Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The book, to some, is unreadable and was almost declared obscene. The idea that anyone could – or would – make a movie from it was unthinkable. Yet somehow when the author, William S. Burroughs, and the director, David Cronenberg, put their minds together, magic happened. What’s the movie about, you ask? Ah, there’s the rub. On the surface, it’s the story of a low-level exterminator who becomes addicted to the powder he uses to kill cockroaches. It’s weird, a bit stomach-churning and, if you enjoy very black comedy, wildly hilarious. Scratch the surface, however, and you find a trippy exploration of the creative process and how certain illicit substances, when consumed in mass quantities, can open the door to thoughts and feelings that creative people need to make art. Peter Weller gives an hypnotic performance as the exterminator, serving as the perfect guide to the hallucinatory world of Burroughs’ novel. Judy Davis is equally compelling playing the dual roles of the exterminator’s wife and, once the wife is out of his life, his mistress/muse.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 7:33 PM
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Samurai Morito Enda conducts himself so bravely in defending his emperor that he is rewarded with a promise to have any wish he asks for granted. When he asks for a woman – an already married woman – to be his booty, however, Morito sets off a chain of events that will virtually destroy the lives of all involved. Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, the film is an emotionally charged thrill ride that takes viewers through passionate human emotions that are rarely spoken of, let alone explored, in Japanese films of this time. Unlike the lady in a more tawdry romance, Lady Kesa, the woman that Morito tries to steal away (played to perfection by Machiko Kyô) actually loves her husband and is willing to do anything to prove it. Watching Kesa fight off the samurai’s advances, as well as the advancing suspicions and gossip of the people around her, is as thrilling as watching the well-staged fight scenes at the beginning of the film. Bold as it is in the telling, it is the uncompromising ending that has made Gate of Hell resonate over the years.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 3:56 PM
Monday, April 22, 2013
For most people, Egypt was a hot news item for a couple days a few months ago. What happened before the protests and what happened after are ideas that have been replaced by the next headline. That’s why this documentary from writer/director Lillie Paquette is such a must-see film. It not only gives you the background you need to understand why the citizens of Egypt took to the streets in the first place, but points you in the right direction to stay involved with the people long after they have stopped being the focus of the six o’clock news. Better yet, the film makes a strong case for why it is important to stay involved. There are a few stumbling blocks, like Paquette’s indecision to be part of the movie or not, but the passion she has to tell the story and make sure people understand it, helps the audience get over them.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:46 PM
Sunday, April 21, 2013
When Gene Robinson announced his sexuality to the world and became the first the openly gay bishop in the Anglican faith, one might have thought his battle for equality had reached a successful end. However, as this fascinating documentary from director Macky Alston reveals, his fight had really just begun. The story starts with a convention of Anglican bishops at London's Lambeth Palace, a convention that Robinson is not only not invited to attend, but where he is treated like a pariah by the leaders of the convention who threaten any church in England that lets Robinson conduct a service or speak from a pulpit. So the elegant bishop simply stands where people can see him and speaks to whoever will listen. He doesn’t have an agenda beyond his firm belief that God loves us all, no matter who we choose to love in our lives. It’s a strategy that not only changes people’s opinions, but helps change church doctrine.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:35 PM
Saturday, April 20, 2013
You know that feeling you get when you hear a new song or a new band for the first time and you feel an immediate attachment to the music? That’s what will happen to you when you watch this combination documentary/concert film featuring the music of J.J. Grey. Of course, if you already know his music, you’ll have a great time watching this extremely well-made movie – the sound is great, the concert is shot without a lot of fuss (which is the way it should be) and the quieter moments of Grey just sitting there talking to the camera are the kind pf treasures fans live for. It’s the journey of discovery, though, that makes this one worth buying. Be warned, though, that if you are the kind of person that needs to know what “kind” of music he plays before you give it a try, you may be a bit too uptight to enjoy it. Even the guys in the band can’t put a label on the music J. J. Grey writes – only agreeing that it’s good to play, good to hear and good to dance to. So you really need to know any more?
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:09 PM
Friday, April 19, 2013
All Mike wants to do is put greasepaint on his face, don a pair of big floppy shoes and make people laugh. When he is accused of inappropriately touching a child at a kids’ birthday party, though, Mike finds himself out of the only job he was really any good at. So he starts drinking and then he starts blacking out. He also starts waking up covered in blood, often with a dead body next to him. Instead of getting freaked out, though, Mike starts to enjoy getting drunk and seeing what his alter ego, Sloppy the Clown, will do next. Directed and co-written by Mike O'Mahony, who also plays Sloppy, this low budget film may not be the most stylish horror movie you’ve ever seen but there’s a raw energy to it that helps the material rise above the minimal production value. O’Mahony does a pretty good job of making Sloppy psychotically entertaining.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:21 AM
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Stitches (Ross Noble) isn’t a good clown by any stretch of the imagination, but not even he deserves to be treated the way he is by the kids at the party he’s been hired for, so when he dies in a horrible accident, it’s only fitting that his spirit should be allowed to come back to seek revenge when the kids are old enough to die in a series of horrible on-screen deaths. It’s clear that director Conor McMahon is a horror movie fan. The film has an old school feel that doesn’t rely on cheesy CG or other cheap tricks to make you jump; he just lets the blood and guts fly. Noble does a great job of bringing the spooky dead clown to life, particularly in the way he isn’t afraid to mix gallows humor with the gore. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is there solely to provide a body count, which really keeps the movie from being more than just bloody good fun.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 3:13 PM
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
With the big budget Johnny Depp movie looming on the summer box office horizon, it’s a perfect time to pick up this set from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment and reacquaint yourself with the classic TV show that help make The Lone Ranger and Tonto such cultural icons. The set contains 12 episodes from the original series, which ran from 1949-1957, and, as you would expect, it’s a mixed bag as far as plots are concerned. But that’s OK. The spirit of the Lone Ranger comes through in all of them. The interesting thing about the set is the way they mix shows in black and white with those shot in color. Who knew the Lone Ranger’s tightly tailored outfit was powder blue?
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:51 AM
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Stephen Fry stars as Peter Kingdom, a solicitor in a small English village who makes a living helping the locals weave their way through the complications of modern day law, kind of like a British Matlock, only with much younger clients. When he’s not doing good deeds, Kingdom is trying to solve the mystery of his missing, presumed dead, brother. It all sounds a bit too precious to be likable, but when you have Fry as your leading man, even them most contrived plots feel fresh and fun. Fry isn’t so much an actor as a larger-than-life personality who fills the screen with his own particular brand of wit and charm. The show is tailored to fit around him, and it fits like a glove. The supporting cast is strong, particularly Celia Imrie as his secretary and Hermione Norris as his outrageously needy sister.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:33 AM
Monday, April 15, 2013
Some call it the most unhittable pitch in baseball. Others, primarily the ones who can’t hit it, call it a circus act that doesn’t have anything to do with the game. In the history of baseball, there have only been a few pitchers who have mastered throwing the knuckleball, and as the ones interviewed for this documentary explain, “mastered” might be too strong a word. The film uses the final season of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield as the center to spin the story of the pitch from, using interviews with Wakefield, his fellow players and managers, and various sports writers to deconstruct the mystery behind the pitch. It’s refreshing to hear Wakefield admit that even he doesn’t know what will happen once the ball leaves his hand. The best part of the film, though, may be the time that Wakefield gets together with old timers like Charlie Hough and Phil Neikro, as well as the new kid on the block, N.Y. Met pitcher R.A. Dickey, to sit around and swap stories about the unique talent they have and how it gave them a life in baseball.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 12:20 PM
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Set in a shantytown slum in Buenos Aires, this fascinating film from director Pablo Trapero weaves together the lives of three people as they try to make life better for the people who call the abandoned hospital they live in their home. Ricardo Darín (The Secret in Their Eyes) stars as Father Julian, the longtime spiritual leader of the people, a man who knows his time on earth is fast coming to a close. Jérémie Renier costars as Father Nicolas, the young priest sent by the Mother Church as a possible replacement of Father Julian, and Martina Gusman plays Luciana, Father Julian’s assistant whose presence in the story is making Father Nicolas question his vows. The characters are all developed well enough, and brought to life with great passion by the cast, that the story could be told on a blank stage and still be compelling The way that Trapero makes the slum they all survive its own character in the movie raises White Elephant to the level of cinematic art.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 10:19 AM
Saturday, April 13, 2013
A pair of young videographers is hired to do a behind-the-scenes feature on the making of an adult movie at a remote, spooky house, the same house where one of the videographers, a woman named Sandra (Francesca Faiella) experienced a near fatal trauma as a child. Past and present begin to merge when ghosts start to appear and the bodies start to pile up. Directed by Edo Tagliavini, the movie does a nice job of balancing the several different story lines in the script, especially once it starts exploring what really happened to Sandra when she was young. Like all decent horror movies, Bloodline has a strong villain, a masked killer named The Surgeon who collects victim’s organs for a personal, and plausible, reason. The ending is a bit rushed, but the overall impact of the film makes up for it.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 3:48 PM
Friday, April 12, 2013
There was a brief period in pop culture when Tom Green ruled the comedy world, on the small screen with his own MTV show and in theaters with guest appearances in big budget movies like Charlie’s Angels as well as his own cult classic, Freddy Got Fingered. Like most pop phenomenon, Green’s fame burned out pretty quickly to the point where he seemed more likely to be the focus of a “where are they now?” news story than a new DVD release. So it’s admittedly a bit of a surprise to see him releasing a DVD of a straightforward stand up show taped in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Boston, and even a bigger surprise that he’s actually pretty good at it. The bulk of his material focuses on the battle of man versus technology, an interesting perspective considering it was technology, in the form of an early generation video camera, which gave Green his start in show business. His rant isn’t so much against technology, though, as it is against our inability to communicate with each other without it.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:22 PM
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Kevin is a flying fish who dreams of one day traveling to Barbados to compete in the world championship seaweed ball hitting contest. If you can let your imagination roam far enough to wrap itself around that as a plot, you are about to have a great time watching this animated feature from director Thom Lu. Although at the start it seems to echo a lot of other underwater animated adventures, like A Shark’s Tale and Finding Nemo, Back to the Sea eventually finds its own voice to tell the story of a unique relationship between a fish and the young boy he befriends after Kevin is caught and taken to a tank in a Chinese restaurant. The voice talent is a mixed bag, from the fine work of Yuri Lowenthal as Kevin to the stunt casting of Tim Curry and Christian Slater in small supporting roles. The art, though, is impressive.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:06 PM
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
A man gets a mysterious invitation from a long past love to meet her in a bar. He soon discovers he is not the only one who has received an invitation from the woman and soon he is sharing a table – and swapping stories – with the others waiting for the mystery woman to arrive and explain it all. Directed by Shawn Piller (Haven) and starring Seth Green and Katee Sackhoff, the movie is a stylish thriller that has a surprising amount of substance hidden in its intricately woven script, written by Scott Lew. The plot is well paced, with plenty of twists that, when you look back on it, make perfect sense. It’s the cast, though, that really makes the film riveting. Sackhoff is particularly good as the mystery lady, both in the flashbacks scenes when she gets to play different variations on her character’s theme, and in the scenes shot in the bar where we discover she has gathered her past loves to be part of a revenge scheme years in the making.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:34 AM
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Shortly after trying to blackmail his way into marrying a rich man’s daughter, a slimy charlatan is found murdered in a handsom cab. Police seem to have an easy time arresting the guilty man – the fiancé of the woman at the center of the blackmail scheme – but it isn’t too long before the open and shut case starts to unravel, leaving the members of a prominent family exposed to the kind of scrutiny they’d rather avoid. There are almost too many characters, who aren’t too well defined, to keep this mystery from getting bogged down in the plot, but there are a couple of strong performances that rise to the front and save the day. Shane Jaconbson is particularly effective as the detective so pleased with an easy solution that he forgets to really investigate the case. It may not pull off the ‘surprise’ ending it shoots for, but director Shawn Seet keeps things foggy enough to make the mystery work in the end.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:46 PM
Monday, April 8, 2013
Unless you know a lot about Danish politics to begin with, you may feel a bit lost at first watching this miniseries about the intense political fight to win the seat of Prime Minister. Don’t let it scare you off, though, because you don’t have to know anything about the Danish political system – or Denmark for that matter --- to be thrilled watching the intense drama that goes on in each episode. The stories are well written and each episode ends in the kind of totally believable cliffhanger ending that will have you cueing up the next one in line until you’ve watched them all. The cast is pretty spectacular, too, with each actor giving performances that are as surprising as the plot twists they take you through. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen is particularly good as the pretty blonde newscaster Katrine Fønsmark, a woman who has to fight twice as hard for respect because she looks like she just walked off the pages of a calendar for the Danish bikini team. Fans of great, intelligent TV drama that haven’t been getting their fix from what’s on the tube every night need to discover Borgen.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:36 PM
Sunday, April 7, 2013
More than just about any other art form, music suffers from obsessive labeling. A song or an artist has to fit into a category -- rap, pop, country, classical – to be sold as a product to a specific audience. Few record labels – or artists -- have the courage to refuse to be put into a slot. Thanks goodness NASA is one of them, as you come to understand watching this delightful documentary of their latest CD, The Spirit of Apollo. The film follows Sam Spiegel and DJ Zegon (Ze Gonzales), the duo behind NASA (which stands for North America South America since Spiegel is American and Gonzales is Brazilian) as the literally travel the globe to make music. The key to their sound is the way they mix and match musicians and artists for each song on the LP in weird and wonderful ways. Who else by NASA would have imagined (dared) to put David Byrne with Chuck D or Tom Waits with Kool Keith? The film combines footage of the songs being made with animated interpretations from artists and filmmakers that NASA combines the same way they put musical possibilities together. The result is the perfect blend of sights and sounds.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:25 PM
If you are of a certain age, meaning you were between 8 and 15 years old when this movie came out in 1993, then get ready for a really fun trip down movie memory lane as you watch Ham, Squints, Yeah-Yeah and the rest of the team battle The Beast. Don’t worry that The Beast, the gigantic junk yard dog who eats baseballs (and baseball players if they aren’t careful) is a lot less real than he looked when you saw The Sandlot in theaters: you’re not the same person either, you know. The film maintains its spirit of fun despite being 20 years old, and the guys still are having so much fun spending their summer on the sandlot field where they play baseball that you’ll be jealous you can’t leave the office to join them. The next best thing is to find people who haven’t seen The Sandlot before – people of any age – and share the fun with them.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:23 PM
Friday, April 5, 2013
If nothing else, it’s the most audacious movie to hit theaters in years. Whether it works for you or not will depend on your love (or not) of the source material and your willingness to over look some really big hurdles that director Tom Hooper runs into (actually, crashes into) along the course of his nearly three hour epic. When it works, it’s brilliant. Watching and listening to Ann Hathaway perform the role of Fantine is one of the best movie musical moments ever captured on film. She takes one of the ‘hits’ of the show – I Dreamed a Dream – and turns it from a pretty song into a thrilling and beautiful emotional experience. When it doesn’t work, however, it’s dreadful. In the role of Javert, Russell Crowe has a good enough voice for the role, but he can’t make the connection between trying to sing a part and making the part come alive through his vocal performance. In opera, they call it the ‘park and bark’ syndrome where the singer stops everything – even moving – to stand there and sing. Crowe does the same and it virtually stops the film. Jackman, a veteran of the Broadway stage, does a better job of making the connection between his acting and singing, although it’s not always a pretty thing to watch him do it in the extreme close-ups that Hooper uses throughout the film.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 12:11 PM
Thursday, April 4, 2013
In terms of bringing Charles Dickens’ classic story to life, this 1982 made-for-TV movie does a good enough job, despite the casting of the extremely bland and unbelievable Richard Charles as the title character. What makes it reall special is the brilliant casting of George C. Scott as Fagin and Tim Curry as Bill Sikes. Scott gives the more nuanced of the two performances, never giving in to the temptation to take Fagen over the top as so many have in the past. He finds a balance between the power he has over his orphans and the powerlessness he feels against the rest of the world, and subtly reveals the inner turmoil he feels with every breath. Curry, on the other hand, shows no such restrain playing the deadly drunkard Sykes. It’s an outlandish performance on many levels, especially when he has to play Sikes as drunk (which is most of the movie) but it somehow works as the wild storm spinning around the center of the story. Director Clive Donner (What’s New Pussycat?) loses focus at the end of the story, especially in his strange interpretation of Nancy’s death, but he’s smart enough to let his stars shine when it counts.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 7:41 PM
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Based on a 70s British TV cop drama about a branch of the Metropolitan Police that specializes in armed robbery and violent crime in London, The Sweeney is that rare kind of action movie where the acting is just as important as all the car chases, shoot-outs, explosions and such that take up a big chunk of the movie. The film starts out with the slickly staged robbery of a gold shipment from a warehouse that gets busted up by The Sweeney, lead by Det. Insp. Jack Regan (Ray Winstone). The stylized action of the crooks is nicely balanced by the rougher tactics of the Sweeney, who show up at the crime scene wielding everything from shotguns and automatics to baseball bats and axe handles. Director Nick Love (The Firm) does an excellent job of pacing the opening action scene, but his real talent – and the talent of his cast – is shown in the scenes following all the action, the scenes showing how these adrenaline pumped police officers behave after they’ve just finished their job. It is these scenes that establish the characters for who they really are, and gives the audience a great base from which to follow them throughout the rest of the movie.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 1:52 PM
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Although he comes from a poor family, JW (Joel Kinnama) has big plans for his future, plan that will need a lot more money to make real than he can ever hope to earn even when he graduates from business school. So when a local drug kingpin offers him a chance to make some fast money by laundering his cash, JW grabs it with both hands. Although he gets to live the life he always dreamed of, the reality of working for a gangster soon slaps him upside the head and JW is forced to revaluate his future…if he even has a future to think about once the bullets stop flying. Director Daniél Espinosa (Safe House) does a good job of drawing the audience in to the story, seducing us with the trappings of wealth that hook JW so deep, He’s just as good at shattering the glitzy image with some well-choreographed violence.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 10:21 AM
Monday, April 1, 2013
A hitman named Charles (Brian Levine) completes his 100th career job and decides it’s time to put away his guns and retire to the sunny Cote d'Azur. Some of his fellow killers, though, aren’t as willing to see him walk away from the killing game until they settle some personal scores. Throw an odd romance involving a hot young cleaning lady with a psycho Scottish punk boyfriend into the story and you have a recipe for an original, and highly entertaining, action comedy. Director Kris McManus (Travellers) makes the bold choice to film his story in black and white – gorgeous black and white to be exact --- which gives the film a throwback noir feel that clashes nicely with the over-the-top violence of the film. The acting is first rate, from Levine’s cool/confused killer to the not-so-dumb blonde antics of Celia Muir as the cleaning lady.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:15 PM