DVD Review: Fast Five

'Fast Five' Is as Fun as When You Were a Kid, Smashing Your Toys Together

From the opening moments of the movie—when two flashy muscle cars conspire to collide with the prison bus, which tumbles and rolls and everyone walks away without a fatality—it’s clear that Fast Five is going to be at least a little silly. The characters drive off cliffs and leap out of windows and suffer neither broken bones nor scratches and bruises. It is, however, aware of its own outlandishness. “There’s nowhere in the world where people with cars hang out with models. We get that,” director Justin Lin says in his solo commentary on the movie’s extended edition, which runs a full one minute longer than the theatrical cut.

But there’s no harm in running away with the fantasy of it. In the commentary, Lin suggests that everyone just “embrace the ridiculousness of it.” There’s no reason not to, since going along with it means you get to see high-powered cars going up against buses, trains, and, eventually, bank vaults. The joy is similar to the one you experienced when you were a kid, smashing your toys into one another—only the movie has far more expensive toys. Lin estimates that more than 200 cars were destroyed during filming.

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler: Rum Diary

Johnny Depp and Puerto Rico Star in The Rum Diary

Johnny Depp’s latest, The Rum Diary, opens tonight—an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's semi-autobiographical novel about working at an ailing newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the late 1950s. Filming was done on location on the island (which was recently top-rated in our annual Readers’ Choice Awards, along with several snazzy hotels and resorts). Johnny Depp, no stranger to working in the Caribbean, speaks fondly the two months he spent in Puerto Rico. "It's very vivid; there's a real celebration of life there," he told Entertainment Tonight. "The people there are very warm and welcoming—in truth, the sweetest people on Earth."

Film Review: Dirty Girl

'Dirty Girl': The Edgy Misfit

“'No one likes a dirty girl,' a high school principal tells Danielle (Juno Temple), the firecracker at the center of Dirty Girl. He’s wrong, of course. Plenty of people love a dirty girl, this film’s writer and director Abe Sylvia first and foremost. Danielle, growing up in Norman, Oklahoma in 1987, is the very picture of fun feistiness. She wears high espadrilles, piles on the makeup, smokes cigarettes, goes too far with boys in her Mustang convertible, and mouths off to people in an adorable Southern drawl. She sounds like a cliché, but Temple’s performance makes this dirty girl is a formidable heroine in high-waisted short shorts."

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

DVD Review: Love, Wedding, Marriage

'Love, Wedding, Marriage': We Recommend Therapy

"Yet it’s not the premise to Love, Wedding, Marriage—and its strict romantic view that equates divorce with failure—that is the movie’s biggest flaw. Instead, it’s the way the film uses its premise to indulge the worst romantic-comedy tropes, scenes featuring zany speed-dating, bad karaoke, soap-opera-style revelations, a fake suicide attempt, schmaltzy third-act toasts, multiple uses of the phrase 'once upon a time', dramatic revelations, and wacky marriage therapies, plural. Did I mention that Ava has a three-week deadline to save her parents marriage before their big, surprise 30th anniversary party that she refuses to cancel?

Love, Wedding, Marriage goes for broad, just-shy-of-slapstick humor. Only Mulroney doesn’t have a feel for the right tone, rhythm, or look of a romantic comedy. In one scene, the marriage therapist that Ava sends her parents to—played by Christopher Lloyd in the most disappointing cameo of his ever put to film—has them run through some pre-therapy exercises that includes them hopping around and snorting air through their noses. Surely, this was supposed to be played for comedy.

In reality, there’s nothing really all that funny about watching Jane Seymour and James Brolin flopping around on screen. It’s almost more sad than funny. When Mulroney tries for some more directorial flourishes, he favors the more dramatic series of extreme close-ups, lingering ponderously on Mandy Moore’s face.

Then again, there isn’t much in the material to elevate with better direction. Much of the dialogue, written by Anouska Chydzik and Caprice Crane of the recent 90210 and Melrose Place reboots, is therapy-speak. People often say exactly what they feel. They talk about fulfillment, prioritizing, and validation. If there is a single least-funny word in the English language, it just might be 'prioritizing'."

 

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

PopMatters' 100 Essential Directors: Oliver Stone

As part of PopMatters' survey of 100 essential directors, I did a brief piece about Oliver Stone.

The 100 Essential Directors Part 9: Victor Sjöström to Luchino Visconti

Oliver Stone

Underrated: Nixon (1995) and W. (2008). These two films, though controversial, are not as easy to argue about or as quick to ruffle feathers as JFK. And, though political, they don’t touch the same kind of raw, emotional nerve as a subject like the Vietnam War, like Stone did in Platoon and Born of the Fourth of July (1989). As a result, they’re both overlooked, a shame considering what Stone manages to accomplish in them: painting a human, even sympathetic, portrait of a figure that stands for everything he’s against personally. The two imperial presidents are cast in very different lights: Stone’s Nixon, in his quest for power, causes his own undoing, while his George W. Bush is almost totally powerless, haplessly flubbing his way through his own presidency. And yet Stone manages empathy for them both, and gets award-worthy performances out of Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin in the process.

Click through to read the rest of the article at PopMatters.

Fall Arts Preview: Fall Movies

Fall Arts Preview: Fall Movies

"Anonymous

Everyone knows that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, Macbeth, and all those other great plays. But, to paraphrase the Royal Tenenbaums, what this movie presupposes is—maybe he didn’t? Director Roland Emmerich, best known for his disaster movies like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, offers a melodrama that asserts that Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, is the true scribe whose work  launched a million high-school essays.

 

The Artist

In the era of 3D, IMAX, and surround sound, it seems almost woefully backwards to recommend a movie that’s silent. Yes, silent. And black-and-white. And not in widescreen. The Artist is a new French film that takes place in Hollywood during the silent-film era, and it attempts to recreate that experience for current audiences. It’s a perfect antidote for those suffering from loud, color-saturated, quick-cut comics-movies fatigue."


Click through to read the rest of the article, or download the PDF above.

Fall Arts Preview: Fall Events

Fall Arts Preview: Fall Events

I wrote the massive guide to fall arts and culture, which was broken into Fall Events, Fall Books, Fall Movies, and Fall TV. For fall events, I covered upcoming art, film, music, theater, family happenings, readings, lectures, comedy, art and craft fairs, and special events taking place in Westchester September, October, and November.

"Talk Cinema

Film writer Harlan Jacobson screened The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—the original Swedish version, of course—before almost anyone else here had a glimpse of Noomi Rapace’s nose-ringed face, thank you very much. And he doesn’t plan on getting scooped this season, either. For his Talk Cinema series, Jacobson shows an indie or foreign film before its release, then hosts a discussion afterward with a filmmaker or critic. You don’t get to know what film you see beforehand, but speculating is half the fun.

 

The Zombies

This will be their year: to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary, the Zombies have planned a worldwide tour, with stops from Edinburgh to Tel Aviv. And, when they finally come stateside, they’re playing the Tarrytown Music Hall. In addition to ’60s hits like 'Time of the Season' and 'She’s Not There,' the band will perform songs from last year’s new album, Breathe Out, Breathe In."


Click through to read the rest of the article, or download the PDF above.

Time Out New York: 101 Things to Do for $10 or Less

 

101 Things to Do for $10 or Less

 

My contributions to Time Out New York's list of cheap things to do in New York City are sprinkled throughout their package, which is broken up into weekday, weeknight, and weekend activities. I covered items for all three lists, including: cruising the East River Ferry (No. 3), touring Grand Central Terminal (No. 6), bowling at the Gutter (No. 10) or Brooklyn Bowl (No. 30), catching a comedy show at the PIT (No. 61) or UCB (No. 70), seeing a rock show at the Mercury Lounge (No. 88), hitting up the matinees at the AMC theaters (No. 91), and walking the gardens at Wave Hill (No. 92).

 

"People’s Improv Theater

In January, the PIT moved away from New York’s informal improv-comedy district near the Magnet Theater and UCBT and into a new space with a full bar and approximately 100 seats—nearly double its previous capacity. It’s a great place to catch a comedian on the rise: Kristen Schaal and The Office and Bridesmaids’s Ellie Kemper were both on PIT house teams. Most weekday shows are rarely more than $10, but for the best value, stop by on Wednesdays from 6 to 11pm, when troupes flex their comedic muscles in six free shows. 123 E 24th St between Park and Lexington Aves (212-563-7488 thepit-nyc.com)."

 

Click through to read the rest of the article at Time Out New York.

DVD Review: Take Me Home Tonight

'Take Me Home Tonight' Is Not Just Out to Get Drunk and Find an Easy Hookup

"Five years after the cessation of That ‘70s Show, its cast is still making their careers chronicling the stupid things we do when we’re young. This year, that’s often taken the form of entering into ill-advised, pure-sex relationships with formerly platonic friends of the opposite gender. (I’m looking at you, No Strings Attached‘s Ashton Kutcher and Friends with Benefits’ Mila Kunis.) Leave it to Topher Grace, the one who always seemed like the deepest of the bunch, to make the movie where the main character laments the follies of his youth without getting to have any fun at all.

His 2011 movie, Take Me Home Tonight, also comes with a richer tradition of young-adult cinema behind it. The events of the film take place within one 24-hour period, putting it in the same vein as all-in-one-crazy-night movies such as American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and Superbad. Its ‘80s time period and focus on its characters’ feelings makes John Hughes an obvious touchstone. And focusing in particular on a protagonist who can’t figure out what to do with the rest of his life puts it right alongside The Graduate. It’s as if director Michael Dowse set out to remake Sixteen Candles starring Lloyd Dobler"

"Even though all of the pieces are there, Take Me Home Tonight remains as a good example of another film in the ‘80s-nostalgic, all-in-one-night, John Hughes-esque genre without ever becoming something greater. It’s happy to follow along in the footsteps of its inspirations without ever really transcending them. (Even the soundtrack choices, which kick off with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” are pretty typical.) The character of Matt’s best friend, Barry (Dan Fogler), for example, seems more obligatory than compelling. Recently fired, Barry is off in his own subplot where he tries coke for the first time and finds himself enduring a series of increasingly ridiculous sexual adventures. His exaggerated portion of the film, not as thoughtful as the rest, seems like a calculated grab for Harold and Kumar fans."

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

August Issue: In Every Issue

Culture, Etc.
Guster, Steve Earle, Trollhunter, and more.

"It’s August, and, to paraphrase Gershwin, the livin’ should be easy—and the music should be, too. Guster understands, and the band’s most recent album, the aptly named Easy Wonderful, provides just the kind of poppy, no-fuss music that’s best for those days when it’s too hot to think. It inspired Entertainment Weekly to write, 'There’s something happily uncomplicated—and at times proudly uncool—about this band’s sixth album.' Hear for yourself when Guster plays an outdoor concert at the Ives Concert Park in Danbury, Connecticut, on August 3."

Click through to read the rest of the article.

Home Theater & Broadway Box Office
Paul, Jane Eyre, Your Highness, and Cul-De-Sac, plus an interview with Altar Boyz director Carlos Encinias.

"Who is your favorite boy band?

I’d have to say it’s a tie between *NSYNC and the New Kids on the Block. The New Kids on the Block was my first concert, but I say that I was just taking my sister and it wasn’t really for me. That’s my line."

Click through to read the rest of the article.

Guster photo by Floto+Warner Studio