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October 18, 2008

The Go-Getter (2007)

What follows is essentially The Catcher in the Rye redux, a storyline that plenty of indie filmmakers have pilfered (Igby Goes Down, Charlie Bartlett) with moderate success. Writer-director Martin Hynes makes the movie work by introducing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy in Mercer’s mind… And then the actual Kate shows up, forcing Mercer to reconcile his fantasy with reality. It adds an interesting layer to both characters and allows Hynes to have his cake and eat it, too.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 18, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

August 31, 2008

Book Review: The Timewaster Letters

When I first started reading, the book made me laugh consistently. Each letter is a miniature comic gem, and in many cases the oblivious responses enhance the humor. However, like every piece of humor that gets its laughs at the expense of others, the more I read, the more I considered the dark side. While a few of the recipients seemed to, at the very least, find amusement in these odd letters, the overwhelming majority are just innocent folks who just happen to enjoy halibut or have a job affiliated with insulation. These letters, then, become a slightly more highbrow version of a prank phone call. I felt bad for the recipients, who mostly replied in good faith, and I felt guilty for finding “Cooper”‘s letters so funny.

Posted by D. B. Bates on August 31, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

May 27, 2008

The Life I Lived

It’s refreshing to find a movie like The Life I Lived, which manages to combine ambition with its obvious tight budget. Sure, it suffers from problems common to truly independent films (weak performances from bit players, inconsistent editing, derivative musical score), but the flaws give it a scrappy charm, and writer/director Ben E. Solenberger doesn’t let the story overplay its hand. He crafts a complex, nonlinear story that works despite its rushed third act.

Posted by D. B. Bates on May 27, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

May 20, 2008

Book Review: Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal

Because Vern goes in-depth on every Seagal movie, I did my critical duty by checking out Seagal’s first seven films and sampling some of the later direct-to-video fare. I wanted to see if Vern did them justice. Reading the book as I watched the films, I came away a sincere fan of Seagal. I don’t think I can pay Vern (or Seagal) a higher compliment than that.

Posted by D. B. Bates on May 20, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

April 27, 2008

A Touch of Frost: Season 13

With 13 seasons and 37 feature-length episodes, A Touch of Frost is bound to have an off episode or two in its run. The real downside about MPI’s A Touch of Frost – Season 13 collection is that it’s not…

Posted by D. B. Bates on April 27, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

March 22, 2008

Suburban Shootout

I watched and loved this show when it originally aired in the U.S. (on Oxygen), which is why I requested to review Acorn Media’s new DVD set (even though one of our other writers had already signed up). I felt a little greedy, but I wanted to share my love with the Film Monthly readership and the world at large. However, if you noticed my use of past-tense verbs, you might have realized something went horribly awry.

Posted by D. B. Bates on March 22, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

January 26, 2008

Chancer: Series 2

In the second series of Chancer, the writers managed the impossible. They took two of their most irritating characters — Piers Garfield-Ward (Simon Shepherd) and Jimmy Blake (Leslie Phillips) — and made them nuanced, interesting, and funny. This was a necessary change, since none of the characters from last season’s Douglas Motors storyline return, but it’s a credit to both the writers and the actors who play them that the drastic changes to these characters felt believable.

Posted by D. B. Bates on January 26, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

Slings & Arrows: The Complete Series

That Shakespeare’s works are still performed with regularity — if not popularity — nearly 400 years after his death is a testament not just to the language or the structure; William Shakespeare changed the way people thought about the human condition, something nobody has done better. The Canadian television series Slings and Arrows spent three masterful but abbreviated seasons celebrating the Bard and reminding us of his cultural importance, both historically and contemporaneously.

Posted by D. B. Bates on January 26, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

January 18, 2008

He Was a Quiet Man

He Was a Quiet Man has one of the most interesting premises I’ve ever seen in a movie. It takes a cubicle drone, who is unhinged because he’s so lonely he talks to his fish (who talks back, but we’ll get to that), and allows him to fall in love…which makes him more unhinged. That is the journey Christian Slater’s Bob Maconel takes. It’s Slater’s finest performance, and an exceptional calling card to declare that he’s back, and he’s capable — and yes, he should reclaim his A-list status. The movie is good, but it doesn’t quite live up to the performance.

Posted by D. B. Bates on January 18, 2008 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 11, 2007

The Windy City Incident

What I received, instead, was the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a shitload of bad movies.

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 11, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 29, 2007

The Eroticist

Do you like your sex comedies both stilted and over the top? If so, legendary horror directory Lucio Fulci has the movie for you! The Eroticist stars hammy Lando Buzzanca as presidential candidate (and sitting senator) Puppis with a bizarre sexual compulsion — namely, a desire to grab the ass of any and every nearby female. When a priest captures such an act on film a threatens to expose him (I think — plot isn’t one of this film’s strong points), Puppis goes on a “religious retreat” to a monastery, so he can overcome this unusual predilection.

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 29, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

Black Emanuelle’s Box Volume 2

On November 13th, Severin released volume two of the Black Emanuelle box set. It includes Black Emanuelle 2, Black Emanuelle/White Emanuelle and Black Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade. One of the more intriguing and worthwhile curiosities of the collection is Black Emanuelle 2, the only film of the series that does not star the gorgeous Laura Gemser. Even more curiously, star Sharon Lesley (also known as Shulamith Lasri) never appeared in another film. I found myself more intrigued by Lesley’s story than by anything offered in the films themselves. Unfortunately, none of the collection’s supplemental features gave any explanation of where she came from or where she went.

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 29, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 3, 2007

Book Review: Boffo: How I Learned to Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb

Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart’s latest book takes aim at blockbusters — but not just any big hits. The eclectic selection of movies, television shows and stage plays that he has focused on often have only one thing in common: an epic struggle…

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 3, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

September 23, 2007

Cracker: A New Terror

Perhaps wanting to distance himself from international success as Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, Robbie Coltrane returns to his other famous role, Dr. Eddie Fitzgerald, an abusive, insecure, alcoholic forensic psychologist. A New Terror takes a “ripped-from-the-headlines” approach by drawing parallels between America’s War on Terror and the terrorist acts in Northern Ireland and England. I know some about this political situation, but not much, and that’s kind of the point.

Posted by D. B. Bates on September 23, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

Chancer: Series 1

I couldn’t tell you if the show made sense to British audiences in 1990; maybe the intrigue and confusion of the high-finance world appealed to that post-Wall Street era more than it does to a person living in the collapsed rubble of the e-Conomy bubble. But as the characters formulated and as the dust and debris of the machinations of the first three episodes settled, Chancer turns into an enjoyable epic of corporate corruption, city “ethics” versus country morality, and globalization.

Posted by D. B. Bates on September 23, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

A Touch of Frost: Seasons 11 & 12

I’d never seen A Touch of Frost before receiving my review copy. David Jason’s performance struck me like an embittered barfly after a Cubs loss, all surprising toughness and intense focus. The remarkable thing about Jason as Detective Inspector Jack Frost is the apparent personal derision he has for the perpetrators of crimes. Sure, plenty of cop shows feature men and women who want to stop murderers, kidnappers, and thieves — but Frost isn’t angry about the crimes, isn’t mad about the victims. David Jason plays Frost who is personally offended that someone would commit a crime and try to cover it up. He wants to solve the crimes not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of saying, “You’ll never get one over on me.” He delivers most of his lines with a sort of exasperation and disappointment that sloppy criminals think they can get away with anything. They always make mistakes, and Frost will always be waiting in the wings until it’s his turn to uncover the mistakes and pounce.

Posted by D. B. Bates on September 23, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

Slings & Arrows: The Complete Third Season

Turns out, it bounced back pretty seriously, doing what Slings & Arrows does best: counterpointing the real lives of the actors, technician, and administration of the fictional New Burbage Festival with the play they are putting on this season. Even more than that, they counterpoint the Shakespeare group’s King Lear with an original musical called East Hastings, a mutant combination of the unbridled optimism and grunge of Rent and the goofy “urban” theatricality of West Side Story.

Posted by D. B. Bates on September 23, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

Poirot: The Classic Collection 2

My bias against this type of story prepared me to dislike Poirot. However, it surprised me to discover how many movies on this Poirot set had complex storylines with satisfying — but not baffling or inconceivable — conclusions. True, there’s the occasional “he created a fake pattern of serial killing, killed three extra people and would have kept going if he hadn’t been caught, tried to pin it on someone else, all so he could inherit an estate from his brother” solution, but many of the mysteries rely on complicated relationships and motives rather than convoluted schemes with thin motives. I’ve read some of Agatha Christie’s short stories and novels, though I am not familiar with the sources of any of these particular mysteries. I don’t know if the adaptations are revisionist tales that differ wildly from the source to fit the post-hardboiled world, or if the more famous Christie stories are famous solely because of their preposterousness. While it at least seems Christie told the same story over and over again (nearly every mystery revolves around self-absorbed rich people killing over inheritance), the level of quality and satisfaction in the resolutions vary wildly from story to story.

Posted by D. B. Bates on September 23, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

August 28, 2007

Gideon’s Trumpet (1980)

They don’t make TV movies like this anymore. Hell, they don’t make many TV movies at all, but these days few outside certain cable outlets would make a movie featuring a 12-minute scene containing nothing but lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court (and justices arguing back) — no background music, no flashy camera work or bizarre editing, nothing but impassioned oratory and incredible acting.

Posted by D. B. Bates on August 28, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

May 2, 2007

American Masters — Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built

When Ahmet Ertegun founded Atlantic Records in 1947 with the $10,000 investment of his dentist, he never guessed it would be a lifelong career. The son of a Turkish civil servant, Ertegun was so certain that his record label would be short-lived that he penned songs under the name “Nugetre” so that, when he followed in his father’s footsteps and entered a career of government service, nobody would know he had spent a few years writing “obscene” songs.

Posted by D. B. Bates on May 2, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

April 24, 2007

The Wedding Party [Die Bluthochzeit]

Hermann Walzer (Armin Rohde) is a man used to getting his way, often (we learn) by way of violence or temper tantrums. While at the reception for his son’s wedding, his new daughter-in-law (Lisa Maria Potthoff) complains that the shrimp cocktail appetizer seems to have gone bad. Hermann reacts first by shouting at the hotelier/restaurateur, Franz Berger (Uwe Ochsenknecht), then stalking off without paying the bill.

Posted by D. B. Bates on April 24, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

March 12, 2007

Private Collections

Perhaps this is why none of the three films that comprise Private Collections are particularly erotic. They all spend so much time hating women that it’s hard to work up the courage to find anything in these films titillating, despite ample nudity and vague, confusing attempts at “sexy” situations.

Posted by D. B. Bates on March 12, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

March 11, 2007

Immoral Women

With their awesome powers combined, three short films form Immoral Women, a provocative and baffling film that provides audiences with the following insights into feminine psychology:
  1. Women will murder men for fun and profit.
  2. Women will murder their parents and servants as a symbol of their sexual maturation.
  3. Women will allow their huge pet dogs to chew off the tender vittles of any man, be it a kidnapper or husband, and will watch with apathy as the pain forces them to roll into an awkward jump cut that lands them in a river, where they drown.
Good times all around in Immoral Women, now available on DVD!

Posted by D. B. Bates on March 11, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

February 20, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia proves a few important things studios seem to have forgotten: you can make movies for kids without treating anyone under the age of 16 like they’re rock-stupid, and you don’t have to throw in a bunch of “edgy” ironic jokes that float over kids’ heads in order for it to appeal to adults. After watching approximately 450 trailers for kids’ movies that look godawful (Firehouse Dog, Meet the Robinsons, and especially Nancy Drew), it’s easy to appreciate the warmth and intelligence in a film like Bridge to Terabithia.

Posted by D. B. Bates on February 20, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

February 18, 2007

Gamerz

It’s hard to imagine watching a movie about people who sit around playing Dungeons & Dragons-like games. It’s not the most visually compelling of pursuits. It also strains credulity a bit, in a world that now has massively multiplayer online role-playing games (which have, essentially, replaced old-fashioned D&D), to think that university students would obsess over a game like this. Gamerz handles both of these causes for concern with wonderful deftness: to make the game more interesting, an imaginative hybrid of animation and live-action shows us the content of the game as it’s narrated by the dungeonmaster; to make us believe these folks would play these games, we’re given the hilarious throwaway explanation that seeing Lord of the Rings under the influence of psychedelics would inspire a 20-something to pick up a 20-sided die.

Posted by D. B. Bates on February 18, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

February 7, 2007

State’s Evidence

State’s Evidence, from writer Mark Brown (the Barbershop movies) and director Benjamin Louis, could have been a good movie. It really could have. It starts with an offbeat premise that somehow comes across more believably than it should. It has assembled an ensemble of mostly capable young actors. On occasion, the screenplay even has flashes of insight that will resonate deeply with many audience members who went to a public high school in the United States. But the movie has so much working against it that, even though it tries pretty hard, it ends up descending into a total craptastrophe.

Posted by D. B. Bates on February 7, 2007 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 30, 2006

Final Move

There’s an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where Mike and the ‘bots tackle an awful PBS-produced sci-fi thriller called Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. Yeah. It’s about a rebellious worker-drone in a futuristic dystopian who figures out how to pirate movies on his computer. He becomes obsessed with Casablanca, prompting Mike to say, “Hey! No showing scenes from a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” A similar rule could (and should) be applied to Final Move: no naming the detective in your movie after arguably the most famous private detective in fiction. Comparisons are inevitable, and in the case of Final Move, that’s a very bad thing.

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 30, 2006 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

Family Plan

I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to made-for-cable movies. My idea of a nice weekend is waking up, turning on the Sci-Fi Channel, and watching 40 low-budget movies of dubious quality in a row. Maybe I’ll switch it up and turn…

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 30, 2006 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 18, 2006

A Perfect Day

The ending makes this review difficult to write. I want to say, “Wow, that ending — don’t watch this movie based purely on the the fact that the last ten minutes say, ‘Hello, I’m a representative of Johnson & Johnson, and I have just wasted your time. Joke’s on you, sucker!’” At the same time, I don’t want to spoil the ending for anybody whose opinion differs from mine. So I’m just going to ignore it and concentrate on what works and what doesn’t in the rest of the film.

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 18, 2006 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 29, 2006

The Wild Blue Yonder

Do you enjoy long, dialogue-free sequences of astronauts floating in a space capsule? Do you like watching people scuba-diving under Antarctica while voiceover narration pretends this is an alien world? Do you enjoy listening to ear-bleedingly awful music? Do you want to watch an incoherent faux-documentary with some beautiful cinematography but not much else?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of those questions, you’ll love The Wild Blue Yonder, Werner Herzog’s follow-up to last year’s critical lovemuffin, Grizzly Man. It’s a movie that feels like somebody shot a half-dozen reels of documentary footage but couldn’t figure out how to piece it together. The end result is tedious at best, but most of the time it’s just awful.

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 29, 2006 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 28, 2006

My Boys

Having found success airing reruns of recently concluded sitcoms like Sex and the City, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Friends, it appears TBS has sought to create an original sitcom taking elements from these “new classics” in an effort to make a new classic of their own. Have they succeeded? Sort of.

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 28, 2006 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 3, 2006

The “Human” Factor

Kennedy’s strong performance as Kinsman is the key to the film’s success. In addition to selling the grief and confusion over his family’s death, Kennedy’s stocky build and hang-dog face give the impression of a regular joe pushed to extremes. This is not a super-badass like Charles Bronson in Death Wish 4: The Crackdown. When he’s chased on foot, Kinsman is visibly out of breath and ready to collapse. When he makes the decision to track his family’s murderers, he doesn’t run out guns blazing, trying to punch and maim his way to the killers. He does it the only way he knows how: with computers.

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 3, 2006 12:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)