Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Theaters: "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is pure pleasure, a zippy Pop grab-bag, a joyous celebration of comic books, video games, rock music, fast movies, dumb TV, and (apparently) whatever the hell else struck director Edgar Wright’s fancy. Based upon a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley (unread by me), it is a big, noisy, giddily energetic little corker of a picture, utterly ridiculous—gleefully so, in fact—but uncharacteristically sweet and good-hearted as well. It’s just fun, plain and simple, and anyone who can’t enjoy it has clearly forgotten how to have a good time at the movies.

In Theaters: "Animal Kingdom"

“Mom kept me away from her family because she was scared.” After seeing Animal Kingdom, you can’t blame her. The “me” in that line is Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville), who looks on impassively in the film’s first scene as paramedics work on his overdosed mother, a game show blasting on the TV. He calls his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) primarily because he doesn’t know what else to do. She gladly welcomes him into their large family, a collection of gruff men who specialize in masked, armed robberies. To call the domestic dynamic tricky would be something of an understatement.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On DVD: "Cemetery Junction"

There comes a painful and unfortunate moment in just about every young man's life when he realizes that he's outgrown his friends. (If you haven't had that moment, then guess what? Your friends have outgrown you.) In Ricky Gervais and Stephen Marchant's Cemetery Junction, Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke) has just arrived at that moment. When the picture begins, Freddie has left his factory job, where he worked alongside his dad (Gervais) and his best friend Bruce (Tom Hughes); he's gone to work as an "assurance agent" for Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Finnes), and sees his new boss as a role model who shook off the dust of his very same hometown and schools to become a rich businessman. But he still spends his nights and weekends with Bruce, a roughneck always on the lookout for a brawl, and Snork (Jack Doolan), a vulgar dork with a childish sense of humor. These are not serious friends, and he now has serious ambitions. Or does he?

Monday, August 9, 2010

On DVD: "The Joneses"

"We're gonna do some damage in this town," smirks Steve Jones (David Duchovny), as his picture-perfect nuclear family arrives at their new home, an opulent estate in a gated community. They're all smiles and style: knockout mom Kate (Demi Moore), cool son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), pretty daughter Jenn (Amber Heard). With their perfect looks and impeccable taste, they seem a model family. But the more time we spend with them, the more they seem to be just glossy surfaces--there's something off about them. Behind closed doors, they're all business. But what business are they in?

On DVD: "La Mission"

The opening sequence of Peter Bratt's La Mission bursts with music and energy reminiscent of a 70s picture--indeed, the cue he chooses (Curtis Mayfield's "Kung Fu") would have been right at home in any number of blaxpoitation flicks. It's appropriate, because La Mission has a specifically low-budget energy--it's rough around the edges, and amateurish in places, but it has a genuineness, a heart, and a low-to-the-ground spirit that usually gets bled out of bigger, more polished entities.

On DVD: "The Good Heart"

Dagur Kari's The Good Heart opens with Lucas, a shaggy-haired young homeless guy, sharing dinner with a kitten and singing it to sleep. We then meet Jacques, a crabby bar owner who gets so angered by his "relaxation tape" that he literally gives himself a heart attack. These are not encouraging scenes. They don't exactly portend a lot of subtle shadings in the forthcoming picture. I'm not quite sure what to make of The Good Heart, primarily because its intentions are so unclear. It's supposed to be a comedy, I guess, but it ain't funny; when it tries to move us, it's even less successful. It's a singularly unlikeable picture, shot through a washed-out, desaturating haze that tamps down the color and amps up the drabness.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

New on Blu: "Elvis on Tour"

Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge's concert documentary Elvis on Tour captures the "King of Rock & Roll" on the cusp--he was still riding high from his much-vaunted 1968 "comeback special," his powerful follow-up records, and his triumphant return to live performing. In the years that followed, as his paranoia, isolation, and intake of prescription medication increased, his onstage performances often faltered, his personal life became a shambles, and he became an increasingly unhealthy parody of himself. This 1972 film and the hugely successful Aloha From Hawaii special the following year offer perhaps the last glimpses of Presley as we'd like to remember him.