Saturday, June 30, 2012

Magic Mike

Some movies must be seen in first run, at a theater full of screaming women (or men, as the case may be). Such is the case with Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike,” which would be much drearier to watch alone at home.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

One Day on Earth, The Woman in the 5th, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

One Day on Earth
The Woman in the 5th
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

The collage film “One Day on Earth,” which consists of snippets of video footage shot around the world on a single day (10/10/10), follows on the heels of last year’s identically-conceived “Life in a Day.” I enjoyed the new film, which includes material from every country on Earth, more, but perhaps only for the fun of mentally ticking off 20 seconds in Andorra, and Djibouti, and Dominica, and Oman. Each film struck me as a solution in search of a problem – or, to the point, as mental masturbation. A day later, I’m at pains to remember a single moment from “One Day on Earth.” Nothing resonates. It’s all an exercise.

Paul Williams: Still Alive

Remember Paul Williams? Short little blonde guy? No? Well, in the 70s, he was It. Wrote “Out in the Country” for Three Dog Night. “We’ve Only Just Begun” for the Carpenters. A little song called “Evergreen” for Barbra Streisand. “The Rainbow Connection” for Kermie. “The Love Boat” theme? Yeah, that too. Won an Oscar and a Grammy and appeared 50 times on Carson’s “Tonight Show” and was pretty much ubiquitous. Then, suddenly, he disappeared. Mostly.

To Rome with Love

“To Rome With Love” is Woody Allen’s richest work in years, brimming with great ideas cleverly realized and chock-full of outsize laughs. It marks a welcome return to form for Woody after the mediocre “Midnight in Paris,” whose mass appeal lay primarily in the sort of name-dropping he lambastes here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


The Disney-Pixar collaboration “Brave” features the upstart’s first female protagonist, a willful Scottish mop of red hair named Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), whose mum (the redoubtable Emma Thompson) and pop (Billy Connolly) arrange for three lords’ buffoonish sons to battle for her hand but who has the gall to want to choose her own love, whoever (and whenever) may be. Macdonald and Thompson are too good for the whiny back-and-forth between Merida and Queen Elinor, a mélange of Glaswegian and Encino Birmingham High. The plot takes a turn to the bizarre when a woodcarving witch (Julie Walters) spells Elinor into a bear, which leads to tiresome computer-generated animal fights set to AC radio-ready tracks. “Brave” is dark and short on humor and not much fun for kids or adults. It screens with the deserving animated-short Oscar nominee “La Luna.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gerhard Richter Painting, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Gerhard Richter Painting
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

There is truth in advertising to the title of Corinna Belz’s documentary “Gerhard Richter Painting,” approximately two-thirds of which consists of uninterrupted, nearly silent tracking shots of the octogenarian painter in the studio, applying wide swaths of titanium white and lemon yellow... paint to rollers and to his trademark giant squeegee, with which he turns vivid, colorful paintings into harder, more abstract and scraped-off pieces. At least one critic has pooh-poohed these sequences as literally watching paint dry, but to me the rare sight of a master painter at work was the most interesting aspect of the film. Richter the man is much less so – despite some powerful emotional traumas in his past – and he doesn’t provide much useful insight into the artistic process or art in general.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The Chilean import "Bonsai" is the kind of movie you'd walk out of on an airplane - just for a change of scenery. It's the sort of arch, pseudo-intellectual picture in which the main characters talk about having read all seven volumes of Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past." Well, I'm here to tell you, I fucking hate Proust, and the only thing more soul-crushing than talking about reading "Remembrance" would be actually reading it. "Bonsai" is a literary romantic comedy that's more sexual than romantic, more detached and sardonic than genuinely amusing, and more interested in dropping literary names than exploring substantive themes. As I said of "The English Patient," it requires infinite patience for the sparest of pleasures.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rock of Ages

Adam Shankman’s “Rock of Ages” keeps the streak alive: No good movie since “Aladdin” has relied for laughs on reaction shots from a monkey. Shankman has assembled a kitchen-sink cast for his affectionate homage to 80s hair metal, of whom approximately one (Mary J. Blige) can actually sing. The rest vary from barely passable (Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s wife, who’s intent on shutting down Sunset Strip, Tom Cruise as debauched rock god Stacee Jaxx) to unspeakable (Alec Baldwin as the proprietor of the Bourbon Room, Russell Brand as his lieutenant, Paul Giamatti as Jaxx’s venal agent).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Your Sister's Sister

Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” is the best American feature film so far this year, an unexpected small treasure that delights you with its quietly perceptive emotional acuity and pitch-perfect humor.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


The first, great-looking hour of the 3-D and IMAX-enhanced spectacle "Prometheus" had me sitting straight up in my seat, nerve endings fully engaged by director Ridley Scott's vision of cave paintings by early man, spanning continents and millennia, pointing to a distant planet that may hold the secret of the origin of humanity. The script adverts to several of the most fundamental questions of our existence, from natural selection to the existence vel non of a deity to whether we are fundamentally good or evil.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

A quirky indie, popular at Sundance, about Kenneth, an eccentric loner (Mark Duplass) who believes he's solved time travel and places a classified seeking a partner to accompany him back a decade on the machine he's invented. Sounds like a must to avoid, right? Not really. Almost despite itself, "Safety Not Guaranteed" successfully straddles - most of the time - the fine line between cynicism and credulity, preposterousness and possibility, affectation and emotional honesty.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wallander: The Revenge

In the wake of the "Dragon Tattoo" movies comes the police procedural "Wallander: The Revenge" (a terrible title that makes it sound like an Australian horror sequel), which is actually a 90-minute installment of a popular Swedish television series about Kurt Wallander, the rumpled chief inspector of the quiet seaside city of Ystad.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nobody Else But You

If you stop and think about it, narration by a dead character shouldn’t work. Yet from “Sunset Boulevard” to “Miracle Mile” to the new French import “Nobody Else But You,” somehow it does. The decedent here is Candice Lecoeur (Sophie Quinton), the belle of Mouthe, the coldest village in France, whose twin claims to fame are her sex-kitten weather forecasts f...or a TV morning show and her commercials for a local creamery’s “Belle de Jura” cheese.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lola Versus

Greta Gerwig, who made such a favorable first impression in "Greenberg," is now in danger of losing her moment after Whit Stillman's insufferable "Damsels in Distress" and now the generic quirky-vulgar indie "Lola Versus," which shows her in a reactive, easy-sleazy light that I don't think holds much appeal for today's woman (or today's man, for that matter). All of Gerwig's worst features - that whiny, nasal voice, a Haverfordian frumpiness, a lack of sunlight on her skin - are accentuated in this white-people's-problems picture, where she bounces from her first and only boyfriend (yeah, right) to their mutual best friend (Hamish Linklater of Miranda July's twee "The Future") to a Yogilate-ing rollerblader and prison architect who explains his massive member by telling Gerwig he was an "incubator baby." There are two big laughs, but nothing in the movie feels real or unforced.

Bill W.

The anonymity-cherishing subject of the documentary "Bill W." is William G. Wilson, the founder of AA and a hero and savior to millions of recovering addicts of all kinds around the world. Wilson lived an amazing life, almost always on the edge of poverty and for years dependent on the kindness of friends to house and feed him and his long-suffering wife, Lois. Unfortunately, his story is more compelling than this new but old-school doc, which with its amber-glow reenactments, old home movies, and black-and-white photographs suffers from the fustiness and drooping eyelids of a grade-school educational film. The best moments occur when Wilson's self-deprecating and gallows humor seeps out, as in his description of the AA chapter somewhere in Virginia that once served beer at its meetings. We get some fascinating insights into the nature of addiction and the ever-evolving meaning of AA's 12 steps and 12 traditions. If only "Bill W." were less of a broccoli movie, less good for you and more fun to take in.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Oslo, August 31st

Joachim Trier's "Oslo, August 31st" follows a recovering drug abuser named Anders around the Norwegian capital on an ordinary day during his tenth month in rehab. He invites himself over to some old friends' places (some are happier to see and indulge him than others), leaves a "Swingers"-esque series of voicemails for his ex-girlfriend, and interviews for a job with a media magazine. He also visits his old dealer and buys a gram of heroin, which he may or may not end up injecting, though given Trier's overly deterministic style I'll give you one good guess. Not much really happens, and though Trier gives us several series of silent picture-postcard images of Oslo, they don't convey a real sense of the city or carry the emotional impact of, say, Richard Linklater's beautiful "Before Sunset." Most Hollywood movies clogging the multiplexes are all rising action and climax. "Oslo, August 31st" is the art-house equivalent: It's all denouement.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Cat in Paris

The animated Oscar nominee "A Cat in Paris" runs just over an hour, features a mediocre English-language voice cast, and is far from revolutionary in its animation, but it's one of the prettiest, most eye-popping movies in recent memory. With its lush palette and vivid color combinations, it took me back to my favorite illustrated storybooks from my childhood and the joy and wonder they inspired. I also liked the surprises in its simple but engaging storyline.