Film Review

What Would Mrs. Hughes Do?

"You didn’t read the book, did you?" I asked Julian, my 13-year-old son, although it was more an invitation for him to confess. Because I knew.

Julian had walked in the door when I was just in the middle of the Season Three finale of Downton Abbey. Mrs. Hughes, head housekeeper, was in the process of dismissing Edna, a new maid, who had been shamelessly pursuing sad and lonely widower Tom Branson. "There are rules to this way of life and if you don't intend to abide by them it is not the life for you," Mrs. Hughes told Edna.

On Quvenzhané Wallis: A letter from a white woman to a black friend

Dear Denise, 

I've thought a lot about Quvenzhané Wallis. I've thought about the joke made about her, why it happened, what it means. I don't have simple answers, but it's heavy on my mind. 

I watched the Oscars faithfully but did not keep up with "commentary" that night. So I learned about what happened, from you, on Monday morning. I felt your anger and your pain clearly through your words. 

At first it seemed to me that the joke was, had to be, about the absurdity of hurling an insult like that at a child -- "What if we talk as if she's a 62-year-old, and a hateful one?" -- though obviously the "humor" didn't scan.

The Sweet Smell of Success, The Bitter Taste of Botox

Competition at the Oscars this year went beyond the awards for Best [insert category here]. While we praised and debated 2012's buzz-worthy performances long before the ceremony, it was facial expression, not artistic expression, that captivated me Sunday night.

Sure, the emcees have been mocking Tinseltown for years about keeping cosmetic surgeons in the black, right? But as I continue to mature into the grown-up my birth certificate says I am (it still looks like a typo to me, though it’s not possible I’ve been 21 for 30 years, is it?), I become increasingly more aware of the ‘improvement’ celebs my age and younger have over me.

Caesar Must Die: The Most Kindest Cut of All

The new Tavianni brothers picture, Caesar Must Die, refuses to fall neatly into any generic category. The sibling helmers, who have been supplying highly praised art-house fare for decades (e.g. Padre Padrone (1977); The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982)), have now adapted Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with a brisk, stellar outcome.

Filming inside an actual Italian prison, Rebibbia, the incarcerated here play themselves portraying the Bard's historic creations. 

Gay Israelis vs. Unkosher Twin Witch-slayers

Yossi 

Eytan Fox's superb sequel to his award-winning love story, Yossi & Jagger (2002), has finally arrived. The original told of two Israeli soldiers situated on the Lebanese border, whose clandestine love affair was struggling to survive in a friendly yet homophobic atmosphere. Jagger, who was a little more out there, did his darnedest to loosen up Yossi (Ohad Knoller), begging him to quit the army and live with him in a more tolerant ambiance such as the one Tel Aviv could furnish. The rosy vision unsettled Yossi, but not for long. Jagger was killed in an ambush - - and buried as a brave heterosexual, at least in the eyes of his parents and his compatriots.

NO: The Power of a Jingle

In 1988, Michael Jackson's Moonwalk biography was released, as was the baseball classic Bull Durham starring Susan Sarandon, and Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by U.S. missiles. Pablo Larrain's masterful Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, NO, however, has chosen to concentrate on the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet and his overthrow by an advertising executive, Rene Saavedra.

You see, after Pinochet and his thugs tortured and slaughtered several thousand of his citizens with the implicit approval of the United States and other international powers, the world at large developed a conscience of sorts and pressured the Chilean leader to hold a plebiscite on his presidency. The populace was to vote "YES" in support of Pinochet or "NO" to get rid of the tyrant. But how fair could such a referendum be? After all, Pinochet controlled the media and the streets.

The Baytown Outlaws: Buckwild, the Movie

Even after falsely billing Billy Bob Thornton and Eva Longoria as the stars of this action-packed B-movie extravaganza (as if that would pull in the crowds), the producers and director/co-screenwriter Barry Battles have no need to apologize. This ode to Tarantino, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and Jerry Lewis marathons is deliriously silly, frenetically violent, and insanely entertaining, especially for those who prefer Mad Max over The Rules of the Game.

The Avengers: When a Spectacle is Shrunk

Yesterday was a red-letter day in my mailbox. Next to an invite from American Express and a copy of Leslie Feinberg's Drag King Dreams (ordered from swapabook.com) lay a Netflix red-and-white envelope that I quickly ripped open. Inside: The Avengers DVD that I had forgotten I'd requested.

Eureka! My evening had unexpectedly become free an hour before, and here was a cinematic event I had missed out on. What true joy! From what I had heard, on this 4-1/2-inch silver platter was imprinted the Super Heroes event of the decade. Well, at least the best one not helmed by Christopher Nolan. After all, it had a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, beating out Fellini's Amacord by two points and Pasolini's Teorema by six.

Free to Delight

Free is an "art" film, in two ways. It is about an artist, and is filmmaking as art as well. Produced and directed by Mark Lechner, this forty-minute film introduces the viewer to the art of Konstantin Bokov, a "mad" Russian. For decades Bokov has been scouring the streets and byways of New York City in search of raw materials for his art, which is made from the items he finds. He then displays his creations in ad-hoc "galleries," wherever he deems appropriate. He welcomes admirers of his work to take possession of them for free, and some people become avid collectors. In addition, Bokov does have traditional gallery representation, which allows him to make a bit of money, and he has a following among the gallery crowd. 

The Sessions: Not Your Typical Typical Love Story

Typically, a filmmaker mixing crippling disease, religious themes, and 45 minutes of intensely uncomfortable sex would get a box office flop with a poignant message about the human condition. The Sessions does the opposite of this. The Sessions tells the story of 38-year-old paraplegic poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) as he goes on a series of marvelous misadventures in an attempt to create intimacy by hiring a sex surrogate to take his virginity. Instead of the dark, edgy piece of cinema one would expect when dealing with such an intimate and depressing topic, The Sessions is sickeningly sweet.