Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: "SherryBaby"

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).

Sherry Swanson is just out of prison. A reformed heroin addict, she tries to go back to New Jersey and get her life together; specifically, she wants to be a good mother to her daughter Alexis, who has been raised by her brother Robert and sister-in-law Lynette. She talks tough and doesn’t suffer fools; she also knows how to get what she wants, as evidenced by the scene where she offers a placement agent oral sex in exchange for the job she wants. So, yeah, reformed but… still with some problems.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Loose Ends: The American, Machete, The Year’s Goofiest Trailer, and a Personal Note

- In my bio and signature for DVD Talk, I’ve written that I “blog every day at Fourth Row Center.” I did that (the blogging every day, not just the saying that I did) for two reasons. First of all, I liked how it sounded. But more importantly, the notion of a daily deadline—of posting something, be it a new review, a blog entry, an archive piece, a wrap-up—seemed an important part of being a disciplined writer. I didn’t always pull it off, but most weeks, I posted at least an average of once a day, sometimes more.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

In Theaters: "The Romantics"

The good news (and it is good news) about Galt Niderhoffer’s The Romantics is that come to find out, Katie Holmes didn’t forget how to act. One would certainly have been allowed that conclusion after observing her work in Mad Money and The Extra Man, both of which found her once-refreshing natural charisma replaced by a clanging phoniness; she overacted every scene, telegraphing every gesture, pulling faces like a refugee from a silent melodrama. That studied and mannered falseness occasionally rears its ugly head in The Romantics, but for the most part, it’s a strong, stripped-down, compelling performance. For a long stretch, it appears as though the movie will match it, and then they absolutely blow it at the end.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kael of the Week: On Altman

"Robert Altman is all of a piece, but he's complicated. You can't predict what's coming next in the movie; his plenitude comes from somewhere beyond reason. An Altman picture doesn't have to be great to be richly pleasurable. He tosses in more than we can keep track of, maybe more than he bothers to keep track of; he nips us in surprising ways. In The Long Goodbye, as in M*A*S*H, there are climaxes, but you don't have the sense of waiting for them, because what's in between is so satisfying. He underplays the plot and concentrates on the people, so it's almost all of equal interest, and you feel as if it could go on indefinitely and you'd be absorbed in it. Altman may have the most glancing touch since Lubitsch, and his ear for comedy is better than anybody else's. In this period of movies, it isn't necessary (or shouldn't be) to punch the nuances home; he just glides over them casually, in the freest possible way... Maybe the reason some people have difficulty getting onto Altman's wavelength is that he's just about incapable of overdramatizing. He's not a pusher."

-From review of The Long Goodbye
The New Yorker, October 22, 1973

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New on Blu: "The Player"

Seldom has an artist roared back from semi-exile with the wide-grinned schadenfreude displayed by Robert Altman in his vitriolic 1992 comedy The Player. Unable to get studio support after the (relative) critical and financial failure of the 1980 Paramount-Disney co-production Popeye, the maverick filmmaker spent the 1980s working on a variety of modest projects—stage plays, their film and television adaptations, an HBO series, and so on. When Vincent and Theo proved a minor, art-house hit in 1990, Altman found himself at the helm of a high-profile picture for the first time in over a decade. It is somewhat typical of the iconoclastic director that he took the opportunity to write a “fuck you” to Hollywood. The delicious irony, of course, came when that poison pen letter put him back on top.

On TV: "My Trip to Al-Qaeda"

I’m not sure when Alex Gibney sleeps. The prolific documentarian (whose previous films include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side) had not one, not two, but three films in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival (now, one of them is an omnibus, but that total doesn’t include his May theatrical release, the excellent Casino Jack and the United States of Money). My Trip to Al-Qaeda is his collaboration with author Lawrence Wright, who penned not only the essential volume The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, but co-wrote the screenplay to the eerily prescient 1998 film The Siege. The film is loosely centered on Wright’s recent off-Broadway one-man show, which he did to purge himself of the more personal elements of writing the book, and in the interest of “opening up a dialogue” about terrorism in our world.

Monday, September 6, 2010

On DVD: "Solitary Man"

As screenwriters, Brian Koppelman and David Levien are names I’m always happy to see in the credits; their filmography includes the terrific Rounders and Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13 and The Girlfriend Experience. But something goes awry when they move into the director’s chair; their debut effort was the imminently forgettable Knockaround Guys, and now we have their second picture, Solitary Man, which is full of good intentions, great scenes, and excellent performances, but can’t assemble its elements into anything consistent.

On DVD: "That Evening Sun"

In the opening moments of Scott Teems’ That Evening Sun, Albert Meecham stares out of his nursing home window, his face a hard shell of bitterness and resentment. He then gathers up his pocket watch, his suitcase, and his cane, and walks right out the door. He’s about had it with that place. He’s got some things to take care of.