ROBERT TOWNE’S WITHOUT LIMITS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Without Limits is a very solid film. Co-written with Kenny Moore and directed with class and integrity by Robert Towne and benefiting immensely from Bill Crudup’s method performance as Steve Prefontaine, this is a strong, inspirational sports film that delves into the human psyche just as much as it looks at Prefontaine’s tremendous skill as an athlete. Shot with un-showy elegance by Conrad Hall, one of the true masters of light, Without Limits transcends its customary narrative approach with excellent dialogue and a great roster of supporting performances including Donald Sutherland as Prefontaine’s ambitious coach and future Nike pioneer Bill Bowerman, the adorable Monica Potter as the love interest, Jeremy Sisto, Matthew Lilliard, Dean Norris, Billy Burke, William Mapother, and a FANTASTIC cameo from William Friedkin in the opening section. Randy Miller’s triumphant score hits all the expected, uplifting notes without ladling on extra, unnecessary sentiment, and I loved how smooth the film felt on an emotional arc level; Towne was always a master at crafting the perfect flow with his material. A massive failure at the box-office, this $25 million production grossed less than $1 million in cinemas, which makes even less sense when one factors in the fact that it was a “prestige project” with Tom Cruise as the main producer. How and why this movie was buried I’ll never understand. For his magnetic and amazingly committed performance as Prefontaine, Crudup should’ve been nominated for Best Actor, and it struck me while watching the film last night just how versatile and underrated of an actor he is. I submit the following films as insane evidence of his range and eclectic taste in material: Watchmen, The Good Shepherd, Dedication, Almost Famous, Big Fish, Blood Ties, Public Enemies, The Hi-Lo Country(!), Sleepers, Mission: Impossible III, and Monument Ave. Some of the roles were bigger than others, but in every film, he’s cut a dynamic portrait of whatever character he’s taking on, and I personally think his work in Watchmen is extraordinary and unforgettable. Without Limits is one of those quiet, unsung movies that deserves more recognition and a higher profile, especially considering it’s another underrated directorial effort from the legendary Towne (Ask the Dust, Tequila Sunrise, and the unseen by me Personal Best are his other credits). Note: Not to be confused with the 1997 effort Prefontaine, from doc specialist Steve James, with Jared Leto in the titular role.

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MOORHEAD/BENSON’S RESOLUTION — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Before this year’s terrific genre-bender Spring, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson crafted Resolution, a super low-budget psychological thriller that embraces genre elements while cleverly subverting your expectations. Much in the same way they did with Spring, these guys demonstrate a serious command of atmosphere and unique style, while also allowing their frightening scenario to play out with a sense of intelligence and mystery and black humor. The action centers on Mike (Peter Cilella, effective), who travels to a remote cabin to visit his friend Chris (Vinny Curran, hyper and messy) who has been smoking crack and generally acting a fool. Mike handcuffs Chris to a pipe inside the cabin in an effort to get him straight and sober. Little does he know that druggies will be coming to look for Chris, and that the cabin they’re staying in doesn’t belong to them, in more ways than one. Then, all sorts of strange stuff starts to happen – think Cache meets The Ring meets Cabin in the Woods on a micro budget – and while the final sequence certainly evokes the supernatural, I’d hesitate to call this film a “horror” movie in the traditional sense. Much like Spring, the multi-hyphenate talents aren’t content to play it simple, as they clearly seem to be interested in elevating their material with a level of cerebral attention that will have me coming back for more in the future. It’s a cool 90 minutes of sketchy cinema, and having viewed it after Spring, I can see how their second effort feels like an even more logical next step after this. I’m expecting great things from this interesting duo…

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PTS Presents Filmmaker Wayne Kramer POWERCAST

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Photo Credit: Richard Cartwright http://www.RichardCartwright.com

We are incredibly proud to present a two hour conversation with filmmaker Wayne Kramer where we discuss his fantastic filmography of THE COOLER, RUNNING SCARED, CROSSING OVER and PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES and he briefly teases his next project.  Wayne discussed at length his filmography and talked about his knack for casting amazing ensembles.   Wayne also discusses his love for film scores, particularly that of John Barry and his influences of film noir, 1970’s crime films and the collective work of Brian De Palma.  We would like to thank Wayne for being so gracious with his time.

All of Wayne’s films are available to purchase via Amazon.com, by disc on Netflix’s mailing service, and to rent or own via Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and iTunes.

PAUL MAZURSKY’S HARRY & TONTO — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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They don’t make ’em like Harry & Tonto anymore. This film is note-perfect in every scene. Paul Mazursky always cut to the heart of things and this sort of movie is directly up my cat-loving, cinematic alley. I’ve watched this film a few times and each time I love it even more and I find new things to get excited about. Sentimental and very effective at making you cry but never not without honest intent and clear-eyed purpose, Harry & Tonto is about the power of the human spirit, about the enjoyment of interaction with others, and how there can be an intrinsic bond between a person and a feline that can make the heart grow in exponential ways. But for every moment where you feel that Mazursky might be going for the emotional jugular too often, you never forget that the entire piece was done with such honesty, and each scene feels real and tangible, so there’s no sense in trying to resist. And to think that Art Carney beat Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II), Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), and Albert Finney (Murder on the Orient Express) at the Oscars for Best Actor back in the day – look at that murderer’s row of talent! And guess what? Carney’s role of an old man travelling the country with his orange tabby cat by his side as he looks to reconnect with family members may not have been the flashiest of sexiest choice in the room, but it’s a performance that encapsulates all that’s potentially good about a person, and how there are some of us who are inherently kind and favor an different view of the world than the rest of us. Mazursky was always interested in what it was to be a human being, and how the circumstances around his characters dictated their motivations and decisions, rather than arbitrary plotting setting the mood and tone. Harry & Tonto is an absolutely wonderful movie that deals with the human condition in a very humble and gracious way, and the film is yet another reminder that the 70’s produced some of the absolute best American films ever crafted. And then there’s the cat! Ohhhh that cat! You just can’t believe what they got that cat to do, or, more accurately, what the cat gave them and allowed them to film. It’s just incredible to observe, and I think it’s VERY clear where the Coen brothers got their inspiration for the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis. And you know what else I loved about this movie? Every single actor who had a speaking part got to display a believable character. You got to know everyone in this film, doesn’t matter if it’s only for a moment, or if the character is just someone sitting on a bus eating a sandwich. The way the film was constructed allowed for the smallest bits of character to float to the surface, creating a rich tapestry of people, places, feelings, and memories. If you’re not familiar with this rarely discussed movie then you owe it yourself to check it out!

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PTS Proudly Presents Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson of SPRING

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We were incredibly honored to have on the filmmaking duo responsible for the years second best film thus far (behind MAD MAX, sorry guys), Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson of SPRING.  Both Aaron and Justin co-directed the film and edited it together.  Aaron shot the film, and Justin wrote it – but they both had their hands all over each process of the film’s production.

This film is absolutely beautiful, and touching.  It will be one of the most unique and heartfelt love stories you will ever see.  Please check this film out if you have not already.

We trek into spoiler territory for this film, so please be advised.  This film is available to purchase at Best Buy right now, or you can pre-order the blu ray at Amazon.  You can rent/own this film via Amazon Instant Video, Vudu or iTunes.

XAVIER DOLAN’S MOMMY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Wholly cinematic, formally audacious, and made with a clear passion for expanding upon the notion of what constitutes “personal cinema,” Xavier Dolan’s emotionally draining film Mommy is a tour de force for everyone involved. Films like this will definitely provoke some sort of response from the viewer, and whether it’s a good or bad reaction will depend on how open you are as a viewer to be put in the middle of a sad family dynamic that might hit too close to home for some. This is an often times painful domestic drama that unflinchingly stares directly into the face of familial madness without offering any easy solutions to the various problems that are highlighted during the beyond intense two hour and 20 minute runtime. Shot in a perfect square aspect ratio of 1:1, this unusual format allows for the harsh yet gorgeous visuals to gather an extraordinarily intimate head of steam, bringing the audience extremely close to the action, with characters often times busting out of the confines of the frame. And then, during two flights of fancy that strongly tie into the film’s central themes of freedom and regret, Dolan’s film opens up into 1.85:1, allowing a breath of fresh air for everyone, including the audience, as we continue to observe a tragic situation getting all the more dangerous as it progresses. The three central performances are staggering, and it’s a crime that the Academy didn’t pay any attention to this incredibly confident piece of cinema, one that challenges the viewer at almost every turn, asking them to go on an unpredictable ride with loose-cannon characters that can never be tamed. A general plot description: The phenomenal Anne Dorval stars as Diane, “Die” for short, a saucy, widowed mother who is totally consumed and overwhelmed with the struggle of raising her mentally troubled and sometimes physically violent son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon, in a mesmerizing performance of anger and rage). Diane and Steve have a strange, sometimes borderline questionable relationship; think Cyrus but even more oedipal. Along comes an odd and possibly sick (mentally or physically it’s never explained but there’s just something…off about her…) neighbor named Kyla (the intriguing Suzanne Clément) who forms a unique bond and friendship with both Diane and Steve, which leads to some truly unexpected developments and moments of harsh truth for everyone involved. I’ve never seen a film like Mommy, it kept me on the edge of my seat wondering where it was headed next, Dolan’s filmmaking chops totally smacked me upside my head, and I’m now forced to track down the other four films that this 25 year old filmmaker has made over the last five years. This is an unforgettable piece of storytelling and filmmaking.

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WAYNE KRAMER’S RUNNING SCARED — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Running Scared is off the wall, go-for-broke-cinema. You feel like an outlaw while viewing it. Directed with ferocious energy by the fiercely independent and tremendously gifted writer/director Wayne Kramer, this cult favorite was released to both critical adoration and hostility (the Ebert & Roeper episode is a BONAFIDE CLASSIC, with Roeper truly showing how much of an ignoramus he can be), and represented a total switch-up in terms of filmmaking style and intent from his earlier, far more reserved picture, the Las Vegas-set romantic drama The Cooler. This film was part of the mid-2000’s trend of cubist action pictures made by filmmakers looking to advance the form of the extreme action picture (Tony Scott’s Domino, Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces, and Michael Davis’s Shoot ‘Em Up are other notable entries in this subgenre with more recent stuff like Carnahan’s Stretch and Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles also serving as welcome additions). Running Scared made a splash with adventurous audiences in 2006, and it ranks as one of the premiere R-rated actioners of the last 15 years. It’s a supremely stylish hybrid that goes to some truly creepy and insane places on a narrative level while never stopping in the aesthetic explosion department, treating the camera and editing bay as if they were the ultimate toys at a filmmaker’s disposal – as it should be in my estimation. I fucking LOVE this movie. LOVE IT. I was blown away in the theater when I first saw it, and was immediately obsessed with the aggressive stylings and forceful dramatic content that sometimes borders on an overt political statement (Fuck You, Pedophiles!) Running Scared takes elements from the traditional cop film and mixes them with super-dark magical realism (truly the nastiest kind), gritty 70’s flourishes, and modern violence ‘n mayhem which results in an intoxicating brew of kitchen-sink-cinema. This film won’t be for everyone, but for those looking to take a walk on the wild side, look no further.

Ebert’s famous review of Running Scared said it all: “Speaking of movies that go over the top, ‘Running Scared’ goes so far over the top, it circumnavigates the top and doubles back on itself; it’s the Mobius Strip of over-the-topness. I am in awe. It throws in everything but the kitchen sink. Then it throws in the kitchen sink, too, and the combo washer-dryer in the laundry room, while the hero and his wife are having sex on top of it.” HA! I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Roger. Damn I miss your passion. Running Scared is a joyous celebration of all things wild and wooly, with an incredibly engaging and increasingly frenzied lead performance from the late Paul Walker, a terrific supporting turn from Vera Farmiga as his strong willed wife, and tons of great character actors showing off their gruff faces and getting into some seriously nasty shoot-outs (Chazz Palminteri, Johnny Messner, Karl Roden, John Noble, Ivana Milicevic, David Warshofsky POWER, Arthur J. Nascarella, Bruce Altman, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Michael Cudlitz are all extremely memorable). The narrative pivots on a gun used in the murder of a corrupt cop; it’s up to gangster underling Jimmy (Walker) to dispose of the weapon in question without it ever being found. But when the gun goes missing thanks to Jimmy’s 10 year old son and his snooping best friend, all hell breaks loose, and he’s on the run looking for the pistol while trying to evade the dangerous crosshairs of crooked cops, psycho pimps, child killers, and the Russian mob. I’m not saying anything more than that on a story level as this film will surprise ANYONE who checks it out. There’s simply no way to see the various events coming before they arrive in this unhinged piece. This is a dangerous, perverse, adult-oriented flick, replete with seriously graphic violence, hot sex, full female frontal nudity, and the exquisitely liberal use of my favorite word: “Fuck.” And without spoiling it, the way Kramer used Farmiga’s character in the second half of this film deserves major praise. In far too many films, the role of the put upon wife can feel like an afterthought. Not here. In the film’s most controversial bits, she gets to “take out the trash” in a vigilante-esque fashion that feels both emotionally bracing and incredibly cathartic for anyone who feels that societal garbage needs to be wiped out.

The cinematographer James Whitaker goes berserk, filming the action in jagged, extreme close-ups and ultra-slick Steadicam to create a sense of danger and immediacy while upping the visceral ante considerably in all of the brazenly bloody shoot-outs and pummeling beat-downs. Arthur Coburn’s astute editing treats each shot like a piece of the increasingly crazy puzzle that this film ultimately resembles, with staccato editing patterns to match the increasingly heightened visuals. Mark Isham’s sinister and incredibly effective score still haunts me on a weekly basis, with that great theme song used in all the right moments. And again, I have to go back to one of my absolute favorite elements of this movie, which is all of the stuff with Farmiga’s character, and what she gets to add to the story on an overall emotional level. Thanks to Kramer’s inventive screenplay, the thankless role of the “on-looking wife” has been given some heft and texture instead of being relegated to the sidelines, especially after so memorably introducing her. Kramer found ways for the narrative to involve her in interesting and complex ways, giving her character her own arc, and giving the film a menacing edge it might not otherwise have had. And yet another thing I LOVE about this movie is how the various scumbags truly get what they deserve in this outrageous world that Kramer created. You can’t truly take this movie seriously but that doesn’t stop it from being anything less than outlandishly entertaining. It’s a constantly shifting piece of storytelling and is filled with twists and turns, and when you think about EVERYTHING by the conclusion, you’ll notice that some of what happens didn’t NEED to happen, but it did because of the daring bravura of Kramer’s nightmarish vision. That the film was shot in Prague and set in New Jersey only adds to the unique flavor of the entire piece. This was Kramer unleashed, experimenting with form while still paying heed to the satisfying conventions of genre. If this is a film that has escaped you, do yourself a favor and check it out. But be prepared for something cranked up to 100!

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