Blu-Ray Review: AI

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

"Since its release, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence has been much like its protagonist, David. Both are considered replacements for something that looks far rosier in memory. And, as a result, both have been scorned and have to work harder to find love in this world.

Much of this has to do with the history of A.I. The story finds its origins with 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', a 1969 short story by Brian Aldiss. Stanley Kubrick first started adapting this story for film, but unfortunately died before he could see it through to completion. As an homage to his friend, Steven Spielberg picked up the project and finished it based on both his conversations with Kubrick and using Kubrick’s copious notes and illustrations.

How much this actually changed Kubrick’s intent for A.I., the film version, will never be known, but the switch from Kubrick to Spielberg forms the basis for almost every criticism of the film. In 'Creating A.I.', one of the features on the new Blu-Ray edition of the film, Spielberg insists that it was Kubrick’s intention to have Spielberg direct from very early in the process. Whether that fact is forgotten, intentionally ignored, or disbelieved, it hasn’t stopped the wave of complaints: Spielberg is too treacly and sentimental for the material, Kubrick would have made it darker, the final film is too close to Spielberg’s other movies (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in particular) and, most emphatically, the ending was a tacked-on mistake to give the whole thing a happier ending.

Whether or not those arguments have merit—and, concerning the last one, Spielberg often claims in interviews that he only delivered on Kubrick’s blueprint for an ending—so much about A.I. has to be ignored to have those criticisms create the lasting impression of the film."

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DVD Review: All Good Things

Things Are All Too Real in 'All Good Things'

"Many directors fudge true stories by introducing made-up or re-imagined material for effect; Jarecki fudges his fictional work by basically making it as true and accurate as possible. The director is lucky that he found a story that doesn’t need much fictionalizing to still be so engrossing.

In a way, however, this attention to detail might account for the movie’s biggest flaw. The film is framed by courtroom scenes that, if anything, detract from the tension set up by the true-life events. It seems that these scenes exist to provide an excuse to do a voice-over and have a lawyer come out and point-blank ask Marks to explain his motivations for certain events. A DVD feature later reveals that the transcripts from that trial—2,000 pages worth—provided much of the source material for the film. The movie doesn’t need these direct explanations, and Jarecki should have trusted the story to shine through without them."

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Film Review: Sucker Punch

'Sucker Punch': Amped Up

"Though we follow five girls, two—Amber and Blondie—are mostly props. Sure, they all look striking and sexy while fighting robots and dragons in short skirts and piled-on makeup, sauntering into battle, guns in one hand and samurai swords in the other. Just don’t ask why they’re there or what they’ll do if they ever gain their freedom.

The movie often brushes the girls’ stories aside in favor of major battle sequences. Amped up and exciting, these images have all of the trademarks of Snyder’s tricked-out style, slow motion at times and blended to look like long tracking shots at others. They’re set to loud music. They take place in far-off worlds and they’re incredibly fun. Much as the girls believe, escape into fantasy is its own reward."

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February and March Issues

Westchester: Off-Off-Off Broadway?

How Westchester is becoming a destination for emerging theater: No doubt, playwrights, directors, and producers benefit from trying out their new material on an audience of regular theater-goers. 'When artists do these kinds of readings in the city, industry professionals, critics, and bloggers show up,' says Anna Becker, curator and founder of the Insights & Revelations Performance Series, which has brought new works to the county since 2005. 'That’s exactly the kind of pressure that you don’t want when figuring things out. In Westchester, the audience is intelligent and savvy, but they’re not as critical as industry insiders. It’s the perfect place to try something out.'”

First Kisses—Remembered

One artist's Valentine's Day performance work: "What happens when you think about your first kiss? Do you smile sheepishly? Blush? Cringe? Marcy B. Freedman, an artist and art historian from Croton-on-Hudson, wants to know. She’s collecting these stories for a work of performance art titled First Kiss Remembered, which she will perform on February 12 from noon to 3 pm at the Peekskill Coffee House—right across the street from her art studio. We caught up with her to talk about the state of kissing in the county."

Pet Events

Where to party with Fido and Fluffy: "Your pup appreciates the finer things, but never gets invited to cocktail parties—until now. The SPCA of Westchester’s Top Hat and Cocktails gala invites people and their pets to put on their best duds and venture out together. After your portrait is taken by a professional pet photographer, take Spot to the doggie ice-cream bar while you enjoy drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and live and silent auctions."

Teaming with Excitement

Looking at a recent expansion to a local children's bookstore: "The [bookstore] is expanding—taking over the adjacent storefront, previously held by a rug seller—and nearly doubling in size. With the increased space, the shop is adding a tea salon with an assortment of teas, French-press coffee, hot cocoa, pastries and scones. 'I’m thinking of moms at three o’clock, when it’s too early to go home and start making dinner, and the kids might be getting a little fussy,' says owner Francine Lucidon. 'Instead, they can come here, and Mom can have her tea and the kids can have hot chocolate, and everybody can read their books together.'”

February Cultural Highlights

Anthony Bourdain, Jim Breuer, Step Afrika, etc.

March Cultural Highlights

A Woman's Life, Bernadette Peters, Randy Newman, etc.

February Home Theater

It's Kind of a Funny Story, Let Me In, Monsters, and A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop.

March Home Theater

TV shows: Mad Men, Treme, and The Walking Dead.

DVD Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Watch Out for the Moral Hazard in 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

"It’s especially interesting to hold Gekko up against the hedge-fund managers of 2008, when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps takes place. In the spectrum of villainy, where does he fall, especially since the Street has gotten so much hungrier and greedier in his absence? The only thing more fun that Gordon Gekko, Master of the Universe is Gordon Gekko the Underdog, trying to sleaze his way back to the top. (There’s just something humorous about seeing him ride the subway.) Unfortunately, though, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is not about that story."

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PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Worst Films of 2010

The Worst Films of 2010

No. 3: Sex and the City 2
"Of the many sins that Sex and the City 2 commits against its fans—and there are many in the film’s grueling two-and-a-half hours, including the minutes wasted on the endless tour of an Abu Dhabi hotel—it’s the sound, thorough beating of the series’ greatest romance. Carrie was our heroine. Big was her fairytale prince. John Preston is, well, just a guy. He likes to curl up on his couch and watch TV—not horrid by any means, but nothing to make you clutch your hand to your chest and breathe a heavy sigh. Sex and the City 2 shows that Big is all limousine with nothing inside, a revelation that actually goes back and makes the entire series a little worse. And when Carrie berates him for wanting to hole up with take-out instead of squiring her away to a fancy restaurant, it diminishes her, too. Forget their relationship to each other – it’s our view of both of them that the movie tarnishes."

No. 1: Skyline
"Skyline comes courtesy of the brothers Strause, a duo best known for its special-effects work in films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of Skyline‘s protagonists, is in fact—if you are able to parse it out—also in charge of special effects on a big-budget film. So, when it came time for the film to deliver its aliens-vs.-humans story, what, apart from budget concerns, possessed the directors to ignore a special-effects-heavy, military-on-alien explosion-fest in favor of a smaller, human drama? Not that the latter would be bad in the hands of others—Monsters, for example, handled similar themes with intelligence—but it’s clear that this type of constricted storytelling is not the Strauses’ forte. In the few scenes when fighter planes engage in an out-and-out battle with alien invaders, the movie is pretty enjoyable (and looks pretty great, to boot). Yet the film fails to find a believable way to explain why two characters would bring a third’s digital camera into a bathroom to document a secret tryst, and why a separate fourth character would come across the photos in passing. The fact that Skyline is mostly these kinds of machinations, taking place in an isolated apartment, makes us wonder if there was a better Skyline movie going on just outside."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Best Films of 2010

The Best Films of 2010

No. 24: Easy A
"How refreshing it is to see a smart, teenaged, female film protagonist talk like a smart, teenaged female. Easy A‘s Olive, portrayed lovingly by Emma Stone, doesn’t use texting terms or slang when she’s speaking. She isn’t dim, ditzy, or klutzy—nor is she uptight or anal-retentive. She grapples with real issues of sexuality and social perception. And, though the process is full of awkwardness and poor decision-making, she’s all the more likable for the smart way she goes about attacking these issues. (If only her male counterparts were as well-drawn and sharp, but we can’t have everything.) We’d say that filmmakers should take note of films like Easy A and Mean Girls and create more female-centered teen comedies with characters as smart and fully realized as the ones in those films—but, really, all romantic comedies would do well to follow Easy A‘s lead."

No. 23: I Love You, Phillip Morris
"I Love You, Phillip Morris is another one of those strange-but-true tales: Con man Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a happily married family man, is hit with a car, decides to come out as gay man, turns to conning people to afford his lifestyle, gets caught and sent to prison, falls in love with another prisoner (Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor), and spends the rest of his life in prison, breaking out of prison, and breaking Morris out of prison so the two can be together. (Phew!) While the facts of the story speak for themselves, the tricky part is the tone needed to balance out all of the narrative’s wackiness—and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, together with Carrey, succeed in finding the perfect one. It acknowledges Russell’s strangeness without delighting in his misdeeds. It recognizes the humor inherent in Morris’ cons, but still manages to wring out lots of deep emotion when it is called for. When the film ends, you admire Russell—but you also kind of want to hit him in the face if you ever get a chance."

No. 6: Inception
"Director Christopher Nolan has spent his career toggling between big-budgeted action films and more thoughtful, cerebral fare. (Memento and Insomnia preceded Batman Begins, which was followed by The Prestige, which was then followed by The Dark Knight, and so on.) Inception is unique in that it succeeds at being both. At its core, it’s a heist movie, where a group of characters conspire to steal the most precious commodity of all: the ability to originate our own thoughts. And, like most heist movies, it comes with its own set of adrenaline-pumping action setpieces, with men with guns, car chases, big explosions, and perhaps the best fist-fight put to film this year. But Inception is so much more than a typical crime thriller because of its mind-bending structure. There is much to puzzle over after the film’s end. Whose subconscious were they entering? (Watch it again; it becomes clear.) Were those the same children at the end? (No, they were older and wearing different clothes.) Did that damn top continue to spin? (Well, that one’s not so cut-and-dried.) It’s this willingness to engage the mind—and the way that Nolan shows us worlds where city streets fold in on themselves, freight trains barrel through busy intersections, and hallways spin in space—that makes Inception more exciting than any close-call car chase could ever be."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

November, December, and January

Best of the Decade
An editorial feature package—edited by me and written with other editorial staffers—about the best county institutions that have been in business since the magazine was founded ten years ago. "One decade. Ten years of tireless research, experimentation, and reporting. Year after year, we scout out the most superlative offerings in Westchester County for our annual 'Best of Westchester' issue. Now, we’ve undertaken the enormous task of reviewing all of our previous editors' picks, distilling them down to the absolutely essential—the most stupendous, the most stunning, the most delicious, the most thrilling, the most dazzling—to bring you the 'Best of the Decade.' Think of it as the Best of the Best of Westchester."

Then & Now
A feature about how the county has changed in the past ten years: "Where do you go when, on a warm and breezy day, you want to have a drink or a bite to eat along the Hudson River? X2O? Half Moon? Red Hat on the River? The Day Boat Café? The Boathouse? A decade ago, none of these summertime staples would have been an option. The Hudson was not where we went to have fun. The river wasn’t for recreation—it was for work. (Not glamorous work, either—Riverkeeper called it the 'region’s sewer.') The water was polluted, the sites were choked off from the rest of the county, and it still had the workhorse vibe of lingering manufacturing industries, many of which had already taken flight, leaving chemical-filled messes in their wake."

She Checked It Out
A Q&A with writer Marilyn Johnson: "The old stereotype of the librarian with the tight bun, horn-rimmed glasses, and finger pressed to her lips in the 'shhh' position has been shattered. Now, you’re more likely to see librarians with tattoos, funky haircuts, and blogs that—rather than being meek and reserved—actually are quite loud-mouthed and opinionated. Marilyn Johnson, Briarcliff resident for the past 24 years, is one of the writers to shatter the fussy old preconception about librarians. Her book, This Book Is Overdue!, published in February, chronicles the work librarians do today, from getting the library plugged in to fighting the Patriot Act."

Happening Holidays
A round-up of holiday events outside of the usual performances of Handel and The Nutcracker: "People often forget that A Christmas Carol is one of the best ghost stories of all time. If you love Christmas/Halloween mash-ups, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, and want to see the Dickens tale become even more ghastly, the Westchester Broadway Theatre has a new show just for you. A Sleepy Hollow Christmas Carol, adapted by Jean-Paul Richard, weaves together A Christmas Carol and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In it, Scrooge, played by Mamaroneck’s John Treacy Egan, is visited by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle, and the Headless Horseman."

Totally Goth
A review of a local production of Jekyll & Hyde: "Behind every great man there’s a great woman and, in the case of split personalities, there are two."

Four Questions For...David Harbour
A Q&A with an actor in The Merchant of Venice and The Green Hornet: "'Al Pacino is a real gentleman—generous and gracious. He’s really grounded in being an actor and loves working on scenes. But, on stage, he’s like an untrained animal—you never know what he’s going to do.'"

Hepladock the Mylagoat
An item about a locally produced game that uses nonsense words: "'People think the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is coming up with the idea, but it’s not—it’s getting the idea in front of people,' Phelps says. After the meeting with the buyer, Barnes and Noble agreed to stock 48 copies of the game. Today, five years later, Yamodo sells more than 30,000 copies per year through Barnes and Noble, Toys R’ Us, and independent retailers, as well as its own website ("

Book Clubs' Best Reads
A round-up of what local book clubs are reading: "Looking for a great book recommendation? Look no further than local active readers—the ones who go to their book-group meetings having actually read the books, not just to socialize."

November Culture Highlights
Barenaked Ladies, Anna Deveare Smith, Kathleen Hill, and more.

November Home Theater
The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, The Pacific, and The Goonies.

December Culture Highlights
Cyndi Lauper, Judy Gold, and more.

December Home Theater
Inception, The Other Guys, Despicable Me, and Futurama Vol. 5.

January Culture Highlights
Citizen Cope, Twelfth Night, the African American Writers and Readers Literary Tea, and more.

January Home Theater
Genre movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Machete, The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor, and Justified.

Please click the links to read the articles in full.

Film Review: The Complete Metropolis

If There Was Ever a Movie That Deserved This Degree of Re-Examination, It’s Metropolis

"So, after 83 years of cutting and re-cutting, trying to piece together Lang’s original take we’re left to ask, Does the film live up to all the effort put in to save it?

Absolutely. Sure, on Kino’s Blu-Ray release, the newest 25-minutes of additional footage are scratched and grainy, and come in at a different aspect ratio than the rest of the film (the missing information is filled with black and gray bars), but that just underlines how gorgeous the rest of the film looks, filled with Lang’s soaring Art Deco towers and ornate cathedrals.

In fact, if there was ever a movie that deserved this degree of re-examination, it’s Metropolis. Every aspect of the movie is dense. The frames are full, sometimes with people (the DVD extras point out that 36,000 extras were used in the making of the film), sometimes with the light that bathes the saintly Maria, sometimes with smoke from the whirring machines. The story is packed with layers of symbolism. Sometimes machines are used as symbols for parts of the body, sometimes people are symbols as cogs in a machine, and on top of it all is a gloss of Biblical imagery. Even Gottfried Huppertz’s musical score—also restored to its original glory—swells and soars more often than it demurs. (Kino’s Blu-Ray is similarly exhaustive extras, mostly via a 50-minute documentary, 'Voyage to Metropolis', about the film’s making and restoration.)"

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