Film Review

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.

One Day You'll Understand or Why Did Dad Tell the Nazis About Mom?

One Day You'll Understand, the 2008 French film, is not an unexpected work by Amos Gitai. The Israeli director's past efforts include a searing dissection of Orthodox Jewish society (Kadosh (1999)) plus countless semi-experimental narratives and documentaries such as House (1980), the biography of a home from its original Palestinian owners to its current Israeli inhabitants.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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. 

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!'"