Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Memento"

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 May 2001: “Memento” is a gloriously intelligent little wind-up toy of a movie, a film that pulses with the excitement of filmmakers who are getting away with something great, and know it. It has the same kind of giddy fun that “Run Lola Run” and “Pulp Fiction” had—cheerful disregard for the rules, warm embracing of new ideas in form and formula.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In Theaters: "Our Idiot Brother"

Jesse Peretz’s Our Idiot Brother is the kind of movie that may very well play better on a second viewing, once your expectations have been adjusted and you know what they’re going for. It is not, in spite of its broad premise and rather stock characters, a laugh-a-minute comedy; Peretz (and writers David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz) go for a more muted, low-key affair. Then again, a second look might make all the more apparent the film’s central flaw—that those two approaches are fundamentally at odds with each other. It is a good film, due primarily to the skill and pizzazz of its loaded cast. It is not a great film, though, because it doesn’t seem sure of exactly what it wants to be.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Peter Mullan’s NEDS opens in Glasgow, circa 1972; young John McGill (Gregg Forrest) is graduating from primary school, at the top of his class. His mother and sister beam; pictures are taken. The nostalgic good cheer lasts all of about thirty seconds, until John is threatened—in harsh, vivid detail—by an older kid who’ll soon be a classmate. John’s not sure what to do about it, so he goes to find his older brother Benny, a tough dropout. Benny and his buddy show the tough kid what’s what—and then bring him to John’s window.

On DVD: "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"

Morgan Spurlock’s films are less documentaries than filmed gimmicks—clever ideas mounted breezily, but not to be confused with analysis or insight. The results thus far have been mixed: Super Size Me was such an ingeniously gonzo premise that the film’s preachiness and occasional cruelty were mostly overlooked, but the relentlessly self-infatuated and overinflated (though, admittedly, slightly entertaining) Where in the World is Osama bin Laden was panned or ignored by critics and audiences alike, and his segment in the documentary omnibus Freakonomics made Spurlock seem even more of a lightweight when grouped with real documentarians.

His latest film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (excuse me: POM Wonderful presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) takes a hands-on look at product placement and advertising in movies by documenting Spurlock’s attempts to finance the film using the very methods it is examining and exposing. He admits right off the bat that a low-budget documentary doesn’t necessarily promise the same kind of exposure as a summer blockbuster (when asked how many people it will reach, Spurlock cheerily replies, “Dozens!”), so he looks at both ends of the equation, the chicken and the egg: how product placement puts money into a film, and how tie-ins function as advertising afterwards.

Monday, August 22, 2011

New on Blu: "Rounders"

When Rounders was released in September of 1998, star Matt Damon was hot off his breakthrough role in the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting. Miramax, the distributor of both films, did their level best to make Rounders look almost like a sequel to Hunting; the trailer’s centerpiece scene finds brilliant card player Mike McDermott (Damon) blind-reading an entire poker table, a bit that echoed Will Hunting’s dressing-down of a Harvard douchebag in the earlier picture. But Rounders was unable to repeat either that film’s rhapsodic notices or stellar box office, and it sank rather quickly that fall. Come to find out, it was just the victim of lousy timing; within a couple of years, the explosion of recreational Texas Hold-‘Em play (the picture’s primary card game) made the film a belated hit on home video. (Fads are unforgiving to the slow pace of film production; by the time “poker movies” like Lucky You and The Grand hit, the fuss was over.)