Film Review

Trio of Tribeca Documentaries

In God We Trust

What makes a hero? In God We Trust, a documentary profiling native New Yorker Eleanor Squillari, reminds us that heroism takes many forms. Squillari was personal secretary to the now-notorious Bernard Madoff for 25 years; since Madoff's 2008 arrest, she has distinguished herself as a hero for sure. Read more »

From Tribeca: Six Acts

Israeli cinema has finally come up with its own Larry Clark.  Similarly bearded and mustachioed, director Jonathan Gurfinkel, with an unrestrained vigor, showcases how secular teens residing in the affluent beachfront suburbs of Tel Aviv are every bit as horny, lonely, self-centered, and destructive as their fresh-faced American cousins grinding up against one other in the likes of Kids and Bully. Read more »

Two from Tribeca: Floating Skyscrapers and Lily

If these two quality celluloid offerings from the upcoming Tribeca Festival are harbingers of what's to be offered, get your tickets now for as many films as you can. Here are engaging, vital, and timely features that beg your attendance.

For example, Tomasz Wasilewski's beautifully crafted Floating Skyscrapers is a heartfelt chronicle of a love affair between two young men in still highly homophobic Poland. Amidst the grey, barren urban landscapes of Warsaw, the closeted bisexual swimmer Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) is in a quandary. In between his daily massaging of his mother's back while the two are nude in the bathtub -- and in the midst of the frequent sex bouts with his long-time girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz), who resides with him and his jealous ma -- he receives anonymous guilty blowjobs from young male admirers he refuses to kiss or reciprocate on in kind. Read more »

It's a Disaster: A Fitting Title for a Butchered Brunch-pocalypse

For folks searching for a knee-slapping comedy about a group of unlikely friends who find strength in each other during the oncoming apocalypse, you will not find it in It's a Disaster. For those searching for a slow-paced, mildly amusing comedy where almost nothing of interest happens, Todd Berger's It's a Disaster is right up your alley.

The film has a fairly simple premise: eight characters with no chemistry gather for a monthly couples brunch and slowly realize that the world outside their bacon- scented house is coming to an end. Read more »

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 »

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