Recent Viewing: Films
Published on January 6, 2013 by Sara Foss

Predators (2010) ***

Tony Takitani (2004) ***1/2

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) ***

Moving Midway (2007) ***

Home for the Holidays (1995) **

Hypocrites/Eleanor's Catch (1915) ***

Watching "Life of Pi"
Published on December 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "Life of Pi."

Here's an excerpt:

"Movies are made for the big screen, but you can’t watch as many movies as I do and see them all in the theater. It just isn’t feasible. And, to be honest, most movies play perfectly well on the small screen, at home. But there are films that really should be viewed in a darkened theater, on the largest screen you can possibly fine, and 'Life of Pi' is such a film. If I could go back and see it at an IMAX theater, I would. That said, the film’s story and themes don’t always live up to its incredible imagery. And yet I’d like to watch it again, despite my mixed feelings.

Adapted from a highly acclaimed book that many people regarded as essentially unfilmable, 'Life of Pi' tells the story of an Indian named Pi. We meet him at three stages of his life: As a middle-aged man, telling his incredible story to a visiting writer, as a boy who embraces Christianity, Islam and Hinduism and as a teenager, moving from India to Canada. Because Pi’s father owns a zoo, the family travels to North America by boat, with the goal of selling their managerie once they get there. One night, there is a terrible storm, and Pi (Suraj Sharma) ventures above deck to watch it. But the storm is big and dangerous, the boat capsizes and Pi eventually finds himself on a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan and Bengal tiger. Of these four animals, only the tiger, named Richard Parker (google the name to learn its significance), survives, and Pi must figure out how to keep himself alive. He also commits to keeping Richard Parker alive, despite the threat the beautiful yet fearsome animal poses.

As a survival story, 'Life of Pi' works really well. The storm is one of the best ever filmed, scary and fanciful and filled with unforgettable images, such as the orangutan appearing atop a wave like a lost surfer. The scenes on the rescue boat, which take up the bulk of the film, are also pretty amazing. The tiger is an incredibly lifelike creation, despite being completely computer generated, while the ocean is depicted as a place teeming with life — fish, whales, sharks, etc. One particularly stunning sequence is set on a beautiful island filled with meerkats; Pi is able to eat and rest and seems perfectly happy there, until he discovers that the island is carnivorous and will devour human inhabitants. So he returns to sea.

Click here to read more.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on December 16, 2012 by Sara Foss

Walking and Talking (1996) ***

A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) ***

The Sessions (2012) ***

What Would Jesus Buy? (2007) **1/2

The Red Chapel (2009) ***

Watching "The Sessions"
Published on December 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "The Sessions."

Here's an excerpt:

"Sex, disability and religion are three subjects mainstream movies tend to be skittish about, and the new film 'The Sessions' juggles all three with seeming ease. This doesn’t mean that 'The Sessions' is a great film — it’s not — but it is unusually candid and direct. It’s also funny, smart, interesting and extremely well acted, even during its weaker moments.

'The Sessions' tells the true story of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a Bay Area poet and reporter who is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of childhood polio, and uses an iron lung to breathe. While researching an article about sex and the disabled, he decides that he wants to experience sex himself, and is eventually referred to a professional sex surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt). Sex surrogates are basically sex therapists, but in addition to discussing sexual problems with their patients, they are willing to engage in intimate contact with them to help them achieve their therapeutic goals.

O’Brien does not make his decision lightly: He consults his priest (William H. Macy), with whom he meets regularly, and when his priest gives him the go-ahead, he arranges his first appointment with Cheryl. Most of the film details O’Brien’s relationship with Cheryl, who is married and has a son and strives to keep her private life separate from her work, but director Ben Lewin (who happens to be a polio survivor) spends a fair amount of time with secondary characters, such as O’Brien’s attendants, Vera and Rod (Moon Bloodgood and W. Earl Brown), who get him to his appointments, encourage him, and speak openly about their own sexual experiences. Unsurprisingly, O’Brien finds himself growing attached to Cheryl.

Avoiding mawkishness is one of 'The Sessions’' biggest accomplishments. They film isn’t overly sentimental or rosy, and it depicts O’Brien’s journey and daily life as one filled with joy, but also pain. O’Brien is depicted as a good man, but his disability is not portrayed as ennobling, or a blessing in disguise, which is refreshing. Cheryl is also an interesting character. She believes in her work, and her ability to help people with unusual sexual hang-ups or difficulties, but still finds herself challenged and occasionally overwhelmed by O’Brien’s need and condition. 'The Sessions' is also populated with interesting secondary characters, such as the priest and Vera. We learn a great deal about the seriousness with which O’Brien takes his Catholic faith, and grow to appreciate the decency of his attendants.

Click here to read more.

The Essay That Inspired "The Sessions"
Published on December 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

I just saw "The Sessions," which I'll probably review tomorrow.

In the meantime, here's the essay that partially inspired the film, in which disabled poet Mark O'Brien writes about losing his virginty with a sex surrogate.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on December 10, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Docks of New York (1928) ****

The Model Couple (1977) ***

Lincoln (2012) ***1/2

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (2012) ***1/2

The Maid (2009) ***1/2

The Railway Children (1970) ***

Watching "Lincoln"
Published on December 4, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "Lincoln."

Here's an excerpt:

"Most biopics are, at best, average films — anchored by great performances, but undermined by conventional and unimaginative filmmaking. And yet I’ve always had a soft spot for the biopic. I almost always learn something from these films, and even the most mediocre ones generally inspire me to read more about the subject of the movie I’ve just watched.

I was pleased to discover that the new Steven Spielberg film 'Lincoln' is a very good biopic — one of the best of recent years. Like all biopics, “Lincoln” has its flaws, but what’s good about the film is really, really good, and very much worth seeing and thinking about.

The movie’s greatest accomplishment is its earthy portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Here is a Lincoln who feels like a real man rather than simply a revered historical figure or some kind of saintly politician. I was actually kind of amazed by how well the film conveyed what it might have been like to listen to Lincoln tell a story, or sit on his cabinet, or serve on the White House staff. He always comes across as the smartest person in the room, deeply committed to saving the union and ending slavery, but acutely aware of the compromises that are needed to accomplish his goals. We see him as a husband and father who still grieves the loss of his son and struggles to deal with his difficult wife. This Lincoln is funny, shrewd, sad, tired, talkative and observant. One of the movie’s best images depicts him striding down a corridor, alone. In a weird way, the film makes it both easy and difficult to relate to him. He was obviously a man of great intelligence and gifts, but one who found himself worn down by the demands of his job and domestic life. Credit, of course, should go to Daniel Day-Lewis, for his amazing portrayal of the 16th president."

Click here to read the whole thing.

John Waters, Christmas Films and More!
Published on December 3, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the John Waters Christmas show in Albany, and list some of my favorite Christmas films, with an emphasis on the more demented and horrific ones.

Here's an excerpt:

"I generally do not get very excited about Christmas-themed events. In fact, I try to avoid them. I like the singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, but when she brought her Christmas variety show to The Egg a while back, I wasn’t interested.

However, I had a much different reaction when I heard that the film director John Waters, a leading auteur of trash cinema, was bringing a Christmas show to The Egg. I knew immediately that I wanted to go, and not just because I’ve always regretted not seeing John Waters when he visited my college campus, although that was part of it. No, I wanted to go because a John Waters Christmas show sounded completely demented, and I like demented things.

Waters basically told stories and jokes, many of them quite tasteless (which is exactly what I expected, because he’s John Waters), for more than an hour before taking questions from the audience. He reminisced about the time vandals stole the baby Jesus out of a nearby creche when he was a kid, how the neighborhood banded together to find the perpetrators, and how even at a young age he related to the vandals rather than the upstanding citizens from the neighborhood. He also described stealing Christmas gifts from people’s cars, his friend and muse Divine’s obsession with Christmas decorations and his own obsession with Alvin the Chipmunk. He said that his favorite Christmas movie is 1980’s 'Christmas Evil,' adding, 'I hate the normal [films].'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on December 3, 2012 by Sara Foss

Burn After Reading (2008) ***1/2

The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008) ***

Withouth You I'm Nothing (1990) ***

Bandslam (2009) ***

Watching "Skyfall"
Published on November 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new James Bond film, "Skyfall."

Here's an excerpt:

"I’m not a hardcore Bond fan, but I have enjoyed the occasional Bond film.

They provide good escapist fun, especially if you like cars, gadgets, colorful villains, shootings, exotic locales, sexual repartee and attractive men and women in tuxedos and evening gowns, respectively.

I’m not sure how profound the average Bond film is, and I’m not sure it matters — these films are entertainments of the first order, and I doubt most of the people who go to see a Bond film leave the theater clamoring for more psychological depth. The great thing about Bond is that you know what he’s all about as soon as the credits roll, and you can just lean back and take it all in. What’s interesting about the new Bond movie, 'Skyfall,' is how much it wants to provide the same old escapist thrills Bond films always have, while also exploring Bond’s back story, dark side and motivations. And for the most part, director Sam Mendes strikes a pretty good balance between the almost campy surface pleasures of a Bond film, and the 21st century’s apparent desire for brooding, angsty heroes. This Bond movie is a lot of fun, but it hits some unexpected grim notes."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on November 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Fireworks Wednesday (2006) ***1/2

Flight (2012) ***

The Atomic Cafe (1982) ***1/2

Skyfall (2012) ***1/2

Watching "Flight"
Published on November 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Denzel Washington movie, "Flight."

Here's an excerpt:

"The new movie 'Flight' is many things — an adult drama about addiction, a star vehicle for Denzel Washington, a character study disguised as a thriller — but about two-thirds of the way through I began thinking of it as a horror movie. Except instead of wanting to scream 'No! Don’t go in there!' at the screen, I wanted to yell, 'No! Don’t open the mini-bar!' But of course the mini-bar is opened. Characters in these types of movies have a choice: to open the mini-bar or not open it. When they stop opening it, the movie stops.

In 'Flight,' Denzel Washington gives one of his best performances as Whip Whitaker, a hot-shot pilot who also happens to be an alcoholic and drug addict. The previews for 'Flight' made the film look like the story of a good and innocent man, wrongly accused of something he did not do, but the opening scenes make it clear that Whip is no innocent: He spends the night drinking with his flight attendant girlfriend, snorts some cocaine to wake himself up, puts on his captain uniform, and heads to the airport for a commuter flight. He steers the plane through some rough weather, drinks some vodka, takes a nap at the controls and is jolted awake when a mechanical failure causes the plane to nosedive toward Atlanta.

As everybody on board freaks out, Whip calmly instructs his colleagues and guides the plane to a rough landing in a field. His actions are amazing and heroic (the film makes it clear that if Whip hadn’t been at the controls, every passenger on board would have died), but the National Transportation Safety Board still has questions. Such as: Why did Whip’s blood test, taken while he was in the hospital, reveal that his blood alcohol level was beyond the legal limit? And if drink service was suspended due to turbulence, why were empty bottles of vodka recovered from the wreck? Fortuantely, Whip has the backing of his union rep, Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), and a shrewd attorney, Hugh (Don Cheadle). Neither of these men are fooled by Whip’s stories and excuses, and they make it clear he must stop drinking, at least until he’s cleared of wrongdoing. 'We can get you help,' Hugh tells Whip. But Whip declines help, which is basically the story of his life."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "Charlie is My Darling"
Published on November 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Rolling Stones have got to be one of the better documented bands in cinema.

They perform in one of the greatest music documentaries ever, "Gimme Shelter," while great directors such as Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard have filmed the band. Somewhat amazingly, the Rolling Stones are also the subject of two intimate cinema verite documentaries that were never released theatrically. One of these documentaries, 1972's "Cocksucker Blues," depicts drug use, groupies and general, all-around debauchery, and can only be shown if the director, Robert Frank, is physically present. This weird arrangement is the result of a court order; the Stones felt that the documentary was embarrassing, while Frank wanted it released. The other documentary, "Charlie is My Darling," was shot during the band's two-day tour of Ireland in 1965, but made its world premiere at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City this fall.

The Rolling Stones celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, which has led to a surge of interest in all things Stones. Last week "Charlie is My Darling" played in Schenectady, and the film will be released on DVD earlier this month. I happened to catch screening in Schenectady, and am happy to report that "Charlie is My Darling" looks fantastic. Filmed in a gritty-yet-lustrous black-and-white, the film clocks in at a trim 50 minutes, and capture the Stones just after "(I Can Get No) Satisfaction" was released. The band is still playing relatively small clubs, and their personal safety often seems to be in peril, as screaming fans mob the stage and line the streets hoping for a glimpse of the bands. The Stones come across as thoughtful and relatively young lads, amazed by their growing fame and intrigued by their place in the cultural firmament. Mick, in particular, seems sharp, focused and unusually candid.


Recent Viewing: Films
Published on November 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Four Feathers (1939) ***1/2

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005) ***

Mother and Child (2009) **1/2

Seven Psychopaths (2012) **1/2

Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight (2009) ***

Charlie is My Darling (1966) ***1/2

Holy Rollers (2010) ***



Watching "Seven Psychopaths"
Published on November 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "Seven Psychopaths."

Here's an excerpt:

Watching 'Seven Psychopaths' is a little bit like traveling back to the 1990s, when up-and-coming directors were eager to be crowned the next Quentin Tarantino, and 'Fight Club' was all the rage.

Like 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Seven Psychopaths' is a stylish dark comedy that attempts to wed laughs to shocking violence, while also exploring weighty philosophical and religious questions about heaven and hell and the nature of evil. It is the second film from Martin McDonagh, who directed the cult hit “In Bruges,” which focused on a gangster in the midst of an existential crisis. 'Seven Psychopaths' features villains and gangsters, but it tells the story of a screenwriter in crisis: Martin (Colin Farrell) is struggling to write a new screenplay. He wants to tell a non-violent gangster story that’s about peace and love, rather than men with guns; ideally, he tells his friends, the film will end not with a shoot-out, but with the characters driving off into the desert. Martin’s best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), tries to help him. Billy is a struggling actor who runs a dog kidnapping scam with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken): The men kidnap a dog, wait for the owner to post a reward, and then return the dog and collect the reward. One day Billy and Hans make the mistake of kidnapping the shih-tzu owned by gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), and Martin soon finds himself face to face with a scary real-life gangster who is not at all interested in ending things peacefully."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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