Film Review

Richard's Wedding or Who's Got the Ring, the Minister, and the Methadone?

You haven't heard of Richard's Wedding? Don't feel too uninformed. There's been absolutely no advance buzz on writer/director/actor Onur Tukel's deliriously droll walk in the park -- Central Park, that is. With no stars in it, no major studio behind it, and no budget to promote it, this at times combustibly funny look at New York's aging children (mostly in the 30-to-40-year-old range) will be screening at Brooklyn's pioneering reRun Gastropub Theater until June 7. After that, who knows? Read more »

Battleship: How to Get a Sinking Feeling at the Cinema

If Ed Wood had a budget of a $100 million to throw around, even he might not have been able to direct a film as godawful as Battleship -- or as in poor taste. This cheesy exploitation of our men in uniform, including those who lost their limbs overseas in the belief they were fighting to preserve democracy, makes you almost cringe at the hubris of the Hollywood types who pulled this fiasco together.

There is basically no plot. The direction is nil. The acting is uneven. (Brooklyn Decker is clearly up for a Razzie this year.) The screenplay is truly one of the worst of the year so far, and that’s saying a lot. If you can sit through the film’s first half hour without wondering if anything is ever going to happen, you are either brain dead or an eleven-year-old boy. Read more »

Dark Shadows or Who Stole My Fangs?

In Tim Burton's Dark Shadows, a white-faced, put-upon vampire, Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), is unwittingly released into the modern world of 1972 after having been encased in a coffin for nearly two centuries. Immediately, the very thirsty bloodsucker sips the blood of the dozen construction workers who had unwittingly let him loose.

Refreshed, Collins uncomprehendingly walks through the town named for his family, amazed at the sights of graveled roads, automobiles, traffic lights, bulldozers, and folks eating ice cream sundaes in diners. Unsettled, he heads for his once-glamorous homestead, Collinwood Manor, to discover if any of his bloodline is still alive. "Family is the only real wealth," he notes. Read more »

The Giant Mechanical Man: Love and Stilts, Detroit Style

The Giant Mechanical Man (TGMM), the Lee Kirk film starring Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Chris Messina (Six Feet Under), is for audiences who have a yen for a true romantic comedy, one that feels gentle and real, but lacks the heroine getting the runs in the middle of traffic. Or a scene where a man's chest hair is pulled off. Or a finale where an overweight, pothead/pornographer gets the beautiful blonde. It's also one, thankfully, that's never been in the vicinity of Nicholas Sparks. Read more »

Francophrenia or "Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is"

In 127 Hours, James Franco hacked away at his arm. During Francophrenia, you might just wish he did the same to his head.

This is a shame, because this 70-minute documentary covering the star's return to the soap General Hospital, where he started out in 2009, begins as an impressive Fellini-esque dissection of American society, celebrity, and the at-times thin membranes separating an actor's public persona from the roles he plays and his inner self. Read more »

Blue Like Jazz: Beer vs. Christ

Get ready for a new cinematic trope: Boy loses religion. Boy goes to weirdo college, sleeps beside a lesbian, and starts drinking beer. Boy regains religion after sliding a huge condom over a church steeple and being elected the campus Pope. Boy begins a relationship with a religious girl who enjoys traipsing among the impoverished in India.

God. No God. Ale. Lesbian. Condom. God. Gets girl.

Imagine Animal House starring Rick Santorum. No, make that Mitt Romney. No, that's unfair. How about Donny Osmond? Read more »

The Hunger Games: The Little Epic that Couldn't

"When you're young," Pauline Kael noted, "the odds are very good that you'll find something to enjoy in almost any movie." Luckily, The Hunger Games is marketing to youth, and Lions Gate Entertainment is successful so far. A triumph of publicity. Thursday's midnight screening garnered over $25 million and this Friday morning, the 10 AM screening I attended was basically sold out.

The film, for those not connected to the current cultural zeitgeist, is based upon the first novel of Suzanne Collins's highly engaging trilogy about a dystopian United States where 24 teenagers from 12 impoverished zones are forced to battle each other to death for the enjoyment of the frivolous ruling class. Only one will be allowed to be victor.  Read more »

A Life Ascending: Whitewashing an Avalanche

Stephen Grynberg might be the Rick Santorum of filmmakers, and like Santorum, Grynberg might actually believe that how he addresses an issue is a completely fair one.

The focus of this exquisitely shot, rather entertaining hour-long documentary is Swiss-born Ruedi Beglinger, a "world-renowned" mountain guide, and his family who live in the Canadian Alps. There, in 1985, Beglinger founded the Selkirk Mountain Experience (SME), a service which allows clientele a chance to explore the Durrand Glacier. In 2003, tragedy struck.

Let's borrow the words of Charles Duhigg of the Los Angeles Times to recount what occurred:

"The day seven people died began on a crisp morning in the backcountry of Canada's British Columbia. Evan Weselake, a corporate trainer from Calgary, had set out with 20 others, including his close friend, Naomi Heffler, to ski untouched powder far from the lift-ticket circuit. Their destination was a peak named La Traviata that promised breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys. As Weselake, 29, skied toward the mountain, Heffler and the others followed in a single-file line, dark pearls strung along the vast whiteness of a steep couloir. Suddenly, Weselake saw a crack slice through the snow in front of his skis. As the opening grew, he noticed he was moving downward, as if the mountain he stood on had lost its mooring. He had time to yell out only one word: 'Avalanche!'" Read more »

Private Romeo: Or When Juliet Has to Shave

Private Romeo

Nearly all truly great cinematic romances showcase at least one great kiss that will send shivers down the spinal cords of enthused would-be-lovers. If you fall into this category and are currently seeking such a torso tremor, look no further than Alan Brown's all-male adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, a celluloid treat supplying a whole handful of these quality smooches.  Read more »

Bullhead: In the Penile Colony

Bullhead is the impassioned tale of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a Belgian cattle farmer who, due to a childhood act of harrowing violence, has become an emotional cripple, although a hunky one. Yes, thanks to all of the steroids and hormones he regularly ingests and shoots up, his physique is much more inviting than his personality. In fact, you might just call him the Travi Bickle of livestock.

As for the aforementioned cows, they're not left out when it comes to getting pharmaceutical aids. You see certain Belgian farmers want to fatten up their bovines in eight weeks instead of ten, and to do so, they are purchasing the most sophisticated drugs available, ones not even as of yet available in the "Hormonic States of America." Read more »

First Position: Dancing for Their Souls

"We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance." - Japanese proverb

Not since Matthew Diamond's splendid documentary on Paul Taylor, Dancemaker (1998), has a film honored the essence of Terpsichore, the muse of dance, so well as does First Position.

Bess Kargman's new film focuses on seven competitors, aged 10 to 17, who are putting their personal lives on hold to win top prizes at the Youth American Grand Prix, the "largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools." Read more »

Joyful Noise or Mission: Implausible

Imagine a mediocre episode of Glee as envisioned by Billy Graham, and you're halfway to Joyful Noise.

Indie director Todd Graff, best known for directing Camp (2003) and being a regular on the 1970's Electric Company, has penned a screenplay for Noise that is so laden with clichés favored by unimaginative creators of bad romantic musicals that by comparison, Step Up 3D and Footloose, the remake, come off as peers of An American in Paris. Read more »

A Separation: Who Can Cast the First Stone?

Kramer vs. Kramer goes Iranian with Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, a late 2011 entry that's been deservedly racking up almost every "Best Foreign Language" film award that has been dished out this season.

But A Separation is much than a tale of a man and woman in love whose marital path has come to a fork in the road; it is a dissection of modern morality, both religious and secular, and how impossible it is to live a totally principled life if you're stuck interacting with other Homo sapiens.  Or, to get a little Socratic, "A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true." Read more »

Trollhunter: Or Giant Scandinavian Ogres on the Loose

Some folks actually are of the opinion that Norway's good-natured entry into the handheld-camera, campy, horror-flick genre is a quality movie. In fact, two members of the critics group I'm in voted for Trollhunter as Best Foreign Film of 2011. Blame it on hot flashes or that the duo hadn't gotten around to viewing A Separation, The Skin I Live In, or any other film with subtitles during the past twelve months.

This debut feature by Andre Ovredal chronicles the adventures of three university film students who are attempting to make a documentary about a mysterious bear poacher. They learn to their joy and later to their chagrin that this bearded, taciturn gent, Hans (Otto Jespersen), is actually a trollhunter who's working for a secretive arm of the Norwegian government. Read more »

A Lethal Virus, a Deadly Teen, and a Demeaned Panda

It's that time of year again when film critics connected to societies that dish out annual awards find their mailboxes stuffed with dozens of DVDs and the occasional gift or two: a bag of popcorn and Puss in Boots wrapping paper from DreamWorks, for example. Or the shooting script of The Descendants, which boasts an inane quote from Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman: "[Writer/director Alexander] Payne has become the Stanley Kubrick of serious American comedy." That sort of hyperbole transforms the usually sensible Gleiberman into the Rip Taylor of serious American critics. Read more »

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