Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Theaters: "Undefeated"

Coach Bill Courtney disputes the notion, commonly distributed by his fellow high school football coaches, that football builds character. “Football reveals character,” he insists. He would know; for years before he took over as coach at Manassas High in North Memphis, Tennessee, the team would go entire seasons without a victory; they had never won a playoff game. The team had been infected by the malaise that had overtaken the town, once the booming home of a Firestone plant, now just another abandoned industrial center. But Courtney knew the materials were there for a championship team. Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin’s extraordinary documentary Undefeated follows them through what looks like a championship season, resulting in something akin to a non-fiction Friday Night Lights—both in terms of subject matter and emotional weight.

In Theaters: "Bullhead"

The trailers for Bullhead, Flemish writer/director Michael R. Roskam’s debut feature (and a nominee for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars), place its thriller angle center stage—it dwells in the murky “hormone mafia underworld” (direct quote), in which livestock are illegally juiced by farmers and meat magnates to get bigger, faster. But Roskam is pulling a bit of a fast one; the crime stuff is almost entirely window dressing for the odd and personal story at the core of the picture.

In Theaters: "Thin Ice"

If we’re going to talk about Jill Sprecher’s Thin Ice, we’re going to have to talk about its ending, though we’ll wait to do so until the end of this review (and then only in veiled terms). Until then, let the record show that this is a fast, scrappy black comedy/thriller in the Fargo mode—c’mon, they even made it snowy and Midwestern. Accepted on its own specific terms (as a skillful riff on an oft-told tale), it works.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Theaters: "Michael"

Markus Schleinzer’s Michael begins with its title character, a small, unassuming man (Michael Fuith), driving his small, unassuming car into the garage of his small, unassuming house. He goes inside, seemingly returning from a run to the grocery store, but when he goes to his basement, we notice that the door is locked—and the inside is soundproofed. That’s odd. He then prepares dinner, putting out two place settings, and goes back down to the basement. He unbolts the thick metal bar that blocks the door, opening it to reveal a pitch black room behind. “Come on,” he says quietly. Schleinzer holds on that darkness for a good, long while. And then the grave-faced little boy saunters out.

This is Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger). He is ten. He and Michael eat dinner, the thick silence broken only by his request to watch television, which Michael allows before sending Wolfgang down to bed. Michael trudges down later, and closes the door behind him.

Monday, February 13, 2012

On DVD: "Woody Allen: A Documentary"

When word first got out that Robert B. Weide was working on an extended documentary portrait of Woody Allen, those familiar with his work couldn’t help but grin and all but rub their hands in anticipation. Though best known as a frequent director of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Weide’s first screen credits were for co-writing the wonderful (and inexplicably hard-to-find) Joe Adamson documentaries The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell and W.C. Fields: Straight Up; he’d also helmed the Oscar-nominated Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth. This, clearly, is a guy who could get to the heart of Allen’s comic genius.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

This Week in Links

From the Maddow Blog:
Parsing the President's Spotify Playlist

Until now, the music-streaming service Spotify served two primary purposes: providing a cheap and easy way to find and sample songs you would never actually buy, and allowing a peek into the terrible musical tastes of your Facebook friends. (Seriously, you guys, lay off the Hall and Oates.) And now we have a third: to get a look at what our president is listening to these days. Or, more likely, what he’d like you to think he’s listening to.

From The Atlantic:
Know Your Evil Movie Cops

Rampart, Owen Moverman’s tough urban drama featuring Woody Harrelson as a somewhat less than principled L.A. police officer, goes into limited release tomorrow (following a brief Oscar-qualification run in December), and while the movie itself is pretty good, we must take some exception to its bold poster and trailer tag line: “The most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen.” Well, that is a might tall claim. After the jump, we’ll run down ten previous movie cops who could give Harrelson’s Dave Brown a run for his money.

From Flavorwire:
Close-Reading the Clint Eastwood Super Bowl Ad

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, we witnessed the usual chatter and previews of the high-dollar car ads for the big game: a Ferris Bueller-channeling Matthew Broderick for Honda, the return of Volkswagen’s Darth Vader kid, Audi’s teen vampire killer, etc. But the game’s most memorable—and thought-provoking—ad came at halftime, as an American movie icon fronted a Chrysler spot that was part car commercial, part pro-Detroit PR clip, and part political campaign ad. We’ll take a closer look at what it says (and doesn’t say) after the jump.

Video Essay: “Being Denzel Washington”

Two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington teams with one-time Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds in this week’s Safe House, the latest of his midrange action movies. His recent output has been so heavy on popcorn flicks like Unstoppable and The Book of Eli that it’s easy to forget his wide range and occasional risky projects, so we decided to make Mr. Washington the subject of a video essay, spotlighting some of his more interesting (and less widely-acclaimed) films and performances. Watch it after the jump.

The Best Made-For-TV Movies of All Time

Folded in among today’s DVD releases, presumably overlooked amid your Twilight sequels and Harold and Kumar 3D yuletides and “Shakespeare didn’t write his plays!” screeds, is one of 2011’s best films: The Sunset Limited, written by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Tommy Lee Jones, starring Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. Wait, you might be thinking. (You might be!) What a fine pedigree! What an excellent cast! I would have gone to see that! Did it not play at my local art house or multiplex? No, hypothetical reader, it did not. It was made for HBO, and since Sunset Limited, based on McCarthy’s play, is primarily a two-handed conversation piece about race, class, mortality, and despair, it’s probably not surprising that it found a home on a pay cable network rather than at a Hollywood studio. But this is nothing new; dialogue and intellect-driven efforts like this migrated to television long ago, as studios lost interest in telling small stories.

Trailer Park: Of Spies and Spider-Men

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. We’ve got eight new trailers for your Friday viewing enjoyment; check ‘em all out after the jump.