The Muppets!
Published on November 21, 2011 by Sara Foss

Check out this video essay of The Muppets.

Gearing up for "The Descendants"
Published on November 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

I am really excited about the new Alexander Payne movie "The Descendants," which stars George Clooney. Payne has directed two films I absolutely love, "Election" and "Sideways," as well as a brilliant satire of the abortion debate, "Citizen Rose," and one movie I didn't really like all that much, "About Schmidt."

So I was happy to see the excellent film critic Glenn Kenny interview Payne on his blog Some Came Running. Click here to read it.

On Fandor, critic Vadim Rizov appraises Clooney in an article titled "Vanity Will Get You Everywhere."

Watching "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Published on November 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new movie "Martha Marcy May Marlene," which tells the story of a young woman who flees a cult in upstate New York.

Click here to read the review.

Deck the Halls with Harold and Kumar
Published on November 16, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

The holidays have often been the source of some inspired and memorable comedy.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker birthed South Park from The Spirit of Christmas video shorts, which included the infamous smackdown between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.

The first full-length episode of The Simpsons ever aired was a Christmas special.

And I’ve found that when I ask people about their favorite Christmas movie, I’m more likely to hear A Christmas Story, Elf or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation than It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street.

So it should be no surprise that the Harold and Kumar franchise chose to do a holiday movie when it came time to film the third installment in the popular stoner movie series. They even upped the ante by filming it in 3D.

The result is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, an irreverent, over-the-top holiday adventure that, despite its flaws, has a rather heartfelt message about the importance of friendship and family.


"Red State" Rages, Rants & Disappoints
Published on October 31, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

Kevin Smith wants us to know that he can do more than make silly movies.

That’s the inescapable message of the writer and director’s foray into horror, Red State. It’s also the most coherent message in this unfocused and frustrating effort where it seems Smith urgently wants to say something about sex, politics and religion. Unfortunately, he ends up giving us the cinematic equivalent of a cynical rant.

It’s not that Smith hasn’t tackled hot-button topics in his comedies. Dogma, Smith’s film about two fallen angels who have found a path into heaven that also will end the world, tackled religion and stirred up controversy when it was released in 1999. And plenty of his other films have had something to say about sex and relationships, even if it was for a juvenile laugh or two.

Of course, the romantic comedy Chasing Amy garnered Smith raves and won two Independent Spirit Awards in 1998. But there’s a sense with Red State that Smith really wants to prove that he can be more than the guy who gave us Clerks and the comic slacker team of Jay and Silent Bob.

Red State begins with a solid premise for a horror movie. Three high school boys set out to meet the woman behind an online ad seeking sex. They meet her in person and soon discover it’s a trap. She’s a member of a radical religious group that takes the teenagers captive and plans to punish them for their sins – a punishment that will end with their deaths.

There’s a sense that a lot of Smith’s inspiration for this movie was “ripped from the headlines” as he raises topics that include religion and post-9/11 America. The religious group – the Five Points Church – pickets funerals much like the Westboro Baptist Church. But a character in the film makes a point of stating that Five Points is not Westboro. Five Points has the potential for violence.

There’s a great opportunity here to explore religious fanaticism and what pushes people professing obedience to God to lash out violently and even kill. When Five Points Pastor Abin Cooper, portrayed by Michael Parks, gives a long sermon early in the movie, there’s potential for exploring this territory. Parks certainly has the acting chops for this role. Unfortunately, aside from a few nuggets, the sermon turns out to be a tedious exercise that eats up a lot of screen time.

Any remaining hope the movie will seriously explore the inner workings of this group is dashed when one of the boys makes an escape attempt and discovers the group’s massive cache of guns. Shots are fired, the ATF hits the scene and suddenly the viewer is watching a movie about a Waco-style standoff – so much for watching a horror film.


Beavis and Butt-Head Do America ... Again
Published on October 30, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

When I learned that Beavis and Butt-Head would be returning to MTV with new episodes, I had mixed feelings.

I was a fan of the series during its original run from 1993 to 1997. I saw the movie, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, when it was in theaters. And, of course, I recited my favorite lines with friends as we all giggled like the show’s stars. As the years passed, I also appreciated it for opening the door for other animated shows that I enjoy. South Park, Family Guy, American Dad and Aqua Teen Hunger Force are indebted to Beavis and Butt-Head.

But as much as I wanted to see new adventures involving those giggling and snickering morons, I knew it could be a huge disappointment. It’s been 14 years since the series ended. Could the show pick up where it left off? Would it seem stale and dated? Would MTV meddle and ruin it? The show’s creator, Mike Judge, had great success with the more mainstream King of the Hill. I wondered if that experience would soften the edges of the show a bit.

If the first new episode is any indication, the show not only successfully picks up where it left off, but it’s apparent that the world – and pop culture – is once again ripe for critique by Beavis and Butt-Head.

The first episode features a story inspired by the Twilight movie franchise. After seeing girls in the movie theater swoon over a werewolf in the movie, the guys decide they should become werewolves. Naturally, they set out to find a werewolf to bite them. The quest leaves them with multiple bite marks and hepatitis A, B and C as well as a slew of other diseases.

Yes, this is the Beavis and Butt-Head I remember.


Top Cult Movies
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Movie lists are almost always fun, and Nerve has made a list of the top 50 cult movies of all time. I'm a fan of cult movies, and I thought their list was pretty good. You can find it here.

I'm also a fan of Scott Tobias' biweekly column on cult films, titled The New Cult Canon. The column focuses on noteworthy cult films from the last 20 years, and began in 2008 with an in-depth look at "Donnie Darko."

Watching "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the film "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which I saw at the Chatham Film Festival.

Here's an excerpt:

"The film, which is based on the novel of the same name, tells the story of a Columbine-like school shooting. But what makes 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' worth watching isn’t the story, which for director Lynne Ramsay is a secondary concern, but the film’s fractured, nightmarish style: The movie is an auditory and visual triumph, where images and sounds seamlessly melt into each other, signifying changes in mood, location and time. There is dialogue but it’s minimal, and rarely expository. And the film builds to a shattering conclusion, even though the tragedy at the heart of the story is never a secret.

'We Need To Talk About Kevin' cuts back and forth between the present and the past, showing us glimpses of travel writer Eva’s (Tilda Swinton) life before she became a mother, after her son Kevin was born and following Kevin’s imprisonment for an unspeakable crime. We gather that Eva once had a loving husband (John C. Reilly) and a daughter, and that the family lived in an expensive suburban home, but that today Eva lives in a small house that is a constant target for vandals, and is happy to get a job doing clerical work at a travel agency. Eva is a community-wide pariah, slapped by angry mothers in public and treated with scorn at an office holiday party. Interestingly, the only person who shows her genuine kindness is one of her son’s victims.

Swinton is outstanding, as usual, but the actors who embody Kevin are amazing; the child version, played by Jasper Newell, is one of the more disturbing kids ever to grace the screen, reminiscent of Damien in 'The Omen.' He was simply born bad, although the film suggests that Eva was not exactly the world’s greatest mother; in one scene, she tells the toddler Kevin that before he was born, she was happy. This is an unforgivable comment, but it’s understandable; Kevin is a difficult, manipulative child. But he only shows that side of himself to Eva. Some have criticized the film for making Kevin too evil, but I didn’t have a problem with that.

For one thing, the story is told from Eva’s perspective, in a highly-stylized manner; the film is essentially an arthouse horror movie, and it presents a version of the world that’s more fluid, fractured and portentous than everyday life. There’s exactly one scene where Kevin seems like a normal boy: In the first scene in which he appears, when he says he doesn’t want any breakfast, and his father gives him a hug. Later scenes reveal the truth about Kevin (Ezra Miller, very scary): that he has the classic traits of a psychopath, and that it’s only a matter of time before he does something truly reprehensible. (This characterization isn’t far-fetched. In the non-fiction book 'Columbine,' author Dave Cullen suggests that one of the killers, Eric Harris, was a psychopath, who exhibited troubling behavior from an early age and had little respect for human life) As the film progresses, the relationship between Eva and Kevin becomes more interesting, and complicated. Eva doesn’t like her son, but he is her son, and she feels a certain motherly love and obligation toward him."

To read the whole thing, click here.

They're Making a Lorax Movie!
Published on October 20, 2011 by Sara Foss

The track record for cinematic adaptations of Dr. Seuss books is not good, but I'm excited about the concept of a Lorax movie. For one thing, the Lorax is a pretty grim environmental fable, with a memorable refrain - "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees" - and some haunting illustrations depicting the devastation caused by industrialization. All of which makes me optimistic that "The Lorax" will actually be a good film, rather than a cinematic atrocity starring a mugging comedian.

To see some footage and read a little more about the film, click here.

Pre-Code Cinema With a "Baby Face"
Published on October 19, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

Lily Powers does her best in Baby Face to lead a life that would make Friedrich Nietzsche proud.

The 1933 film follows Lily, played by Barbara Stanwyck, as she leaves her hardscrabble life in a steel town for New York City, where she sleeps her way up the corporate ladder. Throughout the film, viewers watch Lily crush out any sentiment as she teases, manipulates and uses any man she believes can help her get ahead.

Baby Face is a remarkable film for a number of reasons. It was made during the pre-code era, a period of lax enforcement of movie production codes that lasted until 1934. It resulted in movies that deal with sex and violence with a frankness that would not be seen on the silver screen again for decades.

Baby Face not only exemplifies the daring nature of pre-code films but is noteworthy because cuts had to be made to the film to satisfy censors even during this period of lax standards.


Watching "The Ides of March"
Published on October 18, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new political thriller "The Ides of March," which is engrossing, entertaining and smart, although not necessarily original.

Here's an excerpt:

“'The Ides of March' is a crackling political thriller, and I was pretty much pinned to my seat from the first frame to the last. It was only after the film ended that I found myself questioning certain aspects of the story, and wondering whether they really made any sense, and reflecting upon the film’s somewhat cliched plot. If you’ve seen 'The Candidate' and 'Primary Colors,' you probably won’t find a lot that’s new in 'The Ides of March,' but the movie is so well-crafted, consummately acted and, for the most part, sharp and insightful, that maybe it doesn’t matter.

'The Ides of March' takes place on the eve of the Ohio Democratic primary, with liberal presidential candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney) hoping to defeat his rival for the nomination and secure the endorsement of a politically powerful senator from North Carolina (Jeffrey Wright). The film focuses not on Morris, but on his talented and idealistic press secretary, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who professes to really believe in Morris as both a candidate and a man. Meyers works for Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a campaign manager as seasoned and shrewd as he is cynical and manipulative. Zara’s rival is Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who manages the campaign of Morris’ opponent. One day Duffy contacts Meyers and asks Meyers to meet him privately, at a downtown bar. Meyers senses that this is an offer he should refuse, but goes anyway, and is shocked yet flattered when Duffy offers him a job. Meanwhile, Meyers, against his better judgment, finds himself sexually involved with a smart and attractive intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), whose father happens to chair the Democratic National Committee.

Like 'Primary Colors,' 'The Ides of March' keeps its candidate largely off-stage. Morris remains an enigma; he seems sincere, but it’s hard to tell for sure, and although he insists he won’t compromise his values to win, you sense that the entire film is building to the moment when he sells out his ideals, because that’s what 99 percent of all politicians do. Morris is a political star, but he isn’t the star of the film — his aides are. 'The Ides of March' takes an in-depth look at the behind-the-scene machinations of a tense political campaign; we meet a hot-shot political reporter (Marisa Tomei), listen to hushed conversations about polling data and watch Meyers and Paul try to convince Morris that he should promise the North Carolina senator a cabinet position in exchange for his endorsement. The entire film functions as an actor’s showcase; I particularly enjoyed watching Giamatti and Gosling go at it."

In the post, I list some of my other favorite movies about politics.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Attack of the Human Centipede (And Other Examples of Extreme Cinema)
Published on October 12, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

When The Human Centipede (First Sequence) was released in the United States there were two distinct reactions to this movie about a mad surgeon who creates a “human centipede” by sewing three people together anus to mouth.

Reaction #1: “Who would ever want to see that?”

Reaction #2: “I’ve gotta see that!”

Apparently there were quite a few people who wanted to see that – myself included. And now we have The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).

I haven’t seen the sequel, but I plan on seeing it. Given the buzz surrounding it, I doubt I’m the only one making such plans. But it would be a mistake to chalk up the success of Human Centipede as a fluke. There is an entire strain of extreme cinema that has garnered a following.

Earlier this year I attended a film festival where I watched Kidnapped, a graphic and unflinching movie about a family enduring a brutal home invasion. The audience turnout would have pleased the owner of any mainstream multiplex.

And though I was at home wincing and squirming as I watched Inside, I later discovered there are quite a few fans of this home invasion movie where a pregnant woman fends off a crazed female intruder bent on cutting the baby out of her womb and abducting it.

This all begs the question, what is going on here? Why do people want to see movies about human centipedes, home invasions and other twisted things?


Watching "50/50"
Published on October 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new cancer comedy "50/50."

Click here to read all about it.

Film Capsules
Published on October 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I provide some brief summations of films I've recently watched on DVD, including "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and Werner Herzog's "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?"

Click here for the entire piece.

Watching "Moneyball"
Published on October 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "Moneyball."

Also, some interesting "Moneyball" links: Over at Deadspin, "Mobutu Sese Seko," founder of the blog "Et tu, Mr. Destructo?", takes on the movie's critics and explains what makes it so entertaining.

At ThePostGame, Jeff Passan talks about why baseball movies aren't as good as they used to be, and why he didn't really like "Moneyball" all that much.

On Slate, David Haglund discusses why "Moneyball" is a good story, but also a lot of bunk.

And in this 2007 Slate piece, Tom Scocca writes about how the Mitchell report, which documented the use of steroids in baseball, casts "Moneyball" in a different light.

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