Thursday, March 3, 2011

In Theaters: "Rango"

Gore Verbinski’s Rango is an absolute and unexpected charmer of a movie, a clever and sophisticated movie-savvy comedy that happens to be animated. From the strains of the spaghetti Western overture onward (the music is by Hans Zimmer), director Gore Verbinski fills his picture with little winks to the grown-ups in the audience; yes, it may feature Johnny Depp as a cartoon lizard, but its plot is a riff on Chinatown, it builds a key set piece as an homage to Apocalypse Now, and the titular character’s desert adventure is interrupted by a quick encounter with one of Depp’s previous characters—Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Not too many family films feature a cameo appearance by Hunter S. Thompson’s alter ego.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On DVD: "Kings of Pastry"

The blue, red, and white striped collar is worn by French chefs who have been awarded the honor of M.O.F. (Meilleur Ouvrier de France), after a rigorous and complicated competition that is only held once every four years. If the collar is worn by anyone who is not an M.O.F., they can go to jail. So yeah, they take it pretty seriously over there. Kings of Pastry, the new documentary by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, tracks three of the sixteen M.O.F. semi-finalists through the final days of their years-long prep for the competition, and walks with them through the fast-paced, nerve-jangling event.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On DVD: "Two in the Wave"

Emmanuel Laurent’s Two in the Wave begins and ends with the iconic closing images of Turffaut’s The 400 Blows—young Antoine Doinel, running on the shoreline, then stopping to gaze toward the camera, which freezes and pushes in. It’s a powerful moment in that brilliant film, a perfectly-captured illustration of the fear and uncertainty of adolescence’s end. Seen in the framework of this documentary telling of the French Nuevelle Vague movement, it represents parallel moments of uncertainty for its creator, the great Francois Truffaut. Two in the Wave begins with his triumph at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival—a festival he had been banned from a mere year before—where The 400 Blows began this fierce new movement in French film with the force and power of a starter pistol. It ends with the bitter falling-out of Truffaut and his friend and contemporary Jean-Luc Godard, the brilliantly subversive filmmaker whose politics ultimately overtook his filmmaking and drove a wedge between the pair. In between, it tells the story of how the two men, and their fellow French cinephiles, changed the landscape of film the world over.

Monday, February 28, 2011

On DVD: "Burlesque"

The trouble with Burlesque is, it either needed to be a little bit better, or a whole lot worse. The sheer volume of quality performers involved raised hopes that, in spite of its old-as-the-hills premise, it would entertain; when the wretched reviews started trickling in, our expectations recalibrated to longing for a high-camp PG-13 Showgirls. But it’s not terrible enough to cross the “so bad it’s good” demarcation. It’s just kind of long and predictable, and (when people aren’t singing and dancing) pretty dull.