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JAPAN CUTS 2012: Critic's Notebook

July 10, 2012 - 9:31am
by Steve Dollar

Wabbits! Wabbits! Wabbits! Elmer Fudd would crap his pants and blow his (shotgun) load if he took the M15 bus uptown, just past the United Nations, and headed over to Japan Society this weekend. There, he’d encounter a far more formidable nemesis than Bugs Bunny: The never-ending hallucinatory fuzzy-wuzzy terror of Tormented (Rabbit Horror 3-D)—though this is the 2-D version. One of those films that gives Japan Cuts its edge, this latest lump of disgorged J-Horror is nonetheless more aberrant curiosity than culturally subversive reason-to-go-on-living.

The participation of ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle and J-Horror auteur Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge) has the promise of genius, and a six-foot-tall actor inhabiting a rabbit costume can only add to the psychotronic glory of it all. The latter haunts a little boy who, in an act of mercy, finishes off a deathly sick rabbit with a big rock one day at school. The kindness earns him the taunts of his peers, who call him "rabbit-killer." His mute older sister tries to offer solace, but their home is some kind of strange penumbral world of weirdness, with an artist father lost in his own world after the deaths of both his wives.

Continued reading JAPAN CUTS 2012: Critic's Notebook...

RETRO ACTIVE: Chopper (2000)

July 9, 2012 - 9:06am
by Nick Schager

[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by Oliver Stone's criminals-and-drugs saga Savages.]

Fascinated by self-mythologizing criminals and the futility of their navel-gazing adoration, Andrew Dominik plumbs the twisted mind of Australia's most notorious convict with Chopper, the reality-fractured tale of tattooed lunatic Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read (Eric Bana). Dominik's film is based on a number of Reads' own books, and assumes their author's wacko view of himself and the world around him, plunging into its protagonist's headspace over the course of two distinct periods—1978, when he was incarcerated in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison; and 1986, when he was back on the streets—with a enveloping intensity. Bookended by the sight of Chopper watching himself in an exclusive TV news interview from his cell alongside two guards, a chat punctuated by Chopper gleefully calling himself "a normal bloke who likes a bit of torture," it's a jet-black comedy of volatile ferocity. Admitting to right-hand man Jimmy (Simon Lyndon) "I don't hate anybody" shortly before he viciously stabs a rival to death, then sincerely asking his victim, "You alright, Keith?", and then cheekily quipping to the guards who tend to this wounded man, "Keithy seems to have done himself a mischief!", Chopper proves a terrifyingly schizophrenic specimen, a cross between a pit bull and The Joker.

Continued reading RETRO ACTIVE: Chopper (2000)...

FILM OF THE WEEK: Daisies (1966)

July 6, 2012 - 3:16pm
by Vadim Rizov

A tornado took Dorothy out of black-and-white Kansas into colorful Oz: destruction bred creation and imaginative release. The link in Vera Chytilová’s Daisies is brusquer. Two girls are sitting in what appears to be some kind of bathhouse: Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) is the brunette, Marie II (Ivana Karbanová) the blonde. A brief discussion of the state of the world leads to the conclusion that it's spoiled, and hence the Maries will be too. Marie I slaps Marie II, knocking her backwards out of the black-and-white interior into a colorful field.

"Even those of us who love Daisies have trouble finding the proper terms to account for it," blogger/theorist Steven Shaviro wrote in 2007. Many dazzling, ahead-of-their-time effects literally saturate Daisies, their connection to broader ideological dissent rarely obvious. Within a brief scene, Chytilová will cut every few seconds to slather the shot in another pop-art monochrome. Train journeys are rendered proto-video blur, with the passing landscape anticipating the similarly dizzying effects Wong Kar-Wai would conjure up with more resources in Happy Together. The effect resembles a surlier A Hard Day's Night, with each effect is indulged for its own pleasure.

Continued reading FILM OF THE WEEK: Daisies (1966)...

RETRO ACTIVE: Magic (1978)

July 2, 2012 - 1:54pm
by Nick Schager

[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the man-and-his-doll fantasy Ted.]

"We're gonna be a staaaaar!" crows Fats, the ventriloquist dummy controlled by Corky (Anthony Hopkins), toward the beginning of Magic, but stardom is something to be feared as much as coveted by the showman protagonist of Richard Attenborough's adaptation of William Goldman's novel (itself seemingly indebted to The Twilight Zone episode "The Dummy"). That hopeful exclamation is made while both Corky and Fats are spied in a mirror, a recurring visual trope that speaks to the mounting duality and insanity of its confidence-lacking main character, who after early struggles at amateur nights—where he responds to audience indifference with vitriolic rage—finds himself on the precipice of stardom upon taking to the stage with Fats. A big-eyed, sailor-capped wooden sidekick, Fats is the motormouthed Id to Corky's Ego, and his profane (at least by 1978 standards) brashness makes him an instant hit, as well as marks him as a potential breakout sensation to agent Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith), who believes that "magic is misdirection," and that Fats will be the key misdirection element that will allow Corky's act to transfer properly to TV. The only problem, alas, is that Corky, when offered an NBC pilot, won't take a medical exam, purportedly "on principle" but, in truth, because he fears what doctors might discover about his mental condition.

Continued reading RETRO ACTIVE: Magic (1978)...

DVD OF THE WEEK: 21 Jump Street

June 29, 2012 - 9:29am
by Vadim Rizov

21 Jump Street is the best-crafted, most consistently funny American studio comedy since 2007's Superbad. Both star Jonah Hill, a relatively unlikely leading man, here at his most slimmed-down, introduced in a 2005 prologue as a too-much-too-late Slim Shady lookalike aspirant to cool kid status, a nerd whose bumbling prom overtures to a hot childhood friend are met with unambiguously mocking laughter. The main joke is that his return in the present as an undercover cop along with admitted jock Channing Tatum makes Hill a popular kid on the ascent. His liberal pieties, quick bully-scorning wit and comfortably unconventional appearance help him fit right in, while Tatum's self-secure stupidity no longer is a sure route to popularity.

An R-rated comedy that's already proven massively profitable, the $42-million 21 Jump Street has already made $192 million worldwide. Ostensibly trading upon the market value of its once-popular TV series namesake, it has even less meaningful relationship to the show than, say, 1995's The Brady Bunch Movie, which mocked its model as an out-of-date, socially laughable anachronism. 21 Jump Street pays sardonic lip service in the form of an updated police station church, plausibly inspired by LA's Koreatown and complete with a meme-ready wood carving of a "Korean Jesus." "We had our production designer create a partially Korean Jesus," noted co-director Phil Lord; "not so much that it was impossible or grossly racist. Just slightly racist was what we were going for." A similarly deft attention is paid throughout towards characters that initially come off as stereotyped goofs are later revealed to have hidden comic depths. It makes sense that the only element to fall flat is Ice Cube as Loud, Belligerent Cop Ironically Played By Ice Cube—a one-note joke with minimal screen time not that far off from Not Another Teen Movie's "Token Black Guy."

Continued reading DVD OF THE WEEK: 21 Jump Street...

BAMcinemaFest '12: Critic's Notebook

June 28, 2012 - 12:19am
by Steve Dollar

Shorts—as in short films—have become a peculiar manifestation of film festival culture. Almost any festival you go to will have multiple shorts programs on the schedule. And guaranteed, the filmmaker you meet who wins the short-film prize will be back soon with something special, whether it's the guy who made Hesher (see the Down Under zombie mash note I Love Sarah Jane) or the guy who made Beasts of the Southern Wild (anticipated by Glory at Sea). I don't really know under what circumstances they are exhibited anywhere else outside the institutional/museum/repertory world. Nonetheless, YouTube and Vimeo appear to be terrific bounties for short-film surfing and many an auteur's DVD bonus features would be sorely lacking if they didn't include available and relevant short exercises that laid the groundwork for the masterpiece at hand.

Josh and Benny Safdie had the bright idea of packaging their recent short The Black Balloon (a prize-winner at Sundance) with The Red Balloon, Albert Lamorisse's 1956 classic to which it pays homage, along with Buster Keaton's The Balloonatic and the animated 1935 Balloon Land (The Pincushion Man) and circulating the whole shebang under the title: "Take Me to the Balloony Bin!" It's touring the United States now, through the agency of the CInema Conservancy, and just screened as part of BAMcinemaFest—now in its fourth year at Brooklyn's BAMcinematek.

Continued reading BAMcinemaFest '12: Critic's Notebook...

RETRO ACTIVE: The Tripper (2006)

June 25, 2012 - 8:51am
by Nick Schager

[This week’s "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the history-rewriting presidential actioner Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.]

Political satire is nothing new to the horror genre, and on more than a few occasions—for example, William Lustig and Larry Cohen's Uncle Sam, or Joe Dante's Masters of Horror episode "Homecoming"—it's managed to find a suitable equilibrium with nasty carnage. Such a balance, alas, is nowhere to be found in The Tripper, the feature directorial debut of actor David Arquette, about a bunch of twentysomething friends who find themselves coping with all manner of clichéd slasher-madness circumstances, none more deadly than being pursued by an axe-wielding maniac in a Ronald Reagan mask. If you’re immediately wondering whether the Gipper—who's stalking victims at a drugged-out hippie-dippie Free Love music festival at Redwoods National Forest—eventually finds a way to carve "Just Say No" into his victims’ bodies, you're already one step ahead of this leaden effort. Arquette and co-screenwriter Joe Harris (Darkness Falls) intend for their material to be an everyone's-a-target lampoon in which no one is safe from being literally and figuratively picked apart. The problem here, however, is that by taking aim at all types across the political spectrum, the film plays less like a nihilistic equal-opportunity censure than a confused mess.

Continued reading RETRO ACTIVE: The Tripper (2006)...

FILM OF THE WEEK: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

June 22, 2012 - 10:45am
by Vadim Rizov

Given the bestselling success of Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice with Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, film adaptations were only a matter of time. The latter's premise is fundamentally offensive, trivializing both sides of the Mason-Dixon line: the South becomes the province of vampiric misdirection, with no messy lingering racial repercussions anywhere. Director Timur Bekmambetov's primary task is to deliver a product that's outrageous rather than merely ill-advised. Through sheer bombast and relentlessness, he succeeds.

As he demonstrated in his Russian blockbusters Night Watch/Day Watch and Hollywood debut Wanted, Bekmambetov's instincts are more American than most Americans. Scorning pro forma scenes of heroes agonizing over the right thing or any form of dramatic nuance, Bekmambetov prefers relentless speed and has notable contempt for the laws of physics. A car drove across a building's facade perpendicular to the ground in Day Watch, a plunging train provided the staging ground for a weightless fight in Wanted, and here vampires' super-strength gives Bekmambetov all the excuse he needs for more anti-gravity absurdity. This is only movie you'll see all year—possibly ever—in which a horse is thrown at someone else… in the middle of a stampede.

Continued reading FILM OF THE WEEK: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter...

INTERVIEW: Rosemarie DeWitt

June 18, 2012 - 7:49pm
by Steve Dollar

To say that Rosemarie DeWitt is so good you don't notice her isn't meant as a slight. It's probably the highest compliment you can give to an actor. Few contemporary screen performers flow into character, story and scene as seamlessly as the 37-year-old Jersey gal, who began her career on the Off-Broadway stage before racking up plenty of notable credits on TV (Don Draper's bohemian femme fatale on Mad Men, Toni Collette's sister on The United States of Tara) and tons of indie cred in everything from Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married to the 2011 critics fave Margaret. DeWitt is having a very busy summer. She co-stars with Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass in Lynn Shelton's shaggy-dog sibling comedy, Your Sister's Sister, and also has a part in the gutter-mouthed alien invasion farce The Watch (with Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, et al). This fall, she has a key role in Nobody Walks, the third film from indie writer-director Ry Russo-Young, in which she plays a Silver Lake psychiatrist whose sound designer husband (John Krasinski) gets a little too involved with their houseguest, a 20-something filmmaker (Olivia Thirlby) who's experimenting with more than the sound mix on her movie.

DeWitt visited New York in April for Sister's East Coast premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and took an hour to chat over coffee in the upstairs lounge at the Soho Grand Hotel. She was as warm and outgoing a conversationalist as anyone could ask for. My only regret was that it was too early too offer her some tequila, which goes over very well in the movie—as one may surmise from reading Vadim Rizov's review. But we are professionals here, after all.

Continued reading INTERVIEW: Rosemarie DeWitt...

RETRO ACTIVE: Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)

June 15, 2012 - 9:38am
by Nick Schager

[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the hair metal-loving '80s-era musical Rock of Ages.]

"When The Pick of Destiny was released, it was a bomb / And all the critics said that The D was done," croons Jack Black at the outset of his and partner Kyle Gass' new Tenacious D album Rize of the Fenix—a jokey admission of failure that's at once accurate (the film tanked at the box office) and yet sells the D's sole cinematic offering more than a bit short. Hitting theaters in 2006 thanks largely to Black's emergence as a big-screen star, Liam Lynch's musical odyssey neither fully satisfied the faithful nor roped in new loyalists, in part due to a script (by Black, Gass and Lynch) that was light on memorable one-liners and an original soundtrack that wasn't as consistently catchy as the group's superior self-titled 2001 debut album. In hindsight, however, the fate of this adaptation of Black and Gass' short-lived HBO comedy series—which amounted to three vignette-filled episodes of blistering acoustic-rock bravado and wacko-stoner surrealism—was undeserved. Rocking much harder than it has any right to, as well as both embracing and goofily screwing around with the clichés of rock-'n-roll, musicals, coming-of-age stories, road-trip adventures, and mythic journeys, the film grooves with a larger-than-life grinning-idiot verve that's indicative of both Tenacious D's tunes and the '70s and '80s arena metal to which it pays tribute.

Continued reading RETRO ACTIVE: Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)...

FILM OF THE WEEK: Your Sister's Sister

June 13, 2012 - 6:42pm
by Vadim Rizov

In writer-director Lynn Shelton's Humpday, Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard talk themselves into a dare requiring endless verbal finesse and hedging to back out of. Shelton's Your Sister's Sister reverses the structure: first comes the act, then the discussions. Sent to recover from a year of mourning for his late brother at best friend Iris' (Emily Blunt) isolated family house, Jack (Duplass again) finds Iris' lesbian half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) already there for a solitary retreat to work through the recent end of a seven-year relationship. A late-night tequila session leads to an ill-advised hook-up, whose ramifications at first seem within the boundaries of the merely temporarily uncomfortable. Surprisingly and satisfyingly plotty, Your Sister's Sister slowly introduces information creating a thornier dilemma whose not-to-be-spoiled implications threaten Jack and Iris' friendship and—more seriously—the two women's ability to ever talk again.

Shelton's setpieces alternate playful conversational evasions and ineloquent emotional explosions. The verbose fumbling shares a lot in common with Andrew Bujalski's work, notably Mutual Appreciation, which also ends with a group hug. That finale was overly satirical (the ritualized reconciliation clearly solved nothing), but Sister's "open-ended" final embrace lets everyone off the hook. Dramatically, this film follows Humpday's two protagonists' lead in backing away from potentially scarring follow-through.

Continued reading FILM OF THE WEEK: Your Sister's Sister...

Space is the Place

June 11, 2012 - 6:28pm
by Steve Dollar

Who isn't a sucker for a good outer-space yarn? Thirty-three summers ago, Ridley Scott chomped through the guts of that candy-ass Star Wars crap and unleashed Alien on the shrieking matinee masses. It was like a Sam Fuller war movie crammed in a tin can, a vessel simultaneously erupting with Cronenbergian body horror, externalized in the creepy-erotic majesty of H.R. Giger's design, and cannily importing a decade of splatterific outrage from the grindhouses and drive-ins to the budding twin cinemas of middle America. All that, and Sigourney Weaver—the Final Girl to end all Final Girls—hanging tough in her iconic panties, and a cat named Jones.

James Cameron upped the ante with Aliens, and Scott never looked back. Until now. The promise of Prometheus has had fanboys and girls in a steaming lather all year. And not undeservedly. The director hasn't done sci-fi since 1982's Blade Runner, and the digital revolution now offers the technology to imagine things on a movie screen that really do look futuristic. Ironically, perhaps, the film is a prequel to Alien, or rather presented as part of the Alien origin myth that can now progress as its own franchise. The razzle-dazzle CGI deployed suggests technological advancements that far exceed anything at hand in the quartet of Alien movies, a paradox we'll have to live with.

Continued reading Space is the Place...

RETRO ACTIVE: Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997)

June 9, 2012 - 3:29pm
by Nick Schager

[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by Ridley Scott's sci-fi monster prequel (of sorts) Prometheus.]

In space, no one can hear you groan, but here on Earth, the exasperated cries elicited by Leprechaun 4: In Space are inevitable, and inescapable. Few '90s horror franchises more bluntly epitomized the genre's clichéd creative template, as the Leprechaun series followed up its disposable original (most notable for featuring a pre-Friends, original-nosed Jennifer Aniston) with a duplicative sequel and then subsequent installments defined by their central-location gimmicks (Vegas, Space, the Hood—twice!). It's the malevolent Irish creature's journey to the cosmos, however, that's most mind-boggling, as grindhouse icon Brian Trenchard-Smith's direct-to-video work not only rejects logic at every turn, but proves too lazy to even rip off its obvious influences with verve, much less cleverness. Of course, stupidity is almost the end goal of a movie whose very premise seems to be a joke. Yet if everything is intended to be a giant goof, it should certainly be funnier—and more fun—than the nonsense delivered here, which concerns the efforts of the titular creature (Warwick Davis, grinning and cackling with his usual cartoon glee) to marry alien Princess Zarina (Rebekah Carlton) and have her kill her king father by bribing her with riches, a scheme that will put the Leprechaun on the throne and thus soothe his everyone-looks-down-on-me insecurities.

Continued reading RETRO ACTIVE: Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997)...

FILM OF THE WEEK: Paul Williams: Still Alive

June 7, 2012 - 4:03pm
by Vadim Rizov

Paul Williams' best-known song is probably The Muppet Movie's "The Rainbow Connection," which kicks off the film with a camera plunge from the skies into Kermit's swamp. Stephen Kessler opens Paul Williams: Still Alive with an allusive riff on that shot, a clip of the singer-songwriter skydiving on a 1977 installment of CBS' long-discontinued annual special "Circus of the Stars." Williams' tunes remain pop standards: Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen," The Carpenters' "Rainy Days and Mondays." The music enabled Williams to become a ubiquitous guest-star of the '70s; a friend who grew up at the time described him as "television wallpaper."

Growing up, Kessler was mesmerized by Williams. Transparently Napoleonic at 5'2", shaggy and dwarfed by his own outrageous glasses, he was, Kessler notes, "no one's idea of a leading man." Quick-witted quips and good timing gave him a decade of TV fame, a legacy Williams is semi-eager to disown. As his television time went up, he says, his songcraft declined. Watching himself on Merv Griffin, Williams can't stand revisiting his egotistical '70s self in action and worries about his daughter seeing the clip.

Continued reading FILM OF THE WEEK: Paul Williams: Still Alive...

INTERVIEW: Amy Seimetz

June 5, 2012 - 1:44pm
by Steve Dollar

She owns an IMDB page stacked with credits that many of her acting peers might take a lifetime to accumulate. But what many folks don't realize is that no-budge MVP Amy Seimetz started out with ambitions as a writer-director, which she takes to the limit in her debut feature Sun Don't Shine. Kentucker Audley and Kate Lyn Sheil star as a couple on the lam, rambling through the Gulf Coast of Florida, a lost wonderland of faded pastels and mosquito-bitten dreams. As we noted after the movie's premiere at SXSW this spring, the film evokes Terrence Malick's Badlands as a Suncoast eruption of l'amour fou—that glockenspiel chime on the soundtrack an affectionate homage—the story as much an experience of sensation and memory as forward action, suspended in small observances as the actors' voices float over the breeze as their car races south. The atmospheric style snaps into visceral engagement as the couple negotiates their situation, which becomes apparent soon enough, and the audience begins to sort out their place in a cinematic cosmos of getaway episodes.

Seimetz says that someone told her "it's a surrealist movie posing as a vérité movie," and from the jump, she's created an immersive experience whose cinematography and sound design enrich a minimal screenplay that pushes faces, character and passion to the foreground, using a pulp-noir genre template as a structure for something surprisingly visionary. During SXSW, I met up with Seimetz, at far too early an hour, to talk about the film over coffee. Sun Don't Shine has its New York premiere this Saturday as part of Rooftop Films' SXSW Weekend program.

Continued reading INTERVIEW: Amy Seimetz...

RETRO ACTIVE: Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)

June 3, 2012 - 12:23pm
by Nick Schager

[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the T&A-filled killer fish sequel Piranha 3DD.]

James Cameron may be credited as the director of Piranha II: The Spawning, but given his own rocky participation in the project—his Italian producers removed him from viewing or editing the footage he shot, and thus he had little to do with its final form—it's hard to slam the future "king of the world" for the legion of failures that define this sub-B-movie. A sequel to Joe Dante's smart and funny 1978 original (made with the legendary Roger Corman), Cameron's film is a misshapen mess that, unlike its cheeky predecessor, rips off Jaws to no appreciable effect, finding nothing but unintentionally corny comedy via its tale of a Caribbean resort terrorized by a school of flesh-eating fish... that can fly! Yes, the hook of Cameron's follow-up is that the military has bioengineered piranha with other animals' genetic material to create the ultimate airborne-aquatic killing beasts, which at the outset have fallen to the bottom of the ocean aboard a sunken supply ship. This carelessness doesn't seem to have brought the military out looking for the fish, however, which is as puzzling as the behavior of the intro sequence's couple, who out on a rowboat to try and fix the man's apparent performance-anxiety issues, decide to dive down to the submerged vessel for some sex—a carnal act that, as per horror dictates, naturally leads to grisly death.

Continued reading RETRO ACTIVE: Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)...

The Good, the Great and the Grungy

May 30, 2012 - 2:00pm
by Vadim Rizov

Overviews of the spaghetti western inevitably begin with Sergio Leone, whose presentation of Clint Eastwood as the ultimate laconic Westerner grows more iconic throughout the genre-codifying trilogy of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Time progressively slows to a mythic crawl, as mundane quick-draw showdowns and bounty hunter pursuits become epic set pieces through sheer duration.

Westerns had been made in Italy and Spain before Leone (largely by non-Italians), but his worldwide success was unavoidably influential. Segments of Sergio Sollima's 1966 The Big Gundown anticipate 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West, with another swoony Ennio Morricone score emphasizing similar slow visual coups. A showy tracking shot through an obscure Mexican village starts with two women at market and stops at a criminal's face being lathered in an open-air barber's chair. The man in pursuit is Jonathan Corbett (Lee Van Cleef), an unofficial volunteer killer for Texas who's "more popular than David Crockett." Transparently corrupt railroad baron Brokston (Walter Barnes) wants him to run for Senate and offer official support for a new line. "I'm interested in Texas," Corbett moralistically scolds, "not your personal profit"—but accepts the shady deal anyway. One last job will seal his popularity: tracking down alleged child rapist and murderer Cuchillo (Tomas Milian).

Continued reading The Good, the Great and the Grungy...

RETRO ACTIVE: The Hidden (1987)

May 27, 2012 - 6:11am
by Nick Schager

[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the aliens-and-cops sequel Men in Black III.]

An aliens-among-us thriller containing social and gender critiques within its body-invasion exterior, The Hidden blends various influences into a fast, funny and surprisingly sharp B-movie. That's not necessarily what you'd expect from helmer Jack Sholder, whose credits include the abysmal A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Yet his direction has a fleet, no-nonsense quality—highlighted by a few extended handheld shots that give the material some jazzy energy—that's perfect for this tale of L.A. cop Tom Beck (Flashdance's Michael Nouri), who's introduced trying to stop the robbery-and-murder rampage of a trenchcoated everyman (Chris Mulkey). This villain's murderous habits involve stealing Ferraris and listening to hard rock and heavy metal, as well as a more general take-what-I-want attitude that, altogether, makes him a caricature of materialistic '80s greed and entitlement. Moreover, there's a strong sense that he also represents the ugliest side of uninhibited masculinity, an impression that casts him as the diametric opposite of Beck, a do-gooder super-cop on the job and a loving, protective family man to his wife and daughter at home. Beck's roadblock finally stops the baddie's downtown joy ride, which includes running over a man in a wheelchair—and, amusingly, after the thug crashes and vacates the vehicle unarmed, the cops still fire on him, in the process detonating his car and putting him in the hospital.

Continued reading RETRO ACTIVE: The Hidden (1987)...

DVD OF THE WEEK: Certified Copy

May 25, 2012 - 4:19am
by Vadim Rizov

Much of what's been written about Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy dilates on the question of whether an afternoon's worth of Italian countryside sparring between "She" (Juliette Binoche) and writer James Miller (William Shimmell) is actually a married couple role-playing a first-time meeting, or if the two are strangers playing a very strange game. Various third options consider the possibility of a film that can't be trusted (Last Year at Marienbad is frequently cited), a mutant text whose every moment must be unceasingly subjected to rigorous questioning to form a remotely plausible hypothesis.

Continued reading DVD OF THE WEEK: Certified Copy...

INTERVIEW: Robert Downey Sr.

May 23, 2012 - 8:40am
by Steve Dollar

Something like the Dead Sea Scrolls of 1960s (and '70s) underground comedies, the five films assembled in the new Criterion Collection Eclipse set Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr. have been out of sight for so long that their release this week marks a major rediscovery. Deliriously imaginative and madly subversive, black-and-white romps like Babo 73 and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight deploy manic pacing and counter-cultural absurdity to critique Mad Men-era America while inhaling deeply on their own stoned grooviness. "I've paid my dues," exclaims one of Downey's impish observers, played by actor friends or maybe someone he met at a phone booth, "why should I pay my debts?"

The best-known feature, Putney Swope, achieved cult status for its outrageous satire of Madison Avenue, proposing what happens when a white, patrician agency is taken over by a black militant who renames it "Truth and Soul Inc." But they're all winners, whether showcasing the mercurial Elsie Downey (the filmmaker's first wife and collaborator) in dozens of roles in Turquoise, or riffing on beatnik reveries in Chafed Elbows, where an insatiable deadbeat chases a shy sexpot (Mrs. Downey as "Rhoda... Rhoda Dendron") across a Manhattan rooftop, telling her: "You put a heavy tremor on my ticker-roo-roo."

Downey, loquacious and leonine at 75, sat down recently in a Criterion conference room to talk about the films, getting tossed out of Yankee Stadium—twice—in order to shoot a scene, his abbreviated pitching career and giving some kid named Robert Downey Jr. his first shot at stardom.

Continued reading INTERVIEW: Robert Downey Sr....

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