In Theaters

Asking superheroes to abandon their spiffy powers and outsize personalities is in itself a doomed proposition. One might as well as request that rappers stop boasting; it’s just part of the definition. You can come across the occasional modest MC or normal-seeming superhero, but those instances are going to be few and far between Yet when the creative revolution that swept up out of the indie comics’ world during the 1970s and ‘80s was rippling through the mainstream comics world, one of the great changes it promised was that superheroes would no longer be simply the titanic and implacable figures of yore. No, now they would be human characters, flawed and damaged and unsure of themselves just like the characters one finds in the greatest works of literature…

You can read the rest of this essay, “Let Us Now Praise Ordinary Men: Normalcy, Comics, and The Dark Knight,” at PopMatters.

In Theaters

Just when you start worrying about the state of American movies, and wondering whether the business is going to swandive into irrelevance like so many other home-grown industries, along comes something like Frozen River. No, the film is not going to kickstart a Hollywood that seems worryingly short on imagination. Also, most of the world will never even hear about Frozen River, let alone see it. But it does remind you that there is still a thriving creative community out there that can produce a starless, no-budget film like this with a crackerjack story and a sucker punch of an ending that can stand tall against just about anything else that’s hit theaters in 2008.

Frozen River is now playing in limited release, so see it now. You can read the full review at PopMatters.

In Theaters

It’s possible that Alan Ball will never quite grow up. And after seeing his directorial debut Towelhead, people may never want him to — those that stay until the final credits roll, at least. The advance word percolating out of festivals was that Ball’s adaptation of Alicia Erian’s novel of sexual and racial angst in the suburbs during the Gulf War was just shy of a disaster. Shocking, in-your-face, inappropriate, the rumors said, and not in a good way. Some of the advance negativity was well-informed, at least about Ball. This is a wildly manipulative and immature film, a sort of adolescent fever dream looking to tick off as many taboos as possible. But amidst the campy twists and unbelievable outbursts there can also be felt an indefinable honesty; something in far shorter supply these days than mere outrage…

Towelhead is in limited release now and deserves your business. Read the full review at filmcritic.com.

In Theaters

There are so many things so wrong with Diane English’s limp update of the 1936 Clare Booth Luce play, The Women, that Meg Ryan’s starring role is nowhere near the top of the list. Of course, Ryan is rarely so bad as to warrant all of her negative press—one so often sees that wrinkling of the nose, followed by the disapproving query, “Oh, is that that Meg Ryan movie?” Ger iconic position is that of the exemplar of all of Hollywood’s worst instincts, vis a vis the chick flick just refuses to die…

The Women opens today in theaters. You can read the full review at PopMatters.

New on DVD

Sitting for an interview and looking, glaze-eyed, through the soft-focus filter the camera has wrapped her in, a dull-voiced Heidi Fleiss blurts out, “I’m eight days sober.” This comes not long after she’s rhapsodized about exotic birds at length and come close to comparing herself to Alexander the Great. Given Fleiss’ frazzled state and thousand-yard stare, it’s impressive that filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Party Monster) didn’t take the bait and do a number on her. A celebrity has-been, she would have been helpless in the face of a couple of directors who have made their living in the darkened bright lights of fallen fame and fully know how to character assassinate by way of the careful edit.

The HBO documentary Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal, is now out on DVD. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.

In Theaters

The problem with the (inexplicably popular) Tropic Thunder may be that Ben Stiller is just not a funny filmmaker. Not even remotely. As an actor he can play the schlemiel as well as anybody, strumming the neurotically mild-mannered chord before exploding into apoplectic snit-fits that recall the second-to-last panel of any Cathy cartoon. While predictably timed, there’s still a welcome chaos in his frenetic, flailing, there’s-a-bee-in-my-ear eruptions….

Tropic Thunder is playing at pretty much every theater in the land. You can read the full review at PopMatters.