Sunday, November 25, 2012

Just 45 Minutes from Broadway

For a quarter-century, Henry Jaglom has toiled in relative obscurity, L.A.’s underfinanced answer to Woody Allen. The best of Jaglom’s films (“Eating,” “Venice/Venice,” “Deja Vu,” “Last Summer in the Hamptons”), with their upper-class subjects and American-songbook soundtracks, do bear Allenesque touches: sardonic wit, emotional sensitivity, great... writing for women. Unfortunately, Jaglom’s entered another phase of Woody, making his current lady love, actress Tanna Frederick, the star of all his recent pictures (“Hollywood Dreams,” “Irene in Time,” “Queen of the Lot”), and Frederick is no Mia Farrow. It’s been a straight downward trajectory for Jaglom over the past decade (from a 65% fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating for 2001’s pleasant trifle “Festival in Cannes” to just 29% for “Queen”), and the fever-pitch hysteria and histrionics of “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway” (13%) represent a new nadir.

Chasing Ice

“Chasing Ice” would make a perfectly decent one-hour special on the National Geographic channel. It follows photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey crew to Alaska, Greenland and Iceland to film the calving, retraction, and diminution of the world’s glaciers due to global warming. Balog’s belief is that viewers of time-lapse images and videos of the glaciers’ deterioration will see for themselves the truth of climate change. There are some breathtaking visuals in “Chasing Ice” – though perhaps not as many as you might expect – but the movie spends too much time on Balog (including the serial knee replacement surgeries he’s had to undergo as a result of his endeavors), who doesn’t exactly command the screen. Stretched out to 75 minutes for release as a documentary feature, it feels both repetitive and undernourished – at movie-house prices, kind of a gyp.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Breezy, efficient, and good-humored, “Hitchcock” sets about its business and sees to it briskly. Not for this movie the self-important aspirations of a biography such as “Lincoln”; it seeks only to pull back the curtain for an hour and a half and give us a glimpse into the lives of Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, collaborator and most trusted adviser, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), as they self-finance the film adaptation of “Psycho” on which Paramount (where Hitch had made his previous half-dozen pictures) and every other studio in town took a pass.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Life of Pi

Repetitive, boring and devoid of meaning, Ang Lee’s surefire bomb “Life of Pi” makes you feel only relief when, after over two hours, it finally ends. It’s a thoroughly unenjoyable, at times deeply distasteful mash-up of dime-store Indian mumbo-jumbo (the narrator sounds like he gets most of his life lessons from $9.99 swami-head night lights) and the same soulless CGI spectacle that made Lee’s equally wildly overpraised “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” such an empty experience.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Anna Karenina

I had Joe Wright’s “Hanna” on my top-ten list last year, and he’s done all he can to bring visual flair to Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (by way of Tom Stoppard), imaginatively transposing the Russian love story to an elaborate, ever-shifting, multi-layered stage set. And Keira Knightley, who’s become highly reliable and occasionally (as in last year’s “A Dangerous Method”) quite bold and risk-taking, puts passion into the title role of a government minister’s wife cast out of society by virtue of an injudicious affair before ever really entering it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

It’s uncanny how many of the truest and best movie moments are the quietest. Volume is so often a sign of desperation, of not having anything honest to say and so saying it louder. “Silver Linings Playbook” is above all a loud movie, full of hocking and shrying, carping and caterwauling – and false to the core. Plot, plot, two hours of churning, roiling plot – with situations too ridiculous even to think about, surprise twists that the densest viewers will have assumed from the beginning (the entire story arc, actually), and sketches of characters where the human beings are supposed to go.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph, A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair
Wreck-It Ralph

For audiences of a certain age (mine), Disney Animation's "Wreck-It Ralph" will evoke memories of insouciant hours pumping quarters into Moon Cresta and Astro Blaster and Kangaroo. There's a good deal of visual wit and much to entertain the eye in this story of a video game bad guy (John C. Reilly, a perfect fit for the overgrown Ralph) who wants to break the program and do good for once. Reilly has a nice comic rapport with Sarah Silverman as the "glitch" in a candy-coated cart-race game called "Sugar Rush" across the arcade aisle. "Wreck-It Ralph" bogs down in too much wearying plot - a detour into a generic shoot-'em-up game called Hero's Duty goes nowhere - but its gentle, retro spirit just barely carries the day.

Monday, November 12, 2012


The 23rd installment of the James Bond series, the crowd-pleasing "Skyfall" brings back a sense of sophisticated and stylish fun that's been missing in such forlorn recent entries as "Quantum of Solace." Daniel Craig may not live up to your memories of the better Bonds of the past, but he's settled into the role and gives us a 007 to match the current mood: a bit drawn, a bit dour, ever stoic and taciturn - all business. There's an almost puffy solidity to the prematurely grey Craig that's part masculine and part cyborg. You get the sense that for his Bond girls, sex with him is a joyless if technically effective enterprise.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


“Lincoln” is a competently made, watchable excuse for unsophisticated audiences to choke on their own virtue and applaud themselves for making it through a two-and-a-half-hour prestige drama. It’s dry as dirt, endlessly self-congratulatory, and totally lacking in intellectual and emotional depth and resonance.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


You can tell we’re getting to the business end of the movie year. Only one of the last 13 films I’ve reviewed has rated below two stars (the surprise hit “Pitch Perfect”), and very strong films such as Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight” are starting to arrive more steadily. “Flight” is not, as its official site would suggest, a mystery thriller about a partially averted airplane crash. It’s the story of an alcoholic, enacted with restraint and vulnerability by Denzel Washington in an unusually meritorious performance showing both the mental strength and weakness of his character, the veteran commercial pilot Whip Whitaker.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Brooklyn Castle

"You know, Okwe, good at chess usually means bad at life." - Guo Yi (Benedict Wong) in "Dirty Pretty Things"

As a bridge player, I've always viewed chess in an inferior light. There's no social or partnership element to the game, and the chess world has given us more than one example of lost souls whose "life of the mind" eventually disconnected them from real life.

This Must be the Place

Director Paolo Sorrentino's "This Must be the Place" certainly qualifies as unique. It stars Sean Penn as a onetime pop rocker named Cheyenne who, three decades after his Goth heyday, still dresses the part but otherwise lives quietly with his loving, serene wife Jane (Frances McDormand) on an oversized estate in Ireland. The death of Cheynne's estranged Jewish father brings him back to America, and a chat with noted Nazi hunter Moredcai Midler (Judd Hirsch) sets him on the trail of the man who tormented his dad all those decades ago.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Late Quartet

The first hour of Yaron Zilberman’s “A Late Quarter” offers an exceptionally perceptive look inside a highly successful, longtime chamber music string quartet, consisting of first violin Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violin Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Robert’s wife, viola player Juliette (Catherine Keener), and their common mentor, the cellist Peter (Christopher Walken).