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"Black Swan," "I Love You Phillip Morris," "All Good Things," More

"Ballet has been mourned as a dying art so often in recent years (even by its devotees — dark ash weeps from the sky at the demise of Jennifer Homans's monumental dance history, Apollo's Angels) that it's a real boot when a movie comes along whose heroine believes that ballet is still an art worth passionately dying for. Or even killing for, should a drastic casting change be required." James Wolcott in Vanity Fair: "The history of film is feathered with ravishing ballerinas whose longing for transcendent flight sends them high-diving into borderline dementia, virgin brides for whom the stage is the sacrificial altar of Beauty. But none has gone as singularly ballistic as Natalie Portman's Nina Sayers in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, whose obsession to be the perfect Odette/Odile in Swan Lake is self-devouring."

J Hoberman in the Voice: "A near-irresistible exercise in bravura absurdity, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan deserves to become a minor classic of heterosexual camp — at the very least, it's the most risible and riotous backstage movie since Showgirls. Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake has had a spooky quality at least since Tod Browning appropriated a few bars of it to introduce his 1930 Dracula; Aronofsky takes that creep factor all the way to the moon. Not body but ballet horror, Black Swan is a Red Shoes/Repulsion/Carrie mash-up, slathered with Dario Argento cheese. At the same time, the movie is recognizably Aronofskyian in its strenuous, sensationalizing goofiness."

"A filmmaker who likes to play around with genre while mixing the highbrow with the lowdown and dirty, [Aronofsky] has built a small, vivid catalog by exploring human extremes with wildly uneven degrees of visual wow, sensitivity and intelligence," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "He trawled the lower depths in Requiem for a Dream and struggled to scale the metaphysical heights with The Fountain, a fable about eternal (as in, when will it end?) love. For his previous movie, The Wrestler, he proved his commercial smarts by taking Mickey Rourke out of deep freeze and dusting off a comeback story that was old when Wallace Beery wiped Jackie Cooper's runny nose with the script for The Champ. Black Swan, by contrast, surprises despite its lusty or rather sluttish predilection for clichés, which include the requisitely demanding impresario ([Vincent] Cassel makes a model cock of the walk) and Nina's ballerina rival, Lily (Mila Kunis, as a succulent, borderline rancid peach). But, oh, what Mr Aronofsky does with those clichés, which he embraces, exploits and, by a squeak, finally transcends."

More from Richard Brody and David Denby (New Yorker), Marcy Dermansky (4 stars out of 5), Steve Dollar (GreenCine Daily), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5 out of 4), Cheryl Eddy (San Francisco Bay Guardian), David Edelstein (New York), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), David Fear (Time Out New York, 4 out of 5), Marilyn Ferdinand, Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 2 out of 4), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post, 3.5 out of 4), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago, 4 out of 5), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 5 out of 5), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix, 4 out of 4), Peter Martin (Twitch), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune, 3.5 out of ?), Keith Phipps (AV Club, A), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Jeff Reichert (Reverse Shot), Nick Schager (B), Matt Singer (IFC), Dana Stevens (Slate), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Armond White (New York Press), Mike Wilmington (Movie City News) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8 out of 10). Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto.

The interviews. With Aronofsky: Katey Rich (Cinema Blend), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Mike Ryan (Movieline), Stephen Saito (IFC) and Drew Taylor (Playlist). Julie Bloom profiles Portman for the NYT and Amy Kaufman talks with Portman and Kunis for the LAT. With Cassel: Mike Ayers (Vulture) and Mike Ryan (Movieline). Susan King profiles Barbara Hershey for the LAT. Listening (56'59"). IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore talk ballet movies. Viewing (2'05"). Aronofsky breaks down a scene for the NYT.





"It's taken almost two years for the bonkers, exhilarating same-sex romantic comedy I Love You Phillip Morris to finally reach theaters," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "Premiering at Sundance in January 2009, the movie was a near-casualty of nervous-nellie US distributors — more comfortable with innocuous gay genres like the homosexual weepie or the martyr biopic — and countless release delays. In the interim, we've bided our time with such high-profile, big-screen depictions of man-man love as Brüno pantomiming oral on the ghost of Rob Pilatus and Colin Firth's suicidal fusspot furtively nuzzling Matthew Goode in a Single Man flashback. Save it, Mary: Nothing tops ILYPM's Jim Carrey as a top, sweatily, giddily ass-plowing a mustached muscle-daddy in the most gloriously raunchy, unrepentant moment in the an(n)als of Hollywood A-listers doing gay-for-pay."

For Bill Weber, writing in Slant, the film "suggests both a middle-aged queer rewrite of Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can and how one of Jean Genet's thieves might've aspired to an Out magazine photo-spread lifestyle in 1990s America.... Written and directed by Bad Santa scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and adapted from a true-crime chronicle ('Really,' insists an opening title), I Love You Phillip Morris gets off on gender-fucking the conventions of romantic and caper comedies while reaping subversive moments of tenderness from its committed central performance. Carrey, whose candidacy as one of the best film actors of the last 20 years may go unspoken due to anti-comedy snobbery, gives Steven's devotion to Phillip a rapt authenticity right from their moony meeting, attired in lemon-yellow jumpsuits, in their Texas prison's library.... As shy, almost dainty Phillip, [Ewan] McGregor mostly yields the spotlight to his co-star; that he's the naïve, moralistic scold of the couple ('Did you do something?!' he nags when the police come knocking) is a pretty neat casting joke, given his history of studly bad-boy roles."

"There's one scene of them chatting in their prison cell — viewed overhead in bed, Phillip's head in the crook of Steven's arm — that's so affectionately intimate you can see exactly why the movie took two years to get a US release," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Even the prior scene of Carrey riding a different man's ass like a bucking bronco isn't as half so threatening as this, an utterly unguarded moment with two famous faces that both happen to be male conveying a perfectly synched love."

More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nicolas Rapold (L), Nick Schager (B), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3 out of 5), James van Maanen, Armond White (NYP), Chris Wisniewski (Reverse Shot) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5 out of 10). Dennis Lim has background on the film's making in the NYT. "Ahead of the film's American theatrical bow, Ficarra and Requa sat down with the Lincoln Center's Paul Brunick for a discussion following a screening of their film at New York's Walter Reade Theater," and Nigel M Smith was there to take notes for indieWIRE.





"In theory, Andrew Jarecki, director of the 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmans, is a great choice to bring the tabloid tragedy of Robert Durst to the big screen," writes Matt Connolly in Reverse Shot. "The heir to a New York real estate dynasty, Durst looked to be the main suspect after his wife mysteriously disappeared in 1982. These suspicions never coalesced into a formal charge — a fact that many believed had much to do with his wealth and well-connected family name. And the eyebrow-raising near misses with the law didn't end there. After being suspected (but again not charged) in the murder of friend Susan Berman eighteen years later, Durst was finally put on trial in 2003 for the slaying of neighbor Morris Black, but was later acquitted. It's pretty sordid stuff; but then again, so was the morass of sexual abuse allegations that tore apart a 'normal' upper-middle class Jewish family in Friedmans.... All Good Things technically leaves the question of Durst's guilt unresolved, with Jarecki and screenwriters Marc Smerling and Marcus Hinchey taking their 'inspiration' from the Durst killings while changing many of the characters' names. The real mystery, however, is who killed the clear-eyed directorial inquisitiveness evident in Jarecki's earlier work."

At GreenCine Daily, Vadim Rizov focuses on "the presumably one-off implosion of Ryan Gosling, one of the most talented — or at least compulsively watchable — actors of his generation.... All Good Things is centered around a performance that seems like an impersonation of Brando as a discontented rich kid, or a rich kid channeling the godfather as a stereotypical expression of discontent. It's impossible to tell which, and either way, it's semi-disastrous. Blame Jarecki: it takes a lot to make a movie so dull that Gosling cross-dressing doesn't register at all."

Time Out New York's David Fear agrees: "Watching Kirsten Dunst idle in three modes — sad, sadder and zombie — is letdown enough, but seeing Gosling so thoroughly wasted borders on Shakespearean tragedy." More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), Tony Dayoub, David Denby (New Yorker), Michael Guillén, Michelle Orange (Movieline, 6 out of 10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (C), Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2 out of 4), Benjamin Strong (L) and Scott Tobias (AV Club, C+). Backgrounders: Charles V Bagli and Kevin Flynn (NYT) and John Horn (LAT). Interviews with Dunst: Tom Shone (New York) and Eric Spitznagel (Vanity Fair).





"In Tanya Hamilton's debut feature, Night Catches Us, Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington star as former Black Panthers who navigate the pitfalls of a post-radical life," begins Sam Adams at the AV Club. "It's 1976 in Philadelphia's Germantown section, and for much of the country, hope is on the horizon. Jimmy Carter's speeches drift from car radios into the streets, and the lynching and church bombings of the civil-rights struggle are a fading memory. But for Washington, the wounds of the past are just beneath the surface, as close as the bullet holes under her kitchen wallpaper.... Night Catches Us — the title comes from a Jamaican expression about staying after dark — would hit harder if its form embodied the tension between revolutionary and assimilationist strategies, but it's clear Hamilton wants to reach beyond the arthouse to people who've experienced stories like hers firsthand."

Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly: "Developed in the Sundance Institute's Screenwriters Lab, Night Catches Us bears the Redford factory's imprint — long, elliptical conversations freighted with backstory that's parceled out quietly over a great deal of screen time. Despite the Philadelphia setting, the movie is structured and paced like one of those muted, rural family melodramas that are a dime a dozen at regional festivals."

For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, this is "an old-fashioned, slow-burning tragic romance about Mr and Ms Right meeting at exactly the wrong moment. Think Casablanca, with bigger hair and a Philly soul soundtrack.... This sad and lovely picture, set in a minor key but loaded with big emotions, is a long way from the Tyler Perry/Oprah Winfrey model of African-American film, and about the only thing it has in common with Precious is the idea that a story made by and about black people might have some general relevance. All I know is that from the first moments of Hamilton's haunting and soulful elegy to a bygone urban America, I would have followed her anywhere."

More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Chris Barsanti (PopMatters, 3 out of 10), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 3 out of 5), AO Scott (NYT) and Justin Stewart (L). For the LAT, Mark Olsen talks with Hamilton and others about the Black Panthers. Hamilton: "The one thing I could do was to show that the party in its purest form, was a grassroots organization started by people who had a great commitment and connection to their community who really wanted to make a difference with their neighbors and kids. And like all political movements, things got complicated."





"When you think about it, the idea of an overweight, bearded Laplander sneaking into the bedrooms of sleeping kids sounds like a horror movie set-up already," writes Tom Huddleston in Time Out London. "But, for his debut feature, writer-director Jalmari Helander has gone back to the source of Santa Claus and the ancient Finnish folk tales which depicted him as a bony-fingered ghoul coming to punish helpless children on cold winter nights." Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale "is an enormously entertaining and unpredictable Yuletide romp packed with sly wit, solid scares and naked geriatrics. At only 82 minutes, it is slight, with a superb set-up that never fully pays off. But the acting is strong (pairing a real-life father and son in the lead roles is a masterstroke), the low-rent special effects are inventive and judiciously employed and the pace never flags."

"Rare Exports is the best unholy Christmas creation ever," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Better than Scrooged. Better than Futurama's artillery totting robotic Claus. It's the perfect combination of old world superstition and new age satire.... Everything from Christmas Evil to Silent Night, Deadly Night has tried to tap into the dire, depressing undercurrent that is prevalent at this time of year, and yet none have done so as expertly as Rare Exports."

Blogging for the New York Press, Simon Abrams agrees that it's "that rare, self-conscious genre film that not only knows its limitations but also knows exactly what it wants to say and how to say it." More from Karina Longworth (Voice), Noel Murray (AV Club, B), Nick Schager (Slant, 3 out of 4), Henry Stewart (L) and James van Maanen.





Nick Schager in Slant: "An adaptation of Mordecai Richler's acclaimed novel, Barney's Version attempts a sprawling vision of unruly, outsized, sloppy life through the particular tale of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a Canadian TV producer who in his waning days reflects back on his three rocky marriages. Or, at least, that seems to be its intention, as Richard J Lewis's lengthy but aimless saga generally goes about its funny-serious business without a guiding purpose, detailing the ups and downs of Barney's matrimonial days and nights with so little verve or intention — and with so little of the unreliable-narrator ambiguity implied by its title and flashback structure — that the effect is like reading a dead man's day calendar."

"Lewis, and the writer, Michael Konyves... have done their homework," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "In winnowing Richler's 1997 novel into a workable screen story they have preserved important details and added some new ones consistent with their version's altered chronology.... But the filmmakers have been, if anything, too dutiful, too careful, and the movie that results from their conscientious, devoted labor illustrates the terrible, paradoxical trap into which well-intentioned literary adaptations so often fall."

More from David Fear (TONY, 3 out of 5), James van Maanen, Alison Willmore (IFC) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7 out of 10). In his backgrounder for the NYT, Charles McGrath notes that the film "features cameos by the Canadian directors David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan and by Denys Arcand, the great Quebecois director, who plays an obsequious maitre d'. Their presence is both an inside joke and an indication that for many people Barney's Version was a labor of love."

 

BRIEFLY


"A new documentary about Benazir Bhutto lets a full hour go by before entertaining the mildest doubts about its subject, the hugely popular prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated on her triumphant return to Karachi from exile in 2007," writes Ella Taylor for NPR. "Bhutto is smart and thorough on the inflamed history of Pakistan. But as a portrait of the first woman elected head of state in an Islamic nation, it comes closer to hero-worship than to considered biography." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant, 2.5 out of 4), Nick Schager (Voice), Andrew Schenker (TONY, 4 out of 5), Kenneth Turan (LAT) and James van Maanen.

"There is something cozy and a little claustrophobic about Henry Jaglom's indulgent Hollywood satires, their characters adrift in a sea of self-involvement," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Never mean-spirited or malicious, his tales of striving starlets and broken moguls are designed to amuse rather than mock, and Queen of the Lot (a sequel to his 2006 film, Hollywood Dreams) is no exception. Filling the roles with friends and family and delivering a few sharp jabs to the industry's solar plexus, he mixes an exceedingly dry cocktail of fevered ambition and congealed disappointment." More from Andrew Schenker (Slant, 1.5 out of 4). Earlier: Karina Longworth (LA Weekly). James van Maanen talks with Tanna Frederick.

 


"In addition to its fluency in contemporary indie American cinema's styles of storytelling and dialog, Geoff Marslett's Mars is a throwback to the innumerable and often indistinguishable space-race B movies of the 50s and 60s that analogized journeys to distant planets and the iconography of Western settler narratives," writes Benjamin Sutton in the L. "The casting of Kinky Friedman as an actual cowboy president and repeated requests that the mission's mostly symbolic leader Charlie Brownsville (Mark Duplass), in his custom-embroidered NASA onesie, behave more like John Wayne, acknowledge the self-conscious Cold War rhetoric of this near-future space rom-com." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Diego Costa (Slant, 2 out of 4) and Michelle Orange (Voice). At Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater.

"Like a slow-building avalanche of interior conflict, Silvio Soldini's meticulously paced Come Undone collapses the façade of emotional connection by highlighting the small erosive moments of deception rather than grandiose melodramatic tirades," writes Glenn Heath Jr in Slant. "A casual glance, an innocent smile, a fleeting flirtation carry all the weight of a wrecking ball, pummeling expectations of happiness until there's nothing left but romantic uncertainty." More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 2 out of 5) and James van Maanen.

Mark Olsen in the LAT on Meskada: "Though it is always of interest to see a film that actually tries to explore the too-often unspoken issue of class and economic disparity in America, it is likewise interesting to note that here the undertones and subtext overwhelm the story proper, as the movie's motivating dead-child detective story becomes at times an actual impediment to what more obviously actually interests [writer-director Josh] Sternfeld." More from Diego Costa (Slant, 0 out of 4).

The Trial screens tomorrow and Sunday at the IFC Center. Richard Brody in the New Yorker: "The histrionic writhings of Orson Welles's 1962 adaptation of Kafka's novel — featuring Anthony Perkins, as the persecuted bank clerk Josef K., as well as Romy Schneider, Jeanne Moreau, Elsa Martinelli, Michael Lonsdale, Akim Tamiroff, and Welles himself, in full-throttle fury, as the Advocate — join with an eruptive frenzy of Expressionistic images to bring the story's tormented universe to life."

 

IN JAPAN


"Yoichi Higashi has accumulated a long list of honors in a four-decade career, including a Silver Bear at the 1996 Berlin Film Festival for his childhood drama E no Naka no Boku no Mura (Village of Dreams)," writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. His new film, Wandering Home, "is not the usual art film about alcoholism that treats slow suicide by booze as high tragedy. Instead, it takes a more down-to-earth, low-drama view of the drinking life, with surreal comic touches. It also delivers real laughs, chills and tears. Here, it says, is the plain, strange truth about one drunk's life — and it makes you believe." 4 out of 5 stars.

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Certainly was expecting a lot more RED SHOES than SHOWGIRLS out of the Aronofsky (anyone pull off a BURLESQUE / BLACK SWAN double feature this weekend?) Glad Hoberman mentioned this, as well as the Polanski which really seemed to be the film’s strongest influence.

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