Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Best Films of 2011, Vol. II

Here's my official list of the year's best films as posted on Patch.

The list has not changed - at all, in fact - from the cinematic roundup I posted last week. However, I have a chance to flesh out my reasoning for picking each of my top 10 movies as well as include my second 10 best and a brief note on the year's worst.

This week, I've been able to catch up with "War Horse," which is a solid war movie/family drama that I will review this coming week, and "The Adventures of Tintin," which is, admittedly, not one of my favorite Steven Spielberg films. It's not bad, just not great either. I also watched "Margin Call," which I thought was quite good.

Tonight, I'll be watching "Pariah" and "Pina," which will be included in next week's roundup. I won't be able to see "A Separation" until next week.

So, here's my Best Films of 2011, Vol. II.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fell in Love with a 'Girl'

I'm in the midst of holiday travel, so I'll keep this week's post very, very short. In essence, this week's reviews include David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which is a solid thriller and more of a re-imagining of the source material than a remake of the 2009 Swedish film. I also caught up with "We Bought a Zoo," which is not one of Cameron Crowe's best, but still quite charming.

Here are my reviews for Patch.

I also saw "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," but after my deadline for posting reviews. It was a lot of fun and most likely the best of the series since Brian De Palma's 1996 picture.

This coming week, I'll review "War Horse," "Pariah" and "Pina" as well as catch up with "The Adventures of Tintin." Sadly, I won't be able to get to "A Separation" until the new year, but I'll post a review at that time.

Later this week, keep an eye out for my extensive awards for this year's movies as well as my Patch roundup of the year's best.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Best Films of 2011, Volume I

It ended up being a solid year for film following a slow start in the spring and some long stretches in the summer.

This is my unofficial Best of 2011 list. Next week, I will post my best of the year list on Patch that will include explanations for my choices as well as my worst of the year.

I will update this list as necessary.

Also, I would be remiss not to mention that I've missed a few notable pictures this year. I currently have "Margin Call" at home and plan to view it this week. But I won't be catching up with "United Red Army," "Mysteries of Lisbon" or "Margaret" until the new year.

For now, here are my acting choices for 2011:
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Best Actress: Keira Knightley, "A Dangerous Method"
Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, "Drive"
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, "The Tree of Life"

And, here are my ten runners up and ten best films:

Ten Runners Up:
20. Higher Ground (Vera Farmiga)
19. Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
18. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar)
17. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
16. Shame (Steve McQueen)
15. J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood)
14. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
13. Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
12. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
11. Bellflower (Evan Glodell)

Ten Best:
10a. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
10b. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicious)
  9. City of Life and Death (Chu Luan)
  8. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
  7. The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
  6. Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki)
  5. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
  4. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
  3. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
  2. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
  1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Carnage' and 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

Roman Polanski's "Carnage" does not rank among the director's best films, but it is still a pretty sharp, well-acted and often very funny chamber piece.

The filmmaker has proven before that he works well with confined spaces, such as in the case of "Repulsion," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Tenant." "Carnage fits into that crowd of "apartment films," but aims more for satirical social comedy than horror.

As I've said, it's a minor Polanski picture, but still an enjoyable one.

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is a pretty standard Hollywood blockbuster. It does not particularly improve upon the first film, though it has several decent set pieces.

Check out my reviews for Patch.

This holiday weekend, I'll definitely see "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "War Horse." I'm also hoping to catch up with all of the following pictures: "We Bought a Zoo," "The Adventures of Tintin," "Pariah," "Pina" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

Unfortunately, I will not be able to see "A Separation" or "The Iron Lady" before making my best of the year list, which will be posted early next week. I will, however, catch up with both and will update my list, if necessary. "A Separation" is getting terrific word of mouth.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why the Long Face?: 'Kevin,' 'Tinker' and 'Young Adult'

This week's cinematic selection was a gloomy one, indeed.

From Charlize Theron's depressive, alcoholic writer of youth novels in "Young Adult" and Gary Oldman's emotionally reserved spy in Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" to Tilda Swinton's distraught mother of a psychopath in Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin," the films I caught last weekend featured some heavy performances. Which is a good thing.

Reitman's latest challenges expectations, especially for those moviegoers expecting to see some sort of redemption story. No such luck. "Young Adult" is scathingly funny and happy ending free. It's a solid picture, if not quite as good as "Up in the Air," the director's previous film.

"Tinker" was also good but, alas, not as compelling as Alfredson's breakthrough, "Let the Right One In." That being said, it's a well-shot and directed entry into the spy genre.

My favorite of the week was "Kevin," a disturbing and provocative film that questions parental culpability. Swinton is marvelous as the mother of a young man who carries out a school shooting. But the film is more concerned with the lead-up to the tragedy, rather the incident itself. An interesting movie, to be sure.

Here are my Patch reviews.

This coming weekend, I'll check out Roman Polanski's "Carnage" and two potential blockbusters: "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Shame' and 'My Week with Marilyn'

Gotta keep it quick this week.

Check out my Patch reviews for Steve McQueen's controversial "Shame" and "My Week with Marilyn," the first of which was quite powerful and the second pretty entertaining. Both feature terrific lead performances.

Click here to read the reviews.

I also caught up with Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty," which I didn't review. That picture received mixed notices at Cannes this year and I can see why. The film has some evocative and provocative imagery, but it doesn't quite hold together.

This coming weekend, I'll review "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "Young Adult" and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Out of the Past: 'A Dangerous Method,' 'Hugo' and 'The Artist'

Wow. It was a great Thanksgiving weekend for movies. All three pictures I reviewed for Patch this week could be possible top 10 of the year contenders: David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist."

"Method" is a cerebral take on the birth of psychoanalysis, with Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen dueling it out as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, respectively. Caught between their battle for the future of the "talking cure" is Sabina Spielren, played with intensity by Keira Knightley. The picture may not immediately appear to be a likely choice for Cronenberg, but it fits perfectly into his oeuvre. It's one of the year's best.

Both Scorsese's 3D fantasy, "Hugo," and "The Artist" are loving tributes to classic cinema. The former actually includes pioneer George Melies as a character, while the second comes off as the best, unreleased film of 1927. Each film is moving in its own way.

Check out my Patch reviews for all three films.

This coming weekend, I'll review Steve McQueen's controversial new picture, "Shame." Other possibilities include "My Week with Marilyn," Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty," "The Yellow Sea" or Ralph Fiennes's "Coriolanus."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Twi-Hardly: 'Breaking Dawn' Fails to Deliver, but Payne's 'The Descendants' is One of Year's Best

I've never exactly been a fan of the "Twilight" series, but "Breaking Dawn Part 1" is pretty much a mess. This is a shame because the picture was directed by Bill Condon, of whose "Kinsey" and "Gods and Monsters" I was a big fan. But this latest in the series of films based on Stephenie Meyer's popular novels is an all-around bust - wooden acting, melodrama galore and semi-ludicrous plot twists.

The weekend's brightest spot was Alexander Payne's "The Descendants," which features a particularly vulnerable performance from George Clooney. I've always admired Payne's work - from "Election" and "About Schmidt" to "Sideways." His latest represents a shift toward more dramatic material. "The Descendants" is often funny, but it's a more solemn occasion. Regardless, I really liked it.

I also caught up with Paddy Considine's directorial debut, "Tyrannosaur," which I admired, especially for its performances by Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman. But it's a tough sit - and by that, I mean it's brutal and bleak. I'd recommend it, but be prepared for an uncomfortable experience.

Here are my reviews for Patch.

This coming weekend, I'm definitely going to catch David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and new Oscar frontrunner "The Artist." I'll also eventually see "My Week with Marilyn," but most likely not this weekend.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Apocalypse Wow: Lars Von Trier's 'Melancholia' (and Eastwood's 'J. Edgar')

Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia" could be the cynical brother of "The Tree of Life." In Terrence Malick's film, a man views the origins of the universe through the scope of his own life and fall from grace. Von Trier's picture tells the tale of a woman who witnesses the destruction of the Earth through the prism of her crippling depression. It's a fascinating movie and a highpoint in Von Trier's career.

I also really enjoyed Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar," which has been getting some (what I consider to be) unfairly negative notices. Critics have chided the legendary filmmaker for apparently letting the notorious G-man off the hook, which begs this question: Were we watching the same film?

Regardless, it's a complex movie with a fantastic lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Here are my reviews for Patch.

I tried, but just couldn't make it to "Immortals," "Into the Abyss" and "Letters from the Big Man" this week. I'll try to catch up with some of them soon, especially the Werner Herzog film.

This week, I'll definitely review Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" and Paddy Considine's "Tyrannosaur... as well as "Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I." You heard correctly.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yuk, Yuk, Yuk: The Hollywood Comedy

To say the least, I'm a little late with my post this week. But late is better than never.

Here are my Patch reviews for "Tower Heist" and "A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas," both of which had me going meh, the latter more so than the former.

This week, I'm going to review Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia," Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" and Tarsem Singh's "Immortals." At some point, I'm also going to have to catch up with Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss" and Christopher Munch's "Letters from the Big Man."

Monday, October 31, 2011

This Week at the Movies

Happy Halloween!

This past weekend, I caught up with three movies - "In Time," "The Rum Diary" and "Like Crazy" - that I reviewed for Patch and one, "The Mill and the Cross," that I did not (but liked). 

Here are my Patch reviews.

This coming weekend, I'm going to review "Tower Heist" and, most likely, the "Harold and Kumar" movie.

Also, doing a Nicolas Winding Refn festival. I'm going to see the "Pusher" trilogy for the first time and rewatch "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Season's Bleedings: The Halloween Movie Canon (Plus Ten More)

This morning, I posted the Halloween Horror Movie Canon on Patch. The piece includes a number of titles you'd expect to see on such a list - "The Shining," "Nosferatu," "Halloween" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

But I've also added a top ten list of horror movies you might have missed, such as Nicolas Roeg's atmospheric freakout "Don't Look Now" or the surreal African fright film "Dust Devil."

Check out the list here.

And, because nobody's perfect, I realize I left off a few choice movies, including "The Last House on the Left," "Inside" and "Blood and Black Lace." I purposely left off a number of classics, such as "Frankenstein," "Dracula" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and stuck with films made between the 1960s and the present. One exception, obviously, is F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu."

Any other noteworthy horror classics I missed?

Monday, October 24, 2011

This Week at the Movies: Le Havre, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Paranormal Activity 3

Note to Hollywood: stop locating found footage! To be fair, "Paranormal Activity 3" has a few truly creepy moments. But on the whole, it's another long slog through an hour and ten minutes of tedium for ten minutes of payoff.

Sean Durkin's debut, "Martha Marcy May Marlene," is much creepier and includes a breakout performance by Elizabeth Olsen. I was not quite as blown away by the picture as a number of other critics have been, but it's still a solid independent thriller - eerily shot, beautifully acted and retaining a sense of dread throughout.

The week's piece de resistance was Aki Kaurismaki's "Le Havre," which is one of the Finnish auteur's finest films to date as well as a movie that stays with you long after having seen it. In fact, the movie expands in my mind the longer I think about it. Plus, it features Little Bob! You'll have to see for yourself.

Here are my reviews for Patch.

For some non-related film content, take a look at my list of the top ten worst items to receive in your trick or treat bag on Halloween.

Later this week, I'm going to post a piece on Patch on the best Halloween films you've likely never seen. This coming weekend, I'm going to try to catch up with "The Rum Diary," "Like Crazy" and "In Time."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Almodovar's Mad Scientist Movie (And Department of Been There, Done That, '80s Edition)

It's going to be light posting today due to a busy week.

Last weekend, I caught up with Pedro Almodovar's creepy "The Skin I Live In," which is not among the maestro's best films, but still better than most psychological thrillers.

My reviews for Patch also included "The Thing," a tepid prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 film and one of two '80s rehashes I saw this weekend, and "Texas Killing Fields," an average serial killer drama.

Check out my reviews here.

I also managed to squeeze in Lucky McKee's "The Woman," an extremely horror film in the torture porn genre. I found the picture's brand of horror movie feminism intriguing, but was pretty turned off by its repulsive violence. Also, caught "Footloose." Meh. A few good dance numbers and some pretty bland remakes of '80s chestnuts that should have been left well-enough alone.

This coming weekend, I'm going to definitely catch "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and Aki Kaurasmaki's "Le Havre" and will most likely end up seeing "Paranormal Activity 3."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

That Old (But Good) Familiar Feeling: 'The Ides of March' and 'Weekend'

This week's cinematic selections follow oldie but goodie formulas and each managed to succeed one way or another.

First up was George Clooney's "The Ides of March," a political thriller that does not tell us anything we did not already knew about our messy election process. But the film is clearly made with a sure hand and features some sharp writing and performances.

Ryan Gosling continues to prove he's one of the best actors working in mainstream film, while Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti all give terrific supporting performances.

Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" also treads familiar ground. It takes the formula of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" films, but transports the story to England, where two gay men - one shy and reserved, the other more outspoken - riff on everything from relationships, politics, gay marriage and art. The film takes a little while to draw us in, but it eventually manages to do so. It's a solid little picture.

Check out my reviews here.

Ever wanted to wander around in, say, a David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick film (especially "The Shining" or "Eyes Wide Shut?) or a Shakespeare play (say, "Macbeth"). Done, done and done! Last weekend, I took part in one of the most unique theater performances I've witnessed in a while.

And I literally mean "took part in." The show is a version, of sorts, of Shakespeare's great tragedy, but set in five floors of a spooky old abandoned hotel in Chelsea. Truly, there's nothing quite like it.

Read my piece on my experience with "Sleep No More."

Alas, I have no review for "50/50," with which I finally caught up over the weekend. It's a nice little dramedy and Joseph Gordon Levitt brings the right amount of humor and pathos to his role.

This weekend, there's much to be seen. Priority number one is Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In," but I'd also love to catch up with "Texas Killing Fields," Lucky McKee's "The Woman" and the remake of "The Thing."

I didn't make it to "The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)," mainly due to the fact that it's only playing at midnight. It will have to wait for video.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shelter from the Storm: Jeff Nichols's Extraordinary New Film

"Take Shelter" is one of the year's better films I've seen so far. The film subtly paints a chilling portrayal of how we live now and has a unique perspective on mental illness.

It's an unsettling picture with two terrific performances - Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain - as well as a director (Jeff Nichols) with great promises at its helm.

The week's other film about insanity, "Dream House," was a disappointment, considering that it is directed by Jim Sheridan and stars Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig and Naomi Watts.

Check out my Patch reviews here.

This weekend, I will obviously check out George Clooney's "The Ides of March" and will likely catch up with "Weekend" (the gay romance, not Godard's classic) and "50/50."

I will not, however, see "The Human Centipede (Full Sequence)" as it is only playing at midnight screenings at the IFC Center. I can't say I'm completely heartbroken.

Monday, September 26, 2011

'Moneyball' is Major League

In case you hadn't heard, Bennett Miller's baseball drama, "Moneyball," is a solid baseball film for people who do not like sports movies.

In fact, the picture bears more resemblance to David Fincher's "The Social Network" than to any of the numerous baseball pictures from the past several decades. It's a solid film.

Needless to say, I'm not so excited about "Abduction," a wooden action thriller that stars Taylor Lautner as the son of some sort of super spy. The film was directed by John Singleton, who obviously was looking to cash in on the "Twilight" star's popularity. 

My favorite part of the film is at the end when several of the cast members, assembled in a parking lot, pretty much shrug their shoulders and all walk off. 

Check out my reviews here.

This coming weekend, I'll check out "Take Shelter" and "Dream House." If I've got time, I'll squeeze in "50/50" or Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret." 

Monday, September 19, 2011

There's a Man Going 'Round Taking Names: 'Drive' and 'Straw Dogs'

Needless to say, I was pretty floored by Nicolas Winding Refn's stylish crime thriller "Drive" and I'm now determined to finally catch up with his "Pusher" trilogy and "Fear X."

Ryan Gosling nails it and the picture's entire supporting cast is just as good. I'd be willing to be Refn makes big transcontinental waves with both this film and some future endeavors.

I also caught up with Rod Lurie's remake of "Straw Dogs," this weekend's other film about men behaving violently. I'll give Lurie credit for even thinking to remake Peckinpah's 1971 classic. That being sad, it's a hit or miss affair. The update's ending is still pretty visceral. I'd almost recommend seeing it.

Gus Van Sant's "Restless" was my third pick to see over the weekend. And while it's certainly not among the director's best, it grows on you as it moves along. The film is visually lovely and some chemistry develops between its leads. It's not a bad film by any means - just not one of Van Sant's best films about the world of teens.

Check out my reviews here.

This coming weekend, I'll be seeing "Moneyball," but will also try to catch up with Kevin Smith's "Red State."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Weekly Cinema Wrapup: Communicable, God Fearing Edition

It was my vow to post this week's reviews earlier than I've done in the past few weeks. Between Hurricane Irene and 9/11 coverage, it's been a bit of a doozy.

So, here are my Patch reviews for this week.

It was a solid kickoff to the fall movie season. Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion" was a disturbingly realistic portrayal of what might happen should the world be plagued by an airborne communicable disease.

Much like "Traffic," Soderbergh's new film follows a group of characters at the epicenter of an event. In this case, they are a detective for the World Health Organization, a muckety muck in the Centers for Disease Control, a woman infected with the disease and her husband, a blogger who uses fear generated by the virus for his own purposes and several doctors either in the field or seeking a cure.

It's an atmospherically chilly, but consistently riveting thriller.

One of the better directorial debuts of the year belongs to actress Vera Farmiga, whose "Higher Ground" is a thoughtful, engrossing take on the evangelical Christian movement.

The movie is neither pro-religion nor anti-faith. Rather, much like Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," it's a film in awe of the mysterious nature of faith. Its characters seek spirituality, even when it fails to come naturally.

This coming week is going to be a busy one at the movies. First, I'll be checking out Nicolas Winding Refn's acclaimed "Drive," which won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.

I'll also see "Restless," another Cannes 2011 alumni. That picture is a teen romance directed by Gus Van Sant. And, I'll most likely make some time for Rod Lurie's remake of "Straw Dogs."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Department of Late Postings: 'The Debt,' 'Apollo 18' and 'Shark Night'

It's been a bit hectic and posting has been light.

But I really should get these links to my Patch reviews up quicker. It'll be my fall resolution.

This week's selections included "The Debt," which had its moments but did not completely work for me.

I also caught up with two horror films - "Apollo 18" and "Shark Night 3D." Neither was great, but not as bad as some other recent examples of the genre.

I also saw "Colombiana," which is not reviewed in this week's post. It's an amusingly preposterous thriller that holds up for much of its running time.

Here are the reviews.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, take a look at my interview with Michael Arad, who designed the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero.

And check back in Monday - I promise, Monday! - for a review of "Contagion" and possibly something else. "Higher Ground," perhaps?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fall Movie Preview

Check out my preview for Patch of 50 new films opening this fall as well as my belated posting of last week's review of "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," an average haunted house picture.

This week, I'm going to review "The Debt," about which I had mixed feelings," as well as "Apollo 18" and "Shark Night 3D."

Next week kicks off the fall movie season with Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion." So, be sure to check back for reviews the season's biggest movies.

Monday, August 22, 2011

'Fright' is Alright

Colin Farrell nails it in the remake of the 1985 cult classic "Fright Night." Overall, the film is a mixed bag. It has some genuine scares and clever political subtext, but it feels more like an action movie than a horror picture.

Lone Scherfig's "One Day" succeeds mainly due to the charms of its leads, Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. It's an old fashioned Hollywood weepie that does not reach the heights of the director's previous effort, "An Education." That being said, the film is a likable, if somewhat formulaic, dramedy.

On the other hand, Alex de la Iglesia throws formula out the window in "The Last Circus," which is one of the most flat-out bat shit crazy movies I've seen in many a moon.

The film takes the plot of "Water for Elephants," sets its story amid Spain's Franco era and throws in a number of surrealistic set pieces that could have been directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Believe me when I say you've likely seen nothing like it - that is, unless, you've been privy to another movie that ends with two psychotic, machine gun toting clowns going head to head in the Valley of the Fallen.

Check out my reviews here.

This coming week, I'll most likely catch up with "Colombiana" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."

And, keep an eye out for my preview of this fall's film roster. It promises to be one of the more exciting seasons of recent years.

Which of these films are you looking forward to most? Here's a list of some of the top picks: "Drive," "Contagion," "Restless," "Moneyball," "J. Edgar," "The Ides of March," "Take Shelter," "The Skin I Live In," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Melancholia," "Carnage," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Young Adult," "Hugo," "The Artist," "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "A Dangerous Method," "The Descendants" and "War Horse."

Add your comments below.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Viola Davis Lends a Helping Hand, but 'Less' is Not More

It's going to be light posting this week as I just returned from Cape Cod and am, as they say, in the thick of it. A busy week, that is.

But I managed to catch up with "The Help," which is based on Kathryn Stockett's novel of the same name. The picture boasts some wonderful performances, especially by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. I was a fan of the book, so I was pleased to find that the movie was pretty solid.

That's not to say it is problem-free. Movies made by white filmmakers that aim to capture the black experience, especially when it comes to stories involving racism, often fumble from good intentions that turn into heavy-handed filmmaking. "The Help" manages to steer clear of many, but not all, of those problems.

I also caught up with Ruben Fleischer's "30 Minutes or Less," which was not as entertaining, funny or clever as 2009's "Zombieland." It's got a few chuckles and, of course, the presence of Jesse Eisenberg. But otherwise, it's pretty weak tea.

Check out my reviews for Patch.

It's been a noteworthy week for DVD watching. I caught up with David Schwimmer's (yes, you read correctly) "Trust," Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist," Nicolas Roeg's "Insignificance" and - you ready for this?- "Breakin'" I will - yes, I will - be watching "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" in the near future. Count on it.

This coming week, I'll most likely catch John Sayles's "Amigo," Lone Scherfig's "One Day" and the remake of "Fright Night."

Monday, August 8, 2011

'Bellflower' Scorches and 'Rise' No Monkey Business

I'm about to walk out the door for a vacation, so this week's post is going to be short. At a future date, I'd like to write further about "Bellflower," one of the year's most thought provoking and visually stunning pictures. It's a solid debut from director-actor Evan Glodell.

This week I reviewed that picture as well as "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which I was surprised to find was the best of the series since the 1968 original. I also caught up with "The Change Up," which is among the summer's worst. Critics who are leveling misogyny charges against "Bellflower" have obviously not seen "The Change Up."

Here are the reviews.

Next weekend, I'm going to check out "The Help" and "30 Minutes or Less." I'll possibly also try to catch up with "The Guard" and "Gun Hill Road."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to See 'Cowboys'

Needless to say, I found Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens" to be pretty weak tea. Daniel Craig, I'm pleased to say, provides the necessary presence as a silent, but deadly, gunslinger. I wouldn't be surprised if he is cast in future westerns.

Otherwise, the picture is a silly hybrid of the shoot 'em up and the alien invasion genres. It's not the worst Hollywood has to offer this summer, but it's pretty routine.

More enjoyable, even though flawed, is "Crazy, Stupid, Love," which survives on the talents and charms of its cast. Ryan Gosling especially shines in a rare comedic turn as a lothario who schools Steve Carell on the dating scene. The plot twists do not always add up, but it's an enjoyable picture.

I wish I could say the same for Miranda July's sophomore effort, "The Future." I fully enjoyed "Me and You and Everyone We Know" and was, therefore, disappointed to see the filmmaker succumb to aimless quirkiness in her latest film. The movie has some decent stand-alone moments, but its major ideas do not flow together smoothly.

Check out my reviews for Patch.

This week's a very busy one for movies and, alas, I will not likely make it to see everything. But I'll be reviewing some of these: "The Mysteries of Lisbon," "Bellflower," "Gun Hill Road," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "The Change Up."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This Week at the Movies: 'Captain America,' 'Sleepover' and 'Another Earth'

I'm keeping it short and sweet this week.

My Patch reviews included "Captain America: The First Avenger," a perfectly fine comic book origin story, as well as two interesting, if not perfect, new indies: "The Myth of the American Sleepover" and "Another Earth."

Check'em out here.

A number of new films will be released this weekend. I'm going to try to catch up with "Crazy, Stupid, Love," "Cowboys and Aliens," "The Guard" and "The Future."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Give 'Em Hell Harry: The Final 'Potter' Picture and Two Wonky Docs

In case you haven't heard, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" opened this past weekend. And I'm pleased to say that it was a fine sendoff to series that has encompassed eight films and 10 years.

This week, I also reviewed too solid documentaries, both of which covered kooky subjects. One, of course, was Errol Morris's "Tabloid," which chronicles the strange, sordid tale of former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney.

I also caught up with James Marsh's sad, peculiar "Project Nim," a documentary about an experiment to raise a chimpanzee among humans and teach him sign language.

Check out my reviews for Patch here.

This coming week, I'll catch up with "The Myth of the American Sleepover," "Another Earth" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." That is, if I haven't been singed to a crisp by this hellacious heatwave that has gripped the nation. There's good news, though. Only 43 days left in July and August!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hollywood's Comedy Shock and Awe: 'Horrible Bosses' and 'Zookeeper'

This week's movie post examines the Hollywood comedy in all two of its modern forms - the safe, PG-rated movie for children or the hard R-rated raunchfest in the vein of "The Hangover," "Bad Teacher," "No Strings Attached" and, most recently, "Horrible Bosses."

The jokes in Seth Gordon's film hit more than they miss, but just by a slim margin. There is, however, a great "Snow Falling on Cedars" joke (!?) in the picture. On the other hand, most of the sequences between Jennifer Aniston and Charlie Day are, well, a little uncomfortable.

On the PG side of the spectrum, there's "Zookeeper," a perfectly harmless, but nevertheless pretty bad, Kevin James picture that relies on the hilarity of talking animals, poop and people falling down for laughs. So, there you have it.

Click here for my reviews.

This coming weekend, I'll review "Harry Potter" and "Tabloid" as well as take part in the cult movie marathon I'd mentioned last week.

I got an early start last weekend by watching Mario Bava's "Rabid Dogs," which is known in the U.S. as "Kidnapped." I'd rank it among my favorite of the Italian horror maestro's pictures. It's a particularly grim piece of work, but it's also tense as hell and masterfully directed.

Last night's offering was the incredibly strange British curio "Goodbye Gemini." If you think that vaguely sexual brother/sister relationships are creepy, well, this could just be the movie for you. Love that score, though.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bay's Latest Sturm Und Drang, Puiu's Glacial 'Aurora' and Hanks' Cheerful 'Larry Crowne'

Here's my (slightly tardy) This Week at the Movies post for Patch.

Over the weekend, I caught up with Michael Bay's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," which is slightly better than the abhorrent "Revenge of the Fallen," but still pretty visually fractured and headache inducing.

Christi Puiu's "Aurora" tops Jean Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme" as the biggest art house letdown of the summer. While it's far from a bad film, the Romanian director's latest is a glacially paced drama that follows the downward slide of a budding sociopath. The picture has its moments, but also a punishing running time. And this is coming from a big fan of Bela Tarr's "Satantango."

Also reviewed is Tom Hanks' "Larry Crowne," which occasionally gets a little too quirky for its own good but is mostly charming.

Here are the reviews.

This coming weekend, I'm going to try to catch up with "Horrible Bosses" as well as a few indies - namely, Catherine Breillat's "Sleeping Beauty" and John Carpenter's "The Ward."

And, next week, I'm planning a major cult movie marathon that could include the likes of "The Image," "Insignificance," "Cannibal Ferox," Mario Bava's "Kidnapped," "Darktown Strutters," "Goodbye Gemini," "The Howl," Brian De Palma's "Hi, Mom" and "Women in Revolt." Quite a lineup. I've never seen any of this bunch and figured I'd squeeze them all in during a week's time. More on that later.

Monday, June 27, 2011

'Cars 2' is Minor, But Charming, Pixar and 'Bad Teacher' is Good for Some Laughs

Pixar's "Cars 2" is a lesser effort of the animation studio, but not nearly as much of a bust as you might have been led to believe, based on the critical drubbing the picture took in some circles.

The studio has set the bar impossibly high in recent years with "Ratatouille," "Wall-E" and "Up." And "Cars 2" finds Pixar is a lighter, breezier mode - which is not a bad thing. It's a swiftly paced, entertaining movie.

I also caught up with "Bad Teacher," a comedy in the same mold as the recent, slightly more successful "Bridesmaids."

"Teacher" is, for the most part, pretty funny. There's a gloriously funny sequence involving a threat-gone-wrong and plenty of other bad behavior to make you snicker.

The movie, it must be noted, is light years ahead of its male counterparts - namely, the stale "The Hangover Pt. II" and "No Strings Attached."

Click here for my reviews.

This coming weekend is going to be a busy one. Of course, I'll see the tentpole pictures - "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and Tom Hanks's "Larry Crowne." But I'm really looking forward to Chrisi Puiu's three-hour marathon movie, "Aurora." Will also try to catch "Terri."

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Lantern" Fades, But "Beginners" is a Charmer

Hollywood is resting on its laurels - namely, the comic book film and the sequel - this summer. So, it should come as no surprise that "Green Lantern" makes no departures from the time-worn superhero formula.

My thoughts: you could do worse, but you could also do a lot better. There are a number of better films out there, including "The Tree of Life," "Midnight in Paris," "Super 8," Bridesmaids" and "Beginners," which I finally caught this weekend.

The latter is a charming comedy that manages to be funny without going "indie quirky."

Check out my reviews for "Green Lantern" and "Beginners" here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

'Super' Hit of the 70s and Godard's Latest 'Film'

I think I'm getting too punny with these headlines.

J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" is not quite the summer movie to end all summer movies, but it's still a solid entry into the Spielberg homage genre. No, seriously, it's a lot of fun and has a number of sincere moments between its stellar teen cast.

It's only when the barrage of special effects and explanations begin pouring in that the film slightly loses its grip. Nevertheless, it's significantly better than any of the other blockbusters I've seen this summer or year so far.

Unfortunately, Jean-Luc Godard's much ballyhooed "Film Socialisme" did not leave as memorable an impression on me. I love Godard's films, but I'll honest: I'd take his 1960s and 1970s pictures any day over most of his latter day work.

I found "JLG/JLG" to be compelling and his previous film, "Notre Musique," has some fascinating moments. The same can almost be said of "Socialisme."

The opening scenes on a Mediterranean cruise ship are no less fragmented than the rest of the movie, but there's a certain hypnotic pull to them. But the movie crashes to Earth in its second sequence - located at a gas station - and by the time we come to the final third, it's a little too late.

Check out my reviews here.

Next week, I'll finally (hopefully) catch up with "Beginners" as well as this week's entry in the cinematic comic-book-a-thon of summer 2011 - "Green Lantern."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

'First Class' Passes

It was a light posting week due to a brief respite in Canada.

My This Week at the Movies column for Patch focused solely on Matthew Vaughn's "X Men: First Class," which was admittedly better than I expected. Check out my positive review of that film here.

This coming weekend will be a (potential) smorgasbord of cinematic delights. I'm going to do my best to make it to J.J. Abrams's "Super 8," Jean Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme" and Monte Hellman's "Road to Nowhere" as well as "Beginners" and "Trollhunter."

At least some of those films will make it in my Douglaston Patch post next Monday. And, time permitting between all the cinematic feasting, I hope to post something here about the pictures.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

'The Tree of Life' is Mind Expanding, But 'The Hangover Part II' is Headache Inducing

Terrence Malick’s new film, “The Tree of Life,” is a visionary work that the reclusive filmmaker has been kicking around in his head for more than 30 years.

The picture, which recently won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is a breathtaking, symphonic film that tackles questions of the universe’s origin, mankind’s existence, religion, grace, nature, loss, life and death in ways rarely seen since the heyday of Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman.

This divisive film’s melding of philosophical, theological and scientific beliefs has already been the source of much discussion.

“Tree” opens with a quote from the Book of Job during which God answers Job’s query of why the righteous suffer with His own question, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth? Tell me if you have understanding.”

It is this need to understand that drives both Malick and his film’s characters, especially Jack (Sean Penn), an architect around whose flashbacks the basic structure of “Tree” is set.

At the beginning of the film, we see a middle aged couple (Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt) receive notice that one of their sons has been killed. We meet Jack as a despondent middle-aged architect who works in a gigantic steel behemoth and, at this point, we understand that the couple from the opening scenes is his mother and father, and that the boy who has died was his younger brother.

Malick then unleashes the film’s most talked about sequence – a 20-minute montage that depicts the creation of the universe as a visual feast of light and sound. It’s as if the director is reminding us that the human struggles depicted throughout the course of the movie are so miniscule in comparison.

The sequence culminates in several scenes involving dinosaurs that exist beyond the purpose of instilling awe and wonder in the film’s viewers. In an earlier scene, Chastain’s mother figure discusses the difference between “grace” and “nature” – so, it is surprising to find that a brief exchange between two of the film’s prehistoric creatures manages to touch upon these themes.

The film’s next 90 minutes are set in 1950s era Texas where Malick spent his childhood. This half of the movie is structured as a series of vignettes during which Jack experiences a fall from innocence as Pitt’s stern father, Chastain’s doting mother and his two brothers look on.

There is little contextual cohesion between the scenes, which play more as unconnected memories, and yet they still manage to tell a story – just not in the traditional sense.

Nearly every shot in the film is stunning. The combination of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s score - as well as classical pieces by Gustav Mahler and Sebastian Bach – make for a nearly exhausting movie-going experience.

Jack never overtly mentions the word “God” but, much like Job, he poses questions: Who are we and why are we here? What is the meaning for all the great cruelties – such as the death of a brother - that life has in store for us? And how can these horrors co-exist in a world so populated with breathtaking beauty?

 “The Tree of Life” is a singular experience. If you are familiar with Malick’s work – “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line” – and you’ve seen “2001: A Space Odyssey,” you’ll know what wavelength to expect. But I’d still bet it’s still like nothing you’ve ever seen.

“The Hangover Part II,” on the other hand, is exactly like something you’ve seen – namely, “The Hangover.”

The sequel duplicates a number of scenes from the popular 2009 comedy but relocates to Bangkok, a move that appears to serve no purpose for the film’s story other than to provide for several ethnic jokes.

Once again, Zach Galifianakis steals virtually every scene he is in as weirdo Alan, while Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms reprise their respective roles as lothario Phil and well-meaning dentist Stu. Newcomers include Paul Giamatti and a chain smoking, drug dealing capuchin monkey.

The only element missing in this sequel is the jokes – that is, unless you find these sights funny: an pig exploding as it hits a speeding car, a severed finger, a recreation of Eddie Adams’ famous photo of an execution during the Vietnam War and a cocaine overdose.

The film is less a satire of the perception of ugly Americanism abroad than it is a celebration of it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's Paris Je T'aime for Woody, But 'Pirates' Just Avoids Shipwreck

"Midnight in Paris" ranks with "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" as one of Woody Allen's best films of the past decade.

It's a charming tale of artistic inspiration that also recalls the more fantastical elements of the director's 1985 picture, "The Purple Rose of Cairo."

One of the film's greatest surprises is just how well Owen Wilson manages to channel the 'Woody' character while, at the same time, giving the character his own distinct personality. 

Of course, I also caught "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" this past weekend. While I can only imagine that the film will be more likable than some of the other blockbusters on this summer's slate, I felt pretty much the same about this fourth entry into the popular franchise as I did about "Thor" - meh.

Check out my reviews here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

'City' Is Year's Best So Far and 'Bridesmaids' Its Funniest

Finally, something to be excited about. Don't get me wrong, I dug "Uncle Boonmee" and "Win Win," but this year's has been lacking a certain cinematic oomph.

But the Cannes Film Festival kicked off this week and I, for one, can't wait for Terrence Malick's divisive "The Tree of Life" as well as Gus Van Sant's "Restless," Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin," Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia," Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In" and The Dardenne Brothers's "The Kid with the Bike."

Last weekend's theater offerings were also solid. Lu Chuan's "City of Life and Death" is the best film I've seen so far this year. It's tough viewing, at times, but never anything less than spellbinding.

I also really enjoyed "Bridesmaids," which I found to be this year's funniest film so far as well as a great showcase for the talents of Kristen Wiig.

Of course, there were a few misfires. I was disappointed by "Skateland." I was hoping for an "Adventureland," but got more of a "Can't Hardly Wait."

Scott Stewart's "Priest" was also a bust. This season's blockbusters - "Thor" and "Priest" - have, so far, not left much of an impression.

Check out my reviews here and stop in next week for my thoughts on "Midnight in Paris" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." And I've been waffling on whether or not I'll subject myself to "A Serbian Film." We'll see.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

'Thor': Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. Also, Mel Gibson Leaves It To 'Beaver' and Rutger Hauer Paints the Town Red.

The summer movie season kicked off with a... snore - wait, where was I?

This week's trio of films - Kenneth Branagh's "Thor," Jodie Foster's "The Beaver" and Jesse Eisener's "Hobo with a Shotgun" - all have laudable elements. But, not so many that I'd actually recommend any of them.

Check out my reviews here.

This weekend, I'll be doing my best to catch "City of Life and Death," "Skateland," "Bridesmaids" and "Priest." Also being released is "Everything Must Go," "Hesher" and "A Serbian Film," which I'm not sure I'll ever actually see, based on what I've been told from friends who've seen it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This Week at the Movies: 'Fast Five' and 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams'

It's been a busy one. At least, that's the excuse for my posting links to my Douglaston Patch column, This Week at the Movies, and not writing new content for Critical Conditions during the past few weeks.


The summer movie season kicks off this week, so I'm vowing to post a new review and my link to Patch this coming weekend.

In the meantime, check out my reviews for "Fast Five" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" - two films that would typically not get mentioned in the same sentence.

To be honest, "Fast" was not as onerous as I thought it might be. I wasn't exactly a fan of the other films in the series, but this one was slightly better than its predecessors.

"Cave" was another solid documentary by the one and only Werner Herzog. For my money, "Grizzly Man" is still his non-fiction masterpiece, but this is a solid one.

Coming up this week, a strange trio - "Thor," "The Beaver" and "Hobo with a Shotgun." If that's not a triple feature to die for, then I don't know what qualifies as one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the Road Again: 'Water for Elephants,' 'Incendies' and 'Stake Land'

This week's triple feature showcased three road trips - one an old-fashioned romantic Hollywood epic, another a heavy mystery set mostly in the Middle East and, finally, a gory apocalyptic vampire movie.

I was a little surprised to enjoy "Water for Elephants" and thought "Incendies" was solid, despite a few bumps in the road. "Stake Land" was enjoyable enough, but no more revelatory than anything George Romero has been up during the past number of years.

Here are my reviews for the week.

I'm vowing to start kicking out some full length notices on this site - not just providing links - this week. Friday will see the release of Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams." Next week will provide for a wacky double feature - "Thor" and Jodie Foster's "The Beaver." Oh, yeah - and "Hobo with a Shotgun."

Monday, April 18, 2011

History Repeats Itself: 'Scream 4' and 'The Conspirator'

I've been meaning to do some posts for the site, but as you may understand - busy, busy. So, once again this week I've posted a link to my weekly wrap-up of films at Douglaston Patch.

This week's selections are Wes Craven's "Scream 4" and Robert Redford's "The Conspirator," both of which harken back to an old school mentality of filmmaking. Which is a good thing.

On the other hand, neither knocked my socks off. Redford, a great filmmaker whose "Quiz Show" and "Ordinary People" I adore, tacks a few unnecessary means of conveying his story that do not work. It is, however, a respectable costume and courtroom drama with solid performances, especially Robin Wright.

I wanted to like Craven's film a little more than I did. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I did - especially the coda during which Neve Campbell reminds Ghostface Redux about the first rules of remakes. Also, the film takes some shots at YouTube, torture porn, Hollywood's obsession with remaking every horror film from the past three decades, iPhones, etc. I can endorse that.

It's just that the film still falls way short of Craven's 1996 original, just as the other two sequels slightly disappointed. Overall, it's a solid series compared to most horror franchises. It's just that the original "Scream" is hard to match.

Check out my reviews here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves: 'Hanna' and 'Meek's Cutoff'

In most ways, Joe Wright's "Hanna" and Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff" could not be any different. One is a violent, stylized thriller and the other a stripped down revisionist western with low key lighting that moves along at a quiet pace.

On the other hand, both pictures feature stories about strong willed women lost in one world or another who are doing their best to survive. Check out my reviews here.

Later this week, drop back by for my notices on Scream 4 and The Conspirator.

By the way, is it me or has this year been pretty blah for films so far? I've seen a handful of pictures I really liked - "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," "Barney's Version," "Win Win," "Insidious," "Hanna" and "Of Gods and Men" - but none that I believe will make any sort of best lists at year's end.

There are a few other critical favorites - "Certified Copy" and "Meek's Cutoff" - that I enjoyed, but more on an academic level. And a few others, "Cold Weather" and "Source Code," that I thought were admirable misses.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Share them in the comments section.

Monday, April 4, 2011

'Insidious' Scares, 'Source Code' Confounds and 'In A Better World' Mostly Gets It Right

I'm glad to report that I've seen the first genuinely frightening movie in some time. That would be, of course, James Wan's haunted house phantasmagoria, "Insidious."

This week's other selections include Duncan Jones's "Source Code," which is a mostly enjoyable head trip that only falters when it comes time to explain itself.

Also in theaters is Susanne Bier's Academy Award winning "In A Better World," a solid multi-character film that acts as a treatise on violence. The film has received some less than glorious reviews from critics following its Oscar win. And while I'm not sure the film's culmination is completely successful, the picture still has its fair share of powerful moments, solid performances and stunning cinematography. It's well worth a look.

Later this week, I'll be checking out Kelly Reichardt's acclaimed "Meek's Cutoff" and Joe Wright's action thriller "Hanna."

Here are my reviews for "Insidious," "Source Code" and "In A Better World."

Monday, March 28, 2011

'Win Win' Does Just That, But 'Sucker Punch' Swings and Misses

Admittedly, not the best year for film so far. Just two weeks ago, I reviewed the catastrophic Battle: Los Angeles and now, this week, we have another overbearing Hollywood effects extravaganza - Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, which plays as sort of a greatest hits package for all films of its type from the past few years. 

Fortunately, the week was not a complete loss as I was delighted by Tom McCarthy's funny, well-executed and heartfelt - without being sappy - Win Win. It's yet another indie film about a questionably upright guy who makes good by helping out a troubled youth. I know what you're thinking - oh, another one of these?

Well, I'm happy to report that the film is solid, one of the year's few gems thus far. If you enjoyed McCarthy's The Station Agent and The Visitor, you'll most likely get behind this one as well. Check out my reviews for Sucker Punch and Win Win here.

This week's a busy one. But my ambitious moviegoing plan includes seeing James Wan's (apparently) frightening Insidious, Source Code and the well-received Le Quattro Volte.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Friendly Alien Invasion and Department of You Can't Handle the Truth

Check out my reviews for 'Paul' and 'The Lincoln Lawyer' on Douglaston Patch. This week, stay tuned for my notices on 'Win Win' and 'Sucker Punch.'

Monday, March 14, 2011

This Week at the Movies

Check out my This Week at the Movies post on Douglaston Patch in which I add some further thoughts on Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" and the gratuitous "Battle: Los Angeles."

This coming weekend, I'll review Greg Mottola's "Paul" and the new thriller, "The Lincoln Lawyer." I'm also vowing to get to "I Saw the Devil" before it leaves the IFC Center. So, potentially some thoughts on that one as well.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Even Better Than the Real Thing: "Certified Copy"

Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" is a strange, often beguiling, film, combining a long-running argument on the nature of artistic originality with a "Before Sunrise" story line, but throwing in a Bunuelian twist for good measure.

The picture, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last year and netted star Juliette Binoche a Best Actress award, will confound some, delight others and, for most viewers, do a little of both.

The film opens as English author, James (William Shimell), speaks in a Tuscan village on his latest book, "Certified Copy," which argues the value of a reproduction of a great piece of art. 

He meets a never-named woman (Juliette Binoche), who invites him on a trip to the countryside to view a piece of art. On the way, the pair discuss everything from Andy Warhol's paintings of Coke bottles to Binoche's family as architecture is reflected on their faces through a car's windshield.

At one point during their countryside visit, the duo stops in a cafe and are mistaken for a married couple by the taverna's owner, a woman. Binoche and the proprietress discuss the difference between how men and women view life and their work.

The film strangely, but subtly, undergoes a shift. Shimell and Binoche now behave as a married couple, arguing over his apparent snoozing on the eve of their 15th anniversary. They bicker as the wedding of a young couple takes place in the background.

Is Kiarostami taking a Lynchian detour? Is one half of the film reality and the other a copy? If so, which is better? The film poses these questions, but don't expect answers.

This is the director's first foray into filmmaking outside of Iran. Much like "Taste of Cherry" and "The Wind Will Carry Us," there are long takes in "Copy" and sequences of people driving for long periods of time in cars. Interestingly, there are also entire sequences in which Kiarostami cuts back and forth between the two actors, forcing them to speak to the screen as if they were conversing with the audience.

Alas, the film's final section does not retain the energy of the first third of the picture or the mystery of the middle section. "Certified Copy" will reward the patient viewer, although I did not believe it to be a masterpiece as some critics have hailed it. It's an ambiguous, but ambitious, little film that mostly works. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?: 'The Adjustment Bureau,' 'Take Me Home Tonight' and 'Uncle Boonmee'

Check out my notices on "The Adjustment Bureau" and "Take Me Home Tonight" as well as a few further thoughts on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's hypnotic "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" on Douglaston Patch.

This week, make sure to drop by Critical Conditions for my takes on Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" and "Battle: Los Angeles," in which aliens, inevitably, attack Earth.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lush Life: The Eerie Poetry of 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives'

Apichatopong Weerasethakul's Palm d'Or winner "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is a strange concoction - part Buddhist parable, part surrealist film, part ghost story and part jungle fantasia.

For most, the director, who also goes by "Joe," is not exactly a household name, but at least two of his four previous features - the lush "Tropical Malady" and "Syndromes and a Century" - were critical darlings. His latest picture is both his most accessible and mysterious.

Set in a forested section of Thailand, the story follows the film's titular character (played by Thnapat Saisaymar) as he moves in with his sister-in-law (Jenjira Pongpas) amid his slow decline due to a kidney disorder.

He is soon visited by two ghosts: his wife, who mysteriously fades in and out at the dinner table and son, who appears as one of the film's several "monkey ghosts," complete with glowing red eyes and ape features.

Boonmee's bed is made in a quiet room in his sister-in-law's house, where he looks back on his past as his kidney is drained each day. 

The film gets curiouser and curiouser as it goes - and also more mysterious and elegiac. Boonmee and his family sets out for a trip to a cave, traveling through the woods and spotting monkeys soaring above them in the tree tops. 

He has a dream in which he sees the future. Then, the action shifts and Boonmee's sister-in-law and a few relatives have relocated to a swanky hotel. Images on a television flicker as the characters' spirits leave themselves and head out to a noisy, music filled restaurant.

Some viewers might find it maddening that Weerasethakul provides few answers to the film's narrative riddles and eerie imagery. I find it refreshing. The picture's soundtrack, filled with birds and insects chirping as well as the occasional low rumbling, fill in when the film's sparse dialogue is not being spoken. 

The film follows a preparation rite. Boonmee awaits his death, looking back on his life as the spirit world mixes with the present and past. Thrown into the mix is a story of a princess gazing into a stream and catching the image of a younger self before engaging in a sexual encounter with a catfish.

You want context? Look elsewhere. "Uncle Boonmee" is a lush fever dream. You might not be able to fully explain it, but I doubt you'll forget it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oscars, Nic Cage's Hell Ride, More 'Gods'

No, no. I wasn't quite late to the party on this year's Academy Awards. Click here to read my thoughts on last night's show and Oscar winners.

The story also contains some (slightly) further thoughts on Xavier Beauvois's "Of Gods and Men" as well as my take on "Drive Angry."

Later this week, check back for my reviews on "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," "The Adjustment Bureau" and, yes, "Take Me Home Tonight."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sticking With It: 'Of Gods and Men' and 'Public Speaking'

My cinematic cup runneth over this weekend. 

Tonight, I finally caught Fritz Lang's very, very dark "Scarlet Street," while Sunday will find me (and several others crammed into my apartment) watching the 83rd Academy Awards - that is, following a quick run to the local multiplex to catch the (apparently) super-trashy, supernatural 3-D Nic Cage film, "Drive Angry." More on that later.

For now, I'm glad to report I thoroughly enjoyed two new films, both of which are odes to perseverance, although the heroes of neither film actually benefit from doing so. The first is Xavier Beauvois's Cannes favorite, "Of Gods and Men," which is based on a true story about a group of monks who decide to stay in an impoverished mountainous area of Algeria, despite increased threats by fundamentalist terrorists.

The film, thankfully, takes a completely nonpolitical approach to the material. Rather, it's a quiet, sobering picture about faith in the face of horror and Beauvois does a nice job of fleshing out each of the seven monks - not so much through words, but via facial expressions, the silences in between words and some solid performances.

It's a powerful film. In a key scene, an Algerian official pleads with the monks to leave, arguing that their fate at the hands of the fundamentalists will likely justify to outsiders all the negative traits they associate with Islam. Fortunately, Beauvois's film escapes that same fate.

Also struggling to keep on keepin' on is the heroine of Martin Scorsese's new film, which just happens to be a documentary about Fran Lebowitz. The writer and acerbic wit, whose first two books of essays - "Metropolitan Life" and "Social Studies" - were a sensation in the 1970s, has not published a book in 16 years.

In Scorsese's film, Lebowitz is candid about her "writer's block" and tackles everything from her childhood to America's dumbed down popular culture. Author Toni Morrison notes that Lebowitz "seems to [me] almost always right but never fair." It's hard to argue with that description as you listen to Lebowitz's spot-on and frequently hilarious takes on publishing, art and "cultural elitism," a phrase in which, for my money she puts the final nail in the coffin.

Scorsese steps back as director of the film and lets Lebowitz run the show. Most of the picture is made up of one-on-one interviews between the filmmaker and the writer at Ye Waverly Inn. Some stock footage is well-placed, including sequences from Scorsese's own "Taxi Driver." It's a low key, side project for the filmmaker and a fitting tribute to its subject.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Oscar Picks

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3
Best Art Direction: Inception
Best Cinematography: Black Swan
Best Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland
Best Documentary: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Best Editing: The Social Network
Best Foreign Film: Dogtooth
Best Makeup: Barney's Version
Best Original Score: The Social Network
Best Original Song: "We Belong Together," Toy Story 3
Best Sound Editing: Inception
Best Sound Mixing: The Social Network
Best Visual Effects: Inception
Best Screenplay (Adapted): Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Screenplay (Original): Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right

The Horror, The Horror: 'Vanishing on 7th Street' and 'We Are What We Are'

The socially conscious horror film has been a mainstay in the genre in the 43 years since George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” blended the undead and potent social commentary.

Two films – Brad Anderson’s creepy “Vanishing on 7th Street” and Jorge Michel Grau’s grim “We Are What We Are” – opening this week keep this tradition alive.

In Anderson’s picture, the world ends with not a bang, but a flicker. The film gives more than a few nods to Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” right down to Hayden Christensen’s newsman stepping on a pair of glasses as did Burgess Meredith in the legendary “Time Enough At Last” episode.

Christensen’s character, a woman in a hospital (Thandie Newtown), a young kid (Jacob Latimore) and a movie projectionist (John Leguizamo) find that the denizens of Detroit have all disappeared, their clothes strewn about the street, following a sudden blackout.

The survivors soon realize they must stay in the light to avoid being swallowed up by the looming, whispering shadows that follow their every step. But the sun keeps rising later and later each day and goes down earlier and earlier.

Anderson does not take great pains to explain the cause of the power outage nor the disappearances. There are a few passing references to the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island in the 16th century and the cryptic message - “Croatoan” – that missing group left behind.

The director also does not beat his audience over the head thematically. A scene in which a jukebox, complete with 1950s nuggets, and various other electrical appliances light up a bar in which the film’s four characters are holed up may drive home the point of how much we, as humans, depend on electricity to survive. But a chide from one character to another to save energy enforces plot more than the film's raison d'etre.

Despite its slightly unnecessary ending, “Vanishing” is a creepy delight. It’s a subtle horror film, but it will still make you grateful once the theater returns to being a well-lit room.

“We Are What We Are” could make a vegetarian out of even the most dedicated carnivore.

The film opens with an old man stumbling down a Mexico City street, stopping to glare hungrily at some female mannequins in a store window, foaming black bile and then keeling over dead.

This man, we discover, is the patriarch of a poor clan – grim wife, devious sister, hair-trigger tempered older son and responsible, but depressed younger son – that dwells in a dimly lit basement home and regularly practices “The Ritual.” This involves stealing away prostitutes or destitute children off the street, carving them up and devouring them. The picture is Jonathan Swift by way of Umberto Lenzi.

Once they discover their breadwinner – er, flesh gatherer – is dead, the siblings must decide who will take over as the leader. Thrown into the mix are sibling rivalry, sexual tension and a thirst for parental acceptance. There are also two bumbling cops investigating the case who provide the film’s few comedic moments.

“We Are What We Are” is creepy – its grimy photography and-low key performances are more disturbing than its gory set pieces, which are relatively few and far between.

But the film suffers from its share of problems. There is a history between the characters, but it is hinted at, rather than fully developed. While I’m not sure I can safely say Grau’s sympathies are with the cannibals, we are supposed to be made to feel tension when they come close to getting caught as they bag a prostitute. But the scenes lack suspense.

And there’s something a bit assaultive in the film’s depiction of violence. I know, it’s a film about cannibalism, right? But is it really necessary to show the battered face of a prostitute beaten to death by the clan not just once, but twice? Grau’s movie is just arty enough not to be dismissed as Grand Guignol. Individual scenes – the opening sequence of Papa Cannibal ambling down the street, a character’s wandering around a nightclub - stand on their own but the film, alas, lacks – wait for it – bite.

For a better example of the genre, check out Claire Denis’s gorgeous shocker, “Trouble Every Day.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Welcome to Critical Conditions, 2011 Edition

Hey All,

Hope you've found your way over here. My old site,, is still online and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. It's just looking a little 2002, if you know what I mean.

So, welcome. If you want to post a review, an essay or just some ramblings, coherent or incoherent, email them to me at

True Grit

Admittedly, I did not originally understand the purpose of a remake of True Grit, thinking the 1969 film that won John Wayne an Oscar was good enough as is. But leave it to the Coen Brothers - a household name for devoted cineastes if there ever was one - to bring something not only something new to the table, but to completely change the story's tone and presentation. Based upon the 1968 Charles Portis novel of the same name, the Coens' True Grit bares the trademark signatures of the brothers' other films and tweaks the western genre as much The Man Who Wasn't There did film noir and Miller's Crossing did the gangster picture.
This new version of the Portis novel - which it is much more so than a remake of Henry Hathaway's original film - falls into the revisionist western category. It is often funny, but equally bleak; occasionally violent and, eventually, moving. 
Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, whose work rivals that of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone as the year's breakout performance, is Mattie Ross, a no-nonsense, vengeance-driven 14-year-old who has come to the film's nameless western town to take care of her father's burial, track down his murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and kill him. 
To do so, she enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, slurring out of the side of his mouth in a performance that could only be pulled off by the Dude), a quick-to-draw marshal with a questionable past filled with killings, bank robberies and a few rides with notorious Civil War marauder William Quantrill. Also drawn into the chase is Mr. LaBeouf, pronounced "La Beef," a vain, fancy-talkin' (I love his use of the word "remonstrate") Texas ranger portrayed by a mustachioed Matt Damon.
As in much of the Coens' recent work, there is room here for Biblical themes to play out. The brothers' previous film, the brilliant A Serious Man, opened with a quote from Rashi: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you." True Grit goes straight for Proverbs at its opening: "The wicked flee when none pursueth." The film is an old-fashioned tale of bloodletting and prairie justice. Its three characters are all seeking something - redemption, another at the end the end to an obsessive quest or to right an unjust wrong. Each of these figures, despite their occasional buffoonery or the flawed natures of their characters, eventually become figures for whom we care.
The picture is dark, indeed, especially a scene in which Mattie comes across a very evil man, another in which a man adorned in a bear costume is selling the remains of a dead man or a moment during which a corpse is found strung from a tree. But the Coens - who have wrongly been accused in the past of not displaying love for their characters - also include sequences that are more emotional than any in their character, including a late-night ride on a tired horse and a coda with an older Mattie that frames the entire picture in a different light.
It is becoming old hat to proclaim a film by the Coens as one of the year's best. It's becoming an inevitability. The brothers have been making movies for 25 years and, in the past three years, have put out several of their best works. True Grit is another feather in their cap. It is my hope that the film revives the western genre, which has long been due for a comeback and has been creaking along with only the occasional masterpiece (most recently, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). I'd say True Grit is a good start.