Film Review

Yatterman: A Batman for the Brain Dead

Doronjo_Kyoko_FukadaBeing imprisoned in someone else's nostalgia trip can be a mind-numbing living hell. That's certainly what it felt like at the world premiere of Yatterman, a special presentation of the New York Comic Con this past Friday. (That it was screened at the New York Directors Guild Theatre, one of the worst venues in Manhattan, certainly didn't help any.)

Based on a cult Japanese anime television series that ran from 1977 to 1979 -- there were 108 episodes -- this live action version is directed by Takashi Miike, a helmer who in 2001 gained critical acclaim Stateside for his horrific thriller Audition. Read more »

The Funny Assassination Movie

painintheass.jpg"To write a comedy is a terrible pain. It has to be very precise, you know," explained writer/director Francis Veber after the U.S. premiere of A Pain in the Ass at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival.

"I understand very well it's better to write a drama," the Frenchman continued. "People will never reproach you that that they haven't cried enough, but they will reproach you that they haven't laughed enough. So you're not safe when you're writing comedies." Read more »

A Romance for the Post-Gym Set

last-chance-harvey.jpgAt the opening night gala for the 20th Palm Springs International Film Festival, CultureCatch (CC) sidled up to the 38-and-bearded Joel Hopkins. This affable director of the Dustin Hoffman-Emma Thompson starrer Last Chance Harvey was looking quite pleased standing walking distance from the liquor tables and cheese platters.

And why shouldn't he? His film had earned the most prestigious spot at one of America's top festivals, Palm Springs, home to a moneyed, robustly aging, Oscar-voting populace.

However, what was on CC's mind was why the title was seemingly ungrammatical. Weren't the options Last-Chance Harvey or Last Chance, Harvey? Aren't the Brits rather finicky about these matters? Read more »

Nobody Wanted Me, Negro or White: Eartha Kitt 1927-2008

Eartha-KittSometimes, the date of your death colors how you are remembered. Eartha Kitt's on Christmas Day meant “Santa Baby” was singled out as her trademark song, but the one that rather summarized her better was “Old Fashioned Girl.” Kitt embodied a somewhat dated aspect of womanhood: mysterious, mercurial, and malevolent, a strange collision of muse and minx. No mere bauble, she could prove merciless. A hapless BBC interviewer in the early '80s was floundering through his difficult encounter with her. In desperation he asked what, above all, stood out as the worst experience of her long career. Shooting him one of her famously withering feline glances, she purred with implicit disdain, “Being interviewed by you!” Read more »

The Ten Best Films of 2008

ballast-movieAs Gloucester noted in King Lear, "We have seen the best of our time: machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our graves." Accordingly, the best of the films I've viewed in 2008 often dealt with the vilest aspects of humanity and how a few brave souls strived to comprehend and possibly survive these man-made obstacles to a happy existence.

1. Ballast

Lance Hammer's feature debut is a brilliant trek into the Mississippi Delta, where three impoverished souls -- both financially and spiritually -- are able to rebuild their lives when reluctantly thrown together by a suicide. Read more »

Mickey Louse: Disney KO's Vegetables

adam-sandler-bedtime.jpgIn the landscape of Hollywood comedy, there are basically two Adam Sandlers. The more recognizable one is the winsome, moronic, little boy in a man's body who always get the girl, the money, and the love of the populace by the end of the film (e.g. Billy Madison; The Waterboy). The other is the petulant, moronic, perpetually horny, teenaged boy in a man's body who always gets the girl, the money, and the love of the populace by the end of the film (e.g. You Don't Mess with Zohan; I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry).

Sandler, like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has tried to expand his repertoire, brilliantly so in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, but his core audience of halfwits, priapic adolescents, and Jewish pot smokers who rightfully adore his "Chanukah Song" have not embraced his more cerebral efforts. Read more »

Hitler-a-Go-Go

valkyrie-cruiseIt would certainly be nice to be able to say Bryan Singer's take on the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt on Der Fuhrer is eye-popping excitement. It certainly would. But even with the glass orb the film's star, Tom Cruise, keeps installing and then detaching from his socket, the most I can rev up is eye-popping dreariness.

The main problem here is that everyone knows the ending before the film begins. Hitler survives the hit job only to commit suicide during the final hours of World War II. So how do you make the actions of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) and his buddies gripping? Read more »

An After-Thought of Fame

dinner-for-oneFame has never been a reliable mistress. It drives many to the point of destruction in their quest to achieve it, is sometimes bestowed on those who do not wish for nor deserve it, and may arrive long after death if it bothers to show at all. Forty years after his death at the age of 59, and nearly a century since his birth, the English comedian Freddie Frinton epitomizes fame as an after-thought in the after-life. That it rests on eleven flickering minutes of black and white footage, undercuts Warhol's fifteen minutes of the stuff by four. Those eleven minutes are called Dinner for One. Read more »

Santa with a Little Salsa

nothing-like-holidaysNothing Like the Holidays is a generic Christmas offering that would not feel out of place on the Lifetime Network. Nonetheless, this little indie should be cheered on because it has one pequeño difference.

The dysfunctional heroes here, who will be transformed by the spirit of Santa before the end credits roll, are Hispanic, and the accomplished, mostly Latino cast apparently had a blast playing Spanish-speaking Americans who are not under immediate suspicion of sneaking over the border during the night. That the action takes place in Humboldt Park, Chicago, should even put Lou Dobbs at ease. Read more »

Making the World Safe for Bond

bond-craigQuantum of Solace, the latest installment in the James Bond saga, the second starring Daniel Craig, has to carry a lot of water. It has to tie up many loose ends left over from 2006's Casino Royale, a tangled web of betrayals, psychic scars, explosions, and what appeared to be the better part of Venice foundering like the Titanic. It had to keep the new, edgier Bond going strong and speaking to a world where adult super-hero movies (including actual dark adult comic book heroes) are competing with MI6's finest (something Sir Sean Connery never had to face). Most importantly, it had to clear the decks so that a fresh, new Bond film can take place after this one. Maybe they'll resurrect Thunderball? Read more »

Doubt: Nun but the Lonelyhearted

doubt-movie"Of all religions," Voltaire noted, "Christianity is without a doubt the one that should inspire tolerance most, although, up to now, the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men."

Playwright John Patrick Stanley, best known for his screenplay Moonstruck, would possibly soften that quote to "some Christians have been among the most intolerant." Doubt, his screen adaptation of his critically acclaimed, Pulitzer-Prize-winning Broadway show, tells of an intolerant nun with a vendetta against a priest who doesn't embrace the certainty of faith with the same unyielding hold she does. Read more »

The Agony of Not Being Jewish

other-israelThe Other Israel Film Festival Just as the vision of the Statue of Liberty once sent electrical shocks of joy through immigrants eying the emerald lady for the very first time, Zabar's now exhilarates lox lovers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

This unrivaled, landmark deli, with its hypnotic selection of cheeses, bagels, imported coffees, caviar, olive oil, blenders, and potholders, not unexpectedly has a queen. And as queens are wont to do, this feisty czarina of the rugelach has projects of her own that reside outside of her expected realm.

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A Little Art-House of the Soul

candace-hilligossCarnival of Souls
Directed by Herk Harvey (Criterion DVD)

A small 1962 gem in crisp, clear monochrome Carnival of Souls is a noir masterpiece, a symphony in flickering greys. Deserving a finer reputation than the B Movie tag normally suggests, it is creepy and campy without ever plumbing the depths the genre implies. This low-budget exercise in masterful editing is completely stolen by the glacial remoteness of the central character, played with wide-eyed distraction by the Lee Strasberg-trained Candace Hilligoss. If ever Hitchcock missed out on a blonde, it is she. A cross between Janet Leigh and Candy Darling, she moves through the movie with supreme elegance. Read more »

Getting Jocular with Muslims

allah-funny-movieIt appears no one exactly knows how many Americans designate themselves as Muslims. Estimates found on the Internet run from 1.1 million to over 10 million.

But one statistic is certain. If asked, nearly 99.99% of the U.S. population would not be able to name one American Muslim comic. Allah Made Me Funny, an affable new concert film compiling the standup routines of three engaging Muslim comedians, hopes to rectify this dire situation. Read more »

Curmudgeon over Manhattan

ghost_town

The story of real people interacting with ghosts is a movie-making staple, from Ghost to Here Comes Mr. Jordan to Heaven Can Wait to Truly, Madly, Deeply to, most powerfully, It's a Wonderful Life. Since movies allow us, the viewer, to assume point of view of the main character, we get to see the ghosts too, often when nobody else on screen does. When done right, it's a uniquely sweet, yet powerful kind of fantasy that the movies do very, very well. Ghost Town, the new movie written and directed by David Koepp, joins this company in fine style.

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