Friday, March 30, 2012
Another bad-boy poseur, Tony Kaye of "American History X" fame, returns to theaters with the histrionic and ham-handed "Detachment," starring Adrien Brody as substitute teacher Henry Barthes (pronounced "Barth"; to show how disconnected this movie is from reality, not once does a kid call him Mr. Barf). Marcia Gay Harden plays the principal who hires Henry, saying... he "comes highly recommended as the best sub on the call list" - which he drolly deflects as a dubious compliment.
It takes a director as supremely untalented as Abel Ferrara to make the end of the world a matter of apathetic ennui, which he's done in the direct-to-dustheap bomb "4:44 Last Day on Earth."
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
"The Hunger Games" is a bloated turkey, an unbroken string of missed opportunities and unintentional laughs that spends its first 70 minutes establishing its parameters and the second 70 violating most of them with internal inconsistencies and gaping logical holes.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
When asked whether he ever tires of depressing movies, Roger Ebert responds that a good movie is never depressing. I don't entirely agree, but there's a lot of truth to the sentiment. A good movie covering difficult subject matter can inspire in many ways. It can shine a light on an important problem and provide an impetus for action. It can, with its artistry and insight, stimulate the viewer's own creativity, or simply excite or move the audience, creating a connection that affirms our common humanity and shared values.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Rachel Weisz turns in her most feeling performance yet in Terence Davies’ “The Deep Blue Sea,” an exceedingly simple yet powerfully poignant postwar story of romantic love so intense and obsessive it becomes the undoing of an intelligent and well-provided-for woman. Weisz’s Hester Collyer is the wife of a respected judge (Simon Russell Beale), but passion has escaped the marriage; he’s sober and undemonstrative, she’s headstrong and ahead of her time, and in need of an outlet for her pent-up sexuality. When that outlet arrives in the form of Freddie, a handsome young RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston), and their affair is inevitably discovered, Hester leaves her uncomprehending husband, explaining without any cruelty that her love for this new man encompasses nothing less than the whole of her. As her world narrows down to him, though, Freddie begins to suffocate, turning to drink and nights out with friends to escape.
Tahar Rahim, the highly likable lead from 2009’s terrific “A Prophet,” returns in a World War II movie called “Free Men,” about a black-marketing Algerian Muslim in Paris who, when arrested, avoids jail by informing on a mosque believed to be harboring North African Jews and supplying them with counterfeit certificates. It’s a fascinating subculture, and Rahim holds the screen even given little to work with, but “Free Men” is one of those movies where everything of importance that happens in the world seems to happen to the handful of people we’re following. There’s too much coincidence and contrivance, not enough context or depth of character. A strong supporting performance by Michael Lonsdale as the mosque’s rector isn’t enough to elevate this minor material to the heights to which it aspires.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Another pair of directing brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) hit theaters with the Belgian import "The Kid With a Bike," about Cyril (Thomas Doret), an 11-year-old boy whose cash-strapped father has abruptly left his apartment and seemingly abandoned his son. Cyril first seeks out his lost bicycle, refusing to believe his father could have sold it, then searches high and low for Dad, whom he finds but who forestalls further contact in a scene of unimaginable, near-existential rejection. Doret's performance never hits a false note, and Cecile de France, who first caught my attention in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter," gives an equally memorable turn as Samantha, a hairdresser who becomes a weekend guardian and ultimately a foster mother to Cyril, and who (to her considerable surprise) cannot bring herself to give up on him despite his almost animalistic acting-out. (When her boyfriend finally tells her, "It's either him or me," she takes about a picosecond to respond, "Him.") "The Kid With a Bike" has the naturalistic, almost documentary feel of an Agnes Varda or Jacques Doillon film; only a couple of plot-heavy detours toward the end keep it from greatness,
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
I was all set to have a blast watching the movie "21 Jump Street" - a friend had told me it was beyond funny - and it kept feeling like it was about to happen, but it never did. It's a movie where nobody behaves the way a human being would in similar circumstances, so it's essentially absurdist humor, which is very hard to pull off. And it never quite finds its groove for more than a moment at a time; it's an uneasy mix of desperation, the actors flailing about and ever more profanity where the funny lines are supposed to go, and unwarranted nonchalance, as though the set-up were funny enough without worrying about the execution.
Monday, March 19, 2012
After 2010's hidden gem "Cyrus," the Duplass brothers (Jay and Mark) return to the director's chair with the equally offbeat but less incisive and overly coincidental "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Jason Segel achieves a certain honesty and likableness as the title character, a 30-year-old virgin and social misfit who's not quite agoraphobic but mostly stays in his mother's basement and watches "Signs" over and over. Ed Helms shows commendable range as Jeff's Porsche-driving brother, whose marriage is falling apart, and Susan Sarandon has seldom been more believable than as the mom who tells her AIM secret admirer she's old and getting flabby, but who's actually youthful in her openness to new possibilities. (Rae Dawn Chong also impresses in a rare meaty part; she hasn't had this much screen time since, oh, say, "The Squeeze.") The main problem is that, for a mumblecore movie, way too much happens in its 83 plot-heavy moments; coincidence piles on coincidence until the truly preposterous climax, which may make you laugh out loud. It's fine to wonder whether there are no accidents, and every wrong-number phone call has cosmic significance, but if there's no normal, quiet time for the magic moments to break up, they sort of lose their magic, don't they?
“Perfect Sense” isn’t what you’d call a date night’s light entertainment. It’s an apocalyptic romance with Eva Green and the ubiquitous Ewan McGregor as Glaswegians whose nascent affair coincides with the advent of a global pandemic in which, over a few months’ time, all of humankind experiences a series of sensory-overload moments (ravenous hunger, rage, overpowering grief), followed by the loss of each of the five senses.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” introduces us to Jiro Ono, chef-owner of the Tokyo sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro and holder of three Michelin stars. For most of his 85-year-old-life, Jiro has happily plied his trade at his subterranean eatery almost without missing a day. We learn the values behind his success: besides consistency and diligence, passion, perfectionism, a constant striving to improve. Director David Gelb makes the jewel-box sushi look mouthwatering, but the movie will delight even confirmed sushiphobes. Despite its seemingly minor subject matter, it insightfully explores the dynamics between brothers and between fathers and sons, and touches on many broader aspects of Japanese culture. Made with equal parts respect, affection, and sweet, sly humor, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a treat.
The Israeli Oscar nominee “Footnote” manages to turn Talmudic philology into edge-of-your-seat stuff. It’s the clever story of father-and-son scholars whose unspoken rivalry reflects diametrically antithetical worldviews, lifestyles, and pedagogical approaches. When the wrong one is mistakenly told he’s won a cherished scholarly prize, we’re given a backstage pass to dilemmas, deal-making, and sacrifices. Though it could have been profitably cut by 15 minutes or so toward the end, “Footnote” is a movie of visual and storytelling wit and delicious humor that makes arcane textual analysis somehow thrilling.
The New Zealand import “Boy” is an instance of the trailer being better than the movie it advertises. The story of an ingratiating, Michael Jackson-loving 11-year-old Kiwi looks charming in a two-minute preview, but loses its appeal as it stretches over 87 desultory minutes. The mash-up of styles (from magical realism to flipbook animation) holds some interest, and I liked the catchy, Maori-inflected pop songs that play over the opening and closing credits, but “Boy” is too quirky for its own good. It’s not too cute by half; it’s too cute by all.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
With "Mid-August Lunch" and now "The Salt of Life," writer-turned-director Gianni de Gregorio has carved out a niche as a sort of Italian Henry Jaglom. Short on cinematic technique, talky but breezy, his movies seem predestined to land right at 2 1/2 stars no matter what. They produce mostly wry smiles and chuckles, but manage to mine a few big laughs simply from underplaying and not forcing their human comedy.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Director Danis Tanovic ("No Man's Land") returns with the charming "Cirkus Columbia," a slice of small-town life in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 90s. Divko, a wealthy native, returns from a 20-year exile (he left when the commies came in), bringing a hot young redheaded wife, a flashy red Mercedes with a gas tank somewhere the service station attendant has never seen one, and his beloved black cat. The ex-wife and ham-radio-loving son he left behind are none too happy to see him, especially when he has the local police chief evict them from his apartment.
Director Jennifer Westfeldt casts herself as the lead in her new picture "Friends with Kids," about a girl and her platonic best friend (Adam Scott), who decide to forgo the boyfriend-girlfriend, marriage-divorce thing and cut straight to having a baby together. It's the sort of New York romcom where all the young people have good jobs and lots of square feet, but we never see them at work. Much of the picture is devoted to their friends' reactions to their iconoclastic lifestyle choice, with the friends played by the cast of "Bridesmaids." Kristen Wiig is massively underused in an underwritten part, but manages to get a huge laugh out of something as small as the way she pours one glass of half-drunk wine into another. The breakout star is Chris O'Dowd, the dishy cop from "Bridesmaids," who shows real comic flair, saying just enough crude-but-real guy stuff perpetually to exasperate his wife (Maya Rudolph). Scott makes an appealing, if lightweight, co-star, but Westfeldt lacks screen presence: she's vaguely sweet, a little mousy, a little whiny. The movie has more laughs than most of its ilk - at times recalling Alan Cumming's and Jennifer Jason Leigh's "The Anniversary Party" - but falls prey to the gratuitous vulgarity and verbal diarrhea that have become pandemic.
Monday, March 12, 2012
The jazzy, careering animated Oscar nominee "Chico & Rita" has a Cuban musician's soul (Bebo Valdes', to be exact) and a kaleidoscope of lush, vibrant colors to make you look past the sketchily drawn love story at its center. As the lovers sing and ivory-tickle their way from Havana to Nueva York to Paris to Vegas, you do best to lie back in your chair and luxuriate in the neon lights and the street lamp-lit stairwells, the stylings of Gillespie and Puente and Chano Pozo. The movie won't touch your heart, but it's a feast for your eyes and ears.
The laughs are mostly unintentional in Lasse Hallstrom's "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," a threadbare outline of a bad romcom aimed at the type of Kaballah-practicing Westside woman who found meaning and insight in "Eat Pray Love." Ewan McGregor plays a prissy ichthyologist in a loveless marriage entered into too young. Emily Blunt is typecast as the personal assistant to a Sana'a sheikh with billions to burn on the titular pipe dream. She taps McGregor to spearhead the project.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
In a world of tortured auteurs making agonized films for pointy-headed cineastes, let's hear it for a crowd pleaser that aims only to entertain: Bela Tarr's lighthearted romp "The Turin Horse," about an Italian cabbie and his wisecracking daughter who get into all manner of wacky misadventures in the windswept countryside. It's as light, fizzy and disposable as ...a flute of cocktail-party champagne.
Monday, March 5, 2012
The title "This is Not a Film" is less a Magritte-style meta-artistic meme than a sort of lawyerly plea on behalf of "convicted" Iranian director Jafar Panahi, whose attorney has to explain to him that the outcome of his appeal of his 20-year filmmaking ban and 6-year prison sentence has as much to do with her legal arguments as did the conviction itself; that is to say, nothing. "It's 100% political."
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Passionately in love with the sound of its own voice, "Being Flynn" builds a house of pseudo-literary artifice on a foundation of risible coincidence. It's every inch the torturefest a glance at the cast list would cause you to surmise.
Friday, March 2, 2012
Inupiat director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean has set his feature debut, "On the Ice" (not to be confused with the recent Greg Kinnear black comedy "Thin Ice"), in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States (population: approximately 4,200), and its fascinating milieu and strong sense of place are by far its best features. The market is called Arctic Grocery. The cleaners: Arctic Cleaners. Snowmobiles seem to outnumber cars, and get more use. Alcoholism lurks everywhere. (A boy comes home to find his mother passed out drunk. "She made it three months this time," he tells his friend.) The sun doesn't set for six months at a stretch. It's remote, but not undeveloped, and it's amazing to think of its way of life as part of the American experience. Because we almost never see this landscape or these people depicted in film, it's natural to want to spend time with them and learn more about them.