Film Review

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.

Shorties: The Future, The Guard, and The Menstruation Machine

1) The Future

Los Angeleans Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (Miranda July) are the perfectly matched couple: both being good natured, slightly disheveled, almost attractive, and 35. The two, with their failed dreams and lack of future prospects, do have their love and their commitment to that affection to get them by. At least that's what's gotten them stumbling along smoothly now for four years. Their non-storybook-like romance, however, is about to change.

Shorties: Brighton Rock and Beginners

1. Brighton Rock

The surly Graham Greene's 1938 misanthropic novel, which was already once adapted in 1947 with Richard Attenborough as its sinister lead, gets a deliciously almost-over-the-top treatment here by Rowan Joffe.

Joffe, previously best known for his director dad Roland (The Killing Fields) and his own screenplays, both good (28 Weeks Later) and less so (The American), clearly has a love for humanity at its most sinister.

Gun Hill Road: A "Precious" for Trannies

Rashaad Ernesto Green’s Gun Hill Road is astonishingly absorbing: sensuous, hard-hitting, beautifully acted, and well written, with a bang-up closing shot. It is also one of the more perceptive depictions of teen sexual angst, parental and peer bullying, and transsexual identity to have ever hit the screen. There is no doubt that via DVD, cable, and streaming, this low-budget American indie will save many a life in the decades to come.

Jerry Tartaglia: Cinema's Foucault

Jerry Tartaglia: Is What Was

A few weeks ago, Anthology Film Archives did what it has done so well for decades. The venerable East Village institution spotlighted a director, Jerry Tartaglia, who has spent his life creating nonmainstream films that explore queerness, pornography, Nazis, AIDS, evil, love, homophobia, religion, the relevance of gossip, self-identity, and sexuality. But that apparently isn't enough karmic territory for Mr. Tartaglia.  With each celluloid (or video) frame he seems to ask, "What is the essence of cinema? And what is filmic truth?"

It Isn't Easy Being Green

Green Lantern

Comic book fans are two for three in a summer loaded with hammers, rings, and helmets. Hopefully, what Marvel may have learned from the success of Thor is to please let the audience have some fun; does it take a Kenneth Branagh to inject a modicum of charm into something so patently absurd as a Norse God dustup? The new X-Men picture was an embarrassment of self-importance layered with special effects -- a mutant Dagwood sandwich, but flavorless.

Green Lantern, the movie, is much closer to Thor in that respect. For one thing, like Thor, it jumps back and forth between sad, quotidian planet Earth and the cosmic outback. 

Leap Year: S&M Mexico-Style

Kate Gompert, the Ophelia character in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, awakes in a psych ward after ingesting "a hundred-ten Parnate, about thirty Lithonate capsules, [and] some old Zoloft," and notes, "I took everything I had in the world.... I wasn't trying to hurt myself. I was trying to kill myself. There's a difference." Laura (Monica del Carmen), the focus of Michael Rowe's blistering Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto), seems to be heading along the same pathway.