Thursday, August 30, 2012


The animated freaks-and-frights zombie comedy “ParaNorman” is made with a fair amount of skill and the dialogue suggests that some smart people had a hand in it. So why isn’t it more fun? Perhaps because the humor is all a bit too smirky and self-satisfied, never quite as funny as it seems to think itself. The filmmakers view Americans mostly in a sneering and contemptuous light, with each of the main characters a slight variation on a hoary stereotype and only Norman of the furrowed brow, and his fat friend Neil, to care about. “ParaNorman” has a few chuckles, but rarely zings.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Expendables 2, Hit and Run

The Expendables 2
Hit and Run

The one thing you have to give "The Expendables 2," it doesn't stand on ceremony. Within the first two minutes, about a hundred bad guys have been killed, one or two at a time, before we know why they're bad or why we should care. There's another scene early on in which Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham co-pilot an airplane that has to gain altitude to clear a tall embankment. Rather than give us an exciting shot (from either side) of the plane just getting over (or grazing) the bulwark, director Simon West cuts from an interior shot of Sly and Statham to one of the plane flying well past it. Totally inept.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Premium Rush, Compliance

Premium Rush

The bike-messenger race-against-time movie “Premium Rush” isn’t very premium – it gets every action movie cliché and stereotype stuck in its spokes – and doesn’t provide much of a rush. Having thoroughly enjoyed “Run Lola Run” and the similar Japanese import “Non-Stop,” I was surprised how little excitement this particular chase generated. The dialogue is mostly perfunctory, but some of what’s given to Michael Shannon to read borders on embarrassing. Shannon’s a talented actor, but he’s overdone it with the goggle-eyed nutbags. The time has come for him to rein it in, to find a quality role of nuance and subtlety. The leading player, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, still hasn’t found his star vehicle. He’s obviously gotten himself in great shape for this picture (homeboy looks fiiine), but the most enjoyable moments in “Premium Rush” involve watching his cheeks (all four). Its fundamental lesson is that bicyclists are as much a scourge and a plague in New York as they are here.

Robot & Frank

The near-future fantasy comedy “Robot & Frank” stars Frank Langella as a senile septuagenarian ex-con who lives by himself in a small rural town in New York. His successful son, Hunter, resents having to drive from the city and back every weekend, and his daughter’s off doing research in Turkmenistan, so one weekend Hunter brings a health-care robot to clean and cook for Frank and attend to his well-being. The first half-hour of this slight, 90-minute movie consists largely of crotchety Frank trash-talking and attempting to disengage Robot (“I don’t have an off switch, Frank”) before an idea occurs to him.

Little White Lies

An enjoyable, if fluffy, evening at the multiplex began with “Little White Lies,” a sort of French “Big Chill” by Guillaume Canet, writer-director of “Tell No One.” After Ludo is critically injured in a motorcycle accident as the opening credits end (Jean Dujardin, choosing an odd follow-up to his “Artist” Oscar, gets the Kevin Costner part), his friends, who’d been about to depart for their annual month of vacation at the beach house of Max (François Cluzet) and Véro (Valérie Bonneton), decide to go ahead with just a fortnight of fun in the sun. The camarades include Gilles Lellouche as the overgrown man-child Eric, Benoît Magimel as the handsome osteopath Vincent, and Marion Cotillard as the much loved and desired but intimacy-phobic Marie.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Watching the astonishingly inept "Dreamgirls" wannabe "Sparkle," you wonder how the cast kept a straight face, addressing one another as "Sparkle" and "Sister" and "Stix" and "Satin." (From somewhere I heard the voice of Pat Sajak saying, "There are five S's in the puzzle.")

Monday, August 20, 2012


My friend Jill Richmond and I saw "Cosmopolis" separately. Here's a transcript of our conversation: "Did you stay the whole time?" "Unfortunately, how about you?" "We left." "How soon?" "About forty-five minutes in." "Lucky dogs."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

2 Days in New York, Beloved

2 Days in New York

After Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," I was sure Julie Delpy - with her highly endearing combination of brains and beauty - was destined for stardom - or at least a long career as the thinking man's leading lady. Instead, she's forged a path for herself as a writer-director, following up her light comedy "2 Days in Paris" with the even lighter "2 Days in New York," co-starring Chris Rock as her put-upon boyfriend. When her "lovably" obnoxious family flies in for an extended visit, she and Rock have nothing to do but alternate between ineffectual frustration, tiresome bickering, and overly precious antics. "2 Days" feels like 2 weeks; it's a fallen soufflé.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Campaign

“The Campaign” has three writers, four producers, and zero laughs. Pitting Will Ferrell’s pandering, sex-addict Representative Cam Brady against Zack Galifianakis’ lovable loser, Marty Huggins (a watered-down version of Alan from “The Hangover”), this toothless satire of modern politics takes place on an alternate planet where a candidate gets a bump in the polls by intentionally seducing and bedding his opponent’s wife; a candidate overcomes a double-digit deficit with an Election Day ad encouraging voters to reveal their deepest secrets; and the winning candidate concedes the House seat to his opponent because he’s a nice guy.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Green Wave, Nuit #1

The Green Wave
Nuit #1

“The Green Wave” combines Twitter and blog postings, still photography, live video and animated reenactments to tell the story of the suppression of the nascent democratic movement in Iran in 2009. Opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s victory at the polls was so decisive that even one of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet secretaries congratulated him. Until, that is, military forces loyal to the regime stormed the election offices, shutting them down and forging ballots to produce a preposterous result: Though observers reported you couldn’t find an Ahmadinejad voter in many precincts, state TV announced he had won with 69% of the vote. That night, the dream of meaningful political freedom in Iran died for a generation. Over subsequent weeks, dozens of protesters and innocent bystanders would be killed and brutally injured in a show of force aimed at forestalling any thought of insurrection. There are some highly powerful stories in “The Green Wave,” but they tend to bleed together. Directors Ali Samadi Ahadi and Ken Jacobs needed to do a better job of contextualizing individual events into a coherent history. Still, it’s better than “Waltz With Bashir.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hope Springs

MGM has falsely advertised the Meryl Streep-Tommy Lee Jones vehicle “Hope Springs” as a laugh-a-minute sex romp for the 50+ demographic. What it is, at its best, is a somber, often sad portrait of a marriage in long, slow declension, with a few small chuckles interspersed for comic relief. Director David Frankel – fresh off the ornithological Jack Black-Steve Martin-Owen Wilson bomb “The Big Year” – never commits to either the drama or the comedy, leaving “Hope Springs” in a state of limbo that produced queasy discomfort among my audience, who clearly didn’t get what they expected.

The Bourne Legacy

“Bourne” screenwriter Tony Gilroy takes over the director’s chair from Paul Greengrass for this fourth outing, the first without Matt Damon, but can’t manage to duplicate the suspense and tension of his “Michael Clayton” or the wit and ingenuity of his unfairly overlooked “Duplicity.” “Legacy” also lacks the frenetic energy and nonstop motion of the first three installments. There are long stretches of dead air between action scenes that themselves barely keep you interested. The movie ends – sort of – with an extended chase sequence that’s a bit better than the rest, but not thrilling.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"Is Anything Good Playing Now?"

It's rare to have so many good movies playing at once during the dog days of summer, so here's a quick guide to some flicks you might want to check out once the Olympics end.

Total Recall

Is the new “Total Recall” remake as good as the original? No. It’s several times better. I have liked Ah-nold in certain action vehicles (“The Running Man”) and especially in the right kind of self-referential and self-deprecating comedy (“The Last Action Hero”), but let’s not mince words: With legendary German hack Paul Verhoeven (“Showgirls,” “Starship Troopers”) at the helm, the 1990 film was a mess.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Craigslist Joe, The Imposter

Craigslist Joe
The Imposter

Joe Garner’s documentary “Craigslist Joe,” about the month the Angeleno spent “living off Craigslist” – traveling the country depending for food and shelter on the kindness of online strangers – is an oddly inchoate, at times unintelligible picture. The project itself never takes coherent shape: Must he merely survive? Must he go anywhere in particular? Must he accomplish anything? Honestly, it feels like an excuse for a privileged Hollywood kid (his buddy Zach Galifianakis produced) to make his first feature. Having arrived at a few self-evident epiphanies, Garner tries to give the movie heft toward the end, but only lurches into the maudlin. His movie’s a bit of an embarrassment.

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Call it the Chodorow Inversion Principle: The more dialogue in a contemporary romantic comedy, the less amusing, clever and truthful it is. Example #4,291: the laugh-free zone “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” with writer-star Rashida Jones as the co-founder of a “trend forecasting” PR firm and Andy Samberg as the goldbrick artist she’s divorcing – but still goes out with every night and lets stay in her guest house. As they begin to date other people, they still talk to each other – nonstop – and the effect of all their cutesy-poo shtick on us is enervating.

Killer Joe

You won’t soon forget “Killer Joe.” It’s a loaded gun of a movie that fires itself straight into the collective American conscious, with a final scene as iconic and indelible as Glenn Close resurrecting from a bathtub in “Fatal Attraction” or Javier Bardem asking a store clerk to call a coin flip for his life in “No Country for Old Men.” In August 2012 in America, either you’ve seen “Killer Joe” or you haven’t, and if you have, you’re talking about it.


I’ll admit it. I’m the target audience for “360.” From “Grand Canyon” to “Short Cuts” to such Oscar bait as “Babel” and “Crash,” I’ve always been a sucker for any halfway decent interconnected-vignettes movie. Director Fernando Meirelles keeps this globetrotting picture spinning breezily along, with some lovely visuals and a must-have soundtrack. “360” doesn’t play with foreground and background as interestingly as, say, “2 Days in the Valley,” and none of the stories resonates much after the credits roll, but I enjoyed the one involving Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster, and Maria Flor, and the performances are universally solid. "360" is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, adult entertainment.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

There’s a rumpled messiness, an unfinished quality, to both the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and the biographical documentary “Never Sorry.” Ai rose to prominence in China by working within the system; the government even commissioned him to work on the Bird’s Nest given pride of place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But after the devastating earthquake that killed 70,000 in Sichuan province, including 5,000 schoolchildren, Ai gained international fame with his multimedia projects commemorating the young victims and implicating the state, with its poorly constructed schoolhouses, in their deaths.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Well Digger's Daughter

I'm sorry to report that "The Well Digger's Daughter" is no "Jean de Florette" or "Manon des Sources." It's a big snooze. Director-star Daniel Auteuil puts some pretty pictures of Provence on the screen, but underlines them with such a blaring score, you can't enjoy them in peace. There are some nice supporting turns by the two men who vie for the affections of Auteuil's daughter, but she has no charisma whatsoever, and Auteuil, giving himself the lead, hams his way from here to Marseille.