This week's new releases: 'African Cats,' 'Elephants,' 'Stake Land,' and Yen
So far this week, I've published reviews for "African Cats" and "Water For Elephants," two of the bigger releases, but I've also previously published reviews for some of this week's other releases, and because of things like festival schedules, I figured we should run links to some of those earlier pieces, plus offer up a few quick reactions to things I never quite got around to reviewing.
It's been fun watching people react to "Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," and I salute Morgan Spurlock for making the publicity for the film entertaining instead of self-serving. Spurlock is part of that new breed of documentarians who put themselves front and center in their films, and that can get really obnoxious. Spurlock manages to use his big broad ideas to examine things without preaching, and in this new film, I think he's done a particularly good job of looking at the way product placement works in our new media landscape. He's not a scold, and he's not a clown, and the way he's managed to sell this movie by extending the message of the film into every single action he's taken since Sundance is fairly ingenious.
Also this week, you can catch up with "Legend of the Fist," one of the 10,000 films that Donnie Yen starred in last year. I would recommend this film if only for the oh-my-god opening sequence in which Yen appears to win WWII single-handed. Yen's really hit his stride as a performer over the last few years, and I think he might be the most exciting martial artist working anywhere in the world right now.
Another Fantastic Fest/Toronto title that I never quite got around to reviewing was Jim Mickle's "Stake Land," which opens today in limited release, and part of the reason for that is because I had a very mixed reaction to it, and I found myself struggling to articulate my issues with the film. It's handsomely made, and it's sort of like a serious vampire-based riff on "Zombieland," with a young man named Martin (Connor Paolo) traveling through a crumbling America with Mister (Nick Damici), a hardened survivor. The first problem I had with the film is how clearly we can see its influences, and while I admire the serious, even somber mood of the movie, it's hard to pull off this sort of grim successfully. The bigger problem, and one I just can't make peace with, is that co-writer Damici simply doesn't have the screen presence to pull off the role he wrote himself. It's the same problem I have with the Spierig Brothers movie "Undead," where their lead actor is meant to be a sort of big burly ass-kicker with the occasional Ash-style one-liner, and the guy's just a stiff onscreen. Damici doesn't work for me, and so it undermines the film as a whole. It's tough because Damici's script is fine, and if he'd been able to step back and let someone else play the role he wrote, the film might work better. As it is, I'd recommend it for genre fans, but I'd also warn that it feels like a well-intentioned near-miss instead of a completely successful film. I'm curious to see what else Mickle does after this, though.
Finally, "Hobo With A Shotgun" continues its run on VOD right now, and it's getting ready for its theatrical release on May 5. It's worth one more link to the review.
And speaking of reviews, I'm going to be playing catch-up this weekend on a number of titles that deserve reviews, but that I never quite seem to find the time to get to. I've been remiss, and there are filmmakers whose work deserves to be spotlighted, so I'm going to try to make it an epic catch-up marathon. And since I'm floored up with another wicked cold (having kids is awesome), it should be easy enough to stay chained to the computer all weekend.
Besides… I don't want to leave for Cannes in a month with old reviews still outstanding. Just doesn't seem right.