One of the first sounds introduced in the comedy “Surfer, Dude” is a bongo. I couldn’t dream of a more ideal way to start off a Matthew McConaughey vanity film than with a light bongo beat, guaranteeing the picture holds 100% McConaugheyness and that, at some point, the actor was nude during the scoring session. I wish the finished product was as amusing as the behind-the-scenes pot-fueled merriment I imagine took place during production.
In a shocking change of pace for Tyler Perry, “The Family That Preys” is, get this, a southern-fried melodrama, frosted with overbearing performances, low-budget production polish, and obscene displays of artistic and moral ineptness. It’s nice see that Perry, in his fifth directorial effort, has decided to test himself with deeply challenging material, rising above his past transgressions, at last offering the screen a tightly wound story that speaks universal truths about the state of the human condition.
A meeting between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro was teased in the 1995 Michael Mann crime saga, “Heat.” With only a single scene to share, the titans of method acting left fans unfulfilled, craving more screentime with these superstars. “Righteous Kill” is the pairing the faithful have been drooling for, so it makes perfect sense that Martin Scorsese was brought in to direct. Who better than a true master of cinema, a veritable big screen lion tamer, to properly manage the performance electricity between these two Hollywood knights?
With all due respect to Joel and Ethan Coen’s monumental artistic and financial success with last year’s Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men,” “Burn After Reading” is potent shot of vintage Coen that works as a tremendous palate cleanser. A back-stabbing, double-crossing, exhaustively absurd caper with pitch-black comedic enhancements, “Burn” is a beauty; a charged symphony of impulsive idiots left to their own devices, leaving behind a trail of bloodshed and bewilderment with every move they make.
Toiling away in television for most of his career, “Towelhead” returns writer/director Alan Ball to the big screen, his first effort since winning the Academy Award for his 1999 screenplay, “American Beauty.” I’ll say this about Ball: the man loves his sexual discomfort. A domestic drama marked by every possible form of abuse, “Towelhead” is a familiar playground for Ball and his obsession with suburban decay, but remains sharply realized by the cast, who turn pure ugliness into an exhaustive psychological obstacle course.
With this impressive collection of actresses and production duties handled by the renowned Diane English, it’s a crushing disappointment to find the latest update of the famed play “The Women” a defanged, broad ode to one-dimensional empowerment. The performances shine, but the rest of this mediocre travelogue of feminine foibles is given the blunt-force treatment, draining the material of deserved big-screen acidity.
I always enjoy a filmmaker looking to air out his big screen love now and again. It keeps the filmography interesting, while revealing a passion perhaps unnoticed in previous directorial attempts. “Sukiyaki Western Django” is controversial filmmaker Takashi Miike’s valentine to the 1966 spaghetti western “Django,” not to mention the scads of copycats that followed. It’s a ferocious, pleasingly absurd orchestration of violence and warped tough guy posturing, offering Miike a reprieve from his traditional dreary imports. It’s a big, giant cluster of gunfights, mythmaking, and method acting, but it’s a distinctive distraction.
There was a time not long ago when a Nicolas Cage film would command swirling industry buzz, a spellbinding marketing push, and demand the most prestigious spot at the area multiplex to placate the stampeding masses. Today, Cage is relegated to movies that barely make a splash on the pop culture canvas, are released over one of the worst weekends to unload a feature film, and are held from the greasy grasp of movie critics out of sheer panic that word of dispiriting quality would be unleashed prematurely. This is not the Nicolas Cage I used to adore, and “Bangkok Dangerous” is not the type of dreck the once mighty prince of strange should be wasting his time with.
Holden Caulfield syndrome is given poignant, unexpected psychosexual touches in David Mackenzie’s “Mister Foe” (“Hallam Foe” outside of America). An engrossing, provocative drama, the feature sniffs out just the right level of lurid behavior to keep the viewer in concert with the mounting domestic woes. It’s a feature of unpredicted, and quite thrilling, discomfort.
When Universal finally issued a new “Flash Gordon” DVD in August 2007, it was shockingly bereft of supplemental features. The studio cobbled together only a smattering of voices to chat up the film, but where were Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson? Surely the stars of the picture would hope to contribute their thoughts on a film that christened them cult figures, continues to fund their bank accounts through convention appearances, and gave them life as both heterosexual and homosexual focal points?
One of the most legendary, exalted cult films of the 1980s finally finds its way to DVD, after years of underground presentations, random cable airings, and bootleg proliferation. It’s a picture that’s credited as one of the founding mothers of the “riot grrl” movement, inspiring the likes of Courtney Love to go out into the world and challenge the misogynistic carnival of rock music, empowering the minority feminine perspective. It’s also a feature that befuddled a studio, rising up from the ashes of blatant corporate indifference to become a defining snapshot of an era, challenging the masses to find the feature and experience a piece of art held back purposefully from view.
In all my years of critiquing movies, I’ve never come across a more hot potato title than “Heckler.” Ostensibly a documentary regarding the bruised feelings of entertainment folk who suffer verbal excrement flung from the great unwashed masses, “Heckler” instead reveals itself to be an attack piece on critics and their general befuddling uselessness.