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Wednesday
Oct252017

Acts of Vengeance (2017)

In Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield said, “If you wanna look thin, hang out with fat people.” Maybe Antonio Banderas’ recent team-ups with Saban Films are some kind of late-career ploy to remind the world of what a charismatic, versatile actor he is. Both Gun Shy and Acts of Vengeance are DTV freak-shows, the kinds of movies you Redbox just to see how far the mighty have fallen. Luckily, Banderas approaches Vengeance with all the haunted, angry sincerity he unleashed in Desperado, giving us a much-needed focal point amidst the pedestrian plot mechanics and interminable montages of rummaging through criminal hideouts. The story, about an aloof, high-powered attorney who takes a vow of silence while hunting whoever killed his family, can best be described as Liar Liar meets Death Wish, with narration by the Nasonex bee—minus the consistent, Tommy Wiseau-level hilarity that implies. Banderas deserves better. Goddammit, so do we.

Tuesday
Oct242017

Chavela (2017)

We romanticize pioneers out of cowardice. It’s fine to honor trailblazers. Their accomplishments can inspire hope and innovation in future generations. But rarely do we appreciate the spiritual and physical toll we demand of those we consider extraordinary. In their bittersweet documentary, Chavela, co-directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi chronicle the long, hard life of Latin songstress Chavela Vargas, who defiantly shattered the norms of how female entertainers were supposed to dress, sing, and screw. In her seventies, Chavela found the international acclaim and acceptance that had been so elusive in Mexico’s insular, unforgiving entertainment industry. But before being heralded as an inspiration by the likes of Pedro Almodóvar and Salma Hayek, she battled alcohol and heartache, translating isolation into music’s most soul-shaking lyrics with guttural delivery. This film is a touching, warts-and-all reminder that greatness often lies far beyond the limits of where most of us deem worth venturing.

Monday
Oct232017

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (2017)

I like movies featuring vampires, violence, and the Japanese pop aesthetic, so Sion Sono’s Tokyo Vampire Hotel should have really been my thing. But this nearly two-and-a-half-hour blood canvas obliterates its flimsy horror/fantasy boundaries early on, never fully recovering from a sadistic, walk-out-worthy café gun massacre. The premise centers on immortal warring dynasties vying for control of a hotel whose unsuspecting human “guests” become a perpetual food supply. It’s good stuff, sadly lost in soapy, sappy narratives and an impossible economy of characters (both victims and undead staff appear to multiply exponentially, despite the rising tide of viscera). It makes sense that Tokyo Vampire Hotel was trimmed from an Amazon Japan TV miniseries, especially because its essence had already been distilled from less stylized and more soulful works by Quentin Tarantino and Brian De Palma. This is a broom closet, downgraded from a smoking room, and advertised as a suite.

Thursday
Oct192017

Killing Gunther (2017)

The found-footage aesthetic died years ago, but no one told Killing Gunther, which shambles about in a slobbering, unholy imitation of life that should be put down for everyone’s safety. I say this not out of spite, but disappointment. I can’t recall another found-footage action comedy, and it’s a shame that writer/director/star Taran Killam couldn’t drag his unique premise across the finish line: Killam plays Blake, an assassin who forms a team of misfit colleagues to take out Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the world’s greatest hit man. The total outright laughs could fit into an SNL Digital Short—fitting, considering how much of the cast have appeared on that show. At an hour-and-a-half (ten percent of which actually features Schwarzenegger, who pulls a Blade Runner 2049 on us), the movie feels at once too cartoonish and too sincere. It’s like watching Wile E. Coyote in therapy, with an occasional Road Runner sighting.

Tuesday
Oct172017

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

You’ll rarely catch me saying that an Awards Season movie needs to be longer, but Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a startling exception. Writer/director Angela Robinson’s take on the forbidden academic love triangle that produced comics’ most iconic heroine is tremendously acted and visually welcoming. But the first hour’s slow-burn seduction of a college student (Bella Heathcote) by a pair of married professors (Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall) gives way to a You Tube-compilation-worthy accelerated timeline that doesn’t quite earn its climactic moments of transcendent tenderness. The main cast ably capture the tortured dual identities of characters whose unorthodox passions could only be expressed in secret or translated through wild four-color adventures. But the drama requires greater social context and a sturdier exploration of the Marstons’ unique family dynamics in order to fully take hold. The characters were ahead of their time. Their story gets ahead of itself.