Category Archives: Film

Film review: The Incredible Hulk

Last month’s Iron Man was the seventeenth feature film based on a Marvel Comics superhero since 1998’s Blade kicked off the current superhero movie cycle. Of those seventeen, none divided critics, movie-goers or fans as sharply as Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk.

It was by far the artiest and most experimental of them all, but something of a mixed bag—a well-acted, compelling melodrama with an all-special effect superhero that looked embarrassingly unconvincing, a badly botched ending and far too little smashing.

Which perhaps explains why The Incredible Hulk falls somewhere between a remake and a sequel, but far closer to the latter than a former. The entire cast is different, the creators are all different and the only reoccurring characters are the three principle ones. The origin of the Hulk, that which Lee occupied himself with for almost two hours before getting to the smashing, is told here in a minute or two, as flashes of information occurring behind the title sequence.

That’s how badly director Louis Leterrier (a disciple of Luc Besson whose filmography consists of action movies Danny The Dog and the Transporters) wants to make sure this Hulk movie delivers what the last withheld. Continue reading

Terrastock 7 Preview: A Quick Chat with Wooden Shjips

photo courtesy Holy Mountain Records

San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips are the quintessential Terrastock band. Fuzzy, loose around the edges and classically Psychedelic, their unique brand of head music draws equal inspiration from Japanese rock, Kraut, modern minimalism and their lysergic fathers from the American West. To put it simply, their discography is essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in the Psychedelic with a capital “P”. I caught up with mainman Ripley Johnson in anticipation of the first of what will hopefully be many Terrastock slots. This is my top festival pick.

After a flurry of releases in 2007, we’ve had about seven straight months with zero Shjips material. What gives?

We’ve been putting more energy into playing live, which is what we did in the first half of 2007 as well. We have a split 7″ with The Heads coming out, which will be available on our July tour with them in Europe. We’re also finishing up our 2nd LP for Holy Mountain, which will be available in the fall. And our early vinyl releases have been compiled as “Vol 1″, and is out on Holy Mountain in June. There should be another 7” or two out this year.

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Film review: Speed Racer

If there’s a problem with the Wachowskis’ kinda sorta live-action adaptation Speed Racer, it’s one of address—is this a movie for kids, or for grown-ups who grew up watching the early anime import in its late-sixties heyday (and/or its brief late nineties revival)?

It’s rated PG, and follows the basic structure of the cartoons perfectly (goofy melodrama and racing action for older kids, silly comedy relief involving Spritle and Chim Chim for younger kids).

But it’s also about two hours and fifteen minutes long, kind of heavy on the swearing and arty as all hell.

Will the same kids who enjoy a chimpanzee in osh koshes and think Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci mashing their perfect lips together is gross appreciate scenes of wicked tycoons talking about manipulating the stockmarket while profiles of their faces float across the screen, or the 2001: A Space Odyssey-like moment where the hero goes so fast he, like, transcends visual information?

I don’t know. This is a film that’s easy to see audiences both loving and hating, depending on the individual sitting in the seats, and their own ages, experiences and preferences. Continue reading

Film review: Iron Man

As subjects for superhero summer movies go, Marvel Comic’s Iron Man seems made-to-order. He may lack the deep multimedia adaptation history of a Batman or Superman, and the sprawling cast of a Spider-Man or X-Men, but he’s essentially a giant toy that causes explosions.

So it’s easy to see what Hollywood sees in the character, but, somewhat surprisingly, it’s hard to resist the film that director Jon Favreau and his four-man screen-writing team have built around it. Iron Man stands atop the increasingly large heap of superhero movies; in fact, it may be the current king of that particular hill. Continue reading

Film review: The Forbidden Kingdom

Well it’s about time.

There was a moment when the late-90’s Hong Kong invasion looked like it was going to be a boon for American cinema, but when some of the greatest stars and most promising directors of the far east finally arrived and actually started working in Hollywood, they immediately started cranking out inferior works.

Jackie Chan managed to become a household name, but he managed to do so mostly through a string of buddy action comedies pairing him Western co-stars (or, as I like to think of them, minders) that delivered diminishing returns.

Jet Li tried to go a more bad-ass route, but the results were simply bad, and he ended up the taciturn villain or sexless, speechless hero in movies with blaring hip hop soundtracks.

It really shouldn’t have taken a decade for someone to figure out that instead of diluting Hong Kong heroes’skills and star power with something homegrown, they should maybe appear in the same movies together.

Which brings us to The Forbidden Kingdom, the first time Chan and Li have shared the screen and, more importantly for kung fu fans, fought each other. Continue reading

DVD Review: Kurt Cobain About a Son


MP3: Put Some Sugar on It by Half Japanese, from the soundtrack

Documentary Kurt Cobain About a Son doesn’t contain any of the elements a viewer might reasonably expect from a documentary about Cobain.

The subject is never properly introduced or mentioned by name until the end. Footage and even photos of him are likewise mostly withheld until the very end. No one close to him, nor any experts or commentators who might provide any part of his story or its context, are called upon to opine.

The story of Cobain’s band Nirvana, i.e. the reason he’s famous and the fodder for projects like this at all, is glossed over. In fact, none of their music is played throughout the film’s 96 minutes, the soundtrack consisting instead of some of Cobain’s favorite bands and influences—Young Marble Giants, Queen, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Scratch Acid, The Butthole Surfers, and others—with the closest thing to a Nirvana song being David Bowie’s “The Man That Sold the World,” which Cobain and his bandmates covered in their MTV Unplugged performance.

There may be real world reasons for these conspicuous omissions—perhaps no one would talk to director A.J. Schnack, perhaps the rights for the use of the Nirvana catalogue were off-limits—reasons I don’t know, and don’t really care about. Whatever lead Schnack to make some of the unusual creative choices he made in constructing the film, the end product suggests this approach was ultimately the best one. In fact, when the film ends with a photo or two of Cobain’s face, and a pointless post-script telling us that Cobain committed suicide just a year after the end of the interviews, it seems like a mistake to include them at all.

If nothing one would expect in a Cobain documentary is present, what is? Schnack has access to over 25 hours of audio interviews that journalist Azerrad conducted one-on-one with Cobain for his 1993 book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana.

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Filmmaker Pedro Costa (and his work) visit the Wexner Center


One of the most dramatic screenings at the Cannes film festival in 2006 was the new work by Portuguese director Pedro Costa (At least, that’s what I’ve read; I wasn’t there myself).

Reportedly, more than a few critics and audience members walked out, and weren’t shy about grumbling as they did. The film, Colossal Youth (Or Juventude em Marcha, “Youth on the March,” in its original Portuguese title), apparently divided the festival judges in addition to those at the screening.

And it’s not terribly hard to see why.

The two-and-a-half hour film is set in the claustrophobic kitchens and bedrooms of an apartment complex in the Lisbon slum of Fontainhas, home to many immigrants who came to Portugal from Cape Verde in Africa. It follows Ventura, a retired worker, as he visits a series of people, repeating the story of how his wife just left him, destroyed or stole all his possessions and stabbed him. Most of these might be his children—he seems to think some of them are, and some of them call him Papa.
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Film Review: Lake of Fire

When I was a little kid, I used to think it was weird that we called black and white films “black and white.” See, they weren’t really black and white, I had reasoned, and it was actually fairly rare that anything within them would ever be totally black or totally white. Rather, they were a subtle rainbow of grays, so shouldn’t we call them “gray and gray” movies?

American History X director Tony Kaye’s incendiary abortion documentary Lake of Fire, the result of an epic 18-year creation process, is shot in 35 black and white, and the nature of the term has never been more appropriate. Whatever our views on abortion, too many of us tend to see the issue in black and white—certainly most of the people Kaye captures on film do—but in actuality, it’s anything but, a point Kaye drives home with nearly volcanic force by the end of this extraordinary work.

The length of time Kaye spent making it allows us to witness the issue, the activists and the shifting frontlines firsthand over the course of decades; he covers a March For Life event in 1992 at the dawn of the Clinton administration, and also the recent South Dakota statute that returned the state’s laws to a pre-Roe v. Wade status. He’s not just summing up the recent history of the abortion conflict in America, he’s seemingly filming it live as it unfolds.

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Film Review: The Orphanage

You know someone in the film business has really made it big when his credit as a producer alone is enough to sell a movie. That’s the case with The Orphanage, which comes, as the movie poster boasts “from producer Guillermo del Toro.”

Del Toro’s only one of the seven producers credited for working on the film, which is actually written by Sergio G. Sánchez and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, but emphasizing his involvement isn’t simply empty marketing. The look and feel of The Orphanage, or the spookier sounding El Orfanato in the original Spanish, does feel heavily informed by del Toro’s work, particularly his little-seen 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone/El Espinazo del Diablo, which similarly dealt with Spanish speaking orphans and the supernatural.

Laura (Belén Rueda) was an orphan who grew up in a spooky old beachside orphanage. As a (rather shapely) adult and young mother, she and her doctor husband (Fernando Cayo) return to the now abandoned orphanage. They’re planning to reopen it as a school for sick children, like their adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep), who is HIV positive.

Continue reading Staff Favorites of 2007: Film

1. Atonement Ian McEwan’s challenging British World War II romantic novel becomes an equally challenging film, thanks to director Joe Wright. The film boasts one of the most haunting single scenes of the year (the British retreat at Dunkirk), and the rest of it ain’t too shabby either

2. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead Phillip Seymour Hoffman had another hell of a year, turning in excellent performances in The Savages and Charlie Wilson’s War, but the best film to contain his presence was this neo-noir crime film by Sidney Lumet, in which Hoffman and brother Ethan Hawke’s jewel heist becomes the stuff of Greek tragedy.

3. Day Night Day Night A mysterious young woman prepares to engage in a suicide bomb attack in the streets of New York City, and we watch her and her handlers’ careful, methodical, practically ritualistic preparation for the act. Director Julia Loktev removes any and all clues as to the why of the attack, leaving us with no context, only the inherent drama that comes from finding oneself immersed in a ticking time bomb of a movie. Star Luisa Williams gives a commanding, if highly unsettling, performance as the bomber, getting very few lines, but every single frame of this powerful movie.

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