Friday, July 13, 2012

In Theaters: "Grassroots"

Grassroots is a sneakily engaging shaggy-dog of a movie, a wonky political procedural in odd-couple comedy’s clothing with an affection for its characters that’s rather infectious. Director Stephen Gyllenhaal (yes, of those Gyllenhaals—he’s their dad) adapts Phil Campbell’s book—the picture opens with the irresistible disclaimer “Most of this is true”—about how he ran an honest-to-God grassroots campaign, in which a Seattle loose cannon named Grant Cosgswell mounted a basically single-issue challenge to a longtime City Council member. The issue was mass transit, but as Cogswell says, “Mass transit is social justice.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Theaters: "Red Lights"

Two years back, the Spanish director Rodrigo Cort├ęs directed Buried, a taut, tense little potboiler that didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved. (It’s that movie where Ryan Reynolds is trapped in the coffin for 90 minutes. Go rent it.) It’s such a good film that there was every reason to anticipate his latest effort with eagerness, even excitement. That excitement last about ten minutes into his new film Red Lights, peeling away in layers as the film progress: Okay, so maybe this one’s not up to par. No, it’s mediocre at best. No, wait, it’s actually quite bad.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On DVD: "American Reunion"

“C’mon guys, that was funny.” –Stiffler
“Maybe in high school it was funny.” –Jim

And there you have the trouble with American Reunion in a two-line nutshell, with this film that has gone to a tremendous amount of trouble to gather all of the players (no matter how minor) from the hit 1999 comedy, and has gone to no trouble at all to give them anything funny or interesting to do or say. Because such things seem important in matters of both nostalgia and comedic taste, I will stress my affection for the “original trilogy” of American Pie movies (the makers of Reunion are among those who would like to pretend that those endless direct-to-DVD sequels never existed), the first of which appeared when I was 23 years old—a touch older than its characters, sure, but right in the middle of its target audience. American Pie, American Pie 2, and American Wedding all delivered the expected jizz jokes and naked flesh, but they also had affection for the characters, a dash of heart, and the somewhat-revolutionary idea to float the notion that girls like sex too. They weren’t great movies—the storytelling was clunky and the serious romances were a drag—but they were fun. There’s precious little of that in display in American Reunion, which is about as strained and depressing a “comedy” as you’re likely to sit through. It’s not funny, it’s not human, and for a major studio tentpole release, it’s astonishingly lazy.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New on Blu: "The Saphead"

The trouble with The Saphead is that it’s not a Buster Keaton movie. This is no great crime, in and of itself; Citizen Kane isn’t a Buster Keaton movie either, but it’s still worth a spin every now and again. However, The Saphead stars Keaton—in his first feature film role—and doesn’t give him much of anything to do, which is (let’s face it) something of a crime against cinema. Because he is in it, the picture is worth seeing (there’s very little he’s in that isn’t), but let’s face it: if Keaton weren’t the star, it surely wouldn’t get the deluxe Blu-ray treatment.