Saturday, August 7, 2010

On DVD: "After.Life"

Agnieszka Wojtowciz-Vosloo's After.Life is a picture with multiple personality disorder, a film so busy quoting and borrowing that it has no time to develop an identity of its own. It's like a mixtape of creaky horror movie tropes--the creepy kid, the laughably bitter wheelchair-bound mother, stringy-haired ghosts, bugs spilling out of mouths, a variety of flickering lights, and dead bodies galore. Oh, and the surprise, Shyamalan-style twists. Wojtowciz-Vosloo didn't write a screenplay, she made a checklist.

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Henry Poole is Here"

Welcome to "Saturday Night at the Movies," a weekly feature in which I recommend an older title that you can go watch, right this very minute (provided you have Netflix Instant).

If there's a lesson to be learned from Mark Pellington's Henry Poole Is Here, it's that it is all about the approach. Here we have a film with a concept that could have been played for cheap laughs or maudlin sentimentality, but it pitches straight down the middle, taking its story seriously but not solemnly. And it somehow plays, cleverly sidestepping most (if not all) of the pitfalls it could have tumbled down.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Today's New in Theaters- 8/6/10

The Other Guys: I wasn't much of a fan of director Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell's last collaboration, Step Brothers; in enjoying their first R rating, they went for the kind of crass, off-putting vulgarity that their previous pictures skillfully skirted (Don't get me wrong-- I like me some R comedies. But they didn't do theirs particularly well.) They're thankfully back in PG-13 land with this cop/buddy/action/comedy parody, which looks (from the trailers, anyway) like it might do what Cop Out couldn't quite pull off.

Step Up 3-D: Wait a second, what?

The Sicilian Girl: It's a little bit dry and a little bit hard to engage with. But Marco Amenta's Italian melodrama is less an earthy crime story than a character-driven chamber piece, and within that construct, it has moments of real power and subtle complexity.

New on Blu: "What's Up, Doc?"

In light of the depths to which his filmmaking career fell in the mid-to-late 1970s, it is perhaps difficult to comprehend just how thoroughly the world was Peter Bogdanovich's oyster in 1972. The theatrical trailer for his homage to screwball comedy, What's Up, Doc?, pushes the film brat auteur as much, if not more, than his marquee stars Ryan O'Neal and Barbara Streisand. And why shouldn't they--this was the era of the director as star, and few young filmmakers were as hot as Bogdanovich, whose breakthrough movie The Last Picture Show had been one of the previous fall's biggest commercial and critical successes. That film was a valentine to a bygone era of American life and American cinema; it felt like a great 1950s drama that you'd never seen, but with the frankness and freedom to tell its story with (sometimes painful) truth. So when Warner Brothers asked him to make a drama with Barbara Streisand, he had enough cachet to not only convince them to finance a freewheeling farce instead (from his one-line story--basically, "a professor and a dizzy dame"), but to get Bonnie and Clyde screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton to write it--and then to get The Graduate screenwriter Buck Henry to do a rewrite. Not a bad crew of scenarists for your second big movie.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Theaters: "The Disappearance of Alice Creed"

J Blakeson’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed is so antsy to get going, they don’t even bother with an opening title; they don’t want to waste a frame that can’t be spent building tension. The opening sequence is a dread-filled masterwork, in which Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan) coldly and efficiently buy supplies and prepare for a kidnapping—lining a van, sound-proofing a bedroom, drilling in extra locks, attaching the bed frame to the floor. There’s not a word spoken—it’s all disturbing sound effects and antsy music (Marc Canham’s score is a jittery corker) until one line of dialogue (“Okay”) and then... the screaming. Oh, the screaming.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Today's New DVDs- 8/3/10

Kick-AssThere's a lot to like in Kick-Ass; the action sequences sing, the look and style is poppy and fun, and little Chloe Grace Moretz is gonna be a star. But it's also all over the place tonally, and takes so long to find its footing that choosier viewers may very well lose their patience.

A Prophet: This sprawling yet intimate crime epic is stark, fierce, and powerful; it announces Jacques Audiard as a director of not only tremendous skill (the climax is stunningly well-executed) but versatility.

The Ghost Writer: Say what you will about Roman Polanski (and many, many have), but you can't deny what he can do behind the camera. His latest is a crisp and intelligent thriller, carried off with silky panache--and featuring yet another impressive post-Bond character turn by Pierce Brosnan.

In Theaters: "The Sicilian Girl"

In the opening scene of Marco Amenta's The Sicilian Girl, Rita (Veronica D'Agostino) refuses to give up the pistol she's been carrying. "It's all I have of my father," she explains. The entire film grows out of that dichotomy between sentimentality and violence, between familial obligation and brutality. It's a deliberately muted picture, which works both for the film and against it, but whatever the reservations, it is well worth seeing; Amenta digs deep into his story to find the soul underneath, even at risk of alienating more hyperactive viewers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On DVD: "A Prophet"

Jacques Audiard's A Prophet (Un Proph├Ęte) is filmmaking at point-blank range, a stark, fierce criminal portrait of tremendous power. There's a reckless immediacy to it--it draws us in immediately, no backstory, no bullshit. We meet Malik El Djebana, he's nineteen years old, he's going into prison for six years, boom. Go.

On DVD: "The Ghost Writer"

The opening images of Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer are, on their face, fairly mundane; a ferry docks, and the cars drive off, but one of them has been abandoned. A tow truck comes to remove the vehicle. That's pretty much the opening scene (not exactly Hitchcock, is it?), but Polanski shoots it with such verve and skill, we can't help but be intrigued. And then we have the payoff shot: a body, washed up on the beach.