Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

As with director Derek Cianfrance’s previous picture, “Blue Valentine,” the whole of “The Place Beyond the Pines” is less than the sum of its parts.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ginger & Rosa

Sally Potter's phony-baloney "Ginger & Rosa," about two best friends in London in 1962 - nuclear weapon protestor Ginger (Elle Fanning, impossible to turn away from even here) and boy-crazy Rosa (nondescript Alice Englert) - never feels like anything but a director's construct.

From Up On Poppy Hill

For "From Up on Poppy Hill," Studio Ghibli scion Goro Miyazaki steps into papa Hayao's imposing shoes and let's not mince words: his new film feels fresher and more fun than dad's last two ("Ponyo" and "The Secret World of Arrietty").

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Now here's a conversation piece. "Gomorrah" writer-director Matteo Garrone returns five years later with "Reality," about the fishmonger Luciano (Aniello Arena), a young husband and father from Napoli who, a few weeks after meeting Enzo, the most famous contestant from the Italian version of "Big Brother," at a wedding (Luciano, always the life of the party, played a blue-wigged drag queen), himself auditions for the show, arriving late to an open call at a shopping mall and talking his way into a screen test.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The We and the I

A very weak first quarter of the movie year continues with the train wreck "The We and the I," which with its diffuse and incoherent mash-up of styles demonstrates how thin the line between the winsome whimsy of Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep" - and the respectable rigor of his "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" - and outright formlessness.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Breakers

It felt appropriate that Sofia Coppola's upcoming "The Bling Ring" had the last trailer before Harmony Korine's OMG-what-was-that "Spring Breakers." Korine's film aims, I think, for the unexpected truthfulness of Coppola's great "Somewhere," teasing out the layers of humanity in four co-eds who steal their professor's car and rob a diner at gunpoint to get the money to get down to Florida for Spring Break. (Selena Gomez, charming in 2011's "Monte Carlo," continues to show promise as Faith, the most introspective and godfearing of the girls.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

90 minutes of eye-rolling and more "Come on"s than a Lleyton Hewitt match give way to 30 minutes of out-loud laughter in the mildly amusing but dark, claustrophobic, overlong and totally preposterous "Olympus Has Fallen," with Gerard Butler as the anguished Secret Service agent who singlehandedly thwarts the efforts of an army of North Korean terrorists to detonate the entire ensiled U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Call

My friend Danny E. Aviles imagined a production meeting on "The Call": "Okay, Halle, we're really gonna try to make you ugly. Jheri Curl you up, big bags under your eyes, the works." "Yeah, sure, but you know it's not gonna work, right?"

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Dead Man Down," "Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters," "War Witch," "Beyond the Hills," and "The Silence"

Dead Man Down
Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters

Beyond the Hills

War Witch
The Silence


I found the redundantly titled “Dead Man Down” a perfectly passable time-killer much of the way, mostly due to Colin Farrell’s dark, brooding presence. His role – a seamlessly assimilated Hungarian immigrant who infiltrates the gang that killed his wife and daughter – suits him nicely, though I didn’t buy Noomi Rapace or Terrence Howard in supporting roles. The ending, though, is a letdown, one of those bring-everybody-together-in-an-abandoned-warehouse jobbies in which the hero and his love interest dodge more bullets than Superman while felling all the trained assassins with seeing-eye shots.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Tommy Lee Jones has been dining out for so long on his likable screen persona, it's hard to remember the last time he made me feel an honest emotion ("In the Valley of Elah," I suppose). He's joined that club of old-timers - Jack Nicholson, Maggie Smith - whom audiences come to see chest-puff and wisecrack their way through mediocre material (including "Lincoln," where his "performance" consisted of knocking down a bunch of straw-man Southern racists).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

21 and Over

The less said, the better about "21 and Over," a puerile and woman-hating exercise in idiocy that contains exactly one un-P.C. chuckle.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Four Documentaries - and "Stoker"

Caesar Must Die
Genius On Hold

A Place at the Table


"Caesar Must Die" is part documentary, part theatrical staging. In it, lifers and other hard-timers in the high-security wing of Rome's Rebibbia Prison audition for and enact Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." There are some powerful moments, and a wistfully sad closing in which one con, led back to his cell after the troupe's triumphant performance, notes that he never felt imprisoned until he discovered art. Unfortunately, even at 76 minutes, I had trouble keeping my eyelids up.

"Genius On Hold" is a piece of garbage that turns the fascinating life stories of Walter Shaw, who invented call forwarding, conference calling, the speakerphone and more before dying penniless, and his son, who became one of America's most wanted jewel thieves, into a totally toothless and ridiculous rant about corporatism and greed. Director Gregory Marquette has slapped this film together like an undergrad writing his senior thesis in one night - using and reusing animations showing Shaw's patents at inapposite points and setting intense interviews about life-changing moments to laughably inapt soft jazz. Frank Langella should be mortified to have lent his voice to the egregious narration, with more shifting tenses than Carter took little liver pills and a heavy-handedness that's nothing short of an insult to the audience's intelligence.

The late New York City mayor Ed Koch hovers over the winding documentary "Koch," lifting it up on the strength of his personality, humor and joie de vivre. It would have benefited from a clearer chronology, but the larger-than-life Koch makes delightful company.

Best of this week's bunch is the hunger documentary "A Place at the Table," a solid piece of infotainment that cogently elucidates, through the use of relevant case studies and knowledgeable experts, how hunger and obesity can coexist within communities, families, even the same person. The modern hunger emergency is one not of food shortage but of poverty, with even two-earner households forced to stretch the dollar by purchasing processed foods heavy on sugar and calories and light on nutritional value. 85% of the USDA's subsidies go to corn, soy, and processed wheat; fresh fruits and vegetables remain, for many, an unaffordable luxury.

I went with two friends to see "Stoker" yesterday. The first turned to me after one plot twist and said, "So stupid." The other asked, "How could Nicole Kidman make a movie like this?" I'm sorry, but I don't agree with them. I couldn't turn my head away from "Stoker," a tone poem of fetishistic psychosexuality that holds its steely gaze - and one of the most beautiful pictures I've seen in a year's time. Several images linger in the mind a day later: hatbox-sized red and yellow ice cream containers that wouldn't have looked out of place in "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"; the strands of Kidman's hair as Mia Wasikowska brushes them (in a bedroom that seems to be half jungle) and they evanesce into stalks of grain; the sight of Matthew Goode (Colin Firth's lover in "A Single Man") pulling off his belt, loop by erotic loop; Wasikowska in the shower, bringing herself to climax at the precise moment of a remembered strangulation. "Stoker" is fucked up and gorgeous and silly and entrancing and one thing's for sure, you haven't seen it before.