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Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010
Charismatic up-and-coming actor Dan Byrd (Easy A, Cougar Town) brings a bit of grace and humor to the titular character in Norman, a tale of a depressed teenager who feigns stomach cancer while privately battling other demons.

It’s not easy making what should be a depressing film enjoyable. Which isn’t saying that Norman is the next feel-good-hit-of-the-season. But considering its subject—an unpopular teenager whose family is falling apart tells his peers he’s dying of cancer—Norman is an engrossing tale.


Norman is, through and through, an actors’ picture. Director Jonathan Segal let his cast breathe, and they carried the film through a few potentially lethal cliché narrative forces. There’s the not too popular kid at the forefront of the story (Dan Byrd); the suburban plight narrative; the guy-gets-the-girl rom-com.


Talton Wingate’s screenplay may veer a little too close to such well-worn territory. Fortunately, the cast pulls it all together to help make every inch of film a visceral, emotional viewing.


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Monday, Oct 11, 2010
Bitter Feast warns potential viewers what they may encounter right in the title. Yes, it's a horror movie about food culture. Unfortunately, it's not much of a feast, but it will leave something of a bitter taste.

Bloggers and torture porn: when these two entities first leaped into the zeitgeist, there’s a good chance every full-time film critic felt at least a smidgen of repulsion. Enter Bitter Feast, a movie where the two entities intersect. Chances are, some people—film critics or otherwise—will walk away from the picture with a bad taste in their mouths.


It’s not because the film is graphic in any way. Some of Bitter Feast‘s most startling imagery comes from close-ups of food, expertly prepared by the movie’s celebrity chef, Peter Gray (James LeGros). Such delectable scenes left me hungry, for both a three-course meal and a stronger film.


Ambition is what drives, and kills, Bitter Feast. It’s clear that writer-director Joe Maggio knows his way around a good horror movie. Yet, knowing what makes a good horror movie and being able to execute a good horror movie are, unfortunately, two entirely different things.


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Friday, Oct 8, 2010
Based on the life of Johann Kastenberger, better known as "Pump-gun Ronnie", The Robber succeeds by subverting the normal routine for a film about robbers.

The 46th Chicago International Film Festival is packed to the gills with films, fans and critics. For two weeks, many folks will be lining up to see some of the most anticipated cinematic releases of the year: there’s Black Swan, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 127 Hours, Certified Copy, Hereafter, The Tempest and The Debt.


But, with dozens of films to watch, and very little time to watch them, why spend it all on movies that are sure to return to theaters in a matter of months? There’s been plenty written about, say, Black Swan‘s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and PopMatters contributing editor Matt Mazur provided excellent coverage of that film and many others that screened at TIFF.


This is a time to check out movies that aren’t guaranteed to screen in the U.S. after the festival. Which would be a terrible fate for a film like The Robber, a tense thriller about an Austrian marathon runner who just happened to use his skills for speed to rob banks.


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Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010
Michael Epstein's newest entry to PBS's American Masters series looks great, sounds better, and offers very little we didn't already know about John Lennon -- and glosses over a lot that we do.

One of the throwaway graphical flourishes of Michael Epstein’s LennonNYC, which premiered at the New York Film Festival this weekend, encapsulates the tone of the piece more than any of its assorted sound bites, news footage, or endless parade of archived photographs. During the many segments recounting John Lennon’s recording studio sessions, black and white sketch lines scribble themselves over candid images, following features of faces, needles of meters, microphone stands, guitar strings, outlines of hands, contours of music stands. They evoke a whimsical teenager doodling over pages of Teen Beat: her idle tracing is a crude paean to the stars and starlets she so admires. LennonNYC is a work of nostalgic devotion in the very same, criminally respectful mode. I ended up wishing it were more like this imagined girl’s brother, stealing her mags to draw mustaches and penises all over it.


Not that I wanted to see the doc gossip away Lennon’s dignity, but it would be nice to hear a little bit about how this Beatle wasn’t great. His somewhat well-known relationship with May Pang, which lasted a year-and-a-half or so after he and Yoko Ono separated—his so-called “Lost Weekend”—is sublimated to the point of teasing ambiguity. You’d think it was simply a matter of courtesy to his survivors, mainly Ono—who was, incidentally, present at the screening I attended at the Lincoln Center’s Starr Theater. When Epstein’s narrative reaches this chapter, though, she seems on the verge of mentioning the affair by name. So much so, that I conclude she did, only to be silenced in the editing process.


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Friday, Sep 24, 2010
Monkey Ghosts, unraveling ballerinas, going green with Mike Leigh, and a pox on the pioneers. This year there were four clear stand outs at an otherwise boring Toronto Film Festival.
Another Year (dir. Mike Leigh, 2010)

Lest you make the rookie mistake of thinking the legendary Mike Leigh’s newest film Another Year is about anything so black and white, cut and dry, as being “happy” or “unhappy”, the director was clear to point out to me – during the private round table interview I conducted with him and actors Jim Broadbent, Lesely Manville, and Ruth Sheen during TIFF – that this notion is completely wrong. “I think that’s twaddle – I never said that and the film doesn’t say that. That’s the very thing the film doesn’t say, if you don’t mind me saying so! Are you happy?”


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