Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
**/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer directed by Catherine Hardwicke
by Bryant Frazer Author Stephenie Meyer says she wrote her first novel, Twilight, in three months' time, after the central idea came to her in a dream. Leaving aside the question of whether the notion of a moody teen vampire love story set in and around a high school in the Pacific Northwest is remarkable enough to require that the Muses mainline it directly into your subconscious, the romance of Bella Swan, a quiet, self-abnegating high-schooler from a broken home, and Edward Cullen, a smoking-hot vampire who sparkles under sunlight and has sworn off human flesh, hit a sweet spot. Teenage girls, especially, responded en masse to Meyer's vision of a smouldering, beautiful boy with the power to end your life at any moment but the grace and restraint to keep his hands to himself. Can you tame him? These sexual politics feel retrograde--the lovestruck nymphet at the mercy of a man forever struggling to keep his carnal desires at bay--but I try to steer clear of kink-shaming. If a strange relationship makes you swoon, whether it's molded into Twilight's denial-of-desire shtick or 50 Shades' bondage spectacle, that's your business and the movies can give you a way to explore that. Disapproving thinkpieces will blossom; feminism will survive.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
***/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas screenplay by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis directed by Mary Harron
by Bryant Frazer Books are often said to be "unfilmable," but it's the rare text that can be described as "unprintable." That was the fate that nearly befell Bret Easton Ellis's notoriously graphic first-person serial-killer memoir, American Psycho. Comprising mainly page after page of vacuous conversation among young and moneyed Wall Street types and littered with references to high-end brand names, American Psycho's internal monologue reveals the wealth-addled mindset of Patrick Bateman, an investment banker and tasteless sociopath who specializes in mergers and acquisitions and expresses himself through hateful diatribes, hilariously wrong-headed pop-culture critiques, and the occasional torturous homicide, described in sickening detail. As the book neared release, publisher Simon & Schuster faced pressure to drop it from both inside and outside the company. Feminists attacked it as a how-to manual for misogyny, murder, and mutilation. TIME published a passage about a woman being skinned, while SPY excerpted a scene describing oral sex with a severed head. S&S's own marketing department was reportedly queasy, and even the cover designer assigned to the book balked. Then, in November 1990, barely a month before its planned appearance on bookstore shelves, S&S yanked the book from its schedule. American Psycho survived, of course. Knopf picked it up and issued it as a Vintage paperback original in early 1991. But a number of booksellers declined to stock it, and a preponderance of critics excoriated it. Even so, it was enough of a success to catch the attention of producer Edward R. Pressman, who developed it as a feature project for Lionsgate, then an upstart film distributor based in Vancouver.
ZERO STARS/**** starring Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Bill Murray screenplay by Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow, based on the Jim Davis comic strip directed by Peter Hewitt
by Walter Chaw The sell-by date on a big-screen version of Jim Davis's flyblown syndicated comic strip-cum-merchandising empire "Garfield" expired at least twenty years ago, explaining in part why this Bill Murray-voiced abomination looks and acts so much like a giant hunk of rotten meat. It's corpse-soft, shambling along without much direction from its jellied brain, instantly alienating children with its snarky in-jokes about the cat's once-ubiquitous advertising appeal and pissing off adults with its die-cast dedication to being as worthless as possible. Parcelled off in little segments that approximate the rat-a-tat texture and length of the Sunday funnies but without the colour and for about seventeen times the price and potential headache, Garfield is trying so hard that it transfers its strain to anyone unfortunate enough to have gotten to the theatre after their first three choices were already sold-out.
ZERO STARS/**** starring Mariah Carey, Max Beesley, Eric Benet, Vondie Curtis Hall screenplay by Kate Lanier and John Wilder directed by Vondie Curtis Hall
by Walter Chaw About halfway through Glitter's bloated running time (105 minutes of unique hell), a foreign video director sagely complains: "The glitter can't overpower the artist!" The two problems with Glitter are that the glitter does overpower the artist, and that the glitter itself is preposterous, dreary, and dull. Billie (Mariah Carey) is enlisted as the back-up singer for an entirely talentless woman, and her voice is hijacked in a Singin' in the Rain intrigue, natch. But even as I was resigning myself to a customary "VH1 Movies That Rock" piece of dreck about the girl singing behind the curtain getting rewarded for her saintliness on the opening night of a national tour, Dice the DJ (Max Beesley) swoops in and makes Glitter an interracial version of screenwriter Kate Lanier's own What's Love Got To Do With It?. Only Glitter's Ike is a pretty nice guy, despite his jealousy/management problems, and this Tina is as expressive as a person on a horse's ration of Thorazine. When Billie tells Dice, after some very chaste lovemaking, that she has trouble trusting people, I whispered to the screen, "Honey, you probably shouldn't start at a guy named 'Dice' who sports a large gold pendant that says 'DICE.'"
ZERO STARS/**** starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Michael Douglas screenplay by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore directed by Mark Waters
by Walter Chaw Watching Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, a musty relic of Eisner's reign at Disney that first dreamed Ben Affleck as its star and a decade later settled on Matthew McConaughey (opposite, in some weird nepotistic recompense, Mrs. Affleck, Jennifer Garner), is excellent justification for the crib death of cynical, Eisner-hijacked, RKO-minted philosophies like Commerce over Genius. It's a retelling, I'm embarrassed to need to articulate, of Dickens's A Christmas Carol that substitutes Scrooge with serial womanizer Connor Mead (McConaughey) and Marley with old philanderer Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, doing a broad lounge-lizard caricature the spitting image of a mummified hybrid of Robert Evans and Howard Hefner). On the eve of brother Paul's (Breckin Meyer) marriage to shrill harridan Sandra (Lacey Chabert), Connor is visited by Wayne and the Ghosts of Girlfriends Past/Present/Future to show him that true love exists in the world beyond one-night-stands with supermodels--that it in fact exists between oily Connor and first love Jenny (Garner). What this means for the audience gaping in slack-jawed awe at this thing is a good thirty minutes of unearned sentiment tacked onto the end of a noxious payload of open misogyny, fag jokes, and gags that fall square on their face. Very simply, it's the most appalling, hateful, reptilian, inept film I've seen since Love Actually, and I wish I could say that I'm surprised that it was directed by Mark Waters and written by the braintrust behind Four Christmases.
**/**** starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black screenplay by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell directed by Aaron Schneider
by Walter Chaw Affable, warm, kinda boring, and decidedly minor, Aaron Schneider's Get Low doesn't really do anything wrong so much as it presents as an edgeless, inconsequential, protracted encounter with someone you feel you should be interested in but mostly want to politely usher out the door. It's a conversation killer: a movie about a performance, a particular kind of calling card bespeaking comfort with name actors who might be capable of delivering an awards-season prestige picture for a splinter company interested in a medium-return on a small investment. That's it. At the least, for what it's worth, Get Low operates with a great deal of compassion for its small-town denizens, resisting the easy shot at their provinciality in favour of something more along the lines of a Sling Blade. On that note, this South is neither as ugly nor as impoverished as Billy Bob's.
FUTURAMA: BENDER'S BIG SCORE (2007) ***½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B screenplay by Ken Keeler directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill
FUTURAMA: THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS (2008) **/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B- screenplay by Eric Kaplan directed by Peter Avanzino
FUTURAMA: BENDER'S GAME (2008) *½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B+ screenplay by Eric Horsted (parts one and two), Michael Rowe & Eric Kaplan (part three), David X. Cohen & Patric M. Verrone (part four) directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill
FUTURAMA: INTO THE WILD GREEN YONDER (2009) */**** Image A+ Sound A Extras C screenplay by Ken Keeler directed by Peter Avanzino
by Ian Pugh While Matt Groening with "The Simpsons" had an incalculable effect on how I perceived movies, television, and just about everything else in life, truth be told I probably love his "Futurama" more. What can I say other than that it came at the right time in my life--it was my "Star Trek", my "Buffy", my "Doctor Who": the first sci-fi property to capture my heart, and the avatar into which I poured all my nerdy obsessions. I appreciated its ability to strike a perfect balance of comedy and characterization that legitimized its silliest scenarios. Who would have guessed that the search for a long-lost seven-leaf clover could turn into a touching tribute to brotherly love? Subplots often wore thin and jokes fell flat, but looking back, there isn't a single half-hour in its initial 72-episode run that can be considered an outright failure. Unfortunately, the show never got a chance to shine, placed at a ridiculous timeslot on Fox--Sunday at 7PM, where it was certain to be either pre-empted or overshadowed by Sunday Night Football (jocks vs. nerds!)--and thus doomed to an inevitably short life. The final episode of the fourth season promised that "Futurama" would "see you on some other channel," but the initial salvation came from Fox's home-entertainment division: The producers were offered the chance to do a direct-to-video movie, which was eventually negotiated up to four movies, made and released over a span of three years. Of course, the success of these paved the way for a sixth season due to air on Comedy Central beginning this week, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
**/**** starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco, Ron Eldard screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel directed by Joe Roth
by Walter Chaw Given that Joe Roth (America's Sweethearts, Christmas with the Kranks) directed it, Freedomland's first and biggest surprise is that it's not worse than it is. Maybe that has something to do with Samuel L. Jackson delivering his best performance since Changing Lanes, or a Richard Price screenplay (adapted from his own novel) that, while overwritten throughout and unforgivably histrionic by its end, manages to present its tensions with topicality and a passing familiarity, at least, with the complexities of race relations. It's deliberately set in 1999, just a few years after South Carolina mommy Susan Smith drowned her two children in a lake and blamed a non-descript "black man" in a knit cap for their carjacking/abduction, and the similarities to the Smith story continue through to incredulity in the black community and the involvement of activist parental groups. (Freedomland meanwhile takes place a decade after another case it seems to be based on: Bostonian Charles Stuart killing his pregnant wife and blaming a black guy, stirring nearby black suburb Roxbury to outrage.) Marc Klaas to the film's Susan Smith is child-safety advocate Karen Collucci (Edie Falco), while the New Jersey barrens--and, in its narrative fulcrum, a burned-out children's asylum called "Freedomland"--stand in for the wilds of the Deep South. The picture abounds with such similes and ironies, existing in a bizarre, terrifying version of the United States where iron-willed armies of the bereaved march through the blighted wastes of urban decay with sticks and resignation, looking for lost children they know, more likely than not, to be dead and, more, victims of their own parents.
Los Lunes al sol **/**** starring Javier Bardem, Luis Tosar, José Ángel Egido, Nieve de Medina screenplay by Fernando León de Aranda, Ignacio del Moral directed by Fernando León de Aranda
FREAKY FRIDAY **/**** starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Harold Gould, Mark Harmon screenplay by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, based on the novel by Mary Rodgers directed by Mark S. Waters
Jian gui *½/**** starring Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou, Chutcha Rujinanon, Yut Lai So screenplay by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Oxide Pang & Danny Pang directed by Oxide Pang & Danny Pang
by Walter Chaw Fernando León de Aranda's Mondays in the Sun is probably best described as a Spanish version of Fred Schepisi's Last Orders: a journal of a depressed nation's aging gentry, ferrying one of their own on to the great symbolic hereafter. It aspires to the sort of myth of Vittorio Di Sica's neo-realism, portraying the plight of the dispossessed working class in its unadorned splendour, succeeding by the end only to be a repetitive tattoo around the threadbare theme of men defined by work and destroyed by obsolescence. A castration melodrama in several anecdotal horizontal movements, Mondays in the Sun loses steam and tests patience by making its one point to exhaustion. A scene where the great Javier Bardem rails at the fable of the grasshopper and the ants ("This is bunk! It has no sympathy for someone who is born a grasshopper instead of an ant!") says almost all there is to say about the film, while a lingering close-up of Bardem's battered mug in all its injured brute eloquence is, by itself again, enough.
***½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+ starring Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matthew O'Leary screenplay by Brent Hanley directed by Bill Paxton
by Walter Chaw Dad (Bill Paxton) gets lists of demons from God. He has also provided Dad with three weapons with which to dispatch said demons: a pair of work gloves, a length of pipe, and an axe named "Otis." Oldest boy Fenton (Matthew O'Leary) and his little brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are left to decide whether Dad is indeed touched by divine hand or just another redneck serial killer in a white van.
**/**** Image B Sound A Extras D+ starring Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers directed by Gregory Hoblit
by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Although the term "cat-and-mouse" has already become synonymous with Gregory Hoblit's Fracture, it's something of a misnomer in that it implies a clever battle of wits. The film actually hinges on precisely two turnarounds of one-upsmanship between the designated cat and mouse: the revelation of the convoluted, coincidence-dependent plan to commit the perfect murder, and the fatal flaw in said plan (the "fracture," get it?) that eventually brings its perpetrator to justice--and as both are telegraphed far in advance, it's impossible to play along with the expectation for surprise. So inevitable are these conclusions, in fact, that I just gave up and accepted the ending, which sidesteps a first-glance case of double jeopardy with such vague dialogue, recited in such a bland tone of sotto voce, that I only got the basic gist of how we got from Point A to Point B. With Point B such a shrug-worthy certainty, I wasn't nearly confused enough to care besides.
**/**** Image B Sound B- Commentary B+ starring Joseph Fiennes, Ray Liotta, Gretchen Mol written and directed by Paul Schrader
by Bill Chambers Paul Schrader's fragmented, risqué melodrama Forever Mine tells the tale of an exceptionally well-read Miami Beach cabana boy named Alan (Joseph Fiennes) who steals the heart of Ella (Gretchen Mol, an old-fashioned bombshell), the wife of councilman Mark Brice (Ray Liotta), and pays for it: first by being sent to jail an innocent, then with a bullet in the head. (The jealous husband does the deed.) But Alan survives and, unbeknownst to Brice and Ella, steals a new identity for himself, that of a Miami druglord called upon fourteen years later to act as the politico's criminal liaison in New York. Haunted Ella finds herself compelled by this scarred stranger and his thoughtful glances.
**/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras D+ starring Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes screenplay by Mike Rich directed by Gus Van Sant
by Walter Chaw Not content to play Salieri on film just once, F. Murray Abraham, after years of toiling away in decidedly lowbrow productions subsequent to Amadeus, has returned to the role that made him fitfully famous. It's interesting to me that an actor who found fleeting celebrity (as a composer who borrowed fame very briefly) would choose to make a 'comeback' portraying a once almost-famous writer/now frustrated teacher of English at a snotty prep school. Still, given the level of relative originality in Finding Forrester, it's not entirely unexpected that a secondary character played by a rather limited character actor is transplanted whole cloth from another film. On the other hand, something of a surprise is that Sean Connery would reprise his performance as an antisocial genius (who opens his heart to a creature of the Bronx) from Medicine Man, and that Gus Van Sant would try to resuscitate the flyblown carcass of Good Will Hunting by cleverly splicing it together with The Paper Chase.
***/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B starring the voices of Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Ming-Na screenplay by Al Reinert and Hironobu Sakaguchi and Jeff Vintar directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi
by Walter Chaw So the dialogue's not so bad (having seen Pearl Harbor), the story's not so obscure (having seen Akira), and the voice acting's pretty decent (having listened to Claire Danes do San in Princess Mononoke). It almost goes without saying that the film is hands-down the best ever based on a videogame, and that Squaresoft's 3-D captured animation is breathtaking and exciting, not just for the fact of itself but for what it portends of big-budget Stateside anime. What Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within reminded me of the most is Katsuhiro Ôtomo's seminal 1988 anime Akira, and the revolution Akira heralded for the popularity and scope of the anime genre in Japan.*