Saturday, July 3, 2010

On DVD: "Brooklyn's Finest"

It’s funny, how shakily Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest starts, and how confident and sure-handed it becomes over the course of its two and one-quarter hours. In the wind-up, Michael C. Martin’s script seems comprised entirely of stock characters and situations—the short-timer, the cop on the take, the undercover man who’s gone too deep. But as the narrative progresses, Martin and Fuqua intertwine the stories in unexpected ways, and build an overall arc that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Friday, July 2, 2010

In Theaters: "Great Directors"

So many films overstay their welcome, it’s rare to come across a movie that should, legitimately, be about twice as long as it is. Such is the case with Great Directors, but that’s not entirely a compliment; director Angela Ismailos profiles ten of our greatest living directors in about 89 minutes, so you do the math. With those kind of time restraints, some folks are bound to get short shrift—Richard Linklater is barely glimpsed until well past the halfway mark; John Sayles disappears so early that by the time he was included in a film-ending montage, I’d forgotten he was even one of the subjects. Add in Ismailos, a filmmaker who clearly enjoys being on-screen herself, and you begin to get a pretty clear summary of the picture’s problems.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On DVD: "Mystery Science Theater XVIII"

What is it about Mystery Science Theater 3000 that we fans respond to? Not to put too fine a point on it, but the key may lie in that old warhorse, “Everybody’s a critic.” The series taps into a common experience—not the actual plot, since so few of us have had the experience of being trapped on a space satellite with two robots. But everyone has been subjected to terrible movies, forced by circumstance or peer pressure or just plain old rotten luck to sit through some would-be John Ford’s limp, badly paced, amateurishly acted cinematic vision. When a movie is bad enough, it doesn’t just inconvenience us—it makes us actively angry. That’s what we’re tapping into when MST3K is at its best; they take a bad picture apart with such skill and precision, it’s like they’re vicariously critiquing for us. (Presumably, that has a lot to do with why the show is beloved by so many critics—it’s a show that makes witty, snappy heroes out of our profession.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Theaters: "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector"

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector
is an odd documentary, all right; it’s appropriate to its subject. Originally produced for BBC television, it profiles the legendary record producer, from his triumphs in the studio to his trial and conviction for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson, in an altogether unorthodox fashion. It’s neither straightforward biography nor true crime investigation, and those looking for either should steer clear. Instead, it experiments with the very form of the documentary film, and offers a piercing and unguarded look at the disturbed psyche of a man who, guilty or not, had clearly lost touch with anything resembling reality.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On DVD: "Don McKay"

So here's an oddity. Don McKay is a peculiar hybrid of thriller, black comedy, small-town drama, and who knows what else, pitched at an odd angle that resembles no reality I recognized, either in life or in other movies. It's so strange, in fact, that I half-wonder if writer/director Jake Goldberger was trying to remove himself from the conventions of storytelling entirely, and stake out a claim in the surreal. I've never seen a film quite like it, though I can't tell you if that's a good or bad thing.

On DVD: "Creation"

"Tell me a story," pleads Charles Darwin's daughter Annie, in the opening scene of Jon Amiel's biopic Creation. "What about?" he asks. "Everything," she replies. In many ways, that's exactly what the naturalist writer did with his seminal 1859 book On the Origin of Species; many of his conclusions contradicted the basic tenets of Christian faith, which is why his theories remain controversial to this very day. Creation is not the kind of anti-Christian tract that some might expect; it is more interested in the man than in taking on his enemies.

Today's New DVDs- 6/29/10

Hot Tub Time Machine: Well, in all fairness, it is called Hot Tub Time Machine, so it was probably a little unreasonable of me to expect something a little smarter and little less, y'know, piss-stained. Still, there are big laughs here, and the film finally gives the great Craig Robinson the proper platform for his distinct and uproarious style of comedy.

The Crazies (2010): Yes, we're all tired of horror remakes. But this one is smooth, professional, and frightening--and it offers the chance to draw some interesting parallels between its story and the current anti-government paranoia that's running rampant throughout the land.

The White Ribbon: I'm all alone on this one, and I don't care: fuck this movie, and fuck Michael Haneke and his smug, self-serving, unsatisfying narratives. It's the only thing worse than an empty, stupid movie: an empty, stupid movie that thinks it's smart and profound,

Don McKay: I don't know what the hell kind of movie they were making here, and I'm dubious that anyone involved can tell you either. But it certainly keeps your interest, for whatever that's worth.

Creation: Some of it is arid dry, but this Charles Darwin biopic is a smart and honorable film about an important and, strangely, timely subject.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On DVD: "Hot Tub Time Machine"

Hot Tub Time Machine is the kind of movie that you like, knowing full well that it's not very good. It comes, first of all, with perhaps the best title of the year (or the worst, depending on what you require from a movie title). There is no trickery to the moniker--there's not some metaphorical hot tub that serves as a whimsical reminder of gentler times and loves lost. Nope, it's the story of four men who travel back in time via a hot tub.

On DVD: "The White Ribbon"

Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon arrived in American theaters riding a wave of critical acclaim and sporting no less an endorsement than the Palme d'Or from this year's Cannes Film Festival. When a film comes with those kind of kudos, you feel an obligation, walking into the theater, to give it the benefit of the doubt, which I did; it melted away, slowly but surely, over the course of the picture's two and a half hours. I've lost patience with Haneke. He is clearly interested only in being a provocateur, a prickly director of difficult films that offer nothing more than misanthropy and cheap shots.