Anders Nelson

Associate Editor



"To Be Or Not To Be" Shuffles Back On The Mortal Coil Review

One of the best lines uttered by Alan Alda's insufferable buffoon in Crimes and Misdemeanors is that comedy equals tragedy "plus time", arguing that anything, no matter how horrible, becomes funny if you've waited long enough (the same idea was explored memorably by South Park). There's a kernel of truth in there, but as a maxim, it's almost wholly refuted by Ernst Lubitsch's comedy To Be Or Not To Be. Released in 1942, To Be would be roughly analogous to a 2002 biopic of Osama Bin Laden featuring Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. Starring your grandmother's favorite comedy duo of Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, the film has the almost queasy effect of laughing down a gun barrel, almost knowing full well that the worst was yet to be revealed. In the hands of lesser talent, it almost surely would have been a disaster, but To Be is so sharp, so verbally dense that you hardly get a moment to think about what they're really saying.

Sep
10
2013
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"Tonight's The Night" To Watch Something Else Review

The decades since the release of the original House Party have seen a President brought before congress to discuss his sexual proclivities and no less than three movies in both the Hostel and Hangover  franchises; it's safe to say that good times just aren't as old-fashioned as they used to be. As such, this latest installment is forced to walk a fine line between raunch and respectability that inhibits it from ever really untucking its shirt, or at least making any of its grotesque jokes at all funny.

Aug
27
2013
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What's "Race War" Good For? Absolutely Nothing Review

Even though our nation finally hit the milestone of electing its first African-American president, it might be more racially divided than ever, with its populace thoroughly and viciously at odds than ever before. At least, that’s what Race War is counting on, because if its grotesque sight gags and outright provocations don’t get a reaction out of people, nothing else in it will. That said, maybe we should be grateful for this wretched excuse for a film, because there may be only one thing that people of every race, creed, and color in this country can agree on right now: Race War sucks.

Aug
27
2013
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Or Should It Be "Always Beliebing?" Review

Full disclosure: by the time that I finally heard a Justin Bieber song, the Biebs’s net worth was well into eight figures. Fuller disclosure: when I did, I didn’t like it. There’s no point in pretending that bitter, crusty old internet reviewers like myself (by the standards of his target demographic, at least) were ever who Bieber was meant to appeal to, or that Justin Bieber: Always Believing needed my twenty bucks to turn a profit. That said, I’ve certainly tossed enough cold, hard cash at shameless fan cash-ins like this to recognize that it really isn’t any better or worse than any other, but it is most assuredly that.

Aug
27
2013
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This Walk Down The "Boardwalk" Might Feel Familiar Review

There probably isn’t a show on television that relies on production value for effect more than Boardwalk Empire. That’s in no way a dig-if even half of the dramas contending for Emmys every year were as handsome as this, movie theaters would be going out of business even faster than they already are. In its third season, Empire might be more beautiful than ever, its interiors more ornately convincing and its action staged with a more cinematic showmanship, but for this excursion, that beauty has come at a substantial cost. After an uncertain but promising first season and an explosive but seemingly conclusive second, Empire has waffled, bringing the gangster genre back to where it has been repeatedly before rather than expanding it in a meaningful way. But even if it lacks sure footing moving forward, it manages to move gracefully enough to merit your attention. Spoilers ahead.

Aug
21
2013
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Dare You Learn The "Secrets Of Chatsworth"? Review

Those of you enamored with Downton Abbey will find much to enjoy in Secrets of Chatsworth, no matter what you may happen to enjoy about it. Downton itself is dwarved by the massive estate of Chatsworth, which is roughly equal to Washington DC in size, and Secrets spares almost no lavish detail in its portrait of the land. But at the same time, people are people, and Secrets is mindful of the fact if there aren’t rich people behaving badly in the well-appointed halls, nobody’s really going to care.

Jul
29
2013
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Underestimate "The Power Of Few" All You Want Review

If you had hoped that independent film had moved on from being a shallow, naked reheating of the early work of Quentin Tarantino, The Power Of Few will be a rude awakening. Loud, abrasive, and almost willfully lacking in substance, Few is a throwback to an era of cinema best forgotten, when a film’s audacity was measured by its willingness to jam weird characters and plot points together in the guise of “kaleidoscopic cinema”. It isn’t just a bad movie; it most likely wouldn’t have hit even in the days when this sort of thing was popular.

Jul
25
2013
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More Like "Inert Man Down", Know What I'm Saying? Review

What is it about revenge that Hollywood finds so compelling? Is it that American audiences, so enamored with violence (God bless ‘em), can’t resist the allure of moral impunity? Or is it simply that lazy screenwriters tend to fall back on the easiest possible motivation for a lead character, one that all but erases the need to create a back-story? Both are possible, but neither would explain Dead Man Down, the first American effort from Niels Arden Oplev (director of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy). Despite the presence of a number of capable actors (Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Noomi Rapace), Down is a strikingly joyless, overly complicated affair that offers neither cathartic release nor brainless entertainment. Instead, it serves largely to marvel at just how seriously creative people can take themselves even when they’re not making Schindler’s List.

Jul
23
2013
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"Least Among Saints" Has Its Heart In The Right Place, If Not The Camera Review

As a critic, it’s tough not to throw your full support behind low-budget movies like Least Among Saints, and kind of heart-breaking when you can’t. Its subject matter is timely and important (and largely neglected by the studio system writ large), and its approach towards it is refreshingly reverent and earnest. One is willing to cut Saints so many breaks that when it doesn’t register dramatically, the reaction isn’t anger so much as depression, and maybe even pity.

Jul
18
2013
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"Gatekeepers" May Point The Way To Peace, But Still Can't Find The Key Master Review

If Godwin’s law (the theory that with each entry in an online discussion, the referencing of Hitler and/or Nazism becomes a mathematical certainty) truly is the guiding principle of modern culture, that goes double whenever Israel comes up. It is entirely possible that there is no relevant issue about which fewer meaningful things have been said, probably because it’s because it’s nearly impossible to find an expert on the subject that is simultaneously authoritative and impartial. Perhaps that’s why it’s so surprising to hear so much reason coming from the former heads of the Shin Bet of all places, in the Oscar-nominated  documentary (and rightful winner)The Gatekeepers. They are all warriors, to be sure, but they have seen a vantage of the war that few of us ever get to, and, in many cases, are much more tired of it.

Jul
11
2013
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"Shoah" Presents A Nightmare As Big As The Holocaust Review

If the discussion of films about the Holocaust begins with Schindler’s List, it ends with Shoah. Even if it is truly impossible to fully comprehend what went on in central and Eastern Europe in the 1940s (or for film to invoke the fear felt by its victims), Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary understands that the key to unlocking the Holocaust is not the depth of its horror but its scale, both in terms of people selected for extermination and those willing to carry it out. First released forty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Shoah integrates interviews with both Jews and Nazis into the fullest portrait of Holocaust ever created in any medium. To a soul, they are haunted by their experiences, or at the very least (in the case of some shockingly unrepentant Nazis), they remember them with a clarity more befitting a list of groceries than an event that happened four decades earlier. To each of them, it is far from a figment of the past, but a living, evolving burden that they carry with them through the present, with awful consequences should they ever stop carrying it.

Jul
08
2013
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"Body Of Proof" Makes Its Case Review

Between Grey’s Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice, and the Dana Delany fronted Body of Proof, ABC has the professional woman in a man’s world thing down to a science. Then again, it is seeming like less and less of a man’s world, and they’re remarkably comfortable with the transition. At its boilerplate, Body is more of a procedural than anything else, with as many dead bodies as you’d ever see on CSI (without anywhere near as much gore), but with a greater emphasis on professional drama. It’s not an entirely uneasy mixture, and may even win over some converts resistant to what’s normally viewed as “women’s television”.

Jul
06
2013
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"Australia's First 4 Billion Years" Plays Out In Near Real Time Review

The topography of Australia is unique in that it represents the various stages of Earth’s development within the space of a single continent. If one wanted to see what much of the planet looked like eons upon eons ago, one would only need to drive a reasonable distance from some of the hemisphere’s major cosmopolitan areas. Australia’s First 4 Billion Years uses this to make its lessons visual and cohesive, but it unfortunately doesn’t serve to make it any more exciting.

Jul
04
2013
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"Syria" Can Help You Stop Lying When You Say You Know What's Going On In Syria Review

As Americans, it’s all too easy for us to write off the entire Middle East as an unsolvable problem. To be fair, it certainly isn’t solvable by us, and the region as a whole is unlikely to be littered with olive branches any time soon, but there’s a complexity, a depth, and a genuine desire for change that it behooves us to appreciate. Enter Syria Behind The Lines, a Frontline special on the international humanitarian crisis of the moment. You might not walk away from this documentary with any more hope on the topic, but you might be hard-pressed to say that you wouldn’t be part of the problem were you placed in those circumstances.

Jul
01
2013
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Take This Opportunity To "Enter The Dragon" Review

In the city of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’d be hard to name a single figure, idea, or event that isn’t potentially loaded with controversy. The country has been divided by ethnic tension and war for nearly as long as its citizens can remember, so when it came time in 2005 to erect a statue to one of their heroes, they could not meet any kind of consensus on a homegrown icon. Their ultimate choice? Martial artist Bruce Lee, long dead and unconnected to the city in any meaningful way, was nevertheless the most agreed upon symbol of “loyalty, skill, friendship and justice”. Few practitioners in any industry command the kind of respect across that Bruce Lee does, and perhaps no single work was more instrumental to introducing him to the world than Enter The Dragon, his biggest film and the first martial arts film produced by a major Hollywood studio. 

Jun
25
2013
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There's Much To Take Out Of "The Black Kung Fu Experience" Review

Say what you want to about the old U.S. of A., but nowhere in the world hosts the kind of possibilities for cultural cross-pollination that we do. Sometimes that takes the nasty form of appropriation, but in others, borderline ancient forms can be expanded and deepened by exposure to new practitioners. Asian martial arts such as Kung Fu had held a revered in their native countries for centuries, but their values of discipline, empowerment, and self-realization found fertile ground in the Black Power movement of the 1970s. This wasn’t always a seamless transition, but it was a meaningful one, as The Black Kung Fu Experience entertainingly demonstrates.

Jun
24
2013
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Decades Later, "Combat!" Rages On Review

For a period of about twenty years, the Second World War was a fixture of media at nearly every level, providing a backdrop for films, books, and television shows almost as a cultural reflex. With few exceptions, these were limited to postcard-ready images of square-jawed, clean-shaven men climbing manicured sand dunes in air-conditioned studios. Though it doesn’t match the brutality of what would come later, Combat! is as raw as anything that came out of the period. Its vision of fighting men as simultaneously petty, raw, blistered, frustrated and heroic is complicated and reverent, and remains compelling today.

Jun
17
2013
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There's Surprisingly Little To See On This "Journey Of The Universe" Review

It’s hard not to feel astounded when considering the sheer scale of the universe, or the complexity of organic life on this planet. That feeling, usually evoked by looking out into space or staring too long at a screen-saver, has the capacity to inspire great works of art, as well as powerfully uninvolving reflections that are almost completely lacking in insight. It is to that latter category that we must unfortunately add Journey of the Universe, an hour-long documentary that’s entirely too eager to take on big issues but unable to be comprehensive about any of them.

Jun
17
2013
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It May Be A "Disaster", But It's Still Hilarious Review

We all know these people; if we don't, we know of them. They tend to live outside of major urban areas, taking care to speak out against gentrification while being among its greatest offenders. They tend to hold college degrees in fields outside of the ones they work in, and, above all, they hold the meal of brunch in an esteem usually reserved for Thanksgiving dinner. They are the creative class, unable to change a tire on a car but nuanced in their appreciation of Friday Night Lights. But what happens when these people have to deal with something really serious, like the irreversible end of Sunday brunches? It’s A Disaster doesn’t have a concrete answer, but it has fun exploring the possibilities, with one overarching consistency: a life consumed with minutiae will end consumed in minutiae.

Jun
10
2013
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It's Worth Listening To "What Plants Talk About" Review

First things first: plants regrettably still don’t talk, at least not in the way that we do. They are, however, intimately connected to their surroundings in a way that goes far beyond the way that we as humans are. That won’t win What Plants Talk About any truth in advertising awards, but this is a sharp and illuminating little documentary nonetheless. It takes a potentially boring topic (we can be honest) and explicates it in a way that is clear, concise, and entertaining, while still being accessible by viewers of all ages.

Jun
02
2013
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