New in Theaters: ‘Room 237’


room_237-posterStanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film The Shining is many things: Creepy, deliberate, fiendishly jokey, way over-reliant on Jack Nicholson, and perhaps the last interesting film that Kubrick did. But to some people it was far more than that. The documentary Room 237 weaves footage from the film in with interviews from its many dedicated viewers who have analyzed every single frame…and found things there you wouldn’t believe.

My full review is at Film Journal International; here’s part of it:

If it wasn’t The Shining, it would have been something else. That’s the first conclusion reached while watching Rodney Ascher’s all-enveloping head-first dive into the world of diligent obsessives who have parsed and filleted Stanley Kubrick’s horror film for deeper meaning. Many of them go so deep into each frame that it’s a wonder the many hypotheses hauled up in their nets, wriggling and wild-eyed, weren’t even further out on the fringe. “I admit,” one interviewee says in a rare sober moment, “that I am grasping at straws”…

Room 237 is playing now in limited release.

You can watch the trailer here:


Now Playing: ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’


oz-poster1Since studios are always trawling for the next great public domain property they can spin into a easily lucrative franchise, it was a matter of time before a gargantuan CGI budget was thrown at L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. It was also perhaps preordained that the resulting film would be pretty and pretty unremarkable.

My review of Oz the Great and Powerful is over at Film Racket; here’s part of it:

Sam Raimi’s big and splashy but tin-eared prequel Oz the Great and Powerful turns the spirit of the 1937 The Wizard of Oz inside out. Oz is no longer the place where misguided Earth youths like Dorothy can discover how special home really is. This time, Oz — with its expensively imagined rainbow- and candy-colored vistas of cold, computer-generated wonderment — is all things to its titular human interloper. For Oz the man, he would never think to say there’s no place like home, since dreary old black-and-white Kansas offers no home for him. They never appreciated his act back there anyway. The land of Oz, on the other hand, provides the greatest audience he’s ever seen…

Oz opened a few weeks back but is still playing pretty much everywhere. You can watch the trailer here:


New on DVD: ‘Les Miserables’


lesmiserables-dvdEvery few years, Hollywood decides to go back and see whether it’s worth reviving the musical. Generally it’s well received, but then instead of getting back into the genre, they wait a few more years for the next one. So it was with 2012’s Les Miserables, an adaptation of a musical that trends ponderous on stage but comes alive under Tom Hooper’s deft direction. 

It’s available now on DVD and Blu-ray. My full review is at Film Racket; here’s part of it:

Some stories are so bulletproof that even a tuneless Russell Crowe can’t deliver a mortal wound. There are also some so prone to overwrought pathos that even a fearsomely committed Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, working every creative muscle in their bodies, can’t quite elevate to greatness. In Tom Hooper’s labor-of-love adaptation of the workhorse musical Les Miserables, nearly all the story’s strongest and most crowd-pleasing elements are passionately brought to the fore…

You can watch the trailer here:

Media Room: Farewell to the ‘Boston Phoenix’

The all-too-common story comes around again: Another venerable institution of print media is going away. After its current issue, the Boston Phoenix is going the way of Saturday mail delivery. For decades, the scrappy alternative paper was an incubator of talent and an actual alternative to what was being reported in the mainstream papers (as compared to the current crop of pseudo-alt-weeklies in most cities, which are often little more than lifestyle-and-listings rags).

bostonphoenix1Like many celebrated papers, the Phoenix had been on the slide for years, hit hard as anyone by the decimation of print media ad dollars, and less able to weather it than their corporate competition. Film critic David Edelstein, who worked there for a few years in the 1980s, wrote that “it was everything I’d ever dreamed of in a place of work —loose, quirky, but with a sense of mission”; but even he admitted to not having read it in years.

The most glowingly emotive recollection came from Charles C. Pierce, currently at Esquire and author of the great Idiot America. He writes in Grantland about his time there in the 1970s and ’80s, when pieces were cranked out in the bar and occasionally you had to write 6,000 words on lobsters.

Between the staff punch-ups, being introduced to Black Flag, and writing whatever was asked for (after all: rent), Pierce recollects what was special about his fellow, Front Page-esque ink-stained wretches:

What’s the prayer of thanksgiving for a hundred days of fellowship, drunk on words, all of us, as though there were nothing more beyond the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph locked into place? Please say that the muse is something beyond the balance sheet, something beyond technology. Tell me that she’s alive the way she once was when you’d feel her on your shoulder as one word slammed into the other, and the story got itself told, and you came to the end and realized, with wonderment and awe, that the story existed out beyond you, and that it had chosen you, and you were its vehicle, and the grinning muse had the last laugh after all.

Writing for the rent isn’t always a grind; sometimes it’s a benediction.

New in Theaters: ‘My Brother the Devil’

My Brother the Devil

mybrother-posterSally El Hosaini’s debut film My Brother the Devil  is a drama about two brothers in an Egyptian immigrant family living in a hardscrabble part of London who have to fight everything from homophobia to the gangs on the street to each other.

My review is at Film Journal International:

As older brothers go, Rashid (James Floyd) is not so bad. Although he’s given to arbitrarily punching and berating his younger teenage brother Mo (Fady Elsayed), as would be expected, he also keeps an eye out for the kid and doesn’t want him to follow in his footsteps. The streets outside their small high-rise flat in Hackney are filled with temptations that have already lured Rashid far astray by the time the film begins.  Although the conflict that this sets up for the brothers is hardly new territory, Hosaini’s take on it veers into some unexpected complications that keep the drama crackling…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Books: ‘Invisible War’

invisiblearmies1Earlier this year, up-and-coming military writer and think-tank-er (if that’s a term) Max Boot published a pretty incredible piece of writing. Invisible Wars: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present is one of the best, most thoughtful books on military history for a general readership to come along in some time. (Even if calling itself “epic” in the subtitle seems a touch hubristic, though correct.)

Don’t let its length and breadth of scope throw you, this is as readable as any magazine essay, and definitely worth your time. My review is available at PopMatters:

In this grand survey of what one could term irregular warfare, spanning from the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66 AD and earlier to the present day, Boot shows that a good reading of the historical record leaves little room for old stereotypes. He has no truck with the romantic heavy-breathing that writers of his ilk can slip into when talking about generals and battles. He also doesn’t waste time in this book repeating the old army-groupie saw about how some particular war might have been won if only the media/politicians/concerned civilians had just gotten out of the way and let the guys with guns take care of the problem…

You can read an excerpt from the book here.

New on DVD: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

1134604 - Zero Dark Thirty

zerodarkthirtydvdBetween the various Navy SEAL books and films flooding the market, Mark Bowden’s riveting The Finish, and the all the video games crafted around Special Ops strike teams, you’d think commando fatigue would be setting in. That wasn’t the case with Zero Dark Thirty, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

My full review is at Film Journal International:

Zero Dark Thirty (military jargon for a half-hour after midnight) is an epic take on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hunt for the 9/11 mastermind. Working on a dusty Afghanistan forward operating base, Maya (Jessica Chastain) then shifts to analyzing the intelligence from the American embassy in Islamabad… As the casualties mount and the years tick by, the shell-shocked Maya’s worldview narrows down to a millimeter-wide slit that recognizes only her quarry. The film recounts the agonizingly particular step-by-step analysis of baffling and contradictory information. It just as convincingly relays the sickening sense of urgency in the hunt, a fear that after all the bombings and rhetoric and fear and war, their quarry may simply get away. “We are failing… Bring me people to kill,” seethes Maya’s CIA superior…

You can see the trailer here: