Art versus personal invasion is the premise that drives the documentary, “Smash His Camera.” A portrait of celebrity photographer Ron Galella, the film confronts the compulsion of paparazzi culture, isolating the experiences of its most famous member to explore the business of blasting the famous, showcasing a man who craved as much attention as his subjects. It’s an irresistible, illuminating documentary on a subject once thought glamorous, but now often resembles madness.
The documentary “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel” aims to rise above traditional pit stops of jiggles and giggles while recounting the tale of Playboy Magazine’s founder and editorial icon. This is an investigation into a man who consistently pushed the envelope in the name of freedom; a gentleman baffled by repression, who sensed an incredible opportunity to create a magazine that catered to the curious and the liberal, personifying a sexual revolution that lasted for decades. Yes, there’s nudity and plenty of footage exploring the heyday of Playboy parties, but the picture is more concerned with the man behind the ears, who built an empire while changing the world.
“Dinner from Schmucks” is the type of comedy that doesn’t understand the proper time to take a bow and exit the stage. It’s a funny picture that pays careful attention to the rituals of dumb guy cinema, but if there ever was a film that could’ve been a multiplex miracle at 80 minutes, it’s this movie. Instead, matters meander for nearly two hours, diminishing a pure expression of stupidity, carried out by a prepared, skilled ensemble.
There’s something painfully off about “Charlie St. Cloud” that causes it to miss most of the dramatic points it endeavors to make. It’s a well-intentioned tearjerker, but the film appears to have been whittled down rather harshly in the editing room, leaving a picture of little personality, but perceptible ambition.
It’s been nine years since the release of “Cats & Dogs,” and I don’t recall hearing anyone openly request a second installment. Fresh from the file of needless sequels comes “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” which doesn’t quite sequelize as much as rework the central premise of household pets as international spies. Handed a fresh generation of special effects, a worthless 3D bath, and a new cast, “Kitty Galore” gets about as far as the original, working itself into a lather that generates zero laughs and even less excitement.
I wouldn’t classify “The Extra Man” as particularly motivated, but it definitely reaches for a level of eccentricity that’s just barely within its grasp. It’s a character piece, adapted from the novel by Jonathan Ames, delivered in an iffy fashion from filmmakers unsure of what they hope to achieve from such roving storytelling. Still, there’s a satisfying range of actors presented here who don’t exactly provide comfort, but they have a heck of a time feeling around the film for peculiar character beats.
Midway through the summer of 1982, there was no one absorbing more power in Hollywood than Steven Spielberg. With his sci-fi masterpiece, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” Spielberg not only had a smash hit flexing unreal box office muscle, but a motion picture that won over every audience it played for, burrowing straight into total cultural consciousness. The success of the picture guaranteed many changes for Spielberg that summer, but two matters were most certain: he would attain world cinematic supremacy and the studio would demand a sequel.
Attempting to balance the cerebral with the suspenseful, Alex de la Iglesia’s “The Oxford Murders” is a wonderfully compelling mess of a movie. It’s tricky trying to bond Hitchcockian flair with lecture hall semantics, but the director works his tricks with ace visual consideration. However, there are gaps in characterization that are too wide to comfortably leap, with more attention paid to the homework of the plot than its human appeal.
“Ramona and Beezus” isn’t a very apt title for this picture, but I suppose it handles better than “Ramona and Every Damn Person She Knows.” A bulky screen adaption of author Beverly Cleary’s most enduring character, the picture simply doesn’t know when to quit, hitting a few bright spots of charm and harmless tomfoolery before its gets lost, turning a cute family film diversion into a modest endurance test.
“Salt” is a tremendous load of action hooey, but unlike other action hooey, this action hooey has the sense to keep matters moving along at any cost. An adrenaline shot of international spy games, “Salt” convinces more with its sheer velocity than its enigmatic story, which is positively alien in matters of logic, physics, and hypnotic characterization. It’s a big, barreling popcorn adventure lugging around one element that helps to sustain its entertainment value and enhance its screen magnetism: Angelina Jolie.
A quasi-sequel to his 1998 masterpiece, “Happiness,” “Life During Wartime” follows writer/director Todd Solondz down his preferred path of psychological deterioration and perversity, only this time the monsters of suburbia have returned in search of forgiveness. The real issue here isn’t one of atonement, but how much longer can Solondz keep making the same motion picture. Despite newfound political trimmings and an impeccable eye for composition, “Life During Wartime” can’t help feeling discouragingly conventional for the gifted filmmaker.
“Operation: Endgame” highlights a type of showoff screenwriting that wows producers and pulls in talent, but rarely makes much of an impression once all the elements are put together. Ostensibly a tale of spy beats spy, this violent picture appears to lust for some form of outward importance or daring political stance, but the reality is a ragingly unfunny black comedy with lifeless stunt work and a cast stuck in cruddy improvisational mode, floundering mightily while preparing for death. It’s too bad they don’t all buy the farm in the first five minutes and save everyone the trouble of watching this film.
With the rabid success of shows such as “Glee” and “American Idol,” it makes sense that someone with a few bucks in their back pocket would come along to make an “inspirational” film about the lust for musical stardom. However, I wasn’t expecting a weirdo motion picture like this. “Standing Ovation” is a low-budget effort to meld the exhilaration of performance with the squeals of tweendom, throwing an impressive amount of oddity into the picture to make it stick. It’s amateurish, woefully acted by a majority of the cast, and features music even Miley Cyrus would be embarrassed to sing, but it’s certainly kooky. Compellingly so at times.