Fantasy Filmfest Nights 2014: The Green Inferno

Dir. Eli Roth, 2013, 103 min., Rated: R

Image: Flickeringmyth.com

Image: Flickeringmyth.com

When a group of college-aged activists crash their plane in the Amazon they are quickly discovered by the tribe they were trying to protect. Unfortunately for the activists, the tribe doesn’t give a flying fuck about their good intentions—all they see is dinner. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. Roth’s The Green Inferno is a callback to the gory cannibal flicks that rose to popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Continue reading at Cinemadamned.com.

Fantasy Filmfest Nights 2014: The Sacrament

Dir. Ti West, 2013, 95 min. Rated: R

(Image: Comingsoon.net)

(Image: Comingsoon.net)

Ti West’s The Sacrament might most efficiently be described as a shallow retelling of the strange and tragic events that occurred in the “Jonestown” religious community in the 1970s. In short, the film is about three guys—a fashion photographer (Patrick) and two VICE journalists (Sam and Jake)—who travel to a religious community called Eden Parish, which is located in the middle of a jungle, to see what the heck is going on there. There’s more to it than that, but not much more. Continue reading at Cinemadamned.com.

 

Fantasy Filmfest Nights 2014: Snowpiercer

Dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2013, 126 min. Rated: R

(Image: Firstshowing.net)

(Image: Firstshowing.net)

Director Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is kind of like if the story of Noah’s ark took place on a large train instead of an ark, and with less animals, and maybe more people, and instead of a flood sent by an angry god, humankind endures a self-inflicted accidental ice age. Continue reading at Cinemadamned.com.

Only Lovers Left Alive

Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2013, 123 min. Rated: R

(Image: Collider.com)

(Image: Collider.com)

It is difficult to find anything to say about Only Lovers Left Alive beyond confirming that what everyone else has said is true: the film’s enchanting atmosphere is achieved through rich set design, a luscious score, and strong performances—all of which are connected by a thread of charming pretension.

Only Lovers Left Alive peers into a brief moment in the long lives of a vampire couple: Adam and Eve, played by beautiful androgynes Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. … Continue reading at Cinemadamned.com.

Spinning Plates

Dir. Joseph Levy, 2013, 93 min.

(Image: Insidemovies.ew.com)

(Image: Insidemovies.ew.com)

The ever-growing popularity of “reality” television suggests that we are becoming an increasingly voyeuristic culture—or rather, the voyeuristic tendencies that we’ve always had are finally being recognized and fed. So many reality shows, for example Jersey Shore and Toddlers and Tiaras, evoke little faith in humanity. I’m not going to lie, I love trash TV, but lately I find myself more attracted to things that make me feel good about the world. If you find yourself in a similar position, you will likely enjoy writer/director Joseph Levy’s debut feature documentary, Spinning Plates.

The film focuses on the inner workings of three very different types of restaurants: the immensely innovative Alinea in Chicago, Illinois; the more traditional Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa; and the small family-run La Cocina de Gabby that specializes in Mexican fare in Tucson, Arizona. The stories of the three restaurants and their owners are carefully and skillfully woven together until it becomes clear that their differences are merely superficial. The commonalities will leave many with a new appreciation for the essential role that food and eating play in our lives—beyond physical sustenance, that is.

Expertly and artfully shot, Spinning Plates is a compelling, heart-warming film that—as satisfying as it is—might even leave you craving more (I could certainly have watched more, in any case). Although it features some truly dramatic stories, the film never feels overly sentimental or contrived. Think of your favourite dessert, and that’s what Spinning Plates is. For me it’s chocolate: delicious, addictive, and energizing. Real foodies (I’m not much of a foodie, admittedly) already enjoy this, but viewers who don’t will discover a new, more profound appreciation and understanding of food and restaurants. The film might even change the way you eat all together!

I’ve made some pretty big claims in this review, and I realize that all forms of filmed “reality” are constructed—even (especially?) documentaries—but in a world where so many of us binge on junkfood, it’s just so nice to finally have something that actually nourishes.

This review was originally written for Thick Magazine and is reposted here with their generous permission.

Ice Soldiers

Dir. Sturla Gunnarsson, 2013, 95 min. Rated: R

(Image: Letterboxd.com)

(Image: Letterboxd.com)

Like any spiritually devoid screen-worshipping image junkie I have seen my fair share of “films.” As you know, the celluloid scale can range from “brain-meltingly terrible” to “life-alteringly brilliant.” I firmly believe that the only scale it is ever okay to score “average” on is the one that measures how much flesh, bone, and muscle you’re carting around this mortal coil. In all other facets of life, average is the worst—at least if you’re terrible, you’re excelling at something. … Continue reading at Cinemadamned.com.

Klondike Miniseries on Discovery Channel

Dir. Simon Cellan Jones, 2014

(Image: Post-gazette.com)

(Image: Post-gazette.com)

Discovery Channel’s first scripted historical drama, Klondike, premieres Monday, January 20. The miniseries comprises three episodes totalling six hours, and will unfold over three consecutive evenings, from Monday January 20 to Wednesday January 22.

There’s already a lot of buzz about the show, mainly revolving around its lead actor, Richard Madden, who is perhaps best known as his Game of Thrones character, Robb Stark—Twitter is full of King of the North jokes and fangirl professions of undying love to the dashing Scotsman in anticipation of Klondike’s premiere. Even the few tweets that aren’t about Madden reveal a generally positive vibe surrounding the miniseries.

Such a positive vibe is certainly warranted given how exceptionally good Klondike looks on paper. The series boasts a bevy of charismatic, strong actors, including Abbie Cornish (Limitless, Sucker Punch), Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down, Swordfish), Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Lie to Me), Ian Hart (Nothing Personal, Luck) and Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Though?, Lincoln), to say nothing of the big names on the production side, including executive producer Ridley Scott (Ridley Scott!) and director Simon Cellan Jones (Generation Kill, Treme). If its cast and crew aren’t indication enough, Klondike’s breathtaking sets—shot on location in Alberta, Canada—and strong marketing—primarily, the loaded interactive show website at Discovery.com*—suggest what I can only imagine is an enormous budget.

Of course, money does not equal quality. While the series is well-acted and visually stunning, its script suffers at times from laughably clichéd dialogue and drama. The first episode, in which best friends Bill Haskell (Richard Madden) and Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew) decide to go to the Klondike with ‘nothing in their pockets but hope,’ is particularly painful. If you manage to survive the trek through the first episode, however, it does get easier. While many viewers—particularly Discovery regulars—might be put off by the series’ weakness for simple, soapy melodrama, they will likely be equally enthralled by Klondike’s wonderfully crafted, atmospheric sets and costumes, as well as its breathtaking wide shots of mountain-fringed snowy vistas. At times the bleak, blue-tinged images of hopeful hordes traipsing through snow are remarkably reminiscent of the photographs one might find in a history book on the Gold Rush.

I am in no position to substantiate claims that Klondike is very well-researched, but I can at least confirm that on a visual level it feels authentic and may even evoke a feeling in the viewer somewhat like that experienced during a school trip to a heritage museum. While the series is based on several real-life people, including Jack London (Johnny Simmons), Belinda Mulrooney (Abbie Cornish), Father Judge (Sam Shepard), and Soapy Smith (Tim Blake Nelson), it closes with an admission that its stories are only loosely based on the lives of such people.

In the age of “reality TV” I realize that most people are at least familiar with the idea that any photographic image is incapable of truly replicating reality. No matter how pure the intentions of the person behind the camera, any image captured to film is constructed by the author’s choices, which include framing and subject, among other things. A potential problem that Discovery may face with Klondike is that they are expected to tell a historically accurate story, and while Klondike is based in history, it is very clearly a fictional drama. Discovery makes no bones about this in its online marketing materials (which again I must say are truly entertaining and informative), but viewers unfamiliar with the series’ full production history might expect more from it; as a result, they might be disappointed to discover that they’ve spent six hours watching a fictional melodrama.

I expect that Klondike will find its ideal audience in viewers who enjoy historical dramas but are not sticklers for historical accuracy and fine details. Laid-back history hobbyists who enjoy antiques and atmosphere will likely quite enjoy what the show has to offer. And of course, Richard Madden fans will appreciate the ample screen time devoted to their favourite King of the North.

*Editor’s note, March 6 2014: Sadly the website appears to have been taken down. The one that rose in its place still contains some fun extras, but it is not as exciting or informative as the initial site.

This review was originally written for Thick Magazine and is reposted here with their generous permission.