket skateboard — that allow them a grittier fashion sense, albeit a homeless one. The four reptiles are also entirely CGI, giving them a creepy animated vibe. Making matters worse, none of the voice acting is convincing, or even memorable. They may be teens, but the turtles are voiced by gravel-voiced middle-aged men whose mothers couldn't pick their voices out in a vocal lineup.


Anyway, April and the turtles — and their rat leader, Splinter — team up to disassemble the Foot Clan and it’s shadowy leader, who you will never in a million years guess. (It’s William Fichtner and that was sarcasm.) Fichtner plays Eric Sacks, the Foot’s financier who only speaks in exposition-filled diatribes. He hatches a plot to gas all of Manhattan so he can sell everyone a poison antidote. Sacks, a name that is funnier the more I read it, is willing to kill a whole bunch of people so he can be “stupidly rich,” but he lives in a Bruce Wayne-sized mansion with helicopter pad, owns numerous multinational corporations and has the mayor on speed dial — his priorities are a little screwy.


Being that this is a Michael Bay movie, at some point a Transformer had to show up. This Transformer's name is Shredder. He’s a human ninja wrapped in a metal knife-suit that could easily be mistaken for one of Hasbro’s transforming robots. And like Bay’s Transformers, Shredder doesn't really have a form or shape, but rather metal tips and wings and appendages. Imagine taking a human shape and welding a junkyard to it … Shredder looks like that.


The film’s mush of gunfights and ninjutsu is appropriately idiotic — the only thing it inherited from the original series — and takes place in the turtle’s subterranean sewer plaza, high atop a skyscraper and skidding down the world’s longest mountain snow slide. There are hints of zaniness, though much of it feels like a rehash of the Transformers movies, now with more reptiles. Ninja Turtles might also have the worst photography of the year: much of the movie is foggy and dark, and the 3D doesn't brighten the mud. It also doesn't help that every camera gimmick is used, from shaky cam and its stepchild spinney cam to lens flares and haze filters. It’s as if Liebesman (let me repeat his credential here: Battle Los Angeles!!!) didn't want us to watch his movie at all, which is actually my recommendation.


Lastly, let me talk about Megan Fox. Critics sometimes joke about bad performances, and we’re prone to hyperbole, but I feel confident about this next sentence: acting doesn't get much worse than it does right here with Megan Fox. At one point she’s out-performed by a pizza box, and then tube of ooze, and then four CGI turtles who live in a tube made to funnel human excrement out of a city. We've know Fox was an awful actress for some time, but this confirms that she’s also a glutton for punishment. She spends much of the movie being thrown from one dangerous stunt to another, but the film always has time to admire her ass. “You’re a complicated chick,” Arnett’s character says as he drills holes through her jeans with his eyes. Fox had an epic falling-out with Bay during the Transformers movies, and supposedly she made nice to be cast here. If this is what happens when you apologize to Michael Bay, then he may never hear “I’m sorry” ever again.


So, who’s ready for that soup?


Snowpiercer - Movie Review by Michael Clawson


Starring Chris Evans, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer

Directed by Joon-ho Bong


From The Weinstein Company

Rated R

126 minutes


All aboard! Snowpiercer victoriously steams through summer


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume


Dust the peanut shells off your shirt, gather your stuff and start heading for the car: With outs still left to play, Joon-ho Bong’s succulent sci-fi masterpiece Snowpiercer just hit a walk-off home run to end the summer.


I’m not one to romanticize the summer’s popcorny action blockbusters. It’s a phenomenon that has grown to a worrisome size and brand of exclusivity — entrance is only granted by way of $200 million or more, and its only members are superheroes and transforming robots. But every now and again a movie like Snowpiercer comes along in the heat of the summer to obliterate our movie expectations.


This is a wholly unique and fascinating movie, one that further proves the most daring and groundbreaking movies have been from the science fiction genre, which is rich with ideas and spectacular invention. The movie takes place aboard a massive train that is plowing around the frozen globe, the result of a botched cloud-seeding experiment 17 years ago to reverse global warming. The outside world, extinct of all life, is wintery white and equally frigid, yet on the train there is heat, food, shelter and safety, but to varying degrees of concentration.


The humanity that survived the winter apocalypse have been assigned social classes aboard the train, which is so long that engine and caboose are presumably separated by area codes. Wealthy one-percenters ride near the front in lavish comfort, while the poor and undesirable ride in the rear, a gulag of cold steel and unbearable conditions. This is where we meet Curtis (Chris Evans), who has grown weary of the Marxist dystopia the rear of the train has provided him. It’s cramped, there are mandatory public countings, brutal beatings, children are kidnapped, and the food, protein bricks made of what looks like black cherry Jell-O, isn’t quite Soylent Green, but it’s close.


Curtis and the other supporters of wise village elder Gilliam (John Hurt) stage a massive revolt that requires them to time the opening and closing of train doors with the brute force of a hastily constructed battering ram made of metal drums. Once they’re through the first couple cars, they start picking up momentum as they race from their third-world prison up through the social classes.


The film has some marvelous performances, including a showstopper by Tilda Swinton as a kooky government leader, but let’s make no mistake about this: the star here is the train, which is so expertly designed and utilized within the plot that it’s a character unto itself. First, the look and feel of the train is just perfect. It’s wide enough to contain action and storytelling without feeling cramped, but tight enough to create a sense of claustrophobia when it’s needed. And at some point these train cars existed on a real set somewhere, because when the camera looks through open doors you can see distant cars undulating in the distant. It’s a hypnotic special effect. Bong also does a clever trick: he doesn’t show us any cars that Curtis hasn't yet visited. This allows us to explore the train as Curtis does, from the industrial refinery cars through to the greenhouse and aquarium cars and later in cars devoted to steam saunas and dance clubs. Watch how even the color temperature changes from the blues and greys of the rear of the train to the warm and organic browns and yellows of the paneled sleeping cars.


The train’s prominent role in the film also gives it some stand-out performances, including when two men have to wait for a sharp curve for the train to bend enough so they can see each other for a firefight. In another scene, a massive brawl is halted so the murderous combatants can count down to an eventual “Happy New Year!” They know it’s a new year because the train, which takes a full year to circumnavigate the globe, crosses a specific bridge. After some cheering and a little song they all return to killing.


Most importantly, though, the train has relevance within the plot. Bong and fellow screenwriter Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) have created a substantive mythology from the speeding locomotive’s existence. Curtis’ journey from one end to the other isn’t just a road movie, it’s metaphor, allegory, spiritual parable … it’s whatever you want it to be: young and old, life and death, rich and poor, head and tail. Interpretations of the train’s implications are going to be like the locomotive’s meandering journey around the world — all over the map.


This isn’t quite high art, though it’s awful close and it does have its fair share of brawls, shootouts, swordfights, riots, plenty of violence and scenes that reveal the true, and terrifying, nature of the train and its inhabitants. John Hurt’s character wears an umbrella handle where his hand once was; that makes for a doozer of a story late in the movie. There’s a sequence in a school car that is nuttier than it has any right to be, yet it also provides some important exposition about the train’s engine and the prophet-like man who supposedly keeps it running. In yet another scene, immediately after an action bonanza, the main characters stop at a sushi restaurant and have a bite to eat. The film has it’s own pace and tempo, but the movements work surprisingly well.


Go see this movie. You might have missed Transformers 4 last week; keep missing it and instead put your money into a movie that you haven’t yet seen, or will likely see again.


Violette - Movie Review by Eric Forthun


Starring Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Hiegel, and Jacques Bonnaffé

Directed by Martin Provost


Rated NR

Run Time: 138 minutes

Genre: Drama/Biography


Opens June 27th


By Eric Forthun of Cinematic Shadows


Violette, a biopic about the French feminist writer Violette Leduc, opens with the title character discussing beauty’s importance to women and her fundamental disagreement with that notion. It’s an effective introduction to a forward-thinking woman in a society that devalues women and their opinions. The film is divided into six distinct parts, each defined by the characters that interact and matter to the protagonist; most biopics would focus on big events, but Martin Provost’s film emphasizes the emotions surrounding the central figure and her increasing loneliness. Her solitude allows her to write honestly and without a filter, a rarity in that day, and her topics lead into compelling arguments surrounding female rights’ issues in today’s world. Abortion and bastardizing children are two heavy concepts embraced as important to understanding feminism and its emergence during that time, illustrating the necessity of this story both in its time frame and the socially evolved, modern world.


Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos) is introduced through her tumultuous relationships, most immediately with her passionless lover. He leaves her to head to Germany to support the war effort as Violette finds her world growing more difficult to sustain. She needs to work but doesn’t know what occupation to take; her partner was a writer who never seemed to write about her, so she uses that creative fuel to try writing herself. When she finishes her book, she tracks down a local feminist writer, Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), to present her work. Simone likes the book because of its honesty and recognizes that Violette has the potential to write about things never mentioned before in French culture. They aim to work together on helping each others’ works and providing the country with a new wave of female writing that handles sexuality and love from an innovative perspective.


The film explores Violette’s lesbian affairs and her desire to find love despite her propensity to fall in love quickly and passionately. The first twenty minutes of the narrative are driven by loud outbursts from characters and rooted heavily in characters that we are not familiar with; it sets up a story that feels more empty than it becomes. There’s a grating nature to the manner in which Provost presents those moments, as if the film can only drive forward with characters exchanging abrasive moments of emotional realization. But the majority of the film’s 138 minutes revolves around the quiet, methodical nature of its protagonist and her colleagues. There’s an understated nature to almost every scene after those numbing opening moments, a sign that the characters become properly defined and the performances work in accordance with each other.


Devos is marvelous in the title role, allowing Leduc to transform into an emotionally sheltered woman that hopes to find truths about herself within her works. The film is a character study above all else, not particularly caring about Leduc’s achievements until the final moments; instead, the narrative is more concerned with the emotional devastation and creative frustration Violette faces. The supporting performances are strong and similarly visceral, with Kiberlain in particular using the subtleties of the script to accentuate the romance underlying every action. Provost and his cinematographer use lush, long takes to let the actions speak for themselves, and they provide mostly naturalistic scenes dependent on outside light and nature. Violette is deliberately quiet and understated throughout, a strikingly beautiful feature that demonstrates how the most impassioned, important creativity can come from pain.

The Rover - Movie Review by Eric Forthun

The RoverThe Rover  

Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Gillian Jones, and David Field

Directed by David Michôd


Rated R

Run Time: 102 minutes

Genre: Crime Drama


Opens June 20th


By Eric Forthun of Cinematic Shadows


The Rover is cold and distant, an unforgiving venture into the heart of economic collapse and personal despair. Writing about the film is one of the more difficult reviews I’ve taken because this opening paragraph has been writing multiple times, each with different takes on the material. There are narrative faults that I find unforgiving and a general set-up that lacks payoff, but the film remains one of the more thematically involving, dense works to reach cinema in quite some time. I found the film empty and calculated and myself wanting more of an emotional connection with the extraordinarily introverted protagonists. But the film’s final half hour does something remarkable: it allows the audience to see everything the film has to offer emotionally while at the same time numbing the audience with senseless violence and pitiless human interaction. It’s as if the filmmakers aimed to desensitize the audience throughout the entirety of the picture and then provide them with a punch to the gut. Instead, they graze the side and give us a bruise.


Set ten years after a global economic collapse, the story centers on the deserted Australian outback where people fight for survival and kill remorselessly. Eric (Guy Pearce) is seen in the film’s opening moments as a silent, ruthless man hunting down his stolen car. Three men hop in while he’s sitting inside a nearby abandoned bar and he insists on getting his car back. Obviously there’s something important in there because he can find another functioning car…so what makes this one so important? That’s the central motivation for Eric throughout the film, with the reveal being teased until its explanation in the final scene. Eric’s journey leads him to discovering a brother of one of those thieves, a young man named Rey (Robert Pattinson) who was left for dead amidst a military battle. He has a gunshot wound to his stomach, and when Eric discovers him he knows that Rey needs help. He also knows that Rey can lead him to his brother and therefore his car.


When dissecting the plot like that, it makes the film seem trivial and simple. At times, it certainly is. This isn’t a narratively complex work when we get past the central premise of economic despair; there are hints at how it could have happened, with everyone insisting on using American currency over anything else, but there’s never a sense of what happened. There are talks of Eric being a farmer while Rey used to live on a farm when he was a kid and everything was overgrown and lost. This world hates them and gives them nothing in return. I find those elements of the film the most affecting and engaging, yet director David Michôd seems to spend more time focusing on the brutality of the world and its uncompromising violence. The film never shies away from gory details, showing a man’s slit throat after a battle and the aftermath of a child being shot dead, amongst others. One horrifying scene shows the men driving by electrical posts that have men tied to them as if they were being crucified. There’s a callousness to the protagonists and their surroundings.


Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson sell that perfectly, for they are the reason you will get something out of The Rover. Pattinson fills Rey with a tenderness and an endless string of regret and guilt; subtlety exudes from his every action. It’s a remarkably great performance from an actor I have always found grating and insincere. He mines this work for gold. Pearce allows Eric to be a generally unlikable and stubborn man, but the film asks for the audience’s forgiveness on his part in the film’s final moments. He’s always been an outstanding actor and his work here is exemplary. The film uses these performances to explore complex themes, from military presence to economic ruin to violent depravity to using art as a means of connecting to an older, simpler time. But as I reach for understanding the film’s purpose, I cannot get past the hokey, contrived reveal at the conclusion and the meandering nature of the narrative. The Rover is a lofty, beautifully desolate film, but it’s also an emotionless, unreachable enigma.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 - Movie Review by Eric Forthunn


How to Train Your Dragon 2


Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, America Ferrera, and Kristen Wiig

Directed by Dean DeBlois


Rated PG

Run Time: 102 minutes

Genre: Animation/Action-Adventure


Opens June 13th


By Eric Forthun of Cinematic Shadows



How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an improvement on its predecessor, a sequel that focuses on advancing character and plot rather than rehashing ideas from the previous film. The first film in the series established a relationship growing between Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a timid Viking going against the norm, and Toothless, a dragon that Hiccup wounds during a battle between the humans and winged beasts. The Vikings misunderstood the dragons only to learn that they are protective, caring creatures that were threatened by man’s inability to show them compassion. Humans were cast in a generally unforgiving light until the whole island of Berk accepted the dragons and bonded peacefully with them. Now, five years later, the two species are thriving together and living amicably. The opening scene reaffirms that by showing a packed house watching dragon races where riders guide the animals to different colored sheep worth points. Things are running smoothly without a hitch.


Now that they can coexist peacefully, Hiccup and his friends use their dragons to explore the rest of the world around them and chart out the lands. They discover a secret ice cave that houses hundreds of dragons and is overseen by the famous Dragon Rider, a force that promises to help maintain the peace that’s been newly established. A force like Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), however, poses a threat since he hopes to gather an army of dragons to take control of the lands. He enlists the help of dragon trappers, led by Eret (Kit Harington), who do not understand the kindess of dragons like the people of Berk. They are more open to learning their ways, though, and aim to work with Stoick (Gerard Butler) and his men to purge the world of this malevolent force. Other returning faces include armor-making Gobber (Craig Ferguson) and competing love interests for Ruffnut in Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).


There’s a lot happening in How to Train Your Dragon 2, but the film moves forward without losing sight of necessary dramatic action. Every action and motivation is established and grounded within the film’s narrative, allowing for the traditionally cutesy elements in animation to exist more quietly and effectively. The film’s weighty and lofty in its ambition: at its heart is the desire to communicate the importance of animal rights and the necessity to better understand every animal that exists on the Earth. The aimless killing and subjugation of animals (and to an extent, individuals) that we do not understand is a mandatory message even in today’s world with extinction facing many species. But most importantly, the film furthers the relationship between man and animal with Hiccup and Toothless, turning into something akin to a man and his famed best friend, a dog. Most of the dragons have the kindhearted, free-wheeling spirit of dogs that makes them perfect companions, and the emotion within this relationship is impressively unique.


The film is the most stunning animated film ever made, a visual wonder that capitalizes on 3D perfectly and understands how the scope of a scene can be visually represented. That’s a huge testament to legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins acting as a visual consultant on the film, providing the necessary mix of background and foreground action within stunningly captured scenes. The action has meaning and is genuinely exciting because of the way it is captured; the 3D pops off the screen in the flying sequences and allows for the dragons and humans to coexist peacefully in the viewer’s eyes. There’s a beauty to the film’s enhancement of the narrative through its visual effects. While the developments in the film may not be perfect, like a love interest for Ruffnut that makes for an aggressive competition for her attention, the address of love, loss, and loyalty is a deliberately heavy topic that writer-director Dean DeBlois handles with intimacy and care. This is a lovingly crafted sequel that advances characters and narrative with ease and integrity.

Cold in July - Movie Review by Michael Clawson

Cold in July Cold in July


Starring Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw and Nick Damici

Directed by Jim Mickle


From IFC Films

Rated R

109 minutes


Celebrate July early with crime stunner


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume


Modern crime movies don’t get much pulpier than Jim Mickle’s wickedly sinister Cold in July.


This rapturous and sweaty thriller, about a man’s journey into his own fear and obsession, crept up on me in an ambush of filmmaking and storytelling. It’s an electric film, one of my favorites of the summer.


It opens on big boxy cars, plastic coffeemakers, acid-washed jeans, floral-printed couches and rotary phones. “East Texas, 1989,” the screen says, and it feels it. Little time is wasted: Richard (Michael C. Hall) is asleep in bed when he hears a noise in the living room. He loads a revolver and creeps out in his pajamas. An intruder stands in the living room. A shot rings out. The intruder drops.


The police arrive and determine the killing was in self defense, but that doesn’t settle well with Russel (Sam Shepard), the intruder’s madman of a father, who was just released from prison. Soon, Richard and his wife and son are being terrorized by Russel — telephone hang-ups, bullets sprinkled in their house, break-ins. The police can’t do anything because there is little proof. An overnight stakeout reveals a terrible surprise, but it doesn’t end Russel’s campaign of terror.


Now, at this point I thought I knew what Cold in July was all about. But this is no Cape Fear, a point that is made abundantly clear after a huge twist remaps the landscape of Mickle’s crime universe. The twist is so delicious that I won’t be spoiling it here, but know that it is one of two major plot twists the film will whip you through.


Drenched in delicate nuance and so tightly woven I thought it would pop, Cold in July is based on a book by Joe Lansdale, and adapted to the screen by Mickle and Nick Damici, who plays a police officer. The script might be the genetic offspring — or from within the same psychosphere — of HBO’s True Detective and a movie like Winter’s Bone, or even David Gordon Green’s Undertow. It’s about men of low moral character, and how their actions bleed into the rest of the world.


The movie asks its audience to bite into some implausible plot developments that are almost too big to swallow, but the many payoffs more than make up for it. One payoff late in the movie has Richard, the suburban picture framer, shooting up at a man from the floor. Blood sprays up coating a lightbulb and bathing the scene in a deep crimson. Rarely is a man’s descent into violence more explicitly shown then here in this scene, as the blood literally changes the color of the world.


Blood is a frequent motif. Early in the film, at a point I knew Cold in July was something very special, Richard and his wife clear out the bloody couch from their run-in with the intruder. After moving the heavy load outside, they drop to the floor in exhaustion and look up at the blood splatter on their once-clean wall. The act of killing a man has drained them, and left them a twisted new piece of artwork.


Hall, so often wasted on Dexter’s repetitive plotlines and predictable meanderings, is given more to chew on here as the curious husband and father. Against his better judgment, Richard is propelled forward into the darkness; Hall plays it believably and simply. Shepard is appropriately vile, even as his character grows more sympathetic as secrets are revealed. Don Johnson, so great now in his later years, turns up as a private detective that steals every scene he’s in.


This is a legitimate thriller with a sophisticated presentation and powerful characters. The summer’s tend to produce a lot of big-budget dreck; Cold in July is not part of that heap.


A Million Ways to Die in the West - Movie Review by Michael Clawson


A Million Ways to Die in the West


Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi and Liam Neeson

Directed by Seth MacFarlane


From Universal Pictures

Rated R

116 minutes


Laughs, deaths about equal in MacFarlane western


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume


Filling in the long-dormant void of absurdist cowboy humor left by Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, Seth MacFarlane’s equally batty A Million Ways to Die in the West goes far at convincing us Saddles’ unchallenged dominance might be ready for a toppling. Just not quite far enough with this lesser, though still amusingly irreverent, western.


If anything, MacFarlane — the star, writer and director — restrains himself. If you recall, Blazing Saddles ended when the cowboys spilled out of the picture and into adjacent movies. A Million Ways to Die in the West seems poised for a similar feat, but then it reins back its galloping absurdity even as Neil Patrick Harris, mid-duel, fills a ten-gallon hat with 12 gallons of you’d-rather-not-know.


The Family Guy and Ted creator is a curious actor. He enters the Old west scenery as an oddity: suspenders, vest, impeccably smooth plastic-like skin, an anime-like tuft of hair above his forehead. He looks like he’s headed to an audition for Pinocchio, not The Searchers. And then that voice — it booms like he’s about to advertise for American-made pickup trucks.


MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheepherder with some confidence issues. In the opening moments he loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) because he’s perceived as weak and not manly enough for the West. This is the mantra of the movie: the Old West is so dangerous that literally anything can kill you. And if it doesn’t kill you — perhaps just wounds or maims — then the doctor will finish you off with his bizarre frontier treatments. We meet the doctor later when he lets a bluejay peck at an open wound on Albert’s face.


Albert isn’t a coward. He just values life, which is why he doesn’t take any risks, although he does have a few too many drinks in the saloon and then tries to ride home — “Don’t drink and horse,” his friends warn him. Later, Albert goes to the town fair, where an escaped bull skewers a man like a hot dog over a roasting fire. “People die at the fair,” he confirms to himself after a photographer’s flash lamp explodes, igniting the photographer and his two subjects. Two nearby cowpunchers “put out” the fire by shooting the burning victims. Yeah, people die at the fair.


The beautiful part of this deadly motif is that it allows MacFarlane to dredge up every western cliché, if only to lampoon it to the bar in his cynical tone and style. Gunfights, whorehouses, snakebites, horses, saloons, sheriffs, preachers, American Indians … if it’s been in a western then it’s desecrated here with MacFarlane’s vitriolic wit. Some of the jokes crack like thunder, including one where a man pulls out a dollar bill and the gathered townspeople bow their heads out of respect to a denomination they have not been privileged to see in the flesh. “Take your hat off, boy, that’s a dollar bill,” a father yells at his son.


Other jokes land with thuds, including a scene with a pot-laced cookie, Islamic death chants, a sheep with “retardation,” and an unfortunate line about women and the size of their butts in frontier fashion. White guys opening jokes with “If I were a black guy I would …” rarely goes well. Racial humor comes up several times, including at the fair where Albert plays a game called Runaway Slaves, with century-old imagery that is still shocking today. The arcade game turns up in the post-credit sequence with some vindication, but it’s a risky joke that almost derails the West’s forward momentum.


The movie is all fun and games until Clinch (Liam Neeson) and his posse ride into town with the intention of killing and robbing before moving onto the next town. Little humor is written into this villain, which is such a shame considering that Neeson, with that classical cowboy face, seems like a sport for MacFarlane’s twisted sense of humor. Charlize Theron plays Anna, Clinch’s wife and Albert’s new love interest. Theron’s Anna is written some jokes, but Clinch is not — he’s a completely serious character in an otherwise wacky movie. It’s very strange.


Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman play a deeply religious couple in the middle of a very chaste courtship, even though she plays a rather accomplished prostitute who has sex with “10 men … on a slow day” but won’t go all the way with her man because God forbids it. Silverman is appropriately foul mouthed, and Ribisi feigns timid embarrassment — they are hilarious performances. Neil Patrick Harris plays a man who works in the town’s Mustachery; he has a largely perfect song and dance number about facial hair. The film has many fart jokes, including four in the first 20 minutes, but Harris will out-gross everything late in the movie with his painful hat maneuver. Keep your eyes open for many cameos, including Ryan Reynolds, Ewan McGregor, Gilbert Gottfried, Bill Maher, Wes Studi and Christopher Lloyd pulling a John-Hurt-in-Spaceballs appearance.


As rewarding as this western-themed comedy is, A Million Ways to Die in the West could have gotten away with so much more. The rambunctious farce, a horse hair shy of an outright spoof, should have went bonkers, yet came up a day late, but not — hats off — a dollar short.

Maleficent - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie


Director: Robert Stromberg

 Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, and Sam Riley


From: Walt Disney Pictures

 Rated PG

97 Minutes


By: Monte Yazzie (


The 1959 Disney animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” is given a makeover with a new leading lady, the villainous Maleficent. The elements from the original film are still well intact but Director Robert Stromberg, a former production designer, guides his story on the sturdy shoulders of Angelina Jolie and the striking imagery of her character. While the film is filled with production allusions to the original, the special effects become more distracting than accommodating and the narrative has trouble finding the proper direction for such a captivating character.


Maleficent begins the story as a young girl who lives, and flies above, an enchanted land. She encounters a human boy named Stefan who tries to steal a valuable stone from the forbidden territory, though Maleficent shows charity towards him. A friendship develops between them and, after a movement in time, romance blossoms. However, Stefan has aspirations of making his own life in the human world where Maleficent isn’t accepted. More time passes and Stefan has moved into a position helping the king, who desires nothing more than taking Maleficent’s home for his own. Stefan, realizing opportunity, betrays Maleficent by cutting her wings off. Maleficent turns to darkness, hiding for some time until she hears word that the new king, Stefan, has had a child named Aurora.


Angelina Jolie makes an impressive villain. Her already beautiful features are modified with a stunning crown of horns and prominently framed wings, the attractive design makes some of the more mundane moments of the film watchable. The style incorporated into the wardrobe of the character is also finely rendered, while her mischievous grin and darkly enchanting voice only add to the commanding presence of her character. However, it’s during the more quiet moments between Fanning’s Aurora when Jolie’s character becomes more than just a striking image. The rest of the cast is merely playing catch-up with Jolie who commands nearly every scene.


The story is familiar though it begins with interesting promise. Introducing Maleficent as a compassionate and caring young fairy who is the protector of the moors, an overly computer generated world with all manner of glowing and murky creatures, and then immediately follow it with a swift love story that ends in betrayal and heartbreak gives the title character a fitting backstory. Maleficent survives the deception, albeit with retaliation directed at the offspring of her deceiver, and her coldness soon changes into something different over the course of Princess Aurora’s life. Unfortunately, once the familiar elements from the original story are presented, the film stumbles into a waiting game of expected developments. While Maleficent watches the vessel of her curse grow into a kind hearted young woman the retelling of the story makes a slight turn with elements that illustrate the significance of forgiveness, maternal love, and feminine confidence. Diversion returns to accustomed strides as the inevitable confrontation between Maleficent and the king takes priority in an action display of tedious visuals.


While “Maleficent” may not deviate from the original tale or delve deeper into the malevolence insinuated in her name, it does offer a new representation of a character that was otherwise unredeemable. Jolie is excellent in the lead, which makes it all the more frustrating that the script didn’t offer more to work with. Still, “Maleficent” even with its faults will undoubtedly find admiration from the Disney fans.


Monte’s Rating

2.50 out of 5.00

Muppets Most Wanted - Movie Review

muppetsMuppets Most Wanted

Directed by James Bobin

Featuring the voices of Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta and Matt Vogel

From Walt Disney Pictures

Rated PG

112 minutes




Brings your smiles to new Muppet movie

by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume

The Muppets give me great hope for humanity. Their very existence is cause for celebration; their longevity and persistence an added triumph. Certainly, if our civilization can create Muppets, then there is good in the world, and that goodness runs deep.

This might soundly grossly overstated, to give such power to little felt hand puppets, but look at what those puppets represent, look at the spirit in which they were created, consider the reason they have thrived for this long — they are, from top to bottom, inside and out, stitch by stitch, happiness.

That happiness explodes from the screen in Muppets Most Wanted, a silly and rewarding follow-up to the great Muppet return in 2011 with the charming, plainly titled The Muppets. That movie’s last scene is this movie’s first: as soon as the Hollywood lights flicker off, the Muppets are once again hunting for an audience to entertain. Out of nowhere Dominic Badguy, pronounced like “badgey,” turns up and whispers the magic words — “world tour.” And off the Muppets go.

The movie is infused with all varieties of comedy bits and musical numbers. The first song is fantastically weird and unabashedly meta as the Muppets sing about how sequels are never as good as the original films, a statement they mostly render false. In one of the verses, they even hint at how Most Wanted isn’t really a sequel because, after all, this is actually the eighth film since 1979. One of the recurring bits involves Gonzo pleading to do a stunt called Indoor Running of the Bulls. It goes off in typical Muppet style, about as well as one of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s experiments, one of which is a bomb-attracting vest. Of course, Beaker is wearing it.

As the world tour travels through Europe — the German stop includes the towns of Vomitdorf and Poopenbürgen — it’s revealed that Badguy (comedian Ricky Gervais, as wooden as the Swedish Chef’s cutting board) is actually a master thief following a series of clues that will reveal a way to steal the British crown jewels. He enlists fellow thief Constantine, who perfectly resembles Kermit except for a mole on his froggy lip. After a stealthy switch, Constantine infiltrates the Muppets while Kermit is sent to a Russian gulag in Siberia — or, as the prison guards call it, a state-funded hotel.

In the gulag, Kermit meets a Russian guard (Tin Fey) who says his name like she’s training for some kind of over-pronunciation contest — key-herr-meat, she says struggling. Other prisoners are played by Ray Liotta, Jemaine Clement and Danny Trejo, who other characters simply call “Danny Trejo.” (What a sport: Trejo plays Thug #1 and Inmate #2 in more movie than can be counted and here he does it again as a gag on his career.) In prison, of course Kermit puts together a spirited gulag variety show with musical numbers, sets, props and a prison break that somehow escapes Fey’s Kermit-smitten guard — “I have Netflix and I see every prison-break movie ever,” she says earlier.

Back on the Muppets tour, Constantine is botching up the Muppets careful dynamic by saying yes to every terrible sketch, including Gonzo’s Indoor Running of the Bulls, Miss Piggy’s Celine Dion covers and Animal’s “DRUM SOLO! DRUM SOLO!” Kermit, it seems, is the glue that holds the troupe together. There are many celebrity cameos, including Lady Gaga, Salma Hayek and, inexplicably, Christoph Waltz. None of them are as invigorating as the actual Muppets, most of whom get choice scenes, including Beaker and Honeydew, Animal and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Pepe the Prawn, Rowlf the Dog and Fozzie, who is threatened with a fantastic line — “You’ve just wocka’d your last wocka.” Another great line that requires no context: “He’s too stupid to be stupid so he must be a genius.”

Two unlikely stars are Modern Family’s Ty Burrell playing a French INTERPOL detective and Sam the Eagle playing his American counterpart. In their first scene together they start comparing badges, a game of one-up that ends with an endearing payoff. Later, in a scene that simultaneously laughs at the French and ‘Murica, Burrell sips from the tiniest of coffee cups while Sam chugs on what must be a 10-gallon cup of joe.

This is not a perfect Muppet movie, if only because too much emphasis is placed on human characters, who frequently can’t keep up with Jim Henson’s adorable Muppets. It does have lots of jokes, and many of them are clobbered out of the park with spectacular send-offs. The movie has a Pixar feel with it’s humor: it caters to adults and children, and frequently finds middle ground as well. Take your family, they’ll howl through it.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows? Because they make Muppets smile. And smiles are the currency this world should trade in.


Movie Review for The Wind Rises

  The Wind RisesThe Wind Rises


Featuring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short and Stanley Tucci

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki


From Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Studios

Rated PG-13

126 minutes


Riding with the Wind


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume


If there was ever an animated film that was ready to burst out of its cells to inhabit our live-action world, as if by osmosis, then here it is: The Wind Rises, the supposed last film — “Eh, nevermind” — of Japanese cultural heavyweight Hayao Miyazaki.


Miyazaki is the creator of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro and many other films from Studio Ghibli, the Japanese Pixar. He’s 73 and the world recoiled when he said he was retiring, and then exhaled rapidly when he said retirement wasn’t really for him. Of course not. Imagination doesn’t store well; it needs to be released into the world.


In past films the Japanese director used whimsy and fantasy to construct his elaborate visions, but The Wind Rises has a streak of realism that runs through it that may stir boredom in younger viewers, though their eyes will often grow wide and still at some of the magnificent animation. The film opens on Jirô, a serious young boy who is lost in his own head. We meet him first in his dream, where fantastical airplanes, hulking zeppelins and squid-like missiles fill the sky in a symphony of aerodynamic movement. Jirô awakes and decides right then he wants to build airplanes.


Many years later, an older Jirô finds himself working for Mitsubishi, where he and a team of engineers are trying to create the next great Japanese fighter plane. The fruits of their labor will eventually go on to wreak havok throughout the Pacific — including at Pearl Harbor, where many Americans died — but The Wind Rises is uninterested in war because Jirô is uninterested in war. He only wants to create something that will soar brilliantly and effortlessly through the sky.


On his journey are a competitive friend, various engineering partners, an Italian inventor he shares dreams with, a bespectacled little man with eyes no bigger than dimes, and Nahoko, a woman whose love and health are somehow inversely proportionate within the plot. Nahoko and Jirô, the film’s tragic core, have shared a traumatic event together, the Kantō earthquake of 1923. The sequence is animated with terrifying realism: waves of earth rise and fall, buildings crumble into heaps, fires spread from one wood-and-paper city to another and, in a haunting visual, bits of glowing embers fill the skies where Jirô’s dream-planes once zoomed.


Aside from several dream sequences and the earthquake scenes, The Wind Rises mostly dotes on Jirô’s quest to aviation greatness. His first assignment is a wing strut; his design reinvents the part. Later there’s new building materials, recessed riveting, bigger planes, faster engines and more majestic lines. He eventually designs a plane with inverted gull-shaped wings, and then the Japanese Zero, the fighter syonymous with the Japanese air force during World War II.


One of the more unique aspects of the film are the sound effects — almost all of them are created using mouth noises, from engines sputtering to life to dirigibles idling through the clouds to the low-rumble of a tectonic plates grinding together. I couldn’t help but smile thinking of sound technicians spitting raspberries into microphones, blowing into empty jugs or contorting their mouths as they give life to steam engines and twirling propellors. And since we’re on the topic of sounds, I highly encourage you to see the movie in Japanese with English subtitles if at all possible. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a fine job voicing Jirô, but Hideaki Anno’s voice is much richer, with a slightly muffled timbre — it’s worth hearing.


Mostly, though, The Wind Rises is simply gorgeous to behold. The imagery is just astounding in every way. The hand-drawn backgrounds, scenes filled with indivudually animated people, the bits of Japanese culture painted into the edges of frames, the panning shots of trains chugging forward and carts being pulled through busy markets … almost every frame of this movie is breathtaking. I was especially impressed by the small details: Jirô bowing to woman on the platform between traincars, oxen pulling a new plane prototype onto a runway, and a scene with Jirô’s new boss pointing at a hat stand and then a desk, “Hat goes here. Data goes here. Got it?”


The Wind Rises has two companion pieces. The first is Isao Takahata’s watershed anime Grave of the Fireflies, another film in which realistic horrors are visited upon delightful hand-drawn animation. Takahata and Miyazaki were colleagues at Studio Ghibli, and they both understood then that animation wasn’t confining their mature themes, it was liberating them. The other companion piece is Steven Spielberg’s vastly underrated Empire of the Sun, in which a young Christian Bale plays a resilient English lad whose eyes are drawn to the skies and to the Japanese Zeros that have conquered it. The character seemed unaware of “sides” in a war, as does Jirô, whose dreams are gauged by altimeter.


This is a stunningly beautiful movie, and deeply moving. It’s also a departure for Miyazaki, who had previously turned fantastical creatures and plots into modern fairy tales. This is more biopic, but it’s still overflowing with imagination and incredible imagery. It's a must-see.

Non-Stop Movie Review

non stopNon-Stop  

Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne, Moore, Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra


From Universal Picture and Studio Canal

Rated PG-13



Phone-heavy thriller has lots of turbulence


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume


I liked Non-Stop better when it was called Liam Neeson Texting.


And boy does he text a lot. In the terminal, at the gate, in his seat, in the bathroom, standing in the aisle while other people are trying to get by … he’s like a teenage girl, except that instead of spam-tweeting “follow me” messages to Justin Beiber he’s negotiating with the world’s most overworked terrorist.


In this dopey air-thriller, Neeson plays Bill Marks, a federal air marshall who’s fallen on hard times and off the wagon. But ask yourself: wouldn’t you need a steady stream of scotch, and smokes in the airplane bathroom (violation!), to get you through a job that requires you to ride airplanes for a living?


Bill gets on a plane headed over the Pacific and almost immediately starts getting threatening texts, including this one: “A passenger will die every 20 minutes until I get what I want.” What he wants is $150 million transferred into a bank account set up in Bill’s name, which does not please Bill or the emergency responders on the ground who actually think Bill’s dumb enough to set up a criminal enterprise in his own name. Bill’s not that stupid, although the other people on this plane certainly are.


There’s a hot-headed New York cop, a British flight attendant, Lupita Nyong’o in her first post-12 Years a Slave role, a computer programmer who looks like a discount Jamie Foxx, and a spazzy airplane woman (Julianne Moore) because every flight needs at least one, usually in the seat right next to you. These people are the worst. They step on Bill’s toes, they act all pouty and wounded when he makes them sit down, and they seem to ignore evidence right in front of them so they can jump to all the wrong conclusions. At one point, the passengers are watching CNN footage that suggests Bill is the terrorist of the hijacked flight and all they can do is … wait for it … continue to watch TV on their hijacked plane. Nevermind that they can watch it happen live! And when they do finally rise up to stop Bill, it’s at the exact moment he needs the most help to apprehend the real terrorist. And later in the movie, Bill offers everyone free air travel, because that’s much better than dying in a hijacking. You’ve heard of Snakes on a Plane; let me present you Flakes on a Plane.


Poor Neeson, he’s doing too many of these thrillers. He’s great in almost everything, even in mediocre dreck like this. But really, how many times can you do Taken? This movie makes him do some idiotic stuff, like test the purity of cocaine by breaking out a chemistry set and examining the powder’s atomic structure. No, I’m kidding — he pokes a knife in the bag, dabs at some coke and rubs in on his tongue because that worked in every movie from the ’80s. He also has the most erotic bathroom fight that has ever been attempted at 30,000 feet. Neeson also has an awful yawn. He’s just sitting there and — boom! — his head tilts back, his eyes squint and his mouth opens and seems to suck in the entire Eastern seaboard. Why would director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) allow such an ugly moment from his star? The camera even zooms in a little like it’s trying to get a close-up of his tonsils.


Another ugly moment involves a Muslim doctor on the plane. When it’s revealed there might be a hijacker on board, everyone looks at this air traveler wearing a traditional headcovering and beard. Because, LOL, apparently racism is funny. Now, maybe this was a cultural critique of stereotypes and air travel. But I don’t think Non-Stop is that smart, a point that’s validated later again and again as the Muslim character is made the butt of several jokes, including one after a “random” carry-on search. “What?! You didn’t find anything in his bag?” one of the other passengers screeches.


There is a market for these types of frustratingly dumb thrillers, so it’s unlikely I’ll dissuade anyone from seeing it. If you’ve seen any of the Taken movies, then you’ll likely find Non-Stop acceptable, if only because Neeson has perfected this character. Although, judging by that yawn, I would say he might be getting a little bored with it.

In Secret - Movie Review

by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume In SecretIn Secret

Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Jessica Lange, Tom Felton and Oscar Isaac

Directed by Charlie Stratton

From Roadside Attractions

Rated R

101 minutes


In Secret sent me careening backward through time to the tragic loser-hero Walter Neff, the star of Billy Wilder's intensely serious film noir Double Indemnity: "Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money — and a woman — and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty isn't it?"



Though it's far removed from James M. Cain's crime novel and the movie it spawned, In Secret pulses with their passionate energies. Where Double Indemnity was an insurance scam in 1940s Los Angeles, In Secret is a love affair in Victorian-era France. Its central figures suffer similar ailments: marriage has shrunk their worlds, and murder has imprisoned them in it..



In Secret opens in the 1850s with young Thérèse as her father abandons her with her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), who is not pleased with the addition to her sleepy farmhouse, where her only child has a rather serious lung ailment. Many years pass and the Madame marries Thérèse, now played by Elizabeth Olsen, to her cousin, the runtish, sickly Camille (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies), who seems unable to discern the features of a woman from those of a travel trunk. Poor kid, he just seems constantly aloof.



The three move to Paris to take work: the women in a linen shop they own and Camille in some kind of financial institution, where papers are shuffled from desk to desk with little else getting done. At work, Camille runs into a childhood friend, Laurent (Oscar Isaac), who is everything Camille is not, including handsome and unabashedly sexual. When Laurent visits the home on Thursday game night, Thérèse can only gasp and swoon. They begin a steamy affair that is difficult to keep hidden — in one episode Laurent hides under Thérèse's billowy skirt while the Madame skulks around her bedroom.



These affairs can never last, not without spilling over the edges of their own containment. Sure enough, Laurent hatches a plan that will forever destroy the balance of the house, their jobs and their love. Thérèse is mostly bullied into the scheme, aside from one moment of serious reflection that is interrupted by Camille, the boy who unknowingly sealed his fate with a missplaced joke.



The movie is the directorial debut for Charlie Stratton, who does a commendable job bringing the 1867 Émile Zola novel to the screen. The first and second acts are more solidly constructed than the third and final act, where the film staggers against the emotional weight that bears down on Thérèse. She has visions of dead bodies, she mopes around the house, sleeps in the store window and basically gives up on life. Much of the final act is spent dealing with Madame Raquin, who has had a stroke, her eyes trapped in a lifeless body.



The acting is superb all the way around. Isaac, fresh off Inside Llewyn Davis, is fantastic, as is Felton, who brings a boyish innocence to his tragic Camille. The movie really belongs to the women, though — Lange and Olsen are hypnotic in their tormented deliveries. Generations apart, the two actresses somehow occupy the same devastating groove within In Secret’s anguished turmoil. When they face off late in the film, Olsen lets defeat wash over her character’s face while Lange, frozen in place, lets her eyes fill with terror and hate.



I must also commend the cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister, who uses mostly natural light — or candle or fire light — to paint his images. Much of the film takes place in shadows, in sunless corridors and dimly lit parlors, where dominos are slapped on tables and lies are further manipulated onto unsuspecting witnesses. A scene early in the movie struck me as especially remarkable: Olsen sitting at a window, beams of sunlight shooting through in long horizontal bars and, back in the shadows, a bed with a sick boy stirring in the darkness. The movie holds the shot long enough for you to appreciate its composition.


If you’ll recall how Double Indemnity ended, then you’ll know some of the paths In Secret will be traveling. It’s not a pretty route. In fact, it’s terrifyingly dark and morose. But it’s an interesting period piece, one full of remarkable performances, finely detailed costumes, exquisite lighting and a finale that will suck the wind from your chest.

3 Days to Kill - Movie Review

by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume 3 Days to Kill

3 days to killStarring Kevin Costner, Connie Nielsen, Hailee Steinfeld and Amber Heard

Directed by McG

From Relativity Media and EuropaCorp

Rated PG-13

113 minutes



3 Days to Kill might be 2014’s first guilty pleasure. It begins as an impossibly mundane action thriller, but somewhere along the way it blossoms into a film with an absurd amount of charm and quirky likability.


The turn happens about 15 minutes in: CIA super-spy Ethan (Kevin Costner) returns to his Paris flat to find that a rather large family of squatters, all of them impeccably polite, have remodeled his house and appropriated his space as their own. He goes to the French police, but they tell him to wait until April to file a formal complaint — “Wait for spring like birds and bees and boys and girls.” Ethan calls them “turds,” which is a confusing word for French police. “I think he’s calling us shit,” one cop says. Ethan, defeated, returns home, where his squatters try to comfort him in his new bedroom.


At this point, I’m realizing I have no idea what this movie is anymore. This is re-confirmed several minutes later when Ethan, post-shootout, argues with another CIA agent about the difference between a mustache and a goatee. The prop in the scene is an injured, bullet-riddled bad guy with a goatee, who’s kicked and rolled over again and again to prove a point about the merits of facial hair. These comedic bursts are far departures from the high-octane spy thrills of the movie’s first 10 minutes, thrills that only make cameo appearances through the remainder of 3 Days to Kill.


Later, Ethan is forced to retire from the CIA after they find out he has inoperable brain cancer. In Paris, while he tries to regain lost trust with his ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and his teen daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), the CIA needs him for one more mission: to hunt down and kill a man known only as The Wolf, whose henchmen include The Albino and The Accountant. His government handler, a sexy vixen with a limitless budget, offers him money and an experimental cancer drug that comes in couture leather pouches. Ethan agrees, which means he spends the rest of the movie alternating between father-daughter dates to CIA-sanctioned murder.


The movie reminds me a great deal of last year’s mafia-comedy The Family, in which Robert De Niro, playing a mob boss, goes to a film club to critique Goodfellas. I wasn’t sure then, and am less sure now, whether The Family was a comedy, crime caper or something else entirely. 3 Days to Kill bops around with generally the same attitude, like when Ethan puts his Italian hostage on the phone with his daughter to explain how to make a perfect batch of spaghetti sauce. Or when he barges into another suspect’s house to talk to his teen daughters about what makes teens tick. The two movies, besides sharing their bizarre comedy timing, share writers — French filmmaker Luc Besson. Now, Besson’s movies have always had quirky streaks in them; think of the lighter moments in Léon, the fantasy-comedy of the Fifth Element, or the utter battiness of the Transporter movies. 3 Days to Kill taps into similar veins and you can sense the film smiling at you from behind the screen.


The movie has several comedic themes that return again and again, including a recurring gag about a purple bike, Ethan’s daughter-approved ringtone featuring Swedish electro-punk, and one of the squatter kids who insists Ethan give him high fives, even as the CIA spy escorts criminals to his bathroom for torture sessions. The McG-directed movie simply marches to the beat of its own drum.


Now, I did say this was a guilty pleasure so don’t go in expecting all the pieces to fit. They don’t. The movie is uneven and awkwardly paced, but it’s consistently entertaining. And Kevin Costner seems to be having a lot of fun, proving that he might not be the most bankable star, but he’s still a dependable and likable one.


At Middleton - Movie Review

At middletonAt Middleton  

Starring Andy Garcia, Vera Farmiga, Spencer Lofranco, Taissa Farmiga, Peter Riegert and Tom Skerritt

Directed by Adam Rodgers


From Anchor Bay Films

Rated R

99 minutes


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume


Perceptive truths revealed in witty college comedy


At Middleton isn't really about college. It's about a parent's perception of college, then funneled into fantasy and dreams, then boiled back to reality. It's a complicated formula, but one that is well worth all the chemistry.


The movie is about heart surgeon George and upscale furniture store owner Edith. They're married, but not to each other. They're taking their children — George's son Conrad and Edith's daughter Audrey — to Middleton University for a guided tour of the campus. They meet in the parking lot when George, nerdy and obsessive — “He probably irons his underwear,” Edith says — decides to be that guy who must back into his parking space. Edith steals the spot, sparking a lovable little feud.


Their tour group is led by Justin, who has witty little wisecracks for everything including how the school statue was stolen, where the bathrooms in the library are located ("Ironically, just past the Ps.") and a rather sinister joke about campus rape. This actor is playing this role like his career depends on it. I hope he lands another movie.


As the tour progresses, George and Edith, still in their catty feud, are separated from the group. As they bicker and trade barbs, they come to appreciate their similar predicaments: they’re both without their spouses touring a college with children who mostly hate them. The rest plays like a movie-length version of a Meet Cute, a phrase Roger Ebert pioneered and championed, a phrase that describes that charming set of circumstances that brings adorable couples together.


At Middleton works because the dialogue is snappy and smart — and brutally honest — and George and Edith are played by a bowtied Andy Gracia and a free-wheeling Vera Farmiga, both of whom can retire from romantic comedies now that they they've nailed this one. The people they play are mostly dopey and written as if they were on a Disney sitcom, but by the end of the movie I was cherishing them.


The movie follows them around Middleton as they skip from adventure to adventure, including when they steal two unchained bikes, break into classrooms, smoke pot in a dorm and bare their personal wounds in heartbreaking sequences that are so unique I found myself wondering how they ended up in this small movie of all places. It's like finding the Hope Diamond at the Walmart jewelry counter.


Some of it is silly and fun: they sneak into a music classroom and play a dazzlingly manic version of “Chopsticks.” Other scenes are brutally honest: after infiltrating an acting class they're asked to perform an improvisational husband-and-wife scene. As they role play the scenario, they project their own spouses onto each other. And for the first time in maybe their whole lives, these two people are honest with themselves about love, relationships and marriage. It's one of the finest scenes of the new year, and it certainly would have ranked high even if At Middleton had opened in the frenzy of awards season last year.


Some of the acting is rather awful, and college is portrayed as if the screenwriters had never actually been to one — at one point a kid wearing a football helmet on a unicycle rides past! They do manage to get Peter Riegert, an Animal House alumni, in there as the campus radio DJ. Mostly, though, college is shown as a fantasy, a place teens go to escape their parents, a place parents regretfully send their teens to grow up.


As the college-bound picture progresses it becomes abundantly clear that this isn't just a romantic comedy, but also a family drama as the two parents begin to contemplate their lives without their children in the home or, as Edith sees it, to be alone with her husband after 18 years, which terrifies her. The kids, played by Spencer Lofranco and Taissa Farmiga (Vera’s youngest sister), aren’t doing their parents any favors by rubbing salt in their expanding wounds. At one point, fed up, Edith turns to another parent and shrieks: “You want to know about Middleton? It doesn’t include you.” All George sees is flashes of parenting memories: “Sleepovers, soccer games, slamming doors. Where did the last 17 years go?”


At Middleton is a gloriously mediocre movie wrapped around some very perceptive ideas about parenting and love. It plays fast and loose with its mid-life quirkiness, and some of the neurotic banter will have you looking for Woody Allen cameos, but the film is filled with kernels of truth. And those truths resonate with surprising clarity. That's all I ask from my movies, and this one goes above and beyond.

Gimme Shelter - Movie Review

Gimme ShelterGimme Shelter  

Directed by Ron Krause

Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, Ann Dowd and James Earl Jones


From Day 28 Films and Roadside Attractions

Rated PG-13


Hudgens excels in wish-washy drama


by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume


Gimme Shelter has noble intentions that get lost in all the thematic clutter.


It’s a message movie with so many conflicting messages that its core feels hallow and quiet, like the eye of a hurricane. The ultimate victim here is Vanessa Hudgens, who turns in a performance that shows her acting has depth, or at least the potential for it. The former Disney star has given interesting performances before, including in last year’s bombastic Spring Breakers, a movie that she didn’t so much act in, but rather desperately clung to as it rocketed away to another planet.


Hudgens plays Agnes, an edgy teen with five facial piercings living in troublesome conditions with her drug-addicted mother, June (Rosario Dawson). In the first scene, Agnes has had enough and flees in a cab ride she can’t afford. She eventually ends up at the home of her father (Brendan Fraser), whom she has never met except in a letter he wrote to her before she was born. He has a family and significant wealth — “Real estate?” Agnes asks; “No, Wall Street,” he tells her. During dinner Agnes throws up unexpectedly, which is secret movie code for cancer or pregnancy. For Agnes it’s pregnancy.


The stepmother, who resents her existence, offers to take her to get an abortion, but Agnes can’t go through with it so she ditches the procedure and starts living on the streets and sleeping in parked cars. The movie mostly wanders with Agnes, who aimlessly bounces from one place to another. Eventually she ends up a shelter for young pregnant mothers, where the other girls accept her as one of their own.


Gimme Shelter plays like a Republican fever dream: minorities eating up all the welfare, abortion not being a valid solution, the Wall Street executive and his form of trickle-down economics, the public sector (not big government) and its role in society’s problems, and a rather prominent Ronald Reagan namedrop. The whole thing smacks of GOP ideology. The movie is probably non-partisan at its core, but I couldn’t help but think of Rush Limbaugh giddily smiling at all the plot points.


Mostly though, Gimme Shelter seems confused about what it actually is. I wasn’t sure if this was a commentary on single mothers, absent fathers, druggie mothers, the sad state of teen shelters, or some sort of Frankenstein mish-mash of all of it. And then, in the credits, photos of the real characters are shown next to the actors playing them suggesting this is a bio-pic, but of who: Agnes, the Wall Street father, the shelter worker? The movie mostly focuses on Agnes, but it can’t seem to agree on what’s best for her.


The movie mixes its messages because no one is shown in a sympathetic light. Fraser’s father figure, wearing the most Donald Trump of hairstyles, flip flops several times. One moment he’s an arrogant jerk and the next he’s lavishing gifts on his daughter and his first grandbaby. The shelter worker (played by Ann Dowd) is even more perplexing: at times she seems to have a heart of gold, and then she crashes churches to use her shelter girls to beg for money. Even Agnes seems confused, especially in her final choices, which are beyond aggravating. Without giving too much away, let me say she takes permanent advantage of a temporary program.


The only two characters who exhibit any consistency are a kind-hearted pastor played by James Earl Jones and the despicable mother. June, whose yellow teeth could serve as the inspiration for all those old “yo momma” dentistry jokes, is one vile monster. Two women sitting behind me at my screening seemed to hiss every time she appeared on the screen. Late in the movie I was pondering where the nearest portable defibrillator might be when June shows up with a razor in her mouth — the two women survived.


Hudgens deserves some recognition for her engrossing, if also uneven, performance. She plays Agnes as a scrappy little fighter conflicted by her past and her increasingly sorrowful plight. I liked the way Hudgens refused to glamourize the role; Agnes is the ugly duckling right until the end. It’s not going to be her greatest acting job, but hopefully it will be the first in a string of dramatic roles that mark her presence as a serious actress.


If only Gimme Shelter had a clearer message. By the end of the movie, all I had gleaned was teen pregnancy was good and bad, shelters were confining and liberating, estranged fathers were absent and present, and charity was a despicable handout and a gracious necessity. The movie needs to commit to something. Anything.

The Wolf of Wall Street Movie Review

The Wolf of Wall Street Wolf of Wall Street

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Pj Byrne, Kenneth Choi

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Rated: R

Run Time: 180

Genre: Biography/ Comedy/ Crime

Opens December 25th


By Lisa Minzey of The Reel


Also opening on Christmas day is the latest film from director Martin Scorsese. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is Scorsese's fifth collaboration with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, based off the book by convicted ex-stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Will audiences flock to theaters to see a film about power, greed, sex, drugs and overall debauchery? Or will it get lost amongst all the other holiday releases?


Based on the true story of New York stockbroker dubbed “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a man who went from rags to riches in a very short time by duping people out of their hard earned money. Following his start at  a well known brokerage firm on Wall Street in the late 1980’s, Jordan’s mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConneghy) taught him the ropes of what he would expand on to build his own fortune.


On his first day as a full blown stockbroker was the day the stock market crashed in 1987. Out of a job and not sure what to do, Jordan found a place that was hiring “stockbrokers” out in the suburbs. Turns out this place sold penny stocks, which Jordan quickly figured out how to get the maximum amount of money from middle class people. Being the savvy entrepreneur, Jordan conjured up a “Business Plan” to use the same tactics to go after the big fish upper class. Enlisting Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a few other guys he knew from his younger days, Jordan formed Stratton Oakmont, Inc., a brokerage firm which traded billions of dollars, including raising equity for shoe designer Steve Madden.


Thanks to his flashy parties, excessive drug use and boneheaded compadres, Jordan found himself on the FBI watchlist for securities fraud. Unwilling to cooperate, Jordan finds himself in further trouble when he tries to avoid the investigation and enlists people to cover for him. It’s a matter of time before the house of cards Jordan built for himself, family and employees will tumble, but how many people will be willing to take the fall for Jordan?


This is a strange choice for Scorsese. Although it takes on the edgy material of stock fraud, drugs, orgies, cheating scandals and unscrupulous characters, it’s odd to see so much comedy in a Scorsese film. Perhaps it was just odd scheduling for DiCaprio this year to have his role as a different millionaire in “The Great Gatsby” open earlier this year, but he expands on that romanticized role of Gatsby and pumps it up with some much cocaine and greed that he Gordon Gecko-ized Jay Gatsby. On the other hand, Jonah Hill is extremely creepy as Jordan’s sidekick Donnie Azoff. His over-sized veneers and oddly sexual tendencies are a stand out among the strange cast of characters in this black comedy. The women in the film albeit pretty are not that memorable as it’s hard to compete with DiCaprio and Hill’s drug filled rants and antics.  Although it clocks in at three hours, it hardly feels that long since the film follows a decent pace and material is incredulous that it keeps the viewer engaged the whole time. “The Wolf of Wall Street” opens nationwide starting Wednesday December 25,2013.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty  Walter Mitty

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt

Directed by: Ben Stiller

Rated: PG

Run Time: 114 mins

Genre: Adventure/ Comedy/ Drama


Opens December 25th


By Lisa Minzey of The Reel




Another film throwing its hat into the holiday box office is a film that’s not only a remake of the 1947 version starring Danny Kaye, but has been in development on and off since 1995. There has been several stars and directors attached to the project, but it was Ben Stiller to pull off getting the finished project into theaters. Will audiences enjoy this film or is one of those films that should have never been remade?


To deal with his mundane life, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) frequently wanders off in his day dreams as a coping mechanism. His job for the past 19 years, Life Magazine is laying off tons of people as it is going thru a rebrand and digitizing it’s content. For the most part, Walter thinks he’s safe, but when the final cover negative from famed photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) goes missing, his new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) has it out for him.  To make matters worse, the girl of his dreams Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) may or may not be dating someone else.


It’s not until Cheryl suggests to Walter on a clever way to track down the missing negative, treat it like its a mystery novel that Walter’s dreams of traveling become a reality. Will Walter be able to find the negative in time or will all of Walter’s hard work over the past two decades be for naught?


Sometimes remakes, especially those that sit in development hell for decades at a time, turn out worse than the original. In this case, this is untrue. What Ben Stiller accomplishes in this film is film magic. Using the movie wizards in the special effects world, with a combined subdued comic performance from Wiig and Stiller, this film is a heartwarming journey into the mind and life of daydreamer Walter Mitty. At the core of the story are messages of inspiration, hope and courage to go follow those dreams to see where life may take you. Be sure to catch “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty when it opens in theaters starting Wednesday December 25, 2013.