This is Jeff Bayer, and I don't update this site very often. If you'd like to listen to my current movie podcast you can find it at MovieBS.com.

New this Week: 'Country Strong,' 'Season of the Witch' and 'Howl (DVD)'

Hitting movie theaters this weekend:

Country Strong - Garrett Hedlund, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester Season of the Witch - Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy

Movie of the Week

Country Strong

The Stars: Garrett Hedlund, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester The Plot: A rising young singer-songwriter (Hedlund) unites with a fallen country singer (Paltrow), and together they mount his ascent and her comeback. The Buzz: When I first saw this trailer, I sighed and thought, "here come the Crazy Heart clones." But after learning a bit more about this film, my interest in it has grown. For many, Gwyneth Paltrow will be the main attraction, but for me, Garrett Hedlund is the film's main draw -- I've been a big fan of his ever since Tron:Legacy hit (way back two weeks ago). Hedlund is cast appropriately here as a rising star, and it'll be interesting to see if he can pull off the whole singing bit. My bet is that he'll prove able. The world already knows that Paltrow can sing, thanks to her big duet with Mr. Huey Lewis back in 2000's Duets, but her singing role here is meatier by many magnitudes, and as such, Country Strong will be a nice proving ground for Paltrow's voice.

Ultimately, from a production standpoint, I think it's likely accurate to call Country Strong a Crazy Heart clone, but that's not to say it might not make for another great film. In the end, like any narrative, such will depend upon the caliber of the story. Though here the music probably needs to be decent too.

Every Friday we'll have new reviews of the latest films. TSR's complete Film Review Database

New Blu-ray and DVDs released this week:

Catfish (BD/DVD) - Megan Faccio, Melody C. Roscher, Ariel Schulman Coraline (BD) - Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman Dinner for Schmucks (BD) - Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Stephanie Szostak Howl (BD/DVD) - James Franco, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker The Last Excorcism (BD) - Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr Machete (BD/DVD) - Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro

Blu-ray/DVD of the Week


The Stars: James Franco, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker The Plot: A drama centered on the obscenity trial Allen Ginsberg (Franco) faced after the publication of his poem, Howl. The Buzz: I gathered this film had two major goals: one, to introduce Allen Ginsberg as a sympathetic character and two, to notch another in the bedpost of Hollywood’s stand against censorship. It succeeded in both.

Casting James Franco and Jon Hamm as the film’s “favorable fellows” was an ace move, as it’s nearly impossible to ignore their charisma. Franco fostered sympathy expertly, and Hamm gave an air of Everest-level self-assuredness. On the flip side, most of the villains (the proponents of censorship) in this film were played by much less charming individuals. This may be the oldest trick in the book, but it was especially effective here, as by default, people tend cheer for the handsomest. However, this is not to say that the filmmakers failed to back their heroes with more substantial credibility than just their looks.

Based on the facts of his life alone, Allen Ginsberg comes off as an extremely sympathetic character. Through his words, in candid interview and in his writings, we learn of his feelings of immense alienation, his struggles with homosexuality, his having to allow for his institutionalized mother’s lobotomy — all very heavy stuff. The framework of his life, loaded with such strife, presented in juxtaposition to the obscenity trial, certainly allows for all of the courtroom proceedings to seem quite trivial — when you’re wrapped up in the hell that is Ginsberg’s life, how can you care about how one would define “obscenity” and “literary merit?”

I certainly learned a lot about Ginsberg’s life through watching Howl, and by the end of the film, I found myself in his corner, rooting for him to win the match.

I appreciated this film a lot, but would have given Howl much higher marks, if it’s creators had hired a different artist (or group of artists) to helm the many animated segments — or especially if they had abstained from the animations altogether. I found the animations to be overly cheesy in their expression and psychologically invasive in their implementation. The general cinematography of the film was good, but as the film routinely bounced back into the animated segments, I consistently found myself in a void somewhere between boredom and nausea. The more I think about it, the more I think the animations shouldn’t have been included at all. I feel like the filmmakers missed the ball entirely with this approach. The idea behind poetry is THE WORDS, and then, of course, the successive images or feelings that the words conjure up within each individual perceiver. We don’t need a third party’s visual interpretation of Ginsberg’s words. In the end, the whole enterprise of trying to animate Ginberg’s written word cheapened the film.

Aside from the animations though, I think Howl plays very well, and would recommend it to anyone interested in Ginsberg or the Beat Generation.

Check out our reviews of these movies and more ... TSR's complete Film Review Database

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