In Theaters

If there was ever a movie to make somebody regret that they had any familiarity with the Harry Potter universe, it would be the astoundingly irritating Potter fandom documentary We Are Wizards. Josh Koury’s smartly-shot but lazily self-indulgent work seems to be attempting to follow in the footsteps of such fan-exploratory films as Trekkies. Unfortunately, it takes a subject of potentially great pop-anthropological interest and turns it into an object of such airtight self-satisfaction that one escapes it wishing never to hear about the boy wizard ever again….

We Are Wizards is playing in limited release now. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.

In Theaters

It isn’t that [director Marc] Forster is trying to be too clever by half in Quantum of Solace, though. The problem is easier than that: he doesn’t appear to know what makes Bond different from any other spy out there. Prior to Royale (which Quantum tries to ape but consistently gets all wrong), there was certainly a lot of dead franchise weight that needed to be shed. All those hokey mannerisms, and the “Bond, James Bond” ticks that kept popping up in rigidly formulaic film after film. After a while, it was only the girls who were different, and even they began to blur together. Does anybody really remember anything about the Pierce Brosnan films? Casino Royale cut through all that and gave us a Bond who was certainly leaner and meaner, but also much closer to the charmingly callous and arrogant bastard whom Ian Fleming had originally imagined. There seemed a hint of a real person inside that tuxedo….

Quantum of Solace is playing everywhere in the known universe, should you choose to see it. You can read the full review in this week’s “The Screener” column at PopMatters.

In Theaters

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is a film that nobody should ever feel forced to make, but just about everybody should see. It’s a story about a murder, made by the victim’s oldest friend, and structured as a cinematic letter to the victim’s son Zachary, a boy he would never know. The people involved are all too real, composed of both a goodness and evil that one never sees convincingly created in narrative film; neither the villains nor heroes here would quite be believed, which is just part of what gives filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s documentary such wrenching pathos…

Dear Zachary is playing now in limited release. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.

In Theaters

Although he doesn’t actually pop in until later in the film, Andy Warhol is a permanent, lurking presence in Christina Clausen’s The Universe of Keith Haring. He was the silver-haired mentor-in-absentia to Haring, the tenaciously talented kid who embodied Warhol’s philosophy of art as work more than almost any other modern artist of note. In some ways, the two couldn’t have been more different. Haring was a skinny club denizen with a goofy forehead and giant glasses, as brazen about his homosexuality and opinions as Warhol, with his mystique of smartly attired shadowy ambivalence, remained reticent. Haring’s art was a circus-like explosion, while Warhol’s (candy-colored as it often was) took a darker, ironic stance…

The Universe of Keith Haring is now playing in limited release. I reviewed it in this week’s “The Screener” column for PopMatters.

Now on DVD

Stretched over seven episodes, The War is quite a different piece of work than Burns’ career-defining and genre-reinventing series The Civil War. One of his motivating purposes for getting the series done was reportedly his desire to get as many of these first-person accounts of the conflict down on film while there were still enough veterans and civilians alive to tell them. This focus on being told what happened by those who were actually there gives the series a wholly different perspective than the Civil War, which by necessity had to utilize historian talking-heads and the narration of first-person accounts. While that series hardly skimped on the grungy details, the soothing voices, gentle music, and sepia-tone feel of the whole thing allowed viewers a little more distance….

The War has been out on DVD for a little while now (it first broadcast on PBS last year), but the cold, harsh winter possibly soon upon us might still provide a good time to sit down and take in all of its 15-plus hours. Well worth the time. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.