Category Archives: Film

Film Review: The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited is the new Wes Anderson movie, and any review beyond that simple statement seems a little superfluous.

At this point, if you’ve seen any of Anderson’s films, then, in a sense, you’ve seen them all. At the very least, you know what to expect going in: brilliantly designed if over-precious curio cabinet-style set design, a great soundtrack that does a lot of the storytelling by itself, at least one Wilson brother, a wry sense of humor, funny names for places and characters, and a drifting tale of rich, talented people struggling with their own ennui and their place in the world.

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Film Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

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Cate Blanchett and director Shekhar Kapur return to the scene of their greatest triumph, 1998′s Elizabeth, for a rather tardy sequel, this one covering some of the most dramatic elements of the sixteenth-century monarch’s reign and, come to think of it, English history in general.

There’s something a little sad about the film’s very existence, as if Kapur hasn’t found anything better to do in the last decade (His only film between the two was the two hundreth adaptation of The Four Feathers), and while Blanchett’s gone on to great success after her career-making turn, it seems a little unnatural for her to make this film now.

They’re rejoined by Geoffery Rush as Elizabeth’s advisor Sir Francis Walsingham, and writer Michael Hirst, who gets an assist this time out from William Nicholson, whose past historical dramas haven’t exactly been celebrated for their veracity (Gladiator, First Knight). Whether it’s Hirst’s influence, or the influence of the out-sized historical events being covered or the simple adherence to the sequel formula of bigger and more of everything, this Elizabeth is almost hysterical in its overwrought symbolism, over-written scenes, and explosively acted characters.

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Film Review: Michael Clayton

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The best example of how well made a film Michael Clayton is may just be that it’s great in spite of a pretty generic and conventional plot. Here’s the pitch: George Clooney plays a lawyer caught in the middle of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit leveled against an Evil Corporation by innocent farmers claiming their product has slowly poisoned them, and he gets his hands on explosive evidence that the Evil Corporation, being evil, will stop at nothing to suppress.

It sounds like Erin Brokovich minus the cleavage, or like the work of John Grisham or one of his many imitators. But longtime screenwriter Tony Gilroy, making his directorial debut here (apparently on the strength of the success of his Bourne screenplays), fleshes that skeletal synopsis out in interesting ways, giving it nuance and character, and he tells the story in such a way that it’s remarkably gripping. Not to mention quite beautiful. It was such an immersive experience, that it wasn’t until I sat down to start sorting out my thoughts on it that I began to realize how generic it actually is.

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Film Review: Fido

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This engaging little zombie flick showed up in Columbus twice already this year, screening at last spring’s Ohio Science Fiction Marathon and then again at the Deep Focus Film Fest, and now it’s finally shambling back for a longer stay at the Drexel…but not much longer, apparently.

The city’s art-house mini-chain announced to critics and media that Fido would be opening in Columbus tomorrow for a split-run at the Drexel Grandview. As of Thursday afternoon, however, the Drexel’s website has just two showings listed for Fido—Friday and Saturday, October 12 and 13, at midnight at The Gateway. According to second hand info, those are the only screenings the Drexel intends at this point, but we haven’t gotten any formal update.

But longer engagement seems unlikely, as the movie should be available on DVD October 23, and it’s hard to ask people to pay admission to see a movie on a big screen that they can rent, borrow or buy for a fraction of the cost.

It’s too bad, because it really is a pretty great movie, with the sorts of visuals that really should be seen on a big screen.

Let me tell you about it…*

Directed by Andrew Currie from a script by Currie, Robert Chomiak and Dennis Heaton, Fido has an interesting—and decidedly retro—spin on the zombipocalypse story, taking its cues from old-school family television.

A brisk newsreel-meets-Night of the Living Dead classroom filmstrip tells the tale of the long-past zombie wars, during which a cloud of radioactivity from space began reanimating the dead. The living ultimately won out, thanks to benevolent corporation Zomcon’s timely invention of a special collar that makes zombies helpful domestic servants. Kind of like slavery.

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Film Review: A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory

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Filmmakers’ fascination with the sixties New York City art scene, particularly the elements of it that orbited around Andy Warhol, continues to yield more and more films, but Esther Robinson’s A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory has a very unusual, very personal hook to it.

The ostensible subject, Danny Williams, was a somewhat minor figure in the scene (By most accounts; the influence individuals exerted and the credit they deserved is something parties are still jockeying for 40 years later, as the film demonstrates).

He met a spectacular, mysterious and romantic end, having simply disappeared one night, never to be heard from again (Death or suicide seems likely, but no body was ever found).

And he happens to be the director’s uncle.

Robinson never met her uncle, but certainly his disappearance must have informed elements of her family life, and been particularly fascinating to her, doubly so once she pursued filmmaking (But I’m just guessing, you’ll have to ask her yourself; she’ll be at the Wex to introduce the film herself).

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Film Review: Caveman: V.T. Hamlin & Alley Oop

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The influence that some of the most popular comic strips have had on American culture is readily apparent to just about everybody, both in the effects of that influence, and the awareness of their source.

The most obvious example is Peanuts, which has probably had the most cultural impact and is still one of the more widely published strips (even if it’s in permanent repeats). But think too of Dick Tracy, Dennis the Menace and Popeye, which may have been eclipsed in the mainstream imagination by their adaptations into other media, but the line between their strip origins and the fingerprints they’ve left on our culture is wide, straight and brightly drawn.

V. T. Hamlin’s Alley Oop though? Everyone’s heard the golden oldie song of the same name, and, sportscasters still refer to slam-dunks or long passes as an “alley oop,” but how clear is it where the song came from, or what inspired the sports term?

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Film Review: Strange Culture

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In one respect, the court of public opinion works just like a real U.S. courtroom: The defendant just has to prove, or at least cast a degree of reasonable doubt, that he didn’t do what he’s being accused of. It’s up to prosecutors to make the specific case.

And in the court of public opinion, documentary Strange Culture acts a bit like a defense lawyer for its protagonist Steve Kurtz, the college professor and artist who the federal government pursued as a bioterrorist in 2004, when Petri dishes were discovered in his home by first responders answering a 911 call. Kurtz called them himself because his wife of 27 years, Hope Kurtz, had died in her sleep of heart failure, despite no history of health problems.

This documentary film by Lynn Hershman suggests that the government is coming down so hard on Kurtz for one of two reasons.

One reason could be that the Department of Justice’s first impulse was to accuse him of bioterrorism, and they were then reluctant to back off the charges to save face and avoid looking foolish, and because of the immense political pressure they were under to make a bust in the conviction-less “War on Terror.”

Another could be that the Kurtzes and their art collective, “The Critical Art Ensemble,” were in the process of putting together a show designed to educate the public on the evils of agribusiness’ genetically modified foods, which, in the U.S., doesn’t need to be labeled, and which the government is therefore complicit in.
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Film Review: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

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When it comes to documentary filmmaking, there’s probably no better kind of “good” a filmmaker can strive to achieve than “unbelievably good.” Finding a story and characters so compelling and colorful that the audience may have a hard time believing it wasn’t cooked up by screenwriters is a documentary Holy Grail, a best-of-both worlds situation in which it all seems too good to be true, but is anyway.

Seth Gordon finds just such a story with The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the story of the intense rivalry between the world’s two greatest classic Donkey Kong players and their battle to be the crowned the best in the world at their chosen field.

Gordon, like all documentarians, has the power to mold and shape the truth he shows, of course, and undoubtedly work went into sharpening the contrasts between his players to wring further drama from the event—but there’s only so much massaging that can be accomplished in the editing room. And his “villain” just keeps handing him material with which to fashion him a black hat.

That would be Billy Mitchell, a gawky nerd who mastered several arcade games and racked up a series of world records in the early ‘80s pinnacle of arcade culture. Decades later, his Donkey Kong high score of 874,300, several hundred thousand points above the next closest contender, is unchallenged, and, more so, thought to be unchalleng-able. In a pronouncement typical of him throughout the film, Mitchell compares himself to the Red Baron, who’s number of shoot-downs in World War I was so far above all other fighter pilots of the time, that his is the only name anyone even remembers.

A star in the Twin Galaxies organization, the axis around which competitive arcade gaming revolves, Mitchell has grown into a successful Florida restaurateur and his own line of hot sauce. Now a (relatively) handsome, self-assured man with a short black beard, a menacing mullet, and a predilection for neckties, he waxes philosophically about all the success he’s seen in life, and that if he’s doing this well, then perhaps to equal it out “there’s some poor bastard who’s getting the screws put to him.”

Enter Seattle-based unemployed father Steve Wiebe, a talented but terminally unlucky, extremely earnest Everyman who’s almost had great success in sports and music, but always comes up short.

Until he demolished Billy’s 20-year-old King Kong high score.

Or did he?
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Film Review: The Kingdom

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A message movie that sends decidedly mixed-signals, there are times when The Kingdom seems like it might actually be too high-minded, and could use a few more explosions to nudge it into the genre it leans so hard into. It’s a somewhat schizophrenic GWOTsploitation police procedural-cum-action flick that goes to great lengths to show (via montages and a jackhammeringly obvious coda) that for all our differences, Saudi Arabia and the United States are a lot alike.

The point is explicitly made several times, like when an American émigré points out that Saudis, like Americans, don’t do their own manual labor, but farm it out to immigrants, or when American FBI agent Jamie Foxx and local police chief Ashraf Barhom bond over their mutual love of law enforcement, their sons and ‘70s television like “The Green Beast” and, how you say…Steve Austin?

So similar but so different, what can possibly bring us together? How about car chases, machine gun battles and brutal, brutal knife fights? America—and Saudi Arabia—Fuck yeah!
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Film Review: In the Valley of Elah

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Paul Haggis isn’t exactly a subtle filmmaker.

As a screenwriter, his work tends not only toward the melodramatic, but also the manipulative and downright maudlin (Flags of Our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby and The Last Kiss are among the scripts he’s written).

As a director, he’s best known for Crash, which tackled the thorny issue of racism in modern America by focusing on an ensemble of racist characters, and then setting them up against one another in increasingly unlikely coincidences. The message? Racism is bad, and we really oughta cut that stuff out.

With In The Valley of Elah, Haggis tackles another thorny issue, this one just as explosive, but more specific to this time: The war in Iraq.

Oh boy.
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