Monday, April 30, 2012

The Five-Year Engagment, Safe

The Five-Year Engagment

"The Five-Year Engagement" is the kind of movie you'd walk out of on a plane. You'd have to go a ways back in romcom history to find a more mismatched pair than schlubby Jason Segel and (upper-)crusty Emily Blunt. They're trapped in a movie of cringe-inducing vulgarity and meanness in which nobody behaves remotely like a human being. And that's just the half hour we made it through.

Headhunters, Bernie, Sound of my Voice, Elles, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Sound of my Voice
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

A good weekend at the multiplex began with the well-made Norwegian thriller "Headhunters." It's over-the-top fun with a few memorable scenes, though the story itself doesn't stand up to strict scrutiny.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Darling Companion

I know, I know: What was I thinking? Well, 21 years ago, Larry Kasdan directed and with wife Meg co-wrote one of my favorite movies of the 90s, the L.A. ensemble piece "Grand Canyon." Two decades later, they've collaborated on "Darling Companion," a movie of jaw-dropping insubstantiality that, to my pleasant surprise, played last night to an audience of one. (I got to recite the pre-show spiel about talking, texting and parking validation.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Surviving Progress

The hand-wringing, Cassandra-ish documentary “Surviving Progress” is diffuse, inchoate – in short, a mess. The filmmakers interview a bunch of talking heads (many of whom have books to peddle) and give them free rein to ramble discursively about every imaginable problem of civilization: overconsumption of resources, global debt inequities, human rights violations, deforestation. Having no sense of the cinematic, they set the interviews to montages of international images and time-lapse photography. I’m sure they think they have a unifying thesis, but I defy them or anyone in the audience to explain it in a coherent paragraph. Their movie starts with one concept, then veers off into a series of tangents, never finding its way back. (The interviews are so full of “you know” and other extraneous verbiage, you wonder whether they’ve been edited at all.) “Surviving Progress” is dime-store eschatology.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Goodbye First Love

An impressionistic French reminiscence with an overly literal title, Mia Hansen-Love's "Goodbye First Love" does not merely indulge the moon-faced melodrama of adolescent romance but welters in it. The movie exudes sophistication, but its sensibility is actually quite regressive.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I have about as much interest in mixed martial arts as in church music or origami, but I found myself cheering by the end of Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s well-made documentary “Fightville,” about fighters, trainers, and promoters climbing the lower rungs of the MMA ladder in southern Louisiana. The filmmakers smartly focus on just a few engaging and well-spoken young men, who suffer no delusions of a smooth road to wealth and stardom but fight out of felt necessity. We see the brutal training schedule they must follow, and the heartbreak of missed opportunity when they allow real life to interfere with it. The bouts themselves are presented understandably, with explanations of the various ways victory can be earned. Like all good sports movies, the joy of “Fightville” lies less in the outcome of any particular contest than in the human connection between its subjects and the audience. A surprising delight.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I'm always eager to see a new Kevin Macdonald film. Some are great (the heart-stopping mountain-climbing documentary "Touching the Void"), some are terrible (the vapid High Concept doc "Life in a Day"), many are good ("One Day in September," "The Last King of Scotland," "State of Play"). More to the point, Macdonald is one of that small handful of directors (Steven Soderbergh comes to mind, maybe Robert Altman) who almost never make the same movie twice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

The foreign-film Oscar nominee "Monsieur Lazhar" - and its titular character, an Algerian immigrant in Montreal who volunteers to take over a sixth-grade class after reading that their teacher hanged herself at school and was found by one of the students - is quintessentially Canadian, in good and bad ways.

Scenes of a Crime

If you’ve ever wondered how an innocent person could confess to a crime, have I got a movie for you. A terrific April for documentaries continues with Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh’s “Scenes of a Crime,” a case study in police coercion of false confession through the use of interrogation techniques that, while legally sanctioned, empirically produce false ...positives and undermine the truth-seeking process. Of course, the notion that cops and prosecutors are motivated primarily by a desire for justice and engage in objective fact-finding is a relic of a bygone, rose-colored worldview. Today’s law enforcers are measured by outcomes, arrests, convictions. Guilt and innocence are considered tangentially, if at all.

The Cabin in the Woods

“The Cabin in the Woods” takes a cardboard-cutout horror-movie setup (five stereotypical college students road-trip to a remote lakeside retreat, where in the cellar they uncover the diary of a long-dead girl who foretells ghastly goings-on) and meta-fies it, taking us to the control center where Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins (both cashing paychecks) monitor and tweak the scenario like the air traffic controllers in “Pushing Tin.” The movie is winky and has some laughs, but it’s not a straight send-up like “Scream” or “Scary Movie.” It’s a deconstruction of the genre, and it’s a bit too proud of itself for it. The filmmakers – director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon – forgot (or just didn’t care) to create any genuine scares. And their ending’s a letdown – a bloodbath of well-drawn, hideous creatures seen for just seconds before each is devoured by the next. The “epic” surprise cameo isn’t.

Monday, April 16, 2012


On the heels of "This Is Not a Film" comes a second and far more resonant house arrest documentary, Marc Simon's "Unraveled," about the former New York litigator Marc Dreier, who funded the growth of his eponymous law firm with an exponential series of forgeries and impersonations, ending in his arrest and conviction on eight counts of securities and wire fraud. In 2009, between Dreier's guilty plea and sentencing, he was allowed to spend his last two months of freedom in his stripped-down Upper East Side penthouse, under armed guard and electronic monitoring, with only court-approved visitors and one landline.

Monday, April 9, 2012


"Are there any good movies out?" I hear constantly, often followed by, "I mean, anything we would like?" Frequently the question arises in the context of a date night, and in such instances what is usually sought is a nice, light, innocuous romantic comedy. Often I have to be the bearer of bad news, but it so happens a lovely little French romcom called "Delicacy" and starring Audrey Tautou is playing this week at the Monica.


The Greek New Wave picture “Attenberg” is a coming-of-age film about a 23-year-old, which alone starts it with a reserve of goodwill (just because high school is over doesn’t mean she’s magically gained experience). The young woman in question, Marina, lives in a coastal factory town and spends her days playing foosball, choreographing routines with her best friend Bella, and caring for her dying father. With the promiscuous Bella and a local who shares her love for the band Suicide, Marina begins to give form to her identity and sexuality. There’s a memorable scene in which the girls dance-walk down a sidewalk adjoining a public park to the melancholy strains of “Tous Les Garçons et Les Filles,” totally ignored by the sk8rboiz a few feet away. But too many of the movie’s ideas are unformed. We only ever hear two Suicide songs, and the connection to the David Attenborough nature documentaries Marina watches (or why Bella’s mispronunciation of his name gets titular pride of place) is never made clear.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Island President

“The Island President,” the new documentary from director Jon Shenk (“Lost Boys of Sudan”), features Mohamed Nasheed, the charismatic president of Maldives, a nation comprised of approximately 1,200 low-lying islands (the average ground level is just 4’3” about sea level) in the Indian Ocean. Maldives has the lowest natural highest point in the world (7’10...”), and even a small rise in the water level threatens to inundate its makeshift seawalls and wipe out its population.

Damsels in Distress

Whit Stillman arrived on the scene in the early 90s with such moderately witty films as “Metropolitan” and “Barcelona,” then disappeared for the better part of a score. On the basis of his new film, the staggeringly unfunny “Damsels in Distress,” he’s quite welcome to stay away. This arch, twee picture stars Greta Gerwig as Violet, the leader of a tetrad of coeds (Rose, Heather and Lily – laughing yet?) who try to help the young women who come to their “suicide center” (the middle panel reading “prevention” keeps falling off, ho ho).

We Have a Pope

Some ideas make great feature films, others great shorts. Nanni Moretti’s comedy “We Have a Pope” would benefit from the latter format; it could be a delicious short story about a cardinal who, though nobody’s front-runner, emerges from the conclave at the Holy See as the new Pope (or doesn’t emerge, actually), realizing only after accepting the job that he’s stricken with panic and in way over his head. Stretched to 104 minutes, though, the film feels severely underfed. There are some truly clever ideas and some big laughs, but “We Have a Pope” careens like a driver without tires from broad, almost puerile comedy to a would-be introspective examination of an older man who’s devoted himself to God and missed out on many of life’s possibilities, and now quakes with fear and dread at the prospect of leading billions of followers. A more sure-footed director might better have melded the two halves; Moretti’s picture ends up neither fish nor fowl.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

The first two hours of the Turkish import “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” are unlike anything I’ve seen at the movies: a rapturous, immersive, trancelike long night spent mostly in a police car, driving the unlighted roads of the Anatolian steppes with a local chief, an underling, his driver (whom everyone calls “Arab”), a forensic doctor, and an arrestee who’s confessed to killing a man and burying the body but doesn’t quite remember where (he says he’d been drinking). Every so often, when the man thinks they’ve come to the spot, they and their procession – which also includes an Ankara-based prosecutor, a police sergeant, and two comically unhurried diggers – pull over and decamp for a while.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


You’ve undoubtedly heard of “Bully,” Harvey Weinstein’s doc about the epidemic of bullying in American schools. It’s worth seeing more for its subject matter and sensitivity than its artistic merit. As a documentary, it’s underreported and structurally loosey-goosey. It lacks the empirical data that contextualizes the anecdotal material in the best contemporary documentaries (say, those of Alex Gibney). It’s also too freeform in the stories it tells and how it interweaves them – to be frank, some are more compelling than others. Still, the project is a worthwhile undertaking; this is material that needs to be seen and an issue that cries out to be addressed at all levels of the educational system.

The Trouble with Bliss

Why is it always the tone-deaf screenwriters who never shut up? There’s about 90 minutes of prattle in director Michael Knowles’ dreary and droopy-lidded 97-minute bomb about Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall), a reactive-to-the-point-of-inertia thirtysomething who seems to do nothing but bump into quirky characters and get back into bed (which we watch him do... half a dozen times). Not one nanosecond of one scene, not one line of dialogue bears any relation to anything any flesh-and-blood person has ever said, or would say.


The “Slap Shot” wannabe hockey comedy “Goon” stars the always-likable Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, a bouncer who becomes the enforcer and unwitting hero of the minor-league Halifax Highlanders. Doug’s annoying best friend is played by Jay Baruchel, the movie’s co-writer, whose screen presence lacks any heft or appeal. Liev Schreiber channels Danny McBride as Ross Rhea, the most famous enforcer in the league, with whom Doug inevitably collides late in the season.