It’s funny, I was just remarking to a friend the other day that more romantic comedies should make Hitler/Zyklon B references. “Going the Distance,” GET OUT OF MY HEAD! Of course, it’s a brief joke in a film of eternal stupidity, but the fact that the director decided to leave in the improvised line speaks to the tenor of comedy this unlikable pile of junk is chasing. I’m sure there were heaps of Darfur and Hurricane Katrina jokes on the cutting room floor.
What goes up must come down, but the life and times of felon Jacques Mesrine provide a splendidly cinematic finishing move with “Mesrine: Public Enemy #1.” The second half of an explosive bio-pic, the closing chapter carries a bleak tone, resembling a death row march, but the volcanic filmmaking remains in a state of alert, observing the titular crook swell up with defiance and excessive bravado, while the cops make a push to hunt down and end Mesrine’s criminal reign.
“The American” tells a common story of a hitman at the end of his rope. It’s a “one last job” effort with a conflicted protagonist, a bevy of smoldering Euro actresses suffering from an allergic reaction to clothes, and a few flashes of violence to crack the meditative veneer. Despite the routine of it all, the picture does have George Clooney, who delivers impressive work as the death dealer in question, instilling this composed, near static motion picture with adequate gut-rot while director Anton Corbijn makes the Italian and Swedish locations simmer with both foreboding and tempting qualities. It’s not the ingredients that make “The American” flavorful, but the execution.
As an American, I’m accustomed to tales of dog ownership in film to skew toward the cute and cuddly, or perhaps the outright tragic. The animated endeavor, “My Dog Tulip,” holds no such ambitions, preferring to tackle the event of canine companionship as an occasion to itemize instincts and bodily fluid minutiae. Initially, it’s an unsettling proposition, but the deft filmmaking language soon takes over, bringing J.R. Ackerley’s 1956 book to life in a most surprising and offbeat manner, turning the daily business of pooch ownership into a flavorful cinematic poem.
Protecting the night with “Darkman,” talking hard with “Pump Up the Volume,” and clowning around with the “Men at Work.”
In 1969, The Who unleashed “Tommy,” their electrified stab at a rock opera after years of tinkering with the elusive format. A musical achievement of staggering ambition and crunchy stacked-amp rock theatrics, “Tommy” became a sensation, justifiably branded the defining album of the band’s extensive career, soon embarking on a marathon tour of interpretation, eventually making iconic leaps to Broadway in 1992 and a feature film in 1975, handed over to cinema’s most persistent imp, director Ken Russell. The official tagline for the picture stated simply, “Your senses will never be the same.” It was a promise well kept.
As junk food cinema goes, “Takers” has a few highlights worth viewing, and a nice breezy pace for the first half of the picture. It’s a heist flick of shoddy craftsmanship, abysmal performances, and meaningless conviction, but the movie knows how to cook on occasion. If it didn’t take itself so seriously, perhaps there might’ve been something celebrate here. Instead, it’s a misfire with a few cracking action sequences, best viewed at home with a mute button safely within reach.
As tales of sadistic criminal behavior go, the French picture “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” is one of more vividly paced offerings I’ve seen in recent memory. Crisply assembled by director Jean-Francois Richet, the feature is a sprawling tale of violence, audacity, and desperation, funneled through an electrifying performance from star Vincent Cassel, who plugs directly into the sickness of the titular character, communicating his rage and quest for infamy with some of the most impressive acting of Cassel’s career.
The goal for a “found footage” horror film is to achieve realism. There has to be a sense of authenticity to the chicanery, otherwise it’s nothing but community theater leftovers covered by lousy camerawork. Picking up where “Paranormal Activity” left off, “The Last Exorcism” travels even further into absurdity, unable to construct a genuine mood to make the nightmare standout. Instead, it’s a film that spends 80 minutes calling attention to its own artificiality, when the intent is clearly to draw viewers in using the suggestion of reality.
Greeting demons all over again with “The Exorcist III,” and watching Martin and Moranis die and go to “My Blue Heaven.”
Produced by Roger Corman to capture “Jaws” fever while it still stupefied moviegoers, 1978’s “Piranha” was a lively little horror picture, handed sly comic overtones by director Joe Dante, who paid careful attention to the magic of low-budget pandemonium -- a fish feeding frenzy that left much to the viewer’s imagination. Now it’s 2010, and a few puppet fish just won’t do. Enter “Piranha 3D,” a comfortably budgeted sensorial assault that stretches out from the screen to bombard viewers with so much gore and violence, it makes a Gwar concert feel like a Jane Austen book club meeting. It’s a new age for the furious underwater munchers, and director Alexandre Aja is willing and able to turn what was once a charmingly low-fi distraction into a gonzo bloodbath.
“The Switch” takes a sitcom concept and humanizes it to a lovely degree. It’s not the funniest film of the year or the most emotionally engaging, but there’s a charisma in play that keeps it awake, boosted by efforts from Jennifer Aniston and especially Jason Bateman, who bring an unbelievable amount of personality to a potentially virulent comedy.
It seems Emma Thompson is now in possession of an inventive, humorous family film franchise. Back in 2005, “Nanny McPhee” was a mild Brit import, looking to jazz up the kiddie picture norm with a roundhouse punch of color, playful casting, and a firm grasp of the absurd to balance out the heart. Now there’s a sequel, “Nanny McPhee Returns,” which improves on the elements Thompson works hard to maintain in her screenplays. It’s an amusing, wonderfully arranged sequel that brands the character as a cinematic force to be reckoned with, hopefully for the few more adventures to come.
For a high concept piece of fluff, “Lottery Ticket” sure has a cumbersome conscience. A feisty urban comedy bloated with feeble social messages, the picture carries a decent tune until it feels the need to preach to the audience, hoping to indulge the fantasy of easy money while providing all the guilt that comes with the loot. It’s understandable that producer Ice Cube would want to recreate his “Barbershop” success, but “Lottery Ticket” can stand up straight without getting dizzy.
“Mao’s Last Dancer” recounts the remarkable story of Chinese ballet superstar Li Cunxin, who was plucked from poverty at a tender age to study dance, not fully comprehending the extraordinary journey he was about to embark on. A delicate, well-acted endeavor, director Bruce Beresford nevertheless feels compelled to underline every last emotion, escalating the melodrama and obscuring the grit and toil of Li’s journey, turning an engaging bio-pic into something more blandly approachable.
After their cancerous 2008 effort, “Disaster Movie,” I honestly thought that would be the end of filmmakers Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, two poisonously unfunny fellows who personally suffocated the parody genre with lethal features such as “Epic Movie,” “Date Movie,” and “Meet the Spartans.” Because Hollywood is always on the hunt for a fast buck, the prankster pair has returned with “Vampires Suck,” another unreasonably amateurish spoof film, only now their sights have been trained on the easiest target imaginable: the “Twilight” saga.