We begin this week's roundup on new theatrical releases in the UK, then make our way to the States via two films opening today on both sides of the Atlantic. A reminder: the latest entry on Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is still being updated.
Dave Calhoun in Time Out London: "British director Joanna Hogg's first film, Unrelated, was an intimate and sympathetic, but not uncritical, portrait of upper-middle-class folk and their children on a Tuscan holiday, told from the perspective of one of their friends, a woman, who hangs out with teenagers to escape from troubles in the adult world. For her second film, another low-budget work with an air of improvisation to it, Hogg goes back on holiday, but she leaves the sun in Italy and her alter ego at home to portray a fractured family from the inside during a period of discord and dreadful weather. In Archipelago, the pretty landscapes of Siena give way to the brooding, changing landscapes of a tiny island in the Isles of Scilly."
"There is something exacting and audacious in it, something superbly controlled in its composition and technique," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "The clarity of her filmmaking diction is a marvel — even, or perhaps especially, when the nature of the story itself remains murkily unrevealed… More Ayckbournish than Chekhovian, Hogg's filmmaking is still utterly distinctive."
Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times: "Mother (Kate Fahy), son Edward (Tom Hiddleston) and daughter Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) exchange crises and clipped vowels almost as if they have been washed ashore from a Terence Rattigan play. But don't be put off. These people are real. And if the world can drool over a king's stammer, we are surely ready for the dysfunctional Götterdammerung of marginally humbler persons, no less tragic for their toffee-nosedness."
"Seldom have the Chiantishire classes been so witheringly anatomized," writes the Independent's Anthony Quinn. "Hogg shows herself to be a proper artist by paying attention, not just to the charged silences of an unhappy family but to the physical oddities of landscape, such as the weird italic slant of trees along a curving road. But she colludes in the lack of liveliness by keeping the camera at a middle-distance on her characters and using barely any close-ups… As a study in strangled English politesse this film has something to say; I only wish its voice carried a little more vigor."
On the other hand, Emma Simmonds at the Arts Desk: "It's a film of remarkable stillness and predominant quiet, characterised by pregnant silences and where - in the absence of music of any kind - birdsong provides the only melody; so when the silence is broken it is all the more powerful. To similar effect, Hogg is extremely sparing in her utilisation of close-ups, often observing events from a distance — through adjoining rooms for instance — in a detached but carefully composed way which lends a tremendous, almost uncomfortable intimacy to the moments where we are allowed close to the characters."
"Hogg, the product of affluent Middle England, is highly-literate in the unsaid decrees and subtle gradations of manners," notes Tom Seymour in Little White Lies. "She communicates these inhibitions with the observational faculties you'd expect of the arthouse, like a Leigh for posh people fused with a gentle Michael Haneke."
"No other British director is making films quite like this," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. Interviews with Hogg: Tom Seymour (Little White Lies) and Catherine Shoard (Guardian). Interviews with Hiddleston: Dave Calhoun (Time Out London) and Euan Ferguson (Guardian). Viewing (3'24"). The Guardian's video interview with Hogg and Hiddleston features a few clips.
Update, 3/5: "As much as a downbeat comedy of bourgeois mores, Archipelago is a sort of claustrophobic horror story, set in a place of no easy escape," writes Jonathan Romney for Sight & Sound. "This is Hogg's Shutter Island, if you like, although the madness is more discreet, in the English style… This is a very distinctive landscape film – with its formal gardens and tropical foliage, Tresco looks almost dreamlike, half wild, half ornamental. But the HD-shot film is equally distinctive in its interiors, echoing the paintings of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi."
"The Adjustment Bureau inflates an early Philip K Dick story with a typically paranoid conceit — our lives are secretly micromanaged by a supernatural bureaucracy of 'adjustors' — into a cosmological white-collar-thriller-cum-steroidal-rom-com, with Matt Damon as an idealistic young pol fated to someday be president and save the world." J Hoberman in the Voice: "Defeated in his bid to become New York's senator, Damon has a men's-room meet-cute with Emily Blunt's sassy modern dancer that inspires him to go rogue on his own concession speech and thus emerge positioned as a future candidate. But destiny takes a tumble when an overworked adjustor (Anthony Mackie) dozes and allows Damon to re-encounter Blunt. The so-called Plan is derailed!"
Time Out Chicago's Ben Kenigsberg warns that "those who walk in expecting a dystopian thriller will instead find a romance that might have been more profitably programmed before Valentine's Day… The Adjustment Bureau has little profound to say about choice or regret; unavoidable comparisons to Eternal Sunshine make it seem anemic. But Blunt and Damon are as appealing as ever — a fun couple to root for. Run these two together on a ticket, and fate takes over."
"One reason filmmakers like [director George] Nolfi seem attracted to Philip K Dick's work, beyond the brilliance of its ideas, is that his unembellished writing style leaves them room to make the stories visually their own," suggests Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "For his directing debut, Mr Nolfi, whose screenwriting credits include Ocean's Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum, appears to have turned to the classics for guidance, specifically Orphée, Jean Cocteau's sublime 1949 version of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus. From the costumes of Richardson's [John Slattery] goggled henchmen to the way David tells Elise to hold onto him so that they can pass through otherworldly portals, Mr Nolfi samples from Orphée to his advantage, adding a layer of pleasure for cinephiles while keeping the mood up. As it turns out, romance for grown-ups isn't dead in Hollywood — it's just been on extended leave."
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com, 3.5/5), Anton Bitel (Little White Lies), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Bob Clark (Wonders in the Dark), Richard Corliss (Time), David Denby (New Yorker), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/4), David Edelstein (New York), Peter Hall (Cinematical), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post, 3.5/4), Robert Horton (Herald), David Jenkins (Time Out London, 3/5), Kevyn Knox, Matthew Lickona (San Diego Reader), Craig D Lindsey (Nashville Scene), Elvis Mitchell (Movieline, 4/10), Neil Morris (Independent Weekly), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2/4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club, C-), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph, 3/4), Dana Stevens (Slate), Drew Taylor (Playlist), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Bill Weber (Slant, 1.5/4).
John Hiscock talks with Emily Blunt for the Telegraph. Interviews with Nolfi: Brooks Barnes (NYT), Geoff Boucher (LAT), Gabe Toro (Playlist), Meredith Woerner (io9) and Adam Woodward (Little White Lies). TONY's David Fear and Joshua Rothkopf revisit a few PDK adaptations while Quiet Earth ranks 'em all.
"Pixar has run Toon Town for some time now," begins New York's Logan Hill. "But as of this Friday, there's a new gang in town: those badass sons-of-guns from George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, with their Pirates of the Caribbean ringleader, director Gore Verbinski, packing considerable heat. Their animation debut, Rango, has introduced a serious and legitimate new animation powerhouse."
"How does Johnny Depp get away with it?" wonders the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "There aren't many stars, even ultra-A-list ones, who could get a family animation as blissfully weird as Rango green-lit, let alone injected with the acid-trip spirit of gonzo legend Hunter S Thompson. Rango is essentially Fear, Loathing, and Being a Lizard in the Nevada Desert, a paranoid western, and a remake of Chinatown rolled into one. As this description might imply, it's hard to know what children are going to make of it, but best just load them up with sherbet and see what happens. If they love it, you may have to start them off on Twin Peaks next."
"In spite of a profile that should place it alongside Megamind and Despicable Me and the long list of other overblown, have-fun-or-else cartoons, this rambling, anarchic tale is gratifyingly fresh and eccentric," finds the NYT's AO Scott. "Much of the time you don't quite know where it is going, which is high praise indeed given the slick predictability that governs most other entertainments of its kind."
More from Joanna Batt (Time Out Chicago, 3/5), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 2.5/4), Christopher Campbell (Spout), Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 4/4), Glenn Heath, Jr (Slant, 3/4), Robert Horton (Herald), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 3/5), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 4/5), Drew McWeeney (HitFix), Elise Nakhnikian (L), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), David Poland (Movie City News), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B-), Nick Schager (Voice), Eric D Snider (Cinematical), Drew Taylor (Playlist), Adam Woodward (Little White Lies), Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5/10). Interviews with Verbinski: Michelle Castillo (Time), Dave Itzkoff (NYT) and Mike Ryan (Movieline).
"The pan-genre über-hack of the new Korean zeitgeist, Kim Jee-woon has been deft in some arenas," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice. "2003's A Tale of Two Sisters suggests a nightmare endured inside a suffocating velvet pillowcase, while 2008's breathless The Good, the Bad, the Weird pioneered the fourth-gear lo-mein Western with such brio, you could feel Quentin Tarantino's zipper strain. I Saw the Devil doesn't lack for ambition — at nearly two and a half relentless hours, Kim's new film steals into the signature territory Park Chan-wook established, exhausted, and left for dead: the hyperbolic mega-revenge epic."
"Kim Jee-woon is stuck," argues David Ehrlich in Reverse Shot. "The emerging Korean auteur may have transcended the boundaries of his national cinema (his next film is supposedly an English-language thriller for Lions Gate), but for all the implacable velocity of his films, Kim remains stilted by his obsession with the peripheries of genre. I Saw the Devil — a warped serial-killer saga that sprints to its expected conclusion in under an hour and then spends ninety minutes bloodily pioneering the untenable darkness that lies beyond the margins of most thrillers — finds Kim so concerned with violating his film's expected trajectory that everything else becomes subservient to his structural gamesmanship. Kim's unyielding priorities ultimately render his characters disposable and didactic, their struggles and desires mitigated by those of their creator."
For IFC's Matt Singer, though, "I Saw the Devil isn't quite torture porn but it takes all of the core elements of that subgenre — graphic, sadistic violence, fundamental questions about decency and morality — and spins them into something better: entertaining, thought-provoking, and scary as hell." More from Joe Bendel, L Caldoran (Cinespect), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 3/5), Nick Schager (Slant, 1.5/4), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto. Damon Smith talks with Kim for Filmmaker. Viewing (16'27"). The AV Club's Scott Tobias and Keith Phipps discuss the film and "the current crop of Korean genre filmmakers."
Andrew Schenker in Slant: "Happythankyoumoreplease juggles several plots (too many plots), but its principal one goes something like this: An appealingly immature white thirtysomething befriends a poor black child and is predictably enriched by the experience. Essentially writer/director/star Josh Radnor recasts the William Hurt story from Paul Auster's Smoke screenplay with scruffier beards, twee indie folk, and a less articulate preteen foil (Radnor's Sam is, like Hurt's Paul, a writer; his youthful charge is named Rasheen [Michael Algieri], recalling that character's similarly named counterpart in the earlier film, Rashid). On his way to a meeting with a publisher, Sam spots the kid ditching his foster mother on the subway. After his failed efforts to turn Rasheen in to the police and other city agencies, Sam takes pity on the boy who desperately wants to escape the foster system and lets him crash at his apartment for several days, during which, despite exchanging a minimum of words, the two reach some sort of friendly understanding."
For Eric Hynes, writing in Time Out New York, Radnor's "vainly self-effacing playing an entitled white hipster in search of a purpose; that his whiny, wimpy protagonist finds meaning only in the company of a token black (and conveniently mute) child suggests some far deeper corruptions beneath the pandering, aggressively mediocre surface. Compared with this urban fantasy, hermetic mumblecore films are like anthropological exposés; here, characters don't talk, they exchange speeches, with only Hale's sincere, romantic doofus resembling a real person among the annoying caricatures wandering around a New York straight out of Seinfeld. Radnor tries to pin a tail of significance on this donkey, but he seems content with light comedy and mere proficiency."
More from Sam Adams (LAT), Logan Hill (New York), Stephen Holden (NYT), Elvis Mitchell (Movieline, 7/10), Noel Murray (AV Club, B-) and Nick Pinkerton (Voice). Interviews with Radnor: Durga Chew-Bose (Interview), James Ponsoldt (Filmmaker), Stephen Saito (IFC), Jada Yuan (Vulture) — and Radnor talks us through a scene at indieWIRE.
"Why on earth has Take Me Home Tonight been sitting on the shelf since it finished shooting in early 2007?" wonders the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "It's not that bad. Completely unoriginal, sure, but watchable and even likable. Maybe Superbad coming out later that year just bigfooted the whole two-nerds-at-a-wild-and-crazy-party genre. Maybe there were too many comedies where a one-time high school geek tries to woo the prom queen of his dreams. Maybe star Topher Grace was right when he said in a recent interview that the original studio flinched at all the cocaine abuse; the movie is set in the 1980s, with the requisite big hair, shoulder pads, and nose candy of choice."
For Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, it's "It's bad enough that Michael Dowse's retro-comedy Take Me Home Tonight isn't nearly as much fun as the 80s actually were. Even worse, it's less fun than most 80s comedies were — and that's bad."
In the Voice, Nick Pinkerton finds that "it's worth comparing Take Me Home Tonight to Greg Mottola's Adventureland. The movies examine the same period and share cinematographer Terry Stacey, whose swoony nocturnal Los Angeles (actually Phoenix) of floodlit patios and fireworks is one of Take Me Home Tonight's greatest merits. But where Adventureland announced an allegiance to freak-scene 80s culture and made a vital detail of one character's fluffing the title of a Lou Reed song, there's nothing so specific in Take Me Home Tonight, lazily named after an Eddie Money hit. It's the difference between a personal period memory and one-size-fits-all nostalgia."
More from AA Dowd (Time Out Chicago, 2/4), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 1.5/4), David Fear (TONY, 3/5), William Goss (Cinematical), Stephen Holden (NYT), Robert Horton (Herald), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 2/5), Mary Pols (Time), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, C-), Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2/4) and Matt Singer (IFC). Interviews with Grace: Megan Angelo (NYT), Marah Eakin (AV Club), Patti Greco (Vulture), Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily, audio, 13'43") and John Horn (LAT). Brett Berk talks with Anna Faris for Vanity Fair, while James Rocchi meets Teresa Palmer for MSN Movies.
Back in the Voice, Mark Holcomb recommends Eran Riklis's The Human Resources Manager, a "follow-up to 2008's Lemon Tree, based on the novel A Woman in Jerusalem by AB Yehoshua, [which] hits the road when the restless personnel director (Mark Ivanir) of a large Jerusalem bakery is forced by his employer (Gila Almagor) to accompany the body of Yulia, a slain former employee, to her Eastern European home. Once there, he's joined by the put-upon local consul (Rosina Kambus, who's quietly hilarious), her pliant husband, and the dead woman's surly son (Noah Silver). A muckraking journalist (Guri Alfi) known as the Weasel — the deceased is the only character called by name — also tags along to needle the brooding functionary. While the coffin-laden road trip echoes Faulkner's As I Lay Dying in its gradual accumulation of absurdities, the point is neither to underscore how death unravels the lives of surviving loved ones (indeed, it has the opposite effect here) nor redeem the titular hero, but to reveal how respect for the humanity of others is a tenuously organic process.
"It is, at times, hard to say if the film itself is aiming for a political critique of the dynamics of the everydayness of suicide bombings in Israel and the country's poor treatment of its immigrant population, or if that's just the way we read anything 'Israel.'" Diego Costa in Slant: "The scene in which Yulia's coffin runs through a series of conveyor belt-like structures, very akin to the ones used for the bakery's bread-making, suggests the film's interest in a humorous comment on the Israeli production of corpses, but the film's amusing intentions end up stalling any opportunity for pathos as we grow suspicious that any evoked emotion will soon become a kind of meta-joke. Yet it is precisely this lack of clarity — do we feel for the characters or do we decode their metaphoric-ness at a distance? — that gives The Human Resources Manager its strange singularity."
But for Jeannette Catsoulis, writing in the NYT, "Notwithstanding Mr Riklis's forceful talent (clearly visible in both The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree), The Human Resources Manager is a dreary, apolitical trip to the back of beyond. What begins as an engaging drama soon dissolves into a Kafkaesque search for a nonexistent homeland — for a place, quite literally, to rest." And for TONY's David Fear, "the way The Human Resources Manager meanders through its paces even after it picks a path… eventually makes the film feel like a long slog to Letdownsville." More from Ryan Vlastelica in the L.
Mike Hale in the New York Times: "The Belgian director Koen Mortier's punk fantasia Ex-Drummer plays like a more extreme Trainspotting, in which the brittle, candy-colored surrealism has been replaced by an occasionally potent but irritatingly intellectualized new-European Sturm und Drang. As the not-so-comic violence and the violent, misogynistic sex pile up, it becomes the kind of black humor in which the joke is largely on the audience." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant, 2/4) and Nicolas Rapold (Voice).
"With its gossip-girl-and-guy milieu and adolescent anguish, Beastly, a surprisingly painless if ragged redo of Beauty and the Beast, looks as if it should be on the CW network," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "The movie is representative of a type of industrial filmmaking, one that unites corporate dollars with a writer and director (Daniel Barnz) sort of fresh from the Sundance Film Festival (class of 2008) and various pretty faces that are in heavy rotation in the entertainment weeklies. To wit: Alex Pettyfer, whose model-esque glower is currently adorning ads for his other new film, I Am Number Four, plays Kyle, the king of an exclusive academy crammed with elite spawn and one charity case, Lindy (the button-cute Vanessa Hudgens, a star of High School Musical). She's nice and poor, he's mean and rich, and you know exactly where — after the shy glances, drama and wall-to-wall tunes — they are going: chaste kiss and fade to black." More from Logan Hill (New York), Robert Horton (Herald), Richard Larson (Slant, 1/4), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 1/4), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 5.5/10) and Tasha Robinson (AV Club, D-). James Rocchi talks with the cast and crew for the Toronto Star.
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