Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Five Sexiest Christmas Movies

On a recent episode of his “Savage Love” podcast, Dan Savage indulged in what has become a Yuletide tradition: railing against Christmas-themed erotica. Savage’s implicit objection to Santa-hatted self-pics and the like is simple enough to understand; he thinks Christmas just isn’t sexy. He’s not alone, and most of these Sex Scrooges are right—there’s nothing inherently libidinous about a holiday centered on tree ornamentation, elf labor, and Jesus. But a handful of films have dared to forge an alliance between Christmastime and Sexytime:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On DVD: "Groucho Marx: TV Classics"

It’s sort of funny, how easily Groucho Marx made the transition to television—considering how much trouble he’d had breaking into every other medium he’d tried his hand at. He toured vaudeville for years, with various combinations of family and friends, before he and his brothers finally come up with an act that was any good; they only moved to the “legitimate” stage after burning bridges on the vaudeville circuits, and that was with a thrown-together revue made up of spare parts and songs which no one expected to go anywhere. The Marx Brothers are among our most beloved screen comedians, but their first film, the silent comedy Humorisk, was reportedly so bad that it disappeared after one screening. And though Groucho’s rapid-fire wit would seem perfect for radio, he watched several vehicles (both by himself and with brother Chico) inexplicably flop.

On DVD: "Despicable Me"

Making computer-animated family comedies for anyone other than Pixar must be a little bit like being a member of Gerry and the Pacemakers back in 1964—yes, yes, your band is very good, your songs are catchy and enjoyable, but you’re trying to make Beatles music, and c’mon, you’re not the Beatles. Despicable Me, the debut feature from Illumination Entertainment, is bright, cheery, and frequently funny. But it ain’t the Beatles.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In Theaters: "True Grit (2010)"

Well, come to find out, the notion of the Coen Brothers remaking True Grit isn’t a stretch at all. Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn may be one of John Wayne’s most recognizable characters, but as imagined in their new adaptation (and played, expertly, by Jeff Bridges), he’s the latest in a long line of the Coens’ wonderfully loquacious heroes. Their films have always revealed a love of language, of its poetic possibilities and expositional powers; they’ve always been partial to men, from H.I. McDonnough to Charlie Meadows to Everett McGill to Professor G.H. Dorr, who take pleasure in the mere act of conversation—who talk, as it were, to hear themselves talk. The Coens enjoy the mere sound of dialogue, as evidenced by a wonderful moment early in True Grit that finds young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) coming up the steps to the courtroom where Cogburn is testifying. She’s not close enough to hear the words, leaving us to make out only the gut-barrel grunt of his throaty tones echoing through the stairwell.

In Theaters: "Somewhere"

In the opening scene of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, a Ferrari roars across the screen, then around a race track, off-screen, and then back again. Over and over, through the frame, running the track in endless circles. The sequence isn’t accidentally chosen; Coppola is using the movement of the car as a metaphor for the monotony present in the life of the driver, movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). Trouble is, it’s also representative of the film he inhabits. There is a fine line between making a film about a dull, humdrum life, and making a dull, humdrum film. Somewhere, unfortunately, does not quite manage to cross that line.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On DVD: "Easy A"

Will Gluck’s Easy A is such a step above the standard high-school sex comedy, so much smarter and funnier and drier than expected or, frankly, required, it's somewhat surprising that it actually made any money. It’s a breezy, sly effort, with a quick wit and a charmingly dirty mind, and those tend to be the “teen movies” that flop—unless you go back to something like Clueless, which it bears a more than passing resemblance to. Like that film, Easy A takes a classic piece of source material (in this case, The Scarlet Letter) and whirls it through a blender of knowing satire, relatable situational comedy, and pop-culture percipience to whip up something new and fresh and genuinely funny. And, like Clueless, it could very well make a movie star out of its lead. (Hopefully that works out a little better for this one.)

On DVD: "Double Take"

Too often avant-garde or experimental cinema, for all of its value, fails on a basic level of engagement; somewhere it seems to be written that, these days anyway, we can’t have a good time at far-out movies. There are experimental filmmakers out there, yes, and they’re doing work that is groundbreaking and earnest and thumbs its nose at convention and pretention, but good God, some of it is just plain unwatchable. Well, Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take is, for all intents and purposes, an experimental movie—a weirdo assemblage of archival footage, marginally connected text, re-enactments of imagined events, and oddball flights of fancy. I’m still not quite sure how it all fits together, except as a free-form film essay on everything from Alfred Hitchcock, the Cold War, and doppelgangers to outer space, television, and coffee. But it is enthralling cinema.