Film Review

The Angels' Share or A Fairytale for Ne'er-Do-Wells

Ken Loach's The Angels' Share gets underway as a hard-hitting squint at the unemployed of Glasgow before rather perversely turning into an uplifting crime caper with a Disneyesque finale. But maybe, just maybe, a little Walt is what the have-nots are crying out for right now.

Loach, who has been zeroing in on the working class for over 45 years (Poor Cow (1967); Riff-Raff (1991)), and his longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty (The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)) have concocted a group of societal misfits who've all wound up in court and sentenced to community service. Read more »

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga or Walden Pond, Siberian-Style

What is happiness?

According to Thoreau, "Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder."

Well, according to Werner Herzog in his latest documentary, Happy People, which he co-directed with Dmitry Vasyukov, contentment can be achieved without the said butterflies. Just ask the snowbound trappers of the Siberian Taiga as they construct their lives along the Yenisei River in much the same ways folks did hundreds of year ago, with just the addition of a power saw or two. Read more »

Inescapable: Title or Warning?

A dreary, flaccid, far-fetched “thriller,” Inescapable (available on VOD)  arouses the little interest it does due to its locale, Syria, and its time period, early 2011. What topic could be more felicitously chosen? Yet, even forgetting the film was shot in South Africa, Ruba Nada’s subpar direction and screenplay and Teresa Hannigan’s zonked editing waste the opportunity to add any insight into the armed conflict that has already traumatized a people for far too long. Read more »

Come Out and Play

Give any 13-year-old a FlipCam, a quart of fake blood, and two wide-eyed tourists traversing Mexico, and he could probably make a better movie than the south-of-the-border horror remake Come Out and Play. This killer-tots endeavor is crass, sloppy, and chock-full of fatigued horror tropes. From the standpoint of any layperson who has ever seen a film, Come Out and Play is just insulting.

The director, Makinov, who in real life apparently walks around with a red bag over his head, sets the film during carnival season, when dopey Francis and wet-napkin Beth are vacationing. Read more »

What Would Mrs. Hughes Do?

"You didn’t read the book, did you?" I asked Julian, my 13-year-old son, although it was more an invitation for him to confess. Because I knew.

Julian had walked in the door when I was just in the middle of the Season Three finale of Downton Abbey. Mrs. Hughes, head housekeeper, was in the process of dismissing Edna, a new maid, who had been shamelessly pursuing sad and lonely widower Tom Branson. "There are rules to this way of life and if you don't intend to abide by them it is not the life for you," Mrs. Hughes told Edna. Read more »

On Quvenzhané Wallis: A letter from a white woman to a black friend

Dear Denise, 

I've thought a lot about Quvenzhané Wallis. I've thought about the joke made about her, why it happened, what it means. I don't have simple answers, but it's heavy on my mind. 

I watched the Oscars faithfully but did not keep up with "commentary" that night. So I learned about what happened, from you, on Monday morning. I felt your anger and your pain clearly through your words. 

At first it seemed to me that the joke was, had to be, about the absurdity of hurling an insult like that at a child -- "What if we talk as if she's a 62-year-old, and a hateful one?" -- though obviously the "humor" didn't scan. Read more »

The Sweet Smell of Success, The Bitter Taste of Botox

Competition at the Oscars this year went beyond the awards for Best [insert category here]. While we praised and debated 2012's buzz-worthy performances long before the ceremony, it was facial expression, not artistic expression, that captivated me Sunday night.

Sure, the emcees have been mocking Tinseltown for years about keeping cosmetic surgeons in the black, right? But as I continue to mature into the grown-up my birth certificate says I am (it still looks like a typo to me, though it’s not possible I’ve been 21 for 30 years, is it?), I become increasingly more aware of the ‘improvement’ celebs my age and younger have over me. Read more »

Caesar Must Die: The Most Kindest Cut of All

The new Tavianni brothers picture, Caesar Must Die, refuses to fall neatly into any generic category. The sibling helmers, who have been supplying highly praised art-house fare for decades (e.g. Padre Padrone (1977); The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982)), have now adapted Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with a brisk, stellar outcome.

Filming inside an actual Italian prison, Rebibbia, the incarcerated here play themselves portraying the Bard's historic creations.  Read more »

Gay Israelis vs. Unkosher Twin Witch-slayers

Yossi 

Eytan Fox's superb sequel to his award-winning love story, Yossi & Jagger (2002), has finally arrived. The original told of two Israeli soldiers situated on the Lebanese border, whose clandestine love affair was struggling to survive in a friendly yet homophobic atmosphere. Jagger, who was a little more out there, did his darnedest to loosen up Yossi (Ohad Knoller), begging him to quit the army and live with him in a more tolerant ambiance such as the one Tel Aviv could furnish. The rosy vision unsettled Yossi, but not for long. Jagger was killed in an ambush - - and buried as a brave heterosexual, at least in the eyes of his parents and his compatriots. Read more »

NO: The Power of a Jingle

In 1988, Michael Jackson's Moonwalk biography was released, as was the baseball classic Bull Durham starring Susan Sarandon, and Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by U.S. missiles. Pablo Larrain's masterful Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, NO, however, has chosen to concentrate on the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet and his overthrow by an advertising executive, Rene Saavedra.

You see, after Pinochet and his thugs tortured and slaughtered several thousand of his citizens with the implicit approval of the United States and other international powers, the world at large developed a conscience of sorts and pressured the Chilean leader to hold a plebiscite on his presidency. The populace was to vote "YES" in support of Pinochet or "NO" to get rid of the tyrant. But how fair could such a referendum be? After all, Pinochet controlled the media and the streets. Read more »

The Baytown Outlaws: Buckwild, the Movie

Even after falsely billing Billy Bob Thornton and Eva Longoria as the stars of this action-packed B-movie extravaganza (as if that would pull in the crowds), the producers and director/co-screenwriter Barry Battles have no need to apologize. This ode to Tarantino, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and Jerry Lewis marathons is deliriously silly, frenetically violent, and insanely entertaining, especially for those who prefer Mad Max over The Rules of the Game. Read more »

The Avengers: When a Spectacle is Shrunk

Yesterday was a red-letter day in my mailbox. Next to an invite from American Express and a copy of Leslie Feinberg's Drag King Dreams (ordered from swapabook.com) lay a Netflix red-and-white envelope that I quickly ripped open. Inside: The Avengers DVD that I had forgotten I'd requested.

Eureka! My evening had unexpectedly become free an hour before, and here was a cinematic event I had missed out on. What true joy! From what I had heard, on this 4-1/2-inch silver platter was imprinted the Super Heroes event of the decade. Well, at least the best one not helmed by Christopher Nolan. After all, it had a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, beating out Fellini's Amacord by two points and Pasolini's Teorema by six. Read more »

Free to Delight

Free is an "art" film, in two ways. It is about an artist, and is filmmaking as art as well. Produced and directed by Mark Lechner, this forty-minute film introduces the viewer to the art of Konstantin Bokov, a "mad" Russian. For decades Bokov has been scouring the streets and byways of New York City in search of raw materials for his art, which is made from the items he finds. He then displays his creations in ad-hoc "galleries," wherever he deems appropriate. He welcomes admirers of his work to take possession of them for free, and some people become avid collectors. In addition, Bokov does have traditional gallery representation, which allows him to make a bit of money, and he has a following among the gallery crowd.  Read more »

The Sessions: Not Your Typical Typical Love Story

Typically, a filmmaker mixing crippling disease, religious themes, and 45 minutes of intensely uncomfortable sex would get a box office flop with a poignant message about the human condition. The Sessions does the opposite of this. The Sessions tells the story of 38-year-old paraplegic poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) as he goes on a series of marvelous misadventures in an attempt to create intimacy by hiring a sex surrogate to take his virginity. Instead of the dark, edgy piece of cinema one would expect when dealing with such an intimate and depressing topic, The Sessions is sickeningly sweet. Read more »

Peter Jackson, Hobbit-ual Revisionist

In a couple of ways, there's no point in worrying about spoilers when reviewing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It's adapted from a 75-year-old book that a seemingly high percentage of the English-speaking world is already familiar with, and this is the first part of a trilogy, so nothing here gives away the ending if by some miracle you don't already know what it is. So I can, in good conscience, make this not just a review, but also an analysis of differences between the book and the movie, and that is what I will do. Because if you thought director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy deviated a lot from J.R.R. Tolkien's original books, you ain't seen nothing yet. Read more »

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