Film Review

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.

A Separation: Who Can Cast the First Stone?

Kramer vs. Kramer goes Iranian with Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, a late 2011 entry that's been deservedly racking up almost every "Best Foreign Language" film award that has been dished out this season.

But A Separation is much than a tale of a man and woman in love whose marital path has come to a fork in the road; it is a dissection of modern morality, both religious and secular, and how impossible it is to live a totally principled life if you're stuck interacting with other Homo sapiens.  Or, to get a little Socratic, "A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true."

Trollhunter: Or Giant Scandinavian Ogres on the Loose

Some folks actually are of the opinion that Norway's good-natured entry into the handheld-camera, campy, horror-flick genre is a quality movie. In fact, two members of the critics group I'm in voted for Trollhunter as Best Foreign Film of 2011. Blame it on hot flashes or that the duo hadn't gotten around to viewing A Separation, The Skin I Live In, or any other film with subtitles during the past twelve months.

This debut feature by Andre Ovredal chronicles the adventures of three university film students who are attempting to make a documentary about a mysterious bear poacher. They learn to their joy and later to their chagrin that this bearded, taciturn gent, Hans (Otto Jespersen), is actually a trollhunter who's working for a secretive arm of the Norwegian government.

A Lethal Virus, a Deadly Teen, and a Demeaned Panda

It's that time of year again when film critics connected to societies that dish out annual awards find their mailboxes stuffed with dozens of DVDs and the occasional gift or two: a bag of popcorn and Puss in Boots wrapping paper from DreamWorks, for example. Or the shooting script of The Descendants, which boasts an inane quote from Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman: "[Writer/director Alexander] Payne has become the Stanley Kubrick of serious American comedy." That sort of hyperbole transforms the usually sensible Gleiberman into the Rip Taylor of serious American critics.