Thursday, August 29, 2013

When Comedy Went to School

It's hardly controversial to call the U.S.' contemporary comedy scene the most advanced in the world.

The Grandmaster

In "The Grandmaster," acclaimed director Wong Kar-Wai attempts to tell the history of postwar China (beginning right after the Pu Yi era chronicled in "The Last Emperor") through the lens of martial arts grandmaster Ip Man (Tony Leung), son of the southern city of Foshan, and the daughter (Ziyi Zhang), herself an expert, of the northern legend who passed him the torch.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers

You'd think a documentary about the world's most successful syndicate of jewel thieves, especially one with as vital a title as "Smash & Grab," would muster more momentum than Havana Marking's slapdash "Story of the Pink Panthers."

The United States of Football

For "The United States of Football," his examination of the brain damage suffered by football players from the NFL down to the Peewees, Sean Pamphilon has commendably interviewed individuals offering a wide range of perspective: current and former NFL players, their wives, the top doctors and scientists studying CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), coaches and administrators, members of Congress.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The World's End

The 90% fresh rating for “The World’s End” on Rotten Tomatoes mystifies me.

Short Term 12

Sometimes a movie comes along. Nobody knows much about it; all they know is it’s supposed to be good. And it is. And at this moment in time, that movie is Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Short Term 12,” an unexpected crowd-pleaser about a group home for at-risk kids – a sort of way station between stops in the county bureaucracy.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Is it possible, after spending over two hours watching a movie biography, to know less about its subject than you did coming in? Such is the case with Joshua Michael Stern's appallingly inept "Jobs," which portrays Apple founder Steve Jobs as an arrogant, megalomaniacal prick who motivated his workforce with the bland anything-is-possible clichés you'd have found at an est seminar or a Dianetics convention.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is a 90-minute commercial for OWN, followed by a 30-minute commercial for the president. It's been called a black "Forrest Gump," and while it's much better than that flatulent film, it suffers from the same events-driven approach to history you'd find in a grade-school textbook, mixed with a staid and self-satisfied pomposity that too often keeps it from coming to life. The driving emotion behind the movie appears to have been Daniels' fear that someone might accuse him of leaving anything (or any Obama donor in Hollywood) out.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Happy Sad

There oughta be Razzies for the worst achievements in indie and art-house film. It seems unfair to heap scorn on such low-aiming studio fare as "All About Steve" and not take time to recognize the special awfulness of smaller movies.

Herblock: The Black and the White

Michael Stevens - grandson of filmmaker George Stevens - should be ashamed of himself for the unethical biodoc "Herblock: The Black and the White," about the Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert Block, whose 55-year career included four Pulitzers and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Museum Hours

Vienna, which Richard Linklater made look impossibly photogenic and romantic in “Before Sunrise,” gets a slushier treatment in Jem Cohen’s “Museum Hours,” a promising piece that takes unfortunate detours into directorial stylistics. 

Cutie and the Boxer

Director Zachary Heinzerling packs a lot of meat into his 82-minute directing debut, the biographical documentary “Cutie and the Boxer,” about the Japanese action painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko, herself an accomplished illustrator eager for her share of the spotlight.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I truly abhorred the asinine comedy "Austenland," about a Regency Era English resort catering to American women who swoon over "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice" and crave "an immersive Austen experience."

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" director David Lowery has made a film that's lovely to look at but lacking in its storytelling.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Sometimes familiar material can be, if not made fresh, at least elevated by one or two exceptionally strong performances.

The Canyons

"The Canyons" isn't as bad as you'd feared, or as bad as you'd hoped. But it is bad, flat not in the affectless way of good Bret Easton Ellis (the film's writer) but in Paul Schrader's directorial style and wooden performances by Lilo and porn king James Deen.

More Than Honey

"If all the bees ever died out, mankind would follow four years later." - Albert Einstein

Monday, August 12, 2013

Our Children

Director Joachim Lafosse opens "Our Children" with an image of such primal sadness - four children's caskets being placed in an airplane's cargo hold - that it would take a monumental film to feel as though it had earned that right. Instead, the opening only casts a grim pall over the film that leaves us always waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.

In a World...

It's no surprise that Lake Bell's script for her directorial debut "In a World..." won a screenwriting award at Sundance. It represents everything wrong with Sundance, where too quirky is never quirky enough and scripts are not written but overwritten to the point of sigh-inducing weariness.

Prince Avalanche

"George Washington" director David Gordon Green - who's lately been slumming it with such swill as "The Sitter" and "Your Highness" - has made a one-off picture with the inexplicable (and box office fatal) title "Prince Avalanche," about a two-man crew charged with painting lines down a lonely Texas highway near the site of a recent deadly wildfire.


Five bucks if you can place Jodie Foster's accent in the likely Razzie nominee "Elysium," and if you can find a worse performance in her forty-year filmography, make it a tenner.

Friday, August 9, 2013

We're the Millers

The fake-family comedy "We're the Millers," to the posters for which Warner Bros. has appended the very funny tag "(*if anybody asks)," is so schizophrenic it plays like two, sometimes three different movies.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Computer Chess

The only movie of the weekend with a clear (if slight) vision, mostly realized, is Andrew Bujalski's faux-documentary "Computer Chess," about a weekend tournament of computer chess programmers in the early 80's, at a hotel with an overabundance of stray cats.

2 Guns

I don't know why "2 Guns."

The Artist and the Model

Another empty female character sinks the sere and somnolent Pyrenees import "The Artist and the Model," a film as unremarkable as its Brand X title connotes.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Spectacular Now

I pity the high school seniors of today, who get as their pre-graduation romantic comedy James Ponsoldt’s vapid “The Spectacular Now,” whereas we in the Class of 1990 got the greatest teen movie of modern times, Cameron Crowe’s “say anything...,” which boasts a hundred scenes, moments, lines of dialogue, and characters truer than anything in Michael H. Weber’s false and phony script.