|Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists
|The Good Dinosaur
|The Night Before
|The Danish Girl
Sorry for the data dump. Fifteen titles, so only a sentence or two (and a star rating) for each:
The ladies’ alternatives – for Cate Blanchett, a loveless marriage to Kyle Chandler’s Harge; for Rooney Mara, the callow wooing of Jake Lacy’s Richard – don’t present the devastating internal conflict faced by Meryl Streep in Clint Eastwood’s “The Bridges of Madison County,” but first-rate performances by both leads mark Todd Haynes’ dreamily beautiful “Carol.” Billy Ray’s nearly scene-for-scene remake of Juan Campanella’s Argentine Oscar winner “The Secret in Their Eyes” (my choice for the best film of 2010) stars a soulful Chiwetel Ejiofor, strong Nicole Kidman and brave Julia Roberts (who allows herself to look, in the words of a colleague, “a million years old”) in one of the richest and most consistently surprising stories in all of cinema. An intriguing premise – out of nowhere, a married middle-aged woman begins receiving flowers each week from an anonymous admirer – never sheds the feeling of a script construct in the Spanish import “Flowers” (“Loreak”). A generous three stars for Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s directorial debut, the Turkish import “Mustang,” about five orphaned sisters whose free spirits their uncle and grandmother slowly encage behind barred windows and doors, in arranged marriages and skin-covering clothes. We need more such jeremiads against piety in general and Islam in particular. With Brian Helgeland’s “Legend,” the saga of the London gangsters the Kray brothers, the electrifying Tom Hardy (in a dual role as Reggie and Ronnie) announces himself as the most important new star in Hollywood. He replaces Matthew McConaughey as the actor whose new work I most look forward to seeing. I enjoyed “Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists” more for its inside look at cartoon editor Bob Mankoff’s selection process than for the chosen panels, of which young Edward Steed’s most clearly smack of genius. Pixar has officially lost its magic touch. The studio follows the frenetic “Inside Out” with – just five months later – the dirt-brown, unpleasant, generic and thuddingly homiletic “The Good Dinosaur,” about young Arlo’s quest literally to “make his mark” (a pawprint on his family totem) with the help of a humanoid named Spot. The actor Jackie Earle Haley turns director with the movieish “Criminal Activities,” which harkens back to the post-“Usual Suspects” glut of overwritten crime thrillers with now-we’ll-explain-everything endings. With a comedy like “The Night Before,” it comes down to hit-to-miss ratio (here, about 1:2). Michael Shannon scores laughs in a small, image-tweaking part, but the ballyhooed Nutcracka Ball doesn’t live up to the hype. Despite the presence of Monica Bellucci as an enigmatic television hostess, a huge honey spill and a pet camel, I never got into the Etruscan slice-of-life “The Wonders.” The body of Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Johnson lives up to his name in Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” though I still couldn’t pick Jordan’s face out of a lineup. The elegiac tone Sylvester Stallone brings to Rocky Balboa – and appealing supporting turns by Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson – score a recommendation by split decision. Strong performances by Cynthia Nixon and especially Christoper Abbott held my interest in “James White” longer than the threadbare script by debuting writer-director Josh Mond merits. Mor Loushy’s documentary “Censored Voices,” in which Israelis who had fought in the Six-Day War listen to 50-year-old interviews they gave in its aftermath, can’t see the forest for the trees. It focuses on the unfortunate excesses of a few of the victors while never asking what their counterparts would have done had the roles been reversed and forgetting that – in the immortal words of Colonel Mustard – you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. As Einar Wegener-turned Lili Elbe in Tom Hooper’s transsexual coffee-table movie “The Danish Girl,” Eddie Redmayne gives a performance – all tics and flourishes, and the same simpering smile repeated ad nauseam – almost as bad as his Stephen Hawking was good in last year’s “The Theory of Everything.” Alicia Vikander’s adorable, but her Gerda Wegener is a meek little mouse – a total betrayal of the real woman. And the movie – with its pulsing score, misinterpretations and narrow escapes – is sudsier than a full season of “Melrose Place.” Finally, thumbs down for “Sembene!,” the biodoc of Ousmane Sembene, the so-called “father of African cinema.” I didn’t feel I’d spent any time with the man himself or audited a well-curated introduction to his oeuvre.