Following a roundup of reviews of films opening this weekend, a look ahead at some of the titles rolling out through Christmas, including, of course, the season's big event movie.
"Philadelphia for the art-house crowd (with crossover appeal to readers of Allure and fans of Mad Men), A Single Man is a gay film designed for the tolerant admiration of straight audiences," writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum.
"It's true that Colin Firth does some of the finest acting of his career in A Single Man," offers Glenn Kenny. "Too bad that he does such fine acting in such an affected, meretricious, and finally silly film."
Tom Ford's directorial debut is a "lushly appointed, deeply moving adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's finest novel," argues David Ehrenstein in LA Weekly. "Yes, it was a different time. The Stonewall uprising was five years away, and Cabaret - the film version of the Broadway musical based on Isherwood's Berlin Stories - was some eight years off. While it differed considerably from what Isherwood published in 1939 about the Germany he knew before Hitler's rise, director Bob Fosse's fanciful yet tart confection proved instrumental in introducing Isherwood's entire oeuvre to a new generation. The success of Cabaret in turn led to Isherwood writing Christopher and His Kind, a sort of autobiographical 'correction' to his quasi-autobiographical fictions, filling in any number of blanks, especially with regard to his sexual candor. But Isherwood always operated as a free man, writing whatever he wanted entirely for his own reasons. Rather than 'ahead of his time,' he was always of it."
As for the film at hand, though, Ford displays an "affection for art direction over actual direction, and for extravagant surfaces over the lower depths of meaning and emotion," finds Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Not a hair or a shaft of light appears out of its careful place. Think of it as Vogue Hommes: The Movie."
More from Kyle Buchanan (Movieline), Andrew Chan (Reverse Shot), Richard Corliss (Time), Manohla Dargis (New York Times), Alonso Duralde (After Elton), Michael Guillén, Brandon Harris, Eugene Novikov (Cinematical), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Andrew Schenker (Slant), Benjamin Sutton (L), Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto; Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from Chicago.
Interviews with Ford: Rachel Abramowitz (Los Angeles Times) and Laura M Holson (NYT). Interviews with Firth: Sarah Lyall (NYT) and Chuck Wilson (LA Weekly). Rebecca Milzoff talks with Nicholas Hoult for Vulture.
"It may not seem obvious at first, but Clint Eastwood's Invictus, a rousing true story of athletic triumph, is also that director's latest exploration of revenge, the defining theme of his career," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "It is hard to think of an actor or a filmmaker who so cleanly embodies a single human impulse in the way that Mr Eastwood - from Pale Rider to Mystic River, from Dirty Harry to Gran Torino - personifies the urge to get even." But it's also "a movie about reconciliation and forgiveness - about the opposite of revenge - that gains moral authority precisely because the possibility of bloodshed casts its shadow everywhere."
But Michael Koresky, writing in indieWIRE, finds it "neither successful as portraiture nor rousing sports movie... largely because it's compassionate without being passionate."
"Upon his improbable election in 1994, South African President Nelson Mandela (played here by Morgan Freeman in the performance we've all been waiting on for years) took a big political gamble on his nation's rugby team," explains Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Seen by most as a shining symbol of racist intolerance and hooliganism, the infamous Springboks were nearly abolished by the Rainbow Nation, until Mandela stepped in. 'Win,' he told them."
"Imagine an old Reagan campaign commercial dressed in drag as one for Obama," suggests Jonathan Kiefer in Faster Times. "It's morning again in the Republic of South Africa."
"Why have so many black-American actors played black South Africans, instead of, say, playing black Zimbabweans or black Kenyans?" asks Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "The answer is simple. The history of South Africa, and its institutionalized racial oppression (apartheid), speaks directly to the black experience in this country. The humiliation, the suffering, and the unrelenting force of white-South African exploitation fit perfectly with the humiliation, the suffering, and the unrelenting force of white exploitation in America. For a black American to play a black South African, all that's needed is a change of accent; the rest - the sorrow, the anger, the hurt, the hope - comes naturally."
More from Shaun Brady (Philadelphia City Paper), Richard Brody (New Yorker), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Alonso Duralde (IFC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Marilyn Ferdinand, Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Neil Morris (Independent Weekly), Christopher Orr (New Republic), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nicolas Rapold (L), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant), Matt Singer (termite art), Dana Stevens (Slate), Ella Taylor (Voice), Jim Tudor (Twitch), Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (right here in The Notebook), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
"Audiences could be forgiven for leaving the cinema with the impression that Mandela's political masterstroke was the 'rainbow nation' made flesh, the beginning of the end of South Africa's sporting apartheid. The truth of the past 14 years, however, is more complicated," reports David Smith in the Guardian.
For NYT editor Bill Keller, Freeman's Mandela is "less an impersonation than an incarnation." Nicole LaPorte interviews Eastwood for the Daily Beast. Reed Johnson talks with Eastwood and Freeman for the LAT. Online viewing. James Rocchi talks with Matt Damon and Freeman for MSN Movies.
"For all the self-promotion and critical reinforcement of Werner Herzog's wild-man-with-a-camera myth, it's the German filmmaker's foreboding sorrow - especially poignant in his mid-to-late-70s run of The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, Heart of Glass, Stroszek and Nosferatu - that's made for his best, most enduring work." Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine: "Following in this vein, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done forms the depressive art house counterpart to recent manic B-movie Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, with Michael Shannon the saturnine Bruno S. to Nic Cage's gonzo Klaus Kinski."
At times, finds Manohla Dargis in the NYT, "Mr Herzog seems to be groping for some kind of meaning, a way into psychosis, or perhaps just biding his time, which is fine as far as it goes. Ostriches, for instance, make for enjoyable viewing, especially when they're gobbling a pair of glasses or stampeding en masse across the screen in a cloud of feathers and dust. What they have to do with a man who murdered his mother is a mystery, which is perhaps the point."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Fernando F Croce (Slant), J Hoberman (Voice), Andrew Hultkrans (Artforum), Noel Murray (AV Club) and 5 out of 5 stars from Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronoto. Interviews with Herzog: Kenji Fujishima (Wall Street Journal) and Aaron Hillis (IFC). Interviews with Shannon: Bilge Ebiri (Vulture), Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
"A one-film cabinet of curiosities, The Lovely Bones turns the most successful CGI director of the '00s loose on one of the decade's prime literary phenomena," writes the Voice's J Hoberman. "Cults collide as Peter 'Lord of the Rings' Jackson tackles Alice Sebold's bestselling New Age gothic, the story of a rape-murder-dismemberment and its aftermath, narrated by its 14-year-old victim from heaven.... In Jackson's hands, The Lovely Bones is doubly appalling. Part Disney's Alice in Wonderland, part Fritz Lang's M, the movie is horrific yet cloying, alternately distended and abrupt, sometimes poignant and often ridiculous."
More from Paul Brunick (L), Alonso Duralde (IFC), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Craig Kennedy, Glenn Kenny, Adam Nayman (Reverse Shot), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Andrew Schenker, AO Scott (NYT), Dana Stevens (Slate), Jim Tudor (Twitch), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Earlier: Reviews from London and The Auteurs community's Q&A with Jackson, conducted by Glenn Kenny. Cinematical's Todd Gilchrist, TONY's David Fear and Techland's Steven James Snyder interview Jackson; David Poland does, too, but on video; Bennett Marcus talks with Susan Sarandon for Vulture.
Meantime, as we all know, Jackson is not only producing The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, directed by Steven Spielberg, he's also heading back to familiar territory, writing and producing an adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, to be directed by Guillermo del Toro. The Guardian's Ben Child has the latest on that one, though one question remains open. Two three-hours films? "And if The Hobbit is to be diced up, where is the natural split?"
"The urgency of certain subjects can sometimes trump all kinds of executive incompetence," writes Diego Costa in Slant. "Such is the case of Hannah Free, a beautiful but stiltedly put-together tale of two women who love - and leave - each other throughout their entire lives." More from Stephen Holden in the NYT.
"Although Russell Crowe is the nominal star of Tenderness, an odd, frustrating hybrid of serial-killer suspense film and moody character study of disturbed teenagers, the movie really belongs to the young actress Sophie Traub," writes the NYT's Stephen Holden. "Her eyes flashing with a mixture of self-loathing and bravado, her pout twisted into a scowl, Ms Traub's character, Lori Cranston, is a volatile 15-year-old package of pretty poison. Studying her face, you see a baby Drew Barrymore possessed by demons."
"A new Broken Lizard comedy - let the Oscar race commence," proclaims TONY's Joshua Rothkopf. "Actually, there's a likeable, wet-nosed appeal to the troupe's sense of humor: frat-ular and middlebrow, yes, but one that devised Beerfest (2006), a kind of Ugly American landmark of stupid." More on The Slammin' Salmon from Melissa Anderson (Voice) and Neil Genzlinger (NYT). Online listening tip. Aaron Hillis talks with all five Lizards at GreenCine Daily.
OPENING DECEMBER 18
"Sci-fi fantasy Avatar, the first feature film from director James Cameron since Titanic, has had its public premiere in London," announces the BBC, as if every movie fan weren't monitoring news and first reviews all evening yesterday. "Cameron joined stars Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana to meet fans in Leicester Square ahead of the gala screening." And they've got video.
So does the Guardian, where Andrew Pulver writes, "whatever the truth behind the rumoured hundreds of millions spent on it, Cameron certainly gives Hollywood a lot of bang for its buck. Avatar, in all conscience, looks fantastic - a near-seamless melding of fantasy extraterrestrial landscapes and cutting edge computer-generated imagery, all inserted beautifully into the high-testosterone camerawork which Cameron has made his specialty. But what is this highest-of-high-end image-making aimed at? Cameron has constructed a fable that combines militarist sci-fi, alarmingly vacuous eco-waffle and an intra-species love story that is presumably designed to cover all the bases."
"There's hardly a single moment of truly original story telling up on the screen," concedes Twitch's Todd Brown. "The characters are developed exactly as you think they will be and key moments at the climax of the movie are sign posted clearly early on. If you think you've already seen James Cameron's Avatar then there's a good chance you're right. And none of that matters. I'm seeing it again on an IMAX screen in a few weeks and I can hardly wait."
Wendy Ide, writing in the London Times, finds it to be "an overwhelming, immersive spectacle. The state-of-the-art 3D technology draws us in, but it is the vivid weirdness of Cameron's luridly imagined tropical otherworld that keeps us fascinated."
Via Twitter, Mike D'Angelo gives it a 51 on a scale of 100: "Pretty evenly divided between engaging and stupid. Cool concept, lame script, some stunning F/X, I still hate 3D."
More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Todd Gilchrist (Cinematical), Mike Goodridge (Screen), Tim Grierson, Ambrose Heron, Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter), Anna Keir (Independent), Glenn Kenny (here in The Notebook), Todd McCarthy (Variety), Mark Monahan (Telegraph), Anita Singh (Telegraph), Brandon Lee Tenney (FirstShowing), Anne Thompson and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). John Anderson talks with Cameron for the NYT and Tatiana Siegel reports on his plans for Variety: "As he eyes a return to outer space for Avatar sequels, James Cameron appears to be heading to inner space by putting Fantastic Voyage on the front burner." Krista Smith interviews Cameron for Vanity Fair.
"What Jeff Bridges pulled off as a joke in The Big Lebowski, lazing like a walrus, he does seriously in Crazy Heart," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "[T]he movie needs more plot, more complication, more conflict... If ever a movie demonstrated how country music emerges from private sorrows, this is it. But something can always be done to make a movie better." Alonso Duralde for IFC: "Crazy Heart won't surprise you in the least, but if you're looking for what you think it offers, rest assured you'll find it there." Ella Taylor profiles Bridges for LA Weekly and Melinda Newman talks with him for Hitfix.
"There’s a new subgenre of prestige pics delving into underappreciated women of history, featuring young starlets hunting for Oscar glory by strapping on corsets like their male movie counterparts often strap on body armour," writes Roderick Heath at Ferdy on Films. "The Young Victoria seemed primed to be a strong successor, offering the up-and-coming Emily Blunt a meaty, attention-grabbing role as the monarch who gave her name to an entire era and way of life, and yet who remains largely a cipher in the public imagination, a tubby old lady speaking about herself in the collective pronoun." But "we are only mildly amused." Interviews with Blunt: Emma Rosenblum (New York), David Poland (video) and Allison Williams (TONY). Kyle Buchanan talks with Rupert Friend for Movieline.
"Believe me, no one was more surprised than myself not to have hated this movie." Glenn Kenny on Nine. The Guardian's Xan Brooks talks with Daniel Day-Lewis.
OPENING DECEMBER 25
"The MPAA has embarrassed itself an untold number of times over the years for its prudish attitude toward sex and its wildly permissive attitude toward violence," writes the LAT's Patrick Goldstein. "But what's it's done to Nancy Meyers's upcoming comedy, It's Complicated, is perhaps the ratings board's biggest boneheaded move yet. According to a story by my colleague, Steven Zeitchik, the MPAA has given Meyers's fluffy comedy about a middle-aged love triangle an R rating because Meryl Streep and Steve Martin's (who star in the film along with Alec Baldwin) characters are seen sharing a joint while on a date."
At any rate, Screen's Mike Goodridge finds that "Meyers's latest confection is like a rich dessert that tastes good to start with but gradually leaves you feeling overstuffed." For Variety's Todd McCarthy, it's "a cloying, self-satisfied, occasionally funny farce about an extramarital affair between formerly married fiftysomethings."
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