Now Playing: ‘Bad Words’

Jason Bateman has been crafting comedy genius for so long in front of the camera that it’s perhaps inevitable he would eventually move behind it as well. Bad Words is his directorial debut, a promising and blessedly short if wildly uneven hour-and-a-half of rude comedy about a misanthropic adult who crashes a kids’ spelling bee.

Bad Words is still playing just about everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

Guy Trilby is custom-made for Bateman’s perfected admixture of laconic sharpness. Instead of the more explosive brand of destabilizers favored by US comedy, your John Belushis and Will Ferrells, Bateman upends the norms of this closed micro-society of over-schooled spelling quants by having Trilby simply plant himself there and refusing to move or explain his motivations. Occasionally he’ll try to get a leg up in competition by upsetting his preteen opponents with some verbal guerrilla warfare. But in the main, Trilby is a stoic pillar of nasty. (Having played the put-upon and exasperated nice guy in everything from Arrested Development to Identity Thief, Bateman gets some mileage here out of going so far to the dark side.) He’s Bartleby, and will not be moved…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Lone Survivor’


Lone_Survivor_PosterWith a resume that includes everything from Battleship to Friday Night Lights, Peter Berg isn’t the first guy you would think of to have made one of the modern era’s great combat films. But nevertheless, there he is with a directing and writing credit on Lone Survivor, a tough and emotionally draining film about a doomed Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan in 2005.

Lone Survivor opens in limited release this week, rolling out more broadly in January. My review is at Film Journal International:

If not for the real-life footage that bookends Peter Berg’s adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s nonfiction bestseller, Lone Survivor would come close to tipping right into another hero-worshipping chronicle of the special-operations soldiers so beloved by today’s Xbox-playing couch warriors. But the story hasn’t even begun and already Berg has you immersed in images of SEAL trainees getting systematically broken down to the point of tears. Before the choppers rev up and the men fly off into the Afghanistan mountains to go Taliban-hunting, you’ve already witnessed the limits they have been pushed to…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Repo Man’

Emilio Estevez gives his best punk-rock face in 'Repo Man'

Emilio Estevez gives his best punk-rock face in ‘Repo Man’

repoman-dvdAt first it might seem strange that the folks over at Criterion would bother putting out an edition of Repo Man. After all, isn’t it really a film meant to be watched on a bad $2 bargain-bin DVD or a miserably grainy VHS tape from a decades-old cable broadcast? Possibly, but on new viewing, this is one of those cult films that actually deserves getting this treatment, brand-spanking new transfer, deleted scenes and all.

From my review at Film Racket:

The scuzz-punk doom comedy of Alex Cox’s 1984 underground touchstone makes for a creepy visitation from a fracturing society. Released at the midpoint of the Reagan era’s celebration of suburban consumerism, it had a gutter-level view of Los Angeles’ bleached-out sprawl and social entropy. Its characters tend toward the feral: repo men who hunt the cars whose owners can’t pay up, shotgun-toting punks, cold-eyed federal agents, or bugged-out cult followers. Hints of an oppressive police state are everywhere, and the scent of nuclear apocalypse is on the land. In the middle of all the science-fiction-tinged end-times bleakness, though, Cox mines a catchphrase-studded seam of absurdist humor that’s one of the film’s most durable qualities…

Here’s the trailer, in all its grotty gloriousness:

New in Theaters: ‘It’s a Disaster’


And so begins the last couples’ brunch of the 21st century…

its_a_disaster posterAlmost perfectly designed to come and go quickly from theaters, leaving mostly silence but a few nattering and persistent fans in its wake, It’s a Disaster is a tart comedy for chilly times. From my review at Film Journal International:

The current vogue for apocalypse stories gets a refreshing redo in Todd Berger’s nimble comedy about a miserable brunch that turns only mildly more sour after the realization that everyone is just hours away from death. The lack of both zombies and stars, not to mention the inside-out mockery of genre tropes, will keep wider audiences at a distance. But strong word of mouth could result in a small cult hit, at least among those who don’t mind a film whose attitude toward its doomed characters is simple and damning: Good riddance…

It’s a Disaster opened yesterday in very limited release; find it however and wherever you can.

Here’s the trailer:



New in Theaters: ‘Upstream Color’

Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth try to figure out whose memories are whose in 'Upstream Color'

Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth try to figure out whose memories are whose in ‘Upstream Color’

upstream-color-posterAlmost a decade ago, Shane Carruth made a tight little puzzler of a science-fiction film called Primer about engineers who accidentally create a time machine; the results make Inception look as easy to decipher as a Michael Bay film.

For his second film, a just-as-puzzling but wider-ranging psychological experiment going under the name Upstream Color, he broadened his scope and palette, throwing a love story into the midst of a mesmerizing thriller about a bizarre kidnap plot. The result is obfuscating, but in a gorgeous and possibly life-illuminating way.

Upstream Color just opened in limited release; it should be sneaking into smarter cinemas around the country over the next couple of months. Expect it to show up on a lot of most-loved and most-hated lists at the year’s end.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can watch the trailer here; it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

New in Theaters: ‘The Company You Keep’


Susan Sarandon, the best reason to see ‘The Company You Keep’

company-you-keep-poster1Robert Redford’s newest middle-of-the-road drama is a well-packaged and superbly-cast semi-thriller that takes a solid premise (Weather Underground radicals reappear after decades in hiding) and buries it under a couple hours of mediocrity.

The Company You Keep playing now in limited release, mostly due to the high wattage of the star power involved (Redford himself to Shia LaBeouf, Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, and so on).

My review is at Film Racket.

You can watch the trailer here:


Screening Room: Roger Ebert


Roger-Ebert-The-Great-MoviesRoger Ebert passed away yesterday after a difficult and lengthy battle with cancer, one he fought in public with eloquence and bravery. He was a movie lover of the first rank; one of those critics many of us admired without reservation. (The worst some would have said of him was that he liked too many movies; hardly a resounding criticism.)

My essay on this sad passing ran today in Film Racket:

It goes without saying that Roger Ebert, who died yesterday from cancer at the age of 70, was America’s movie critic. It also goes without saying that there will never be another like him, especially not in these media-atomized times. No other critic was better known or (arguably) more listened to; at least as much as any critics are listened to about anything. His trademark thumbs-up/thumbs-down judgement was derided by some as being too simplistic, but really, isn’t that the first question people ask about a movie: Should I see it? Ebert understood that no matter what else he was writing about, whether it was Pasolini or Jaws: The Revenge, he was more than just a critic, he was a journalist for a large-circulation daily newspaper, and so had an obligation to boil it down…

Below, a couple of the better moments from Ebert’s old Sneak Previews show with Gene Siskel, which is where many of us who came up in the 1970s and ’80s first learned to look critically at the movies as a popular art form.

First, here’s Ebert’s take on Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, which he terms (correctly, I think) “too little, too late”:

And here’s Ebert’s heartfelt and thoughtful rave about GoodFellas:


New in Theaters: ‘Side Effects’


sideeffects-poster1In theory, this week’s pharma-thriller Side Effects is supposed to be Steven Soderbergh’s last feature film as director. He’s something of a workaholic, film-wise, so we’ll see if he sticks to that. But in any case, the film itself is an interesting swan song, not exactly career-defining but a neat piece of work regardless:

My full review is at Film Journal International:

The film’s ad campaign hinted at something vaguely related to Contagion, playing up the fact that both movies share a director (Soderbergh) and screenwriter (Scott Z. Burns), and that they are structured around a specific modern-day fear. While that pandemic film was more a fully realized, flesh-and-blood fictional story than it was a docudrama, Side Effects is really a sleekly constructed noir where the pharmaceutical topicality is mostly backdrop…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ’56 Up’

56up_posterEvery 7 years since 1964, director Michael Apted has been checking in on the same group of 14 British subjects he first interviewed for the groundbreaking (though it didn’t seem it at the time) documentary 7 Up. Now, everybody is 56 years old.

My full review is at PopMatters:

Eight films on, director Michael Apted (who worked as a researcher on the first film) has created something for the ages. The Up series is like a living, breathing cinematic experiment. (More than a few of the people appear to feel they are being watched under a microscope, and resent it.) But after each seven-year delay, when Apted and his crew returns to interview those of the original 14 still talking to them, the drama of it increases in small increments almost scientific in tone. We see person turn not just from children into adults, but from characters into people. By the time that 56 Up comes around, most involved have left so much of themselves on the screen that the impending clouds of sickness and mortality begin to carry an almost unbearable weight…

56 Up is playing in limited release right now, and should be available on DVD later in the year. It’s best to catch up on the earlier installments first.

You can see the trailer here: