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There Is a New World Somewhere (2016)

TIANWSLi Lu’s drama “There Is a New World Somewhere” is another one of those dramas about thirty somethings looking for directions in life. It’s in the tradition of movies like “Garden State” and Greta Gerwig movies, while director Lu really tries to invent her own “Five Easy Pieces.” The problem is “There Is a New World Somewhere” doesn’t present enough of a dilemma for our protagonist Sylvia to begin hitting the open road and looking for some sort of purpose. We settle in with her for all of fifteen minutes before we’re told how restless she is, and then takes off with character Esteban who she meets at a party one night.

Agnes Brucker is a very strong actress with a unique energy and charisma that has never really been wisely utilized by other directors, and it’s a shame. She’s very good in “There Is a New World Somewhere” and literally carries what is only a mediocre road trip film about two people trying to find themselves. I think. Or maybe they’re trying to find the meaning of life. Or a purpose? I never did catch on. Either way, Bruckner is the highlight as Sylvia a struggling artist anxious to launch an opening at the gallery she works in to showcase her art. When she’s turned down, she begins questioning her life and is called to party with some long lost friends, many of whom are on the verge of being married.

After forming a connection with party goer Esteban, Sylvia skips town with him and begins traveling around the country. Along the way, the pair have a passionate affair and wander around from landmark to landmark discussing the meaning of life, their passion for certain parts of life, and how unfulfilled they feel. Li Lu has a wonderful directorial style providing some great wide shots and beautiful dream like moments and montages where Sylvia and Esteban linger in various spots and different cities trying to savor life. I just wish “There Is a New World Somewhere” had a much more solid narrative and a lot more character depth.

When Sylvia skips town on her friends to take a trip with a stranger, it feels like half baked motivation to set the plot in motion. When the pair of character do manage to get in to various escapades, it’s never all that interesting. That said, Lu’s direction is vibrant, while star Bruckner is a very good actress who shines in an otherwise middling drama.

Now on VOD, IVOD, and is in Limited Theatrical Release until August 31st.

Train To Busan (Bu-San-Haeng) (2016)

traintobusan“Train to Busan” is very much steeped in the idea of humans using the warped concepts of segregation and isolation as a means to survive, not only from the menaces lurking outside our doors, but inevitably from one another. Sook-woo is a hopelessly disconnected workaholic who is confined to his office desk and is still reeling from a bad divorce. Trying to rebound from a bad business deal with a local corporation, and re-connect with his estranged daughter Soo-ahn, he submits to her birthday plea of taking her to Busan on train to see her mother. Despite protesting against it initially, he accompanies her to see her mom. But much to his, and everyone’s surprise, a viral outbreak has exploded on to the train station turning the infected in to rabid, running, flesh eating zombies.

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The Toxic Avenger (1984) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

toxicavengerThe character that helped build Troma in to the company we know and love it as today, is still a wonderful and fun anti-hero who finds himself dropped in to fate’s door after a mean prank pulled on him one day. In Tromaville New Jersey, Melvin is a young janitor for a local health club dominated by a pair of muscle bound bullies. By day, the bullies roam around the club taunting Melvin and hanging around with their busty girlfriends, but by night they’re vicious hit and run murderers that take joy in killing children and helpless animals. After Melvin accidentally runs afoul one of the bullies, his girlfriend invites Melvin to a private rendezvous on the condition he wear a pink tutu.

After realizing he’s been the victim of a prank, Melvin crashes through a window and falls in to a drum of toxic ooze. Disfigured and transformed in to the muscle bound Toxic Avenger, he roams the streets of Tromaville murdering criminals and rapists, and laying down the law with his handy mop. Despite the very low budget, “The Toxic Avenger” works as a simultaneous superhero action tale and monster movie. A lot like “Robocop,” Troma’s superhero gets the job done in the most violent manner possible.

Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman are never above being as splatterific as possible, showing off a ton of gruesome moments including Toxie taking off a thug’s nose, and tearing another’s arm clean off. Of course a lot of the movie doesn’t reserve the grue for the bad guys, eliciting genuine cringe inducing moment when Melvin is turned in to the Toxic Avenger. Even for an indie film in 1984, the sight of Melvin’s skin pulsing and bulging from the toxic waste is grotesque and you hate to see such a goofy protagonist be reduced to this monster. Toxie is kept in the dark for most of his introduction, as he begins feeling his way around his strengths and weaknesses, and realizing his mutation allows him a chance to fight evil.

He begins to take on the bigger nemesis when he realizes the local police force is run by a corrupt chief and his sergeant whose attitude is very Nazi like. Herz and Kaufman give Toxie some time to even fall in love with a beautiful blond girl, and do battle with the villains from the gym. “The Toxic Avenger” is still a fun and off the wall action horror movie with its own twist on the superhero sub-genre. Leave it to Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz to take typical superhero tropes and twist in to something wonderfully gruesome and absurd.

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Tickled (2016)

tickledmovIt’s almost like something out of a Creepypasta, a documentary filmmaker who comes across a fetish video of men tickling one an other for sport, learns there is a deeper and more sinister tale behind it. He then risks all to throw down the veil behind a seemingly large web of scandal and dark shadowy figures. Rest assured the unusual and eerie events that occur in Dave Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s “Tickled” are very real and unfold in a bizarre and eerie experience. Much like “Catfish,” this documentary feature explores one facet of a story and completely transforms in to something so much more enigmatic and mysterious.

And even potentially life threatening, once our filmmakers find themselves incapable of turning back from the hole they’ve begun digging in to a darker side of humanity and the internet. “Tickled” follows Dave Farrier as he stumbles upon a seemingly odd fetish video involving young men tickling one another strapped down on to tables. What Dave learns is that there is an actual sport called endurance tickling. Confused and slightly fascinated, Dave makes it a point of contacting the founders of the sport, only to learn that they greet him quite aggressively with homophobic slander and slurs.

Despite the initial correspondence confrontation, Dave continues digging in to the topic of Endurance tickling and falls out of favor with two conductors of the sport. After inviting them to New Zealand for interviews, they greet him with immense anger and aggression prompting a storm of legal threats, potential lawsuits and the promise of his career ending should he pursue the topic further. Shocked at how dark the initial search for a film subject has taken, Dave and Dylan challenge any threats at their professional career and begins to dig ever deeper and more thoroughly.

What’s so compelling about “Tickled” is not the world Dave Farrier uncovers, but the legal threats lobbied against him that most certainly can destroy his career and livelihood if he doesn’t walk on egg shells. The sad fact behind the documentary is the very absolute idea that the law is on the side of the folks that Farrier investigates, no matter how much deception and scandal he unearths. “Tickled” is a fascinating and entertaining documentary that spirals in to a rabbit hole of a shady subculture, online harassment, and the destruction of many lives all of which are met with the clicking of a mouse. There certainly won’t be another documentary like “Tickled” released in 2016.

Now in Theaters in Limited Release.

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Trekoff: The Motion Picture (2016)

trekoff1For a second I thought “Trekoff” was going to be a grating experience, but eventually Justin Timpane’s documentary about Trek fandom eventually won me over big time. I may not be much of a “Star Trek” fan, but I know what it is to be a fan, and a fanatic, and all around geek for something so much, that you want to spend all your time involved with it. “Trekoff: The Motion Picture” is a documentary and partly live action tour film about the raunchy Star Trek podcast that has managed to build a loyal following of listeners. Hosts Justin Timpane and Alexia Poe have an infectious enthusiasm that drips off of the film and will win over anyone that has ever sacrificed or expressed love for a particular kind of fandom.

It also helps that Alexia Poe is kind of hot, but I digress. Timpane and Poe sought out to do a podcast that was different from the others, where they discuss “Star Trek,” and debate various captains all the while discussing who Alexia would sleep with, and why she’d let William Shatner give her a golden shower. Admittedly, the dick jokes get kind of tiresome, but “Trekoff” is still a breezy and raucous documentary that is devoted to the way Timpane and Poe celebrate their love for “Star Trek.” They do so with a lot of laughter, a ton of joy, and endless sexual innuendos and double entendres that their audience seems to love when they’re recording their podcast live.

While “Trekoff” doesn’t offer new or original insight in to the “Star Trek” fandom, the documentary succeeds in exploring the more surreal aspects of the fandom. As well we’re given keen insight in to how rabid hosts Timpane and Poe are for “Star Trek.” While they deliver endless sex jokes, and argue about who’d be better in bed Kirk or Picard, they seem to love the franchise, and get very emotional when the humor stops and their sincerity shines through. I wish we’d seen more of that quality, to be honest. That said, “Trekoff” is a charming, funny, and unusual documentary about fandom and love for “Star Trek” that I had a very good time with.

Now Available on DVD at Amazon, and on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

TakingofPelham123Joseph Sargent’s action thriller is one of the best New York centered works of cinema ever produced. “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” has maintained its powerful suspense and wonderful sense of humor forty two years after its release. It works so well thanks to its very diverse cast, all of whom offer up a very unique variety that works in favor of the film. You wouldn’t think Walter Matthau would be a solid protagonist in such a stern action film, but Matthau holds his own against the vicious and cold turns by Robert Shaw and Hector Elizondo.

Set over the course of one Summer day in New York City, four armed gunmen wearing disguises enter a 6 train headed Downtown. With the codenames Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown, the four men are picked up t various stops and proceed to take the train hostage. Packed with loaded submachine guns, they seize the train filled with seventeen passengers, and pack them in to one cart, taking control of the lone cart. Matthau plays Lieutenant Zachary Garber, a New York Transit Authority officer who is contacted by the leader Mr. Blue that they’ve taken the train hostage and are demanding a million dollars within one hour.

The catch is after an hour if the money fails to show up, they will begin murdering passengers every minute after. Robert Shaw is a scene stealer as the dead set and cold killer Blue, who makes it his mission to show how relentless he is, and how much control he holds over every element of the situation. Shaw works beautifully off of co-star Hector Elizondo as Grey, who is the group’s resident hot head, and begins clashing with Blue when he finds he isn’t working up to his satisfaction. Along the way there are a slew of interesting plot twists and dramatic turns, including the mention of an undercover officer hidden on the train among the passengers.

As well there’s the city working to come up with a million dollars before Blue begins murdering passengers left and right. Sargent’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is an absolute masterpiece; it’s briskly paced and kept on high energy, allowing a sense of urgency that will keep you hoping for the best, despite teeth clenching obstacles occasionally introducing themselves. Despite its real time narrative and fast pace, Sargent draws some truly engaging characters both heroes and villains alike, making the film a work of substance and an exciting experience.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

TMNT-III know that this is grounds for getting my “90’s Kid” membership card stripped from my hands, but the more I see “TMNT II,” the more I dislike it. Yes, it has camp value thanks to Vanilla Ice, but nostalgia lens aside, it’s a pretty crummy follow up to the 1990 movie. It’s basically the “Batman Forever” of the original TMNT movie series, a movie that waters down the formula of the Ninja Turtles. Hell, even like “Batman Forever,” the turtles are no longer urban legends working in the shadows, and become virtual celebrities by the climax. Much to the shock of everyone involved, 1990’s “TMNT” movie was a film for all ages that took violence seriously, and depicted actual consequences to actions and decisions.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

TMNToutoftheshadowsWhile 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was a watered down remake of the 1990 Jim Henson production, “Out of the Shadows” is a larger and sillier remake of “Secret of the Ooze” taking a lot of the ideas from the aforementioned film and realizing them to a more “TMNT” accurate vision. “Secret of the Ooze” had all the implications of the Krang, Baxter Stockman and the like, but “Out of the Shadows” takes that and re-introduces it to make about as much sense as it can. Rather than Tokka and Rahzar, we finally have Bebop and Rocksteady in their full disgusting glory, battling the Ninja Turtles, and playing stooges to the Shredder. “Out of the Shadows” isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s ten times better than its 2014 predecessor.

That might be because it comes up with a radical new idea and focuses the majority of the sequel on the titular Ninja Turtles. April O’Neil is still a major character but is pushed to the sidelines more and more, allowing the characters we came to see a bigger spotlight and more of a chance to grow and blossom. The Platinum Dumbs version of the turtles is still wildly imperfect and stupid, but “Out of the Shadows” is at least fun, and tries to give us as many elements from the canon as possible. After Shredder’s plans from the first film are thwarted, he’s taken to jail and sent to a maximum security prison, supervised by Officer Casey Jones. When Shredder is broken free by his foot clan, he brings along thugs Bebop and Rocksteady to set off a plan to take over the world alongside a new alien ally.

Armed with mad scientist Baxter Stockman, Shredder plans to build a mutant army, and use his alien allies to help him rule. When the Turtles, with the help of April, learn of the mutagen, they learn the ooze has potential to turn them in to humans. With the turtles still pariahs of the city, Raphael is tempted to become human, while Leonardo tries to convince them to stay true to themselves. This time around there’s a larger focus on the dynamics of the brothers, as Leo and Raph bicker and fight for command over this current development, while Michelangelo is no longer making erection jokes, and is now the party dude we know and love, making cracks, fawning over pizza, and approaching every challenge with a chuckle worthy of Spiccoli. Stephen Amell is also a fun addition to the cast, providing a charismatic take on Casey Jones.

“Out of the Shadows” is a really good time and about as close to great as can be expected from something starring Megan Fox. I wish she’d drop out and allow an actress with actual ability and chemistry with her co-stars to take the reins as April. “Out of the Shadows” also has no idea how to handle so many elements of the narrative as there’s so much going on for a hundred minute movie. A lot of conflicts are tacked on, sub-plots go nowhere, and Splinter being retconned to have no connection to Shredder makes him a virtually pointless addition to the team. He literally does nothing but meditates in the background and offer convenient pearls of wisdom to his sons, with no actual emotional investment in their battle. You could have cut Splinter out of this movie, and it would have had no effect on the overall production.

Meanwhile there is the gaping wide hole of the new mutagen presented from Dimension X and the Krang. If the mutagen turns Bebop and Rocksteady from humans to animals, why can the mutagen possibly turn the turtles in to humans? They weren’t humans before they became teenage turtles. The implication of being mutants is that they’re anthropomorphic and human like, so wouldn’t they revert back to normal everyday turtles if given the mutagen? Also, I’m not a science wiz, but since when do the turtles have human DNA in them? Wouldn’t becoming human being a mutation be very redundant to the narrative? That said, if you can forgive the canyon wide plot hole, “Out of the Shadows” is an entertaining diversion that improves on a lot of the glaring flaws from the 2014 reboot.