Month: November 2008

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Don Taylor, C+

An ape out of water (no) tail! A switcheroo reversal of the first film, now it is the apes who have landed among us and must fight for understanding. The tone of this film shifts drastically, from Dr. Zira getting a musical-montage makeover on Rodeo Drive to images of infanticide. Indeed, what could have been an interesting film and as good as the first, maybe, is ruined by a Gilligan’s Island-type production design. Once Ricardo Montalban shows up as a benevolent circus owner it is all...

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Clean (2004), Olivier Assayas, C+

I can’t deny this: Assayas knows where to stick the camera. His movies always look terrific. And they usually take place in an interesting corner of the world – a strange spot where there ought to be a great movie going on. And then…..the movie usually falls flat. Clean is no exception. One can imagine the origin from reading the bio of any mid-level rock musician. Dies in early 40s trying to host a come back, leaves girlfriend and child behind. What follows is the mundane specifics of cleaning up. Cleaning up the retrospective album contracts, figuring out where the kid goes, getting off heroin. Maggie Cheung is an interesting choice for the lead. As is Nick Nolte as the sympathetic yet firm “father-in-law.” Both go for a less-is-more approach, so most of the scenes just involve them staring off into space. Location photography of Paris, London and Nowhere, Canada are top notch. As is the open-to-your-interpretation presentation of, what I say, is pretty shitty...

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Flying Down to Rio (1933), Thornton Freelan, B+

I now have an answer to the question, which is the most absurd Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie ever made? Yes, beating out Follow the Fleet and even the one where Astaire pretends to be Russian, Flying Down to Rio, a truly baffling tale of fops, hotel orchestras and amateur aviation, reaches levels of dadaist insanity in its ridiculous scenario. A bandleader has eyes for a Brazilian debutante. Scandal! Everyone has private aeroplanes. Naturally! The of-its-era sexism and the of-its-era racism go eye-to-eye to see which can be more flabbergastingly offensive. (The jury is still out on this one.) The big finish (the one that saves the hotel from the evil Greeks with English accents) is a chorus of dancing girls bopping around on top of planes! Never mind that the audience down below sees only the underside of the aircrafts as they circle above. All told, something that truly needs to be seen to be...

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Batman: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore

Said to have been the biggest single influence on Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger for their iteration of The Joker in The Dark Knight, so that alone makes this worth taking a look at. A very compact story (that’s a polite way to say it) we get a peek into a possible origin for Joker’s embrace of anarchy, plus a view into his extreme sadism. Some nasty business, but presented with just enough good taste by Moore and company. The ending is nicely...

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Our Gang – Philip Roth

One of Roth’s books you are most likely to find in used shops seems like it would be completely uninteresting … a 30+ year old satire of the Nixon Administration. And while, yes, there’s one or two Agnew jokes that’ll go over your head unless you’re paying close attention, this is actually a timeless and very funny little book about the stupidity of power and malleability of political speech. In this book we see how positions are twisted around (the My Lai massacre ought to delight leftwingers, as Lt. Calley provided abortion on demand) or can be twisted around (Nixon’s run for “top Devil” in Hell) with a comic absurdity that is only one small ste away from reality. This book was written pre-Watergate, which means its source material are Nixon outrages that’ve been somewhat diluted over time. There are also some prescient moments with more than one passing reference to a need to resign office. All in all, this is some funny shit. One wonders what would happen if Roth turned his pen on...

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Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), Yasuhiro Aoki, Futoshi Higashide, Toshiyuki Kubooka, Hiroshi Morioka, Jong-Sik Nam, Shoujirou Nishimi, C+

An anime-style omnibus of Batman shorts. Madison Ave will tell you that this fills in between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but don’t focus on that too much. Yes, it is more Nolan’s Gotham than anyone else’s, but it is not a direct representation of that. Perhaps it is my inherent distaste for anime, but the acting is atrocious. Whenever I watch something like this I feel like I am watching Voltron. Some of the stories here are really cool. The one featuring Deadshot is particularly awesome, as is Batman’s reflections on learning to work through physical pain. The emphasis, for the most part, is on tone and mood as opposed to plot. This works well in many of the pieces, but is spread a little too thin in the others (the cops dropping baddies off at Arkham witness a fight – this is a story?) This is better than the truly lame Superman: Doomsday but not by that much. The allure of being associated with The Dark Knight only goes so far. The DVD features the usual chunk of unnecessary extras, although the lengthy bio on Bob Kane is actually pretty terrific. Much is made about Stan Lee and Siegel & Shuster’s Jewishness, but watching footage of Kane I felt like I was over a plate of stuffed derma at the 2nd Ave Deli. To wear cape...

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Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.

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