Hall Pass

Neither as resolutely crass nor as offensively sexist as buzz might suggest, Hall Pass is pretty much what you’d expect of a remarriage comedy from the conservative Farrelly Brothers – a dopey but earnest endorsement of monogamy. Here, they cast Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as Rick and Fred, 40ish suburban horndogs of the stripe that fantasize about the vigorous sex lives they might be enjoying had they remained single. Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate are the wives who tolerate their ogling, childishness, and other dopey dudebro behavior, eventually issuing them hall passes in hopes of getting the overtly raffish behavior out of their systems.

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The Housemaid


I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, but if I did, Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid would surely be among them. This remake undermines the unsettling achievement of the iconic original film, made in 1960 by Kim Ki-Young, by constructing an explicitly classist framework for its characters. It replaces the Korean everyman at the center of the earlier film with a sexually smug cartoon character for whom wine and blow jobs are totems of his boundless leisure and power. By doing these things, it panders to an audience that craves victims and villains. It’s a lesser achievement, and a more simplistic one. But it’s glossy and lush and full of gorgeously decadent people doing their gorgeously decadent thing. In its way, it’s a delight.

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Vampire Circus

Updated 01/13/11: Blu-ray review

Originally reviewed 05/16/08

As this Hammer horror melodrama from 1972 opens, schoolteacher Albert Mueller (Laurence Payne) catches his wife (Domini Blythe) and one of the young village girls making their way through the countryside in what’s apparently a quite unwholesome direction. He follows, but is unable to prevent their entry to the castle of Count Mitterhaus, a notoriously sexy vampire who holds the whole village under his sway. As the cuckold tries to marshal the shiftless men of the village for a rescue mission — experience with the Count seems to have whipped everybody here into a sense of meek helplessness — his wife offers up the young blond virgin to the vampire, who rips the girl’s throat out. The woman tears her own clothes off and Mitterhaus makes love to her. When the villagers are finally coerced to make their way to the castle with torches and grim looks, they carry away the dead girl and do battle with Mitterhaus himself, who ends up impaled through the chest on a pointed wooden stick while cursing the village in a stage whisper. Albert’s wife is brought outside and whipped as punishment for her betrayal, but finally runs back into the castle, which is set afire and burns into ruins. And then the opening credits roll.

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Black Swan


In Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays a prima ballerina with problems. She’s just been entrusted with a role she has no idea how to play. She lives with her mother, a bitter and broken-down control freak who comes on like Piper Laurie in Carrie. She’s scorned by her role model. She sees visions of her doppelgänger in mirrors, in construction walkways, and even in the bathroom. It’s possible that she’s growing wings. She may have an imaginary friend. She may be a virgin. She needs to get laid.

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Easy A


Easy A is a pleasant enough high-school movie, and it’s certainly a sign of bigger things to come for the terrific Emma Stone, who tucks the whole film under her arm and runs with it. Stone plays the kind of teenaged girl who’s as bright and hot as the noonday sun but is still a wallflower at her high school. In other words, she’s a work of fiction – and one who starts getting noticed by her classmates only when she gains a reputation as a loose woman, displaying a red letter A on her chest.

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Image from <em>Dogtooth</em>
This no-frills film-festival favorite from Greece is a single-family scenario. Like last year’s excellent Belgian film Home, with which it shares a certain dark comedy (but not the earlier film’s reluctant optimism), it features a wife and children who exist largely apart from the larger world into which the male breadwinner ventures on a daily basis. But where that separation in Home was generally a question of geography, in Dogtooth it’s a matter of patriarchy.

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What happens when your child rebels against you? That’s the subject at the emotional core of Splice, an unsettling and skillfully mounted psychodrama that has some of the flavor of 1970s body-horror (mainly Alien and early David Cronenberg) mixed up with a contemporary retelling of the Frankenstein story. The complexity of the question is notched up by the film’s science fiction premise, which has the husband-and-wife team of Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) working in secret to create a new life form that jumbles human DNA in what seems to be a nearly random combination with that of other species.

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Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard in <em>Humpday</em>