Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Loneliest Planet

For about 75 minutes, Julia Loktev's "The Loneliest Planet" enveloped me in its slow, sedulous trance. The young, affianced lovers Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) spend the summer before their marriage backpacking through the Caucasus in the country of Georgia. After a few nights in a village, they engage a local man, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), to guide them on a challenging course over perilous mountain terrain.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cloud Atlas

"Cloud Atlas" is a love-it-or-hate-it movie for which the up-the-middle rating of 2.5 stars seems just right. It's one of the most structurally complex films of the year, but the Wachowskis juggle the narratives so well it's amazingly easy to follow. (You can even go out for popcorn and come back without losing your place.) It's eight minutes shy of three hours, but rarely boring. It spans continents and millennia, but lacks long-term resonance. In any fifteen minutes, you may see thousands of human bodies hanging in a futuristic slaughterhouse, followed by a chase scene out of a 70s blaxploitation picture, followed by Jim Broadbent in a farcical situation out of Monty Python. I've never seen a movie lurch so wildly in tone from moment to moment, and I liked that about it. "Cloud Atlas" only occasionally achieves its grandest aspirations, but we need more movies with its audacity and scope.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Sessions

The lightest, sweetest movie at the multiplex right now is the one about the polio-stricken poet and writer confined 20+ hours of the day to an iron lung. In a departure from his villainous roles in "Winter's Bone" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene," John Hawkes plays the writer, Mark O'Brien, who after a rejected marriage proposal to one of the Berkeley coeds he employs as caregivers, decides to hire a sex therapist to experience physical intimacy with a woman. It turns out to be Hawkes' best work to date, a performance of abiding humanity, by turns smart, self-deprecating, naïve, almost schoolboyish.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seven Psychopaths, Pitch Perfect

Seven Psychopaths
Pitch Perfect

Martin McDonagh's "Seven Psychopaths" is the latest in a seemingly endless stream of ultraviolent comedies with high-toned, non-sequitur dialogue between the bloody murders. Despite the presence of "In Bruges" star Colin Farrell, only rarely does "Seven" attain the farcical momentum or genial ingratiation of that, McDonagh's best film. Too often the writing aims for an epic, "Usual Suspects" grandeur while achieving only occasional absurdist laughs. Christopher Walken turns in a toned-down, effective performance, and Woody Harrelson makes an excellent psychopath-among-psychopaths, but "Seven" remains more a concept than a fully inhabited film.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Ben Affleck's "Argo" gets 4 stars the same way Barack Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago: for future promise as much as for current accomplishment. To be sure, "Argo" is a terrific movie, a crowd-pleaser that seems to please every single person in the crowd. (It received an average CinemaScore grade of A+). It might well win the Oscar for, inter alia, Best Picture. But it's not perfect.


"Smashed" is about a young elementary teacher who happens to be morbidly alcoholic. Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) scours the cabinets of the Highland Park home she shares with her dipso husband Charlie (hirtellous Aaron Gray), a freelance music critic with family money, for the last swig from any near-empty bottle. She takes a nip in the school parking lot, where her colleague Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman), himself a recovering alkie, catches her and without pressure offers to introduce her to his AA meeting.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Paperboy, The Oranges

The Paperboy
The Oranges

Both have been trashed by critics, but I'm going to recommend "The Paperboy" and "The Oranges," two films with nothing in common but a strong sense of self. They know exactly what they mean to do, and do it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Taken 2

“’Fruit Cart!’” – An expletive used by knowledgeable film buffs during any chase scene involving a foreign or ethnic locale, reflecting their certainty that a fruit cart will be overturned during the chase, and an angry peddler will run into the middle of the street to shake his fist at the hero’s departing vehicle.” – Roger Ebert, Ebert’s Bigger Little Movie Glossary

Not only is there an actual Fruit Cart! scene in “Taken 2,” you’ll find a bingo card’s worth of additional entries from Ebert’s Glossary in this laughably ludicrous compendium of clichés. It’s not often that a favorably disposed audience takes to hooting at the movie they’ve come to see, but sometimes there’s no pretending not to notice the stench. And whatever goodwill Neeson has accrued, he’s squandered with this sell-out, the kind of unabashed insult to the audience’s intelligence you don’t see for decades at a time.