"Sad, funny, and acutely self-conscious, Noah Baumbach's Greenberg is unafraid to project a downbeat worldview or feature an impossible protagonist," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "I'd be hard put to name one as maddening as the eponymous antihero unless it was Nicole Kidman's narcissistic writer in Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding. Unlike pain-in-the-ass Margot, however, loser Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is also painfully poignant."
"Although Roger Greenberg is a world-class narcissist, Greenberg is not all about him," argues AO Scott in the New York Times. "It is the funniest and saddest movie Mr Baumbach has made so far, and also the riskiest. Mr Stiller, suppressing his well-honed sketch comedian's urge to wink at the audience, turns Roger into a walking challenge to the Hollywood axiom that a movie's protagonist must be likable. But Mr Baumbach, relishing his antihero's obstinate difficulty — which is less an inability to connect with other people than a stubborn refusal, on hazy grounds of principle, to try — treats Roger with compassion, even tenderness."
"Ben Stiller deserves full acknowledgement as Greenberg's co-creator," writes Glenn Kenny. "His performance is some kind of career peak, a beautifully modulated piece of craft and one of the best bits of physical acting you're likely to see in a film for a while.... [Greta] Gerwig is, I'm happy to say, also very fine here. I've always found her to be an appealing screen presence, but this is really the first time she's been asked to embody a fully conceived character rather than present a haphazard compilation of tics, traits and attitudes."
More from Richard Brody (New Yorker), David Denby (New Yorker), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Craig Kennedy, Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Mary Pols (Time), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), Nick Schager (Slant), Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times), Dana Stevens (Slate) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Interviews with Baumbach: Karina Longworth (Voice), Anthony Kaufman (indieWIRE) and David Schwartz (Moving Image Source). TONY's Keith Uhlich talks with Baumbach and Stiller. Dennis Lim profiles Stiller for the NYT. Amy Larocca profiles Gerwig for New York; more from Jonathan Kiefer in Faster Times. Mark Olsen talks with the lot of them for the Los Angeles Times.
"Greenberg is pretty much the fictional representation of the masculinity crisis that Susan Faludi outlined in her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man," argues Jessica Grose in Slate. "Men like Greenberg, Faludi argued, were led to believe as boys that they were "going to be the master of the universe and all that was in it," that they'd be astronauts conquering the final space frontier or, at the very least, that they would master a lifelong stable job and a healthy family. But by the 90s, Greenberg types found themselves 'masters of nothing.' The latest recession is only making it more so, as job security becomes a fantasy for many, and marriage rates plummet."
Now then. Before proceeding with this week's roundup of films opening theatrically, I'll have to acknowledge that there's no getting around the little kerfuffle Armond White has kicked up with his cover story for the current issue of the New York Press. He's actually been milking his "Greenberg Problem" for weeks now, but fortunately, the blow-by-blow account has already been written by Nigel M Smith for indieWIRE. That leaves me the happier task of pointing you towards a few of the better responses: J Hoberman, Sean Means and Bill Ryan. Meantime, Jim Emerson reminds us that recent discussions of the role of the film critic have led to at least a few noteworthy here-I-stand statements of purpose.
"In terms of pop-music history, the Runaways were both a groundbreaking band—all-female, protopunk, launching Joan Jett's solo career, and presaging riot-grrrl — and a prefab novelty act whose greatest hit was 'Cherry Bomb.'" Eric Grandy in the Stranger: "They were loud, brash rock 'n' roll, not particularly concerned with subtlety, nuance, or smarts — and in that regard, The Runaways is exactly the biopic they deserve."
"There's an obvious stunt element to the casting of The Runaways," writes Karina Longworth in the Voice, where Melissa Anderson looks back on the "Best Girl Band Movies Ever": "a punked-up, barely legal Kristen Stewart and a still underage, barely dressed Dakota Fanning begging for street cred by playing dress-up as, respectively, Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, front girls of the oversexed 70s-era teen proto-punk sensation, the Runaways. Watch sweet little Dakota strut around in a corset! Look at the chick from Twilight, kissing girls and snorting massive amounts of coke! But under the stylish direction of Floria Sigismondi, what may be a stunt is also a movie worth taking seriously."
More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), James McNally, Mary Pols (Time), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Lisa Rosman (IFC), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager, AO Scott (NYT), Betsy Sharkey (LAT), Matthew Sorrento (Bright Lights), Dana Stevens (Slate), Benjamin Strong (L), Bill Weber (Slant) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Cindy Widner talks with Sigismondi for the Austin Chronicle. Todd Gilchrist interviews Stewart and Fanning for Cinematical.
"[Sandy] West, played in the film by Stella Maeve, was a powerhouse who proved that girls could play just as hard as boys," writes Evelyn McDonnell in LA Weekly. "On October 21, 2006, the strong, charismatic, bighearted woman succumbed to the lung cancer that first struck her while she was in prison on a drug charge. It was a tragic end for a bon vivant whose very entrance filled a room with energy, a drummer who beat a path for girl musicians, a tomboy whose skills and search for thrills included a facility with guns, a California dreamer who created, and was passed up by, musical history."
"[T]he part of the villain will be played by Kim Fowley, the group's manager, producer, and Svengali," notes the Chicago Reader's Miles Raymer. "Usually people don't like being portrayed as bad, even if they do all sorts of bad stuff, but in a new and completely insane interview with the LA Record Fowley doesn't even seem close to giving a shit."
In the NYT, Sia Michel talks with the filmmakers about achieving its evidently remarkably authentic look and feel. And in the Independent, Chris Salewicz recalls his times with Jett, Currie and their band.
"Swedes may have better access to health care than we do, but their taste in movies is apparently every bit as questionable as ours," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Based on the first part of the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has become the most successful film in Swedish history, no doubt for how slavishly it plays to its audience's thirst for cheap sensationalism."
"Every so often, you get the gift of watching an under-the-radar actor bloom into a critical-mass phenomenon before your bloodshot eyes," writes TONY's David Fear: "Franka Potente in Run Lola Run, or Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. Add Noomi Rapace to the list; what she does with the title character of this Swedish thriller-cum-pop-lit-adaptation will spawn cults of swooning Rapacephiles stat."
"The popularity of Larsson's trilogy — the final installment of which isn't coming out until May 25 in the US — explains why Swedish production company Yellow Bird Films adapted all three parts in one fell swoop, with Niels Arden Oplev directing this first installment and Daniel Alfredson the second two." IFC.com's Alison Willmore: "It also explains why Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg take a cautious, Harry Potter-style approach to transferring their source material to the big screen."
More from Chris Barsanti (PopMatters), Paul Constant (Stranger), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Dennis Harvey (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Larissa Kyzer (L), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), John Patterson (Voice), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Lisa Rosman (IFC), Dean Sobers (Quietus) and James van Maanen. Background: John Anderson (NYT) and Lewis Beale (LAT). And this is not the poster.
The NYT's Manohla Dargis: "In Vincere, a sustained, alternatingly exhausting and aesthetically exhilarating howl of a film, the veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio brilliantly personalizes Mussolini's rise to power through a fictional retelling of his seduction and catastrophically violent betrayal of his reputed first wife, Ida Dalser. Like much of Italy, Dalser abandoned herself to him body and soul."
Ella Taylor for NPR: "Vincere, which comes as close to grand opera as can be achieved without anyone actually bursting into song, feels like a big movie — handsomely mounted, full of dark shadows counterpointed with stray shafts of light, with dramatic close-ups of faces driven by passion and madness and heavy silences brutally interrupted by clashing tympani. Yet the movie's scale is small and resolutely personal, filtering politics discreetly through character and individual destiny."
More from David Denby (New Yorker), Noel Murray (AV Club), Rob Nelson (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Damon Smith (Reverse Shot), Henry Stewart (L) and Armond White (NYP). For Filmmaker, Brandon Harris interviews Bellocchio. James van Maanen has a short Q&A with Filippo Timi.
Nicolas Rapold in Time Out New York on Kimjongilia: "We'll concede the point: This collection of testimonials from North Korean escapees is no Sunday-afternoon stroll, but it is a horrifying-fascinating peek into a 'hermit kingdom' that's a bigger mystery than life on other planets. Kim Jong Il's dictatorship and its prison camps are sketched in a portrait of communist tailspin that evokes the most medieval moments of the 20th century."
More from Michael Atkinson (Voice), Mike Hale (NYT) and Andrew Schenker (Slant).
"Jonathan Demme's 2006 concert film Neil Young: Heart of Gold captured the venerable musician on the heels of a brush with death," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Young had just survived a brain aneurysm and released the quiet, contemplative album Prairie Wind, and the film surrounded him with family, friends, and longtime collaborators, all shot in pastoral tones in the intimate environment of Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium. It's a quiet, respectful, beautiful-looking film, shot by Demme with great care, as if trying to preserve a delicate treasure. If Demme's follow-up, Neil Young Trunk Show, has a mission statement, it's 'Fuck all that.'"
For TONY's Keith Uhlich, this one's "easily the equal of Heart and [Demme's] classic Talking Heads feature, Stop Making Sense.... Trunk Show gives you the profound impression of wandering within an unhinged psyche, most notably during the band's 20-minute thrash through 'No Hidden Path,' from Chrome Dreams II. Young seesaws maniacally around the stage, the music surging and regressing with exhilarating unpredictability, the end seemingly never in sight. It's an unholy tantrum that Demme treats, quite rightly, like a miracle."
More from Sam Adams, Andrew Chan (Reverse Shot), Mike Hale (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly). Fernando F Croce talks with Demme for Slant.
"Plenty of interior body parts are forcibly removed from reluctant humans in the violent, futuristic action film Repo Men," writes Robert Abele in the LAT. "Kidneys, hearts, livers, all high-tech and artificial, are taken out and, in the movie's cautionary premise, rented to the medically needy at usury-friendly rates by a nasty corporation called the Union. But there's a key organ missing from the movie itself: a brain. In its place is a memory bank of other, better movies." More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Steven James Snyder (Techland), Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Drew McWeeney interviews director Miguel Sapochnik for Hitfix.
"A stark example of misbegotten chemistry and its resultant pitfalls, The Bounty Hunter combines Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston and promptly fizzes upon contact," writes Nick Schager in Slant. More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London), Brian Miller (Voice), Jenni Miller (Cinematical), Michelle Orange (Movieline), AO Scott (NYT), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
"In keeping with the stick-figure line-drawings and overall comic-book nature of Jeff Kinney's ultra-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid children's books, the film adaptation is cartoony, both literally and figuratively," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. And, "for all its ridiculousness, its enthusiastic comic excess, and its fart/booger/gross-out jokes, Diary of a Wimpy Kid's heart is firmly in the right place." More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT) and Ella Taylor (Voice).
"There's a lot in City Island to roll your eyes about, so much that it's a cinema miracle the movie should be so ultimately likable," finds Henry Stewart in L Magazine. More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Kevin B Lee (TONY) and Glenn Whipp (LAT).
"Intermittently beautiful but frustratingly leaden, Shutterbug labors ineffectually to promote authenticity over artifice," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "A heavily stylized paean to undoctored images, the movie never quite clicks as a succession of moving ones." More from Andrew Schenker (Voice) and James van Maanen.
More from Jeannette Catsoulis: "A cheapie hostage drama with a lot more swagger than substance, The Killing Jar strains to wring tension from a tired premise and an airless script."
IN THE UK
"There is almost unbearable pathos in Andrew Lang's documentary about the Havana boxing academy," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw of Sons of Cuba, a "spectacle of yearning and heartbreak." In the New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey notes that Lang "doesn't dwell on the poverty of these people, but he doesn't have to; there's nothing he could have done, short of pointing his lens at the sky, to nudge it off-screen.... Sons of Cuba doesn't press the political but, as with poverty, its evidence is ubiquitous. The production coincided with Fidel Castro transferring power to his brother Raúl, which in turn prompted the defection of three Cuban boxers. Throughout this, Lang fixes on the bewilderment of the children, who struggle to process psychologically the rejection, by men they idolise, of an ideology that's as dear to them as their own families."
Wendy Ide in the Times: "A coming-of-age movie with a dark edge; a dysfunctional teen romance; an atmospheric seaside thriller with a junior-Antichrist twist — however you choose to describe The Scouting Book For Boys, there’s no question that this is the most promising feature film debut from a British director since Andrea Arnold's Red Road. Unlike Red Road however, Scouting Book has a good chance of appealing to an audience outside the arthouse ghetto." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Warm, sympathetic and relaxed performances from Thomas Turgoose (from Shane Meadows's This Is England) and Holly Grainger are what carry this dark story of two teenagers on a Norfolk holiday caravan site – together with some lovely images from cinematographer Robbie Ryan." More from Time Out London's Tom Huddleston.
The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu on I Love You, Phillip Morris: "This isn’t a satire or a cautionary tale: it’s one of the most romantic, most inspiring films of recent years." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Trevor Johnston (Time Out London) and Kate Muir (Times).
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