"A onetime yakuza turned jailbird turned filmmaking enfant terrible, the now-75-year-old Japanese director Kōji Wakamatsu has long been loved by cinema cultists for an outrageous string of 1960s provocations made under the guise of the pinku eiga — or 'pink' film." Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily: "These typically low-budget sex romps could be as insane, surreal, or mind-bending as possible, as long as they included a minimum amount of nudity and softcore humping. Wakamatsu, seizing the opportunity, used the form to pursue the extremes, reveling in obsessive sex and violence as a leftist critique of Japanese society. Beyond the outrage and sleaze of The Embryo Hunts in Secret ; Go, Go Second-Time Virgin ; and Ecstasy of the Angels , was a form of perverse shock treatment. Wakamatsu took a break from the camera in 1977, and didn't return for 27 years. But he still wants to mess with your head."
Steve Erickson for Moving Image Source: "Some have already noted that Caterpillar  and United Red Army , taken together, form a critique of both the left and right wings of Japanese society. In some ways, it's fitting that they're being released in the US almost simultaneously. Kino Lorber's launching them in New York at the IFC Center, with Caterpillar opening May 6 and United Red Army May 27. The initially disappointing Caterpillar looks better in the light of its immediate precursor. The two films are a history lesson of sorts, taking in a good chunk of 20th-century Japanese history, from the 40s to the 70s. The conservative nationalism displayed in Caterpillar helps explain the rage of the ultra-leftists in United Red Army."
Caterpillar "begins with the waking nightmare of young bride Shigeko ([Shinobu] Terajima, carrying the film) when her husband, Kyuzo ([Shima] Ônishi), returns home to their rural village from the Second Sino-Japanese War battle zone," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "Actually, returns is too active a verb: The veteran is armless, legless, voiceless and, in Shigeko's tortured description, 'nothing but a pile of flesh.' Nonetheless, the mute is an honored 'war god,' with local deference and wifely duties due."
"Wakamatsu fills the air with pungent sensory detail, from clacking cicadas to smacking flesh, unraveling an allegory of Japan's doomed virility without sacrificing the integrity of the moment," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "He's never delicate or subtle about his intentions — a wail rather than a cry, in-your-face rather than implied — but there's complexity in the impact, like a breath-stealing blow that yields a spectrum of intense sensation. As with Fuller, it's cinema that risks blunt silliness to achieve emotional and experiential seriousness."
More from Joe Bendel, Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Andrew O'Hehir (Salon).
ALSO IN NEW YORK
"Alice in Wonderland (2010) — James Fotopoulos's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by way of Henry Savile Clark and Walter Slaughter's 1886 musical, Alice in Wonderland: A Dream Play For Children — is an extremely curious object in its own right and its premiere New York screening is a must see," advises Amy Taubin, writing for Artforum. "If you doze through a few of its 99 minutes, your dreams will be the better for it." This evening at the Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn.
Bruce Bennett in the Wall Street Journal on a film screening tonight at Millennium Film Workshop as part of The Urban Landscape in Cinematic Transformation: Storytelling & Local History: "Shot between 1988 and 1992, What About Me stars [Rachel] Amodeo and actor Richard Edson as a fictional homeless couple within a close-knit community of East Village outsiders. Much of the film takes place in and around the real-life tent city that sprang up in Tompkins Square Park before it was closed, cleared and renovated beginning in 1991."
"Lord Byron is [Zack] Godshall's third feature, after Low and Behold and God's Architects," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Here, as with those films, the Louisiana-based Godshall has drawn from a Southern pot of gumbo to deliver another peculiar dose of ecstatic truth. There are many valid cinematic references for Lord Byron — Slacker, Werckmeister Harmonies, Down by Law, just to name a few — but based on its production value alone, there is an unfortunately more direct correlation to those well-intentioned-but-just-not-up-to-snuff local productions one encounters at tiny regional festivals everywhere. So what makes Godshall's vision so different? Though it may have a similar look and 'feel,' Lord Byron's ace in the hole is one powerful word: literature. By wielding their camera like a pen, Godshall and his creative collaborator Russ Brupbacher have plunged deep into the bayou's soul, whereas most other work of this ilk just skitters on the surface. We're supposed to compare movies to other movies, but when I try to do that with Lord Byron, the names John Kennedy Toole, Walker Percy, and Carson McCullers instead spring to mind." More from Michael Atkinson (Voice) and Diego Costa (Slant, 2.5/4). At Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater.
For Rob Humanick, writing in Slant, Marc Meyers's Harvest "is an astonishingly confident work that avoids nearly all the pitfalls of contemporary independent cinema, flirting with cloying treacle in only the handful of moments the film employs a borderline-cliché alt-rock soundtrack. The rest of the film is sterling, its modest strengths amplified by a finely tuned creative process that never overexerts its ambitions or condescends to its subjects: three generations' worth of family living together during their cancer-stricken patriarch's last summer." But in the Voice, Andrew Schenker finds it "dimly imagined," a "lukewarm semi-coming-of-age tale." More from Stephen Holden in the New York Times.
"Octubre, an assured first feature by two thirtysomething Peruvian brothers, Daniel and Diego Vega, is a more laconic (and consistently humorous) exploration of a potentially redemptive male midlife crisis," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The movie, shown here last month as part of New Directors/New Films, is titled for the month when Lima's true believers celebrate the Lord of Miracles, and employs a comic trope that has been a cinema staple since the nickelodeon: A single man of dubious character is unexpectedly lumbered with a helpless child." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Steve Erickson (Gay City News) and Keith Uhlich (TONY, 2/5). Leslie Stonebraker talks with Daniel Vega for the New York Press.
In the Voice, Michael Atkinson recommends The Colors of the Mountain, in which "doe-eyed urchins… attempt to rescue a soccer ball from a newly land-mined field. [First-time director Carlos César] Arbeláez indulges in occasional twinges of Hollywood 'emphasis,' but mostly the film glides on its matter-of-fact textures."
Alexandre O Philippe's The People vs George Lucas is, as Karina Longworth puts it in the Voice, a "catalog of the rise and fall of the Lucas brand [as] told by fans still mostly faithful to the Star Wars cult, despite the heartbreak brought on by Lucas's late-90s revisions to the 'original' trilogy, and the three subpar prequels." More from David Fear (TONY, 2/5).
The New York Polish Film Festival is on through Sunday.
Michael Sicinski for the Nashville Scene: "The Belcourt, seizing an opportunity for a little comparison shopping in film history, has the good sense to offer a gift-wrapped box of poison for Mother's Day: Michael Curtiz's 1945 film adaptation of James M Cain's 'hard-boiled melodrama' Mildred Pierce. The booking comes hot on the heels of HBO's five-part miniseries starring Kate Winslet as the titular heroine, a self-sufficient single mom struggling to make ends meet at the height of the Great Depression…. To see Mildred 1.0 today, however, is no mere exercise in media excavation or social studies. Maybe it's not a semiotic analysis of social conditions, in the manner of Haynes. But it is a singular film — a masterpiece that examines, with brutal frankness, the limits of maternal love and sacrifice. It'll put you through the wringer, all right." Today through Monday.
Speaking of Mother's Day, Michael Guillén has a terrific talk with his mother about going to the movies, which, for her, started in the late 30s. As a teenager, she was an usherette at the Adelaide Theater in Nampa, Idaho, and their conversation takes them on to California, where she saw some of the great Mexican movies, and then back east at a time when television would begin bringing films into the home. Michael also asks three Bay Area cinephiles about watching movies with their mothers: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, Jonathan Marlow and Richard Von Busack. And at Movie Morlocks, Richard Harland Smith, too, has been "thinking about my own Mom lately and all the movies I made her watch with me over the years."
And the "Mother's Day Weekend" double bill at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York? Haynes's Mildred Pierce and Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman: 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. For the L, Elise Nakhnikian considers the pairing off.
COAST TO COAST
Mel Gibson's "off-screen scandals of the past few years — the anti-Semitism, the accusations of domestic abuse, the drunk driving, the racist hate speech — have repulsed many viewers so thoroughly that the notion of spending two hours looking at the man's face simply strikes them as beyond the pale," concedes Slate's Dana Stevens. "I won't say that The Beaver, Jodie Foster's new seriocomic film starring Mel Gibson as a man in the throes of a deeply weird midlife crisis is good enough that diehard Gibson boycotters should compromise their values to see it. But if you continue to be fascinated by this talented, volatile, messed-up man — if your Mel curiosity hasn't been completely squelched by your Mel disgust — it's worth experiencing what may be Gibson's finest performance to date."
"Although the premise — a man begins communicating with his family and friends exclusively through a beaver puppet — makes the film sound like a wacky comedy, context is everything," notes Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago. "Literally on the verge of throwing himself out a window, successful but clinically depressed family man Walter (Gibson) instead escapes by becoming another person entirely. It just so happens that this 'person' is a Cockney-talking beaver."
"Jodie Foster both directed the film and plays Meredith, Walter's stricken wife, and she has muddled her two roles," argues David Edelstein in New York. "The Beaver is so heavy-spirited it could easily be 'a Meredith Black film.' She never lets you see how Walter could, in the short term, be liberated by pretending to be the Beaver, a rude, extroverted creature out for a good time. She's so afraid of trivializing his suicidal feelings that she forgets she's an artist and not a social worker. The movie's glumness is in synch with Foster's performances over the last decade: It's as if she's decided that acting is something you mature beyond. Which I suspect had a dampening effect on Gibson's performance."
More from Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle, 2.5/5), Ed Champion, Manohla Dargis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2.5/4), David Fear (TONY), J Hoberman (Voice), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3/5), Benjamin Mercer (L), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2/4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune, 2.5/5), Mary Pols (Time), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B-), Ella Taylor (NPR), Bill Weber (Slant, 1.5/4), Lindy West (Stranger), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7/10).
Interviews with Foster: Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Jessica Grose (Slate), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Drew McWeeney (HitFix), Novid Parsi (Time Out Chicago), Louis Peitzman (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and Matt Singer (IFC).
"Like Black Dynamite and Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun was as perfect as it was ever going to get when it was content to be a trailer for a movie that didn't exist yet," argues Phil Nugent. "[I]n the days before the arrival of a new generation of directors who use Sleazoid Express as their Cahiers du Cinema, movies like Re-Animator and Near Dark and One False Move combined grindhouse elements with some artistry and moviemaking finesse, an interest in character and the look and feel of the America far from the main roads. By contrast, Hobo just looks like something made by people whose greatest ambition is to read reviews that accuse them of having perpetrated the grossest movie ever made in Canada."
Bilge Ebiri, on the other hand, is taken to "a way darker place than anticipated…. The action is serviceable, the performances are appropriately over-the-top, the screenplay basic (though it is one of the more quotable movies in many a moon). But, like a cave painting, there's something about it that just connects and burrows deep into your soul."
More from Joe Bendel, Daynah Burnett (PopMatters, 5/10), Mark Holcomb (Voice), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (AV Club, B), Michael Nordine (Not Coming to a Theater Near You), Jonathan Stromberg (Cinespect), Scott Tobias (NPR), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3/5) and Jen Yamato (Movieline).
"Was it the intention of Thor to turn back the clock on large-scale superhero movies by a couple of decades, before visionary directors like Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and Sam Raimi had enlarged our sense of what such movies could deliver, and proved that the mark of an auteur director's eccentric personality could be a box-office asset rather than a liability?" asks Scott Foundas at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Blog. "Did Paramount and Marvel Entertainment actually set out to rekindle long-suppressed memories of Masters of the Universe and Supergirl with this unrelentingly cheesy, Day-Glo version of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's take on the mythical Norse thunder god? If so, then they have surpassed themselves."
For the NYT's AO Scott, "the kind-of-OK aspects of Thor have the effect of making it more depressing, rather than less. The movie cannot be an interesting, appalling train wreck because it lacks the spoiled grandeur of ambition gone off the rails. You can't sit and marvel (as it were) over what went wrong because nothing, at the level of execution, really has gone wrong. [Kenneth] Branagh has not failed to make an interesting, lively, emotionally satisfying superhero movie, because there is no evidence that he (or the gaggle of credited screenwriters, or Paramount, the sponsoring studio) ever intended to make any such thing. On the contrary, the absolute and unbroken mediocrity of Thor is evidence of its success. This movie is not distinctively bad, it is axiomatically bad."
More from Simon Abrams (Slant, 2/4), Josh Bell (Las Vegas Weekly, 2.5/5), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 2.5/4), Richard Corliss (Time), AA Dowd (Time Out Chicago, 2/5), David Edelstein (Vulture), David Fear (TONY, 2/5), Cynthia Fuchs (PopMatters, 3/10), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 1/5), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Steven Hale (Nashville Scene), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune, 3/5), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B+), Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle, 2.5/5), Matt Singer (IFC), Dana Stevens (Slate), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 9/10). Interviews with Branagh: Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Chris Lee (Newsweek) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline); and with Chris Hemsworth: Geoff Boucher (LAT) and Alison Willmore (TONY). "If the thought of the ex-next great Shakespearean actor tackling such a project sounds silly, well, that's been a Branagh specialty over the past 15 years." Via a series of clips, Ray Gustini walks us through some of Branagh's "goofiest contributions as an actor and director" at the Atlantic Wire.
"Nominally a story about sex, lies and faithfulness, Last Night is more truly a cautionary tale about mousetrap narratives," writes the NYT's Manohla Dargis. "Written and directed by Massy Tadjedin, who wrote The Jacket, it stars the serviceably matched Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington as a married couple, Joanna and Michael, who are tested by other people and by their own doubts…. As she increasingly switches between Joanna and Alex [Guillaume Canet] circling each other in one city, and Michael and Laura [Eva Mendes] doing the same in another — thereby leaching their individuality and emphasizing a parallelism already evident without the Ping-Pong edits — you may wonder if Ms Tadjedin wrote Last Night with a ruler, compass and protractor." More from David Fear (TONY, 2/5), Sheri Linden (LAT), Karina Longworth (Voice) and Jonathan Stromberg (Cinespect). Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay interviews Tadjedin.
Roland Joffé's There Be Dragons "compresses, embellishes, and probably whitewashes true events in its depiction of how Catholic priest Josemaría Escrivá (Charlie Cox) founded Opus Dei in the midst of the Spanish Civil War," writes Mark Holcomb in the Voice. It's "buoyed by cinematographer Gabriel Beristain's attentiveness to the ravishing Argentinian locations, but the geriatric pacing, flat-footed Old Hollywood pastiche, and Joffé's inexplicable penchant for tear-jerking Catholic mysticism make Dragons more punishing than a hundred Hail Marys." More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 5.5/10), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 2/5) and Alison Willmore (AV Club, D+).
Michael Goldbach's feature debut, Daydream Nation, with Kat Dennings, is a "Donnie Darko–wanna-be dramedy" weighted down by a "raft of romanticized affectations (characters staring mournfully into the distance, cutesy chapter-title cards, quirky fantasy sequences about churning butter and chopping wood) that truly push these proceedings to the brink of apocalyptic awfulness." Nick Schager in Time Out New York: "Sonic Youth should sue." More from Ernest Hardy (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT) and Keith Phipps (AV Club, C).
"When Robert Townsend had his HBO variety show in the late 1980s, one of the recurring sketches was a gag soap opera called the The Black, the Bold, the Beautiful that looked at blackness and class through the prism of Falcon Crest, Dallas, and Dynasty," recalls Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe. "As comedy, it was ingenious. The trappings of black success were made to look as ludicrous as the white version on network TV. Secrets, lies, and the ghetto kept a lucrative rib empire under hilarious siege. Jumping the Broom… feels like the sort of thing Townsend was satirizing." Alison Willmore for Time Out New York: "While Jumping the Broom showcases rarely depicted class issues within the black community, the film still relies on wince-inducing stereotypes to delineate them." More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/4), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 6/10), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C+), AO Scott (NYT) and Armond White (NYP).
"Considering its sweeping conventionality," writes Nick Schager in Slant, "it's hard to fathom why director Luke Greenfield agreed to give his film the too-apropos title Something Borrowed. Then again, cluelessness — about love, friendship, fidelity, and creative screenwriting — is characteristic of this latest assembly-line rom com, in which passive lawyer Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) sleeps with her lifelong BFF Darcy's (Kate Hudson) fiancé, Dex (Colin Egglesfield), whom she first let get away during law school." More from Sam Adams (TONY, 2/5), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/4), Scott Foundas (FSLC), Jesse Hassenger (PopMatters, 4/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), AO Scott (NYT), Scott Tobias (AV Club, C-) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 4.5/10).
"To the extent it wields any notoriety at all, Passion Play will be remembered for two qualities," predicts Movieline's ST VanAirsdale. "First, the 20-year process of screenwriter Mitch Glazer to develop and finally film this, his feature directing debut. Second, its missed opportunity in making the most of meaty, counterintuitive roles for its stars Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox and Bill Murray." More from D Indalecio Guzman (Cinespect), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Keith Phipps (AV Club, C) and Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 1/5).
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