Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Bubble"

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). 

From January 2006: There has been expotentially more ink devoted to the release strategy of Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble than the film itself, which is a shame, because the film is a fascinating experiment at telling a compelling story in the least dramatic fashion imaginable. I would imagine this would sound to some like a dig, or at best a back-handed compliment. It is not. In Bubble, Soderbergh has created a film that is entirely free of artifice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Revealed: Amy Poehler's Scandalous Nurse-Modeling Past

Oh, Amy Poehler, how we love you. We love how you started UCB, and still even stop in occasionally on Sunday nights to give the comedy nerds a thrill. We love how you killed on SNL and Arrested Development. We loved you in Mean Girls and Baby Daddy. We love your decision to mate with Will Arnett, presumably to populate the world with abnormally funny babies. We love that Park and Recreation finally (FINALLY) came back last night. But more than anything, we love these hilarious modeling photos that blogger Franny Glass found on Getty Images. Everyone has skeletons in their closet; Amy’s is her gig modeling as a sunny, flower-and-card-bearing candy striper.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In Theaters: "No Strings Attached"

The modern American romantic comedy has reached such a saturation point that the formula is no longer enough—there are no real stakes and no real suspense, because the construction is assumed and the resolution is a foregone conclusion. Boy will meet girl, they will fall for each other, complications will ensue, outside factors will conspire to keep them apart, but all will eventually right itself in the end, and they shall live happily ever after, tra la la. Every once in a while, an inventive filmmaker will shake up the formula, but more often than not, it becomes a matter of what kind of shading they do when they color in between the regular lines. Whatever interest is generated is found in the specifics, the details, the things happening in the periphery: supporting performances, subplots, slightly skewed perspectives. In last summer’s Going the Distance, for example, the memorable moments were not provided by the leading actors and their predictable predicament, but by the film’s unexpectedly dirty mouth, by the funny cameos from comics like Mike Birbiglia and Kristen Schaal, by the glorious weirdness of Charlie Day. Ivan Reitman’s new sex comedy No Strings Attached is a painfully calculable narrative; anyone who doesn’t know exactly how it will go should get out more. But there is a good line here, an enjoyable supporting actor there, and in the middle of it, there is Natalie Portman in a performance of genuine comic ingenuity and inventiveness.

Monday, January 17, 2011

On DVD: "Animal Kingdom"

“Mom kept me away from her family because she was scared.” After seeing Animal Kingdom, you can’t blame her. The “me” in that line is Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville), who looks on impassively in the film’s first scene as paramedics work on his overdosed mother, a game show blasting on the TV. He calls his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) primarily because he doesn’t know what else to do. She gladly welcomes him into their large family, a collection of gruff men who specialize in masked, armed robberies. To call the domestic dynamic tricky would be something of an understatement.

On DVD: "Buried"

For several seconds after the opening credits of Buried have ended, the screen is dark, the soundtrack silent. Director Rodrigo Cort├ęs holds that empty screen for as long as he can, and then he keeps holding it; we lean forward, peering into the darkness, straining our ears for any sound that will punctuate the stillness. (It’s a brilliant, if risky, tool for focusing an audience.) Finally, thankfully, there is a quiet cough, then breathing, breathing which becomes more panicked in the darkness. As Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes from a blackout, bound and gagged, he lights his Zippo and realizes what has happened. He’s been buried alive.

On DVD: "Freakonomics"

When economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner teamed up to write the 2005 book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, the results were astonishing—a New York Times bestseller, the book sold over four million copies and became a genuine intellectual phenomenon. But the book—an exploration of economic theory in unexpected spheres—wouldn’t seem a likely candidate for film adaptation. The makers of Freakonomics hit on an ingenious approach: get six filmmakers to create an omnibus documentary, each segment tackling a different section of the book. The results are, for the most part, exhilaratingly smart and engaging, a sly and entertaining look at some very heavy stuff.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On DVD: "Paper Man"

I usually try not to get all Harry Knowles and make the circumstances under which I saw a film part of its review, because really, who gives a shit. But my experience at the critics’ screening of Paper Man colored my interpretation of the film, and, in a small way, both refocused and reconfirmed my approach to how we see films and write about them. I was seated in front of a well-known, “name” critic, though more notable today for his longevity than for anything particularly insightful in his work, which has been largely irrelevant for years now. But out of curiosity, I did some good old-fashioned eavesdropping, and listened as he held court about how terrible all movies are now. This movie stinks, this movie’s horrible, none of them are worth a damn, he doesn’t even want to write about them. As (basically) an amateur hoping to propel into the ranks of the pros, it was profoundly depressing—not just because a job I’d like to have is in the hands of a bitter person who doesn’t like movies anymore, but because he’s been doing it so long that he clearly can’t find anything to like in good pictures, to say nothing of mediocre ones.