Film Review

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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The Shoeless Lolita

hounddog-dakotaHounddog

Humbert Humbert once notoriously reasoned that "[b]etween the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as 'nymphets.'"

Yes, the innocent have become temptresses. The victims villainesses. And this is the fate of prepubescent Lewellen (Dakota Fanning), a "white trash" Lolita in Deborah Kampmeier's semi-autobiographical ode to guiltlessness lost, Hounddog. Read more »

Paddle This!

To be perfectly blunt, Ping Pong Playa is third-rate crap. Unfunny crap. Unnecessary crap. This little entertainment is also unintentionally racist, misogynistic, homophobic, poorly acted, and shapeless. Unquestionably, if P.P.P.'s director had been a white man, he would now be receiving more opprobrium than Griffith for Birth of a Nation, the film that single-handedly revived the K.K.K. Read more »

Goodbye to Gonzo

hunter-thompsonGonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

For the avid Thompson aficionado, Gonzo will be more of a belated memorial service providing the occasional unseen photo or unheard tale. However, if you’ve only had a taste of The Good Doctor and want to get a sampling of the full range of flavors he has to offer, then this film is a great way to satisfy that strange urge. Read more »

Holy Masterpiece! Here Comes Batman!

the_dark_knight.jpgDisclaimer: I have not seen The Dark Knight. I have not read any reviews of The Dark Knight, not even the one here on Culture Catch. (Sorry, Brandon.) I heard about it from one friend, who said he liked it, but was more interested in describing the big fight that took place in the row behind him at the Loew's theater over saving a seat. But, since it's impossible getting tickets, I'm not letting that stop me from reviewing this major motion picture release.

The Dark Knight, the latest installment in the Batman saga, starts not with the expected bang, but with an eerie whimper. Read more »

The Joke's On Us

joker_dark_knight.jpgBack in 1975, in a much discussed New Yorker profile, Pauline Kael noted Cary Grant's cinematic style could be labeled "pre-Freudian, pre-psychological acting-as-entertaining." She added that the star "was cast as Cary Grant, and he gave a performance as Cary Grant. It was his one creation."

If you accept that judgment, then Heath Ledger is (or was) Grant's antithesis, which certainly does not make his films any better. While it would nearly be impossible to limit yourself to picking five Grant favorites (e.g. North by Northwest; Bringing Up Baby; His Gal Friday; Arsenic and Old Lace; Notorious), it's rather demanding to even come up with five above-par Ledger titles. Read more »

Get Too Clever by Half

get_smart_photoIf only America made cars like Hollywood makes movies. We'd have a 600 mpg Hummer that goes 300 miles per hour, runs on solar power, is guaranteed to get you laid, but is also the ultimate family vehicle using completely recycled, Birkenstock-like materials. In other words, a Frankenstein monster: all the icing, just the good parts.

That is how Get Smart feels. There are snappy lines. Zany scenes. The requisite gross-outs. Pratfalls. Thrills. Bond-worthy action sequences. Even a tear in the eye or two. Read more »

Yet More Sex and the City

wacknessNot unlike the instantly recognizable Woody-Allen archetype--say Alvy Singer in Annie Hall--in The Wackness, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is a secular New York Jew who has trouble getting laid and his best friend is his psychiatrist. Where the leads' personas diverge from a neurotic commonality is that Luke prefers computers games to Marshall McLuhan, and The Notorious B.I.G. to George Gershwin.

Additionally, unlike Allen's phobic characters and their more metaphysical struggles ("How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?"), Luke’s greatest quandary is whether he's the most popular of the unpopular kids at school or the least popular of the popular ones. Read more »

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

devil_deadAlthough also directed by Sidney Lumet about a robbery gone terribly awry, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) this isn't. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, from Think Films, is a brilliant, harrowing, and emotionally charged crime drama about two desperate brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as Andy and Hank respectively) who decide to rob their parents' jewelry store, with tragic consequences. Everything that can possibly go wrong does, and just when the viewer thinks that circumstances can't get any more dismal or left-of-center, they do. Read more »

A Waif Astray

factory_girlFactory Girl
Directed by George Hickenlooper (Weinstein Co. DVD)

The court of the silver-haired pied piper of the Factory has proved a substantial source of inspiration for movie-makers, through which Andy Warhol and his dubious darlings are reaping far more than his promised fifteen minutes of fame. Valerie Solanas and her SCUM gun, Basquiat and his designer dreads, Capote and his mewling mannerisms, and the long-promised story of the divinely beautiful Candy Darling are perfect examples of the lingering allure of trash and tragedy. It is no surprise that the latest trawl through the silver memories of the largely departed Warhol cavalcade is Factory Girl. Read more »

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