Mariana McConnell
Former Contributor

WRITTEN BY Mariana McConnell

Rachel Getting Married

The myth of the happy family pulling through times of joy and tragedy with equal aplomb often seems like a stereotype made up by Hollywood for the sheer value of making more films reiterating that point. What the Great Satan fails to recognize that there is no such thing as the happy family and in any case, unhappiness is much more interesting.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Perhaps this middling film might play better in England, where audiences can pick up on cultural cues invisible to us dumb Yanks. But for those of us here Stateside, it’s hard to buy the conceit that the little guy in the big city will triumph with integrity. We know better. Out here in the real world, intelligence and wit are no match for towering stupidity.

Young People Fucking

The biggest problem with the delightful Young People Fucking is its title. Perhaps filmmakers Martin Gero and Aaron Abrams thought that dropping an expletive connoting the sexual act into mix would draw more folks into the theater, but in reality it just makes the public at large think that this charming, dialogue-driven relationship comedy is nothing but cheap Canadian porn.

Baghead

Minimalist to a fault and almost painfully awkward to watch Baghead is the type of film that will most likely only be enjoyed by the kind of people it portrays: young, urban, good looking (read: White) girls and boys with artistic aspirations, but who really only devote their creative energy to figuring out who’s hooking up with who, when, and where.

WALL-E

A love letter to science-fiction films of old with a modern environmentalist message, WALL-E is another winning confection from Pixar, the folks who have made an art out of wrapping adult themes in childish whimsy and coming out with movies that please both elements. Starring a box shaped little robot with more than a passing resemblance to E.T., WALL-E is quite possibly the cutest Pixar hero ever.

Joy Division

The fact that the band was able to grow so massively in such a short period of time without the twin crutches of globalization and the Internet speaks to the immediacy of their music and the "rightness" of their moment, if there is such a thing as cosmic meaning. The greatest thing Joy Division achieves is making the audience want to go home and listen to their records, and there's really not much more you can ask from a rock documentary than that.

The Rocker

Three parts School of Rock (minus the school), one part Almost Famous, The Rocker is an genial film about a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy come true, without any underlying messages about the value of music that pervaded the above-mentioned movies. Don’t be fooled: Despite its title, The Rocker isn’t really about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s more about middle-aged wish fulfillment whimsy.

The Fall

Like those early silent films, which amazed and frightened audiences with their unimagined potential for the fantastic, The Fall uses special effects to heighten reality in subtler, more intriguing ways. It is the kind of movie that would be wasted on a miniscule television screen; its visuals are the heart of the thing and require theatrical treatment to reveal their full depth.

Reprise

Joachim Trier's Reprise is a poetic and languid film about the relationship between two young men, emphasis on the young. It's a buddy film in the basest sense, stripped of any dishonest cinematic conceits; it's more Jules et Jim than Bill and Ted. The subject matter is heavy (mental illness, obsession, love), but in no way is the film a drag. It's actually the opposite.

Deception

Deception is a lean, well-crafted sex thriller with a polished European feel and a striking visual style courtesy of first time Swiss director Marcel Langenegger. It’s a quieter sort of thriller than we’ve become used to after so many Bourne flicks, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. To the contrary: there are plenty of thrills (and plenty of sex) packed into this briskly paced film.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

It’s a tantalizing misfire. Though peppered with decent moments, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? fails to reach its stated goals (including the titular one, surprise, surprise). Morgan Spurlock truly had the opportunity to create a meaningful, entertaining documentary about terrorism but instead settled for bland platitudes and simplistic observations.

The Life Before Her Eyes

If complexity were a virtue, The Life Before Her Eyes would be positively saintly. In this case, however, “complexity” is just another way of saying “huge mess with no central narrative in sight”. A dirge-like character study spiked with copious amounts of female pathos, The Life Before Her Eyes tries to be a nuanced examination of how unspeakable secrets burden the soul...

What Happens in Vegas

Both implausible and predictable at the same time and not in an “it’s so bad it’s good” way. Fine films have been made about the vagaries of Vegas, but What Happens in Vegas is not one of them. Ultimately, there is more Vegas in the title than there actually is in the film. If you must go see this clunker (I pity you), try to make your escape after the Vegas montage has passed. Who cares what happens after Vegas?

The Ruins

These days our cheap-o single weekend wonder horror films are all preoccupied with one basic message: Americans are dumb. And arrogant. And white. Really, really white. Which makes it all the more satisfying when they run amok in brown countries and get their pretty white bodies torn apart by the mechanisms of the dirty oppressed. The Ruins is no different, except the monster isn’t animal. It’s a vengeful vegetable...

Chaos Theory

The story is predictable and ruthlessly maudlin for all of its 85 minute running time. Some scenes Chaos Theory are funny and touching, mostly the ones involving Jesse, but relying on a child to add sparkle to your film is cheating. With it’s boring characters, overly-complicated yet simple-minded plot, and totally ridiculous ending, Chaos Theory attempts to project a sense of sweetness...

The Grand

The poker-crazed subcultural world that apparently bubbles beneath the surface of American life seems to be an arbitrary choice for the setting of this film. It’s as if Penn and Bierman picked it simply because it offered a suitably nutty cast of characters and generally workable structure, not because they found it fascinating and worth parodying.

Never Back Down

A violent spectacle sport film of the male persuasion, Never Back Down blends faux-relatable sensitivity with extreme violence, resulting a badly paced formula film. This one’s all about the boys. Edited like a music video (lots, lots of montage), Never Back Down has a heart in there somewhere but it’s buried under so many layers of dumbness it’s difficult to get emotionally involved in the film.

Diary of the Dead

Romero’s films have always been a mixture of documentary-style realism and cutting social critique with a healthy splattering of gore and guts added in for the kiddies, but Diary of the Dead forgoes cinematic conventions completely to present itself as a factual cautionary tale to the horrified bystanders beyond the lens. If the dead are rising to devour the living, we have only ourselves...

In Bruges

McDonagh has rendered Bruges as a non-entity. It could be any place in Europe, except that it is Bruges and it sucks there, for reasons we never fully understand. The irony of sinful people walking through a preserved fairytale village may have looked delightful on paper, but it does not translate on-screen since Bruges doesn’t come off as a lovely, unspoiled place anyway.

Fool's Gold

The cinematic reunion of Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, whose chemistry was the sole watchable thing about their previous pair-up How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, gives this soggy flick the spark it needs to save it from being straight up bad. The actors obviously enjoy working together and the audience senses their pleasure, but two pretty people running around in tiny swimming costumes does not a good movie make.

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