Film Review

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.

My Week with Marilyn: Needy, Needier, Neediest

My Week with Marilyn is one of the most innocent of love stories to hit the movie screens in recent years, and one of the most satisfying.

It also a rather astute tale of filmmaking, specifically the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957, an adaptation of a Terrence Rattigan stage comedy. The movie starred Marilyn Monroe at the height of her fame and Sir Laurence Olivier, who at age 50, was the world's most acclaimed Shakespearean actor -- or should we say, "aging Shakespearian actor and former matinee idol." He was also its director.

The Descendants: Hawaii Without the Hula

Until this very moment, Alexander Payne has made a rather successful career with his ability to seamlessly meld pain with biting black humor. His Citizen Ruth (1996) brazenly tackles the Pro-Life movement and its foes. Election (1999) wickedly chronicles the disasters raging high-school hormones wrought on both self-centered teens and their instructors. About Schmidt takes its aging eponymous widower (Jack Nicholson) on a caustic trip to self-discovery while attending his daughter's wedding. And Sideways (2004), an ode to oenophiles in search of love, won him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Melancholia: Lars Von Trier's "Bleak" House

The grand George Cukor, after such works as The Women, Camille, and Sylvia Scarlett were released, was branded a "women's director." There's no question he knew how to make his female leads shimmer as if they were residing in the firmament and not just on the screen. That's one rumored reason why he was released from Gone with the Wind. Apparently, Clark Gable was afraid he might be overshadowed by his female lead if Cukor did the helming.

Gable would no doubt have had a similar jitteriness with Lars von Trier, who after Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Antichrist, has merited the moniker of "depressed women's director." No one else since Ingmar Bergman and Chantal Akerman has so consistently and illustriously particularized the disintegration of females stuck in an interminable, patriarchal dystopia.

Suburban Desire under the Elms: The Family Tree

The week before Hurricane Irene struck, I viewed a film that certainly could have benefitted from some of that storm's gusts.

The American indie The Family Tree does, truthfully, blow about quite a bit thanks to its choice cast (e.g. Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Selma Blair, Keith Carradine, Jane Seymour), but its overabundance of inane plot lines configured by screenwriter Mark Lisson and its unfocused direction by Vivi Friedman couldn't get a kite knee-level.

Fright Nights, Ogres in Your Sheets, and Clever Baboons

"Fright Night is not a distinguished movie, but it has a lot of fun being undistinguished," Roger Ebert noted about the original 1985 take on vampires.

The same could be said of director Craig Gillespie's 3-D remake, which should be no surprise. At least the "fun" part. After all, Gillespie was responsible for the joyous and "distinguished" Lars and the Real Girl (2007), the definitive comedy about falling in love with a blow-up doll.

Cowboys and Aliens: Bang! Bang! You're Bored

We've all known that the western has been dead for quite some while. Well, according to Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, the science fiction genre is ripe for burying, too. At least he said as much in The Sunday Times a few years back: "There’s nothing original. We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it."

So, accepting Scott's premise, why not combine the two corpses to create something vivid and original and very much alive?

This apparently was the intention of director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and the three screen-story composers and five screenwriters who tackled the adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's graphic novel. They failed, however, to restore life where there was none. Cowboys and Aliens is DOA.