Jul 212012
 
Trying to Beat the Odds in 50/50 (2011)

No, it’s not about horse betting or thieves divvying up their spoils. The subject of 50/50, a dramedy directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Will Reiser (and based on Reiser’s own battle with cancer), is confronting mortality. How would we (and our loved ones) find the strength to persevere if life handed us a cancer diagnosis and a one-in-two chance of surviving? Like Adam Lerner (Joseph-Gordon Levitt), we’d probably be wavering between despair and denial and be smoking medicinal grass (some of us anyway), wanting to experience any new pleasures that life had to offer.

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Jul 132012
 
Babe (1995): This Little Piggy Goes to Tourney

Pigs are intelligent animals. They may not be quite swift enough to realize that they often wind up as bacon and sausage on the breakfast table, but it’s been suggested that they may be even more trainable than dogs at following commands and performing tricks. The Australian screen-writing team of Chris Noonan (also director) and George Miller certainly convince us of this in their uplifting family film Babe, a tale about a common destiny shared by a laconic but kind-hearted old farmer, Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell), and a spirited orphaned piglet that thinks he’s a sheep-dog.

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Jul 112012
 
Inglourious Basterds (2009): Revenge Has Never Been So Ridiculous

It maybe should have been called Pulp Third Reich. Inglourious Basterds is a fantasy in the B-movie vein, an intentionally subversive (even both words in the title are misspelled!) satire about a group of Nazi hunters, led by First Lieutenant Aldo Paine (Brad Pitt), who exact revenge on Hitler (Martin Wuttke) and his henchmen. Too bad that it’s neither comic nor clever. Overall, it’s really a blood-splattered mess of a film, slaking Tarentino’s fetishistic thirst for graphic gore at the expense of wit or cogency.

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Jul 082012
 
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): Egad! There's a Somnambulist in My Cabinet!

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari may not be the first horror film of all time, but it undoubtedly is one of the first to have a major influence on later movies in the genre. Directed by Robert Wiene (whose other films include Fear and Raskolnikow), Caligari exemplifies the expressionist style of silent movie-making that gained a foothold in Germany in the early 1920s and that would inspire the better-remembered Nosferatu (1922) based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Though not adapted from a work of literature, Caligari set the bar in capturing the macabre on camera, managing to be both cerebral and mesmerizingly creepy.

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Jul 042012
 
Hugo (2011): Hardly the Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

These days, I think all Scorsese would have to do is cut a loud fart for the Academy and moviegoers alike to shout “Bravo!” After all, they did so over the Irish gangster flick The Departed, which cussed at them ad nauseam and gave them violence galore while saying next to nothing of value. Albeit Hugo reeks of a Disneyish vibe, shamelessly flaunting its 3-D graphical-clockworks extravaganza while getting all warm and cuddly about how wonderful it is that two young waifs are finding purpose in life. But all the more sickening for Marty, who used to be above merely pandering to the brainless mainstream. Seriously, is this cotton-candy-sweet Hugo helmed by the same iconoclast who spearheaded such gritty yet subtle character exposés as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas?

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Jul 042012
 
My Week With Marilyn (2011): She's Stupendous! Spectacular! And Above All, Sexy! But She Can't Act.

“She’s the greatest piece of ass on earth. With tits like that, you make allowances.” This crude logic proffered by Marilyn Monroe’s (Michele Williams) publicist Arthur Jacobs (Toby Jones) just about sums up how much actual talent it takes to forge an acting career in Hollywood provided that you’ve got the right package of bodily goods to ware. Let’s admit it: Marilyn probably didn’t get her famous role in Some Like It Hot because of her ability to faithfully re-create a character; rather, it was one more fulfillment of the persona Hollywood had created for her: that of a coquette who could get leering men hot in the pants by making kissing gestures at them with her forefinger and doing a little bunny-hop dance number. Sure, it’s shallow, but as the old saying goes, sex sells. Sadly, such shallowness also sums up Simon Curtis’s My Week With Marilyn, a film that I’d expected much more from.

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