Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Tell No One"

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).

Guillaume Canet's Tell No One is that rarest of cinematic beasts, a thriller that actually thrills. It's an efficient and intelligent entertainment, expertly balancing a labyrinth plot, genuine suspense, and an "innocent man wrongly accused" narrative that Hitchcock would have been proud of. It is, simply speaking, a crackerjack picture.

Friday, September 3, 2010

On DVD: "Bill Maher- But I'm Not Wrong"

Early in his most recent HBO special, But I'm Not Wrong, Bill Maher notes that with the economy being what it is and a dollar being so hard to come by these days, if an audience has put out concert coin to come see him, "I'd better be fuckin' good." Well, they get their money's worth. The special, broadcast live on HBO back in February, finds the comic in terrific form, and doing just fine without George Bush to get easy laughs off of, thank you very much. Which isn't to say that he doesn't use Bush for some easy punch lines ("the cowboy for Toy Story"; "President Larry the Cable Guy"), or that Sarah Palin doesn't end up performing the same function ("a spokesmodel from the car show"). But his satire here goes deeper, penetrating the political circus with reasoned thought and full-on disgust.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New on Blu: "In Cold Blood"

When Truman Capote's In Cold Blood was published in 1966, it created a sensation in literary circles for its innovative style, resulting in a work dubbed by the author as the "nonfiction novel"--the storytelling techniques of fiction, applied to a factual narrative. These days, the form goes by a less reputable moniker: "true crime." Richard Brooks' 1967 film adaptation is a similar marriage of distinctively different approaches, combining a flat, documentary-style realism with stylized neo-noir photography. The resulting picture hasn't lost any of its power in the forty-plus ensuing years; it has a cold, chilling immediacy, while feeling simultaneously like pages ripped from an aged, lurid tabloid.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On DVD: "Parenthood: The Complete First Season"

For several weeks after its premiere in March of 2010, the (admittedly first-rate) TV and film blog Movieline would run a weekly recap of the series Parenthood, and they'd give it the business. With titles like "A laundry list of edgy family situations tackled on last night's Parenthood" or "Monica Potter's 'O face,' and 4 other edgy family issues tackled on last night's Parenthood," writer Julie Miller would take apart the conflict-and-drama-heavy series, following its most convoluted situations ("Your Asperger-diagnosed nephew finds your bong while you are child-proofing the house for the biracial son you just found out you had") with pithy rejoinders ("Who hasn't this happened to?").

In Theaters: "My Dog Tulip"

There’s so much of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s My Dog Tulip that is so lovely and memorable, I’d like to just call it a treat and be done with it. But it’s an oddly misshapen picture that shambles along agreeably for a good chunk of its running time, only to take an odd left turn in its third act that throws off the equilibrium of the entire enterprise. It is based on a memoir by British writer J. R. Ackerly, and while it has some lovely passages, the filmmakers might have been wise to second-guess their absolute fidelity to the source material.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On DVD: "Harry Brown"

Roughly an hour into Daniel Barber's Harry Brown, there's a scene that pretty much encompasses everything that's wrong with the movie. Our titular character, a widower and former Royal Marine played by Michael Caine, has been pushed into vigilantism against the violent gangs who control his council estate following the murder of his friend (David Bradley). He has gone to the hideout of a pair of local criminals to buy a gun. He enters a den of sin and inequity; it's not enough that the guys are two tattooed scumbags, or that one is snorting coke, or that the other is injecting heroin into a near-comatose girl on the couch. No, there's also a sex tape of one of the guys and the dead-eyed smack girl going. Oh, and on the way into this cheery scene, Harry is brought through a marijuana grow room that would make Conrad from Weeds jealous.

New on Blu: "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"

Adam McKay's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has become such a beloved and oft-quoted picture ("I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly..." "You are a smelly pirate hooker." "Dorothy Mantooth is a saint!" "I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal." "I love lamp." "You stay classy, San Diego." And so on...) that we might easily forget what a peculiar little movie it was when it hit theaters in summer of 2004. Film comedy had become an ugly soup of Wayans Brothers abortions (yes, 2004 was the year of White Chicks), lesser Stiller vehicles, and quickly-declining Sandler pictures. But that summer, two comedies came right out of left field--the low-budget indie oddity Napoleon Dynamite, and Anchorman, a period comedy from a first-time filmmaker that was basically a parody of, um, '70s newsmen. Not exactly a sure-fire recipe for either hilarity or big box-office, to be sure. But it was a surprise hit, with both critics and audiences; more importantly, from a standpoint of style and personnel on both sides of the camera, Anchorman pretty much set the comedic table for much of the rest of the decade.