Tag Archive | Movie Review

Movie Review: Stink!

Stink Animated Movie Poster

The plots of many horror films, both modern and classic, often center on the tragic fate of individuals who take an interest in suspicious matters where their attention is neither wanted nor welcome. And while things rarely, if ever, work out well for the protagonists of those films, a provocative new documentary entitled Stink! aims to benefit, potentially, every consumer on the planet by revealing hidden truths about carcinogenic chemical ingredients contained in an innumerable list of products that we all eat, wear and put on our bodies every day. The cosmetic industry, the film points out, is especially lacking in federal regulation. It isn’t at all unlikely that the Chanel No 5 cologne that you spray on your body contains some of the same ingredients as your toilet bowl cleaner. Are you horrified? You will be by the time you’re about 20 minutes into Stink!

It’s been said that it’s not about what you know or what you don’t know: it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that can hurt you. That’s what Stink! is all about. Created and directed by Jon Whelan, Stink! is one man’s quest for transparency that was prompted when Whelan noticed an overwhelmingly foul chemical smell coming from Pajamas he’d purchased as Christmas gifts for his two young daughters. Whelan was left as a single father after his wife, Heather, succumbed to breast cancer in January of 2009. A beautiful and vibrant woman, Heather Whelan makes significant posthumous appearances throughout the documentary as Jon pays tribute to her inspirational life and vows to protect their children from the the toxic chemical product additives that she, in life, was so vigilantly wary of.

While consumer product package labeling is more and more widely available, what most of us are clueless about is the fact that toxins can very easily hidden in the guise of being labeled as “fragrance,” and there are no laws that compel companies to divulge the fact that they are using toxic chemicals in their products. Yes, putting poisons in consumer products is completely legal and, in fact, it is a widespread, cost-cutting practice that’s protected by lobbyists who are hired to fight for a company’s bottom line in order to pad their own pockets. It’s disgusting. The level of bureaucratic bullshit — much of which is starkly revealed over Stink!‘s 91-minute run time, is both staggering and infuriating.

Engaging, enlightening, and scary as hell, Stink! takes you on a three-year journey from the retailer to the laboratory, through corporate boardrooms, down back alleys, and into the halls of Congress. In Stink!, the viewer follows Whelan on his dogged search for anyone willing to be accountable as he clashes with political and corporate operatives all trying to protect the darkest secrets of the chemical industry.

Troubling facts revealed by Whelan in the film include:
1. Almost 1,500 chemical ingredients are currently banned in the European Union. Only 11 of those ingredients are banned in the United States.
2. Formaldehyde, Propylparaben, Lead Acetate and other dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals are often found in cosmetic products on shelves in US retailers.
3. The FDA has virtually no authority to test cosmetics and other consumer products for unsafe levels of harmful chemicals.

Yes, even the FDA can’t save you! This film is wildly eye opening and will surely prompt you to ask the question “Is this safe to use?” about virtually every item in your home, and rightly so. As Whelen says in the trailer (below) “It’s my story, but it could be yours.” If that doesn’t scare you, trust me; it should.

The Worley Gig Gives Stink! Five out of Five Stars.

Stink! Opens in New York on Black Friday (November 27th) at Cinema Village on Second Avenue and 12th Street, and in Los Angeles on December 4th, 2015, Before Expanding to Additional Markets. Watch the Trailer Below.

Film Review: Asia Argento’s Misunderstood

Misunderstood Poster English

People don’t normally equate childhood with a kind of battlefield, where the very process of growing up is an act of unqualified heroism, but then again not everyone has seen the Asia Argento film Misunderstood, where the lone soldier/hero is a nine-year-old girl named Aria. Set in Rome in the mid-1980s, Misunderstood is an exceptionally well-crafted (though not always easy to watch) film which focuses on a pivotal year in the life of Aria (played by Giulia Salerno), who has the misfortune to be the child of self-centered parents who are just on the verge of divorcing when our story begins. Aria lives with her parents (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gabriel Garko), a famous concert pianist, and a Screen-Idol actor respectively, and two half sisters; the oldest being the spoiled child of her father’s previous marriage, and the middle daughter belonging to her mother from a former relationship. What is evident from the beginning is that Aria, a beautiful, bright and talented little girl, is part of a family where she has virtually no one is on her side. Fortunately, she does have a tight and affectionate relationship with her best friend, Angelica (Alice Pea) and a beloved pet cat, Dac, which she dotes on throughout the film.

At school, Aria excels in composition, and is more of a wallflower than a victim of bullying. Aria and Angelica have a sweet and fiercely close friendship, and the two call each other by the same pet name, and get into quite a bit of harmless mischief together. As the story progresses, however, Aria’s relationship to her peers spirals downward and draws parallels to the plight of the character Dawn Wiener from Todd Solondz‘ merciless black comedy, Welcome to The Dollhouse (1995). Eventually, the cumulative affects of casual abandonment, neglect, and betrayal seemingly squash Aria’s indomitable spirit, and she takes unexpected actions in the face of her bleak circumstances.

Misunderstood is being billed as a comedy, but most of the comedic moments stem from feelings of absurd discomfort, in which her bickering and oftentimes cruel mother and father treat their shared child as if she were a bargaining chip or a mere inconvenience to be pushed off on the other as a form of revenge. We’ve seen this parental cruelty and indifference in films like What Maisie Knew (2013), and Fish Tank (2009), and it is never easy to watch, especially since Aria is such a charming and gentle child, who only wants what she deserves; her parent’s unconditional love and acceptance.

Misunderstood Madre and Aria
Charlotte Gainsbourg (Madre) and Giulia Salerno (Aria). Image Courtesy of Angelo Turetta.

The acting in Misunderstood is excellent all around, featuring possibly one of the best performances I’ve seen from Gainsbourg (who is no stranger to playing unsympathetic characters) and a fantastic, finely nuanced performance from Giulia Salerno, (whose resume already includes half a dozen films). Gabriel Garko (best known for roles on Italian television) is also well-cast as Aria’s almost cartoonish and completely clueless, egomaniacal father. The film also features an exceptional soundtrack that mixes period appropriate, deep-cut pop songs with classical pieces and original compositions, all of which were obviously chosen with a great deal of insight and care.

A few write ups on the film reveal that Misunderstood is highly autobiographical, based on the director’s early life as the daughter of actress Daria Nicolodi and Gialo/horror film director Dario Argento – and it’s easy enough to find out that Argento’s given name at birth was Aria – but the filmmaker claims this is not the case. I don’t think it really matters if Asia Argento suffered through a childhood similar to Aria’s or not, all that matters is that she’s managed to tell a story that successfully touches the viewer emotionally, and feels very real, even when at its most surreal.

In Italian, English and French, with English subtitles, this film is unrated and has a runt ime of 103 minutes. Misunderstood is released to theaters and On-Demand September 25th, 2015. In Manhattan, you can see it at the IFC Center, located at 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street. Click Here for Showtimes

The Worley Gig Gives Misundertood Five out of Five Stars.

Watch the Trailer Below:

Movie Review: My Way

My Way Movie Poster

Reminiscent of inspiring music documentaries such as The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna (which provided the Riot Grrrl movement founder with the substantial props she deserved), and Anvil, the Story of Anvil (a film that completely resurrected an unsung band’s entire career), My Way, focusing on singer/songwriter guitarist Rebekah Snyder-Starr, showcases one musician’s quest to find success in the music business while doing things on her own terms.

Directed by Dominique Mollee and Vinny Sisson, My Way centers on an engaging cross-country road trip taken by Starr and her close friend Annika, one of two tambourine players/back up singers in the all-femme Rebekah Starr Band, based in Starr’s home town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania.  Unsatisfied in her marriage to her childhood sweetheart, and having recently been fired from her own family’s corporate business, Rebekah is clearly a woman whose dreams have outgrown her small town environment. With little to lose, and no one else in the band able to leave their day jobs or family obligations, Rebekah and Annika map out their adventure from PA to LA, where their goal is to play a gig on the Sunset Strip, and, ultimately, to shoot a video for the titular song, which is Rebekah’s personal “My way or the highway” mantra which keeps her focused on getting what she wants. It does not hurt that she is completely adorable and has actual musical talent.

During the journey (which took place in 2010), the girls play impromptu acoustic gigs in whatever local roadside bar will have them, earn gas money and promote the band by selling their CDs to everyone they meet, reunite with old friends, and make lots of new ones, while working through challenges that arise in their friendship. The storyline is advanced by the appearance of various music industry insiders such as Poison drummer Rikki Rocket (also a Pennsylvania native) who keenly illuminates both what it really means to struggle as an unknown band, as well as the type of relentless effort involved in eventually making it professionally. Enuff Z’Nuff  songwriter/bassist Chip Z’nuff (who has written original material with Rebekah) and former Guns ‘n’ Roses drummer Steven Adler also add their insight, as does veteran Porn Star Ron Jeremy, who appears as comic relief in one of Rebekah’s music videos (available on the DVD as an extra).

Even if you have not heard the Rebekah Starr Band prior to seeing this film, you will become familiar with many of their songs due to the music’s near-ubiquitous presence on the soundtrack, playing like a car radio under almost every scene in the film, adding a kind of biographical narrative enhancement. Comparable to girl bands such as pre-fame Bangles (when the band was know as The Bangs) or Luscious Jackson, Rebekah has an appealing voice, knows how to write a catchy, pop-punk tune and is an accomplished guitarist. The music has both artistic and commercial appeal, and while she certainly cares about looking her best, Rebekah never tries to “get by” on her looks or exploit her sex appeal. Any woman with an ambition to be a rock musician or any genre of artist would take inspiration from Rebekah‘s story while being entertained and also hearing some good music along the way.

My Way opens at NYC’s Quad Cinema, located at 34 West 13th Street, New York, New York 10011 on Friday, February 27th. Run Time: 93 minutes. This film is Not Rated but is (probably) fine for ages 13 and up..


The Fifty Shades of Grey Review: Not Completely Horrible

Jamie and Dakota
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson Get Ready to Take a Bath in Fifty Shades of Grey

Confession: The Fifty Shades of Grey franchise is a pop culture phenomenon that has, to this juncture, been completely ignored/held in contempt by me, because I would rather kill myself than read poorly written accounts of blank-slate fictional characters having all kinds of ridiculous sex. Thanks, but I’ll pass.

But sometimes, curiosity gets the best of me when it comes to Bands/Books/TV Shows/Movies that are hyped up the ass, because I not only wonder what the big deal is, but want to know if I am missing something. So, when an invite to attend a free preview of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie came my way, I simply couldn’t refuse. Because 9 times out of 10, even the worst piece of shit movie is worth seeing for free. Just being serious.

Having not read the book then, but expecting to not even be able to sit through all 125 minutes of the film, I came away from the Fifty Shades cinematic experience with the opinion that this is probably the best Lifetime TV Movie ever made! I mean, once you make it past the excruciating first 20 or so minutes, it’s just really not that bad of a film. It’s not going to win any awards, but it will make shit ton of money. And you can’t imagine that the filmmakers were hoping for any more than that.

While there is certainly much to disdain, there are things I liked about this film. First off, I really loved Dakota Johnson’s portrayal of heroine Anastasia Steel. Johnson plays Anastasia as the perfect balance of curious innocent and would-be seductress, and she succeeded in visibly transforming the character from one end of the story to the other, despite its shallow arc. I think it’s largely thanks to Johnson’s acting ability that she and co-star Jamie Dornan (who didn’t impress me as much) were able to infuse some palpable heat into the “romance” part of the Anastasia/Christian storyline. Johnson also has excellent comedic timing and a terrific body. I look forward to seeing her in future film roles where she is working with a great script and is allowed to keep her clothes on for more than 50% of the film.

I enjoyed looking at Luke Grimes, the insanely hot actor who played Christian Grey’s brother, who ends up conveniently hooking up with Anastasia’s Roommate. Because: Real Life!

I loved all the sets, especially Christian Grey’s office, and the aerial panoramic shot of Seattle that opens the film. The film’s art direction is nearly impeccable.

If you’d like more details or plot analysis, I’m going to recommend that you read A.O. Scott’s review over at New York Times Dot Com, because it is a fun read and I can tell that Mr. Scott was in the same screening I attended based on hints he drops regarding the reaction of the preview audience during certain parts of the film. This is just my 2 cents, because nobody is paying me to write this.

Fifty Shades of Grey opens Nationwide this Friday, February 13th, 2015!

Grade: B-

Recommended Viewing: The Circle (Der Kreis)

The Circle Poster

Love doesn’t have to look a certain way, and it is a thoroughly compelling love story that anchors the Gay rights battle at the heart of The Circle, a new German language film from Director Stefan Haupt. In this engaging film that mixes a scripted dramatic narrative (set in 1950s Zurich) with present day documentary interview footage with film’s real-life main characters, The Circle (Der Kreis) is also the name of a gay social organization and the multi-lingual, borderline-homoerotic magazine/newsletter it publishes and distributes to an extensive international list of subscribers.

Although post WWII Switzerland has no laws banning homosexuality, The Circle’s staff members are always careful to avoid excessive censorship by keeping the publication’s nudity “artistically tasteful” and ensuring that any provocative articles are written in a language that the censors don’t speak. It’s obvious from the beginning that The Circle offers an invaluable social outlet and sanctuary for its members; one which they will go to great lengths to preserve and protect.

It’s at one of the organization’s formal dances that reserved Girls School teacher Ernst Ostertag (Matthias Hungerbuehler) meets flamboyant drag performer Robi Rapp (Sven Schelker), and Ernst is instantly smitten. While Ernst’s profession and desire to achieve tenure necessitate that he remain closeted to anyone outside of The Circle — including his ultra-repressed parents —Robi is openly gay and very comfortable inside his own skin. Robi has particularly charming relationship with his very warm and accepting mother (played by actress Marianne Sägebrecht ).

As Robi and Ernst’s relationship develops into a committed romance, Ernst becomes more self-confident and accepting of his sexual identity while also growing more passionate toward his involvement with The Circle and the cause of Gay rights.

Robi and Ernst
Sven Schelker and Matthias Hungerbuehler Portray Lovers Robi and Ernst

Both actors are brilliant in their respective roles, sharing a palpable onscreen chemistry that really brings the deeply loving relationship between Ernst and Robi to life; but it isn’t all about romance. When several friends of The Circle fall victim to a series of murders within the gay community, the formerly liberal authorities begin to crack down on suspected same-sex behavior. This leads to The Circle’s regular dances and social events being declared illegal, and police using strong arm tactics to collect the personal details of all members. With the resulting turmoil, the organization becomes impossible to maintain and must be disbanded.

A unique aspect of The Circle’s method of storytelling is the interspersing of documentary interludes, featuring present-day interviews with the real life Ernst and Robi, now in their eighties. Not only are they still happily together but, in 2003, they actually became the first legally married same-sex couple in Switzerland. Friends and family of the couple, as well as former members of The Circle also contribute their personal stories, to create a very satisfying and entertaining movie-going experience. I really loved this film.

The Circle (Der Kreis) – which is the Official submission of Switzerland to the best foreign language film category of the 87th Academy Awards 2015 – opens in NYC on November 21st and in Los Angeles on December 18th, 2014. Runtime: 102 minutes.

The Worley Gig Gives The Circle Four out of Five Stars

Movie Review: Art And Craft

Art and Craft Movie Poster

While watching the actions of Mark Landis, the undeniably creepy subject of the recently released documentary, Art and Craft (directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman), I had the same feeling as when I watched I Think We’re Alone Now, an indie documentary that follows two obsessed fans of ’80s Pop singer, Tiffany. While the story of Landis‘ 30-year career of flagrant art forgery is truly fascinating — because, how the hell did he get away with it for so long? — his obvious mental illness gives the film a slight aura of exploitation. I do not think that was intentional but, rather, it’s an unavoidable side effect to telling his story. Landis is certainly committing some kind of fraud, which is infuriating, but as his multilayered mental-issues are revealed over the course of Art and Craft‘s 89 minute run time, it’s hard not to feel sadness for someone who is clearly addicted to his (some would argue harmless) pattern of deceptive activity. So, polarizing, I guess, is a good word to describe this film and its borderline unsympathetic anti-hero.

His authentic talent as an artist aside, the real life Mark Landis is a lonely, emaciated hermit, diagnosed with Schizophrenia and a laundry list of other mental issues, who resembles a less-attractive version of well-known character actor Zeljko Ivanek (Big Love, 24, etc). In fact, it’s likely his unassuming nature and lack of overt charisma that allowed him to dupe the representatives of over 50 art institutes across 20 states into accepting the gifts of his forgeries as highly desirable donations of legitimate original works of art. Landis also chose to imitate lesser-known artists, and made his philanthropic gestures (the forged paintings were always given as gifts, never sold or traded for any kind of monetary gain) toward lesser known museums and colleges, which probably did not raise as many red flags as it would have had he chosen to, say, present the gift of a DaVinci drawing to the MFA in Boston.

Landis‘ elaborate prank comes to light in 2008, when Matthew Leininger, Curatorial Department Head of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art — which had accepted multiple donations of the forged paintings — does his “due diligence” (a phrase that is repeated often in Art and Craft), and discovers the forger’s extensive trail of fakes that have been given to many and varied art institutes, even uncovering the fact that Landis had donated up to six copies of the same work to different museums. Mark Landis essentially becomes Leininger’s Great White Whale, as the registrar vows to out the forgers shenanigans and take him down. This is easier said than done, of course, since Landis has never accepted money in exchange for his forged paintings and therefore has not actually broken any laws. Leininger believes that the reward Landis reaps for his actions is the gleeful satisfaction that he has fooled seeming “Art Experts.”

Eventually, Leininger’s incredible sleuthing leads to Mark Landis being nationally exposed as an art forger via articles in publications such as The Art Newspaper (in 2010) and the Financial Times. Since there is no real legal recourse for his actions, it is the strong desire of Leininger and others that Landis simply stop the forgeries. Without spoiling anything, I’ll conclude by admitting that, by the time the movie wraps up with a rather extensive gallery exhibit of Landis’ forgeries and a few of his original pieces, I went from wanting to punch Mark Landis in the face to feeling like he deserved at least a little sympathy.  Mark Landis may be an ass, but he’s obviously battling a few personal demons. I’m not sure he would know how to stop, even if he wanted to.

For a list of theaters showing Art and Craft in your area, visit Art and Craft Film Dot Com.

The Worley Gig Gives Art and Craft 4 out of 5 Stars