Film Review

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!'"

Bullhead: In the Penile Colony

Bullhead is the impassioned tale of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a Belgian cattle farmer who, due to a childhood act of harrowing violence, has become an emotional cripple, although a hunky one. Yes, thanks to all of the steroids and hormones he regularly ingests and shoots up, his physique is much more inviting than his personality. In fact, you might just call him the Travi Bickle of livestock.

As for the aforementioned cows, they're not left out when it comes to getting pharmaceutical aids. You see certain Belgian farmers want to fatten up their bovines in eight weeks instead of ten, and to do so, they are purchasing the most sophisticated drugs available, ones not even as of yet available in the "Hormonic States of America."

First Position: Dancing for Their Souls

"We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance." - Japanese proverb

Not since Matthew Diamond's splendid documentary on Paul Taylor, Dancemaker (1998), has a film honored the essence of Terpsichore, the muse of dance, so well as does First Position.

Bess Kargman's new film focuses on seven competitors, aged 10 to 17, who are putting their personal lives on hold to win top prizes at the Youth American Grand Prix, the "largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools."

Joyful Noise or Mission: Implausible

Imagine a mediocre episode of Glee as envisioned by Billy Graham, and you're halfway to Joyful Noise.

Indie director Todd Graff, best known for directing Camp (2003) and being a regular on the 1970's Electric Company, has penned a screenplay for Noise that is so laden with clichés favored by unimaginative creators of bad romantic musicals that by comparison, Step Up 3D and Footloose, the remake, come off as peers of An American in Paris.