Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Hollywoodland"

Film critics love when directors take a stab at film noir riffs, because it gives us a chance to trot out all of our best verbiage and showiest references. For example, I can tell you that Hollywoodland, the new film from Allen Coulter, is more of a sun-drenched noir in the vein of Chinatown that the darker noir of its most recent cousin, L.A. Confidential. I even took a note of that, right there in the theatre. Impressed? No, of course not.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Today's New in Theaters- 8/20/10

The Switch: Roger Ebert wrote of the long-forgotten Blake Edwards movie Skin Deep: "Skin Deep is sort of a filmmaker's triathalon, and if Edwards doesn't set any new records, he enters every event." I kept thinking of that line during Josh Gordon and Will Speck's adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides's short story, which rolls broad slapstick, bodily fluid comedy, wistful romance, and genuine pathos all into one. They don't exactly keep all the plates spinning, but the leads are terrific, and it's refreshing to see a movie that delivers more than it promises, rather than less.

Pirhana 3-D: I really do wanna be a grouch about this one, what with it combining the two things that I hate most about current mainstream cinema (it's a remake, and it's in 3-D!). But y'know what--if there were ever a movie to benefit from a big-budget 3-D remake, it's Joe Dante's John Sayles-penned Jaws rip-off, and the reviews thus far have been awfully affectionate.

Nanny McPhee Returns: Wait, were there people clamoring for a sequel to Nanny McPhee and I just wasn't aware of it? What other highly-demanded follow-ups can we look forward to? The Avengers Return? Remo Williams: The Adventure Continues? Howard the Duck II?

Vampires Suck: Goddamnit, America, listen to me and listen good: If this movie makes money, we have no one to blame but ourselves for all the terrible bullshit at the mutliplex. I'm not kidding! Seltzer and Friedberg must be stopped before they "spoof" again! (Eric D. Snider's takedown is worth a read.)

A Film Unfinished: It's only in a couple of markets, but the must-see film of the week is this stunning documentary, the tale of an abandoned propaganda film from the Nazi-era Warsaw ghetto. It is hard to watch, but a stunning piece of work.

On DVD: "City Island"

Raymond De Felitta's City Island is a fundamentally nice and structurally sound movie, but too much of the scaffolding is showing. De Felitta's script feels like the work of a screenwriting class's star student: everyone has a back story, everyone has a secret, everyone knows just enough (but only enough!) to misinterpret everything else, and the entire plot comes together with the kind of split-second precision that makes an audience chuckle, so long as they're not all that concerned with reality. There are moments here that play, and performers doing their level best, but the picture too often feels forced and contrived.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In Theaters: "The Switch"

The ads for Josh Gordon and Will Speck’s The Switch are pushing it (probably wisely) as a madcap sperm-donation comedy, and that’s about what we’d expect from the directors, whose previous directorial credit was the Will Ferrell/Jon Heder ice-skating comedy Blades of Glory. But the source material hints that there might be more to it than that; it’s based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, writer of The Virgin Suicides, a novel whose film adaptation was not exactly a laugh riot. I’m not sure how pure a reflection of his story The Switch is, but the picture is clearly striving to be more than a late-summer gimmick laugher—it delves into serious themes, gives its actors real characters to play, and plays its fundamentally silly story straight. It doesn’t pull off the elaborate juggling act, but hey, points for trying.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Theaters: "A Film Unfinished"

The film was found in a concrete vault, hidden in a forest in East Berlin. The cans were labeled Das Ghetto. The propaganda film inside them, shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in the spring of 1942, was never completed—until now. Israeli filmmaker Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished is part historical document, part cinematic mystery; she shows the film in its entirety (or close to it), and meticulously reconstructs the circumstances surrounding the shoot, from diaries, reports, and eyewitness accounts. It is a fascinating, difficult, essential film—both as a Holocaust documentary, and as an examination of the very nature of propaganda.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On DVD: "Date Night"

It would be hard to find two more beloved performers to front your studio comedy than Steve Carell and Tina Fey, and our affection for the actors gives a considerable lift to the entertaining if formulaic Date Night. The director is the inexplicably busy Shawn Levy, whose previous filmography includes such horrors as the Night at the Museum films and the Pink Panther remake (a project for which he could have saved a lot of people considerable time and money by merely seeking out Peter Sellers's grave and taking a long, slow piss all over it). But his direction here is energetic and effective; he appears to have primarily made the wise decision to stay out of his performers' way.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On DVD: "The City of Your Final Destination"

There was a time when Merchant-Ivory productions pretty much personified the notion of the art film. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, their elegant, intellectual dramas served as an alternative to the noise of the multiplex; their films were independently financed (though often picked up for distribution by major players), and their biggest successes--pictures like Howards End and The Remains of the Day--met with rapturous reviews, respectable box office, and Oscar glory. In many ways, they were the chairmen of the board of alternative cinema. And then Pulp Fiction happened. Suddenly, independent film got a shot of adrenaline (literally, in one of its many iconic sequences); audiences and distributors realized that arthouse cinema didn't have to be dry and stoic, and seemingly overnight, Merchant-Ivory were relics of a bygone era. Their subsequent output has been, to say the least, unevenly received, in critical or financial terms.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

(Sunday) Night at the Movies: "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"

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). Sorry for the day-lateness of this installment.

The MPAA rating system has been broken for years now. Film scholars and film critics have written about it—hell, Roger Ebert’s practically made a cottage industry of bitching about it. But no one had the balls to make a film about it—until now.