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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

LFM GRADE: C+

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.

LFM GRADE: B

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.

LFM GRADE: C

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

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By Joe Bendel. Above ground, it is like George Orwell’s Oceania. Below ground, it is like Zion in Matrix: Revolutions, except this is a better film. It is easy to tell them apart, because the polarity of gravity is different for each. Yet, two young people will try to bridge the gap in Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Patema Inverted, which screens during the 2014 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Those who live above are pulled down, whereas those who live below are pushed up. Obviously, whenever the latter leave their underground warrens, they run the risk of floating out of the atmosphere. Nevertheless, their princess, Patema, has the compulsion to explore, much like her missing and presumed dead father figure, Lagos. Oddly enough, something similar happened to surface-dweller Age’s father. He invented a flying machine that went up, but never came down.

Being his father’s son, Age is out of step with the Aiga police state, so he instinctively protects Patema when she strays too far into his world. However, he is no match for the evil overlord Izamura’s secret police. With Patema captured, Age seeks refuge below ground, learning first-hand what is like to live an upside-down existence.

While Inverted has the trappings of dystopian science fiction, it is really more of fantasy at heart. Much of what transpires would be difficult to explain scientifically, so Yoshiura hardly bothers. Sure, some scientific experiment tampered with gravity way back when, but that is just the opening premise. Inverted opens up into a big, cosmic canvas, where up and down are never constant. Frankly, it might be one of the most dizzying films ever made—and it is in good old fashioned 2D.

Like Yoshiura’s excellent Time of Eve, Inverted is built around a high concept, but it does not have the same human touch as his prior NYICFF selection (which is an ironic thing to write, considering Eve is all about human-android interaction). Patema and Age are plucky and likable, with psychologically complex backstories, but they still are not as fully realized characters as those in Eve. Of course, Yoshiura set the bar really high in that film.

Still, by big budget animation standards, Inverted is quite thoughtful and engaging. It would make an interesting double feature with Cuarón’s Gravity, while Eve could be nicely paired up with Jonze’s Her. Easily recommended for its rich visuals and idealistic sensibilities, Patema Inverted screens again Saturday March 22nd at the SVA Theater, as the 2014 NYICFF continues over the next three weekends at venues throughout Manhattan. Future screenings will include the absolutely charming AninA and the appealing Annie: It’s a Hard Knock Life.

LFM GRADE: B+

Posted on March 9th, 2014 at 11:52pm.

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By Joe Bendel. For some hardcore table soccer players, only absolutely clean goals count. That is more stringent than the rules laid down by the international association, but nearly everyone frowns on three-sixty “spinnies.” However, all rule books get tossed out when an egomaniacal football (soccer) superstar challenges a nebbish table player in Juan José Campanella’s Foosball, which screens (in 2D) during the 2014 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Amadeo’s son Mati thinks the old man is kind of a loser. Oh, but if he only knew the full story. In his old village home, Amadeo worked in the neighborhood bar and lovingly cared for the foosball table. He soon becomes the local champion, even besting the bullying Grosso. For years, this was his moment of glory and the foundation of his relationship with Laura, his almost girlfriend. Unfortunately, Grosso has returned, having achieved fame and fortune as a footballer. It seems the thuggish Grosso has bought the town in its entirety and intends to bulldoze everything to make way for his grand football complex. Naturally, his first target is Amadeo’s foosball table, the symbol of his only defeat.

Thoroughly demoralized, he only manages to save the captain, whom comes alive like Frosty when christened with one of Amadeo’s tears. Soon Amadeo’s entire Foos team is animated and reunited, along with the Maroons, their Washington General rivals. Of course, the small metallic men will be no match for the brutish Grosso, but they will coach Amadeo when he is forced to challenge his nemesis to a match on the football field.

It is not hard to see why Foosball was a monster hit in Argentina. The animation is at a Pixar level and it features all kinds of football action. It is an unlikely follow-up to Campanella’s Oscar winning melancholy mystery, The Secret in Their Eyes, but Foosball shows a bit of an analog sensibility, preferring the physicality of foosball to insubstantial video games. Viewers are also clearly invited to disdain Grosso’s nouveau riche excesses.

From "Foosball."

Without question, the little foos men are the film’s not so secret weapons. Lovingly scratched and worn in appropriate detail, they cleverly send-up archetypes that will be familiar to even casual soccer watchers. Yet for adults, Grosso’s unapologetically corpulent and equally acerbic agent often steals the show.

Campanella scores a lot of laughs in Foosball, while saying quite a bit about fair play and self-respect. It is a lot of fun, but it actually is not the best Latin American animated film at this year’s NYICFF. That would be Alfredo Soderguit’s sweet and sensitive AninA, hailing from Uruguay. Still, young boys will probably dig Foosball more. Recommended for sports fans of all ages, Foosball screens again this coming Saturday (3/15) at the SVA Theater and Saturday the 29th at the IFC Center, as this year’s NYICFF continues at venues throughout the City.

LFM GRADE: B

Posted on March 9th, 2014 at 11:41pm.

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