Friday, March 11, 2011

New on Blu: "Rain Man"

Charlie Babbitt is a hustler, plain and simple. It’s not spelled out, the way it would be in a lazy movie; we put it together ourselves, in flashes of temper and quiet moments observed. He’s a shady businessman, involved in some sort of complicated scheme to import sports cars that aren’t quite up to EPA standards. His relationship with his girlfriend (Valeria Golino) is strained and distant. He’s estranged from his father, and has been for a long time; when he gets the call that the old man has dies, he registers no emotion whatsoever. “Sorry about the weekend,” he tells his girlfriend, as he turns the car around.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Theaters: "Monogamy"

The transition from documentary to narrative filmmaking can be difficult (just ask Errol Morris or Michael Moore), but Murderball director Dana Adam Shapiro makes the leap effortlessly in his new film Monogamy. In fact, the film seems richer for his non-fiction experience; he adopts an observant, off-the-cuff shooting style that is reflected in the low-key performances and the smart screenplay, which refuses to turn itself over to the histrionics and maudlin melodrama that a lesser director would have amped up. In its own quiet way, it’s a marvelous picture.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On DVD: "Love and Other Drugs"

There’s nothing wrong with Edward Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs that couldn’t be fixed by a top-to-bottom rethinking of the entire romantic comedy genre. Everything in it that fails is the result of decades of formula creation: the catch-and-release relationship pattern, the endless music montages, the zany sidekick. Everything in it that it is interesting—its darkness, its sexuality, its honest-to-goodness complexity—seems ported in from another, far more compelling picture. Oh that they could’ve abandoned the cutesy shit and made that movie instead.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New on Blu: "Thelma and Louise"

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, and it’s something of a bittersweet milestone, inasmuch as it serves as a reminder that what was unique then remains unique today. Callie Khouri’s screenplay was a bit of a big deal because a) it centered on two women, and b) both of them were complex, complicated characters. You didn’t see that a lot in 1991. Trouble is, in 2011, you still don’t see it. Back then, it took a male director (and one with a bit of clout) to get this picture made at a major studio. Would it be any easier for him today? Could it even happen?

On DVD: "Every Day"

Every Day
marks the feature film debut of writer/director Richard Levine, best known previously as a writer, director, and producer for the TV show Nip/Tuck. His main character, Ned (Liev Schreiber) is a writer for a provocative television series called “Mercy Medical’; several scenes of the film take place in the writer’s room for that series, where his boss Garrett (Eddie Izzard) reprimands Ned for not making his scripts edgy enough. He demands that each episode have at least five “shocking moments”—you know, like anal or bestiality or incest. This is not the most thickly-veiled autobiography I’ve seen. But there’s more happening here than a game of connect-the-dots; Every Day, while enjoyable, feels very much like the work of a writer/director best known for slick, well-made television.

Monday, March 7, 2011

On DVD: "A Film Unfinished"

The film was found in a concrete vault, hidden in a forest in East Berlin. The cans were labeled Das Ghetto. The propaganda film inside them, shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in the spring of 1942, was never completed—until now. Israeli filmmaker Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished is part historical document, part cinematic mystery; he shows the film in its entirety (or close to it), and meticulously reconstructs the circumstances surrounding the shoot, from diaries, reports, and eyewitness accounts. It is a fascinating, difficult, essential film—both as a Holocaust documentary, and as an examination of the very nature of propaganda.

In Theaters: "Red State"

“This isn’t funny any more!” one of the boys yells, over and over again, about twenty minutes into Kevin Smith’s Red State. “This isn’t funny any more!” He’s talking about the events on screen, of course, which have seen a rather depressing online sex rendezvous turn into a drugged kidnapping. But it’s also a none-too-subtle nod to the filmmaker, a specialist of slacker comedy who has taken an unexpected and surprisingly effective turn towards darker and more sinister subject matter.