Rental of the Week

We know that you don’t always need to go out to see a good movie, so we’ve put our own H. Stewart to the task of finding you the best rental flicks, both past and present.

Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation have just announced that production has kicked off on their inevitable “live-action/computer animated hybrid 3Dfamily comedy” sequel to last year’s smash hit, The Smurfs. The Smurfs 2 brings back all of the cast from the first film, including Neil Patrick Harris as Patrick Winslow, Jayma Mays as Grace Winslow, Sofia Vergara as Odile, Hank Azaria as Gargamel, Katy Perry as Smurfette, Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, Alan Cumming as Gutsy, Fred Armisen as Brainy, George Lopez as Grouchy, and Anton Yelchin as Clumsy. Director Raja Gosnell is also back behind the camera. Screenwriters J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, and David Ronn are also returning, along with a newcomer to the Smurfs franchise, Karey Kirkpatrick (James and the Giant Peach, Chicken Run, Charlotte’s Web), proving that it takes five screenwriters to write something this unoriginal. The film will have some new faces, however, both on the human and the blue side. Brendan Gleeson joins the cast as Patrick ‘s stepfather, along with Christina Ricci and JB Smoove, who will voice “new Smurf-like naughty characters,” Vexy and Hackus. Uh oh, just “Smurf-like“?

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The Reject Report

What the hell does that even mean? Of course, you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate that phrase for all it’s worth, as the Reject Report this week is going to be a little lean this week. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides hits theaters far and wide, and that’s it, folks. No one dared step up to the May 20th date for counter-programming, because, really, how do you counter-program Johnny Depp? You don’t. That’s how. Even the limited releases this week don’t have anything noteworthy to brush upon. So shiver those timbers, and when you find out what that means, let me know.

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A taut and nifty melodrama-noir with a strong reactionary bent, The Reckless Moment is essentially about love and the the redemptive acts of selflessness it can inspire.

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A character portrait, both epic and intimate, that studies the sexual lives of two men, friends, over the course of the mid to late Twentieth Century, Carnal Knowledge does nothing if not remind us that life in post-war America was a lot dirtier than we’re often led to believe.

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Gripping and absorbing from beginning to end, Michael Clayton is a well-crafted legal thriller. The movie isn’t perfect but it is solid all around and with the way it’s being acclaimed, it is a title to keep an eye on during awards season. This marks the first feature film debut by writer Tony Gilroy who has written the scripts to the Bourne movies and The Devil’s Advocate. Like Scott Frank did with this year’s earlier thriller The Lookout, Gilroy has made a memorable first impression as a director.

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Four trenchcoated older men with color-coded code names, wearing old-fashioned hats, black-rimmed glasses and ersatz mustaches, board a crowded downtown No. 6 train (called, by transit staff, “Pelham One-Two-Three” for its departure time and point of origin) stop by stop, starting at Fifty-Ninth Street. By Thirty-Third, they’ve overtaken the two conductors at gunpoint. (“I didn’t know these things went backwards!” exclaims one when no longer in control of his train.)

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“This is really a great city, I don’t care what anyone says,” Woody Allen mutters earnestly over Manhattan‘s well-known money-shot of the 59th St. Bridge and, thanks in large part to Gordon Willis’ magnificent photography, he really makes you believe it. Manhattan, kicking down the cobblestones on the heels of Allen’s much derided Interiors, is a return to the comedic form of the beloved (and Academy Award sweeping) Annie Hall, though with a matured voice; despite its poignancy, Annie Hall is, for the most part, tonally silly, while Manhattan plays more like Interiors with jokes. It’s about modern romance, New York City and the way the two intersect; as Allen says in the introduction, of his love for New York, the film’s “romanticized all out of proportion”.

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I suppose it was only a matter of time before Werner Herzog, as the prolific documentarian that he’s become, tried his hand at the faux-documentary. Well, why not? “Mockumentary” would be the wrong word to describe The Wild Blue Yonder, despite its familiarity and wide usage, as there’s rarely a hint of humor in this mostly grave film. It posits itself as a bizarre secret history, conspiratorial in tone, of alien life on Earth and clandestine NASA experimentation. (Broadly, it’s, as Herzog calls it, redundantly, “science fiction fantasy”.) But Herzog seems to have forgotten—unless he just never knew—that effective science fiction’s most essential ingredient is a liberal dash of potent subtext. There seems to be no purpose behind The Wild Blue Yonder‘s production, beyond Herzog, intoxicated by found footage, needing to flaunt his nifty discoveries like a school boy with a new toy. Want to come over later and watch my NASA reels? You can’t blame the guy for trying, as Herzog pulled off a masterpiece once before when overwhelmed by similarly mesmerizing inspiration, fashioning Grizzly Man while under the spell of Timothy Treadwell’s digital video diaries. But one of that film’s keys to success was that Treadwell was a real person, with all the benefits, in relation to making a documentary film, that that entails; here, Brad Dourif, in an admitted fine bit of casting, stars as our fictional extraterrestrial narrator, guiding us, mostly in voice-over, through long stretches of file footage, the lion’s share of which is either […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. The “Edward Norton Rule of Making It” states that all up-and-coming, young male actors ought to find a part as a Neo-Nazi for their big breakthrough role. Ryan Gosling, go-getter that he was, one-ups this formula for success by playing a Jewish Neo-Nazi in The Believer; such a divided, contradictory character obviously demands sensitivity in its handling, but for the vast bulk of its run-time The Believer conducts itself with the antithesis of complexity, reveling in cheap cinematic shorthands, like an intrusive, histrionic musical score or a vapidly rapid editing structure, and cartoonish supporting characters, such as the mush-faced journalist or the haughty, pedantic Yeshivah brat seen in flashbacks. Where the film requires exercised restraint, it instead offers a bright red t-shirt sporting an enormous, silk-screened swastika across its face; when it ought to hold back, it instead bursts forth with lines like, “We could fuck through a sheet, let’s try it.” The fact that Gosling manages to, just barely, eschew the caricatural quality that characterizes the film—that he could deliver a performance that approaches depth within such dreck—is a great testament to his talent. But why does his character hate the Jews, particularly when he himself is a Jew? “It’s an axiom of civilization,” […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. Condescending, pedantic and powerful, Funny Games is essentially an essay on film theory, masquerading as a narrative film, that hopes to challenge the way in which we process movie violence. It opens with a family on a drive, playing a game of “Name that Tenor” as the mother, Ana (Susanne Lothar) and father, Georg (Ulrich M¼he) take turns tossing on various CDs. “Bjoerling?” “Obviously, but what’s the aria?” Obviously? Obviously, these are some pretty bourgeois folks, civilized and genteel to a fault. Haneke abruptly interrupts their arias with some John Zorn screamrock, foreshadowing the puncturing violence to come. When Peter (Frank Giering), who professes to be a house guest of the neighbors, stops by the family’s lake house and asks to borrow some eggs, Ana lets him in without a second thought. After all, the neighbors are their friends, and friendly people help a friend in need. But the benign scene turns increasingly tense—enhanced by Haneke’s camera that won’t cut away—in an absurd-in-its-banal-believability sort of way, as Peter breaks the eggs, drops their phone in a sink full of water, and breaks some more eggs. The situation escalates as Peter demands even more eggs and another boy, Paul (Arno Frisch), comes over; soon Peter and […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. Warren Beatty had a tendency in the 1970′s to take a lot of self-indulgent roles, from an irresistable hair stylist in the abominable Shampoo to a courageous newspaperman in the uneven Parallax View, so the title role (guess which) in McCabe & Mrs. Miller is something of a departure—despite Beatty’s good looks, his character’s an out-and-out cad, an unsympathetic and redemptionless anti-hero. For once, Beatty’s character is intentionally unlikeable. That’s because McCabe… is a sort of anti-Western,a modernized and revised take on the genre. Altman, as he would do for Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles in The Long Goodbye two years later, strips the West of its romantic trappings—there are no cowboy hats, no John Waynes, no proud masculinity on boastful display. The sets were constructed by Altman’s crew in the middle of the wilderness, and they lived in the houses they built or, in the case of many structures, half-built, so there’s no denying McCabe & Mrs. Miller‘s authenticity; overall it’s visually stunning, and Leon Erickson’s strikingly realistic production design is captured gorgeously in Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography, a combination of soft lighting and hazy filtering that gives the film an antiquated and dreamy look. But Altman’s revisionism goes a bit too far; his characters aren’t […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. As the recent Broadway production, and upcoming film adaptation, of Frost/Nixon ought to demonstrate, America’s thirty-seventh president, who resigned in disgrace over three decades ago, is still a source of fascination for artists and audiences alike. It shouldn’t be surprising, as Nixon’s presidency and subsequent ruination has had far-reaching effects on American politics and society that continue to reverberate to this day. At the center of all this, Nixon himself is a difficult character to parse, as he’s not easily reducible to simple motivations—except perhaps paramount paranoia. Several films in the past decade or so have focused directly on Nixon, from Oliver Stone’s epic biopic simply called Nixon to the slight and forgotten farce crudely entitled Dick. (A quick IMDb search reveals many other titles: Kissinger and Nixon, 1995; Elvis Meets Nixon, 1997; and films like The Assassination of Richard Nixon in which Nixon appears, but not as the explicit subject; more than any other modern American President, Richard Nixon as man and legend enduringly refuses to stop popping up in pop culture—look for instance, for one of many minor examples, at his frequent appearance as a disembodied head on Futurama.) But in the years following the Watergate scandal and Ford’s infamous pardon, talking about […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. The Devil Doll, directed by Tod Browning (Freaks, Dracula), has a few things going for it aside from a reliable director; most strikingly, it has Lionel Barrymore in drag for the bulk of its running time. (If only George Bailey had known his rival’s dirty secret! He may have had some leverage.) Barrymore plays Paul Lavond, an erstwhile banker framed for embezzlement who escapes from prison along with a mad scientist, Marcel (Henry B. Walthall). Marcel brings Lavond to his secret laboratory in the swamp to show off his incredible shrinking potion; it can transform anything—or anyone—to pint-size, and also conveniently allows the shrinker to control the shrunken’s mind. The science is a little fuzzy here—free will depends on the size of our brains?—but before you could call anyone on it the scientist character is killed off (and coincidentally, shortly after filming, Walthall died in real life as well), leaving Lavond in control of his potions and ripe for revenge against the three slimy bankers who set him up, soiled his name, shamed his daughter, drove his wife to suicide, and sent him to the clink. But, as a jailbird and Public Enemy No. 1, how can he stay in and get around Paris to […]

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If you want to point to one of the most influential martial arts films ever made, The One-Armed Swordsman has to be near the top of the list. Released in 1967, it was the first film to crack the $1 million barrier at the Hong Kong box office, and helped to usher in a new era of martial arts films that would run through the 1970′s. The movie itself is fantastic, it features a strong, brooding, charismatic lead in Jimmy Wang Yu, some interesting swordplay, and the emergence of Chang Cheh as one of the leading directors of this new movement. The story tells the story of a servant’s son who is taken in by a master swordsman after hs father is killed while defending the master’s home. In a debt of gratitude the swordsman, Master Qi, takes the boy as his own and promises to raise him. The film jumps ahead in time, the boy, Fang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu is know grown, and feeling a bit rebellious due to his decidedly lower class origin in comparison to his fellow students, not to mention the master’s daughter. The daughter, Qi Pei Er, conspires with a pair of fellow students to teach this upstart a lesson by luring him into the woods at night to beat him up. Before this can happen, Gang makes the decision to leave this life behind, never able to truly fit in. Even though he decides to leave, he still winds up confronting the trio. […]

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I had never heard of this title prior to seeing the announcement of its release. It just looked like such an odd title for a martial arts flick, when compared to what I am used to from Shaw Brothers films. Perhaps that is my lack of in-depth familiarity with their catalog, but it does not lessen my interest in seeing whatever I can — that, and the fact that Dragon Dynasty has been doing a bang-up job on their releases thus far. Now that I have had the pleasure of watching, I wish I had been introduced sooner! My Young Auntie (Cheung booi) is a combination of many genres of film and styles of kung fu with an end result being a movie that is very entertaining. The story follows two distinct threads, and is not all that hard to follow; this is not a movie you watch for deep story. It starts with the introduction of Yuen Dai Nan (Kara Hui). The story is set up in a flashback where the dying elder of the Yuen family fears that his evil brother will lay claim to his estate, so in order to fend off that possibility, he marries the considerably younger Dai Nan, who had been taken in by the family some years earlier. This would ensure that the estate would fall to her; she was given further instructions to pass the deed to his estate over to another relative, Yuen Ching-Chuen (played by director Lau Kar-Leung). This is […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. B-moviemaking at its very finest, the efficient and compact Mad Love opens with the image of a dead man hanging from a noose. Don’t worry, it’s just a gag, yet just like the film it appears in, the image succeeds in being spooky in spite of the light comedy that surrounds it. Peter Lorre plays Dr. Gogol, a brilliant surgeon who falls in love with a young actress, Yvonne; she is happily married, however, to Orlac (Colin Clive, of Dr. Frankenstein renown), a famous concert pianist and composer, and thusly rejects his overtures. However, when her husband is in a train wreck and has his hands crushed, she turns to Gogol for help, as he is the only man who could possibly save them. (Orlac’s hands are his life!) Gogol, knowing the hands are beyond salvage but desperate for attention from the object of his affection, transplants the hands of Rollo, a recently executed killer and expert knife-thrower, onto the pianist. After a brief recovery, Orlac’s piano playing isn’t the same, though he now possesses quite the aptitude for the art of impalement. Perhaps, then, he could abandon the piano and join a vaudeville act; according to Orlac, “The hands don’t want to just throw […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. As Ninotchka was billed as, “Garbo Talks!”, Only Angels Have Wings could’ve been billed as, “Cary Cries!” since Mr. Grant, in one of his most complex performances (to my mind, only Notorious exceeds it), actually sheds some tears of grief. He also loses his cool at one point, kicking over a chair in furious fit. For the debonair and always upright actor, it’s an uncharacteristic film. Uncharacteristic in more ways than one. Only Angels Have Wings sports an unusual (for a ’30s movie) opening scene that’s long and hardly bothers to get the plot moving, dawdling instead in a set piece that introduces and extensively develops the characters. (Only Angels… is a rarity—a successfully character-driven action movie.) The adorably squeaky Jean Arthur is on a sea voyage with a stopover in Panama, where she quickly pals up with some fellow Americans who are down there flying planes—delivering mail, mostly. Two guys congenially fight over who gets to buy her a steak; though Joe wins, before he can say “medium-well” the boss, Cary Grant, sends him off on a flight. The weather is bad and in his hurry to make it back for dinner, Joe’s plane crashes. This sends Arthur into hysterics, especially when no one […]

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The advent of on-line DVD rental has brought unprecedented, democratized access to the archives of film history. The copious selection, however, can be a bit daunting and counterproductive–what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help you navigate through the available annals of cinematic history, to function as a minor guide as to what to see and what not to see, addressing films both classic & [relatively] contemporary, American & international. Why A Face in the Crowd isn’t more popular, let alone universally revered, is anybody’s guess; a good twenty years before Network, Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg—who’d previously teamed up for one of the masterpieces of American cinema, On the Waterfront—tackled the dangerous manipulative power of television in their story of a drunken hobo, “Lonesome” Rhodes, turned celebrity. Whereas much of Network hasn’t aged well, A Face in the Crowd, which even predates the famous Nixon-Kennedy debates, feels more relevant than ever, as its prescient commentary on television’s effect on America’s culture—and, most notably, its political sphere—has proven true ten times over in the decades since it was made. In the first scene, Marcia (Patricia Neal), host of a small town radio program called “A Face in the Crowd”, enters an Arkansas jail to gather some soundbites for her show. (The Southern atmosphere, in all its sweaty, crumbling, filthy grit is rendered as palpably as it was in Kazan’s previous effort, Baby Doll—another heck of a film.) After the inmates don’t prove too accommodating to Miss Marcia, the […]

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On-line rental companies now offer democratized, unprecedented access to the annals of film history, but the copious selection can be a bit daunting and counterproductive: what, exactly, should you watch? This column hopes to help steer you towards good film and away from the bad. The Parallax View is regarded as a paragon of the ’70s paranoid political thriller, but, make no mistake, it is no taught, thrilling procedural along the lines of All the President’s Men—it’s an uneven bore that’s as incredibly dated as Warren Beatty’s haircut. Hairdos and obsolescence seem to be a real problem for many Warren Beatty movies (I’m thinking of the abysmal Shampoo); as a colleague, Clayton White, told me recently: “They might have been big in their time, but most of them need to stay in their time.” Beatty plays Joe Frady, who mostly uses aliases throughout the film, a two-bit journalist present at the assassination of a prominent Senator. The murder is declared, familiarly, the work of a lone, crazed gunman, but several years later many of the other people who were present start dying, whether from seemingly benign accidents or natural causes. At first, Frady is satisfied that everything is as they say and the unusual deaths are mere coincidence. But when a fellow journalist and assassination attendee dies immediately after foretelling her own death, Frady decides to dig a bit deeper, and soon unearths a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of…the Parallax Corporation; well, that’s just a […]

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The Fugitive KindOstensibly, The Fugitive Kind has as sure a recipe for success as one could imagine: a talented director in his fresh, up-and-coming days; a screenplay by perhaps the most renowned playwright in American history; and a lead performance from the most revered American screen actor of all time, from when he was still at the very top of his game. (Not to mention Boris Kaufman on cinematography!) And yet, despite delivering on a number of accounts, The Fugitive Kind is relatively obscure for a reason: it’s an ultimate failure of a film.

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published: 04.19.2014
A-
published: 04.19.2014
B+
published: 04.18.2014
C-
published: 04.18.2014
C

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