Parental Guidance (2012)

The Shot Heard ‘Round the Cinema Parental Guidance is the sort of film—a crowd-pleasing holiday release, mildly funny with a seemingly simplistic “family is good” message—that academic critics avoid like the plague. This is a tremendous mistake. Of three holiday releases—The Hobbit, This is 40, and Parental Guidance—the latter is the most sociologically significant. There ...

Les Misérables (2012)

Javert’s Tightrope Act Claude Lelouch’s Les Miserables, one of the many very good film adaptations of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, begins with an intensive close-up on actor Jean-Paul Belmondo’s  face. It is a pivotal scene in the novel, when Jean Valjean realizes that his behavior tormenting a young chimney sweep has failed the test a ...

This is 40 (2012)

Forty Candles, No Light Judd Apatow’s new film, This is 40 purports to be for people like me: white, middle-aged, married. In some areas, the film scores well. There is a certain angst—not quite a mid-life crisis, but a gnawing reality that more than half of your life is over and it’s about time to ...

Agora (2009)

We are Such Star Stuff As Cinematic Dreams Are Made On In the middle of “Who Speaks for Earth?,” the last episode of Cosmos (1979), which gets my vote for the greatest American television show of all time, Carl Sagan worries passionately about the threat of global thermonuclear war. After having explained the 20th century ...

(T)Raumschiff Surprise (2004)

What’s Surprising about This Dream Ship? The success of the film spin-offs of Bavarian comedian Michael Herbig’s Bullyparade (ProSieben, 1997-2002), Germany’s televisual equivalent to the U.K.’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-1974) and the U.S.A.’s Saturday Night Live (NBC, 1975-present), is of considerable importance to a new, World Cinema-focused media studies, as these very popular ...

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

Captive Space In his review of Cowboys and Aliens (2011) for Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman declares: “the gifted director Jon Favreau stages a kind of mini-Rio Bravo set in a dusty mining town full of cowards and bullies.” Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959) is not the John Wayne Western that first comes to mind. That ...

The Hobbit (2012)

There, but seemingly never back again. Once upon a time, there lived a guy who loathed the guy who wrote about the hobbit who lived in a hole in the ground. In 2001, I was happily writing crazy popular reviews for an arts monthly in Bozeman, MT. Despite writing whiteness and masculinity critiques of a ...

Easy A (2010)

Un-Friending Hawthorne? Near the top of the list of film adaptations that drive literature professors to angry distraction is surely Roland Joffe’s The Scarlet Letter from 1995, a big budget Hollywood version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel. Beautifully shot and interestingly performed by a diverse range of actors—as Hester Prynne, Demi Moore, a young movie ...

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part Two (2012)

America’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Vampire From the point of view of literary criticism, the most shocking scene in any of the Twilight movies occurs early in the last of the five film series, Breaking Dawn, Part Two. The clairvoyant vampire, Alice leaves a clue for the heroine Bella, written atop the title page ...

The Prestige (2006)

Top Hats Without Aura When the hoopla about Christopher Nolan’s overwrought, trite, and overrated Batman trilogy subsides, it will become clear that the director’s masterpiece is The Prestige, a 2006 film based on Christopher Priest’s 1995 eponymous novel. The plot concerns a rivalry between two late 19th century magicians, the upper class Robert Angier (played ...