Category: 1.5 stars


Masahiro Motoki, in 'Departures'

Dir. Yôjirô Takita
(2009, PG-13, 131 min)
★ ½

Departures is nakedly manipulative. Its director, Yôjirô Takita, doesn’t show any sensitivity to tone or character. He aims to wring tears out of us by any means necessary, underlining every emotion with a blatancy that borders on shamelessness. Not content to let a scene play out, he cues big musical swells on the soundtrack and directs his actors to over-emote. Lots of tears flow. Lots of characters give longing looks. Scenes that might have been greatly moving if handled with restraint collapse under the weight of his heavy hand. He attacks you with feelings … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

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Gregoire Colin and Mati Diop, in '35 Shots of Rum'

Dir. Claire Denis
(2009, PG, 100 min)
★ ½

What can I say about Claire Denis’s French drama 35 Shots of Rum? In its Netflix synopsis, it’s described as a “heartfelt slice-of-life.” The challenge of a slice-of-life story is to convince us that it’s a meaningful slice, that it’s reflective of something greater, indicative of a broader theme, or at least revealing of something or someone interesting, but this film fails to meet those standards. Its characters never become interesting — they barely become characters. Deep, deep, deep down in there is a touching feeling of how things change, and how some people hold on to each other a little too tightly, but the relationships are impenetrably vague, the story slight to the point of nonexistence, and the tone sleepy and inert — a still-life without the life.

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Russell Crowe, in 'Robin Hood'

Dir. Ridley Scott
(PG-13, 140 min)
★ ½

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood tells the untold story of the English folk hero — and by “untold” I mean the writers made it up. Russell Crowe plays the title outlaw, who is a soldier in the army of King Marcus Aurelius (Danny Huston) until the king dies, leaving control of the Roman Empire in the hands of Commodus (Oscar Isaac), a self-entitled brat obsessed with his own power. He disguises himself as the Spaniard and lays low, until he rises against injustice and becomes a hero of the people.

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Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, John Cusack, and Rob Corddry, in 'Hot Tub Time Machine'

Dir. Steve Pink
(2010, R, 100 min)
★ ½

When I first saw the trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine, I bemoaned the death of civilization. Had it come to this? But then the reviews came in, and positive word of mouth sprang up and I thought maybe, just maybe, this is one of those stupid movies that is actually a smart movie in disguise. I considered writing this review’s opening paragraph ahead of time in anticipation of being proven wrong.

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Adam Arkin and Michael Stuhlbarg, in 'A Serious Man'

Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
(2009, R, 109 min)
★ ½

The experience of watching A Serious Man I can only describe as an ordeal. I sat squirming in my chair, fidgeting, and then finally thrashing — yes, thrashing — in frustration. It instilled a claustrophobia that made me want to claw out of my skin … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock, in 'The Blind Side'

Dir. John Lee Hancock
(2009, PG-13, 129 min)
★ ½

The most offensive scene in The Blind Side is also its most telling. Discussing the homeless boy they’ve taken in, Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband Sean consider the value of bringing him to a child psychologist, only to dismiss it out of hand. “Forgetting is his gift,” says Sean. He doesn’t care about his past. He’s nice, gentle, and taciturn — and compliant, don’t forget compliant. He doesn’t bother anyone or ask for anything. As poor kids go, he’s by far the most convenient, so what’s a lifetime of abandonment and neglect compared to a little home cookin’ and some nice Christian folk?

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24thDaySlide5-300DVD

Dir. Tony Piccirillo
(2004, R, 96 min)
★ ½

Writer-director Tony Piccirillo’s The 24th Day, adapted from his play, uses a lot of words, but doesn’t have much to say. It’s a claustrophobic little chamber piece where the two main characters talk and talk and talk and talk, and it’s all so very Important; they say things like, “Is that the truth-truth, or is that your truth?” “The truth is confusing,” one of them explains. When he tapes the other’s mouth shut we wish he’d tape his own as well, and then we wouldn’t have to listen to either of them.

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On DVD: “Blindness”

Julianne Moore, in 'Blindness'

Dir. Fernando Meirelles
(R) ★ ½

What a gifted filmmaker Fernando Meirelles is! … I’ll let this one slide.

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George Clooney, in 'Burn After Reading'

Dir. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
(R) ★ ½

Seldom has a movie that started with such intrigue ended as such piffle. Burn After Reading is too grim to work as comedy, too arch to work as drama, too senseless to work as a story, and too thoughtless to work as satire. The longer it goes on, the less of it there is, until it vanishes into thin air. It has nothing to say, nothing to show, and precious little to entertain us by. The emperor has no clothes, and there’s no emperor either.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman and Samantha Morton, in 'Synecdoche, New York'

Dir. Charlie Kaufman
(R) ★ ½

“Synecdoche” is defined by Merriam-Webster thusly: “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage).” I quote it in full because I don’t think I could boil it down. It’s one of the most confusing definitions I’ve ever read. The dictionary entry needs its own reference guide. Or maybe it’s just been too long since high school English.

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