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"A tasty stew made with ingredients from around the East."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... ""Fagara" is the sort of small family drama whose story has been told more than a few times - who hasn't discovered their father had a secret life after he passed away - but is just better enough at it on most counts that it actually winds up fairly impressive. It's so well put together that director Heiward Mak Hei-Yan can dispense with much of what other movies would use to prop it up." (more)
"Fairly unique even among animated documentaries."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "I'm not sure I've ever before seen a biographical documentary where at the end, I wasn't entirely sure what the subject was famous for. But that's where "Rezo" leaves me, as Revan Gabriadze spends almost no time discussing his life's work, nor the personal life that happened alongside it. The film, directed by his son Levan, has him telling stories of the father's youth and a philosophical moment or two as he returns home an old man, apparently presuming that anyone watching this film knows the rest or will look it up. It's an odd but not unpleasant sensation." (more)
"Frankenstein & Fessenden make a great match."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Depraved" is "Larry Fessenden's "Frankenstein"" and he knows it, announcing his intentions from the start, when artsy colors and a do-it-yourself laboratory are punctuated by a bolt of lightning. That may not necessarily appeal to a large audience - as both producer and director of fright flicks, Fessenden has always leaned toward New York art-house stuff rather than buying blood by the barrel or Jason Blum's canny commercial instincts - but it makes even his take on one of the genre's foundational tales feel like something new." (more)
"Feels Like Home"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Seen from a purely cinematic perspective, the new documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is not that big of a deal. It does not exactly reinvent the wheel from a formal perspective, it doesn’t offer any big reveals or especially profound insights and it oddly shies away from some elements to the story that practically cry out for further exploration. Now if a film about a musical performer that I personally did not have much interest in going into it had these flaws, I would right a review that would note the stumbling blocks and then mot likely wrap things up with a shrug and a mention that it is a film best enjoyed by those who are already fans of the subject at hand. And yet, while watching the film, I recognized all these problems but found myself ignoring virtually all of them because I was too busy relishing the opportunity to watch a big-screen celebration of an artist that I have been a passionate fan of since childhood. In other words, I adored practically every frame of the film but considering that I would cheerfully get behind virtually anything arguing for the greatness of Ronstadt, I might suggest that many of you may want to take this particular review with a few more grains of salt than usual." (more)
"Extra-Ordinary People"
1 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "I suppose I should begin this piece with a point of order—actually a point of mild embarrassment for the longest time—that I need to get off of my chest. I have to confess that I never read Donna Tartt’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Goldfinch.” Now this admission in itself may not be that astounding—there are many books out there that I have not read and the fact that I didn’t crack this one before it made it to the big screen is not that extraordinary (I was not exactly brushing up on the “Twilight” books before sitting through those films.) The reason that I am making any note of this at all is the fact that I have been planning to read it for years now but something has always kept me from doing so. This is unusual because I loved Tartt’s 1994 best-selling debut “The Secret History”—one of those rare books that turned out to be both a cultural phenomenon and a startlingly well-written work—and when “The Goldfinch” was published, i downloaded it onto my iPad with the full intention of getting to it before too long. And yet, despite the rave reviews it received in some (though famously not all) quarters and the Pulitzer and the best-seller status, something about it just seemed so oppressive and ponderously literary that every time I tried to get into it, I found myself putting it aside in favor of something else, though always with the intention of getting back to it one day and completing the task at hand." (more)
FREAKS (2019)
"Best seen cold (what movie isn't?), but still a nifty sci-fi thriller."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As much as I do like previews even beyond the way that they give one a heads-up that certain movies even exist, there's a real delight to be found in going into certain movies cold. The one for "Freaks", for instance, probably needs to show as much as it does in order to draw its potential audience in, especially in an environment when similar-sounding but much larger things have huge studios behind them to suck up all of the oxygen in the room, but I'm glad I didn't see it until after I saw the movie. I kind of figured it eventually had to go a certain way, but it was thrilling to never be sure which way the movie would jump." (more)
"Capable and smart as you'd expect."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Gavin Hood hasn't dedicated his entire directorial career to making films about the crimes and compromises behind the twenty-first century's Middle Eastern wars, but at three and counting, he's probably done more dramatic features on the subject than all but a few. If they ever become history people look back on rather than things that are still going on, those films will at the very least be an interesting set of commentary on the times as a group, even if some (like "Official Secrets") are better as commentary than thrilling narrative." (more)
"Floating to freedom is harder than it looks."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "When I first saw the description of "Balloon", I pegged it as a light family adventure, likely because the idea of fleeing a repressive society in a homemade hot-air balloon sounds fanciful, and the film didn't have enough red-flag content for the local ratings board to give it anything but the least restrictive rating. Of course, evading the Stasi while attempting to escape East Germany was no small matter, and that makes this movie a serious, no-nonsense thriller even if it doesn't have any harsh language or graphic violence. It's something of a throwback in that way, but that works for it." (more)
"The things people will sacrifice for an ugly McMansion."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Satanic Panic" is horror comedy for people who know the genre and can poke fun without being entirely flip about it - it has a loopy premise on which the filmmakers hang a lot of jokes, but the people involved know this doesn't work if everybody involved is taking it for granted. It manages to avoid being cynical despite that being the default mode for both horror and this kind of satire." (more)
"Karaoke girl's own story."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2019: Justin Chon made a pretty terrific movie a couple years back whose confrontational title ("Gook") and black-and-white photography may have helped make people reluctant to buy a ticket. This time out, the color is right in the more welcoming title, but in a lot of ways the heart of the film is the same - sibling issues, Korean-American family obligation, assimilation - and the story he crafts from those ideas is still compelling." (more)

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