Film Review

"Gross" Negligence

Superlatives are part and parcel of the entertainment industry, particularly with regard to cinema. 

Words such as "extraordinary," "superb," "amazing," and "best" are tossed around so often that they lose their meaning when applied to film.  And it is a given that award ceremonies – Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, etc. -- are hopelessly arbitrary, and mostly a promotional tool.  Even award ceremonies based on "peer" review (e.g., Screen Actors Guild awards) are largely promotional "mutual admiration society" events.

Matchmaker: Israeli Schlockmeister Aims for Depth

Take Israeli director Avi Nesher out of Israel, and he creates celluloid crap of the third order. Consider She  (1982) with Sandahl Bergman. Or Doppelganger  (1993) with Drew Barrymore?  Or even Ritual  (2002) with Jennifer Grey? If you haven’t been face-to-face with any of these features, you’re probably being rewarded for accomplishing something quite wonderful in a former life.

But drop-ship Nesher back to his native country, and he can surprise you. Turn Left at the End of the World (2004) is semi-engaging look at the plight of Indian immigrants living in the backwoods of Israel during the sixties. As for The Secrets  (2007), here’s an exceptionally fine tale of an Orthodox Jewish young woman who wants to break all the rules by studying the Talmud and living her life as a lesbian. Really a must-see.

Now Nesher’s  latest effort, The Matchmaker, is currently trodding down the theater aisles. No confetti is needed. 

General Education: A “B-” For Effort

Tom Morris’s General Education, a tepid, well-meaning saga of high school woes, could be screened immediately on the Disney Channel with nary a cut, and that’s the problem. The whole enterprise lacks a soupcon of edginess, a modicum of wit, or an iota of originality.  

Endlessly insipidity aside, the screenplay by Elliot Feld, Jaz Kalkat, and Morris was clearly pulled together for no other reason than the need for a bunch of buddies to start calling themselves “filmmakers” -- at least that’s how the super-clichéd, slightly offensive final product comes off.  Well, you might not be offended if you don’t object to viewing a screaming queen of a pederastic college recruiter endlessly hitting on young men. Then there’s Charles (Skylan Brooks), an often barefooted, black thirteen-year old playing Stepin Fetchit to the film’s teen hero. No shoes? He runs faster that way. The young man does swim, however, so there goes that stereotype.

Glam and Proud of It!

Jobriath a.d.
Produced and Directed by Kieran Turner
Newfest 2012, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Screened on July 28, 2012

In 1974, Bruce Wayne Campbell, who legally changed his name to Jobriath Boone, attempted to be the first self-declared gay pop star. His recordings were hailed by a scant few reviewers and most critics were either moderately impressed or dismissive. Commercially, he failed miserably. Moreover, he became a laughing stock of the broader press corps, particularly because they had been mega-hyped by his manager, Jerry Brandt, to expect a pop music savior--so they were nearly universal with vicious and vitriolic ridicule of Jobriath. The gay press said just about nothing, due to the macho man "clone" craze at the time, and Jobriath’s florid style certainly didn’t fit in with that. He quickly faded from view, later reinvented himself as Cole Berlin, a sophisticated saloon singer, and passed on from AIDS in 1983. Over the years, a considerable cult following focusing on his recordings grew, his music inspiring successful recording artists and a number of ardent fans who passionately felt that Jobriath’s story needed to be told and his music be heard. 

Total Recall, or The Joys of Amnesia

For all of you in search of a dark, humorless dystopian tale, one that’s an inept remake of a celebrated sci-fi epic...one that would be hard to differentiate from a computer game...and one that’s brimming over with cardboard characterizations spouting flavorless, forgettable dialog, look no further. Total Recall has arrived.

Based upon Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” the original take was directed by Paul Verhoeven, whose track record includes everything from the terrific Dutch thriller The Fourth Man (1983) to the underpants-deprived Basic Instinct (1992) to the ice-cube-on-the-nipple campy Showgirls (1995).

Sedona or Eat, Pray, Love, Arizona-Style

With the current Sedona, writer/director/producer Tommy Stovall establishes that showcasing good-hearted, spiritually eccentric people with the power to revamp big-city workaholics into Thoreaus and Elizabeth Gilberts is his modus operandi.

A tiny, low-budget American indie, Sedona is a love letter to this small Arizona town with its jaw-dropping red sandstone formations, a major draw for those seeking mystical transformations. Just imagine a lush National Geographic special with uplifting plot lines.

The Dark Knight Gets Semi-Aroused

The Reign of the Kitsch of Death has finally been broken. Director/writer Christopher Nolan has proven you don't necessarily need an actor named Taylor to create incomprehensible muck. One monikered Christian Bale will do as well.

To be blunt, from its opening second, The Dark Knight Rises is so unintelligible, both plot-wise and sound-wise, that at the screening I attended at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, I'd say nearly a quarter of the dialog was muddled. And if you just want to focus on the lead villain Bane (Tom Hardy), raise that figure to 75%. Believe me!

You Are the Apple of My Eye, or Taiwanese Graffitti

Sometimes it pays to hang around for the end credits. As the final acknowledgements of Giddens Ko's semi-autobiographical You Are the Apple of My Eye unspooled at this year's deliriously varied New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), the more quick-eyed members of the audience could read: "The plotline of masturbating in the classroom depicted in the film has been performed by professionally trained actors; please do not imitate or attempt it."

As you might now correctly guess, this quirky rendering of director/writer Ko's first love that lasted from his days in high school in 1994 to his post-college years as a novelist in 2005 is very crotch-oriented.

The Amazing Spider-Man: An Arachnid Idyll

It's web-delicious.

An adolescent boy's gossamer dreams are beautifully captured in what should deservedly be one of summer's biggest hits, The Amazing Spider-Man. Astutely cast, soundly directly, and penned by a bevy of screendom's top writers who among them have scripted Ordinary People, most of the Harry Potter installments, and Zodiac, this actioner swings from effective drama to endearing teen romance to campy monster brawls, all in glorious 3-D.