June 30, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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This oddly disturbing film is an example of British humor at it’s darkest.  Carol and Chris are a strange couple.  Both seem a bit awkward and eccentric.  Carol, in particular, has grown up with a smothering mother and needs to get away.  So, she and Chris head into the British countryside for a two week holiday road trip around various small town museums, like the brilliantly weird Pencil Museum (I do hope that place is real).  Along the way, they find a mutual affinity for mass murder.  Lovely.  At times the humor is so dry and so dark, it’s hard to know when to laugh.  And, as the violence gets more senseless and their reactions more dismissive, one either goes along for the ride or get’s a little queasy.  This is not the film for everyone; your appreciation of humor must be pitch black.  However, there are many gems to be had here.  The dialogue is bitingly clever but one can almost miss it because it is delivered in such deadpan tones.  Eileen Davies and Steve Oram are terrific in the lead roles and bring such a banality to their malevolence that it is hard not to laugh while despising them while loving them.  It is all a bit grotesque and ends appropriately.  Sociopaths in love; it seems like the perfect theme for a Trey Parker, Matt Stone musical.


World War Z

June 30, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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Aaaarrr-aaarrrr-ggh!   What you hear is the low, painful moan of my zombified brain after watching this movie.  My teeth are snapping.  My eyes are goggled.  My skin pale.  I feel a loss of speech, a murderous rage coming on, as I try to articulate my feelings.  “World War Z” was a brilliant, evocative and truly original book, full of indelible stories from around the world, some of which (The Battle of Yonkers, the crash survivor in the woods, the boy in the Japanese highrise) would have been amazing on screen.  Instead, we have a film that has nothing, nothing, nothing (and I do mean nothing) to do with the book.  It has zombies.  It touches on Korea in passing and bastardizes the account of Jerusalem.  That’s it.  The rest is a made up character (Brad Pitt) and his made up family doing things that are nowhere in the book.  This would not be that bad if the film was any good but, as far as zombie movies go, it is one of the worst.  It is neither scary nor clever nor an insightful allegory.  I will offer it a small spark of credit for some impressive scenes of large numbers of people and/or zombies running very very fast.  Those images are visually arresting but clever mob scenes do not a good movie make.  Where does one begin with a list of the dead?   Believable acting?  Not here.  Brad and Mireille Enos (the tv show, “The Killing”) do their best zombie impressions as they somabulate their way through explosions and death and unimaginable tragedy with barely a raised eyebrow.  A compelling story?  Ha!   I laughed out loud at plot holes a horde of zombies could rush through, like streets that are parking lots when it is convenient and then suddenly wide open when escape is needed, or cell phones that work (apparently no jammed lines during the zombie apocalypse) or people who behave incomprehensibly just because it makes for cool special effects (like letting off a grenade in an airplane).  And and and (I’m really on a roll now) an ending so ridiculous it does not bare deconstructing.  Why even give this movie the name “World War Z,” thus depriving us of ever actually getting that movie in the future.  It is as though some producer somewhere bit and infected that movie and we were left to contend with its mindless, mobile corpse.   Aaarrr-arr-gh.  Whimper.  Fetal position.  I give up.  Take me now.  Just let it be over.

Dirty Wars

June 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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This sober documentary examines our government’s on-going redefinition of “war.”  Perpetually melancholy journalist, Jeremy Scahill, seems to be the perfect narrator to take the audience down the rabbit hole and into the dark world of 21st Century warfare.  Starting with an American massacre of Afghani citizens, including two pregnant women, Scahill follows a trail of breadcrumbs in what is a surprisingly suspenseful narrative as he tries to uncover who was behind the massacre and why.  What he discovers is a military task force called The Joint Special Operations Command, or J-SOC, that bypasses the whole military command structure and reports directly to the president.  Under his direct command (it is assumed), J-SOC violates all existing laws of war, carrying out assassinations when and where it wants, including in countries with whom we are not at war.  Scahill cleverly ups the ante with each revelation, creating an effective narrative of an American Executive with immense power to kill at will.  He concluded with the deaths of Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16 year old son, both American citizens, assassinated without trial and without the U.S. Government providing any evidence of guilt to anything.  Al-Awlaki was guilty of speaking out against the U.S., this we do know, but if there is any proof of a capital crime, the government isn’t sharing.  And it is hard to imagine what his son, who was killed a couple of weeks later, could possibly be guilty of.  Where in this country is it legal to give the death penalty to a 16 year old?  And yet, J-SOC (presumably with the president’s approval) murdered a 16 year old U.S. citizen without a trial.  None of this is denied by the government, by the way.  J-SOC and it’s killings of al-Awlaki and his son are publicly acknowledged.   Scahill prompts us to reflect on the long-term implications of this approach and the possibility of being in a state of perpetual war.  The implications are deeply troubling.

Interior. Leather Bar.

June 24, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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FRAMELINE FILM FESTIVAL.  Generally, I tend to avoid film festivals because I rarely see films I enjoy.  However, for all the crap I see, there is always a “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” or “The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros” that make it all worth while.  In 1980, the Al Pacino film “Cruising” premiered to much controversy.  Pacino played an undercover cop descending into the depths of the gay community in order to catch a serial killer.  And I do mean “descending” “Heart of Darkness” style into depravity.   Apparently, in order to keep from getting an X rating, director William Friedkin had to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit footage, filmed mostly in a real leather bar with real members of the gay community.  In “Interior. Leather Bar,” director Travis Mathews (the”In Their Room” series) and James Franco re-imagine those missing 40 minutes.  Well, sort of.  Franco and Mathews appear throughout the movie as themselves (this seems to be a theme for Franco).  We see them, documentary style, discussing their “vision” for the film with the actors, prepping actors, prepping and filming scenes.  We also see actors talking with each other on the set, talking to their agents and family members.  Or do we?  Well, yes and no.  Mathews was at the screening and, as we learned in the Q&A section, almost everything on screen was acted, if not scripted.  What makes this film so brilliant is that, while appearing to be about the missing scene from “Cruising,” it is about much much more; by superficially exploring the homophobia of 30 years ago, the film delves  into homophobia and sex-phobia today.  Franco lays out his intentions in the first scene of the film when he bemoans the potential costs of the legalization of gay marriage.  He lays his claim to leftist sexual politics and proceeds to examine the role sex plays in Hollywood and in the stories we tell ourselves.

Before Midnight

June 24, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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If you have not seen the first two films in this on-going series, read no further.  Rent them, download them, steal them, whatever you need to do but see them first, then definitely see this one.  “Before Sunrise” came out in 1994 and featured a young Ethan Hawke (“Dead Poet’s Society,” “Gattica”)  and Julie Delpy (the “Colours” trilogy, “An American Werewolf in Paris,” “Broken Flowers”).  Both were 23 years old  and played “Jesse” and “Celine” who meet on a train and end up spending an unforgettable night in Vienna.  At the end of the film, they make a promise to meet back together 6 months later at that exact spot.  But do they?  Nine years later, Director Richard Linklater (“Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused,” “A Scanner Darkly”) reunited with both Hawke and Delpy and they co-write the sequel, “Before Sunset,” in which the two characters meet again in Paris.  They are now 32 years old and have not seen each other in the intervening years.  Both films are sweet and romantic; they follow the couple as they flirt, laugh, debate philosophical issues and fall in love.  This new film takes place another 9 years later in Greece, where they are on vacation with their young twin daughters.  At first, I was shocked by the tonal differences between this and the first two films.  This time, there is far less philosophy (though still more than most people engage in in any given day) and much more arguing.   Unlike the sweet flirtatiousness of the first film, most of Jesse and Celine’s interactions having a biting edge to them.  Each film’s final scene is heavily charged with a different emotion; of the three, this one was the most intense.  I had not expected it and felt a little annoyed when I left the theater but, as it sank in, I realized how rich it was.  This is the story of these characters in middle age and they have been so richly defined by now that I think this film can afford this ending; essentially, it has earned it.  Also, much more so than the last two, this film seems to be aware that it is setting itself up for a sequel in 9 years but, like real life, nobody (not Linklater or Hawke or Delpy or Jesse or Celine) knows what that sequel will look like.  I hope this series continues every 9 years for decades more.  If it does, it has the potential to be one of the most significant story arcs every put onto film.

This is the End

June 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Posted in 2013 | 1 Comment
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I feel like I have to divide this post up into two separate reviews.  The first 30 minutes of the film gets 4 lozenges from me but the rest of the film ends up with one.  So, I give the overall movie a very anemic 2.5.   If nothing else, the movie is a window into the minds of the new generation of young comedians who currently reign in Hollywood, most of whom were on display here.  In a sort of never ending loop of referential humor, they all play themselves at a party at James Franco’s house when the apocalypse arrives.  Of course, not a one of them is raptured and chaos ensues.  This is a brilliant premise and, as I said, the first third of the film had me in tears.  I was particularly enamored of Michael Cera’s ruthless self-portrayal.  However, very quickly, the film whittles down to a handful of people who quickly become irritating and the premise gets old.  After that we are left watching them find new ways to be crude.  Like each generation of comics, these folks are determined to push shock-value to the next level and certainly succeed admirably enough here.  Many of the comics of this generation take a particular pleasure in playing up the repressed homo-eroticism of modern American male relationships (see the brilliant “You are so hot” YouTube videos by Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) but even this got tired and felt like an SNL skit that went on too long.  There were definitely parts throughout the movie that made me laugh, they just got fewer and fewer as it went on.  The overly saccharin ending felt disingenuous and I thought that last great laugh moment fell flat and was all a bit sad.  Too bad.  There was the making of a great skit in there; maybe I should have seen the short film it was based on,  instead.

White Night

June 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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FRAMELINE FILM FESTIVAL.   I saw this Korean movie at Frameline, which is the big Gay & Lesbian film festival in San Francisco each year.  The story actually seems like an interesting one: a young gay pilot has lived in Germany for several years and is now back in Seoul on a 24 hour layover.  He had left Korea running away from a vicious homophobic assault he experienced that has left him distrustful and emotionally shut down.  He has arranged a trick while he is in town but, over the course of the night, the guy helps him get in touch with his repressed feelings.  Sounds interesting, right?  It wasn’t.  The man who played the lead was so emotionally disconnected that it was impossible to care about him.  I don’t  know if that was a stylistic choice of the director or a limitation of the actor but it ended up being a major hindrance.  The film had its charms, not the least of which was seeing the streets of Seoul at night, but in the end it left me feeling empty and not in the way it was intending.  I was not touched or sad; I was bored.

Man of Steel

June 17, 2013 at 11:07 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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“Man of Steel” represents DC’s grand attempt to rebuild its brand and is the clearest vision yet of the artistic direction they have chosen.  With Marvel’s superhero films supposedly bringing in 47% more revenue, DC has been playing catch-up for years.  While Marvel has placed it’s bets on a whimsical, larger-than-life and sometimes tongue-in-cheek approach to superheroes (think “The Avengers” and “Iron Man”), DC has chosen to follow the vision of their grand auteur, Christopher Nolan.  With the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “The Watchmen,”  the “Arrow” tv series and now “Man of Steel,” they are tapping deep into the troubled hero archetype.  This Kal-El is haunted by his outsider status and the missing fathers in his life, both of whom left him with a legacy of mistrust toward humans.  Now, young Clark must learn to trust the world he is destined to save and overcome his own insecurities in the process.  Hmm… “Dark Knight,” anyone?  “Arrow,” anyone?  He manages to do so, of course, with the help of a spunky Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the standard host of characters.  In a clever move, the script writers have him face off against General Zod from Krypton, effectively turning this film into more of a sci-fi bonanza than a superhero one.  Lots of special effects.  Lots of explosively fast fight scenes.  Lots and lots of action.  Perhaps, that’s why the film broke box office records but, after 2 1/2 hours, I was exhausted.  The movie only really shined in brief moments between parent and son, Lois and Clark.  Apparently, even aliens need human connection.  The rest of the time was a blur of effects.  I can’t say I was bored but I wasn’t really engaged either.  Though I will say this, Henry Cavill is hot to look at.   And DC knows it; there is a sexual current running throughout the film and the camera loves to linger on his body (btw- look for the flying dildos early in the film.  They are truly… astonishing).  For all my criticisms, this is a far better movie than “Superman Returns.”  DC may have finally figured out the right model for themselves.  And, frankly, if they can make Superman dark, who can’t they do it with?    I’d be watching for emo Aquaman any day now.

Much Ado About Nothing

June 17, 2013 at 10:33 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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Spoiler alert: it ends with a wedding.  Which, if you are up on Shakespearean comedies, may not come as much of a surprise or, for that matter, even if you know nothing about Shakespeare, this plot arc is not exactly a cliff hanger.  In fact, it is always a bit funny to me how a contemporary take on Shakespearean comedies points out the plot absurdities, such as going from hate to love in a single soliloquy.  That said, these actors know the work and know how to have fun with it and rarely have I had as much fun in a Shakespearean film.  Joss Whedon has made a career out of appealing to Gen-Xers with his slyly comedic take on classic genres, think “The Avengers,” “Cabin in the Woods,” “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.”  So, it’s nice to see him take comedy head on.  The whole movie is filmed in the his own home and, apparently, the ample drinking seen on screen is absolutely real.  This familial atmosphere is added to by the fact that he fills the cast with old friends from “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Dollhouse,” “Firefly” and “The Avengers.”  Fortunately, the film does not suffer for having relatively unknown TV actors in major roles and Whedon fans clearly loved it; a woman in my audience threw her arms up in the air and let out a whoop when Nathan Fillion appeared on screen.  Fillion, in fact, stole the show with his fantastic take on the slapstick character, Dogberry.  Whedon cleverly found ways to weave in contemporary laughs for the audience, the best one coming near the end of the film around the use of the term “Ethiop.”  Brilliant.  Whedon’s brother does the musical score and, in a genius move, includes actual words from the play into the two songs with lyrics.  I am not sure why the film is in black and white as this did not seem to add anything but didn’t detract either.    Whether or not you are a fan of Shakespeare (or Whedon), there are enough pleasures in this film to go around.

Now You See Me

June 3, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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This was my backup choice after seeing the reviews for “After Earth.”  I’m glad I made the switch.  This was a really good bad movie.  Let’s be clear, don’t go to “Now You See Me” expecting Scorsese.  This is, at it’s best, just dumb fun.  The film starts with a mystery: who has chosen these 4 magicians, built them into a team and why?  The story moves along at a nice clip for a film like this; you have some action scenes, some snarky comments, some fun tricks, a growing mystery and police hot on the trail.  Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.  Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network,” “Zombieland”) is basically playing his Mark Zuckerberg character with cards (ie I’m so much smarter than you that I always have the perfect quip ready).  Woody Harrelson’s character was surprisingly bland, perhaps because his wisecracking was not nearly as effective as Eisenberg’s.  James Franco’s little brother Dave , who is currently most famous for his YouTube shorts, played the young wide-eyed kid.  Isla Fisher (“The Great Gatsby”) is the sexual tension.  Mark Ruffalo (“The Avengers” and so many other, better movies) is the hang-dog cop.  Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) is the sexy French woman from Interpol he is saddled with (but, wait… I bet they kiss).  Throw in Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Common and now you’ve seen it.  Or at least can take a pretty good guess at it.  There is nothing particularly shocking in this film, least of all the surprise “twist” of who is behind it all.  Having said all that, I enjoyed every minute of this very silly ride.  The tricks went from the plausible to the impossible in quick succession and the plot is beyond ridiculous but do you really care about those things in a film like this?  I laughed and was entertained.  Even if I could tell what was up their sleeves, I really didn’t care.

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