Film Review

Family Jewels

Saving Mr. Banks (Disney)

How many of you remember Walt Disney and Tinkerbell's opening every Sunday night on his primetime television show? That director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) recreates that magical moment is just one of the many small charms in this wonderful movie. Award-winning actors taking on American's greatest children's entertainment advocate seems a delicious proposition. And it is. This is the story of Walt's (Tom Hanks) -- he preferred that everyone refer to each other by their first names on his studio lot -- relentless pursuit (20 years!) of Mrs. P.L. Travers's (Emma Thompson) much-beloved literary classic Mary Poppins.

The Sins of Our Nation - 12 Years A Slave

Some believe that America is still paying a karmic debt for the kidnapping, enslavement, and centuries-long degradation of millions of Africans. Watching UK-director Steve McQueen's brutally honest film 12 Years A Slave leaves no room for doubt that we deserve to. This brave, disturbing movie tells the story of free Saratoga-based black man -- Solomon Northup -- who is kidnapped by circus carnies and sold into slavery in 1841. Scripted by John Ridley, it's based on a memoir written by Mr. Northup in 1851 after he had finally won his freedom. Played with transcendental brilliance by the English actor Chiwetel Ejofor, one feels as if he were channeling the soul of every African ever held in American captivity.

Alan Partridge Lays an Egg

This past Friday at ten in the morning, the lovely folks at NYFF screened the superb Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks, a sensationally acted, edge-of-your-seat thriller in the Argo vein that will have its lead seriously competing for all of the Best Actor nods coming up this season, with its co-star Barkhad Abdi nailing numerous Best Supporting Actor slots.

Sadly, from a high, a low must often follow. Take Declan Lowney's Alan Partridge with Steve Coogan, which screened afterwards. If, on the first day of Christmas, your true love sends you this bird, get a new mate.

The Most Fun I've Ever Had with My Pants On and Mrs. Prindable's Caramels

Many films torture their characters (e.g. the Saw series; I Spit on Your Grave). Drew Denny, a truly beautiful woman who has written, helmed, and stars in this semi-lesbian road trip, has decided instead to scourge the audience with directorial incoherence, an abysmal screenplay, inane antics, and incessantly showing off her ultra-white teeth. At times, you’re not sure if you are watching an exploration of two women’s lives or the world’s longest Crest commercial.

Sparrows Dance: An Agoraphobic Boogie

Masterful in its silences, a little less so in its chatter, writer/director Noah Buschel's Sparrows Dance  begins almost as a tribute to Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Qual du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the difference mainly being a dissimilar choice of heroines. Instead of a bored housewife turned prostitute, we have a former actress turned agoraphobic who hasn't left her apartment in over year.

Real Housewives Who Want To Be Strippers

If I could rename Afternoon Delight, I would call it Depressed Housewife Rescues a Prostitute. I expected Jill Soloway’s new indie flick about a family who adopts a “sex worker” to be a bit cheekier, perhaps a twist on the old Pretty Woman Cinderella story. Alas, this prostitute is not the heroine of the story, or even the main focus. The film instead explores angsty housewife Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) in the suburbs of Los Angeles as she deals with extreme boredom, mostly with her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor). I would be bored too if my husband were an uncomfortable plank of a man whose greatest line is -- “Not everyone gets to be happy” -- delivered with arms in the air, as if he were physically grasping for emotion.

NewFest: Celebrating the Queer in Celluloid

It's that time of year again -- or what used to be that time of year. NewFest is here (September 6-11). Yes, the celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and what-have-you cinema is back for its 25th anniversary. The main venue will be the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, considered by some to be the best cinema in Manhattan, one that boasts a truly superior sound system.

Cine-Simenon: Georges Simenon on Film

The Belgian-born Georges Simenon (1903-1989) wrote over 200 novels (by Wikipedia's count) plus many shorter works. The New York Times estimates that number (including his memoirs and nonfiction works) as being between 400 and 500. Simenon's creation, Inspector Jules Maigret, who appeared in about 75 works, "ranks only after Sherlock Holmes as the world's best known fictional detective." (I'm not sure how Poirot feels about that.) Of course, such popularity could not be overlooked by the entertainment industry, and imdb.com has compiled a list of 132 movies and TV shows based on his oeuvre. And now the Anthology Archives, with Kathy Geritz and the Pacific Film Archive, is presenting 14 of these celluloid joys within the series appropriately entitled Cine-Simenon: George Simenon on Film, which runs until August 21st.

Lee Daniels’s The Butler or Serving Up Equality

Lee Daniels tries very hard to become the next Steven Spielberg with The Butler, a 132-minute heartfelt, epic paean to the Civil Rights struggles of black Americans in the 20th century. The result is a film that is indeed convincingly earnest, yet intermittently clumsy in its attempt to shoehorn too much history into a family tale of survival, dysfunction, alcoholism, adultery, rebellion, and disco dancing -- or vice versa.