For Your Queue: Rockwellpalooza!

By Hope and George


Without giving up too much of the film Seven Psychopaths, available on DVD this week, let’s tick off the first few of those psychos: Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits.

Yes, please.

The genius combination of title and cast aside, writer/director Martin McDonagh crafts a wild, unpredictable and brutally hilarious adventure. Colin Farrell’s Marty struggles to complete his new script. His weird but earnest buddy Billy (an absolutely glorious Sam Rockwell) wants to help. Whether or not this turns out to be a good idea is a bit of a toss-up, but Billy sure brings his shootin’ boots.

McDonagh’s greatest gift is the way he allows a spectacular Rockwell and the rest of these peculiar actors room to work. His film offers dark humor, fascinating unpredictability, and twisted fun. Plus Walken gets to say, “I would have made a great Pope.”

Of course, Rockwell has been great in underseen films for many years, including Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Snow Angels, and Choke. If you’re digging into the stacks for a Seven Psychopaths double bill, though, of particular interest may be 2009’s Moon, and it is almost a one-man Rockwell show.

The debut feature from director Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son), Moon is the story of Sam Bell, the sole employee on a lunar energy base. There is no shortage of energy on future Earth, thanks to the harvesting of an abundant fuel source found on the moon. Sam, totally alone except for supercomputer GERTY, is nearing the end of his three-year contract overseeing the harvest, and is eager to get back to his wife and family. With two weeks to go, Sam is rendered unconscious in an accident, and things begin to unravel.

Even if you already know the story’s twist, Moon is worth checking out not only for Rockwell’s fantastic turn, but also for the skillful way Jones gives a nod to his influences (2001, etc.) yet is still able to carve out a unique sci-fi voice.

Review: Frozen River

It’s hard to decide what is most surprising about Frozen River: its ability to uncover glints of redemption in the bleakest circumstances; the powerful honesty in its story and its performances; or the fact that this masterful, confident output is writer/director Courtney Hunt’s first feature film. Or maybe the true surprise is that a film this powerful, absorbing, and intimate is still being made at all.

An iced-over section of the St. Lawrence River running between the US – Canadian border in Upstate New York creates a solid, if only seasonal, link between two pieces of a Mohawk reservation, allowing a window of opportunity for a small band of smugglers moving Chinese and Pakistani immigrants from Canada into America. One trailer park mom, facing a new level of destitution just before Christmas, falls almost unwittingly into the organization, and soon she is taking remarkable risks in an effort to claw her way out of a financial hole.

Frozen River works in many ways, from the unmuddied honesty in the portrayal of American poverty to the flawless performances of its leads to the simplicity of its narrative. Melissa Leo, whose beautiful work in both 21 Grams and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada predicted this ability, turns in the most authentic performance I’ve seen in any film this year.

Leo’s Ray is a loving mom, and her every gesture tells the story of a life hard-lived, of disappointment atop disappointment. Her grizzled determination is balanced by co-star Misty Upham’s equally honest portrait of a much younger woman facing no fewer shattering realities.

Upham’s Lila, the young Mohawk smuggler, inadvertently pulls Ray into the fold for no other reason than the trunk space in her Dodge Spirit. Her soft, round features counter Leo’s lean, fighter’s build, but the same world-wearied look haunts both women.

Their story is sometimes terrifying, but more than anything it is breathlessly honest. This is not a romantic presentation of a woman making poor decisions. You will wonder whether, under the same circumstances, you would do anything differently. This is a picture of poverty that shuns melodrama and manipulation, and is all the more bracing for it.

The weather itself may behave too conveniently, providing exactly the ice storms and thaws necessary to create crises and push the narrative forward. While this weakness is a bit exasperating, it only stands out because the film is so truthful otherwise.

You must simply overlook it, because to allow so slight a flaw to distract you from one of the most impressive American independent films of the last decade would be unconscionable.

Originally published in The Other Paper, September, 2008 

For Your Queue: 5 star 3D Docs


By Hope and George


As Werner Herzog reminded us with last year’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, 3D has the power to redefine cinema in the hands of a truly inspired director. This time around Wim Wenders finds inspiration in iconic modern dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. His transcendent documentary is Pina, available this week for your queue. Whether or not you have the wherewithal to see either filmmaker’s jump to the small screen in its 3D version, both are must see documentaries.

A spectacle from the word go, Pina surrounds you with the modern dance masterpieces of the deceased choreographer, cutting periodically to briefer pieces composed by Pina’s devoted dancers in honor of their departed maestro. Wenders’s camera takes you inside the dance, surrounding you in movements manifesting everything from whimsy to absurdity to joy to savage grace. His film is as adoring a tribute as you’ll find, but it also serves as a welcome initiation for many to the work of perhaps the greatest modern dance choreographer in history.

And what the heck, just make it a double feature with Herzog’s absolutely stunning look inside the Chauvet caves in France. Preserved with great care by the French government, the caves are home to the oldest pictorial art in the history of humankind.

Herzog and his film crew were granted a small window of unprecedented access to showcase the caves and their portal to a time roughly 30,000 years ago. The result almost defies description, as you not only witness art of an incredibly sophisticated nature, but hear intimate echoes of this ancient civilization.

For Your Queue: a Hot Mess and a Friendly Killer


By Hope and George


Available for rental, on demand and streaming this week is co-writer/director Lee Daniels’s hot, pulpy mess, The Paperboy.

It’s a swampy South Floriday summer in 1969 when Miami newsman Ward Janson (Matthew McConaughey) returns home to investigate the imprisonment of Mr. Hillary Van Wetter (a wildly miscast John Cusack). He’s been led to the story by Hillary’s penpal/fiancé Charlotte Bless (a fascinating Nicole Kidman), so he enlists the help of his younger brother Jack (Zac Effron), and digs in over the long, hot summer.

The Paperboy is a lurid celebration of tabloid trash. This crew of sleuths teems with sexual tensions of every sort – racially charged, homoerotic, sadomasochistic, Oedipal – you name it. There’s also some story or other, however loosely articulated, but the point is that these people are freaks and Daniels is ready to get freaky.

The film is fairly tasteless and sometimes needlessly shocking, but it is never less than fascinating, and sometimes that’s victory enough.

For a remarkably different, even charming, small town crime tale co-starring 2012’s hardest working actor McConaughey, slip Bernie into your queue.

Though McConaughey impresses with his supporting role as a small town Texas sheriff, Bernie is Jack Black’s show. From the opening scene, Black is mesmerizing in director Richard Linklater’s surprisingly sunny adaptation of a true crime story involving a local mortician (Black) charged with the murder of a wealthy widow (Shirley McLaine). Criminally underseen, Bernie is more than worth a look.

So That Happened…Searching for Good CLit!


By Hope Madden


My company recently wrapped up its national sales meeting, which reminded me of the best story ever about our sales meeting and the world’s sweetest person.

I had the amazing good fortune to work for the nicest lady on earth for the first ten or so years of my career in publishing. People in the office refer to her as Mrs. Claus. She is the dearest, kindest person I think I’ve ever met. She’s also pleasantly naïve. Take, for instance, that time she put together her presentation for our national sales meeting.

It was a few years back, and she was planning to present her children’s literature list to our sales reps, explaining what they were selling and the best way to sell it. She’d already left for the meeting. She left me a stack of her printed power points to peruse and copyedit, as necessary. I was to send my hand written corrections to her with another colleague, who’d be flying out the next day.

Yes, it makes no sense at all to hand write changes on print outs of power points. She has since adapted to the electronic age.

Her slogan for the presentation was: How do you find good children’s literature? But, she couldn’t get that to fit properly in the power point, so she abbreviated.


Oh, my.

This was the theme of her presentation, to be given several times to several roomfuls of seasoned sales people, who, come to think of it, might actually perk up and start taking notes.

The slogan was followed by several bullet points for the balance of her speech:


  • What is good CLit?
  • Who is looking for good CLit?
  • How do you sell good CLit?

Obviously, I found a handful of changes to make to the presentation.

Indeed, I felt a bit of urgency about the changes. Unfortunately, the colleague who was to hand-deliver the changes just in time for my boss to update her speech had decided to take an earlier flight.

I tried calling my boss at the hotel. No answer.

She didn’t yet have a cell phone.

I was desperate. Panicked, even. I couldn’t let this dear, wonderful woman present this particular speech in public, in front of all her colleagues.

Luckily for us all, I flipped out in my office, drawing the attention of another editor who had not yet left for the sales meeting. Thank God! This particular editor was less naïve and, honestly, less good natured than my boss. She absolutely relished the idea of breaking the news to her. And, of course, thereby saving the day.


As I ran this blog past George, I admitted that I couldn’t quite find an ending.

He said it was OK, sometimes you just couldn’t find it.

I disagreed. How hard could it be? It just didn’t seem right to stop without finding it.

He seemed baffled by this idea and nodded off.


Outtakes: Oscar Thoughts


By Hope and George


The Oscar nominations this morning celebrated some excellent, often overlooked films and performances from 2012. We are thrilled that The Master received three performance nods – Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and the often unappreciated turn from Joaquin Phoenix. Hooray. Great, also, to see wee Quvenzhane Walls in the best actress category for her powerhouse performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

A few others were more predictable but nonetheless merited: Anne Hathaway (this year’s surest lock) for her turn in Les Miserables, Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln (second surest best).

Not all was well, however. Where is the love for Moonrise Kingdom? One measely nomination (best original screenplay)? Nothing for visionary director Wes Anderson, and no best picture nod. They only nominated 9 for best picture – it’s not like they would have bumped anybody to include this miraculous little film.

And while best actor was no doubt the most competitive race this year, it’s unbelievable that John Hawkes got no love for his beautiful performance in The Session.

Still, the most aggregious oversight was in leaving Ben Affleck out of the conversation for best director. Argo – an excellent film with several nominations, including best picture and best supporting actor (Alan Arkin) – was truly a feat in direction. With scores of speaking roles, a story that weaved from Capital Hill tension to Hollywood comedy to international intrigue, and a pace that kept you breathless, Argo announced Affleck as a director of vision and skill. Not that Oscar noticed.

Surely Ben could have bumped Ang Lee from the list. Or maybe that spot should have gone to Kathryn Bigelow, who found power through restraint in her riveting film Zero Dark Thirty.

And where is Tom Hooper (Les Miserables)? Surprise nominees Michael Haneke (Amour) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) knocked some liklier candidates out of contention. But, to be fair, Haneke is a genius and every film he’s made deserves multiple viewings, and newcomer Zeitlin crafted perhaps the most wildly original film of  2012, so no grudges held.

Other random thoughts:

Really surprised that The Imposter didn’t make it in as a documentary nominee, but very glad that How to Survive a Plague is there and here’s hoping it wins.

The Original Song category should be interesting. Though the new Les Mis song “Suddenly” is a worthy addition to a movie getting tons of award season love, Adele’s “Skyfall” has a brilliant retro-Bond sound that made it a classic from the very first listen.

Speaking of Skyfall, it should give Life of Pi a little competition in the Best Cinematography category. While the look of Pi was simply incredible (and really, the best reason to see the film), the use of color and shadow in Skyfall was more subtle, but very impressive as well.

Outtakes: Best overlooked films of 2012

As the new year rolls in, no thanks to the Mayans, we wanted to remember all the great movies that went underseen in 2012 in the hopes that they might find a little love in their next life on DVD. Each of us picked a couple titles we think you might have missed. Do yourself a favor and seek them out now.

George’s pick: The Imposter. It’s hard to pick one, but The Imposter is a masterfully assembled documentary, with a story that takes so many unbelievable turns you will have to scrape your jaw off the floor.

Runners Up: 

Hope’s pick: Killer Joe. Wow, this was one wild, wrong-headed mess of a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Astonishing performances showcase a cast ready to do whatever is asked of them, and that is a lot. I will pass on that chicken dinner, thanks. 

Runners Up: 

So, keep an eye out and have a great 2013!

Outtakes: Film critic offspring shames family, enjoys Expendables 2

A local teen rocked his household this weekend when he returned from a showing of Expendables 2 with the evaluation, “It was pretty good.”

The boy, son of The Other Paper movie reviewers George Wolf and Hope Madden, shows no remorse when extolling the virtues of the Stallone pic.

“It was fun,” he claims, with no apparent irony.

The film critic pair deemed the film’s predecessor, The Expendables, the worst film of 2010 in a year-end blog. Though neither have taken in the sequel – which, shockingly, did not screen for film critics – they feel confident in their prediction that the movie “blows.”

And yet, their son claims otherwise.

“Terry Crews is under-appreciated,” says the boy.

Madden responded, “At least he didn’t say Dolph Lundgren.”

The boy insists they have no real ground for arguing the point until they see the film.

Wolf retorted, “I could get a good look a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it!”

His foolish pride at this archaic turn of phrase evaporated as the boy reminded him that he too, had seen Tommy Boy. Both critics finally resigned themselves to the fact that they would, indeed, have to watch the film if they wanted to continue to argue the point.

“God damn it,” they said.

Neighbors report that the back and forth comments continue to be of the snide variety, and that the young man’s excitement upon hearing recent “Larry the Cable Guy” concert dates threatens to escalate the situation even further.

For Your Queue: Horrific vs. Horror


By Hope and George


The great underseen flick Compliance is released to DVD today. One of the most impeccably made and provocative films of 2012, Compliance is a cautionary tale that’s so unnerving it’s easier just to disbelieve. But don’t. This true crime account offers a Milgram’s experiment come to life. The film spirals into nightmare as a fast food worker/alleged thief’s colleagues agree to commit increasingly horrific deeds in the name of complying with authority.

The work of a spot-on ensemble keeps the tensions ratcheted tight. Ann Dowd, in particular, could not be better as the manager who just wants to do what she’s told. Director Craig Zobel’s film is guaranteed to evoke heated debate.

Zobel’s film is horrific, but not horror. If you are looking for horror, though, we may have something. For a decidedly different but certainly no less provocative exploration of the nightmare of being trapped, dig back in the stacks to have a look at director Lucky McKee’s The Woman.

McKee’s film, penned by notorious horror writer Jack Ketchum, rethinks the family dynamic. Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. And McKee has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Indeed, the advanced screener I received came in a vomit bag.

Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the seemingly innocent baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. That’s what makes this tale superior to traditional horror porn, but it certainly doesn’t ensure that it’s your bag – vomit or otherwise.