Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: "The Infidel"

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). 

The Infidel is a spirited, ballsy comedy that takes on a tricky issue (the friction between Jews and Muslims) with edgy vigor, cloaked behind its broad humor and jovial leading man. It’s a tremendous balancing act that director Josh Appignanesi and writer David Baddiel pull off here; it mines considerable comic gold from a topic that’s not exactly at the top of anyone’s “funny issues” list.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On DVD: "South of the Border"

Oliver Stone is a skilled craftsman who has produced a steady stream of consistently entertaining pictures, but there’s an element to his personality—arguably one of his own making—that makes him increasingly difficult to take seriously as a documentary filmmaker. There’s no denying the visceral power and emotional punch of an admittedly brilliant narrative film like JFK, but even Stone admitted to its fabrications and flights of fancy, positioning the film (honestly, if somewhat troublingly) as a “counter-myth” to the “official myth” of the Warren Commission report. No matter where you stand on the creation of “counter-myth” in fiction or docudrama (and this reviewer, for one, is basically fine with it), your reputation as that sort of fabricator can be something of a liability when attempting to enter the realm of serious journalism. Those lingering questions of credibility were an off-camera concern in his previous short docs, Persona Non Grata and Looking for Fidel; they’re even more distracting in his new film South of the Border.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

In Theaters: "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer"

"This goes back to the days of Greek mythology. This is not a new story."
 -Eliot Spitzer

But it’s always been a good story. Alex Gibney’s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer has the makings of great documentary in many of the same ways that Spitzer’s story made great copy when it broke back in March of 2008: it’s got sex, it’s got crime, it’s got corruption. What’s more, it’s got a seemingly virtuous, all but untouchable figure of public service who takes a spectacular nosedive in the full eye of the public, thanks to a lapse in judgment that seems, in retrospect, stunning in its stupidity.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New on Blu: "Mad Max"

One of the first things we see in George Miller's Mad Max is the distinctive logo of American International Pictures, the famed purveyors of low-budget entertainment; the Corman-led company picked up the American distribution duties for this low-budget Australian barn-burner (it was one of their last releases before being sold to Filmways in 1980). Somehow, that insignia--as well as the bold titles and big, brassy score that follow it--put us in exactly the right mood for the loud, ugly, viciously entertaining picture, which is exactly the kind of smash-and-grab exploitation job you'd expect from AIP, albeit this time with an Aussie accent.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On DVD: "Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals"

The opening passages of the HBO sports documentary Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals utilize gentle music, solemn narration, and deliberate pacing to a degree that verges on melodrama. C'mon, we're thinking, this isn't "The Civil War." It's a movie about a couple of NBA guys! In retrospect, once the film's compact but exhausting 90 minutes have come to a close, the tone of those early scenes seems absolutely appropriate. We're dealing with mythology here, with legends, warriors, and the film treats them as such.

Monday, November 1, 2010

On DVD: "Winnebago Man"

Director Ben Steinbauer first saw the Winnebago outtakes, as many did, on a VHS tape that had been floating around in dupes of varying quality for several years. The story goes that back in 1989 a man named Jack Rebney was fronting an industrial video for the Winnebago corporation and was so angry and abusive to his crew that they just kept the camera rolling, and used the outtakes to get Rebney fired. The tape became a favorite of filmmakers and fans of odd “found footage,” primarily thanks to Rebney’s palpable temper and colorful profanity, and when it hit YouTube, it became an viral video sensation. There were highlight reels, there were tributes, there were remixes. But Steinbauer couldn’t help but wonder, whatever became of that frustrated, bitter man? “I felt bad for the guy,” he tells us in voice-over. “But I loved the clip.” And for reasons unknown, Ben Steinbauer decided to track Jack Rebney down. Winnebago Man is the story of what he found.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New on Blu: "Wonderland"

Perhaps the most damning but accurate charge that can be lobbed at James Cox’s Wonderland is that it’s no Boogie Nights. For most movies, that’s not a big deal; Casablanca is no Boogie Nights, and that doesn’t hurt it a bit. But Wonderland is dealing with what amount to the same characters and themes as Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 masterpiece, and it suffers in comparison even while it is closer to fact (and more sensationalistic in nature).