A year ago, Exene Cervenka, singer for the LA punk band X, sold off some of her old junk online, and I noted that she collected the same wacky '50s/'60s/'70s kitsch that my old CalArts roommates did. Little wonder: my roomies were born in 1961; Cervenka in 1956. They belong to a specific generation of artist-hipsters that have long both mocked… read more!
Movie Titles: B
A curious thing about Big Fish: during its first three weeks of release, when it was playing in a small number of theatres, it was actually making more money per screen than Return of the King. Even twice as much! That's no mean feat, given the massive popularity of King, as well as other critics' underwhelming reviews for Burton's so-called… read more!
It's becoming a habit, but I'd like to start this review with a little anecdote: In 2010, my friend Bill Lebeda at Picture Mill hired me to research and write some statistics for the end credit sequence of the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy The Other Guys, directed by Adam McKay. (Bill does the titles for all of McKay's movies.) As the comedy… read more!
I've seen a lot of documentaries lately - mostly through Netflix - and many have the same problem in that they pick an intriguing subject, but rarely get deep with it. So you get a portrait of something or someone, but you aren't shown the larger context surrounding the subject. Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is that rare documentary that actually succeeds… read more!
Set against the backdrop of the 1984 coal miners' strike in England, Billy Elliot follows its titular character, an 11-year-old boy raised by his macho father and older brother in a depressed Northern town, as he discovers a talent - and a love - for ballet dancing. You can pretty much guess every plot point from there on out, which… read more!
Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a once-popular Hollywood actor best known for playing a fictional superhero named Birdman. It's been some 20 years since he turned down Birdman IV and thus killed his career. In an attempt to prove to the public that he's really a great actor, Thomson decides to write, direct, and star in a Broadway adaptation of… read more!
This earnest yet cliche-ridden dramatization of Nat Turner's 1831 slave revolt takes a riveting moment in American history and sucks the energy out of it, leaving us with a rote and oddly unmoving biopic. Indeed, the public reaction to The Birth of a Nation has proven to be the more compelling story. Premiering at Sundance in the heat of the "Oscars So White" controversy,… read more!
I'm one of the few movie lovers who usually goes to bat for Brian De Palma. It's so unhip to like his films, but I think he's churned out a healthy number of underrated gems, including Casualties of War, Carlito's Way, and, yes, even Snake Eyes. That said, he's helmed some misfires too, and The Black Dahlia is one of… read more!
This run-of-the-mill gangster saga covering the 1975-1985 heyday of South Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) reminds me very much of 1990's State of Grace, also about Southie mobsters, and 1997's Donnie Brasco, an FBI-meets-Mafia drama also starring Depp. All three films take strong casts and potentially exciting crime elements, then bog them down with gloomy scripts and unremarkable direction. Love or hate The Departed, at… read more!
Inherently weird, unclassifiable movie, set in rural Tennessee, about a former blues musician (Samuel Jackson) who takes a bloody, beaten white girl (Christina Ricci) under his wing, only to find out that she suffers from some sort of nymphomania. So he chains her to his radiator in order to "cure" her. What follows is a unique, if awkward, blending of… read more!
Icky psychodrama about a neurotic ballerina (Natalie Portman) who's been cast as the lead in a New York production of Swan Lake in which she is tasked to play both the innocent white swan and her evil twin, the alluring black swan. The story of Black Swan is basically Portman's character's descent into madness, as the pressure of trying to… read more!
I almost feel sorry for The Blair Witch Project. As the most buzzed-about independent film in history, there's no way it could have lived up to its hype. Perhaps if it remained a small, little-seen film, relying solely on word of mouth rather than mountains of publicity, then it could have been judged based on its own merits. But with… read more!
After The Artist captured the public's imagination in 2011, I wondered if it would open the door to a new wave of silent films. Well, I wondered only half-seriously, because although it was a charming movie, The Artist was also clearly designed to be a novelty. So no, it wasn't the start of an exciting retro trend, and nobody should… read more!
It's a rare treat to like a movie that most critics hate. Usually I see eye to eye with a few of them, but in the case of Blindness, I ignored the mostly negative reviews the film was getting, and was excited to see it anyway. Why? Because I am fascinated with blindness, I think losing one's sight is second… read more!
Blow follows the rise and inevitable fall of real-life drug dealer George Jung (Johnny Depp), an easy-going schmo with varying luck who started with a small marijuana-selling operation in late-'60s Los Angeles and became one of the key players in the popularization of cocaine in the decades following. Stylistically and thematically, this film falls somewhere between Goodfellas and Boogie Nights as another… read more!
This three-hour drama about a lesbian relationship between young student/teacher Adèle (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos) and slightly - perhaps five years - older painter Emma (Léa Seydoux) immediately begs the question: Why three hours? It's a question that, after having seen the film, I am still asking. Blue Is the Warmest Color is essentially a collection of lengthy slice-of-life scenes,… read more!
This bitter drama is essentially Woody Allen's update on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. In Blue Jasmine, Streetcar's deluded Blanche DuBois is reborn as Jeanette "Jasmine" French (Cate Blanchett), a broke and broken New Yorker who, after the imprisonment and death of her corrupt millionaire husband (Alec Baldwin), has relocated to a dull corner of San Francisco to live… read more!
Marketed as a gritty, emotionally draining drama about a disintegrating marriage, Blue Valentine is really a gritty, emotionally chilly drama about a nice guy (Ryan Gosling) whose frigid wife (Michelle Williams) hates him. Cutting back and forth between the ugly final days of this couple's relationship and the first few weeks of their budding romance six years earlier, the film… read more!
Crackling drama about a young New York hustler (Giovanni Ribisi) who's dropped out of college to make a small fortune running his own casino in his apartment, but, due to his father's (Ron Rifkin) consistent disappointment, decides to go "straight" by joining up with a hot shot stock brokerage on Long Island, where each broker (all male, all under 30)… read more!
The funniest thing about Borat may be its full title: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. But the movie itself is often hilarious, though it's so relentlessly over the top that it wears itself out. Borat creator/alter ego Sacha Baron Cohen takes his character, a cluelessly racist and sexist reporter from Kazakhstan, out from… read more!