Monday, July 4, 2011

Film Round-Up for June 2011

In this edition of the Film Round-Up, a bland documentary, a bold indie film, a family-style blockbuster, and one of the worst movies of the year.

Note to Emma Roberts: You can't go on like this. Invite Emma Stone to lunch and figure out how she does it. IM Carey Mulligan. Call you Aunt Julia and learn how she got into "Pretty Woman" territory.

Actually, I just saw "Larry Crowne." You may want to hold off on that last phone call.

As always, these reviews previously appeared in "ICON" and are reprinted with permission (thanks, Trina).


All In: The Poker Movie (Dir: Douglas Tirola). Tirola's documentary examines the factors behind poker's rise over the last decade-and-a-half: namely, the 1998 Matt Damon-Edward Norton drama Rounders, the advent of technology that actually made televised poker games absorbing, and the unlikely success story of Chris Moneymaker. An unsuccessful, inveterate gambler, the aptly named accountant, who could barely make ends meet, entered the 2003 World Series of Poker—and won the whole thing. His victory cemented poker's anybody-can-win reputation, and saved the sport/game/hobby from irrelevance. Tirola adroitly details poker's journey to pop culture prominence, so the movie is informative. Overall, it's as dry as toast. There's no central figure and Tirola has nothing to offer aside from facts and insight. We're subjected to another entry in documentary films' current obnoxious trend: opinion-spouting experts taking the place of narrative momentum. Despite its wide array of sources (poker players, writers, even Kenny Rogers), All In feels utilitarian, like the ambitious adaptation of an instruction manual or a pamphlet. ** [NR]

Septien (Dir: Michael Tully). Starring: Robert Longstreet, Onur Tukel, Michael Tully, Mark Darby Robinson, Rachel Korine, Jim Willingham, John Maringouin. Eighteen years ago, Cornelius Rawlings (Tully), a star high school athlete, vanished. Bearded and expressionless, Con has finally returned to the family farm, and to his two equally eccentric brothers—Amos (Tukel), whose stylish, gruesomely violent paintings speak of the family's secret pain, and Ezra (Longstreet), the effeminate "matriarch" obsessed with cleaning and order. The family must address its issues when Con's morally dubious coach (Robinson), now a plumber, fixes the farm's septic tank, prompting the unannounced arrival of a black-clad preacher (Maringouin). Utterly bizarre in spots (try to forget the men-on-man breast sucking scene), mysterious to the point of being opaque, but Tully unearths the humanity from the layers of oddness. Septien details the dark side of the stoic, long admired model of manhood: dangerous emotions have nowhere to go. Obviously, not for everyone's taste. As for the definition of "septien," Tully says it captures "a particular feeling of nostalgia," which for the sports-loving director/writer could refer to Rafael Septien, the scandal-plagued place kicker who played in the National Football League from 1977 to 1986. Available on-demand. *** [NR]

The Art of Getting By (Dir: Gavin Wiesen). Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Rita Wilson, Sam Robards, Elizabeth Reaser, Blair Underwood. Fatalistic NYC prep school student and "Teflon slacker" George Zinavoy (Highmore) is content to doodle in his textbooks and drift through his senior year. Thanks to a selfless act, he becomes friends with a sexy, sophisticated classmate (Roberts). They're clearly meant for each other, but since he's a brooding, moody artiste—and the movie's running time desperately needs padding—they can't connect. The first of Wiesen's many mistakes is building a movie around an unlikable, unappealing caricature of a mopey teen. The writer/director makes no attempt to turn George into a human being or to use him to satirize his Upper West Side trust fund baby classmates. Everything is approached with solemn intentions, so we're asked to sympathize with attractive kids living in million dollar apartments, whose New Year's Eve parties take place in lavish nightclubs with lax alcohol policies. By saddling these mature kids with grown-up problems in adult situations, Wiesen manages to isolate everyone. Adults will find the results fetishistic, like a sweeter version of Kids. Teens will find the movie condescending unless they've attended Phillips Exeter Academy or have slept with 25-year-olds. The Art of Getting By isn't just divorced from reality; I'm pretty sure it's divorced from anything that's ever happened on Earth. * [PG-13]

Super 8 (Dir: J.J. Abrams). Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich. For a group of friends in the sleepy town of Lillian, Ohio, the summer of 1979 means working on a no-budget zombie flick that features a middle-school beauty (Fanning) and loads of fake blood. A different, troubling excitement builds when a train derails in the middle of their shoot, prompting a lot of missing electronics and the visit of military personnel with vague intentions. Writer/director Abrams (the most recent Star Trek) again avoids blockbuster bombast, crafting a tension-filled good time that doubles as a tender account of growing up and letting go. Courtney is wonderful as the shy, motherless kid who finds his voice, with Chandler outstanding as the youngster's gruff and clearly overwhelmed deputy father. By concentrating on people—and timing his thrills with precision—Abrams has fashioned a family adventure on par with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fitting then that Steven Spielberg served as a producer. **** [PG-13]

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