Christopher Orr

Perhaps the weakest scene in American Beauty is the one in which the brutal, homophobic Marine colonel played by Chris Cooper is revealed to be, in fact, a closeted gay man. It's a trite, sophomoric reversal, and one that briefly brings the ideological shallowness of the film into sharp focus. The scene comes late in the movie, however, and it is preceded by so many substantial pleasures--Sam Mendes's crisp, elegant direction, Kevin Spacey's sublimely seamless performance--that it's easy to forgive.

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We sort of wanted to do a spy movie,” Ethan Coen recently explained, discussing his and his brother Joel’s latest film, Burn After Reading. “It didn’t exactly turn out that way.” Well, no, not exactly. But the movie’s subsequent evolution was less radical than you might guess from the giddy, pop-inflected trailers that advertise it. Burn After Reading may be a comedy, but it is an exceptionally dark one, in which damaged, lonely souls collide but rarely make real contact.

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Here's what I took away from Righteous Kill, the grade Z cop thriller opening today: If you can come up with the scratch, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino will do anything: kid's parties, bar mitzvahs, retirement luncheons, you name it. The two of them could dress up as clowns and sing a duet of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" while tying balloon animals for a passel of second graders and it would be a less embarrassing career step than this movie.   Typically, a film this awful is at least awful in an interesting way. There's something about it that gets under the skin and infuriates.

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“It’s funny, I just made the same speech to my shrink,” one character confesses to another in the midst of a heartfelt revelation in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I had to check my notes, though, to see which character said this to which, and during which heartfelt revelation, because it’s a line that could have been spoken in almost any scene.

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I'm on break this week and next, so readers will be (mostly) spared my cinematic exhortations until the end of the month. But I did want to weigh in briefly on Tropic Thunder, which opened yesterday. First, a few words about the Robert Downey Jr. minstrel-show "controversy." Downey is not acting in blackface (except in the literal sense); he's playing a character who is acting in blackface. Anyone who fails to grasp this distinction should probably also conclude that playing Archie Bunker made Carroll O'Connor a racist.

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“There is no ‘why,’” Philippe Petit says he told the Port Authority policemen who questioned him following his 45-minute promenade on a high wire suspended between the towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of August 7, 1974.

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Call it the Summer of the Hybrid--and, no, I'm not talking about Priuses, for which the waiting lists are now reportedly as long as six months.

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Swing Vote stars Kevin Costner as a drunken loser who, thanks to a voting glitch, gets singlehandedly to decide the presidential election. Based on that brief description, you can probably determine whether or not this is a movie you’d like to see, as it is neither appreciably better nor dramatically worse than its hokey, please-describe-me-as-“Capraesque” premise.

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Here are a few things I remember from “The X-Files”: Fox Mulder’s sister was abducted by aliens. Dana Scully’s dad’s favorite song was “Beyond the Sea.” Scully doesn’t get along with tattoos that have Jodie Foster’s voice. Mulder may or may not be destined to die of auto-erotic asphyxiation. I was disappointed that none of these particular data points had any relevance to the new film The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

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The director's The Dark Knight shatters pretty much every applicable box office record: $155 million in its opening weekend, $67.8 million on its opening day, $18.5 million in midnight previews, and on and on. Nikki Finke has the details here. My review, for anyone who was too busy waiting in line for tickets (or has thoughts to share using our less-buggy Plank comments), is here. For more TNR, become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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