Author: Benjamin Mercer

  • A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman

    A biopic bent on futzing with the form, A Liar’s Autobiography bears the strong authorial stamp of its subject, but nonetheless looks like something made by committee: The 3-D feature incorporates 17 different animation styles (by 14 different houses), roughly one for each featured episode from the life of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (1941–89). An […]

  • Burning Man

    The high-sheen Australian drama Burning Man leans heavily on a scrambled chronology, and likewise feels tonally mixed up, but it certainly does keep you guessing. The movie begins with out-of-order, borderline-hallucinatory scenes from the life of stressed-out haute-cuisine chef Tom (Matthew Goode). He moves from one liaison to another while largely ignoring his eight-year-old son, […]

  • The Tortured

    Lean, nasty, and patently absurd, The Tortured plays like one long scream of agony. A jury sentences child-killer John Kozlowski (Bill Moseley) to 25 years to life, but that’s nowhere near enough for Elise (Erika Christensen) and Craig Landry (Jesse Metcalfe), the aggrieved parents of his most recent victim, a six-year-old abducted from his own […]

  • Master Qi and the Monkey King

    Following a respected Queens-based troupe of Peking opera performers, the polite-rather-than-probing documentary Master Qi and the Monkey King is part traditional-art-form appreciation and part immigrant story. Director Alan Govenar finds more success with the former, showcasing the elaborate costumes, instrumentation, and acrobatics demanded by this highly particular operatic form, and assembling coherent explanations of some […]

  • Music From the Big House

    Tuning in to a music-as-redemptive-force frequency, black-and-white documentary Music From the Big House follows Canadian roots musician Rita Chiarelli as she collaborates with inmates at Angola, the plantation-turned-maximum-security-prison in east central Louisiana. An informal historian of the blues with a formidable rasp of her own, Chiarelli hopes that by uncovering the “new music from behind […]

  • OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie

    A largely first-person documentary about living with a range of disorders, OC87 is also, in a sense, about a long hiatus from moviemaking. Nearly three decades ago, Bud Clayman was majoring in radio, television, and film at Temple University when his mental health began deteriorating; a drawn-out chain of diagnoses followed (enumerated in the film’s […]

  • Virginia

    Dustin Lance Black, scribe of J. Edgar and Milk, gets behind the camera for Virginia, a bonkers tragicomedy that blandly mocks the red-state family-values charade. The title character (a blond, drawling Jennifer Connelly) is a schizophrenic single mother who ignores the doctor’s warning that “whatever’s in your lungs is growing.” Instead of facing the music, […]

  • The Downside to Reading in Bonsai

    The bookish young lovers at the heart of the Chilean film Bonsái have cultivated an almost militant seriousness when it comes to literature and a dismissive attitude toward nearly everything else—including, eventually, each other. Both are too terrified to admit they haven’t read Proust, and a short story by the Argentine writer Macedonio Fernández practically […]

  • Nesting

    A slick indie comedy that misses its snappy-irreverent mark, Nesting concerns the people you see “hanging out at Restoration Hardware, wearing their Pixies T-shirts,” as one character puts it. Writer/director John Chuldenko begins his feature debut by smugly lampooning the rampant acquisitiveness of the Gen X yuppie, making fast-and-furious jokes about end tables and sofettes. […]

  • Everyone’s Looking for a Fix in Chronicling a Crisis

    At a midcareer impasse, Israeli director Amos Kollek turns the camera on himself, logging confessionals on his DV and walking the streets of Manhattan in a last-ditch search for inspiration. The in-lieu-of-a-project documentary, years in the making, clearly took a measure of fortitude for Kollek—also wrestling with the legacy of his ailing father, Teddy Kollek, […]

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