by Louis Fowler
Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here, on the IndyBlog.
Are you into microfinance theories and the people who support them? Then To Catch a Dollar should be like financial pornography for you. Subtitled “Muhammad Yunus Banks on America,” Dollar follows Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus as he puts his self-described revolutionary microfinance institution Grameen Bank into actual practice. I’m naturally skeptical about the whole thing, but when you actually watch it work over the course of the documentary, hearing the stories of the first borrowers and what they’ve had to go through to create their own sustainable businesses, that skepticism starts to fade away and you begin to wonder why this hasn’t caught on with more people, especially in a country where about 46 million people are currently living below the poverty line. But then you remember who is really in charge of the American financial systems, and all that hope melts away into pure depression.
Home invasions scare the hell out of me. Sure, burglaries are scary and leave you with a total sense of violation, but when it happens when you’re at home, it takes it to a whole new level of fear. As the family in Cherry Tree Lane learns, such violations can happen even in the most peaceful of surroundings. Three kids break into the family’s home, tie them up, and threaten their every move with death. And that’s just the beginning as the family has a long 77 minutes — the film is shot in real-time — ahead of torment, torture and shocking cruelty, leading to an extremely explosive ending that give the audience a nice sense of wish-fulfillment. The film drags in many areas — the story is admitted threadbare — but not enough to really enough to destroy the overall effectiveness of this extremely taut British thriller.
Thanks to groundbreaking sequential art dissections such as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, for superheroes to be taken seriously they have to achieve a real-world level of grittiness that does its best to tear any classic superhero trope to shreds. It’s kind of sad, really. That brings us to All Superheroes Must Die, which manages to mix the aforementioned Watchmen with the timed torture-games of the Saw franchise. Four de-powered, questionably heroic heroes find themselves in a strange town, surrounded by civilians with explosives tied to them, all as part of a revenge plot by the evil madman Rickshaw (the movie’s real bright-spot, James Remar). Director Jason Trost, whose previous film, The FP, was an irritating disaster, works hard to redeem himself here and mostly succeeds, even despite the annoyingly ambiguous ending.
When most of us over, say, 30, were bullied in school, it tended to be a non-snitching affair that usually ended with some kid either taking his lumps or finally fighting back. Times have changed, however, and especially in the post-Columbine age of pharmaceutically enhanced shotgun-wielding Goth kids and the new form of harassment known as “cyber-bullying,” kids can no longer keep quiet about it. They’ve decided to fight back using awareness and wrist-bands and homemade posters. The recent controversial documentary Bully — released in an edited, PG-13 edition for kids and families — chronicles this meaner age of bullying and how it affects a new generation of hyper-sensitive kids. As harrowing as it is heavy-handed, Bully works well as tool in the fight against fighting and should be watched by today’s youth, but the cynic in me knows that it also reeks of headline-grabbing opportunism. (Don’t hit me for saying that, please.)
With this year’s Oscars nothing more than an image getting farther and farther away in the rearview mirror, it’s starting to seem that Paul Thomas Anderson will never receive the award-form accolades he deserves for every subsequent masterpiece he writes and directs. The latest snubbing comes in the form of The Master, his kinda-but-not-really-controversial take on the early days of a Scientology-like cult and the charismatic minds behind it. But when it gets down to the meat of it, that’s not really what The Master is about at all. Homoerotic love story? Fight Club-esque battle of duality? Jesus Christ allegory? Much like the way that the founder of the cult is accused of making this all up as he goes along, so does Anderson. There is no linear story, no definitive plot, just one big acting master-class exercise after another. Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman prove they are masters in their own right.
We’ve had many a prehistoric creature cloned and resurrected in this recent spate of on-the-cheap science-fiction disaster flicks, but plants? That’s a new one, and thank God, because the change of pace really does breathe new life into an increasingly tepid and rote sub-genre. Seeds of Destruction is about a group of kooky scientists who plant an ancient seed and watch it bloom into a destructive monster plant that threatens to take over the world. Now it’s up to a tough-as-nails G-man (Adrian Pasdar) and the world’s greatest plant expert (Stefanie von Pfetten) to bring out the napalm-dipped pruners and cut this beanstalk to pieces before we’re all at its chlorophyllic mercies. As far as cheaply CGIed, low-budgeted eco-horrors go, Seeds of Destruction is pretty captivating. I'd encourage you to just sit back and let your mind wander as the movie plants seeds of trashy entertainment in your brain.
If there is a moral to every episode of the television series Femme Fatales, it’s this: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Like a filmed, anthology version of those sexy stories of murder and revenge ripped from the cover of 1950s pulp magazines, this show is a rollicking good time that is definitely too hot for regular TV. So of course it’s a regular series on late-night Skinemax. Hollywood starlets behind bars, hostage situations, dead male strippers, and female assassins chasing down a geek with fraudulent online personals ad — Femme Fatales has it all, with thrilling, Twilight Zone-esque twists. Hosted by the ravishingly dark Tanit Phoenix — who I’ll take over the Crypt-Keeper any day — Fatales is filled with the soft-core sex that you’ve come to know and love from Cinemax. But the best thing about this is that even if the dirty bits were edited out, it’d still be a massively entertaining series.