Friday, April 26, 2013

Bert Stern: Original Madman

"Bert Stern: Original Madman" introduces us to the Hollywood photographer Bert Stern, who started as an advertising photographer and pioneered the concept of the modern ad photo with the primacy of its single image. (Until he came along, ad photos were basically illustrative, often consigned to the spare space not consumed by the dominant text.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Violeta Went to Heaven

“Violeta Went to Heaven,” about the Chilean folk singer and artist Violeta Parra, takes the fragmented form of a sort of cinematic memory quilt of the life and loves of Parra, played captivatingly by Francisca Gavilian as a headstrong, dominant woman with a clarity if not a singleness of purpose and zero tolerance for those niceties that perpetuate the societal status quo.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stolen Seas

The documentary "Stolen Seas" examines the metastasizing problem of Somali piracy, now the African nation's leading "industry." The filmmakers use audio recordings and interviews to recreate the tense, months-long talks between Per Gullestrup, owner of a Danish shipping line, and Ishmael Ali, the gregarious and experienced Somali nabob the pirates bring aboard to bargain on their behalf.

Upstream Color

To say that no movie released this year will be weirder than "Upstream Color" is an understatement. It's also a mesmerizing mind-fuck, at least while it's happening.

Monday, April 22, 2013

In The House

François Ozon's "In the House" features a fascinating concept: Claude, a bright high-school student eager to learn to write, worms his way into a schoolmate's household, ostensibly to tutor him in mathematics, and writes about the real and imagined goings-on for his literature teacher, Germain, who finds the submissions inappropriate at first but soon can't get enough.


There are those who won't go to any movie with Tom Cruise in it, and I have no problem with that. For those who'll see one if it's decent, check out "Oblivion," a well-constructed science fiction adventure with a script that's smart and satisfying.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Henry Alex Rubin's "Crash"-meets-the-Internet roundelay "Disconnect" is slick, watchable, and structurally sound for the first hundred minutes but doesn't know how to end in the last fifteen and winds up with little to say. The three primary interlocking storylines involve cyber-bullying, identity theft, and the exploitation of minors on sexually explicit websites.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Simon Killer

Simon has just graduated from college with a degree in neuroscience. His thesis, on the relationship between the brain and the eye, has been published in a scientific journal. (It has to do with how the brain determines the width of an object by giving it a weighted average of the widths of the objects around it.) His longtime girlfriend has recently left him, making it clear she doesn't want him in her life at all. As "Simon Killer" opens, the son of a friend of his mother's lets Simon stay in his Paris apartment for a week while he vacations in the south. Simon owes little more obligation than to wander the streets aimlessly, suggestible to whatever encounters may present themselves.

Scary Movie V

You'll search in vain for a laugh, a chuckle, even a smile in the DOA franchise-ender "Scary Movie V." Forget about a rental; this is the sort of movie you'd switch off on free TV. Were it a horse, they'd shoot it. You can smell the desperation with each insipid pop-culture reference, scatological joke, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan cameo. Last one out, turn off the lights


Hisako Matsui's "Leonie" stars Emily Mortimer as Leonie Gilmour, a Bryn Mawrtyr who arrived in turn-of-the-century New York to answer a classified ad for an editing position placed by the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi. Over time, she became his editor, his lover, and the mother of his son, the noted artist Isamu Noguchi. Pretty, slow-moving, Japanese - this was the Sally Aminoff jackpot! I had to invite her. (It could only have been more up her wheelhouse if set in China.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

No Place on Earth

The Holocaust-survival documentary "No Place on Earth" tells of two extended families of Ukrainian Jews who lived for a year in a half in the dank darkness of two caves, abandoning the first when it proved too shallow to remain inconspicuous.
As one whose paternal ancestry traces back to Berdichev, I have a certain fondness for these proud people, but their story, as told, is not especially interesting, nor are the interviews particularly insightful. Worst of all are the reenactments, which are totally unnecessary and cheapen what inherent dramatic value the movie has.

To the Wonder

Is there a clearer case of The Emperor's New Clothes than Terrence Malick? At his flatulent "The Tree of Life," there was a longer line for refunds than for popcorn. His new insta-bomb, with the poorly chosen title "To the Wonder," plays like a cross between a commercial for Obsession and the Ralph Lauren fall catalogue.


You can feel yourself getting dumber with each passing minute of "42," the hagiographic new biopic on Jackie Robinson, with Chadwick Boseman as the pioneering infielder and Harrison Ford as ahead-of-his-time Dodgers GM Branch Rickey. (If nothing else, the movie draws a sharp contrast between the Dodgers' proud history and the ignominious past of several other MLB franchises.) Every conflict in the movie is pure black and white; the filmmakers believe that even a hint of nuance or shading would be too taxing for the intended audience. This may please those who come to hero worship (Robinson's widow has given "42" her seal of approval), but it renders the film dramatically inert.

The Angels' Share

Have I got a little sleeper for you: "The Angels' Share," a new Scottish comedy from director Ken Loach, better known for his class-conscious dramas (he made my top-ten list in 1990 with "Hidden Agenda" and again in 2000 for "Bread and Roses"). Loach brings his trademark integrity and acuity to this lighter fare, introducing us to Robbie Emerson, a young Glaswegian with a knocked-up girlfriend, a rap sheet of street thuggery, and a thirst for decent employment.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Some television celebrities, no matter how talented, simply lack the stature to fit the big screen. Upon the basis of 2010's "Date Night" and her new picture "Admission," I'm afraid Tina Fey falls into the category. I know, there are those who believe she can do no wrong, but she looks undersized up there in a way that only serves to underline the sitcom-y, watch-'em-at-home production values and quality of these movies.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners

Run, don't walk, to the AMC Century City, where a superior documentary with the unwieldy title "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners" plays through Thursday. Shola Lynch's film about the brilliant philosophy professor Angela Davis, fired by UCLA in 1969 for her membership in the Communist Party and charged with capital homicide when some guns she had purchased to protect herself from death threats were used in the abduction and murder of a Marin County judge, beautifully and with Davis' own wry humor interweaves personal history, social and racial politics, the exquisite tension of the finest courtroom drama, and a treasure trove of images and video footage, setting it all to a soundtrack that keens and wails with primal intensity.

Monday, April 8, 2013


I'm always intrigued when I see Rosario Dawson's name on the cast list of a new movie. She has a nose for quality scripts, from "Shattered Glass," "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," and "Unstoppable" to a couple of undervalued gems: Ed Burns' "Sidewalks of New York," which snuck onto my top-ten list in 2001, and last year's underseen college-reunion comedy "10 Years." Dawson has seen her share of dogs, but often her presence sends the signal that there's something more to a movie than you might think.

My Brother the Devil, M

My Brother the Devil

I bailed quickly on Sally El Hosaini's Egyptian-brothers-in-London petty-crime saga "My Brother the Devil," mostly because the dialogue was virtually unintelligible. I've seen subtitles provided in films with much clearer English. What I could make out seemed very familiar, an ethnic twist on stock characters and situations we've seen a million times.

The Company You Keep

What a cast. What a fucking cast. Get this: Robert Redford. Shia LaBeouf. Julie Christie. Susan Sarandon. Nick Nolte. Chris Cooper. Terrence Howard. Stanley Tucci. Richard Jenkins. Brendan Gleeson. Brit Marling. Sam Elliott. Anna Kendrick. Usually only Woody Allen can assemble so many talented actors willing to take scale to work with him, but Redford's called in a lot of chits and the results are enormously entertaining. What a pleasure it is to see every important role in a picture filled by someone with whom we feel an immediate connection and who can be counted on to deliver the goods.

Friday, April 5, 2013


The French sperm-donor comedy "Starbuck," which may evoke repressed memories of the Corbin Bernsen vehicle "Frozen Assets," is made with that inimitable Gallic sense of humor -- that everybody hates.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


"Eden" opens a fascinating window into the world of human trafficking, showing how quickly and easily a smart New Mexico teenager named Hyun Jae (Jamie Chung) can be disappeared into a seemingly inescapable life of sex slavery.


I'm dumbfounded that P.J. Hogan, whose "Muriel's Wedding" was so sweet and charming, has directed the loathsome lost-in-translation Aussie comedy "Mental," about a family of wackos (or are they?) saved from the bin by a homily-spewing hitchhiker (Toni Collette). "Mental" is tawdry and trashy, with a cheap, oversaturated look and nobody to like or to laugh at or with. Collette, Liev Schreiber as a shark hunter (?!), and Anthony LaPaglia as the preoccupied patriarch will all want to edit this insta-bomb out of their career retrospectives.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Michel Bouquet cuts an impressive figure as the elderly and arthritic Pierre-August Renoir in "Renoir," which satisfies my friend Sally Aminoff's criteria: she'll only see pretty movies about pretty people in pretty clothes. Actually, Renoir's young muse Andrée (Christa Theret) and assorted other bathing beauties spend much of their time here in the altogether. The movie is lovely to look at, with some strikingly beautiful images and the gay insouciance of a summer in the country free of quotidian concerns. Andrée's romance with Renoir's injured-in-WWI soldier son Jean (who later became the renowned film director), though, goes nowhere, and she herself isn't as interesting a character as the filmmakers think. The central presence is the artist himself, who despite his infirmities never becomes that querulous valetudinarian of cliché. For him, the work is paramount, and this oblique biography ends with just the right shot of him in serene contemplation.

The Sapphires

The Australian import "The Sapphires," about a singing girl group composed of fair-skinned Aborigines, is one of those cliché-infested "feel-good" movies that almost inevitably doesn't.


My top pick of the week - one of the few best films of the early year - is Pablo Berger's "Blancanieves," a black-and-white silent (though full of Spanish music of every kind, from romantic guitar to heel-clicking flamenco) that will finally purge the aftertaste of "The Artist" from your mouth.

Gimme the Loot

Are we supposed to care about Malcolm and Sophia, the young taggers at the center of Adam Leon's "Gimme the Loot"? Are we supposed to find these little petty thieves cute?' I found them - and their movie - exasperating, a charmless celebration of criminality and the destruction of property.