It could have been so much worse. In Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke’s Duck Season, a pair of 14-year-old boys are left on their own to kill time for a day and plan to do nothing but eat junk food and play Xbox — ony the power goes out, the girl next door keeps coming over, the pizza delivery guy won’t leave without his money, and the wacky complications just keep piling up. Although generally I hate to resort to the tired argument that this would have been completely hackneyed if made in America, that is nevertheless true. The resulting film is nothing groundbreaking but nevertheless heartfelt and surprising. It won’t get much notice in the Oscars probably, but the DVD (out this week) is definitely worth renting.
My review originally ran on filmcritic.com. Link.
File this one under It’s About Time. Eleven years after its small theatrical release, Kicking and Screaming finally makes it to DVD. A cult classic, an endlessly quotable comedy of manners, the definitive statement of mid-90s post-graduate slacker ennui, an embittered romantic comedy that stings more and more with repeated viewings — call it what you will, it’s genius work and pure delight to watch. The Criterion DVD is a perfect package, not overloaded with extras and pointless deleted scenes, only a few of each, and they all matter.
My review of the Criterion release is at the PopMatters website. Link.
The symbolism runs fast and thick in Jamie Babbit’s The Quiet, a fairly incompetent piece of exploitation which resembles nothing so much as a fever dream cooked up by a teenager who’s been bingeing on Lifetime movies. The premise is that a popular cheerleader with a creepy and dysfunctional home life (one guess as to the primary cause of said dysfunction) has just been saddled with a new half-sister, a deaf-mute with secrets of her own to hide, and plenty of overdone narration. By the end it approaches so-bad-it’s good levels of camp, but for the most part it’s just uncomfortable.
My review is at filmcritic.com. Link.
Autobiography may not seem like the best genre for graphic novels, being a form possessed more with movement and form than introspection, but Leland Myrick’s Missouri Boy shows how perfectly suited reminiscence can be with comics. An episodic retelling of his child- and young-adulthood in then-rural St. Charles — just northwest across the Missouri River from St. Louis — the book comes at you in bits and flashes, nostalgic and yet realistic. And while our sharing a home state may have had something to do with my reaction, there’s an undeniable magic to some of these flickering childhood scenes.
I conducted an interview with Myrick for Publishers Weekly. Nice guy. Link.
One would think this would be a winner. In The Illusionist, Paul Giamatti plays a policeman in turn-of-the-century Vienna charged with finding dirt on a mysterious stage magician (Edward Norton) who’s stolen the heart of the Crown Prince’s betrothed (Jessica Biel). While it has some nice detail and a general amber-hued beauty to it, the drama is stillborn when it’s not utterly silly. And though Giamatti turns in another effortlessly brilliant performance, Norton and Biel are hardly up to to the task.
My review is at filmcritic.com. Link.
Available for rental this week is one of the more truly odd films of the past year, The L.A. Riot Spectacular. A failed attempt to satirize L.A., race relations, Rodney King, and pretty much every hot-button social topic under the sun, it may be a complete mess, but it goes down with all guns blazing. Structured as sort of a TV vaudeville sketch, with Snoop Dogg as M.C. and every random actor from Emilio Estevez to George Hamilton and Charles Durning getting in on the “fun,” it never holds together, but you can’t look away, even when you want to. People years from now will likely unearth this film and shake their heads in befuddlement.
I reviewed it for filmcritic.com at the 2005 Tribeca Film Fest. Link.
Over two decades ago, Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard collaborated on Paris, Texas, which despite having the exquisite good sense to star Harry Dean Stanton, also became an iconic representation of poetic American loneliness. It was also a smidge long and somewhat too arch for its own good, despite all the acclaim. So it’s strange that when the two men teamed up again this year for Don’t Come Knocking — another drama of lost love and big empty spaces — nobody seemed much interested. Now out on DVD, it’s definitely worth your time, though, with some great performances and absolutely gorgeous camerawork, not to mention a finer sense of humor than Wenders has displayed in a good long while.
My review originally ran in Film Journal International. Link.
The litany just continues. There’s been a steady procession of recent books bemoaning the Bush administration’s various failures over the past few years, from Katrina to Iraq to, well, pretty much everything. Less damning than some, but by no means a valentine to the current administration, Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctine is a clear-headed and easily-mapped-out guide to the post-9/11 anti-terrorist intelligence war, showing just where things occasionally went right and all the myriad ways in which they went wrong. Culprint number one: Dick Cheney, and his idea that even the slightest chance of a threat is reason enough for decisive and deadly action.
My review is at the PopMatters website. Link.
It’s been a cliche for awhile now to call HBO’s The Wire the best show on television, but yet — like some cliches — this particular one remains no less true for its repetition (occasionally even critics have to get it right). Although it shows up on HBO about as often as new seasons of The Sopranos, with far less hoopla and far greater quality, this is a show that remains best-watched on DVD. Otherwise, one could easily get lost in the fast-thickening spider’s web of plot strands and multitudinous characters, all of which together presents a wonderfully rich and humane portrait of the American city in decline, told through the prism of a hard-nosed crime drama. Law and Order, it’s not.
The third season, in which one character challenges the very fabric of modern law enforcement and certain criminal elements vie for legitimacy, is available on DVD this week. My review is at filmcritic.com. Link.
They probably coined the term “insider” to mean somebody like Peter Bart. He started out as a reporter for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, switched over to the movie biz and headed up Paramount during some turbulent and great times, and now runs the industry bible, Variety, from whence he pontificates on the biz from his learned perch. If only all that experience had added up to something — insight, vision, anything. Sadly, his survey of blockbusters (everything from Mamma Mia! to the original King Kong) in the new book Boffo! is anything but insider info, proferring up instead the same kind of reheated pseudo-wisdom that any entertainment writer who’s ever scanned a box office chart could provide. An easy, non-taxing read, at least.
My review is up at the PopMatters site. Link.