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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
"A Supposedly Fun Thing Part I"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Although we are currently less than a third of the way through 2018 as I write these words, I doubt that anyone reading this would disagree with the notion that the release of “Black Panther” is going to go down as one of the key cultural events of not just the year but the entire decade. Unlike the vast majority of overstuffed superhero epics that have been dominating multiplexes as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the past decade, it was a film that felt as if it was made because the people behind it had a real and engrossing story that they wanted—needed—to tell and not just because it was another bullet point in a grand business plan that had been hashed out in a corporate boardroom. Yes, it was another superhero film but it was one that didn’t look or feel like others—rather than simply trying to dazzle audiences with one elaborate set piece after another, it elected to do so with such increasingly rarefied elements as a smart and compelling narrative and characters of such surprising depth and complexity that they were just as interesting when they were standing around talking as they were when they were engaging in their heroics. (In fact, the only time it stumbled at all was during the big climactic battle sequence—the one moment on display that could have come from nearly any other film of its type.) Watching that film, you could feel the excitement that comes with being genuinely fresh and exciting practically vibrating off the screen whether you were a hardcore superhero fanatic or someone with no burning interest in watching oddly costumed people whomping the crap out of each other. The result was a real rarity—a box-office behemoth that was just as successful artistically as it was financially." (more)
TOP KNOT DETECTIVE
"Top-notch."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL XX: "Top Knot Detective" is a whole heck of a lot better than the typical "fake pop-culture spoof", for a lot of little reasons. That is generally the way these things work: It's not necessarily easy to come up with a fun idea for a mock-documentary, but it's also not exactly hard, and the gap between the obviously dumb and obviously brilliant ones is thin; enthusiastic improv can spin that into enough material that the filmmakers will need to cut down rather than pad out most of the time. It's the folks who consistently make the silly bits engaging or show that there is an actual plan without seeming to rein themselves in that create something worth a look." (more)
BEIRUT
"Interesting spot and story."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "A movie's name just being its location doesn't always mean that the filmmakers had a sense of that but not the story, but it's not a bad way to bet. Certainly, it's not a theory that "Beirut" seems keen to debunk; much of the film's first half is explaining to the audience that Lebanon in general and its capital in particular were nervously cosmopolitan melting pots before the civil war, and then touring the blasted remains afterward. It takes a while for the specific story to really kick into gear." (more)
PHANTOM THREAD
"PTA is getting better at whatever he's getting at."
5 stars
Rob Gonsalves says... "Paul Thomas Anderson’s 'Phantom Thread' is a sort of upper-class pornography — without sex or nudity, though; it’s fashion porn and, secondarily, food porn. The camera lavishes its fixation on close-ups of threads, lace, mushrooms, pastries." (more)
VAZANTE
"A nice try, anyway."
3 stars
Rob Gonsalves says... "“Why do whites love ouija boards?” asks a particularly trenchant internet meme. “If they want to learn about demons they can just go to ancestry.com.” Sharp, but not wrong." (more)
BIG FISH & BEGONIA
"Colorful enough for kids to go for it."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "I wonder, a bit, if I would have enjoyed "Big Fish & Begonia" a bit more if it had played subtitled (as advertised) rather than in an English dub, or if a better handle on Chinese folklore would help. It would have still bumped up against some technical issues, I think, but, likely would have had a lot fewer "wait, why" moments. I don't imagine kids would stop and scratch their heads quite so much, but this movie is just far enough off the beaten path outside of China that kids might have to be led there." (more)
CLAIRE'S CAMERA
"Doesn't entirely point its camera inward, and so finds a bit of life."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Cannes has become so associated with its film festival that just setting a movie there seems to warp perception of it and the people involved; it becomes part of this insular world that means something to filmmakers and influential critics who perhaps don't realize how many people it can leave on the outside. "Claire's Camera" mostly avoids that - it's set in that world and in many ways about it, but not so much so that it loses its basic charm." (more)
LET THE CORPSES TAN
"Prettier than the typical action movie - and louder!"
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL XX: "Let the Corpses Tan" isn't the same sort of ultra-violence as high art as other films you might describe that way - it's more about the striking image than the impeccable choreography, the sort of thing that you can screen-capture and show to someone who doesn't necessarily go for big action rather than the clips you dissect looking for cuts and doubling. Fortunately, it's in the hands of some of the best in the business at creating striking images and just enough to stitch them together, and they're happy to dispense with subtlety." (more)
QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD, THE
"Not the prettiest part of town, but often an exciting one."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL XX: The folks who made "The Queen of Hollywood Blvd" probably don't consider themselves lucky that it wound up being the last thing that Michael Parks worked on before his death, but it probably won't hurt them to be the answer to a trivia question, in either the short or long term. They don't really need to trade off that - the film is just eccentric and singular enough to stand out from a potential sea of modern grindhouse flicks on its own - but it's not as if the title character would pass up that sort of boost to her business." (more)
RAMPAGE (2018)
"Where Is Bert I. Gordon When You Need Him?"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Although the credits for “Rampage” remind you that the film is at least technically based on the popular arcade game that ate up many a loose quarter back in the Eighties, any film fan with a basic working knowledge of films involving giant monsters stomping familiar cities into rubble while square-jawed heroes try to figure out a way to save the day in the ta-daa nick of time will recognize it as being more of an antecedent of the 1957 schlock movie classic, for lack of a better word, “Beginning of the End.” In that film, for those of you whose childhoods were filled with fresh air and the like, scientific experiments into making things really big have the detrimental side effect of making a swarm of grasshoppers grow to enormous size and inspire a wave of destruction that eventually culminates with them attacking Chicago. In terms of quality, let it be said that it more than earned its placement in the pantheon of B movies that found themselves being skewered on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”—the story was preposterous, the dialogue more so, the acting was more wooden than the sets and the visual effects were not so much “special” as “deeply dubious.” (The aforementioned attack on Chicago, for example, was staged by getting some regular-sized grasshoppers and filming them walking on top of photos of notable landmarks like the Wrigley Building—a gimmick that might have worked were it not for the moment when a grasshopper steps off the building and seems to hang there in thin air.) However, for all of its faults, the film does still have a certain junky charm to it, especially for anyone living in Chicago, and as bad as it is, people still remember it more than 60 years after its first release while so many other titles from that era have slipped from the cultural consciousness. “Rampage” essentially takes the formula established by that film, adds untold millions to the production budget and comes up with something that matches “Beginning of the End” in virtually all the particulars I cited above—except, alas, for the stuff about the junky charm and being memorable." (more)

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