If you're a fan of intelligently made gangster movies, and in particular those of the Japanese Yakuza variety, a new Takeshi Kitano movie is a big deal. Sure, Beyond Outrage is no Sonatine, or Violent Cop (sadly, they, and most of his tremendous early work is now out of print. It's worth trying MnLink, though), but c'mon... those were pretty lofty heights and a tough standard to hold anyone to. His signature style - long, langourous passages punctuated by sudden frenetic bursts of shocking violence - has so seeped into the genre that it no longer seems as exciting and fresh as it used to, but Beyond Outrage is plenty enjoyable, and Takeshi the Actor's studied deadpan is still one of the best faces in the movies.
Quentin Tarantino called Big Bad Wolves "the best film of the year", which certainly raised the profile of this shocking, violent, semi-suspenseful semi-comedy. Critical reaction was generally positive, although it included it's share of "There's little to the movie other than shocks and gross-outs" (Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald) and "The most novel thing about this Israeli torture extravaganza is that writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado play the grisly material for broad comedy." (Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader) So, you know, not for everybody.
Writer/Director Randy Moore's debut feature is a psychological horror film set at Walt Disney World. Per Wikipedia "It drew attention because Moore had shot most of it on location at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland without permission from The Walt Disney Company, owner and operator of both parks. Due to Disney's reputation of being protective of its intellectual property, the cast and crew used guerrilla filmmaking techniques to avoid attracting attention, such as keeping their scripts on their iPhones and shooting on handheld video cameras similar to those used by park visitors." Critical response was varied: IndieWIRE's Eric Kohn loved it, "A labyrinthine descent into the grotesque extremes of a Disneyfied society, Escape From Tomorrow is surreal for many reasons and wholly original because of them. It's also a daring attempt to literally assail Disney World from the inside out," while the Washington Post did not, "Juvenile, disjointed and pointlessly revolting at times, although there are a few moments of disturbingly stark visual beauty."
The Coen Brothers rank alongside Prince and Garrison Keillor as Minnesota's favorite Minnesotans to brag about being from Minnesota to non-Minnesotans. Joel and Ethan's latest revolves around the early-'60s Greenwich Village folk scene that a certain other famous Minnesotan took by storm. This version centers on Oscar Isaac in a multi non-Oscar award nominated performance as a less successful participant therein.
2013 was a good year for documentaries about recording studios. Greg Camalier's Muscle Shoals profiles two such studios, actually - FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio - both in the small Alabama town of the title. Recipient of much critical acclaim and the Grand Prize at the Boulder International Film Festival. Pair it with Dave Grohl's Sound City and make a night of it.
Director Alex Gibney carries an impressive Acadamy Award-winning resume of documentary hits, including Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, We Steal Secrets and Casino Jack and the United States of Money among others. Clearly, he's got a thing for scandals. His newest feature details the whole Lance Armstrong saga.
Ho hum. Just another great 2013 documentary. The Crash Reel chronicles snowboard legend Kevin Pearce's rivalry with Shaun White, his life-threatening crash and his determination to get back to snowboarding, even though it could kill him. An audience favorite at numerous film festivals across the country and the opening night gala selection at Sundance.
A new Wong Kar-Wai movie is always cause for cinephile rejoicing, and The Grandmaster - while not his finest work - is no exception. International superstar Tony Leung stars as Ip Man, a real-life historical figure and Bruce Lee's mentor. There is another recent, creatively unrelated series of films about Ip Man that have also been hits.
Directed by Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq, These Birds Walk is a documentary that follows a runaway boy in Pakistan. The Chicago Reader's Ben Sachs said, "The impressionistic results succeed in conveying widespread social problems on a relatable scale." Daniel Walber of Film.com said, "These Birds Walk might be the single most beautiful documentary of the year so far." And Nicolas Rapold of the New York Times said, "The filmmakers record the flash of youth's headlong energies, its bumps and bruises, and its melancholies and brilliant chaos."