Mar 052014
 
Election (1999): School Today, Corruption Tomorrow

Alexander Payne’s acerbically witty satire Election could have been a prequel to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The film points out that American high schools, far from functioning as the nation’s first line of defense against ignorance, are petri dishes for the infectious disease of political power. Student government is this breeding ground, and all who oppose it are—as any crook or liar could tell you—lepers who should be quarantined for their nonconformity. Hypocrisy, thy name is politics.

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Jan 082014
 
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) Duke It Out

Going into Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, one might expect a potboiler on the level of his 19th-century period-piece turdpile Under Capricorn. The Master of Suspense and screwball comedy? Can there be any greater incongruity between a filmmaker and his subject? Yet this film calls into question that truism we were all taught in elementary-school science class about oil and water not mixing. Sure, it’s hardly It Happened One Night or Bringing Up Baby, but I’m puzzled about some of the censure levied against this surprisingly intelligent, smartly penned, and convincingly acted screwball comedy—especially given the ongoing accolades bestowed on the pretentious, hammily acted, feminist schlockfests Adam’s Rib and His Girl Friday.

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Nov 232013
 
Sideways (2004): Not Quite Vintage but a Local Taste-Test Winner

Sideways, an excursion of two middle-aged friends into California wine country that has all the outward trappings of a nachos-and-cheese experience—bromance; loose women; and, above all, near-constant imbibing—manages to retain its own philosophy without crashing headlong into the aesthetic dead-end of excessive pleasure-seeking of either the bibulous or libidinous kind. On life’s roads, there’s rarely a direct route, might begin an interpretation of the film’s intriguingly cryptic title. And that’s a good thing. The smaller side streets that wind around the detours of human sorrow often arrive at sunnier shores.

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Nov 142013
 
Up in the Air (2009)? More Like Down in the Sewer

South Park got it right: George Clooney loves the smell of his own farts. The whole audience could be holding their noses, and he’d go right on smirking. So smug and talentless is he that he even manages to be vomitatious in a role that’s tailor-made for him. In Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman features this bronzed hunk of I’m-better-than-you manflesh in equally shallow soap-opera-level claptrap about a smarmy smartass named Ryan Bingham who fires corporate employees for a living.

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Aug 012012
 
Bedazzled (2000): Who'd Have Thought a Date With the Devil Could Be Such Good Clean Fun?

At some time or other, most of us have probably wanted something so desperately that we’ve contemplated selling our souls for it, only to think twice before entering into a pact with Old Nick. Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser), a four-eyed techie dweeb who turns into a googly-eyed lovesick puppy, initially has his reservations, too, but then finally succumbs. The girl of his dreams is coworker Allison Gardner (Frances O’Connor), and he desires her so passionately that he hands his spiritual essence right over to the Queen of Darkness (Elizabeth Hurley) in exchange for seven wishes.

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