Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies: "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 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.

Their story is told in The Interrupters by Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams and several other masterful documentaries; he focuses primarily on three "interrupters": Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra. Each have a unique tale to tell, of a life that began on the wrong side of the law before they chose to use their street smarts to do right by their neighborhoods. James and his crew follow them during a period in which Chicago became the flashpoint for the issue of youth violence, following the harrowing death of Derrion Albert, a Chicago high school student whose brutal murder in a street fight was captured on a cell phone video. Eric Holder and Arne Duncan visited. Pronouncements were made. But nothing changed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In Theaters: "Project X"

If I were 14 years old, I’d think Project X was the greatest movie I’d ever seen. At 36, let’s just say I have some reservations. The film’s biggest problem—indeed, the one that will prove a deal-breaker for most viewers of reasonable maturity and intelligence—is that the entire endeavor is based upon audiences finding utterly irresistible a character only marginally less detestable than Patrick Bateman. Get past him, though, and the by-the-numbers first act, and it must be said: the manic energy of the picture’s central event is infectious. There is fun to be had here, but as with a good party, you won’t feel very good about yourself in the morning.

In Theaters: "Last Days Here"

Bobby Liebling, the heavy metal almost-star at the center of Don Argott and Demian Fenton’s documentary Last Days Here, cuts a tragic figure right away, in the picture’s opening moments. Going through a bag of vintage paisley shirts and tight pants that he’s never worn (“I was saving them for when I got big”), he is clearly out of his mind on drugs—not just high at that moment (though he certainly is), but burned out from decades of use. Later in the film, he confirms as much, clicking off the stats without hesitation or figuring: he’s been doing drugs for 44 years, heroin for 39, crack for 22. Bobby Liebling, by anyone’s medical standards, should be dead.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In Theaters: "This is Not a Film"

It seems silly to note that not much happens in a picture with a title like This is Not a Film, but there you have it. To clarify: not much happens on-screen. The documentary’s actual content, what it is about, reaches beyond the small scope of the action contained in its 75 minutes. The trouble is, those two threads—what it is about, and how it is about it—are not intertwined firmly enough to fully sustain our interest, even for its slender running time. It is more successful at conveying what it wants to do than it is at actually accomplishing it; it is a film that I admire, but am not enthusiastic about.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On DVD: "I Melt With You"

In the opening sequence of Mark Pellington's nihilistic drama I Melt With You, the screen is filled with phrases of despair, in big block letters: "I AM A MAN", "I AM AFRAID," "I AM DIVORCED," "I CAN'T GET HARD," "I LOVE YOU," and so on, and so on, until the title is rendered in similar fashion. Subtle, eh? What follows is a movie not so much bad (and certainly not as bad as its Sundance buzz would suggest) as it is overcooked. There is boldness in its ambition, and truth in its implications, but it's all slathered in a thick coat of shouting and preening.

New on Blu: "Vanya on 42nd Street"

The actors assemble, one by one and in pairs, wandering through a pre-Giuliani Times Square, to the old Amsterdam Theatre on "the Deuce." Director André Gregory chats with his old co-star (and dinner companion) Wallace Shawn; an associate has asked to sit in at the rehearsal they're heading up to. "You've come on a great day," he tells her, "because we're going to be running through the entire play." They straggle in to the abandoned theatre, its stage eaten away by the years, the original seats all gone, yet the beauty of the venue still present even in its current, dilapidated state. The actors engage in pre-rehearsal chit-chat; their health, the other shows they're doing, so on. But it takes a cutaway to the "audience" of Gregory and the day's visitors to realize that the "show" has begun--the play begins before we realize it, since the actors are in their street clothes, and are performing Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya in a conversational, naturalistic style.

Monday, February 27, 2012

On DVD: "Hugo"

When we first started hearing about Martin Scorsese's latest film, Hugo, there was cause for concern. It sounded, frankly, like a bit of a sell-out--one of our most intelligent and adult-minded filmmakers doing the cash-grab of a big budget, big studio 3D movie aimed squarely at the family audience. But the film itself cast those concerns decisively aside--not only did Scorsese create the delightfully accessible family 3D movie he'd been hired to make, but he also, simultaneously, created an intensely personal work that shines with its creator's passions and distinctive personality. Neat trick, that.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Your Sunday Links

From 89.3 KPCC:
Interview for "The Patt Morrison Show"
This Los Angeles NPR station had me on to talk about the "insane, illogical Oscar choices" piece that ran last week on Flavorwire and The Atlantic. Listen to me babble here.

From The Atlantic:
10 Biopics That Actually Worked, and Why

Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic J. Edgar is out on DVD today, following a fall theatrical run notable mostly for its lack of awards consideration; the film, and particularly Leonardo DiCaprio’s leading role in it, had been the object of much presumptive Oscar buzz (hitting, as it does, multiple circles in the Oscar Venn diagram: slightly villainous, based on a real person, wide range of aging, secretly gay). But the film underwhelmed, for one very simple reason: we’re just getting tired of biopics. The biographical film portrait has been a venerable institution since the early days of cinema; Georges Méliès made a Joan of Arc biopic clear back in 1900. And while there have been scores of great ones, the tropes of the form (the birth-to-death chronology, the trials and triumphs, the romantic struggles, etc.) are so firmly established that the only biographical films that really make an impression any more, it seems, are those that buck the trends and experiment, or at least futz with the form a bit. After the jump, we’ll take a look at ten great biopics that made an impression, and float some theories as to why.

From Flavorwire:
Video Essay: “How to Pull the Perfect Movie Heist”

Tower Heist, Brett Ratner’s late-fall heist picture, is out this week on DVD, so our latest video essay takes a look at this durable genre via a step-by-step examination of how to put a big heist together — according to the movies, anyway. We grabbed pieces from over two dozen heist movies, from here and abroad, from the 1950s to the present, and put them together to show, in seven easy steps, how to pull that one big score. (Bonus points if it’s your last big one before retiring somewhere warm.)

We’ll show you how it’s done with the help of some of our favorite directors, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Michael Mann, John Frankenheimer, Bryan Singer, John Huston, David Mamet, Peter Yates, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jules Dassin, Sidney Lumet, John McTiernan, Jim Henson, and Frank Oz. And check out our all-star cast: Robert DeNiro, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Edward Norton, Julia Roberts, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Keitel, Val Kilmer, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Steve Buscemi, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Spacey, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Liotta, Danny DeVito, Michael Madsen, Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Sizemore, Vincent Cassel, Owen Wilson, Joe Pesci, Luke Wilson, Sean Connery, Guy Pearce, George Segal, Sam Rockwell, Delroy Lindo, Seth Green, Sterling Hayden, Chris Penn, Mos Def, Lawrence Tierney, Jason Statham, Jean Reno, the Muppets, and many, many more. Find out “How to Pull the Perfect Movie Heist” after the jump.

Flavorpill’s Official Oscar Picks and Predictions

It’s rare to read a genuinely thoughtful and nuanced analysis of our collective love/hate relationship with the Academy Awards, since so much of what is written about the Oscars is basically carping and naysaying (guilty as charged). “Oscar cynicism has become its own special form of Oscar hype,” wrote A.O. Scott, in last Sunday’s New York Times, “and I wonder sometimes if the whole thing — the nominating process, the heavily publicized tweaks in the rules, the dreary broadcast and the endless drudgery of the “season” — is exasperating on purpose. The louder we criticize, the more we must care.”

How to Prioritize Your Oscar Week Movie-Cramming

The Oscars are six days away, and you know what that means: only one more week to see every major nominee, in order to appropriately cheer, jeer, and second-guess on Sunday night. But time has flown in these early months of 2012—we got distracted by the Super Bowl, and then we suddenly had to watch Knicks games, and now, here it is Oscar time. How on earth are you supposed to get through all of the major nominees? It’s easy to go into a tailspin—what do you see? What can wait? What should you avoid, now and forever? Have no fear. Your Flavorwire is offering, as a public service, a priority ranking of the nominees for the major awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress), so you can sift through the 18 nominees and see what time will permit you to see. Let’s be clear: this list is only tangentially related to the actual quality of the films at hand (since, as we’ve discussed, the Oscars often don’t reflect that quaint notion). And it’s not a prediction list per se (that will come later in the week). But it is a guide to working your way through the stuff that’s probably going to matter come Sunday. Sift through with us after the jump.

This Week in Trailers: ‘American Reunion,’ Pixar’s ‘Brave,’ and More

Every Friday here at Flavorwire, we like to gather up the week’s new movie trailers, give them a look-see, and rank them from worst to best—while taking a guess or two at what they might tell us (or hide from us) about the movies they’re promoting. We've got ten new trailers for you this week, including the American Pie sequel (yes, another one) American Reunion, the end-of-the-world thriller 4:44 Last Day on Earth, a new indie featuring (and produced by) Nick Offerman, and the latest effort from the fine folks at Pixar. Check 'em all out after the jump, and share your thoughts in the comments.