Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Ask any director and they will tell you (if they’re being honest) that the biggest part of their job is casting the right people to play the right part. When it came to finding the right leading man for his 1979 surrealistic masterpiece, The Tin Drum, director Volker Schlöndorff was absolutely blessed to find David Bennent to play the part of Oskar Matzerath. Based on the novel by Günter Grass, the film tells the story of a boy who, when he discovers just how silly the world of adults can be, decides he will never grow up past the age of three…at least physically. Mentally he surpasses the adults that surround him while emotionally he…well, let’s just say he communicates his emotions through a tin drum that never leaves his side and there are times, especially when he is angry, that he’d give Keith Moon a run for his money. As strange as it is – and it’s really, really strange – there is more to The Tin Drum than just sheer weirdness. Like Grass before him, Schlöndorff uses this decidedly strange tale to comment on German life during the 1920s and 30s in vibrant and memorable ways.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:59 PM
Subliminal advertising is taken to a whole new level in this strange sci-fi film from writers/directors Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn. Set in a post-wall fall Russia, it’s the story of a young man named Misha (Ed Stoppard) who discovers he has a talent – some might even say a calling – for advertising. His slogans and campaigns are not only successful, but are helping shape the way a post-Communist Russian people see themselves in the world. Good as he is, we soon learn that it’s not really Misha who makes all the ads work, but a shadowy conglomerate headed by the Marketing Guru (Max Von Sydow). So far, it sounds like a plot for a big business thriller, yes? Well, be sure to buckle your seatbelt because you are in for one hell of a ride once Misha loses his job, performs an archaic ritual involving a bovine sacrifice and suddenly starts seeing just how attached people are to the brands he’s been selling them for years. Like Misha’s life, the movie careens wildly out of control for a while and it’s almost a matter of individual taste how one reacts to the ending. But, man what a trip!
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 1:43 PM
Sunday, January 27, 2013
When they discover that their friend has become pregnant, a group of high school girls decide to show solidarity by becoming pregnant themselves. Although the story is based on a scandal that rocked the small New England town of Gloucester in 2008, writers/directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin set the story in the far more forgiving culture of France where the judgment from the town is lightened with some more progressive ideas from parents and administrators (all of whom, naturally, don’t have a girl that’s underage and pregnant). The result is a movie that presents the issue of what the girls did with as balanced an eye as possible, leaving it open to debate and discussion after the lights come on. The young actresses in the movie are all exceptional, particularly Louise Grinberg as Camille, the self-appointed ringleader of the group. The story paints itself into a bit of a corner as it unwinds, and not everybody will be satisfied with the way the Coulins end it, but the journey is well worth taking.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:34 AM
Saturday, January 26, 2013
If you ever needed proof that anime wasn’t just Japanese for ‘cartoons’ this series gives all the evidence you need. It’s the story of two angels sent down from heaven who spend each episode battling evil so they can gain special coins that, once they collect enough, will help them regain their position by the Big Guy’s side. So, what makes it so different? Well, one of the angels, Panty, is addicted to sex while the other, Stocking, is addicted to sugar. The graphic depiction on how they satisfy their needs is enough to get the series slapped with a heavy R-rating, if such things existed for anime. Thrown in the fact that the guy who gives them their assignments, Garterbelt, is a huge African American who literally oozes sex and you can pump that rating up to NC-17. Now, if you read that and think the show is all about sex, think again. It’s all about comedy – raunchy, filthy and very funny ADULT comedy -- that boldly goes where no other comedy series – anime or otherwise – is willing to go for a laugh, and is delighted to take fans along for the ride.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:54 PM
Friday, January 25, 2013
When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s God-awful. Good or bad, when it’s on, it’s virtually impossible to tear your eyes from the screen. Welcome to the wonderful world of Smash, a behind-the-scenes look at what it take to take an idea and turn it into a Broadway musical. The musical in question is the story of Marilyn Monroe, and over the course of Season 1 you will watch two talented young actresses – newcomer Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) and veteran chorus girl Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) -- fight it out for the lead. That’s the good side because both women are extremely talented and very, very likable so it’s fun to tune in each episode to see who is winning. The bad side comes when the show moves off the stage to drag us into the private life dramas of the other people involved in the show, like the writer (Debra Messing) who is trying to decide if adopting a baby from China really fits into her busy schedule or the rich producer (Anjelica Huston) trying to show she still has what it takes to make a hit after her producer partner/husband dumps her. Their stories, and most of the other subplots, drag Smash into the world of nighttime soap opera, and not in a good way. Thankfully, each episode has a musical number to make up for the numbness before it sets in.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:02 PM
Before he was the clown prince of king fu movies, Jackie Chan was a straightforward action guy who made a string of decent, if not particularly memorable, movies like the two included in this double feature set. In Crime Story, he plays a Hong Kong detective assigned to protect an obnoxious businessman from being kidnapped. When the guy gets snatched anyway, Jackie does everything he can to save the day and put the bad guys away. The action is decent, if a bit predictable, but, unfortunately, the person they chose to dub Chan’s voice makes it all sound a bit silly. The Protector is a much better movie, and not just because Chan is paired with the unlikely action sidekick of Danny Aiello. The action is much more fast-paced and inventive, particularly in the last few fights where the chorography gets pretty inventive. Aiello and Chan make a pretty good team, too, with Jackie finally being allowed to dub his own voice. The films are uneven on their own, but together the set makes for a good night at the movies.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:43 PM
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Five years, 25 countries on five continents. That’s the time/distance line it took for writer/director Ron Fricke to set the stage for this hypnotically beautiful ‘guided meditation’ movie, the first film to be shot in 70 mm since Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996). What’s the story about? Good question. Trying to find a storyline to follow watching Samsara is not easy; heck, it may not even be possible. Maybe it’s better to say that it would be impossible to find any two people who agree on what the movie is about, and that’s a good thing. Combining stunning visual imagery and otherworldly music, Fricke weaves a hypnotic spell over the viewer that alternates between beautiful and shocking with dreamlike ease. Shots of Balinese dancers are, of course, gorgeous to look at, but when you find yourself saying the same for shots taken inside a dairy farm during the morning milking, you’ll know you have fallen under Samsara’s spell. Once you’ve seen it a few times (once is not enough) take the time to explore the excellent extras for a deeper understanding of what the people who made it think the movie is all about. Then watch it again.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 3:31 PM
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray), Rock of Ages takes the idea of being a jukebox show to the next level by shooting almost every song in the movie as if it was a music video. Instead of having the characters interact with each other through song, the way a traditional musical might do, the actors in Rock of Ages all perform their songs solely for the camera and leave it up to the editors to piece their performances together in a way that moves the story along (to the next song…and the next…and the next). Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are fantastic as the aging rockers hiding out from the grow-up world behind their jobs as LA nightclub managers. Paul Giamatti is also excellent as the sleaze ball manager who uses his clients solely as a means to make money. The real star of Rock of Ages, though, is Tom Cruise who gives one of the strangest/bravest performances of his career playing zonked-out rocker Stacee Jaxx. He sings pretty well, and looks great up there belting it out on the stage during the movies few actual concert moments, but it’s the off-stage persona of Jaxx, as completely embodied by Cruise, that makes Rock of Ages so incredibly fun to watch.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:58 PM
Monday, January 21, 2013
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 8:49 PM
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:30 PM
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Horror movie makers who think that gore equals terror should be forced to watch this white-knuckle thriller from director Jaume Balagueró ([Rec]). With a bare minimum of bloodshed he’s created a movie that will not only have audiences scared in theaters but have them sleeping with the lights on (and a baseball bat by their bed) for weeks to come. The movie stars Luis Tosar (Cell 221) as César, the concierge of a modest apartment building. Outwardly friendly with all the guests, César nurses a secret obsession with one resident in particular, the lovely Clara (Marta Etura). His obsession isn’t romantic in nature, though. César lives to think up ways to disturb Clara’s life, to make her miserable, to drive her crazy. And he’s very, very good at it, too. While there are plenty of honestly terrifying moments in the movie – those who are afraid of cockroaches will be better off not going to see it at all – it’s the tightly controlled performance of Balagueró that sells the scares.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:40 PM
It’s not unusual for Hollywood (or the fringes of Hollywood) to rush out a cheap knock-off version of a popular movie in the hopes of riding the bigger movie’s coattails and cashing in, so you would not be amiss in assuming this movie from director John Stockwell (Blue Crush) is a cheap-o version of Zero Dark 30. You would, however, be wrong. In fact, if all you want from the story of America killing the Taliban leader is action packed entertainment, minus the pretensions of high art and exclusive insight that surround Katherine Bigelow’s movie, this might be a better movie for you. The action is tight, as one would expect, but it’s the acting that makes the movie really work. The actors who play the Seal Team members, particularly Freddy Rodriguez and Xzibit, are solid and believable. The people that play the politicians making the decisions back home, lead by William Fitchner, are strong, too. While both films do a great job of paying tribute to Deal Team Six, Stockwell’s film does it with more blue-collar action movie style.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:23 PM
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Directed by Maïwenn, Polisse tells the story of a police juvenile protection unit, the men and women who serve in the unit, the cases they investigate and the toll that their job’s demands of them, both personally and professionally. Polisse doesn’t follow the usual format for films like this, where a crime is committed and the police work hard to solve the case and bring the bad guy to justice. It doesn’t event really use that framework as a springboard to take the story in a new direction, like having the cops find the bad guy only to show them delivering their own brand of justice. Instead, Polisse gives us a multi-layered, almost impressionistic vision of what being immersed in the lives of these police officers must be like. So instead of exposition, we hear snippets of conversation between the officers, in a group or in pairs, which may or may not lead us someplace important (at least in terms of the plot). We witness interrogations, amazed at how horrified we are at what we hear, but only see in our imaginations. We feel frustrated at never finding out what ultimately happens to the people being interrogated, forced to feel as overwhelmed as the police as another, more horrible case takes its place.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 7:34 PM
After traveling a very long distance in absolutely miserable weather to discover that the only thing a relative left him in her will was the stuffed body of her dead dog, mystery writer David Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve) is, understandably, depressed. The fact that he hasn’t yet started his new book, even though his editor is waiting for the overdue final draft, only adds to his personal darkness. It takes a strange death – in this case the apparent suicide of a local TV celebrity — to shake Rousseau out of his funk and set him on the trail of a real life adventure that just could become the novel idea he’s been looking for. If the mystery of what happened to the beautiful blonde TV weather girl was all that there was to follow in Nobody Else But You, it still would be a heck of a movie. Director Gérald Hustache-Mathieu has a much bigger picture in mind, though, a picture filled with humor, humanity, romance and really fine acting, particularly in the performances of Rouve as the rumpled writer and the absolutely incandescent Sophie Quinton as the bombshell, Candice Lecoeur.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 7:25 PM
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
In this Oscar-nominated animated movie from director Tim Burton, we are introduced to a nerdy young boy named Victor (Charlie Tahan), a fledgling filmmaker who spends his days making monster movies starring his dog, Sparky. When his dog is hit by a car and killed, Victor is so distraught that he comes up with a plan to bring Sparky back to life. Word gsoon gets out of what he’s done and the other kids in the neighborhood decide to use his experiment to resurrect past pets of their own. While it certainly works as a family film – although a really dark family film --- Frankenweenie’s real success is the way Burton uses the story to pay homage to the monster movies he grew up on. His tribute goes beyond just giving his lead character the name of Frankenstein, but is layered into every scene in ways you won’t discover until you’ve seen the movie multiple times.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 10:24 AM
Monday, January 14, 2013
After defeating the Great Devourer in Season One, young Ninjango masters Kai, Jay, Zane, and Cole are ready for a little rest and relaxation as they rebuild the town that was destroyed in the big fight and their lives. Their arch nemesis Lord Garmadon, who has stolen the four Golden Weapons of Spinjitzu, has other plans, plans that call for him to take control of the Serpentine and the ninjas' flying ship 'The Bounty.' It all sounds a bit too complicated, especially for a kid's afternoon TV show, but the story is told in simple language that any adult can understand (kids get it already). Like any kung fu movie, it’s the action that counts, and the series features some great set pieces played out in eye-popping animation. It’s a bit of a drag that the characters all have Lego faces, meaning they show the emotional range of … well, of a Lego, but that doesn’t keep it from being mindlessly entertaining.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 1:33 PM
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Sure, on one level it’s one of the worst movies ever made. The dialogue is crap, the story a mess, the acting more wooden than a plank and the special effects, which consist mainly of a bubble machine pumping out bubbles into just about every scene with no rhyme, reason of explanation, aren’t very special at all. But so what? It’s also a hoot to watch. It’s the story of an alien being called Ro-Man (who looks like a fat guy in a gorilla suit wearing a kid's space helmet on his head) and his plans to kill the last eight people on earth so that his people can take over the planet. The scrappy survivors, however, have no intention of giving up the planet without a fight. If you are wondering how it all turns out, you are missing the point of a movie like this. In fact, the less you think about it, the more fun you will have.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 1:31 PM
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:01 PM
Friday, January 11, 2013
Tamaki Hiroshi and Crystal Liu Y Fei star as Mu Shun and Ling Ju, childhood friends who are kidnapped at a young age to be trained as assassins with one mission in mind, to kill the cruel warlord Cao Cao (Chow Yun Fat). As single minded as the pair may be, the film, directed by Linshan Zhao, meanders all over the place to try and encapsulate the history of the Han Dynasty in 90 minutes, much to the detriment of the original story. The film eventually finds the right balance of action and intrigue in the last half hour, but it’s almost too late given the plodding nature of the plot leading up to it. Still, Crystal Liu Yo Fei gives a compelling performance as the assassin forced to share a bed with the man she is dedicating to killing, and Chow Yun Fat is enormously entertaining as the vicious leader who defies the gods to gain power.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:27 PM
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Alex (Ryan O'Nan) could be the saddest musician you ever met: His songs are sad, his voice his sad, he tells sad stories between songs and he’s sad when he meets fans at the end of the show. He’s so sad, his singing partner quits after only a few gigs because he can’t be sad any more. Suicide (set to sad music) seems his best option when a wacky breath of fresh air named Jim (Michael Weston) comes into his life bearing a box of child’s musical instruments and a dream of winning a battle of the bands. So what if they’ve never played before; Jim is sure they can win so they set off on a cross-country road trip to live their musical dream. Even if there wasn’t a single song in the movie, it would be worth watching for the easy-going charm of the leads, as well as the fiery park that Arielle Kebbel adds as their manager. The fact that the film is filled with infectious pop music that is just as charming makes the experience of watching the film an absolute delight.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 12:16 PM
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
French actor/icon Alain Delon stars as Thomas Ripley, a professional moocher who sees an opportunity to take over the identity of his rich friend for good and doesn’t hesitate to make the most of his moment, even if it means killing the fatted calf he’s been living off for so long. Of course, it isn’t long before Ripley discovers that pretending to be somebody for an afternoon is easy compared to trying to actually live his life. Director René Clément does a masterful job of pacing the film, seducing the audience into the world of Ripley to such a degree that we almost forgive him his murderous act because we, too, want to live the rich life he assumes. Kudos, too, to cinematographer Henri Decaë for helping Clément find a way to drag the elements of classic film noir out of the shadows and into the bright Mediterranean sunlight wihtou losing any of its inherent mystery.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:52 PM
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
A New York City college entrance examiner named Jesse (writer/director Josh Radner) takes a break from his mindlessly boring big city job to go back to his preppy college where a beloved professor (Richard Jenkins) is celebrating his retirement. While he’s there, he meets a much younger girl with the unfortunate name of Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) who really digs him and it scares the heck out of Jesse. She’s not only much younger and a virgin to boot (although she makes it clear that is one thing she’d like him to take care of), but is filled with a sparkling joie de vivre that terrifies him because it reminds Jesse of how his unfulfilled life has extinguished the spark in him. It sounds like a formulaic rom/com, but Radner’s script is a lot smarter – and more honest – than anything that genre has offered in years. His talent for pacing scenes is impressive, particularly in the way he lets each of the characters get plenty of room to develop in interesting ways. The actors all make the most of it, too, especially Olsen whose performance is both delicately layered and lovingly created.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 7:55 PM
Monday, January 7, 2013
Imagine if Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) directed a 90-minute version of Glee. That will whet your appetite for this delightful comedy from director Jason Moore (nominated for Broadway's 2004 Tony Award as Best Director (Musical) for Avenue Q). The film stars Anna Kendrick as Beca, an edgy young woman whose dreams of being a music producer in the big city are stalled by the time she has to spend at the preppy college where her dad is a professor. Through a series of unfortunate -- and increasingly funny -- adventures, Beca ends up joining the school’s all-girls a cappella singing group where she finds friendship, romance and an outlet for her creative musical ideas. It’s not much of an idea, but thanks to a fantastic cast, particularly the comedic styling of Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy, and an irresistible soundtrack, Pitch Perfect manages to find its own tempo to become a truly original and very funny comedy.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:23 PM
Sunday, January 6, 2013
God bless Oliver Stone. In a movie year where cinemas are primarily filled with comic book movies, kiddy cartoons and crappy comedies, the maverick (some may say mad) director unleashes Savages, a dark, violent and very funny story of drug dealing and double crossing cranked up to operatic proportions. It’s a far from perfect film, especially the insane ending, but the energy and imagination that Stone and his cast put into it are so damn refreshing it makes you realize just what pale, pathetic junk we’ve been force fed so far this year. The film stars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as a pair of pot growing geniuses who have developed a strain of marijuana that’s 30 times as powerful as anything ever smoked before. These Robin Hoods of Refer see their most powerful pot as a gift to mankind, especially those with the medical prescriptions to get it legally, and if they happen to make a lot of money along the way so be it. It isn’t too long, of course, before the gangsters and drug war lords dealing in inferior product decide they want a piece of the boys’ action and the blood starts to flow in buckets.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:09 PM
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Set in the grimly photogenic apocalyptic future movies have been warning us about for decades, Dredd 3D tells the story of the ultimate law enforcement agent, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) – he’s judge, jury and executioner on every case he investigates – as he takes a rookie judge (Olivia Thirlby) through the paces of a normal day to see if her she has the potential to be a judge despite her miserable academy test scores. It’s pretty clear early on the ‘normal’ is not a word in Judge Dredd’s vocabulary when his investigation of a grisly murder at a ghetto apartment block leads him to go head-to-head with a ruthless drug queen named Ma-Ma (Lena Heady) and her psychopathic minions. Urban plays Dredd with such a 'world-weariness that you half expect him to put the business end of his high tech weapon into his mouth and pull the trigger. If it wasn’t for the job, and the code of honor that makes him show up to do it every day, he might, too. Thirlby, best known for playing the wacky sidekick in light comedies like Juno and The Answer Man, shows she has a brass backbone as the rookie judge trying to prove herself. Like Dredd, her character never gets an instance to try and milk the audiences’ sympathy for her. And any fan can tell you that an action movie is only as good as the bad guy in it, and on that level Dredd 3D really scores bug time with Heady’s intense work as Ma-Ma. The script gives her plenty of moments to say and do lots of horribly nasty things, but it’s the way she makes ma-Ma feel like a threat when nothing is really happening that makes the part so effective.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:23 PM
Friday, January 4, 2013
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:38 PM
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 10:49 AM
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:45 PM
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:53 AM