The Case of the Three Sided Dream – Trailer from Adam Kahan on Vimeo.

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By Joe Bendel. Even if movie fans do not know his name, they have heard his work, thanks to Quincy Jones. Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s reeds can be heard on the soundtrack for In the Heat of the Night and on Jones’ “Soul Bossa Nova,” a tune many people know as the Austin Powers theme. However, for real jazz listeners, Kirk requires no introduction. Adam Kahan pays tribute to the music and life force of the multi-reed titan in The Case of the Three Sided Dream, which screens today at SXSW.

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The tenor was Kirk’s mainstay, but some of his most famous recordings feature his distinctive flute attack. He was also the preeminent stritch and manzello player, bar none. If that were not enough, he could also get incredible sounds out of clarinets, harmonicas, recorders, and sundry whistles. A true multi-instrumentalist, Kirk played any number of horns simultaneously, at a virtuoso level. Given his remarkable showmanship and an unearthly proficiency for circular breathing, Kirk was often criticized for resorting to gimmicks, but musicians like his former boss Charles Mingus knew better. To paraphrase Phil Woods, if it is just a gimmick, why don’t you try to do it? Incidentally, Kirk happened to be blind since infancy, due to a doctor’s negligence.

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In all honesty, it is probably impossible to make a dull film about Kirk, considering the power of his music and personality. Frankly, there are scores of memorable episodes in John Kruth’s biography Bright Moments that did not find their way into the film. Nonetheless, Dream is more visually ambitious than most documentaries, using animation to help convey the spirit of Kirk’s inimitable stage pronouncements, which were a show in themselves. Yet, Kahan never pursues style at the expense of his subject.

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Compared to many jazz docs, Dream features a relatively small cast of talking heads, but each one counts for a lot. Particularly notable are Kirk’s widow Dorthaan, who is a jazz institution herself through her work with WBGO (the public supported jazz radio station serving the New York-New Jersey area), and Steve Turre, Kirk’s sideman and protégé, who followed the leader’s example to become a masterful jazz soloist on the conch shells.

Of course, the music is really the thing in any doc like Dream. As adventurous as Kirk was, anyone comfortable with more soulful forms of hard bop will inhale his music like ice cream on a hot summer day. Still, Kahan’s generous clips demonstrate the difficulty in classifying Kirk under any general label. It is also rather ironic to see archival footage of Kirk’s all-star ensemble on the Ed Sullivan Show, opting for “Haitian Fight Song” instead of the producer-approved “Mon Cherie Amour,” since the propulsive Mingus standard would eventually be licensed for a Volkswagen commercial, in a slightly reworked form.

Oddly enough, Kirk’s “greatest hit” “Bright Moments” is referenced but not heard in Dream. That’s fair enough, but SXSW patrons could probably use its joyous sounds after the tragic incident late Wednesday. Regardless, Kirk’s music always has a restorative effect and Kahan presents it well. Highly recommended, The Case of the Three Sided Dream screens again today (3/15), as this year’s SXSW comes to a close.


Posted on March 15th, 2014 at 8:33pm.

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By Joe Bendel. In the future, superheroes will be a lot like NASCAR drivers. They will fight crime in colorful costumes bedecked in their sponsors’ logos and earn points fighting crime in the televised hero leagues. Our dynamic duo is genuinely committed to doing good, but their prior misadventures have kept them in the second league. However, events will temporarily split up the partners in Yoshitomo Yonetani’s Tiger & Bunny: the Rising, a feature follow-up to the hit anime series, which screens this Saturday and Monday in New York.

Kotetsu T. Kaburagi is an aging but still idealistic superhero, known professionally as Wild Tiger. His younger partner, Barnaby Brooks, Jr. fights crime under his real name, but Kaburagi dubbed him “Bunny” because of the ear-shaped thingies on his uniform. They bicker constantly, but they have been through quite a bit together. Yet, even though Kaburagi helped Brooks solve the murder of his parents, most hero-watchers think he is holding the younger superhero back.  The new boss decides to fix that, promoting Brooks to the first league and partnering him up with Golden Ryan, a preening new superhero with the power to control gravity.

Naturally, just as Wild Tiger returns to civilian life, a wave of super-powered chaos sweeps across the New York-ish Sternbild City, apparently inspired by the ancient legend of an angry goddess who once laid waste to the city ages ago. At least it is good for their ratings.

Viewers walking into Rising completely cold will have little hope of keeping straight the large cast of supporting superheroes, aside from Fire Emblem, their GLBT colleague. Nonetheless, Kaburagi, the widower single father, is an appealing working class protagonist. Arguably, T&B celebrates virtues like courage and loyalty just as much or more than it critiques consumerism. Still, Rising’s most treacherous characters are all media types. In contrast, the actual super villains are kind of cool looking, but are not well developed in terms of who and what they are.

From "Tiger & Bunny: The Rising."

Obviously, Rising was produced specifically with fans in mind, but it is relatively easy to pick up the gist of the Sternbild City world on the fly. It essentially plays like an extended episode, but it is entirely self-contained and moves along pretty briskly. In fact, there are a number of clever bits sprinkled throughout the action. Recommended for the pre-existing fanbase and superhero enthusiasts in need of a quick fix, Tiger & Bunny: The Rising opens today (3/14) in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent and also screens this Saturday (3/15) and Monday (3/17) in New York at the Village East, with further screenings scheduled in select cities over the coming weeks.

Posted on March 14th, 2014 at 12:47pm.

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By Joe Bendel. The affluent members of southern California’s Iranian-American community like to drink, dance, and party. They are way more fun than an army of Brooklyn hipsters, but parents still have very specific ideas about who their grown children should marry. One disorganized writer develops very different notions of her own in Ramin Niami’s Shirin in Love, which opens this Friday in New York.

To be honest, Shirin is more of an aspiring writer, but at least she cranks out book reviews for her overbearing mother Maryam’s lifestyle glossy. She also has trouble holding her liquor—something the sensitive brooder William soon learns first hand, by sheer chance. Having seen her at her sloppiest, he is rather surprised when she turns up in Northern California to interview Rachel Harson, his novelist mom. Both mother and son take a shine to the scatterbrained bombshell, but he is reluctant to admit it. As a further complication, she also happens to have a mother-approved fiancé and he has a mousy long-term girlfriend.

Shirin and William are so obviously head-over-heels, they will do all kinds of negligent things to sabotage their budding relationship. Of course, Shirin’s Mother Dearest is not about to stand by and watch her toss away her engagement to a plastic surgeon. Still, the colorful cast of supporting characters will help keep SIL on a standard rom-com trajectory.

Aside from a benign reference to the old country back-when, writer-director Niami never troubles viewers with dire circumstances of post-Revolutionary Iran, which is fair enough. People have to get on with their lives and Shirin’s family is about as far removed from the Islamist state as you can get. However, lead actress Nazanin Boniadi has evidently seen real life hardships of a different sort. According to Vanity Fair allegations supported by Paul Haggis, she was poorly treated by the Scientology machine when they auditioned her to be a certain actor’s sanctioned squeeze.

From "Shirin in Love."

Frankly, you can’t question his taste. SIL is pretty conventional stuff, but Boniadi just lights up the screen. On paper, her character’s persistent ditziness would look potentially tiresome, but she plays her with real warmth and charisma. She also has some nice scenes with Marshall Manesh as her hen-pecked father, Nader. Letterman’s old stand-up crony George Wallace similarly makes his shtick work as Officer Washington, the gruff old softie with literary ambitions. Amy Madigan is relentlessly earthy and likable as the mothering Harson, but not to an irredeemably annoying extent. However, Riley Smith’s William is so dour and lifeless it is hard to fathom the attraction, even if characters keep telling each other how good looking he supposedly is.

SIL is sort of like a Beverly Hills reality show or sitcom, with some heart and a promising star turn from Boniadi. It is all very bright and frothy, but never delves too deeply into the human condition. Recommended mostly for those looking for an inclusive, non-taxing date movie, Shirin in Love opens this Friday (3/14) in New York at the AMC Empire.


Posted on March 13th, 2014 at 8:05pm.

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By Joe Bendel. He might not be on the tip of every tongue, but Australia’s favorite telekinetic coma patient is one of the few horror movie villains known affectionately by their first names, like Freddy and Jason. He might look easy to outrun, but he has a long paranormal arm. Mark Hartley gives him a dark and stormy rebooting in Patrick: Evil Awakens, which opens this Friday in select theaters.

When brain trauma nurse Kathy Jacquard arrives at the Roget Clinic (a remote sanatorium for persistent vegetative patients that looks like it was designed by the same architect responsible for Norman Bates’ house), Patrick Thompson apparently just lies about, creeping everybody out. Occasionally, he spits too, but that is one of those involuntary reflexes. Soon though, he begins communicating with the empathetic Jacquard via his powers and the nearby computer terminal. Initially, Jacquard is determined to save Patrick from Dr. Roget’s dubious shock treatments, but she soon starts to suspect her patient is behind all the mysterious mayhem happening around her.

Yes, Patrick is definitely the clingy type. However, Dr. Roget is no saint either, but he is a wizard at coming up with synonyms. His daughter, Matron Cassidy, is not exactly warm and friendly, either. This will be a tough gig for Jacquard, but it will be worse for the men looking to worm their way into her life.

Remaking a cult favorite is always a risky proposition, but probably no filmmaker could tackle Patrick with as much credibility as Hartley, a certifiable expert in Australian (and Filipino) exploitation films as the director of the wildly entertaining Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed documentaries. Hartley cranks up the gothic elements, drawing nearly as much from the Hammer Frankenstein franchise as the original source film. It all looks great and gives Charles Dance OBE plenty to chew on as Dr. Roget. While there is an over-reliance on cheap jump scares in the early going, Hartley cuts loose in the second half with some deliriously over the top sequences.

From "Patrick: Evil Awakens."

If not exactly a feminist triumph, the figure of Jacquard is comparatively proactive and You’re Next’s Sharni Vinson’s performance is reasonably assertive. At least she is not sitting around waiting to be a victim. Likewise, former Oscar nominee Rachel Griffiths (for Hilary and Jackie, remember?) pulls off a few well turned character development surprises as the severe Matron Cassidy. As for Jackson Gallagher, you could say he is rather stiff as the title character.

By genre standards, the new Patrick is pretty impressive, featuring a massively moody score composed by Pino Donaggio (probably best known for his work with Brian De Palma and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now). Hartley also finds a wickedly funny way to drop in Brian May’s original Patrick theme. It is certainly preposterous at times, but it still works quite well, all things considered. Recommended for horror movie fans and Ozploitation junkies, Patrick: Evil Awakens opens this Friday (3/14) in select theaters.


Posted on March 13th, 2014 at 7:58pm.

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By Joe Bendel. In 2003, a sixteen year-old kid from Manchester should have been on Friendster. Instead, Mark is getting touchy feely in an anonymous chat-room. That always leads to bad things in the movies and this based-on-a-true-story teen angst-thriller is no exception. Once again, the internet apparently turns a clean-cut popular kid into a killer in Andrew Douglas’s awkwardly titled uwantme2killhim?, produced by Bryan “X-Men” Singer, which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Mark, the shaggy-haired jock, pretty much has his pick of the girls at school, while John basically serves as the campus punching bag. However, Mark agrees to take John under his wing when he discovers he is the younger brother of Rachel, his online girlfriend. He has never met her face to face because she and her abusive boyfriend, Kevin McNeil, are in the witness protection program, which makes perfect sense to Mark.

Since webcams were not such a common accessory at the time, Mark falls for her solely on the basis of her photo and her sub-literate chat dialogue. Unfortunately, when the thuggish McNeil kills Rachel out of jealousy, it thoroughly destabilizes Mark, leaving him susceptible to the ominous offers of the MI-5 agent supposedly monitoring McNeil.

Right, you are probably already smelling a rat and you will not be not far wrong if you can think of a tasty fish they like to fry up in Louisiana. The only real questions are who is playing Mark and why? Mike Walden’s dramatic adaptation of Judy Bachrach’s Vanity Fair article does its best to pepper red herrings throughout, but the in medias res structure does not help to build any real suspense.

From "uwantme2killhim."

It is rather compelling to watch Jamie Blackley transform Mark from a big man on campus to an anti-social head case. However, Douglas (best known for helming the Amityville Horror remake) is not able to convincingly convey the sort of slow frogs-boiling-water process necessary to undermine his previously well-adjusted psyche Uwantetc also boasts an intriguing supporting cast, including Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggart (Lady Mary’s maid, Anna) as DI Sarah Clayton and Jaime Winstone as Rachel, but it never gives them much to do.

When was the last time the internet served as an agent of progress on film? Clearly, the movie business is still holding a grudge for all the business presumably lost to file-sharers. Despite the not so shocking plot twists, the character’s psychological dynamics are still provocative and ultimately rather sad and disturbing. Unfortunately, Douglas and Walden were apparently determined to maximize the film’s timeliness with their compulsive attention to British surveillance practices. Yet the events of the film could ironically support even more extensive and pervasive online monitoring policies. An earnest misfire, uwantme2killhim? opens this Friday (3/14) in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7.


Posted on March 13th, 2014 at 7:53pm.

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From "Monster."

By Joe Bendel. There are enough fractured families here to keep an American sitcom fully stocked. There is also a serial killer stalking them, so their limited numbers will only get smaller. However, the stone cold murderer in question may have finally crossed paths with the wrong vegetable hawker in Hwang In-ho’s dark thriller, Monster, which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Bok-soon is known in her neighborhood as a somewhat slow street vendor with anger management issues. Nevertheless, she works hard to provide for her somewhat younger sister Eun-jeong, who is a gifted student with a presumably bright future ahead of her. Young Na-ri also lived with her older sister, until she was killed by Tae-soo. Enjoying the chase, Tae-soo gives Na-ri an opportunity to run, just so he can hunt her down again. Eventually, Bok-soon and her sister take in the petrified girl. Unfortunately, Eun-jeong soon becomes his next victim.

Even though Bok-soon has an imperfect understanding of the situation, she is not one to take her sister’s murder lying down. In fact, she will go out looking for the killer’s lair, while doing her best to protect Na-ri. Meanwhile, Tae-soo continues to thoroughly creep out his adopted mother and loser step-brother, who originally unleashed the maniac on Na-ri’s sister, at the behest of his shady contacts. After all, what is the good of having a serial killer brother if you don’t use him as a free enforcer In retrospect, he might come to regret seeing Tae-soo’s murderous proficiency up-close-and-personal once again.

From "Monster."

The potentially exploitative perils of focusing on a mentally challenged focal character almost go without saying, especially when Hwang often has her creating various public spectacles. Nevertheless, Kim Go-eun helps rehabilitate Bok-soon with a fearlessly intense and vulnerable performance. We come to understand her own frustrations with herself and her fierce sense of loyalty, as well as the obvious fear and rage. Clearly intended as a dramatic change of pace from her breakout performance in Eungyo (A Muse), Kim looks considerably older than the Lolita-like character that ignited her career. Young Ahn Seo-hyun is also a tad older than when she stole nearly all of her scenes as the privileged daughter of Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid, but she is still an unusually expressive and disciplined child actor.

In contrast, Lee Min-ki’s icy ruthlessness is adequate to the film’s needs, but it is nothing we have not seen before in dozens of previous psycho killer films. On the other hand, Kim Roi-ha and Kim Boo-seon give the film its darkly comic edge as his craven half-brother and his massively in-denial Mother Dearest. Their scenes together take family dysfunction to a whole new level.

Whatever objections audiences might have to Monster’s thematic excesses Hwang overcomes through the brute force of his thriller mechanics. Tense and violent, the film is a gripping (and exhausting) viewing experience. Recommended for fans of the serial killer genre and Kim Go-eun, Monster opens tomorrow (3/14) in Los Angeles at the CGV Cinemas.


Posted on March 13th, 2014 at 7:47pm.

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