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by Bill Gibron

1 Dec 2008


I am currently sitting on five reviews. Five. Five films I have already seen (in preparation for year end “Best of” consideration) and five films I am NOT allowed to write about. It’s the standard studio spiel - embargoes. Keeping the critical content under wraps until the publicist says we can finally speak our mind. It’s nothing new. We members of the new ‘Nth’ Estate are constantly required to live up to unrealistic rules, especially when considering the light speed dissemination of information that is the Internet. You’ll hear the online community complain quite a bit - e-publication ‘A’ gets to break the restrictions while they are stymied, sticking to a day-of-opening schedule.

While being the “first” to pass judgment on the latest Hollywood title used to mean something, the blogsphere fetish with festival exclusives, along with the still-in-flux feelings toward the Web in general means that many writers hoping to extol the virtues of cinema are left to rot in a nomenclature no-man’s land where old time marketers can’t tell the professionals from the plebes. And to make matters worse, what’s now global is ignored by those in control. Living in Tampa, I am stuck obeying Florida release rules. And yet PopMatters and SE&L are international draws. That means that if something like Milk doesn’t make it to theaters in the Sunshine State until sometime in 2009, that’s when I can run my review (in actuality, said film is scheduled to open on 12 December, 2008).

The excuse for embargoes is easy to understand - it’s called “control of public opinion”. If the studios have a turkey, a gosh-darn dump of a major motion picture and they want to keep the proposed demographic as clueless as possible, they will force critics to sit on their reviews, sometimes circumventing the process entirely by offering the dreaded Thursday night preview (or keeping the movie from journalists all together). Yet it’s weird when something like MENTIONED DELETED is offered almost four weeks before it hits the Cineplex - and yet we are told to refrain from even mentioning it before the Christmas Day delivery (heck, even this mere tongue in cheek mention may get me in trouble - masterpiece or not).

The other three films I have already seen besides Milk and MENTION DELETED are Doubt, the John Patrick Shanley adaptation of his Pulitzer prize winning play, Frost/Nixon, another theatrical turn brought to the big screen by Ron Howard, and early Oscar frontrunner Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s unbelievably brilliant odyssey through India. As you can probably tell from the context, I loved all five of these films. They all represent varying degrees of greatness. Many, if not all, will probably make my Top Ten list for 2008, and each represents the pinnacle of cinema as an artform, a commercial consideration, and an entertainment enterprise. And yet if I offered up a legitimate review of any of them, I could be banned from all future press events.

Regional considerations are a funny thing. Disney’s ‘world’ is just 70 miles away from my office, and yet they never fail to ignore their Florida critics when it comes to previews, press materials, or awards season screeners. On the other hand, we’ve had word of mouth advances for motion picture puke like Disaster Movie, Meet Dave, and perhaps the year’s absolute worst cinematic atrocity - Towelhead. It seems that outside the major metropolitan markets of the US - read: New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and DC - a “catch as catch can” concept is at work. If you get a screening, bully. If not, well then wait a couple of days. Death Race 2008 will have a big bang premiere you can sink your souring review skills in.

Naturally, the studios still insist on embargoes, and as discussed before, that makes sense. Why let the public know what an unsightly stink bomb you have up your sleeves when the TV ads for Four Christmases make it look like a rib-tickling, raunchy lark. But how do you defend keeping a lid on quality? If I loved Milk, if I was bowelled over by MENTION DELETED, why not let me say so? Will my voice make any real difference to those already poised to see it? Will an emphatically positive review from Short Ends and Leader actually turn off potential viewers? While one can’t see the publicists as being this insightful, are they aware of the love/loathe relationship currently playing out between the critic and the messageboard community? Could they be thinking that the anti-Bill Gibron brigade is so massive that, if he likes something, it’s a sure sign to avoid it at all costs?

And this doesn’t explain the up and down, hit or miss mumblings of places like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, or that most flagrant of “why’s he so special?” candidates, EmanuelLevy.com. All of these sites have reviews up of David Fincher’s unmentionable movie. Mr. Levy, the man with the massive moustache, even has takes on The Reader, Revolutionary Road, and Defiance. His Frost/Nixon was posted on 4 November and his Milk arrived two days before. No one is questioning his access (clearly, the studios don’t care that he violates dates by sometimes a month or more), but one does argue the necessity for keeping others at bay. Can Mr. Levy, who many may come to rely on for his early take on titles, be much more of a benefit/liability than a lowly Florida critic who’s stuck waiting until Friday to post his thoughts?

Again, we are not talking about films I can’t wait to tear apart. I am not chomping at the bit to vivisect ACTORS NAME DELETED‘s pitch perfect performance, Boyle’s use of the amazing Indian landscape, or Michael Sheen’s amazing take on that British bad boy of staged journalism, David Frost. My keyboard isn’t smoking from the scolding I’m prepared to give Sean Penn’s career pinnacle, Meryl Streep’s amazing transformation into a surly ‘60s nun, or the wonder that is old school artistry transformed to a post-modern mindset. If anything, I am supremely frustrated that, in a season that has so far sparked little interest beyond the occasional inspired mainstream amusement, I can’t celebrate some truly stellar filmmaking.

Critics are typically attracted to the profession because of their love of the medium (music, art, film) they are putting into perspective. Embargoes are like hearing a great song and then not being able to play it for your friends. In the case of the five reviews I am sitting on, I want to argue over and discuss them, to let readers into the pleasures each one offers while hopefully giving them fodder to further their own experience while in the theater. Sure, keeping the searing slaughter of a high profile title - say, my complete dismissal of the crap that was Blindness - is probably best saved for the day the film opens. After all, it’s not going to do anyone (reader, writer, greenlighter) any good. But when it’s time to trumpet the wonders of the annual awards season, a barrier seems foolish. Guess I’ll just have to wait until the courtesy screeners start arriving in the mail. Then all bets are off, right?

by Bill Gibron

30 Nov 2008


Screw Abraham Maslow! According to this so-called philosopher, the route to self-actualization - you know, the ultimate realization of one’s own value and worth within the context of social and interpersonal dynamics - is via some hoity-toity, ivory tower tested “hierarchy of needs”. For those of you without eggheads, Maslow created a pyramid (kind of like the finishing school four food groups of the soul) and situated the steps to ‘SA’ from bottom to tippy top. In essence, he argued that as long as you fulfilled each and every level of these innate necessities - basic needs, safety needs, psychological needs, etc. - you end up finding your true self…or some goofy PhD facsimile thereof.

Oddly enough, there’s no need to follow the unproven theorems of a cranky thinker circa 1943. Instead, just head out to the movies. If cinema has taught us anything, and the list of lessons is growing larger and more complex every day, it’s that the true path to individual enlightenment is not paved with food, shelter, law, order, family, status, or reputation. Instead, the journey, like the one taken by cubicle monkey Wesley Gibson in Timur Bekmambetov Summer 2008 sensation Wanted (now out on DVD from Universal), is covered with a singular kind of asphalt - the aggressive, ass-kicking kind. All you need is the ability to harness your own innate bad-ass and BINGO! - you’re a simple step away from uncovering the truth about who you really are, and what that person is capable of.

From ancient Greek mythology to the modern, more Lucas-oriented traditions, the geek turned titan, the nobody launched into the clouds of Mt. Olympus has fueled many a heroic narrative. Authors understand the allure of putting the everyman in the place of Hercules, giving the desk jockey or gym class dork an answer to their awkward social acceptance. Before he became the savior of the Jedi, lame-o Luke Skywalker was hanging out with his Tatoonie tool buddies, stuck back on the farm dreaming of taking on the Empire instead of actually signing up and sticking it to Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers. Of course, fate, and a full blown knowledge of the Force, turns him into the last man standing against the devious Dark Side, required to defeat the one man who can make or break his ability to actualize - his father, the aforementioned psycho Sith.

Or what about that computer hacker turned Jesus Christ, Neo, in the Wachowski’s wild Matrix movies. Intrigued by the rebellious nature of Morpheus and his gang of club hoping henchmen, this motherboard butthead dreams of breaking out of his corporate confines and “waking up” from what appears to be a living dream. He soon learns however that he is the “One”, no longer Thomas A. Anderson but a bonafide savior of all mankind. To take on such a challenge, and the ever-persistent attacks of the machine managed Agents, he must learn the truth about his world (it’s a virtual reality simulation), his skills (they’re as limitless as his ability to embrace them), and his limitations (his love for that holy hot sex in spandex sister, Trinity). While there’s no Daddy to defeat this time around, Neo does have to face off against Big Brother, proving to the omniscient mechanisms that he’s more than just a preprogrammed prophecy.

And then there’s the IKEA loving disciple of one Tyler Durdin in Fight Club. Incapable of anything other than ordering overpriced material comforts out of a catalog, our no-name auto recall reject (and future urban terrorist) discovers his proto-polar opposite in a studly, esoteric soap salesman. As they begin living - and fighting - together, the drone becomes the driven, inadvertently targeting the financial structure of society to implode the noxious new world order. They even bed the same psychological mess of a Miss in an attempt to prove their otherwise inert manhood. Before long, our antihero and his hunk realize they are one in the same, ID inverted and supercharged so that the rest of the psyche can feel free from inevitable liability. A bullet through the cheek, and things are suddenly starting to look right.

In all three cases, the wimp inevitably becomes the champ, the marginalized and mistreated turned into something akin to a human nuclear device. It’s the same for Gibson (played with plucky sarcasm and endless charm by a well cast James McAvoy), given over to Google-ing his own name, only to discover he’s the perfect post-millennial example of a nothing.  When Fox (again with the hottie, only this time she’s inhabited by Angelina Jolie, and packs a lot of ammunition efficiency to boot) finds him refilling his anxiety meds, the message is simple - your absentee father is dead, and Cross - the man who killed him - wants you gone as well. This lures Wesley into the mighty maw of the quasi-religious Fraternity, delivering dogma and death skills in several face punching, knife slashing sessions.

Under the Yoda like tutelage of Sloan, a kindly older man with a strict sense of murder-for-hire morality, Wesley discovers his inner assassin. Soon, he’s learning to curve bullets, hug danger, cuddle cruelty, and heal with wax-bath rapidity. Eventually, the truth is told - the man who wants Wesley dead is really his dad, and the entire “school for slayers” was just a set up to help the Fraternity get rid of the diabolic double-Cross. But by that time it’s too late. Wesley has been an apt pupil to say the least. Within days of discovering the reality of his being, he creates a complex plan to take out Sloan and his murderer’s row once and for all. He’ll need some help from the inside, but with his sense of self primed into overdrive, there’s almost no stopping him.

Indeed, Wanted tries to be new and novel - and the stunning actions sequences staged by director Bekmambetov are a marvel to look at - but it can’t escape its heroics heritage. Wesley doesn’t grow a pair of no holds barred balls until he discovers the power of money, and of making people suffer. His initial office encounters with fat boss Janice and best friend/girlfriend f*cker Barry sets things up perfectly for the clever comeuppance everyone will experience later on. Similarly, Sloan is seen as somewhat benevolent and trusting, and yet when the other shoe drops somewhere in the third act, Wesley is left to decide if he’s a man, or a mouse-bomber killing machine. Like his brethren in actualization, Luke, Neo, and Tyler-Twin, the protagonist in Wanted has to suffer and sacrifice to survive. He must face death and personal loss head on, if only to turn into the individual he’s destined to become.

Along the way, we are introduced to the creative clichés buried in the a.k.s.a. genre (elements acknowledged as necessary in the DVD’s intriguing added content). Wesley goes through a period of training, learning the lessons of the Fraternity. Substitute past preparations like the ways of the Force, the virtual dojo, or the sweaty, blood spattered basements of various Fight Clubs, and you start to see the pattern. There’s almost always a mentor involved - be he an ex-Jedi schooling yet another young pupil in his folklore ways, a believer desperate to train the new Messiah, or a manly macho mug skilled at doing everything his alter ego is incapable of. Toss in various babes - princesses, killers, super hero honeys in skin tight leather - and you’ve got the makings of a movie.

But the reason that Wanted is so superior to other ordinary action fodder is its desire to make you think. All throughout the narrative, Wesley wonders aloud about his sorry lot in life. He confronts his lack of backbone, and questions the very fabric of his false existence. His initial reaction to Fox is one of panic, followed by the giddy kind of joy a child must experience when something new and exciting enters their sheltered sphere of influence. By the time he’s learning gut-level courage from The Repairman, knife skills from The Butcher, and firearms from The Gunsmith, he’s no longer questioning himself. Instead, the last line of the movie is aimed at the audience, asking them to look into the motion picture mirror and ‘reflect’ on who they really are.

Like Star Wars, and The Matrix, and Fight Club, Wanted is propelled by as many concepts as car crashes, redefining the genre as it embraces and enhances it. Bekmambetov is wildly inventive as a filmmaker, fleshing out his storyline with quirky moments of brutal slapstick, sick humor, and that all important element for any bullet ballet - slo-mo stuntwork. By mimicking experts at the style like the master of the reduced frame rate, John Woo, Bekmambetov enhances the character’s inner voyage. By the end, we understand the misbegotten bravado, the need to prove to everyone that he is better, smarter, stronger, craftier, and about as whole and individually realized as any person can be.

Few of these films backtrack on the heroics. In the case of Wars and Matrix, both took their icons and gave them added humanizing aspects like doubt, fear, and that always lethal combination of love and honor. It will be interesting to see where Wesley goes should a rumored Wanted sequel ever materialize. He’s a hitman with a lot of potential. In the meantime, we can re-watch our anxious account manager go from lox to legitimate in the span of two tripwire hours. Behind the edge of your seat veneer and raging amounts of filmic testosterone, Wanted is just another example of self-actualization via a well placed foot in someone’s behind. Maslow may need several strangulated steps to get to where he’s going, but a prophet like Wesley Gibson only needs one. It’s the pyramid or the punch-out - you decide. As with any journey into self-discovery, the decision is yours.

by Bill Gibron

30 Nov 2008


In China, it’s like Halloween. The 15th night of the seventh month is reserved for the dead. Ancient tradition holds that, on this occasion, the spirits of those who’ve departed pass through the gates of purgatory and mingle with their loved ones left behind on Earth. Through ritual and respect, they are appeased and head back into the afterlife. Thus the Ghost Festival finds its folklore and a new horror anthology from Facets, entitled Visits, finds a foundation. Dealing with a specific part of the mythology centering on hungry, or vengeful spirits, four Asian directors with differing approaches provide a quartet of fright films proposing to make your spine shiver and your nerves rattle - that is, if they don’t bore you to death first.

Framed by a disc jockey promising a series of sensational holiday horror fare, the first tale, entitled 1413 centers on two young girls, a suicide pact gone sour, and the truth behind the untimely death of the unsettled specter. Waiting for Them has an unlucky in love businesswoman upset over the despondent phone calls of a friend. When she finally finds her wondering the street, she seems unusually connected to the supernatural realm. A young filmmaker hopes to capture a scary ritual known as the Nodding Scoop…and gets much more than he or his gal pals bargained for, while a psychotic security guard stalks a pretty apartment dweller, unaware of her own sinister secret in Anybody Home.

While all four films have something going for them, nary a single one stands out as special or suspenseful. They all suffer from incomplete ideas and half-baked realization of same. If one had to pick a worthwhile installment amongst the otherwise mediocre material, the final segment would score strongly. Until the last act mistake of switching the point of view from surveillance cameras to standard cinema, Anybody Home makes for some quasi—creepy silent storytelling. We never fully understand the motives of the security guard, and can only speculate as to what he reacts to once he’s inside the victims home and looking in her freezer. Of course, the entire set-up suggests something unholy and awful, but when director Ho Yuhang decides to switch gears and go back to a standard shooting style, we instantly loose interest. Add in a lengthy, unexplained flashback and a weird, anticlimactic ending, and even Anybody Home suffers.

In fact, it’s safe to say that all of Visits is stunted by a long standing, second class association with the already dead genre of J-Horror. From the obsession with suicide (1413) to the notion of pissed off phantoms taking their afterlife anger out on the living (Nodding Scoop), each episode here feels lifted from a better, more original inspiration. Even Waiting for Them, which wants to put a fresh, frightening spin on self-discovery and female empowerment treads so lightly and statically that you frequently wonder if the actors are actually moving. Indeed, this mind-numbingly dull effort argues for James Lee’s ineffectualness as a filmmaker.

Yet even when a director tries for something novel, like Ng Tian Hann and his caught on tape terror show Nodding Scoop, the conventions of the genre do him in. We need to have ghosts, girls under attack, and a clueless cad for a hero who ends up making multiple mistakes before succumbing to the spirit’s evil advances. The whole narrative is knotted around itself, unclear from the moment we learn that our novice filmmaker has hired two babes to be his on camera (and off screen) talent. While the occasional glimpses of the unhappy spook make the opening moments fun, the finale falls flat. Indeed, what we need more than anything else is a sense of clarity. We don’t mind enigmatic moments and unexplained fears. But without details - or an attempt to offer said - we become frustrated.

Indeed, Visits is an overall aggravating experience. 1413 seems to wrap up its obvious mystery before it even begins, and the red herring married boyfriend in Waiting never pays off at all. It’s the same for Anybody Home. Why take several minutes putting us through the cat and mouse of the security guards personal surveillance only to have the storyline shift over into something completely different…and underwhelming? While the sole bonus feature argues for the effectiveness of the short film format, nothing about Visits supports this theory. All four mini-features would have benefited from a longer length, as well as a few rewrites, an expansion of themes, and a revisit to the Western way of delivering the shivers. The closest we get to effective macabre is a bit of bloodshed.

Of course, it’s not Visits fault that it took nearly four years to get to American audiences. While a previous DVD version of this title was released by an unknown company back in 2006, this will be the first exposure for many to this irritating title. Since it was made, the entire Asian fright flick fad has peaked, petered out, and grown passé. It’s now the stuff of spoof, not serious scary moviemaking. Yet there are occasional attempts to revive the format, with Hollywood still working through its One Missed Call contracts before finally putting the genre to bed forever. It would be nice to say that Visits could jumpstart, or at the very least reinvigorate an already DOA medium. At this point in the game however, the type is no longer viable, and this film is far from strong enough to overcome such odds.

by Bill Gibron

29 Nov 2008


It’s said that you can’t go home again. Other maxim-mized clichés include the inability to revisit past glories and the ever popular suggestion regarding letting sleeping dogs remain within their current supine positioning. But when you’re Joel Hodgson, famed comedian and creator of the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000, you’ve already bucked one Thomas Wolfe-inspired trend. Why not take your newest version of that hilarious in-theater riff-a-thon and tackle a title that made MST famous - fans and fancy pants be damned! Thus the decision to return to the days of Patrick Swayze, catalog daydreaming, and the madcap extraterrestrial antics of an overgrown green idiot named Dropo.

That’s right, Cinematic Titanic’s last offering for 2008 is a revisit of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a crappy kid vid creation that sparked one of Hodgson’s original series’ Season Three highlights. Gone, of course, is the attempt at a new Christmas Carol (based on that other holiday favorite, Roadhouse), a discussion of off the radar TV specials (“The X-Mas that Really Kicked Ass”), and a nice bit of cool Yule logging. In its place is a racier, edgier take on the material, the CT crew finding plenty of adolescent-to-adult affronts in this uninspired space epic. Fans who were afraid of a mere recycle and unnecessary regurgitation will now have to suck it up and gauge which edition - old school or new breed - is better.

As for the film itself, we are treated to a dull little sugarplum piffle involving the angry red planet, a leader desperate to bring joy to his sullen alien offspring, and one of the kindest, dullest Kris Kringle’s on record. When King Martian Kimar sees how sad his son and daughter truly are, he goes to Chochem (Mars’ answer to a shaman) for advice.  Discovering that his kids need fun and freedom in order to thrive, Kimar comes up with a daring plan - head down to Earth and kidnap the universe’s symbol of glad tidings - the one and only Santa Claus.

With the help of henchmen Stobo and Shim, the stale stupidity of castaway Dropo and the always upset, desperate for power Voldar, the Martians find two Earth kids (Betty and Billy Foster), force them to fess up to Santa’s location, grab the jolly old elf, and head home. Once back on Mars, however, one of Kimar’s minions prepares for a double-cross, while our apple-checked champion grows bored of making toys via technology.

On any filmic scale, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is not merely horrible, it’s horrendous. It’s like watching a half-witted home movie made by people who have neither a home or moviemaking skills. Documentarian turned editor turned flop-meister Nicholas Webster proves here that working for Uncle Sam’s war effort during WWII lends little in the way of cinematic vision or professionalism. He utilizes cardboard backdrops and pipe cleaner costuming to turn his interstellar story into tired, two-dimensional dross. It’s a good thing the actors are coated in layers of baby diarrhea tinged make-up. That way, we can’t see how red faced and embarrassed they must have been. No one is safe - not John Call’s Santa, not Leonard Hicks’ Kimar…heck, not even a prepubescent Pia Zidora as a barely recognizable Martian girl with a permanent deer-in-the-headlights look on her face.

Of course, what really distinguishes Santa Claus Conquers the Martians from other, happier holiday fare is the total absence of that mandatory mistletoe movie must - Christmas spirit. Our benevolent being with a belly like a bowl full of jelly is decent enough, but refrigerator box robots, creepy old alien sages, and a villainous Village People reject with a man-love moustache and mayhem on his mind do not an engaging Noel make. While the plot is busy lapping itself, offering kidnapping after snatching after hostage crisis as a means of moving the story alone, any sense of magic and wonder slowly dissipates in a fog of failed ambitions and staid Saturday Matinee mediocrity. No wonder kids in the ‘60s went hippie. This conservative claptrap would turn even the staunchest Neo-Con into a member of the counterculture.

As with his previous comedic outing, Hodgson has often said that the cast’s ability to mock a movie is inversely proportional to how atrocious it is. The worse the outing, the better the belittling - and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is no exception. In fact, the notion that a similar selection of performers could once again pick apart this movie in equally effective fashion says as much about the Cinematic Titanic talent pool as it does Claus’ crappiness. Right from the start, we get a “haven’t we seen this before” reference, before diving right into the ridicule. Along the way, former MSTers J. Elvis Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl peel back the layers of lousiness inserting their own off the wall (and frequently off-color) takes. There is some very racy stuff offered this time around.

What many fans will miss, however, is the lack of holiday-themed skits, the kind of material that made something like the crazed carol “A Patrick Swayze Christmas” so memorable. This version of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians does offer one of the new series’ minor ‘movie-stop’ moments (times when someone else will ask that the film be halted so they can offer up a scripted comedic bit). In this instance, Hodgson delivers his presents for the festive season - and not everyone is happy about it. Elsewhere, we get more introductory bits between the crew and the security team, including a failed escape attempt by Trace (the key word here being “failed”). With more movie available than ever before - no commercials means no ‘editing for time’ constraints - this version of the title truly lives up to its ‘worst film ever’ classification.

Still, it’s slightly surreal to hear voices that originally eviscerated this seasonal stool sample going in for an amusement Mulligan. It must have been a tough decision, especially when considering fan expectations and potential MST cult criticism. Certain episodes of the celebrated cowtown puppet show symbolized everything that was perfect about Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a concept and a creative enterprise, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was among that noted number. Cinematic Titanic took a massive risk remaking this iconic installment, and that they succeeded so well speak volumes for their individual abilities and satiric skills. While it’s probably true that a trip back into one’s past is more problematic than therapeutic, this updated look at a piece of MST history is a retread well executed…and well worth it.

by Bill Gibron

26 Nov 2008


As part of the typical, pre-Turkey Day tradition, Hollywood is handing out a few heaping helpings of holiday weekend wonder. For the upcoming celebration of gluttony and family fellowship, the following films are in focus:

Australia [rating: 6]

That it’s not confrontational or deconstructionist may seem rebellious on paper, but blown up on the big screen for nearly three hours, Australia sure plays as purely conventional.

He’s been making movies since 1992. Yet in 16 years, he’s completed only four projects - 1992’s Strictly Ballroom, 1996’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, 2001’s magnificent Moulin Rogue, and now the old school epic named for his native land, Australia. So why has Baz Luhrmann been so lax in his creative output? Granted, there have been a couple of setbacks (he was fast tracking an Alexander the Great pic with Leonardo DiCaprio when Oliver Stone and Colin Farrell beat him to the punch), and has rejected offers to “go Hollywood” to make standard mainstream fare. And yet his latest is so enamored of Tinsel Town’s Golden Age that MGM and Gone with the Wind should get a restraining order. This doesn’t make Australia bad, just antithetical to what we know about Lurmann’s previous patterns.  read full review…


Four Christmases [rating: 1]


Flailing like a dying fish out of water and eventually smelling just as fetid, Four Christmases is stiflingly unfunny.

So this is what five Oscar winners gets you? This is the result of the combined Academy caliber efforts of Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter), Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard), Jon Voight (Coming Home), and Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies)? Certainly this quintet, along with some solid satiric support from Wedding Crashers cad Vince Vaughn, and a dash of supplemental slapstick from Swingers pal Jon Favreau, could create a clever, comic Yuletide gem, right? They’ve even got Seth “The King of Kong” Gordon on their side, steering the material toward some edgier environs. And yet, with all this potential talent on tap, Four Christmases ends up a wasted, worthless excuse for holiday humor.  read full review…


Role Models [rating: 7]

Offering a trio of elements so effective that they literally blot out almost everything that’s bad, director David Wain finds a way to milk the current craze for anything Apatow into a sweet, sarcastic slice of coming of age affection

Ever since a certain Mr. Apatow introduced us to a middle aged man child with limited sexual experience, the motion picture comedy has been flooded with what could best be described as ‘self-aware slackers’. You know the type - hard and cynical on the outside, indulging in whatever vice or vices they can in order to make up for the emptiness inside. Eventually, with the help of an understanding gal pal, a bumbling best friend, or a combination of the two, our hapless hero discovers clarity, and in turn, a far more productive outlook on life. This formula has been followed in several recent laugh riots - Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Superbad. Now there’s another name to add to the genre, and while not as consistently funny as the aforementioned efforts, Role Models provides enough solid snickers to eventually win us over. read full review…

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