Film Review

The Hunger Games: The Little Epic that Couldn't

"When you're young," Pauline Kael noted, "the odds are very good that you'll find something to enjoy in almost any movie." Luckily, The Hunger Games is marketing to youth, and Lions Gate Entertainment is successful so far. A triumph of publicity. Thursday's midnight screening garnered over $25 million and this Friday morning, the 10 AM screening I attended was basically sold out.

The film, for those not connected to the current cultural zeitgeist, is based upon the first novel of Suzanne Collins's highly engaging trilogy about a dystopian United States where 24 teenagers from 12 impoverished zones are forced to battle each other to death for the enjoyment of the frivolous ruling class. Only one will be allowed to be victor.  Read more »

A Life Ascending: Whitewashing an Avalanche

Stephen Grynberg might be the Rick Santorum of filmmakers, and like Santorum, Grynberg might actually believe that how he addresses an issue is a completely fair one.

The focus of this exquisitely shot, rather entertaining hour-long documentary is Swiss-born Ruedi Beglinger, a "world-renowned" mountain guide, and his family who live in the Canadian Alps. There, in 1985, Beglinger founded the Selkirk Mountain Experience (SME), a service which allows clientele a chance to explore the Durrand Glacier. In 2003, tragedy struck.

Let's borrow the words of Charles Duhigg of the Los Angeles Times to recount what occurred:

"The day seven people died began on a crisp morning in the backcountry of Canada's British Columbia. Evan Weselake, a corporate trainer from Calgary, had set out with 20 others, including his close friend, Naomi Heffler, to ski untouched powder far from the lift-ticket circuit. Their destination was a peak named La Traviata that promised breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys. As Weselake, 29, skied toward the mountain, Heffler and the others followed in a single-file line, dark pearls strung along the vast whiteness of a steep couloir. Suddenly, Weselake saw a crack slice through the snow in front of his skis. As the opening grew, he noticed he was moving downward, as if the mountain he stood on had lost its mooring. He had time to yell out only one word: 'Avalanche!'" Read more »

Private Romeo: Or When Juliet Has to Shave

Private Romeo

Nearly all truly great cinematic romances showcase at least one great kiss that will send shivers down the spinal cords of enthused would-be-lovers. If you fall into this category and are currently seeking such a torso tremor, look no further than Alan Brown's all-male adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, a celluloid treat supplying a whole handful of these quality smooches.  Read more »

Bullhead: In the Penile Colony

Bullhead is the impassioned tale of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a Belgian cattle farmer who, due to a childhood act of harrowing violence, has become an emotional cripple, although a hunky one. Yes, thanks to all of the steroids and hormones he regularly ingests and shoots up, his physique is much more inviting than his personality. In fact, you might just call him the Travi Bickle of livestock.

As for the aforementioned cows, they're not left out when it comes to getting pharmaceutical aids. You see certain Belgian farmers want to fatten up their bovines in eight weeks instead of ten, and to do so, they are purchasing the most sophisticated drugs available, ones not even as of yet available in the "Hormonic States of America." Read more »

First Position: Dancing for Their Souls

"We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance." - Japanese proverb

Not since Matthew Diamond's splendid documentary on Paul Taylor, Dancemaker (1998), has a film honored the essence of Terpsichore, the muse of dance, so well as does First Position.

Bess Kargman's new film focuses on seven competitors, aged 10 to 17, who are putting their personal lives on hold to win top prizes at the Youth American Grand Prix, the "largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools." Read more »

Joyful Noise or Mission: Implausible

Imagine a mediocre episode of Glee as envisioned by Billy Graham, and you're halfway to Joyful Noise.

Indie director Todd Graff, best known for directing Camp (2003) and being a regular on the 1970's Electric Company, has penned a screenplay for Noise that is so laden with clichés favored by unimaginative creators of bad romantic musicals that by comparison, Step Up 3D and Footloose, the remake, come off as peers of An American in Paris. Read more »

A Separation: Who Can Cast the First Stone?

Kramer vs. Kramer goes Iranian with Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, a late 2011 entry that's been deservedly racking up almost every "Best Foreign Language" film award that has been dished out this season.

But A Separation is much than a tale of a man and woman in love whose marital path has come to a fork in the road; it is a dissection of modern morality, both religious and secular, and how impossible it is to live a totally principled life if you're stuck interacting with other Homo sapiens.  Or, to get a little Socratic, "A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true." Read more »

Trollhunter: Or Giant Scandinavian Ogres on the Loose

Some folks actually are of the opinion that Norway's good-natured entry into the handheld-camera, campy, horror-flick genre is a quality movie. In fact, two members of the critics group I'm in voted for Trollhunter as Best Foreign Film of 2011. Blame it on hot flashes or that the duo hadn't gotten around to viewing A Separation, The Skin I Live In, or any other film with subtitles during the past twelve months.

This debut feature by Andre Ovredal chronicles the adventures of three university film students who are attempting to make a documentary about a mysterious bear poacher. They learn to their joy and later to their chagrin that this bearded, taciturn gent, Hans (Otto Jespersen), is actually a trollhunter who's working for a secretive arm of the Norwegian government. Read more »

A Lethal Virus, a Deadly Teen, and a Demeaned Panda

It's that time of year again when film critics connected to societies that dish out annual awards find their mailboxes stuffed with dozens of DVDs and the occasional gift or two: a bag of popcorn and Puss in Boots wrapping paper from DreamWorks, for example. Or the shooting script of The Descendants, which boasts an inane quote from Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman: "[Writer/director Alexander] Payne has become the Stanley Kubrick of serious American comedy." That sort of hyperbole transforms the usually sensible Gleiberman into the Rip Taylor of serious American critics. Read more »

My Week with Marilyn: Needy, Needier, Neediest

My Week with Marilyn is one of the most innocent of love stories to hit the movie screens in recent years, and one of the most satisfying.

It also a rather astute tale of filmmaking, specifically the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957, an adaptation of a Terrence Rattigan stage comedy. The movie starred Marilyn Monroe at the height of her fame and Sir Laurence Olivier, who at age 50, was the world's most acclaimed Shakespearean actor -- or should we say, "aging Shakespearian actor and former matinee idol." He was also its director. Read more »

The Descendants: Hawaii Without the Hula

Until this very moment, Alexander Payne has made a rather successful career with his ability to seamlessly meld pain with biting black humor. His Citizen Ruth (1996) brazenly tackles the Pro-Life movement and its foes. Election (1999) wickedly chronicles the disasters raging high-school hormones wrought on both self-centered teens and their instructors. About Schmidt takes its aging eponymous widower (Jack Nicholson) on a caustic trip to self-discovery while attending his daughter's wedding. And Sideways (2004), an ode to oenophiles in search of love, won him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Read more »

Melancholia: Lars Von Trier's "Bleak" House

The grand George Cukor, after such works as The Women, Camille, and Sylvia Scarlett were released, was branded a "women's director." There's no question he knew how to make his female leads shimmer as if they were residing in the firmament and not just on the screen. That's one rumored reason why he was released from Gone with the Wind. Apparently, Clark Gable was afraid he might be overshadowed by his female lead if Cukor did the helming.

Gable would no doubt have had a similar jitteriness with Lars von Trier, who after Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Antichrist, has merited the moniker of "depressed women's director." No one else since Ingmar Bergman and Chantal Akerman has so consistently and illustriously particularized the disintegration of females stuck in an interminable, patriarchal dystopia. Read more »

The Woman with the Red Hair, or, "I'm Going to Now Sing to My Penis"

As one of the 37 films being screened by The 49th New York Film Festival in celebration of Japan's Nikkatsu Studio's centennial, Tatsumi Kumashiro's The Woman with the Red Hair (1979) has one thing certainly going for it: it's never boring. Just sample the dialogue:

"I can't stay panty-less forever."

"My prick's still aching." Read more »

Suburban Desire under the Elms: The Family Tree

The week before Hurricane Irene struck, I viewed a film that certainly could have benefitted from some of that storm's gusts.

The American indie The Family Tree does, truthfully, blow about quite a bit thanks to its choice cast (e.g. Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Selma Blair, Keith Carradine, Jane Seymour), but its overabundance of inane plot lines configured by screenwriter Mark Lisson and its unfocused direction by Vivi Friedman couldn't get a kite knee-level. Read more »

Fright Nights, Ogres in Your Sheets, and Clever Baboons

"Fright Night is not a distinguished movie, but it has a lot of fun being undistinguished," Roger Ebert noted about the original 1985 take on vampires.

The same could be said of director Craig Gillespie's 3-D remake, which should be no surprise. At least the "fun" part. After all, Gillespie was responsible for the joyous and "distinguished" Lars and the Real Girl (2007), the definitive comedy about falling in love with a blow-up doll. Read more »

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