At the Cannes Film Festival this past May, a minor controversy (so minor only the most dedicated of movie critics, bloggers, and cineastes) broke out over Lee Daniels’ (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, Shadowboxer) adaptation of crime author Pete Dexter’s 1995 crime-melodrama, The Paperboy. Out of context, the idea of Nicole Kidman—an Academy Award-winning actress—urinating on one-time teen heartthrob Zac Efron raised eyebrows and, as expected, interest in Daniels’ film. In context, there’s little of a prurient nature in the scene involving Kidman’s aging, sexually manipulative bottle blonde, Charlotte Bless, and Efron’s naïve college dropout, Jack Jansen. She urinates on Jack ostensibly to save his life from jellyfish stings acquired on an ill-fated swim. It’s as much, however, about territoriality than it is about sexuality and its nearly infinite permutations.
Author Mel Valentin
After four years, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), the man “with a very particular set of skills…” who intoned, “Listen to me carefully…” multiple times is back in the appropriately, if unimaginatively titled, Taken 2. A man of few words and, of course, a few, all-important catchphrases, Mills found a use for those skills when Albanian thugs kidnapped his college-age daughter as part of a white slavery operation. Mills kicked, punched, stabbed, and, on more than one occasion, stabbed his way through a hirsute, bearded, brown-skinned horde of disposable henchmen, ultimately freeing his daughter and returning her to her mother and Mills’ ex-wife, Lenore, but gaining the enmity of the thugs’ revenge-minded relatives, specifically Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), whose son Mills tortured to death in the previous installment. Murad cares little, if anything, about his son’s guilt. He just wants Mills and his family to suffer horribly before they die just as horribly.
If you or someone you vaguely knew threw Glee (first season only), Bring It On (original only, not the DTV sequels), and Mean Girls (Lindsay Lohan at the height of her popularity) into a metaphorical blender, the result would look and sound like Pitch Perfect, another in a seemingly endless series of competition-based musical comedy-dramas that appear at multiplexes and cineplexes on both coasts and everywhere in between with unsurprising regularity. A fictionalized adaptation of Mickey Rapkin’s 2009 non-fiction bestseller, “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory,” Pitch Perfect offers a steady stream of well-chosen, well-calibrated pleasures, mostly of the head-nodding, toe-tapping, humming- or singing-along variety, and little of the narrative, structural, or thematic kind. Then again, no one behind Pitch Perfect had anything except the moviegoers’ ears and eyes in mind when they produced the film.
In hindsight, it was inevitable. It wasn’t if, but when. Both the “if” and the “when” refer to David Ayer’s (Street Kings, Harsh Times, S.W.A.T., Dark Blue, Training Day) latest effort as both writer and director, End of Watch, an L.A.-set cop drama that borrows the found footage device (or gimmick if you’re feeling less charitable) popularized three years ago by Paranormal Activity and the countless imitators that followed (and continue to follow), presumably to create a sense of “realness” or verisimilitude otherwise missing or present in a limited capacity in standard-issue cop dramas. If that was indeed Ayer’s purpose, then it’s difficult to reconcile with his decision to drop the found footage device for dramatic purposes or simply because he needed a specific shot or shots to properly set a scene.
Whoever said “There are no guilty pleasures, only guilty (or guilt-stricken) people,” obviously hasn’t seen or even heard of Dredd 3D, the latest reboot of a failed franchise starter, the 1995 science-fiction/actioner, Judge Dredd, that starred Sylvester Stallone as the helmet-less title character. Grittier, darker, and less intentionally comedic or parodic than its disappointing seventeen-year-old predecessor, Dredd 3D takes the title character’s authoritarian leanings to their ultra-violent, nihilistic extreme. The guilt, of course, comes from taking pleasure in the inventive manner in which Dredd carries out his “judge, jury, and executioner” mandate and the amoral ruthlessness in which criminals brutalize each other, innocent and not-so-innocent civilians, and law enforcement (Dredd is just one among many other similarly equipped, similarly disposed judges).
Everything old is new again. In the case of Finding Nemo, Pixar’s fifth film and the first released during the summer blockbuster season, it’s back in movie theaters this weekend, the result of Pixar/Disney’s latest attempt to wring money from moviegoers for one of their most cherished properties. Converted into 3D more as a sales tactic or gimmick, Finding Nemo still looks positively gorgeous even with the dimming effects of 3D glasses. It’s also stood the test of time (if less than a decade counts as time where the phrase is involved). Finding Nemo remains one of Pixar/Disney’s strongest entries, an inventive, imaginative, original film that combines lush, textured visuals with an underlying family-centered theme that can be only described as equal parts poignant and heart-rending.
Fueled by bad bets of the trillion-dollar variety, the 2008 financial crisis quickly snowballed into the Great Recession, sending millions of Americans into unemployment, tens of thousands of homes into foreclosure, billions lost in savings and retirement plans, and ripple effects that threatened to send the economy here and elsewhere into a Second Great Depression. Instead, federal intervention on multiple fronts ameliorated the worst effects of the financial crisis. Instead of a Great Depression, Americans and Europeans experienced (and are still experiencing) the Great Recession. The culprits responsible for the financial crisis emerged relatively unscathed financially and legally. It’s surprising then that Nicholas Jarecki (The Weight, The Outsider) made a so-called Master of the Universe, the central character in his first film as a director, Arbitrage.
Massively popular in the UK, but relatively unknown elsewhere, “The Inbetweeners,” a high-school sitcom centered on four friends, ran for three seasons (“series” in British parlance) between 2008-2010. Naturally enough, small-screen success led to a jump to the big screen and the aptly, if unoriginally titled, The Inbetweeners Movie. The R-rated result wallows in a sea of crudity, vulgarity, and profanity that only sporadically passes the “funny” test. Unsurprisingly, Brit moviegoers responded favorably (a sequel, we’ve been warned, is already on the way), but anyone outside the UK will have a difficult, if not impossible, time understanding the appeal of the four sex-obsessed male characters (and friends) at the center of the big-screen adaptation.
In moviegoers’ terms (and experience), January, not April, is the cruelest month of the year, but September, that nebulous, limbo-like period between the end of the summer blockbuster season and the beginning of the Oscar season (or Oscar-bait season, if you prefer), generally brings more clunkers than non-clunkers (i.e., successes) both commercially and, less importantly, critically. With one or two exceptions, September is usually filled with also-rans and wannabes, middlebrow films low on ambition and/or execution. We need look no further than The Words, a literary drama co-written and co-directed by first-timers Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, for all the evidence needed to support this particular claim.
Whenever a film, regardless of genre, opens with a title card claiming it’s “based on a true story” or “based on true events,” moviegoers generally know to bring a certain level of skepticism to the proceedings. The “based on…” line may give a particular film a sheen of verisimilitude that, at least when the shocks and scares are occupying the screen, intensify them, but no one should expect anything approaching a fundamental truth or truths about the subject, especially when the subject in question, demonic possession, and thus, the film centered on the subject, The Possession, remains one mired in religious superstition and not in verifiable fact. In short, don’t believe what you see or here, except whatever causes you to jump out of your seat or curl up in your chair, half-hidden under your coat, jacket, or blanket.