DVD Spotlight

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): **½

Argentinean filmmaker Gabriel Medina's offbeat first feature The Paranoids (Los paranoicos) moves a bit slow, but it's still inventive and occasionally enchanting enough to make one curious about what the filmmaker may do next. Essentially a character study, the film follows Luciano (Whisky's talented Daniel Hendler, looking a bit like a Uruguayan Paul Schneider), a quirkily neurotic, procrastinating screenwriter who earns a living entertaining at kids' parties (garbed in a Smoochy-like suit as his character "Cachito"). He spends a lot of time brooding in his apartment because he's, well, paranoid and sociophobic. He's such the perfectionist that he's spent years struggling over one script, and unsurprisingly, all his anxieties make it hard for him to have a girlfriend. (In the midst of a fling, he's terrified of contracting an STD because the condom breaks.)

Blog entry 05/09/2011 - 10:46am
Poll 05/06/2011 - 11:06am

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): *****

I often have a hard time defending my admiration for Brian De Palma. In this country he's often been considered a rip-off artist who pillages from Hitchcock, Kubrick, Antonioni and Michael Powell, as well as a misogynist and a violent creep. It gets especially difficult when discussing such admittedly obvious turkeys as The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and last year's Mission to Mars. But in France he's considered an auteur, a visual stylist of the first degree (the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinema voted his film Carlito's Way the best film of the 1990s).

If one can get past the shaky plots of some of his films (Snake Eyes, for example), he proves he's a man wrestling with some serious demons on film, even more so than Hitchcock ever did. He's obsessed with voyeurism, sneaking peaks at stuff we're not supposed to see, and with the movies themselves a voyeuristic medium, he's a natural born filmmaker.

Blog entry 05/03/2011 - 3:21pm

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

What a presence, in any of his films, has Stellan Skarsgård. This unusual actor -- he of the firmly under-stated performance and increasingly jowly visage -- has, to my knowledge, never given a bad performance, even in dreadful movies like Angels and Demons or silly ones like Mamma Mia!. The actor turns 60 this year and has 109 roles to his credit (including the original Insomnia and Dogville), but I doubt that he has ever been better than he is in A Somewhat Gentle Man, the new Norwegian film cogently directed by Hans Petter Moland (who also directed Skarsgard in the lesser known Aberdeen) with a fine script by Kim Fupz Aakeson.

Blog entry 05/02/2011 - 3:00pm

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Seeing Ricky -- Francois Ozon’s mysterious little fable of an unusual baby and the family into which it comes -- a second time, I liked the film better than in my first encounter back in November of 2009 at BAM’s preview of new French films. Among the movie’s many delights in this age of multi-million-dollar special effects, is a creation so simple yet endearing and splendid: the special effect in question is just a baby. But what a baby.

The meaning that Ozon hopes to provide via this little wonder is another matter, and part of the movie's charm and weight comes from the fact that the writer/director leaves quite a bit of his message open-ended. Ricky is also a film of ideas: about religion (a new and "special" birth), homosexuality (a subject frequently touched on in Ozon's work, and here perhaps depicted as a different kind of "other"), the media (oh, those destructive bastards!), the family (Ricky serves each member of his rather well). Each aspect of the film works, even if not completely.

Blog entry 04/25/2011 - 7:56pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of 5): ****½

Poor 15 year-old Billy Caspar. His father is gone, his mother is distant, his brother is a bullying lush, and his schoolmaster has dubbed him inconsequential, another disposable member of "the generation that never listens." All that awaits Billy is to fail high school and join his peers over at the coal mine that functions as the only industry in the depressed Yorkshire hamlet Billy calls home.

But on one of Billy's frequent wanderings through the surrounding woods and farmlands, he discovers a young kestrel (the eponymous Kes). He endeavors to train the bird and, in the process, discovers a purpose outside of the brutal determinism governing his working class milieu. The above synopsis - boy escapes oppressive childhood via feathered friend - could easily devolve into cliché and treacle. However, with Kes, Ken Loach rose to the forefront of visionary, British social realist directors by turning a time worn tale into an indelible meditation on childhood and (naturally, this being Loach) class struggle.

Blog entry 04/19/2011 - 1:23pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½

It takes a lot to ask an audience to sit through a "dead child" movie, but Rabbit Hole avoids showing the buildup and actual death of the child; it begins more rationally about eight months after the car accident. Now, heartbroken parents Becca (an Oscar-nominated Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) try as hard as they can, every day, to exist. The normally more subversive director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) delivers this grim material with a certain amount of grace, and the best I can say for it is that he makes the film often quite compelling.

Blog entry 04/19/2011 - 10:57am

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Philip Ridley is back to theatrical movie-making after nearly fifteen years. In Heartless, he's come up with something so strange and frightening, marvelous and moving, apocalyptic and chilling -- and perhaps undecipherable (but you probably won't mind) -- that all I can say is: See it. (I’ve just seen it for a second time, and, yes, it’s still undecipherable, though I may be getting closer.) The man who made the cult movie The Reflecting Skin (sadly not on DVD) and who wrote The Krays (also not on DVD) is an artist, and I don't think that it's so much that he won't compromise his vision, as it is that he can't. Just as well, too -- when one’s visions are this original.

Blog entry 04/18/2011 - 2:22pm

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****


"Even though, sometimes, I don't know who you are, I still love you."

These words, uttered by a sweet-like-you've-never-seen-him Ewan McGregor toward the conclusion of I Love You Phillip Morris, are so fitting, both for that moment and for the two characters who make up the lion's share of the movie -- and, in fact, for so many love relationships: Do we ever really know the one we profess to love? -- that they effectively sound the theme for this unusual, surprising film. So full of quirky truth is it that, on one level, the fact that its protagonists are gay is almost beside the point. This is the film love story of the year (last year's prize went to Wendy and Lucy, demonstrating, I think, that where movies are concerned, it's the love that counts rather than the type of lovers).

Blog entry 04/13/2011 - 11:58am

Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): *****

Not even the gnarliest horror film has left me as haunted as White Material. The 2010 film by Claire Denis, a kind of specialist in themes of French colonization and its repercussions, is the work of a director at the top of her game. You can sense the deep craft on display because the unusual, even confusingly enigmatic construction of a narrative – which relies on extremely subtle flashbacks – makes the movie somehow more compelling. It's a kind of mystery, really, and one that unfolds without a scrap of assistance from its key persona, the indefatigable Maria (Isabelle Huppert), the manager of a coffee plantation in an African country that is about to boil over into civil war.

Blog entry 04/12/2011 - 3:25pm

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