Monday, May 28, 2012


What better way to honor the memory of America’s war dead than with a lighthearted romp about the invention of a certain electrical self-stimulation device? Here to fill the bill is “Hysteria,” a costume comedy set in 1880’s England, starring the always appealing Hugh Dancy, with Jonathan Pryce and a proto-feminist Maggie Gyllenhaal, who doesn’t seem to realize the flick isn’t awards bait and almost manages to ruin it. (Tone it down, sweetcakes, you want to tell her; they ain’t giving no Oscar to a vibrator movie.)

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The Russian import "Elena" has been described as a modern-day film noir. Huh? It's a daylight-drenched, ponderously overlong waste of an interesting setting, with enough of a storyline for a fifteen-minute short subject. Elena used to be Vladimir's caretaker but has been his wife for a few years. Vlad's cheap with her slacker son Sergei and won't pay for Sergei's son ...Sasha's college ("The army is the best education"), but dotes on his bitchy and equally indolent daughter. One day he makes the mistake of telling Elena he'll be leaving almost everything to Katya (though she'll still get a lifetime annuity), to which Elena responds with quietly homicidal rage.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

It’s tough to convey the torturous ordeal that is “Moonrise Kingdom,” the latest exercise in unfettered self-indulgence for the look-at-me party drunk Wes Anderson, who reaches a new nadir with each successive picture. The embarrassing storyline involves a precocious, nerdy young boy and the blank-faced, empty-headed older girl he instantly recognizes as his soulmate (it’s hard to tell who’s more annoying), but as always it’s just an excuse for Anderson to have a cast of name actors recite his interminable stream of vapid, cutesy-poo dialogue. Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis – all just dolls for Anderson to move about his elaborate dollhouse; and it’s been at least a decade since Bill Murray brought anything of value to a movie. Anderson is obviously not without visual flair - you could see an Oscar for set decoration – which only makes his choice of material all the more discouraging. Meanwhile, I kept hearing guttural moans and snippets of commentary from the friend I took to “Moonrise Kingdom”: “I can’t…” “It’s a nightmare…” How much money, I asked, would it take to get him to go back and see it again. He gave the question thoughtful consideration. “It would be tough,” he said, “but I’d do it for $150.”

The Intouchables

If the French box-office hit “The Intouchables” (another terrible title), about a paralyzed jillionaire who hires a black street tough as his caretaker, is supposed to be the feelgood movie of the summer, why did it make me so queasy? Oh, yeah – because it’s a minstrel show. Omar Sy plays Driss, the Senegalese small-timer whom François Cluzet’s Philippe picks for the job because of his ostensible indifference to it (he only shows up to his appointment to qualify for unemployment benefits) and the “lack of pity” his stuffy brother warns him is endemic to Driss’s type. Sy won a César for his performance, and I’m happy for him, but you may blanch when the filmmakers have Driss shuck and jive to Earth, Wind & Fire after taking childish potshots at Philippe’s beloved classical music.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Dictator

I appreciate Sacha Baron Cohen's lack of political correctness and willingness to say anything for a laugh - more to the point, I like that he keeps his movies to about 80 minutes - but there's been a steady decline from the uproarious hilarity of "Borat" to the intermittent laughs of "Bruno" to the very few chuckles in "The Dictator." You can decide for yourself whether it's funny when, after delivering a baby, his misogynistic North African despot tells the mother, "Bad news, it's a girl - where's the trash can?" Too often, I found myself nodding off. There's too much plot for such a silly picture, and you can get your exercise for the week ducking most of the bad jokes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


The French import "Polisse" isn't quite like any other movie. It's half documentary, half dramatization, based on real-life stories from the Child Protection Unit of the Paris police and cast mostly with professional actors. Some of the stories are more compelling than others, but by the end you definitely feel that you've spent time on the beat, and several scenes are viscerally impactful and full of lifeforce. There's also a unique moment in which the unit, coming down from a series of emotional conflagrations, unwinds at a discotheque to the sounds of Keedz's "Stand on the Word." (The soundtrack's a must-buy on iTunes.) I don't like the way the movie ends - it takes a sharp turn that's out of step with what's come before - but it's well worth seeing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Wish

I wish... there was more of a story.
I wish... the themes were more compelling.
I wish... the end came much closer to the beginning.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Last Call at the Oasis

Jessica Yu’s documentary “Last Call at the Oasis” catalogs a world’s worth of problems relating to water, from artificial and carcinogenic chemicals in the water supply to overuse and misallocation of water to the psychological difficulties in getting Americans to accept recycled water. Unfortunately, it doesn’t shed real light on any of them as it bounces from one to the next in almost a stream of consciousness. The audience’s understanding of key concepts is frequently (incorrectly) assumed and rarely enhanced. These are fundamental – dare I say elemental? – issues, but Yu’s film neither entertains nor enlightens. It throws its hands up for 100 minutes, then closes with an inexplicably buoyant coda, sending more mixed messages than a schizophrenic fortune teller. It’s actually a mess.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers

The biggest opening in movie history belongs to a giant spinning top of a picture whose frenetic energy, constant motion, and all-out sensory assault mask a no-shades-of-gray storyline that, over the course of 2 ½ hours, goes past boring to downright stultifying. Two of the four Avengers, Thor and Captain America, add only extra runtime; their scenes really weigh the flick down. As you'd expect, Robert Downey, Jr. scores most of the laughs as Tony Stark; he's the only one who seems to get the ridiculousness of the enterprise, while the Chrises (Evans and Hemsworth) recite their SciFi-meets-Scientology technobabble with thudding earnestness. Mark Ruffalo turns in a nice performance as Bruce Banner, and in the end it's he who gives Loki (the villain of the piece) his comeuppance in a way so simple and amusing it makes a mockery of all that has come before. Scarlett Johansson provides the eye candy, but doesn't get to flex the comic muscles she's shown in her recent work with Woody Allen, while Samuel Jackson does what he does best: cash paychecks and bring nothing to the proceedings. The visuals are surprisingly unimpressive, almost retrograde, lots of flashes of electricity and slithering Asgardian serpents. There's not a scene you'll remember five minutes afterward. "Marvel's The Avengers" is a perfectly fine movie to put on the tube. In the background. While you're taking a shower

Monday, May 7, 2012

First Position, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

First Position
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Since Jeffrey Blitz's great 2002 documentary "Spellbound," you can write the treatments for such pix by Mad Libs (choose activity: spelling bee, crosswords, ballroom dancing; add backstory; climax at national finals). Bess Kargman's youth-ballet-competition doc "First Person" is formulaic, cheesy, and not particularly well-made, but Kargman chose a delightful sextet of kids to track, and they imbue the flick with more humor and joy than it deserves. What makes the kids so impressive is not so much their virtuosity as their seriousness (often singleness) of purpose, their perseverance through intense physical pain, their professionalism. Everyone comes off well except a couple of the parents, one a total Tiger Mother, another who with a few words manages to put the weight of the world on his daughter's shoulders. Kargman needed to tighten up the story - at times, despite the supposed rigor of the Youth America Grand Prix, it seems everyone who fucks up gets a Tonya Harding retake - but she's made sharp enough casting choices to overcome her directorial failings and the movie's good clean fun.