All the King's Men
I know this is going to sound simplistic and lazy, but there's really no better way to say it: All the King's Men is a horrible film. That statement is wholly accurate, fairly descriptive, and damn near irrefutable. In fact, that point is so incontrovertible that I can't picture anyone arguing it—even Sean Penn, and that guy argues about everything. Here, Penn plays Willie Stark, an imaginary governor in 1930s Louisiana; fast-talkin' and passionate, Stark gets elected by hicks, then uses immoral means to achieve (ostensibly) moral ends. Writer/director Steven Zaillian's method largely consists of combining trite histrionics, formulaic visuals, laughable music, and Penn's scenery-chomping—and by combining these old chestnuts, he's created something that's little more than shameless, tedious, paint-by-numbers Oscar bait. (Erik Henriksen)
America: From Freedom to Fascism
See review this issue.
Bad News Bears
You've seen this film a billion times—if you haven't literally seen it or its sequels, then you've seen at least one of its plethora of imitators, like The Mighty Ducks or Hardball. But one more time, just for the hell of it: Some guy (this time Walter Matthau, instead of Emilio Estevez or Keanu Reeves) ends up serving as a coach for a bunch of troubled-but-adorable kids. Along the way, the kids, the coach, and the audience all learn valuable lessons about not only whatever sport they're playing but also life in general. Yawn.
The Black Dahlia
It's not director Brian De Palma's fault that The Black Dahlia is somewhat of a disaster; I'm laying that blame squarely on the shoulders of screenwriter Josh Friedman (who also wrote the inept remake of War of the Worlds). And while Friedman should certainly be ashamed of his work here, the blame we cast should be tempered with sympathy—because composing a script for James Ellroy's confusing, circuitous novel The Black Dahlia, which deals with a dead would-be starlet and the two cops who try to solve her murder, could drive anyone to mediocrity. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)
Cool Hand Luke
It is a heartbreaking commentary on what Americans value: Paul Newman has made more money from his lemonade sales alone than from all of his movies combined! Here, Newman proves why he is an American treasure in his ultimate study in what it means to be a man: To prove his worth in prison, Paul Newman eats 50 hard boiled eggs in an hour's time and otherwise fucks with the heavy-handed concept of authority. Oh, what man wouldn't want to be in prison with Newman? (Phil Busse)
In short: Warlock jocks use their powers to evade cops and flip up skirts. Okay, first of all, the apex of man-witch terror awesomeness happened in 1989 with Julian Sands in Warlock, a goddamn masterpiece. Nobody should ever attempt to make a movie about man-witches ever again for this reason alone. Secondly, it's a self-evident truth that horror does not necessitate seasoned actors, plot continuity, or smart dialogue—as long as you keep the guts rolling and the flesh showing. This offensive piece of garbage didn't have one drop of blood, nor one boob... not one. (Jenna Roadman)
Christopher Reeve was a famous movie star who fell off a horse and became a famously perseverant paralyzed guy. But then he died, and then his wife Dana Reeve fucking died too, and then the posthumous Reeves made this inspirational animated baseball movie called Everyone's Hero. Posthumously produced by Christopher Reeve, Hero is supposed to make you feel good. Yankee Irving is little, but his love for the Yankees is big. When Babe Ruth's magical talking baseball bat (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg—could I make this up?) goes missing, Yankee hitches a ride on the Negro League bus (they listen to rap music! In the 1920s!) and heads cross-country to save the day. The animation is less than great. The jokes basically consist of a wisecrackin' baseball (Rob Reiner) not wanting to smell the farts of a human boy. Also, Babe Ruth is fat. In fact, all that this lame "inspirational" movie accomplished was to remind me about how dead Christopher Reeve is. Fuck, I'm depressed. (Lindy West)
Director Nabil Maleh's Syrian film, about a mechanic, a young widow, and "people who modern societies deem superfluous."
If you've ever read Bukowski, you know that he makes little effort to disguise himself as the protagonist of his books—and in Factotum, that protagonist/alter ego is, once again, named Henry Chinaski (played by a way-too-handsome Matt Dillon). Factotum is thus something of a real-life account of Bukowski's struggles before fame and fortune. And it wasn't a glorious rise. The charm of Factotum is that it doesn't fancy anything up: Bukowski was poor, fucked up, and had a depressing life. And that's exactly what inspired him to become a great writer. (Katie Shimer)
Jet Li's much-ballyhooed farewell to the historical martial arts genre serves as a rousing reminder of the actor's glory days—when Li's unbelievable physical grace enraptured an entire generation of jaded video store clerks. A semi-fictionalized recounting of the life of Chinese folk hero Huo Yuanjia, Fearless' plot allows Li to revisit many of his old tropes. And while the presence of action choreographer Woo-ping Yuen ensures the film has plenty of dazzling choreography, a surprising focus is on the main character's interior journey from brash powerhouse to reflective man of action. If, as Li claims, this is his final historical go-around, he's chosen an appropriate sendoff. Besides, if he really feels it's time to pack it in, who's gonna argue with him? You? (Andrew Wright)
I have two words for you: "zeppelin" and "explosion." Because a "zeppelin explosion" is the only good reason to see this WWI film about a group of US fighter pilots who joined the Lafayette Escadrille, a French air squadron specializing in dog fighting. They're a rag-tag bunch, including the likes of a brave cowboy played by James Franco and a seasoned flyer (Martin Henderson)—all watched over by the protective mustache of Captain Thenault (Jean Reno), who looks so stereotypically French you expect him to sprout frog legs at any moment. So the movie's not great, but it delivers all the things you'd expect from a WWI dog fighting movie... a shit-ton of CG dog fights, some German who's kinda like the Red Baron, one bar brawl, two Americans crash landing in a field only to wake up in a quaint French brothel, and of course, someone getting shot in the head. (Courtney Ferguson)
This totally ridiculous film explores what happens when a wife (Victoria Abril) responds to the news of her husband (Alain Chabat)'s infidelity by inviting her butch, van-drivin' lesbian lover (Josiane Balasko) to move in with them. The husband and the lesbian lover fight over the wife, who works out a system wherein she divides her nights evenly between the two of them. While French Twist may have been cutting-edge social commentary in 1995, when the film was made, now it just feels dated, trite, and vaguely offensive. (Alison Hallett)
Gridiron Gang is based on a true story about a white counselor at a juvenile crime center (here played by The Rock) who started a football team for his prisoners—most of whom were black or Hispanic—to teach them valuable lessons about discipline and teamwork. Despite being racist and boring, it's a message film, ultimately: Gridiron questions the popular media's representation of all black people as criminals and gang bangers. That's not true, the film insists. Rather, Gridiron Gang makes the radical suggestion that—given the right encouragement and putdowns—black people can also become really good athletes. (Alison Hallett)
See review this issue.
Charming and clever, Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a great teacher. Lecturing about history in an inner-city junior high school, Dunne connects with his disadvantaged students, teaching the kids about how opposing forces shape current and past events—and when he's not teaching, he's coaching the school's girls' basketball team. And all this makes it pretty awkward when one of his smartest and most troubled students, Drey (Shareeka Epps) catches Dunne smoking crack in the locker room. The greatness of Half Nelson isn't in its thorny concept, nor in its understated execution—it's in these two lead characters. By the time the end credits roll, it's evident that Half Nelson is truly excellent filmmaking—as intellectually complex and difficult as it is emotionally engaging. (Erik Henriksen)
There's a bunch of stuff going on here: scared of the Feds, Carl (Bill Paxton) grabs a zillion dollars in cash and flees to the Caymans; he takes along his bewilderingly named daughter, Pippa (Agnes Bruckner); among a slew of other half-assed, sordid characters, Shy (Orlando Bloom) spends his time lusting after his girlfriend, Andrea (Zoe Saldana), only to have Andrea's dickhead brother splash acid in his face. It all intertwines, sort of but not quite, and for two hours Haven stutters on, shot like a music video and soundtracked by thudding bass, with characters saying and doing increasingly stupid things. It's boring and exhausting and pretty. (Erik Henriksen)
As we move into fall, when Hollywood rolls out a parade of shameless Academy bait, the fixers are attempting to position Hollywoodland as a hard-boiled noir throwback. Like the movies it's clearly trying to emulate, Hollywoodland presents a revisionist take on a footnote of Golden State history: Was George Reeves, erstwhile Superman, truly a suicide? All the interesting parts of Hollywoodland are bound up in the personal drama of Reeves (an uncharacteristically nuanced Ben Affleck), but the detective aspect, less than ably anchored by Adrien Brody, feels perfunctory in comparison. Forget hard-boiled—Hollywoodland is unevenly poached. (Annie Wagner)
Jackass: Number Two
Is Jackass: Number Two funny? Jesus Christ, it's fucking hilarious. Like, "My gut's sore from 95 straight minutes of laughing this hard." Like, my jaw literally hurt all night after seeing this movie. And: "I haven't laughed this hard since the first Jackass." (Chas Bowie)
The Last Kiss
A remake of Gabriele Muccino's L'Ultimo Bacio, the script for The Last Kiss comes from Paul Haggis, also responsible for Million Dollar Baby and Crash—both films I disliked for their heavy handedness. Kiss, therefore, is a welcome surprise; a film about romantic relationships and infidelities that's so spot-on that I cried almost as much as the first time I saw Beaches. (Marjorie Skinner)
A depiction of mega-bitch Joan Crawford, as told by her adopted daughter, Christina. Crawford tries to force-feed the kid raw meat and goes completely apeshit when she finds one of the girl's dresses on a wire hanger... and that's only the tip of the iceberg. A thrilling/disturbing/thrilling/true story starring Faye Dunaway. Screens as a benefit for Basic Rights Oregon.
1961's adventure flick about Civil War POWs stuck on a dangerous island! Like Temptation Island, you ask? No. Not like Temptation Island. Which is too bad.
Martin Lawrence should be kissing my ass right about now. Or at the very least, leaving funny outgoing messages on my answering machine as Shenehneh. It only seems fair, seeing as how I've got his back in every argument about his comedic brilliance. Until the series' disastrous final episode (in which Martin and Gina couldn't be on screen together because of his alleged sexual harassment), Martin was the funniest jam on mid-'90s television. When Jackie Chan knocked on the door looking for Sheneneh? Comic genius! When Bruh Man from the fifth floor came in through the fire escape? Pure gold! When Martin told Pam that her hair was so nappy, even Wilson couldn't pick it? ROTFLOL! Then Martin went insane and ran up and down the road, falling into comas (still funny!) and dicked around for a bit until making Big Momma's House 2 (classic!). So while Open Season—an animated feature about a domesticated bear (voiced by Martin), co-starring Aston Kutcher—won't make me think any less of Martin, I do cringe at the thought of having to defend it in polite conversation. My foolproof comeback? The episode where Martin dressed up like Santa Claus. Now that's comedy! (Chas Bowie)
It's an all too common story these days: Boy grows up in Thailand, and is best friends with an adorable baby elephant. Elephant gets stolen... to be made into a fancy meal for rich people... in Australia! Luckily, boy knows Muay Thai martial arts, so he journeys to Australia to save his pachyderm pal. Boy runs into a lot of inept henchmen, but thanks to his Muay Thai skillz, boy easily and awesomely kicks/punches/ elbows/knees all their faces in. And it's all done to a soundtrack from The RZA. Always, always, always. Have you no imagination, you makers of modern cinema? It is always the same story. (Erik Henriksen)
Redupers, or The All-Round Reduced Personality
Helke Sander's 1977 film takes place in Berlin and deals with a women's photography group and government ideologies. Try to keep your enthusiasm in check.
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
See review this issue.
A film from the acclaimed director of Nights of the Jackals. This time: no jackals!
School for Scoundrels
See review this issue.
The Science of Sleep
Gael García Bernal plays Stéphane, a twenty-something artist who draws calendars that celebrate famous disasters and invents glasses that make everything 3-D. Set up with a boring job, Stéphane finds himself retreating to his surreal, absurdist dreams; making increasingly regular appearances in said dreams is Stéphane's neighbor, Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Sweet and charming, Stéphanie likes Stéphane, but she's put off by his bizarre quirks and clunky conversation. Their friendship/relationship's awkward and adorable—and it only gets more so, as the childlike Stéphane becomes entangled in both his dreams and his feelings for Stéphanie. Unlike most of fall's big films, Michel Gondry's Science isn't one of Hollywood's prefabricated darlings. It's an excellent film, but on its own terms—it's clever, fresh, funny, rambling, and heartfelt. (Erik Henriksen)
This Film is Not Yet Rated
So who determines what ratings films receive—and thus decides what films get shown? The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) does, and it turns out they're dicks. With its stranglehold on Hollywood and theaters, the MPAA's process is so influential—yet so secretive—that it's the perfect subject for a documentary. Half of Not Yet Rated is great: Director Kirby Dick speaks with a fraction of the filmmakers who've been screwed by the system, deducing that the ratings system amounts to censorship. Alas, Dick insists on throwing himself—and his film—into the MPAA clusterfuck, even going so far as to hire a clueless "private eye" to track down the anonymous raters. Not Yet Rated will change the way you watch and think of films—unfortunately, it'll also make you wish it was a better movie. (Erik Henriksen)
Under the Ceiling
The final film of the Northwest Film Center's wildly popular "Lens on Syria" film program, 2004's Under the Ceiling focuses on "the angst of the forty-something generation of urban professionals in Syria."
The US vs. John Lennon
See review this issue.
The War Tapes
War documentaries are a dime a dozen. We've become desensitized—both to graphic onscreen violence and, even more so, to the rampant editorializing filmmakers paint onto their footage. Shot in 2004, The War Tapes doesn't spin the facts. Instead, it gives digital cameras to three National Guardsmen and lets the war tell its story. We get the bloodthirsty and blindly patriotic, right along with the terrified, cynical, and those outwardly skeptical of putting their lives behind a war for oil. As bullets zip with neon tracers and homemade car bombs pop and thud in the distance, we're given a straight story, and the results aren't pretty—for either side. This is not easy watching. (Adam Gnade)