Every so often, movie-studio executives suddenly seem to wake up and realize that white people aren't the only ones who go see movies, and that black audiences in particular are an underserved market. That results in periods like the current holiday season, which sees the release of a whopping three Christmas-themed releases targeted toward African-American audiences.
Despite mostly skipping theaters and receiving a quiet release on Video On Demand, I had hopes that "The Last Days On Mars" might turn out to be an undiscovered gem. It has impressive production values, an audience-friendly, sci-fi thriller premise, a talented cast including Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, Elias Koteas, and Tom Cullen, and received a world premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Spike Lee's new direction
Of all the movies he's directed in a decidedly uneven career, Spike Lee's newest production, "Oldboy," qualifies as the strangest and perhaps the least Spikeish of all his works. To begin with, the picture derives from an unusual source, a Korean movie based on one of those Japanese graphic novels known as manga.
Disney's latest animated musical satisfies and surprises
Once upon a time in
the kingdom of Arendelle, there lived two young
princesses: Anna (voiced by Livvy Stubenrauch
as a child, and Kristen Bell as an adult) and her older sister, Elsa (Eva
Bella, and later, Idina Menzel,
of "Wicked" fame). Elsa was born with the power to manipulate and create ice
and snow, which she loved showing off to delight her sister.
AIDS and the cowboy
His recent work in film displays quite an impressive versatility for the very active and generally underrated Matthew McConaughey. In "The Lincoln Lawyer," "Magic Mike," and "Killer Joe," for example, he plays extremely different characters — a slick defense attorney, a sleazy strip club owner, a soft-spoken, polite hetman/deputy sheriff.
Feeling the burn
It's a difficult task crafting a successful middle chapter of an established story. On one hand, the tedious work of establishing the world in which the tale is set has been done; but on the other, without the benefit of a proper conclusion, you run the risk of delivering a less-than-satisfying experience for the audience.
Three hours of the new French film, "Blue is the Warmest Color," should convince even the most ardent Francophiles that the nation has lost its way and drawn a number of film critics along with it. Inspiring considerable discussion before it achieved a wide release, the movie deals with a familiar subject — a young woman's sexual awakening — but aroused some controversy because of its relatively graphic presentation of sexual acts, earning it the dreaded NC-17 rating, which often kills a motion picture.
Harry Potter's got The Beat
"Kill Your Darlings" marks the latest, and possibly most successful step yet, in Daniel Radcliffe's continued efforts to move away from his most recognizable role and carve out a career for himself beyond the world of Harry Potter. Since its debut at Sundance, director John Krokidas' film has gained notoriety as the film in which the former boy wizard plays gay and takes drugs.
Recently released on video-on-demand, "Dear Mr. Watterson" is director Joel Allen Schroeder's love letter to "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoonist Bill Watterson's comic strip about a mischievous 6-year-old boy and his best friend, a stuffed tiger named Hobbes. Far from juvenile, fans of the comic know how funny, moving, and wise Watterson's work could be.
An American story
One of the most important movies to appear in the current season, "12 Years a Slave" provides a relevant lesson in some of the darkest passages in the nation's history as well as a reminder of just how long a shadow that history casts. Beyond its relatively simple and straightforward story, it suggests the moral implications and the endurance of what Southerners euphemistically called their "peculiar institution."