Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, The End of the Tour, Phoenix, Staten Island Summer, Unexpected, Listen to Me Marlon, Best of Enemies

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
The End of the Tour

Staten Island Summer

Listen to Me Marlon

Best of Enemies

Quick capsules on the week’s movies:

Christopher McQuarrie’s workmanlike “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” delivers the goods: 101 minutes of car chases, knock-down-drag-out fistfights, and bombs disengaged at the last second. The globe-trotting film boasts production values high enough and a spirit good-humored enough that you can almost will yourself not to think about Scientology. The problem is, there’s another 30 minutes of braggadocio, plot recapitulations and general gabbing that whooshes the runtime well past two hours… A big thumbs up for James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour,” a full-on gabfest taken to another level by mesmerizing performances from Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace and especially Jesse Eisenberg as reporter and novelist David Lipsky, who convinces his editor at Rolling Stone to send him to Bloomington to interview Wallace. Eisenberg has turned in first-rate work in films as varied as “Adventureland,” “The Social Network,” “30 Minutes or Less” and last year’s “Night Moves.” Here, he’s our surrogate; we see Wallace through his eyes and ears, and his lead-ins, reactions and constant attempts to shape the conversation blew me away with their honesty. He flirts with affectation, but only as each of us might if put in such a unique circumstance beside someone clearly blessed with a greater gift. The dialogue itself is not as memorable as, say, that of “Before Midnight” – its apercus less lacerating – but still compelling; nobody got up as the closing credits rolled. Joan Cusack provides brief bursts of welcome comic relief… I’m sorry to report that “Phoenix” is this year’s “Ida”: the inexplicably overpraised Holocaust-themed foreign film of 2015. The previous collaboration of director Christian Petzold, lead actress Nina Hoss and co-star Ronald Zehrfeld, the East German-set “Barbara,” placed ninth on my top-ten list in 2012. Here, Hoss is Nelly Lenz, a concentration camp survivor, badly wounded by a bullet, whose best friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf) stays with her during and after the facial reconstruction surgery she hoped would restore her former appearance (close but no cigar). Though Lene warns Nelly not to search for her husband Johnny (Zehrfeld), she does, and…he doesn’t recognize her. In fact, he wants to exploit her passing resemblance to his late wife to collect on her assets. Neither I nor my two friends bought the premise for a second. Johnny and Nelly – whom he now knows as “Esther” – spend the middle half of the movie plotting their scheme, and it’s so devoid of action I’m told I snored through it. The most interesting character – Lene – bites the big one before we can find out more about her feelings for Nelly. The last scene’s a doozy, but would have greater impact were the premise even remotely believable… The miss-to-hit ratio in the vulgar SNL cast-reunion comedy called “Staten Island Summer” approaches five-to-one, but when they land, they’re good-sized… Kris Swanberg’s “Unexpected,” about a high school teacher (Cobie Smulders) and her promising student (Gail Bean), both surprised to find themselves pregnant as the school year ends, contains a few moments of truth, but lacks both thrust and the profound insight her husband Joe demonstrated in last year’s great “Happy Christmas”… Showtime’s documentary “Listen to Me Marlon,” comprised of Brando’s personal tape recordings, merits a look for its rare glimpse into the outsized heart and mind of one of America’s great (and, in his day, embarrassingly sexy) actors… Finally, an intellectual’s guilty pleasure, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s documentary “Best of Enemies,” about the debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal that put ABC News on the landscape at the 1968 nominating conventions. Their contempt for each other is unmistakable – each saw the other’s vision for America as a looming catastrophe – but we delight in their ad hominem attacks even while recognizing the lost opportunity, the lowering of the public discourse, and the spawning of today’s unlistenable shouting heads.

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