Film Review

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 »

Django Unchained: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Slave Auction

What you can say about Quentin Tarantino that hasn’t already been said in spades?  He’s been called a genius. An idiot. A master. A destroyer of independent film. A visionary. And the “century’s biggest racist.”

Tarantino, in his affably rudimentary manner, analyzes himself best: “Possibly I just grew up watching a lot of movies. I'm attracted to this genre and that genre, this type of story, and that type of story. As I watch movies I make some version of it in my head that isn't quite what I'm seeing -- taking the things I like and mixing them with stuff I've never seen before." Read more »

Transcendent Documentary

Who Bombed Judi Bari? is one of the most extraordinary documentaries -- actually one of the most extraordinary films -- I have ever seen. It accomplishes something extremely out-of-the-ordinary: It not only substantially and vividly makes its point about environmental issues and the sizable contribution environmental activist Judi Bari made during her lifetime, but as it progresses it enters the domain of the "transcendental," the rarest of cinematic feats.

Who Bombed Judi Bari? is much, much more than an environmental activist documentary. Directed and edited by Mary Liz Thomson, and produced by Darryl Cherney (who endured the bombing and its aftereffects alongside Judi), it creates an intense, often amusing, wrenching, and ultimately extraordinarily inspiring cinematic experience. Read more »

Madrid, 1987: There's a Girl in My Tub

Imagine being locked in a bathroom with a horny, septuagenarian columnist and a young female journalism student in her early twenties, both nude, for over an hour. Seldom has a great film accomplished so much with so little. Well, that's if you consider an insanely quotable screenplay so little.

Director/writer David Trueba's phenomenally witty Madrid, 1987 is an expertly constructed exploration of politics, gender roles, the art of writing, fame, and aging randiness set against a Spain that has moved from fascism to communism to unrepentant capitalism: "Overstepping human rights in the fight against terrorism was never an issue." Read more »

Argo & The Other Son: The Discreet Charm of Relevance

As Susan Sontag noted, "Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future." 

Ben Affleck's Argo and Lorraine Levy's The Other Son, both centered in the Middle East, put to use the past to comment on the present and, in a sense, predict the future, with seesawing views of optimism. Read more »

Hyde Park on Hudson: Spooning with FDR

If you have viewed all eight seasons of Foyle's War on Netflix, as any responsible TV aficionado should have done by now, you'll know how peeved the Brits were about America's late entry into World War II.

Well, Hyde Park on Hudson chronicles how King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) of England traipsed across the Atlantic to convince FDR and the American public to set aside their beloved isolationist stances and come to the aid of the free world and help beat up the Nazis. This, as you will learn, was accomplished with the aid of hot dogs and mustard. Read more »

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 »

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