Archive for June, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Epic Robot-on-Robot Action

The first live-action Transformers movie hit theaters in 2007 and although it certainly had more than its fair share of flaws, it was an entertaining an action movie. The 2009 sequel, however, got completely bogged down by its annoying characters—both human and robotic—unnecessary bathroom humor, and lots and lots of debris. Although Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was still a financial success, it was clear that its follow-up would likely make or break the series. Fortunately, Transformers: Dark of the Moon succeeds where its predecessor failed and becomes an intensely entertaining action epic…that is, once you get past the first hour.

3 Backyards
Seriously Beautiful

Like Mary Haverstick (you really ought to look up her poetic 2008 film Home, featuring Marcia Gay Harden), director Eric Mendelsohn has a poet’s sense with both the cinema and the rhythms of sound and vision.  Individual sequences, like those in Aaron Wiederspahn’s The Sensation of Sight, are designed with a painter’s sense of composition and light, and the score by Michael Nicholas, with whom Mendelsohn worked on his lone prior feature film, lends the film the air of a pointillist Copland concerto, if that makes any sense.  3 Backyards will probably end up being too upbeat for “serious critics” yet too dark for any but arthouse audiences.  But give me cinema like this any day.

Max Manus: Man of War
Biographical War Film, Straight Up

A twenty-something international adventurer and rogue, Manus first saw military action as a volunteer with the Finnish army in their brief war with the Russians at the outset of the Second World War—and his recollections of that horror form the flashback framework for his autobiographical account of his anti-Nazi resistance work during the German occupation of Norway. This is one of those “true story” films which is so earnest in getting all the details “right” that much of the life has been sucked out of it. At the same time, stylistically speaking, the film fits in nicely with classic European war films like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Zulu, or even Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far.

Take Science… Seriously

Part loony gonzo documentary (think Morgan Spurlock) and part earnest science project (think Mythbusters with really, really big budgets and brainiac nerds instead of uber-fanboys), BLAST! is director Paul Devlin’s film of his astrophysicist brother Mark Devlin’s attempt to put a telescope in high-Earth orbit to gather clues about the origins of the Universe.  If that sounds like a pretty esoteric thing to wrap your brain around… well, it is.  But Mark Devlin and his team of scientists and grad students are just wacky enough to make it all fun, and Paul Devlin’s style is light enough not to bog down proceedings.  Much.  (It is a science film, after all!)

The Tree of Life
Malick Goes Mainstream?

For the first time, I stayed awake through an entire Malick film; and while that says a great deal about me and my tastes, it also says a great deal about The Tree of Life. This is perhaps the most straightforwardly narrative of Malick’s films—and also the least internally consistent Malick film. While Malick may have intended Jack’s parents to be representational rather than realistic, the portrayals actually undermine the pathos of Jack and his brothers. Why not just make a movie about our epistemological need to resolve our spiritual genealogy, the tension between the physical and the metaphysical, instead of wading through multiple levels of abstraction and pretense that this movie is about Jack and his family? Because Malick is no Philistine, of course.

Bad Teacher
Bad Everything

When you see as many movies as I do, the majority tend to fit into the category of films that were somewhat enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable. Every once in a while, however, you come across a movie that stands out among the rest. You hope that it stands out for positive reasons—the artistic/entertainment value, an emotional connection, mind-blowing production values, etc.—but unfortunately some stand out for all the wrong reasons. Bad Teacher not only falls into the latter category, but it falls far beneath it.

Challenging Take on Alternative Realities

I can see why Chatroom feels more like Cheatroom to those who want it to do more and be more. The film is rated R for “disturbing violent content, some sexual material and brief language.” And yes, the disturbing violent content is there in about as strong a dose as you’d want before crossing over into NC-17 territory. But these teens are far more sexually restrained than those in, say, American Pie or even Animal House. And when it comes to language, this almost feels like an episode of Glee. But for me, that’s a recommendation. Chatroom is a reminder that you don’t have to be trashy to be edgy, prurient to be challenging, or boundary-pushing to be creative.

A Talk with Gary Moore
Getting Lost, Getting Saved

“As you know, this business is type-casting,” says Bill Collector star Gary Moore. “And when you’re a good fit for the part it’s just so fun and easy. And I was just really Lorenzo. I was arrested at sixteen years old for being a pretty major drug dealer. And I was sent off to a work farm in South Dakota. And when you’re in South Dakota in the winter, on a work farm, you tend to think your life over real fast. I thought, ‘Wow! Where am I now? I’m a Chicago inner-city kid in the middle of nowhere, and I think God’s trying to get my attention!’”

The Green Lantern
Superman meets Wile E. Coyote

While the recent superhero movie trend has been to ground comic book heroes in the real world, Green Lantern chooses to go in a completely different direction. Despite the impressive production values, there is no escaping the feeling that we are watching an elaborate cartoon. It permeates through the movie’s brightly colored galactic settings, the comic assortment of characters in the Green Lantern Corps, and the way in which our hero makes his big entrance by turning a crashing helicopter into a roadster running on a Hot Wheels-like racetrack. It may be plenty cheesy, but there is still a lot of fun to be found.

Love’s Kitchen
Tasty, Light, and Flaky

Like Bill Forsyth’s films, James Hacking’s Kitchen is well stocked with local flavor (in this case, the fictional town of Wooten Dusset) and low-key characterizations. And like Hero, Kitchen features an American character as the wildcard who stirs the pot: Kate Templeton, a food critic (and divorcee) on sabbatical… whose globe-trotting daddy just happens to live in the town where once-promising chef (and widower) Rob Haley proposes to resurrect his low-profile culinary career. If you can stomach a little schmaltz with your entrée, Love’s Kitchen is a tasty little cinematic treat. Just don’t expect cailles en sarcophage… but you’re not likely to need Rolaids, either.

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