Film Review

Singing in the Changes

LENA HORNE 1917-2010

Some things are impossible to deny. One of those was that Lena Horne was beautiful, another was her talent as an actress and singer, the third was that she was black. Horne once quipped that what the MGM Studios knew about black people, they'd gleaned from the Tarzan films, and she flatly refused to pretend to be Latin American so that her movies might fare better in the Southern States. It is hard to believe that scenes containing black actors were routinely chopped from films before they were shown there. A fitting testament to this spirited woman and her bravery in the face of stupid prejudice is that the world has moved on somewhat, and has all but forgotten these sins; now a black man resides in the White House.

Mademoiselle Chambon: A Masterwork on Love

m_chambon4The great French film Mademoiselle Chambon, based on a novel by Eric Holder, never strives for greatness. It just gently saunters there with a majestic, relentless vision of an impossible love. From the opening scene of a picnic where two parents awkwardly try to help their son with his grammar assignment (what is a “direct object”?), director and co-screenwriter Stéphane Brizé sends forth his simple plot along with nary a shove. Jean (Vincent Lindon), the dad, is in construction: he builds houses. Anne Marie (Aure Atika), the mom, works at a printer, assembling books. One afternoon, Mom twists her back, and Dad must pick up Jérémy (Arthur Le Houérou) at school. There Jean meets Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain), the teacher.

Metal-Munching Moon Mice: Iron Man 2

iron_man_2To muck up the sequel to Iron Man for the hungry legions of metalheads would require mistakes so monumentally stupid that it's barely worth imagining. All that's needed is screens, seats, Robert Downey Jr., the suit, and the CGI, and it's got all of those things in abundance. In fact, it has several suits, as well as a legion of killer robots, Scarlett Johansson in Emma Peel drag, and Mickey Rourke as a greasy Russian bad guy with bad teeth and a degree in physics. Rourke's character, Ivan Vanko, wants to de-chrome Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), primarily because Stark's father (Mad Men's John Slattery) screwed his inventor dad back in the '60s. There's a lot of back story that bubbles up in this picture, but it really boils down to dueling hi-tech chest bling and a lot of close-ups of Rourke gnashing his metal-lined choppers and pining for his cockatoo.

Shorties: Finnish Machos and Persian Cats

persian-catsFreetime Machos

If you're not offended by blond, Finnish, amateur rugby players who have a penchant for blowup dolls, homosexual allusions, the frequent use of "pussy," and a fear of being fired by their employer, Nokia, Mika Ronkainen's affable documentary might just be up your alley. This oddball look at the Oulos, the third lousiest rugby team from their area, clearly argues that men will be men no matter the latitude: "In Finland, you rather get stabbed in the back than complain of female trouble."

Mine Vaganti (Loose Cannons): Queer Brothers in Arms

Mine-VagantiOpenly gay Turkish film director Ferzan Ozpetek, like Almodóvar, has never been nelly about scattering characters of his own persuasion throughout his oeuvre. In Steam (1997), a young married Italian inherits a steam bath in Turkey, and when he visits his bequest dressed in a towel, he unexpectedly falls for a young male native. In The Ignorant Fairies (2001), a widow discovers that her deceased spouse, who had been hit by two cars traveling in opposing directions, had a secret life composed of drag queens and gays of all varieties. Infiltrating this campy cabal out of a depressed curiosity, she, against her will, rediscovers happiness.

Black Dynamite Gives You Oooooooooo!

BD_GunBetween its attention to detail and subtle humor, Black Dynamite is one of the most original approaches to film making since Woody Allen's early comedies. It’s hard to say what’s more tragic, that moviegoers have been reduced to relying on the mediocre talents of Judd Apatow and Jason Friedberg to provide them with big screen laughs, or that the funniest film in years was released this past October and couldn’t build an audience until it came out on DVD. Labeling this film as a mere Blaxploitation spoof would be a gross simplification, as it boasts action sequences that could take on Bruce Lee and bad-ass dialogue that could rival anything to come out of Shaft’s mouth.

March Hares, Hatters and 3D Glasses: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

alice_in_wonderland_johnny_deppIt wasn't a matter of if, but when Johnny Depp would adopt the guise of the Mad Hatter. It was a role that had long lain in wait for him. Lewis Carroll's sublime text has been given the full Tim Burton treatment. The unreality made real provides a seamless and Gothic, visual deception. Computer animation has erased all the cracks and joints we used to notice in the days of older celluloid fantasy -- the strings, the painted backdrops, the clunky animation. Burton's audience is instantly transported into a world that they know can't possibly exist, but which their eyes are forced into passive acceptance of. Although this is a Disney Studios feature, Burton makes no concession to the house style. Here is a dark location, a perfectly realized nightmare in which anything can, and does, occur.

Shorties: Drugged-Out Doors, Disgruntled Soccer Players, & Parched Africans

pumzi_film1. Pumzi

It's 35 years after World War III, all water sources are radioactive, and the land is infertile. As for the robotic remnants of mankind, they live underground in a high-tech, totalitarian empire with a regime so invasive that when a computer detects you are dreaming, a recorded voice commands, "Take your dream suppressants!"

As for sources of water, one's urine and sweat are gathered and then recycled into drinkable liquids

How to Train Your Dragon: The Post-Avatar Blues

dragon-filmHow to Train Your Dragon concerns a youth and his best friend, a dragon. Sound familiar? Been there, done that with Eragon, Mulan, Pete's Dragon, and a dozen others. For a refresher course, check out the site Dragons of the Silver and Small Screen.

Of course, this 3D effort by the writers/directors of Lilo & Stitch, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, is often visually enticing, yet after viewing Avatar so recently, the Pow! Factor is at times missing.

A Crippled Lyricism

andy_ianSex & Drugs & Rock & Roll By the time of his death in 2000, illness had once more had a transfigurative affect on the life of Ian Dury. Cancer, and the public knowledge of his impending absence from the world, turned him into a national treasure, the much-beloved rogue who had a magical turn of phrase. Mat Whitecross is no stranger to touchy subjects -- he proved that with Road to Guantanamo -- but Dury, notoriously cantankerous and volatile, is presented here in a warts-and-all cavalcade of chaos. He remains strangely lovable when many of his actions are not. The pace of the movie is as jagged and frenetic as one of Dury's frequent rages, but once it settles into a semi-narrative, the spirit of the man emerges. It is a white-knuckle ride of pathos and monstrosity.