Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Home Movies"

Welcome to "Saturday Night at the Movies," a weekly feature in which I recommend an older title that you can go watch, right this very minute (provided you have Netflix Instant).

From December 2008: I’m not sure how I managed to end up so late to the party on Home Movies. Fast-paced, funny, and inventive, this cartoon comedy was the follow-up project for many of the talents involved in the great Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist; producer/director/co-creator Loren Bouchard was heavily involved in Katz, as was executive producer Tom Snyder (no, not that Tom Snyder), and most of the voice talents of that show pop up over the course of the show’s four season run (many of them more than once).

I was a Dr. Katz fanatic—though apparently not enough of a fanatic to know that there was this whole other series that most of the parties involved had moved on to. At any rate, in reviewing the new Home Movies: 10th Anniversary Set, I consumed the series’ entire 52-episode output in two days, which allowed the unique opportunity to watch an entertaining show search for—and ultimately find—its own unique, distinctive voice.

Friday, July 29, 2011

In Theaters: "The Guard"

Throughout John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, you can’t help but think of In Bruges; it’s not just the Irish settings and the big, open face of star Brendan Gleeson, but the snappy dialogue, quick and dirty, which moves at such speed that the filmmaker takes it on good faith that audiences will keep up. The resemblance is not just superficial, it is fraternal—In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh is this filmmaker’s brother. They put something in the water in that house.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Theaters: "The Interrupters"

Sticks and stones may break your bones, the saying goes, but as Ameena Matthews says, “Words’ll get you killed.” Ameena works as a “Violence Interrupter” for CeaseFire, a Chicago-based organization that sees violence as an infectious disease—“We’ve been taught violence,” notes the organization’s director, Tio Hardmian. “Violence in a learned behavior.” The group considers Chicago (specifically the Inglewood area) a “war zone,” and knows that it cannot fix that, by itself, on a macro level. But on a micro level, in one-on-one interactions, by being present at moments when negative, life-altering decisions are made, they can make some kind of a difference.

In Theaters: "The Future"

People do not respond mildly to the work of Miranda July. Some find her a remarkable and unique voice; others find her films intolerable, overly mannered and self-conscious. I suspect that part of the reason that she evokes such fierce reactions is that people aren’t quite sure what to make of her—her films (The Future is the long-awaited follow-up to her breakthrough picture, Me and You and Everyone We Know) are so unlike anything we’ve seen before that we don’t have a pre-conditioned response to them to call up. In seeing other movies, we respond fairly quickly to elements we recognize and like (or dislike), and that sets the table for the rest of our experience—which may or may not upset those expectations, but they at least provide a starting point. July’s films defy categorization. We don’t know what the hell they are. On the film’s IMDb page, the recommendations (“if you enjoy this title, our database also recommends”) are: The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the Robert Redford/Jennifer Lopez vehicle An Unfinished Life, the Meryl Streep romantic comedy Prime, the LGBT Muslim documentary A Jihad for Love, and the Ben Kingsley made-for-TV biblical drama Joseph. That’s random even for IMDb recommendations. They can’t figure out what box to put her in either.

In Theaters: "Attack the Block"

It’s not fair to judge a film by its hype, but it happens anyway, and when Attack the Block played at this year’s SXSW festival, the Twitter sirens were absolutely deafening. The film’s ads push its luck even further, proudly flaunting its “from the producers of Shaun of the Dead” pedigree—that picture pretty much the gold standard these days in action/horror/comedy. So there’s a lot for Joe Cornish’s feature directorial debut to live up to, and it doesn’t quite measure up. It is, however, a pretty damn good time.

In Theaters: "Crazy, Stupid, Love."

The trouble with Crazy, Stupid, Love.—which is a thoroughly engaging picture that will probably prove quite popular—is that it’s about the wrong couple. The narrative is primarily concerned with Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore), who have been married for 25 years and are getting a divorce. But it also, secondarily, the story of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), the ladies’ man who takes Cal under his wing (“I’m gonna help you rediscover your manhood”), and Hannah (Emma Stone), the sexy, funny law student who changes him up.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New on Blu: "National Lampoon's Animal House"

“Faber College, 1962” reads the opening caption of National Lampoon’s Animal House, which begins with solemn opening credits and a proper, dignified score. Freshmen Larry Kroger (Tom Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) are looking for a fraternity to pledge; they go to the mixer at Omega house, but the big-haired blondes and stiff-jawed jocks are somewhat less than welcoming. They leave, and Kent suggests they stop in at Delta House. Larry protests: “I hear Delta’s the worst house on campus!”

It is. From the moment they arrive at the house, greeted by a half-mannequin crashing through the window and the strains of “Louie Louie” wafting out from within, the gears have shifted on Animal House, which moves quickly from polite collegiate comedy to a broad, rude, vulgar slice of post-Marx cinematic anarchy. Nowadays, home video writers approaching the picture anew wonder what all of the fuss is about; the Internet is awash with “it’s not really all that funny” reviews, few of them ill-intentioned. But Animal House is still funny in the same way that Halloween is still scary—with the implicit understanding that it set a template, and that it was imitated and replicated with such frequency that its value, within its original context, is somewhat difficult to fully comprehend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On DVD: "Life During Wartime"


What happens when a filmmaker runs out of ideas? Todd Solondz’s new film Life During Wartime is the story of three very different sisters. Helen (Ally Sheedy) is wildly successful but miserable. Joy (Shirley Henderson) is a plain-jane granola type, overly emotional and unhappy. Trish (Allison Janney) is a cheerful mother who didn’t realize the father of her children (Ciran Hinds) was a pedophile. Sound familiar? Back in 1998, Solondz made a well-regarded (and almost-brilliant) film called Happiness, with Lara Flynn Boyle as Helen, Cynthia Stevenson as Trish, and Jane Adams as Joy. But if you walk into Life During Wartime cold (as I did), you think he’s just being cute; in the first scene (a date gone bad that parallels Happiness’s opener), Joy’s husband (Michael K. Williams from The Wire) is revealed to be a deviant because he… makes obscene phone calls. So did Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Happiness. Ha ha, inside joke. Then the film continues, and we realize it’s not a joke—twelve years later, he’s done a Happiness sequel with different actors and better lighting.