Film Review

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 »

Richard's Wedding or Who's Got the Ring, the Minister, and the Methadone?

You haven't heard of Richard's Wedding? Don't feel too uninformed. There's been absolutely no advance buzz on writer/director/actor Onur Tukel's deliriously droll walk in the park -- Central Park, that is. With no stars in it, no major studio behind it, and no budget to promote it, this at times combustibly funny look at New York's aging children (mostly in the 30-to-40-year-old range) will be screening at Brooklyn's pioneering reRun Gastropub Theater until June 7. After that, who knows? Read more »

Battleship: How to Get a Sinking Feeling at the Cinema

If Ed Wood had a budget of a $100 million to throw around, even he might not have been able to direct a film as godawful as Battleship -- or as in poor taste. This cheesy exploitation of our men in uniform, including those who lost their limbs overseas in the belief they were fighting to preserve democracy, makes you almost cringe at the hubris of the Hollywood types who pulled this fiasco together.

There is basically no plot. The direction is nil. The acting is uneven. (Brooklyn Decker is clearly up for a Razzie this year.) The screenplay is truly one of the worst of the year so far, and that’s saying a lot. If you can sit through the film’s first half hour without wondering if anything is ever going to happen, you are either brain dead or an eleven-year-old boy. Read more »

Dark Shadows or Who Stole My Fangs?

In Tim Burton's Dark Shadows, a white-faced, put-upon vampire, Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), is unwittingly released into the modern world of 1972 after having been encased in a coffin for nearly two centuries. Immediately, the very thirsty bloodsucker sips the blood of the dozen construction workers who had unwittingly let him loose.

Refreshed, Collins uncomprehendingly walks through the town named for his family, amazed at the sights of graveled roads, automobiles, traffic lights, bulldozers, and folks eating ice cream sundaes in diners. Unsettled, he heads for his once-glamorous homestead, Collinwood Manor, to discover if any of his bloodline is still alive. "Family is the only real wealth," he notes. Read more »

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