New On DVD: For Colored Girls, I Spit on Your Grave, It's Kind of a Funny Story, My Soul to Take, The Romantics, Wild Target

(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, Eric Hynes, Dan Kois and Nick Pinkerton)

For Colored Girls It's a long, long way from the women's bar outside Berkeley, California, where Ntozake Shange first presented her combustible choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, in December 1974, to Atlanta's Tyler Perry Studios, where the impresario filmed much of this calamitous adaptation. Though striving for artistic legitimacy in bringing Shange's incomparable play to the screen, Perry indulges his worst instincts for melodrama, shoehorning her text into his own tawdry narrative.

Her play, touted at the time as "a celebration of being black and being woman," is a collection of 20 prose-poems performed by a cast of seven women, who suffer and mourn, but are never victims. In Perry's version, almost all of them end up in the hospital. Expanding the number of central characters to nine--whose abject storylines frequently intersect in a Harlem walk-up--and writing roles for the men only referred to in Shange's work, he re-creates the template found in many of his previous films: the martyred woman abused and/or deceived by her pathological mate. The greatest frustration--not just in For Colored Girls but in his entire oeuvre--is witnessing talented actresses struggle with the material they've been given. Anika Noni Rose takes off when reciting Shange's words only to be brought down into the abyss of Perry's melodrama after she is date-raped (a scene that further reveals the director's wrong moves when it comes to showing versus telling). Everything here is too much--or not enuf. Melissa Anderson

134 minutes Rated R

I Spit on Your Grave

SyFy Network house director Steven R. Monroe remakes Meir Zarchi's 1978 quintessential revenge-rape/rape-revenge film. Jennifer (Sarah Butler) rents a cabin in black-mud, backwoods Louisiana to work in peace on her second novel. An encounter with a local gas-station attendant (Jeff Branson) that crackles with class anxiety starts him and his cronies percolating the idea of knocking the laptop-and-white-wine "city bitch" off her pedestal. A nighttime home invasion becomes all the more lurid with the false-salvation arrival of dawn and Andrew Howard's rasp-voiced Sheriff. After absorbing every abuse save a coup de grace, Jennifer's despoiled body slips away. There's little chance to judge our heroine's prowess as a novelist, but she proves herself very, very talented at donking her rapists over the head and devising horrible tortures for them when she returns as avenging angel, which is convincing as long as Butler doesn't talk. These second-act torments aren't merely premeditated, but blueprinted. The mirror image of the cabin reflected in dark, boggy water works as a metaphor for the movie's structure. Everything that happens in the first part happens again--only in reverse and more so. When every injury is repaid with interest, this self-destroying work has nowhere to go but to the credits. Such symmetry is a dismal, barbarian sort of perfection.

Nick Pinkerton

108 mintes Rated R

It's Kind of a Funny Story

A film seemingly designed to get every New York City honors student face-punched at college,

It's Kind of a Funny Story

chronicles a privileged Brooklyn high-schooler's super-cool institutionalized mental-health break. Hot for his best friend's girlfriend, stressed out over an application to a prestigious summer school, and audaciously neglectful of his Zoloft, 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) commits himself to a psych ward after tepid fantasies of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge start warming. With this Young Adult riff on

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

, writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck at first glance seem far afield from the sociorealism of their previous features,

Half Nelson

and

Sugar

. But rather than a humorous departure from self-seriousness,

It's Kind of a Funny Story

doubles down, uniting broad comedy with leaden sloganeering for a super-sincere, tonally awry amusement tour of post-9/11 despair. We meet an eclectic community of colorful New Yorkers mentally challenged by modern living, from a Patriot Act paranoid to Craig's in-house father figure (Zach Galifianakis, taking his first step toward sad-clown legitimacy), who's caught in a cycle of unemployment, poverty, and rage. Meanwhile, our hero's stay in the nuthouse boosts his ego and affirms his entitlement, and in five short days, he learns that he's a master illustrator and a natural singer. "I used to think art was just bourgeois decadence," a wiser Craig says in the end, which is funny, because that's kind of what this film is.

Eric Hynes

Upcoming Events

101 Minutes Rated Pg-13

 

My Soul To Take

This is the first 3-D picture from Master of (Mediocre) Horror Wes Craven. I know it's in 3-D not because of any additional depth-of-field detectable in the image, but because I do not usually wear glasses, nor pay $17.50 for a movie. The conversion was done well after production, at the behest of avaricious rip-off artists who detest their potential customers. Anyhow. The film begins with the last hurrah of a small-town serial killer, a first ten minutes that sets the jabbering pace, as we're volleyed with multiple personalities, voodoo, exploding ambulances, and characters named "Abel" and "William Blake." Sixteen Years Later: The seven kids born on the night The Ripper's bloody reign ended gather for the annual "Ripper Day" anniversary observance. Shortly after, the resurrected Ripper, resembling a Klingon hobo, starts culling down the seven, leaving stage-blood and aborted subplots in his wake. There are shades of

Elm Street

, with suburban parents hiding dark secrets and a cast of young unknowns, including a good Max Thieriot as the unstable chief suspect and a striking redhead named Zena Grey. All are kept busy by the mile-a-minute exposition of Craven's 2,000-plus page Giallo-illogical script, which includes space for transmigrating souls and California Condors. All might be good for a flask-to-the-theater laugh, if not for the unconscionable price gouging.

Nick Pinkerton

108 minutes Rated R

The Romantics

As Galt Niederhoffer's comedy of no manners begins, seven college friends, now closing in on their thirties, come together for the wedding of two of their clique at the bride-to-be's beachfront family home. Once dubbed "The Romantics" for their share-and-share-alike dating patterns, the pals reunite for a flashback to sophomore-year bad behavior. Their odd number is a problem--while others have coupled off, maid of honor Laura (Katie Holmes) arrives dutch, pining for ex- and reluctant groom Tom (Josh Duhamel), set to walk the aisle with Laura's former dorm-mate, Lila (Anna Paquin).

The Romantics

is Niederhoffer's directorial debut. An established film producer and novelist, she published

The Romantics

in 2008--it's now back on shelves in tie-in paperback. Her story is after something--the way that the memory of college freedom haunts our attempts at "settling down," specifically in the privileged classes--but it is uncertain how her material is served by cinematography that resembles mid-'90s home video and music from a Forever 21 dressing room. Questions about the possibility of adult Romanticism are reduced to Tom's decision between a future with pragmatic Lila and her comfortable dowry--or wild sex and Keats-quoting with Laura. Holmes is no force of nature, so her tempestuous soul is more discussed than evidenced, while wild liberation is a matter of drunken nightswimming--where one wishes them, collectively, the fate of that other Romantic, Percy B. Shelley.

Nick Pinkerton

96 minutes Rated PG-13

Wild Target

The whole time I was watching

Wild Target

, I was trying to figure out just how to explain its weirdly old-fashioned comedic tone. I could talk about its absurd plot, which has fastidious assassin Victor Maynard--played by Bill Nighy with a center part, silly mustache, and exasperated air--inexplicably protecting his latest target, the wild 'n' wacky con artist Rose (Emily Blunt). I could mention how Rupert Grint plays a pot-smoking dunderhead wrapped up in the whole mess. I figured I'd mention that it's directed by British legend Jonathan Lynn, best known for the BBC's Yes, Minister, but last seen in movie theaters with, er,

Nuns on the Run

. (Before that, he directed

Clue

, for which--respect.) How else to get across how haphazard this whole enterprise is? Describe its incompetent action choreography? Mention the lame cameos by Rupert Everett, Eileen Atkins, and Martin Freeman? Post an Mp3 of the score, all honking saxophones and wheezing accordions? And then, near the end of the movie, there it was: Emily Blunt pushed a suitcase out the window of a country house. (Because she saw Victor pull the stuffed parrot--it doesn't matter why!) Off-screen, I heard the suitcase crash to the patio, and then, after a beat, the yowl of an angry cat.

Wild Target

is the kind of movie that actually uses that angry-cat-yowl sound. That is the kind of movie that

Wild Target

is.

Dan Kois

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