Saturday, April 2, 2011

On DVD: "Tangled"

Tangled is the 50th feature-length Disney animated picture, and it wobbles uncertainly on a precipice separating their past and their future. It has the sleek sheen of the computer-generated animation that has made their subsidiary Pixar the gold standard in movie animation; with a couple of exceptions, the look of the film is tremendous. But it attempts to wed this new, modern technique with a decidedly old-fashioned Disney storytelling style, and the mixture doesn’t take. In their attempt to revitalize an aging brand, they’ve gone and updated the wrong stuff.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Check This Out: David Lynch's Original "Twin Peaks" Map

You Gen-Yers, with your Mad Men and your Lost—you don’t know what it is to obsess over the minutiae of a weekly television drama! Why, back in my day, we didn’t have Hulu and DVRs; we had to watch the damn show when it was on! With commercials! And then we had to figure out for ourselves what the hell it meant! We didn’t have blogs and AV Club recaps and think pieces in Salon! We’d have to—think about it! And talk to each other. Maybe on the party line! Kids today… (And thus concludes this week’s installment of Grumpy Old Pop Culture Man.)

Back in the spring and summer of 1990, America’s television obsession was Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s thoroughly bizarre serialized murder mystery/soap opera set in the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington. Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost sold the series to ABC during the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, but (presumably due to that strike) they did not present a script or even a written proposal. Instead, they sold it on Lynch’s name recognition (he had released his critically acclaimed art house hit Blue Velvet two years before) and the show’s concept, which was helpfully illustrated by a map of the town and surrounding area. That map, originally published in the now out-of-print book Pictoral Maps, has just recently reappeared and started making the rounds among Lynch’s many adoring blogger fans. So grab a cup of coffee, slice up some cherry pie, and check it out after the jump.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

In Theaters: "Insidious"

James Wan’s Insidious opens with a sequence so patently ridiculous, so preposterously over-the-top, that it feels like parody—like something out of an early DePalma picture. It closes with a cheap, dopey, no-good ending that will absolutely infuriate any viewer with a triple-digit IQ. In between those two low points, the film crests and dips, veering wildly from irritating sidebars to genuine, honest-to-goodness scares. It’s an almost comically uneven picture. But when it sticks to the business of being creepy, it does so with a ruthless efficiency; at its best, it’s a mean, nasty little thrill-delivery system.

In Theaters: "Super"

James Gunn’s Super is a singularly unique movie-going experience—wildly, yet entertainingly, uneven, it skids and crashes all over the goddamn place. It’s such a weird hybrid, this movie, an equal but odd mix of parody, gore, and honest-to-God pathos. The story is yet another in the “loser with no powers becomes an inept superhero” subgenre, yet it works in ways that predecessors like Kick-Ass and Defendor did not. Why? Who knows. It adopts much of the same style—mixing broad parody with real violence—but somehow, subtly, takes itself just seriously enough. We’ve seen much of this stuff before. But not quite like this.

In Theaters: "Queen to Play"

Poor Hélène (Sandrienne Bonnaire) is perpetually overlooked, overworked, and undersexed. She works as a maid at a fancy hotel on the French Riviera; she cleans houses some afternoons for extra money. Her husband is a hard-working painter, while their teenage daughter is embarrassed by their lower-class status. One day, while cleaning a room, she catches a glimpse of a couple on their balcony. They’re beautiful and classy and very much in love, and they’re playing chess. Hélène sizes this up and decides that she’d like that please, and so she starts playing chess. The other stuff comes later.

Caroline Bottaro’s Queen to Play is a charmingly low-key seriocomic drama from France; its primary selling point here in the States is that it features Kevin Kline in, surprisingly enough, a French-speaking role. His character, Dr. Kröger, is one of those cranky, bleary-eyed professorial types that he’s played so well over the last few years. Hélène cleans Kröger’s house, and she discovers his chess set on a shelf and asks him if he’ll teach her how to play. “Why does this game mean so much to you?” he asks. “I don’t know,” she replies, convincingly, but something in the way she says it captures him, and he begins to teach her the game.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On DVD: "Flipped"

It’s no secret that Rob Reiner isn’t exactly doing his best work these days, having gone from an astonishing 1980s and 1990s hot streak (from This is Spinal Tap to A Few Good Men) to the likes of The Story of Us, Alex & Emma, Rumor Has It…, and The Bucket List. So one can’t blame him for hoping to recreate a past success, though the lengths to which he attempts to remake his smash Stand By Me in his latest picture, Flipped, are a little embarrassing. Reiner (who co-wrote the screenplay, adapted from Wendelin Van Draanen’s young adult novel) slaps on the soft filters and cranks up the wall-to-wall oldies soundtrack, doing his best to make not like it’s the early 1960s of the story, but the 1986 of his beloved earlier effort. To his credit, it almost works, though the thinness of both the story and his execution ultimately sinks his efforts.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On DVD: "Treme: The Complete First Season"

Following up the most critically acclaimed television series in recent history can’t be an easy task, so the viewer (and the writer) approaches Treme, David Simon’s first television series since The Wire (not counting the mini-series Generation Kill) with a mix of hope, fear, and patience. As countless writers have said before (and at far greater length), The Wire was a singularly unique television experience, a dense and complex ground-level look at street crime from every possible perspective. Simon’s wisest move in assembling his next series was to pursue both a different genre and a different style; any attempt at a multi-layered crime drama would certainly provoke comparisons to The Wire, and at this point in that show’s vaunted trajectory, that’s just asking for trouble. Instead, with Treme, we have a series that takes its predecessor’s strengths—strong writing, brilliant ensemble cast work, and a sure sense of time and place—and meshes them with a more relaxed sense of storytelling and an Altmanesque approach to characterization and connectivity. The results are breathtaking. Lightning has struck twice.

On DVD: "Fair Game"

Doug Liman’s Fair Game has the crisp intelligence of the great ‘70s conspiracy thrillers like 3 Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, with one key difference: it’s all true. Taken from the books by its subjects, Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson, it recreates how the latter’s New York Times op-ed critical of the Bush administration’s justification for war in Iraq led to the administration leaking the identity of his wife, a covert CIA operative.

On DVD: "All Good Things"

Andrew Jarecki’s All Good Things arrived in theaters last year with the bad buzz of a so-called “troubled production”; it was shot back in 2008 and initially intended for a fall 2009 release before hitting the fabled Weinsten shelves, where it languished for a year or so before director Jarecki bought back the domestic distribution rights and cut a deal with Magnolia Pictures. Considering some of the pap that the Weinstein Company foisted on us in that year, the fact that they didn’t think All Good Things was worth releasing would seem, for most, a telling indication of the quality of the picture. Instead, it’s a reminder of the continuing decline in judgment at the Weinstein Company, since the film they sat on for a year is, come to find out, outstanding.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On DVD: "Black Swan"

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a taut, harrowing thriller that unfolds with palpable tension and nightmarish logic. It’s an odd hybrid of backstage melodrama and psychological horror, anchored by two splendid supporting performances and Natalie Portman’s best work to date. Aronofsky has never been our subtlest filmmaker, and his operatic tendencies occasionally get the best of him here. But generally speaking, the picture is scary, sexy, and terrific—a freaky mindfuck of the first order.