Cinema Clash podcast: Radioactive; Yes, God, Yes; The Rental

Review: Made In Italy

What are the odds of two films set in Italy, where art plays a prominent role, both coming out on the same day? I guess, in a pandemic, all bets are off. The audiences are likely to differ though for the unpredictable adult drama The Burnt Orange Heresy and the predictable, yet harmlessly watchable father-son melodrama Made in Italy, starring real father and son Liam Neeson and Micheál Richardson.

Review: I Used to Go Here

In this likable little indie comedy, thirty-something Kate (Gillian Jacobs from TV’s Community) has just published her debut novel and is excitedly planning for her first book tour. Then her agent calls to tell her that sales are slow and it’s been canceled. On top of it her recently ex-fiancé isn’t returning her calls. And all her friends are having babies. And life sucks. So what’s a girl to do? Accept an invitation from her favorite professor and mentor to return to her alma mater in Carbondale, Illinois for a reading to his latest writing class. What follows is a light and somewhat familiar story, elevated by a well-chosen cast and solid direction by Kris Rey (Unexpected).

Review: The Burnt Orange Heresy

The Burnt Orange Heresy is an ‘arty’ film, in more than ways than one. It drew me in early on, meandered ever so slowly in the middle, then came back around to end with an artistic, cerebral flourish. The best part about the film is that it absolutely grants permission to regurgitate some lofty-sounding critique replete with praise and consternation for the way it uses art as a backdrop for exploring themes of manipulation, greed, romance, mystery, addiction and mental illness. That – and it’s got a darned good cast.

Review: Red Penguins

Red Penguins is a sports documentary that is less about the actual sport – ice hockey – than the place and time and personalities. It’s the story of how the Pittsburgh Penguins owner had the crazy idea to step in and save the Russian Hockey Team after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 left them penniless and unmoored. It’s a wild dive into the New Russia with its gangsters and emerging capitalism. And the actual game isn’t really all that central to this fascinating story. The naiveté of the Americans believing that business would be conducted just like at home in the a country that was just emerging from decades of state control is pretty hilarious in hindsight. And the film itself teeters between these naive American’s rushing in with money and the Russians taking advantage with a wink and a nod and a Kalashnikov at the ready. It’s definitely a stranger-than-fiction doc worth seeing.

Review: Summerland

Set mostly during World War II, Summerland takes place on the beautiful and remote southern coast of England. Misanthropic writer Alice (Gemma Arterton, Vita & Virginia, Tamara Drewe) lives in a small village where the kids think she’s a witch, and the rest of the villagers leave her a wide berth. She’s fine with that since she’s hard at work writing while pining away for the loss of her one great love. Then one day she opens her door and a young boy named Frank (Lucas Bond) is there – an evacuee from London who expects to live with her. To say she’s reluctant to take him in would be a gross understatement. But of course she does and little by little they grow to care about one other. It’s a pretty familiar story, and it feels a bit like an episode of one of your favorite BBC series. But it’s also a pleasant, heart-warming diversion we can lose ourselves in for a time during this virus obsessed period.

Review: The Secret: Dare to Dream

I vaguely remember getting caught up in “The Secret” craze circa 2006. One of my more spiritual-minded friends passed along a copy of the popular self-help book by Rhonda Byrne. Visualize your goals and dreams, it implored (ever so gently), and – voila! – they will surely come true. No comment.

Cynical and jaded as I may be, I do understand ‘The Secret’ appeal – especially in these crazy times. And that’s why the rather lame movie, The Secret: Dare to Dream, gets a ‘kumbaya’ pass. Embrace what it’s going for; forgive the rest.

Review: The Cuban

The Cuban started life as a short film script. But when they couldn’t get the money to shoot it they expanded it to a feature and crowdfunded to get started. Then they found out that Oscar winner Lou Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman) had already read the script and they were off and running. It’s the story of the relationship between Luis (Gossett), an elderly Cuban musician suffering from Alzheimer’s who’s languishing in a nursing home, and Mina (Ana Golja), a young, headstrong pre-med student, who brings him back to life though the power of music. It’s a fairly predictable story, but well-done and ultimately heart-warming.

Cinema Clash podcast: Radioactive; Yes, God, Yes; The Rental

I thought about writing up a quick review for Yes, God, Yes. But then I thought, no, God, no. It was awkward enough talking about it with my podcast partner Charlie. The film is a coming-of-age dramedy about a Catholic school teenager who goes off to a religious retreat (aka “Jesus Camp”) for a few days to purify her soul after stumbling upon a racy AOL chatroom, and getting caught up in a scandalous rumor involving a classmate – and salad.

Review: Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful

If you spent any time reading or viewing Vogue from the 60s to the 90s, you are familiar with photographer Helmut Newton’s work. Naked women often in power poses, most notably in black and white, were his trademark. He died in 2004 still at the top of his game. A German Jew whose family fled in 1938, he’d already apprenticed with one of Germany’s top photographers, and eventually landed in Singapore, then Australia, where his fashion photographer career blossomed. Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful talks to the models who posed for him, the editors who hired him, as well as friends, admirers, and detractors. Grace Jones, Isabella Rossellini, Charlotte Rampling, Marianne Faithfull, and Claudia Schiffer sing his praises. Anna Wintour loved his work. Susan Sontag calls him a misogynist. I always thought of him as Sontag did, but the documentary gave me a different view of the women who worked with him and his view of his own pictures. And we’re far enough from the work and the culture of the time to see them in a new light.

Quickie Review: The Rental

The setup is all there for your usual thriller, with a few of the standard horror tropes thrown in. A couple of couples rent a house for the weekend in a very remote, yet gorgeous seaside location. There’s a caretaker who immediately comes off as kind of creepy and racist, but they just shrug it off and get on with their fun getaway, star gazing, doing a bit of ecstasy, hanging in the hot tub, hiking. But when a late night hookup with the wrong partner is about to be exposed by someone who filmed it with some cameras hidden around the house, everything spins out of control. And people start dying.