Film Review

Precious: A Harlem Bildungsroman

precious-filmAdapting Sapphire's searing novel Push for the screen, director Lee Daniel and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher have fashioned an unrelenting drama about a castoff New York soul struggling to survive: a horrid tale of child abuse, a crime in its unabashed frequency that nowadays seems as engrained in mythic Americana as apple pie and the Yankees.

There are no World Series tickets for Harlem resident Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) in 1987, and there are no a la mode pastries, just stolen fried chicken for breakfast, hairy pig's feet for dinner, and a whole lot of being bullied.

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Super Spit Won't Heal The Vampire's Assistant

vampires-assistantThe most blood-curling aspect of Paul Weitz's Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is that this anemic adaptation of a popular children's book series is built up as the first in series of post-pubescent vampire films. Imagine Harry Potter on Valium and feel the joy. So let's do everyone a favor and hammer a stake through this abomination's heart before it's too late.

One of the major coagulating problems here is that Chris Massoglia, the Prince of Bland, stars as Darren Shan, a goody-goody teener with a penchant for spiders and high grades. Read more »

2009 Woodstock Film Festival: Fiercely Independent, Indeed

lebron-st-vOne of the regular thrills of living outside of Woodstock, New York is the annual Woodstock Film Festival. This year it celebrated its 10th anniversary. Running Oct. 1 to 4, it screened over 100 features, documentaries, shorts, as well as panel discussions, parties, and awards ceremonies. Spreading out at venues all over the small, quaint, and well-known town, it managed to create a helluva festive event.

Of course any film festival is only as good as the quality of the films it screens, and the WFF, whose motto is "fiercely independent," lives up to its hype. Read more »

Christ and Antichrist: The Road to Salvation

antichrist-movieAntichrist

The prologue to Lars von Trier's current effort might be among the most beautiful and powerful opening moments of cinema ever filmed. A married man and wife, labeled HE (Willem Dafoe) and SHE (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the production notes, are making passionate love (with full on-camera penetration) while their angelic child escapes his crib in another room, only to shortly fall out of a window to his death in extremely slow motion. Read more »

Shorties: Jews, Lemons, Christ, and Leaking Drag Queens

to-die-like-a-manLemon Tree

One of the more ironic aspects of Israeli cinema is that 90% or so of its features dealing with Palestinians or Israeli Arabs depict the Israeli government's mistreatment of the same. (And, of course, 100% of Palestinian productions assume a similar stance.) But then, Israelis have always been their own harshest critics, which is meant as great praise. Their media in general, when it comes to the open expression of all opinions, puts our own to shame. Read more »

The Bipolar Informant

the-informantHave you ever known a guy that you thought was unquestionably brilliant in some crazed way, yet everyone else dismissively said, "he’s just weird?" Well, Matt Damon is that guy in Warner Brother's new release The Informant!. Like the weird character Damon plays, this movie has a lot of jokes that many people just won't get; the audience I saw it with proved a good example. However, if you do get the jokes, and they are very entertaining, then you will probably stop laughing once their implications set in.

Director Steven Soderbergh has assembled an army of off-beat comedians, asking them to deliver the driest wit with the straightest of faces, and ultimately succeeds in unearthing one of America's greatest scams in the process -- corn. Read more »

Amreeka: A Palestinian in White Castle and Other Tales of Woe

amreeka_movieOnce a year, a movie about an immigrant, with or without a family, appears upon our screens . . . and if you include small indie and foreign releases, make that once a month. The archetypal hero is either impoverished, in need of love, and/or relentlessly experiencing bigotry at the hands of the local populace, the police, and other governmental authorities. (Goodbye Solo (2009), The Visitor (2008), plus Live and Become (2005) are a few of the exemplary examples of this genre.) Read more »

Shorties: Tarantino's Jews, Giamatti's Soul-Searching, & Two Hitlers

cold_soulsA quick look at what's in the theaters:

1) Cold Souls

In the most deliciously off-beat comedy of the year, Paul Giamatti plays an actor named Paul Giamatti who has his soul removed to feel less pain when portraying Uncle Vanya. But by the time he learns that a little angst in life is necessary to be an above-average thespian and an affable human being, his essence has been lost. Read more »

Ol' Dirty Basterds

inglourious-basterdsDisney should have taken the four billion they paid for Marvel and bought Tarantino instead. Why? Inglourious Basterds is the only movie that I've seen that has had a director in something like the last five years. What's more, it's just about the only movie I've seen that has had a writer (who also happens to be the director, but what you gonna do?). It also has a movie star. And a supporting star. To say Inglourious Basterds is good would be like saying water is wet. It is so, so much more than that. Read more »

Extract: A Testicular Romance

extract-filmWhat's the difference between a comedy on TV and one in the theaters? Is The 40 Year Old Virgin funnier than Everybody Loves Raymond? Is The Hangover edgier than Will and Grace? Is The Proposal wilder than Sex and the City? What are we yearning for on the big screen that will egg us on to shell out $12 dollars for a ticket and another $20 or so for popcorn and a Coke?

It's oddly Mike Judge's latest big screen offering, Extract, that elicits these thoughts. Mr. Judge, the creative force behind "everyone's favorite" juvenile-delinquent slacker cartoon, Beavis and Butthead; the animated Texas redneck with a heart of gold, King of the Hill; and surprising cult DVD hit Office Space (1999). Read more »

My One and Only: The Childhood of a Very Tan Man

one-and-onlyYour familiarity with the creature known as George Hamilton -- or your lack thereof -- won't have too much of an effect on your appreciation of My One and Only. Yet for the curious, here's a little background.

Mr. Hamilton, before he became best known as the King of Tanning, had hit the tabloids for dating one of President Lyndon Johnson's daughters, a Byrd of moderate plumage. Before that, Mr. Hamilton had been an actor, never one of much note, more of one note, but he had been extremely attractive.

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The Time Traveler's Wife: Break Your Clocks!

If I could revisit my past, the first thing I'd do is travel several hours back and not see The Time Traveler's Wife.

Seldom has a romantic fantasy drummed up by Hollywood been so drab and ridiculous. Not a moment here makes any sense. What's worse is, by the time you crawl out of the theater, whacked into submission by the idiocy of the tale, you'll feel no one involved in this pallid product comprehends its premise either. No wonder the lead character asks, "Is this too weird?"

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Julie & Julia: You Can Never Have Too Much Butter

julie-juliaWhoever placed the blame for American obesity on McDonald’s and its fast-food peers, shame on you! Julie & Julia, one of the year’s most delectable films, proves Julia Child was the real culprit: Julia and her obsessive, inviolable love for the culinary delights of France and especially its B-U-T-T-E-R.

Yes, seldom has an edible item -- let alone a human -- been as highly praised or as erotically "whisked into submission" as has this dear, mutedly golden, highly caloric substance. With complete disrespect for those suffering from lactose intolerance, director/writer/producer Nora Ephron has created a sprightly, bombastic paean to fame, feasting, and infatuation. Read more »

Funny People: Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Sandler

funny-peopleThere are moments during Judd Apatow's Funny People where you are just swept away by the brilliant incisiveness of Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen's performances.

With an at-times seemingly autobiographical screenplay, Sandler portrays George Simmons, a Sandler-like comedian who often makes seriously stupid comedies that are embraced by America to the tune of $265,000,000 grosses. In one hit, his character asks to be young again, and winds up with his old head attached to an infant's body.

A huge success on screen, off screen Simmons has the world as his oyster, but apparently he's not crazy about seafood, just addicted. Read more »

Flame & Citron: Something's Rotten in Denmark

flame-citronYes, now that you have asked, the inhabitants of Denmark do change their facial expressions. There's even a site to prove it.

However, in this lushly beautiful (thanks to cinematographer Jorgen Johansson) film, director Ole Christian Madsen seems to have ordered each of his cast members to embody Hamlet, a rather dour Hamlet. This is not totally absurd, considering the screenplay, but it can be a bit ponderous at times. The plot, based on a true story, takes place during World War II -- 1944 to be exact -- in Copenhagen. Read more »

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