Friday, June 18, 2010

Today's New in Theaters- 6/18/10

Yeah, good luck, "Jonah Hex." Like anybody's going to anything this weekend that doesn't contain the words "Toy" and "Story" and a number.

Toy Story 3: Full disclosure--I've never been that nuts about the Toy Story movies. Oh, don't get me wrong, they're good and all, but quality-wise, I'd put them pretty far down in the Pixar canon (neither of them hold a candle, as far as I'm concerned to WALL-E or Up or Ratatouille). But it's also been many, many years since they've made one, and from most accounts I've read, the power and lyricism of those last few films is in full force here. While Ebert is slightly less enthusastic than most, Todd McCarthy, Peter Rainer, and Jamie S. Rich are all pretty nuts about it.

Jonah Hex: What can you say about a movie whose most compelling feature appears to be its running time? Without credits, it runs something like 74 minutes, and as Brian Orndorf notes, "It's hard to accomplish anything richly cinematic in 74 minutes." I'm rooting for ya, Josh Brolin, but geesh, this one doesn't exactly have the scent of confidence about it.

In Theaters: "The Killer Inside Me"

Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me begins with such a bouncy, stylized opening credit sequence that you might not be quite prepared for what follows. Based on the 1952 novel by Jim Thompson, it is a tough, hard-boiled little picture, cold and brutal and efficient. Its violence and pathology will, no doubt, disturb some audiences (and already has). But the fact of the matter is this: the craftsmanship on display is undeniable, and the black-hearted storytelling, true to the noir novel on which it's based, pulls in those with the stomach for it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

In Theaters: "Cyrus"

Everything you need to know—or remember—about how great John C. Reilly is can be found in the first ten or so minutes of the Duplass Brothers’ Cyrus. As Reilly’s “John” tries to recover from an embarrassing situation with his ex-wife, then attempts to blend in at an upscale party she’s dragged him to, he’s funny, he’s warm, he’s a little bit crazy, he’s a lot awkward. “I am in a tailspin,” he tells a girl that he feels a connection with. “I’m lonely, I’m depressed…” (It’s not exactly party pick-up material.) He’s doing the kind of complex, multi-layered work he was doing for Paul Thomas Anderson in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, about a decade ago when we all started to become aware of this oddly extraordinary actor.

On DVD: "Facing Ali"

Early in Pete McCormack’s documentary Facing Ali, one of his former rivals notes that Muhammad Ali is “more revered than any fighter… maybe more than any person.” That would certainly explain the surplus of documentary films about him; aside from the original, Champions Forever, and the standard-bearer, the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings, there’s Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami , Thrilla in Manila , Muhammad Ali: The Greatest , Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World , The Last Round- Chuvalo vs. Ali , Albert Maysles’s recent “ESPN 30 for 30” entry Muhammad and Larry, and more, many more. Why does he continue to be such a venerable subject for nonfiction film? Well, first of all, because of his uniquely American story and life—the talented kid who ascended to fame and fortune thanks to his mixture of talent and showbiz bravado, mounted multiple stunning comebacks, but couldn’t walk away while he was ahead—and its intersections with the defining events of his generation, the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights. He’s a fascinating figure, and he was so charismatic and dynamic on camera that he left a treasure trove of archival footage. And then, on top of that, he was the greatest fighter of his or any other time, a brilliant strategist and graceful athlete/aesthete who made brawling into an art.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In Theaters: "Stonewall Uprising"

Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s new documentary Stonewall Uprising does several thing skillfully, but its greatest value may be the deftness with which it contextualizes the social and cultural temperature of the time. The “culture wars” that are brewed up against homosexual Americans to score cheap political points may hinge these days on secondary concerns like marriage and serving in the military, but lest we forget, it was within our very recent past that the mere act of homosexuality was a crime—that men and women could be hauled off to jail for going to a bar, for being caught in a “raid,” and even for what they did behind closed doors.

Backfilling: "Drugstore Cowboy"

Welcome to “Back-Filling,” a (semi) regular feature in which I see movies that, by any reasonable measure, I totally should have seen by now.

“It’s hard being a dope fiend,” explains Bob (Matt Dillon) in the opening voice-over of Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, “and it’s even harder running a crew.” Bob’s crew keeps their goals modest—they knock over drugstores, and they’re only looking for the pharms. Sometimes they break in at night, like common thieves; sometimes it’s in broad daylight, with the crew staging a distraction while Bob gets behind the counter and grabs whatever he can get. It’s not a glamorous life. They’re too busy jonesing to notice.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Today's New DVDs- 6/15/10

This is the week where multiple movies I meant to see in theaters come to DVD, and I didn't manage to get the review copies of any of them. Could it be that I'll actually use Netflix to send me movies, and not just as an "Instant Viewing While I'm At Work" service?

The Book of Eli: Several January theatrical releases hit this week, and the January release date is usually a big ol' red flag for a stinker that wasn't strong enough to open in the fall. But Denzel's latest "off-beat actioner" got surprisingly decent reviews, and it's got Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis in supporting roles, so what the hell have you got to lose?

Youth In Revolt: Michael Cera is at a bit of a crossroads, stuck between the stammering-adolescent roles that he plays so well and the fear of being typecast. Here, he faces that dilemna head-on, playing both a "Cera type" and his smooth, mustachioed alter ego. Director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) is always up to something interesting, and DVD Talk's usually-reliable Jamie S. Rich gives it a big thumbs-up.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On DVD: "Mary and Max"

Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max is an unexpected oddity: a feature-length claymation film (or “clayography,” as the director calls it) with the dark humor and biting edge of a 1970s relationship movie like Harold and Maude or Thieves Like Us. Narrated by Barry Humphries (aka “Dame Edna”) and featuring the voice talents of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana (among others), it is an absolutely charming and impeccably funny little gem.

On DVD: "Collapse"

There are moments, many of them, in Chris Smith's new documentary Collapse when Michael Ruppert says something that causes an immediate, reflexive reaction in my head: That guy's crazy. I had that response more than once during the film, particularly in the section when he gives his tips for surviving our societal collapse (don't hoard food--hoard seeds). But there are also moments, as when he explains our current economy in plain English and summarizes it as "the whole economy is a pyramid scheme," when I found myself nodding my head and thinking, That guy makes a lot of sense. It's that kind of movie.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Backfilling: "Medium Cool"

Welcome to “Back-Filling,” a (semi) regular feature in which I see movies that, by any reasonable measure, I totally should have seen by now.

Occasionally, a film accumulates a reputation that it doesn’t quite deserve, and that appears to be the case with Medium Cool. Haskell Wexler’s 1969 drama with a dash of documentary is primarily remembered for its climactic scenes, shot in the midst of the riots at the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago; the film has since become synonymous with the mixture of fiction and on-the-fly fact, and its format has been frequently duplicated over the ensuing years, most recently with Bush-era protest films like This Revolution, Conventioneers, and The F-Word. But viewed from top to bottom, Medium Cool is a bit of a mess, its frequent missteps glossed over as the years pass.

On DVD: "Green Zone"

Paul Greengrass's Green Zone is a smart, tight political thriller, and there's so much in it that works, you're hard pressed to figure out why it doesn't quite land. It took me two viewings to understand why I found it slightly underwhelming--why I didn't like it as much as I wanted to. And make no mistake about it, you go in rooting for it; it marks the director's third collaboration with star Matt Damon (following the last two Bourne films), this time with a screenplay by Brian Helgeland (who adapted Mystic River and, um, Robin Hood). With the handheld, you-are-there cinematography and Damon in the stony man-of-action role, the picture is clearly aiming to recapture that Bourne magic, albeit at a slightly brainier level; yet somehow, in aiming higher, it accomplishes less.