SEAN MULLIN’S AMIRA & SAM — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Sean Mullin’s sweet yet cuttingly cynical romantic dramedy Amira & Sam hits all the right notes. I love that this film went with its heart in the final act. Martin Starr kills it here – if you’re a fan of his deadpan comedy stylings from HBO’s Silicon Valley then you owe it to yourself to see him all cleaned up and looking crisp and buff in this funny, touching, sad, and finally hopeful little gem that knows exactly what to do during its 85 minute run time. Mullin brings his well-earned real life experiences to the film, so it’s no surprise that the narrative stings with truth and believability despite the mis-matched romance at its center. That the film believes in the power of love is its greatest virtue, as Mullin has created two fully fleshed out characters in a relatively short amount of time, lending credence to the notion that great chemistry can propel any cinematic relationship forward even in the briefest amount of time. It’s also an awesome “New York” movie, with a terrific sense of place and atmosphere, which brings a welcome verisimilitude to the project which might feel unexpected considering the low budget. If you’re not familiar with this movie, please seek it out.

 

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The story hinges on Sam (Starr), an Iraq war veteran who by chance meets Amira (Dina Shihabi), the beautiful niece, and illegal immigrant, of his wartime translator who has relocated to New York. Through a series of potentially life altering circumstances, Sam is asked to hide Amira after a run-in with the NYPD, while an unexpected romance blossoms between the two lost souls. Their “meet-cute” is wonderful, the chemistry that Starr has with Shihabi is palpable, playful, and sexy, and I loved how Mullin threw in pointed jabs about the messed up immigration system that continually plagues America. This is a film that wants to say something about our current social and political landscape, and that it does, with smarts, clarity, and force. And Mullin’s sensitivity towards veterans is noticeable from the outset, and while never condescending, he paints a portrait of Sam as a man who is still reeling from his experiences and who hopes to overcome any psychological turmoil that me might be expecting. Paul Wesley’s scummy supporting performance (he was also excellent in Before I Disappear) acts as a comment on young greed run amok in our post 9/11 landscape, and I love how Mullin seemingly isn’t afraid of mixing the topical with the tried-and-true conventions of the romantic comedy. And while the film is funny, there’s a dramatic center to the entire picture that lends it credibility. Laith Nakli (perfectly pensive) and David Rasche (perfectly to the point) also offer strong supporting performances.

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Feeling like a cousin in some respects to Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor, this is a film that operates on a few levels, with comedy masking some rather upsetting notions of estrangement, and while what happens in the final moments might strike some as unlikely, I believed it because of how well defined the central relationship was and because Mullin clearly has an affinity for his characters (he also wrote the original screenplay, which seemingly feels based on some of his life experiences to go off the Wikipedia page). But when you cut to it, the bleeding heart of this movie rests in the two wonderful performances from Starr and Shihabi, who both inhabit real people in an increasingly stressful yet hopeful situation, one with no easy answers and no pat resolutions by the time the narrative has come to a conclusion. Without spoiling anything, the final moments of this small gem are absolutely perfect, encapsulating all of the ideas and themes that Mullin has worked to convey throughout his story, and while their road might be fraught with uncertainty, you’re always rooting for Amira & Sam, which is a pleasure for the audience. This is one of those small, under the radar movies that deserves to find an audience!

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Damián Szifron’s WILD TALES — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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I mean honestly…who the hell actually ENJOYS going to weddings? Well…if the wedding in question is anything like the one featured in the off the wall black comedy Wild Tales, well then send me an invite! Brutally funny, graphically violent, incredibly transgressive, and all together brilliant, Damián Szifron’s Oscar nominated film from Argentina will grab you by the throat and not let you out of its demented grasp for two hours. Feeling at times like an insane hybrid of Falling Down, Sightseers, Fight Club, and other notable films where violence and comedy are skillfully mixed, Wild Tales is concocted of six separate stories all focusing on the themes of revenge, fate, and anger, with sharp social commentary thrown in all around the edges. The film opens with a perverse bit of airborne madness, and the following segments go on to feature a hit and run that’s treated like some sort of sick joke, a nighttime diner that becomes the scene of something truly nasty, a car towing company that will think twice about carelessly scooping up automobiles in the future, a road rage incident that goes above and beyond what can ever be expected, and the ultimate wedding from hell which is showcased in all its fucked up, psychosexual glory. Seriously – I loved every moment of this sick and twisted movie, and I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud over what I was witnessing. So many times this film took me by surprise, and while I could guess where some of it was headed, the end result was never able to be guessed in advance. Executive produced by Pedro Almodovar and starring a bevy of actors and actresses who all go for broke, Wild Tales manages to be over the top yet somehow believable given the extremely heightened style and scenario, and even after one viewing, I know I’ve seen something very special. This one is worth buying sight unseen as I can almost guarantee that if you like it on any level, you’ll want to revisit it sooner than later…I can’t wait for more!

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HOWARD FRANKLIN’S THE PUBLIC EYE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Howard Franklin’s 1992 effort The Public Eye is an interesting sort-of-neo-noir with an awesome performance from Joe Pesci who was hot off his Oscar winning turn in Goodfellas. Produced by Robert Zemeckis, this is a lavishly appointed period piece loosely based on the exploits of New York Daily News photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig, with Pesci playing a dramatized version of the famed nightcrawler (Lou Bloom eat your heart out!) Co-starring Barbara Hershey, Stanley Tucci, Richard Schiff, Jerry Adler, and Dominic Chianese(!), the film is an entertaining drama with lots of style and robust performances. Peter Suschitzky glossy cinematography was a perfect fit for the sordid material (bloody crime scenes, nocturnal shenanigans, the flashing of camera bulbs) and Mark Isham’s dynamic score sets the mood at all times. A box office flop despite solid reviews (Ebert was a notable four star fan), it’s one of those movies that I would consistently see at Blockbuster back in the day but for some reason never rented it. As it was on HBO HD, I recorded it, and found it to be immediately engagaing, something I probably wouldn’t have responded too as a teenager, but something I’m glad I had a chance to finally see. Franklin’s eclectic credits also include the screenplays for Ridley Scott’s underrated Someone to Watch Over Me, The Name of the Rose for Jean-Jacques Annaud, and co-writing/co-directing duties on the classic Bill Murray comedy Quick Change.

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.

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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