Film Review

The Last Five Years' Richard Lagravanese Films a Musical for Purists


"It's important to think. It's what separates us from lentils." --Richard Lagravanese, The Fisher King

He did it the hard way, like David battling Goliath this past Valentine's Day. Yes, Richard Lagravanese's latest effort, The Last Five Years, a romantic musical of sorts with next to no spoken dialogue, opened against the whip-wielding Fifty Shades of Grey, a syrupy soft core melodrama with perhaps too much dialogue. Read more »

Desecrating Pynchon. Inherent Vice Arrives on DVD

There are films that make you want to run to the bookstore or, in reality, Amazon.com. Any Jane Austen or Dickens adaptation. Atonement. Requiem for a Dream perhaps.

Then there is Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, and Benicio Del Toro, plus a bevy of other game thespians. This adaptation has a contrary effect. It makes you want to hightail it to the incinerator with every Pynchon paperback you might own. Farewell, V. Sayonara, Gravity's Rainbow. Read more »

Seventh Son and Jupiter Ascending: Two Current Oscar Nominees Fizzle

Who doesn't adore Julianne Moore?

Especially in Still Alice, the film for which bookmakers are betting she'll take home the Best Actress Oscar, Moore's portrayal of a linguistics professor battling early onset Alzheimer's is letter perfect. Myself having a sibling now encased in a memory care facility in Florida after being ravaged by the same affliction, every step of Alice's deterioration is recognizable: the random loss of memories, the awareness she's losing her identity, the outbursts of anger, the inability to control bodily functions, and the short-lived moments when the person you have always loved reemerges out of a fog of despair.

Sadly, Moore's performance and that of her peers in Seventh Son capture a forgetfulness, too, although not one symptomatic of an infirmity, but one characteristic of creative bankruptcy. By the time this adaptation of Joseph Delaney's bestselling young-adult classic, The Spook's Apprentice, ends and you've emptied your bladder in your mall's stall, you'll have trouble recalling what you've viewed on screen. So generically configured is this tale of medieval witches who turn into dragons, and the alcoholic heroes who try to eradicate them, you'll swear you'll have come down with an incurable case of chronic déjà vu before the credits finish rolling. Read more »

Mommy’s Boy: Xavier Dolan on Women, Gays, and Taylor Lautner

The former boy wonder, Xavier Dolan -- he's now 25 -- sauntered into New York about a week or so ago with a new movie, Mommy -- his fifth -- for which he won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and received a thirteen-minute standing ovation. Well, truthfully, he shared the prize with Jean-Luc Godard (Goodbye to Language), which is inarguably like winning a second award. After all, having one's name forever linked with a kingpin of La Nouvelle Vague is nothing to sneeze at. (Who will ever forget Streisand and Hepburn sharing a Best Actress Oscar? New guard joining old guard.) Read more »

Appropriate Behavior: "Bi"-Polar Sexcapades in Brooklyn

If Woody Allen were a tall Iranian bisexual woman with a gawky Sandra-Bullockish beauty and an exasperating, egocentric outlook on the world, Appropriate Behavior would have been his Annie Hall.

"Banal sex shouldn't happen until maybe a year into the relationship.... She wasn't even fucking you at the end," advises a best friend at the beginning of Appropriate Behavior, the indie film directed and written by the Iranian-American Desiree Akhavan.  Read more »

That's Illogical, Captain: Why Star Trek: Into Darkness Screws Everything Up

Forgive me. I am always quite late to feature films, since I refuse to pay $15 to watch 20 minutes worth of ads, and then (all too often) deal with annoying people during the film, often missing important dialogue. So I wait until most films are on cable before I see them. Read more »

Little Q & A: Allison Burnett + Dusty Wright

Allison Burnett is a rarity in Hollywood. He is not just a successful Hollywood screenwriter, a respected novelist, and a published critic and poet, but also a film director. His new film, Ask Me Anything, which he wrote and directed based on his own novel Undiscovered Gyrl, was released two weeks ago in selected theaters and on all digital platforms. It stars Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Justin Long, and, in the lead role, luminous newcomer Britt Robertson. Recently I sat down with Allison in his Los Angeles home to discuss the challenges of indie filmmaking in general, as well as the difficulties with his leading lady that has caught the attention of the national media. Read more »

Cartoon Christmases!

Animated Christmas specials have become traditional to American holiday celebrations, ever since they first began airing in 1970s. Stop-motion productions like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town became instant classics, and have since been aired in marathons and special segments on TV for decades, and become an integral part of many families' Christmas festivities. Read more »

No, Really. Ask Me Anything

Screenwriter, director, and novelist Allison Burnett adapts his critically-lauded book Undiscovered Gyrlretitled Ask Me Anything for the screen, with excellent results. (By the way, only two writers I can think of have even attempted to migrate their prose from page to screen as both writer and director -- Norman Mailer and Stephen Chboksy.) This dramatic coming-of-age indie boasts an outstanding cast with a wickedly twisted plot twist that is so left field that you may have to watch it again to get it. Part Lolita meets Looking for Mr. Goodbar a la a precocious teenage blogger gone rogue. Read more »

TV Review: The Librarians

[Spoiler Alert: This review contains a few spoilers, though I have tried to keep them to a minimum while still making this a viable review.]

When the first made-for-TV Librarian movie appeared in 2004 (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear), I watched it simply because it sounded so silly (and I also have a fondness for magic and fantasy). The premise is a normal metropolitan library under which is hidden a magical library containing not only rare (or mythical) books and manuscripts, but historical/magical (and religious) artifacts: the Ark of the Covenant, Excalibur, Pandora’s Box, even Noah’s Ark. This library -- which exists to protects these items, as well as protecting the general public from the wrong use of magic -- is overseen by Judson (Bob Newhart) and his assistant, Charlene (Jane Curtin). They hire a librarian whose job it is to go around the world either finding magical artifacts, or preventing those artifacts from falling into the wrong hands. The librarian is chosen for a combination of the breadth of his knowledge and intelligence, and his ability to think himself out of various predicaments (since he does not carry any weapons). In the first film, Noah Wyle becomes the new librarian, whose task it is to recover part of the Spear of Destiny (the spear used by the centurion to pierce Jesus’ side), which has been stolen. Read more »

Sneak Peak: A Most Violent Year


Here's a sneak peak at a provocative new film -- A Most Violent Year -- that focuses on the moral codes of "doing business" in NYC in 1981, a time when the city was nearly bankrupt and certainly corrupt. It's by the director J.C. Chandor and stars Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). Opening on December 31, 2014.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?: Where’s Dante When You Need Him?

While viewing Sion Sono's Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, at times I couldn’t tell if the Japanese director was a deliciously inept fan of Tarantino and Jerry Lewis or a bizarro pro gleefully upending a genre or two or three. Not until I checked out his credits on IMDB (over 31 features), and sat down with two of his earlier features, could I assume here’s a gent at top of his game, whatever that game might be. Read more »

Television: The Future of Cinema?

 

Since the development of the moving picture camera in the late 19th century, the world, especially Americans, has been fascinated by the silver screen. For a time, people shut out the cold reality of the Great Depression with Shirley Temple's iconic curls, and legends such as Errol Flynn, Gregory Peck, and Katherine Hepburn roamed Hollywood lots and ordered Cobb salads at the Brown Derby. For awhile it seemed that our infatuation with Hollywood would never end, but the most recent decade has seen both its revenue and cultural significance decline, and many industry experts are scrambling to understand how movies have slipped from the spotlight. Internal changes show that studios have reinvested quite a bit of their resources into television production, and although Hollywood has been a television oriented town since the late -1950s, it had never stepped on film profits until fairly recently. Read more »

Two Shots Fired: Deadpan Hilarity in Argentina

It's that time of year again when crowds descend upon Lincoln Center to experience world cinema worthy of the ultimate accolades, the most hyped Oscar-worthy Hollywood offerings of the year, experimental programs that expose the versatility of the medium, and shorts that announce a whole spate of new, young directors who will no doubt blow our minds in the future -- or at least supply us with a few major catharses. Read more »

Nick Cave - 20,000 Days on Earth

"I wake, I write, I eat, I write, I watch TV..." so says rock icon Nick Cave in his opening narration voiceover. And in doing so lays out the template of this exceptional documentary. Of course, if you know the artist Cave, you will know that his life isn't quite that simple. And while the film plays like a day in the life of Nick, from the opening scene of him waking up in bed next to his wife Susie to final crescendo of an evening performance of an absolutely riveting live version of "Higgs Boson Blues" from his last album, it is everything in between that really explores and exposes the artist as a work in progress. Read more »

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