January 2011

American Splendor: Nothing Else Could Ever Do...

It’s hard to actually explain why the Midwest – and Cleveland specifically – has birthed so many oddball, creative types. In addition to the wealth of sometimes forgotten or misunderstood work springing from America’s perpetual punchline is a sturdy and irascible perspective on how life works. The downer attitude moves through music, literature and comic books with Harvey Pekar easily being the regions best known advocate for bitchin’ and moaning about just about anything and everything.

Queen of Outer Space: Zsa Zsa Goes Gaga

There’re so many cut rate features dating back to the fifties, sixties and seventies that keeping them all straight after a viewing becomes rather troublesome. And by the time one delves far enough into film as to distinguish between sci-fi, movies set in space and a combination of the two, there wind up being so many weird variations that keeping all of this straight seems just about impossible.

I actually watched Queen of Outer Space a few years back, but didn’t realize that until at least a half hour into my second viewing last week. One would instantly figure that in such a situation the feature doesn’t rank to high on anyone’s list of favorite films. And that’s probably accurate.

Revision: Hancock

Critics tend not to care, especially in retrospect, whether or not a film turns a profit. In the long run, box office success rarely correlates with lasting public opinion. Honestly, nobody ever cites Casablanca as a great movie because it happened to make triple its budget in its initial theater release. That's just not what people remember. That in mind, I'm not really considering Hancock's $600+ million in revenues on its $150 million budget when I say that it wasn't the movie it could have been. In fact, it's pretty damn amazing that it made that much money considering how it actually turned out.

80 Blocks From Tiffany's: White Dudes in the Bronx Circa '79

There isn’t any direct reference to 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s in Yes Yes Ya’ll, but some of the same figures crop up in both.

The film, though, details how gang members live in the South Bronx and interact with its citizenry. Surprisingly, though, there’s not a whole buncha complaining going on. That might have just been due to who agreed to an on camera interview, though. Either way, the documentary, which was pretty much out of circulation until a DVD release last year, counts as a snapshot in time that’s served to impact not just music, but shaped the way boroughs are perceived

I Need That Record: Stating the Obvious

Releasing a film detailing the state of the record industry and by extension why locally owned record stores are closing in 2008 seems like a weird idea. Granted, a huge portion of why director Brendan Toller when through the trouble of making I Need That Record seems to have stemmed from personal motivation. So, that makes sense. But it’s interesting to wonder if he believes the film’s really added too much to public discourse. Alright, that probably wasn’t the point. What was then?

Man on Wire: Watch Immediately

Before even getting into what Man on Wire actually details – and yeah, it’s difficult to guess where that wire is from the film’s title – it’s worth trying to figure out what ranks as performance art and what counts as an athletic feet at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Any action, if played out in public, has a hint of the performative about it. But at the same time, a father and son playing catch in a part couldn’t manage to spur discussion within the art and academic worlds. Maybe purpose is the only thing needed to make something public, performative art. Who knows, I suppose, would be the best answer to all of this.

Henry Darger Falls into the Realms of the Unreal

"…they found the skulls and tibiae of several little girls, polished as though by long fondling.”

Well, that little tidbit seems to get left out of much of the writing which works to properly set Chicago’s Henry Darger into a wider art-world context.

Outsider art seems as exploitative as just about any other form of gawking at the weird. Yeah, some of these sub-pinheads are crafty in their own unique way. But if they weren’t odd enough to rank as outsiders, it’s pretty certain no one would give a shit. Did anyone ever catch a Wesley Willis performance because of his impeccable skills? I’ll venture a guess and say no. It was a freak show – an entertaining one, surely. But still…

The War of the Worlds and Social Commentary

The most enduring alien invasion story is The War of the Worlds. The original novel by H.G. Wells has been adapted to various media over the past century and each one uses that quintessential alien invasion chronicle to comment on the politics of the day. The novel was published in 1898 in England, a time when the British Empire's classical hegemony was beginning to collide with the birth pangs of globalism. The 20th century would prove to be the effective end of the empire as bits and pieces of British influence dwindled across the world. Wells brings his country to task for its imperial ambitions, depicting a scenario in which the world's most powerful nation is brought to its knees by an outside force with its own designs on empire. Fittingly, the would-be Martian Empire crumbles not from military opposition but from sickness, a rotting from within that has more to do with the march of nature than any strict political force. The commentary is clear: No empire lasts forever.

Ink: An Indie Triumph

Usually when people talk about the way the Internet has changed the film industry they're talking about the pirating phenomenon and its impact on blockbuster ticket sales. But there's another side to this story, an arc that has made it possible for truly independent features to find a huge audience. One of the most prominent examples of this is the 2009 fantasy feature Ink. It's been a long time since films labeled "independent" got their minuscule budgets from the filmmaker's own pocket and the rest piecemeal from family, friends and local businesspeople. These days indie features are more likely the vanity projects of established filmmakers who get their distribution from the arthouse wings of major studios. Ink got its funding from writer/director Jamin Winans and his personal production company Double Edge Films. The whole thing cost $250,000. In other words, the catering budget for your standard studio picture. This isn't the remarkable part about Ink, though. Its most interesting story (other than the script itself) is its distribution.

Dickhouse: The Wild And Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Filming any sort of documentary includes a bit of exploitation. There’s really no way to get around that, unfortunately. Focusing on a specific person or event necessitates filmmakers to find an angle – good or bad – and manipulate reality to the point that takes the commonplace to a realm that ranks as entertainment.

With a name like Dickhouse, it’s not difficult to guess that Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine production company are able to summon a few interesting ideas regarding what to film and how to go about doing it.

Paper Man: There’s a Reason You’ve Not Heard of it Before Now

This has easily been figured before: Kieran Mulroney might not have gotten the chance to write and direct features if not for his being related to Dermot.

Yeah, that’s a cheap shot. And pretty unfair. Oh yeah, and baseless. There’s really nothing in Keiran’s past to point at ineptitude, not even Paper Man. And while that flick worked really hard at being clever, pithy and emotive, it doesn’t really wind up being any of those things despite counting Jeff Daniels as the lead, portraying Richard, Lisa Kudrow as his wife and Emma Stone as a teenaged friend to the main character.

America's Guilt through Robert De Niro (Part Two)

Stone (2010) doesn’t present anything out of character when examining the general career paths of either Robert De Niro, who plays Jack Mabrey, a prison employee who works with inmates and assesses each individual’s ability to assimilate back into general society, or Ed Norton, here portraying an arsonist. Each man has, in the past, acted in roles that sway towards moral turpitude. At the same time, though, both actors possess a quality enabling them to play good guys.

Hanna: A Kick-Ass Teenage Jane Bond


Movie for Lots of Little Girls, Girl Teens, And Big Girls Too, and Women.

The is a trailer review. I haven't seen the movie. If the movie is anything like the trailer with will be one big entertaining flick. Yes, the trailer looks good. It zings with amazing imagery, and it kicks with excitement.

The flick is the modern fairy tale of a Jane Bondish kick ass, little teenage girl. A lot of little girls and teens, and many more big girls too, are going to like this movie, and so will dudes who like kick ass action flicks.

HANNA is a suspense action thriller made by director Joe Wright , Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, and Erica Bana as her father, and Cate Blanchett as her nemesis.

Review: True Grit

The Western is the quintessential once-and-future favorite genre. For over a century (re: ever since there was a West to write about), stories of cowboys, outlaws and rough towns have fallen in and out of fashion with regularity. The last time Westerns were popular was in the mid-1970's when the likes of Sam Peckinpah used them to exemplify the hard, ironic ethos of the anti-hero concept and to explore the prevalence of violence in film. Once that experiment was over, Hollywood hung up its ten-gallon hat and went in search of less dusty fare. There was a mild resurgence in the 90's with classics like Tombstone but the Western has only really enjoyed a proper reimagining in the past decade, thanks in no small part to the Coen Brothers. They scored a big hit in No Country For Old Men, a fittingly strange adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's genre-deconstructing novel. With their adaptation of True Grit (the second since the 1969 John Wayne favorite), the Coens have made a much simpler but no less compelling Western and a sure contender at the next Academy Awards.

America's Guilt through Robert De Niro (Part One)

Robert De Niro may or may not currently rank as an American icon. For those film viewers who have grown up watching the man inhabit the character of good and bad men, there’s little left to figure he can do. What hasn’t the man accomplished? Over the last forty years, he’s starred in so many well received films that there’s no way to actually rank his performances. They’re just good. It’s that simple.

What isn’t so simple is that a vast number of the people De Niro has become over his career and the struggles each goes through when considering the difference between right, wrong and what one might get away with.

Bill Murray Wants to Know, What About Bob?

Out of all the minor classics resultant from the first crop of proper Saturday Night Live stars, only a few wound up being as good and endlessly rewatchable as Caddy Shack or Fletch (which we’ll get to here in a few days). But What About Bob? can hold its own when compared with those other better known and better received comedies. Of course, having Richard Dreyfuss as a co-star can’t ever hurt. But when Bill Murray figures out how to inhabit a character, he does it and he does it well.

Apparently, he’s good at playing crazy people.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"

The third installment in the theatrical adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia sees the youngest Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) board the Dawn Treader to seek out the seven lords of Narnia, and vanquish the mysterious evil that threatens the magical kingdom of Aslan. Along the way, they deal with an insufferable cousin, the gallant King Caspian and traps and temptations that threaten their quest. All in 3D!