Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Theaters: "Peep World"

Picture this: a rich, dysfunctional family has gathered for a celebration—but it’s going horribly, horribly wrong. Flashback to the hours leading up to said event, where a wry narrator introduces us to the members of the family: the solid and dependable brother, the other, unreliable loser brother, the spoiled brat sister, etc. And then we’re brought back up to the opening event, where the family comes together even as they’re absolutely falling apart.

You got it? Good. Were you imagining the pilot episode of Arrested Development? Because I can’t imagine that’s an accident; Barry W. Blaustein’s new comedy Peep World feels like it was made to fill the vacuum created by the long-promised-but-surely-never-arriving Arrested Development movie. They even go so far as to cast Judy Greer, an AD semi-regular, in one of the major roles.

In Theaters: "Sucker Punch"

It would be all but impossible to review Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch without simply writing a list of all of the film genres and forms it steals from, so why even bother? I marked down silent German Expressionism, women in prison films, Nazi-sploitation, late ‘80s music videos, ‘30s backstage melodramas, kung fu movies (and the television show of the same name), WWII “gang on a mission” flicks, medieval epics, science fiction, and video games. I probably missed a few. What is remarkable about the film is how thoroughly it replicates the imagery and iconography of those genres without capturing the excitement or energy of any of them. Watching Sucker Punch is like channel-surfing when there’s nothing on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New on Blu: "The Times of Harvey Milk"

The key to understanding The Times of Harvey Milk is right there in the title: Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen’s documentary isn’t just about Milk, the first openly gay male politician in California. It is about his times—the world he was a part of, the world he left behind, and now, more than a quarter century after its release, the world that this acclaimed documentary about him was released into. It is more than a profile. It is a time capsule.

On DVD: "How Do You Know"

Let us consider the strange fate of James L. Brooks, the multiple Academy Award-winning writer/director of Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets, once considered one of our most respected filmmakers, now known as the man who takes a very long time to deliver films of steadily-decreasing critical and box office returns. His latest film, How Do You Know (no need for the question mark, apparently) was six years in the making; its predecessor, Spanglish, took seven. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who considers Brooks a filmmaker in his prime, or one whose pictures are benefiting from their lengthy gestation periods.

That said, the scathing critical notices for How Do You Know seem to have less to do with what is on the screen than what is not—the picture arrived under a cloud of bad publicity, not just due to Brooks’s slow-motion production style, but its massive $120 million budget. Suffice it to say, it does not look like a $120 million picture ($50 mill of that was solely salaries for Brooks and the four key cast members), or the result of six years’ labor. It is not a great film. But it is also not a terrible one, and many of its failures are, in their own way, rather honorable.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On DVD: "Yogi Bear"

Let’s begin with a public service announcement: If you watch the new big-screen incarnation of Yogi Bear, you will, at one point, see the titular character shake his big, CG-animate bear ass to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I implore you: do not subject yourself to this. It’s kind of like The Human Centipede; once you’ve seen it, you cannot un-see it.

On DVD: "Meskada"

There’s a delicate line between making a film about lifeless small towns, and making a lifeless film. Josh Sternfeld’s Meskada, for all of its good intentions and craftsmanship, can’t stay on the right side of that line. It is about the plain-spoken folks in small towns (it was shot in upstate New York), and writer/director Sternfeld takes great pains to capture the low-key interactions and deliberate rhythms of their lives. But for much of the picture, he forgets to provide a pulse.