Friday, September 28, 2012

Review of "Trouble with the Curve"

Why is Clint wearing my Champion letterman's jacket from eighth grade?
Insert awful baseball cliche here. And, oh yes, please read my review for The Weekender.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Hometown Movie Theatre: Hopeless

It took me 10 minutes to figure out what the hell "Hope" referred to. "Hope Floats"? "Chicago Hope"? Actually, it's "Hope Springs." Of course. I'm looking forward to "Beasts of the Southern Wild" being abridged to "Beasts" and "This is 40" being shortened to "40" or "This."

Or it could be a theatre employee, still warm and fuzzy over 2008, creatively endorsing Obama.

And I would definitely see 'House at End, Trouble With Curve." That sounds like an early Ang Lee effort.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review of "The Words"

Me write pretty one day: Bradley Cooper in The Words
A hollow morality tale that favors atmospheric flashbacks and intense conversations over substance and insight. But, hey, that Bradley Cooper is easy on the eyes! 

You can read my review for The Weekender right here

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My field trip to see "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure"

One day I'll sit my grandkids on my knee and tell them this tale. Or they--like you--could read about it in The Philly Post. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Film Round-Up, September 2012: You've Been Trumped, For A Good Time Call, Arbitrage, Keep the Lights On

The appealing stars of the delightful For A Good Time Call...
And with these four films, I bid a sweet adieu to a fun, eventful summer movie season and greet the fall movie season with a firm handshake and a slap on the back.  Do you know that The Master opens in Philly in less than three weeks? I was shocked when I saw that. Stuff with that kind of buzz usually premieres with the turkey and garland. 

These reviews were previously published in the September issue of ICON and are reprinted with permission. 


You’ve Been Trumped (Dir: Anthony Baxter). In the Scottish village of Aberdeenshire, real estate magnate/reality TV buffoon Donald Trump has bought hundreds of acres of beachfront property to build a luxury golf resort that should serve as a gaudy monument to conspicuous consumption. Local residents, led by the defiant, blunt Michael Forbes, are outraged. The project was originally denied on the local level until the federal government, seduced by dollar signs, granted approval. Now, townspeople could lose homes in a place they cherish. Scientists are appalled at Trump for treating an environmentally precious swath of land with the tact of a brat in a sandbox. Baxter, who gets arrested by local police for no reason and evaded by Trump (who only wants to answer questions from “real journalists”), captures the bewilder- ment of the little guy and his determination for justice. But what stays with you is how in the hands of a wannabe titan like Trump, celebrity and money can smash decency, logic, and legal rights into a million pieces. [NR] ***1/2

Tim Roth, the best part in the overblown Arbitrage

Arbitrage (Dir: Nicholas Jarecki). Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker, Stuart Margolin, Chris Eigeman, Bruce Altman, Graydon Carter. Latest modern-day mo’ money, mo’ problems parable stars Gere as Robert Miller, a financial maven facing two competing, life-altering crises. The sale of his business keeps getting delayed, a potential disaster since Miller’s trading empire is built on fraud and Madoff-like maneuvering. Meanwhile, an overzealous, rumpled NYC detective (Roth, who steals the film) is intent on nailing Miller—who cannot afford any negative publicity—for his role in a fatal late-night car accident. Writer Jarecki (The Informers), in his directorial debut, lets the story unfold in a way that resembles a dripping faucet: slow, predictable, and with nothing of substance ac- cumulating. For all of Arbitrage’s twisty moral ambiguity and crumbling ivory penthouses, Jarecki’s talky original script keeps suspense at arm’s length, explaining away twists and giving us covert conversations as conspiracy. Solid performances by everyone, including Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Carter (as Miller’s skittish buyer) and model Casta (as Miller’s impatient mistress), gives the film some juice. [R] **

For a Good Time, Call... (Dir: Jamie Travis). Starring: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk, Nia Vardalos, Mimi Rogers, Don McManus. New York City’s unforgiving real estate market forces disorganized aspiring writer Katie (Graynor) to take in recently dumped straight arrow Lauren (Miller) as a roommate, even though the women’s hatred for each other goes way back. The arrangement proceeds as expected until Lauren applies her business savvy to Katie’s skill as a phone sex operator, creating a lucrative partnership that leads to an unforeseen development: friendship. Funny, smart comedy avoids reveling in odd couple clich├ęs and dirty talk shock, honestly exploring the difficulty that comes with making friends in adulthood, when change becomes harder to embrace. Graynor and Miller, sparkly and witty and with zero starlet posing, are terrific as the two young women coming to terms with a new kind of love. Miller served as a producer and co-wrote the script with longtime friend Katie Ann Naylon. Seth Rogen, Miller’s husband, and director Kevin Smith have memorable cameos as two of Katie and Lauren’s “customers.” [R] ***1/2

Keep the Lights On (Dir: Ira Sachs). Starring: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, Paprika Steen. Struggling documentary filmmaker Erik (Lindhardt) meets Paul (Booth), an attorney for Random House, on a phone sex line in 1998. And so begins a lengthy, loving, and overall tumultuous relationship. Distrust, drug use, and fighting make frequent appearances as the men appear and reappear in each other’s lives. There is plenty to like in this award-winning, semi-autobiographical drama. Director-co-writer Sachs’ minimalist, low-key approach to the material is perfect. Veteran actors Lindhardt and Booth deliver performances without pretense, allowing us to see a situation where both parties share some blame in the dysfunction. Since no one is a clear-cut villain, and there’s such a history between the two lovers, neither man (especially Erik) can leave for too long. Moments and accents only take us so far, unfortunately, and Sachs (the over- looked Married Life) uses these to stretch the movie to a length that isn’t sustainable. Keep the Lights On never comes together, though you keep hoping it will. [NR]  **1/2

The Big Review: "Compliance"

Reach out and torment someone: Pat Healy in Compliance
My two cents on one of 2012's most controversial movies. I also think it's one of the year's best. Here's my review for ICON, which is reprinted with permission.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Is this torture porn or a look at who we really are? 


I JUST KNEW IT was going to happen,” says the young woman (Dreama Walker) victimized by a prank call that festers into an abomination in Craig Zobel’s masterpiece of discomfort, Compliance. That quote doesn’t just refer to the film’s central incident.

The story, based on true events, unfolds at an Ohio fast food restaurant managed by the middle-aged Sandra (Ann Dowd), whose approach to life is to get along. The delivery guy screams at her, Sandra apologizes to him. Fifteen hundred dollars in food gets spoiled—someone didn’t close the freezer door—and the staff gets off with more of a plea than a warning. Self-respect left Sandra’s world years ago, probably after her first argument. Her words to boyfriend Van (Bill Camp) say it all, “Just don’t get too drunk.” Sandra would qualify as a doormat if she weren’t so afraid of scuffing your shoes.

That makes her a perfect, unwitting henchman. On the eve of the dinner rush, an Officer Daniels calls the restaurant saying that Becky (Walker) stole money from a customer. The call is odd from the start. You would think that the police officer would visit the restaurant and talk to witnesses. But he sounds convincing enough, and he has Sandra’s boss on hold. Sandra tells Becky about the charges, which she fervently denies. It’s caught on tape, the officer says. There are two options. Becky can come down to the station or she can agree to a strip search right there.

Becky is incredulous; Sandra is skeptical. But the officer knows exactly what to say to the manager: “I have to take the full responsibility on this.” Sandra has no time to ask questions. It’s a busy night and a secret shopper may come in. Plus, her boss and the police have every- thing covered. It’s out of her hands now.

Over the course of several hours, the prank caller (Pat Healy, The Innkeepers) takes his power out for a spin. He has Sandra deposit Becky’s clothes in her car, spins a story about the girl’s involvement in a drug deal, and even involves poor Van. Everyone plays along, be- cause the caller knows he’s dealing with powerless people. Work in the service industry for five minutes—I sold books at Borders, ripped concert tickets, and punched register keys at a multiplex—and you know that “the customer is always right” isn’t just a credo; it’s a “kick me” sign that is permanently affixed to your back.

Firmly connected in the day-to-day, nothing feels preposterous in Compliance. A large part has to deal with the acting. Dowd’s agonizing, complex performance doesn’t paint Sandra as dumb or brainwashed. She’s just so used to acquiescence that it’s become as normal as breathing. We can hear the yearning for acceptance in her voice. Healy, gleeful and slick, is profoundly unsettling, which is amazing since we rarely see him.

Dowd and Healy flourish because writer-director Zobel treats us with intelligence. He em- braces ambiguity, so we feel sorry for Sandra even as she counts Becky’s escalating humilia- tion as a job well done. The titillating aspects get handled with a clinical detachment. Zobel’s goal is to show that this event wasn’t the result of a bizarre series of circumstances. It came from real life. The movie’s washed out color schemes, its repeated images of small-town mis- ery (parking lots, snow drifts), and shots filled with sad, weathered faces speak of a world where it’s best to keep your head down.

Zobel doesn’t amplify. The tension in Compliance comes from simple things: the bub- bling of a fryer interrupting the endless quiet; Heather McIntosh’s score reinforcing the film’s grim inevitability, a Greek tragedy with nametags. Zobel relishes not showing us what’s be- hind the curtain. We never fully understand the background behind Healy’s character, making his actions all the more maddening. When does this deviant say enough is enough? And the fact that we only see Walker topless is more than Zobel showing good taste. Piecing together the possibilities on our own is infinitely more terrifying than seeing them.

What Zobel wants us to see is Sandra. She has spent so much time pleasing others and following orders that she can no longer speak for herself. “I did what I was told to do,” she says afterward. The great tragedy of Compliance isn’t that Sandra cannot tell her side of the story. It’s how many of us are in the same position and don’t even know it. We accept our roles, unaware that a willingness to follow the script shapes us—and the lives of others. Weakness is a destructive weapon we’re all carrying. [R]