Wednesday, June 30, 2010

'the last airbender' review

I admit it: I'm an M. Night Shyamalan apologist. Don't ask me why; even I can't quite explain it. But his new film, The Last Airbender, is hopeless. My review is up at Screen International.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"night catches us" review - los angeles film festival

It can be a bit of a double-edged sword when a filmmaker speaks after his or her movie during a festival. Sometimes, you end up wanting to leave because the director's obnoxious personality counteracts your warm feelings for the film you've just seen. Other times, the filmmaker is such a warm, gracious, down-to-earth person that you wish his or her movie was better. That latter scenario happened last night at Night Catches Us, which is an exceptionally well-meaning and thoughtful film that just doesn't work. Writer-director Tanya Hamilton seems like a good egg, though. Still, it's my duty to report on the film's flaws, which I do over at Screen International.

Friday, June 25, 2010

black sheep - the choice is yours

"You know that car commercial with the hamsters?"

Uh-huh. The one for the Kia Soul?

"Yeah. What's the song in there?"

It's by Black Sheep.

'mahler on the couch' review - los angeles film festival

Mahler on the Couch takes its inspiration from a true story: In the early 20th century, Gustav Mahler went to visit Sigmund Freud for some psychiatric advice. Directors Percy Adlon and Felix Adlon turn that encounter into a florid romantic drama full of canted angles and wall-to-wall Mahler music. Alas, the film is really just an overheated biopic. My review is up at Screen International.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

'wild grass' review

I've been anxiously awaiting Wild Grass since it premiered (mostly to acclaim) at last year's Cannes. Now I've seen the comedy-drama, and it gets an entire Consumables column to itself. My review is part analysis, part coming to terms with what is a genuinely strange film. Happy reading.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'cold weather' review - los angeles film festival

Writer-director Aaron Katz's Cold Weather was a big hit at this year's SXSW, but, hey, so was Kick-Ass, right? Cold Weather screened as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, and my review is up at Screen International.

Friday, June 18, 2010

elliott smith - pretty (ugly before)

Sure, "Pretty (Ugly Before)" is a superb Elliott Smith song, but why am I featuring it as this week's Friday Video? Because it's put to good (though quite understated) use in a very great movie opening this weekend. I won't say which, but here's a hint: I haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

los angeles film festival reviews

This is not meant in any way to be a comprehensive overview of all the great films showing at the Los Angeles Film Festival. But in case you need some encouragement to check out a flick or two, here are some glowing reviews from yours truly:

Animal Kingdom
Camera, Camera
Eastern Plays
Katalin Varga (who's this "Tom Grierson" guy?)
The Kids Are All Right
Waiting for "Superman"

And while I haven't formally reviewed the following films, they're certainly worth your time:

The Happiest Girl in the World
The Tillman Story

'waiting for superman' at the los angeles film festival

Waiting for "Superman" is a movie inspired by guilt: Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim knew that he was lucky (and rich) enough to send his kids to good schools that other people couldn't afford. So he decided to make a documentary about the U.S. school system and all the ways it fails students. It's a very affecting film, and it's playing at the L.A. Film Festival. My review is up at L.A. Weekly.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

'Shutter Island,' Revisited

I reviewed Shutter Island for Screen International back in February, and at that time I praised it, although I said it was "clearly flawed" and noted that it "overstays its welcome." Well, I watched it again last night -- and I have to say that I think the thing's very nearly a damn masterpiece.

For a few weeks now, I had been curious to revisit this suspense thriller, but I expected that knowing how it all played out would make it a little less engaging the second time through, especially at 139 minutes. Without giving away anything, I'll just say that, much to my surprise, the exact opposite proved true: Shutter Island emerges as a far more engrossing experience precisely because you don't have to spend a single second worrying about what's going to happen. Instead, you can fully luxuriate in Martin Scorsese's utter mastery of his form, Robert Richardson's hullucinatory cinematography (which, it should be noted, looks quite different than his work on another recent period/WWII-era film, Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds), a great collection of songs and instrumental scores compiled by Robbie Robertson, and Thelma Schoonmaker's superb editing that subtly adds to the growing sense of paranoia and madness that slowly envelops the film.

And then there's the cast. On first viewing, I found Mark Ruffalo's performance as Leonardo DiCaprio's partner to be a little too affected, but now I recognize how nicely modulated it is and essential for the storytelling. The supporting parts are all wonderfully handled -- Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley -- but, really, how great is DiCaprio in this? Again, a second viewing allows you to focus on his performance, and since you know how the story will resolve itself, you can observe even more clearly how beautifully he navigates his character's particular narrative arc.

But let's talk more about Scorsese. As someone who doesn't automatically worship everything Scorsese made up to and including Goodfellas, I couldn't care less about recent arguments that he's become "just" a Hollywood genre director -- the supreme confidence of Shutter Island and The Departed is a treat, one we should be celebrating. And how many Hollywood genre movies have the psychological insight, passion, poignancy and truly riveting sequences as Shutter Island? A film like this may not be particularly "deep" because it supposedly lacks the essential autobiographical or thematic richness that all great capital-A "art" demands, but surely some consideration needs to be given for a movie so astonishingly compelling and entertaining. If that's not the sign of a great director, what is?

Around the same time as Shutter Island came out, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer opened, giving audiences two examples of acclaimed auteurs who were allegedly "slumming" by making pulpy genre movies. But look at the craftsmanship and tension in those movies -- are any Hollywood thrillers going to offer anything remotely comparable this year? We should be so lucky. Back in the spring, I thought The Ghost Writer was the better of the two films -- now I'm not so sure. I can hardly wait to revisit Polanski's thriller to see what surprises await me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

anita baker - sweet love

So, I guess Anita Baker's rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" was a bit of a flop last night, huh? Oh well, cheer up, Anita: It reminded me of the soft spot I have for your "Sweet Love."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

'karate kid' and 'coco chanel & igor stravinsky' reviews

I know, what a double-bill. But The Karate Kid and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky both open this weekend -- I put them under the microscope for my latest Consumables column.

'star trek' movies invade the royal this summer

Saturdays at midnight this summer, the Royal will be screening (mostly) 70mm prints of the first six Star Trek films. (You know, the ones with Kirk and Bones and McCoy.) What better opportunity to reassess the Trek cinematic legacy, right? I did just that for L.A. Weekly.

'the a-team' review

With a movie that's pure kinetic overkill like The A-Team, you either embrace its over-the-top insanity or roll into a ball and wait for it to end. I choose the former in my review at Screen International.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

'12th & delaware' review

When I saw the abortion documentary 12th & Delaware at Sundance this year, I was convinced it was one of the best films at the festival. I got to watch it again recently, and I still think it's terrific -- it may only be 80 minutes long, but it's sure a special little film. The documentary will be playing as part of BAMcinemaFEST, which prompted my glowing review in The Village Voice.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

'marmaduke' review

Back from my out-of-town wedding, and I know you've been dying to know what I thought of Marmaduke. My review is up at Screen International.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

neil young - harvest moon

Yeah, I'm a day late -- what do you want me from me, I was traveling. I'm going to a wedding today, and, well, I always think of this song around weddings.