In Movies

When confronted with the sort of ejaculatory, hand-waving theorizing that flows through Sophie Fiennes’ proudly abstruse The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, it’s hard to not to feel a disconnect. It seems hardly the kind of thing one should be watching on a cinema screen or (more likely, given the film’s peekaboo release schedule) television. A more proper setting for this freeflowing dissertation would be a bright-walled university lecture hall at nine in the morning, where the bearded professor is desperately trying to wake the students who are dozing through his intro to film studies class…

The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is playing occasionally, here and there, and should be available soon on DVD. You can read the full review in this week’s “The Screener” column at PopMatters.

New on DVD

One of William S. Burroughs’ more famous quotes concerns the meaning of the title for Naked Lunch. No matter that he was probably just winding up the interviewer, Burroughs still captured a shiver of dread when he explained it as being “the frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” The line may not be appropriate for the entire opus, particularly when one is talking about Mugwumps, but it’s nevertheless a feeling that everyone is familiar with. It’s that second in time when the scales fall off and you see the world—or, more often, a particular corner of it—in a completely new way, as though for the first time.

Nicholas Geyrhalter’s film Our Daily Bread is a 21st century naked lunch in the true sense of what Burroughs meant, not a scattershot impressionistic sensory assault, but an eye-opener that can actually change the way one views the world. At least part of it.

Our Daily Bread is now finally available on DVD. You can read the full review at this week’s “The Screener” column at PopMatters.

New on DVD

It’s not really Billy Crystal’s fault. Maybe it is, but he’s allowed benefit of the doubt. After all, his name’s not listed in the writing credits for the six-hour PBS miniseries history of American comedy, Make ‘Em Laugh. So, it’s certainly possible that the blame for his thuddingly unfunny opening host segments for each episode could go to the actual filmmakers behind this cheap pratfall of a series. After all, these are the guys who managed to rope in everyone from Groucho Marx to Mort Sahlt and Bill Cosby and get maybe a dozen solid hard laughs out of it…

Make ‘Em Laugh is now available on DVD. You can read the full review at PopMatters.

In Film

What Hollywood did in 2008 may have worked then, both stateside and abroad, but it’s by no means guaranteed to continue working in the future. Slumdog Millionaire is a mongrel piece of work based on a novel by a globe-trotting Indian diplomat. It’s structured around a frequently franchised international game show, stocked with Indian cinema heavyweights, and shot like a jittery thesis film by a dark-hearted Brit who is seemingly ill-suited to the story’s romantic light. But the film’s swirled-in cultural streams—equal parts Dickensian grotesquery, Horatio Alger striving, ‘90s arthouse growl, and Bollywood flair—just may make it the perfect kind of creation to survive in the world’s increasingly cross-pollinated cultural landscape…

You can read the rest of this week’s “The Screener” column — about the Golden Globes, Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, and other sundry items — now at PopMatters.

In Theaters

A beautiful tissue-paper piece of art that falls to shreds should you so much as blow upon it, Dorris Dörrie’s Cherry Blossoms is the kind of film that dares you to laugh at it. There are heartfelt declarations of love and elaborate avant-garde dance routines, not to mention a major plot point about a mountain appearing from behind a veil of mist. Cynics: Don’t venture within one hundred meters. Romantics: Run, don’t walk, to the theater. Everybody else: Approach with caution…

Cherry Blossoms (aka Kirschblüten – Hanami) is in very limited release now. The full review is at

In Theaters

With his bifurcated status as Hollywood powerhouse and indie maverick, there are few directors besides Steven Soderbergh with both the creative chops and the stubborn drive to make a film like Che. A more mainstream director would feel forced to smooth the political edges, and a more resolutely indie director might be tempted to make a retro-propaganda film about Che Guevara, all fluttering flags and poster-ready stalwart revolutionaries sweeping the capitalists from power.

To his credit, Soderbergh doesn’t fall into either of these traps with Che. But he also never figures out a convincing third path to follow. The resulting film is an uneasy mix of war procedural and unabashed hero worship, something like a guerrilla take (both in the artistic and military sense) on Patton

Che is now playing around the country, both together and as two films. You can read the full review in this week’s “The Screener” column at PopMatters.

In Comics

PW Comics Week just put out their third annual critics’ poll, which they were nice enough to ask me to take part in. While you can never quite definitively say what are the best graphic novels in any given year, this is a nicely weighted listing of titles that are pretty much all guaranteed to be worth your precious time and money.

The winner, not surprisingly, is Dash Shaw’s
Bottomless Belly Button, a phantasmagorical piece of work that had critics around the country gobsmacked with admiration. Other notable mentions include the creepy-as-hell Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa and Mia Kirshner’s I Live Here.

In Lists

So just launched their Best of 2008 year-end list, compiling the opinions of our crack cadre of critics, like Bill Gibron, Chris Null, Norm Schrager, Sean O’Connell, Don Willmott, myself, and others. Some pretty good choices in there, nice attention from Bill to Revolutionary Road, and Don to Flight of the Red Balloon. For what it’s worth, here’s my top choice of the year…

The Class — Laurent Cantet vaults to the top ranks of modern filmmakers with this scrupulously observed, cinema-verite take on a year in the life of a French high school class headed up by a tough-minded teacher played by co-writer François Bégaudeau (an actual teacher). Refusing to fall into the clichés of either heartwarming success stories or hopeless nightmare — the two ways in which multiethnic urban classrooms are usually depicted — Cantet just sets up a series of short-fuse explosions between the teacher and his rambunctious kids and watches the struggle for power play itself out, with fascinating results.

New on DVD

In their seven-part Iraq War miniseries adaptation of Evan Wright’s book Generation Kill, David Simon and Ed Burns roll up a quiverful of arrows to fire off at various topics, ranging from the rampaging adrenaline of young men at war to the supreme idiocy of the invasion itself. However, the bright and gleaming theme running through most of these hard-bitten episodes has the filmmakers illustrating an age-old military maxim: Soldiers are often much more likely to be killed by the decisions of their submoronic leadership than they are by actions undertaken by the enemy. When that enemy is as pathetic a force as Saddam’s Republican Guard, and the American officer corps obsessed more with the idea of taking Baghdad at warp speed than properly clearing the territory they’re pushing through (both points made time and again in this series), that maxim is even more true than usual…

Generation Kill is now available on DVD, with helpful military slang glossary. Read the full review at