Saturday, March 27, 2010

116) Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

116) Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) Dir: Steve Pink Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 26, 2010 Rating: 2.25/5

It was a bad day for new cinema. See my review for Slant Magazine.

115) Chloe (2009)

115) Chloe (2009) Dir: Atom Egoyan Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 26, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

I'm probably being too generous but I could watch it for the most part. See my review for the New York Press.

114) The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

114) The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) Dir: Tom Six Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: March 25, 2010 Rating: 4/5

Thoroughly unnerving and an exploitation gem. See my rave review for Slant Magazine.

112) The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

112) The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) Dir: Juan Jose Campanella Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: March 24, 2010 Rating: 2.25/5

Apparently I was being more hyperbolic than I thought with my headline. Still, a dud. See my review for the New York Press.

111) After.Life (2010), ISF: Spider 113) The Square

111) After.Life (2010) Dir: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: March 24, 2010 Rating: 1.25/5

ISF: Spider (2007) Dir: Nash Edgerton Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: March 25, 2010 Rating: 3/5

113) The Square (2008) Dir: Nash Edgerton: Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen March 25, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

The former just flat-out sucks while the latter looked to be shaping up into something it never became. See my capsule reviews for the New York Press.

110) The Prowler (1951)

110) The Prowler (1951) Dir: Joseph Losey Date Released: July 1951 Date Seen: March 23, 2010 Date Seen: 4/5

A gripping noir with a very dark heart. See my review for the New York Press.

109) Alice in Wonderland (2010)

109) Alice in Wonderland (2010) Dir: Tim Burton Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 21, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5

I've never been so mortified to call myself a Tim Burton as I was after watching this drab and thoroughly mismanaged take on Lewis Carroll's iconic fever dream. It induced shell-shock in me as I watched. I felt like I was pinned to my seat; there were no words, just my big, slack, gaping mouth. Everything that should go right with this adaptation doesn't. Both Mia Wasikowska and Helena Bonham-Carter stand out, yes, yes, but it's hard to give a damn about seeing Johnny Depp quirk up another role for Burton like he does here. Likewise, there's a kernel of an exciting and fittingly brooding revisionist take on the film here, one that is extra-sensitive to the hints of proto-feminism buried deep in the background of Caroll's story. But it's completely squandered on a dull stock plot about Alice being "the chosen one" and hence fated to save Wonderland. So sluggish and uninteresting. I miss the Alice in Wonderland adaptations of my youth, like the one with Ben Vereen and Gene Wilder or the Disney one. Now I can't get that god-awful image of Depp break-dancing out of my head no matter how hard I try. This thing had Christopher Lee voice the Jabberwocky. How could it go so wrong in so many ways?

Friday, March 19, 2010

105) A NY Thing (2009) 107) NY Export: Opus Jazz (2010), 108) Cold Weather (2010)

105) A NY Thing (2009) Dir: Olivier Lecot Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 18, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

107) NY Export: Opus Jazz (2010) Dir: Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes Date Released (TV): March 2010 Date Seen: March 19, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

108) Cold Weather (2010) Dir: Aaron Katz Date Released: xx 2010 Date Seen: March 21, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

I feel silly for enjoying A NY Thing as much as I did but it's mildly enjoyable piffle. NY Export: Opus Jazz just won me over; love that Robbins choreography and the restless amerawork was pretty enjoyable, too. Cold Weather's not my favorite Katz but it's pretty decent. See my feature on NY filmmakers at SXSW for the NY Press.

104) [REC] 2 (2009)

104) [REC] 2 (2009) Dir Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: March 18, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

Scary and cheap all at once. See my glowing review for Ugo.

102) Night Catches Us (2010) 103) Down Terrace (2009) and 106) Every Day is a Holiday

102) Night Catches Us (2010) Dir: Tanya Hamilton Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 17, 2010 Rating: 3/5

103) Down Terrace (2009) Dir: Bean Wheatley Date Released: August 2010 Date Seen: March 17, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

106) Every Day is a Holiday (2009) Dir: Dima El-Horr Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 19, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

A middling mixed bag. See my capsule reviews for my coverage of New Directors/New Films 2010 for the New York Press.

101) Repo Men (2010)

101) Repo Men (2010) Dir: Miguel Sapochnik Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 16, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5

So non-descript that after a point, it gets infuriatingly bland. See my review for Slant Magazine.

100) Kick-Ass (2010)

100) Kick-Ass (2010) Dir: Matthew Vaughn Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: March 15, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

I liked parts of this but again, it's just a shinier shit box than the one Millar and Romita Jr. originally made. See my review for New York Press.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

99) Lucky Luke

99) Lucky Luke (200) Dir: James Huth Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 14, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

I'm always amazed when I see a successful comic book adaptation, probably because most of them suck. While you probably don't need me to explain why, I'd wager that more often than not creative difference between the producers or the studio execs and the creative team involved can be blamed. Which is why it's so refreshing to see a comic book adaptation that's A) fully realized (ie: clearly not hacked up, rewritten or dumbed down to sate the tastes of a mass audience that could, in all likelihood, care less) and B) one that understands and appreciates that you can only translate the spirit of a comic to the screen by preserving its mood.

Lucky Luke is a lot of fun because, though it lags inevitably, director/co-writer James Huth clearly appreciates and wants desperately to replicate the sense of humor that co-creators Morris and Rene Goscinny, the latter of Asterix fame, invested in their original comics. This is a matter of meticulously reproducing the look of those comics, which at times seems like a slavish task, especially when you look at overwrought costumes like the overflowing coat-tails of Jesse James's (Melvil Poupaud) slicker or Billy the Kid's (Michael Youn) lollipop bandollero belt. It's also a matter of embracing the comics' childish sense of humor, their naive, serialized meandering plots and the childish cockiness of its hero, played with zeal and aplomb by consummate actor and comedian Jean Dujardin.

In other words, Huth's adaptation has everything a comic adaptation should. It's not cynically campy but completely and totally sincere in its aim to just adapt the comics and not break their back to sell them to any disinterested parties. No wonder it's not being released in the States.

ISF: The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

ISF: The Call of Cthulhu (2005) Dir: Andrew Leman Date Released (DVD): May 2007 Date Seen: March 15, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Crude but often invigorating in the way it successfully takes a very non-literal text and translates it as literally as it can. See my review for the now defunct "The Deep Cut."

98) The Ghost Writer (2009)

98) The Ghost Writer (2009) Dir: Roman Polanski Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: March 14, 2010 Rating: 4/5

When people write about Roman Polanski's films, I'm always surprised to see them downplay or even willfully ignore their playfully grim, absurdist sense of humor. The Ghost Writer reminds me of The Tenant in that sense: a serious thriller that revolves around the psychological disintegration of its main character. What's so rewardingly absurd about it is that Polanski and his screenwriters take the time to tease the reader with the preposterousness of the escalating scenario that Ewan Macgregor's protag finds himself trapped in. The plight of the "ghost writer" in this film is that he's stuck in a landscape of totally abstracted images--of politics, of nature, of social dynamics. These images clash and don't add up, creating a sense of disorientation akin to the urban paranoia of The Tenant. Though the movie is based on a novel by Robert Harris, I can't help but think that the story is a product of Polanski. The "ghost writer," an apathetic, eager young man who has no interest in politics, is punished for blindly accepting a job without considering its implications. The entitled hubris of youth is something Polanski has fixated on for decades now, making The Ghost Writer an exciting return to form.

The pervasive malevolence of Polanski's latest stems from how well he runs with the idea of hiding things in plain sight. When the ghost writer enters the beach home of the ex-Prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), the he's greeted by incongruous, disorienting architecture, differing modernist styles that aggressively butt heads in each room and refuse to cohere into a singular vision. The house lacks transparency, which is sort of a joke considering that there are wall-to-wall windows overlooking the beach everywhere and every room and hallways appears open and uncluttered thanks to its spare furniture. There doesn't appear to be anything hidden there but that's the point. The evidence that the ghost writer seeks throughout the movie is hidden in the most obvious place, (SPOILERS) in the first words of the chapters of his subject's memoirs. Once he figures out the truth, the ghost writer of course gets hit by a car (END SPOILERS). It's all so random and yet all so sinister because it's not. People can call this film an "old school thriller" i they like but it is uniquely Polanski's kind of old school. It oozes his own brand of paranoia and resentment throughout its elegant but ultimately fruitless procedural plot. Oh so good.

97) A Thousand Clowns (1965)

97) A Thousand Clowns (1965) Dir: Fred Coe Date Released: December 1965 Date Seen: March 13, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

While the ending of A Thousand Clowns is technically a happy one--idealistic malcontent Murray Burns (Jason Robards) is now able to provide for his son Arnold (Martin Balsam)--it left me feeling utterly distraught and with good reason. It is, as my friend Tom Russell said to me after I saw the film, a heart-breaking tragicomedy about how we can't reconcile the real world with the one we know we deserve. That's not strictly an egotistical line: it's the truth, or at least the truth according to Murray Burns, comedian and salesman par excellence, though maybe there's no difference between the two things. Robards' Burns is so vital because his endless cache of puns are unto themselves the punchline for his idiosyncratic philosophy. Life should be free, savored, monumental, infinite in its possibilities and without a set trajectory. A steady job, a better education: these things don't matter when compared to the ability to be, to see, to do whatever you may want when you want to do them. It's an utterly un-pragmatic ideology that Murray knows in his heart he can't live by anymore, making the duration of his narrative arc the time he needs to realize just how doomed his life as a truly free man is. Because being free ultimately means being irresponsible in some form or another.

I saw A Thousand Clowns shortly before I had to resume my job search (I currently have a part-time job that I'm satisfied with, knock wood). The frustration and the fears of sacrificing my more fanciful, creative impulses was not the first thing on my mind while I was looking for a job but Murray Burns's fears were all too familiar to me. And watching him regress to the point where it seemed like he couldn't snap out of his nonsensical but all too relatable impulsive impetuousness was painful (At one point, I was sure he would eventually let Arnold be taken away). And funny. And sad. And pretty hard to forget.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

96) Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)

96) Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008) Dir: James Nguyen Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 12, 2010 Rating: 0.5/5

Having seen this before most of the hype started to set it, I was, first time out. See my review for Ugo.

93) Mid-August Lunch (2009)

93) Mid-August Lunch (2009) Dir: Gianni Di Gregorio Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 11, 2010 Rating: 4/5

Deceptively cozy and expertly well-paced little comedy that could. See my review for The L Magazine.

91) Remember Me (2010)

91) Remember Me (2010) Dir: Allen Coulter Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 9, 2010 Rating: 1/5

God, I hope not. See my not-so controversial review for Slant Magazine.

90) The Red Chapel (2009) 94) How I Ended This Summer (2010) 95) I am Love

90) The Red Chapel (2009) Dir: Mads Brugger Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 9, 2010 Rating: 3/5

94) How I Ended This Summer (2010) Dir: Aleksei Popogrebsky Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 12, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5

95) I Am Love March (2009) Dir: Luca guadagnino Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: 12, 2010 Rating: 2/5

Mostly lousy but hey, not completely lousy. See my first round-up of New Directors/New Films at The New York Press's blog.

83) Les Derniers Jours du Monde(2009)

83) Les Derniers Jours du Monde (2009) Dir: Arnaud Larrieu and Jean-Marie Larrieu Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 2, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

, Les Derniers Jours du Monde is bursting with a million different possible narrative directions it could head in all at once. Its alive with the absurd kind of "What if" scenarios that could only be possible for someone that knew that the world--not just his or her world but the world--is ending. Robinson (Mathieu Amalric) has been stewing so long in his own juices after a bad break-up that when the world actually starts to crack open, he has more of an idea than most as to where he wants to go or more practically who he wants to run to. There are a lot of names on his short-list and he'll hit up every one at least once but not always because he wants to but rather because of a mystical entropic force is buffeting him from ex-lover to new lover to old friend and then back to another new lover before starting all over again. In that sense, it only looks like Robinson has every opportunity to rekindle old and new flames and friendships. Sooner or later, he's always drawn back to the one that put him in an apocalyptic state of mind to begin with. The Larrieus, who also co-adapted the film from a novel by Dominique Noguez, have given his narrative arc a humor and a focus that grounds their film's chaotic pacing and it makes this post-apocalyptic drama uniquely arresting. The last scene in Paris is amazing, the perfect way to end a totally idiosyncratic doomsday daydream.

81) French Kissers (2009) 85) The Wolberg Family (2009) 89) Rapt (2009) 92) The Army of Crime (2009)

81) French Kissers (2009) Dir: Riad Sattouf Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 1, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

85) The Wolberg Family (2009) Dir: Axelle Ropert Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 4, 2010 Rating: 4/5

89) Rapt (2009) Dir: Lucas Belvaux Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 8, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

92) The Army of Crime (2009) Dir: Robert Guediguian Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 10, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5

Mixed bag but the ones that I sat through all the way were decent. See my coverage for The New York Press and Slant Magazine/The House Next Door.

79) Lourdes (2009)

79) Lourdes (2009) Dir: Jessica Hausner Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: March 1, 2010 Rating: 4/5

Andrew Schenker was right for (very mildly) chiding me about a stray line in my Mid-August Lunch review where I called Gianni Di Gregario's film the second major import after The Paranoids. I had completely forgotten about Lourdes, an omission that I now greatly regret. Lourdes is a deeply felt look at contemporary agnosticism, a subject that has always fascinated me as I myself waver between agnosticism and fleeting bouts of religious belief. Writer/director Jessica Hausner's film bowled me over because she doesn't judge her characters even when they're not behaving admirably. The petty jealousies and desires of a group of Christian pilgrims expecting pitiably a miracle to befall them are never singled out so that they can be dismissed as individual passions. On the contrary, they are representative emotions, human in the some of the most broad and yet most easily recognizable ways.

Hausner films her pilgrims through staggering long takes that all initially look as if they were composed by an omniscient authorial God that does not want us, the viewers that are sharing Her POV for the film's duration, to immediately know what we're looking at. Our eyes are meant to shift instinctively from the various subjects in each frame, even if Hausner almost always eventually shifts the camera ever so slightly to focus on Christine (Sylvie Testud). Through that cool, proudly composed aesthetic, the viewer feels the pressure that Christine undergoes throughout the film and especially in the film's third act. Now the audience understands experientially why the film's pilgrims, who have spent so long looking for signs of progress or even just signs of momentary respite from their permanent psychic discomforts, they usually wind up mistrusting their eyes. Hausner lets us have our debts, allowing us to sympathize with the characters while acknowledging the expectations they and we are putting on Christine. It's the king of neo-Brechtian technique that's precise when it could simply be ostentatious. Penetrating and mesmerizing, especially during the very last scene.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

90) Severe Clear (2009)

90) Severe Clear (2009) Dir: Kristian Fraga Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 8, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

Strong stuff but nothing new or anything our jaded asses wouldn't already expect by now. See my review for the New York Press.

RV!: Hot Fuzz (2007)

RV!: Hot Fuzz (2007) Dir: Edgar Wright Date Released: April 2007 Date Seen: March 7, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

As anticipated, my sensitivity towards Edgar Wright's follow-up to Shaun of the Dead (2004) has abated considerably with time. When Hot Fuzz first came out, I had a fairly knee-jerk reaction to the film. I know this now but that the time I was rather down on the film, even if I don't think my grade of it has changed at all (I think it was originally a B+ as well but it might have been a B). At the time, Hot Fuzz was a disappointment because it wasn't nearly as concise or emotionally involving as Shaun of the Dead. Comparing the two films was inevitable for me at the time because when Shaun of the Dead was released, it was a very good time to be a young cinephile. I felt like I was part of a community of fanboys that were all discovering these comedians for the first time and in the process had discovered a niche that was still fresh with ideas and possibilities. I was in high school at the time and remember seeing the film by myself some weekend at the AMC Empire 25, back when that theater seemed like a new and exciting theater (yes, such a time existed, or at least for poor deluded me it did). It's a personal experience that I treasure to this day. So when Hot Fuzz came out, I was automatically on the defensive. I felt like Wright, Pegg and Frost were my guys and I was unreasonably hyper-critical of Hot Fuzz as a result. Mea culpa.

I'm very happy to report that I didn't find Hot Fuzz's loose pacing to be particularly bothersome. In fact, I think I can even appreciate the film's broader scope to be in its own way. Now it seems as if Shaun of the Dead was an exceptionally compact and heart-felt dry run for bigger and more ambitious things (ie: Hot Fuzz) later on down the road. Shaun just happens to be better than those things because of its micro-scale ambitions. I no longer see the screenplay's tendency to dither when it should've be more economic in its narrative and its humor. Instead, I find that to be indicative of the way Wright and Pegg are trying, not always entirely successfully, to broaden their creative horizons by intentionally biting off more than they can chew.

In that context, Wright and Pegg do fairly well for themselves, especially considering that their sense of humor and style of filmmaking is fairly crude. Wright's hyper-active method of direction and Pegg's sense of humor are nothing if not deferential to their target audience. They constantly flatter the viewer with inside jokes and running gangs to ensure that their audience know that they're in on the joke. The trade-off is that the punchline to their films' narrative-long jokes are the the genres that they're paying tribute to, in this case buddy cop drama/comedies, policiers and...The Wicker Man?! Huh, ok. The problem, if there ever was a problem, with Wright's style of pastiche, is that it lets the viewer enjoy a privileged position for gags that do most of the heavy lifting for them. It's the ultimate expression of fan service and in that sense, Hot Fuzz is very satisfying.

And yet, I still have a problem with the film's action scenes. There's very little spectacle in an action scene I can't visually assemble because of a heavy and frankly unnecessary emphasis on visual dynamism over honest to goodness choreography. That still bugs me a great deal in Hot Fuzz, especially because its a comedy about loving films so much that your life becomes governed by generic norms. But it's a lot funnier this time around and I could accept its flaws knowing that I wasn't going to get much better than what I was given.

88) The Art of the Steal

88) The Art of the Steal (2009) Dir: Don Argott Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: March 6, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

If The Art of the Steal were just an exceptionally well-documented story about a group of high-minded aesthetes that are drastically over-reacting about a trivial matter, it would still be a film worth talking about. I have my problems with the film's talking heads, especially the obtuse and introduction they give us to why the Barnes collection is as important as it is, but there is a lot to be said about the stance they and director Don Argott are taking. Eventually, I found myself agreeing with its nebulous thesis statement--the Barnes collection, being a unique experience whose main goal is to evade unwanted publicity for its own sake, should be able to maintain its autonomy on the assumption that it provides visitors an educational, perhaps even aesthetically unifying, experience. That it couldn't because of people that refused to honor its owners' wishes is, in a way, rather tragic. I found it hard to argue with the case that Argott's rich history of how the collection was handled after Barnes' death and the sheer depth of his film's reportage. And in that sense, I allowed the film to overwhelm me with its wall of information. Looking back on the film weeks later, I don't regret the decision in the least bit.

At the same time, I look at the talking heads of the film that represent Barnes' self-described acolytes and I see a very unpleasant reflection of how the public must see cultural gate-keepers. One of these guys, the one with the waxed mustache and the eyebrows that look like they were arranged to be in a perpetual frowny position, is so frequently beside himself when he's trying to describe the people that are for the de-privatization of the Barnes collection that he can't even bring himself to string together a coherent cluster of verbs, adverbs and nouns, let alone a sentence. Barnes' defenders' smug air of self-importance is firmly established in the opening credits by the way Argott egregiously employs a perplexing cover of "Iron Man" played on dueling pianos. Based on this opening slavo and the way that most of the Barnes' Museum board members can't say anything positive about the collection without sounding like a pack of pompous dullards, you could easily get that sense that some nut jobs think that the sky really is falling but not why we should care. Soon enough, they calm down and their story becomes compelling but golly, it sure is hard to completely cozy up with people that earnestly hurl "Philistines!" as an explosive epithet when they're protesting a social function. Still, The Art of the Steal's a film well-worth debating and I'm sad that I didn't see it in time to be part of the discussion (not that I'd have anything intelligent or new to ad to it).

86) Shutter Island (2010) and 87) The Ninth Configuration

86) Shutter Island (2010) Dir: Martin Scorsese Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: March 5, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

87) The Ninth Configuration (1980) Dir: William Peter Blatty Date Released: February 1980 Date Seen: March 5, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

It's very hard for me to imagine falling in love with either Shutter Island or The Ninth Configuration. I'm not talking about the distinction between being able to admire or to fiercely cozy up with psychodramas that disguise themselves as gothic horror stories. What I mean is: pulling off the crucial third act in this type of drama is especially crucial. You can have all the pieces of the puzzle assembled correctly up until this point but if they're laid down too zealously or not forcefully enough, its too easy to emotionally check out. That happened to me with both films and it's mostly because of third act narrative difficulties.

In the case of Shutter Island, there's a desperation to Scorsese's storytelling that is too vigorous in its need to deliver the story's tweesty payoff. Scenes, like the conversation about the nature of monsters or the "true nature" of the protag, force the viewer into the same corner that Leonardo Dicaprio's protagonist is forced into. They try to clonk us on the heads with overt metaphors that are too plodding to stick, too obtuse to be worth much of a damn. Likewise, the tragic revelation at the heart of Dicaprio's character just didn't grab me like it was meant to. It was too needy, too schematic to really draw me in. I appreciate Scorsese's vigor and it certainly shows that the film is most definitely not a work-for-hire project, but that same zeal can be rather off-putting. Still, I love the very last scene, which brought me back to my previous admiration for the intensity Scorsese invests in all of his (better) films.

I had the opposite problem with The Ninth Configuration, specifically that the last act loosened its grip too much for me. Again, this is a function of where the film's narrative goes, specifically outside of the asylum's walls and into a world without any rules except "The strong prey on the weak." That pat truism is shoved down the viewer's throat during the bar scene confrontation at the end and while that scene is necessary for the growth of Stacy Keach's character, it's a hard sell considering how broad the point is relative to the delicate interplay between Keach and the inmates up until that point. The story up until that point is very touch-and-go, very of the moment as it's about Keach listening to the inmates, finding out who they are and what he can find out about them. By the end, once a trajectory is assumed, the story's airy, tragic sense of humor evaporates. I wish there was more to my reaction to these films, because I think they're both rather striking. But that last act....god, that last act.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

84) Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss (2008)

84) Harlan: In the Shadows of Jew Suss (2008) Dir: Felix Moeller Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 3, 2010 Rating: 2/5

Makes me want to see Veit Harlan's films but damn if this isn't incompetently arranged. See my review for The New York Press.

82) Bluebeard (1972)

82) Bluebeard (1972) Dir: Edward Dmytryk and Luciano Sacripanti Date Released: September 1972 Date Seen: March 2, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Richard Burton, you brute! See my mention of the film on my feature on the Anthology Film Archives's "Bluebeard on Film" program for The New York Press.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

80) We Live in Public (2009)

80) We Live in Public (2009) Dir: Ondi Timoner Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: March 1, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

Wow. Excellent follow-up to DiG! (2004). See my review for The New York Press.

75) Land of Madness (2009), 77) Sois Sage (2009) and 78) Kinatay (2009)

75) Land of Madness (2009) Dir: Luc Moullet Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 27, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

77) Sois Sage (2009) Dir: Juliette Garcias Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 28, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

78) Kinatay (2009) Dir: Brillante Mendoza Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 28, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

Another mixed bag; sad to see that Mendoza's latest is just as bad as I heard. Fmeh. But boy, was Juliette Garcias's debut something. See my latest "Film Comment Selects" round-up for The New York Press.

ISF: Kavi (2009), The Door (2008), Miracle Fish (2009), Instead of Abracadbra (2008), The New Tenants (2009), French Roast (2008)...

ISF: Kavi (2009) Dir: Gregg Helvey Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5

ISF: The Door (2008) Dir: Juanita Wilson Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 2.25/5

ISF: Miracle Fish (2009) Dir: Luke Doolan Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

ISF: Instead of Abracadabra (2008) Dir: Patrik Eklund Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

ISF: The New Tenants (2009) Dir: Joachim Back Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

ISF: French Roast (2008) Dir: Fabrice Joubert Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

ISF: Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (2008) Dir: Nicky Phelan Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

ISF: The Lady and the Reaper (2009) Dir: Javier Recio Gracia Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

ISF: Logorama (2009) Dir: Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy and Ludovic Houplain Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 4/5

ISF: A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) Dir: Nick Park Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 4/5

Ugh. Oscar shorts. See me round them up. For the big bucks. At the New York Press's Site.

Monday, March 1, 2010

70) Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), 71) All the Colors of the Dark (1973)

70) Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) Dir: Lucio Fulci Date Released (DVD): May 2000 Date Seen: February 25, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

71) All the Colors of the Dark (1972) Dir: Sergio Martino Date Released: August 1976 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

72) Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) Dir: Sergio Martino Date Released (DVD): September 2005 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

73) Torso (1973) Dir: Sergio Martino Date Released: November 1973 Date Seen: February 26, 2010 Rating: 3/5

74) Deep Red (1975) Dir: Dario Argento Date Released: June 1976 Date Seen: February 27, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

76) The New York Ripper (1982) Dir: Lucio Fulci Date Released (VHS): March 1987 Date Seen: February 27, 2010 Rating: 4/5

My "More-Selective-Than-It-Seems" Giallo Binge. See me mention them all in my list of "11 Essential Gialli" for Ugo.

69) Cop Out (2010)

69) Cop Out (2010) Dir: Kevin Smith Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: February 24, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

It’s easy to dump on Kevin Smith for embracing his creative slump and giving himself, fans and critics alike a major break with a no-risk project like Cop Out. The project, which Smith didn’t write, ostensibly should force him to learn how to become a more technically competent filmmaker and takes him out of his “personal” comfort zone. With Cop Out, Smith shrugs to his audience to let them know that he knows he’s lost his mojo and understands full well just how much he needs a vacation. That having been said, using Cop Out as prime evidence, there really doesn’t seem to be that much difference between a “Kevin Smith movie” and a movie directed by Kevin Smith.

Save for a change of milieu, Cop Out’s not that much different from one of his “View Askew” titles. Screenwriters Robb and Mark Cullen kick the film off with an utterly incomprehensible interrogation sequence that relates how buddy cops Jimmy Monroe and Paul Hodges (Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan) operate. According to Jimmy, the pair don’t follow protocol so much as they mimic or, “pay Ho-mah-Zhe” to their favorite cop shows and movies. Paul beats his witness while quoting everything from Scarface to Schindler’s List, because he knows he has no real pressure to deliver results. His job—the badge, the gun, the position of power—and the movie in general is pure wish fulfillment in the same way that the all of Smith’s other comedies, in one form or another, are. If such a thing is possible, Smith just invented the slacker buddy cop comedy.

All of Smith’s films allow their protagonists to solve their personal problems several degrees removed from reality. They can and often do say whatever comes to mind, which digs them into a hole first but eventually always digs them back out. These guys don’t have to screen their thought processes, as is most apparent when Paul begins to ramble at Jimmy about how much he shits while they’re on a stake-out. His rant naturally wraps up with a reference to The Warriors—something to the effect of “My shit’s so big that when I get to the toilet, my neighbors says ‘Oh, Warriors, come out and plaaay”—which is effectively silly but makes absolutely no sense. It’s just there because it had to be said. “I was in the moment,” Jimmy says later. “And the moment said, ‘Hit him.’” Our heroes aren’t simple-minded, just over-privileged. How meta.

While Jimmy and Paul run around Brooklyn struggling to resolve a wishy-washy procedural plot, which primarily revolves around Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), a local drug-dealer’s scheme to expand his operation, they make their homelife coincide with their genre formula-dictated worklife. Policework allows the boys to feel like the big men that their families refuse to acknowledge them as. Jimmy hasn’t paid alimony to his ex-wife in years and now, after being suspended without pay for a month, is expected to pay $48,000 for his daughter’s wedding or else his kid’s step-father (Jason Lee, natch) will. Paul likewise is climbing the walls at the thought that his wife might be sleeping with their British neighbor (his imagined seduction sequence, all slow-motion and comic book realism, is a highlight of the film that climaxes when “the other man” whips out a monocle). If anything, Jimmy and Paul treat their policework like a disposable responsibility (Paul has a whole stash of them in his car in case of emergencies because he always loses them). These guys know the rules of Smith’s films: they’re more likely to get hurt by a passive-aggressive dinner conversation or nanny cam footage than in the line of duty.

All rationalizing aside, Cop Out works on a basic level because it’s happy to be unadventurous. It doesn’t even try very hard to establish its characters as throwbacks to the ‘80s cop dramas that are clearly the backbone of Jimmy and Paul’s training (Harold Faltermeyer, famous for composing Beverly Hill Cop’s theme song, provides a synthy score but stray allusions aside, that’s pretty much it). Thankfully the Cullens never rely on the smug, over-insistent meta-comedy that Shane Black has made his career as a Hollywood insider from. Instead they’re content to just crank out an affably forgettable variation on a well-worn generic setting.

The few times Cop Out does bring out of its comfortable trajectory is when Sean William Scott, playing a mouthy informant with a serious case of ADHD, steals the show and makes the film’s comedy more about breakneck comic timing than unmemorable jokes or stock characters. Here the film can fully stretch out and take time for a piss take or two (Smith’s quick-editing is utterly grating; no doubt his Warner Bros. handlers wanted him to deliver a product that moves more quickly than his usual work so he happily overcompensated). Morgan and Willis make a decent team. It’s a real shame that they got saddled with Smith during a new stage of his career-long transitional phase.