***½/**** | Image A- Sound A Extras B starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, George Riddle written and directed by Ti West
by Walter ChawThe Innkeepers, Ti West's awesome follow-up to his exceptional The House of the Devil, finds adorable, inhaler-adorned, pocket-Reese Witherspoon Claire (Sara Paxton) and her Jeffrey Combs-manqué co-worker Luke (Pat Healey) the titular entry-level hospitality-management types at the mostly-unoccupied, and haunted, Yankee Pedlar Inn. Over the course of their last weekend there and in the pursuit of memorializing local folklore, Claire and Luke set up a webpage touting the inn's supernatural qualities and go about capturing footage with which to occupy bandwidth. Little do they know that there might actually be something clanking about in the attic (or the cellar, as the case may be), and as the Inn gathers a couple of guests--'80s TV mom Leanne (Kelly McGillis) and an old guy (George Riddle) with a very particular room request--things come, as they say, to a head.
*/**** | Image B- Sound C starring Mick Jagger, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Mark McManus, Ken Goodlet screenplay by Tony Richardson and Ian Jones directed by Tony Richardson
by Walter Chaw Somewhere between the islets of McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, just off the coast of Performance and Mad Dog Morgan, floats Tony Richardson's less visited, incomprehensible, woefully miscalculated Ned Kelly. Edited with a cheese grater and scored with bizarre faux-Aussie folk by strange bedfellows Shel Silverstein and Waylon Jennings, all while giving lie to David Mamet-as-director's claims to originality in dispensing with exposition in favour of oblique, impenetrable dialogue and stilted performances, Ned Kelly is also home to one of the worst performances by a rock star in a world that knows Graffiti Bridge and Glitter. Really just the kissing cousin of such of its contemporary counter-cultural misfires as Myra Breckinridge and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the panicked 1970 policy of giving the kids what they want, whatever that might be, is filtered here through the disturbing prism of a 42-year-old Englishman's perspective. (Admittedly, as angry young men go, Mick Jagger is a better choice than Breckinridge's Rex Reed.) Curiously though, as it so often does, the rare convergence of everything gone wrong makes for pretty compulsive viewing.
***½/**** | Image B+ Sound A- Extras A- starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie written and directed by Charles Chaplin
by Bryant Frazer In the late-1930s, as a little man named Adolf Hitler prepared the fearsome German army to run roughshod over the country's European neighbours, Charles Chaplin, one of the greatest of all film artists, responded to the threat of war in the only way that made sense: He prepared a new comedy, The Great Dictator, that mocked Hitler directly.
*/**** | Image A Sound B- Extras C- starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel screenplay by Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg directed by Jake Kasdan
by Jefferson Robbins It's time for a teacher-centric dark comedy, I think. American public education, always beset, is under threat today by moralists, union-busters, profiteers, economic malaise, and taxpayers who simply refuse to vote for better school funding. We say that children are our future, yet we bus them off every day to institutions we no longer find trustworthy. Federal regulation collides with common sense, and all that matters in the end is filling in the bubbles on a Scantron sheet. Education needs its own The Hospital or Network--something like an update of Arthur Hiller's 1984 Teachers, but with more focus, and better bite. What it doesn't need, or at least doesn't benefit from, is Bad Teacher.
***½/**** | Image B Sound B- starring John Candy, Amy Madigan, Jean Louisa Kelly, Macaulay Culkin written and directed by John Hughes
by Bill Chambers It's not John Hughes's best film, but Uncle Buck could be his funniest, as well as his saddest. Saddest for many reasons, some of which are beyond the movie's control. John Hughes is gone, John Candy's gone, Macaulay Culkin's innocence is gone; because of its place on the precipice of Hughes's '90s decline, revisiting Uncle Buck has long been a bittersweet prospect, but now that it's definitively the last good John Hughes film, it's taken on the funereal feeling of old home movies starring dead relatives. Still, the sadness isn't entirely from without. There is in this movie a raging pathos that begins with the pariahdom of the title character and continues through a motif that finds some lost soul standing in long-shot beneath an archway (forming a makeshift picture frame), gazing uncomprehendingly at someone else, the very portrait of quiet suffering. Buck's on the receiving end of one of these pitiful stares at least once, when the movie's putative love interest, Chanice (Amy Madigan), walks in on him dancing with a neighbour lady (Laurie Metcalf). The song on the soundtrack is "Laugh Laugh," The Beau Brummels' spiteful "I told you so" to a woman who chose the wrong man, and as Chanice's heartbreak wafts through the air, lead singer Sal Valentino, sounding suddenly compassionate, croons, "Lonely... Oh, so lonely..."1
****/**** | Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C+ starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison; adaptation by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw
She sang beyond the genius of the sea. The water never formed to mind or voice, Like a body wholly body, fluttering Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry, That was not ours although we understood, Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. --"The Idea of Order at Key West," Wallace Stevens
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS */**** starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz screenplay by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard directed by Drew Goddard
LOCKOUT **/**** starring Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Peter Stormare screenplay by Stephen Saint Leger, James Mather & Luc Besson directed by Saint & Mather
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Drew Goddard's (and Joss Whedon's, you won't be able to forget) unfortunate giant middle finger The Cabin in the Woods takes a shit-eating high-concept only to do nothing interesting with it for about 80 of its 100 minutes. Because the high-concept is the crux of the film and the elbow of the argument, as they say, stop right here if you want to stay a spoiler virgin. For me, I went in not knowing anything about the movie--didn't even see the trailer--on the back of assurances from many respected friends and colleagues that this was, in fact, a must-see for the genre fan. What I should have asked was, "What genre?" The Cabin in the Woods is Scream for what Joe Bob Briggs used to call "Spam in a cabin" flicks, in which a group of nubile youngsters piles into an unreliable junker to spend a fateful weekend in some backwoods hick oasis where they're picked off, one by one, by some combination of demons and Ted Nugent. The difference being that Scream was cold, nihilistic, scary as hell, and a lovely example of the thing it was simultaneously deconstructing. The reason The Cabin in the Woods is neither revolutionary nor "ground-breaking" is that everything it does has already been done, repeatedly and better, and that rather than serving as a sterling example of that which it is trying to pinion (thus establishing its credibility as satire, see?), it's really just another instalment in the live-action Scooby-Doo franchise.
***/**** | Image A- Sound B Extras B+ starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris screenplay by David Webb Peoples directed by Clint Eastwood
Even if time and HBO's "Deadwood" have made Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven into something less revisionist and more just a furthering of the Siegel/Leone mythology, the fact remains that the picture's earned its place in the company of other flawed masterpieces like The Searchers and The Man from Laramie. At the time of its release in 1992, as my editor Bill once ably laid out, its pending release was actually seen as a joke, earned at the expense of a trio of legendary, completely-indefensible flops. Its serious-mindedness--what appeared to be an unsentimental accounting for the remorseless bastards Eastwood had parlayed into immortality--therefore took audiences expecting another Heartbreak Ridge, "western edition," by surprise.
**½/**** starring Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Megan Echikunwoke written and directed by Whit Stillman
Damsels in Distress is a hard movie to sink your teeth into--a stick of gum soaked in brine. Whit Stillman's first effort since 1998's The Last Days of Disco, it's a light-headed fantasia that's committed to its gonzo vision, best expressed by a character who calls her favourite soap scent "very precise." Very precise, indeed: Less wealthy than Metropolitan's socialites, Damsels' cadre of female sophomores breathe even more rarefied air. Though each actress works her peculiar cadence into these pronouncements to uncanny effect, they seem possessed by their creator even more than is typical for Stillman's characters, genteelly handling accusations of hypocrisy with defenses like, "We are all flawed. Must that render us mute to the flaws of others?" Stillman's rigorously formal dialogue is always a trial-by-fire for actors--easily passed in Last Days by Kate Beckinsale, for example, but stumbled over by Matt Keesler, who looks embarrassed to identify as a "loyal adherent to the disco movement"--but something's different this time. Always accused of being hermetic but usually too enamoured with other people's ephemera (e.g., collections of Scrooge McDuck memorabilia) for that to be true, this time he's properly set up shop in the projection booth at the back of his mind.
***½/**** starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale screenplay by Terence Davies, based on the play by Terence Rattigan directed by Terence Davies
In Of Time and the City, Terence Davies's self-described love song and eulogy for his native Liverpool, the director halts his psycho-geographic walking-tour of old haunts at one point to pay backhanded tribute to the Merseybeat movement. With the meteoric rise of The Beatles, he pronounces in sulky baritone, the well-crafted love songs on which he was weaned became, overnight, as antiquated as curling tongs. Yet just as abruptly as pop turned beat, the young Davies went another way: "I discovered Mahler," he drawls, "and responded completely to his every overwrought note." Davies's studiously unfashionable gravitation to the Romantic, largely for its affinities with the torch songs he so recently mourned, finds apt expression in his sixth feature, a beautifully overripe adaptation of Terence Rattigan's 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea. Like its source, the film chronicles the misfortunes of Hester (Rachel Weisz), a judge's wife in postwar London who leaves her cerebral older spouse, William (Simon Russell Beale), for sexual fulfilment with wastrel Royal Air Force pilot Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), and subsequently finds herself unloved and in limbo. Only a recent convert to such reckless emotional indulgence, Hester, when we meet her, is very much the Mahler sort. Despite its apparent distance from more clearly autobiographical films like Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, then, Davies is an ideal steward for this material--every bit as attentive to matters of exquisite sadness as his protagonist.
***/**** starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber screenplay by Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg directed by Michael Dowse
by Walter Chaw The best hockey movie since Slap Shot and the most pleasant and well-meaning Canuck-sploitation flick since Strange Brew, Michael Dowse's Goon is a prime example of how to make an insightful guy-movie without indulging in the cheap scatology of American Pie and its offspring. Not that there's anything wrong with cheap scatology, mind, only that it seems played-out, and so it's something of a revelation to find that franchise's own secret weapon, Seann William "Stifler" Scott (who, let's face it, is impossible not to like ever since he was brought to orgasm through manual stimulation of his prostate in that franchise), so quiet and unassuming in the title role as dim, sweet Doug Glatt. Doug's a natural-born bouncer in an armpit dive, see, who, after laying out a local bruiser taking his beef into the stands, is offered a shot at becoming a full-time enforcer for a bus-and-motel league. He shows up at his first practice wobbly in figure skates, proceeds to give his teammates a sound beating for their hooted derision, and is promptly called up to the bigger minor-league team the Halifax Highlanders.
**/**** starring Colin Salmon, Karen LeBlanc, Fulvio Cecere, Michael Xavier screenplay by Robert Adetuyi directed by Alfons Adetuyi
There's a nice bit in Alfons Adetuyi's debut feature High Chicago where gambler and aspiring cinema proprietor Sam (Colin Salmon) screens Ralph Nelson's Lilies of the Field for his wife (Karen LeBlanc) at a deserted drive-in theatre. The Sidney Poitier star vehicle, about a roving handyman who stops at an Arizona farm and meets a group of nuns who are convinced he's been divinely commissioned to build them a chapel, is a smart intertext for a movie about a man on his own quixotic journey to build a drive-in theatre in Africa, not least because Poitier's performance earned him the first competitive Oscar for an African-American man. This isn't the only time the film, set in 1975, recalls important milestones in black popular culture: Sam's slow-motion, funk-inflected entrance to the poker table in the opening scene sets him up as a contemporary of figures like Richard Roundtree and Ken Norton, while his high-stakes gambling spree is scored to Fela Kuti's "Let's Start." It's the most compelling example, though, because it rises above blank name-checking and provides sorely-needed context to a narrative that too often trades on clichés about gamblers going for one last game. There's probably a good movie to be made from the outline of brother Robert Adetuyi's screenplay, and surely something interesting about this yearning to trace a lineage of black entrepreneurial spirit starting from Poitier--an obvious target, but why not?--yet High Chicago settles short of the goal.
***/**** directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein
A few minutes into Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's Fightville, we see a couple of young MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) trainees wrestling in the stark confines of a shithole tucked away in a Louisiana strip-mall. The gym's popping red-on-white colour scheme resembles nothing so much as the Space Station V lounge, but the weirdest thing might be the (unseen) stereo blasting Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" to set the mood. Tucker and Epperlein have a good eye and ear for this strange minutiae, and it's this low-key humanity that makes their follow-up to more sombre, Iraq-centered docs like How to Fold a Flag and Gunner Palace as compelling as it is. While an early backstage glimpse of bandaged wrists and wastebaskets overflowing with bloodied paper towels suggests a high-minded melodrama about the corporeal cost of fighting for a living (think The Wrestler), the filmmakers thankfully turn out to be much more interested in the daily grind that a commitment to the sport entails.
(Hearat Shulayim) ***/**** starring Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi written and directed by Joseph Cedar
Joseph Cedar's Footnote (Hearat Shulayim) begins with what looks like a son's loving tribute to his intellectual origins. Rising to accept his invitation to the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, slick Talmud scholar Uriel Scholnik (Lior Ashkenazi) waxes reverent about the professional example set by his uncompromising father, Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba), himself a Talmud scholar who spent the better part of his adult years toiling away on textual variants observed in microfiche while his son cut his teeth on high theory. We stay tight on Eliezer, his head bowed and his mouth locked in a grimace, as his son tells an anecdote about a survey he had to fill out as a primary student, identifying his father's profession. "Say that I'm a teacher," the younger Scholnik recalls Eliezer saying, portraying a man at once too modest to own up to his repute as a philologist and fixated on the pedagogical value of his work--an obsession Uriel claims to have happily inherited.