Zero Dark Thirty's Morality Brigade

Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden movie doesn't endorse torture. 

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Dial M for Meh

Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock fails to capture the artistry of the famed director.

(Sipa via AP Images)

Among reputable movie critics, by which I do not mean the New York Observer’s unkillable Rex Reed (“Hitchcock grabs you by the lapels like a suspense classic by Hitch himself—a knockout from start to finish.” Yes, that’s a real quote), Sacha Gervasi’s atrocious Hitchcock has its defenders. They notably include The New Yorker’s stimulatingly unpredictable Richard Brody, who certainly can’t be accused of being a blurb whore by any stretch.

Abe, Daniel ... and Henry

Before Daniel Day-Lewis played Lincoln, another actor's portrayal was legendary. On Henry Fonda's forgotten greatness.

(Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

When early trailers were posted online for Lincoln, the new biopic from Steven Spielberg, the consensus was that star Daniel Day-Lewis, known for the research he pours into perfectionist transformations, was finding his way into character through the voice. Day-Lewis as Lincoln sounded nasal, deliberate, a bit pleading, and surprisingly high-pitched. In instant homage, Jimmy Fallon took a clip from the trailer—the president, urging a group of black-clad 19th-century men sitting around a table to make a change “now, now, NOW!”—and redubbed it as Pee-wee Herman.

Road Trip! Road Trip!

What will the latest generation of cinephiles make of Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend?

(AP Photo/Mario Torrisi)

The Criterion Collection has just brought out a new Blu-ray edition of Weekend, Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 phantasmagoria about cars, nihilistic consumerism, and civilization's imminent collapse into barbarity. As I often do these days in connection with Godard's movies—and not only his movies, either, but his more than most—I wonder what the latest generation of cinephiles will make of the thing. That's if they don't confuse it with Andrew Haigh's 2011 gay romance of the same name, a pretty good flick that's also available from Criterion.

The Future of Star Wars

Flickr/The Official Star Wars

Though it may be four days before a presidential election, I just don't feel I can let the issue of the future of Star Wars pass without comment. In case you don't pay particular attention to these things, Disney is buying the franchise from George Lucas, and plans to release more Star Wars movies. Our own Tom Carson responds without much enthusiasm, writing that though he was never particularly crazy about Star Wars, "I think one reason for the deep bond fans feel with Star Wars is the awareness that the whole stupid, nutty legend all came out of one man's head.

I've Got a Bad Feeling about This

For our reviewer, a depersonalized Star Wars is no Star Wars at all.

(AP Photo/Disney, Todd Anderson)

Temporarily turning even Sandy's aftermath into an also-ran all over the Twitterverse, the news earlier this week that Disney had acquired George Lucas's entertainment empire for some $4 billion—including the right to make more Star Wars movies, with the first post-Lucas installment set to roll out in 2015—seems to have left fans about evenly divided between feeling stoked at the prospect (how can more Star Wars be bad?) and dismayed at Papa George's sellout to the Dark Side. "Get your childhoods ready," one negativist tweeted. "They're about to get pissed on again."

When the Fringe Shapes the Center

During the AIDS crisis, ACT UP's radicalism forced more mainstream gay-rights groups to step up their game.

(AP Photo/Tim Clary, File)

Starting with my inability to believe Mitch McConnell isn't one of Disney's talking teapots gone rogue, there are plenty of good reasons I don't and shouldn't run the zoo. But if I did, How To Survive A Plague would be mandatory viewing for Occupy Wall Streeters. First-time director David France's new documentary about the 1987-'93 glory years of ACT UP—aka AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, in case you've forgotten—is a wrenching remembrance of a gay holocaust that's already dimmer than it should be in our memory. The movie is also an exhilarating portrait of human beings discovering what they're capable of in a crisis.  But above all, it's the story of how a never too numerous band of obstreperous activists successfully changed public policy.

On that count, France may gild the lily somewhat. Left out is the groundwork laid from 1982 on by the pioneer AIDS lobby, Gay Men's Health Crisis—co-founded by playwright and veteran thorn in complacency's side Larry Kramer, who moved on to  help birth ACT UP once the GMHC proved too apolitical for him.  The omission slights how ACT UP's radical bent ended up repositioning other pressure groups as the mainstream version of AIDS-era gay activism, an invaluable lesson in how defining the fringe can help redefine the center.

How Was the Trailer, Mrs. Lincoln?

A look at the trailer for Spielberg's upcoming Civil War biopic

(AP Photo/Disney-DreamWorks II, David James)

Presumably, we all know that speculating about upcoming movies with only their trailers to go by isn't a fit activity for a serious man. But that's how it works in a culture that now operates as a giant racetrack, everywhere from politics to the fall TV season; we all enjoy playing tout. Besides, I can't remember the last time I considered myself a serious man—it's all larks and pratfalls to me now, folks. That's how we grizzled types stay current.

Big Hollywood, Small Toronto

Among big-ticket Oscar contenders, the critic's heart will always be with the overlooked gem.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Every film festival has its own customized vanity. Maybe a mite grimly, Cannes hangs on to its monopoly on glamour. It’s harder than it used to be to get big American stars to walk the red carpet—the studios no longer see much PR value in a Cannes premiere for movies they’re spending millions to open a week later stateside anyway—but the paparazzi can always make do with Johnny Hallyday in a pinch. Sundance, of course, is still the ideal place for indie filmmakers to attract notice. The New York fest gets by on whatever spurious sense of consequence is implied by its location, location, location. And these days, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) touts itself as the place where the road to the Oscars begins.

In overdrive ever since future Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire’s North American premiere here four years ago—The Artist, The King’s Speech, and The Hurt Locker all did the same—this particular hype isn’t to everyone’s liking. It distorts the festival’s real calling card for cinephiles: its roster’s ecumenism, which is quite possibly unequalled by any competitor’s. But Hollywood predictably loves the rabbit’s-foot bit. No less predictably, the fest’s financial backers, both private and public—along with the likes of L’Oreal and Bell, both Ontario province and the Canadian government chip in with TIFF funding, and how civilized—are said to think the Oscar connection is just grand.

Norman Mailer Aims for Auteur ... and Falls Way Short

Criterion Collection has released the famed author's not-so-famed entries into the film canon.

(AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)

Whenever being a writer wasn’t enough to suit his churning sense of drama, Norman Mailer (1923-2007) could come up with some awfully wild-assed ways of advertising himself. They ranged from stabbing his second wife in 1960 (she lived and was dissuaded from pressing charges, and he actually got a judge to buy his argument that being labeled crazy would damage his literary reputation) to running for Mayor of New York City nine years later. But those almost seem like banal versions of Walter Mittyism gone disastrously overboard compared to Mailer’s notion that he could become a movie director—indeed, a visionary one, since why else bother if you were him?—without so much as a day’s apprenticeship.

Hooray for Hollywood?

Flickr/The City Project

The article of the day is Jon Chait's piece in New York addressing the question of Hollywood's liberalism. To simplify it a bit, Chait argues that conservatives are basically right in their belief that Hollywood liberals are warping our minds with left-wing propaganda, though they seem to have all but stopped bothering to complain about it. I find it hard to disagree with the first part of Chait's premise: Hollywood is, indeed, dominated by liberals. There are a few high-profile conservatives there (Bruce Willis, Tom Selleck, Clint Eastwood), but they're a small minority. It's not hard to figure out why. Any industry that is made up of creative people is going to be dominated by liberals. Most novelists are liberals too. I'm sure most graphic artists are liberals. There's a whole lot of psychological research demonstrating that liberals tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, open to experience, and interested in change than conservatives, while conservatives tend to be more conscientious and drawn to hierarchy and order (Prospect alum Chris Mooney details all this in his book The Republican Brain; there's a short version here). In other words, artists are going to be more liberal. Conservatives may not like it, but that's how it is and how it's probably always going to be.

The next question is what values are communicated by the products those liberals produce, and whether we have a problem with them...

Kubrick's Vietnam, 25 Years Later

Full Metal Jacket—as well as the rest of the director's canon—still fails to impress, even after a quarter-century intermission.

(AP Photo)

When the 25th anniversary Blu-ray of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War movie, Full Metal Jacket, showed up in the mail last week, I knew what was going to happen. As I glowered at the lavishly packaged thing and it glowered glacially back, my inner Jiminy Critic chirped up with his usual reproach to my anti-Kubrick bias.

“Practically everybody but you knows that Stanley is the greatest thing since sliced eyeballs,” he said, making that tired joke about Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou for the gazillionth time. “You chump, did you even notice that 2001: A Space Odyssey just vaulted into sixth place in Sight and Sound’s poll of The Greatest Movies Ever Made? And you haven’t seen this one since it came out.”


Our first opportunity to watch Charlie Sheen go totally psycho.

If you were a teenager in the '80s like I was, you had to have a complex relationship to jingoistic entertainment. On one hand, the way Cold War competition was grafted onto things like sports and movies was kind of unsettling, since the fate of the world was actually at stake, and one had to think that amping everybody up into a testosterone-fueled frenzy couldn't be a good thing. On the other hand, you couldn't help but swell with national pride at the Miracle on Ice, or at Rocky knocking out Ivan Drago. (Though to be clear, the ultimate message of "Rocky IV" is one of mutual understanding, and one hears the plaintive cry of a man who knows he is but a pawn of much more powerful forces in Drago's lament, "I must break you." OK, I'll stop.)

There may have been no cultural product that captured that atmosphere quite so perfectly as "Red Dawn," the 1984 movie in which the Commies actually do take over, and it's left to a small band of high schoolers led by Patrick Swayze to use their gumption, creativity, and familiarity with firearms to fight them off and bring freedom back to America. Perhaps because people my age are now in charge of deciding which movies get green-lit, they've made a remake.

Ricky Bobby Goes to Washington

Don't watch The Campaign with expectations of high sophistication and deft explanation of political issues.

(KC PHOTO/Warner Bros./PictureGroup)


The Masked Morality of the Batman Trilogy

The Dark Knight Rises is not an easy parable for the political left or right.

(Image courtesy of

Midway through a matinee viewing of The Dark Knight Rises, I had a sinking feeling that many progressives would interpret it as a conservative film. It’s the most obvious reading. In a thinly veiled reference to Occupy Wall Street, the main villain, Bane, spouts facile leftist slogans about “equality” and “the people,” and the only man who can conquer him and save the city is billionaire Bruce Wayne.