Monday, July 30, 2012

The Watch

Sometimes when a movie has a 15% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet 70% of the audience likes it, it’s the critics who are wrong. That’s the case with “The Watch,” a critical punching bag for 20th Century Fox that happens to have a lot of the biggest out-loud laughs of the year. The movie stars Ben Stiller as Evan, a Glenview, Ohio Costco manager and do-gooder about town who forms a neighborhood watch after a Mexican employee is mysteriously killed the night after he earns his U.S. citizenship.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Queen of Versalles, Wagner's Dream

The Queen of Versalles
Wagner's Dream

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

After seeing the hit documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” about timeshare king David Siegel and his trophy wife, Jackie, a former Mrs. Florida, you may feel the way you do after wasting a Sunday in bed with a pint of Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter, watching an E! True Hollywood Story and a marathon of “The Girls Next Door.” (You do know that feeling, don’t you?)

Searching for Sugar Man

One of the great, rare joys of going to the movies is the delightful sensation of being surprised, even once but sometimes several times, by the changes in direction a story takes. Such is the case with the mind-blowing documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.” It’s best to enter as I did, knowing little or nothing about a shy, mysterious, black-clad singer named Rodriguez, who released two albums in the early 1970s that garnered favorable comparisons to Bob Dylan, then disappeared from the world.

Dark Horse

Time has passed by the hateful and deeply unfunny director Todd Solondz. The festering misanthropy of his debut feature, “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” has curdled and coagulated into something truly rancid and devoid of laughs. Jordan Gelber plays Abe, a hapless loser, approaching 40, who works for his father (Christopher Walken, catatonic) and lives with Dad and Mom... (Mia Farrow, who’s still done nothing of value since leaving Woody) in the bedroom of his childhood, now a shrine to ThunderCats merchandise.

Ruby Sparks

The objectification of women is not only the theme of the ludicrous and dreary romcom “Ruby Sparks” but its sustaining vision. Paul Dano, the most mannered and false young actor working in Hollywood, plays the vaguely antisocial author Calvin Weir-Field, whose first novel evoked comparisons to Salinger but who’s getting nowhere on his next. Until, that is, a wisp of a dream in which an apparition of a young woman beckons to him, and he can’t stop writing about her.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan's trilogy-concluding "The Dark Knight Rises" assaults the viewer with the unrelenting bass thump of a Hans Zimmer score (which also marred "Inception"), its queasily violent vision of a downtrodden Gotham held hostage by an unremarkable villain, and endless, nothing-special scenes of hand-to-hand combat, CGI effects, and green-screen projections. At 165 bloated minutes, it's boring beyond belief.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Last year, the protean director Michael Winterbottom made my top 20 with the unexpectedly hilarious and vastly underseen "The Trip," a mash-up of a buddy road comedy with the verbal one-upmanship of stars Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, whose dueling impersonations of Michael Caine were alone worth the price of a ticket.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ballplayer: Pelotero

Something uncanny happens halfway through the baseball documentary “Pelotero.” The filmmakers, who promised (and failed to deliver) the personal stories of two teenage Dominican Republic boys who hope to make it to MLB, trip over one of the biggest scoops in 21st-century sports reporting. Even then, they don’t seem to know what they’ve got.

Union Square

Twenty years ago, Nancy Savoca directed a little sleeper of a movie called “Dogfight” with River Phoenix in a typically sweet part as a Marine, soon to ship off to Nam, whose buddies propose a who-can-bring-the-ugliest-date contest, but who finds himself falling for the homely, daydreaming waitress he invites (Lili Taylor).

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Farewell, My Queen

The subject of Benoit Jacquot’s “Farewell, My Queen” is not my departure Monday for Philadelphia. Rather, it’s Marie Antoinette (her again?) during the last days of Versailles. Jacquot was actually allowed to film at Versailles, and it’s a secondary failing of the movie that he’s failed to capture the decadent grandeur of the place, the sheer flawless vulgarity of it (to borrow a line from “Small Time Crooks”). The primary problem is an overstuffed plot that would require an MIT wall-size dry-erase board to diagram.

Easy Money

Its Swedish setting and “Presented by Martin Scorsese” credit impart to the crime thriller “Easy Money” an imprimatur of exceptionality not matched by what director Daniel Espinosa (of this year’s equally mediocre “Safe House”) has put on the screen: a mishmash of every conventional genre trope known to man.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Katy Perry: Part of Me

The answer: "Savages," "Ted," and "The Amazing Spider-Man." The question: Name three current films rated less fresh on Rotten Tomatoes than "Katy Perry: Part of Me." The young lady tearing tickets posed perhaps the most superfluous question of all time. "Do you want the regular 3D glasses," she asked me, "or the special pink ones?" I'm here for the Katy Perry movie. It's axiomatic that I want the special pink ones. But "Part of Me", an anodyne concert film / authorized biography following the pop superstar and her legion of Katy Kats on the yearlong, worldwide "California Dreams" tour that coincided with the breakup of her marriage to comedian Russell Brand, may be the least 3D-worthy movie ever released in 3D.

Monday, July 9, 2012

People Like Us

The sappy and  sententious would-be tearjerker "People Like Us" suffers from the "Three's Company!" version of the Idiot Plot: There would be no movie if the key character just out and said what was going on instead of making everyone suffer on manufactured misapprehension the entire time.

Take This Waltz

Actress-turned-director Sarah Polley in 2006 made the lovely and fine "Away From Her," one of the small handful of worthwhile Alzheimer's movies. She aspires to the same rarefied air with "Take This Waltz," but in giving her characters the porcelain-doll treatment keeps them at a clinical remove, never allowing us to relate to them on a basic emotional level.

Never Stand Still

"Never Stand Still" is the title of a documentary about the Jacob's Pillow dance festival, held every year since the 1930s in the Berkshire town of Becket, Massachusetts and featuring ballet, modern and every other conceivable dance discipline. Among the luminaries featured are Margo Champion, Merce Cunningham, Suzanne Farrell, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris and Paul Taylor. At just 75 minutes, the movie plays like a fundraising DVD, never capturing the joy of dance as did Dan Geller's and Dayna Goldfine's 2005 great "Ballets Russes," or even this year's "First Position."


"Savages" is Oliver Stone's best movie in a score. His ham-fisted, too-much-is-never-enough style fits perfectly this brutally violent yet highly entertaining story of two Orange County surfing buddies (hunky Taylor Kitsch and soulful Aaron Johnson, the young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy") who become legendary moguls of the marijuana trade. Blake Lively narrates their saga as O, short for Ophelia, the sexy blonde they share in their Laguna Niguel beach house. From the first few sentences ("I had orgasms, Chon had war-gasms"; "Ben was Buddhist; Chon was Baddist"), we know we could only be in the hands of Stone.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Crazy Eyes

The indie boozefest “Crazy Eyes” is bargain-basement Bukowski, the nearly plotless exploits of several hard-drinking young Angelenos who complain of various emotional afflictions but whose real problem my Bryn Mawr friend Patty Gadicke would rightly have pegged as a vague sense of ennui. Their behavior grows ever more repellent in its louche decadence, and they with it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Best and Worst Movies of the First Half of 2012

Below, the 10 documentaries and 9 feature films released in L.A. so far this year that earned over 3 stars:

The Amazing Spider-Man

For summer moviegoers choosing among blockbusters, the entertaining and action-packed "The Amazing Spider-Man" offers good value for money. Its most valuable asset is the up-and-coming star Andrew Garfield, who first made a big impression in the science-fiction romance "Never Let Me Go." There's a twinkle in Garfield's soulful, imperceptibly sad eyes that suggests an intelligence to which Tobey Maguire could scarcely aspire, and a fresh-faced openness that juxtaposes intriguingly with his introspective, vaguely brooding gait.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Invisible War

Kirby Dick’s heartbreaking and enraging documentary “The Invisible War,” about the astonishing rate of sexual assaults in the military (the vast majority against women but a surprising number against men also), is the rare film document with the power to effect social change. Nobody with a soul could hear these women’s stories and not share their pain, frustration, fear and betrayal.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Turn Me On, Dammit!

We get umpteen movies about teenage boys’ sexual awakenings but precious few that tell the (often far more interesting) stories of teenage girls’ human development. Jannicke Jacobsen’s “Turn Me On, Dammit!” continues the recent Scandinavian tradition of charmingly matter-of-fact coming-of-age films, of which the apotheosis may have been Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 “Show Me Love.”

Sunday, July 1, 2012


I have little use for those who don’t love teddy bears. For a child (or a child at heart), a teddy bear can be a source of comfort in moments of fear and sadness, a bosom friend, a gateway to the wonderful world of the human imagination. So my reaction to Seth MacFarlane’s teddy-come-to-life comedy “Ted” was always going to depend largely on whether MacFarlane fundamentally loves bears or not. The answer, I think, is that he does, and that the movie’s coarse vulgarity does not reflect an abiding animus toward teddies. Unfortunately – and it’s close – the four-letter words ultimately overwhelm the actual funny bits.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

The film-festival favorite “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is an exercise in magical realism (one of my least favorite genres) about a heroic young black girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives with her ailing father in The Bathtub, a fictional, convex-curving Deep South backwater perpetually threatened with inundation by the fierce storms that ravage the Gulf Coast. Director Benh Zeitlin fills the screen with ugly images: Hushpuppy and her father catching fish with one hand and bashing their heads in with the other; Hushpuppy cooking cat food when they run out of animal meat; a flashback to Hushpuppy’s dead mother shooting an alligator that had crawled out of the swamp and sidled up to her husband. Even if you’re not of the Sally Aminoff school – my friend says she only wants to see “pretty movies about pretty people in pretty clothes” – “Beasts” is unpleasant to watch, which would be fine if it were any good. But despite the formidable presence of newcomer Wallis, it’s not: it’s repetitive and boring and lacking in forward momentum. (It also looks like it was shot through cotton balls.) Zeitlin may fancy himself a modern-day fabulist, but the fabular elements are not woven together in any coherent way. I defy you to explain the moral of this would-be fable without laughing; it’s yet another hackneyed triumph-of-the-human-spirit movie, complete with a score that thunders to a crescendo at the end.


When you see as many movies as I do, you develop a sixth sense for when a movie’s about to end. Even with the art films, if you’re simpatico, you’re on the same wavelength with the director, you connect with the theme and you recognize the conclusion even when it surprises most in the crowd. I and the rest of the matinee audience, however, were nonplussed by the abrupt ending of André Téchiné’s “Unforgivable.” Not that we minded; we stampeded for the exits and what remained of Saturday afternoon.