Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stuff I've Seen

Reviews based on a 5 item rating.

Terri is an overweight fifteen-year-old who is consistently late to appointments, is falling behind at school and wears pajamas every day. His recent behavior has raised a few red flags in the eyes of his loquacious principal.

Common teen-angst stuff made uncommon by an eccentric plot that favors reality over quirkiness. Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly shine as a pair of guileless characters who elicit both mockery and compassion.

When his wife is swooped away by a sleazy drug dealer, everyman Frank transforms himself into superhero dubbed the Crimson Bolt to win her back.

Part farce, part sick joke, Super contains just enough abhorrent humor and out-of-nowhere violence to achieve cult status.

Kudos to Rainn Wilson for beating a man with a wrench for butting in line
and to Ellen Page for speaking the line, “It's all gooshy,” while fondling her

Imagine Kristin Scott Thomas and Scarlett Johansson gushing over a herbivorous quadruped at the behest of Robert Redford. Now replace all those people with someone who knows what the hell they’re doing and you have Buck, a documentary about a real life horse-whisperer who abstains
the violence he saw as a child in favor of communicating with the animals through awareness and affectability.

As a documentary, it’s a bit disjointed, however, where the movie succeeds is in its ability to make us care for its central character. A small tale that
evokes big emotions.

A documentary on a former Miss Wyoming who is charged with abducting and imprisoning a young Mormon Missionary before paying $150,000 to clone her favorite pitbull.

A hilariously strange portrait of an obsessive, sexually confused woman. The movie is guilty ofpatronizing its subject, however, she is just nutty enough not to care.

Errol Morris is the only filmmaker capable of making a “talking head” \
documentary entertaining.


A small time crook hopes to score big at the expense of a vicious gangster in Viva Riva, a new actioner from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Thrill-less thriller derivative of the banal crap that comes out of Hollywood every weekend. Most critics seem unwilling to bitch-slap the film due to its third world roots. If made in America, it would be helmed by Tony Scott.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stuff I've Seen

Reviews based on a 5 item rating.

A lot of what determines our likes and dislikes has to do with time and timing; where we were in life when we were exposed to a particular film. Still, I’d like to think the preeminent works of John Carpenter sustain eminence years after their initial release. The piercing terror of Halloween, the paranoia of The Thing, the poetic beauty of The Fog all hold true upon repeat viewings.

I had hoped that The Ward would mark Carpenter’s return to form. That the maverick who introduced us to the slasher formula with Halloween, took on the Reagan administration with They Live, reworked a number of Hawks antecedents in Assault on Precinct 13 was back to creating master works worthy of praise. Alas, such is not the case. The Ward is not a return to greatness, nor is it Carpenter’s comeback film. The pulsing sound scape, ominous tracking shots, meticulous blocking of action indicative of Carpenter’s early films is absent here. Instead we’re presented with a script that is riddled with lapses in situational logic and void of horror and uninspired direction. Carpenter is capable of so much more.

Yes that's a half-a-Shutter Island rating.

You are either going to be blown away by the Chauvet cave paintings or you’re not. Werner Herzog’s documentary about a recently discovered cave in southern France would have made for a nice 45-minute TV special. Instead, we are repeatedly subjected to the same series of ancient abstract designs for a near hour-and-a-half.

I admire Herzog, his willingness to allow his camera to linger on his subjects, to hold on a piece of footage or interview that would have been scrapped by most documentary filmmakers. And his recent fascination with reptilian creatures is amusing. Still, he has a tendency to lead viewers like children by the hand through his works, describing in explicit detail what we can see and interpret on our own.

There are theological and mythological questions raised by the movie that aren’t fully explored and that is a disappointment. Still, its journey of discovery is moving, the paintings mesmerizing and the personal connection to the artists captivating. Well worth the three stalagtite rating.

The best killer tire on a rampage movie I’ve seen.

The influence of David Lynch is lacking in subtlety. Not nearly as clever or funny as it thinks it is, and the inventiveness of the piece becomes old hat after a stint, but, this one-joke interlude is surprisingly entertaining. At a mere 82 minutes (ten of which are devoted to credits), this screwy concoction of slasher film conventions and self-referential humor feels a bit long. Even so, it contains enough wit and originality to warrant much post-viewing discussion.

Best line in the film: “[The tire’s] been reincarnated as a tricycle.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A pair of horror flicks.

Based on a five blood drop scale.

Horror’s seen a return to the graphic violence that permeated the post-Vietnam years thanks in part to the inexplicable birth of torture porn; gutbucket splatter; gorno. Wolf Creek is probably the apotheosis of the genre, with Eli Roth’s Hostel being at the low end of the rotting totem pole.

To have all the elements of a gorno movie you need:

1. Nihilistic central character(s)
2. The drawn-out torture of a helpless victim
3. A secluded environment cut off from all forms of communication
4. Gory, misanthropic imagery
5. A dehumanizing, nasty and/or misogynist plotline

Let’s review BITTER FEAST, the cruel tale of a swanky food critic, a crabby celebrity chef and a tucked-away chateau:

Numero twa: Sure Chef Cranky Pants ignores a few established laws when he kidnaps an antagonistic food critic and forces him to cook for his life, but his contemptuous social ramblings are frivolous and foggy.

Dos: Ebert’s culinary equivalent is knocked around a bit, but the torture sequences are rather conservative by today’s standards.

Three: Chef Crabby Britches takes his critical nemesis to an estate deep in the woods, but it’s easily discovered by both a PI and the critic’s wife.
Four: See dos.
Five: Lifeless, uninspired story occupied by static, flat characters.

Overall: BITTER FEAST is like a Tuscan Shrimp with Penne minus the pasta. It’s Chicken Cacciatore minus the sauce. It’s Rigatoni Primavera minus the vegetables.

I only hope director Joe Maggio doesn’t body snatch me and force me to load three mags of 35mm for my unfavorable comments.


So you thought Michael Fassbender was a tough guy in Eden Lake? Well excuse me while I top off your Caramel Macchiato. You were benumbed by Fassbender’s manliness in 300? Pardon me while I find you the next showtime for The Sound of Music. You were narcotized by Micheal F’s brawniness in Centurion? Well, actually your reaction would be justified; he was pretty bad ass in Centurion.

In BLOOD CREEK, the tale of man seeking revenge against a satanic nazi zombie who entombed him for the purpose of consuming his blood, Fassbender portrays an awesome vampiric villain.

To say director Joel Schumacher has, ahem, Batman & Robin, churned out a few, er, St. Elmo’s Fire, lumps of excrement throughout his career would be an understatement. However, as is customary for fans of horror, I have an extremely selective memory. I lack the sense of mental vision to see beyond that 1986 gem, THE LOST BOYS. BLOOD CREEK’s story is a bit silly and the movie is hampered by poor CGI, yet I found myself really diggin’ it. The stark, black and white cinematography used to depict the West Virginia farmhouse circa 1936 is unexpected in a film titled BLOOD CREEK. Beams of light and clouds of dust navigate their way through floor beams and canopies to chilling effect.

Though the makeup donned by Fassbender’s undead minion veers toward camp, it ultimately fills viewers with fear. Likewise, the mythology surrounding the character is a bit hokey, yet is fun enough to propel the film beyond spam-in-a-cabin status.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Win Win

Wrestling is one of our earliest sports. It requires not only physical strength, but also emotional and mental toughness. As an individual sport, it affords no room for excuses while providing an opportunity for supreme satisfaction. Plus, it is the purest, most primitive means of settling a score. Educational merit and social status mean little as long as I can kick your ass.

Which brings us to WIN WIN, a sickly sweet treat of a film about the exploits of a hapless attorney (Mike played by Paul Giamatti) who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach. In a desperate attempt to keep his practice, he agrees to take on the guardianship of an elderly client. But when the feeble ol’ chap’s drug-addicted daughter and athletically-gifted grandson knock at the door, Mike’s life is thrown into disarray.

Giamatti locks a full nelson around the role and delivers a sensational performance. We’re not asked to judge his character, who is equal parts generosity and licentiousness, but rather to impartially observe his comically painful situation.

Director Tom McCarthy slaps a tight cradle around a story that is quirky, compassionate and inspirational – the type of movie that forces you to leave the theater with a smile on your face.

It’s a pinning achievement; a technical fall of a picture; a slam dunk. Sorry, wrong sport. But still, the first great film of 2011.

Friday, March 18, 2011

top 10 horror 2010 (Part 2)

What happens when a 90’s action star/martial artist/reserve deputy sheriff (Steven Segal) kills the family of a Federale dubbed Machete and attempts to set him on fire? Said Federale disappears for ten years only to resurface just in time to be hired by the recently resurrected Jeff Fahey to kill Congressional candidate Robert De Niro and squelch his anti-alien
aka anti-interloper
aka anti-foreigner
aka anti-refugee rantings. What’s Machete been doing for ten years? Your guess is as good as mine.

An amusing pastiche of an exploitation picture, MACHETE is every bit as violent, gory and gratuitous as you’d hope it to be. An entertaining achievement for Robert Rodriguez whose pictures have waxed and waned throughout his career.

Kudos to Maya Leal for pulling a phone from her holiest of holies and to Jessica Alba for spouting the line, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”

The opposite of kudos (jeers?) to Lindsay Lohan for using stand-in boobies in her nude scenes and to Alba for her customarily prudish starboard shower shot.

Affection showin’, intercourse havin’ aliens take over the world in Gareth Edwards low-budget sci-fi thriller MONSTERS starring Scoot McNairy as a cynical journalist who reluctantly agrees to escort his boss’ daughter through alien-riddled Mexico and runs into beings from outer space.

Edwards deserves props for creating an apocalyptic world on a miniscule budget. Though not devoid of flaws, the familiar narrative and stylistic photography make MONSTERS an impactful effort and an efficient entry in our DIY filmmaking culture.

Ho ho ho! Santa Clause is coming to town and he’s bringing with him an insatiable appetite for young children. This Finish fantasy film about bloodthirsty Kris Kringles taking over a Korvatunturi town is a trippy adventure that is at points absurd but always entertaining.

Director, Jalmari Helander, executes with grim humor and a terrific visual flare. A darkly fun lump of coal for your stocking in the tradition of Gremlins, RARE EXPORTS provides a macabre analysis of the symbolic figures behind our most popular holiday.

Q: When do ghosts usually appear ?
A: Just before someone screams !

Actually, in recent widower Michael Farr’s (Ciaran Hinds) world ghosts appear anytime, even before their soul is dead.

Not to be confused with the latest installment in the Twilight series, which I assume is scream worthy for totally different reasons, THE ECLIPSE is a character piece about the often tiresome routines of life. The ghosts are creepy when they pop up, but the true focus of the film is the romance between Michael and that chick that dumped John Cusack in High Fidelity and how she helps him to cope with the loss of his wife. The culminating scene is truly harrowing.

So Queen Amidala hopes to land the role of the duplicitous swan queen in her company’s latest production while duh, winning the affection of her cuckoo mommy and remaining F’ worthy in the eyes of the boys. Only she keeps getting distracted by that hot chick from That 70s Show – no not that one, the one that dated Macaulay Culkin for like eight years.

The movie is at points overly dramatic and a bit too self-important but it is surreal and visually effective and Natalie Portman does give a pretty brave performance. Director Darren Aronofsky draws you into to his character’s neurosis early on with distressing images of distorted faces on train platforms. But by the time her mother’s surrealist paintings begin coming to life, things get a bit goofy.

And the Wrestler comparisons are warranted – both films feature performers consumed by their art and culminate with the hero leaping to their death. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing though.

NOTE: There are a number of films that I have seen that are currently playing the festival circuit and have popped up on other lists of this type. I’ll save those titles for next year’s list – when they are more widely available.

I did not see Let Me In – I didn’t see the point.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vanishing on 7th Street

If Brad Anderson's assured debut, Session 9, was spine-tingling
entertainment, then his latest effort, Vanishing on 7th Street, is
uninspired drudgery. As an admirer of his earlier works, I'm struggling to
find a single redeeming quality. Let's review:

Mid-aged film projectionist Paul (John Leguizamo) approaches the 19-year-old Venus working the concession stand. A dialogue ensues regarding the theater's current film lineup that ends with:

Nothing you'd like.

How would you know what I like? Maybe you should find out sometime. WINK WINK.

An exalted Paul retreats to his cubbyhole.


Detroit is plunged into darkness and a disparate group of people
(including Paul and physical therapist Rosemary) find themselves all

Do you think I have a shot?

Rosemary emits a puzzled look.

PAUL (cont'd.)
Not with you. I mean with anyone?

HOW ABOUT THE SEX GODDESS THAT EYE-RAPED YOU 10 MINUTES AGO. Did you forget about her? Is the audience supposed to have forgotten about her? What the F' is going on right?

Firstly, aside from the abovementioned dish, the only female in the picture is a disheveled ex-addict with bats in the belfry. There’s no sexy white female with whom Hayden Christensen can risk vanishing into the darkness to do the wild monkey dance.

Victims of the darkness leave behind piles of empty clothes. The unoccupied articles of dress feature more dynamic personalities than the survivors. Example:

Luke (Christensen) enters a lighted bar to find James (Jacob Latimore who receives the distinctive “and introducing” title in the opening credits). James opens fire on Luke with a shotgun. Luke responds by suggesting that the bar is not safe for either of them and that they should both flee ASAP. How does he determine this? He hasn’t explored the place. If he knew it was unsafe prior to entering then why did he enter? This is immediately followed by a comedic routine in which Luke threatens to leave James alone while tiptoeing to the door. They then proceed to remain at the bar for the remainder of the picture.

I think the name James is uttered at least one-hundred-fifty times throughout the movie.

Paul is so annoying I found myself rooting for his demise. When he was finally and anticlimactically dispatched, I felt my man-part twitch just a little.

The movie is devoid of style or flare. There is so little camera movement you’d swear you were watching a play. Anderson’s mastery of film language in Session 9 and The Machinist stimulated the nerve endings of viewers. His ineptitude here is truly unbelievable.

I guess the movie is a parable about the disintegration of Detroit and the effect of the city’s drug culture, but it doesn't work. It ends with the preposterous image of *SPOILER ALERT* two young children leaving the Motor City on horseback for, you guessed it, Chicago.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cedar Rapids

Tim Lippe is in his mid-thirties. He’s having an affair with his ex-elementary school teacher who is now in her mid-sixties. He dreams of one day erecting a small green house in his backyard. He’s fervidly devoted to his employer (Brown Stone Insurance), and is stoked to represent them at Cedar Rapids’s annual insurance convention. Enter Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) and Ronald "The Ronimal" Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), conference veterans eager to break Tim from his conservative shell.

Cedar Rapids features infidelity, prostitution, drug use, alcohol use, bribery use, foul language use, crude humor use and is overwhelmingly charming. It is that rare type of movie that feels genuine while never forcing itself to conform to the conventions of modern cinema.

Ed Helms is brilliant as the fish-out-of-water Tim Lippe – a role not too distant from the dainty character he portrays on The Office. The supporting players seldom put a wrong foot, hurling comedy like it were vomit all over the screen. No one plays a middle-age child like John C. Reilly. His performance as the obnoxious Ziegler is irredeemably funny.

Kudos to Whitlock for his convincing impersonation of Omar from the HBO program The Wire. Strong Praise to Reilly for his R2-D2 imitation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Barney's Version

Barney Panofsky loves hockey. He loves cigars, scotch and opiates. He's politically incorrect, belligerent and unreserved in speech. He loathes weight reduction plans, cosmetic therapy and the affluent. He loves his Jewish father. He's been accused of murdering his best friend. He's been married three times to three beautiful women and he's managed to exasperate them all.

Paul Giamatti grabs hold of the character with every part of himself. The anecdotal story is full of witty commentary and humorous observation. It paints a very sweet, very candid picture of romanticism. Even Dustin Hoffman, whom I often find highly annoying, is endearing. Look for cameos by directors Adam Egoyan and David Cronenberg.

Though highly successful on the festival circuit at the end of 2010, Barney's Version only recently received a limited release. Had I the opportunity to see it a bit earlier, it may have broke onto my top ten list for last year. It's that good people.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

top 10 horror 2010 (Part 1)

I'd like to get vile for just a moment if you don't mind and discuss the best horror flicks of 2010. Many of you gore enthusiasts have been waiting with bated bad breath for months for me to release this head-spinning, eye-gouging, throat-slitting, paint-the-walls-red list. Well, with less
first-run selections and fewer straight-to-dvd releases, compiling said list proved a difficult task. However, my preoccupation with criticizing other people's art compelled me to push on. And so, without further rambling, I give you, well, a few ramblings on the best frightfully shocking pics of 2010. Hope you enjoy.

THE LAST EXORCISM: Ever since Linda Blair spewed split pea soup all over Father Merrin people have been familiar with the process of evicting demons from small children. In The Last Exorcism, Reverend Cotton Marcus has been doing the head-spinning, Latin spewing dog and pony show since before he could say Hail Mary. He’s decided to bring us along to rural Louisiana to witness his final exorcism in the hopes of debunking the religious practice. It seems sweet Nell’s been offing Daddy’s livestock during the night and is in need of a cleansing. Of course, Satan’s not one to go easily.

The faux documentary has lost its impact in the years following Heather Donahue’s on-camera snotting in The Blair Witch Project. The Last Exorcism, however, utilizes the conventions of the genre to shocking effect. The picture sustains suspense via strong characterization and an acceptable story. Though the final moments are a bit hokey, the movie is edge-of-your-seat frightening throughout.

VALHALLA RISING: So you’re a tough-as-nails warrior with one eye and an undefeated record in the ring but since you can’t speak nobody knows your name and refers to you only as One Eye. All you want to do is walk the Earth like Kane in Kung Fu but Norse tribes and Christian Vikings keep enlisting you to do their bidding.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn resists the typical conventions of cinema with the same level of force used by his protagonist to off his adversaries – limbs are severed, torsos are flayed, brain matter is flung at the screen with aesthetic delight . Deliberately paced and uncompromisingly violent, the movie will linger in your mind days after viewing.

BURIED: US contractor Paul Conroy leaves his wife and young son in the country of the people, by the people, for the people and gets himself buried alive in Iraq. A triumphant exercise, Buried manages to be both suspenseful and entertaining despite taking place entirely within the
confines of a coffin. Director Rodrigo Cortes employs a number of useful tricks to establish interesting compositions and Ryan Reynolds earns his chops in a role that dismisses from the minds of genre fans the vampire detective with an aversion to sleeves he played in Blade: Trinity.

ZOMBIE GIRL: THE MOVIE: You know Emily. She’s the cute twelve-year-old with the porcelain skin, sweet voice and unhealthy obsession for all things zombie.

Okay, so it’s a documentary about a girl making a horror movie and not an actual horror flick but Zombie Girl is one of the most inspirational, funny, entertaining and (insert superlative indentifier here), movies of the year. Anyone who’s ever experienced the terror that goes into making a movie will get a kick out of the very real troubles that plague Emily’s amateur set.

SEVEN DAYS: I can’t imagine how many maniacs I’ve observed doing their thing during my lifetime. I can say though that Dr. Hamel is unlike any I’ve seen. He’s clean cut, soft-spoken, polite and severely meticulous when torturing the man who raped and murdered his daughter.

Slick direction and an important message propel 7 Days beyond the torture porn genre. The decisions of its characters will work on the conscience of even casual horror fans. The movie touches on the same moral matters as its counterparts, however, features characters that, even at their most dismal, remain humane.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

TOP 10+ movies of 2010

1. MESRINE: Biopic detailing the rise and fall of notorious French gangster Jacques Mesrine. An unabashed exploration of vicious, vainglorious criminality that merits a place among perennial gangster greats. Vincent Cassel boldly brings into being one of the most badass characters in cinema history.
2. BLUE VALENTINE: A heartbreaking examination of the ebb and flow of relationships, Blue Valentine hits close to home anybody who has fallen in and out of love. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver the type of performances that exceed the duties of acting and become something much more. He’s an ambitious romantic happy to have a cool, pretty wife. She’s physically and mentally exhausted by his inability to grow and change with her. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad. They’ve simply lost touch with that thing that initially pulled them together. During a technologically booming age, Blue Valentine is a subtle reminder that story is what truly drives a movie.
3. THE AMERICAN: George Clooney is The American, a professional assassin stationed incognito in Italy for a final job. A deliberately paced thriller that is equal parts sexy and cool, The American abounds with existential symbolism and appealing imagery. I thoroughly enjoy observing people engaged in occupational activities. Rarely is a film bold enough to linger on characters involved in mundane exercises for extended periods of time. It is in the still moments, where Clooney pieces together custom rifles, where the movie truly flourishes.

4. ANIMAL KINGDOM: When 17-year-old J loses his mother to a drug overdose, he’s sent to live with his grandmother and felonious uncles. A moody first effort from novice director David Michod, Animal Kingdom effectively forces viewers to wear the shoes of its central character and substitutionally bear the tremulous fear he endures.

5. THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Adventurous account of the founders of the social-networking site, Facebook. Whether the actions of Mark Zuckerberg’s screen alter ego are accurate or not is up for debate, but what is certain is the power of The Social Network to capture the impersonal world of web socializing and the unfriendly spirit of its greatest contributor.

6. WINTER’S BONE: Ree is not your average American teenager. She manages the household, relying on the donations of neighbors and her skills with a hunting rifle to feed her younger siblings and her mentally deficient mother. When her father pledges the deed to their house as bail security then absconds into the Ozark Mountains, she must head off into the rough terrain to save her home. While the established intelligensia will gush over the emotional triumphs of better known actresses, it is the melancholy performance of Jennifer Lawrence that is more worthy of praise.

7. SOMEWHERE: A hotshot actor reexamines his indulgent lifestyle following a surprise visit from his 11-year-old daughter. Tales of this type (empathetic examinations of wealthy discontent) typically annoy me immensely. Director Sofia Coppola, however, brings something unique to an otherwise tired scenario: she’s had the unusual advantage of having experienced privileged apathy first from the point of view of a malleable child (daughter of New Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola), then from the perspective of a successful adult. Her understanding of loneliness shines through the hypnotizing performances of Setphen Dorff and Elle Fanning.

8. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: The children of a lesbian couple look to connect with their biological father. A warm, bittersweet exploration of the difficulties of love. Regardless of orientation, the family in focus represent middle-class America to a perfect degree. Critics are ogling over 3-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening, but in the opinion of this fan, it’s the emotional performance of Julianne Moore that is more commendable.

9. CARLOS: The epic story of Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan-born terrorist who achieved notoriety for a 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. This film was released in two versions: one a five hour mini-series which played on the Sundance channel; the other a 120+ minute feature which saw a short run at select theaters. I saw both. It is a sprawling achievement that maintains a break-neck pace while examining a career that stemmed from 1975 until 1994 when Carlos was betrayed by former comrades and thrown into a French prison. Carlos was a man driven by vanity. This biopic is a showcase of talent for all involved. It is ambitious, and riveting and never boring. The longer version provides a truer sense of the terrorist lifestyle.

10. CATFISH: Nightmarish documentary about the dangers of online socializing and the illusion of companionship offered via networking sites.


NIGHT CATCHES US: When ex-activist Marcus Washington left the race-torn Philadelphia town of his birth, it raised a lot of questions. Now, years later, he’s returned to answer them. Low key direction and strong performances allow for powerful moments of drama in this refreshing debut from Tanya Hamilton. Her ability to dodge the period aspects of this story on such a miniscule budget is nothing short of brilliant. Despite a rushed ending, this provocative snapshot into the post-Black Power movement era left me mulling over the decisions of its characters for days.

I AM LOVE: Features chillingly beautiful cinematography and a masterful performance by Tilda Swinton as Emma, a Russian woman who marries into a wealthy Milanese family but is never truly accepted.

THE TOWN: A gripping thriller and Ben Affleck’s second go-round as director proves he just may be the real deal behind the camera.

HEREAFTER: Master storyteller Clint Eastwood’s unusual and sensitive examination of sorrow and loneliness offers a potential glimpse into the afterlife.

KICK-ASS: Wildly entertaining actioner that boasts such explicit displays of blood and gore that they come off as cartoony.

And don't forget to check out FISH TANK, my #1 film last year available on criterion disc later this month.


127 HOURS: Am I the only one that finds Danny Boyle’s style to be goofy? James Franco’s performance was okay, but was it really that much better than Ryan Reynolds’s depiction of the trapped Paul Conroy in Buried? Overrated.

BLACK SWAN: Aronofsky’s Oscar candidate is at times chilling, at others it tries a bit too hard. A tad overrated.

CENTURION: Kick-ass epic of violence and mayhem that treats gore like aesthetic beauty.

CONVICTION: True story of a man wrongly accused of murder features okay performances that are never as dramatic or affecting as they should be.

EASY A: Surprisingly good of its type, Easy A is at times charming and at others funny.

THE FIGHTER: At points clumsily directed, the film pales in comparison to great sports movies. Mark Wahlberg is outclassed by co-stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Way overrated.

GET LOW: Never as funny as it should be. Robert Duvall plays an archetypical movie hermit whose story is rather anticlimactic.

GHOST WRITER: Roman Polanski returns to form in this thriller about a ghost writer who discovers unsettling lies about the former British Prime Minister when he’s hired to write his autobiography.

GREENBERG: Greenberg the character is somewhat interesting; Greenberg the film is predictable and a bit boring.

INCEPTION: The concept of entering someone’s dream to implant an idea in their head is a brilliant one. Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan builds on the premise with little restraint until it becomes a convoluted, loophole-laden mess.

THE KING’S SPEECH: Cute feel-good film that is well acted and beautifully shot but ultimately, rather thin.

RABBIT HOLE: The film consists of one emotional note throughout, but Nicole Kidman is near flawless as a mother who lost her son.

TRUE GRIT: Good Coen brother’s film; not a great Coen brother’s film. Their classic trademarks are a bit blatant. And why do the characters spend the picture’s running time tracking one ruthless cowboy only to have a showdown with a subordinate one?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Movies I've Seen (Recently) 1/27/11

Ratings based on a five blood drop scale.
When Karma’s sister is found beaten to death, she infiltrates Canada’s underground sex trade to find her sibling’s killers.

Every rape/revenge flick released post I Spit on Your Grave (1978) affirms the feminist proclamation of that universally despised film. Rape is a brutal, disgusting act and if witnessed, would probably look something like what is depicted in ISOYG. The victim in that R/R classic spends the majority the film’s running time in a comatose state, bruised and bloodied and crawling through the dirt. Andrew Thomas Hunt, the director of Sweet Karma, is a little too infatuated with his “babes in the woods.” Karma (Playboy playmate Shera Bechard) is a beautiful girl; you need only look to the film’s seductive box art to see that. But she shouldn’t come off as appealing to viewers when being attacked. She goes through more undergarments in a single day than my new born son.

When Lola’s invitation to the school dance is dismissed by Brent, she and her father cook up a macabre plan for revenge.

This movie represents everything that is wrong with horror today. While more competently crafted than most films of its type, it is nonetheless torture porn. It spends about six minutes building character and sprinkles a few morbidly humorous antics throughout, but is fundamentally a depthless tale focused on exhibiting low-rent gore and relentless terror. Genre fans should demand more.

Added to which, there is nary a likable character in the bunch. Brent is no catch. Everyone is basically unattractive. In fact, the most physically appealing of the lot is the geek – Lola and she inflicts pain as punishment with true delight. Which raises the question, what would she have done had Brent accepted her invitation?

Kelly and her autistic brother Tom are attacked by a ravenous tiger when their stepfather attempts to turn their home into a safari ranch.

An absurd premise designed to provide thrills and keep the audience cliff-hanging. It approaches this aim like so: Kelly and her brother retreat to a bedroom – the windows are boarded up as protection from the hurricane outside – Tom becomes disturbed by the change in his routine - the tiger claws his way into the room just as the protagonists escape into the hall. This happens over and over in the film, effectively destroying any attempt at suspense in subsequent scenes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Movies I've Seen (Recently): Back from the Grave

Ratings based on a five blood drop scale.

When the late Alice Palmer begins appearing in photos and video footage, her family calls on a parapsychologist to investigate her mysterious death.

These faux-documentary types either work or they don’t. Lake Mungo manages in its opening moments to set up a genuinely compelling scenario and the restrained cast do well to maintain an air of authenticity. However, each striking disclosure is revealed in the same manner: the camera zooms in slowly on a portion of a distorted image or piece of footage to divulge a shape that may be that of Alice, thus diminishing any sense of suspense the film worked to achieve. (BTW, where do the protagonists in these films find such technologically ineffective equipment? If I ever feel compelled to capture the spirit of a past loved one on video, I’m seeking out the highest res camera on the market.) Still, director Joel Anderson has command of the form and for every uninspiring moment there is one of sheer creepiness.


Set in a charming Irish costal town during its annual literary festival, The Eclipse witnesses widower Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) invoking the knowledge of ghost scribe Lena Morrell (Iben Hjejle) when he starts seeing spectral apparitions in his house.

Not to be confused with the latest installment in that famed vampire series, The Eclipse is a character vehicle driven by the stoic Hinds as a school teacher and festival volunteer who goes about the mundane activities of life so as to make things feel as normal as possible for his grief-stricken son and daughter. It is a ghost story in that if features a couple of ghostly figures that pop up at the bottom of the stairs and the foot of the bed just long enough for Michael to rub his lids and refocus his eyes. It is in effect, however, a tale of romance between the repressed Michael and the writer who gets him to release his emotions. The scene in which he comes to terms with the loss of his wife is truly haunting.

A doctor seeks revenge against the man who raped and murdered his daughter in 7 days.

Despite its log line and a few of the publicity stills used in marketing the film, 7 Days is not torture porn. It does contain disturbing scenes of violence and gut-wrenching moments of cruelty. However, there are issues brewing beneath the surface of this daring thriller that will impinge upon the moral sense of even the most casual of horror fans. First time director Daniel Grou pushes the same puritanical buttons as his counterparts, however, even in their darkest of moments, his characters cling to that thing that define us as a people: humanness. Finely acted and expertly directed, 7 Days is one of the best horror pics of 2010.