Film Review

A Tad Bit Loopy

Time travel paradoxes are not really so tough.  In fact, as Looper unwinds, we find that time travel relatively light-weight stuff compared everything else that happens in the story. It’s a little bit like The Matrix, where you discover that a modestly talented hacker has been sent careening into Alice’s nightmare chasm.

Looper takes place in 2044, but this version of the future looks like '70s urban squalor with a splash of Studio 54.  We get the sense that life is cheap in this brave old world, and that’s because just about everybody we meet is a killer, or a boss (Jeff Daniels), or an underling, or a stripper.    Read more »

Camille Rewinds or Peggy Sue Gets Cloned

"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there," L.P. Hartley noted in the opening of his novel The Go-Between

In 1986, Francis Ford Coppola tried to explore that notion with his wan whimsy in Peggy Sue Got Married, which closed the New York Film Festival. Kathleen Turner, who was nearing the end of her film career as a marketable entity on the West Coast (The War of the Roses (1989) was her final Hollywood hit), starred as the eponymous fortyish mother whose greasy spouse (Nicolas Cage) is ditching her. Distraught, Peggy Sue is persuaded to attend her high school reunion where she ends up being crowned queen. Immediately, she collapses and winds up traveling back in time to her teens. The quirk is that both she and the audience see that Peggy Sue clearly is a middle-aged mom dressing up in age-inappropriate attire, while her parents, friends, and all the other screen personae see her as she would have been at age 16. Read more »

Taylor Mead Times Six: A Warhol Knight Rises

Taylor Mead, the love child of Bette Davis and Peter Lorre, is one of the truly great comic geniuses of underground films, theater, poetry, cabaret, and cable TV of the Sixties and beyond. He was and is still quite hilarious, even if just stumbling down an East Village Street by himself, his traipse being a sort of Danse Macabre as envisioned by Pee Wee Herman.

An Andy Warhol Superstar, possibly best known for his hysterical “gunslinger” in Lonesome Cowboys, Mead’s brilliance never shined brighter than when he took on the title role in Michael McClure’s outrageous off-off-Broadway play, Spider Rabbit, in which he essayed a bunny who adored eating human brains. Read more »

Music Documentary Worth the Search

Searching for Sugar Man

This documentary film, ostensibly about obscure Michigan-based Mexican-American songwriter Sixto Rodriquez, is just as much about music geeks and the lengths to which they will go when the subject is their favorite artists. Oh, there's plenty about Rodriguez, who under his last name only made a pair of lush folk LPs for the Sussex label, released in 1970 (Cold Fact) and 1971 (Coming from Reality) and then faded from sight. Read more »

"Gross" Negligence

Superlatives are part and parcel of the entertainment industry, particularly with regard to cinema. 

Words such as "extraordinary," "superb," "amazing," and "best" are tossed around so often that they lose their meaning when applied to film.  And it is a given that award ceremonies – Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, etc. -- are hopelessly arbitrary, and mostly a promotional tool.  Even award ceremonies based on "peer" review (e.g., Screen Actors Guild awards) are largely promotional "mutual admiration society" events. Read more »

Matchmaker: Israeli Schlockmeister Aims for Depth

Take Israeli director Avi Nesher out of Israel, and he creates celluloid crap of the third order. Consider She  (1982) with Sandahl Bergman. Or Doppelganger  (1993) with Drew Barrymore?  Or even Ritual  (2002) with Jennifer Grey? If you haven’t been face-to-face with any of these features, you’re probably being rewarded for accomplishing something quite wonderful in a former life.

But drop-ship Nesher back to his native country, and he can surprise you. Turn Left at the End of the World (2004) is semi-engaging look at the plight of Indian immigrants living in the backwoods of Israel during the sixties. As for The Secrets  (2007), here’s an exceptionally fine tale of an Orthodox Jewish young woman who wants to break all the rules by studying the Talmud and living her life as a lesbian. Really a must-see.

Now Nesher’s  latest effort, The Matchmaker, is currently trodding down the theater aisles. No confetti is needed.  Read more »

General Education: A “B-” For Effort

Tom Morris’s General Education, a tepid, well-meaning saga of high school woes, could be screened immediately on the Disney Channel with nary a cut, and that’s the problem. The whole enterprise lacks a soupcon of edginess, a modicum of wit, or an iota of originality.  

Endlessly insipidity aside, the screenplay by Elliot Feld, Jaz Kalkat, and Morris was clearly pulled together for no other reason than the need for a bunch of buddies to start calling themselves “filmmakers” -- at least that’s how the super-clichéd, slightly offensive final product comes off.  Well, you might not be offended if you don’t object to viewing a screaming queen of a pederastic college recruiter endlessly hitting on young men. Then there’s Charles (Skylan Brooks), an often barefooted, black thirteen-year old playing Stepin Fetchit to the film’s teen hero. No shoes? He runs faster that way. The young man does swim, however, so there goes that stereotype. Read more »

Glam and Proud of It!

Jobriath a.d.
Produced and Directed by Kieran Turner
Newfest 2012, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Screened on July 28, 2012

In 1974, Bruce Wayne Campbell, who legally changed his name to Jobriath Boone, attempted to be the first self-declared gay pop star. His recordings were hailed by a scant few reviewers and most critics were either moderately impressed or dismissive. Commercially, he failed miserably. Moreover, he became a laughing stock of the broader press corps, particularly because they had been mega-hyped by his manager, Jerry Brandt, to expect a pop music savior--so they were nearly universal with vicious and vitriolic ridicule of Jobriath. The gay press said just about nothing, due to the macho man "clone" craze at the time, and Jobriath’s florid style certainly didn’t fit in with that. He quickly faded from view, later reinvented himself as Cole Berlin, a sophisticated saloon singer, and passed on from AIDS in 1983. Over the years, a considerable cult following focusing on his recordings grew, his music inspiring successful recording artists and a number of ardent fans who passionately felt that Jobriath’s story needed to be told and his music be heard.  Read more »

Total Recall, or The Joys of Amnesia

For all of you in search of a dark, humorless dystopian tale, one that’s an inept remake of a celebrated sci-fi epic...one that would be hard to differentiate from a computer game...and one that’s brimming over with cardboard characterizations spouting flavorless, forgettable dialog, look no further. Total Recall has arrived.

Based upon Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” the original take was directed by Paul Verhoeven, whose track record includes everything from the terrific Dutch thriller The Fourth Man (1983) to the underpants-deprived Basic Instinct (1992) to the ice-cube-on-the-nipple campy Showgirls (1995). Read more »

Sedona or Eat, Pray, Love, Arizona-Style

With the current Sedona, writer/director/producer Tommy Stovall establishes that showcasing good-hearted, spiritually eccentric people with the power to revamp big-city workaholics into Thoreaus and Elizabeth Gilberts is his modus operandi.

A tiny, low-budget American indie, Sedona is a love letter to this small Arizona town with its jaw-dropping red sandstone formations, a major draw for those seeking mystical transformations. Just imagine a lush National Geographic special with uplifting plot lines.

Read more »

The Dark Knight Gets Semi-Aroused

The Reign of the Kitsch of Death has finally been broken. Director/writer Christopher Nolan has proven you don't necessarily need an actor named Taylor to create incomprehensible muck. One monikered Christian Bale will do as well.

To be blunt, from its opening second, The Dark Knight Rises is so unintelligible, both plot-wise and sound-wise, that at the screening I attended at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, I'd say nearly a quarter of the dialog was muddled. And if you just want to focus on the lead villain Bane (Tom Hardy), raise that figure to 75%. Believe me!

Read more »

Marie Antoinette and The King of the Pigs

Farewell, My Queen

Benoit Jaquot directed this opulent imagining of Marie Antoinette's last days, based upon Chantal Thomas's recent novel, with Diane Kruger as the rather self-centered, "lesbian" queen; Virginie Ledoyen as her lover Gabrielle de Poligrac; and Lea Seydoux as the monarch's slavishly faithful reader, Sidonie Labode. Read more »

You Are the Apple of My Eye, or Taiwanese Graffitti

Sometimes it pays to hang around for the end credits. As the final acknowledgements of Giddens Ko's semi-autobiographical You Are the Apple of My Eye unspooled at this year's deliriously varied New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), the more quick-eyed members of the audience could read: "The plotline of masturbating in the classroom depicted in the film has been performed by professionally trained actors; please do not imitate or attempt it."

As you might now correctly guess, this quirky rendering of director/writer Ko's first love that lasted from his days in high school in 1994 to his post-college years as a novelist in 2005 is very crotch-oriented. Read more »

The Amazing Spider-Man: An Arachnid Idyll

It's web-delicious.

An adolescent boy's gossamer dreams are beautifully captured in what should deservedly be one of summer's biggest hits, The Amazing Spider-Man. Astutely cast, soundly directly, and penned by a bevy of screendom's top writers who among them have scripted Ordinary People, most of the Harry Potter installments, and Zodiac, this actioner swings from effective drama to endearing teen romance to campy monster brawls, all in glorious 3-D. Read more »

One Day You'll Understand or Why Did Dad Tell the Nazis About Mom?

One Day You'll Understand, the 2008 French film, is not an unexpected work by Amos Gitai. The Israeli director's past efforts include a searing dissection of Orthodox Jewish society (Kadosh (1999)) plus countless semi-experimental narratives and documentaries such as House (1980), the biography of a home from its original Palestinian owners to its current Israeli inhabitants. Read more »

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