by Bryant Frazer In 1971, Pauline Kael did her best to kill Orson Welles. In "Raising Kane," an essay originally published in THE NEW YORKER and later used as a lengthy introduction to the published screenplay, she argued that Welles had unfairly taken authorial credit for a film whose real creative force was Welles's credited co-screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz. Kael's piece was persuasive but hardly comprehensive, cherry-picking evidence in an effort to make a liar of Welles. (In his definitive 1978 book The Making of Citizen Kane, Robert Carringer described Kael's charge that Welles did not contribute to the script as "a flagrant misrepresentation," although he did allow that Welles may have hoped not to credit Mankiewicz.) Making the case against Kane was an opportunity for Kael to escalate her ongoing crusade against the auteur theory; it doesn't seem that she held any personal grudge against Welles, especially given her loving notice for his Chimes at Midnight, made just a few years earlier. But for the aging Welles, by that time a subject of mockery in Hollywood who struggled to finance even the most bargain-basement film projects, the apparently unprovoked attack must have stung. F for Fake is his elegant response: a good-natured but deeply-felt riposte, executed with his considerable showmanship and meant to humble artist and critic alike.
***/**** Image B+ Sound B- Extras B- starring Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Carrie Lorraine screenplay by Ed Naha directed by Stuart Gordon
by Bryant Frazer A cross between "Hansel and Gretel" and The Old Dark House, Dolls is director Stuart Gordon's idea of a family-friendly horror movie. That is, it puts a little girl in peril from square one and admires her serenity and good-heartedness in the face of danger all around. The dark house belongs to the Hartwickes, an adorable elderly couple with an extensive collection of murderously ambulatory dolls. The little girl is 7-year-old Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine), and the peril comes not from the old folks or their killer figurines but from her lousy parents--a loveless father and stepmother who have brought her on vacation only because joint custody keeps the child-support payments low. Joining the unhappy family at Hartwicke Manor on a dark and stormy night are fellow travellers-in-refuge Ralph (Stephen Lee), an earnest but overgrown man-child, and Isabel (Bunty Bailey, best-known from A-Ha's "Take on Me" music video) and Enid (Cassie Stuart), the shifty rocker-girl hitchhikers he picked up. Naturally, the guests start to disappear one by one. Who will be left at the end of the night?
by Bill Chambers Though in the vein of the crude, crass characters Melissa McCarthy has given us since her breakout performance in Bridesmaids, McCarthy's Tammy swaggers onto the screen with a presumptuousness for which the actress's young but popular big-screen persona can't fully account. Even more than other SNL spinoff Sims like Joe Dirt or Hot Rod, there's something uncannily familiar about Tammy, and the maddening struggle to contextualize her makes her, ironically, all the more inexplicable. Tammy is about the adventure that spirals out from one very bad day for the title heroine: In quick succession, her car hits a deer, she gets fired, and she catches her husband (Nat Faxon) wining and dining their neighbour (Toni Collette, in perhaps the most thankless role of her career). But Tammy's slovenliness, minimum-wage job, and obvious lack of education--she doesn't know what "pattern" means--contrast sharply with details like the good housekeeping of her home, Faxon's zombie-like unflappability, and the mis-typecasting of Allison Janney in soccer-ready Solondz mode as her mom. A shorthand bit of characterization the filmmakers seem to nurture (by putting Tammy on a jet ski and casting Steve Little) sees the overbearing Tammy as the distaff equivalent to Kenny Powers of "Eastbound and Down"--but Kenny had legitimate talent and success behind him, thus explaining, if not justifying, not only his monstrous ego, but also some of the slack people cut him. Without either that foundational backstory or the luxury of an established cultural identity, Tammy remains a private joke between McCarthy and her co-writer/director/husband, Ben Falcone.
*½/**** starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins directed by Francis Lawrence
by Walter Chaw In this episode of "Katniss Loves Peeta--No, Gale. No, Peeta! No, Gale", Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) spends a lot of time underground, delivering speeches and crying. It's an extended entry in hormonal-teen mood-swing theatre, TheHunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (hereafter Mockingjay 1), an allegory not for political corruption and the Orwellian influence of media, but for what it's like to be a teenage girl no one understands or ever could. It's "Are You There God? It's Me, Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern"--a Judy Blume coming-of-age opera exuded out by Anne McCaffrey. It has all the feelings. Mostly feelings of martyrdom, but the noble kind that you choose to defend the honour of one of your boyfriends--the less handsome one, so there's a problem, amiright ladies? It's not about looks, though, as Mockingjay 1 takes a moment to remind when some old guy says they shouldn't put Katniss in makeup because it makes her "look 35," handily identifying exactly the demographic assembled for this film: tweens and everyone else pretending they didn't glance at J-Law's naughty selfies. Feelings of tremendous, overwhelming, Titanic-like levels of love, too, where the only way to really represent how much you love this boy (or that one--no, this one) is by standing on the corpses of your loved ones and a few thousand bystanders. It's that much love. You couldn't understand. Only my diary could understand.
by Angelo Muredda Clint Eastwood has never been the most self-referential filmmaker, preferring shopworn competence to flashy displays of idiosyncrasy. But it's hard to imagine he's not at least slightly gaming his audience throughout Jersey Boys, an otherwise limp tour through the Four Seasons' early discography. What else are we to make of the gag where baby-faced songwriter Bob Gaudio (Chris Klein dead ringer Erich Bergen) catches an image of his director's grizzled mug in "Rawhide" on a hotel TV? While that feels like a pretty straightforward joke on Eastwood's uncanny endurance all the way from "Sherry" (1962) to Jersey Boys the Broadway musical (2005), it's a bit harder to read an equally surreal moment like the dispute between producer and sometime lyricist Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and wise-guy guitarist Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) over the band's sound. "I'm hearing it in sky blue," Crewe whines in the middle of a recording session, "and you're giving me brown." On the one hand, it's not like Eastwood to take the piss out of his own work, but on the other, what better analogy for his adaptation process can there be than the conversion of a sky-blue all-American songbook to a shit-brown sung résumé, rendered all in blacks and greys save for the odd splash of salmon and the occasional scrap of tweed?
by Walter Chaw The first Broncos game I remember watching was on the couch with my father. October 16, 1977. I was four. They were playing the Oakland Raiders--hated rivals, I'd come to understand--and featured players from my eternal morning like Craig Morton, Haven Moses (who I had the pleasure of sharing a couple pitchers and a few dozen hot wings with a decade ago), Riley Odoms, Louis Wright, and Otis Armstrong. I have all of their signatures on an old ball, gathering dust on a bookshelf in my office. I have all of their rookie cards in little plastic holders. Since that first game, I've seen every one in its entirety save four, most of them in real time. (I was in the hospital for some reason or other for three of those.) When the Broncos won their first Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers in 1998, I cried like a baby and worried for hours afterwards that there had been some mistake--that the universe could take it all away.
****/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras A starring Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James directed by Jack Clayton
by Walter Chaw Jack Clayton's incomparable tale of sexual repression and a very particular vintage of Victorian, feminine hysteria opens with shadows, wrung hands, and the sound of weeping. The Innocents is of a kind with Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" and Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress": that marriage of high burlesque and menacing metaphysics that is on the one hand dense and open to unravelling, and on the other as smothering and lush as a Raymond Chandler hothouse. By opening in the exact same way as Jacques Tourneur's/Val Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie--a flashback/forward to a non-diegetic scene, a sitting-room interview, a claustrophobic setting laced with musk and frustration and the ghosts of the sins of the father--it announces itself as an expressionistic piece orbiting around a Brontë heroine. Having Truman Capote adapt Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, right in the midst of his In Cold Blood period (two taxonomists of beasts in the jungle of the Id), is an act of genuine inspiration. Their shared illness infects the film.
by Bryant FrazerThe Normal Heart begins in 1981, as a ferry pulls in to Fire Island Pines, the nexus of social life for well-off gay New Yorkers who prize sunshine and sexual freedom. Stepping off that boat is Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), a writer from New York who seems at once titillated and disturbed by the buff, barely-dressed men suddenly surrounding him. Weeks, it turns out, is a notorious buzzkill. He wrote an infamous novel criticizing promiscuity ("All I said was having so much sex makes finding love impossible," he objects when called on it), and he resists joining the party with his sexually-active friends, instead watching from the sidelines when their dancing gets dirty. Still, he's human, and wanders into the woods in search of more ephemeral--and anonymous--companionship. As he leaves the island, a newspaper headline draws his attention: "Rare Cancer Is Diagnosed in 41 Homosexuals." And so it begins.
***/**** starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan directed by Christopher Nolan
by Walter Chaw When my wife was pregnant with my daughter, we thought she would miscarry. We'd been through several miscarriages already; the doctors weren't optimistic. I don't know why we agreed to risk it again, the crippling grief and unrecoverable loss. We told ourselves that if we couldn't carry this last child to term, we'd console ourselves with a long vacation, the two of us. The appointment with the doctor the day we were to learn the timing of our misfortune, he found a heartbeat, and we held our breath for the next seven months, through a difficult pregnancy and birth, until she was here. My daughter turned 11 last week and she's perfect. Her brother is 8, and he's perfect, too. I spent the first several months with my daughter as her primary caregiver; I was teaching and writing and my wife was making our living, and I have a relationship with my daughter unusual for it, I think. I look back and it's not her birth that was miraculous--as miracles go, that one happens a few hundred thousand times a day. No, the miracle is what I suddenly understood about the world now that I was the happy accessory to someone else's happiness and security.
***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C+ starring Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley screenplay by Linda Woolverton directed by Robert Stromberg
by Walter Chaw A gyno-centric reimagining of Disney's own Sleeping Beauty, visual-effects guy Robert Stromberg's directorial debut Maleficent (from a script by never-good Disney house-overwriter Linda Woolverton) takes all the ingredients for a horrible disaster and somehow wrestles a fitfully fascinating film from them. It hates men, that much is certain. Paints them as alternately servile and monstrous. Good men follow orders and are easily intimidated; bad men are sexually dangerous and violent. Good men know their place, led about on a tether and bullied into situations by women in groups or singly; and the rest, well...sufficed to say that Sharlto Copley, the most Ellis-from-Die-Hard human, is cast as chief BigBad, the good king Stefan. The film even goes so far as to suggest that romantic, heterosexual love is a sham, a dangerous one at that--something it tries to soften with a couple of doe-eyed exchanges during the epilogue, though I'm not buying it. In fact, had Maleficent truly committed to its themes of feminine empowerment and rage, had it linked them together hand-in-hand without entire agonizing stretches of Disney-fication, it could have entered into the same conversation as Tarantino's Kill Bills. Here's another film with a kick-ass female protagonist who finds strength in motherhood. Alas, for as often as it's great, it's limited by what its masters will allow.
Turist ****/**** starring Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wttergren, Vincent Wettergren written and directed by Ruben Östlund
by Walter Chaw As so few people saw the magnificent The Loneliest Planet (including a few who actually reviewed it), it's hardly a spoiler to say that Ruben Östlund's Force Majeure is essentially the droller, married version of Julia Loktev's masterpiece of relational/gender dynamics. Set at an exclusive ski resort in the French Alps, the picture follows handsome workaholic Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his beautiful wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), as they spend a week with their two adorable children in what should be a winter paradise. On the first day, something terrible happens and, more to the point, Tomas doesn't act or react in the way one would expect of a husband and father, leading to a series of increasingly awkward conversations between not only the couple, but also their friends Matts (Kristofer Hivju) and Matts's much-younger girlfriend, Fanny (Fanni Metelius). The brilliance of Force Majeure is how carefully it builds itself to the "big event" and then, after, how perfectly Östlund captures the way people talk to one another, whether married with children or just starting off. It's a withering essay on masculine roles and ego--one, too, on the parts women play in easing or exacerbating those expectations. It's amazing.
Virus */**** Image C+ Sound B Extras B starring Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Selan Karay, Robert O'Neil screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, J.M. Cunilles directed by Bruno Mattei
Rats - Notte di terrore *½ Image C- Sound B Extras B starring Richard Raymond, Janna Ryann, Alex McBride, Richard Cross screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, Hervé Piccini directed by Bruno Mattei
by Bryant Frazer It's quite possible there is no better-known director of truly terrible genre movies than the late Italian filmmaker Bruno Mattei. Though I've not seen any other Mattei films, I feel comfortable making that assessment based solely on the "blood-soaked double feature" assembled here by the B-movie mavens at Blue Underground. By any rational measure, Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of Terror are cheesy barrel-scrapings, budget-starved and blandly offensive horror counterfeits. But by the standards of Mattei's oeuvre--which also includes nunsploitation, Nazisploitation, women-in-prison flicks, and mondo-style "documentaries"--they are the cream that rises to the top of the milk. Unless you're willing to make a case for his nunsploitation flick The Other Hell, or maybe one of the early Nazi sexploitation pictures, these two films seem to form the cornerstone of Mattei's reputation, such as it is, among genre buffs.