Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Next Year Jerusalem, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, The Fault in Our Stars, Obvious Child, Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, Edge of Tomorrow, The Case Against 8

Next Year Jerusalem
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Obvious Child
The Fault in Our Stars

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Edge of Tomorrow
The Case Against 8

Capsule reviews on five new documentaries and three feature films:

David Gaynes knows. The director of “Next Year Jerusalem” knows there’s a certain audience of Westside Jews who’ll attend any Jewish or Israeli-themed film that Greg Laemmle opens at the Royal or the Music Hall. Hence this barely 70-minute-long digital home movie of a group of American nonagenarians on a “once in a lifetime” (except that for many, it’s not) trip to the Holy Land. We spend little time getting to know these people before getting on the plane and on (and off, and on and off) the bus to Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea, all set to an oddly fortissimo classical score and presented without any explanation of what makes the experiences meaningful. Too many would-be documentarians these days come up with what sounds like a cool idea and stop there. Charging full fare for this little substance is downright offensive…”Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” offers a smorgasbord of witticisms, though those whose political leanings align with Vidal’s will laugh loudest, and perhaps with some compunction: even in winning his famous public-television debates, he stooped to ad-hominem attacks as readily as William F. Buckley…Shailene Woodley is the primary asset of the teen cancer romance “The Fault in Our Stars” (not so much a genre-breaker as a genre amalgamator). As Hazel, an Indiana girl whose lungs have almost given out on her, the much-lauded young actress finally gives a performance – strong and dignified yet restrained and subtle, and not without humor - that lives up to the hype. Ansel Elgort (gotta change that name) is goofily adorkable as Gus, the boyfriend she meets in a support group (he’s in remission, but lost one leg). His part is the mirror image of Woodley’s in “The Spectacular Now,” of which I wrote, “[She] smiles and giggles and says yes to literally everything [Miles Teller] proposes.” The movie suffers from a surfeit of whimsy and grandiloquence, and ends for about an hour, but I don’t mind a good weepie once every Tisha B’Av. While I never succumbed, I could have printed money hawking Kleenex to the girls around me…In “Obvious Child,” SNL alum Jenny Slate garners a few laughs as Donna, a comedienne by night and clerk at a (soon-to-shutter) indie bookstore by day. The best come from her train-wreck stand-up routines about her boyfriend cheating on her with her best friend and other romantic indignities. But, as with so many movies today, there’s thrice too much dialogue. The wonderful Gaby Hoffman has little to do as Donna’s best friend, Nellie, and sweet-faced Jack Lacy is all wrong as her new love interest, Max (he’d run screaming). The main problem: in real life, you wouldn’t want to be around any of these people…2012 gave us three very strong films on the subject, broadly speaking, of house arrest: the Jafar Panahi art object “This is Not a Film"; Joshua Marston's superb blood-feud saga "The Forgiveness of Blood"; and Marc Simon’s four-star documentary “Unraveled,” about the Ponzi-scheming former attorney Marc Dreier. We also got Alison Klayman’s terrific “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” a biodoc on the Chinese artist and dissident. Two years later, at nobody’s request, along comes “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case,” which combines the thematic elements of the three earlier pictures and evinces none of their interest or storytelling acuity. Weiwei’s at home in Beijing, awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion (as prevalent and innocuous there as jaywalking here) involving his design company, Fake (hence the hi-LAR-ious title). None of the details are set forth in any comprehensible way; it’s all just an excuse for director Andreas Johnsen to hang with Weiwei like the president of a fan club (and the foreign interviewers who pop in might as well be for all the probity of their questions). At this point, the art itself seems beside the point…The most enjoyable opening at the cineplex this week is Mike Myers’ loving tribute “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” about the accidental manager who found himself repping musicians as disparate as Alice Cooper and Anne Murray, entertainers from Groucho Marx to Raquel Welch, and every celebrity chef from Wolfgang to Emeril. There are enough hilarious backstage anecdotes to keep you laughing throughout the 85-minute runtime, though Gordon slathers the JewBu argot (karmic “coupons,” etc.) on fairly thick…I wasn’t sure I’d ever again see a Tom Cruise flick hover around the 90% mark on Rotten Tomatoes – even though I actually liked “Jack Reacher” and “Oblivion.” But “Go” director Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” makes the grade with its fresh premise, engagingly realized and cleverly handled to avert redundancy whenever it looms. Emily Blunt, who can be very good (“Your Sister’s Sister”) or very bad (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”), cuts a fairly badass figure as the Special Forces warrior who leads Cruise’s forced-into-duty soldier against invading, shape-shifting extraterrestrials called Mimics that look like the squid ink tagliolini at Drago Centro. They’re the least successful element in the film – at least until a climactic kiss between Cruise and Blunt that, as it becomes inevitable, makes the viewer’s face contort as if to prevent it…The most interesting couple in “The Case Against 8,” HBO’s documentary about the court challenge to California’s Proposition 8, is not the litigants (Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo) but their attorneys, the odd couple of David Boies and Ted Olson, who became friends and allies after etching their names in history in Bush v. Gore. Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White do well to confine the film largely to the legal process (selection and vetting of plaintiffs, discovery, witness preparation, the procedural and substantive constitutional arguments themselves), making high-level concepts accessible to the layman, but despite the good vibes of history being made in our time, I still think they could have brought it in well under two hours.

No comments:

Post a Comment