Friday, July 22, 2011

In Theaters: "Autoerotic"

I like Joe Swanberg’s movies. To be sure, I haven’t seen all of them—the guy is unbelievably prolific—but over the last few months, both his recent Uncle Kent and the earlier Hannah Takes the Stairs made their way into my field of vision, and while they’re very different films, both give the impression that Swanberg is one of the precious few filmmakers today who deals with sexuality properly; which is to say, he takes it seriously, but doesn’t make a big deal out of it. Much of his work hinges on sex, but both the nudity (male and female) and couplings within his narratives are seen with a casualness that is downright refreshing. He assumes we’re all grown-ups, and treats us as such.

Which is why his new film, Autoerotic, is such a disappointment; given the opportunity to craft a film specifically about adult sexuality, Swanberg and co-writer/co-director Adam Wingard have created a half-cocked (if you’ll pardon the pun) series of dirty jokes and who-cares scenarios. The opening image—a close-up of an iPhone as a couple engages in spanking and foreplay—promises a heady brew of topics (voyeurism, intimacy, exhibitionism, technology), but it’s the most provocative thing in the movie; they basically shoot their wad before the opening credits (okay, I’ll put a stop to these, promise).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In Theaters: "Friends with Benefits"

Well, the “fuck buddies” comedy sweepstakes has come to close, with less of a clear winner and more of a draw. First came January’s No Strings Attached, Ivan Reitman’s fitfully amusing but formulaic and inexplicably overlong entry, featuring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman; now we have Portman’s Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis paired with Justin Timberlake for Friends with Benefits. This one is helmed by Will Gluck, the clever filmmaker behind last summer’s sleeper hit Easy A, a witty and knowing deconstruction of teen movie clich├ęs and literary allusions, anchored by a star-making performance by Emma Stone. Gluck’s involvement (and a supporting turn by Stone) made one hope that lightning would strike twice. Alas, Friends is only marginally better than Strings; it’s a glossy, empty after-dinner mint of a movie, endlessly predictable and surprisingly short on real laughs. And Emma Stone is only in one scene—the first.

In Theaters: "Captain America: The First Avenger"

This, friends, is what I’m talking about. Captain America: The First Avenger is a work of pure pop bubblegum pleasure—a rousing, thrilling, and thoroughly satisfying summer blockbuster that puts most of its multiplex-mates to shame. The filmmakers responsible—director Joe Johnston, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, producers Kevin Feige and Amir Madani—understand that “popcorn movie” doesn’t have to be a term synonymous with brain damage; they get that they can offer up a good time without openly insulting a moviegoer’s intelligence. The result is an absolute treat.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On DVD: "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.

On DVD: "Zonad"

The parody movie has become so corrupted by the evils of various Wayanses and their demon spawn, Friedberg and Seltzer, that I think most of us had basically given up on the form; we’d always have our fond memories of Mel Brooks, Monty Python, Carl Reiner, and Zucker-Abrams-Zucker, but Hollywood doesn’t aim that high any more. Imagine my surprise to find that a couple of Irishmen went off and made the best spoof comedy in a good twenty years. Zonad isn’t exactly a parody of anything in particular—it opens with the heroic music and deep-voiced intro of a superhero movie (“Earth… center of the known universe”), and its protagonist dresses the part. But the film is more of a sci-fi comedy, with broad jabs at provincial life thrown in. The target doesn’t really matter anyway; what Zonad captures is the free-wheeling spirit of those Brooks and Z-A-Z movies, where anything goes, and no laugh was too cheap to lunge for.

Monday, July 18, 2011

On DVD: "Skidoo"

The opening line of Otto Preminger’s 1968 film Skidoo is “Harry, no, I don’t wanna see that!”—a response that greeted the film upon its initial release, and frequently since. One of the most notorious boondoggles of the late 1960s—a period in which the Hollywood studios weren’t exactly creating their most enduring works—Skidoo was an all-star disaster, so poorly received and legendary in its badness that this 2011 DVD is its first official home video release. Cult movie (and bad movie) aficionados had to make do with its occasional airings on pay cable; it was most recently sighted as part of TCM’s late-night “underground” series.

So, after all this time, how is the movie? I’m not gonna lie to you: it’s pretty rotten. But it’s not boring—like Myra Breckenridge or Southland Tales, Skidoo is so spectacularly ill-conceived and so far removed from anything resembling either art or reality that it is perversely, yet undeniably, entertaining.