Movies

More Than a Teenage Dream

The Spectacular Now recalls an era of films that dealt with a complicated adolescent existence.

AP Images/Matt Sayles

The Spectacular Now easily earns the epithet of teen film, a genre known more for its box-office potential than festival and critic buzz. It has all the makings of another superficial flick—sex, booze, a teenage soap star in a leading role, and a plot borrowed from young-adult literature.

Artificial Love

Like HAL, except way, way nicer.

Could you fall in love with Siri? OK, let's not say Siri in particular, since Siri is as dumb as a stump and doesn't understand anything you ask her. But what about a version of Siri that's a few generations away, one with not only better voice recognition but a real personality, one that learns and changes and gets to know you, one with which (whom?) you build a complicated relationship? Could you fall in love with that program?

That's the question that Spike Jonze's new movie Her seems to be asking. Check out the trailer:

Zombies, Zombies Everywhere

How the video game The Last of Us fits into the growing catalog of post-apocalyptic media.

Not That Exciting

Pedro Almodovar's latest film, I'm So Excited! is less than thrilling but doesn't spell the end of the famed Spanish director. 

AP Images/Paola Ardizzoni/Emilio Pereda

I'm So Excited! might have made a good 15-minute sequence in one of Pedro Almodovar's bubbly movies of the '80s and early '90s, when he was more or less single-handedly putting Spanish cinema on the international map after the country's pivot from Francisco Franco's sclerotic reign to giddy (those were the days) democracy. Stretched out to feature length, the premise wears thin fast, not least because the execution is a tuckered-out facsimile of the director's youthful zest. I don't take any joy in confessing it, but it's the first time I've ever caught myself dozing off at an Almodovar film. Back in the cushy days when I used to catch his latest at Cannes, he was always a great cure for jet lag.

Last Day of a Young Black Man

Fruitvale Station's intimate portrait of Oscar Grant promises better days ahead for black film.

AP Images/Ron Koberer

Three hours before the advance screening of Fruitvale Station I attended in Chicago, a line of eager fans snaked through the Cineplex. Many were dressed up, hair done right, faces beat. Writer and director Ryan Coogler and stars Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan were on hand for a talkback after the screening. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, introducing the actors and the drama, which won the 2013 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, referred to the movie’s subject matter as “Trayvon Martin in real time” and led a vigorous call-and-response.

Vacant Beauty, Boredom, and The Bling Ring

With her latest film, Sophia Coppola emerges as successor to Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, master of disaffection and alienation. 

AP Images/Matt Sayles

Next month my 15-year-old son, Miles, starts Calabasas High, which lies wedged between the palaces of the community for which the school is named and Topanga Canyon where we live, with its erstwhile bohemians and aging hippies of whom I would probably be regarded as one or both. My niece went to the same high school and I remember some years ago driving her to the fiefdom of an 11th-grade classmate who had to himself the guest house which adjoined his parents’ mansion and was bigger than any home I’ve lived in. One of the Menendez Brothers went to Calabasas High. Sometimes I worry Miles will wonder what the hell he’s doing at this school and other times I dread he’ll fit right in.

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Gay Equality 1, Civil Rights 0 – join us in wondering how to celebrate this Fourth of July. (Hint: not by seeing Johnny Depp’s new movie, that’s for sure.)

AP Photo/The Omaha World-Herald, Brynn Anderson

Call it coincidence, but my bedside reading for the past couple of weeks has been the new two-volume boxed set of the Library of America’s Reporting Civil Rights. Awe-inducing and frequently thrilling, this monumental anthology of on-the-scene coverage of the fight for black equality features contributions by scores of writers, some rightly renowned—James Baldwin, Garry Wills, et. al.—and some unjustly obscure. Part One deals with the years 1941-1963; Part Two tackles the pressure-cooker decade that followed King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Each volume also includes a sheaf of photographs, primarily of the writers themselves at the time. They’re often evocative ones, even if the era’s great photojournalism—no less worthy of commemoration—gets short shrift as a result.

Anyway, I won’t pretend I’ve made much more than a dent in the set’s almost 2,000 pages. But that’s not the point, since Reporting Civil Rights could easily keep my idle hours occupied until Christmas. (Not only was I kidding myself that I could somehow plow through it in time to write a full-fledged review this month, but yes, Monsieur Proust, you’ve lost out—again.) The point is that the Supreme Court sure does know how to cure me of any illusions that I’m reading about settled history.

Burning Down the (White) House

White House Down, when ranked among the other dull offerings of this summer blockbuster season, is worth its weight in kabooms. You will be entertained. 

AP Photo/Sony Columbia Pictures, Reiner Bajo

Here’s a confession likely to guarantee you’ll never trust me again: I had a pretty good time at White House Down, the new movie starring Channing Tatum as a wannabe Secret Service agent who ends up as President Jamie Foxx’s only hope of surviving an attack on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That may or may not surprise you, but it sure as buttercups did me. It’s not even July, and I’m already deathly weary of movieland’s bang-kapow-boom blockbuster season. (On Hollywood’s timetable, of course, “summer” now begins before Memorial Day and is effectively over by August.) WHD’s unlovely director, Roland Emmerich, is the German dolt who peaked with Independence Day 17 years ago before going on to make, among other screen supertankers packed with manure, The Patriot and Godzilla, not exactly good reasons to look forward to his latest.

The Great Gandolfini

The actor's genius was his knack for humanizing but not sentimentalizing his tough guy characters.

AP Images/Barry Wetcher

There's a distinction to be made between dying too young and dying too soon. The first connotes unfulfilled promise: Heath Ledger, for instance, was barely beginning to realize himself as both an actor and a human being. Moviegoers can only guess what he might have gone on to. When it comes to James Gandolfini, on the other hand, we knew—we'd learned, we'd seen—what he was capable of. All we were asking for was another quarter-century or so of basking in it.

Greta Gerwig, Dancing with Herself

The anti-celebrity of the Frances Ha star

Comic actress Greta Gerwig has a versatile look—indolent or boyish, athletic or glamorous, always blond and beautiful but with broad shoulders and doughy cheeks that make her resemble an improbably attractive rugby player. The through line in her work is her pained gaze telegraphing that she’s alone in the world, and she wouldn’t expect otherwise.

Star Bleck

The second entry in the J.J. Abrams' reboot doesn't have the fun of the first outing, and all that's left is one more humongazoid, cluttered summer blockbuster whose gobbledygook plot just spackles over the interludes between kaboom-happy CGI set pieces.

flickr/skookums 1

Quick quiz: which movie currently in theaters does worst by a beloved national classic, "modernizing" it in ways that violate everything people cherished about the original? If you picked Star Trek Into Darkness, let's have a beer one of these days. At least The Great Gatsby's director, Baz Luhrman, puts his purple heart on his zircon-studded sleeve with a romantic pizzazz F. Scott Fitzgerald might approve of. From my lonesome perch, the cement-mixer racket from Gene Rodenberry's corner of the Great American Cemetery is a lot more deafening.

Da Gr8 Gatsbee

Nobody's going to mistake Baz Luhrman's adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic for a great movie. But, there's no doubt it's a fun ride.

AP Photo, File

The book will still be around in the morning. That's the best advice I can give anyone appalled by the mere existence of director Baz Luhrman's 3-D, darn near transcendently tasteless screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby—or Da Gr8 Gatsbee, as I've grown fond of calling Luhrman's version.

For once, I find myself almost envying people who've never read Fitzgerald's novel. Free of literacy's inner censure, untroubled by invidious comparisons, they can just let the whole whooshing, clamorous debauch run them over like a fire truck tearing after a burning Christmas tree, emerging dazed but sated. Then again, ex-English major or no, that was pretty much my own reaction.

Tired of TV's Golden Age?

Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color shows why we still need the movies.

Courtesy of erbp

It is a truth universally acknowledged that TV has surpassed the movies as the medium of choice for the discerning viewer. Since the evolutionary leap that was “The Sopranos,” episodic television—the grown-up kind, that is; the kind that’s not TV, but HBO (or Showtime, or AMC, etc.)—has raised its game with complex plots, high-quality production, morally ambiguous protagonists, and eager forays into R-rated territory. So, this weekend, the sixth-season premiere of “Mad Men” will suck up all the cultural oxygen. A couple million viewers will tune in, and tens of thousands of words will be written obsessing over every detail of Don Draper’s continuing journey from icon to relic. Director Shane Carruth’s new film, Upstream Color, meanwhile, will open in one theater in New York, kicking off a brief art-house rollout that, if he’s lucky, will win over a modest, devoted following. 

A Season of Swords

Game of Thrones, otherwise known as every origins story trash-compacted into the "ultimate extrapolation of Dallas," returns for its third season this Sunday.

HBO

Once again, it's that splendid time of year when we get to cast aside human decency without a backward look. Let's savor ruthless ambition, revel in permanent war, and realize we don't give two hoots about the huddled masses being ground underfoot like cigarillos for conquest's sake. Kicking off its third season on Easter Sunday, and so much for piety, HBO's Game of Thrones may be the closest that high-minded lefties will ever come to experiencing the buzz Paul Ryan feels at CPAC.  Meanwhile, virtuous conservatives get to gorge guilt-free on rampant carnality and unrepentant paganism, and who says there's no such thing as common ground anymore? Try Westeros.

Before You Know It, Change Happens

Movie Still/Mike Simpson

At SXSW, a festival geared toward the young, beautiful, and hip, I’m guessing few expected to be bowled over by a documentary film about aging and aged gay men. But Before You Know It, which made its debut this week, does indeed leave you wowed—and unexpectedly hopeful about the plight of gay seniors. The problems of aging are scary for any population, but for a generation of gay people, the situation is particularly difficult: many lost their connection to family when they came out and don't have partners to turn to for help as their needs increase. 

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