November, 26th 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

 

Remember when that book The Secret came out? The idea behind The Secret was that positive thinking was the key to happiness and success. It literally suggested that if you wished hard enough for something, it would come true. Needless to say, it was wildly popular. Shortly after The Secret came out, I read a wonderful takedown of it that argued the book was a success precisely because it confirmed for Americans what they already believed to be true: That good things were coming their way. Americans aren’t pessimistic by nature. If anything, they are overly optimistic. They ALWAYS see the silver lining.

That, at its heart, is the essence of David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. It captures two fundamental qualities of the American psyche: Our obsession with football (and our conflation of football with life, family, and happiness) and our relentless, sometimes logic-defying optimism.

As the film starts, Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a mental hospital. He’s been diagnosed as bipolar, with serious anger management issues. The triggering event was catching his wife, a high school English teacher, having an affair with a colleague—Pat beat the...

2:44 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
November, 16th 2012

There's the Beef: In Defense of Channing Tatum

 

There’s been a little controversy on the interwebs over himbo Channing Tatum winning the title of People’s Sexiest Man Alive over Ryan Gosling and I want to come to Tatum’s defense.

Let me make something perfectly clear: Given the choice between Ryan Gosling and Channing Tatum, I will take Ryan Gosling. Every single time.

But if I was on the editorial board at People magazine, I’d vote for Tatum as Sexiest Man Alive. (An aside: Can’t they call it “Sexiest Man of the Year?” To use the word “alive” suggests that last year’s winner got really fat and/or died.)

 And here’s why:

1. Channing Tatum loves the ladies and the ladies love him back. I’m not saying that just because  he used to be a stripper and this year made Magic Mike (whose release date will be a national holiday in my home from this year forward.) He also does drippy, PMS-approved romance films like The Vow and Dear John. The guy may as well own stock in the Lifetime Network at this point. There’s something to be said for a man...

5:28 pm Comment Count Tags: general film
November, 16th 2012

Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part 2

Edward, Bella, Jacob, Renesmee

 

In the Twilight world, becoming a vampire is like being permanently high on some really great ecstasy. Senses are heightened—colors brighter, blades of grade more detailed. Sex with your husband will blow your mind. And, if that's not great enough, you're super fast and strong and YOU NEVER DIE. Okay, so there's that pesky thirst for blood thing. But if you're new vampire Bella (Kristen Stewart) you have an amazing control over your cravings. To avoid snacking on a rock climber, you hurl yourself selflessly from the cliff.

And with that, the thing that I had been dreading since the first Twilight film has come to pass: Bella is a vampire now, totally subsumed by her love for Edward (Robert Pattinson), willing to sacrifice her very humanity for the man she loves..

A feminist parable this ain’t.

Anyway, the entire first part of Breaking Dawn: Part 2 all kinds of awkward—first with that whole Bella becoming a totally rad vampire routine, then meeting her creepy looking CGI-enhanced baby, Renesmee. (Not quite sure why they couldn’t use a real baby in these early scenes—I guess she’s supposed to have otherworldly beauty or somethin’. As it is, Renesmee...

12:32 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
November, 15th 2012

Lincoln

 

It says something about Daniel Day-Lewis’s reputation as an actor that there was nary a peep of protest when he—a UK native!—was cast as Abraham Lincoln. Heck, England had a collective freak out when an American actor’s name was briefly suggested as a possible Harry Potter. Lincoln is only one of the most seminal figures in all of American history. But Day-Lewis is that good. (Or American’s don’t realize he’s from the UK. In which case, well. . . no comment).

There were,  however, some objections when folks first heard Lincoln’s voice, in the film’s trailer. It wasn’t the booming, resonant, commanding voice one would expect of such a titan. Instead it was gentle, folksy, slightly high-pitched—a cross between Garrison Keillor, Kermit the Frog, and your favorite history professor. Turns out, according to historians, that voice is accurate. And Daniel Day-Lewis manages to do the impossible—take the man off Mt. Rushmore, as it were, and humanize him, without ever diminishing his historic luster.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln shows the 16th president at a pivotal time in his career: The Civil War is winding down and Lincoln, already the most famous, and beloved man in America...

10:54 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
November, 9th 2012

Skyfall

 

This may be a bit controversial, but I don’t think Daniel Craig makes an excellent Bond.

Granted, my knowledge of Bond is limited to the films (I  haven’t read the books), but to me, Bond is supposed to be cool, elegant, sexy, mischievous, a touch hedonistic, with a sense of mirth and mischief behind his eyes.

Well, one out of six ain’t bad: Craig is cool. (Okay I suppose he’s sexy too, but he’s hardly a seducer. ) He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would luxuriate in a good martini, a beautiful woman, an elegant cut of a suit. (Although he does look good in a tux—and, uh, even better out of one.) If there’s anything hiding behind his eyes, it’s darkness, not mischief. Craig’s fairly good with a dry joke, which is one of his better, Bond-like qualities. But he doesn’t seem to possess a delicious secret, as all Bonds should. Indeed, inconceivable as this may be, he doesn’t seem to love being Bond, which is pretty essential to the Bond character.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Craig as an actor—I find his dark, hooded face endlessly fascinating. And I’ve enjoyed his work over the years, particularly in Layer Cake and Munich. But he’s third on my personal list of Bonds,...

11:17 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
November, 8th 2012

The Sessions

 

The premise of The Sessions is enough to make even the most jaded filmgoer squirm: A man with severe polio, who can barely move and must sleep in an iron lung, consults with a “sexual surrogate” to experience the pleasures of lovemaking. I mean, is there some dotted line where I can sign HELL NO?

But seriously, don’t be deterred.

Because in its own way, The Sessions is a small miracle. To work, the film needed to be tender without being maudlin, physically plausible without being clinical, funny without being patronizing, sexual without being pornographic, sweet without being sugary, and so on. Indeed, that delicate balance is achieved.

Literally, from the film’s opening moments—as a cat crawls across the top of an iron lung and sunlight streams through an open window—you know you are in good hands.

Because right away you get a sense of loneliness and isolation and right away, you hear the voice of our hero Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a real man, whose poetry and writings provide some of the content of the film. It’s a great voice, especially in Hawkes’ marvelously capable hands, reminiscent of David Sedaris—droll, funny, a little pissed off, ironically aware...

11:04 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
October, 12th 2012

Argo

 

Don’t look now, but Ben Affleck has become a major American filmmaker.

He’s actually three-for-three in his directorial efforts—Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and now Argo—with each film getting more ambitious, more accomplished, and just plain better.

And Argo is the work of confident filmmaker who knows he’s at the top of his game.

It’s 1979 and the U.S. Embassy in Iran (that’s Iran with an “n” for you younger readers) has been invaded by an angry mob. The scene is set up swiftly and expertly. We feel the burgeoning panic inside the embassy as the mob gets closer. Then at some point, the dim, hopeless realization sets in: The mob is going to penetrate the gates and nobody is coming to save them.

That was the day, of course, that the Iran hostage crisis began. Most of us know that story well: 52 Americans were taken prisoner. But few of us know about the other, so surreal-it-has-to-be-true story of the six diplomats who escaped to the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) and the unlikely mission to save them. (The film’s clever tagline is “based on a declassified true story.”)

Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA “exfiltration” expert—now...

9:44 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
October, 5th 2012

How To Survive a Plague

 

This essential film is currently only available to Baltimore audiences on Comcast On Demand. When it comes to theaters, I will re-post the review.

 

It’s fitting that David France’s stirring and powerful documentary is titled like a how-to guide, because the film—which tells the story of ACT UP through astonishing archival footage, home video, and contemporary interviews—is an object lesson in how to create a successful activist movement.

 

1.  Get a lot of pissed off people. ACT UP began because a lot of young people were dying and the government and the NIH and the FDA weren’t doing enough about it. And because this threatened community—many gay young men—were being cut down in the prime of their lives, there was an energy, an urgency, and a sense of righteous anger that was palpable. Many of the members of ACT UP had AIDS or the HIV-virus themselves; many had lost a loved one to the disease; some just refused to sit by idly during a holocaust. (Full disclosure: One of the members of ACT UP who is featured prominently in the film is my dear friend Spencer Cox. I couldn’t be more proud of him.)

2. Know your stuff. The...

11:45 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
October, 4th 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

 

I’m actually jealous of sensitive 16 year olds who get to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Of course, growing up, I had John Hughes movies, which were amazing and also elevated my fellow gym class rejects to hero status. But those films were a bit broad and comedic. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is like a super emo version of a John Hughes film, with characters slightly more rooted in a recognizable reality. (The time frame is right, though: The film is set in 1991).

Directed by Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the novel of the same name, Perks tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a freshman in high school who recently had some unspecified mental health issues (those are fleshed out a bit, later in the film). He feels he’s doomed to a life on the outskirts of school life—forever an observer, never a participant—until he meets the cheerful, irreverent Patrick (Ezra Miller), a senior who’s surprisingly comfortable in his own skin, considering that he’s both gay and dating a closeted football star. Patrick introduces Charlie to his friends, all smart, a little weird, and into what we now called “indie” but used to call “New Wave” music like The Smiths and Dexy’s Midnight...

2:00 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
September, 27th 2012

Looper

Looper

 

On first blush, casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger version of Bruce Willis seems like it belongs in the annals of bad movie choices. Especially when you consider that Looper is a time-travel movie, meaning that Gordon-Levitt and Willis will face off in several scenes, as older and younger versions of the same character.

But the makeup department has done just enough to Gordon-Levitt—blue contact lenses, a broadened nose, slightly filled out mouth—to make the resemblance plausible and JGL’s crafty performance—nothing over the top, just a raised eyebrow here, a subtle smirk there—totally seals the deal. (There’s also a clever moment at the beginning of the film where JGL looks in the mirror, checks his hairline, and scowls—a nod to his future baldness.)

The Gordon-Levitt-as-Willis thing is, of course, just one of the many tricks up Looper’s sleeve—and not even the best one. This is one of those films where you say to yourself: If they can just live up to the promise of the trailer, they’ll really be onto to something. I think Looper more than fulfills that promise—it exceeds it.

The film is set in the mid-21st century. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet but...

12:22 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
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