Tag Archives: reviews



by Christie Robb

Visually stunning, but emotionally monotonous, Alpha seems like a planetarium show scaled up to feature length, given a sketch of a plot to justify shots of a human staring up at the firmament and trudging through various majestic terrains.

Set 20,000 years ago in Europe, a hesitant young man, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), sets out on his first hunt with the goal of making his dad proud. But when one of the beasts fights back, Keda takes a header off a cliff and is left for dead.

What follows is his somewhat preposterous journey to get back to his settlement.

It’s a little bit Cast Away, a little bit 127 Hours, with wide, sweeping shots of Keda’s journey that are very reminiscent of iconic scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies.

And there are glorious vistas to enjoy, any number of which would make a fantastic desktop picture for your work computer. But to properly enjoy it, you kind of have to turn the thinking part of your brain off. (At least a little bit. You still have to be able to read the subtitles to parse the Neanderthal language being spoken.)

For example, the hunting ground presumably is close enough to Keda’s settlement to allow the hunters to bring back the spoils before they, you know…spoil. And yet, on the way home, Keda climbs a few mountains, treks through a dessert, passes a swamp, skirts a volcano, and grows a delightfully thin adolescent mustache. For quite a time, he is doing this on a recently dislocated ankle and while carrying a full grown wolf.

Cause, oh yeah, he’s got a wolf buddy who he basically domesticates on the way home.

Billed as the heart of the story, Keda’s relationship with Alpha the wolf supposedly “shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend.” Given this, I was expecting the relationship to have a certain amount of complexity and emotional give and take. But this falls flat. The domestication happens so easily that it seems inevitable. I’ve adopted dogs that were harder to train. And despite the harsh environment and the occasional menacing hyenas, at no point do Keda and Alpha seem in any ultimate danger.

All, in all, Alpha would probably be best viewed if you’re jonesing for an easy visual escape or if you want inspiration for upgrading your winter wardrobe. Cause those suspiciously healthy-looking folks eking out their existence during an Ice Age have some beautifully made clothes. Now, I’m off to search for a pair of leather pants online.



Pretty Vacant

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

by Hope Madden

Oh, the fish out of water tale. What if X found itself in Y: a mermaid in New York City, an American werewolf in London, an alien in Croyden? What hijinks could arise!

Elle Fanning is that alien, Zan, and Croyden is a suburb of London that was, in 1977, thrashing about to the strains of the burgeoning and decaying punk rock scene.

When Enn (Alex Sharp) and his fanzine-writing mates stumble into an alien house party, believing it to be a punk show after party, Zan abandons the strict duties of her visit to experience life on Earth.

Who better to bring Neil Gaiman’s short story to the big screen than Hedwig himself, John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus, Rabbit Hole)? Directing, as well as co-writing the adaptation with Philippa Goslett, Mitchell strives to complete Gaiman’s 18 pages with punk attitude, coming of age angst, romance, political asides and style.

He’s only marginally successful on any of those counts.

Punk rock seems a perfect vehicle for the central themes of conformity versus individuality. What the film needs is a little punk rock. Instead, it offers knowing lip service (and next to no music) in service of an all-too-earnest love story.

The brightest light glimmers from Nicole Kidman as grand master on the scene, Queen Boadicea. Patroness of the dingiest club, bondage artist and the dying spirit of an era not meant to age well, she relishes every ridiculous line and delivers perhaps the film’s only truly honest dialogue.

Fanning captivates, as is her way. All the joy, curiosity and misunderstanding she can muster create a character who becomes far more than simply the first hot girl to pay attention to Enn.

Sharp performs solidly as the wallflower everyman, although that is part of the problem. Scribblings, safety pins and zines aside, Enn is just a middle-of-the-road sweetheart. The film is not about the outsider at all, though it pretends to be.

It pretends a lot of things, sometimes very colorfully and often entertainingly, but without a raucous atonal tune to push it forward and with a fairly lukewarm crisis to overcome, it fails entirely at embodying the punk rock themes it proposes.

Oh my God, this movie is a poseur.

What would Hedwig think?

Bury Your Gold

The China Hustle

by Cat McAlpine

Are you still upset about the 2008 housing crash? Of course you are. We all are. Ten years ago banks put the American dream up for sale and the market inevitably collapsed in on itself.

But when the American people were trying to pull themselves back up by their bootstraps, the financial industry had already moved on. To China.

Get ready to look up at the glistening spires of capitalism only to realize we’re all huddled under a house of cards.

Writer/Director Jed Rothestein weaves a thrilling, terrifying tale about the next financial disaster awaiting our country. Some of your neighbors have already lost their life savings. The current administration is actively stripping away financial regulations between the average investor and billions of dollars in fraud. Shady deals are happening now, and honestly, there’s probably nothing you can do about it.

Rothestein calls on the full spectrum of documentary devices: talking heads, voice-over narration, cartoon re-enactments, visual graphics, and more. They work for the most part, but some of the b-roll seems out of place. The most effective and evocative imagery is a series of long, sweeping drone shots of cities and factories.

Rothstein really hits his stride when short-seller Dan David tours his hometown of Flint, MI. Flint is the poster child of blue-collar suffering for white-collar crimes. The camera captures haunting images of the town that really reflect the tangible repercussions of corporate fraud.

China Hustle warns us of a new danger on the horizon. Billions of dollars are propped up in the empty shells of defunct American companies, waiting to collapse.

And then there’s the warning of a larger danger, entrenched in the very fabric of our society. No one is looking out for the American people. The SEC, the accreditation firms, the lawyers, and the bankers—they all invest in their own interests. Even the men blowing the whistle on fraudulent Chinese companies first make money off of them.

“Companies have companies’ best interests at heart.”

And that’s the real hustle.